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"You're Really into This, Aren't You?"

#91-43
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on June 23, 2024
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2024 Lutheran Hour Ministries


Download MP3  Reflections

Text: Acts 16:30

This last May I was at a pizza party, one of those end-of-the-school-year events. I'm sitting at a table with some folks that I knew but didn't know well. So, we talk about our plans for the summer, about our jobs, about what we like to do when we're not working, but mostly the conversation felt stilted. Like it wasn't really going anywhere.

But then it happened. Everything changed when Bernie, a woman at the table with white hair and glasses, in her late sixties, opens her mouth and out comes the phrase, "D&D." Bernie said it to her adult daughter Tammy, after I had asked Tammy what she likes to do when she's not working, and Tammy politely gives some generic answer, and Bernie elbows Tammy and says, "Oh, and don't forget. We play D&D together with our group on Monday nights." D&D, if you don't know, it stands for Dungeons & Dragons.

I've never played it, but I hear it's a fantasy role-playing game in which players imagine themselves as fictional characters in a fictitious world. And one player called "The Dungeon Master" stands sort of half in the game and half above it, something like a chief story-maker and referee who summons and sends the others out on a campaign, a campaign to fight battles or seek treasures, and the like.

Now, if you were alive in the 1980s, you might remember how D&D came under attack by some conservative Christian groups. They said the game was dangerous, satanic even. I remember hearing about this as a kid, and maybe that's partly why I never played the game. But over the last 40 years, I have gotten to know several people who do play, and they are for the most part completely well-adjusted normal humans. Some are even Christians, even some pastors I know that play D&D. So honestly, I think that those fears about the game might be a little overworked.

Having never played the game myself, I asked Tammy and Bernie questions: "Is it like a board game? How long have you played with your group? What do you like about it?" And I listened and I learned that they are really into this. They derived such joy from playing the game, they spontaneously became evangelists for it, sharing this good news with me, inviting me in. Not because they were grooming me to be some part of some sinister subgroup, but because it was an activity that brought them joy and community, and they couldn't help but share it.

Also, while they were sharing their enthusiasm, I couldn't help but feel a bit like an outsider because of the terms they were using, the jargon, shared history and stories. It went over my head, and I felt a little lost. But at the same time, their interest kept me interested.

So here's my point.

I think that what we do on this program every week is like that. Not because we're playing a game, but because every week you'll hear me or a guest speaker talking about Jesus and His campaign. And though we try to speak in plain terms, we're inevitably going to be using some insider talk, hopefully not too much jargon. But we are constantly referring to this shared story that goes back thousands of years, even stretches to the beginning of time and has layers and themes and characters with strange names, and sometimes it all sounds weird.

But I also hope that you can hear our joy in being part of a larger story and community, joy we cannot contain that makes us spontaneous, contagious evangelists, inviting you in, because we want to share what we've been given. And of course it's different because it's not a game for us. This is life for us. And even if you're not ready to receive it on those terms, maybe there's something about our interest that'll keep you interested, at least for a little while.

You know, there was a time when this thing, this Christian campaign, sounded even weirder than it does today. Two thousand years ago, when conservative members of Roman society viewed Christians something like conservative Christians viewed Dungeons & Dragons in the 1980s, there was a moral panic in Rome and a smear campaign against these Christian subgroups. People called Christians atheists because they didn't honor the Roman gods. They called Christians cannibalistic because they talked about eating flesh and drinking blood. They accused Christians of engaging in incest and orgies and dangerous superstitions, but somehow not altogether different from how D&D survived the 1980s, the Christian campaign has thrived through the centuries.

How did it happen? I thought you'd never ask. I'll share just a little bit from the Bible's book of Acts. The book of Acts reports the beginning of the global campaign of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus to take over the universe and everything in it. It is a campaign, but not with imaginary monsters and mini-figures and dice. It's a campaign, but not with drones or tanks or swords, but with zealous evangelists and local subgroups convinced that only the truth of Jesus' self-giving sacrificial love and forgiveness can save the universe.

One of the main characters in the book of Acts is a man named Paul. Paul is Jewish, and he has come to believe that Jesus is the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, the Christ, the eternal Son of God who created the universe and will put it right again. So, Paul, along with some of his compatriots are on a campaign. The story picks up with Paul and his friend Silas, plus their protégé Timothy, heading north along the northwest coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

They're just passing through because for some undisclosed reason, they've been forbidden by the Holy Spirit, their chief story-maker and referee in this campaign, they've been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the Word of God in that region. So, they started into the next region and attempted to go there, but the Spirit of Jesus prevented them. So instead, they went to Troas, a city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. That night in Troas, a vision appeared to Paul, a man from Macedonia, standing there, pleading with him, saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." And after Paul had seen the vision, straight away we got ready to go to Macedonia, because we concluded that God had summoned us to speak the good news of Jesus to them.

