On A Day In July

Acts 17:22-31 – The 6th Sunday of Easter – for May 25, 2014

“…I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To An Unknown God…’” (Acts 17:23)

According to the seventeenth chapter of Acts, Paul stood at Athens’ Areopagus and challenged the Greeks about worshiping an “unknown God.” In a city and an era where many gods were worshiped, Paul had stumbled across a local altar with words that declared allegiance to that “unknown” deity.

A modern view of the Areopagus in Athens...
A modern view of the Areopagus in Athens…

I’m impressed by Paul’s first-century speech in Acts. With rousing philosophical arguments, he out-Greeked the Greeks. Paul’s blunt exhortation about worshiping the one true God of his faith versus the many false Gods of their culture was thoughtful, faithful and persuasive.

The God Paul proclaimed was not unknown! God was real, and could never be understood by creating shrines of gold or silver. In a smattering of verses, the author of Acts had Paul recount creation, alluding to Adam and Eden, and declaring a confidence in a God that has “fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness . . .” The past was obvious. The future was set. All things were known.

How dare anyone worship an unknown God!

And yet I do. Continue reading →

Mi Casa Es Su Casa

Acts 16:9-15 – The 6th Sunday of Easter – for Sunday, May 5, 2013

“A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us…” (Luke 16:14)

The Gangitis River, in the district of Macedonia
The Gangitis River, in the district of Macedonia

Along the banks of the Gangitis River, in the district of Macedonia, a certain woman named Lydia heard Paul’s first-century message about the good news of Christ Jesus.

Soon after, Lydia and her household were baptized.

Which made her, based on the stories shared in the Acts of the Apostles, the first woman baptized on the European continent.

In Acts, Lydia spoke a singular sentence:

If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.

At the end of the 16th chapter of Acts, the only chapter in the New Testament where her name appeared, she was referenced once more. Following a brief stint in the local slammer, Paul and his companions beelined for Lydia’s home. Then, after an interview or two by eager Macedonia-based reporters, an update of his blog and Facebook page, Paul and his buddies skedaddled from Phillipi.

Lydia was never heard from again. Like Tabitha (also a woman named in Acts), she was a charter member of the club of obscure New Testament women. We know little about Lydia, other than she was . . .

  • A woman
  • In Macedonia
  • A seller of purple cloth
  • Wealthy (or indebted) enough to have a household
  • Someone who met Paul
  • Baptized

And, with apologies to everyone else that speaks better Spanish than me, her singular statement was a variation of: Mi Casa Es Su Casa.

My home is your home.

I assume Lydia’s life changed for the better, but that is only and forever an assumption. After all, she left the story.

I assume Paul’s encounter with Lydia influenced his life for the better, but that is only and forever an assumption. After all, she’s only mentioned in chapter 16 and doesn’t appear among the friends and co-workers listed in the letters attributed to Paul.

It’s easy and fun to play a “what if” game about Paul and Lydia: Continue reading →

What Horse?

Acts 9:1-16 (7-20) – Second Sunday after Easter – for April 14, 2013

“Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing . . .” (Acts 9:8)

Conversion on the wayThe 2009 film The Blind Side made wheelbarrows of money. Sandra Bullock received an Oscar for her performance. I liked the movie. I laughed. I wept. I cheered. The title of the film refers to a football team’s need to protect a quarterback’s blind side. Bad things happen when a quarterback focuses downfield, searching for a receiver, and an unseen opponent approaches to thwart the play.

Of course the title works in multiple ways. It’s not only about football.

Then there’s Survivor, the silly (but also oddly revealing) reality show. Contestants fret about blindsides. When—not if—will another player stab them in the proverbial back? Alliances will get tossed under the bus . . . or nearest coconut tree. (Please, in the current season, will someone blindside “secret agent” Phil? Now!)

I’ve been blindsided. Twenty years ago this month—and yeah, I remember the day and time of night—a United Methodist District Superintendent called to tell me to move to a different church. Nothing like a phone call before bedtime to hear your present and future have been, er, tossed under a coconut tree. He and I didn’t get along. He was right about some of his concerns regarding me; I was right about some of the positions I took that irked him. So, both of us were right and wrong. However he held power over me. Bad news:  Blindsided!

And yet blindsided can have its upsides. My wife and I just celebrated our twenty-ninth anniversary. I happily recall the first time I spotted her thirty-one years ago:  the left side of the church’s back row when I stood to preach. Who’s that? Whoa! (If asked a few days before that pre-sermon epiphany, I’d have wondered if I could ever heal from my first marriage . . . and divorce.) Good news:  Blindsided!

Saul of Tarsus was blindsided. On his journey to Damascus Saul-who’d-become-Paul had an agenda . . . “Breathing threats and murder,” the Acts of the Apostles gleefully proclaimed. Before he became Paul, he was a mean-hearted, anti-Christian, butt-kicking dude. Then God, so the story goes, blindsided the fearsome Pharisee and terror from Tarsus. Conversion!

Literally, according to scripture, Paul lost his sight somewhere between blazing light, a heavenly voice and smacking the ground. Or maybe he didn’t. Even a casual reader of the Bible will notice there’s a difference between Acts’ dramatic rendering of Paul’s conversion and the places (like the opening of Galatians) where Paul personally writes about his transformation. I view Acts as one part history and one part a cheerleading PR effort to make the rise of the followers of Christ look good. Really, really good. Continue reading →