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LIFE IS A MAZE(ing): Discerning Doors and Detours  Acts 16:6-12

Last weekend as the elders were headed up to Estes Park for our retreat, our middle school group was also heading up to a retreat at Buena Vista.  They had left at 5:00 p.m. and were heading up 285 and there was a sign over the road that said, “Road Closure in Fairplay,” which isn’t a good thing if you’re headed to Buena Vista.  Through a few radio calls back and forth to the various vans, they decided to take a little bit of a detour.  They eventually found themselves at Wadsworth and Chatfield, right near where they left from!  From there, they headed up I-70 to miss the road closure and what was suppose to be a two-and-a-half hour trip up to the mountains ended up being a five hour excursion.

Isn’t it interesting how we spend most of our lives trying to avoid situations like that and they’re the very things that stick with us?  Have you ever thought about that?  The perfect trip isn’t usually the one you remember the details of, it’s the one that was a total mess.  You remember that trip where nothing went right?  Wasn’t that great?!   We spend a lot of our lives trying to figure out what’s the right way to go and what’s the right thing to do.  It’s oftentimes in those in-betweens, in those detours, in those closed doors, that life actually starts to come alive.  That’s why we’ve called this series “Life is A Maze(ing).”  Because it is!  It’s both.

A number of years ago there was an app that came out for your phone called the Waze App.  You load this app and it tells you where the traffic is, and it also tells you the quickest way to get from Point A to Point B, taking into account all the traffic jams and all of the detours.  It even has on here where policeman are stationed!  Don’t download it now!   I thought to myself, so many of us want a Waze App for life, don’t we?  We want a way to avoid those detours.  We want a way to avoid those closed doors.  Most of us, when we think about God’s will, what we have in mind is God being the divine Waze App for our life.  When we think about God’s will for our life, we typically think about wide-open doors, smooth sailing, success at every turn.  If we could just get God’s will then everything would fall in line.  Isn’t that what we typically have in mind  when we pray for God’s will?  God, show me what your will is……I don’t want to encounter closed doors.  I don’t want to encounter detours.  I want it to be smooth sailing because you’re a good God and that must be what you have for me.  Right?  The only problem with that is……the Bible!

If you have your Bible, open to Acts 16.  Because it’s true, life doesn’t often turn out that way, and if it hasn’t turned out that way for you, I just want to maybe gently remind you this morning, you are not alone.  If you were here a few weeks ago, we did a message on Acts 15.  We sort of laid out this triangulation of how to figure out where God might be leading and where God might be moving.  We looked at what I called the most important decision the church has ever made, at the Jerusalem Council.  That was in Acts 15.  After that, Paul, and his running mate Barnabas, make a plan.  They make a plan to go and take this news and the good news of Jesus to a number of churches.  This is their secondary missionary journey.  They’ve already done one missionary journey and their plan is to go back and visit the churches that they had planted and started and to encourage them.  Well, before they leave, Paul and Barnabas have a split, so Paul is going without Barnabas.  He’s running on the plan that they had together enacted.  Here’s what we read (Acts 16:6-7) — And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.  And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.

So Paul comes up with this plan.  You can maybe imagine them drawing in the sand.  Who knows how they planned exactly where they were going to go.  Then we’re going to go here.  Then we’re going to go there.  Then we’re going to preach the gospel to that church, and then we’re going to encourage those people.  Oh, remember that couple and how they came to faith?  Oh, I can’t wait to build into their life!    They have this plan and they start going. {Shows map of route.} As they cover just a little bit of ground—they started here in Antioch.  They get to a certain point and they hit a closed door, they hit a detour.  Follow me here—Paul’s plan was to go where this purple line goes.  He wanted to go to Ephesus originally, most people think.  Instead he goes and follows this green line.  He walks an extra, roughly, four hundred miles!  Just to get to Troas, that he never intended to go to.  Can you imagine?  We get upset about a minor delay in an airport or having to reroute to go a different direction because of a closed road.  Can you imagine walking over four hundred miles, adding months to your journey, going to places you didn’t know anybody?  Paul’s plan is completely out the window!  How many of you find a little solace in that?  Me too.  I think one of the things we learn through the life of the Apostle Paul is that navigating doors and detours effectivelypositions us to live faithfully.

