Bible teacher and historian Ray Vander Laan shares inspirational lessons that can be learned from the Apostle Paul about living an authentic Christian life, changing the culture and serving the broken world around us. (Part 1 of 2)
Mr. Ray Vander Laan: The way you shape a culture is by living out the message of shalom in your marriage, in yourfamily, in your business, in your recreation. And as others see it, like the prisoners in the jail, they’re drawn to God.
End of Teaser
John Fuller:Well, God’s calling for all Christians is that we live in such a way that we have a transforming influence on the culture. And Ray Vander Laan is gifted at teaching that concept. He’s our guest today on “Focus on the Family.” Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and Jim, we have a new release of the DVD, That the World May Know and I’m really looking forward to this conversation with Ray.
Jim Daly: John, we’re always excited and privileged to spend a little bit of time with Ray, affectionately known as RVL—Ray Vander Laan.
John: Yeah, you know you’re part of the family when you’re nicknamed.
Jim: That’s right. (Chuckling) So, we may refer to Ray as RVL throughout this discussion. He uses his unique gifts to look at ancient culture, and he helps us to apply it to our lives today, which is, I think, what God wants us to do, not just read passively, but to understand what the Scripture is saying and how should that work into my heart, and I apply it to the culture around me? So, I’m always excited when Ray is here, because this is an interest to me, and I would hope it’s an interest for every one of us who claim the name of Christ.
Ray is the founder of That the World May Know Ministries and host of the video series. Let me tell you this. Over 2 ½ million DVDs and study guides have been sold over the last several years and as we were talking to RVL off-mic, he was just praising the Lord for that, giving thanks to God for that impact. And I would ditto that.
John: Two and a half million’s a huge number.
Jim: Two and a half million people, and then Ray has led 10,000 people through tours in the Middle East, to do this one-on-one, hand-to-hand. This man comes with experience.
John: Yeah and for those who don’t know, Ray is a religion instructor at Holland Christian Schools in Holland, Michigan. It’s a great place and they’re very glad to have him there and he influences so many people.
Jim: Ray, welcome back to Focus.
Ray: Thank you; what an honor.
Jim: In fact, Ray, that’s what I love. You bring things that have happened in the Scripture right to modern-day application. So, when you look at Paul standing before the court in Philippi, what sticks out to you in those stories? What grabs you and says, “I can apply this to my life today?”
Ray: That’s such a good question and I sit here and it’s a little bit frustrating in a way, because that’s a question that I’d like about an hour and a half [to answer]--
Jim: I know. (Laughter) You’re a teacher. You’re a teacher.
Ray: --because it gets right at the heart of the matter. Let’s start this way. When I got to Philippi the first time, through the eyes of someone that God had put in my life, a professor named Costas Calaveras [sp?], who unfortunately passed away recently—a brilliant, brilliant scholar from Boston College in the United States, but Greek.
Through his eyes something dawned on me, as I sat there on the hill of Philippi. Right out in front of the hill of Philippi is a plain, a flat open area called the Plain of Drama. And he said, “Well, do you know the Plain of Drama?” And I said, “No, I know the story of Philippi, but I don’t know Drama.” He said, “Then you don’t know Philippi.”
I did not realize how important to world history that spot was, because about a generation and a half before Paul got there, there was a conflict in the Roman world between the Republicans—sorry, I don’t mean that politically, but those who wanted a republic, the Senators, right and the Imperialists, those who thought of Rome as an empire.
So, the senators or the republic supporters, assassinated Julius Caesar, who wanted an empire. In response, his adopted son, Octavian and one of his generals, Mark Anthony, decided to teach the conspirators a lesson. So, they raised an army and headed east to teach Cassius and Brutus a lesson for having assassinated Julius Caesar.
Cassias and Brutus raised an army in the east and came west and met at the foot of the hill of Philippi on the Plain of Drama. And that battle was going to determine whether Rome was an empire with an emperor who will call himself “god,” or whether Rome would be a republic, a democracy. Well, we all know Octavian and Anthony won and Rome became an imperial power.
So when Paul headed to Philippi, he came on the very same road that those armies came to meet. But Paul was coming with another kingdom, not the kingdom of this world, not Imperial Rome, not a kingdom that called its emperor “god” and the message about the emperor “gospel,” but the kingdom of Jesus.
