Tag Archives: Acts 17

Truth About Trouble

As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea.
Acts 17:10 (NIV)

Trouble in the water, trouble in the air
Go all the way to the other side of the world, you’ll find trouble there
Revolution even ain’t no solution for trouble

Trouble
Trouble, trouble, trouble
Nothin’ but trouble

-Bob Dylan, Trouble, 1989 (Shot of Love)

These are the lyrics from the song that flitted into my brain as I read today’s chapter. That’s the way my right-brain works. It connects events I’m experiencing or what I’m reading with an appropriate theme song from memory. I know. Weird.

The book of Acts is the story of how the Jesus movement explosively expanded in the decades following Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Whenever a company, organization, or movement expands rapidly there are certain inflection points at which a major shift occurs in perception and reaction towards that expansion. We saw one a few chapters back when the Jesus Movement broke through the borders of its Jewish roots.

In today’s chapter, we’re following Paul, Silas, and Timothy on a journey through Greece. As always, the goal of their journey is to proclaim the Message of Jesus to those who’ve probably never heard it. They have a standard game-plan which is to start in the local Jewish synagogue where Paul uses his steel-trap knowledge of the Law and Prophets to explain to the Jews that the Messiah is not who they think He is. He’s not some human conqueror who would show up with an army to wipe out Rome and set up an earthly Kingdom. Rather, Paul argued, the prophets describe a suffering servant who would be sacrificed for humanity, then raised from the dead to declare victory over death, not Rome.

While Paul’s preaching had gotten him in trouble before, in today’s chapter we see that trouble begins following him. Locals aren’t content to simply drive Paul and his posse from the city, now his detractors are following him, and bringing trouble with them. Trouble in Thessalonica drives Paul to Berea, but Jews from Thessalonica arrive to stir up trouble for Paul in Berea, which drives Paul to Athens.

What strikes me in the circumstances is how trouble, rather than thwarting God’s plan, actually advances it. How long would Paul have stayed in the Thessalonica if everything had been peaceful? How long would it have taken him to move on to Berea? And, would Paul have even made the long journey Athens had it not been for trouble?

Along this Life journey I’ve encountered periods of trouble when daily existence is accompanied by emotional stress, sleeplessness, anxiety, unwarranted fear, and the like. It’s easy for me to obsess about the troubles I’m experiencing. It’s also easy for me to feel that only doom and gloom will be the outcome. Today’s chapter is a good reminder for me to stop obsessing about the trouble, and start looking for where God might be using the trouble to propel and advance His purposes for me.

The very next track after Trouble on Bob Dylan’s Shot of Love LP is Every Grain of Sand which contains this lyric:

In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand

Sometimes trouble propels me toward the place the Master’s hand is guiding me if I’m willing to open my eyes to see it.

Have a great day, my friend.

Carry On

From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. Acts 17:26-27 (NRSV)

A few weeks ago Wendy and I were driving through Des Moines and she was handling the DJ duties on the radio. Carry on My Wayward Son by Kansas came on and we rocked out to it together. A flood of memories came rushing back to me. As a boy, Kansas was my favorite rock group and I wore out the needle on my cheap record player with their albums and 45s.

One of the things that I remember loving about Kansas was the meaning I found in their lyrics. Kansas was the first group that I remember truly paying attention to the lyrics and in Kerry Livgren’s spiritual groping I found a kindred spirit.

Masquerading as a man with a reason
My charade is the event of the season
And if I claim to be a wise man,
Well, it surely means that I don’t know

On a stormy sea of moving emotion
Tossed about, I’m like a ship on the ocean
I set a course for winds of fortune,
But I hear the voices say

Carry on my wayward son
There’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more no!

As I read Paul’s message to the people of Athens, my memory was suddenly stirred to my days of spiritual groping, setting my soul’s course to seek after God in song lyrics and wherever else I might find a hint of God’s presence. As Paul testified, I eventually found that God was not as far from me as I thought. It was a cold February night in 1981 that I opened my heart and began my relationship with Jesus. I stopped groping for Him and started growing in Him. I’ve been carrying on ever since. At times I merely stumble along, but I keep pressing forward none the less.

If you’re groping, carry on. He is not as far as you think.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 17

Boy-with-binoculars
Boy-with-binoculars (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist.” Acts 17:27-28a (NLT)

According to a survey cited in the Washington Post, 92 percent of Americans believe in God, a Universal Spirit, or Higher Power.

This isn’t a shock to me. It fits with my own experience through life’s journey. I have come to realize that most people, if not all people, have an inherent awareness of God’s existence and presence around them, even when they can’t quite understand it or wrap any kind of definition around it. Even when I talk to one of the eight percent who profess not to believe in God, I often sense that their unbelief springs out of a rebellion or reaction rooted in spiritual pain or injury caused by religion or misguided religious zealots.

Paul was tapping into this same awareness as he stood in Athens and observed the diverse religious activity around him. He realized that with all of their religion the people of Athens were feeling their way towards God, acting on the awareness of God’s presence all around them. Even today churches are filled with those who are feeling around, trying to find God and grab on.

Jesus said that we will find Him if we seek after Him with all of our heart. I’ve come to understand that the crucial question is not if we believe in the existence of a Higher Power. Most, if not all of us do in one form or another. The more crucial question is: “For what (or whom) are our hearts truly seeking?”