A Walk Through Acts 24

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

A Walk Through Acts 23

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.

Dear Lord,

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,

Amen

A Walk Through Acts 22

I must confess, I do not understand many things that go on in the world around me. I do not understand the fascination with torn jeans worn by people who could afford a pair with years of wear in them. Another thing that puzzles me is the way passion finds its way into so many discussions. People cook with passion, sing with passion, and design widgets with passion. Perhaps living in a time of relative affluence sets the stage for may people in my country to look for passion to decide what they will do with their life. Just saying the word makes them set apart, special. Public discourse seems to say being passionate about something should guarantee success and acclaim from those that matter. If a person can’t be passionate about something, then become passionate about someone who is passionate.

Passion for passion provides the fuel for a world gone mad for celebrity. We wear clothes with other people’s names on them – a clear mark of being owned by someone with passion. The youngest self-made billionaire comes from a family that is famous for being famous. Their lives become a reality show. The reality show created a need to be like those people, so the young lady had a ready-made market for her clothing line. While I do not understand reality shows, I have to admit the young lady is quite brilliant in harnessing a world’s need for the next best thing to passion … dressing like someone who has “it”.

As I walk through Acts 22 I see a story filled with passion. Reading the story reminds me of pictures of a girl touching a static electricity ball in a children’s science museum. The electricity makes her hair literally stand on end. The air carried a similar charge as Paul began to defend himself. Passion ran wild on all sides.

Paul begins his defense as many speakers do today. He presented his credentials as a favored son. He had passionately studied at the feet of the greatest teacher of the day and used his education to zealously hunt down the people of the Way who threatened the foundation of Jewish identity. Like modern day Mossad members who hunted down Nazi war criminals or the 1972 terrorists that assassinated 11 Israeli summer Olympic athletes in Munich, Paul tracked down followers of the Christ in ever widening concentric circles. All of the elders could witness to this man’s zeal for God and the warrants he carried to Damascus. 

True zeal or passion acts on behalf of some cause. Since passion motivates to action, once Saul found out who blinded him on his mission to Damascus, he asked what Jesus wanted him to do. He had to surrender his purpose to arrest people of the Way in order to hear what he should do. Later in the story Paul tells of times when he received his direction straight from the Lord, his first steps came through a disciple who knew the law as he did. Ananias greeted his new brother with the new commission – Paul now lived to witness of all the things he had seen and heard.

Perhaps the new job seemed a step down from the old commission. Hunting down faith offenders sure seems more manly than just living to tell the things you have seen and heard. Then again, I suppose that depends on what the witness has seen.

Paul became a part of the great cloud of witnesses. Sometimes they would not accept his testimony, at other times masses converted from their previous passion to their new passion to become witnesses in their own right.

Most men like shinny things, fast things, and loud things. Hand guns and sports cars fascinate us for some reason. Dodge Hellcats and Bass Pro Shops provide evidence that a substantial number of us don’t outgrow our boyhood ways. What we cannot have we admire in the possession of others and dream of a 10 car garage, or a 10 point buck.

Paul’s passion grew beyond a juvenile faith. He did not talk of the miracles of dead raised, lame that walked, or servant girls freed from demons. Instead he took the risk of underscoring the most powerful witness at his disposal. His testimony reached its climax when he recounted the vision when the Lord sent him to witness to the Gentiles. 

Reading the story in my recliner makes me seriously question Paul’s skill as a litigator. He took that which gave him credentials at the beginning of the witness, zeal for exclusively Jewish faith, and reversed its polarity in a way that gave his audience emotional whiplash. What was he thinking! If he just edited the story in a way that highlighted faithfulness to the law, then he would have been home in time for dinner. Instead he fulfilled his passion. He witnessed to the wonder of a gospel that invited ALL to experience redemption. In one of his letters he explained the way Christ pulled down old categories that created privilege (male/female, Jew/Greek, and free/slave). A gospel that removes all personal privilege is stronger than a gospel that only heals blind eyes, straightens limbs, and survives storms.

