Boundaries change things. Boundaries give us a perimeter within which to remain. Just as a beaver dam changes the course of water, new boundaries refashion our lives and force us to pursue new avenues of living within the new restraints.
Many of us find that Christian community and ministry as we once knew has been suspended. Sunday school teachers, nursery attendants, greeters, ministry team leaders and members have been challenged with the difficulty of finding a place to meet and serve within the walls of the church. Organized ministry has been turned on its head and come to screeching halt. We have new rules of engagement and gathering that limit our ability to assemble and interact as we once did.
We struggle to find our role; to use our gifts to build up the body. It is harder; it requires more thought and takes a bit of creativity. It takes respect, good communication and a solid you-before-me theology to navigate it all while maintaining peace and unity of the body.
While we may blame the Chinese, the Republicans, Democrats, state and local officials or church leaders for our plight; is it not God, who has willed our current circumstances as part of His good plan? And can we agree that His plan is always perfectly executed in wisdom?
Acts 17:26-28a And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place that they should seek God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being.
Far beyond our thinking and planning abilities, God created the world with boundaries that kept each created thing within it’s assigned role. Boundaries give our world and our lives order, safety and freedom.
Boundaries keep the oceans and seas within their allotted space. They keep the stars in the sky. The sun was made for day – the moon for night. Those boundaries keep them in their place and keep them within their designated role.
God created Adam and Eve and placed them within the walls of the Garden of Eden. While the walls of the Garden defined their dwelling place, they had freedom. God also gave them boundaries of eating. They could eat from every tree but one. Those boundaries kept them in perfect communion with God. Boundaries gave their world order and protected them from whatever was outside the Garden.
Paul was a man who knew the loss of freedom. His imprisonment created new challenges to his God-given ministry. Paul did not bemoan the loss of what he could no longer do. He did not become so discouraged by his inability to speak face-to-face with the churches that he sat within the walls of his confinement idle and immobilized, longing for the days of freedom he once enjoyed. He did what was in front him. He focused on what he could do which was to write letters to the churches and send them by way of faithful messengers. While he could not see them he could still speak to them.
The voice of God, through his servant, was not silenced. Paul’s imprisonment was the avenue by which God brought to the world the New Testament books Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Phileman. Prison walls could not stop the gospel. God had planned Paul’s confinement for the purpose of spreading the gospel and encouraging the saints not only for the first century believers but for believers thousands of years in the future. Though Paul had a specific place in time, his letters to the churches were eternal. Did Paul know the significance of his time in prison? Was he aware of the magnitude of the work that God was doing while he was incarcerated? Could he possibly have imagined the eternal weight of glory brought through his inability to carry out his calling in typical ways?
While we are not Paul, we too, have a designated space and time in history. The Lord, lovingly and faithfully, has chosen our circumstances. God has placed us where he wants us and given us resources. These resources may not be the ones we would choose but they are the ones God has chosen for us. He is most magnified and glorified in them.
The year 2020 is one that the world will not soon forget. It has brought with it boundaries that limit our contact with people and yet it is God’s good pleasure to allow them to be imposed. These boundaries challenge the way we think and do ministry. These boundaries confront our idols and expose our heart’s true loves.
So here we are, we still have breath; in Him we live and breathe and have our being (Acts 17:28a). How are we to proceed within the walls of our current boundaries? Are we able to acknowledge the privilege of living in this space and time and run the race that was marked out for us? The trail markers may have changed but the race is still the same and our inheritance it beautiful!
The gospel of Jesus knows no bounds!