A little off course

Published 7:14 pm Tuesday, May 28, 2019

By Charles Qualls

The waters ripple and flow, with what seem to be hundreds of miniature waterfalls because of the rocks that are so near the surface. Lush, green trees dangle limbs out over the stream. It is a beautiful place to just stand and look. I’ve been to the place where our story from Acts 16: 9-15 happened.

I don’t know if the geography works for you, but it looks a lot like the beautiful streams of Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee. Those ones that meander alongside the road and trace their ways through the foothills.

What we’re talking about is a little community in the Macedonian region of Greece. The location is only a mile or so outside the ruins of the ancient biblical city of Philippi. It is surrounded with vast fields, very much an agricultural center.

Lately, an altar has been built on the site and worship services are held regularly there. Magnificent rose bushes adorn the area and add a feeling of significance. Up the hill, a stunning little church has been built.

There is a gift shop. You can pet a friendly cat, if you want, while you peruse books and samples of purple cloth that are actually red, because that’s what biblical purple actually looked like. This is where the apostle Paul baptized the first European convert recorded. That first European who believed was a business woman who sold expensive purple cloth. Lydia.

We never really know where God will lead, if we let God lead us. Sometimes, God takes us a little off course from where we suspected we would be. We get it all figured out and then the Holy Spirit moves. A word from God here, a circumstance that moves there. Suddenly, the winds change direction and we find ourselves headed off into surprise.

I don’t think the apostle Paul ever aspired to go to Greece. From Israel, he had pushed Westward into Turkey. Just before our text, he had made it to the cities of Derbe and Lystra in south central Turkey.

Paul had a job. We think of him as a church planter, and he did a good bit of that. But, here he is delivering the communications that came from the elders and apostles in Jerusalem. Jesus’ disciples had led a movement that continued. It was a church, with capital ‘C’ now. Part of Paul’s job was to help spread best practices and teachings of the Church into these little congregations that were also getting up on their feet.

The tricky thing for the apostle Paul, and for us, is that we can’t control the movement of God. We can’t control the spread of God’s word, although we can participate in it. We also can’t control, nor anticipate, the way God will choose to lead us. Sometimes, when God acts in an unexpected way it feels like we’re off course.

That’s got to be what Paul was thinking in our story. I should add that, sometimes God uses the least likely means to lead and direct us where we are to be next. But, Paul gives us a gift today of faithful following. Because all of Europe was hanging in the balance at the moment as he saw a vision and did what few would have done. He followed.

Paul had a vision in the night, and there stood a man from Macedonia saying to him, “Come over here and help us!” He took that as a message from God and set sail.

One writer says that Paul and Lydia weren’t the only things that met up on that riverbank this fateful day. Longing and God’s grace also met there. Lydia’s longing to be closer to God. A God that she did not yet know in Christ.

Every one of you who have a Bible may remember that Paul later went on to write a letter that is contained there. It was to the church at Philippi. “Philippians” you know it as. A strong church that became a leader in the region. Some people believe that church started like most of them did in that day as a house church, but this one at Lydia’s place.

All because some human beings went a little off course and followed the prompting of their Maker and went where they thought they should be. Then, God opened Lydia’s heart to receive the message and she became a vessel through which God’s purposes could be carried out in that area.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.