If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
1 Corinthian 13:1 (NIV)
As I’ve mentioned in recent months, I’m making my way chronologically through all of Paul’s letters. This is in conjunction with a year-long study my local gathering of Jesus’ followers is conducting of the book of Acts.
One of the patterns that is repeated over and over again in the book of Acts is an action or event that is followed by an opportunity to teach, testify or pray. The action always precedes the teaching or testimony. “Do” then “Teach.”
I thought about this as I read Paul’s famous discourse on love. He begins by acknowledging that religious actions void of love are empty, impotent, and useless. Love is the action. Love is the activating ingredient. Love is the “Do” that opens the way for meaningful conversation, interaction, and Life-giving moments.
In the quiet this morning I’m looking back over my entire spiritual journey. As I put on my 20-20 hindsight goggles, I confess that I’ve gotten a lot of things wrong. Oh my, have I missed some things. Simple things. Basic things. Things I should have seen long ago.
I was taught, and embraced the notion, that moral and doctrinal purity were “the most excellent way.” I and my Protestant tribes have been so worried about avoiding a doctrinally errant “gospel of works” (i.e. you earn your salvation by doing good deeds) that I believe I elevated the importance of belief and right-thinking. In so doing I diminished the activating ingredient: Love. And, without the activating ingredient, my faith is….
I’m reminded of James’ letter to believers (a letter Martin Luther hated and wanted struck from the canon of scripture). James is echoing the same sentiment as Paul. He just says it in a different way. If I say I have faith and I believe all the right doctrines, but I don’t have the activating agent of love motivating me to “Do” unto others, love my enemies, forgive those who’ve sinned against me, welcome the outcast, take up my cross, go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, give my coat as well, and et cetera, then my faith is void of Life. And, that which is void of Life is dead. I and my right doctrine are dead on arrival.
Lord, have mercy on me. I’ve still got so much to learn, and “Do.”
Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
Acts 26:32 (NIV)
What do I believe in so strongly that I would be willingly imprisoned for it?
That’s the question that came to mind as I read today’s chapter which Chronicles Paul’s trial before Porcius Festus, King Agrippa II, and Agrippa’s sister, Bernice. One of the reasons the Roman Empire was so successful at occupying so much of the world for so long was that they found a way to occupy a region while allowing the local ruling families to continue to have certain power and jurisdiction. In this hearing, Paul is allowed to make his defense before both the local monarch, Agrippa II, and the Roman Procurator who represented Rome’s interest in the area.
Paul wastes no time in making his appeal to Agrippa who had life-long knowledge of Judaism, its laws, and the various sects that brokered for power within the Temple system. Festus may not have had very limited knowledge of what it meant for Paul to have been raised a strict, law-abiding Pharisee. Agrippa, on the other hand, could fully understand the weight of Paul’s testimony and defense. Sure enough, Festus appears baffled by it all and thinks Paul’s whole story crazy. Paul then calls on Agrippa’s belief in the prophets and attempts to convince the king of Jesus’ Message.
Today’s chapter ends with Festus and Agrippa agreeing that Paul could have been released had he not appealed to Caesar. But Paul knew his fate when he made his appeal. He knew what he was doing. He would write to the believers in Ephesus, “I am an Ambassador in chains.”
To the believers in Philippi he wrote:
Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
To the believers in Colossae he wrote:
And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.
Once again, as I read all of the events of Paul’s choices, his arrest, and his trials, I don’t find him to be a victim. I find Paul to be a man on a personal mission of his own choosing. He’s sacrificing his own personal freedom and well-being to advance Jesus’ Message .
Which brings me back to the question spinning around in my spirit in the quiet this morning: What do I believe in so strongly that I would be willingly imprisoned for it?
He remained hidden with them at the temple of God for six years while Athaliah ruled the land.
2 Chronicles 22:12 (NIV)
I am convinced that there are stretches along every person’s life journey in which the road descends into chaos. Things we trusted to remain solid fall apart. Tragedy strikes suddenly and without warning. Just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, another bomb drops. The compass we’ve always trusted to point true north spins out of control. We lose our personal bearing. Nothing seems safe. It is as if nothing will ever be “okay” again.
For the people of ancient Judah, their unshakable faith in God’s promise to King David had provided them with a sense of peace. The Davidic line would remain as a trustworthy sense of stability. The throne would pass from father to son, from generation to generation. You can count on it.
Until things descended into chaos.
Jehoshaphat marries his eldest son, Jehoram, to Athaliah the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. Jehoram kills all of his brothers in a bloodbath intended to solidify his control. His reign implodes as enemies invade and kill his entire family with the exception of his youngest son, Ahaziah. The only viable heir of David, the young Ahaziah is placed on the throne. His one-year reign is a disastrous chain-reaction of events ending in his assassination. Ahaziah’s power-hungry mother, Athaliah, kills off the rest of the royal family to consolidate her own power over the nation of Judah.
