Flood Waters Rising at Lake of the Ozarks

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In the 20+ years we’ve been coming down to the Lake of the Ozarks, we’ve never seen the water as high as it has risen in the past two days. Torrential rains pushed the water over the gangway to our dock in the middle of the night. More rain is expected the next few days. They opened the flood gates at Bagnall Dam yesterday morning, but obviously the waters are rising fast than they can let it out.

Here are some photos I took this morning along Ambrosia Lane on Buccaneer Bay at the 34.5 mile marker.

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Tapping into the Flow

St. Paul by Rembrandt van Rijn

St. Paul by Rembrandt van Rijn

King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?” Paul replied, “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today might become such as I am—except for these chains.” Acts 26:27-29 (NRSV)

The followers of Jesus were a small sect within a secondary religious people inside a relatively small region of the Roman Empire. Jesus was certainly not the first to claim to be the Messiah and his followers were not the first to make waves within the Hebrew community in Jerusalem. In the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection, even some of the Hebrew leaders dismissed Jesus’ followers as just another sect claiming that so-and-so was the Messiah. Leave them alone, many argued, and they will fade away like all the rest.

The odds were against Jesus’ followers making waves outside of the Judean region to the larger Roman Empire. The Roman pagan religious institutions were part of the fabric of both society and economy. The Romans didn’t particularly like the Jews and didn’t particularly care about what they considered a minor theological dispute between Paul and the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, with the exception of the political advantage it provided. We’ve already seen that in the previous chapters as Paul has been imprisoned for years simply to appease the Jewish leaders.

Over the years Paul’s relatively minor case has allowed him to share his story with a string of political leaders and Roman power brokers. It started with the Jewish leaders and the local Roman Tribunal in Jerusalem. Then came Roman Governor Felix and his wife Drusilla, Roman Tribunal Lysias, Roman Governor Festus, and now the regional King Agrippa and his wife Bernice.

Paul’s story, and the story of Jesus, is being sown like seeds among the powers-that-be, and Paul himself will soon find himself planted in the capitol of the Roman Empire. Paul, the most learned among Jesus’ followers. Paul, the most cross cultural of all Jesus followers who was Greek by birth. Paul, the most acquainted among Jesus’ followers with the law. Paul, the only leader among Jesus’ followers born a Roman citizen. How precipitous that among all the followers of Jesus it is Paul making the slow sojourn through the Roman judicial system. These seeds will take root. The story will spread. In less than 300 years the Roman Emperor himself will become a follower of Jesus.

This morning, I’m thinking about how God moves through people, events, relationships, and circumstances to achieve His will and purposes over time. Along life’s road I have occasionally found myself striving to make things happen only to have my intensions unrealized and my efforts fail miserably. The older I get the more I try to be wise and discerning about my time, energy, and resources. Increasingly, I find myself trying not to impose my will on the circumstances around me, but rather to discern how and where God is moving in order to tap into the flow with a desire to discover what part God might have for me to play within it.

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Yes, and Yes (?)

red pill blue pill

Paul said, “I am appealing to the emperor’s tribunal; this is where I should be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you very well know. Now if I am in the wrong and have committed something for which I deserve to die, I am not trying to escape death; but if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can turn me over to them. I appeal to the emperor.” Then Festus, after he had conferred with his council, replied, “You have appealed to the emperor; to the emperor you will go.” Acts 25:10-12 (NRSV)

While under Roman guard in Jerusalem, Paul received word from God telling him that he would bear witness in Rome. At that point in time, the situation was tense and events seemed to be moving swiftly toward a foreshadowed end for Paul. Then, Paul became a guest of the Roman political bureaucracy. Over two years of house arrest. Paul was a pawn in the Roman governor’s desire to keep peace with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.

In today’s chapter, we have a de ja vu moment as the newly appointed Governor sends for the Jewish leaders once more to make their accusations against Paul. I tried to put myself in Paul’s sandals this morning as I read. He’s been accused multiple times now by the Jewish trial lawyers as they drag out their same old, tired lies and accusations. The new Roman Governor seems to be like the last. He knows that Paul is innocent, both he and Paul know it, but they also both know that Paul makes a good bargaining chip with the Jewish leaders. It appears to be a stalemate. So, Paul makes a fateful choice.

Roman citizenship carried with it certain privileges, and Paul was well aware of this. Tired of waiting for the Governor to decide his case, Paul claims his right to appeal his case to the emperor’s court in Rome. Having been told by God that he would bear witness in Rome, Paul chooses to take fate into his own hands and make it happen. The decision effectively ended the stalemate between the Roman governor and the Jewish leaders, and there was always the chance that the Jewish leaders would choose not to pursue the case all the way to Rome.