The next day, we put out to sea and set sail from Troas on a direct voyage to the first island, and on the next day to the second island, and from there to Philippi, a major city in the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We stayed in the city for some days. On the Sabbath day, we went outside of the city gate to the riverside, where we figured we'd find a place of prayer where the Jewish people in the area gathered for prayer. We sat down and spoke with the women who had come together there.

One of the women there was named Lydia, of the city of Thyatira. She was a dealer in purple goods, expensive cloth and such. And Lydia was a worshiper of God. And the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to be interested in what Paul was saying. And after Lydia was baptized, she and her household as well, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, then come to my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us, she persuaded us.

Now, it happened later, as we were going back to that place of prayer, we were met by a girl who was a slave, who was possessed by a spirit by which she predicted the future, and she made a lot of money for her masters by telling fortunes. This girl started following Paul and the rest of us, and she kept crying out, "These people are slaves, slaves of the Most High God, and they are announcing to you all the way to be saved."

And who knows what the people of the Roman colony of Philippi thought when they heard this? Who was this Most High God the girl was talking about? Zeus? Or Jupiter? And what did it mean for them to be saved? Definitely not what the Jewish people thought it meant to be saved. That is, saved on the Day of Judgment, saved when God comes to put the universe right again. Saved, for Jews, was being found among God's people as heirs of the new creation. And not to be saved was to be damned under God's judgment, separated from God and from His people forever. But that picture of being saved wouldn't have occurred to the people of Philippi. Being saved for them might mean being rescued from some personal tragedy or calamity, or saved with wealth and health for personal glory. Whatever it was that the people thought about when this girl kept shouting that these are slaves of the Most High God, "proclaiming to you the way to be saved," after it had gone on for several days, Paul started to get annoyed and he turned and he said to the Spirit, "I charge you in the Name of Jesus Christ, come out of her!"

And it went out of her at that very moment. And so also went out her master's hope of making money off her. So they grabbed hold of Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them to the city officials and said, "These men are disturbing our city. They are Jews and they're advancing customs not lawful for us as Romans to practice or to accept." Then the crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered that they be stripped of their clothing and beaten with clubs. And after they had been severely beaten, they were thrown into the jail. Now the jailer was commanded to secure them and when he had received this order, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the wooden stocks.

Now in the middle of the night, Paul and Silas were praying and singing songs to God, and those who were locked up in the jail with them were listening intently. And suddenly it happened, such a great earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and the doors of the jail were thrown open, and the shackles came undone, and the jailer was jarred awake. And when he saw that the jail doors were thrown open, he drew his sword and was about to throw himself on it to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had all escaped. But Paul shouted, "Don't harm yourself, because we are all here!" And the jailer called for lights, and he rushed in and terrified he dropped to his knees and he fell on his face before Paul and Silas, and he led them outside and he said to them, "Sirs, what must I do so that I may be saved?"

And who knows what he meant by being saved. Maybe he was just asking, "How do I get out of this mess?" Or maybe "How do I find some peace and security in my life?" Some solidarity, some purpose and meaning and reason for living, whatever he meant, Paul and Silas said to him, "Believe, trust in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household."

And they started speaking the Word of the Lord to him and to all those who were in his house. And he took them in that very hour of the night and he washed their wounds, and he was baptized at once, and all those who were with him were baptized. And he brought them up to his house, and he set out food before them, a feast in the middle of the night. And he celebrated with joy because he had trusted in God, he and his household.

Now it happened the next day, the city officials sent the local police saying, "Let those men go." And the jailer reported this word to Paul that the officials were releasing them. And he said, "So now go and continue your quest in peace." But Paul said to the police, "They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens. And they threw us in jail and now secretly they're trying to throw us out. No, let them come themselves. Let them come themselves and escort us out."

So the police reported this message to the city officials, and the officials were afraid when they heard that Paul and Silas were actually Roman citizens. So they came to appease them, and they escorted them out, asking them to go out of the city. But coming out of the jail, Paul and Silas go into the city, to Lydia's house, where they met with the brothers and the sisters and encouraged them, and then they went out.

That's from the book of Acts, chapter 16, with a little color commentary.

And I don't know about you, but it makes me wonder, why didn't Paul and Silas run away? Why didn't they escape from the jail after the earthquake? And for that matter, why didn't they mention the fact that they were Roman citizens before they were beaten and thrown into prison? And I also wonder what if the man that Paul saw in his vision back in Troas, the man pleading for him to come to Macedonia and help, what if that man was the jailer or looked like the jailer and Paul recognized him from the vision, and he was just waiting for the right moment to tell him.

The Bible doesn't say. But it does say the reason why Paul and Silas were there, and it's the same reason, the same campaign, that drives us to do this program every week. Two hundred years ago, an enlightened European king said that in his kingdom, "Every man can be saved in his own way." This is sort of the good news of our time, isn't it? That each person can be saved in their own way.

