After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Cos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara. We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo. Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. But when our time was up, we left and continued on our way. All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. After saying good-by to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home. We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for a day. Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’ “When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.” After this, we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples.
My journey with Jesus began when I was very young. It was in a small whitewashed Methodist church where I wore a white cape and lit the candles on the altar. I still remember the Pastor’s name, Chester Harrison, and I could even tell you about singing songs like ‘Fisher’s of Men,’ and also about putting coins in the plastic birthday cake on birthdays and junior worship. I remember my bible school class met in a small kitchen.
I can tell you about going to Vacation Bible School at the Lakemount Church of Christ where a young Chuck Doughty was the preacher. (Those in the COC tradition probably recognize the name.) I went during the week of my birthday and remember the cake I shared with another boy who shared my birthday. It was a great week.
I can tell you about different deans and teachers I met at the Elkhorn Valley Christian Service Camp. Garth wasn’t so nice because I wasn’t so quiet. Allan was OK but I remember distinctly the time he embarrassed another boy who was sitting cross-legged (as women normally sit) by saying, “Don’t sit with your legs crossed, it makes you look like a fag.” Bob Mack was camp manager at the time, he was a bit intimidating. Later he forgave me for committing a terrible sin at camp. There were others, but those days at camp were special. I first met Jack Cottrell at EVCSC at a mens retreat.
I also met Christian people at the Ohio Teens for Christ. I’ll never forget hearing Mylon Lefevre sing Crank it Up and Whiteheart tell us to Read the Book, Don’t Wait for the Movie, and David Meece sing about Grandma and Beethoven and Piano Lessons or something silly like that. I remember my friend Glenn, a really cool adult with a killer sound system in his truck, who took me to my first concert, Petra, and then later to Stryper at the Syria Mosque ballroom in Pittsburgh. We also water skied at his house. I never did actually stand up on the skis. He had a hot motor boat.
Then there was my home church and the elders there, the men who signed my ordination certificate, three of whom are now with the Lord, who are on my short list of heroes. The preacher at my home church who has managed to last a lot longer at the same church than I lasted in my entire ministerial career. Bible school teachers and youth group leaders are also fond memories for me.
What can I say about those people, those Christians, I met while at Bible College? Paul Kissling, who taught me to value others’ opinions, makes my short list of heroes as does Ron Fisher who loves God’s Word and Terry Ferguson (RIP) whose preaching style greatly influenced my own style and George Brown who taught me that I can still love books that are not ‘christian’. Then at Cincinnati Christian Seminary I met up close and personally Jack Cottrell whose Doctrine of Grace class totally undid me—the effects of that class still resound within me five years later. I met Fred Thompson in a theology class at Emmanuel School of Religion. To this day I have no idea what we talked about in that class.
And elders, deacons, preachers, and everyday joes at churches in Traverse City, St Louis, Detroit, Kalamazoo, Alma and half a dozen other communities in Michigan. Churches in North Carolina, West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania where I have preached. People like Chris Lyons and Joe Martino and Brendt Waters and the rest of the gang here who have been so patient and loving with me—allowing me writing privileges when it was clear that I had no business talking about Jesus or his Gospel, let alone writing about it in public. I wish I had time to tell you about my love for Reed Duncan an elder at my home church whose kindness to my family extends more than I could ever fathom. I only briefly met Larry and Carol Necessary at a Church in Indiana, but they are two very special people. There was also the Catholic priest who conducted the wedding of my sister in law who was about as kind as could be when he allowed me to share his pulpit during the wedding and deliver a homily for my in laws. And another Catholic priest who shared his pulpit so I could preach the sermon at the funeral of one my young Cub Scouts who was tragically killed in a car accident.
There was this fella, at the church in Chester, West Virginia, where I served as preacher for a couple of years or so. His name was Earl and his wife’s name was Birdie. They died while I was in Chester. I preached both funerals. I love them and miss them—but not for what you might think. I remember when my Jacob was born, we had no insurance. The day of Jacob’s birth Earl came walking up the sidewalk as I was running out the door to go to the hospital. Earl said he had been walking around the property and had found an envelope. He also said that there was a rule that anything found on the church property automatically belonged to the preacher. I was all of 28 or so and thought he was serious. I didn’t realize how serious until later when I opened the envelope and found $2500 inside. But I miss them not because of that, but because of the way they died. I have never seen a couple, a husband and wife, love each other so much, and die so beautifully. They fought not, but gently went with Jesus.