Oops, I think Paul is witnessing to me today rather than the mob. He abandons his credentials as a missionary, preacher, writer, and miracle worker for the simple, yet profound, office as witness. Could discipleship really be that basic? Am I willing to turn away from pursuing the shiny evidences of the kingdom for the power to witness? Are Acts 22 and Acts 1:8 really true?

Such questions call me to pray.

Dear Lord,

I must confess I quest for the shiny parts of the Gospel. I know You do many miracles today, and I so want to see more of them. But today the Word calls me to see the greater power in opening the reconciling door to all people as Your deeper, more eternal work than mere cornea replacements.

I repent of my tendency to put the emphasis in the wrong places. You promised these signs should follow those that believe. You did not call us to seek them or follow them. Instead You strip my power to the one place where I can actually have a voice. You call me and my people to celebrate the wonder of witness. Seeing, believing, living, and telling the story of Your eternal life offered to all. 

Some witnesses will end like Stephen. Other witnesses fade quickly from the plot line like Ananias. Other witnesses become the focal point of the mission like Paul. But all have that divine power to witness. 

Could you help me see that power to witness is enough? It seems like You send me as a little boy facing deadly force with a toy rock slinger. But as I think of it, that is exactly what You frequently do. You send us a sheep among wolves. You send us with no extra resources. You just send us with the words of Emmanuel.

I believe the witness is enough. Now I want to live like it.

Maybe then I can more honestly pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done…” When I pray that way I am more satisfied to witness of Your goodness to someone than having the “credit” for healing blind eyes. I pray it again, “Thykingdom come, Thywill be done.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

A Walk Through Acts 21

            Freedom has an intoxicating ring to it. Freedom contains memories of past shackles that have fallen away like a used, unneeded chrysalis. Just saying the word makes me breath more deeply and experience the wonder of a mono chromatic world explode with thousands of colors. Freedom’s cry reveals roots embedded in the soil of all human existence, a root whose blooms more frequently experience the burn of an early frost than the fragrant peddles that reach for the sun in an undying effort to wring all of the life-giving power from its rays.

            Freedom speaks of a cost.

            “Give me liberty or give me death.”

            “Don’t tread on me.”

            “I have a dream that one day …”

            “I have looked over the mountain …”

            Freedom often speaks of rebellion from an oppressor or a refusal to remain silent in the face of society that invests more in chloroform to restrain those at the margins than to find ways to share freedom with those not like us. Defense systems, prisons, and home protection budgets out pace education and care for the poor.

            Wow. That sounded quite liberal.

            Why does freedom seldom ring in a way to give up personal prerogatives for the benefit of others? Why does following Jesus to walk in both holiness and care for others get split into opposing camps named conservative and liberal?

            As I walk through the frozen images in Acts 21, and pause long enough for the scenes to thaw into moments filled with fresh sights, sounds, smells and emotions, I marvel at the kind of freedom Paul lived. I think the chapter reads like the farewell tour of a beloved family member. Beach ministry looks like gatherings of disciple families who want one last glimpse of the favored uncle. If cell phones were available, then selfies with Paul would rule the day. Instead they had to settle for one more prayer meeting. Those in attendance would never forget those shared moments kneeling by the docks as the Spirit blew more powerfully than the ocean winds.

            The Spirit spoke at every stop on the farewell tour. The tenor of the Spirit’s words sounded differently to Paul than it did to others. At every harbor, in every hospitable home, in every conversation the Spirit said bondage awaited Paul at the end of his journey. Jerusalem, the city that loved tombs of dead prophets more the words of living ones, awaited with chains.

            The Spirit spoke in Tyre and in Caesarea. He spoke through Philip’s four daughters and through Agabus. Some used object lessons to make the words more concrete. Evidently the Spirit’s words left room for interpretation. The well-wishers used the Spirit’s words to deflect Paul from going to Jerusalem. They punctuated their words with sobs. They broke Uncle Paul’s heart because he understood the Spirit’s words differently. Paul heard the Spirit asking if he was ready for prison or even death.

            Paul expressed his freedom in saying yes.

            The family members grudgingly stopped asking for a different itinerary and acquiesced to the Lord’s will.

            Frequently freedom’s bell sounds differently than what we anticipated.

            Paul freely went to Jerusalem. He freely met the brothers one day and the elders the next. He freely gave an update and heard the concerns of the HQ Jewish church – concerns based on rumors that he worked to get Jewish Christians to stop following their traditions. He freely refrained from defending himself. He even went beyond paying for his vow in the temple to pay for four other’s purification rituals as well.

            Paul was truly free. He and already met his Defender on the Damascus Road and accepted the offered freedom three days later. He taught liberty from Jewish traditions when preaching to the Gentiles, and he lived the liberty to bring peace to a nervous Jewish church in Jerusalem.

            He got beat up for his freedom.

            Luke gives no evidence that he blamed James of the nervous rule keepers. He was free.

            He was free to walk in chains.

            He was free to accept momentary deliverance at the hand of pagan soldiers.

            He used his freedom to testify one more time.

The Spirit speaks again. I think I need to kneel with Uncle Paul and my family and pray by the beach.

Dear Lord,

            Thank you for doing all You did to make my freedom possible. You led the way on Freedom Trail by choosing to drink from the cup, resisting the urge to beckon thousands of angels who gazed with astonishment as You left bloody footprints up that hill, and by letting love hold you to the tree.

            You freed me from wages of sin and death. You freed me, so I could hear Your voice and live as a freedom witness.

            Forgive me of the times I’ve used freedom to satisfy my desires, try to get even with someone, or doubted when Freedom Trail takes me through rugged places. I deeply value the example uncles Paul and Peter posted on Freedom Trail. I’ve seen signs left by many other travelers as well. Because of them I walk today.

            Lord, I treasure your love for me and my big family more than ever before. Could you speak to us again? Could you give us the strength to face tomorrow freely? Can You help us respect and value those who can only muster a whispered “God’s will be done”?

            Finally we want to pray Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven by respecting both rule keepers and new converts from different cultures. Be glorified as we walk freely toward one more testimony opportunity – even when we do so in chains.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen

A Walk Through Acts 20

A Walk Through Acts 20

“They” begin lying to us as children. Even in kindergarten “they” tell us that we can be anything we want to be, that all we have to do is dream big and work the plan. What a lie! Some people have mathematical or verbal giftings. Other people have one of the other six forms of intelligences proposed by Howard Gardner. Joseph Renzulli and colleagues develop further models of child giftedness that exploded the number of gifting areas that accounted for differences in interest, and style preferences for instruction, learning environment, thinking and expression. Children are not born with equal abilities and do not get equal opportunities. Gifted behavior happens when a child has above average ability, creativity, and task commitment. Francoys Gagne proposes that 1 in 10 children are moderately gifted while only 1 in 100,000 are extremely gifted.

When will we stop lying to children? When will we stop lying to ourselves? 

We cannot be anything we want to be. Without kinesthetic intelligence, another foot in height, and a basketball environment I could never achieve a goal of being a professional basketball center … much less the best one. Of course I would have to be a foot shorter, 90 pounds lighter and comfortable with very small margin of error to win the Kentucky Derby … assuming I could get on the right horse. Sadly our culture sets up many people for lifelong disappointment.

Unrealistic expectations often cause marriages to fail and careers to implode. Unrealistic expectations can lead to chronic depression, pressures to perform, anger toward parents and culture that did not set the table for success, and even contemplating suicide when the gap between expectations and current reality remains too wide for too many months.

On the other hand, life is a gift from God! We are all made in the His image and blessed with limitations. Limitations allow us to humbly flourish in our personal giftings in the place where we find ourselves. Limitations enable us to join with others as they celebrate their accomplishments and walk alongside others when they suffer failures. Perhaps limitations are one of our greatest gifts.

