August 18, 2010
The teenaged Roman Emperor Nero started off in AD 57 as a idealistic reformer, banning capital punishment. He forbade killing in circus contests, emphasizing instead athletics, poetry, and theater. He reduced taxes and permitted slaves to file complaints against unjust masters. But absolute power absolutely corrupted him.
Nero was born at Antium (Anzio), Italy, on December 15th 37 A.D. His father, who died when Nero was age 3, was a great-grandson of Caesar Augustus – the Roman emperor at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ (Luke 2:1).
Nero’s mother Agrippina rescued her son Nero from poverty by marrying her uncle, the emperor Claudius. Agrippina managed to get Nero adopted not only as a son of Claudius, but the heir to the throne before Claudius’ actual sons. To show her gratitude, she poisoned her husband/uncle with tainted mushrooms. Nero became the emperor of the mighty Roman empire at the age of 17.
One year after Nero became Emperor, he got tired of his mother’s interfering, and had her removed from the palace. Four years later she still kept meddling, so Nero rigged her boat to collapse on her. Being a strong swimmer, Agrippina refused to drown, so Nero had to send soldiers in to finish the job. There is a famous painting by John William Waterhouse where Nero is lying on his bed feeling remorseful for taking his mother out but any remorse did not slow him down for long. As murder can be rather addictive, Nero proceeded to present the gift of an ex-wife’s severed head to a future wife, and then kick another wife to death while she was pregnant.
Nero’s most memorable accomplishment was burning much of Rome to the ground to make room for a new palace. After six days of Rome burning, Nero discovered the value of blaming a small Jewish group called Christians. Their ringleader, the Apostle Paul, was thrown into a Roman dungeon, to prepare for his imminent beheading. If these early Christians refused to renounce their faith, Nero had them thrown to the lions, crucified, or set on fire and used as garden-party lighting.
Christianity looked as if it would be obliterated from the face of the earth. But Paul from prison wrote a second letter to his chosen successor Timothy, ‘rallying the troops’. He said to Timothy: “Don’t be ashamed to bear witness for the Lord or Paul his prisoner”. He encouraged the naturally timid Timothy not to be ashamed of Paul’s chains. Paul, though about to be exterminated, said to Timothy: “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I believe”.
Breaking the power of shame is absolutely vital to living a free and healthy life. All of us have at least one Nero in our life who would like to enslave us, entrap us, and fill us with shame. It may be our relatives, our boss, our ex-spouse, our own personal addictions to fear, guilt, anger. By breaking the power of shame and self-hatred, we can live fully without regret. The key, said Paul, to breaking the power of shame, is in ‘knowing whom we believe’.
I would challenge each one reading this article to no longer let our personal Neros cover our faces with shame. Live free. Live forgiven. Live in the healing embrace of the One who gave everything so that you might really live.
The Rev. Ed Hird
Rector, St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver
Anglican Mission in the Americas (Canada)
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier
-award-winning author of the book ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’
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August 18, 2010
If you had just a few months to live, what would you most want to say to friends? What would have priority and what would become secondary? The famous Apostle Paul knew that he was about to have his head chopped off by the crazed Roman Emperor Nero. So he wrote his final letter, known as Second Timothy, to his key assistant, Timothy. Second Timothy was really Paul’s last will and testament.
Paul had been in jail many times for the faith. It was his favorite place to write letters like his unforgettable letters to the Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. If Paul had not been sent to jail so often, half the New Testament would likely never have been written. In the past Paul had always been let out of prison. But this time he knew that the only escape was death.
Have you ever lost a key leader and mentor who has helped you reach heights that you never thought you would reach? To lose such a person can bring deep feelings of loneliness and abandonment. Bishop Handley Moule of Durham, England, commented that “Timothy stood awfully lonely, yet awfully exposed, in face of a world of thronging sorrows. Well might he have been shaken to the root of his faith.”
Young Timothy was by nature an insecure, sickly and timid person, but Paul saw potential in Timothy far beyond his outward appearance. Paul had been closely associated with Timothy ever since he ‘discovered’ him in Lystra, Turkey, some fifteen years before.
Paul knew that it was time for the changing of the guard, the passing on of the baton of leadership. Paul was determined that Timothy not drop that baton in the midst of Emperor Nero’s onslaught.
You’ve probably heard the expression: “Rome burned while Nero fiddled”. Nero set Rome on fire in AD 64 as an urban renovation project, and blamed the early Christians as convenient scapegoats. The historian Tacitus commented that the early Christians “were killed by dogs by having the hides of beasts attached to them, or they were nailed to crosses or set aflame, and, when the daylight passed away, they were used as nighttime lamps. Nero gave his own gardens for this spectacle…”
Christianity was on the verge of extinction, and the dying Paul saw Timothy as the key to its very survival. The famous Dr. John Stott comments, “Greatness was being thrust upon Timothy, and like Moses and Jeremiah and a host of others before and after him, Timothy was exceedingly reluctant to accept it.”
Paul strengthened Timothy by reminding him how much he meant to him, and how often he prayed for him day and night. He also strengthened Timothy by reminding him of the faithful examples set by his grandma, Lois and his mother, Eunice. As Dr. John Stott put it, “good biographies never begin with their subject, but with his parents, and probably his grandparents as well.” Paul was saying to Timothy: “don’t lose touch with your roots”.
What do you know for sure if you see a turtle on a fencepost? The answer is that it didn’t get there itself. We are who we are, in large part because of people who have believed in us and invested in us. Many of us as Canadians have forgotten the remarkable spiritual heritage we have been given by our ancestors, our Loises and Eunices. I think of our Judeo-Christian heritage in Canada as like crabs hidden under the rocks at the seashore. Only when one uncovers the rocks does one discover the greatest riches of life just below the surface.
The dying Paul knew that Timothy had so much going for him. So he told him to fan into flame the wonderful God-given gift that had been given to him. It is so easy to let our gifts and abilities lie dormant, when we need to rekindle and stir up the smouldering flame.
Fear can cripple our future. So Paul said to Timothy: “God has not given you a spirit of timidity but of power and love and a sound mind.” Timidity, says Douglas Milne, is a chronic fear of people, suffering or responsibilities that paralyzes the will from giving effective leadership.
Paul is saying to Timothy, and to each of us: “Say no to fear. Don’t let anxiety crush your life. Live life free and unfettered.” At the heart of every addiction is the bondage to fear. My prayer for those reading this article is that the Great Physician will set each of us, like Timothy, free from fear, and fill us instead with the Spirit of power and love and a sound mind.