This week, in the year AD 461, Patrick of Ireland passed away. Ever since the early seventeenth century, churches have designated March 17 as St. Patrick’s Day. Prohibitions on feasting during the season of Lent were traditionally lifted on this day, and green had been associated with Ireland at least as early as the seventeenth century. The result has been a tradition of kisses and pinches, partying and wearing emerald hues on March 17.Continue reading.
I need your help! Here’s the challenge: I’m working on a video that summarizes the history of the Bible in six minutes. Below, I’ve posted the script so far—and I’d be interested to know what you think needs to be included and what might be left out. The narration for the video is already six minutes long, so nothing can be added without taking something out. What that means is that, if you suggest any additions, you’ll need to point out some possible deletions as well!Continue reading.
This week, in the year AD 64, a fire began in the city of Rome that changed the course of history.
The fire raged six days before being brought under control. When the smoke cleared on July 23, seven of Rome’s fourteen districts had been partly destroyed and three districts were completely obliterated. Then came the rumors that changed everything.
How the Persecution Began
In the aftermath of the inferno, the Emperor Nero had—according to the Roman historian Tacitus—
food brought from Ostia and neighboring towns, and the price of corn was reduced. … Yet these measures, for all their popular character, earned no gratitude. For a rumor had spread that, while the city was burning, Nero had gone on his private stage and…had sung of the destruction of Troy.
Unable to stop the spread of rumors that he had sung about Troy while his henchmen torched the city, the Emperor Nero—again, in the words of Tacitus—
falsely charged … and punished … the persons commonly called “Christians,” who were already despised. … Those who confessed they were Christians were arrested; … a vast multitude was convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city as on the charge that they were “odious to the human race.” In their deaths they were made the subjects of sport: for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and mauled by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when the day waned, burned as torches for the evening lights. … A feeling of compassion arose towards the sufferers because—though they were indeed guilty and deserving of exemplary capital punishment—they seemed to be being executed not for the good of the public but because of the ferocity of one man.
Why Nero Couldn’t Have Fiddled While Rome Burned (and Probably Didn’t Play the Lyre Either)
The saying that survives from the accusations leveled against Nero is that the emperor “fiddled while Rome burned.”
But Nero couldn’t have fiddled while Rome burned.
The violin wasn’t invented until the sixteenth century, so not even someone as crazy and corrupt as Nero could have played a violin while his city smoldered. He probably didn’t play the lyre or flute during these events either. According to the most reliable reports, Nero was miles away, in Antium, when the fire broke out. Soon after hearing about the fire, Nero headed to Rome. As soon as he reached the city, Nero “opened the Field of Mars and even his own gardens for the relief of the homeless,” according to Tacitus.
The persecution of Christians that resulted from Nero’s false accusation was severe—but it seems to have remained limited to the city of Rome. Later persecutions of Christians broke out in other areas of the Roman Empire for more than two centuries. These persecutions erupted and faded in a variety of places all the way into the fourth century AD. That’s when the Emperor Constantine claimed to have become a Christian. It was Constantine’s confirmation of Galerius’ edict of toleration that finally brought the Roman persecutions to an end.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Christianity, take a look at the book and video series Christian History Made Easy.
Discuss in the Comments:
Watch this video about Emperor Nero and the fire in Rome. What did you learn about the early history of Christianity that you didn’t know before?
On May 30, 1431, Jeanne D’Arc—more commonly known to us as “Joan of Arc”—was tied to a pillar in the village of Rouen and burned to death.
Nearly everyone has heard of Joan’s unjust execution—but who was this young woman, really?
According to a recent survey, one out of every eight Americans thought that Joan of Arc was the wife of Noah! But the truth about Joan is a little more complex, a lot more interesting, and many years after Noah’s spouse. Continue reading.
In late March, 1807, the British slave trade came to an end. One of the key figures in the battle against the British slave trade was an evangelical Christian named William Wilberforce.
Wilberforce was short—about five feet, three inches in stature—and suffered from poor health, but he was eloquent and witty. He became a member of Parliament at the age of twenty-one. Then, in the mid-1780s, he committed his life to Jesus Christ. Deeply convicted by his own patterns of arrogance and self-centeredness, he began to consider leaving his position in Parliament.Continue reading.