And so, when he arrived at Philippi, there were two very conflicting kingdoms. And what’s interesting to me is that Paul does not address the political situation of his day at all. He doesn’t criticize the emperor. He doesn’t criticize the immorality of the empire. Paul simply proclaims and lives Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior, but the implications of that are a confrontation for the claims of Imperial Rome. So, there’s the setting.
Jim: I love that.
Ray: Oh, and I sat there on that hill for an hour and a half just with my hair standing on end, thinking, wow! In a sense, God brought those two kingdoms that have been in this world since Satan came to the Garden of Eden, brought them together right there in the city of Philippi.
Jim: The very same spot.
Ray: Very same spot. Now that led, then, to our unpacking the various lessons that you can find in the story of Philippi in Acts chapter 16. And one of those is the one you asked about, which is, Paul being brought to the bema.
So, when Paul and Silas arrive at Philippi, there are two kingdoms, in a way—one representing the kingdoms of this world, with a very different set of standards and beliefs and gods, and one the kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
And the fact that those two kingdoms met in Philippi really moved me deeply, because that’s where we all oughta live. We oughta be living in this world, with all of its kingdoms claiming allegiance of all kinds of things. But we claim the allegiance, that we give our allegiance to Jesus Christ alone. And if we live that consistently, we’re gonna have the same problems Paul had.
Jim: Well, RVL, let me ask you this, just for clarification. Why was the Roman Empire with this lone missionary, Paul, why would they have even taken notice of him? Why did it become a conflict?
Jim: What was he saying that was so offensive when he’s preaching peace, love your neighbor; love one another; love your God?
Ray: And really what you’re asking is, what’s in Set 15, (Laughing) because I’d love to have the whole 2 ½ hours. That’s what we exactly unpacked in each lesson, because there are five stories in Acts 16 and 17 that we look at.
But let me draw something out of there and give you an example. After Paul had been in Philippi for a while, a small group of people had become believers. So, now there’s a community of faith, who’s living out
an example of what it is like to live for Jesus. In that context, there’s a young girl. And this was one of those moments I wept as I unpacked this story the first time.
There’s a young girl, a slave girl and the word there, which [indicates] she’s probably 6-, 7-, 8-years-old, who is owned by a consortium of people. And she was brought, apparently, to the pagan temple of Apollo somewhere and they invited the demonic spirit of Apollo to enter her and to take over her.
Now, Apollo in their world--think the Oracle at Delphi, which is the main center of Apollo worship--Apollo was believed to grant the right to some to predict the future. So, this little girl would go around giving ecstatic utterances, which either she or her owners would interpret to tell you what was going to happen in the future and they made a lot of money doing that.
She latched onto Paul, and the Bible says, she began to follow him around, yelling day and night. “These men are followers of the Most High God. They’re telling you a way to be saved.” Now that sounds really religious, really Christian almost, but “most high God” to that audience could’ve meant anybody from Jupiter to, if you’re Egyptian, to Amun Ra.
Jim: Sun god, moon god.
Ray: So, she’s just saying they’re claiming a most high god, and “saved” there to a Greek or a Roman wouldn’t have meant saved from your sins and go to heaven, it would mean the god will preserve you from some problem.
And the Bible says, and I love the King James translation here--I think it gets at the nuance of the word--that Paul was “grieved in his spirit” at this little kid who was being used by her owners to make [money], imagine, filled with this demonic power.
So, he confronted the girl, but he didn’t speak to her. He spoke to the spirit and commanded that the spirit come out of her, which it did. Well, now she couldn’t predict the future anymore. Her owners were furious because in the Roman world, my property is far more important than the life of someone else. So, they aren’t overjoyed that this little girl is back to normal.
John: She’s lost her value to them, right?
Ray: She’s lost her value to them. So, they drag Paul into the Agora, into the heart, the city center of Philippi and they bring him to the Bema, which is the official platform where justice is administered. And they accuse him of teaching things contrary to Roman custom and practice, not Roman law, but Roman custom and practice.
Now scholars have debated what did they mean? Well, they could’ve have meant, you’re not allowed to profane Roman gods. So, by casting our Apollo’s spirit, they may have been thought to be offending Apollo. Others have said, no, it’s more likely that in Rome, what you own belongs to you and you are free to make profit from that, even if what belongs to you is your slave. You may use [them].
Jim: [A] property damage suit.
Ray: Exactly, they’re defending their property. That seems more likely.
