Tag Archives: Persecution

“Every Nation, Tribe, People, & Language”

"Every Nation, Tribe, People, & Language" (CaD Rev 7) Wayfarer

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.
Revelation 7:9 (NIV)

In yesterday’s chapter, the first six seals of a scroll were opened by Jesus. Today’s chapter is an intermission before the seventh seal is opened. John describes two different things revealed to him. In the first, the four winds are held back from the earth by four angels, while a fifth angel places a “seal” on the foreheads of 144,000 “servants of God,” 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel.

The four winds was a metaphor of God’s wrath and judgment on the earth. The prophet Jeremiah used the same metaphor (Jer 49:36). A “seal” was used in ancient times to both protect documents from being opened and to mark who sent them. Metaphorically, this seems to indicate that these 144,000 “sealed” servants of God will be protected during the impending tribulation being held back by the four angels.

In the second part of the vision, John sees a multitude of individuals from every “nation, tribe, people, and language” who were wearing white robes. John is told that they had come “out of the tribulation.” This connects with the martyrs in yesterday’s chapter (Rev 6:9-11) who were given white robes and told to wait for the others who would join them. John is then told that they will serve the Lamb in his temple and be protected, provided for, cared for, and comforted.

There are a couple of things that stand out to me as I ponder these visions in the quiet this morning. The first is the reality that Jesus was very clear with His followers that following Him may very well be an earthly death sentence. The resurrected Christ told Peter that it would be true for him. Tradition says that this was true for 11 of The Twelve disciples (John is believed to be the only one who may have died of old age). It has been true for multitudes of followers throughout history. It’s still true for followers of Jesus today in places like Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan, and China. This is both a sobering thought, and it stands in direct opposition to the “name it and claim it” televangelists or those who believe that following Jesus is the way to safety and prosperity on this earth.

The other things that stands out to me is that this is the second time in John’s vision that he describes people of “every nation, tribe, people, and language.” The greek word used for “temple” in today’s chapter specifically denotes the temple structure where God’s presence dwelt. Throughout the history of the Temple in Jerusalem, only Hebrew men could enter. People of other “nations, tribes, peoples, and languages” (along with females) were not allowed. Also, Paul was very clear that after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection a “Jew” was not someone with Hebrew DNA, but whose heart was surrendered to Christ (Rom 2:28-29). This raises the question as to whether the 144,000 “sealed servants” mentioned in today’s chapter are DNA Jews or Spirit Jews.

One again, I’m left admitting that I know that I don’t know the answers to some of these questions. There are couple of things, however, that I do know. I know that being a follower of Jesus is a path of surrender on this earth, and that very well means that it sometimes leads to suffering. I also know that heaven is a place for people of every nation, tribe, people, and language. Therefore, any thing on this earth that stirs up division, separation, and discrimination against a person or group based on nation, tribe, people, and language is incongruent with Jesus’ teaching.

Therefore, as a follower of Jesus, I enter this day endeavoring to surrender, to serve, and to love indiscriminately.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Hot Times and Cold Love

Hot Times and Cold Love (CaD Matt 24) Wayfarer

“Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…”
Matthew 24:12 (NIV)

Our daughter, Taylor, works for a software company that has developed an amazing product, Storii, for those with dementia and Alzheimers. It started with the simple idea of helping those who are losing their memory to build and store their stories for their family and loved ones, but it basically applies to any person who wants to archive their lives and stories for subsequent generations. It’s brilliant.

One of the features of Storii prompts automated calls to the individual a few times a week. Each call asks a question like, “What radio or television programs did you watch growing up?” It then records the answer, places it on that person’s Storii page, and any connected loved ones get an email giving them access to the recording.

In recent weeks, Taylor asked me to help her test this audio recording feature, so I’ve been recording my answers and having a fun time doing it. I confess that it has put me in a nostalgic frame of mind. I’ve even placed a couple of Grumpy Old Man memes on our family text string. So much has changed in 50 years it’s mind-blowing. For my aging parents, I can only imagine that the feeling is magnified.

