Monday, June 24, 2019

Part 3: Justus' Story

A Community Announcement

Hi, I’m Justus. Our neighborhood in Rome is a friendly community. Good neighbors. But there’s this house down the street from me where some people have started gathering on the weekends. They’re meeting at Marcus’ house – some of you have met Marcus, he’s a cool guy. But he’s gotten into this strange religion lately and he’s been acting really weird. Everything started a couple months ago.

Just like you guys do in your community, every Friday evening in my neighborhood everyone comes outside and we play music, we drink, people bring food, and we just have a good time. It’s really good for the community for all the neighbors to be a part of it, you know? We bless the food in the name of Diana, then we burn some incense for Saturn and Juno, we say the national anthem, and then we do our chant to the god Jupiter. I love Friday evenings – it’s the perfect end to the work week and it’s good to see the neighbors and hang out. Plus, that’s what keeps us in good favor with Zeus. But Marcus’ household stopped coming a couple months ago. The first time I assumed they were sick or something, but they haven’t come out for 8 weeks now.

I bumped into Marcus the other day at the bathhouse, and I tried to keep it casual. I asked him how his crops are doing this year. We had a late start for spring this year, so he said the harvest is a little low but he was trusting God to meet his needs. I said, “Tell me about it. I’ve been slaughtering goats left and right for Diana to send some sunny weather.” But then he said, “Oh, I don’t do that anymore.” I thought, What do you mean you don’t do that anymore? Don’t do WHAT? And he said he doesn’t sacrifice to Diana anymore. After pressing harder, I found out his family doesn’t worship any of the Roman gods. Not Jupiter, not Apollo, not Vulcan – none of them!

I didn’t know what to say, I mean I’ve never spoken to an actual atheist before. I don’t understand how someone can just stop worshiping the gods. How does he expect his crops to be watered, how does he expect his kids to survive childhood, I mean the guy has gone delusional. So all I knew to do was to say bye, so I turned to walk away and said, “Hail Caesar, lord and god!” And then he nodded his head. I waited for a moment for him to say it back to me, but… nothing. There was this awkward silence.

Then he muttered, “Sorry, I don’t feel comfortable saying that anymore.” I said, “Saying what? Hail Caesar?” He said “Well, the ‘lord and god’ part. I follow Jesus now, the man from Nazareth who was crucified a few years back. He’s my only ‘lord and god’ now. Not Caesar.” I was pretty furious and confused at this point, so I just walked away.

The neighbors and I have started doing some digging. It turns out these people that meet in Marcus’ house call themselves “the way”, whatever that means. And we found out they’re doing some crazy things in there.

For instance, last week I bumped in to one of the families that goes over there. He seemed nice enough; he introduced me to his kids and he was holding this woman’s hand who I assumed to be his wife. But then he called her “sister”. Hmmm… I wrote it off as a mistake but then she called him her brother! Yeah. And then I found out they called everyone else in the house “brother” and “sister”. They must have some kind of… I don’t know. I don’t want to even think about what they’re doing. Man, those poor kids.

And that’s not even the worst part! We think they’ve become cannibals. We saw them on the patio the other evening drinking blood. We assumed it was wine, but then we heard them talking about that Jesus character. They were saying you have to drink his blood and eat his flesh to be his follower. Everyone did this prayer thing and started drinking it! It was disgusting. Then we heard one of them announce something like “This is my body, broken for you. Eat in remembrance of me.” So we high-tailed it out of there! I’ve never seen anything like it.

Anyway, here’s what we’re doing about all this. We are openly shaming Marcus and his household. I think this insulting and public shaming will knock some sense into his head. If he doesn’t come around, I’ll be forced to tell the governor about all this. A guy got whipped the other day for blasphemy against the gods. I don’t want Marcus to get that kind of punishment, but you can’t go around ticking off the gods – they’ll rain down Hades on all of us!

An Update

Hello neighbors, this is Justus again. Thanks for coming to this gathering. You are all here to discuss the situation with the house down the street – the group of Jesus-followers who meet in Marcus’ home. We’ve all participated in shaming and humiliating him so he would stop worshiping Jesus and come back to being a good Roman citizen. I now have an update for you:

Last month while Marcus was away on business I took action. My sons and I tore down the fence around one of his fields and let our cattle roam around in his gardens. The animals absolutely demolished his crops. It was a mess in there! And I left it that way.

Well last month Marcus knocked on my door. He said “I know what you did to my garden, and it really hurt my family. However, our other fields did surprisingly well this year and we ended harvest with a little extra. I brought over several boxes of vegetables for your household to enjoy.” And then he said “I’d really like to sit down with you some time and talk about this whole ‘conversion’ thing. I think that if I explained what my new God, Jesus Christ, is all about then you would view me differently.”

