Tag Archives: Roman

Finding God Inside and Outside the Box

Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
“‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not cry.’

Luke 7:31-32 (NIV)

Recently I was having a conversation with a leader in my local gathering of Jesus’ followers. He shared with me that it is quite common for locals to come to him, give witness to immoral, hypocritical, and evil words and actions done by members of our gathering, and then proceed to state that if this is the way followers of Jesus behave, then they want nothing to do with it.

Welcome to humanity.

Along my life journey, I have encountered individuals who would in no way fit inside the box of the particular brand of Christianity in which I find myself. In fact, they would eschew any notion of wearing that label. That said, I can see in these individuals’ lives and actions that they understand and embrace the things of God far more than many who live and operate inside the box and proudly advertise our brand on the bumpers of their cars.

In today’s chapter, Dr. Luke shares two stories that highlight the reality of non-religious people who “get” the things of God and religious people who don’t. It has always been a part of humanity, and Jesus encountered it regularly.

In the first encounter, Jesus is blown away by the faith of an ungodly, foreign leader whom most (if not all) of His followers would label their enemy. Jesus never even sees or meets this Roman Centurion in person. His exchange is completely done by intermediaries. First, Jesus is petitioned by leaders of his own religious box to heal a Roman Centurion’s servant. This, in and of itself, was way out of the ordinary. The Jews hated the Romans who militarily occupied their homeland, and the average Roman soldier treated the local Jewish population with natural distrust and contempt. The Jews and Romans were bitter enemies. When the Jewish leaders to speak highly of this Centurion’s kindness and generosity to Jesus’ people, it captured Jesus’ attention.

On the way to meet with the Centurion, Jesus is met by servants of the Centurion. In the Jewish tradition of the day, it would be unlawful for Jesus to enter the Centurion’s house. The Centurion knew this and humbly sends his servants to give a message to Jesus. The Roman’s message was to tell Jesus that He doesn’t have to take the risk religiously “dirtying” Himself by entering the Centurion’s home and the social criticism Jesus would receive from His own people by doing so. He trusted that if Jesus simply gave the word, his servant would be healed.

In the second story, Jesus is having dinner with one of the good, upstanding leaders of his own religious box. A woman enters and approaches Jesus. In that town, this was that woman. Everyone knew who she was by her reputation. It doesn’t take much imagination to fill in the blanks: wanton, loose, used, cheap, pitiful, tragic. Not only did she not belong inside any kind of religious box, but no one inside the box wanted her there. But, like the foreign Centurion, this local social skank gets who Jesus is, and what God is doing through Him. She falls at Jesus’ feet blesses Him with all that she has: her contrite tears, her loving kisses, and some perfume.

Jesus immediately perceives the religious contempt of his host toward the local woman. This upstanding church elder had likely known who this woman was for her entire life and had probably ignored her and held her in self-righteous contempt. Jesus makes it clear to His host that she gets the things of God more than he.

In the midst of these stories, Jesus describes religious people:

They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
“‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not cry.’

In other words, we who are religious tend to expect everyone to fit inside our religious boxes and do what we prescribe. Inside of our religious boxes, we expect people to look like us, speak our lingo fluently, know our traditions, and behave in a way we deem acceptable.

Of course, the look, the lingo, the traditions, and the expected behaviors may have little or nothing to do with truly getting the things that God actually cares about.

I am reminded this morning that Jesus faithfully lived and operated inside the religious box of His people. He went to the Temple. He taught in the synagogues. He dined, socialized, and befriended the religious leaders. He followed the religious customs and traditions. Jesus’ example tells me that the things of God can be surely found, learned, and embraced inside of my religious box.

But Jesus’ example in today’s chapter also reminds me of this truth: There will always be individuals inside my religious box who don’t get the things of God, and there will always be individuals outside of my religious box who do.

Have you missed the previous chapter-a-day posts from this journey through the Gospel of Luke? Click on this image and it will take you to a quick index of the other posts!

