Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Who Captured Whom?

There’s been quite a few times in my life when I’ve felt like a captive - to a job, circumstance, finances, or even my own crazy emotions. But I read a story the other day that reminded me to looking at things in a new way.

In the book of Acts, Apostle Paul got arrested for preaching about Jesus’ resurrection. When he found out the Jews were plotting to kill him, the captain of the guard decided to take Paul to Felix to try his case. But instead of giving a verdict, Felix tried to use Paul instead, and plunked him in prison. But instead of seeing himself as a pawn in someone else’s game, Paul took charge of the situation.

Felix and his wife, Drusilla, who was Jewish, sent for Paul and listened to him talk about a life of believing in Jesus Christ. As Paul continued to insist on right relations with God and his people, about a life of moral discipline and the coming Judgment, Felix felt things getting a little too close for comfort and dismissed him. ‘That’s enough for today. I’ll call you back when it’s convenient.’ At the same time he was secretly hoping that Paul would offer him a substantial bribe. These conversations were repeated frequently. After two years of this, Felix was replaced by Porcius Festus. Still playing up to the Jews and ignoring justice, Felix left Paul in prison.” (Acts 24:24-27, Message).

At first glance, it doesn’t seem at all like Paul had the upper hand. He was there for two years! But look closer. It definitely wasn’t two years of freedom and comfort for Paul, but he was the one who was free, not Felix and Drusilla. He knew who he was, where he was going, and his purpose in life. Even in prison, he pursued it wholeheartedly. On the other hand, Felix was trapped by his greed and insatiable hunger for power, even while he longed for the freedom he could see in Paul.

Initially they were pretty shook by Paul’s words, but the longer they vacilated, the harder their hearts became. “Felix and Drusilla were not righteous. Their life was filthy, their history diabolical. They were not liked by the people they ruled and were not trusted by even their own household of slaves, servants, and companions” (Jon Courson’s Application Commentary).

Eventually, Felix was kicked out of power and lived the rest of his life in Rome in disgrace. Two years later, Drusilla died at twenty-one, when Mount Vesuvius erupted. They had the chance for true freedom, but chose to die captives to sin.

In the meantime, how many people overheard Paul’s message in the palace and prison cells? How many people were saved when he spoke of Christ with confidence and joy? They could see from his life that imprisonment meant nothing; his spirit was free.

I want to live like that. There are definitely times in this life when we would like to be free of pain, unkindness, and discomfort. But none of that can imprison our heart and hold us captive. Paul’s story is such a good reminder those who accept Christ’s love and forgiveness can never be held captive by anyone or anything else.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

“Puny god”: Who is Lord?

My husband’s favorite scene in The Avengers is when Loki challenges the Hulk, saying, “I am a god you dull creature! And I will not be bullied by…”

At which point the Hulk grabs him by the feet and whomps him back and forth a few times. As the Hulk walks away from Loki, now gasping on the floor in pain, he says, “Puny god.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30lGrarz3MQ)

I thought of that the other day when I read Luke 6. Jesus was teaching in the temple and the Pharisees were watching like vultures.  They were hoping “to catch him in a Sabbath infraction” by healing a man in the crowd with a crippled right hand. However, “He knew what they were up to and spoke to the man with the crippled hand: ‘Get up and stand here before us.’ He did.

No doubt Jesus had to resist the urge to grab one of them by the feet and whomp them back and forth a few times? Just who did they think they were anyway, trying to catch Him breaking the rules? I know I would have pulled a Hulk move!

Instead, “Jesus addressed them, ‘Let me ask you something: What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? Doing good or doing evil? Helping people or leaving them helpless?’He looked around, looked each one in the eye. He said to the man, ‘Hold out your hand.’ He held it out—it was as good as new!” (Luke 6:6-11, Message)

And what was their reaction? Were they humble? Mute? Did they lay on the ground moaning like Loki as the all-powerful God made an exit? The rest of verse eleven says, “They were beside themselves with anger, and started plotting how they might get even with him.

When Jesus was crucified they thought they had won; they thought they were the ones with the answers. Three days later, He proved what puny gods they were. As He said on a similar occasion: “The Son of Man is no slave to the Sabbath; he’s in charge” (Luke 6:5).

I was feeling pretty smug that I’m not guilty of trying to catch God breaking the rules, until I asked Him, What do you want to show me in this passage, Lord?  The answer was immediate. I am a puny god.

I may not blatantly seek to discredit the Lord, or try to trap Him, but when I argue with Him about the very truths He has put into place, I set myself up as a god in competition with Him. And I look as foolish as Loki or the Pharisees did. That includes debating with God about His rules for living, the nature of creation, what will happen in the future, or even putting myself down as having no value. Even in that, I argue with His sovereignty and declared wisdom.

So instead of trying to second guess the Lord, I’m working on bowing and following orders instead. Why not? That’s when people get healed and the power of sin is defeated.