Wednesday, January 12, 2011

One last look

Paul and his companions were  home from a missions trip, full of good news and relief money for the church in Jerusalem. They checked in with James and the church elders.

After the report was over, the leaders said, "Good work, buddy. Thanks be to God," and had a request. "Not everyone thinks you're doing things right, Paul. Thousands of Jews in the city believe you're violating laws and encouraging Gentiles not to be moral or upright. We think we've figured out a way to change that."

Paul replied, "Why not, if you think it will help the Church."

He began the prescribed, week-long Jewish ritual with several fellow believers. He even agreed to foot the bill for everybody to prove his sincerity. That should have worked. Should have cleared his name. Should have appeased Jews who were libeling the Church and Paul.

He almost made it. But near the end of the seven-day ritual, some outsiders came along and stirred up the locals. Pretty soon everyone was screaming at Paul, trying to rip him apart as he worshiped in the Temple. The agitators pulled Paul outside into the courtyard and the Temple door was slammed shut behind them. Things got so violent that Roman soldiers had to intervene. The Romans held Paul in prison... for his own safety.

As Paul was dragged off, he may have glanced back at the Temple with its doors closed against him. This was the place on which his life had been centered as a rabbi and as a faithful Jew growing up.

"What just happened? I love this place. I've never done anything to disrespect it, and everyone knows it. I've served God with all my heart, planted churches, taught the gospel. Today I was going the extra mile, exactly as my church leaders requested."

As far as scripture reports, this may have been Paul's last look at the Temple. He had no idea that his obedience and appeasement were sending him to two years of prison in Caesarea, dangerous journeys across land and sea,  and would culminate in a long imprisonment in Rome.

I've watched the doors clang shut behind several excellent ministers. Sure, a few people said they were doing a good job along the way. But the positive voices were drowned out. They might have done something silly that made someone mad. They may not have toed the line as they reached out to the community. But most of them had done nothing at all, except serve God with all their hearts.

Sometimes the pastors and missionaries were ousted by a crowd yelling for blood. But sometimes the bloodbath began as a quiet series of backroom manipulation by church influencers, ending in votes for "outa here!"

How crushing to the spirit - and maybe to our confidence in God - to know we have done our best... and it hasn't been enough. Through no fault of our own - or maybe because of a misstep we'd avoid, knowing what we know now - we face a move, looking for another church or mission, uprooting the children from school, and a long process of healing and forgiveness.

Paul's heroism was that he continued steadily in doing what he was called to do (Acts 20:24). He was not diverted or angered into quitting. His later letters show a mellower side (Galations) of forgiveness and grace, modeling how God had forgiven his own failings. We would be poorer without the Pauline corpus in the New Testament, much of it written during difficult times and persecution.

What new things and blessings is God writing into your life, into your family, into His Church, and into eternity... while you feel like you are being crucified instead of appreciated?

Read more:
*“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:11-12 NIV

*But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39 NASB

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