Tag Archives: Philippi

Wildness and worry: How Paul puts them together

The probable site of the “bema,” or the steps/platform where the magistrates sat, in Philippi.

A boring picture of rocks, then two pieces of the New Testament letters of Paul is not the most exciting way to begin this blog post. I hope it gets better for you.

I am trying to describe how wildness and worry go together in us.  And I mean both words in their best sense, since some of you may think both or either are not that attractive.

  • Wildness, when we are thinking of the Holy Spirit, is alluring — at least it is attractive in people who are free enough to experience and express God’s presence.
  • Worry, on the other hand, is usually seen as unattractive — and it should be when it is all about our fear. I am thinking of it as an inevitable feature of caring for others and for the redemption project, as you will see.

Here are the two Bible portions on my mind:

2 Corinthians 11:21-29

Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

Galatians 4:19-20…5:7-13

My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! …The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

When I was on my pilgrimage recently, following the Apostle Paul through Greece, I had a recurring fear: “If I tell anyone how much I identify with this man, will they label me a grandiose fool?” But last week I had to admit to my spiritual director that Paul has been my spiritual guide from day one of my faith. As I have the vantage point now to look back on many years, I can see how much that is true. I think the parts in bold, above, are key elements of his teaching, and I have tried to make them key to my life.

My new Paul icon from Berea

I identify with both Paul’s wildness and worry

You can decide if the Spirit speaks through Paul, or not, as he would heartily agree you should. So I offered two little portions of his letters today that demonstrate something I recently put together for myself, as well: There is a connection between his wildness and his worry.

My director was parsing out meaning in my deluge of storytelling the other day and he noted how I spoke with delight about how I stood before the “bema” in the ruins of Philippi, undoubtedly near where Paul stood himself, and loved the wildness of the whole scene. Then I was talking about my worries about the future of Circle of Hope and he noticed such a change in my demeanor that it was striking, “What are these two things? Do they go together?” I think he wanted me to stop worrying and move with my bliss.

I eventually told him, “It is all part of the same story.” I had been talking a lot about Paul so I said, “I think I can connect these two things to Paul, want to see me try?” He did. And I remembered today’s verses.

In our dialogue, I had been alluding to our Church Planting Summits last year, when we had all sorts of scenarios for the future of our movement. My director was surprised at how wild we are, since he has been a Presbyterian for a while. For instance, when Presbyterian pastors end their service in a local congregation (like I did in 2016), they are generally sent packing and have a strict no-contact clause in the ending agreement. Circle of Hope did not do that with me. So there I was last summer leading a discussion as Development Pastor about how we should connect as congregations (association, aggregation or composition?) and helping us consider combining congregations if they would be better together than struggling as small groups apart. He marveled at the flexibility! He could see the benefit of being one church in many locations. He said, “Most churches just try to survive and most of their energy goes toward protection, not freedom.” You are rather wild.

But I am also rather worried – quite often. I sometimes think I would rather buy a beach view and practice my well-earned inner peace apart from worries. But then I realize that I hooked my wagon to Jesus and God is very concerned about the earth. It is not so much that the Lord is just worrying over us like something shameful or terrible is going to happen to his creation – he knows the end. But he is worrying like a mother hen might brood over her eggs until they are hatched; and the Lord is fussing like a human mother whose children are just getting mature enough to drive a car.

The wildness of creation is at work. Re-creation has been set loose by Jesus. The sentient, loving beings who carry the heart of it all are yet to be fully revealed. Will they all make it to the good end? I am worried with that kind of worry.

Paul demonstrated both his wildness and worry when he wrote

You can see the complementary nature of wildness and worry in the Spirit in the verses I shared. The passages are often consigned to the “worry” category: “You dear Corinthians with whom I spent so much time. Are you really going to divide up and think you are more special than your teacher?” And “You dear Galatians who responded so favorably to the gospel, are you now going to listen to people who teach you need to be Jews first so you can be Christians?”

I can relate to the worry side. I often think it is wrong to worry — and mistrust in the end is probably wrong. But I might say, “Circle of Hope are you going to squander your community and alternativity now that it is so sorely needed? Will you really think about yourselves first and not imagine a future of mutual trust in Jesus?” Maybe we all relate more to anxiety, so when we see it in Paul we remember it.

But the wildness is also in these passages. I mean that very attractive Spirit-driven wildness that makes Paul such a notable and world-changing guy. I suppose if he walked into the Sunday meeting we’d either adore him or be scared to death by him. The way he makes his point to the Corinthians is to list all the wild things that have happened to him because of his calling in Jesus. Prison, floggings, shipwrecks, bandits, hunger, it goes on. When I was following his journey, just the amount of walking he did seemed daunting to me. The prospect of entering a new town in a car provoked enough anxiety in me! — when I was in Philippi, I was complaining that it was too hot and I was glad to get back to my air-conditioned vehicle! Paul was entering a new continent with a brand new message expecting God to work a wonder – and repeatedly that is just what the Spirit did.

To the Galatians he appeals to their highest, wildest selves in contradiction to teachers who had come in and appealed to their lowest and enslaved selves. He speaks so boldly people have been criticizing him for being too aggressive ever since. But Paul feels free and he speaks freely. And he thinks the Galatians can handle their freedom in the Spirit without being reduced to the Jewish law, which was just a tutor for their adulthood in the Spirit as the children of God. When I thought of Paul being hauled up in front of the magistrates, I was reminded of how much faith he had in the work of the Holy Spirit Jesus unleashed!

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A “celebration of what can be” by David M. Kessler

I can’t seem to have wildness without worry, either

I am not sure I convinced my director, but I began to convince myself that my wildness and worry went together. There is no way to take risks unless I hope they will make a difference. There is no way to exercise my freedom without hoping others experience the joy of it. There is no way to be part of a cell or team and not long for the fullness they represent or despair over the trials they face. There is no way to build the wild thing called the church and not worry over its future and brood over the fragile new birth springing up in it all the time. Paul was not just traveling around Greece for the sheer exhilaration of exercising his thrilling new freedom to do so! He was nurturing a people who would be set upon, almost immediately, by their own unprocessed sin and by people ready to redirect their movement into channels that suited themselves more than Jesus!

The movement of the good news in Jesus keeps on rolling in about the same way it did in Paul’s time. As I look back on how Jesus has led me, it makes me happy to think my mentor from the past was so influential. I wish I could be more like him, even now. But I am delighted the same Spirit who moved him made me like him at all! — intrinsically wild and often worried for good reasons.

Planning: Let the Lord Make your Radical Steps Solid

We are about ready to distribute a spiffy, hard-copy version of our 2013 Map this weekend. We take our planning seriously. We set goals and (to our surprise!) tend to meet them. But don’t get us wrong. We don’t have a very deep commitment to strategic planning, as it is commonly practiced (as in, I don’t really understand the following chart).strategic plan chart

Some Christians actually think that if your church is not involved in some strategic plan you are being unbiblical. One article from the venerable Christianity Today said, not long ago, there is a mandate for strategic thinking in the Bible and they quoted Proverbs 16:9 as their proof: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” I think they were interpreting that to mean, “If we plan, the Lord will make the plans happen” (Marshall, n.d.). But I think the proverb more likely teaches: “You can plan all you want, but if the Lord does not make your steps solid, your plans will come to nothing.”

The latter interpretation is more in line with how we map out the year. I admit, some of us wish we were much more adept at working together like a well-oiled machine according to a sensible, trackable, strategic plan. But we are not that adept. For instance, the pastors, have a 3-4 hour meeting every week that’s full of strategizing. But it is so long because a good hour of it, at least, is always devoted to sharing our hearts and developing one another. There is entirely too much laughter to allow for adept project management! We just can’t stop the love to make progress. Progress ends up “happening” in spite of our plans, sometimes.

