Making the Cut (The Middle Distance part 2)

Red flags

“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.” (2 Timothy 4:5)

Paul is literally passing the baton to Timothy here. He lays out a couple last requests moving forward. He asks that Tim come visit (4:9).  Paul also asks for some necessities. His “cloke” and “books” and “especially the parchments.” (4:13) Paul also remarks on one “Alexander the coppersmith” (4:14) with whom he’d clashed back in the book of Acts (see 4:6 and chapter 19). The same Alexander he’d “delivered unto satan, that [he] may learn not to blaspheme.” (1 Timothy 1:20) That’s pretty harsh. Right now, I can’t think of another such judgment call in all of the Bible. Evidently it didn’t take because we have Paul decrying him in his second letter to Timothy. The standard of purity must be maintained in order to move on and pass on. I believe the closer we get to God, the more we’ll have to walk in love and forgiveness in order to deal with the inevitable strains of unbelief-and-worse that may (will) come out of the woodwork. Judas had been with Jesus since the beginning but didn’t fulfill his role until the very end. And what a sad role. “It had been good for that man if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:24)

“Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.” (John 12:27)

White flags

Things got so deep and bad for Jesus that He died. But it is necessary. The point is that our faith costs something. Our sweat and tears and sometimes blood. In the case of Jesus, He was the perfect sacrifice. Therefore His Father could raise Him from the dead and then provide the same for us. And while God may not call us to give up our life in martyrdom, things are indeed that serious, all the time. Holiness is a life-or-death matter with the Lord. Things are black and white and this is why we have mercy and grace and a hundred other things that slip by unnoticed in order to help us “run with patience the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1) Without the forerunner, we could never have entered the race, let alone finish it.

The “ultimate sacrifice” means to give up your life for a cause greater than your own. And in no way am I downplaying and disrespecting the willingness on the part of servicemen and servicewomen who lay their lives on the line everyday. I’m referring to another kind of “ultimate sacrifice”. The kind of life that takes its impulses and energies and impetus to God in order for Him to use at His leading. Ah! Paul called it a “living sacrifice”. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing ofyour mind, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2)

The Middle Distance

Running aground

“Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island.” (Acts 27:26)

Sometimes things happen in our life over which we have no control and in which, we cannot see an outcome. In the case of the above verse, Paul was making his way, as a prisoner, to Rome. He submitted to this time of suffering in obedience to God. Having “appealed unto Caesar” (26:32) in order to testify for Jesus, he then sailed from Jerusalem, with a bunch of other prisoners, to Italy. On his way there, his ship wrecked on the coast of “Melita” (28:1), or Malta. Sometimes, God allows our already difficult circumstances to get even more tangled and confusing than we already thought we could bear. Before we go any further, I find it interesting that an angel would be sent to tell Paul that everything would be okay (27:23). It reminds me of Jesus in the wilderness after having dealt with the devil, when angels came and “ministered unto Him” (Matthew 4:11). It isn’t that what they were going through is any more important or significant than what we face. I believe in these instances, angels were the only means God had to buoy these two men, so intense and dense were their respective situations. Paul eventually made it to Rome. I love the last two verses of Acts:

“And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus, no man forbidding him.” (Acts 28:30-31)

Hitting the ground running

“His own hired house”, eh? Toward the end of Paul’s life, It’s like God carved out a little place just for him. And it isn’t that Paul retired, no. It says he received “all that came in unto him”. I would say that Paul was a pretty busy guy. This walking singularity, full of the power and presence of God. The point is, the more suffering that gets stacked upon you, the more you’re able to indeed do more for God. I wouldn’t ask for more difficulties, but I wouldn’t necessarily run away. It’s that “middle distance” between the start and the finish where you feel like quitting but daren’t entertain the thought. Keep running. Keep going. Sing a song to God or find some creative way to bridge the distance through worship and praise.

“And when he had accomplished those days…” (Acts 21:5) God will see to it that your period of trial is only as long as He says, no further. Hang in there! You just might get to see an angel.