The Davidic line wiped out. That which was trusted is lost.
The people of Judah had to be reeling in the valley of chaos. They trusted the Davidic royal line would be forever. A member of the reviled and evil house of Ahab and Jezebel is on the throne of their nation. The compass they always trusted to point true north is spinning out of control. Nothing seems safe. It’s as if nothing will ever be “okay” again.
But, the story isn’t over. While the circumstantial events in the valley of Judah’s chaos seem eternal and inescapable, the perspective of history allows us to see that this is simply a dark chapter in the Great Story.
There is a woman. There is a baby.
(How often can we quote that line in the Great Story?)
The woman is a daughter of the king. She is the wife of the priest. She has the courage to risk her life for what is right.
The baby is the son of the king.
In the moment, no one knows it. In the chaos they cannot see it.
The story is not over. The story will go on.
In the quiet this morning I’m thinking of the valleys of chaos into which I’ve descended. I’m remembering my own feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. And, I’m looking back from a waypoint further down Life’s road that provides me with a much needed perspective.
The story is not over. The story will go on.
Then Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David. It was on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place provided by David.
2 Chronicles 3:1 (NIV)
When I began this blog over 12 years ago I called it Wayfarer because a wayfarer is one who is on a journey, and anyone who has be the most casual reader of my posts knows that I reference my journey in almost every post. Life is a journey, for all of us. If I step back, I can also see that history is a journey in a macro sense. Humanity is on its own life journey from alpha to omega. I am connected to what has gone before us, and I am a micro part of the on-going trek of life through time.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks I’ve observed when it comes to people reading what we refer to as the Old Testament, or the ancient writings of the Hebrew people, is that it appears so disconnected from my life, my reality, and my daily journey. The further I get in my journey, however, the more I realize how everything is connected.
In today’s chapter we have a fairly boring recitation that an ancient Chronicler wrote of the design of Solomon’s temple. It’s actually a re-telling of an earlier recitation in the book of 1 Kings. It was likely written at a time after the exiles taken to Babylon returned to Jerusalem and were faced with the task of rebuilding Solomon’s Temple which had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Have you ever observed how when there’s a current event on which everyone is focused (i.e. the royal wedding) and then all of a sudden there’s a ton of magazine articles, books, documentaries, and shows about royal weddings? The writing of Chronicles describing how Solomon built his temple, was likely written because everyone was focused on rebuilding that temple.
But wait, there’s more:
- The Chronicler mentions that the temples was build on Mount Moriah, which is where Abraham obediently went to sacrifice his son, Isaac and then was stopped by God. So the temple they are building is also connected to the past and the founder of their faith.
- For those of us who follow Jesus, we also see in Abraham’s sacrifice a foreshadowing of God so loving the world that He sacrificed His one and only Son. So today’s chapter is connected to that as well.
- And the temple design parallels the design of the traveling tent that Moses and the Hebrews used as a worship center as they left Egypt and wandered in the wilderness for years. So, the temple is connected to that part of the story as well.
- Oh, and then it describes “the most holy place” where only the high priest could enter once a year as a 20x20x20 cubit cube (a cubit is an ancient form of measurement, roughly 21 inches). When you get to the very end of the Great Story at the end of Revelation there is described a New Jerusalem. It is without a temple because Jesus dwells at the center but the entire city is designed as a cube. The word picture connects back to the design in today’s chapter. The entirety of the New Jerusalem is “most holy” because Jesus, the sacrificial lamb (there’s a connection back to Abraham’s sacrifice and the sacrificial system of Moses), has covered everyone’s sins and made everyone holy. The whole city and everything, everyone in it is holy.
Once you begin to see how everything being described in today’s chapter connects to the beginning and the end of the story it suddenly begins to get really interesting.
This morning I’m thinking about my Life journey. In the grand scheme of things it’s a little micro particle. It’s seemingly insignificant when you look at just the surface of things. But, then I begin to see how it connects to other people and their journeys. I begin to see how my journey has been made possible by everything that has gone before. I begin to see how my little, seemingly insignificant life journey, like a tiny atom in the body of time, is contributing love, life, energy, peace, kindness, goodness that will propel the story forward.
I’m just trying to walk my journey well. Connected to all that’s come before. Doing my part for those who will walk their journeys after. And, believing what Jesus taught and exemplified in His death and resurrection: when this Life journey is over an eternal Life journey will just be starting.
I hope you make good connections today.
