Blog

A Walk Through Luke 3

From my earliest childhood I remember expecting good things to come. What child does not look forward to birthdays and Christmas? Visits to a kind neighbor or a favorite aunt’s house can ignite small anticipations of good things to come. Our daughter has to be careful about telling our granddaughter of a pending visit with Nana – the anticipation can become too much! Our daughter’s strategy is to mark the date on a calendar and ceremoniously cross of each passing day as THE day gets closer.

I do not know if we ever outgrow anticipations and expectations. Sherri and I visited a number of antique stores on our anniversary getaway last week. Each case and pile of discarded ‘treasures’ got careful attention. My anticipation got rewarded with a marine green Sheaffer Balance OS from the mid 1930s in fairly decent shape and a black Sheaffer PFM 1 from the early 1960s that had very little if any use. I was almost embarrassed by the 50% discount on the PFM; it was already a good deal. After a few hours of repair, the pens will be ready to dance magically across blank pages waiting to capture the birthing of new ideas. I can hardly wait.

Sometimes life’s storms and heartaches drain the human spirit of expectations like a week-old birthday balloon that lost the energy to bounce on the ceiling. Unrealized expectations cause more divorces than arguments over money. Seeing the eyes of despair makes me want to weep with the forlorn person. In those moments I have no words of comfort; all I can do is be present in the hopelessness and trust the Spirit will bring life once again. I also know what it is like to be held by others in the dark nights that seemed to stretch for eternity.

Perhaps C. S. Lewis captured the wonder of expectation better than any other writer in the 20thcentury. His own suffering resulted from God not answering his prayer to save his beloved mother from cancer’s life draining power. At 10 or 11 he gave up on God and escaped into intellectual pursuits. After witnessing the horrors of WWI, the loss of a dear friend and suffering injury himself, Lewis eventually found atheism unequal to the task of explaining why the human spirit continued to quest for joy and justice.

Lewis needed to know why people could imagine, even long for, things like beauty and peace when so little could be found. His search led him to conclude the human anticipation for the good could only come from a good God.

As I walk through Luke 3 I am shocked with the fragrance of hope emanating from a people who lived in deplorable conditions. What should have been eye watering swamp gasses of despair gave way to the divine gift of expectation for something good. The God’s word came to John. He preach good news to the crowds who stood on the shoulders of many generations of expectant people. 

John’s word of leveling and straightening the path so that all flesh could see the glory of God called them to the baptismal pool. The strangely dressed prophet offered a third alternative to the human responses of fight or flight. Rather than fleeing the wrath to come, they could bear fruit. Their best expectation, judgment avoidance, got a godly upgrade to produce good fruit. All they had to do to gain the upgrade was repent of their old perspective and behave in line with the coming glory.

When I think good news, I automatically go to the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Luke explained the words of John, though just a shadowy anticipation of the coming Messiah, were good news as well. His words of accountable repentance, coming judgment and fruitful living brought good news. Perhaps his prophetic words to the Herodians brought good news to the crowd as well – they could expect judgment would come to the power brokers.

John’s words of Jesus fell far short of what would come, but that is the nature of divine expectations. John saw the Holy Ghost and judgment fires collapsed into one moment; his expectations missed Jesus’ third way of calling a church to continue His mission to the ends of the earth. When repentance leads us to third way alternatives in light of the good news, our expectations will fall short of God’s vision for restored humanity. We will need anticipation upgrades right up to our last breath.

My expectations in light of John’s good news calls me to pray.

Dear Jesus,

Today I confess all of my hopes for good things come from You. I know my hopes need adjustment to see ‘third way’ opportunities, but the fact that I expect peace, joy, and justice in this world testify to Your redemptive care for all creation. Like John, I too have a limited perspective of what You plan to do in these last days.

I repent of limited expectations of deliverance and judgment against wickedness. Like the crowds, you call me to share my resources with others. Like the tax collectors, you call me to behave justly in all business practices. Like the soldiers, you call me to never misuse power and to be content with my wages. 

The fruit I bear does not seem to be market worthy. I can only see deformations caused by worms and early frosts, but You call me to look again. Turning away from kingdom impact of the fruit You produce in me rejects Your choice to use Your church to witness to the kingdom. I repent again. I accept an expectation refresh. I feel the breath of Your Spirit as you bring renewed life to my vision. 

Thank you for the cornea implants. Cataracts of time have clouded my expectations, but through Your Word and Spirit, I see new glimpses of light. By simply bearing the fruit You put within me, I can be a part of Your Kingdom coming and Your Will being done.

In Jesus Name,

Amen

A Walk Through Luke 2

Back in the 1980s I did part of my student teaching in a third-grade classroom. I got to introduce children to the wonderful world of fractions. In some ways my degree, teaching credentials, and career rested on my ability to help the children learn to use fractions. For the children, and more than a few of their parents, I opened the door to some mystical world that defied logic.

I think math books should be sold at the checkout counter right next to Peoplemagazine. Certainly the Pythagorean theorem is more fascinating than the latest Hollywood scandal. Impulse buyers should not be able to resist mathematical beauty.

Before my students could venture into the world of algebra, geometry and statistics, they needed to grasp and celebrate a world between whole numbers. And I got to take them there! Of course they had experienced less than whole when their first bottle approached that sad sucking sound. They had reduced their parents’ sleeping time to a fragment of what it had been before their blessed arrival. Cough syrup and other medicines came through little tubes with hash marks indicating parts of the whole. Fractions should be no problem for little people of normal intelligence and a vast body of experience.

Yet many of them suffered.

I lovingly explained the concepts many times. I used paper puzzles. I even pulled out the ultimate weapon, chocolate candy bars, to explain the bigger the number on the bottom (everybody say denominator), the smaller the fraction. Most of them got it. I passed student teaching, graduated, and got a job.

Walking through Luke 2 shows how we all experience the disorienting world of new understanding even though our daily lives are saturated with truth. I marvel at God’s patience as we wrestle with His commitment to reclaim all things from the brokenness of sin. Deliberately walking through the chapter makes His love palpable for me. It is like the story is unfolding right before my eyes.  

God displayed His grace everywhere, yet most did not grasp it. Some people call the years between Malachi and the birth of Christ the 400 years of silence. God has never been silent. Every sunrise and every rain drop conveyed God’s love. Not only did creation declare God’s ongoing conversation with humanity, the Spirit still spoke to devout men and women. Simeon and Anna heard God. Anna prophesied under the direction of the Spirit. They patiently anticipated the fulfillment of what they had heard.

With the birth of Jesus, God spoke in a new way. He chose to use questionable taxation practices to fulfill Old Testament prophecies. He sent angels to invite shepherd boys to see grace incarnate. Joseph and Mary had the courage to make the journey as an engaged couple – evidently Mary’s dad expelled her from his house rather than waiting for the wedding celebration.

The parents could not fully grasp what was happening. The shepherds’ revelation brought wonder to them and others who stood by the manger. Something about the boys’ encounter caused Mary to ponder what she thought she already knew. Presenting the child at the temple bought new understanding. Simeon blessed the parents and warned Mary of heart piercings to come. 

Parenting the Christ must have brought many moments of wonder. Jesus’ four-day conversation with temple teachers brought anxiety, distress, astonishment, and deepening awareness of how little they understood their son. Mary wisely treasured all new information in her heart even though she would not understand their meaning until decades later. This One who submitted to them continued to grow in wisdom and favor with God and humanity.

The early church could not grasp the full meaning of angelic words regarding great joy for all people and peace on earth.  Simeon’s prophetic words of salvation for all people groups and revelation for the Gentiles sounded as strange to the church as the new world of fractions did to my eight year-olds. 

As I walk through the chapter I hear young angels with glittered wings grinning from ear to ear as they race through their lines before family members. How can six-year-old children drama team members understand these words? As shepherds poke each other with staffs and prance because they need to go to the bathroom, these eternal words echo through the congregation – a congregation that has heard the words often before. They smile and take pictures. They fail to marvel and treasure words that have not fully come to pass. I must value these words afresh as I approach the later seasons of my life.

The wonderful truths still await their fulfillment. I have experienced kingdom power most of my life just as children live in a world of fractions. Though I breath kingdom air, I still have new truths and behaviors just beyond my mental, spiritual, and emotional reach. These partially realized truths call me to pray.

Dear Jesus,

Thank You for never being silent. Sometimes Your voice booms with tidal wave strength, while at other times only patient and spiritually focused people will hear Your small voice. I worship You for the things I have heard. I repent of times that I have set my ear to the wrong frequency. 

Your birth still contains truths just beyond my reach. Sometimes I feel like the shepherds; I marvel at the divine invitation to leave mundane things behind and gaze into a beautiful eternity when all creation is restored. At other times I feel like elder Simeon who heard the Spirit’s tug for decades. I believe, but I also wonder what it will be like to hold the promises in my hand. Today I feel like Mary. I have heard new things these past few months. These new things build on the foundation of truths I heard four and five decades ago. The new things bring fresh hope mingled with perplexity. I hide them in my heart.

Thank you for Your patience. Like a gifted math teacher, You have introduced and reinforced the wonder of Your kingdom coming and Your will being done in all the earth. My eyes sparkle with a new dawning of awareness. New faith, new trust, and new sense of Your gifts in my life call me forward.

I celebrate these kingdom impulses today, and I anticipate even more astonishment in the days to come. The pain in my heart truly does not compare to the possibilities I sense in the spirit.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

A Walk Through Luke 1

I am not really a bucket list kind of guy. Given my personality, I am afraid the ‘list’ would turn into something to chase – another work item to accomplish. Instead I have had some lifetime experiences to celebrate and remember. Some lifetime experiences are trips such as the ones Sherri and I got to take to Whitehorse, Yukon and to Singapore. Just mentioning those trips bring memories of shared meals with dear friends, fishing trips, preaching and teaching in special places, and walks with my princess. Another lifetime experience expanded to fill my middle adult years – who would have thought I would have the opportunity to be a Bible college instructor for 10 years and seminary professor for 17 more years! Now that Sherri and I live quite a distance from all family members, each visit gives me a chance for double hugs with my parents, children, grandchildren, brothers and other family members – those moments provide deeper joy and pleasure than the trips to Austria and Switzerland that I have daydreamed about for the last five or six years.

Kissing Sherri’s shoulder as I left for the office this morning was a lifetime experience. I’ve done it a thousand times or more over the last 39 years, but each one is a once in a lifetime experience.

Some ‘bucket-list-able’ experiences do not live up to the anticipation. I have a few such honors and experiences in mind, but I will leave them unnamed. I do not want to taint someone else’s anticipation or memories of those times.

Reflecting on these past blessings change me. They turn me from disappointments, losses, and grief to anticipation, thanksgiving, and hope. The Lord’s blessings come as gifts rather than payments for my efforts or “sacrifice”. Blessings remind me that sacrifice is a term of worship rather than a term of economics. 

I think my life is a collection of blessings. Some books I have read help me see the archive with new appreciation. Yesterday I reviewed my decades long friend Dave Norris’ excellent book, I AM, as I made notes for a new friend who is covering a class for me this month. Dave’s examination of God’s loving covenant with humanity culminates in blessings. God calls His name over His people, and blessings result. 

Luke 1 deserves 30,000 words rather than the 1,000 or so I will give it today. I mean, just the way Luke links eyewitnesses and minister in some type of parallelism where I have to see both or I have neither calls for much deeper reflection. And that phrase happens in verse 2 of 80. I feel like someone running through the Louvre on a lunch break rather than giving attention to each part of a masterpiece. 

The chapter includes a cacophony of sights, sounds, smells, and emotions. The evening incense closes a day of sacrifices. Devout Jews pray for God’s favor as they await the priest’s return to the evening shadows of the temple’s courtyard after what might have been his only opportunity to offer incense in his whole life. That was a lifetime experience made special beyond anticipation by a heavenly messenger just as he prostrated himself before the altar. The experience blew away anything he could have imagined.

An elder lady experiences the emotions of shame and fear being vanquished by honor and hope. When the child kicked at the voice of a cousin’s greeting, decades of shame drained away. She was not cursed. She was not an evil sinner punished by God. Instead her blessing came in the autumn of life – her son would “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, and to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” God’s blessings came at the right time for her … and for the world.

Blessings mark you if you let them. They come from a distant throne room and are brought near by the very Spirit of God.

The chapter echoes blessings from the past. Elizabeth was a new Sarah. John’s spirit and power reflect that of Elijah and Samson. Angel visits connect God’s blessings that day to many times in the past when God made His intervention visible. All of the comments about turning remove the distance from Jeramiah’s tear stained writings to a season when many would see the coming King and turn toward Him. Songs of an old priest and a young girl bring to mind songs of Moses, Miriam, and Deborah. I am thankful for those who have the gift of fracturing the blessings into visible spectrums of song similar to the revealing power of a prism that surrenders to the light. 

Some parts of Luke 1 make us pause between heartbeats of those immobilized by fear at a God encounter, then the chapter ends with 30 years of John’s life collapsed in one sentence. Fast or slow, every word conveys blessings.

Seeing such an avalanche of blessings drops me to my knees in thanksgiving.

Dear Lord,

Thank you for the many waves of blessings You have poured out on my life. Each day Your blessings mold and shape me into the man I want to be but cannot get there on my own. Like Elizabeth I have had some moments of suffering and shame along the way, but today those pains only serve to flavor Your blessings. What others or I meant for harm, You have turned them into good in accordance with Your covenant goodness toward us, Your people.

I repent of moments when I rejected Your blessings like a pouting, recalcitrant child. Did You smile when I did that? Did You know today would come when Your blessings would overwhelm me? Did You see the tears of joy? Thank You for the years of patient mercy that continues to keep me in Your presence even when I thought following You was more like the Mojave Desert than the garden of beauty You place around me.

This morning is another life experience. It came upon me so unexpectedly. I am overwhelmed by Your goodness. I want to share what I have seen – to serve out of blessings encountered. Oh Lord! Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done! You turned so many things around in Luke 1. Those blessings still flow today.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen

A Walk Through Acts 28

In our travels my family and I have received a number of gift baskets. An early fond memory of a gift basket came from a dear family friend, Nancy Norris. Our four children were already fastened in their seats for the annual pilgrimage to visit family when she the goodie bags for the kids. She knew they would enjoy the trip if they had a few extra snacks, coloring books, and other trinkets to keep the occupied. Of course Nancy’s gift blessed Sherri and me even more than it did the kids! We will never forget the thoughtfulness expressed in that moment. The bags represent a lifetime of love for our children.

On a couple of occasions I told churches hosting Sherri and me that they had given us a MOAB – Mother of All Bags. Those bags could sustain small villages through a seven-year drought! Sometimes church administrators send an info request sheet to see what we like to drink and our favorite snacks. Frequently the bag contains fun things (at least fun for a professor-emeritus person like me) such as paper, pens, and back-up battery for a cell phone. One January a church included leather dress gloves to get me through a few bitter days in northern Ohio; those gloves still have a place in my winter coat pocket. Gift baskets, regardless of the size, contents, or value, make the receiver feel welcome.

Those gift baskets serve a far different purpose than the ones Oscar acting and directing nominees receive before the awards show each year. In 2016, the last year the sponsoring company published the price tag, the bag weighed in at $232,000 worth of swag. The list ranged from $6 chapstick to a couple of trips worth about $55,000 each. Donors hoped the entertainment elite would leverage some endorsement their way for the free stuff.

A walk through Acts 28 highlights missionary living in receiving and giving hospitality. The ancient world placed a higher value on hospitality as a functional part of life than what I am likely to ever experience. Many places in scripture we read of the call to care for strangers as well as examples of doing so. The dangerous nature of travel, limited resources, absence of a ‘hospitality’ industry such as hotels and eating places, migration patterns, and many other factors contributed to the development of hospitality.

Hospitality had its risks then as it does now, but the risk could last a lifetime. Jesus told a prayer illustration of pending shame if the host could not get food for the late night guest. The host would rather have an angry neighbor than the shame of being unhospitable. Ancient hospitality lasted for a lifetime. Hospitality went beyond welcoming a guest into the home, washing weary feet, providing a meal and bed, and sharing life stories to exchanging identifying tokens to offer proof of the relationship to others. 

Perhaps the modern military challenge token comes close to this exchange. The token commemorates a significant event or relationship, serves as a reminder of the relationship, and provides a sign to others who may see it. Some ancient families handed the tokens to the next generation to continue the link for many years to come. This kind of hospitality goes far beyond offering a drink of water and “Ya’ll come back now”.

Paul received hospitality from pagans on Malta after the shipwreck. Luke comments on their “unusual kindness” for the weary, water-logged refugees crawling their way up the rocky beach. As Paul returned the hospitality by assisting in the building the fire a deadly viper latched onto him. Local theology concluded Paul must have been a very wicked man – the god of Justice worked to finish the little man’s destruction. Theologies quickly changed to ascribe Paul divinity status when the snake had no impact on his stick gathering activities. Missionary Paul served as a good house guest by healing sick people for three months. 

Luke does not recount one baptism or Holy Spirit outpouring. I have heard people say Paul failed on Mars Hill because only a few believed; they suggest he should have preached from the Old Testament like he did in synagogues even though the audience had no awareness of the Bible. In this case the healing demonstrated God’s power and desire to restore all things, yet no one accepted the truth. Paul modeled being a witnessing guest even when people continued in their pagan ways.

The journey to Rome included hospitality at several points. They stayed with saints along the way. Another group of disciples made the 40-mile trip from Rome to accompany him the rest of the way to his divinely appointed destination. Luke carefully informed his readers that Paul took courage from these encounters. God’s work frequently happens in these moments of hospitality.

Thanksgiving and courage result. God is glorified. The kingdom comes.

Luke ends the book with hospitality. He started the book with disciples welcoming the Holy Spirit after a 10 day wait; decades later the church lives out this hospitality lifestyle. Paul welcomes his enemies as well as friends to his place of house arrest. Hospitality provided he chance to “proclaim the kingdom of God and teach about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hinderance.” Chains and guards could not stop hospitable witness. Paul probably had to continue to work his tent making craft or spend an inheritance to support himself, his team and his visitors during this time. He did it with joy. The God who welcomed him structured the apostle’s life around welcoming others.

Paul’s commitment to hospitable witness calls me to pray.

Dear Lord,

You always work to restore relationships through hospitality. Your life modeled welcoming those who usually experienced rejection. By letting a woman at a well serve You water, she became an early evangelist in Samaria. You call disciples to practice giving and receiving hospitality as a mark of being like You.

Forgive me of thinking people will know You through words of reconciliation without the accompanying deeds of reconciliation. Please forgive me for thinking welcoming others is a failure if they do not choose to be baptized or receive the Holy Spirit after the conversation, cup of coffee, or act of service. 

I want to be like You and Uncle Paul. I want to give and receive hospitality in a way that witnesses to Your kingdom coming and Your will being done. 

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen

A Walk Through Acts 27

An ever-changing world requires a shifting skill set. Children now take keyboarding classes in early elementary school, but many never learn to read or write cursive. In many ways I lament the loss of handwriting. This morning I used a vintage Conway Stewart 58 to jot a few notes. People wonder why I paid $100 for the pen ten years ago. I often hear comments about how many plastic Bics they can buy for that amount. My pen is cheaper, lasts far longer, and brings me more writing pleasure than the three or four phones I have had during that period.

I am not against phones; they do come in handy for checking email, fidgeting while waiting for Sherri to come out of Wal-Mart, and finding directions. I no longer have an atlas in the car or a glove box full of maps from various states. Those big, accordion folded sheets of paper that mapped all the arteries of American transportation languish in antique stores with the fountain pens. Now men who would never admit they are lost or pause to ask for directions take orders from a lady every time they go off of the beaten path. While GPS may take me through parts of town I may not have gone on my own, I do not get lost anymore. I only miss the old maps when Sherri and I want a “wandering vacation” where we keep to three rules: stay off of four lane highways, avoid bad weather, and turn around when half the money runs out.

As I walk through Acts 27 I am struck by the way Paul was literally and figuratively swept away by the currents of life. Other people decided when they would leave one port for another, the type of ship they would ride, and when they would pause for wintering. Paul gave suggestions, but no one paid attention to the prisoner.

The trip began on small coast hugging boats, but they soon switched to a ship transporting grain from Egypt to the masses in Rome. The ship owner and captain had to balance the threat of a late season voyage against profits to be earned. The decision to leave Fair Haven made sense – they left a city without a safe harbor for Phoenix where the ship would find protection from storms from any direction. They could certainly take the risk to sail for one more day to reach a safe place to winter. 

The day began with a gentle breeze. Then the northeastern winds blew off of the 7,000-foot mountain tops and the sea became angry. Sailors threw some of the cargo and equipment overboard rather than the preacher as had happened so many years ago. This preacher experienced sustaining grace rather than delivering grace. Luke did not record rebuking of the storm or crying out for deliverance. Paul had not chosen the destination or set the course. His deep-set confidence in the One who called him to witness before kings sustained him through the sunless days.

Paul feared loss of cargo and of “our own lives”. He felt anxious over the decisions others made. Luke drove the point home by stating “all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.” Paul had defended his hope when threatened by human adversaries in chapter 26, now his hope suffers with this new threat. As the storm screamed of pending death and the arms of the sea reached up to receive the bodies of those about to die, Paul experienced fear with the other 275 people on the ship. The clouds blocked any hope of mapping the journey by plotting a course with the stars. 

But the heavens where not silent.

At that moment Paul got a messenger from God. The angel commanded him to reject the rational fear of the moment in favor of the deep confidence in God’s call so many years ago. The wind could change nothing. While sailors bound the ship with ropes to try to keep the boards secure, Paul held himself together by the angel’s reminder that he would stand before the king. He did not pray against the storm; he already had a word that the storm would pass.

Paul got a bonus message – he got to keep all of the people on the ship from harm too. 

The storm provided a convincing background for Paul to witness yet again. He spoke of the One he worshipped, the One who sent the messenger. Paul may have lost hope of surviving the storm prior to the angelic visit, but he kept his faith. That kind of faith must be shared with a world that can only trust in fragile, eggshell-like lifeboats in those dark stormy nights. After the witnessing came the food for those who had fasted for 14 days.

That kind of faith calls me to pray.

Dear Jesus,

My world needs real faith – a faith that can speak in those dark, hopeless nights. I am ashamed of moments when I have lost hope that the storms will pass. I know You have called Sherri and me to serve You with our lives, but a few of the storms seem to have lasted so long that our efforts and voices seem to be lost in the chaos.

Thank you for the Bible’s honesty. Paul defended his hope in one chapter when faced with a king and 5,000 soldiers, but in the storm his hope waivered. You did not abandon him in those moments. Instead You chose to send him a message.

Thank you for all of the messages You have sent my way through the years. Some messages have come through dreams and a vision. Other messages came through a dear saint sharing a word with me that had originated in Your throne room.

I have confidence that Sherri and I will make it through every storm to come just has You have taken us through so many in the past. Give me the courage to know when to quit praying against the storm and start sharing faith with people who are so terrified and hungry in the storm. Help me to trust Your guiding hand when life seems to give me very few options. Your purpose and intent for us cannot be thwarted by poor decisions of others or by abrupt changes in life. We will treasure Your sustaining grace even when we would prefer Your delivering grace. You always know what we needed to complete the missionary journey You have laid out for us.

Today my faith and hope both rise by the power of Your Word and Spirit. Nothing can stop Your kingdom coming and Your will being done on earth as it is heaven.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen

A Walk Through Acts 26

I have been a defendant at court only one time in my life. To say I did not enjoy the process would be an understatement. I could have settled the situation out of court, but in my mid 20s justice captured my emotions and decision-making processes more than pragmatic concerns. I felt like I was the victim rather than the perpetrator, so I wanted my day in court. Even 35 years later I am still a bit bugged by the incident.

The drama started late one night on the way home from the Busti Fire Department where a brother or two served on the volunteer roster. My first and only motorcycle, a 1974 Honda 450 if memory serves me correctly, was beneath me, and my friend Kyle held on for life behind me. The country lane from Busti to my parents’ home in Jamestown, New York, could probably accommodate two automobiles passing one another, but it did not have the room for my bike, its passengers and an Alaska Malamute dog. Something had to give.

While I truly feel sorry for the dog, I give thanks for the guardian angel that fought to keep the bike upright and both of its passengers astride. As a relatively inexperienced biker, I could not hardly believe my good fortune. I had trouble breathing as well. We made it to our destination without further incident even though the bike needed a little work before I could shift gears again. 

The dog did not move. Cops were called. One of my beloved brothers outed me. I got a summons to appear in court to face my charges of leaving the scene of an injured dog. Who knew that was even on the books! Evidently Busti’s justice of the peace feared I was a flight risk, so I had to post $60 bail. I could have just paid the $20 fine, but I wanted justice. The dog attacked me where I minded my own business on the public thoroughfare. 

Two weeks later I lost my case. I listened to the JP’s tirade that he could not level a heaver fine. He also threated to start all investigations involving biker violence at my parents’ house where the cop saw four of the dangerous rigs. After I got my $40 refund, the judge left his bench to shake hands with the grieving dog owners; he must have been up for reelection. 

In hindsight, I should have asked for a jury trial – the judge rigged my case!

Walking through Acts 26 I see a completely different attitude in the defendant’s heart. Paul’s ability to keep himself out of the center of the story astounds me. After the show of force we saw in chapter 25, the apostle acted like … well, he acted like an apostle. For someone on Christ’s mission, every event looks like an opportunity to share God’s goodness. Paul knew the potential outcomes of the trial – after all he explained that he had served as the prosecutor on a few cases just like this. 

I find Paul’s statement of charges quite fascinating. He explained to the gathered dignitaries that he his primary crime was hope. I thought I got a bum rap for leaving the scene of an injured dog; Paul faced the charge of having hope. 

I wondered if I could get convicted of that one. Would my accusers find enough evidence of hope to keep the circuit court’s interest long enough to hear the case?

With the charge clarified, Paul astutely argues his case. If he occupied the center of the case, then the defense would be around his actions. Since his hope came from above, Paul served as a witness for the One who brought him hope. The Old Testament promised hope; Jesus delivered it. Would the circuit court find Paul guilty of receive this eternal hope that the dead would rise?

Paul’s first exhibit for the defense was his old life of fury. He pursued, persecuted, and affirmed the death penalty for other people who followed Jesus. His greatest hope at that time was to see someone blaspheme their savior. Instead he had to hear people like Stephen intercede on his behalf. Hope replaced fury.

Paul used his conversion story as his second exhibit. Each time Paul tells his story it looks a little different. He focuses the details on the audience. They HAD to feel his condition, perplexity, and finally joy in conversion. After all, that is what a witness does; he tells of his experience.

 The commission as servant and witness made up the third exhibit. This piece of evidence could play a critical role in proving he truly lived in joy. Some could offer counter evidence that ship wrecks, beatings, prison deprivations, and loss of status made joy impossible. Paul insisted he joyfully lived to serve and witness regardless of any given day’s incidentals.

Paul finished his argument with his strongest evidence. His joy came alive when he saw the light and liberty God offered to all people. Not only could they repent of sinful ways, they could actually live like it! Paul explained how witnessing the power to change triggered his arrest. He ought to know … he had arrested others for witnessing to the same power.

As I look over the trial transcript, I think Paul left out some key evidence. He does not talk about raising people from the dead, casting out demons, or healing the sick. Miracles would not convict him of having joy. He had learned the lesson of the 70 witnesses in Luke 10. Jesus taught them to find joy in having their name in the Book rather than making demons obey their command. Paul and the 70 had power, but power did not bring them joy. Witnessing did.

No wonder Festus said Paul was out of his mind. The prisoner should not have such joy.

My goodness, the joy-filled prisoner’s case calls me to pray.

Dear Lord,

You know I am a check list kind of guy. I put celebrating simple joy on my list for this week. You also know my basic personality resides on the melancholy side. My personality interacts with the gifts You give me to see spiritual things; this can be an explosive combination. I see men in scripture as well as the contemporary world that suffer from more depression than joy in certain seasons of their life. I repent of looking for joy in wrong places. I confess of seasons of emotional unholiness – emotions controlled by circumstances rather than faith and true hope.

I pray for the kind of hope Paul modeled. I confess I want that more than things to go my way around me. I confess my longing to recenter all things in my life around You and Your mission. You have already fulfilled Your promises. You have already determined the end of the age when all things are restored to You. That fills me with hope. That kind of home brings the transformation of my emotions and my purpose.

I reposition signs of Your power to the position of following me as a believer rather than something I pursue. Miracles and other faith outcomes cannot bring lasting change in my emotions. Instead I know You have saved me, transformed me, and commissioned me to be a missionary witness with all of Your people. You took me through strange paths in my life, but these paths simply reveal Your goodness in many different ways. Thank you for this seedbed of hope and joy. I harvest it today. I live today in the wonder of being Your son – the wonder of sharing Your eternal goodness with others.

When I pray, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, I do so through the hope of seeing that kingdom unfold around me. Thank You for eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to feel the outbreaking of Your kingdom. I delight in witnessing about the kingdom unfolding right in front of me.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

A Walk Through Acts 25

When I travel beyond the borders of the US my favorite activity is to take a walk. For example, an unscheduled Saturday in Buenos Aires, Argentina, let me sample the city first hand. I found the abundance of sidewalk cafes and stationary stores a pleasant surprise. On the other hand, the red tape to mail letters to my grandsons in the US perplexed me to no end. On another occasion a sick airline pilot gave Sherri and me a chance to spend an evening walking around Hong Kong before resuming our journey to Singapore. Seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, and feeling a world class city can happen on an impromptu walking tour. I value the speed of mass transportation, but I cannot get the same experience while going 60 mph on a bus or 180 mph on a Japanese bullet train.

Once in a while I walk through my home town as well. The experience does not capture my attention or imagination. Everything is so familiar. Strolling through crowds with different cadences to their speech, speed of walking, and snack preferences all serve to highlight differences. Home, well, just feels like home.

