Get with a partner to make a list of partners
I just got back from a mission trip with our youth, and so like a youth lesson this morning I want to begin with a game we get to play together. Since our topic for this morning is partnership, I want you to come up with as many famous partners you can think of. They may be partners from history like Lewis and Clark, or fictional characters like Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble.
To further emphasize our topic of partnership, you ar to work with a partner or two – it could be your spouse, a friend, or maybe someone you haven’t met yet or don’t know well. Don’t let anyone be alone. Let’s see which group of partners can come up with the most partnerships in 1 minute. Ready? Go!
How’d you do? See who has the longest list.
Not only did that exercise get us thinking about partnerships, we also experienced the fruit of a partnership. You probably have a much longer list together than you would ever have had alone. My guess is that one of you mentioned a partnership that reminded the other of several others. One of those would spur the other on to a different list, and so on.
When you start thinking about it, so many successful people did not go it alone, but instead were part of a partnership – even if one of them became much more well-known than the other.
In the church, we call those who go it alone, lone rangers. It struck me this week though, that even the Lone Ranger wasn’t a lone ranger. He had Tonto, who is such an important part of the story, that in the Disney movie in theaters now, Tonto is played by the bigger star, Johnny Depp, while the Lone Ranger is played by relative newcomer, Armie Hammer.
If you have been reading along with us this summer as we study the book of Acts, you know that partnerships are a large part of the birth and growth of the Christian church. Acts begins with the Holy Spirit coming to the apostles when they are together in one place on the day of Pentecost. Soon they realize they have neglected some of their duties, so they form another group, called deacons, to serve those in need. One of the deacons is Stephen, who is martyred. The Christians then scatter, and one of the deacons, Philip, meets an Ethiopian eunuch with whom he shares the gospel. We then read about Saul, who becomes Paul, and his partnership with Barnabas as they share the gospel throughout the world. When questions arise they go to Jerusalem where they meet with Peter and John, partners who are running things in Jerusalem. Now we are beginning to read of small bands of believers in different parts of the world who have come together to form what will eventually be called churches. This coming together as partners is an important part of what Acts is all about.
Today we turn to Acts 16 where we read three stories of different partnerships.
Paul & Timothy
In the closing verses of Acts 15 we read about a dispute between Paul and Barnabas about where they are being called to go next. The dispute becomes so heated they decide to go their separate ways – each traveling in the direction to which they feel called.
Chapter 16 opens with Paul recruiting a new partner – a young man named Timothy. Timothy is a believer who Luke, the author of Acts, tell us is “well spoken of” by those who know him. We are also told, he has a Jewish mother and a Greek father, meaning he has some standing in both of these communities – Judaism where the roots of our faith are; and with the Greeks, where the Gospel is spreading and growing. Adding Timothy to the church’s roster of speakers and leaders was a strategic move. He brings so much to the table that will help them fulfill the call of the church to reach the ends of the earth, which we are told about in verse 5, “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.”
The letters of 1st and 2nd Timothy, tell us more of the relationship between Paul and Timothy. Not only does Paul mentor Timothy in the work of a pastor, he also thinks of him as “my beloved child” (2 Timothy 1:2). All of us need those kinds of mentors in the faith.
When I read about Paul and Timothy, I think of those who have mentored me – Mrs. Hartman, my kindergarten Sunday School teacher who occupied the pew behind us at the 8:30 service every Sunday until I graduated from high school; Dale Whilden, my youth leader with whom I played ping-pong long after youth group; Norman Schanck, the first lead pastor I served with; Ed Wegst, a man in his 90s who taught me about finishing well; my parents; my wife; friends; and others who showed me what it looks like to lead a life of faith.
The time comes though when we need to not only be mentored, but must begin mentoring others. Many of us shy away from this. We know our own shortcomings and think how no one should really want to be like us. But you have much to offer.
I have seen this play out in youth ministry. The youth pastor is not always the person from whom the youth get the most. Certainly, the youth pastor has the training to lead and teach, but the youth learn most when mentored by those who have lives that look more like the lives they will have one day – balancing work and church, friends and faith, and living with Jesus through everyday life. There is much to learn from that type of mentoring relationship.