Ray: So, they beat Paul within an inch of his life and Silas, as well. They have them flogged, which is a brutal, brutal treatment, something like was done to Jesus. His may have been more extreme, but they were beaten. Their backs would’ve been bloodied and shredded.
And then throw into the inner prison and placed in stocks. Now stocks in a Roman world were used. They would put your feet in this implement and then stretch your legs apart until your legs are ready to come out of joint.
Ray: Now the question that raises for me is, why didn’t Paul use his Roman citizenship?
Ray: You can’t do that to a Roman citizen. Somehow he was dressed as a Jew. He acted like a Jew. He’s accused of being a Jew, but nobody knows he’s a Roman. He could’ve gotten out of that treatment by claiming his Roman citizenship. Now why in this case doesn’t he claim Roman citizenship, when seven years later when he’s brought in front of the Roman authorities in Caesarea, he claims Roman citizenship--
Jim: Brings it right up.
Ray: --and even the right to go to the Emperor. Well, let’s go a little farther with the story. He’s put in prison, which was a frightening thing. Prison for Romans was not a penalty. That’s not a punishment. You’re put in prison until we can decide what we’re gonna do to you. So, the likelihood is, when you’re put in prison, what’s gonna happen tomorrow is worse than what happened today, but he still doesn’t declare his Roman citizenship.
In fact, the text says, “About midnight, Paul and Silas,” now imagine; his legs may have been stretched to the point of coming out of joint. His back is shredded. Nobody’s caring for him. He’s sitting in this awkward position in the inner cell, it says, of the prison.
He and Silas were praying and singing hymns. Now, I thought about that for a while and then I remembered Psalm 119, which says, “Though the wicked may bind me, at midnight I will sing your praises.” And I wonder if Paul thought, you know what? The Bible says, when they do this to us, we’re gonna do what the Bible says. We’re gonna praise God.
I often thought Paul’s laying there in serious pain and he says, “Silas, I can’t sleep. Let’s sing a number. You got one?” (Laughing)
Ray: I don’t think so. I think Paul is sitting there saying, “Silas, the Bible says when they bind you, at midnight, sing God’s praises. Let’s sing!” Well, as they were singing, it says the other prisoners were listening. But there was somebody else listening, too, because suddenly, God sent an earthquake, and if you’re familiar with your Bible, you know that at dramatic moments in history, like Jesus’ resurrection or His death, earthquakes hit.
And the earthquake leveled the prison, and the prisoners were all free to go, to run. Paul and Silas could’ve run, but they all stayed. There they sat. They were free to go. The jailer came running in, thinking the prisoners had escaped and by Roman law, his life was finished. He was going to be executed. You can’t lose a prisoner.
So, he came running in with his sword, ready to kill himself. Now, why would he want to kill himself? Well, maybe to be spared the torture that he could expect from his superiors, when they discovered the jail was empty.
Some scholars and Costas, the advisor I had was one of them, he said, “I don’t think so.” In Roman law, if you’re accused of a crime and executed for it, your family is sold into slavery, and you lose everything. But if you commit suicide, that’s considered honorable. Your family will survive, and they will inherit your property. I think it’s more likely that man, not a believer, had morality enough in his heart to say, I’m gonna protect my family with the last thing I do.
And Paul said, “Don’t do it. We’re all here.” And the impact of this man realizing, I had him beaten within an inch of his life. I put him in the stocks. I didn’t treat his wounds. But he still protected my life by not running away. He risked his life for me! [It] was so profound that he lays himself at Paul and Silas’s feet and says, “What must I do to be saved?”
Now, I don’t think “saved” there means what Christians mean, because he wouldn’t have known anything about sin and any of that. I think “saved” means, what must I do to be delivered from this world of mine? My commander wouldn’t have done this for me. Jupiter wouldn’t have done this for me. What you did for me, even though I don’t deserve, what must I do?
And then it says, “And Paul went to his house and taught him the Word of God.” So now (Chuckling) he had to explain what “being saved” means. My point, though, back to your question, all of that to say, notice what it was that impacted the jailer. The earthquake didn’t convert him. It was the realization that Paul would risk his life for someone who didn’t deserve it.
Ray: And I even wonder and this is just RVL’s question, so I’m not suggesting it’s anything profound. I wondered why the other prisoners stayed.
Jim: That had to be the impact.
Ray: Were they so affected by Paul and Silas singing in the middle of the night to their God that they wanted to become part of that?
