Monday, July 30, 2012

In Search Of Truth, Acts 26:15-23

Paul is presenting his case to the Roman governor of the region, Festus, and his guest, the Jewish King Agrippa. Festus has already decided to send Paul to Rome for his appeal, but is hearing Paul again now in the presence of Agrippa to get the king's input on how to write up a description of the charges against Paul.

Paul is in the middle of describing his encounter with the post-resurrection Jesus, who appeared to Paul in the middle of his journey persecuting Christians.

Paul was obviously stunned and literally floored by this appearance, and asked who Jesus was. After identifying himself, Jesus told Paul why he was appearing to him and what Paul would spend the rest of his life doing. Paul would serve Jesus, providing eye-witness testimony about him to people. People who would not always be receptive and might even put Paul's life in danger. Yet Jesus also promised that he would "deliver" (meaning "rescue") Paul from them, and keep him safe for as long as required to carry out his purpose. (v.15-17)

Jesus was sending Paul to both Jews and non-Jews, to teach and communicate truth to them that would open their eyes regarding the truth about themselves and God. Paul uses the metaphor of going from "darkness to light", which he also uses elsewhere describing the life of a Christian. (Ephesian 5:8-14, 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6, Romans 13:12-13) There are several ideas wrapped up in this metaphor. The state of being in "darkness" is one of ignorance and concealed shame. Being "in the light" is about pursuing truth and applying it to our lives, and living transparently, with a clear conscience, not indulging in sin that no one else can see.

Living in darkness is living under the thumb of Satan. Those in this state are unknowingly, yet willingly, enslaving themselves to him.

By contrast, we are meant to live life experiencing the power of God, giving our time and efforts to things that reflect the new purpose and destiny we have because of Christ. God wants us to be forgiven, to have our relationship with him restored and to only be getting better.

In fact, he wants to "sanctify" us, which means here "to set apart for the purposes of God". He has a special plan and purpose for those who want it. Something far better than the agendas we create for ourselves when left to our own devices. And we enter into this special plan by choosing to trust in Jesus. It starts when we choose to trust him to deal with our sin problem so we can be in the presence of God forever. Then we continue to be set apart for God in other ways as we trust him with all the other facets of our ongoing lives.(v.18)

This message is what Jesus was equipping and sending Paul out into the world to convey. And when God shows up and gives you something to do, you do it. Paul explains this to the Jewish King Agrippa, knowing that he would respect Paul's desire to obey God.

Paul then implies the irony of the situation by reminding Agrippa that this mission from God is what the Jews were trying to get him executed for. Going further, Paul says that God has been protecting and helping him and that his message is consistant with what is taught in the Tanakh (the Hebrew scriptures, a.k.a "the Old Testament"). Namely, that God's special Anointed One would have to suffer, that he would rise from the dead (ultimately joined by his followers) and be the first to share the amazing truth of God's love and his plan to rescue humanity. (v.19-23)

Looking at this passage, there is a lot to think about. But this week my mind seemed pulled toward Paul's words about darkness and light, and what they mean for believers. Maybe even what they mean for geek believers like me in particular.

As a sometimes secluded geek (either physically or just mentally secluded), I find it easy to make "living in darkness" my default. Even though I've made the choice to trust Jesus for eternal life, I'm still content sometimes to indulge in harmful things that others either don't see, or wouldn't consider harmful.

When we talk about "hidden sins", I imagine pornography and visually stimulated lust come to mind pretty quickly, at least for us guy geeks. Even aside from actual pornography, there are many visuals found in sci-fi, fantasy and horror entertainment that promote thoughts of women as sexual objects.
But there are other "hidden sins" that cripple us as well. We can refuse to forgive and hold on to bitterness, replaying scenarios in which we were hurt or imagining new ones and how we would respond to them.

Our geeky imaginations are wonderful! They can do and create so much that's good! But I've also wondered recently if my thought life might be more vulnerable because of how active my imagination is. I can dream up all kinds of scenarios about people that have hurt me, inventing "what ifs" that attribute bad behavior to them that they haven't even done! My unleashed imagination run wild and get me worked up in a cycle of bitterness.

If you're a geek, you likely have a great imagination. As a result, you can probably think of some similar mentalities you can "sit in" for awhile that are unhealthy or harmful.

Lately I've been telling God how tired I am. Not in the sense of needing sleep, but just tired of life. Tired of judging others or feeling judged. Tired of failing in the same old ways over and over again. Tired of the grind. But I realized that my weariness is because I'm forgetting the undeserved yet ever-present favor of God. (What the Bible calls "grace".)

God's grace, provided through Jesus, means the failures of yesterday (or two minutes ago) are not on my record. I'm only "kicking against the goads" when I sit in those dark places and forget about God's grace that is calling me into truth, calling me into freedom, calling me into light.

God wants to free us from sitting in those "dark places". He wants us to experience what it is to live in open, transparent relationships with others, free of shame or judgment. Eventually, all those who trust in Jesus will experience that way of living forever. In the meantime, as we trust Jesus more with how we use our minds and how we see ourselves, we can be "set apart" to experience right now, more and more of the life that's coming.

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