I remember reading Washington Irving’s Rip van Winkle tale when I was a child. Rip, a Dutch American in New York’s Catskill mountains, awoke after a 20-year nap to find his musket stock worm eaten, beard grown, and colonies transformed into a new country. For a while Rip felt like he lived in a strange country, but once he got over the changes he resumed his lifestyle of idleness under the care of his daughter.

Walking through Acts 25 gives me a strange feeling of familiarity with a twist. The feeling is not unlike a walking tour of Singapore where they speak English and use dollars. Accents, mannerisms, history, and customs differ, but so much looks similar. Of course, I am not minimizing differences one experiences in the pristine city with its strict laws and driving on the “wrong” side of the road. I am sure Caesarea offered sights and smells far different from my world, but I notice a number of similarities with my world as well. These similarities beckon me to refocus on my city as a place in need of a missionary witness.

Paul’s trials occurred in a world of pragmatic pluralism. The Roman empire provided a market place for spiritualities. The pantheon of Greek and Roman gods had room to include regional gods of conquered people. Jews could maintain their monotheism since they had an ancient religion and offered no threats to other gods or the growing Caesar cult. Rome just wanted peace where the empire could prosper, expand, and ward off threats that came from the frontiers. Those who upset this balance of peace would be severely punished.

My pragmatic world worships at the temple of tolerance as well. Contemporary American society encourages people to create their own spiritual hybrids. Morality then, as now, focuses on accepting all ideas; immorality often gets redefined as questioning another person’s truth. All other human behavior would be adiaphora – that is spiritually and morally neutral. Politics, power, and currying favor with various interest groups becomes the ‘good’ thing to do. 

Festus represents the desire to find favor with others through political manipulation of events. Paul’s accusers wanted a favor from the governor, and he wanted to do them a favor. Festus also wanted to stay in favor with King Agrippa, his sister Bernice, and the emperor in Rome. To stay in favor, Festus had to navigate the existing legal structures of the day. Festus crafted his story in a way that made his administration look good.

In Acts 25 Luke set the stage for Paul’s defense/testimony in the next chapter. The setting juxtaposes Paul and King Agrippa’s character. Paul stood with his few supporters. The apostle already knew God had ordered his steps to go to Rome. He refused to live his days avoiding death. If legally convicted of true accusations, then he would accept the resultant death sentence. He would reject charges of desecrating the temple. He would accept charges of following his resurrected Lord. As we will see in chapter 26, Paul would turn the trial into one more missionary activity rather than seeking to satisfy pragmatic pluralism policies.

On the other hand, we see the pomp and circumstance around King Agrippa and his sister. Just a decade or so before their father’s life ended in the same city when he declared his own greatness (see Acts 12). Paul’s hearing provided another opportunity for the king to parade his tribunes and their soldiers through the city streets. The clanging of swords, shuffle of combat sandals, and thunder of the officers’ mounts carried the king’s authority into the courtroom. As many as 5,000 armed soldiers and the prominent men of the city created quite a spectacle. 

The young king needed all of this to bolster his newly expanded authority. The apostle only saw an open door to follow the Spirit’s prompting.

This stark differences between these two sources of power call me to prayer.

Lord, 

I marvel again at the incarnation! You came into this world to transform it through serving and suffering. You did not declare judgement from Your magisterial throne. You still send Your people as incarnational missionaries into this world.

I confess social changes over the last couple of decades often confuse me. I lament my country’s steps away from a form of Christianity. I acknowledge my fears and uncertainties over those changes. I realize it was largely a form of godliness without any power. The loss highlights the need for missionary living once more. I repent of triumphal forms of the church where we think civil power, political prominence, and visible evidence of defeating all other thought forms serve as evidence that ‘we’ are winning. 

Help me follow You and Paul, I pray. Help me to go into a confused, pluralistic world that has so little hope of finding real peace and healing. You still send Your people without extra purses and as sheep among the wolves. Expand my vision again to value the Spirit’s power in sending us rather than leaning on political, financial, or military power. Walking in the Spirit is never weak.

Finally, I want to find more comfort in sharing Your name again to a pluralistic society than in avoiding pain or even death that political forces may impose. My place is in service. I never want to feel at home here again. Thank you for awakening me from my slumber.

As we pray Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, You will give us the strength to awaken from slumber, to see stark differences between Your kingdom and this world, and retain our missionary identity rather than seeking comfort and co-existence in the pluralistic marketplace of ideas.

We can only do this through Your Spirit as we live out this mission as one people.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen