They Can’t All Be Correct

Along the Way @

Gentle Reader,

My home group has been journeying through the book of Acts for almost three months. Tonight we’ll be discussing Paul’s final recorded journey to Jerusalem and his subsequent arrest. Soon the narrative will draw to a close. I never fail to feel sad when I reach the end of a study. Even though Paul died many centuries ago, I’ll miss him.

Paul gets a hard time. People like to take what he wrote and what he was recorded as saying completely out of context. They spin his words for their own agendas. It frustrates me to no end to see the Bible abused this way. It is so, so important to take the time, to put in the effort, to consider and understand the context of a passage within the chapter, the book or letter or poem as a whole, the overarching salvation narrative and the historical timeline. This is the only way, guided by the Holy Spirit, to rightly handle the text.

Consider one of my favorite scenes from Acts:

Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?”

Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.

And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.” For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.

Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:


Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

– Acts 17:16-31 (NKJV)

Yes, Paul had a temper. He was an intense guy. He was a very flawed human being, something he declared over and over again. He made mistakes. He knew exactly what sort of person he was and exactly from what God had saved him.

Yet there is nothing offensive in his sermon. He is respectful, learned and passionate. He speaks to his audience in terms they will readily understand. He seeks out whatever common ground he can find and builds on it. I imagine him as the sort of guy that would be willing to sit down with anyone who wanted to talk about faith and God, probably over a good kosher burger.

But he never says that their way is right.

He never says that the road they are on will lead them to salvation.

We would do well to emulate Paul in this way. He never compromised the message. He was not wishy-washy. He did not go into pagan temples and participate in idolatrous rights in order to “connect” with people. He did not preach some mushy, gushy, “all you need is love,” fake, flimsy gospel. He spoke and wrote the truth. It got him run out of towns, separated from friends, whipped, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked and eventually (according to tradition) beheaded.

I have no doubt that he stands today among that great and unseen cloud of witnesses and shouts, “It was worth it! The Lord is worth it!”

They can’t all be correct. We do the unbelieving world great disservice when we refuse to reveal the Unknown God to them. When we spout the political correctness of relativism. When we refuse to face reality. When we fall prey to inconsistencies of logic and cognitive dissonance.

There is One way, One truth and One life. Period.

Let us be moved. Not to disdain, superiority or prejudice. Not to unkindness or brutality. Let us be moved, as Paul was moved, to take the Light of Christ boldly into the dark. Let us allow the Lord to break our hearts for the lost, for those who grope about wildly for what He freely and openly offers. Let us be strong and committed. Let us declare truth.

For that is real love.

My journey to faith. (15)

When Nothing Else Could Help

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Gentle Reader,

My mind can’t make anything compute right now. It’s totally, completely bizarre to me that normal life continues on when I’ve got this major thing happening. I wake up, I go to work, I spend time with friends and family. On Saturday, I got to go shopping with my mom and I got to see a play. I plan menus and make grocery lists. (Well, okay, I assist Chris in those tasks). I empty the dishwasher and fold laundry.

And all the while I’m thinking about the thing.

My surgeon called Friday afternoon and told me that no biopsy is necessary. He is confident that the tumor is benign and wants to proceed with removal. One of the schedulers from his office is supposed to call me this afternoon or tomorrow. I’ll have dates and timelines. It’ll be 3-5 days in December. Days of pain pumps and refusing to eat Jell-O.

The tumor – a dear friend and her daughters helped me name it: Skolops (the Greek for “thorn in the flesh” as found in 2 Corinthians 12:7) “Boobies” McFartstein; we were feeling silly that day – is hanging out way up high, near my right lung, so it’s a challenging procedure. They’ll slice me open and use this spatula-like thing to hoist my ribs out of the way. They’ll take out some healthy liver along with Skolops and the area he’s affected. Then they’ll sew me back together, wrap me up tightly and send me off to a room reeking of disinfectant.

The freaking out began Saturday night.

I started dwelling. This is rarely a good thing, especially in the wee, dark hours. Everything seems bleak and hopeless.

What if it turns out to be cancer after all? What if I have to have a second surgery? What if something goes wrong and I die on the operating table? What if I can’t handle the pain? What if I’m in the hospital longer than expected? What if we can’t pay our bills? What if we lose the house? What if I’m not up to going back to work when I’m supposed to? What if I fall when I’m at home by myself and can’t get to the phone?

Even after examining all the questions rationally, I still feel scared. And sad. Being scared makes sense to me because we’re all scared of the unknown and of things we can’t control. But I don’t understand the sad. I don’t understand why I want to cry. Why I am crying as I write this.

So when we sang these words at church yesterday, my conviction that God is intimately involved in our lives deepened, because they were words I desperately needed to hear. He soothes us in our wailing before we even know to ask for it:

Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me!
Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me! – James Rowe & Howard Smith

The hymn is centered on salvation, how it is Jesus alone who can make us right. That is so beautifully true, but, right now, the words bring something else to my mind:

…the Master of the sea, heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me, now safe am I.

Like Peter, I chose to step out of the boat. I chose to trust rather than fear those long six months ago. I have struggled to keep my eyes on Christ. The waves have grown higher and the sky darker. The lightning flashes and the thunder rolls. Everything is amplified and so frightening. I take in the surroundings and lose sight of His face.

I slip beneath the water.

He is there immediately. He lifts me with complete ease.

He asks me the same question He asked the apostle: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)

There is no anger in His voice. The question is not meant to push me toward self-loathing. It is a reminder. Jesus has never failed me. Not once. He is with me now. He will be with me in the operating room. He will hold my head in His lap and speak peace into the secret places of my heart, the places only He and I know about. He will be there when the anesthesia wears off and I’m hit with the first, intense, vomit-inducing wave of pain. As the lines of the children’s prayer affirm, He will “watch and keep me.”

Whatever comes, Love will lift me.

My journey to faith. (15)