Let me just….spoiler alert….most of the lives in this room are not going to turn out the way we draw them up.  Most of our journeys will involve closed doors.  Some of them will be really, really painful.  Most of our lives will involve detours, things that we never saw coming.  In fact, if your life has already had some detours and closed doors, will you just raise your hand?  If you’re younger and your hand’s not up in the air yet, I just want you to look around.  The statistics say this is coming for you!

The really interesting part is if you go back and read Acts 9, Paul had this immensely clear calling from God.  You are going to be the voice to the Gentiles.  You’re going to carry the gospel into new regions, into new areas.  He had this uber clear calling.  Everything else was foggy.  We might have a similar thing, right?  We might have this calling…..if we’re a parent, our calling is to raise kids that honor Jesus and that grow in his love and his mercy and his goodness, but the how of that is different, isn’t it?  Is it homeschool?  Is it private school?  Is it public school?  Who knows!  We know that we’re called to be a prophetic voice into our political sphere, but the political landscape and climate, it’s difficult to figure out how to do that.  To do it well.  We know we want to serve Jesus, but can we do that better as a businessman in Denver or as a missionary in Africa?  For many of us, the calling is really, really clear—-God, this is what you’ve invited me to do.  This is who you’ve made me to be.  This is what you’re calling me to step into.  But the details are foggy, at best.

Here’s the big idea this morning:  You and I, we have got to learn how to navigate doors—closed doors, open doors—and detours with grace, if we’re going to walk with Jesus effectively.  Because they’re coming for you and they’re coming for me.  But God often uses—you’re going to see this in Paul’s life—confusion in order to clarify direction.  He often disorients you, before he reorients you.  You’ve probably sensed this.  Before there was a season of clarity, there was a season of questioning.  We see this in the Apostle Paul’s life.  He had a plan.  Let me show it to you (Acts 15:36).  Coming out of the Jerusalem Council — And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”   That’s the plan.  Let’s do that.

Here’s my question: Was the plan from God?  It didn’t play out the way Paul thought it would.  Was the plan from God?  I see the confusion on your face.  I don’t know.  Certainly the way it played out, we could look at it and go well, in hindsight, yeah, this is exactly what God was doing and this was exactly where God was leading.  Did drop the plan into Paul’s heart and give him a direction to run in that He knew he was going to redirect?  We don’t know.  We only know that Paul did not execute on his original plan.

It’s interesting, when you read through the Scriptures, there’s this line in Revelations 3:8 where God says, “See I’ve set before you an open door.”  But he does not say, “I’ve set before you a finished script.”  I’ve set before you an open door.  For some of us though, he set before us a few open doors.  Door 1.  Door 2.  Door 12.  Door 13.  That’s where life gets really hard, isn’t it?  There’s not just one door that’s opened, there’s two or three or twelve or twenty doors that are open.  That’s where life gets really, really difficult.  Walter Kaufman, a Princeton professor, coined the term “decidophobia.”  Decisions are hard, aren’t they?  Decisions are really hard.  They wear us out.  It’s easier to be told what to do than it is to have to make a decision, isn’t it?  Because we know that when it’s our decision, we’re on the line.  We have no one else to blame.  We can’t look at anyone else and go, “It’s YOUR fault I’m in this position.”  We have to hold up the mirror and go, it’s…..God’s fault.  Which we often do, right?  It’s MY fault!  But choosing comes from the core of who we are.

It’s interesting, when the Apostle Paul is praying for the church at Philippi—a church we’ll talk about in just a moment—he says this:  It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment…. (Phil. 1:9)    He’s going, here’s the deal, Church, you’re going to have to make decisions.  You’re going to have to decide between Door 1, Door 2, Door 12, Door 14, and my prayer for you, Church, Paul says, is that you will have discernment—wisdom, spiritual insight from Jesus—as to where to go and how to walk.  That’s his prayer for his church.  Not that God would direct every single one of their decisions, but that they would have discernment, and that they’d be able to make wise choices.

In the Q&A that Aaron and I did a few weeks ago, one of the questions we got and answered was this:  How do you discern if you heard from God right on the way you should go?  For instance, I made a decision because I believed I had heard from God and it did not turn out right.  How do I know if it was from God?  That’s a great question!  You can listen to the Q&A if you want to know the answer, but I will just say, I believe Paul felt the exact same way.  God, I felt like I heard from you.  All I’m seeing is forbidden to go preach the gospel, detoured by the Spirit of Jesus.  Here’s the principle I think we start to draw out from this — If you’re seeking direction from God, this is a great principle to follow:  Gountil you get a no.  Of all the doors that are open to you, choose the one that you think honors best the story that God is telling in your life.  Choose the one, that as you lay it before Jesus, you sense Him inviting you into, and know that you might not be right and go at it full speed and trust that God can open a door just as easily as He can close a door.  Go until you get a no.  It’s sort of like a boat.  If you’ve ever tried to turn a large boat when it wasn’t moving, you probably recognized that it doesn’t turn all that well.  But you get it moving in a direction and it turns a lot easier, doesn’t it?  Paul’s other option, and your other option, is to STAY until you hear from God clearly….this is exactly the plan.  But that’s not what Paul does here.  If it were, we’d have to say he originally heard from God wrong.

Paul isn’t praying for open doors, he has many of those, he’s stopping at closed doors.  There’s a huge, HUGE difference.  Hitting the roadblock was the way that God directed the Apostle Paul on his second missionary journey, and it is a NOT inconsequential mission that he’s on.  One of the things this account asks is will we be stubborn, will we hold onto our plan at all costs, or will we say God, you lead and God, you direct?  If you’ve ever watched a long piece of grass sway in the wind, you know that it’s alive based on it’s flexibility.  But when it dies, it becomes rigid; it’s unable to blow with the wind.  It just cracks.  It breaks.  It becomes brittle.  It’s true in nature and it’s true for humanity too.  The alive life is the life that’s flexible.  It’s willing to say to Jesus, as hard as it is sometimes, I’ll receive this no as your redirection.

If you’re looking for some practical tools to say alright, go until you get a no, let me give you just three.  A few practical tips.  1) See what your options are and write them all down.  2) Start moving in a direction.  Move in a direction that aligns with the heart of God and seems to be in line with who he’s created you to be.  3)  Accept closed doors with grace and allow them to redirect.

I just had to put this in here since I’m a child of the 90’s.  It reminded me of a Boyz to Men song.  {Ryan sings.} Although we’ve come // to the end of the road // And I can’t let go // It’s unnatural // You belong to me // I belong to you.   You guys hung me out to dry.  In my mind I saw you guys rise up to go Boyz to Men with me and it didn’t happen.

Look at this with me:  They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.  And when they had come to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.  How many of you wish there were more details?  What happened?  How were they forbidden?  How did Jesus speak to them?  Was it just this sort of like internal feeling, this hunch, this nudge?  When we sense Jesus speaking to us, leading us in a direction, was it the same for them, or did they have the audible voice from heaven?  I want to know.  I did a little bit of research and found we don’t know!  But here’s what it could be.  We know that at this point in history there’s a prohibition against preaching the gospel in the city of Ephesus.  We also know that there’s a prohibition against even entering into Bithynia.  I don’t know whether that’s the way God redirected or not.  Paul didn’t seem to care about those kind of limitations in other parts of the Scripture, just saying.  But we don’t know.  That might be how God redirected.

It could have been a prophetic word from someone, that’s sometimes the way God directed Paul.  It could have been that internal leading from the Spirit.  We don’t know.  And I think that’s intentional, because if we did know, we’d probably go, this is the way God does it…..all the time….every time.  But sometimes we just know, don’t we?  Here’s what we start to see as we follow Paul’s path—He starts to trust that God’s provisionfollows God’s direction.  If you’re following along in the outline, would you just circle the word “follows?”  Follows God’s direction.  Most of the time, at least in my life, he calls me to step into the water before it parts.  Most of the time he calls me into the fog before it becomes clear.  Most of the time it’s not laying out the map going alright, Paulson, this is exactly the way it’s going to play out all the time, every time.  No, most of the time there’s this sense of God, I’m not sure if this is what you’re doing, but I’m going to step in.  I might step in and I might hit a closed door.  Or I might step in and the door might open, and if it opens, God, I know you’re moving, I know you’re leading, I know you’re guiding, it’s your provision that’s following your direction.  That’s what Paul does.