For this very same reason we get excited about our discipleship program. As someone once said, Christianity is more caught than taught. Meaning we learn more about being a Christian by watching others live it out, than we do in a classroom learning more theology. We need people in our lives who mark the trail for us to follow, and we need to be people who do the same for others, as Paul did for Timothy.
The second partnership story in Acts 16 is an unexpected encounter with a woman named Lydia. Paul and his team feel stuck. They attempted to go into Asia, but Acts says they were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit” (vs 6). Then they tried to go into a region called Bithynia, “but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (vs 7). Finally, Paul is given a vision of “a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’” The next morning they pack up and make a beeline for Macedonia, but the man from the vision is not there to greet them. In fact, Acts reports that nothing happened for days.
On the Sabbath they go to a place of worship where they find a group of women praying. Paul and his team share with them about Jesus, and the person who responds is a woman named Lydia.
Lydia is described as a dealer in purple cloth. This is no minor detail. Purple cloth was very expensive to produce and was thus only worn by the extraordinarily wealthy and powerful. Thus, as a dealer in purple cloth, Lydia was probably wealthy and well-connected.
Remember, Paul and his team were called to Macedonia by a vision of a Macedonian man in need. They never meet him, but instead are first received by Lydia – a wealthy woman from Thyatira, near where Paul and his team had felt stuck. Lydia then allows her house to become the hub for the believers in Macedonia. At the end of the chapter, we read that Paul and Silas went back to Lydia’s house to meet with the believers before moving on to the next place where they will share the gospel (vs 40). Lydia was hosting the church in Macedonia.
Sometimes God calls us to partner with people who make sense, like Timothy. Other times we are called to partner with those who are nothing like us.
I’m sure you have heard it said that politics makes strange bedfellows. Do you know the etymology of that odd phrase? According to Mental Floss magazine there was a time when crowded inns, rather than hanging “no vacancy” signs when full, would instead force patrons to share beds with strangers. AJ Jacobs writes:
The custom pops up in Moby Dick, when Ishmael is forced to share his bed with a guy who sells shrunken heads. Even Ben Franklin and John Adams once became reluctant bedfellows at an inn in New Jersey (Jacobs).
Can you imagine being randomly assigned to sleep beside a stranger? Think about that the next time you are ready to complain about a hotel room!
Politics makes strange bedfellows, but so does church. There are times when God calls us to partner not only with people like Timothy, with whom it makes sense to partner, but also with those who are very different from us – who may even seem like the wrong people.
Paul, Silas, & Jailer
The third story is that of Paul and Silas who are thrown in jail for exorcising a demon from a slave girl (read about that story in Friday’s devotion). While in jail a miraculous earthquake springs open the doors and breaks their chains. They are set free through the incredible power and love of God, but they don’t leave.
Instead they stick around to minister to the jailer. Knowing the punishment awaiting him for having prisoners escape under his watch, the jailer prepares to commit suicide. Paul and Silas stop him and share the Gospel with him. Eventually the jailer takes them to his house, cares for their wounds, and he and his whole household are baptized. He becomes, in the words of Acts, “a believer in God” (vs 34).
When I think of this story, I think of those like Martin Luther King, Jr., who willingly endured prison and other humiliations for the sake of others. Or Nelson Mandela, who after 27 years in prison was elected president of South Africa. He did not use his newfound power to punish but instead worked to partner with the power-system that imprisoned him for that huge chunk of his life.
Sometimes God calls us to partner with those who are like us. Sometimes he calls us to partner with those we don’t expect. Other times God calls us to partner with our enemies for the sake of the Gospel.
As I look at these three stories in Acts 16, two important themes about partnerships emerge. The first is that each of these partnerships made everyone involved better.
Three partnerships, two lessons –
1. Make each other better
If you are a fan of the Rockies, you have probably noticed how much better their two stars, Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzales are when they are in the lineup together. Each of them seems to slump a little when the other is hurt. CarGo and Tulo make each other better.
You will hear the same thing about Peyton Manning as the Broncos training camp gets underway. Great players have a way of making the other players on their teams better. Good partnerships make each other better.
This was true for Paul and Timothy. Timothy learned a great deal from Paul, but Timothy also brought with him connections to both the Jewish and Greek communities, a great bonus to the church as they reached inward to the Jewish people and outward to Greeks and other Gentiles.
The same was true for Lydia. She heard and received the Gospel from Paul, but she also gave them her house to use as a base from which to operate and worship. Lydia had much to do with the successful spreading of the Gospel in Macedonia.
So too with the jailer. Not only was the jailer set free from his sins, but Paul and Silas were freed from the prison and were given the opportunity to talk about being Roman citizens who should not have been beaten and thrown into prison without a trial.
Some of you have told me how you have seen me grow in my ministry in the last several years. The major reason for that is the partnership I have with Pastor Bob. I believe we make each other better at what we do. I can’t speak for him, but I know he makes me better. We compliment one another’s strengths and weaknesses. Together we are more effective than either of us would be alone. Good partnerships make both parties better.
I believe listening is a lost art-form. We 21st century USAmericans, are much better at talking than listening. We tend to categorize others, predicting how they think and what they will say based upon their history and affiliations. Then we are ready to respond from our side of the aisle. We think we know how the addict, the homosexual, the other race, the other gender, those with money and those without, youth, the elderly, people from east coast, those who go to that other church, military members and veterans, and whatever other category we might dream up, thinks and acts. Then we are ready to respond, to convince them over to our way of thinking. But the truth is, we don’t know the other, and cannot know them until we are ready to listen to them.
In Acts 16 we read of Paul doing just the opposite. Before speaking, he first does a great deal of listening. He hears people speaking well of Timothy, so he asks him to join the ministry. While looking for a Macedonian man in need, he is open to a woman of wealth from out of town. They knew people like Lydia, and could have labeled her as a wealthy, self-sufficient snob who would probably see no need to give her life over to Jesus. How surprised they must have been when she was the one open to their preaching.
Then there’s the jailer. Again the labels would be easy to come by: Roman, power-hungry, bully. But they listen to him and see something. He is so much more than the labels. He is a human being as much in need of a new life in Jesus as anyone else. So when they are freed, they stick around to share the Gospel with him.
This isn’t always the way the church operates today. One author writes:
Most churches today…assume that many types of people are unreachable; they assume it would probably be impossible for those people to become real Christians “like us.” To be specific, for many churches, pre-literate people, “hard living” people, cohabitating couples, homeless people, bikers, Goths, jet setters, mentally ill people, Mandarin-speakers, people with tattoos, addictive people, introverts, and many others need not apply (Hunter 43).
A few pages later, the author then asks a question that has stuck with me since reading it: “What types of people would not be likely to become new Christians in our church?” (Hunter 45). In other words, Whom have we written off? To whom are we not listening?
Timothy as too young and half Greek. Lydia was a jet-setter. The jailer was a bully. Paul and his team could have easily decided before meeting them, that they were unreachable; that there was no way they would respond to the Gospel. Instead they listened, formed partnerships with them, and each was made better by it.
We need to listen well today: to those like us, to those unlike us, and even those we perceive as enemies. No one should feel written off by the church. As one growing church has said, “We decided to spend our lives befriending and inviting all of the people we could find that no other church seemed to be interested in” (Hunter 46).
To be most effective in our witness, we need to be willing to partner with all kinds of people for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus. In the church we are never called to go it alone. Remember, even the Lone Ranger wasn’t a lone ranger. He partnered with Tonto, someone different from him, and they were better together than either would have been alone. Like the partners we listed at the opening of the message, we can do so much more when we listen and come together.
So who is it for you? To whom are you not listening? Who have we as a church written off as unreachable? With whom are we being called to partner?
Hunter, George G. The Recovery of a Contagious Methodist Movement. Nashville: Abingdon, 2011. Print.
Jacobs, AJ. “Suite Perspective.” Mental Floss 12.1 (Jan/Feb 2013): Digital magazine.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotations of Scripture are from the New Revised Standard Version available online at http://bible.oremus.org.