Neighbors, I was so thrown by his kindness that I did just that. We shared several meals together and he explained the gospel – that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, resurrected from the dead, and was seen by 500 people after doing so. He even put me in contact with some of the first-hand witnesses. I’m a Jesus-follower now. And I owe my eternity to Marcus. Had he responded in anger or had he just run away from us I would have never heard him out. And now, he’s my brother.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Part 2: Scott's Story

Hi, I’m Scott. I work over at the PennState Medical Center in Hershey. I’ve been working there for about three years now in the Infectious Disease Department. Something intriguing happened last week.

See, there’s a fellow doc down in Pathology that I’ve gotten to know over the last 9 months or so. We end up rubbing shoulders a lot when I go to drop off or discuss lab results with him. His name is Dr. Miller; turns out we have a lot in common. We are about the same age, we have kids in the same school, we both like the Green Bay Packers, and ironically we both spent some time in San Jose when we were younger. So we’ve sort of hit it off.

The thing about Miller is he asks really good questions. Most docs I interact with seem to want to keep their personal lives separate, or they just talk shop or surface level stuff, but Miller almost always slows down and asks me about my weekend or our last trip, or if I tell him my kids are sick or something he’ll always remember to ask about them. Most of my colleagues just don’t do that.

And so last week Miller invited me and my family to come over for dinner one night. This sounds like a simple thing, but it took me by surprise because I can’t think of a single time when a coworker invited me over. Hospitality is not normal around here for some reason. So I told him “sure, that’d be great!” My wife and I moved something around in our calendar and he gave us the address.

Our family loaded up in the SUV Friday and headed over. But when pulled into their driveway I was a bit taken back. It wasn’t a ratty house or anything, it just wasn’t the house I was expecting to pull up to. It was in a good neighborhood, but not a great neighborhood, you know what I mean? Most docs at our hospital live in Highland Park or by the river, they have huge houses with patios and three car garages and play places out back if they have kids; but Miller had a simple house, little small, not much of a yard. Even his car looked older; I think it was a Mazda or something. I actually pulled up his text messages on my phone and started checking the address to make sure I got it right.

About the time I found that text he came out the front door and waved “Hey guys! Welcome!” As I walked into the house I was blown away at how simplistic everything was. Don’t get me wrong, they had a nice home and certainly weren’t living in poverty, but it wasn’t ostentatious. Possessions didn’t have a grip on him. In fact, besides his family and friends, nothing seemed to have a grip on him. His job, his house, his possession; he didn’t really speak of these things as though they were the most important thing for him. I left wishing I had more purpose in my life than work and keeping my kids fed.

When supper was ready, we all sat down, and one of their kids said, “Can I pray tonight?” That was first for me too; I’ve never seen a kid volunteer to say grace. It was a good prayer too, especially for a 7 year old. Not sure if I could have done that good of a job!

After we finished eating supper our wives ran off into the kitchen and started chatting, and the kids ran outside to throw a football around. So I asked Miller, “You a church-going fellow?”

He responded, “Yeah, we’ve been going to First Community Church since we moved here eight years ago. And over the years we’ve gotten pretty involved there. Becca serves in the food bank and I serve on the deacon committee. We like it there. How about you guys?”

“No, not really,” I said. “My grandparents are super religious though. And I my folks attend church every now and then. I believe in a higher power, I just don’t feel drawn to go to a worship service every Sunday to connect with him – or her, or it, whatever’s up there. What I’m saying is I’m not a fan of organized religion.”

Then Miller piped in. “Well our church may be the most disorganized religion you’ve ever seen! We have made a lot of really good friends there though.” I was intrigued. Good friends… Hmmm, that sounds like a good thing to have. I asked him to talk more on that.

So Miller went on and on about his friendships from his church. About how a bunch of families through a party when his middle kid was baptized to celebrate, and how all these people brought him meals for weeks after his sister passed away, and how his ‘small group’ – whatever that is – took care of his wife when she went through postpartum with their youngest. You know, I just can’t stop thinking about that.

I have friends, don’t get me wrong. But not friends like that. I guess I have buddies. And Suzanne has girl-friends that shop with her. But when we go through tough stuff we don’t have friends that help us through. We either deal with it or call family. But what intrigued me is that Miller spoke of his church friends in the same way I think of family. It’s as if the people at his church are… family.

That was about all. From there we talked about politics, and family, and stuff like that. Real nice guy. I’m glad he invited us. As we were leaving his wife told us that they were having some friends over for burgers in two weeks and invited us back. Now if you know anything about me, you know this: I’m a grill-guy. I didn’t even have to look at my calendar – “We’ll be here!”

“Great!” she said. “We’re having some couples over from our Small Group, they’d be thrilled to meet you and your kids will jump in fine.” I have no idea what a ‘small group’ is, but there are burgers involved, so I told them we’d be there. Suzanne smiles and replied “Great! See you then!”

Monday, June 10, 2019

Part 1: Nutesh's Experience

Good morning. It’s a privilege to be here with you at this town meeting. My name is Nutesh and my family has been in this providence of Babylon since the days of Hammurabi. I am a long-time Babylonian and I love this empire. Have any of you been out to the Hanging Gardens recently? With the turn of the season, it’s the perfect time to visit. It’s gorgeous what they’ve done there.

