Tag Archives: Ephesus

A Living Example

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
1 Timothy 5:8 (NIV)

We called my maternal grandfather Grandpa Spec. Spec had been his nickname for as long as anyone could remember. Everyone called him Spec, which he preferred to his given name, Claude. Grandpa Spec had a rough life. The oldest of three siblings, his father shot himself (on his 36th birthday) and Spec was farmed out to be raised by his grandparents. That was likely his salvation. His mother drug the younger two siblings through a series of failed marriages, and they both had their own difficult paths.

When Grandpa Spec was near the end of his earthly journey, there were family members who shared stories I had never heard about my grandpa.

Times were tough during the Depression and World War II. Spec’s brother, an alcoholic, asked Spec for a job. Spec agreed to hire him, but knowing his brother had a problem with alcohol he told his brother that if his drinking interfered with his work just once he would be fired. Of course, the handwriting was on the wall. Spec fired his brother the first time his drinking caused a problem with work. The brother was angry and returned to family in Illinois where he spread all sorts of lies and rumors about how poorly Spec had treated him. Spec and his brother barely spoke again. Years later, when his brother died, Spec drove to Illinois to pay his last respects only to find that the family had told the funeral home that Spec would pay for his brother’s funeral. Despite not having much money, he did.

My grandmother’s sister then shared with me about how difficult things were for her when her husband left her. She was left to try and provide for herself and her children. Grandpa Spec and Grandma Golly, her sister, would regularly make the drive to the Quad Cities from Des Moines on weekends to help her out however they could. She was a proud woman and she said that Spec knew she would refuse a handout if they offered it. So, he never offered. He simply left a $50 bill on top of the refrigerator on each visit and then would confess to knowing nothing about it.

In today’s chapter, Paul addresses with young Timothy one of the most difficult social problems of their day. In those days, widows were often left in very difficult positions with no one to support them and no real means by which to provide for themselves. Jesus’ followers had a reputation of caring for the poor and destitute, so they would often come to the Christians seeking financial help. Paul tells Timothy that the believers in Ephesus should, by all means, help those who were truly in need. He adds, however, that family should first be responsible to take care of their own.

When I read that this morning I thought of Grandpa Spec paying for the funeral of the brother who caused him nothing but trouble, and who gave to his sister-in-law when she was in need. He was never a man of great means. Life had given him every reason to play the victim card and follow the path of bitterness, anger, and hatred. He chose, however, to follow Jesus down the path of forgiveness, kindness, and generosity.

Not bad footsteps to follow.

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Hope and Reality

What we hope life's road looks like (top) and what we sometimes find to be the reality (bottom).
What we hope life’s road looks like (top) and what we sometimes find to be the reality (bottom).

And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me.
Acts 20:22-23 (NRSV)

One of the things that Wendy and I found fascinating about our time in Edinburgh a few weeks ago was that there’s hardly a straight, level street in the entire city. There are steep inclines, winding roads, angled streets, narrow alleys, and stairs upon stairs. We felt like we were constantly going up a steep hill or down a sharp incline. Our calves were killing us.

That came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter. I’m reminded that life’s path is not always easy, and the way does not always meander through pleasant, level places. The theme of Dr. Luke’s account of the first generation of Jesus followers if filled with difficulties, persecutions, executions, imprisonments, riots, shipwrecks, and floggings. And, time and time again Luke says that the Message flourished and daily the number of believers grew.

I found it interesting to bullet out Paul’s conversation with his fellow believers from Ephesus in today’s chapter:

  • I was a living example in my time with you. Follow it.
  • I’m going to Jerusalem and expect to be persecuted and imprisoned.
  • You’ll never see me again (I’m going to die before I can return)
  • Be on guard! Wolves are going to infiltrate your flock.
  • Give, and don’t expect anything in return.

The message was followed by weeping and grief.

It’s not exactly a Thomas Kinkade scene come to life. And, so it is with life’s journey. Sometimes the path leads through difficult terrain, but there is purpose in our pains and in the places God leads us. Paul wasn’t complaining about the road ahead. He may have felt fear and grief as he set out, but courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the willingness to press on in spite of fear.

Today, I’m thinking about the balance of hoping for the best while knowing that “the best” does not always look the way I want it to look.

Religion, Commerce, and the Soul

cover-Time-19870406-66703A number of those who practiced magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins.

A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans. These he gathered together, with the workers of the same trade, and said, “Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business.”
Acts 19:19, 24-25 (NRSV)

Back when I was in high school and college there was a crazy period of time when there was no shortage of scandals centering around a group of prominent American televangelists. Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were the couple that the media couldn’t seem to get enough of, but there was also Jimmy Swaggart and others who leveraged their television ministries into personal profit machines and media empires. A closer inspection of these ministry moguls produced plenty of odd and salacious fodder for the tabloids. Many televangelists fell in a strange train wreck of disgrace that was too compelling to look away.

I was reminded of the uncomfortable tension between faith and commerce this morning as I read today’s chapter. There were two groups of people described who stood in stark contrast to one another. I had never really noticed this in my previous journeys through the Book of Acts.

First, there are those who had vocationally practiced different types of exorcism, magic, and spiritism who became followers of Jesus (v. 18-20). Upon their choice to place their faith in and follow Jesus they abandoned their spiritually dark professions and burned down their old lives. This, of course, meant that would have to begin new lives and careers. This is a picture of Jesus’ consistent admonishment for people to repent (literally, to about face and go the opposite direction) and follow. Old things pass away, new things come. There is a spiritual rebirth evidenced by their willingness to experience a huge financial loss and, in faith, walk away from that which was spiritually dark to begin a new path following the Light.

Next, there is Demetrius and the guild of silversmiths tied to the temple of Artemis. The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and Artemis of Ephesus was a popular fertility idol, her long body covered in breasts (or perhaps their bull testicles, scholars aren’t quite sure). Not unlike the media empires of the televangelists, the Temple of Artemis was a tourist attraction and a lucrative, religious cash cow. With the trending of Jesus, His message, and His followers the business of Artemis idols, trinkets, and souvenirs  was taking a huge financial hit. The local metal workers union was not happy. The response of Demetrius and his fellow merchants was to create a public riot and threaten bodily harm to the followers of Jesus along with their forcible expulsion from Ephesus.

I consider one group has a spiritual transformation that results in a willingness to suffer financial and vocational loss. Then I think of the other group who are hardened to preserve their finances and vocation at all costs. Finally, I think about the disgraced televangelists from my youth. I’m not sitting in judgment of them, rather I ponder if spiritually I’m not more like them than I’d care to admit. I wonder if they didn’t start out with sincere hearts that were hardened over time by their lucrative, religious cash cows and personal empires.

Today, I am doing some soul searching. Which example in today’s chapter am I more like, and what is the condition of my heart? Am I willing to suffer temporal loss for eternal gain, or will I cling tightly to that which is temporal at the sacrifice of my soul?