Exaggerating My Exaggeration

You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.
2 Timothy 1:15 (NIV)

People always seem surprised when I tell them that I am, by nature, a pessimist. I think I hide it fairly well under my typically extroverted person. You can ask Wendy, and she can tell you about the annoying bookends of my temperament: pessimism and exaggeration. Not only do I regularly see the glass as half-empty, but I see it as the most half-empty glass that has ever been half-empty, and it’s destined to stay that way forever because fate itself has conspired against me since the beginning of time and always will!

You see? I’ve just exaggerated how much I exaggerate!

Hopeless.

Arrrrghh. I can’t help myself.

This morning I begin 2 Timothy which is the last surviving letter that Paul wrote. As he sits down with his stylus, ink well, and papyrus to write his faithful, young protégé, Paul had been in Roman custody for years.  Using his right as a Roman citizen, Paul appealed his case to Caesar. Not only do the wheels of Romany bureaucracy move slowly, but Paul had caused riots and pesky controversies that disturbed Roman peace and order wherever he went. Keeping him languishing in chains was likely to have been an easy decision for the Emporer to make. Having been taken to Rome to await his audience with the leader of the Roman Empire, Paul waited, and waited, and waited.

Reading the opening chapter in the quiet this morning, I can feel the melancholy and emotion. Memories, tears, constant prayers, and exhortation are present. As Paul writes about his own faith I can almost feel him reminding himself and affirming himself. He then tells Timothy that everyone in the province of Asia had deserted him, which he then immediately contradicts by describing how the runaway slave, Onesiphorus, sought Paul out and “refreshed him.”

I can totally forgive Paul a bit of gloom and exaggeration. Paul has spent years in Roman custody. He’s got legit reasons to be a little downcast and dramatic. I can go there when the Cubs lose.

Perspective.

And, that’s where I find my mind and spirit in the quiet this morning.  I’d like to believe that one of the reasons people are surprised to find out I’m a pessimist is that I’ve actually gotten better about recognizing it, catching myself, and consciously, in-the-moment, doing the inner work of choosing a different mental and emotional path. Doing so usually requires mentally reciting and embracing a few key passages of God’s Message that I’ve memorized, saying a few quick popcorn prayers, and going through a few positive mantras.

Looking back, I know I’m not as bad as I used to be. I’m pretty sure Wendy would affirm that, as well. That is, once again, why this is a journey. Slow and steady wins the race.

Pressin’ on into a new week.

All the best to you wherever you find yourself in your own journey, my friend. Cheers!

Polarized Parties, Powder Keg Issues, and Paul

Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee,descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.”
Acts 23:6 (NIV)

One of the things I’ve observed along my journey is our human penchant for thinking our current events and circumstances are somehow unique in human history. The Teacher of Ecclesiastes wisely said, “there’s nothing new under the sun.” As a student of history I can usually find times and events in recorded history which were much worse than whatever it is that’s happening in the headlines today.

There is no doubt that we are living in a time of polarization in political thought and the results have been tumultuous. The time of Jesus and the following decades of Paul’s ministry that we’re reading about in Acts were also tumultuous times in which there was polarization of both political and religious thought. Conflict, terrorism, and riots were a part of their landscape just as they are in ours today.

In today’s chapter, Paul uses this polarization of thought and the rabid, inherent conflict as part of his chess game with the religious Jewish leaders and their local Roman occupiers. Paul is standing before the same religious council that condemned Jesus to death and he knows they’re just as thirsty for his blood to be spilled. Paul, however, holds a trump card with his Roman citizenship (see my previous post). Standing next to him is a Roman military commander, known as a Tribune. Paul needs the Romans to take over his case.

It’s important to remember that Paul was raised and trained in Jerusalem as a lawyer. He would have known some of the men on this council. He knew their polarized religious beliefs as well as their corresponding hot button issues. Once again I find that Paul is not a random victim of circumstance. Paul is on a mission. He is driving the action.

Paul knows that the two rival parties within the council were the Pharisees and Sadducees. These two parties were just as opposed to one another as the far-right Republicans and far-left Democrats are in the U.S. today. The watershed issue that divided these two religious, political parties was the concept of resurrection, or life after death. The Pharisees believed that there was a resurrection as well as an unseen spirit realm where Angels and spirits dwelt. The Sadducees believed the exact opposite. There was no resurrection, no life after death, this physical life and reality is all there is. When you die there is nothing else. Paul uses this hot-button, polarizing issue for his own purposes.

