Pastor Jimmy spoke about one of his favorite biblical passages. Like most of us, it's truly difficult, if not nearly impossible, to pick one over another. What causes us to select one refers to a moment in time when one unit of Scripture jumps out and says, "Here it is! This is the one you need! Go for it!" I certainly don't mean to sound flippant, but there are those days when God almost turns the pages for us and suddenly the words we needed are right in front of our eyes. The Greek gives us two remarkable words about time: kronos, or chronological time, and karios, God's time. Last Sunday was the time when God moved Jimmy to turn to Luke's history book, part two, which is Acts and specifically Acts 26 when Paul is given permission to defend himself before King Herod Agrippa II.
Paul did not sugar-coat his defense, did not plead for mercy, did not apologize for being a Christian, but simply told his story. Paul basically told Agrippa, "I did what Jesus revealed to me and that revelation is to tell the world about His life, His death and His Resurrection. This is what I have done and this is what I will continue to do, God willing!"
Agrippa replied in two short sentences, "Are you trying to make me a Christian? And people, this man does not deserve death or a prison sentence." Since Paul was a Roman citizen and had appealed to Rome and asked for an audience with Caesar, all the King could do was to declare Paul's innocence and provide for transportation to Paul's final destination.
The point of Jimmy's sermon -- and it was an absolute and hardly a debate -- Agrippa basically said, "You have almost convinced me, Paul!"
Jimmy said, "There's no such thing as almost when it comes to Christianity! You're either convinced and saved, or you're not ready to commit and you're lost!" Paul's ministry was finished in Judea and was about to begin in Rome!
I'd like to believe that there are hundreds of pages that could take us through the Roman Forum, the Appian Way and the back streets of the capitol city, but they're just not available. I can say that nothing could have stopped the preaching of Paul, and when and however he died is secondary to the fact that he made the right choice.
There is a book out there waiting to be written about the last two or more years of Paul's life. Boy, would I like to read it!
I always ask my students, "Why do you believe this or that to be true?"
I'll hear such answers as, "It feels right. It's the way that I've always done it. Why would you ask me such an odd question?"
My follow up is, "What is your belief system? For instance, if you have a question about your job requirements, is there a check list you can use to help you decide? If you have a moral decision, do you have a set of guidelines to support your choice? If you vote, do you choose to vote as a Democrat, Republican, Independent, and why? If you are required to complete your homework in math, read a number of chapters in English or Government, turn in a lot of extra assignments, is it for a grade, just completion to say you did something or are you trying to gain knowledge?"
These are not easy questions and there are many outcomes and possible results when we make decisions based on a belief system, and there are many conclusions when we make decisions based on knee jerk reactions.
I suppose I could, as a student, almost complete my homework, almost finish my reading, and almost do those pesky extra assignments. I also suppose the professor could say, "You almost passed the class! You almost improved your grade. You almost graduated. You almost qualified for the next level."
If my system is based on being satisfied with "almost," then I'm right on track.
Let's get back to the question at hand. "Surely God will accept me because I've always tried to be a good person. I've kept every commandment, worship in my own way, give 10 percent and can't think of a thing I might have overlooked. I have studied enough to know that, "All men, by different paths, seek the same God." I have done this. I am almost a Buddhist, a Confusionist, a Muslim and a Christian. Few people could ever claim this kind of dedication. I'm home free!"
I wish Agrippa would have said, "You convinced me, Paul. Where do we go from here?" Paul would most likely have answered, "I understand Rome is nice in the Springtime. Pack your bags. The boat leaves tomorrow!"