This week the signposts have been distinctly clear, but I have not been interested to take the path of God’s nudging. Rather than clever bunny trails and fascinating jogs sideways I've gotten used to, this path has been a well-lit trail to a place that’s disagreeable to me. It’s not on any of my bucket lists.
Consequently, after a continual and jarring ration of pokes in my shoulder saying, “No, stick to this path,” I pulled over to the shoulder and confronted God straight up. "Where are you taking me?"
I started up a conversation with God last night, and it has continued all through this next day. As you might imagine I have done most of the talking. God is a great listener, by the way. And then God told me the answer to my question when Steve gave his reflection Wednesday morning.
The topics of my discourse with God rambled all over the place, until Steve's talk, because that’s kind of how life travels for me. I believe that most folks, and almost all of my family, have similar tortuous and long-winded habits when chatting with God. Since I have been the more verbal one in this conversation with the Father my propensity for distractions dictated the rambling path of our parlay.
Some might say that I take bothering God to a questionable level, but I’m pretty sure that he doesn’t mind. My assumption is based upon God’s unconditional love, which in most of my human associations wears off rather quickly. My friends and family begin conversations with an ardent unconditional intent. In no time at all, though, we both realize conditions do exist.
When I identify my conversation as one with the Father, my naming convention is purposeful. I come to the Father with Jesus’ prodding as my brother and the Holy Spirit as my conduit. I do not fully grasp the network protocols of this singular divinity in three persons, but I willingly accept it’s application.
Each week I get to write a reflection on the Wednesday scriptures, which has happened through a course of circumstances and encounters much too long to explain here. It’s a blessing beyond my understanding. Steve and I share this wonderful mission. Periodically I get bogged down in some minor detail of a scripture reading that sends me down a bunch of somewhat connected bunny trails. Bogged in the sense that I don’t know where I’m actually heading, and I feel lost.
So, here’s what I had been rummaging through with God.
I wrestled quite a bit with my lack of focus on this week's reflection, and asked God why I was having such difficulty. Usually, I simply wait for his suggestions, and do my best to follow a train of thought that grabs hold of me and won’t let go.
By “follow” I mean that I purposely step with God conscious of two transcendent and yet unassailable protocols that surpass a concise explanation — to remain true to the mind of the Church and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Regardless of my effectiveness at this, just honoring those two protocols makes for terrific practice in God-centered communication. They have consistently provided me with wonderful treasures of knowledge and a growing sense of friendship with God. I don’t really have to know what I’m doing if I just allow for God to be the initiator. It sounds like cheating, and maybe even dishonest rationalization, but I truly believe God knows what he’s doing.
In fact, even though any data catalogue of my conversations with the Father conclusively details that I’m doing all the talking I am certain that God has taken charge of the dialogue. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just give it a shot and then honestly track what happens. No one else but you will be convinced by your own experience.
All that said, I’ve become accustomed to the wandering trail rides, knowing they aren’t just parenthetical offshoots from some more weathered trail. They are the trail God intends. Whether its curiosity or confusion that turns my footsteps left or right, following a thread of scripture presented to me is how I believe God walks with me. “Let’s head over here,” is how I view God’s whispers into these attention-grabbing journeys.
This week the signposts have been distinctly clear, but I have not been interested to take the path of God’s nudging. Rather than clever bunny trails and fascinating jogs sideways I've gotten used to, this path has been a well-lit path to a place that’s disagreeable to me. It’s not on any of my bucket lists. Consequently, after a continual and jarring ration of pokes in my shoulder saying, “No, stick to this path,” I pulled over to the shoulder and confronted God straight up. "Where are you taking me?"
Why, I have asked, is chapter 17 of Acts so important? What I am reading is a difficulty for me. At each reading, my blood pressure seems to spike.
My anxiety stems from the rabble of this paid mob that successfully runs Paul out of town. Paul is challenged by a crowd of “worthless men loitering in the public square” who have been recruited by a powerful and jealous base of authority, angry at the evangelical promotion of Jesus. Jesus is the antithesis, and a full forced replacement, of all that matters to both the Greeks and the Jews who live in the lands of balmy cosmopolitan world of 40 AD.
