Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Bookish Tuesday: Rome, Paul, and Success

By Nathan D Maki | @NathanDMaki

What does success look like? 

What if you’re a Christian, does the definition change? What if you’re a Christian writer?

In December 2016 my wife and I splurged on a trip to Rome to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. We walked the ancient cobblestone streets and craned to look up at pillars and palaces, arenas and theatres, made all the more thrilling for me because I had researched and written about these places but never actually seen them, touched them, experienced them. At that point I’d written the four books of my War Within series and was in the process of finishing the first draft of my now soon-to-be-released novel The Keeper’s Crown.

I left Rome even more determined to bring that ancient world to life for modern-day readers and believers. To raise the fallen pillars in their mind’s eye, smooth the cracked and heaved pavement, restore the mosaics to vivid color, and bring those long-dead saints and tyrants to life again so their stories will never die.

Paul walked those stones. Those pillars once cast their shade over him. There, just across the Forum was the dungeon where he spent his last days before Nero dragged him from that hole and marched him out to be beheaded.

The Keeper’s Crown began as a quest to answer questions about Paul’s later life.

Why did Luke end the book of Acts so abruptly, simply saying that Paul spent two whole years under house arrest with a soldier that kept him? What would it be like to be that soldier, chained to the Apostle for two years? What happened after those two years were up? Was Paul executed then? Or was he released for a time? What sudden emergency caused him to leave his precious books and parchments behind at Troas, leaving so quickly that he didn’t even have time to grab his cloak? What was his thorn in the flesh?

Yet even as I delved into the pages of the Pauline Epistles, records of early church historians, and the histories written by experts on the Apostle Paul to answer these questions, a deeper question imposed itself on the novel.

What does godly success look like?

About Paul

Paul began his life as the son of a prosperous Jewish businessman, a Pharisee living in the intellectual and influential city of Tarsus. He was both a Jew and a Roman citizen. He was sent to Jerusalem to be schooled by Gamaliel, one of the foremost leaders and thinkers in Jewish society and one of the 70 elders who made up the Sanhedrin, Israel’s highest governing body.

By the time the Early Church began, Paul had risen to prominence in Jewish society. Evidence suggests that he could even have been a member of the Sanhedrin himself. Paul wrote to the Galatians that he “profited in the Jews religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.”

Fast forward to the time of his execution. Paul was penniless, relying on church charity to sustain him during his imprisonment. He was all but friendless, writing to Timothy that only Luke was with him and all others had forsaken him. He was broken physically, the result of his thorn in the flesh and innumerable punishments and hardships. And ultimately he was beheaded by the Emperor Nero outside the walls of Rome.

Yet Paul wrote to Timothy just before his death and said this: 

“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge shall give me at that day, and not to me only but unto all them also that love His appearing.”

Paul obviously viewed himself as a success despite all outward evidence to the contrary. He turned his world upside down. He founded churches across the Roman Empire, preached to the foremost thinkers of his day, and testified before governors, kings, and even Emperor Nero himself. And now, almost 2000 years later, we still read the words God inspired him to write. His epistles have shaped the direction and theology of the church perhaps more than any other writer.

No Christian, and few others, would ever argue that Paul was anything less than a world-changing success.

So what was his secret? 

At the end of the day, it’s very simple. Paul did what God called him to do, no matter the cost. No matter the result, that qualifies as success.

God has called me to write, and so I offer The Keeper’s Crown, the story of the great Apostle’s final sprint to the finish line, as seen through the eyes of the young soldier chained to him for those final days. In Quintus I see myself, struggling for success by the world’s standards only to come to the challenging realization that true success, lasting success, is something quite different entirely.

I hope you will too.

About Nathan D Maki

Nathan Maki lives in Prescott, Ontario, Canada with his wife Rachel and son Alexander. In his rare spare time between pastoring a small, rural church and managing his own landscaping business, Nathan has squeezed in the time to write The War Within series, four novels about the Early Church period in ancient Rome.

His latest book, The Keeper's Crown, a stand-alone novel about the Apostle Paul will be released later this month. Nathan likes to say he pastors to touch souls, writes to touch hearts, and landscapes to keep food on the table.

You can find Nathan online at


  1. Hi Nathan, Your story about Paul sounds great - especially how it challenges what we consider success. Lovely photos of Rome!

  2. Hi Nathan, Welcome to ICFW and congrats on your upcoming book release! I enjoy reading Biblical fiction and your story premise is fascinating. Thanks for sharing the story behind your book with us. :)

  3. Sounds like a fascinating book! I love my brief trip to Rome. Seeing a place first hand really does bring it to life, but love how you're using your books to bring that time period to readers!

  4. delighted to see you here Nathan after we wrote last year