As I walk through Acts 20, Paul’s giftings and limits leap from Luke’s quill. This treasured leader encounters so many disciples and elders who want to see the apostle one more time before his appointed end closes in on him. While the chapter has an account of one teaching event and summarizes many others as “in public and from house to house”, most of the chapter recounts Paul’s gifting as an encourager. Acts 20 has no church plants and only one miracle (necessitated by a young man’s inability to stay awake during Paul’s teaching for 8 to 10 hours). 

Luke captures the multiple dimensions of encouragement as a spiritual gift needed for the church to remain a missionary people. In other places he celebrates exorcising of demons, surviving shipwreck, shaking off snakes, healing the lame, and planting new churches. This chapter does not have that element of apostolic life. Instead the author emphasizes the necessity of the quiet gift of encouragement.

Perhaps encouragement gifting plays such a critical role in a faithful church because true disciples live like Jesus. His powerful mission went through days of prayer, wrestling with Satan, opposition by the theological crowd and powerbrokers, rejection from dear friends, and violence. Even casual readers must realize the trappings of the ‘good life’ somehow don’t find their way into the story. 

The realistic goal of living faithfully as a disciple requires encouragement. Distractions of fame and success smoothly insert themselves into my expectation list like rust use to eat through the steel of my cars in New York … from the inside out. 

Paul’s encouragement came through his words and his lifestyle. In a touching scene in Miletous, where the Ephesian elders meet the apostle of encouragement, Paul recounts the walk of humility punctuated with tears and trials from external threats. The encouragement brought memories of walking the path together. Paul’s words sowed the seeds for realistic expectations for the years to come. Unfortunately the elders did not fully grasp the dimensions of the encouragement. By the end of the generation, John would record Jesus’ words to the church elders – great work, but you lost the first love.

The encouraging apostle reminded the elders of his testimony of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ … a testimony delivered to both Jews and Greeks. He also reminded them of the Holy Spirit’s testimony in every city. The Spirit forewarned him of the coming difficulty through personal constraints or feelings as well as through words of prophets everywhere he went. The road to Jerusalem would end with imprisonment and afflictions. Do modern readers really get the juxtapositioning of the apostle’s testimony given to many against the testimony he received from the Spirit?

Paul confessed his life goal as part of his encouraging words: “If only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” He would never see them again, so he left the most encouraging word he could. His life had little value. Being faithful represented the highest estate any disciple could achieve. He could do that, and so could they.

Before the elders accompanied Paul to the ship, the encouraging apostle reset their ministry expectations. The Holy Spirit called then to attend to their own lives and the lives of the flock. Though wolves would come from within, they could remain faithful to the One who is always able to give an inheritance among the saints.

Paul’s encouragement reminded the elders of his bi-vocational ministry. His entrepreneurial skills were applied wherever the Spirit called him. He never expected to be in “full-time” ministry; in fact the encouraging apostle resisted such efforts in his own life while validating ministers who made other choices. The work of Paul’s hands supported him and his ministry team; they also provided care for the weak.

The final act of encouragement was to kneel by the docks and pray with the elders. 

His encouragement ministry calls me to pray as well.

Dear Lord,

Thank you for your mercies that are new every morning! I so easily default to my old ways of valuing life and things around me. You chose the cross as THE place for me to experience forgiveness and new life. How easily I transform the rugged tree into a piece of silver jewelry that only needs a little daily polishing to look pretty again. Forgive me for trying to make the cross look pretty. 

Thank You for resetting my expectations. You have lifted my eyes today to see eternal expectations rather than a life of leisure and accumulation of treasures. Pursuit of pleasure dies. Quest for faithfulness rises again. Oh, to know the joy of sharing Your grace in times fraught with opposition where the old order tries to stay in power. Today’s suffering takes me back to the cross rather than finding my satisfaction in houses, land, gold or honor. Today’s blessings remind me of the future realty where I join my brothers and sisters and experience the greatest blessing of all – being in Your presence for eternity. 

Help me to value the apostolic gift of encouragement. For some reason we tend to value times of blazing demonstrative power above quiet, steadfast assurance of the things that really matter. Help me to support others in their encouragement giftings even as I give voice to encouraging spirit You have placed in me. I look forward to times of kneeling by the docks in prayer as You send all of us on our way.