Childhood identity theft.
It’s a real thing.
Thieves steal children’s Social Security numbers and then appropriate their financial identities for personal profit. “Children represent an emerging market for identity thieves who steal their Social Security numbers because they offer clean slates that can be used to commit fraud for years without detection,” one CPA has observed. “Many victims don’t learn about the crime until they are young adults and find their credit in tatters as they are rejected for student loans, jobs, and places to live.”
(If you happen to have run across this post because you need information about that type of identity theft, here’s a helpful and free tool: Child Identity Theft Education Kit.)
Childhood identity theft is also, however, a real phenomenon in a far longer-lasting aspect of a child’s life.Continue reading.
The Magnificent Moravian Failures Who Weren’t Failures at All
In the ninth century A.D.—four hundred years or so after the fall of the Western Empire—a prince in the land of Moravia asked the emperor of the Eastern Empire to send missionaries to his people. The prince’s motives were primarily political. He needed the support of the Eastern Roman Empire, so he asked the Eastern emperor for missionaries. Yet God worked through two Eastern missionaries named Cyril and Methodius to prepare people’s hearts and to preserve God’s Word in ways that produced fruit far beyond the borders of Moravia.
Cyril of Moravia died on February 14, 869, an utter failure as far as anyone at the time could see. Today, the mission of Cyril and his brother Methodius is still celebrated on February 14—though most people are, unfortunately, focused on a more obscure (and mostly legendary) saint by the name of “Valentine.”
Perhaps cards and candies given to your spouse to celebrate “Saints Cyril and Methodius Day” don’t have quite the same ring as the ones with red frilly hearts, but Cyril and Methodius have far stronger historical foundations to support their significance than Valentine has ever had. So, go ahead, be unique, celebrate missions, and make a St. Cyril’s card to give your sweetheart today.
Watch this video to learn more about Cyril and Methodius. Reflect on a few failures from your own life. Are there places where it seems like your best efforts were wasted? Looking back on these failures, has God perhaps redeemed some of them in such a way that you now see your efforts weren’t wasted at all? How might God in the future use other apparent “wasted efforts” in ways that you can’t quite see right now?
On November 17, 2017, the much-anticipated Museum of the Bible will be opening in Washington, D.C. with more than 40,000 objects on display in a 430,000-square-foot structure, three blocks from the Capitol Building. The collection includes artifacts from the time of Abraham, fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as biblical papyri and manuscripts, Torah scrolls, and rare printed Bibles.
Around twenty-seven thousand people racked up nearly one hundred thousand views of this blog in 2016. If you were one of them, thank you! Since there are no advertisements on my site, I don’t profit from any of the content. And so, if you’ve profited from what I’ve written, please consider purchasing a book (or two or three!) that I’ve written.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what happened on my blog this year:Continue reading.
Nearly everything I’ve taught or written in the past several years has been handwritten with a fountain pen before it was reduced to pixels for the purposes of editing and publication. As a result, I’ve owned more than a dozen different pens, scores of notebooks, and many ounces of ink. Many of my students have asked me where to start when it comes to writing utensils. And so, in case you’re interested in moving toward renewing the discipline of writing by hand, here are my personal favorite notebooks, inks, and writing utensils.
Pencils and Fountain Pens
Some fountain pen enthusiasts prefer multi-hundred-dollar—or even multi-thousand-dollar—pens.
I’m not in that category.
On October 31, 1517, a monk and professor named Martin Luther sent a document entitled Disputatio Pro Declaratione Virtutis Indulgentiarum to the archbishop of Mainz. This Disputatio consisted of ninety-five theses for theological debate. Perhaps on October 31 or more probably a week or two later, Luther hammered the theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. Although the Protestant Reformation was a complex social movement with many causes, this event is frequently identified as the beginning of the Reformation.Continue reading.
On October 23, 787, the last session took place of the last church council that brought together church leaders from both the eastern and western halves of what had once been the Roman Empire. Centuries later, one of the key Protestant reformers of the sixteenth century would reject what these church leaders decided. What brought church leaders from the east and the west together in the late eight century was a disagreement over the issue of icons.
