Tag Archives: Trial

Seemingly Safe Assumptions

Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.”
Exodus 5:22-23 (NRSVCE)

Wendy and I have, of late, participated in multiple conversations with others who are grieving. The grief being experienced is not the result of the death of a loved one, but rather the unexpected demise of seemingly safe assumptions.

Along this life journey, I have observed that I am constantly making seemingly safe assumptions about what the road up ahead is going to look like. When I was first married, I assumed my marital life would be “happily ever after,” until I found myself in the middle of a divorce. I raised our daughters never realizing that I assumed all sorts of things about what their education, careers, lives, and world-views would look like until they ended up looking much different in almost every way. I assumed I would go to college and get a college degree and successfully pursue my chosen career, but then I ended up in a job I never wanted nor expected. I have saved for retirement and look forward to many golden years traveling with Wendy and doting on our grandchildren, but I’ve witnessed, first-hand, the harsh realities of lives cut far short of that seemingly safe assumption.

In today’s chapter, our reluctant hero, Moses, obediently follows God’s call to return to Egypt. Moses and Aaron make their appeal asking Pharaoh to let the people go into the wilderness to make sacrifices to God. Instead, Pharaoh both refuses and places a heavier burden on his Hebrew slave labor. This leaves Moses stuck between a rock and a hard place. There is no sign of Pharaoh capitulating and Moses’ people are ticked off as they are forced to work harder to meet impossible quotas for which they will likely be beaten and punished.

As I read Moses’ complaint to God about the situation, I found myself remembering exactly what God said to Moses in the burning bush conversation:

“I know, however, that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all my wonders that I will perform in it; after that he will let you go.
Exodus 3:19-20

In the painful realities of the moment, Moses was quick to remember God’s promise to deliver his people and plunder the Egyptians. However, Moses conveniently forgot the part about Pharaoh’s obstinance and that it would take a process of wonders before Pharaoh would relent. Based on the power and wonders God had shown Moses back at the burning bush, Moses made a seemingly safe assumption that this whole deliverer gig had a quick turnaround.

I find myself this morning thinking about the many seemingly safe assumptions I made earlier in life. Never did I expect to find myself wading through my own moral failure, navigating divorce, life in a small town, remarriage, blended family, infertility, unexpected pregnancy, and spending my life in a career I’d never wanted but to which I was called and found myself perfectly suited to accomplish.

I can’t help but remember Jesus’ words:

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
Matthew 6:34 (MSG)

I have come to believe that any “seemingly safe assumption” about what my life, or the lives of my loved ones, will look like down the road is part of what Jesus is urging me to avoid. I don’t know what tomorrow holds. I only know that “God promised to help me deal with whatever hard things come when the time comes.”

God, allow me the wisdom to give my entire attention to what you are doing in and through me this day, and the grace to entrust you with any and every tomorrow.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Weathering the Storms

So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.'”
Zechariah 4:6 (NIV)

Along my life’s journey, I’ve come to recognize that there are particular stretches of the trek when trouble, trial, and trepidation seem to close in on every side like a perfect storm. You can’t escape it. You can’t plan for it. They just happen. The real question is, have I prepared myself, spiritually, to weather such storms?

This past week my siblings and I moved our parents into an assisted living facility. My dad has been in the hospital for the past three weeks. Diagnosed with a nasty bacterial infection that only complicates his cancer and cardiac issues, we need to get him into a skilled-care facility for about six-weeks of IV antibiotics. Meanwhile, our mother, in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, is now struggling with the realities of a new environment, a whole host of unknowns to confuse her, and the loss of my father’s constant presence and protection. This, on top of what was already a dizzying travel schedule, seasonal pressures from work, and a daughter getting married half-way across the country in a few weeks. Oh, and I’m now into the second week of a nasty head and chest cold that has zapped much of my energy and doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.

“I don’t understand how you are doing all of this” Wendy said to me a couple of times this week amidst much needed empathetic and medicinal hugs.

In today’s chapter, Zechariah records the fifth vision of encouragement he has for the exiles who are seeking to restore Jerusalem and the Temple. This vision is centered on Zerubbabel, the appointed Governor who is tasked with leading the daunting project from a political perspective. It is not an easy task. He is subject to a pagan Persian Emporer. He is surrounded by enemies on all sides who want him to fail. He is leading people who are divided regarding whether this is even a worthwhile project to pursue. Then there is the sheer magnitude of the task.

God’s word to the overwhelmed leader:

‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.

I have come to the conclusion that I cannot keep the storms of life from pouring down upon me. That’s just part of the journey. I can, however, prepare myself to weather the storm in healthy ways.

First, I recognize that I am not alone in this. If I truly believe what I say that I believe, then God is always present from which to draw upon the spiritual resources I need. And, I am surrounded by a community of family and friends for camaraderie and support.

Second, I try to stay present in each moment and focus only on what that moment requires. I can’t do anything about the past. It’s useless for me to waste time and energy on the “if only’s” and “we should have’s.” Likewise, Jesus reminds us: “Tomorrow has enough worries of its own.” What do I need to decide or accomplish on this day, in this particular moment?

Third, I choose small ways to care for myself. Choosing not to worry about a task that isn’t a priority right now. Eating a healthy meal, getting a good night’s sleep, consciously noting all of the blessings I have despite the circumstances, taking a short nap, slipping in a quick ten-minute walk around the hospital floor, or sneaking away for a few minutes of solitude and prayer in a quiet place. I’m reminded that Jesus regularly slipped away by Himself. If I’m not caring for myself, I’m not going to well at caring for others and the needs of the moment.

Which is why I find myself in the quiet this morning. I have a lot on the task list today as I prepare for another week on the road. But, I needed the same reminder God gave Zerubbabel this morning. My might and strength only go so far. It’s the infinite resources of God’s Spirit that I require in the perfect storm raging around me. It is the recalibration of mind and heart that I need on this Monday morning.

And now, it’s time to move on to what this next moment requires.

Have a good week, my friend.

Click on this image to go to an index of all posts in this series on the writings of the prophet Zechariah!
A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

When Life Throws a Wicked Curve

As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than anyone else alive, but so that Your Majesty may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.
Daniel 2:30 (NIV)

One can’t control some circumstances. Life sometimes throws you a curve, and you stand there in the batter’s box with only a proverbial moment to decide what you’re going to do with it.

The latest curveball in our journey happened on Friday when my dad suffered a (thankfully small) stroke. In the course of a few hours, our weekend plans were scuttled and our plans for a week at the lake were placed on hold. I quickly found myself spending my nights caring for my mother who is living in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and spending my days with her and my dad at the hospital entertaining a small army of doctors who are trying make sense of my father’s puzzling mixture of medical issues. I’m glad to report that everyone is well, and it could have been much, much worse.

As doctor after doctor has come in to discuss the various tests that have been continually run over the weekend, my dad has been intent on asking them exactly when his stroke occurred. He’d had symptoms starting on Tuesday of last week and went to the hospital on Friday. I’ve watched as every doctor he asks will look at him quizzically and laugh at the question. Strokes apparently don’t leave a time and date stamp on the brain. Undaunted by this, he continues to ask.

His doctors should be happy they aren’t serving King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. In today’s chapter, King Neb asks a similar unknowable question to all of the prophets, magicians, and enchanters on his royal payroll. The mad king had a puzzling dream, and he wanted the interpretation, but he wanted to make sure the interpretation could be trusted. So, he asked them to first tell him what the dream was, and then tell him the interpretation. If no one could do it, then they’d all be killed and their homes destroyed. Talk about a major league curveball.

Daniel and his friends were, at this point, minor minions at the bottom of the King’s org chart of advisors. Nonetheless, the decree of death applied to them, as well, when Neb decided that he was cleaning house in the Advisory Department.

I find Daniel’s response fascinating. He doesn’t seem to panic. Having not been aware of any of the circumstances leading to the fateful knock on his door, he makes a bold move. He asks for an audience with King Neb. It’s possible that Daniel had not even been in the King’s presence since he and his friends were tested and made the cut to be on the King’s advisory staff. Daniel requests a night to see if he could do the impossible. Then he and his friends pray. That night, Daniel receives a vision explaining both the dream and interpretation.