The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their ancestors to possess,’ says the Lord.”
Jeremiah 30:3 (NIV)
I know it’s the natural pessimist in me, but when my team goes down early I’ve historically been quick to bail on them. Turn off the television. Go find something else to do. There’s no sense in wasting my time watching my team get thrashed. It’s not going to get any better.
Except when they make a spectacular comeback.
Along life’s journey I’ve actually gotten better at sticking with the game. As Yogi Berra might have said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Sometimes the best of things happen in extra innings after a rain delay.
In today’s chapter there’s a continued shifting wind in the ancient prophet Jeremiah’s message. It’s been chapter after chapter of nothing but apocalyptic judgement and doom. Now, over the past few chapters the momentum of the game has shifted. As the actual events unfold, God’s message through Jeremiah turns to hope, redemption, and restoration. But you’d never know it if you bailed out in the first few chapters.
This morning I’m thinking about life’s long game. In a world that’s rapidly changing, the discipline required to hang in there, stick with the plan, and have faith in the process is harder and harder to come by. I find myself pressured to want instant results and immediate wins. My experience is that life rarely works out that way. The joy of redemption is made possible by the long slog through wilderness and exile. Shortcuts are simply an illusion that cycle me back to where I started.
If I want to reach redemption, I’ve learned that I have to stick it out when my team is down early and the outlook is bleak.
The word of the Lord came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile.
“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.
Jeremiah 1:1-3; 6-7 (NIV)
While in high school I was part of an incredible church youth group. I almost typed the adjective “unique,” but to this day I don’t think there was anything “unique” about me and my peers. We were typical high schoolers with all the angst, foolishness, idealism, drama and absentmindedness of any group of teens. Our youth pastor for most of my high school years was a man named Andy Bales whose journey has taken him to do amazing things for the homeless in Los Angeles. Our church’s worship leader was a gentleman named Mike Mars.
The thing about Andy and Mike was that they believed that God could accomplish far more through us than anyone else believed or expected (even ourselves). Andy didn’t just disciple us, he taught us how to disciple others including our parents. Mike didn’t just assemble a “youth choir” to sing in front of our parents once or twice a year. Mike taught us how to put together an entire program, how to work together as a team, and then sent us on the road almost every Sunday of the school year to minister to other churches all over our state. Mike didn’t travel with us. He trusted us to do everything ourselves from making a first impression to set up, rehearsal, performance, giving the message, tearing down and loading out for the trip home. A couple of parents or adults chaperones rode along to watch, but they never had to do a thing.
Many of the “kids” in my youth group have gone on to continue in vocational ministries as missionaries, pastors, ministry directors and youth workers. I observed that most others have approached their life journeys as ministry opportunities to serve God as educators, doctors, and professionals in the business community.
This personal experience has colored my own world view. When our daughters were young people I tried to instill in them that they could be used by God’s Spirit and have an impact for God’s Kingdom right now. I’m proud of what they attempted, accomplished, and learned.
I am fond of reminding my local gathering of Jesus’ followers that no where in God’s Message is there an age requirement for being a believer, being called by God, being filled by the Spirit, having spiritual gifts, or exercising those gifts for God’s Kingdom. In fact, the list of Biblical characters who were called by God as young people (without education, without training, without official institutional certification of any kind) is impressive: Timothy, Mary, David, Samuel, Joseph, Esther, and Mark.
In today’s opening chapter of Jeremiah’s anthology of prophetic messages he shares that he was called by God as a boy. As typical of young people, Jeremiah responded to God, “but I’m just a kid!” But age is not a qualification for being called by God or doing God’s work. And when young people are called by God they tend to have spiritually productive life journeys. Jeremiah himself was a prophet for 40 years during a period of time when life expectancy itself was around 30 years (if you were one of the lucky few to survive infancy).
Forgive me for sounding like an old curmudgeon, but along my life journey I’ve observed that our culture seems to expect less and less of our young people. We protect them. We shelter them from life’s natural pains. We entertain them endlessly and hover over them to ensure that they experience minimal discomfort. We build up their egos while minimizing their opportunities to experience the lessons of accomplishing things on their own and learning the invaluable lessons of failure. We keep extending childhood to the point that becoming a capable, responsible adult is a post-graduate crisis experience with its own word: adulting.
This morning I’m thanking God for teaching me as a boy that I had a role to play in the Kingdom of God and that role began immediately. I’m saying a prayer of gratitude for Andy and for Mike who believed in me and my peers more than we believed in ourselves. I’m praying for a generation of young people who will rebel against being treated like snowflakes and who will lead a spiritual storm of revival and culture change that no one expects.
The old curmudgeon rant is over. Have a great day.