Jim: It’s reasonable.
Ray: I don’t know. Anyway, to cut to the chase, the next morning the officials from the town sent word to the jail, and Paul is still there and said, “Let him go.” I don’t know if they thought the earthquake was a sign from their gods, or what.
And Paul says, “What? I’m a Roman citizen. You beat me without a trial and now you’re just gonna say, ‘go away?’ I want an official apology and an escort.” And now he declares his citizenship when it isn’t gonna do him any good. It’s not gonna prevent his beating. It’s not gonna prevent him from being in prison.
Jim: Yeah, he’d be free.
Ray: He’d be free.
Jim: Now why?
Ray: That’s a good question. I think Paul wanted the validation of his message to be not, “I’m a Roman citizen in this Roman city. I don’t want you to listen to me because I’m Roman. I want you to listen to me because of the validity of the message.”
But now that you’ve heard the message, and it’s been validated by God Himself, now I’m gonna declare my citizenship, because in this town is a little community of believers, a slave girl, the jailer, his family, Lydia, the dealer in purple and her family. And that’s a risky business to be believers in a Roman city like this.
And I think Paul is covering for them. I think Paul is saying, if anything happens to that little community, I’m gonna go to the nearest governor, and I’m gonna tell him what you guys did to me as a Roman citizen. And I think Paul is providing some protection for the believers. So, in this case, he chooses not to use the very citizenship that in another case is what he does in order to get to see the Emperor himself.
Jim: RVL, man, I mean, this is flyin’ by, and I love this kind of history and background, and the question we need to end with now, today, and we’re gonna come back next time, but the question right now is, how does this apply to me? How do I find the power in my relationship with God to not put myself first, to not be focused on my comfort—
Jim: --my security, but to say in essence, “Lord, use me.” Paul praying and singing in prison, how many of us believers today would be able in our Christian maturity to be able to do that, rather than complain, “This food’s horrible,” you know, whatever it might be. And I’m saying that application, so that we can get that “ah-ha” view into everything you just shared. How does it impact me?
Ray: See, It seems to me that it’s easier for us as followers of Jesus to want to speak the message of shalom, the message of salvation in Jesus. It’s much harder to be the message. And it seems to me, what Paul is demonstrating there is, he didn’t tell the jailer to believe in Jesus. He went into the jail and lived it in a specific situation so that as others saw what it looks like when you have shalom in your soul, they wanted in.
You know, it’s the Ruth story. Ruth is a Moabite. She is, according to the book of Deuteronomy, an outsider for 10 generations. But somehow she meets her mother-in-law, Naomi, and her father-in-law, Elimelech, and they tell her about the God of Israel.
But I can tell you if they didn’t also live consistently God’s shalom, she would not have been drawn to the God of Israel. If they would’ve been cold and uncaring and ungodly, she wouldn’t have been drawn to Naomi’s God. But she was so taken by those two people and their faith somehow, that she said, “I want your God to be my God. I want your people to be my people.”
And that’s always been God’s way. Yes, we tell about Jesus, but we tell about Jesus more by who we are and how we live, than we do by what we say. And this was the struggle I had in my soul as we walked through Philippi for two weeks and put this all together.
The struggle in my soul was, it’s so easy in the culture I live in, to think the way to bring about Christian influence is by power, by politics, by economics. Now all of those things belong to God, and we oughta be working as hard as we can for righteousness and every one of them.
The way you shape a culture is by living out the message of shalom in your marriage, in your family, in your business, in your recreation. And as others see it, like the prisoners in the jail, they’re drawn to God.
Jim: And the difficulty there, RVL, is you have to invite the Holy Spirit to inform you in that way. And it is this internal battle between our flesh and the Spirit. And what do we do to put our flesh in a healthier place? Because if someone cuts you off on the road, yeah, I’m talkin’ to the listener right now; there is happened. (Laughter) That fleshly response comes out. How do we bridle ourselves like Paul did and respond so a person will say, “Wow! What do you have that I don’t have? ‘Cause I would’ve reacted in an entirely different way than you did.” That’s the point of the jail story.
Ray: You know, and yeah, that’s a great question and there are many things that come into my mind at that moment. I teach a course at Holland Christian called Discipleship. And I find that it’s much easier for us, starting with me, to believe that Jesus is my Savior and to know my eternal future is cared for--is taken care of by His grace--than it is to become a disciple.
