Rethinking the Kind of Person God Uses and the Kind of Work God Blesses (3/3)

USA flag on street during daytime

One of the current joys of my life is serving alongside a dear friend, Rob Rosenbalm, in the teaching ministry of Fairfield West Baptist Church in Fairfield, Ohio. I help with the planning for the sermon series and speak there about once a month. It really is a highlight for me each month.

Rob is one of the most community-minded pastors I’ve ever worked with, serving as a chaplain to local fire departments. I’ve spoken with fire chiefs who have told me, to my face, that Rob has been used to radically change their lives. He’s the kind of pastor who spends more time with people, serving them, befriending them, and quietly filling a needed role in the community, than he does buried away in an office barricaded from parishioners. I could have made this whole series just about his life, which really is worthy of imitation.

But my purpose here is what I discovered in the passage I was recently assigned to teach.

A Diverse Line Up

Acts 16 gives a bit of an introduction to Paul’s ministry in Europe. It describes the occasion where Paul is locked up in prison and ends up singing the doors off the place. You can read about it here. In reading over the passage, I was kind of taken back by the diversity of the individuals God uses starting with Paul, for example, who used to murder Christians as a devout Jewish leader. If God can use a murderer, well, maybe we’re not too far out there to make a difference too. Amiright?

One Bible commentator noted that Paul, as Jewish man, would have been raised to pray daily thanking God he wasn’t a slave, a Gentile, or a woman. In Acts 16, we find these are the first three categories of people who respond to Paul’s message. Wow! Not only are these people recipients of God’s grace, they also serve as conduits for God’s grace.

For example, the chapter begins with a young man named Timothy who came from a mixed faith family with a mother who was a Jewish believer and a Greek father. We will later learn that Timothy often feels too young to be used (1 Timothy 4:12), can be sickly (1 Timothy 5:23), and is prone to be fearful (2 Timothy 1:7). Nonetheless, Timothy was used in amazing ways.

We also meet Lydia, a business owner from Thyatira – a place known for the production and export of fine clothing, particularly using a purple dye. Lydia is introduced as a seller of purple clothing (Acts 16:14). That could likely mean she managed the selection of clothing, the process of dying, and also the end process of customer service and sales to the wealthy, now living in Philippi where she meets Paul.

In short, Lydia was a fashionista. And she was a believer. She used the resources provided by her business to bless others (Acts 16:15, 40). Although Paul never visited her hometown, a church was eventually planted there (Revelation 2:18-19). I have a suspicion Lydia might have had a hand to play in the establishment of a faith community in her hometown.

This short chapter shows us God can use a blue collar worker like the jailer who reached his own family after coming to faith, a white collar business leader like Lydia, a fearful young man like Timothy who was mostly raised by his mother and grandmother, and even a former murderer like Paul. I’m confident you could fit in somewhere along this spectrum. If God can use them and bless their work, there’s surely room for all of us too.

I have to insert this, so that I’m not misunderstood. You know what I think the jailer did on the Monday morning after he came to faith? I bet he went back to working his shift at the prison. You want to know what I think Lydia did for a profession after her encounter with Paul? I think she kept growing her fashion business. My point is, these are the very kind of people God uses doing the kinds of things God can bless. They could do their thing, their vocation, use their skills, all to God’s glory.

A Lonely Corner in Boston

Let me introduce you to Edward Kimble. But before we get to him, let’s talk about someone you’ve likely heard of before. Billy Graham. Do you know he came to faith? It’s because of the influence of a famous baseball player named Billy Sunday, who left his baseball career to preach the gospel. He was one of the most influential evangelists of his generation. But for the sake of accuracy, I should note that Graham’s conversion is only indirectly connected to Billy Sunday.

There was an occasion where Billy Sunday needed a pinch hitter because he was unable to speak at a meeting. So he invited a lesser known minister to fill in for him, a man few have heard of, named Mordecai Ham. The service wasn’t overly powerful, it would seem, few responded to the message, save for a young man named Billy. Here’s how that connects to Edward Kimble.

We wouldn’t know about Billy Sunday’s preaching, or the lesser known Mordecai Ham who filled in for him, if it weren’t for a man from Richmond, Indiana, named J. Wilbur Chapman who both studied theology and pastored his first church in Ohio. Chapman later started a traveling ministry and hired Billy Sunday and gave him his first opportunities to serve as an evangelist.

But we wouldn’t likely know about Chapman if it weren’t for a far better known minister, D.L. Moody. It was Moody who inspired Chapman, who hired Sunday, whose ministry reached Billy Graham. But it doesn’t stop there. We wouldn’t have any of all that, without a shoe store in Boston, Massachusetts. And that’s where Edward Kimble comes into the story.

When I used to take students to Boston for a class I taught there, I would lead them through some curvy bricked side streets in downtown to a building — which I think is CVS now — where you can find an easily-overlooked plaque attached to the outer wall. It reads, “D.L. Moody, Christian Evangelist, Friend of man, Founder of the Northfield Schools, was converted to God in a shoe store on this site April 21, 1855.”

The person who led D.L. Moody to faith was a lay person who taught a Sunday School class at a church in Boston. His ministry wasn’t celebrated, or even noticed by most. In fact, I’ve read that the boys in his class often goofed off or fell asleep. To get to know his students better he decided to make visits to places where they spent a great deal of time. So, one Saturday, he came to the store where D.L. Moody was a shoe clerk. Providence stepped in.

On that very normal weekend, amidst the routine of work, in a typical shoe store, he prayed with the young Moody and led him to trust Jesus. We trace all these callings and ministries back to a Sunday School teacher of a small class, who was faithful to visit his students. So, let me ask you, whose calling was greater, Edward Kimble’s or D.L. Moody’s?

You don’t need to answer, by the way. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have a calling. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, however celebrated or ignored that calling may feel, it has one unique quality.

It’s yours.

So, rise and shine and give God the glory, glory, children of the Lord.