Let’s get down to business. As you all know, immigrants entering out empire has become a massive problem for us locals. Everywhere I go I see them. In the market, the bathhouse, the gardens, the theatre, or the public square. (1) It is costing the government a ton of money, (2) it is causing a problem on the job market and some immigrants are even stealing local jobs, (3) and most annoyingly it’s causing us to lose our distinction.

However, the latest batch of refuges who moved in last year seem different. The announcement from Nebuchadnezzar said they came from Judah. And they act so much different from the refuges I’ve interacted with from Mesopotamia Have any of you been able to talk with any of the Judean refugees?

They’ve taken up residence here. They are buying up several houses in my development. They are growing farms. They are marrying local guys and girls and raising kids in our neighborhoods and schools.

The Judeans are so different from the other Mesopotamians. The refuges from Mesopotamia seem to stick to themselves. They build houses close to each other, they keep their own traditions, they’ve set up their own restaurants and shops, they speak their own languages and dialects and never try to learn ours. In general they keep to themselves. Whatever, right?

But the Judean refugees shop where I shop. I see them at the gym I go to. Some have started working at the bakery with me. Many of them actually strike up conversations with me and my friends. Different, right?

The Judeans have become a part of the city. I went to the latest parade in the town square and saw several refugees there. For starters, I was pretty shocked to see them involved in our community stuff. Like I said before, refugees don’t come to our events; they do their own events and invite their own people.

But what was more surprising is how involved they were. Many of them were wearing neighborhood swag. I saw them working in the vendor shops. Everywhere I looked it seemed there were Judean artists, musicians, politicians, and business people.

One of the most notable differences between the Judeans and other refugees is how much they care about Babylon.
They genuinely care about the welfare of our cities. It’s not uncommon for me to see them talking with the homeless, or collecting food for the poor, or delivering meals to the police. They come to the PTA meetings. They talk with the local politicians. They put “be kind” bumper stickers on their cars.

The Mesopotamian refugees seem distant and self-absorbed. I know it must be tough being forced to move your family away from your neighborhood and exiled to Babylonia, so I don’t want to judge. But the Judeans seem to be the only refugees who are making the most of it. And they don’t even consider themselves exiles anymore – they consider themselves Babylonians!

I say all that for this reason: I’m usually not too fond of foreigners coming in here and neglecting our gods while worshipping their own. I don’t think it’s good for Babylon and I don’t think the gods are impressed with that kind of attitude. Yet I had some conversations with one of the refugees from Judah about his god – Yahweh they call him. He says that the Judeans are for our empire, they are for our community, and they are for Babylon. But they have been instructed by their prophets NOT to adopt our gods.

Because the Judeans have integrated so well, and because they genuinely care about this empire and are so intentional about planting their roots here, I propose that we welcome them into our circles and stop ostracizing them like the other exiles. Yes, I know they have some weird food laws that restrict them from eating pork and stuff; and I realize their dress with the phylacteries and head coverings are a bit unusual; and that Shema chant they go through every day is odd. But I suspect that if we let them become insiders with us Babylonians that it will be good for the empire. And we may even learn a thing or two from their god, Yahweh.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Why should I become a “member” at a church?

There are several reasons why churches have membership, and why they ask people to go through a process in order to “join” a church as a member. Membership is necessary for legal purposes. In order for the church to own property and make other financial decisions, there needs to be a base of members who are legally responsible for these things. Membership is necessary for voting purposes. A church would never ask random people in the community to make important decisions for them; the voting members of the church have to do this. Membership is also important when it comes to understanding the health of the church. People ask me all the time “How many people at our church ______” (i.e. ...are in a small group, their Bible regularly, ...participated in the last impact challenge, etc). The first step to clarify what “people” we are talking about. Are we talking about the members, the regular attenders, or anyone who has come in the last year? In other words, the Christmas Eve and Easter crowd or the Summer crowd?

I think you should join a local church as a member. But not for any of the reasons listed above. Here’s why you should join a church as a member: A high commitment to Jesus has to intersect with a high commitment to a local community of others who are committed to Jesus.

Let’s change the question: why would anyone want to get married? Studies show that although marriage rates are down and cohabitation is at an all time high, an overwhelming majority of adults still want to get married someday.

Without “tying the knot”, my partner and I can have all the benefits of marriage. We can have sex, binge Netflix shows, share a home, raise children, fight about money, shop at Ikea, update our relationship status on Facebook, exchange rings… we can do everything married people do. (Except file taxes jointly... But the tax thing is not why people still value marriage.)

Marriage represents a higher level of commitment. The difference between a cohabiting relationship and a marriage may not seem significant to the naked eye, but that piece of paper from the courthouse still really matters to people. That marriage license says “I know I told you I was committed to you - but real talk - I am committed.”

My commitment to Jesus must intersect with a commitment to a local church. That intersection is marked by membership.