I love the way John Ortberg puts it in his great little book on discovering God’s will:  “Faith is not about me getting what I want in my outer world; it’s about God getting what he wants in my inner world.”  So we sometimes encounter these closed doors, don’t we?  The question we have to ask is how will we respond to these.  God, if your provision follows your direction and you don’t provide, where does that leave me?  What if we stopped only pray….and we could pray this prayer….what if we started adding to our prayer, not just God, where are you leading? God, what are you doing? God, what should I do in this given situation?  But what if we started just simply listening?  And just asked…..what do you want to say?  My agenda’s off the table.  Jesus, what are you stirring?  What do you want to say?

When we look at these closed doors, there are some moments, aren’t there, where God doesn’t provide and it leads us in a certain direction?  I just got this sense, as I was preparing for this message, that as your pastor I can’t gloss over that.  I can’t give you the churchy answer that if you just trust Jesus than everything’s going to turn out exactly the way that you want it to.  Because some closed doors are really, really painful, aren’t they?  The closed door of the marriage that ended.  There’s no easy answer for that.  The closed door for the job that you didn’t get when you thought, “Alright, God, you give me this job and then we’re going to not only be set financially, but we’re going to be able to be generous to the people around us and this is going to glorify your name and lift you high,” and that door was closed.  Or maybe it’s the healing that you prayed for, that you begged for, that you say God, please come through.  The answer was no.  I just want to say that if we weren’t a church that would be willing to enter into that pain, you shouldn’t be here because that’s real life.

I asked Dan and Kerry Elliott to share their story of closed doors.  Dan’s one of my favorite people in the whole world, one of the most godly people I know.  He and Kerry have faced some closed doors in their life.  I want you to hear their story.