At the docks we will pray, Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done in our expectations and demonstration of encouragement power.

In Your Name, 

Amen

A Walk Through Acts 19

 Keeping track of time has changed quite a bit since Moses wrote, “And the evening and the morning were the first day.” He did not talk about hours, minutes, or seconds – just two halves of the day. Those close to the tabernacle could use their nose to tell the time by evening and morning sacrifices. Sundials used shadows to track hours by 3500 BC. Chinese monks and scholars developed the first mechanical clock that used water driven wheels to beat a drum every quarter hour and ring a bell every full hour (725 AD). By the 15thcentury the French had clocks with gears and springs rather than using water or weights. Clocks improved to the point where they lost only four minutes per day and would set the stage for miniaturized versions that could be put in a vest pocket. Of course you can now link your watch to your phone to keep track of your steps, heartbeats, and text messages.

Watch collecting has become quite a subculture. One company tried to cater to those who wanted luxury watches but could not afford a closet shelf full of autowinders. For a monthly fee from $149 on the low end to $999 on the upper end, Eleven James would send you a new luxury watch every three months as long as you sent the last one back to them. Imagine leasing watches just like someone leasing a luxury SUV!

As you might guess, I am a mechanical watch guy. While mine were all found under the $100 mark, I enjoy winding them to set a new day in motion. I pick the watch, wind the crown, set the time and change the date if necessary.

Often I catch myself wanting to control time rather than being satisfied with simply synchronizing my watch. I want to slow down the joyful times with one of the ladies in my life (all princesses – Mom, Sherri, Jen, Amanda, Jane, and Juhina) or my son, James III. Times with Dad become more cherished with each passing year. Grandchildren, from the eldest, Jaden, to the youngest, Jubayr, make time special; distance has made those times even more precious.

Painful times somehow have the power of making time crawl while approaching deadlines accelerate time. From my experience Einstein was right, time is not very consistent.

One of my human weaknesses expresses itself when I try to alter God’s timing. The Bible clearly explains His desire to be with all humanity, and His work in Christ reconciles all things to Himself. He has promised to give us the ministry/deeds of reconciliation and the words of reconciliation as part of His creation upcycling process. God made the promises; I believe Him.

How long, Oh Lord, will this take? Are we almost there? Why has it taken this long? Millions of saints have prayed, labored, believed, and died, yet the time has not yet come.

Sometimes I catch myself looking at my spiritual clock and wondering if it still works. Surely time seems to have stopped. Perhaps if we cream louder, pray harder, or hunger more, then we could make God’s time speed up.

Forgive me, Lord.

Paul disappointed the people of Ephesus in Acts 18. He said he would come back at some later point if the Lord willed. Evidently the Lord’s timing brought this to pass in Acts 19. Time was right. The 12 disciples of John Baptist would now hear of Jesus’ name baptism and the Holy Spirit. They spoke in tongues and prophesied; they had only waited 20 years or so! How long had those who experienced “extraordinary miracles” waited? Why did people have to suffer the manipulation of magical arts and wasted so much wealth on the illusion of help or demonic control when God promised to bless all nations through Abraham’s children in Genesis 12?

Watches, sundials, and calendars do not capture God’s timing. Lifetimes fail as well. When God’s timing was right, Ephesus became the center of kingdom witness to that region of the world.

God’s will disrupts more than the normal progress of time. Some respond to the disruption to the time-space continuum with unbelief and speaking evil of the Way. Others threw out valuable investments in magic arts as they saw the word of the Lord continue to increase and prevail mightily. Those who tried to harness the power for their exorcism business got a beating.

God will always cause confusion and delay for the established order. Actually the disruption comes to the disorder around which people have ordered their lives.

While a silversmith instigated the riot, most agitated people in the arena did not know why they joined the arena protest. They joined the worship of Artemis/Diana without a reason. Someone told them to jump, so they did. Someone told them to scream, so they did. Someone told them to shout out the greatness of the Ephesian god; they did so for two hours.