How planning really works

That kind of planning for God to show up seems to be how Paul’s missions strategy really worked. If you want to talk about biblical strategizing, check out how the premier, most successful, strategist in the Bible worked out his plan. In the view of 21st century strategic planners, who take their cues from corporations, people say Paul focused on the major cities of the Mediterranean basin as his target for world evangelization and carefully worked out a well-considered plot to infiltrate the whole area. Well, I’m not sure about that. He got to the major cities, most of them, that’s true. But it seems like his strategy amounted, mostly, to taking the next opportunity that presented itself and then sticking with it until he, most of the time, got thrown out of town.

The Gangites River. Nearby, a marker commemorates the first baptism in Europe.
The Gangites River. Nearby, a marker commemorates the first baptism in Europe.

Take Philippi, for instance, this was Paul’s first stop on his leap into Europe, a leap occasioned by a vision in the night. Philippi was an important city which Augustus had refounded as a Roman colony and where he settled Italian colonists and veterans of the Praetorian cohort. Acts 16:13 reports that there was a Jewish synagogue (proseuchë, “place of prayer,” is a designation for Jewish meeting places) by the river Gangites, about a mile west of the city center. That’s where Paul met Lydia and things got going. But up-and-coming Amphipolis, which would have been the next port of call for Paul’s ship, probably would have been a more strategic place to start. Preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Lord and Savior of the world in Philippi risked hostile reactions from the beginning, since its citizens were staunch worshipers of the emperor and of his deified ancestors. A series of coins minted in Philippi shows on one side the head of the emperor Augustus with the inscription “the Augustan colony of Julian Philippi on the command of Augustus”; the reverse side depicts a statue of Augustus on a pedestal being crowned by Julius Caesar, with the inscription “Augustus, son of the Divine, for the Divine Julius” (Schnabel, 2007). The Philippians were pretty hard-core.

While Luke reports in some detail the conversion of Lydia, a God-fearing woman from Thyatira in Asia Minor who lived in Philippi and attended the synagogue (Acts 16:13-15), he focuses his history of the mission in the city on the opposition instigated by locals who initiated legal proceedings against Paul and Silas before the magistrates, which landed them in prison (Acts 16:16-40). The missionaries were accused of causing disturbances in the city and of “advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice” (Acts 16:20-21). This is where Paul’s strategy led him to get started on Europe.

We plan like Paul

It looks like God established Paul’s steps right to Philippi, good strategic thinking notwithstanding. Paul had his general orders to take the gospel to the gentiles, but it looks like he didn’t overly care how that happened. We are doing a similar piece of strategizing this year. One of our network goals starts with the general idea of who we need to be. We know that “We are incarnations of Jesus in our neighborhoods. We want to be people who are known for bringing the hope and justice of Jesus to the streets.” That’s a given. But we don’t mind how many different ways that happens.

We have an idea for how we can carry out our vision this year. So we have charged “our Coordinating Groups to connect with people and partnerships who already bless our neighborhoods.” We don’t really know exactly how these groups of cells will meet this goal, although I hear that a couple already have some good ideas. Our Map offers an assortment of suggestions for how we might meet our need by working on the goal: We could connect and partner with people among us who work with agencies in our neighborhoods. We could partner with other churches, agencies, and allies. We could mobilize the resources of the church to bless our neighbors.

The suggestions are purposely general, because we want the Lord to establish our steps. We want people to listen to the Spirit and to one another and to risk taking the opportunities they are given. We don’t need to be slaves to the strategic plan, fitting ourselves into holes predesigned by some piece of paper. We know what God wants us to do, and we trust that the Lord will work out the specifics. We are sure that our plans and agreements can only help in the process, but we certainly make them flexible enough to take our best shot when it is provided. If we fail, or get thrown out of town, that might make things even better! Read Paul’s letter to the Philippians from prison in Rome and you’ll understand his idea of strategy even better!

This one comes with references!
Schnabel, E. E. (2007). Paul’s urban strategies : Jerusalem to Crete. Stone-Campbell Journal, 10(2), 231-260.
Marshall, M. (n.d.) Is strategic planning biblical?: Looking at leaders from scripture. Christianity Today. Retrieved from http://www.buildingchurchleaders.com/articles/2003/le-031112a.html?start=2