Saturday, December 29, 2012

Kingdom Paradox

God’s kingdom works backwards. His reasoning and promises and ambitions for us are often counterintuitive. It’s one of the most difficult truths to explain to people, yet also one of the most important. So I’ve compiled a list, here, of kingdom paradoxes from Scripture—ways that seem backward to us, but normative to God.

The humble are exalted. The exalted are humbled.
"Those who humble themselves will be exalted." (Luke 14: 11)

Lose your life to find it. Find your life and lose it.
"Those who find their life will lose it and those who lose themselves for my sake will find it." (Matthew10:39)

Slavery leads to freedom.
"Having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness." (Rom. 6:18; cf. 1 Cor. 7:22)

The foolish are wise.
"If any one among you think that he is wise in this age, let him become foolish that he may become wise." (1 Corinthians 3:18; cf. 4:10)

The poor are rich.
"Listen, my beloved: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom." (James 2:5)

The weak are strong.
"...for when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:10)

Die to live.
"...always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body." (2 Corinthians 4:10)

Give to receive.
"It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35)

The first are last. The last, first.
"The last shall be first, and the first last." (Matthew 20:16; Mark 9:35)

There are other places in Scripture where this backwards spirituality is neatly summarized, most notably The Sermon on the Mount, which describes:

Wealthy Paupers (Matthew 5:3)
Happy Mourners (Matthew 5:4)
Passive Victors (Matthew 5:5)
Zealous Gluttons (Matthew 5:6)
Self-Enriching Benefactors (Matthew 5:7)
Everyday Visionaries (Matthew 5:8)
Adopted Ambassadors (Matthew 5:9)
Winning Losers (Matthew 5:10-12)

Additionally, there are plenty of koans describing spiritual development that, while not listed specifically in the Bible, are nevertheless agreed upon universally by mature believers.

The paradox of spiritual growth—the more you mature spiritually, the more you realize how much you still need maturing

The paradox of spiritual enlightenment—the more enlightened you become, the more childlike you will seem

The paradox of knowing and mystery—the more you know God, the more comfortable you are with all that you do not know about God

The paradox of love—the more love you require, the more love you give away

Friday, December 28, 2012

Heads & Tales: Resources

If you’re at all interested in learning more about Herod the Great, here are the best resources I uncovered during the fall of 2012.

Josephus: the Antiquities of the Jews (also, Jewish Wars), Flavius Josephus
The Jesus Discovery, DA Bradford
Herod: King of the Jews and friend of the Romans, Peter Richardson
The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, Geza Vermes
The New Testament and the People of God, NT Wright
Catholic Encyclopedia
Encyclopedia Britannica
Jewish Encyclopedia

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Heads & Tales: day 23

Herod originally intended to have his son, Herod Antipas, succeed him as King of the Jews but Caesar Augustus vetoed the appointment. Augustus suggested Herod appoint his other son, Archeleus, instead. Herod consented, only—upon Herod’s death—Augustus changed the terms of their arrangement.

Archeleus would have to prove himself worthy to be called king. In the meantime, Caesar gave him the title “ethnarch” (“people ruler”) and governance over only 50% of Judea. Antipas and Philip were each given the title “tetrarch” (meaning, “ruler of one-fourth”) and controlled the remainder of Judea between them. Clearly Caesar’s desire was to pit the brothers against each other and further weaken the Jewish monarchy in hopes of diminishing their resistance to Rome.

The only thing Herod’s heirs even inherited from their father was his ability to scheme and betray and make enemies. Antipas beheaded John the Baptist and sent Christ back to Pilate. Archeleus and Philip, while less notable in the New Testament, were no less notorious in their own day and age.

I think many of us feel like Herod’s children. We sometimes feel like those who have come before us have either screwed us up or screwed us over. Sometimes “they” are the government. Sometimes “they” are our families. Sometimes “they” are our educators, financiers, or predecessors.

But the truth is that we all have a choice about what kind of person we’re going to become.

And the good news of the gospel of God is that you can choose another inheritance simply by selecting another Father.

Herod and his heirs were crooked to the core, but they weren’t cursed with debauchery. They believed that the only way to get power, wealth, and influence in this life was through trickery and connivance. As a result, they lost what little they had amassed and ended up more miserable than ever before.

There’s a lot we could have learned from Herod, but it seems like—in one way or another—humanity has been content to learn from the wrong King of the Jews.

Make sure you interrupt that pattern, and follow the True One instead.

Heads & Tales: day 22

Herod died shortly after the arrival of the Magi, and within seventy years of his death everything he had schemed, labored, and shiestered to acquire was gone.

The Hasmonean monarchy ended with Herod. The kingdom of Judea was divided into three parts among his sons. The Temple was destroyed in 70AD. And though Maritima was only subsumed by the Romans during the Jewish Revolt of 134AD, the Jewish presence had largely diminished after the Temple’s destruction thereby making it effectively Roman.

Herod spent his life hoarding and acquiring power. Then he died, and his power went with him.

Herod undoubtedly expected this, but was unable to accept it. He wanted his power to endure, and even made attempts to guarantee his will would persist beyond death.

For example, knowing his was ill-loved by his own people, Herod decreed that one hundred of the most popular Jewish elders be put to death when he breathed his last. That way, he reasoned, at least someone would be weeping at the death of the King.

Fortunately, no one followed through on Herod’s instruction. The old man was, after all, dead and had no power over his subjects any longer.

The moral of the story? Once you’re dead, you’re done. Live now in such a way as to capture men’s hearts, not control their behaviors.

You can make people appear to love you—they may even celebrate when you’re in the room—but you can’t control what they think and smiles are empty if they’re forced.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Heads & Tales: day 21

Herod died shortly after the Holy Family fled to Egypt. We’re not sure precisely how long after, just that his death coincided with a collision of stars in the sky. Which means there were two significant lights in the nativity sky: one to herald the birth of Christ, and one to herald the death of Herod.

Herod knew he wasn’t loved and would not be mourned. He wanted to ensure the Jewish people would grieve his passing, so he ordered that one hundred of the most respected Jewish elders be put to death at the moment he breathed his last. That way, even if the people weren’t mourning for him, they would at least be mourning at the right time. Fortunately, Herod’s orders weren’t carried out. From the moment he died, his influence waned and his legacy of terror began to wane.

It’s ironic, and sad, that Herod thought he was in control right up until the moment he died. He died thinking his will mattered, thinking his legacy mattered, and thinking that he would bend the world to his whims. He died under a cloud of deception. The world didn’t rely on Herod for direction any more than you or me. As soon as he was gone, the world moved on for the better.

I wonder if any of us share Herod’s blindness. Have we convinced ourselves we’re in control? Have we bought into the lie that we actually control what others will do in our absence? What will it take for us to realize that you can only force people to behave the way you want while you’re there to actually force them? How long will it take before we realize that we have no real power over others?

The only change you can guarantee is the change you make to yourself.
The only changes that last are those energized by the Spirit of God.
The only change that matters is that which re-orients your life away from yourself and, instead, re-centers it on God.

You might think more highly of yourself, now, than you should. But, like Herod, there will come a time when all your self-deceptions are exposed. Better to have that happen now while you can still make changes.