Friday, August 1, 2014

Availability: On-Call for God

Have you ever had a job when you were on call?  You know, where the boss said, "We don't need you to come in today, but if something comes up, we expect you to drop everything and come in at a moment's notice."  There's a tentative freedom in that, because you can be doing other things, but you have to be willing to come when called.

I've been working in restoration and mitigation, but I'm hesitant to join with any company full-time for this very reason.  I've been with friends when they're hanging out or coming to church or Bible study but, if someone's basement floods or a sewage line breaks and their company gets the call, suddenly they're driving out to Boulder, dropping whatever we have going on.  Mitigation has to be that way to some extent.  Nobody ever plans on having a fire or a flood, so they're not going to schedule anything in advance.  When they wake up at 2 in the morning though to the sound of water overflowing from the toilet, they want to be able to call someone to take care of it.  If you're on call with a restoration company, you may get that call and have to leave your comfortable warm bed or couch and head out to Sterling to save the day.  If you work for the company, that's just your job, and it's not unreasonable to expect you to do that!

Recently in a Bible study, I came across a figure who seemed to fit the description of being "on-call for God" pretty well.  You may be familiar with him but let me give you a brief sketch of his life to show how his attitude influenced what he did for the Lord!  This is the man who experienced teleporting way before Star Trek, who raced alongside chariots just to give a Bible study, who matched wits against a sorcerer all the people called 'the great power of God', a man the Bible calls in Acts 21:8: "Philip the evangelist."

But before we get too caught up in the events of his life, let's look at the attitude that led him into all these amazing situations.  Our first glimpse of Philip comes in Acts chapter 6, when there were Grecian widows who were being overlooked in the church's distribution of food.  The apostles got together to discuss the problem, and decided they needed to have the people appoint seven men who were 1) of honest report, 2) full of the Holy Ghost, and 3) full of wisdom, to appoint over this business of, as they called it, "serving tables."

Now, this wasn't a super glamorous job.  This was an organizational position to make sure people received bread.  But the apostles were looking for people with a high qualification, who would know how to handle the situations that arose with honesty and Spirit-led wisdom.  Philip was one of the ones the people selected.  The fact that Philip joined the ranks of the seven shows me a little about his heart.  He had high-qualifications, but he was willing and available to do servant's work--whatever the Lord needed done, even if that only meant waiting on tables.  That's the kind of person that every church is looking for because that's the kind of attitude that God can use!

Of course, this situation didn't last forever.  When one of the other ministers or servants or 'deacons' (which is where we get the word from, incidentally), stirred up some problems and ended up getting stoned for standing up for the testimony of Jesus Christ, it stirred up a persecution against the church which scattered them out away from Jerusalem.  In that situation, do you know what Philip did?  I'll tell you what he didn't say!  He didn't say, "Well, if serving God is going to get me killed, you can forget this!  I'm not about doing menial work just to get persecuted for helping people!  I had a job in the church, but it all fell apart, and now my position is unnecessary so I'm just going to give up."  That's what he didn't say.  Instead, you find him in Acts chapter 8, going down to the city of Samaria and preaching Christ to them!  You know what that shows me about his attitude?  It shows me that he was looking for opportunities to do God's work!  When he got chased out of one place, his thought was, "Alright that season of service is done. What do you want me to do next, God?  Oh, there's a city that's in bondage and needs to hear the gospel?  Alright!  I'll go there!"

He went down to Samaria and revival broke out!  Unclean spirits were coming out of people kicking and screaming, people taken with palsies and that were lame were healed, great joy ensued, and once the people heard and saw the miracles and believed what Philip was saying about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were all baptized in the name of Jesus, both men and women, including Simon the sorcerer, a man who had bewitched the people for a very long time!  So much was happening that the apostles sent Peter and John to pray for the people to receive the Holy Spirit (because even with all the signs and wonders, the Holy Ghost had not yet fallen upon them).

So this is an amazing situation, right?  You'd think this would be a good place for Philip to stay for a while, set up a church and begin pastoring, start mentoring some of these people who had been converted, keep praying, keep doing miracles.  He's got respect and notoriety now, so it seems like he should stay there, right?  Nope!  Instead, the angel of the Lord speaks to Philip and tells him to go south to the road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza.  What's there?  Some big city to preach the gospel in?  A church that needs help?  A place where there are even more needs than Samaria?  Nope.  It's desert.

Waiiiit a minute, God!  You're telling me you want me to leave Samaria, a place where I'm being used, a place where there's TONS of need, a place where I can see the effect and impact I'm having, and go down to a desert?  Is this a punishment?  This doesn't seem to make sense in my church-planting strategy.

But do you think Philip said that or even questioned God?  Nope!  The Bible says, and I quote, "And he arose and went."  Why??  Why would he leave a place where he was making such a big impact??  Because he was on call for God.  This wasn't a plan laid out by the apostles, or thought up by Philip and the seven.  The authority he had to answer to was the Lord, Jesus Christ.  So when God sends a messenger to him telling him to go somewhere else, well, by golly, he's on call, and he's going to go!

He gets to the desert and all he sees on the long dusty road is one chariot, which looks to be a wealthy government official from Ethiopia from the license plate and entourage (okay, work with me), heading away from Jerusalem.  "Okay, God, so I'm here, now what?"  You know what?  Philip made himself available, so the Spirit speaks to him and tells him to go near and join himself to the chariot.  So Philip runs up and as he's running alongside the chariot, (I picture him running alongside as the chariot's moving, but I don't even know if it was.  It could have been parked, or he could have jumped up on the side, like those guys do on the garbage trucks...that's kind of a cool picture...anyways, either way...) he overhears him reading Isaiah the prophet (out loud apparently), and he's like, "Hey, you understand what you're reading?"  You probably know the story!  The eunuch invites him up, Philip preaches Jesus to him as they're driving along further into the desert, further away from wherever Philip was planning on being, and when they get to a place where there's water, the eunuch is ready and says, "Well, hey, is there anything stopping me from being baptized?" and Philip is like, "Dude! (Greek paraphrase) If you believe with all your heart, you're set!"  And when the eunuch affirms he knows who Jesus is, they both go down into the water, and Philip baptizes him.

But do you see the point?  Here's one individual who is hungry and seeking after God.  He came all the way to Jerusalem from Ethiopia just to worship, (probably not even able to go into the Temple because of his condition), and is still seeking God on the way back, studying God's word without understanding it, seeking for a word from God, hungry for someone to come and help him understand.  God sees this, and says, "I need someone to go speak to this man.  Who can I send?  Who's available?  Philip!  Leave what you're doing and go down to the desert!"

Now after this little scene, maybe it makes sense to stay with the eunuch for a while.  Travel back with him, preach in Ethiopia now that he's got an open door there, maybe speak to Queen Candace a little, possibly disciple the eunuch a tad?  Nope.  Philip is on call and God wants him somewhere else.  As soon as the eunuch is baptized, God Himself literally transports Philip to Azotus.  Can you imagine the scene?  Philip baptizes him and the Bible says as soon as they were up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip so that the eunuch saw him no more, but that was okay, because he's been baptized, and now he could continue on his way rejoicing, knowing that he had entered into covenant with God!  Here, a man pops up out of nowhere by his chariot, then once he baptizes him, disappears out of nowhere!  Now you see him.  Now you don't.  And the Bible has one verse to cover his next stage of service to the Lord.

Acts 8:40  But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea. 

Now, as cool as the scene was, this verse and it's place names didn't stand out as significant to me, until in the Bible study we looked at a map as to where these cities were.  Check out this map:

Now remember, Philip started in Jerusalem.  Then the persecution scattered the believers, and he headed north to Samaria.  Suddenly, the angel speaks to him and tells him to head for the road in the desert between Jerusalem and Gaza.  Then the Lord translates him to Azotus. So he started out heading north from Jerusalem, and the Lord picked him up, and took him right back down south, even farther south than Jerusalem!  And what does Philip do?  Philip heads north again, preaching in all the cities from Azotus all the way to Caesarea!  I have this picture in my mind of Philip constantly running and preaching, and God picks him up, still running, and sets him down south, and he just keeps running and preaching!  Philip was on-call.  He was heading north, but God still had some villages in the south that needed to hear the gospel.  Who was the man for the job?  Philip.

God has been convicting me about having this same kind of availability!  I want to be on-call to Him!  I want to be sensitive to His Spirit! To hear when He speaks!  And whether I feel good or bad about where I'm at, it really doesn't matter, because my plans aren't the focus!  I'll serve God wherever I'm at, and make myself available to Him wherever He wants to put me, because I'm HIS servant!  In a future post we may discuss how to consecrate yourself for God's service so that you're ready and available to Him and sensitive to His Spirit!  But, in the meantime, I pray that Philip's infectious attitude takes hold, and that everyone who reads this become someone who is on-call for God!