Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Life and Times of a Roman Warrior

This is Easter week. The most holy week a follower of Christ could know. What do you think about during this week? Is it a special week for you? Is it a life-changing week? Or is it just another week with just another holiday to have to celebrate? “Well, I guess I should take the kids to an Easter Egg hunt or two and get them some Easter baskets and candy.” “Ah, don’t forget the Easter dresses and church that morning.” I know of one person in history for whom this was not a typical week. I am not talking about Jesus either. This was the week He came to Earth for. This was His destiny and He knew it was coming. I mean a guy who did not sign-up to be a part of this week yet through life circumstances he became a part of the biggest event in the history of the Christian Church or in the history of the world. I am talking about the Roman officer in charge of the crucifixion. I asked him one time what that day was like for him. Here is what he told me:
“It all started early one Veneris dies morning or what you would call Friday. It was like any other day when we had executions to do. They were becoming much more common ever since Rome became an Empire rather than a Republic. I was growing somewhat weary of all the violence and death yet at the same time I had become numb to it. Each prisoner had become just another nameless face, a chore to oversee in a day’s work. On this day however, something was different. There were three prisoners being executed this day and one of them had been given the “near death” treatment which meant he was beaten with in an inch of his life before being crucified, our most viscous and humiliating form of punishment. As an empire we had perfected torture and death to an art form. We were good at what we did and I had risen to substantial leadership on the back of this job. But on this day I noticed something different about the one prisoner. One of the other ones was loud and belligerent towards us and the crowd. I can not blame him for being angry; I mean what did he have to lose at this point? Another was begging for his life like a weakling. I guess I can not blame him either; who wants to die? The third prisoner however, never said a word and he was the one with the worst beating I had ever seen. He did not even look human! Yet he carried his cross through town and up a hill just outside the city gate with not one word of complaint nor one plea for mercy. We got to the top of the hill and did our normal thing by nailing all three of them to their crosses and raising them high in the sky. The one in the middle, the worst beaten of the three, finally spoke. I was surprised he even made it up the hill without dieing, so now surely he will curse the crowd or beg for mercy. What he said has left me stunned ever since. He called out to his god which I expected him to invoke the wrath of his god on us all yet what he did was amazing. He called out to his god and asked his god to forgive all of us who had a part in his death! Forgive us! In all my years as an executioner I had never heard a prisoner do that! The rest of the morning and midday was a huge blur to me. My men were taunting him, shoving drink in his face, gambling for his clothes and all sorts of behavior that I would not ordinarily allow. My men were soldiers of the Imperial Army of Rome, they were to be dignified, but I was so enamored by his prayer of forgiveness that I could not make myself react. It was like I was not even really there but was walking around hearing and seeing things that I could not hear or touch. I remember once looking at him and he turned and looked me straight in the eye and even though his mouth was not moving and he wasn’t speaking I could hear him talking to me! He told me that he loved me and he told me that he was doing this for me and that someday I would understand! He closed his eyes and hung his head.
Suddenly the ground began to violently shake and it got real dark even though it was midday. This shook me out of my trance I could now move and speak. My natural first reaction was to begin barking orders to make sure the prisoners were dead if a storm was moving in which was protocol for us. Also protocol was to break the legs of the prisoners as they hung on the cross to make sure they could not push up on the spikes in their feet and continue to breathe thus not die. I gave the orders, ‘Break their legs there is a storm moving in!’ …’What do you mean already dead? Which one? The one in the middle? Well, stab him with this spear to make sure!’ When he was stabbed blood and water came gushing out of him. Then just as quickly as it had come, the darkness was gone and the shaking stopped. I looked up at the middle prisoner and dropped to my knees. Then from somewhere inside me, I do not know where, I heard myself mutter, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God.’”
He definitely had a life changing experience when the reality of God and Jesus’ sacrifice became real to him. Have you ever had an experience like that? Do you still have them where the gospel continues to become more and more real in your life? Talk to me.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Life in a Child's Eye

Have you ever sat back and watched a child live life? It is a really cool thing to do. To just sit and watch the way they approach life and interact with each other is amazing and is unscripted. Hollywood could not script anything like it if they put all of their most talented writers together. Their actions are usually very raw and very natural. They haven’t really been around long enough to be taught how to “behave” so most of what they do comes from raw human instinct. Maybe they have learned some things from their environment, but a lot of what they do comes natural to them.
Have you ever watched a kid tell about something that has happened to or around them? They get so excited about what they are telling you. They really get into the story by telling you all the details (mostly in a random order). Children use colorful descriptions and loud sound effects to tell their version. They get their entire bodies into to the story to express the event. They really love telling stories and make the listener feel like they had been there.
Everything is exciting and new to them. There is still an entire world of possibilities out there for them to explore and learn. They get so excited about learning something new. When our kids get home from school and we sit down to eat dinner, my wife and I will go around the table and ask the ones that are in school, “What did you learn at school today?” This takes the conversation way beyond just asking them if they had a good day.
Kids do not worry a lot either. Some do worry but for the most part kids are fairly fancy-free. (Try saying that five times really fast!) They just play and have fun not really worrying about what everybody thinks. Kids do not have to worry about things such as where the next meal is going to come from, how a certain bill will get paid, being cool, having a boy/girlfriend, etc. They can relax and just concentrate on being themselves, a kid.
They have instantaneous punishment for doing another kid wrong, the lesson gets learned and they move on still friends and cohorts. They do not hold grudges nor try to “get even” all the time. They forgive each other and seemingly forget and move on. They do not sue each other over silly things. Issues among friends do not fester and grow; they deal with them and go on being friends. Now granted the ‘dealing with it’ may be an all-out brawl, but once it is over, it is over and they go on being friends.
Kids are very trusting and want so badly to be helpful. They haven’t learned yet to be leery of every Tom, Dick, and Harry that comes along. They aren’t afraid to put themselves out there and take risks. No one has told them yet that they can’t so they try whatever they want and learn what they are made for that way. They want so badly to help. They do not always do the best job in helping, but their heart is in the right place.
Somewhere between then and now adults loose their childhood. Yes, there are certain childish things that should be left behind, but our approach to life should stay pretty much the same, only our skills should get better. Our stories should be energetic and exciting. We should really put ourselves into the stories we tell so others can get the full benefit of it. We should get excited about learning something new. None of us know everything there is to know about anything. We shouldn’t worry about things so much. Does worrying add a single day to our lives? No, it actually takes days away! We should not worry so much about what others think of us and just be how we were created to be. God meant for us to enjoy life and He gave us rules to live by not to stifle life, but so we could get maximum benefit from it. Granted we shouldn’t go around getting into brawls with everyone we have issue with, but we should deal with issues as soon as we can instead of letting them fester. When someone does us wrong, do not hold a grudge, sue, or try to get ‘even’, just deal with it, admit fault where fault is, forgive, and move on through life as fellow humans doing the best we can to serve an awesome God. Never, never lose the desire to help others. It seems that when we are little with no skills we want to help, but when we get grown and have acquired skills, we no longer want to help. I understand what it means to get burned and not want to let it happen to you again, but is becoming cold, skeptical and paranoid of everyone the answer?
Attacking life through the eyes of a child can be very liberating. Jesus tells us to become like little children to Him if we are to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. A child’s actions may not always be the best idea but their desire to live life to the fullest is something to be desired.