DAN: Well, we’ve been married over 43 years.  We’re going to come up on our 44th this summer.  KERRY: You remembered.  DAN:  I DID remember.  We’re Dan and Kerry Elliott.  We’ve been coming to South, it almost seems like forever.  But it’s not.  I think I’ve been on staff a little over twenty years.  At present, I’m the pastor of community care.  I love doing that.  Hey, and you were a great teacher!  KERRY:  So I do love children and I love being with kids and that’s kind of my passion.  DAN:  We had no doubts whatsoever that we’d probably have a typical family.  But then it was shortly after seminary when we went back to Lancaster and planted a church that we really started planning to have kids.  KERRY:  But five years past, so we began to do some infertility testing to see what was going on.  DAN:  Kerry went through a few surgeries.  We got pumped up with all kinds of hormones, but nothing materialized.  KERRY:  There was a point there when he said, “I declare you infertile, because there’s nothing more we can do.”  After two surgeries and lots of infertility drugs, the diagnosis was not pregnancy but breast cancer.  DAN:  I really struggled with God, at times, during that.  I felt like I so much wanted to protect her.  I so much wanted to intervene.  I couldn’t do anything.  It was one thing for us to try to have children and be told no, it was another thing to realize that wow! because we were trying to have children, possibly I could have given my wife cancer.  Who knows?  I was kind of ticked at God during that time.  That was an intimate struggle.  I knew He would be there.  I knew He wasn’t going to leave me.  I knew He wasn’t going to turn His back on me just because I got angry at Him, but I needed to vent.  KERRY:  Walking through that closed…..that was definitely a closed door.  Then we knocked on the door of adoption.  DAN:  We kind of heard from the adoption agencies, at that point, that we were too old.  We were rejected by many of those agencies.  Being a pastor, having relationships with people…..yeah, there were three different adoption situations that became available.  And we found ourselves on a roller coaster, because all three of them fell through.  KERRY:  So there we were again with another door closed.  DAN:  And that hurt.  KERRY:  It really hurt.  There’s a saying:  When God closes a door, He opens a window.  That feels trite to me.  I would rather say:  When God closes a door, He opens an avenue for trust.  Like a pathway for trust, to lean into the unknown, because that’s exactly where we were.  I continued to teach because I still loved teaching, still loved kids, but then another very respected friend that we highly regarded as a godly man had a vision.  He told us that yes, God was going to give you a child and it was going to be a girl.  He said, “I hesitate to share this because I don’t share visions that often, but you’re going to name her Grace, because she’s going to be God’s gift of grace to you.”  That was another plan, another path we thought God was leading us down.  Okay, God, you’re going to do it.  We heard from somebody we really respect.  Time passed and that didn’t happen.  DAN:  One time we were with the students here at South on a missions trip to Mexico.  I preached the sermon, and in the context of the sermon, I think you shared your testimony.  The whole church came forward afterwards and laid hands on us and prayed.  KERRY:  The pastor’s wife put her hand on my stomach and whispered in my ear, “Go home and get your nursery ready.”  So you see, there’s been a lot of very well-meaning and intentional people in our lives who thought, too, that God was going to open that door.  But he did not.  I don’t usually say, “God will open a window for you,” because I don’t….  The windows he opened were breast cancer and infertility for us.   Those were the doors, the next windows.  Someone told us once, here at South, who had lost a child, that the saying that God has a wonderful plan for your life really should be that God has a plan for your life that will make you wonder.  I thought, yeah, that’s true and that’s okay, because we don’t see the whole picture.   DAN:  I remember that there was one good, good friend here at South that just said, “I just want you to know that your identity is not in having children.”  That hit us.  I think that was a gift, because we were feeling very broken, like we were incomplete.  Kerry’s teaching just went to a whole new level when she came to grips with that.  Some way it makes us deeper.  Some way it gives us more compassion.  KERRY:  Okay, we’re going to walk through this, and we’re going to wrestle with it, and we’re going to be sad and we’re going to be angry, but DO. NOT. LEAVE. US.  That’s the promise you gave us:  You will not leave us and you will not forsake us.  One of the ways I saw that work out with kids is that after I had my cancer at school, and I was teaching and shared honestly with the kids that it was a struggle and there were tears.  I had no hair and they got to see my bald head.  The next year, one of those kids came back to me and said, “Mrs. Elliot, my mom has cancer this year, and guess what I told her?  I told her she can trust you.”  That just made my day because that’s what I wanted them to hear, that this is the God who can be trusted, even in the hard things.  DAN:  There’s something about our relationship….it’s become stronger, definitely stronger.  KERRY:  We’ve walked through infertility and cancer together, twice.  I’m a twice cancer survivor.  We’re infertility specialists now, because that little path will not ever happen now. That is what has drawn us together.  I really believe that.  {They kiss.}  DAN:  Love you. 

{Huge thank you to Dan and Kerry for inviting us in.  Thank you to Aaron for putting that together.  Aaron said he asked one question and Dan and Kerry shared their story for 45 minutes.  Aaron was so emotional he couldn’t ask another question!}

No nice bow!  I love that anthem in their life — God can be trusted, even in the messy stuff.  It stirred up a few questions in me.  Number one was how do we move forward when we’re frustrated with God, because the door we so desperately want opened is closed?  I think one of the things that’s beautiful about Jesus is that he can handle our brokenness and he can handle our pain.  You don’t need to pretend you’re happy about something if you’re not.  This just in—He already knows.  Dan is one of the most kind, gentle, spirit-filled men I’ve ever known, and he said, “I was angry with God.”  Yeah!  It doesn’t mean you don’t trust Him, in fact, your anger might be because you trust Him.  You can admit it.  Second, you can also remember His love displayed in the cross and resurrection for you.  Everything that comes into your life—closed doors, open doors, detours, redirections—have to pass through the cross and His love for you.  I don’t have an answer for why some prayers get answered yes and others get answered no.  There’s no simple formula for that.  That’s part of God’s divine sovereignty and wisdom and His plan, and I don’t know it.  But I do know His love.  That I’m confident in.  That I will stand on.  Some days that’s the ONLY thing I can stand on!   And you and I can also trust his providence even when we’re frustrated with his guidance.

