I am back from the ruins, back from tromping through dead cities and temples scattered across Turkey, Greece and Rome. Back from following the sandal prints of the Apostle Paul and his Middle East journeys. The trip has been fruitful in so many ways. For one thing, I managed to NOT be the for-real woman who asked the tour guide, after touring the remains of ancient cities, "Why did the Greeks and Romans build so many ruins?"
I managed to take notes slightly better than that . . .
I would love to gush about my stalwart kind and intelligent travel companions who made ruin-romping a ton more fun than had I done it on my own. But----I'll gush at them privately.
I have 1,000 things I'd like to share with you, but after traveling 15,000 miles the last 2 weeks (and traveling still) my brain is like semifreddo, the half-frozen dessert we ate in Rome our last night together: mushy, partly crystallized, tart, and melting fast.
So quick, before I fall into a coma in this hotel may I share one thought with you? You know I was in Israel a few years ago, tracking Jesus. This time, Paul. I have to be honest. I never thought much about Paul. I love his letters. He's written some of the most eloquent and moving words in the Scriptures, but he wasn't quite real to me. I never longed to walk in the footsteps of Paul. Until recently. After scuffling and roaming what's left of Ephesus, Pergamom, Athens, Corinth, Colosse and other cities where Paul began churches, I can glimpse him now. And what I see astounds me.
You remember what happened to him in these cities? He faced unimaginable peril at every turn. He opposed a culture sunk in idolatry, sexual depravity, pagan worship, human sacrifice. His message, that "Jesus is Lord" equally threatened his fellow Jews. After just two weeks immersed in the mere ruins of this ancient world, Paul's courage became nearly tangible to me. Here is the price he paid, in his own words:
"I have been in prison . . . I have been hurt in beatings. I have been near death many times. Five times the Jews have given me their punishment of thirty-nine lashes with a whip. Three different times I was beaten with rods. One time I was almost stoned to death. Three times I was in ships that wrecked, and one of those times I spent a night and a day in the sea. I have gone on many travels and have been in danger from rivers, thieves, my own people, the Jews, and those who are not Jews. I have been in danger in cities, in places where no one lives, and on the sea. And I have been in danger with false Christians. I have done hard and tiring work, and many times I did not sleep. I have been hungry and thirsty, and many times I have been without food. I have been cold and without clothes. Besides all this, there is on me every day the load of my concern for all the churches. I feel weak every time someone is weak, and I feel upset every time someone is led into sin."
Paul is not our Savior. He did not suffer all this with our names in his mind and heart, as Jesus did in His sufferings. But---Paul, under Jesus' leading, opened the door of the synagogue to us. To us Gentiles, us non-Jews. And nearly everyone wanted to kill him for it. He was executed, finally, in Rome, likely by beheading. His life and death was shaped by the same extravagant sacrifice of Jesus.
(AND---this is a word to our cushy American church. How whiny we are!! How soft and spoiled, how quick to claim "persecution." We know NOTHING of persecution!!)
Paul is not my Savior, but he is my brother. He did all this that WE---the unwanted, the unqualified, the far-off---might be delivered from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, that we might be for "the praise of His glory." (And OH how I praise His glory!!)
I can't wait to thank him.
I'm not tired anymore. (And I'm going to quit complaining about my "stuff"--at least for a little while.)
And I'm ready to keep going.