Monday, September 17, 2018

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


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


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.



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.