There was Joe for whom I drove cab for a while and his wife Carolyn whom I loved dearly. I buried them both. Joe was a business man who was always trying something new. I think the church I served while driving cab for Joe drew the line when Joe had me delivering beer to people’s houses and picking up dancers at the local strip club and picking people up at bars or dropping them off at the local race track. Man do I miss Joe! There was Audrey Kilian and her son Scott, both of whom are now with the Lord. God how I miss Audrey and Scott. And there’s my friend David Rawls who has been my constant friend since we first met in 1991 at Great Lakes Christian College. Dave and his wife Gina taught us how to play cards and Dave has taught me how to love. And Kelly Irish, my best Anglican friend in the world who has taught me not to be afraid of the Holy Spirit of God.
There was a couple whose name escapes me that we met in North Carolina in 1994. We were on the highway at high noon when the timing gear on the car, well, broke. The car stopped. We were stuck. I remember an unnamed African-American girl who saw us stranded at a phone booth and took us in her car, three out of place white folks, to a hotel. I have no doubt she was an angel of God. No doubts at all. The next day some folks from a church there in Winston-Salem, he was an airline pilot, took us in for several hours while our car was being repaired. They fed us and gave us some space to rest with our one year old son who had spent the previous 5 days learning to walk at my brother’s house. We were to start an internship later that week so I cannot even describe for you how blessed we were.
I think about all the disciples I have known in the last 30 some years and I am overwhelmed. Everywhere Paul and his friends went they marked the place by the people, the disciples, they knew there. Mnason. Philip. Agabus. Disciples. Some named, some unnamed. I recall how each step of their journey was marked by some relationship or other. Maybe it was weeping. Maybe it was prophecy. Maybe it was prayer. Maybe it was hospitality. Maybe it was a dry bed. Maybe it was just a simple greeting of love and affection. I know why Luke thought it necessary to tell us Paul went to Kos and Patara and Ptolemais and Rhodes and Tyre—places no one in today’s world really cares about—it was because in these places there were disciples who loved and were loved. There were disciples there who remembered Paul and his companions. It was in those places that Paul his friends had people with whom they shared something in common: Jesus.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. I could tell you about the people I have ‘met’ through their books—Christians along for the journey. I think about all the Christians I have met, in all the places I have met them, and how in one way or another they ministered to me or my family and I think to myself: My God I am surrounded on all sides by the people of God. How many people I have met throughout my journey who belonged to Christ and have loved us and cared for us I cannot truly count. This is why, I believe, chapter 21 exists, and why Romans 16 exists, and Matthew 1: look at all the people who have this Jesus in common and who minister to strangers and friends alike. Look how big is the body of Christ! Look how grand is this thing that God has made that I can travel from the UP in Michigan to Galveston Bay in Texas to Winston-Salem, North Carolina and find the people of God. For that, I give thanks to God.
I grew up impressed by the people I knew
in the buckle of the bible belt
hopped in the van with the band
now I’ve been just about everywhere else
Met a soldier from Seattle and a lawyer from the East
a Texas oil baron and a Roman Catholic priest
Every day I choose
to walk in their shoes
’cause pretty are the feet of those
who bring the good news
good, good people
everywhere, everywhere it’s God’s people
Been on the road been far from home
but I found me a friend or two
time has taught me well and I can tell you
the good things people do
they really care and I’ve been there
seen it with my eyes
you can tell that they’re God’s people
by the goodness in their lives. (Good People, Audio Adrenaline)
Yeah, that’s how I feel. It is easy to get frustrated with God’s people and to imagine they are the worst folks on earth. Lord knows I have shared my share of anger and vented my share of bile at the way some church folks behave. I haven’t even scratched the surface of how good God’s people are, and this is only how they have blessed me. I do think it is important to remember those who have blessed us. I think that’s what Luke was doing: remembering the good people who, because of God’s grace, shared a day or two or three with others who were taking a journey. I don’t think it matters if we are on our way to Jerusalem or Borneo or Grand Rapids or Houston. What is important is to remember the people who have blessed you along your way.
I believe Luke’s point was this: these were disciples of Jesus, see how they blessed other disciples of Jesus. I wonder who might journey through my neighborhood tomorrow? I wonder how the Lord will ask me to bless them and help them on their journey—wherever that journey may be taking them? I wonder if I’ll spend a day or two or three with them? I only pray that when the Lord does, I am ready. There are good people in the church.
I want to be like them.