Thursday, April 22, 2010

Up, Up, And Away

There's a strange twist in Acts 8 at the very end of the story of Philip's successful evangelistic encounter with the Ethiopian eunoch.

It may be that some applications and insights for our own Christian walk and soulwinning could be gleaned here.

You know the narrative. Philip has been involved in a very effective mass evangelism campaign in Samaria where many lives were changed. Suddenly the Lord redirects him away from the crowds and out into the desert.There he meets an African government official who is returning, from Jerusalem, where he worshipped the God of the Jews, to his own country. He's reading the Old Testament scriptures. Philip uses that as a springboard to initiate a conversation, witnesses to him about Jesus, leads him to Christ, and baptizes him.

And verse 39 says that as soon as they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away! Before he could really celebrate the conversion of this new brother, before he could disciple him or take him through new members' orientation or even get his address for follow-up or report his name to denominational headquarters, he was taken from the scene!

Did he just become invisible? Was he miraculously, supernaturally airlifted out and transported away? Did he simply walk away quietly and humbly and unobtrusively while everyone in the eunoch's caravan was preoccupied with the official's spiritual experience? We don't know. We're not told. The text only tells us that this evangelist was whisked off, that the new Christian no longer saw him, and that Philip showed up later in other places still sharing the Gospel.

Why did the Lord choose to conclude this very positive outreach effort in this way? By taking one of the key actors off the stage? We can only speculate and venture some guesses.

It's certainly possible that God removed him from the scene to prevent him from succumbing to the ever present inclination and temptation to want to take credit for this evangelistic victory. To receive those congratulatory pats on the back, to be recognized as a high achiever among soulwinners, to be invited often to speak and repeat the details of the story of the big fish won in unusual circumstances. Just thinkin' out loud here, but we all are aware of the human propensity to toot our own horn and embellish the testimony to the applause of others. Could it be that the Lord was sparing Philip from a detour into pridesville following a ministerial high point? We must never forget that we are simply tools in God's hands. He graces us and chooses to give us the privilege of being used by Him. If there's anything good in us, He put it there.

Or maybe God helicoptered this faithful witness out of the situation for the eunoch's benefit. Surely this new believer needed to learn early on that his salvation came from the Lord and not a man. He now must put his focus on following Jesus. Rather than being dependant on another Christian, even a leader, he must walk by faith and trust that God would place other spiritual guides in his path all along the way to help disciple him and answer his questions and model a godly lifestyle before him. Perhaps the eunoch would have leaned on Philip a little too much, setting himself up for a disappointment. In our celebrity culture today we run the risk of putting dynamic Christian communicators and writers and entertainers and pastors on a pedestal, idolizing them and hanging on their every word. Then, if they stumble or fall away, our faith is damaged. Far better to immerse ourselves in scripture and ask the Father to plant different tutors and mentors on our journey(I Corinthians 3:5-8) as we need them. Incidentally, the 2 kinds of Christians most able to assist us in our ongoing pilgrimage are those who simply, humbly, contentedly, restfully walk with the Lord(Isaiah 50:4) and those who have suffered and been tested and have experienced the rich maturity that comes from that(Romans 5:3-5; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4). It's usually not the flashy Christian superstars who prove most beneficial as role models along the trail!

Okay. Sure. The newly saved eunoch needed further teaching and instruction. How to pray. How to forgive. How to understand the scriptures. How to deal with adversity.How to plant churches. But by not being able to latch on too tightly to Philip, he could "go on his way rejoicing" and stretch his spiritual muscles and spread his wings and return to Ethiopia where he himself could become a bold witness and a strong Christian leader. God would see to it that this babe in Christ got what he needed.

We can say without reservation that God in His wisdom and sovereignty and providence knows when a job is finished. When Philip had completed his assignment on that isolated desert road, the Lord placed him elsewhere. God knows where we are! We really don't have to push and scramble and climb. We're to bloom where we're planted and be faithful where He has located us at the moment. When He's ready to reassign us, He will! Obviously for Philip there was more work to be done in other locales and when he "parachuted down" he hit the ground running(vs.40) and kept up the ministry of preaching and leading people to Christ. God made it very clear to him when the desert task was complete and a new city ministry was to commence!

And by the way, one of these days our earthly labors will be finished and we'll be caught up to Glory. It may happen at death. You'll be busy serving the Lord and suddenly He'll say, "It's time to come home" and you'll be gone. It might happen at the return of Jesus. You'll be faithfully, passionately working for Christ and unexpectedly He'll appear(I Thessalonians 4:17) and you'll be instantaneously lifted away. Wow! In either event, you'll have this Philip-like experience one day. And who knows? Throughout eternity, God may have us fanned out throughout this vast universe of His, doing His work among the galaxies and supernaturally teleporting us just as he did this dedicated evangelistic deacon centuries ago. What a prospect!

The Lord's ways are mysterious. Philip must have wondered, in frustration, why God would move him from a high octane city-wide crusade to a lonely, sandy road to minister to one man. But what a serendipity he had out there, getting to lead this guy to Christ and then to be whooshed away somewhere else. God constantly surprises, and amazes, us! His work is never really boring. So...let's stay at it. It's too soon to quit. You have no way of knowing what He's gonna do tomorrow!