I can’t escape the caustic source of my anxious heart. The problem is based in politics. The rabble crowd parallels the current media mania, congressional blathering, intelligence community nefarious leaks, and party ideologue resistance movement, all going on with a vindictive vengeance in our country. This week’s reading, in more blunt words, involved more politics that I just don’t want to attend to. An accumulation of events and encounters, all God-given interjections, tells me that regardless of my unwillingness I must deal with this. And yet, the dealings do not provide me with a winning hand.
The political atmosphere over the past few decades has been increasingly invaded with a combined stench and noise -- a banshee laden, tear gas grenade crossfire of guerrilla warfare. The shouting of epithets and lobbing of lies has increased dramatically. We cannot disregard the frequency nor escalation of political acrimony. The gaseous grenades fly at a frightening pace. They rain upon us like explosive hail. My friends and family are riddled with pains from the concussive explosions of tossed foment. The suffering is becoming unbearable, and no comfort or emergency triage has emerged. The wounds from this political fire fight have festered, and no one is left unscathed.
I don’t have a sure grasp on the nature of political maneuvering, but I do understand the hold on power that courses through the veins of of those engaged in political struggles. Every element of government is infected with power bitterness.
The whole subject of political harrangue smacks at us. It is off-putting, distasteful, disgraceful, and ultimately deadly. And that is exactly what Paul ran into in Acts. Unfortunately, the consequences of his encounter in Thessalonica, and then later in Beroea, both in Greece, do not appear to help us with our current political malaise. We are left with two unfortunate endings.
From Thessalonica, Luke tells us that, “The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas to Beroea during the night.” The political powers effectively shoved Paul and Silas into exile, which God allowed to happen, preferring advice for the duo to fly away in the darkness because their work had only been able to do so much.
The same resistance movement took place in Beroea. Similarly, Paul was faced with an impending sling of arrows and rejection. “And so Paul left them,” exclaimed Luke’s terse words, another aborted attempt at building an evangelical stronghold.
We are always going to face folks who become forceful and violent when they disagree with us. They feel that their coveted and comprehensive earthly power should not be challenged. Such is the expected behavior that the truth will encounter. That is the unfortunate result portrayed in this set of scriptures.
Sure, Paul identifies some who were converted, and some who are attentive, and even a few who will have a long-lasting impression upon a community regarding the truth of Jesus’ gospel life and impending return as the reigning and living Lord of us all. At Corinth, his next destination, he was able to stay three years.
Today, Jesus’s words continue to ruffle feathers and anger hearts. The disagreeable holds upon power are no more tolerant today than then. The contentious topics that are unquestionably God’s holy truths, in fact, receive the same early Christian era of wild-eyed shouts and irrational diatribe. Today, though, the following should not be debatable issues. They are foundational truths. A fetus is a baby. Marriage is a holy union. Religious expression should be open and sacred. God should be able to roam among us freely. These truths are separated from the moral framework because earthly power cannot stomach divine intervention and authority, unless divinity operates by their rules of order and authority bends to their wills.
Finally, then, I am led to the message of Paul’s experiences with the Grecian world of many gods amidst the powerful overlords of intellectual men. Not by my calculations, but by dear friends who ascent to the same conduit of faith.
Why this reaction, I ask God, and he answered through Steve's study on John 16:12. "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now."
I had only heard the second line of John 16:12, "But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth."
My, "Why" has been answered. God will tell me, because the Spirit is upon me. But not yet. This is not a boasting of personal accomplishment. I have done nothing but submit. A difficulty, of course, but the work has been the Holy Spirit. His guidance, however, is a longer path than I suspect. In fact, the upshot now is probably unbearable. Consequently, I must follow without knowing the end results.
Still, I must tell the truth, and know that God holds the reigns. He loves us and lives in those of us who let him. Go where he sends me. Do what he asks of me. Be with him, and know he is with us. Live in his words, and die in his arms.
And here is what I cannot yet bear, and why my heart hurts at the rabble, dissension and resistance to the truth. I do not know the judgement of the world.
“God has overlooked the times of ignorance, but now he demands that all people everywhere repent, because he has established a day on which he will ‘judge the world with justice’ through a man he has appointed, and he has provided confirmation for all by raising him from the dead.”
My angst is based upon consequences that too many of us seem to be unwilling to grasp. I am frightened for the angry and spite-filled, including myself. We pray for the Holy Spirit to change our hearts. We urge our family and friends to bow their heads and add their prayers for those like me who disagree with them. Do not, dear Lord, let either one of us be the stumbling block.
God knows what he is doing. God loves us.