A disciple is someone who imitates his or her rabbi. And it’s much tougher to go into life and say, “okay, I believe in Jesus,” than now, “I’m gonna have Jesus’ faith, as well. I’m gonna live the way Jesus did.” But it strikes me, what helps students is, as they begin to realize that the way in which God wants us to influence our world is by being the message.
God said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh. You will be as God to Pharaoh.” So, when Pharaoh saw Moses, he got a glimpse of what God was like. That’s what God wants from each one of us. So, I find, when I’m on the road and I can tell this guy’s gonna cut me off, if I can just get my mind to say, “RVL, you’re here to be the message. You’re here to catch a glimpse of what God is like. You can’t say that. You can’t do that. It doesn’t always work to be honest, but it helps.
Jim: Right and I think that’s the point. We so often want to respond in a worldly way. It’s true. And even Christians, we’re not perfect, and we’re gonna have slips, probably depending upon the level of the grievance, right? But how much better to respond as Paul and Silas illustrate for us, to respond with God’s character, God’s love, but you have got to bridle your human appetite for revenge, for striking back, and that can be really hard.
RVL, man, the time has flown by. I love the storytelling. I get excited about this, John, and I think you can see that. It has an impact on you, if you’re sincere in hearing the message and hearing the teaching and applying that.
And this has been true here at Focus on the Family, RVL, when we did foster care and these other things that we do, Option Ultrasound to help save the life of a baby, to save a marriage. Many people that have opposed Focus are seeing these things that we’re doing and they’re saying, “I don’t agree with you, but I respect that.” That’s the cracking of the door.
Jim: That’s the heart opening up to the message.
Ray: Catch a glimpse of the heart of God.
Jim: And we don’t have to fight. We don’t have to, as Paul did, he didn’t go right at Rome [and] say, “Change the Emperor. The Emperor’s horrible.” How many people with whatever administration in this country you want to support, how many people complain about that? Let’s do what we can do at the local level that will impact the national level by being Jesus in the culture.
Jim: And that’s the message and I love it.
John: And that’s the kind of message you’re gonna find in the latest That the World May Know DVD, “A Clash of Kingdoms,” Set 15. We’ve got it. You can learn more at www.focusonthefamily.com/radioor call us, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Ray, we can’t get away today without mentioning one little thing that’s coming up, which happens to be a big thing, and that’s our 40th anniversary cruise, and we have secured the entire ship-- the Disney Dream. And you will be one of the speakers, devotional providers, and if you, the listener, you want to get more of this and sit with three or four days with RVL, he’s gonna be on that cruise. I know you’re not lookin’ forward to it.
Ray: No, I’ve never been a cruise guy (Laughter), but I will tell you this. One of the real gifts to me in my life has been to be in partnership in my own way, my small way if you will, with Focus on the Family. Because what we just talked about, about helping one another to live more like Jesus so that others are drawn to Him, that’s been Focus’s ministry since the very first time I heard the name.
You’ve helped people parent. You’ve helped people in their families. You’ve helped people in so many ways to be more Jesus like, which is exactly what this story of God is about. So, I’m honored to be at your 40th anniversary, and even if it is a cruise.
Jim: I love that. (Laughing)
Ray: I’m looking forward to [that].
Jim: It’s gonna be a lot of fun. It’s gonna beNovember 13 through 17. Itis booking up. If you’d like to join us, RVL, Del Tackett with The Truth Project, along with entertainment by Mercy Me, worship time with them and it’s gonna be exciting. We’re also recognizing the 30th anniversary of Adventures in Odyssey and so, we’re going to have a live presentation there with many of the characters and they’re gonna read evening bedtime stories. It’s gonna be so much fun. So, if you’ve ever wanted to do something like this, this is the trip to do. You’re gonna enjoy it.
John: And we’ve got details about the Focus on the Family 40th cruise at www.focusonthefamily.com/radioor call us. We can tell you more over the phone. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY.
Well, if you enjoyed what Ray Vander Laan has shared today, let me encourage you to make a generous donation to Focus on the Family today, and we’ll send you a complimentary copy of Set 15, A Clash of Kingdoms. We want you to have that DVD, and when you join our support team, we’ll send that to you as our way of saying thank you for being a part of what Focus on the Family is doing, and a way of getting this message out.
Well, thanks for listening today, and join us again next time, as we havemore from Ray Vander Laan and once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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