That’s the first question.  The second question is how do we know when it’s time to persist and buckle down, and how do you know when it’s time to redirect?  We’ve all probably heard the story of J.K. Rowling going to twelve publishers with Harry Potter in her hand.  She got turned down all twelve times!  Good thing she didn’t hear my sermon, right?  How do we know when it’s time to keep knocking on that door.  Jesus tells the parable in Luke 18:1-8 about a persistent widow who annoys a judge enough that he finally says, “Alright, fine!  I give in!”  How do you know when it’s time to keep going come on, God; please, God; God, this is in my heart; God, I long for this; God, I want this; God, please open this door?  And….when’s it time to move on to a new door?

I think….I think that Paul and his journey maybe doesn’t answer the question directly because there’s no pat answer for that—this is what you do in every situation—it’s more a disposition of wisdom.  We can see the way it plays out in Paul’s life, and I think that might actually be a false dichotomy between persisting and redirecting.  Here’s what we see in his life.  (Acts 16:8-10)  So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.  And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  {Tradition along the line has come to think that that was Alexander the Great.  Who knows?}  And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God has called us to preach the gospel to them.  If you look and see where this journey is taking them…..   This is where they reached the closed door to go into Bithynia, which is in the northern region.  Here’s Troas and eventually they get all the way over to Philippi.

They have this vision; we all want the vision, don’t we?  God, lead us through the vision.  Guide us through the vision.  That’s an okay thing to pray for.  In fact, do you know God is still using dreams and visions to change the spiritual landscape of the world?  A recent study that was done of Muslims who are coming to faith in Jesus, showed that around a quarter of them come to faith in Christ because they see a vision of Jesus in a dream, quoting Scripture and inviting them in.  So pray for it!  But here’s the thing, even if you get it and your heart isn’t right before God, you will not follow it.

So the bigger question isn’t whether or not you get the vision, it’s whether or not you’re ready to (as Paul does) immediately go.  It’s this surrendered life that we talked about in the very first message.  Often, we’re really not searching for God’s will, we’re looking for a way to be relieved of our anxiety over having to make a decision.  Or, what we’re looking for is the assurance that the future is going to turn out okay.  We really, most of the time, don’t want God’s will, we actually want assurance.  What if you did the next right thing?  Regardless of what it was and how small it was, sometimes the door isn’t marked glamorous, most of the time it’s just marked obedient.  So what if you just honored a commitment?  Or bit your tongue?  Or resisted the temptation to be a jerk?  {I’m just talking to me!}

But what if…what if….at the porch of that closed door, here’s what Paul does.  This is why I think it might be a false dichotomy between redirecting and persisting, because here’s what he does.  He remains devotedduring his detours.  And in his in-betweens and in his ‘God, I didn’t plan it this way,’ if you continue to read, what you’re actually going to find is that Paul’s devotion during his detours is the reason that the church in Philippi is planted.  It’s the reason that the gospel is heard by the continent of Europe, for the very first time that we are aware of.  It’s Paul saying I didn’t plan this closed door, but I will be faithful in the in-between.  I had my plan, but, God, you have yours, so I’m going to continue to follow you, I’m going to continue to walk with you in the in-betweens.  Listen to what happens (Acts 16:11-12)  So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony.  We remained in this city some days.    Yeah!  And there they met Lydia.  And Lydia was one of the main funders of his entire mission venture.  Lydia became one of the leaders in the early church.  Lydia was an in-between!  Detour!  Not on the map, not on the plan.  Main player in the gospel.  He’s devoted even in the in-between.

Just so we don’t think that God’s will means assurance of ease, he says this in 1 Corinthians 16:9 — But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.    Does anybody wonder how Paul knew if the door was wide open or if he was about to get his face beat in?  Which one is it, God?  And sometimes God is like…..YEP!  Welcome to the life of faith.  So lean in for a moment, because some of us might feel like you’re in the in-between, but I just want to remind you, even if you’re in between, you’re always somewhere.  You’re always somewhere.  What does it look like to be fully present even if we’re not where we want to be?  The in-between isn’t a time to give up, it’s a time to press in, friends.  We keep moving while we’re waiting.  It’s an illusion to think that you’ll ever be standing still in life.  There’s always ebb and there’s always flow and there’s always movement.  Do you know why?  Look up at me!  Because you’re alive!  If we don’t find God in the in-betweens, I fear that we will never actually find God at all.