In today’s chapter, Jesus speaks apocalyptically about the end times. It’s pretty bleak stuff. The Great Story is, after all, a grand epic of conflict between good and evil. The end of most every good vs. evil tale is a final climactic conflict: think of the final battle at the Black Gate in Lord of the Rings, the battle of Hogwarts in Harry Potter, or the final scenes of every Marvel, DC, and Star Wars movie. The last installment of the Chronicles of Narnia is simply titled The Last Battle. You catch my drift. Jesus told His followers to expect the same in the end times, with creation itself adding to the havoc with famines and earthquakes.

What resonated in my heart this morning was Jesus’ prophetic statement that amidst the “increasing wickedness” and heated build-up of the final conflict, as evil persecutes followers of Jesus, the love of many followers will grow cold. I have to imagine that this is true whenever the persecution of believers takes place, like in Nigeria where over 10,000 followers of Jesus have been slaughtered in the last couple of years. When heads literally start to roll, I can only imagine that one asks themselves, “How much do I really believe this?”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about my own story. I’m thinking about the rapid decline and rejection of Christians and Christian thought across social institutions. I hear echoes in my head of my friend Chuck who helped market Corrie Ten Boom’s movie The Hiding Place. Corrie told him that she was making the film to prepare American Christians for the persecution that they will soon face. As a teenager, I couldn’t imagine that ever happening. Now, I’m not so sure. Am I just being a grumpy old man? It’s entirely possible. Forgive me. I again confess I’ve been in that frame of mind of late.

Whether or not I ever face serious persecution in my lifetime, the big question resonating in my heart on this frigid winter morning in Iowa is this: “As my life story continues to be told, could my love for Jesus ever grow cold?” (rhyme unintended, but nice…😉)

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Trouble and Peace

Trouble and Peace (CaD John 16) Wayfarer

They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.” 
John 16:2 (NIV)

The little Iowa town where Wendy and I live has a fascinating history. It was founded and designed by a pastor who was escaping persecution in the Netherlands. That sounds odd to most people since the Netherlands is known for being a place of tolerance. In the early 1800s, however, the King of the Netherlands, and the government, controlled the church of the Netherlands. Pastors were told what to preach, and were threatened and punished if they disobeyed.

There was a group of rebellious young pastors who led an organized secession from the state church. Some were imprisoned for it. The leader of the secessionist movement was H.P. Scholte, and it was during this period of conflict with the state church of the Netherlands that he decided he wanted to experience the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech guaranteed to all Americans. In 1847, he led hundreds of followers to the Iowa prairie and created a town out of nothing.

In America, Scholte fully exercised his freedoms. Always a maverick, he refused to join any denomination and eventually built his own church which he led as a local, independent, non-denominational congregation. He practiced his freedom of speech by publishing his own paper, loudly speaking out for the abolition of slavery, and getting involved in the political process. He became a friend of Abraham Lincoln. The faith and spirit that Scholte and his wife imbued in this town is still evident for those who have eyes to see it.

Today’s chapter is the third of four chapters that John dedicates to all the things Jesus told His followers on the night before His crucifixion. Almost 20% of his biography is dedicated to those few hours on a Thursday evening.

Two chapters ago, I observed that all of the players present in the “fall” in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3) are represented and/or referenced on this fateful evening. Again in today’s chapter, Jesus references the “prince of this world.” Jesus points to the fact that the events of this evening are part of a larger story; They are part of the Great Story.

What fascinated me as I, once again, read Jesus words to His followers this morning was both the warning and the promise with which today’s chapter is bookended. Jesus begins by warning His followers of the difficulties they will soon face: institutional persecution and the threat of death. Jesus wasn’t lying. All but one of the eleven disciples listening to these words (Judas was, at that moment, carrying out his betrayal) would be killed, martyred, for carrying out Jesus’ mission. At the end of the chapter, Jesus reiterates the “trouble” that they will experience in this world adding that “in Him” they would find peace amidst the conflict.

As I contemplate this, I am reminded of three things:

First, that when Wendy and I attended our local gathering of Jesus’ followers yesterday, it was the result of a legacy of believers who literally risked life and limb to escape “trouble” to carve out lives in the freedom of America.

Second, I am reminded of the “trouble” that many followers of Jesus face this day. I recently read that in Nigeria, 43,000 followers of Jesus have been killed in the past 12 years. An additional 18,000 have permanently disappeared. 17,500 churches have been attacked. There are 49 other countries in which the risk of “trouble” for being a follower of Jesus is rated “very high” to “extreme.” Those are dangers a follower of Jesus in America can largely ignore because it’s not my reality.

Which brings me to my third thought. In recent weeks, almost 60 churches have been attacked and burned in Canada, and last week a group of followers exercising their right to freely assemble and publicly worship were physically attacked by Antifa while police allegedly stood by and did nothing. “Trouble” is suddenly hits closer to home in ways I never expected to see in my lifetime.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of Jesus’ promise which was a very direct contrast statement: In this world you will have trouble,” He stated, while In me you will have peace.” The latter was never intended to negate or escape the former. Rather, it was intended as the means to endure it.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Songs for Different Seasons

Songs for Different Seasons (CaD Ps 123) Wayfarer

We have endured no end
    of ridicule from the arrogant,
    of contempt from the proud.

Psalm 123:4 (NIV)

I have, throughout my life journey, had the honor of regularly speaking to groups of people both large and small. One of the things that I have learned along the way is that those who may be listening are all over the map when it comes to their motivations for being there, the struggles they are experiencing both physically and spiritually, and what it is they are seeking. Everyone has a story and, depending on the situation, I may no a few, if any, of them.

Today’s chapter is another “song of ascents” or a song that Hebrew pilgrims would sing on their way to Jerusalem. What’s been fascinating as I journey through them this time is to see the variety of themes in the lyrics. Among the thousands and thousands of wayfarers making the sojourn to Jerusalem, there was any number of things weighing on their hearts and lives that they wanted to bring to God.

Psalm 120: Those feeling alone and in exile.

Psalm 121: Those seeking assurance of safety and security.

Psalm 122: Those seeking out justice.

Psalm 123: Those suffering the ridicule and contempt of others.

There were different songs of ascent for the different seasons of life each spiritual wayfarer might be in on the repeated journey to and from Jerusalem. Today’s song resonated with those whose hearts and lives were stinging from being the object of contempt and ridicule.

One of the realities that I find is often lost or forgotten among followers of Jesus was just how much contempt and ridicule He faced. After His first public message, in His hometown, the listeners rioted and wanted to throw Him off a cliff. Entire towns refused to let Jesus enter and teach in their villages, some let Him enter and treated Him and His message with contempt. Jesus’ own family attempted, at one point, to take control and have Him committed. Thousands of people were following Jesus one day, and the next day virtually all of them rejected Him and walked away. His closest followers were tempted to do the same, and one of those followers ultimately gave himself over to contempt and accepted a bribe in order to seal Jesus’ death with a kiss.

As I read the words of Jesus, these things shouldn’t surprise me:

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”

“They are going to throw you to the wolves and kill you, everyone hating you because you carry my name. And then, going from bad to worse, it will be dog-eat-dog, everyone at each other’s throat, everyone hating each other.”

“If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about the thousands of ancient sojourners trekking to Jerusalem, each with their own story, their own burden, their individual spiritual needs. Each with their own song of ascent to sing and prepare their hearts for worship, offering, and sacrifice. I think about the individuals who listened to me a week or so ago, each with their own story, their own burden, their own waypoint on the spiritual journey. Perhaps some, like those ancients who sang the lyrics of today’s chapter, feeling the ridicule and contempt of others.

I am reminded that this is a spiritual journey that I am on. The song of ascent that my heart sings today is not the one that resonated with me at different waypoints on the journey, in different chapters of my own story. My spirit will be singing a different song of ascent if my earthly journey continues a year from now, a decade from now, or beyond.

I have always experienced God meeting me right where I am at on the journey, no matter what song my heart happens to be singing.



Losing the Truth of Loss

Losing the Truth of Loss (CaD Ex 22) Wayfarer

You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children orphans.
Exodus 22:21-24 (NRSVCE)

I find it fascinating, as I read the laws of Moses in today’s chapter, that the Hebrews were commanded by God to take care of foreigners living among them, and to take care of socially and economically disadvantaged groups within their society. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene some 1500 years later, the Temple in Jerusalem had become a religious racket (which is why Jesus drove the currency exchange vendors out of the Temple). The religious system prescribed through Moses had become an institution that made money for the the chief priests and religious leaders who then leveraged their power and authority to line their own pockets at the expense of their own people, while they prejudicially looked down on anyone who wasn’t one of them. They religiously kept the rules that made them look pious while finding excuses for ignoring those that might require real compassion and generosity.

One of the reasons the early Jesus Movement grew so rapidly was the fact that Jesus’ followers were radically challenging the social structures of the day. There were no church buildings. They met in homes around the supper table and, at that table, everyone was welcome to sit together. Both women and men, Jews and non-Jews, and even slaves were welcomed to sit at the table with their master. Beyond that, the followers of Jesus took care of those who were socially and economically disadvantaged in the society of that day including widows, orphans, and lepers.

When Christianity became the state religion of Rome a few hundred years later, the Jesus Movement became a powerful religious and political institution almost overnight. The good news is that Christians would no longer be persecuted and fed to the lions in the Roman Circus. The way was paved for sincere teachers and theologians to meet together, debate, and establish core doctrines. With the authority of the Roman Empire, there was an opportunity for real change.

Interestingly enough, what followed was ironically similar to the very things Jesus criticized in the religious leaders of His own people. The movement moved from the supper tables in peoples homes to churches and cathedrals, which required a lot of money. Generosity to disadvantaged groups was curtailed as funds were shifted to lining the pockets of the church leaders and their churches and residences. Women were once again diminished as male dominance was established within the institution. Those who threatened the emerging orthodoxy, like the desert fathers and mothers, were branded heretics and either killed or forced to flee. Leadership positions in the church suddenly became positions of socio-economic and political power that were bought, sold, and traded by rich, powerful, and connected families. That’s how we eventually ended up with an eleven-year-old pope (Pope Benedict IX).

In the quiet this morning, I find myself asking a lot of questions. Our local gathering of Jesus’ followers has spent the last year grappling with the mega-trends we’re seeing in our culture and our world. There are fewer and fewer individuals claiming to be Christians. Churches, especially here in rural and small-town America, are closing for lack of members. Christianity is no longer accepted as the prevailing cultural worldview in our culture, and there is open and growing antagonism as the historic sins and failings of church institutions spark anger and resentment in many circles. Meanwhile, around the world, Christians are being persecuted and killed without earning much attention.

As a follower of Jesus, I find myself wondering if all of this is simply going to lead Jesus’ followers back to our roots. The history of the Hebrews and the history of Christianity both reveal to me that when the heart of God’s message to care for strangers, aliens, and disadvantaged groups is lost amidst the desire for social, economic, and political power, then there is a loss of spiritual potency and legitimacy. I can’t help but believe that the loss of cultural prominence is actually the road back to spiritual progress. The way of Jesus has always been about letting go, giving up, and leaving behind. The diminishment of self for the gain of others is not an optional path for those followers of Jesus who want an advanced spiritual placement. It’s foundational to being a follower at all:

“and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

-Jesus

I think that this has been lost. I confess that as I reflect on my own journey it’s clear that I am as guilty as anyone.

My heart and mind return to yesterday’s post. I want to stop being an ally to Jesus’ teachings and become an accomplice in putting them to work in tangible ways.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Sower and the Seeds

From Peter, an apostle of Jesus the Anointed One, to the chosen ones who have been scattered abroad like “seed” into the nations living as refugees…
1 Peter 1:1 (TPT)

I’ve always had an appreciation for Vincent Van Gogh. The tragic Dutch artist who failed at almost everything in his life, including his desire and failed attempt to become a pastor. The story of his descent into madness is well known, along with his most famous works of a Starry Night, sunflowers, and his haunting self-portraits.

I find that most people are unaware that one of Van Gogh’s favorite themes was that of a sower sowing his seed. He sketched the sower from different perspectives and painted multiple works depicting the lone sower, his arm outstretched and the seed scattered on the field.

This morning I’m jumping from the ancient prophet Zechariah to a letter Peter wrote around 30 years after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. In recent months, I’ve been blogging through texts that surround the Babylonian exile 400-500 years before Jesus. But that wasn’t the only exile recorded in God’s Message. Peter wrote his letter to followers of Jesus who had fled persecution from both Jews and Romans in Jerusalem. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, exile is a consistent theme in the Great Story.

At that point in time, thousands upon thousands of people had become followers of Jesus and were creating social upheaval by the way they were living out their faith. They were caring for people who were marginalized, sick, and needy. When followers of Jesus gathered in homes to worship and share a meal, everyone was welcome as equals. Men and women, Jews and non-Jews, and even slaves and their masters were treated the same at Christ’s table. This was a radical shift that threatened established social mores in both Roman and Jewish culture. So, the establishment came after them with a vengeance.

Peter begins his letter to the Christian exiles by immediately claiming for them a purpose in their exile. He gives the word picture of being the “seed” of Christ scattered by the Great Sower to various nations. They were to take root where they landed, dig deep, and bear the fruit of the Spirit so that the people around them might come to faith in Christ. God’s instructions through the prophet Jeremiah to the Babylonian exiles could just as easily apply to them:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Jeremiah 29:4-7 (NIV)

And, in the quiet this morning I realize that it can also apply to me wherever my journey leads me. There is a purpose for me wherever that may be. I am the seed of Christ. I am to dig deep, create roots, draw living water from the depths, grow, mature, and bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, perseverance, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I can’t help but think of Van Gogh, the failed minister who found himself in several exilic circumstances that inspired his paintings. I’ve read his letters, and I find that scholars tend to diminish or ignore the role of faith in Vincent’s life and work, despite his many struggles. Then I think of that sower who shows up again and again in his work. I can’t help but wonder if when he repeatedly sketched and painted the sower, if he thought about his works being the seed of God’s creativity he was scattering in order to reflect the light which he saw so differently than everyone else, and so beautifully portrayed. I find it tragic that he never lived to see the fruit of his those artistic seeds. Yet, I recognize that for those living in exile, that is sometimes the reality of the journey.

The Grace Response

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecutedthe church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them….
1 Corinthians 15:9-10a (NIV)

I was reminded yesterday of a high school teacher who showed me grace. That is, he showed favor to me that I did not merit. As I recall it was the last day of the semester and my grade was teetering between an A and a B. There was one assignment, a book report, that was sitting there blank in the teacher’s grade book. I hated reading when I was that age, a condition that didn’t change until late into my college years. I simply didn’t want to read a book and write a paper on it. I kept putting it off until it was too late. And so it was, I was called up to the teacher’s desk. He explained that the missing book report was the only thing standing in the way of me getting an A in the class.

I didn’t do it,” I told the teacher honestly.

He looked at me curiously. “You ‘didn’t do it’?” he asked. “That’s all you have to say?”

Look,” I answered, “I could stand here and tell you that the dog ate my paper or give you all sorts of excuses about why I didn’t get it done, but they would all be lies. The honest truth is that I simply procrastinated and didn’t get it done. I understand. I’ll have to accept a B for the course.”

Weeks later when my grades came in the mail (In the old days, you had to wait for the Postal Service to deliver your grades to your home), I was shocked to discover that the teacher had given me an A. Perhaps he was rewarding my honesty and candor. Perhaps he was simply doing a good deed. I don’t know why he graciously gave me the grade I didn’t deserve.

I can tell you that I was truly humbled by the gesture. I didn’t feel like I’d gotten away with something. It didn’t motivate me to try blowing off other assignments assuming that the “honesty ruse” would work again. Quite the opposite, the teacher’s grace motivated me to not do it again. Making sure I got my assignments done, even the book reports I didn’t want to do in college, was a way of honoring and showing gratitude for the grace that my teacher showed me. The favor I didn’t deserve.

During the early years of the Jesus Movement, there was a group within the community who argued that Jesus’ forgiveness and grace was a moral “Get Out of Jail Free” card. “If I’m forgiven from my sins,” they reasoned, “I’m going to sin all I want! Jesus will forgive me! In fact, if I increase the rate of my sinning it means I get more of grace!” Paul addressed this foolishness in his letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome (see Romans 6).

In today’s chapter, Paul points to the unmerited favor he had been shown by Jesus when, as a murderer of Stephen and a persecutor of Jesus’ followers, Jesus forgave him and called him to be an apostle. Paul knew he didn’t deserve to be an apostle. He deserved to by punished for what he’d done. Paul knew he deserved Jesus’ forgiveness and call to apostleship less than any of the other apostles. It motivated him to work harder than all the rest – to show his gratitude for the grace he’d been shown.

Along the journey I’ve come to observe that you can tell a lot about a person’s faith by the way he or she responds to grace.

 

To Be Continued….

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him.
Acts 28:30 (NIV)

It’s always frustrating when a television series that I love comes to an untimely end. There have been a number of shows over the years that I wish had continued. What makes it even more frustrating when a smart, intelligent show gets cancelled is all of the mindless schlock that seems to perpetuate itself for decades.

As an amateur writer, I’m always fascinated how the writers and producers handle a show’s storyline once they know the show has been cancelled. Many shows are written from the beginning to contain multiple story lines or “arcs.” This allows for there to be a sense of closure after one season, or a part of a season, while leaving other story arcs open to lead into future seasons. So, what happens when the writing team is told that they only have two episodes to wrap things up for good?

I’ve observed that some try to wrap up all of the loose ends, which leaves things feeling clunky, because not all of the story arcs have been fully fleshed out. Some introduce a tragic end to the protagonist which allows for a reason that the series has ended. Much like the untimely end of a loved one in real life, this option leaves viewers grieving for what “might have been.” Sometimes the writers simply let the series end without ever trying to give viewers closure. This, in turn, reminds me of Wendy.

Wendy has always been an avid reader. She tells me that when she was a young girl she never wanted to put a book down in the middle because she was afraid the story would go on without her. Instead of “to be continued” the next time she picked up the book, she feared that the story wouldn’t wait for her.

I mention this because in today’s final chapter of the book of Acts we find Paul arriving in Rome to wait for his trial with the Roman Emperor, Nero. The tension of the story has been building as Paul appeals his case to Caesar and makes an epic journey, including shipwreck, to Rome. In this final chapter, Luke tells us that Paul rented his own place, was allowed to live a relatively free existence with his Centurion guard. He met with the local Jewish population. He “welcomed all” who came to see him and continued to proclaim the Message of Jesus.

And then it ends, as if the show suddenly got cancelled. Luke simply leaves the storyline there, and we must assume that his historical narrative, penned for a man named Theophilus, was wrapped up and sent off at this point. Luke leaves the rest of the story open because it hadn’t happened yet.

The rest of Paul’s story is left for us to piece together from the writings of early Christians and Roman historians. In July 64 AD the “Great Fire of Rome” broke out for six days. According to the Roman historian, Tacitus, only four of Rome’s 14 districts escaped damage. Nero blamed the fire on Christians and immediately set out to persecute them. It is documented that Nero had both Paul and Peter executed, which is consistent with his persecution of Jesus’ followers. The exact dates and the specifics surrounding the events and executions were not well documented at the time.

In the quiet this morning I’m smiling as I think of a young, curly-haired Wendy, with her nose in a book, convinced that the story will go on without her. Indeed, as the story of Acts comes to an abrupt, even unsatisfying end, I’m meditating on the fact that the story did go on. We know that Paul was executed and that the Message of Jesus continued to spread despite horrific persecution. The story continued, and continues to this day. Having taken up the mantel of faith in my youth, I am a part of the same story; Just a wayfaring stranger traveling through this particular story arc, in this particular chapter, during this particular point in the epic.

I only hope that I to play my part as faithfully and as well as those in Acts who led the way.

Have a great day, my friend.

Explosion Begets Expansion

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
Acts 8:1 (NIV)

In the past week the world has watched as the floodwaters caused by Hurricane Florence have forced thousands of people to flee their homes and communities to seek higher ground. The news has been dotted with interviews of individuals who have owned property along the beautiful Carolina coast for many years, but who now say they’ve had enough.

As a follower of Jesus, seeking to live with purpose, I have always determined that I want to be where God wants me to be doing what God wants me to be doing. This morning I find myself recounting three very distinct moments in my life when circumstances outside of my control put me in such uncomfortable predicaments that I was compelled to make vocational choices that moved me and my family to different places. In retrospect, I can see that each of those moves led me to where I was supposed to be.

Looking back along my Life journey and reading through the Great Story, I recognize that sometimes it takes an uncomfortable, sometimes explosive, change in circumstances to force a person to move. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers and ended up in Egypt, where decades later he would save his entire family from dying of famine. David was forced into the wilderness to live as a mercenary, where he would learn the very leadership lessons that prepared him for the throne. Daniel was taken captive to Babylon where he was used by God in the life of Babylon’s king, Nebuchadnezzar. Jesus experienced the ultimate example of circumstance conspiring to lead Him to a gruesome yet purposeful death, making salvation available to us all. After the resurrection, Jesus tells his right-hand man, Peter, to expect the same:

When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” [emphasis added]

The resurrected Jesus went on to tell his followers to take His story, their story, to “Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the world.” As we approach today’s chapter we find Jesus’ followers still hangin’ with their homies in Jerusalem. The Temple’s religious authorities both tried and executed Stephen in yesterday’s chapter. Now the Sanhedrin decides to snuff out this pesky Jesus movement once and for all. As the persecution against Jesus’ followers breaks out the followers of Jesus scatter to…wait for it…Judea and Samaria! It was an explosion of persecution that forced Jesus followers to move to the very places Jesus had always purposed for them to be.

This morning in the quiet I’m preparing for a message I have to deliver to my local gathering of Jesus’ followers on Sunday. It so happens to be on this very topic from this very book. “Explosion Begets Expansion” is my theme, and today’s chapter could easily be Exhibit A. Sometimes explosive or uncomfortable circumstances flood our lives and force us to move where we would otherwise not have been, only to find out we end up exactly where we were supposed to be all along.

Hope and Reality

What we hope life's road looks like (top) and what we sometimes find to be the reality (bottom).
What we hope life’s road looks like (top) and what we sometimes find to be the reality (bottom).

And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me.
Acts 20:22-23 (NRSV)

One of the things that Wendy and I found fascinating about our time in Edinburgh a few weeks ago was that there’s hardly a straight, level street in the entire city. There are steep inclines, winding roads, angled streets, narrow alleys, and stairs upon stairs. We felt like we were constantly going up a steep hill or down a sharp incline. Our calves were killing us.

That came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter. I’m reminded that life’s path is not always easy, and the way does not always meander through pleasant, level places. The theme of Dr. Luke’s account of the first generation of Jesus followers if filled with difficulties, persecutions, executions, imprisonments, riots, shipwrecks, and floggings. And, time and time again Luke says that the Message flourished and daily the number of believers grew.

I found it interesting to bullet out Paul’s conversation with his fellow believers from Ephesus in today’s chapter:

  • I was a living example in my time with you. Follow it.
  • I’m going to Jerusalem and expect to be persecuted and imprisoned.
  • You’ll never see me again (I’m going to die before I can return)
  • Be on guard! Wolves are going to infiltrate your flock.
  • Give, and don’t expect anything in return.

The message was followed by weeping and grief.

It’s not exactly a Thomas Kinkade scene come to life. And, so it is with life’s journey. Sometimes the path leads through difficult terrain, but there is purpose in our pains and in the places God leads us. Paul wasn’t complaining about the road ahead. He may have felt fear and grief as he set out, but courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the willingness to press on in spite of fear.

Today, I’m thinking about the balance of hoping for the best while knowing that “the best” does not always look the way I want it to look.