Paul and his team lived a life of worship during the Ephesian chaos. Some people actively rejected them; some people received with joy. Other folks got swept up in the frenzy while a few folks maintained a dispassionate middle ground. Paul’s ministry approach spoke powerfully for Christ, but he did not act sacrilegiously or blaspheme other faith systems. Following God’s timing gave the disciples peace of mind to proclaim Christ without shaming others. Sometimes city fathers brought riots; at other times thy served as peace makers while Paul proclaimed the Prince of Peace.

Releasing the need to control or anticipate God’s timing frees disciples to do and speak righteousness.

The Word calls me to pray.

Dear Lord,

I am a bit weary today, and the coming weeks have more events crowded into them than what I think I can accomplish to my satisfaction. I fear disappointing You, others, and myself. By this time I thought … well I do not know exactly what I thought, I just know I didn’t think my life would look like this. 

I know much of the exhaustion comes from my own making. You have shown me some of the wonderful things You are doing to reconcile all things to Yourself, and I want to see them come to pass. Then I proudly think I can accelerate the time or make it happen by working harder. Somehow I took the responsibility of getting the mission accomplished. I am sorry for judging Your schedule and faithfulness to Your promises as inadequate. I repent of my pride of thinking I could improve on Your Spirit moving on the face of chaos as You make all things new.

Casting all of my anxieties on You represents a significant part of my repentance. I humbly do so today. I take my hands off of my feeble attempts to control time as if my manipulation of clock hands actually changes things.

I rejoice in the freedom to simply live the Kingdom Way. You make living holy and justly possible even when I do not see results on the schedule I would like to see them. I put down disappointments of missed timetables and accept the peace and hope You offer. Living as a disciple brings joy whether I see the results today or not. Being daily renewed as part of Your new creation opens my capacity to see new ways You recreate all things. I will simply do what You have put in my hands for today.

I breath again. I breath more deeply than I did yesterday. I breath in the freshness of Your Spirit and feel life where I was afraid my bones could not live again. Thank You for helping me to put down my timetable and expectations one more time. My back could not handle the weight; those expectations squeezed the life out of me. Letting You be God and carry the burdens makes me feel alive again.

Hallelujah!

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done… in Your timing.

Amen

A Walk Through Acts 18

A Walk Through Acts 18

I enjoy sitting with my parents and listening to their stories from years bone by. Now that I am in my last years as a pentagenarian, Mom and Dad have to go back to the first fourth of their life to uncover yesteryears untouched by the detritus of my own existence. As I listen raptly and probe for more information, I feel like an archeologist peeling back the layers to a strange time.

Not only did Dad grow up without electricity, running water, or a second room in his school house, they did not travel… at all. As I set on my couch in Texas and reflect on the years gone by, I realize how different my life has been from some of my ancestors just a few generations ago. Our family migration from southern Illinois to upstate New York set the trajectory for my whole life in so many ways. My life highlight reel also includes a wonderful with Dad to Taiwan.

As a child, however, Dad only read about strange places like the Florida Everglades. I guess Dad and his two siblings pestered my grandfather enough that he finally acquiesced. Grandad loaded his excited children into the family sedan and headed south… all the way to the Arkansas boarder. Perhaps the 45-mile trip took an hour. After crossing the border, he immediately turned around and told them to not ask to travel again. Evidently Grandpa Littles’ bucket list was a bit limited when it came to travel. I do not say that with criticism; much of my grandfather’s life revolved around surviving and supporting those he loved. Travel required a purpose.

This year I got to do ministry travel from Vancouver, British Columbia to Indonesia. Past trips have taken me as far south as Buenos Aires, Argentina, north to Dawson City, Yukon, and East to Fukuoa, Japan. Sherri and I have traveled more this past year than we have ever traveled before. Sometimes my bucket list is to stay home for two or three weeks and enjoy the view out my back window.