Bernie, the woman who plays D&D with her daughter on Monday nights, she's the eldest member of her D&D group. And she says that there are some folks in her group that are even more into it than she is. They are hardcore gamers, Bernie says. D&D is life for them. Maybe it's their way to cope, their way to escape, their way to be saved.

Maybe you're not into D&D, but it's your fantasy baseball league, or football, or pickleball. Maybe it's your career, or gardening, or golf, or mountain climbing. Maybe it's diets, or grandkids, or volunteering at some charity. All these things can be good, but they can't save you. No, none of them will save you. Because you were made for a trusting relationship with Jesus, for an adventure with His people. Only He can save you.

I asked Bernie, "So what do you like about D&D?" She says, "For me, it's just the idea of getting to play with people that I've come to care about."

But D&D isn't life for Bernie, Jesus is. Bernie and her daughter Tammy are followers of Jesus. They've been enlisted in this campaign to win everyone, Jews and Gentiles, and hardcore gamers included. Sometimes Bernie wears thought-provoking T-shirts when she plays D&D. Her favorite one has a picture of a crown of thorns, a cross, and an empty tomb. And the caption reads, "A lot can happen in three days."

She doesn't push her faith on people at game night, but she does show it by her actions, and by the way she cares for them. Bernie also says that game night can get pretty raunchy at times. One night, she got caught up in it and out from her mouth slipped a single cuss word, one of the bad ones. Everyone in the room fell silent in shock. Bernie claps her hand over her mouth, mortified at what had just come out of it. And someone says, "Bernie, I've been waiting a whole year for you to say something like that." And Bernie says, "What can I say? I'm human." See, she can't save herself, but she knows who can.

Something else came out of Bernie's mouth at the end of my conversation with her. It didn't slip out, but shined like light radiating from within her. You could tell that she'd said it many times, and that she was really into this. She said it's something that they say at her church every time a new person is baptized. And if you're not baptized, you might consider finding one of our weird Christian subgroups and join the campaign. "Baptized child of God," they say at Bernie's Church, "you are loved by the Father. You are led by the Spirit. You belong to Jesus, and no one else." Amen? Amen.





Reflections for June 23, 2024
Title: A look ahead to next week's message

Mark Eischer: You are listening to The Lutheran Hour. For FREE online resources, audio on demand, and more, go to lutheranhour.org. Now back to our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.

Michael Zeigler: Thank you, Mark. Today, I'm visiting with Pastor Keith Haberstock. Welcome, Pastor Keith.

Keith Haberstock: Hey, thank you very much, Michael. It's good to be aboard.

Michael Zeigler: Well, Pastor Keith, you're calling in from Canada, and our listeners, if they were listening about this time last summer, they got to hear a message from you. But if not, tell us again a little bit about where you're calling from.

Keith Haberstock: Yeah, calling from Fort McMurray, Alberta. Lutheran Church-Canada is a daughter church of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. I'm in our most northerly congregation, Trinity Lutheran Church. Fort McMurray is on the map for two main reasons. It sits in the area, sits on the third-largest oil reserves in all of the world, oil sands. And because of that, everybody here up north is connected to the oil patch, totally. I ask people who they work for, and I hope they'll ask me who I work for. And if they do, I say I work for the Guy Who put all the oil in the ground. And we'll see where that goes with conversations. The other reason Fort McMurray is on the map is eight years ago, Canada's largest forest fire evacuated 90,000 people from the city. Not one life was lost, according with that whole situation, and so, 90,000 people, and the Lord took care of them all. And so, oil and fire, and—

Michael Zeigler: All right. Not a good combination—

Keith Haberstock: That's not. No. Yeah, right.

Michael Zeigler: Oil and fire—

Keith Haberstock: But the Lord is faithful.

Michael Zeigler: So you're going to be bringing a message to us next week on the program, and we're still in our series on the book of Acts. This is going to be on Acts 17. So what is something that the listeners could do or consider to prepare their hearts to receive what God would have them hear next week on The Lutheran Hour?

Keith Haberstock: Yeah, I pondered your question, and thank you for that. And this is going to sound odd, but here's the question for people to ponder: What do you think of dogs?

Michael Zeigler: What do you think of dogs?

Keith Haberstock: Yeah, not cats and dogs, but Jews and Samaritan dogs, Jews and Roman dogs, Jews and the Gentile dogs, because this is what was going on in Paul's head and heart, and God, Jesus changes it. So our question is, what do you think of dogs?

Michael Zeigler: Okay. So thank you. So this is coming from Acts 17, and Paul is going to be among the outsiders in a marketplace, and he's going to be striking up conversation with them. All right. So we will have that on our minds as we prepare our hearts to hear what God has to say to us next week.
Keith Haberstock: Great.





Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Evening and Morning" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House) Used by permission.

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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