Your circumstances actually shape the type of opportunities that you have.  But there are always opportunities.  Even in jail, Paul has opportunities!  In our time and space, we want to wait for passion to lead us.  What if we just brought passion to where we were and trusted that God would direct us?  You know what I loved hearing from the survey we did a few weeks ago about our church is that this is the kind of church we have.  We have a church where people have said, “I’m going to live into my passion regardless of where I am and what I’m doing.”  We asked, “How many of you are serving somewhere outside of South Fellowship Church?”  Almost 40% of you said, “Oh yeah, I serve somewhere in my community.”  I LOVED hearing that!  We have people serving in community organizations at their schools.  We have people that serve in support groups and ministries, like AA.  We have people that serve in missions and charity work.  We have people that serve with homeless and rescue mission ministries.  Whiz Kids.  Clubs and programs.  Community outreaches like GraceFull Café, Food Bank, and Family Promise, and Love INC, that serve with other churches!  Awesome!!  That serve their family and friends.  That serve refugees.  That serve international programs in the U.S.  I read this and went praise be to God that we have a church that isn’t just waiting for the staff or elders to develop a program for them to jump into, but they’re going this is my passion, this is my heart and I’m going to do it.  You know what that’s called?  Being the church!!  And it’s a beautiful picture of this….man, sometimes opportunity doesn’t mean going to a new place.  Maybe it means finding new and unrecognized opportunity in an old place.

If you feel like God’s leading you to a certain thing….great!  What does it look like to be faithful in the in-between?  Before having kids, maybe it’s serving in Kids’ Ministry.  Before getting married, maybe it’s becoming the kind of person that loves well.  Before becoming a missionary, maybe it’s living missionally.  What does it look like to be faithful in the in-between?

I love that God said no, you’re not going to Asia, Paul.  I do not want you to preach the gospel there.  And then later on in the same missionary journey, where does Paul find himself?   In Asia.  Planting a church in Ephesus; you can read about it in Acts 19.  It wasn’t that God said no, it was actually that He said not yet.  He doesn’t always say that, but, in this instance, He did.  We can hold onto the dream but trust God with the timing.  The reality is, friends, that closed doorsoften lead to opened opportunities.   My conviction is this:  As we serve faithfully on the porch of closed doors, there will be other doors that begin to open.  Maybe not the ones we planned and maybe not the ones we wanted.  God’s plan for us may not be the wonderful life that we imagined; it may be a life that makes us wonder.  But I believe it will also be a life that makes us drink deeply and say, “I can’t believe you love me this much!”  The greatest door—hear me on this—has already been opened.  It was God’s no to his son that opened to a door to a yes to all of humanity.  It was God giving his very self for you and I that opened the way for relationship with Him, that we can have confidence (like Dan reminded us) that Your love will never let me go.  Regardless of what opened doors, closed doors, redirections, or detours I encounter, your love will never let me go.  That door, friends, is open, and is open to you today and it frees us to say oh, even my fear and my shame can’t stand when I stand in your love.  Amen?  Amen.

{Ryan gives baptism instructions}

Jesus, there are times when we are so confident we know exactly what you’re doing, and then there’s the rest of life, where we wonder a little bit and we don’t know.  I just get this sense, Jesus, that’s the space of faith, to step into that unknown with you, knowing that you love us, knowing that you’re good, and being unsure of a lot of everything else.  Father, I pray that you will help us be the kind of people that navigate closed doors, opened doors, and detours with grace that we might live faithfully and abundantly.  Lord, when we encounter those closed doors, as painful as they are, would you allow us to be honest with you, surrounded by others that would love us and care for us, and that we continue walking knowing that we don’t know how that road ends and what you’ll do in those in-betweens.  Thanks for being faithful in the in-betweens, Jesus.  Amen.