Now our whole world seems to travel. Cities of any size have various ethnic enclaves. Public transportation and shopping centers tickle the ears with “foreign” languages and the nose with spices from distant lands. In the olden days, you had to set in someone’s living room to watch the slides from the Mt Rushmore vacation or their 8 mm silent movies of the beach. Now we invite everyone to tell their stories in our own living rooms through Facebook and Instagram.

Humanity now floats around the globe. Sometimes the float becomes a destructive tsunami, but we are always on the move.

Reading Acts 18 reminds me that my church family carries the migratory DNA. It started with a refugee from Ur, threads through Egypt on its way to Palestine where The Illegal Alien was born in a barn. The early church continued this migration lifestyle. The chapter moves around from places like Alexandria, Egypt, to Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus. Apollos doubtlessly traveled with a trunk of scrolls and journals accounting for his time with John Baptist. Aquilla and his wife Priscilla would certainly not make it through TSA checkpoints with all of their tent making equipment. Paul probably had both scrolls and tools of the trade in his go bag.

The Spirit moved along with the people.

In some places they experienced rejection. When that happened they shook the dust from their garments and moved on to another audience.

Sometimes the audience grew offended and took them to court. While there the disciples witnessed a brutal hate crime as Sosthenes bled before the disinterested eye of the judge.

Travels happened with the simple clause, “If God wills.” At times the Lord lavishly loved His traveling disciples by comforting them with visions. “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in the city who are my people.” At times the disciples disappointed new believers as they traveled to the next city with the promise to return if the Lord willed it to be so. They stayed from a matter of days to a year and a half.

The scenery and foods may have changed, but one thing never changed. God sent them to make disciples in the cities.

Pentecost thrives in urban spaces. Spaces of commerce, manufacturing, and convergence of cultures provide the city scape of a new work of the Spirit. Spaces of government, banking, intellectual pursuits, and urban poor cry out for Pentecostal witness. Cities always experience change. Urban change provides the seedbed for the harvest.

Jesus still sends small business people like Paul, Pricilla and Aquilla to the cities. He still sends teachers like Apollos. He still sends visions to reduce the fear and open the eyes to see much people. Unless the church hears the beckoning of the city over the anxiety of her own heart, she will not know the Lord’s will. Though cobblestone streets have given way to concrete veins to carry the masses, God’s heartbeat can still be heard the loudest in the cities.

I think my grandfather and father would understand this kind of travel, a travel with a goal in mind. The Lord’s will be done in confined spaces where stacks of people reach to the heavens.

The cities call me to pray.

Lord,

You had a voice calling in the wilderness before You came the first time. Before You come the second time, I hear the voices calling from the cities. Like farmers plow their fields with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, You have fertilized the world’s cities with migrating populations in search of something. You have prepared the soil.

Do You still give the burden of unreached cities like You did to Paul and Silas? Is it still possible for men and women to hear urban cries as my mother and father did? The cities have greater needs today than ever before; surely You have a church well prepared for the season of harvest.

Lord, would You give us visions and dreams again? Surely You have even more people in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio than know Your name today. Chicago, LA, Seattle, DC, Miami, New York, Denver, and Phenix need thousands of more witnesses. Mexico City, London, Paris, Johannesburg, Moscow, Cairo, Mumbai, Tokyo, and Beijing all await the healing wave of missionaries You raise up in this last hour. 

I am thankful for the missionaries who have gone before with the support of mission minded churches, but the cites need more! Do you still have any small businessmen and women who can go? Perhaps some who get pushed out of one city with much confusion only to learn this was part of Your will? Do You have any social workers, engineers, educators, urban planners, architects, accountants, web designers, longshoremen, cooks and office cleaners that You could send to the cities? Can You gift them to love the city when they have receptive ears as well as when they experience hate crimes?

I weep because You show me the cities, and I do not know how to pray prayers that big. I weep because I am afraid we are not ready for the urban Pentecost You have planned for the world. 

I weep, but I also hope. Just as the winds blow with the changing season outside my window today, Your Spirit blows over the face of the world’s cities. Send us. Send me. 

Oh Lord! Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done … in the cities.

In Jesus’ Name

Amen