No, no, I’m not talking about the tiny tiles on your computer screen that you click to activate programs!Continue reading.
On October 6, 1536, William Tyndale was burned at the stake. He was only forty-two years old or so at the time, but the work he had already accomplished in those four decades of life would change the world. You’ve probably seen the bumper sticker: “If you can read, thank a teacher.” Another bumper sticker—or Bible sticker, perhaps—would be every bit as appropriate: “If you can read the Bible in English, thank William Tyndale.”Continue reading.
To sin is to use a gift that God provided for the purpose of pointing to his glory in a way that the Creator never intended. That’s how God’s good gift of relaxation degenerates into vacations that end in frustration because they fall short of our self-centered expectations. That’s how God’s gifts of food and drink are perverted into pathways to gluttony and addiction; it’s how the gift of sex becomes twisted into lust and pornography and homosexuality, it’s how the natural world is distorted into an economic resource to be exploited without regard for human communities or the beauty of God’s creation, and on and on it goes. Each of these acts pursues the same false promise that our primeval parents swallowed in the shadow of the tree of knowledge: “You shall be as gods” (Genesis 3:5). We all want to be God.Continue reading.
If you’re a parent, what’s your goal for parenting?
My parenting purpose statement is simply this: Our purpose is to leverage our children’s lives so that people in every nation will receive multiplied opportunities to respond in faith to the rightful King of kings.
Data and arguments aren’t the strategies that do the best job of convincing people to change their lives. What convinces people best is the promise of a better story than the one they’re presently living. That’s why every leader should be—in the words of R. Albert Mohler—a
steward-in-chief of [the organization’s] story. … Leadership comes down to protecting the story, bringing others into the story, and keeping the organization accountable to the story. The leader tells the story over and over again, refining it, updating it, and driving it home. … Continue reading.
At the center of God’s story stands this singular act: In Jesus Christ, God personally intersected human history and redeemed humanity at a particular time in a particular place. Yet this central marvel of redemption does not stand alone. It is bordered by God’s good creation and humanity’s fall into sin on the one hand and by the consummation of God’s kingdom on the other.
This metanarrative of creation, fall and law, redemption, and new creation is the story that Christians have repeated to one another and to the world ever since Jesus ascended into the sky and sent his Spirit to dwell in his first followers’ lives. This age-old plot-line should frame every aspect of our lives. After I watch a movie with my older children, I’ve found that this fourfold lens is a helpful way of teasing out what was “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable … excellent or praiseworthy” in the film (Philippians 4:8).
Over the past several weeks, I’ve been looking at each of the film’s in the Marvel Cinematic Universe through the fourfold lens of creation, fall and law, redemption, and new creation. Several readers have asked me for a full listing of these theological reviews and reflectionsContinue reading.
This exploration of Iron Man 2 is the fourth in a series of posts exploring theological themes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You can find the rest of the series here. I recommend using VidAngel to filter the content of this film for your family.
Every part of Tony Stark seems to have been forged in brokenness.
A fractured relationship with his father birthed the man known as Tony Stark. According to Tony’s recollection of his father,
He wasn’t my biggest fan. … He…never told me he loved me, never even told me he liked me. You’re talking about a man whose happiest day…was shipping me off to boarding school.
Tony Stark the machine was born in brokenness as well.Continue reading.
This exploration of The Incredible Hulk is the third in a series of posts exploring theological themes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You can find the rest of the series here. I recommend using VidAngel to filter the content of this film for your family.
Spider-Man teaches us that, with great power, comes great responsibility.
Iron Man reminds us that great power requires great accountability.
Captain America contends that great power can also provide a safeguard for liberty.
The Incredible Hulk teaches us a less welcome truth: With great power comes great danger.
When Bruce Banner’s pulse reaches a particular point—conveniently, in this second contribution to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a well-rounded 200 beats per minute—the scientist erupts into a gargantuan green rage machine. A supply of stretchy pants maintains the Hulk’s modesty, but it will require more than expandable fabric to contain his volcanic strength and temper.Continue reading.
Ariel Sabar has penned a devastating exposé of the forged fragment known as Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. The article is well-researched and well-written—but it also includes a couple of historical errors that seem to have become conventional wisdom in far too many news articles. Continue reading.