When Daniel approaches the King with the answer, he is quick to let the King know that there was no magic involved and Daniel did not have some kind of ESP. He simply says that God had a message for the King and Daniel was the messenger. In the entire affair, Daniel’s thoughts, words, and actions appear humble, measured, and focused on seeking God’s purpose in the midst of it all. He stands in, keeps his eye on the ball, and knocks the curveball out of the park.

This morning as I write from my folk’s apartment and help get my mom going so we can head back to the hospital, I’m finding inspiration in Daniel’s attitude. As I wrote in my previous post, Daniel had already faced several wicked knuckleballs and curveballs in life. Perhaps he had learned from those experiences. Nonetheless, he provides a good example.

Don’t panic. Take some time. Seek God’s purpose. Be humble. Flow.

My dad was supposed to be discharged from the hospital today. He called last night to report that the doctors have found another complication. Another procedure today, and I have no idea what it will reveal or whether we’ll bring him home today or not.

Here we flow.

Wrestling with Subjection to Authority

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
Romans 13:1 (NIV)

For the record, I don’t belong to any political party.

I was just reminded this morning of a passage in The Lord of the Rings when Pippin asks the Ent, Treebeard, whose side he was on. “Side?” Treebeard replies. “I’m on no one’s side, because no one is on my side.”

Along my life journey I have respected certain leaders from both of the major parties here in the States, and I have had personal disdain for leaders from both of the major parties. I’m thankful for living in a representative republic. There is always the possibility of change in every election cycle.

Paul is writing his letter to followers of Jesus in Rome during the time of the Roman Empire. One of the reasons the Romans were able to control such a large area of the western world for such a large period of time was the fact that Rome tended to bring and maintain a certain amount of law and order wherever they ruled. While there were always those unhappy with Roman occupation, there was a certain understanding among the common population that the system of Roman law and order was better than the chaos which was often the reality when a local tyrant or warlord reigned.

In today’s chapter Paul provides a fascinating perspective as he tells the followers of Jesus living in Rome itself to be subject to governing authorities, to pay their taxes, and to respect those in authority. This is the Roman Empire. The Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, whom Paul once worked for, have an entire terrorist network developing which is going to erupt into outright rebellion in about 20 years from the writing of Paul’s letter. Even one of the Twelve apostles came out of the anti-Roman Zealots. But Paul is direct, authoritative and unequivocal in stating that authority is a construct of God, so we must respectfully subject ourselves to government authority.

A couple of thoughts on this. Underneath Paul’s teaching on this matter is an understanding that on the eternal, cosmic, Level 4, Great Story perspective all things are moving toward the end of the Story, which is already written. If we want to get into the notion of God and eternity existing outside of the dimension of time then one might argue that it’s already happened. Maybe you need another cup of coffee before wrapping your brain around that.

There is also plenty of precedent from the Old Testament (Paul was a lawyer by training, remember) that God raises up and uses certain kings and rulers (Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar, for example) who were not the most benevolent leaders. Even David respected and viewed Saul as God’s appointed authority and refused to depose and kill the mad king when he had every reason and opportunity to do so. In telling the Roman believers to subject themselves to their Roman authorities, Paul was channeling thinking and teaching that was quite ancient.

Then there is the most fascinating fact that Paul is a Roman citizen. This is no small detail. It’s a huge deal in his day and age. Roman citizenship was extremely hard to come by and afforded the person all sorts of perks in Roman society. Paul states elsewhere that he was born a Roman citizen, so he grew up enjoying the protection and status of that citizenship. Paul will soon use that status to appeal his upcoming conviction to Caesar himself. Paul will end up a prisoner in Rome itself.

What’s ironic is that Paul and the believers he’s writing to in Rome will be scapegoated by Caesar, blamed for the Great Fire of Rome to cover up Caesar’s own culpability, and they will be persecuted mercilessly. The Roman authorities to whom Paul is telling the believers to submit will throw them in prison, cover them in wax and light them on fire (while still alive) to illuminate Caesar’s garden, feed them to the lions in the Coliseum, and execute Paul by chopping of his head. By the way, beheading was another perk of Roman citizenship. If Paul had not been a citizen he’d have suffered a much more agonizing death by crucifixion, which was the gruesome fate awaiting Peter in Rome.

Would knowing the end awaiting him change Paul’s charge to subject themselves to Rome’s authority? I don’t think so. A few weeks ago I reminded our local gathering of Jesus followers that Jesus told Peter about the death by crucifixion that was awaiting him after His resurrection. Once again, the present, Level 1 daily circumstances were lived with an eternal, Level 4 perspective.

This is one of those mornings when, in the quiet, I have more questions than answers. What about…? What if…? Despite all the questions, I’m reminded that I’m not always going to like those in authority. I’m reminded that being respectful and lawful is part of being a “living sacrifice” (see yesterday’s post). I’m reminded that Jesus subjected himself to cruelty and a completely unjust execution after a series of kangaroo court trials before religious, secular, regional, and Roman authorities to whom He was always respectful. He knew that his Level 1 circumstances had Level 4 purpose. So did Peter. So did Paul.

That is whose footsteps I’m following.

The People v. Paul of Tarsus (Part 3)

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?

The People v. Paul of Tarsus (Part 2)

If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”
Acts 25:11 (NIV)

Our daughter and her family recently moved to the United Kingdom along with some good friends who were scheduled to leave about the same time. On the the eve of their departure, their friends were still dealing with a snafu with their visas. As they explained it to me, the whole affair became maddening cluster of a situation involving frantic phone calls, an attorney, government bureaucracy, and university bureaucracy. The maddening situation ultimately delayed their departure for an indefinite period of time and kept them in hurry-up and wait limbo.

As we enter today’s chapter, Paul has been imprisoned in a similar “hurry up and wait” limbo in the regional Roman justice system. The Roman Procurator, Felix, had kept Paul in prison for two years as a favor to the powerful Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Felix is replaced with a man named Festus to who begins his tenure in office with a diplomatic mission to Jerusalem where the Jewish religious leaders urge him to return Paul to Jerusalem (so they could assassinate him). Festus makes a political countermove by urging them to come to Caesarea and make their accusations.

In Part 2 of Paul’s trials the Jewish leaders make their accusations. Once again they have no evidence and accuse Paul of nothing that would be deserving of death. Festus, however, is a new Procurator playing a political game of chess with the political players of his region. He attempts to appease the Jewish religious leaders by asking Paul if he’d be willing to go to Jerusalem and let the case be heard there.

Paul knows that this is a mockery of Roman justice being suggested for political gain. To return to Jerusalem would only pander to his enemies and accusers. It’s essentially a step backwards and to agree would place him in a weaker position. Festus obviously wants to appease Paul’s accusers and Paul can smell a rat. If Festus is willing to try the case in Jerusalem, outside of Roman civil court, then he just might be willing to make Paul a sacrificial offering to shore up his political position.

Paul now makes a bold move and appeals to Caesar. This is a bold move because Festus has not actually tried Paul’s case and has not rendered a verdict. It was a risky move because Festus might have ultimately released Paul. The case against Paul was weak and executing a Roman Citizen for political gain with the Jews would not have been a good political move within the Empire. It was also risky because appealing to Caesar meant being sent to Rome and more languishing in the Roman justice system for an indefinite time. Paul also knew that his surprise appeal would give Festus a political out: “Sorry guys. I tried to bring him to Jerusalem to stand trial, but he appealed to Caesar. He’s a Roman Citizen. My hands are legally tied.”

As a read this morning I find myself, once again, trying to crawl into the mind of Paul. Paul clearly stated when he went to Jerusalem was that his motivation is to expand the Message of Jesus and to proclaim the Message across new boundaries. He wants to push the Message forward. The prospect of a return to Jerusalem would only put him back where he’s already been for years. The appeal to Caesar, while risky, offered the potential for his story and his witness to become a matter of official public record in the Roman Empire. In essence, Paul’s deft legal maneuver assured that he wouldn’t be the sacrificial lamb for Festus’ political gain, but he would willingly sacrifice himself for the sake of Jesus and taking the Message of Jesus to the very heart of the Roman Empire.

Being stuck in the limbo of bureaucracy can be maddening. Just ask Taylor’s friends about their experience. I find that Paul, however, is finding purpose in the pain of his situation. It comes down to motives. His ultimate motivation is not about his physical freedom, but freeing others by furthering the Message of Christ. With that in mind, he’ll use his circumstances to achieve his goal.

The People v. Paul of Tarsus (Part 1)

Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus.
Acts 24:24 (NIV)

I and my team at work have had many different business engagements over the years with a number of very different companies. I’m glad to say that our team has had several on-going engagements with clients that have lasted 15, 20, and even 25 years and counting. Others engagements have been relatively small projects that lasted a week or a month. The difference between a long engagement and a short one is often dependent the level of person we’re working with within the organization.

If we’re working with the CEO and/or senior executives of a client company, we have the opportunity to positively influence the client’s entire operation along with the  health and well-being of the customer experience for decades. A middle manager, on the other hand, typically has limited means and influence. They usually bring us in for a moment in time to treat a symptom in their service delivery system.

In today’s chapter, we find Paul in the midst of a tectonic shift in his ministry. For years he has traveled the Roman Empire in Judea, Asia Minor, and Greece. He’s been among the people. He’s expanded the number of believers and followers of Jesus. He’s organized them into local groups. He’s provided for himself by keeping his day job as a maker of tents. Paul has been on a grass-roots, boots-on-the-ground, non-stop mission among the common, everyday people in the streets. Now, like Jesus before him, Paul finds himself in the justice system of the Roman Empire being accused by the leaders of the Hebrew religion who want him dead. Unlike Jesus, Paul is a citizen of Rome, and that affords him the ability to appeal his case all the way to Caesar himself.

The first trial Paul faces against the religious leadership of the Jews is before the Roman Procurator, Antonius Felix, who had authority over Judea. Felix, like many Roman regional authorities of the time, was a corrupt official with a reputation for both cruelty and debauchery. The trial, as recorded in today’s chapter, should have ended with Paul’s release. The Jewish leaders had no accusation that should have stood up in Roman court. They did not produce a single corroborating witness willing to be cross-examined, and they had no evidence. Paul’s defense was persuasive and, as a Roman citizen, he should have been released immediately. Felix, however, was in a tough spot politically.

One of the top responsibilities of Roman provincial leadership was keeping the peace. The Jewish leaders bringing charges against Paul had tremendous political and social influence, and Felix knew it. His predecessor, Ventidus Cumanus, failed to respond to a racially motivated murder of a Jew in Samaria. The result was riots and uprising. Cumanus was held responsible by Caesar and exiled. Felix wants to avoid this fate so he decides to appease the Jewish leaders by keeping Paul in prison. But the Jesus movement has been gaining popularity, as well. Tens of thousands of people had become believers and Paul is one of their leaders. So, Felix can’t just have him killed without potentially igniting a backlash.

The compromise Felix came up with was to keep Paul under a relatively comfortable house arrest within the palace. For two years Felix and his wife (the daughter of Herod Agrippa) regularly meet with Paul to have lengthy discussions. Felix, being a corrupt Roman official, is hoping Paul will offer him a bribe to let him go. Paul is on a very different mission, however. He could have easily stolen Peter’s line: “Silver and gold I don’t have, but what I have I give to you.”

This morning as I read, I thought about Paul’s situation in terms of my own experience in business. For years Paul has been working with the front-line workers of the corporate Roman Empire. Now Paul finds himself invited into the executive suite. Paul has the opportunity to influence an influencer. To convert a Roman official, to even make him aware of the Message of Jesus, could have a tremendous ripple effect throughout the Empire. Paul is fulfilling the very mission Jesus spoke of to his disciples: “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” (Matt 10:18)

Convert an Ephesian shopkeeper and you change a life. Convert a Roman official and you might just change an empire (which is exactly what eventually happened two hundred years later with the Roman Emperor Constantine).

Polarized Parties, Powder Keg Issues, and Paul

Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee,descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.”
Acts 23:6 (NIV)

One of the things I’ve observed along my journey is our human penchant for thinking our current events and circumstances are somehow unique in human history. The Teacher of Ecclesiastes wisely said, “there’s nothing new under the sun.” As a student of history I can usually find times and events in recorded history which were much worse than whatever it is that’s happening in the headlines today.

There is no doubt that we are living in a time of polarization in political thought and the results have been tumultuous. The time of Jesus and the following decades of Paul’s ministry that we’re reading about in Acts were also tumultuous times in which there was polarization of both political and religious thought. Conflict, terrorism, and riots were a part of their landscape just as they are in ours today.

In today’s chapter, Paul uses this polarization of thought and the rabid, inherent conflict as part of his chess game with the religious Jewish leaders and their local Roman occupiers. Paul is standing before the same religious council that condemned Jesus to death and he knows they’re just as thirsty for his blood to be spilled. Paul, however, holds a trump card with his Roman citizenship (see my previous post). Standing next to him is a Roman military commander, known as a Tribune. Paul needs the Romans to take over his case.

It’s important to remember that Paul was raised and trained in Jerusalem as a lawyer. He would have known some of the men on this council. He knew their polarized religious beliefs as well as their corresponding hot button issues. Once again I find that Paul is not a random victim of circumstance. Paul is on a mission. He is driving the action.

Paul knows that the two rival parties within the council were the Pharisees and Sadducees. These two parties were just as opposed to one another as the far-right Republicans and far-left Democrats are in the U.S. today. The watershed issue that divided these two religious, political parties was the concept of resurrection, or life after death. The Pharisees believed that there was a resurrection as well as an unseen spirit realm where Angels and spirits dwelt. The Sadducees believed the exact opposite. There was no resurrection, no life after death, this physical life and reality is all there is. When you die there is nothing else. Paul uses this hot-button, polarizing issue for his own purposes.

Paul loudly proclaims to the entire council his pedigree as a life-long, card-carrying Pharisee, and accuses the Sadducees of the council of putting him on trial because of his belief in the resurrection. Resurrection is the powder-keg issue (think Roe v. Wade today). Paul just lit a match and threw it into the middle of the room.

Watch what happens next. A bunch of Pharisees, who moments ago were critical of Paul, now jump up to defend him. As I’ve been watching current events it’s easy to notice that in polarized systems anyone on your team is good and must be defended at all costs, while anyone on the other team is all bad and must be destroyed at all costs. There is no middle ground. Paul successfully diverts the council’s attention from himself to the hot-button issue. In the riot that followed, the Roman Tribune responsible for Paul had no choice but to evacuate him from the situation because he was responsible for Paul’s safety as a Roman citizen and he would be held personally liable (and perhaps executed) if he allowed the Jews to kill Paul, a Roman citizen.

By pushing the council’s political buttons Paul ensured that the Roman Tribune would witness for himself what a volatile group the Jewish council was and the threat they posed to both of them. Not only this, but Paul knows these Jewish leaders. He could easily anticipate that their next move will be a conspiracy to assassinate him. It’s what they did with Jesus. It’s what Paul himself did with Stephen, and Paul himself has been on the run from Jewish assassination attempts on all of his journeys. If there is a plot to kill him Paul knows that the Roman Tribune will have no choice but to place Paul in protective custody and get him out of town. And, that is exactly what happens.

In a few minutes I will join Wendy in our dining room for breakfast and we will read the paper together. It will be filled with news and opinions of current events in our polarized, politicized times. This morning I am reminded that nothing is new under the sun and that I can only control my own motives, thoughts, words, and actions. Reading about Paul’s motives, Paul’s words, and Paul’s actions, I’m reminded of one of Jesus’ more obscure and oft-forgotten commands to His followers:

Be shrewd as serpents; gentle as doves.”

Prophetic Pattern, Hero’s Journey, and the Belly of the Whale

 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,

“when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman
    and the planter by the one treading grapes.
New wine will drip from the mountains
    and flow from all the hills,
    and I will bring my people Israel back from exile.”
Amos 9:13-14a (NIV)

Life sends us all into places we don’t expect or desire. This is a journey and every journey includes both ups and downs. A friend who is a regular reader and fellow wayfarer recently referenced Joseph Campbell’s outline of the hero’s journey in a comment on one of my posts. This prompted me to refresh my memory of Campbell’s work, in which he explores the power of our myths and epic tales in understanding both ourselves and our stories.

Follow the path of this journey closely and you will recall specific episodes from all our favorite epic heroes from Harry Potter to Luke Skywalker to Bilbo Baggins. Yes there is treasure and reward at the end of the tale as well as magic and adventure along the way. Yet, the journey also includes reluctance, fear, trials, flights from danger, the need of courage, and a final battle. How often I appreciate the trials and struggles of my favorite epic heroes but want to shortcut past the trials and battles right to the treasure and reward in my own life.


Infographic: Hero's Journey | Venngage
Chart courtesy of Sara McGuire. See this on Venngage Infographics.


Just as there is a pattern to the hero’s journey, there is also a pattern to the poems and visions of the ancient prophets. Their prophetic visions are mostly filled with doom, gloom, and predictions of pestilent woe. They don’t mince words in their warnings or their calls to repentance and spiritual reformation. For this reason, I know many who prefer to avoid reading or studying the prophets altogether. It often feels like such a downer.

Yet the prophetic pattern almost always ends with redemption and hope. The poetic visions of the prophets are eucatastrophic in nature. Yes, we make a mess of things and that mess will lead us through consequences that produce all of the dark moments of any hero’s journey. At the end, however, the divine light shines in the darkness. Hope breaks through the dark clouds when we least expect it. Redemption graciously appears and leads us to the reward and treasure.

In today’s chapter Amos ends his volume of prophetic poems in the same pattern. After slogging through eight chapters of doom we end with the hope of restoration, repair, blessing, and abundance.

I confess that I begin this day of my journey feeling a bit like I’m in the belly of the whale. I have a sense that I’m moving toward a prescribed place, but here in the belly of the whale I can’t really feel the momentum, I can’t see where this is all headed, and I don’t particularly like the environment at the moment. It is dark, cramped and a particularly odorous stench. Yet, Amos and Campbell remind me this morning that doing a stretch in the belly of the whale is part of life’s journey just as it is part of any good story. Hope and redemption lie ahead. I will cross the threshold at the right place and time. Faith is required at the moment, as well as perseverance.

Pinching my nose. Slogging on.

Thanks for your companionship.

Embracing Our “Lot in Life”

“…but the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders; for you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong.”
Joshua 17:18 (NRSV)

Yesterday afternoon my sister, my father, and I met with a medical professional in the retirement community where my folks live. We met to discuss my parents current needs. We needed to talk about my mom’s progression of Alzheimer’s, how it’s affecting my dad’s health in his fight against cancer, and to map out thoughts and ideas for how we monitor and address the situation going forward.

These are strange conversations that we weren’t even contemplating just a few years ago. It’s strange when things in life don’t turn out as you had envisioned. It can be unsettling, to say the least.

On the drive home my daughter asked me how I was doing with all of this, and what I was feeling. I was honest with her that I’m feeling all of the natural stages of grief that come with such events on life’s road. I then shared with her something that I feel God has been impressing on me in recent days.

Jesus said that He came that we might have “abundant life.” We often interpret that to mean life that is void of pain, sorrow, struggle, tragedy, or suffering. Yet, elsewhere in God’s message we are told to rejoice in our suffering, to consider it joy when we encounter trials, and to give thanks in all circumstances. We are told the godliness with contentment is the “means of great gain.” I’m beginning to understand that abundant life is not the absence of pain and struggle but the contented embracing of life in all of its diverse circumstances from tragedy to victory.

In todays’ chapter the family of Manasseh were not content with the inheritance they’d been given and they complained to Joshua. They wanted more. Joshua told them they could have the forest (which would have to be cleared), and a valley filled with strong enemies that would have to be overcome. The tribe complained that they weren’t happy with what Joshua was giving them. Joshua countered that his decision was final. In essence, Joshua countered their complaints by saying: “This is your lot in life.”

Today I’m reminded that we don’t always get to choose our lot in life. Things are not always going to turn out the way I planned. I can gripe and complain and play the victim. Or, I can embrace life in all of its diverse moments. I can learn to find contentment amidst the struggle, to consider it joy in the trials, to rejoice in my suffering. I’m slowly learning that an abundance of life includes the tough lots as well as the easy ones.

 

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