Today, I find myself once again mulling over one of the classic, on-going debates of Christian theology. Do we have free will to make our own choices and play our own hand (e.g. Paul appealing his case to Rome) or does God predestine our lives and the events therein (e.g. Even if Paul didn’t choose to appeal, to Rome he would have ended up there as God had promised).

Classic, on-going debates occur when clear answers are not easily found. I  have heard the answers at both extremes of the debate and have found them wanting. Truth appears to me to be found at the mysterious point of tension between the two extremes. It will be suggested in tomorrow’s chapter that Paul would have been set free but for his appeal to Rome. Should Paul have waited so he could have chosen to journey to Rome of his own free will in obedience to God? Or, was God at work in Paul’s choice, knowing all along how things were going to play out? Perhaps the answer to both questions is “yes.”

Some mornings I leave my quiet time with God having more questions than answers.

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Sunlight Through the Trees

IMG_0511This was one of my favorite photos from all that I took in Scotland. We were at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. It was a sunniest day we’d experienced during our time in Scotland so we were all enamored with the sunlight and its warmth. There was this gorgeous tree with pale golden leaves, so pale that they almost looked white. I noticed that the sunlight through them made a gorgeous glow in contrast to the dark limbs. I stepped underneath the boughs and clicked the shutter at just the right moment to catch the starburst of sunlight. This photo is untouched and appears just as I shot it.

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God and His Resources

paul before felix

At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul, and for that reason he used to send for him very often and converse with him. After two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and since he wanted to grant the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison. Acts 24: 26-27 (NRSV)

Over two years Paul was imprisoned by Governor Felix. Over two years he lived under house arrest. No crowds got to hear Paul speak. Paul did not get to journey from town to town speaking to and encouraging fellow believers. For over two years Paul basically had an audience of one Roman Governor and his wife who would occasionally send for him to have a conversation.

I’ve learned along life’s road that God’s ways are not always our ways. We tend to look at Paul’s imprisonment and think what a waste to have Paul languishing under house arrest when there were so many other things he could have been doing with his time and talents. I wonder if Paul thought that too, or if he was content knowing that he was right where he was supposed to be and doing what he was supposed to do.

Sometimes we have to trust that God knows what He is doing with the use of His resources.

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The Implosion of Evil

merry and pippin held by orcsWhen Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. Acts 23:6-7 (NRSV)

One of the themes I have noticed in epic literature over the years is that evil tends to implode from within. In the Lord of the Rings, Merry and Pippin were able to escape from their captors in large part because of the infighting between the orcs Mordor and the Uruk-Hai of Isengard. Likewise, the reason Sam was able to rescue Frodo from the Tower of Cirith Ungol was because all of the orcs killed each other. Factions of hatred have a hard time uniting.

I was reminded of this as I read today’s chapter. The Jewish council had two main factions who disagreed on theology and who seemed to hate one another more than they hated Paul and the followers of Jesus. The Sadducees didn’t believe in life after death or in the spiritual realm while the Pharisees did. Paul, seizing on the opportunity to stir up the on-going debate between the two factions, sided loudly with the Pharisees and got the two factions arguing (orc-like). The Pharisees were suddenly defending Paul as an ally and the Romans were forced to rescue him from the ensuing tumult.

Today, I’m reminded that Jesus command to love others, even our enemies, has powerful consequences far beyond the spiritual health of our own souls. The power of love to unite is one of the most powerful weapons we have against evil.

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Simply Tell Them Your Story

onceuponatime“Brothers and fathers, listen to the defense that I now make before you.”
Acts 22:1 (NRSV)

For a couple of chapters the tension has been building. Paul is determined to return to Jerusalem. It has been prophesied that he will be arrested by the Jewish religious leaders as a traitor if he does. Everyone begs him not to go. Paul refuses to be deterred and now, the prophesy has been fulfilled. He finds himself in the middle of a riot. His people are screaming for his blood.

When the Roman guard arrives to break up the riot and discover who the controversy is all about, they nab Paul and take him into custody. But, Paul isn’t ready to be rescued quite yet. He wants to address the crowd and asks the Roman guards for permission. With the Romans present, the mob is a bit less zealous. Paul has a chance to speak.

He tells them his story.

He could have argued law. He could have shown from scripture the prophecies that pointed to Jesus. He could have defended his actions and refuted the accusations made against him. There were a million directions Paul could have gone with his opportunity to speak, but he simply tells them his story.

Our stories are personal. They are intimate and almost always compelling. Some, like Paul’s, are even quite dramatic. Others don’t tend to argue and refute a personal story unless it is full of lies and hyperbole.

This morning I’m reminded that, when given the opportunity, it’s always a good idea to simply tell your story.

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