When I listen to the words of traditional lullabies, I marvel that children can sleep at all. “Rock-a-bye Baby in the Tree Tops” calls for nightmares of falling to the ground. Such unsafe cradle standards certainly would drive all little ones to snuggle in the safety of their parents’ bed.

But then again parents’ beds might not be safe either. “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater” certifies the longstanding potential of infidelity. Or both parents could lose their heads like French monarchs as commemorated by Jack and Jill’s misadventure in falling down the hill with broken crowns.

Nursery rhymes add the reality of taxes to death’s certainty. “Baa, Baa, Black sheep” reminds kids of IRS predecessors that took one bag of wool for the king, one bag for the church, and only left one bag for the farmer. 

One explanation for “Ring around the Rosie” places the rhyme and its circle dance in one of the plagues that brought devastation to Europe. Proponents of that origin suggest the ring was the beginning signs of the plague and the ashes represented the end when bodies were cremated to stop the diseases’ spread. “Pockets full of posies” could have been an early form of essential oils to ward off the illness or at least the smells of death.

Walking through Acts 24 demonstrates responses to the gospel’s good news are not always positive. The chief priests’ hired mouthpiece sought a restraining order against Paul’s plague. Freedom from legalism of Pharisees and political and economic exploitation of the Sadducees threatened to bring death to Jewish life as they knew it. Current circumstances under Roman control brought more comfort than the unknown outcome of following the ‘sect of the Nazarenes’. Flattering the despotic Roman governor, a ruler that used both legal crucifixion and hired assassins to destroy hundreds of opponents, brought more hope to Paul’s accusers than the Way Paul preached.

Auditing the court proceedings nearly 2000 years later, I am fascinated with Paul’s defense. He wonders how his week in Jerusalem could have caused such havoc for them. As a pilgrim seeking to give an offering in the temple, Paul had only been in the holy city for a few days; the rest of the 12 days he spent in protective custody. He had a clean conscious; they apprehended him in a simple purification ritual rather than in defiling the temple. Without evidence, all they only offered rumor and innuendoes from Asian Jews who did not come to the trial.

Paul did not limit his court time to defending his position. He had the floor, so he used it to witness. He believed every hearing was an opportunity to spread the “plague” of The Way. His worship fulfilled the true directives of the law and prophets. Once Paul heard the Damascus Road voice, his perspective of worship underwent a radical transformation. He went from policing worship conformity to witnessing worship. He carefully told the Corinthian church to even be careful about how much speaking in tongues they did in public worship because of the visitors who were present. He encouraged the church to live missionally rather than harness the freedom of new life in The Way to live for themselves. Only by living on the mission could the Jesus plague spread.

 Paul’s conversations with the unjust judge demonstrated his willingness to show people the way of living when they asked. Felix brought his young, beautiful Jewish wife to the first private conference with the apostle. Paul may have known that Felix had seduced her away from her first husband. The scene sounds similar to John Baptist calling Herod to model righteous living. Paul reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgement. Paul must have had a bad case of the plague to confront a governor known for keeping executioners busy. 

Luke does not give much information on how Paul spent those two years. Protective custody must have chafed a man of action. Yet he held conferences with the governor when requested and rejected the option of buying his way out of confinement. He must have truly believed the Lord could use these limiting circumstances to achieve kingdom purposes. 

No human designed strategic plan would suggest prison was a good place for a church planter. No human would use holiness in public service and personal self-control as a witnessing tool. I wonder if I have a full blown case of the Jesus plague or a nice little inoculation? 

The question calls me to prayer.

Dear Jesus,

You lived to fulfill the Father’s will in everything You did. I can only imagine how much fun You had at times – seeing the blind healed and the dead raised must have been a blast. Passing out Wonder Bread must have made Your eyes sparkle. But You did it out of faithfulness rather than pursuit of fun. Wrestling with Satan in Your depleted 40-day fast state must have required total focus. That focus took You to the people at the margins where they felt discarded by people of value. In the Olive Press Garden, You prayed for the strength to drink the bitter cup.

I repent of the ways I allow even small things to sidetrack my attention. You and Paul went to court, prison, and death for the Kingdom. Sometimes I whine because I need a new fence for my yard or my convertible top is broken. I believe You are calling me to a full blown case of the Plague, of walking in the Way where small irritants as well as potential satisfaction with ‘normal’ American living fade away with the quest to be faithful.

Bless me with focus, I pray. Let that focus guide my actions, emotions, and relationships. That kind of kingdom focus would provide the guide for daily faithfulness rather than frustration preoccupation. That focus would help me resist buying my way out of challenging circumstances; instead I could worship You at all times. That focus would give me confidence to keep walking when I do not see any progress toward Your Kingdom goals.

I feel contentment flooding my spirit right now as I pray Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done. I know the Spirit will guide me in the refocusing ways you call me to live over the next few months. 

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen