Monday, September 17, 2018

Adult Sabbath School lesson (September 15-21): Confinement in Caesarea


BIBLE STUDIES
FOR BUREAUCRATS

As we all know, you should always do the right thing, even if it gets you in trouble.

Just kidding.

Fortunately, the Bible gives many examples of civil servants who successfully struggled with sensitive situations - just like you!

Put yourself in the place of the Roman officials who are dealing with Paul, for instance. Paul is in custody, remember, because of a riot - a riot for which he is not responsible.
  • Since Paul has done nothing wrong, you should set him free.
  • And since Paul is a Roman citizen, you will get in trouble if you don't set him free.
  • But Paul's enemies are both rich and powerful - just the kind of people, in other words, you don't want to annoy by setting Paul free.
Sounds like an no-win situation, right?
But no situation is hopeless - not in you remember three simple strategies for success:

Strategy #1: Blame the Victim
Paul had been accused of bringing Gentiles into the Temple - an accusation, ironically enough, that did bring Gentiles into the Temple, i.e. the Roman soldiers who rescued Paul! Obviously, you need to find out just who started those rumors, and bring those people to justice.
Again, just kidding.
Instead, you'll notice how each official assumes that, since Paul has a problem, then Paul must be the problem. He must have done something wrong, in other words - otherwise, Paul wouldn't be in trouble! 
Fortunately, it's easy to do this. That's because it's easy to resent people with intractable problems - to resent the student who always flunks a test, for instance, or the patient who never seems to get better. 
So don't fight that resentment.
Instead, you need to use that resentment: use it convince yourself (and others!) that IT'S ALL THEIR FAULT. 
And while you're doing this, don't forget:

Strategy #2: Stall
This may sound simple, but you need to be careful; nothing kills a career faster than a reputation for dithering and delay.
That's why Felix doesn't just postpone his decision - no, he announces that he will decide Paul's case . . .

Just as soon as Lysias shows up.

I mean, you can't expect Felix to make this kind of decision without all the facts . . . and it's obviously not his fault that Lysias isn't there to make sure Felix has all the facts . . . and you can't blame Felix for the fact that Lysias never did show up - not when it was convenient to discuss Paul's case, at any rate!

In short, this delay is the fault of somebody else.

Not Felix!

Go and do likewise . . .

And while you're waiting, don't forget:


Strategy #3: Pass the Buck

At first glance, it may seem as though each official passes the buck in a very different way.
  • Lysias does so physically when he moves Paul to Caesarea.
  • Felix does so chronologically when he leaves Paul's case for the next governor. 
  • And Festus passes the buck to King Herod by asking for a favor. "You're the expert when it comes to religion," he says in effect. "What do you think I should do?"
In each case, however, the buck-passer makes it almost impossible to have the buck passed back to him. 
  • Felix will not send Paul back to Lysias, after all - not without looking like a coward.
  • Festus cannot make Felix decide this case; he's already gone! 
  • As for Herod . . . well, who's going to turn down a chance to show how smart they are?
When it comes to problems, in other words, you need to give them away in a way that makes them stay away . . . 
Just like they did in the Bible!

Discussion questions:
1. What kind of victims are the easiest to blame? When is it dangerous to blame them?
2. Why is it useful to delay decisions? What are some of the ways you can do this?
3. When is best to "pass the buck" up the ladder (i.e. to someone more important), and when is it best to "pass the buck" down the ladder (i.e. to someone less important)? 

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Adult Sabbath School lesson (September 8-14): Arrest in Jerusalem

Demos:

Tell Luke I love what he's done with this story -- some sly humor at the Roman commander's expense, and a boffo finish with Paul riding off into the night.

But it needs more miracles.

And yes, the visions add just the foreshadowing this story needs -- but I can't help but notice they are the only signs of supernatural power in these chapters. No earthquakes. No angels. Nothing in the way of deus ex machina except that Roman commander, muddling through as best he can.

Oh yes -- and the nephew. Nice touch with the nephew . . . but with 40+ people involved in that plot against Paul, it was only a matter of time before word got out.

So . . . tell Luke to dig around, and see what he can find in the way of sign and wonders. Surely God must have done something spectacular while all this was going on?

One more thing: tell Luke to leave out that part about James. This is not the time to be criticizing our leaders.

Ciao!

Aristocrates

Monday, September 03, 2018

Adult Sabbath School lesson (September 1-7): the Third Missionary Journey

Once again, Paul has muddied the line between God's people and those who know nothing of Him.

If there's one thing history has taught us, after all, it's the clear distinction between Us and Them - between the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness.

Clearly, nothing is more important than maintaining that distinction

But in Ephesus, we see that "wall of separation" has been torn down.

And yes, it's bad enough when Paul and his followers point out the weaknesses of saints - saints such as Apollos and the un-named disciples of Acts 19:1-7 . . .

But is it really necessary to point out that Paul was saved by sinners?

The Asiarchs who beg Paul to stay away from the rioting crowd, for instance - the Asiarchs who are said to be Paul's friends?

Idol-worshippers - every one of them.

As for the clerk who dismisses the crowd?

Read his speech, and you'll see that he's obviously a follower of Artemis.

In short, Paul's stay in Ephesus suggests that Saints may need to be corrected - and that Sinners may be used by God.

Obviously, this is wrong.

And even if it's not wrong, it's still unhelpful.

Monday, August 27, 2018

This week's Adult Sabbath School lesson (August 23-31): the Second Missionary Journey cir

We never should have allowed Gentiles into the church.

And if you need proof, then look at Paul's second mission trip.

No sooner does he get back from Jerusalem, after all, then what happens?

He gets into a fight with Barnabas.

So he grabs Silas, goes through Syria and Cilicia, and does what?

He circumcises Timothy. (Talk about hypocrisy!)

On to Philippi, where Paul is thrown in jail.

On to Thessalonica, where there's a riot.

On to Berea, where he leaves just before a riot breaks out.

And in Athens, he's brought before the town council on the same charges that got Socrates killed!

Corinth?

Kicked out of the synagogue, then brought before the proconsul on charges.

In short, Paul and his message have brought nothing but chaos, confusion, and trouble. He has been rejected by every synagogue he tried to reach - and by most of the Gentiles too!

It's time we admit, in other words, that Paul is wrong. That the Jerusalem Council made a mistake. And that this reckless experiment in so-called "outreach" to the Gentiles must finally come to an end.

No, Paul's second mission-trip is proof - proof that Paul's "gospel" is not enough.

Not if it gives us the kind of results it did.


Monday, August 20, 2018

This week's Adult Sabbath School lesson (August 18-24): the Jerusalem Council

What part of "everlasting" don't you understand?

"You are to undergo circumcision," said God.

"It will be the sign of the covenant between you and me," said God.

"My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant," said God - and then he added these words: "Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."

Broken.

My.

Covenant.

Sounds pretty clear to me!

To be sure, this is not the first time we've faced this challenge. Two hundred years ago, remember, Antiochus Epiphanes tried to ban circumcision - in fact, he made it punishable by death!

And in truth, some believers gave in to his threats - gave in, and urged other believers to do the same!

But others stood against this threat - stood against it and won!

So now we face a the exact, same threat - the same threat as that posed by Antiochus Epiphanes.

If he wins, then we lose; it's that simple.

That is why we must defeat Paul in Jerusalem.

Yes, that is why we must make sure that any Gentile who follows Jesus takes part in the "everlasting covenant" of circumcision.

Monday, August 13, 2018

This week's Adult Sabbath School lesson (August 11-17): Paul's First Missionary Journey

You need to understand: I didn't sign up for this.

My cousin was going to Cyprus, remember - the place he grew up.

He was going to teach and preach to Jewish people in their synagogues - to familiar people in familiar settings.

What's more, he would be in charge - it was Barnabas and Saul, remember, not Saul and Barnabas.

Yes, I signed up for something that was well within my comfort zone!

But everything changed after that run-in with Elymas the sorcerer.

And yes, I'm glad that impressed the governor - impressed him enough to become a believer.

But he is a Gentile.

And he's wants us to visit his people in Pisidian Antioch.

And I can't help but notice that nobody talks about Barnabas and Saul, anymore - no, now it's Saul and Barnabas!

In short, this trip is going in a new direction - a new direction with a new leader.

So I'm sure you can understand why I'm going home.

I mean, I did everything I said I would do.

What more could God want?

Thursday, August 09, 2018

This week's Adult Sabbath School lesson (August 4-10): the Ministry of Peter

I'm not saying, "I told you so" . . . 

But it all started on the Day of Pentecost: the day when Peter preached to those Hellenists - to those Greek-speaking Jews.

I mean, who demanded change in the way we took care of the poor?

They did - and Peter supported them!

Who reached out to the Samaritans?

One of them - and again, Peter supported him!

And yes, I tried to say something when the very same Hellenist who'd reached out to the Samaritans went and baptized that Ethiopian . . . 

"But what's the harm?" people said.

"The Samaritans may not be Jews," they said, "but at least they're circumcised."

"He may not be Jewish," they said about that Ethiopian, "but circumcision isn't an option."

True enough - but now we see where all this was going!

And yes, the same kind of people will make the same kind of excuses for him that they did for all the others. "Cornelius may be a Gentile," they'll say, "but he's a nice Gentile. He may be a Gentile," they'll say, "but he still loves Jesus. And he may be a Gentile," they'll say, "but who are we to judge?"

All of which goes to show just where this kind of compromise will get you.

Yes, you start baptizing Hellenists . . . 

And the next thing you know, you're baptizing Gentiles!