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Wednesday, May 31, 2023
"A Descriptive Parting"
Message summary: Today's account in Scripture is a model for healthy human relationships. What a blessing to have family and friends, including "old" friends!
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"When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship. After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Kos" (Acts 20:36-21:1).
On Memorial Day we had some "old" friends stop by for a visit from North Carolina. "Old" in the sense of our friendship's longevity since 1977 (although we are also old in age as well, which is an inevitable consequence of staying alive!).
In fact we recall our very first visit with Mike on Saturday, September 17, 1977. It was the day before we held the first service in our church plant in St. Marys, PA (actually it was our living room apartment since we couldn't find a building at the time). Four months earlier we had graduated from Central Bible College in Springfield, MO and made a major move from our Midwest roots to live in the Northeast to plant a church.
Mike had a zeal for the Lord (still does) and had all kinds of questions for us. He and his wife Kathy were in that very first service which also happened to be his birthday and the entire family became a formative part of that church plant where we remained for nearly sixteen years. To this day we continue to have contact with their three sons and families who all serve the Lord.
We visited with the Matangelos on Monday for about 6 hours before they were back on the road heading to New England. We had prayer together before their departure which called to mind a famous parting in Acts 20 which powerfully demonstrated the emotions of the early believers.
The entire account begins in Acts 20:13. Luke, who wrote Acts, begins the section with "We" indicating he was a part of the traveling team that was leaving Ephesus. It's a powerful parting message so today we will focus on several elements in the final parting as described in our daily text:
1) "When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed." What a great pattern that many of us practice during a parting although in our case we don't usually kneel (especially as we get older!) We gathered in a circle beside the Matangelo van Monday and prayed before they continued their trip. Many of you may have a similar custom.
2) "They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him." We hugged each other Monday in the late afternoon but it's not our custom to kiss (although it still is in many cultures). This passage demonstrates how emotionally moving this parting was and the fondness these early disciples had for one another. If it had been written at that time they might have broken into song, "Blest Be The Tie That Binds our hearts in Christian love".
3) "What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again." This statement is based upon something Paul had said earlier in the parting message, "Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again" (v.25). In this case he was aware of the dangers and uncertainty ahead. In the verses prior to this he said, "And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace" (vv.22-24).
Now generally when we have a parting we do expect to see each other again (on this side). But as we get older we are cognizant that this may not be the case. But for many the peril of persecution also remains great.
4) "Then they accompanied him to the ship. After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Kos." Due to the chapter break we may miss this expressive gem. Many of us have the practice of accompanying our guests to their car as they are preparing to leave and waving as they depart. If they've come a great distance we'll wave until they have driven beyond our view. But due to the chapter break we may miss this descriptive detail, "After we had torn ourselves away from them". Now indeed some versions merely say "parted" but the sense is a very emotional parting.*
This account is a model for healthy human relationships. What a blessing to have family and friends, including "old" friends!
Be encouraged today, (Hebrews 3:13)
Daily prayer: Father, You give us priceless gifts that cannot be bought or sold, those we treasure our whole life through. These gifts include longtime friends that share with us the ups and downs of life. They pray for us, share with us, lend a hand where needed, encourage us and at times prayerfully call us to account when needed. “Friends always show their love”, not only in the good times but in times of trouble: upholding, consoling, sharing wisdom and insight in matters that perplex or trouble us on life’s journey. Our lives are greatly enriched by the friendships we establish and grow from day to day, and year by year. Thank You, Father, for these greatest of treasures. Amen.
* This sense emphasizes how the parting was emotionally traumatizing even for the apostle Paul. There was a strong bond of mutual love between Paul and the elders so that this verb pictures him as having to "tear himself away!" (Precept Austin Online Commentary)
Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources
"Blest Be The Tie That Binds" Click to listen on YouTube The Acappella Company Indeed this song was not around when Paul departed Ephesus. It was written by John Fawcett (January 6, 1739 – July 25, 1817) who was a British-born Baptist theologian, pastor and hymn writer.
"Blest Be the Tie That Binds" written in 1773 (250 years ago, the same year "Amazing Grace" was penned by John Newton).
Blest Be the Tie That Binds (hymn background)
"We just cannot break the ties of affection that bind us to you dear friends." Mary Fawcett assured the small congregation at Wainsgates, England of the bond that she and her husband had for the parishioners there in the church they had pastored for the past seven years.
They'd received a call to a much larger and influential church in London. After the wagons were loaded for the move, the Fawcetts met their tearful parishioners for a final farewell.
"John, I cannot bear to leave. I know not how to go!" "Nor can I either", said the saddened pastor. "We shall remain here with our people." The order was then given to unload the wagon.
They remained in the pastorate there in Wainsgate for a total of 54 years. When Pastor Fawcett was offered a position from King George he declined with this statement: "I have lived among my own people, enjoying their love; God has blessed my labors among them, and I need nothing which even a king could supply." He expressed these thoughts in the hymn, "Blest Be the tie That Binds."
Mike and Kathy currently lead Transformation Journey, a local prison ministry whose mission is to reduce recidivism by helping men rebuild their lives through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
We crossed this old iron railroad bridge. It was a very pleasant day so we took our lunch along and ate at a bench along the trail.
Click to enlarge
We rode to Mount Gretna, a very unusual little village nestled between two mountains. This is the tabernacle where services are held in the summer. Years ago Brooksyne joined our Calvary Church choir in singing here for a Sunday evening service.
Click to enlarge
Brooksyne's Note: Near Mount Gretna Stephen pulled off to take a photo of the Purple Martins as we approached their distinct birdhouse. So I pulled over on my bike and observed as he carefully walked up to the house among the chirping birds so he could get just the right pose. The more I observed the more I became suspicious that these were not real birds. After quite a while, Stephen got suspicious as well. He finally looked down at the sign right in front of him that he'd missed in his enthusiasm to get a photo: Purple Martin Sanctuary along with the imitation bird atop the sign. All the birds were imitation. Then he looked even closer at the base and saw the boom box hidden in the weeds that played the recording of Purple Martins singing with their boisterous, throaty chirps and creaky rattles. No wonder we were both fooled, though it took him a bit longer to own up to it!
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