Paul loudly proclaims to the entire council his pedigree as a life-long, card-carrying Pharisee, and accuses the Sadducees of the council of putting him on trial because of his belief in the resurrection. Resurrection is the powder-keg issue (think Roe v. Wade today). Paul just lit a match and threw it into the middle of the room.

Watch what happens next. A bunch of Pharisees, who moments ago were critical of Paul, now jump up to defend him. As I’ve been watching current events it’s easy to notice that in polarized systems anyone on your team is good and must be defended at all costs, while anyone on the other team is all bad and must be destroyed at all costs. There is no middle ground. Paul successfully diverts the council’s attention from himself to the hot-button issue. In the riot that followed, the Roman Tribune responsible for Paul had no choice but to evacuate him from the situation because he was responsible for Paul’s safety as a Roman citizen and he would be held personally liable (and perhaps executed) if he allowed the Jews to kill Paul, a Roman citizen.

By pushing the council’s political buttons Paul ensured that the Roman Tribune would witness for himself what a volatile group the Jewish council was and the threat they posed to both of them. Not only this, but Paul knows these Jewish leaders. He could easily anticipate that their next move will be a conspiracy to assassinate him. It’s what they did with Jesus. It’s what Paul himself did with Stephen, and Paul himself has been on the run from Jewish assassination attempts on all of his journeys. If there is a plot to kill him Paul knows that the Roman Tribune will have no choice but to place Paul in protective custody and get him out of town. And, that is exactly what happens.

In a few minutes I will join Wendy in our dining room for breakfast and we will read the paper together. It will be filled with news and opinions of current events in our polarized, politicized times. This morning I am reminded that nothing is new under the sun and that I can only control my own motives, thoughts, words, and actions. Reading about Paul’s motives, Paul’s words, and Paul’s actions, I’m reminded of one of Jesus’ more obscure and oft-forgotten commands to His followers:

Be shrewd as serpents; gentle as doves.”

Tapping into the Flow

St. Paul by Rembrandt van Rijn
St. Paul by Rembrandt van Rijn

King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?” Paul replied, “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today might become such as I am—except for these chains.” Acts 26:27-29 (NRSV)

The followers of Jesus were a small sect within a secondary religious people inside a relatively small region of the Roman Empire. Jesus was certainly not the first to claim to be the Messiah and his followers were not the first to make waves within the Hebrew community in Jerusalem. In the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection, even some of the Hebrew leaders dismissed Jesus’ followers as just another sect claiming that so-and-so was the Messiah. Leave them alone, many argued, and they will fade away like all the rest.

The odds were against Jesus’ followers making waves outside of the Judean region to the larger Roman Empire. The Roman pagan religious institutions were part of the fabric of both society and economy. The Romans didn’t particularly like the Jews and didn’t particularly care about what they considered a minor theological dispute between Paul and the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, with the exception of the political advantage it provided. We’ve already seen that in the previous chapters as Paul has been imprisoned for years simply to appease the Jewish leaders.

Over the years Paul’s relatively minor case has allowed him to share his story with a string of political leaders and Roman power brokers. It started with the Jewish leaders and the local Roman Tribunal in Jerusalem. Then came Roman Governor Felix and his wife Drusilla, Roman Tribunal Lysias, Roman Governor Festus, and now the regional King Agrippa and his wife Bernice.

Paul’s story, and the story of Jesus, is being sown like seeds among the powers-that-be, and Paul himself will soon find himself planted in the capitol of the Roman Empire. Paul, the most learned among Jesus’ followers. Paul, the most cross cultural of all Jesus followers who was Greek by birth. Paul, the most acquainted among Jesus’ followers with the law. Paul, the only leader among Jesus’ followers born a Roman citizen. How precipitous that among all the followers of Jesus it is Paul making the slow sojourn through the Roman judicial system. These seeds will take root. The story will spread. In less than 300 years the Roman Emperor himself will become a follower of Jesus.

This morning, I’m thinking about how God moves through people, events, relationships, and circumstances to achieve His will and purposes over time. Along life’s road I have occasionally found myself striving to make things happen only to have my intensions unrealized and my efforts fail miserably. The older I get the more I try to be wise and discerning about my time, energy, and resources. Increasingly, I find myself trying not to impose my will on the circumstances around me, but rather to discern how and where God is moving in order to tap into the flow with a desire to discover what part God might have for me to play within it.

Yes, and Yes (?)

red pill blue pill

Paul said, “I am appealing to the emperor’s tribunal; this is where I should be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you very well know. Now if I am in the wrong and have committed something for which I deserve to die, I am not trying to escape death; but if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can turn me over to them. I appeal to the emperor.” Then Festus, after he had conferred with his council, replied, “You have appealed to the emperor; to the emperor you will go.” Acts 25:10-12 (NRSV)

While under Roman guard in Jerusalem, Paul received word from God telling him that he would bear witness in Rome. At that point in time, the situation was tense and events seemed to be moving swiftly toward a foreshadowed end for Paul. Then, Paul became a guest of the Roman political bureaucracy. Over two years of house arrest. Paul was a pawn in the Roman governor’s desire to keep peace with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.

In today’s chapter, we have a de ja vu moment as the newly appointed Governor sends for the Jewish leaders once more to make their accusations against Paul. I tried to put myself in Paul’s sandals this morning as I read. He’s been accused multiple times now by the Jewish trial lawyers as they drag out their same old, tired lies and accusations. The new Roman Governor seems to be like the last. He knows that Paul is innocent, both he and Paul know it, but they also both know that Paul makes a good bargaining chip with the Jewish leaders. It appears to be a stalemate. So, Paul makes a fateful choice.

Roman citizenship carried with it certain privileges, and Paul was well aware of this. Tired of waiting for the Governor to decide his case, Paul claims his right to appeal his case to the emperor’s court in Rome. Having been told by God that he would bear witness in Rome, Paul chooses to take fate into his own hands and make it happen. The decision effectively ended the stalemate between the Roman governor and the Jewish leaders, and there was always the chance that the Jewish leaders would choose not to pursue the case all the way to Rome.

Today, I find myself once again mulling over one of the classic, on-going debates of Christian theology. Do we have free will to make our own choices and play our own hand (e.g. Paul appealing his case to Rome) or does God predestine our lives and the events therein (e.g. Even if Paul didn’t choose to appeal, to Rome he would have ended up there as God had promised).

Classic, on-going debates occur when clear answers are not easily found. I  have heard the answers at both extremes of the debate and have found them wanting. Truth appears to me to be found at the mysterious point of tension between the two extremes. It will be suggested in tomorrow’s chapter that Paul would have been set free but for his appeal to Rome. Should Paul have waited so he could have chosen to journey to Rome of his own free will in obedience to God? Or, was God at work in Paul’s choice, knowing all along how things were going to play out? Perhaps the answer to both questions is “yes.”

Some mornings I leave my quiet time with God having more questions than answers.

Continue

Monument Valley Utah
(Photo credit: gordon2208)

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of….”
2 Timothy 3:14a (NIV)

I regularly refer to my life as a journey. If you don’t know it, the word “wayfarer” (the name of my blog) means one who is on a journey. Along the journey there are mountain top vistas and deep, dark valleys. There are occasionally breathtaking views and long stretches of monotony. Along the way we will all face our share of disappointment, tragedy, difficulties, stupid mistakes, unintended consequences, and personal failures. We will also experience our share of joy, pleasure, love, achievement, rest, recognition, and personal victories.

One of the lessons I have learned along the way, and increasingly appreciate, is that momentary stretches of the journey are best viewed in relation to the whole. My tragedies and difficult stretches always end up in my rearview mirror, and I always end up a little wiser for the experience. Likewise, I have come to have a much greater appreciation and gratitude for pleasureable moments of love and joy. Our daily journey through work and tasks and chores and honey-dos can get monotonous. If we’re not careful, we forget to relish the moments of joy when they occur.

As Paul writes his letter to Timothy from a Roman dungeon (one of the many dark stretches he faced) and realizes that his own personal journey’s end could not be far off, I found it poignant that the admonishment he gave to his young protege was: continue.

Keep going. Press on. Don’t stop. Don’t quit. Take another step.

Here we go.