I had the opportunity to stay at my parents’ house in southeastern Missouri on a recent trip to St. Louis. Every visit ignites thanksgiving in my spirit for one more time of fellowship with the best parents anyone could ever have. When I examine my life, I see sparkling treasures that result from growing up in their home, watching their ministry through the years, and now observing tenacious faith in this season of their life.
My brothers and I grew up in a literature rich environment. Books where everywhere! As a young child in Galatia, Illinois, I remember getting the monthly cardboard box from a book of the month club. When money got a little tight, Mom wrote a note to cancel the order. She let me take it to the post office a few blocks away. I had to struggle a little to get it into the mailbox; for some reason they had it turned it to face the wall behind the post office. Since Dad always told us that “Can’t never could” I found a way to get it into the hard to reach opening and shove the letter down the rusted blue mailbox’s throat.
I got another book the next month … and the next. That is when Mom found out I had deposited the cancelation notice in a discarded mailbox. I like to think I was innocent of any intent to thwart Mom’s purse string tightening. Thinking of the story as I look at one of my bookcases this morning, I do have to smile about the 50 year old memory.
Books let me travel to distant places. How many frequent flier miles I must have racked up as I read through the World Book Encyclopedia set during one of my forced times of rest when I had to stay home from school for a couple of months. Those green and white leatherette bound volumes were gifts from Uncle Mel to his home missionary nephews.
On the trip home I got to sift through the downsizing stacks that Mom and a couple of brothers had made the previous week. I found an old copy ofUncle Tom’s Cabinthat still sheltered a postcard from the one cent stamp days. I did not hesitate to add three cloth bound volumes of The Happy Hollister’s– I had traveled with them on many adventures as a child. I am sure I re-read each book many times. The spines carry the wounds of my carelessness, many moves and years of abandonment in basement boxes.
All of those books told a story. They had a point. Mysteries and history books alike wove the silken sentence threads into a picture to keep a little boy’s interest. As an old guy now, I have moments of reflection when I wonder if many of life’s stories have a point. Sometimes life seems like a poorly constructed narrative with too many conjunctions and no coherent purpose.
When I first read through Acts 23 I thought I was in one of those pointless stories. I know Luke only had a limited amount of space in the scroll allocated to the ongoing work of the Messiah in the life of His church, so why would he tell a story with no new church or fiery revival. Where is that celebratory refrain, “and the Lord added to the church”? Isolated as it is in 35 verses, nothing significant seems to happen. I am tempted to combine my stroll through this chapter with the next chapter or two, so I can get to the point of Luke’s narrative.
In the same way, I often want to fast forward through days or even seasons, of my own life when very little plot advancement seems to take place. No one would want to read about this week, month, or quarter of the year. Nothing movie script worthy has happened. Frankly, days slip by where I do not know if anything is even Instagram worthy. Maybe that is why I do not have an account on that social media outlet!
Paul’s life had plenty of excitement in chapter 23, but the activity tended to be the survival type. He fanned the flames of disagreement between Pharisees and Sadducees to escape pending doom; Luke had to explain the finer points of the argument because most of his readers would not understand why the court room got so heated. A late night horseback ride with a couple hundred armed guards would get the blood pumping to be sure, but the ride served to relocate the apostle from one stockade to another. He escaped one plot only to be placed in the hand of another unjust judge. I suppose protective custody provided a little more comfort than the welcome planned by the 40 vigilantes that had placed a curse on themselves.
In the middle of religious and secular politics, Paul had a God moment. ‘The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”’ Humm, chapter 23 does have purpose.
Like Joshua about to take God’s people across Jordan, Paul needed the call to be courageous. The God encounter transforms meaningless chaos into a life filled with purpose. Paul would get to witness in Rome though the journey would have more twists and turns than direct movement. Paul would get to witness in Rome regardless of the natural, human, and spiritual obstacles he would encounter. He had a reason for cold nights in prison and the saddle sores from the midnight ride. He had a point to his story.
It is time for a God encounter that happens in prayer.
Sometimes my life story has definition and purpose. In those moments I have no question that the discipleship journey makes sense and all of my labors are not in vain. At other times I lose the plot behind my life. More misdirection and threats to my service fill those weeks and months than evidence of good stewardship.
Thank You for the record of Your people. If Joshua and Paul needed words of courage in uncertain times, then perhaps I am in good company. I know that I heard from You again on September 25 this year. In the dream You reminded me that You have a work for Sherri and me. You reminded me that all parts of Your body play a significant role in Your work to reconcile all things to Yourself. You gave me enough detail to know my story fits in your kingdom plot.
Forgive me of the despair I feel when I lose the plot and when I try to help You fix the story. You have spoken. I have heard. Your stewardship of Paul’s life and my life is without question. Your stewardship of all my brothers’ and sisters’ lives is without question. We are in Your story. You are the Author and Finisher of our faith. I pray for our courage to face chaotic as well as clearly productive times in the same way … by trusting You.
Today I sense the courage it takes to pray Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done. You have spoken courage into our lives. Your call to be courageous reminds us that our old nature will question our place in the story from time to time. As courageous disciples we will trust You.
In Jesus’ Name,