“And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.”
Teacher pleasers, eggheads, nerds: You know the people I’m talking about. They always had the right answer in class, always did their homework, and always seemed to set (or break) the curve. They were the poopers at the party. I expect the Apostle Paul was exactly this student. When we first meet Paul (Saul), he is the star student of Gamaliel, a lion of academia from a long line of respected teachers. Paul is so determined to prove that he is a good Pharisee—and the best student—that he leads the charge in hunting down the heretics who would claim that an uneducated, itinerant carpenter from Galilee, who had been put to death recently, was actually the Son of God. He wanted to punish them for breaking the law, but I think secretly he wanted to give them the comeuppance he felt they deserved for presuming to know the mind of God without having done any of the grueling study. How dare they!
We know how that turned out—God was far less interested in the disciples’ GPAs than He was in their applied learning. Jesus scolded Paul for having missed the Messiah while spending all those all-nighters deep in study of the scriptures. Paul was humbled on the road to Damascus most fittingly. The scholar was blinded and left unable to read.
Of course, God had a greater plan for Paul than just being an honor student. God was molding him to live the Great Commission and, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them…”
Like any teacher’s pet, though, Paul needed to be humbled before he could be the person he needed to be. Speaking on behalf of boorish know-it-alls everywhere, let me tell you, discovering that you can ace the exam but have no clue how to actually do the task is painful.
In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul shows us what it looks like to be exactly the person God made us to be. The letter is one of the great pieces of argumentation ever put to paper. The academic lays out the case, piece by piece, leading the reader to the only logical conclusion. The sinner, saved by grace, infuses the dry argument with the joy of a true believer who wants to share their good news (which is THE Good News). If Romans is missing either of these elements, it isn’t the letter we needed (and still need).
When Pastor Nathan told me about his sermon plans for Romans, I was a bit stumped when it came to including our children. I always try to have something on Sundays that incorporates the sermon into what they are doing in the Prayground, or the activity bags. Romans is not the easiest book to have activities to keep children engaged. I decided we would do some activities on early Rome.
In the last couple years, helping my boys with their schoolwork, I have become fascinated by World History and Bible History and how they tie together. It is something I wish I had learned together.
In early Rome it was illegal to be Christian so the people used the Ichthys, or fish, to symbolize they were Christian. This let other Christians know it was safe to come and worship. Ichthys is the first initials of the Greek words “JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD, SAVIOR” or Ieasous Christos Theou Uiou Soter. We still use this symbol today to let others know that we are Christian.
We owe a great deal of the spread of Christianity in the West to Emperor Constantine. In 313 AD he made Christianity legal. Later he gathered Christian leaders and formed the Council of Nicene (term sound familiar?). There the Council put together a list of beliefs and this became known as the Nicene Creed.
Before Constantine became the sole Emperor he had to defeat the other three Roman Emperors. Before his battle of Milvian Bridge, he and his forces saw a light in the sky that was a cross and the words, “in this sign conquer.” He had this symbol put on all the shields and went into battle with it. He won and gave victory to God. This cross is what we know as the Chi Rio Cross. Constantine built more churches in Jerusalem and Rome than any other ruler. He also allowed Christians to be in the military, government, and stop paying taxes.
Have you ever heard all roads lead to Rome? Well, if the Romans had not built such a wonderful network of roads, travel would not have been as easy. This allowed for the spread of the gospel. If Christianity spread fast and wide in a world with no electronic technology, what can we do differently to spread the news? Early Christians were so excited to tell the news and they were often at risk of being a martyr. With all the technology at our hands we should be just as enthusiastic and spread that news 10,000x faster. So many people have made it easy for us to do this.
Christian Education Coordinator
I recently listened to a podcast called, “How to escape the cynicism trap.” Research psychologist, Jami Zaki, told of a research project done years ago regarding trust. In the project, two fishing villages within 30 miles of each other in southeastern Brazil were compared regarding levels of trust displayed by the members of the community. The first community was on a large lake, the second on an ocean. Because fishing in the ocean was so expensive, many villagers in the ocean community had to rely on one another and share their resources. Larger seafaring boats, heavy equipment, and more workers were so costly, each had to help the other to subsist. On the other hand, because smaller lake boats and equipment were less expensive on the lake, fishing tended to be more competitive and siloed. Individuals in the lake community looked out for themselves.
Years ago researchers set out to see how people in each community responded to social experiments. When they measured levels of trust, they found that ocean fishermen tended to trust strangers and cooperated with their neighbors more often. However, lake fishermen tended to be less trustworthy of outsiders and hardly worked together well on projects. They further discovered the longer a fisherman worked on the lake, the more they competed; whereas, the longer they worked on the ocean, the less fishermen competed but cooperated and assisted.
This experiment comes with many lessons within it. One that stands out to me is the influence one's culture or environment can have on behavior. In a place in which one does not need help or think they need help, trust levels fall. But, in a place in which the odds are stacked against the individual; or the task at hand too large for one to handle, levels of trust and cooperation reign.
In our lives, it’s interesting to consider if we see ourselves as lake fishermen or ocean fishermen. Currently in our society, it feels as if everyone is on their own boat on the lake. Yet, we face insurmountable issues which cannot be tackled alone. From a pandemic, to political crisis, economic hardship, and more; we are in an ocean. Moreover, the church itself can easily get sucked into believing it is on a lake. Competing for resources among ministries, looking out for one’s own interests, and more; can creep in to make us believe the ship is sinking.
And yet, God calls us to a kingdom mindset and a kingdom ministry. The fulfillment of our calling to be a sign, instrument, and foretaste of the Kingdom of God is too large for any single individual to tackle. The Kingdom of God and the work of the Kingdom is an ocean!
As an aside, I will say, in our congregation, we are an ocean minded entity. In early December, we sent out a notice regarding our financial situation. While it wasn’t an emergency, we were entering dangerous waters. As the year closed, we not only surpassed our needs to fulfill our obligations and ministry plans, we went above and beyond. Many of you gave generously and sacrificed to do so. We were able to repair worn out heaters and fix potentially dangerous issues within the building, as well as continue to be agents of spiritual nourishment and hope to our community.
As we move into 2022, I’m excited and hopeful about the potential of our congregation because we are an ocean village. I pray any remnants of lake fishing will dissipate, and we can come together and see the large issues facing us and tackle them together. With gratitude and joy in my heart, I pray God’s Spirit moves in mighty ways this year and we are witnesses and agents of God’s glory.
Listen to the podcast Pastor Nathan referenced here, https://www.ted.com/talks/jamil_zaki_how_to_escape_the_cynicism_trap/up-next?language=en