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Called to step out of the dark

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The Acts of the Apostles details the disciples’ journeys after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Jewish feast of Pentecost — 50 days from the celebration of Passover. When they received the gift of the Holy Spirit, the disciples understood the power of God and the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Over and over again we read these words in describing the apostles preaching — “Signs and wonders occurred in their midst …and the Lord added to their numbers those who were being saved…” (Acts 2:43,47)

They took off to share the gospel — probably recklessly — because they were simply overjoyed. Jesus wasn’t the Messiah they had imagined — one who would rule on earth. He was God and had saved them from their sins so they could and we can live forever.

If you read the rest of the New Testament, you realize that this new life in God is not one resurrection party after another. There are accounts of imprisonments, martyrdom, sickness, and death. Jesus did not promise us an easy life when He asked us to “take up our cross and follow me.” (Mt. 16:24) But he did promise us heaven.

I imagine that the disciples were overjoyed at the signs and wonders and less than thrilled with the trials. They left the locked upper room to preach the gospel. Then they ended up in prison. But that’s just the beginning of the adventure:

“During the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison and brought them out.“Go and take your place in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.” Acts 5:19-20

I am certain that they were more than a little surprised. But they must have followed the angel and complied because, at the end of this chapter, it says they were back in the temple area preaching again.

These descriptions of early church life, post-resurrection, are really a powerful example of what the daily life of a Christian is like. There are days of signs and wonders where it seems like everywhere you turn God is there! And then there are days that feel like a silent martyrdom in the trials of life.

What really got my attention this week — only 10 days out from Easter — is the locked rooms. When I read scripture, I often picture myself in the reading and/or ask the Lord to show me how it relates to my life. When I read Acts 5:19-20, I didn’t even have to ask. The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart when my eyes fell on the page.

I saw myself sitting in that cell and the angel of the Lord opening the door to a beautiful, sunny outdoors. I heard the invitation to “go and take your place…and tell everyone about this life.”

But I just sat there. In my imagination, I wanted to say, “Wait, could I just have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine?” Sure. Both of those would be nicer in a garden, but I had kind of grown comfortable sitting with my own fears. In fact, it felt like the doors were still locked — all because of fear.

For a while now, the Lord has been telling me to take my place in the temple — to branch out and do more writing and speaking and coaching, both to support my family and to “tell everyone about this life.” But that’s scary stuff. Putting your heart and your faith on your sleeve leaves you open for nasty scars — especially in the virtual world of social media.

Then there’s fielding the heartfelt questions about this Christian life, like the one I got this week in a doctor’s office from a mother who lost a child:

“Is God real? And if so, how is this life fair?”

I’ve grappled with those questions myself — mostly in the dark of night. I question those fearful thoughts much like Ebenezer Scrooge challenged the visiting spirits on Christmas Eve. Maybe it’s the pudding I ate before bed. Exhaustion, low blood sugar and hormones can all contribute to these anxious thoughts in the pre-dawn. But those questions in the dark are deeply rooted in our fears and in the tragic sufferings of life — like losing those we love.

I thought again about those apostles grappling and those locked doors. Imagine if the apostles responded from their prison cell to the angel: “No, thanks. I’m good. It’s warm and dry in here and the food is not half-bad.”

Where would I be today? Would I know “all about this life” and the Son whom God sent to save us?

Imagine yourself locked in a prison cell and the angel of the Lord comes to set you free. The angel says, “You are free. Now, go and take your place in this world and tell others about this life.”

Do you choose to stay stuck in the fear, confusion, and grief or do you walk out in freedom to live the life God created you to live and be His light in the dark?

I didn’t answer this mom’s question because I knew she was talking out loud and needs the time to attend to her grief. I acknowledged her grief and offered compassion. I know our friendship will grow to build more bridges and have more conversations. I can share my assurance in the eternal hope we all have in Christ- all because the doors are open and I am taking my place.

There are many people with questions about life and faith. If we chose to remain in the dark, surely, more will go unanswered. But, if we step out of the dark, moving beyond our fears to take our place in this world, we may be the one to answer them.

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Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen