The four Sundays prior to Christmas are traditionally known as “Advent,” within most Christian churches. It is a time of both anticipation and preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth into our world more than two millennia ago.
December 1, 2019, is the first Sunday of Advent on the church calendar. Many churches feature special events prior to or even as a part of congregational worship gatherings. These usually include the introduction of Christmas “hymns” or special music selections familiar to most of the people who will attend.
Since Christmas is a time that many people visit churches who don’t regularly attend, Advent is also a time when additional presentations are held such as dramas and musical performances. These special services are often prepared months in advance with the help of numerous volunteers who strive to make the season more meaningful for those who attend.
There are some potential problems with the tradition of Advent that can go largely unaddressed because they are unrecognized. One problem fits the old saying, “familiarity breeds contempt,” in that the more practice one has over many years participating in Advent, the more one can overlook the meaning of doing it at all by simply taking Advent for granted.
Another significant problem involves those who are among casual church-goers whose main motivation may be to observe children or other relatives participating in Christmas plays or in a special choir performance. Instead of taking Advent for granted, these people can easily just dismiss it altogether as one more “event” to attend around the ‘holiday’ season.
In short, this epitomizes the difficulty every church and every pastor has in preparation for this time of year. How can the marvelous message of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, bring born as a human being to bring His creation the good news of God’s love and grace, be meaningful and impactful for everyone?
The First “Advent” Promise, the Proto-Evangelium
The four Sundays of Advent also feature an activity only engaged in during this time of year, the lighting of the Advent candles. A different candle is lit each week symbolizing the qualities of hope, faith, joy, and peace given to humanity by the coming of Jesus.
The candles are most often arranged in a circular pattern within an Advent “wreath.” In the center of the wreath, a larger white candle is usually placed to symbolize the birth of Christ, and is thus known as the “Christ candle.” Usually, a short ceremony/teaching accompanies the lighting of each candle to help express the meaning behind the concepts.
I will not delve into the history of how the idea of an Advent season came about and how it has developed until today. Rather, I propose to present a biblical case that the true meaning of Advent is contained and expressed within the Word of God.
I have always believed that the true meaning of anything is inextricably tied to its origin. Therefore, the meaning of Advent as a concept [rather than the meaning of the term itself] can be found in the origin of the concept in the Bible.
Advent originates in the Bible where the writing begins, in the book of Genesis. It is first presented by the words of God in the Garden of Eden in the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s first disobedience of God.
God spoke to Satan who had taken the form of a serpent,
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15 [ESV]
This verse is known by biblical students and scholars as the proto-Evangelium, or “first gospel” message ever presented. In the midst of pronouncing the punishment for the original sin of humanity, the LORD drops a nugget of golden “good news” to look forward to in the future.
Specifically, God promised that sometime in the future, the offspring of the woman would fight against and triumph over the offspring of the ‘serpent’. It is a unique promise because it identifies the one who will come as the “her” offspring, rather than a descendant from both Adam and Eve.
There are other instances in prophecy when God specifies that the promised One is going to be born of a woman alone. The most familiar of these comes from chapter one of Luke’s gospel as announced to Mary by the angel Gabriel.
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. Luke 1:30-35 [ESV]
The first promise of Advent is that Christ is coming to fulfill the plan of salvation set in motion way back in Genesis. Moreover, the promise was also that He is coming in a miraculous manner that God alone could accomplish, being born of a virgin!
Advent helps us recall the hope of this promise, and look toward God to fulfill it on our behalf, even at great cost to Himself. Realizing and accepting that promise in each heart brings the ultimate hope for our eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
Take time this Advent season to grab onto the promise of God for yourself through faith in Christ. It will be the best Christmas gift anyone could ever acquire.
Sources: The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001
Paul needed much rest at home in Syria after his second
missionary trip, so he spent his time with the Antioch Christians and other
apostles. He preached and taught at the Antioch schools. But, after a couple of
years, he felt it was time to revisit his established churches and friends
across Asia Minor.
* SPECIAL NOTE: Bible scripture does not specify if
Timothy traveled with Paul on this trip. It was rare for missionaries to travel
alone in biblical days, but it appears Paul did just this on his journey.
GALATIA and PHYRYGIA (Acts 18)
Approximately 53 A.D., Paul headed northwest to check in
with his first established churches in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian
Antioch. He put a fresh heart into their leaders and congregations. As he
traveled from town to town, his old friends, Aquila and Priscilla, sent him
news of a powerful speaker who arrived in Ephesus. Apollos was an enthusiastic
Jew, born in Alexandria, Egypt, who was highly recommended to preach by their
Ephesian friends. But, there was one problem – Apollos’ knowledge of Jesus
stopped at John’s baptism. So, Priscilla and Aquila (the first Christian
missionary team) taught him of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Then
Apollos left for Corinth, and Paul headed down the mountains for Ephesus.
EPHESUS (Acts 19)
Soon after Paul’s arrival in Ephesus, he met twelve
disciples, and a conversation began with questions and answers. He discovered
they only knew of John’s baptism and had not been born again by faith in
Christ. They were, for sure, Apollo’s students. Paul taught them the complete
gospel. He baptized them in the name of Jesus, and they praised God in tongues.
The next three months, Paul spoke to the Jews in their synagogue.
He tried to convince them of the realness of God’s kingdom. A resistance formed
as evil rumors swirled about the Christian way of life. The Jews rejected the
reason for Jesus’ crucifixion and especially the resurrection. So, Paul stopped
teaching in the synagogue. The twelve disciples and Paul set up a new worship
place in the school of Tyrannus for the next two years. Paul taught there in
the afternoons when Ephesians took their siesta – it was less risky than
mornings. Many Jews and Greeks from Asia attended his daily lessons. Paul also wrote
letters to the church in Corinth (known as 1 Corinthians), as they were
struggling with moral issues.
God worked powerful miracles through Paul, which spread
quickly around the area. Soon people started taking pieces of his clothing and
began touching the sick with them. They believed his items healed others. A
Jewish exorcist tried his hand at this when an evil spirit spoke back to him,
asking who he was – he wasn’t Paul. This ended in a bloody brawl, and the news
of the incident led Jews and Gentiles to believe only God was behind the voice.
It led to witches and warlocks burning their books of spells and incantations
and sovereignty for Paul ruled the land.
It wasn’t long before another large ruckus in Ephesus
occurred over Paul’s presence. (Acts 19: 21-34) Demetrius was a silversmith for
shrines of the goddess, Artemis, and he employed many artisans in the city. His
business was failing because Paul discredited his statutes as being a real god.
So, he gathered all his workers, and they rioted. After several hours of
ranting and screaming, the town clerk settled everyone down and sent them home.
Paul called the disciples together and gave them lots of
encouragement. He said his goodbyes and left town quietly on a ship headed to
MACEDONIA (Acts 20)
The apostle stayed a short three months in Greece. While
Paul was there, he revisited his churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea
and encouraged the ministry. He also wrote another letter to the church in
Corinth (known as 2 Corinthians in the Bible) as some false disciples attacked his
Paul’s initial plan was to return to Syria via Jerusalem. However,
he learned of his death plot by some Jews who would attack him on the ship. So Paul
returned to Macedonia by land and gathered some apostles who would meet him in
Troas – Timothy, Sopater from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica,
Gaius from Derbe, and Tychicus and Trophimus from western Asia.
Paul stayed for Passover Week in Philippi and set sail for
TROAS (northwest Turkey) (Acts 20:7-8)
All the disciples gathered to meet Paul when he arrived in
Troas. On Sunday, they met the church congregation, and Paul preached long into
the night. As Paul talked, a young man named Eutychus went to sleep sitting on
a windowsill of the third-story room. He toppled out the window and was
declared dead. Everyone began crying and gasping at the horrible sight. Paul
ran down the steps and stretched himself over Eutychus. Squeezing him tightly,
Paul said, “No more crying. There’s life in him yet.” The boy was alive
so Paul continued telling stories of faith until dawn.
A short week later, Paul wanted to get back to Jerusalem
for the Feast of Pentecost. The disciples met him in Assos and then watched him
board the ship for Miletus (southwestern Turkey).
sent messengers to Ephesus for the elders in the church to join him. After
three years of working closely with the church, it was necessary to have a final
conversation with the bishops. He owed it to them.
everyone arrived, he began the speech with his qualities, characteristic of his
servitude. He talked of being a humble yet persecuted servant of God, but
through it all, he still encouraged them to continue spreading the word of God.
Now it was time for his sad news… (Acts 20:17-35)
now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will
happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me
that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth
nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord
Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
“Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom
will ever see me again. 26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent
of the blood of any of you. 27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the
whole will of God. 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the
Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he
bought with his own blood. (Acts 22-28) NIV
Paul gained a reputation for being against the Law, and
he knew he would be killed when he returned to Jerusalem. Through tearful
goodbyes and prayers, he encouraged the elders, and they walked him to the
ship. He could see the fear in their
eyes, so they knelt on the beach and prayed together one last time.
CAESAREA (Acts 21:7-16)
Paul stayed with Philip the Evangelist for several days. On
the fourth day, Agabus, a prophet from Judea, came to visit Paul. Dramatically,
he prophesied Paul getting mobbed and imprisoned if he went to Jerusalem. Paul didn’t
budge nor show fear.
He responded to Agabus, “You’re looking at this
backwards. The issue in Jerusalem is not what they do to me, whether arrest or
murder, but what God does through my obedience.”
A couple of days later, a group of friends escorted Paul
to Jerusalem where everyone stayed at the home of Mnason, a disciple.
JERUSALEM (Acts 21:27-36)
was in Jerusalem for a week when some Jews from Ephesus spotted him in the
synagogue. At once they ran and grabbed him. They screamed he was the man who
was telling lies against the Jews. Soon the whole city came to get in on the
upheaval. They dragged Paul outside the synagogue and beat him until soldiers
arrived and arrested him. As they took him to the holding cell, Paul requested
to speak to the crowd. He told the Jews he was Saul of Tarsus and gave them
some background of his history.
began shaking their fists and cursing, so the police dragged him inside the
jail. The Roman centurions wanted to interrogate Paul under torture to find out
what he did wrong, but when they realized he was a Roman citizen, they took him
before the high priests.
gazed at Chief Priest Ananias and said, “Friends, I’ve lived with a clear
conscience before God all my life.”
priest’s aides slapped Paul across the face for being disrespectful to the
Chief Priest. He apologized and explained he didn’t know he was a high priest.
Paul knew the council consisted of both Pharisees and Sadducees so as he spoke
who he was, their decision to keep him split in half. A violent council caused
the centurions to take him back to jail, for his safety.
night, as Paul slept behind bars, Jesus spoke to him. “Have courage! For as
you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
The following morning, Paul’s nephew arrived at the jail,
and he was allowed to speak to Paul. He informed him of a plot to murder his
uncle by some Jews in Jerusalem. His nephew also talked to the captain of the jail.
An ambush was set to occur if he removed Paul from the jail. The captain immediately
placed a plan in action.
About 9 PM that evening, two hundred soldiers, seventy cavalrymen,
and two hundred light infantry were placed in Caesarea. Paul was transported safely and placed on
house arrest in King Herod’s official quarters.
CAESAREA: PAUL ON TRIAL (Acts 24:1-21)
Within five days, the Chief Priest Ananias arrived with a
trial lawyer, and they presented the governor with their case against Paul.
They charged him with disturbing the peace, stirring up riots against Jews all over
the world, and being the ringleader of the Nazarenes.
Paul defended his innocence. “It’s because I believe in
the resurrection that I’ve been hauled into this court. Does that sound to you
like grounds for a criminal case?” They dismissed Paul until the captain
decided a resolution. Meanwhile, he remained at King Herod’s home where he was
allowed freedom in the house and visitors who could help him.
Paul was heartbroken the church never came to his defense
as he maintained house arrest status for the next two years. During this time,
a Jewish couple, Felix and Drusilla, listened to Paul talk about Jesus Christ,
moral discipline, and the coming Judgment. One day, Felix was replaced by the
new governor, Porcius Festus. For sure, his agenda was not a good one.
Festus went to Jerusalem to see the high priests and top
leaders, and he renewed their vendetta against Paul. They wanted him sentenced
to death. Ten days later, Paul was led into the courtroom with jeering Jews. He
asked for an appeal to Caesar in Rome, and it was awarded because it was a
religious argument. Paul had the right to defend his innocence.
Several days later, King Agrippa and his wife, Bernice,
asked to meet Paul as they wanted to hear his story. Paul was led into the
Great Hall. Festus began by saying all the charges made by the Jews were lies
and nothing else. Paul took the stand and told of his background and history.
It was too much for Festus! “You are out of your mind,
Paul! Your great learning is driving you insane.”
Paul appealed to their sense of religion. King Agrippa,
the governor, Bernice, and their advisors stood up and left the room. They
quickly agreed on Paul’s innocence. Agrippa faced Festus and said, “This man
could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
SAILING FOR ROME (Acts 27:27-28:5)
Under the supervision of a centurion named Julius, Paul
and a few other prisoners boarded a ship headed for Rome. They sailed close to
the shoreline because the strong winds were blowing against them. Then they
transferred onto another ship at the port of Myra. The weather was horrific
until they reached the island of Crete at the start the winter. Paul saw
disaster ahead if they set sail any further, but the centurion ignored him and
headed for Phoenix, a few miles further ahead.
No sooner was the ship out to sea when the gale-force
winds struck and they lost control. With lifeboats readied, they drifted near
some rocky shoals of an island, but it was impossible to get ashore. The ship’s
drift anchors stopped them for crashing into the rocks from the whipping wind.
For two weeks the ship drifted on the Adriatic Sea until they realized they were approaching land. Paul gathered everyone together and asked them to eat some bread for strength. By daybreak, the centurion could see a beach so he decided to run the ship upon the sand. They hit a reef, and the boat began to break into pieces. Everyone swam to the shore.
The passengers soon learned they were on the island of
Malta as natives came to their rescue. The head man of the island, Publius,
took them into his home. He fed them and left them stay for three days, but the
crew spent three months on Malta, waiting for another ship.
House arrest was imminent for Paul again as he entered
Rome in 60 A.D. He stayed in his own private quarters with a soldier assigned
to watch over him for two years. Many visitors came to see him, and he
presented all matters of the Bible to them. He continued to preach God’s word
as a prisoner of Jesus Christ.
What a cliffhanger! As I researched what happened to Paul
after his Rome arrest, I found a lot of articles written by biblical scholars
relishing in their own opinion. The Bible, though, does not speak of how, where,
or why Paul died. We may assume Nero’s military beheaded him or he passed away
as a martyr, after the Great Fire of Rome in July 64 A.D. Persecution of
Christians was at an all-time high during this period in history. Are we to
understand, then, Paul was released after his trial in Rome? There is no clear
indication to confirm this question.
Paul’s entire story is written in the Book of Acts.
However, it is believed many of the passages are not entirely accurate because
they are missing Paul’s letters which revealed his deepest thoughts.
The apostle wrote four books of the New Testament during
this last segment of his life:
18:22-38: Paul’s detailed his final
meeting with the elders of the church in Ephesus in Miletus.
Corinthians: This is the letter Paul wrote to the church in Corinth
addressing immorality and divisions which had arisen among its members. He
covered issues such as sexual immorality, marriage problems, and lawsuits with
other believers. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the
kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor
adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor
drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (6:9).
He also corrected the doctrines which spoke of women in worship, the use of
spiritual gifts, and observing the Lord’s Supper. Finally, he talked about the
topic of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Corinthians: Written in Macedonia about 56 A.D., it is another letter to
the church of Corinth defending and protecting his apostleship. Paul detailed
the characteristics of an apostle so members could recognize a false prophet.
He also spoke of the persecution of Christians, but he also instilled hope in
Jesus Christ. Paul used the theology of his suffering as an example. The last
thing he wrote in this Book was how to know if you are a real Christian. He
said it was necessary to test yourself by examining the scriptures. (13:5)
Paul wrote to the Romans from Corinth in 57 or 58 A.D. beginning the letter
with “to all God’s beloved in Rome.” Addressing the Christian
church of Rome, it is the most profound coverage of the Christian faith. He spoke
that a believer’s relationship with God couldn’t be repaired by just good deeds,
but by faith and serving the Lord. Paul also teaches about the sinful nature of
man and how to gain freedom from the evilness of sin. Finally, he explained how
to obtain a holy lifestyle; many makes the mistake of conforming their lives to
the world, instead of to God.
Paul the Apostle was a real study in Christian character.
The description of himself was so accurate -“a slave to Jesus Christ.” He
served God first, man second, and himself last. His devotion to the Lord was
like none other. I think he contributed more to the growth of Christianity than
any other apostle.
This apostle is an exemplary example of working for God,
be it as a missionary or in the ministry. In fact, Paul’s life parallels the
missionaries who serve around the world today. These servants of God remain
devoted regardless of the cost to their life. The courage to go into uncharted
territories and preach Christianity can only be done through God’s anointment,
and God bless them for this dedication.
Though Paul suffered many tribulations and felt deserted by everyone, he found strength in God through his weakness. I hope, one day, to meet Paul and find out the many stories he did not write about in the Bible. God gave him more than any person could handle, but God delivered the apostle by the grace of prayer. I encourage you to read Paul’s books in the Bible and learn to apply the scriptures to your own life. Absorb it, live it, and teach it… it’s Christianity. Thank you, friends, for reading this series – we hope you enjoyed it!
Did you miss any parts of The Dynamic Story of Paul the Apostle? You may read them here:
The year was 46
A.D., and with the death of King Herod, the church was again free to preach the
gospel. However, the persecution of Christians in Jerusalem by the Jews and
Roman authorities increased; they forced many believers to leave the area.
Paul and Barnabas headed
to Jerusalem to meet Cephas (birth name Simon but later renamed Peter, by Jesus).
Cephas was the fourth child born to Noah after the great flood. The men spent fifteen
days fasting and praying. One day, news arrived the melting pot church in
Antioch (in Syria) wanted missionaries to preach to the Jews and Gentiles. Many
believers moved during the upheavals in Jerusalem, and they needed churches
throughout the region.
The Holy Spirit
spoke to the church elders in Antioch, “Set apart for me Barnabas and
Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2) The church
laid their hands on Paul and Barnabas in 47 A.D., and they boarded a ship headed
to the island of Cyprus on their first missionary trip.
They arrived in
the port city of Salamis. The Roman influence was everywhere – public baths, a
large theater, and a temple dedicated to Zeus. The Graeco-Roman world was ready
for the message of the gospel. Focusing on the Jews, Paul and Barnabas wasted
no time proclaiming the word of God in local synagogues. Most who spread the
word of God were Jews who scorned and persecuted Christian missionaries. But
many believers were ready to receive Paul’s ministry across the island.
passed, and the two disciples decided to walk westward to Paphos, the seat of the
Roman government. It was the worship center for the goddess Aphrodite (Venus).
Word spread quickly they arrived in town. Soon a message arrived – the island’s
Roman governor, Sergius Paulus, wanted to meet them and hear God’s word. It was
also an investigation who was causing all the commotion in his community.
When the governor
entered the room, Elymas (also called Bar-Jesus), a threat to the Christian community,
strayed in behind him. Paul heard about this false prophet (sorcerer), and he
became infuriated of his intentions, but just the same, they spoke the message
for the governor. Elymas
turned to the official and urged him not to pay attention to their untrue
words. Paul was livid and stared Elymas in the eyes. He remembered his own
experience in Damascus and knew blindness would humble a proud man.
son of the devil, full of every sort of deceit and fraud, and enemy of all that
is good! Will you never stop perverting the true ways of the Lord? Watch now,
for the Lord has laid his hand of punishment upon you, and you will be struck
blind. You will not see the sunlight for some time.” (Acts 13:10-11)
back, and a mist and darkness came over his eyes.
“Help me! I can’t
see! Someone, please, take my hands and guide me out of here!”
eyes opened wide, and he proclaimed the gospel as truth.
*SPECIAL NOTE: This incident was a critical turning point for Paul and his ministry. He became the team leader, initiated by Barnabas because Paul showed unusual faith and courage. The move showed Barnabas was selfless enough to set the good of others above personal glory. Instead of always striving for power, it is always seeking to help.
PERGA/ PISIDIAN ANTIOCH
Paul and Barnabas
set sail once again, this time to the mainland of Turkey. They arrived in
Perga, an ancient city of Pamphylia, and proceeded onward to the Roman colony, Pisidian
Antioch. On the Sabbath, they visited a synagogue and the church leaders
invited them to speak.
Paul lifted his
hand and began his speech. He started with the Israelite history, and finally,
he introduced Jesus.
one of King David’s descendants, Jesus, who is God’s promised Savior of Israel!
Before he came, John the Baptist preached that all the people of Israel needed
to repent of their sins and turn to God and be baptized… Brothers – you sons
of Abraham, and also you God-fearing Gentiles – this message of Salvation has
been sent to us!” Acts
He told the story
of Jesus’ crucifixion and the laws of forgiveness. Paul ended his speech with
these final words:
listen! We are to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for
your sins. Everyone who believes in him is made right in God’s sight –
something the law of Moses could never do. Be careful! Don’t let the prophets’
words apply to you.” Acts
Many of the Jewish
and Gentile listeners were so enthralled, they invited him back the following
week. This time, the whole city gathered to hear the news. Angry, jealous Jews
stood in the crowd slandering, and they created arguments with Paul. Persecution
soon followed Paul and Barnabas. In a state of frustration, they declared they
would no longer preach the word of God to Jews…
you have rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will
offer it to the Gentiles. For the Lord gave us this command when he said, ‘I
have made you a light to the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the farthest
corners of the earth.’”
Acts 13: 46-47
Gentiles spread the Lord’s message throughout the region. They celebrated their
conversion to Christianity. However, the furious Jews gathered prominent
members of the city to expel Paul and Barnabas from their city. They did not
want the missionary’s blasphemy in Antioch. So be it…
With a smile in
their heart, and the happiness of converting many Jews and Gentiles to
Christianity while in Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas headed southeast to
Iconium. They preached much in synagogues, and the Lord gave them the power to
perform miracles. The city became divided in their beliefs of the Good News –
is it Judaism or Christianity? Upheavals ensued, and the opposition grew in
strength. A huge plot to kill Barnabas and Paul spread across the town. Rumors
of their impending death instigated the missionaries to flee Iconium. Paul and
Barnabas left immediately and traveled to the remote city of Lystra, just
twenty miles away.
little city laid within tall Roman walls and many beautiful temples dedicated
to Greek Gods stood tall and proud. The temple of Zeus was the most popular for
he was the father of the Greek gods. Paul and Barnabas settled right into their
new surroundings. They continued to minister in the synagogues and converted
many to Christianity.
One Sunday, Paul
looked out over the audience and noticed a man with crippled feet intently
absorbing his spoken words. Paul thought, “He needs the faith of God.”
Stand up!” Paul yelled to
the man. The startled man jumped to his feet and started walking. (Acts 14:
A loud gasp of
shock, then cheering erupted from the crowd. People everywhere shouted, “These
men are gods in human form!” (Acts 14:11)
The priest of the
temple of Zeus and a crowd of people began laying wreaths of flowers and some pulled
bulls to the town gates. These were signs of sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas.
The people mistakenly thought Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes. The
apostles tried to convince the crowd they were mere men.
why are you doing this? We are merely human beings – just like you! We have
come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless
things and turn to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and
everything in them.” (Acts
It was impossible
to restrain the crowd. In the distance, Paul and Barnabas saw some Jews from
Antioch in Turkey and Iconium arrive on the scene. Were they here to support
them? No! The Jews yelled out to the masses.
“These men are
imposters! They are blasphemous! Stone them! Stone them!”
The crowd, in
great anger, surrounded the apostles and pounded Paul with rocks and stones.
(It was never disclosed if Barnabas was also stoned in the Bible). In the agony
of pain, Paul passed out, so the angry people dragged him out of the city. A
small group of believers gathered around him for they thought he was dead, but
God had different plans. The Lord miraculously healed Paul on the spot, and he
got up off the ground and walked right back inside the city.
The next morning
Paul and Barnabas made the grueling thirty-mile walk to Derbe in central Turkey.
Paul preached the
Bible with great success in Derbe, and in each town, he established priests to
say Mass and celebrate the sacraments. The early Christian churches were
quickly establishing themselves as a stronghold in every city he visited on his
mission trip. Eighteen months passed, and they felt it was time to go home.
REVISIT TO LYSTRA, ICONIUM, AND PISIDIAN ANTIOCH
Though victims of
persecution, Paul and Barnabas decided to retrace their steps. They would
return through Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch on their way to the ship. The
apostles strengthened and comforted believers and they appointed elders in the
church of each city. Paul was confident the Lord would protect these early
GOING HOME TO ANTIOCH OF SYRIA
Paul and Barnabas
returned home by ship to Antioch of Syria in 48 A.D. Paul gathered his church
together and reported all of his good deeds while in each city. “…we’ve
opened a door of faith to the Gentiles,” he exclaimed with delight. The
gospel spread far and wide. Paul’s journey was a preparation of more to come.
successful missionary trip gives us an idea of the very beginning of Christian
churches in the world. King Herod’s reign boasted fear and hatred, particularly
amongst the Jews. After he died, Christianity took hold of the land for many
witnessed the life and resurrection of Jesus. The church of Antioch of Syria
was the foundation for sixteen more Antioch’s built in the ancient world. They
had several outstanding leaders of which Paul and Barnabas were two of them.
What can we learn
about the early Christian churches?
God selects who will disciple His word, the early churches developed the skill
of leadership. They meticulously trained their missionaries and ministry teams
which came from many diverse backgrounds. Strong support for their apostles
came in the form of prayers, education, and mentoring skills.
first Christians were Jewish Christians, either by conversion or birth. They
revered the Hebrew bible in religious text which was often in Greek. They were a
sect of Judaism in Rome.
early Gospels spread only by word of mouth, so training of leaders was critical
for success. Preaching included the history of Jesus and His parables,
salvation, and forgiveness.
Paul built many
early Christian churches in this eighteen-month trip. His first journey covered
the regions of south-central Asia Minor, Turkey, and Syria. He traveled about
1,400 miles spreading the Good News.
missionary trip teaches us several Christian highlights:
met with horrible opposition and much persecution. As I’ve always said, history
repeats itself for this perplexing situation still continues today. God warns
all Christians; many will not believe in Him. Walk away from non-believers and
pursue those who want to find a better way of life. In Paul’s case, he always
began teaching to the Jews, but the Gentiles became the church’s followers.
is a virtue and is a mark of great spiritual maturity. A strict dedication to
God is the only way to covert doubters to believers.
It is unnecessary
to fully convert non-believers. God uses Christians just to plant the seeds.
demonstrated the ultimate meaning of forgiveness. They expelled him from Perga,
plotted his murder in Iconium, and almost died from stoning in Lystra, yet he
walked back into every city and pardoned their people. He prayed for their
forgiveness of sins.
perform unusual miracles, but they were done as a last resort – to testify of
God’s power and strength.
In conclusion, I pray for those who do not know the light of God. Let us never give up planting seeds, but remain in constant prayer… just as Paul.
I hated to see my
leftover coffee go to waste, so I sipped on it and waited on the Lord to give
me this message for today. You see, God awoke me in the middle of the night,
many years ago, and asked me to serve Him. I still do not understand His reason,
but I’m glad He did; I rejoice and am honored to witness His good works every
single day. However, few Christians know how to serve God’s purpose in their life.
Have you ever questioned this thought?
Serving the Lord isn’t about us receiving attention or glory; it is for Him to receive praise. So, I start my day with an early morning prayer. I give thanks for my many blessings, and I ask Him to reveal His intentions of how could I serve Him. Am I to be His voice calling His chosen people, or am I to be a pillar to support His kingdom?
In your case, ask God
to show you how to change other people’s lives to be a witness to His love.
Perhaps involve yourself in an outreach community or work at the church.
Whatever calling you choose, it should not be something you do at certain times,
but a passion every single moment of the day. If God is not changing sinners
into Christians, then how can He be glorified by the seeds we should plant?
Serving God’s purpose is changing the lives of others who will witness His love
and grace through your deeds. Share the good news about Jesus’ forgiveness of
sin. How do you do this on a nine-to-five schedule, in your dead-end position?
Is Your Job a Dead-End Position?
Are you unfulfilled
in your current job? Maybe it’s boring, you’re overworked and underpaid, not to
mention unnoticed for a job well done. A desire for a meaningful existence just
doesn’t apply to you. The Bible teaches that finding our purpose in anything
other than the Lord will always leave us empty. If we can’t make a difference,
what is the purpose? I’m sure your next response will be, “But I have bills to
pay and a roof to put over my head.” Many job openings abound which better
serves the Lord, and they will, in turn, pay your debts. Pray for God to show
you the way.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and
his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33
A Personal Story of Inspiration
Allow me to share
a personal story with you, which will explain how God works, helping us to
serve His purpose. Before my wife and I reunited and married, she lived in
Virginia, single, for over thirty years. Her occupational field of expertise was
in the accounting genre, and her pay scale was in the top echelon of her field.
She burned out crunching numbers and often prayed something newer and better
would come her way. In 2005, she accepted an opportunity to do mission work for
the International Board of Southern Baptist Convention in Africa. When she
returned from her outreach work, she was eager to continue spreading the word
of God. She applied and was accepted to work for the Peace Corps, but she turned
it down for lack of security in her designated country.
Now confused and
floundering, perhaps moving to a different area was her answer, so in 2007 she
purchased a home in Tampa. Within weeks of moving to Florida, she walked into a
publisher’s office and landed another high-paying job. What did she know about
the publishing field, and how did this serve the Lord? Was this another
mistake? To make a long story short, the company eventually folded, and she
moved back to Virginia, where she took a job for a non-profit Catholic organization
running the finances. Once again, another mistake.
When my wife and I
reconnected with each other in 2016, she told me how she was praying God would
find her a job serving Him. She spoke of going back into missionary work, but I
wasn’t letting her get away from me this time. Within days of moving to
Arkansas with me, she suggested we begin a blog and website which served the
Lord, and the rest is history. She is now my Editor and marketing guru. How ironic
God placed her in a publishing company in Florida only to gain the experience
for our award-winning book! Today, we both serve God’s purpose; our messages go
further than any missionary work she could ever perform around in the world.
Rejoice, for You are Chosen!
Our almighty God comforts
us and gives us the conveniences of life if we remain dedicated in prayer. When
we least expect it, He will drop that job in our lap serving His purpose. Just keep
your eyes and ears open and pray for the discernment. Is it the one God is
offering to better serve His name? The richness you will receive may not be
monetary but one of spiritual peace knowing you are serving God’s purpose.
Rejoice, for you
are chosen to serve the Lord! How do I know this? You are a Christian who just
took the first step of reading this blog… His message to you!
Parts 1 and 2 of this series covered the determined siege against Christianity by forces outside of the Christian fellowship. This final piece will examine the greatest peril to Christianity if all, the threat from within.
For the purposes of this article, a threat from within is something or someone whose presence and/or purposes are detrimental to the existence and mission of Christianity. The biblical witness is the measuring standard to find and guard against these kinds of dangers.
Based on my experience of two decades as a pastor, and my long examination of the subject, here are my top five threats to Christianity from within.
Five: Embracing the Socialist Leftist Agenda
This journal has extensively chronicled the Leftist influence within the modern church in an earlier series. There is abundant evidence for this claim in the recent prominence of modern Mainstream churches who align with the Left on issues such as abortion, gender ‘identity’, ‘climate change,’ and illegal immigration.
To discern the aims of the Leftward Church, examine what they support and oppose. In every case, the religious and social policies of the Leftward Church are identical to the policies of the political Left. Both entities support abortion on demand, redistribution of wealth, gay marriage, illegal immigration, and any number of other leftist causes. Moreover, the Leftward Church inculcates these policies within their faith as well as advocating for them publically. I can state this definitively because of both extensive research and personal experience as a pastor. One example of how Leftism becomes part of the religious practice is found at Grace Baptist Church in Chicago. This church employed an openly lesbian pastor who lived with her partner. This organization of Christian name and claim chooses a leader whose lifestyle embraces radical feminism and sexuality. Both of which are cherished causes of the political Left.
Since the election of President Trump, the mainstream Leftward Church has taken up the “progressive” cause with renewed desperation. Unfortunately, the 2018 midterm elections have also allowed the Left and their religious allies some new wind in their sails, and the Leftward Church is happily along for the ride.
Thus we should expect to witness more movement by churches with the “Christian” pedigree in the direction of favoring open borders, defending and promoting abortion before and perhaps after birth and pushing for immediate action against the myth of man-caused ‘climate change.’ Moreover, though there is hesitation at the moment, perhaps before the year is out we should see some denomination or splinter group of Catholics, etc. leaping to embrace the newest jewel for the Left, “transexual rights.”
Four: Cultural Appropriation by the Church
Any fellowship of Christian believers exists as a subculture of seekers within an overarching culture which it is, ideally, trying to reach for the LORD Jesus Christ. There has always existed for Christians a delicate balance between being living in the world and living for Christ.
In our modern-day, the balance is increasingly in favor of the culture influencing churches rather than the reverse. The Contemporary Christian group Casting Crowns’ song “What This World Needs” has a particular lyric which fits the phenomenon of churches ‘appropriating’ culture.
What this world needs,
Is for us to stop hiding behind our relevance
Blending in so well that people can’t see the difference
And it’s the difference that sets the world free.
Within the modern-day church, a movement began 40 or so years ago as a way of outreach to create an environment that welcomed strangers and attracted “seekers.” Efforts were made to become more relevant in order to provide opportunities to present the gospel to unchurched youth and families.
This is similar to what the Apostle Paul wrote about in his First Letter to the Corinthian church.
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:20-23 [ESV]
This is not a bad strategy, as long as one thing remains clear. Don’t neglect to present the gospel because all that is happening, in that case, is showing the outside world that you aren’t serious enough to stand for Christ.
When the gospel is sacrificed to make any church more culturally relevant it will eventually prove destructive to the Church’s continued existence. That is happening in some large churches today.
Listen to the song “What This World Needs” here. There is another portion of it that points us directly to the number three internal threat to Christianity.
Three: Doctrinal Twisting by Leadership
I love that song because it is so on point in so many ways, and Casting Crowns has made a great statement about culture and society and Christianity in it. By the way, I saw them live years ago in Kansas City, and they were awesome.
To be clear, Christian doctrines are simply clear biblical teachings which are meant to help disciples of Christ follow in His footsteps. These particular lyrics by Casting Crowns capture the essence of what I mean by the modern twisting of biblical doctrines,
Another ear-pleasing candyman afraid of the truth,
Another prophet in an Armani suit.
The two types of leaders described both peddle false, twisted doctrine though in different ways. The ‘ear-pleasing” leader does fear the truth, so they bring convoluted positions and policy to bear that are both unbiblical and illogical.
These denominational bodies which are trying to sanctify sin and justify evil in alliance with the Left… include the United Methodist Church, the Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church in America, and the United Church of Christ. In addition, certain leftist strains of Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans and even a group called “Catholics for Choice.” All of which are allied officially within the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
As can be seen by the list above, doctrinal twisting and outright denial of biblical doctrine are a widespread infection of evil within the Left-leaning denominations today. However, there are many very visible ‘independent’ church bodies with leaders that deform biblical teaching and then reform it into their own image for their own benefit, and they are the “prophets in an Armani suit.”
Some of these leaders captured large audiences during the so-called ‘televangelism’ movement that came to prominence in the 1980s. A few of these became very bold in their sin and greed, like Jim Baker and Robert Tilton and others, and they lost their churches and some lost their freedom.
However, there are others who either started after the turmoil had subsided, or laid low and continue in ‘ministry’ today. A common doctrinal error among many of the current crop of deceptive leaders still broadcasting today is known by various names, ‘name it and claim it,’ ‘prosperity gospel,’ or the ‘word of faith’ movement.
In my estimation, this is the most dangerous form of doctrine twisting for it can ensnare those newly acquainted with Christian thought and some who boast long tenure within a church but have not grown in their faith. “Prosperity” teachers such as Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar [that’s his name, at least on TV] to name two among many, tempt those within their influence with greed, claiming that God wants everyone to be materially rich and if you aren’t its because you lack faith in God’s promises in the Bible.
A thorough review and exposition of the errors of the “prosperity gospel,” would require another article. However, in short, there is one overarching reason these aberrant teachings have arisen with any potency at all, the abysmal biblical illiteracy among Christians today.
Two: Continuing Biblical Illiteracy among Christians
These final two threats from within Christianity differ markedly from the others. All five are somewhat connected among church denominations, networks and leadership, however, these two are more personal than the rest.
This means that of all the internal dangers to the Christian faith, the top two are dangers which can be directly remedied by personal action. The number two threat is a large number of individuals who claim faith in Christ that are not very literate in the basic teachings and content of God’s Word.
When I began in the pastorate I was like most Seminary graduates, both eager and very naive about the task of being a pastor. I was most naive concerning the apathetic attitude of church members toward knowing and following the Word of God.
My thoughts were that Christians would be clamoring to know Scripture and discern its meaning for application in their own lives. Alas, that proved not to be the case.
My own experience is severely limited as I pastored in just four congregations [two simultaneously for a time] throughout my pastoral tenure. Yet I believe, as was true in my own journey, the majority of church-goers and members seldom seek any regular classes or studies about biblical content.
I am quite sure that there are some exceptions to this situation. However, I would challenge any person curious about this to conduct the following experiment.
Attend the Sunday worship service(s) of a church of any size in your area and then attend a Bible study from the same fellowship. Most cases in Protestant or Independent churches will have far lower attendance for Bible studies than for Sunday worship.
For those who wish further confirmation, I can think of nothing but Biblical ignorance to explain these results of a 2018 study by the Barna research group.
Matthew 28:18-20 is the most well-known biblical record of what is commonly referred to extra-biblically as “the Great Commission.” But despite the significance of these and other verses that call Christians to “go and make disciples of all nations,” a surprising proportion of churchgoing Christians in the U.S. are generally unaware of these famous words from Jesus.
The blame for such widespread lack of a very important part of Scripture could be cast at church organizations and church leaders. However, there is a personal, individual responsibility all Christians share to learn the Bible and know its precepts.
That same sense of responsibility to know the Bible extends into obedience to the teachings in Scripture. Which leads us to the number one internal threat to Christianity, the poor witness of Christians to the world.
One: A Poor Christian Witness to the World
This is the single most important factor to be considered as a threat to Christianity, especially in the developed world. In point of fact, some of the previous threats listed here can be classified as examples of the Church providing a poor Christian witness on a large scale.
However, the greatest danger lies not with large groups, but with small groups and individual Christians that present a poor Christian witness in two main ways. The most obvious way is not to give any testimony of the gospel at all.
A study conducted by LifeWay Research helps flesh out the severity of this problem.
The study… found 80 percent of those who attend church one or more times a month believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith. Yet despite this conviction, 61 percent have not told another person about how to become a Christian in the previous six months.
This problem runs even deeper than simply sharing the gospel. The study also revealed that the same people are hesitant to even invite others to church to hear the gospel, provided they attend a church that preaches the good news of Christ.
Moreover, this reticence extends to personal prayer as well. According to this same study,
If Christians feel comfortable sharing their faith and recognize it’s their responsibility as disciples, why do so few share the gospel? And why don’t they at least pray for others? One-fifth—-20 percent—-say they rarely or never pray for the spiritual status of others. [empahsis added]
This is another area where personal observations over the years come in handy. I have found that a saying I heard years ago is largely accurate; ‘If you want to see an empty building, just call for a prayer meeting in the church.’
Conversely, the most effective efforts at any kind of outreach and discipleship all have one factor in common, they rely heavily upon the prayers of the saints. I have been privileged to work with such efforts on both large and small scales, including several campaigns conducted by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
In my estimation, the extent of fervent prayer by the faithful is the single critical item that will either make or break Christianity in the future. It has often been said that ‘prayer changes things,’ and it can result in some remarkable changes in things mundane and serious.
However, the ‘thing’ that personal and group prayer changes the most is the heart of the praying person. It is impossible for anyone to connect with the God of the universe in heartfelt prayer and not be changed and challenged to live for Him.
Here is where I put on my ‘preaching’ hat for a moment and say, as I often did in the pulpit, ‘When I ‘preach’ I am always speaking to myself as much as anyone else.’ So I will finish by stating that we would better serve the LORD if we sought His face more often and sincerely in prayer.
Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. Hosea 10:12 [ESV]
Sources: The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001
In part one of this series, we saw that Christianity as a faith is persecuted throughout the world by hostile governments. The main threats to the existence of the faith there are direct attempts to physically extinguish or directly control Christianity.
As lethal as the persecution can be in nations where Christianity is outlawed, the effectiveness of such violence against the church is almost the reverse of what the governments desire. More and more the old saying the “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” is being fulfilled in modern times.
This is not to justify the terrible suffering of such persecution. It is only to state that many times the strongest and most prolific believers arise from the harshest of circumstances and attract the faithful through their God-given strength.
However, the most successful and insidious attacks against Christianity today come in a less official fashion. From both outside the church and within the fold, the dangers are serious and palpable.
A Dangerous Threat from Outside: Culture vs. Faith
The most serious outside threat to the Christian faith comes within nations where it is legal to practice, but it is generally despised in the popular culture. This situation is common among Western society today and manifests itself in a variety of ways.
A prominent example is the modern American cultural landscape. The sad fact is that the popular culture in the U.S.A. has for the most part aligned against actual Christian practice in a nation founded upon biblical principles.
Of course, Christianity and popular culture have always existed in a somewhat adversarial relationship. After all, Jesus Christ is the most counter-cultural figure in history.
Yet for most of America’s time as a nation, the culture and Christianity have lived in a society where both elements were freely engaged in without much more than an occasional peaceful, verbal disagreement.
The Civil War and the more-recent Civil Rights struggle are some important exceptions, but these did not make up the longest portions of our history. A cursory examination of society today quickly reveals that such peaceful, public engagement is no longer the norm.
For instance, take the case of one Mr. Jack Phillips. He is the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado and is now the target of a third lawsuit for discrimination because he refused to bake a cake for a transgender person. The previous lawsuits failed yet of all the bakers in the Denver area, the LGBT community has consistently singled Phillips out because his faith will not permit him to make and decorate cakes with messages promoting deviant sexuality.
Phillips is but one case of several with similar circumstances. One involved a bakery in Oregon that refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding, and they ended up closing the doors of the bakery because of the costs.
It isn’t only threats through lawsuits that comprise attacks against Christian faith and practice. The line of harassment and assault has also been crossed, particularly when involving peaceful Christian pro-life demonstrators in public.
One prominent instance occurred in April of this year which involved an elected state official from Pennsylvania. You may have heard or read of this incident.
Pennsylvania state Rep. Brian Sims (D) broadcast himself harassing a pro-life woman praying outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia. Sims repeatedly shoved his phone in the woman’s face and boisterously declared, “Shame on you,” ridiculing the demonstrator for more than eight minutes over her opposition to abortion.
There are numerous other examples of such actions, as well as multiple examples of physical assaults. Two of these that made recent news reports and they involved women as the attackers.
One of the attacks happened on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when a woman attacked and punched a man holding signs at a pro-life display. Another less publicized assault occurred in Roanoke, Virginia when a 15-year-old girl was punched in the face by a woman who tried to steal the girl’s pro-life sign.
A particularly brutal example of one assault in January of 2019 is noteworthy to grasp the growing intensity of these kinds of acts. The following video contains graphic violence which may be disturbing.
What began as a peaceful effort to support the pro-life movement quickly changed as Mr. Roberts kept telling this man that ‘Jesus loves you.’ For that proclamation, he was punched repeatedly, without retaliation or attempting to defend himself, and sustained severe injuries as a result.
Targeting the Peaceful and Public Exercise of Christianity
Perhaps some might claim that these aren’t attacks against Christianity as a faith. I would say that though they may not target beliefs, they certainly target those who peacefully exercise their beliefs.
This brings us to another source of the siege against Christianity, the “non-profit” social organizations that defend the mythical “separation of church and state,” which is not in the Constitution of the United States. Organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
This group, in particular, has used the courts to attack any public practice of Christianity from simple prayer, to college sports teams having Chaplains, to WWII memorials with a statue of Jesus. If they can somehow construe a violation of church-state separation, the lawsuits never end, even though they lose most of the time.
Of course, groups like FFRF and the ACLU would claim that they do not target Christians with their many legal tactics. However, I have not heard of such legal actions from them against most other religions, especially against practitioners of Islam.
In fact, the FFRF admits they do not go after Muslims. Their explanation is that they only act on complaints brought to them by their members, and they don’t get many concerning Muslims.
FFRF accordingly receives very few complaints about Muslim violations. We receive very few complaints about Jewish, Hindu, Wiccan or other minority religious entanglements with government, either.
The ACLU and others operate in the same manner while “defending” religious freedom. Which might bring one to ask, ‘Who are the members that bring complaints, and who are they associated with?’
There is one rather extensive but surprisingly little known organization that it itself in concert with the FFRF and the ACLU in church-state separation stances. It is the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, a group this author was very aware of during my 20 -years as a Baptist minister.
The BJCPA is also the first example of what we will examine in part three, the threats to Christianity from within the Church.
If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. John 15:19 [ESV]
Sources: The HolyBible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001
Everyone comes into
life to serve a great purpose. That is our destiny. We extend a hand in life to
help the broken, but it’s Christ who chooses the believers He wants to
represent Him. Faith is a large part of the commitment, but it’s the renewed
spirit which Christ blesses each time. I, too, am not worthy to wipe the dust
from our Father’s holy feet, but for an unknown reason, God duly elected me. I
am a representative of Christ, an emissary, an evangelist of His word. But, I was
the man most people least suspected to be His ambassador. This is how God works
among humanity. He selects the defeated, renews their heart and mind, and sends
them into the world as a witness of His great love.
My heart filled
with emotions, and it danced with a joy I didn’t think was possible. All I
could do was reverently thank God for the opportunities He opened up before my
eyes. It’s a select few picked to serve our Lord on a greater platform,
representing Him in the interim of His great return. Yes, this includes
ministers, pastors, priests, missionaries, and then just the ordinary… like me.
Do you know how
Christ chooses who will live in His shadow as disciples? Millions live in a
holy relationship with the Lord, but a genuine disciple usually is considered a
social outcast. They have a more profound knowledge of God and wisdom; perhaps
a miraculous incident occurred with Him. Often, they are rejected by family and
friends and considered “weird” or a false prophet. Demon possessed people react
strongly to them, and immature Christians spew insulting comments their
direction. Disciples, or anointed chosen followers, stand alone in a mocking
world. I’ve experienced all of these things, but with God by my side, I endure
all the accusations and criticisms, knowing He is my strength and power.
In the Bible,
Jesus’ biological half brothers rejected Him and His ministry. King David was
ridiculed for obeying and following the Lord. Isaac, the son of Abraham and
Sarah, was born supernaturally for his parents were aged one hundred and ninety
when he was conceived by God’s miracle. Moses was appointed at birth to
represent God and was the target of terrible criticism from the Israelites and
even his own brother and sister. Christ filled John the Baptist with the Holy
Spirit before he was born. He was ultimately beheaded because no one believed Christ
chose him. Not one person in scriptures chosen and anointed as a representative
of Christ had an easy life. They had to set themselves apart, and I’m sure they
felt very isolated.
So, today I ask,
are you chosen by God to be His ambassador? Are you afraid to take a leap of
faith for fear of rejection? Please read Psalm 91 as it is God’s promises to
His chosen and anointed people:
God will reward the fruits of our accomplishments at the end. Pick up your staff and walk my friends. Be strong in your commitment, now more than ever as the world’s flocks of sheep are like a pack of wolves. They hungrily circle God’s chosen to wait for the perfect chance to ensnare and devour your devotion. Be not afraid to stand in the barley and dance in the shade. Christians, we were born to represent Christ Jesus.
persecution is a never-ending battle. Innocent Christians are crucified every
day in the name of God for believing in a higher way of life. On our home turf,
distance protects us; yet examples around the world appear in our own living
room. If only everyone would come to terms with God’s peace! My heart remains
in remorse over the wrong direction we are heading today. But, amongst these
times of terror, the steadfast still walk with Jesus to praise and spread the
Lord’s words of hope. Blessed be the faithful!
may not be aware my wife did missionary work in Guinea, West Africa for the
International Mission Board. Her humanitarian efforts served the Susu tribes
where they dug wells for fresh water. She also held a Vacation Bible School for
pre-school children in the capital city of Conakry. Her living arrangement was
in a compound enclosed with a fifteen-foot cement wall and broken bottles
placed on top for safety. Two security guards stood guard twenty-four hours a
day. Amidst the 110 degree weather, lack of fresh running water, recurring
power outages, illness from vaccine shots, and contaminated foods, she and her
group forged onward; it was necessary for the Islamists to know God loves
But, months of pre-planning and training was mandatory before she could enter Africa. The World Mission Boards warns missionaries to be careful who you speak to, not to look militants in the eye, and to dress in public as one of the crowd. They could not take for granted the deep commitment the Soussou had to their own religion. Not everyone finds peace in the spirit of Christian voodoo where God is the last word. Amid the incomprehension of entering a Third World country, she boarded an airplane with a round-trip ticket and the church’s prayer for her safe return. God bless our missionaries!
such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong,
they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter
God’s mercy, my wife was one of the lucky few to serve and leave Africa without
incident. The internet is filled with stories of those murdered in the hands of
the Peace Corps and other religious affiliations. It is obvious Christians
still walk, today, in the suffering Christ paid for our sins. China and
Pakistan, for example, recently suffered mass genocides and burnings of their
churches. Bangladesh murders secular activists and Christians, more or less
with impunity. Statistics reveal North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Africa, Iraq, and
Syria persecute Christians more than any other faith group. Making matters
worse, governments in the West and the UN do not offer emergency help to
the influx of Middle Eastern immigrants and other foreigners into the United
States, the religious tide is shifting dramatically here too. Bibles, crosses,
and our churches are burned; they ban even Christmas trees and greeting cards
in some areas. I wonder what Jesus would think if He walked our world today?
biblical days, Jesus also suffered much religious persecution. He toured a
radius of forty miles around Nazareth preaching His Father’s word and often hid
in different lands for His protection. Unlike my wife, who stayed behind a
cement wall, His temporary home was in a cave or the middle of a desert. But as
in today’s times, very few people believed He was the Messiah, only those who
witnessed His miracles. What words or actions does one need to see to prove God
really exists? It’s not about color or creed, but receiving the grand prize – eternal
life in heaven!
the families who lost loved ones in the oppression of trusting in God’s
greatness, have faith knowing persecution and true Christianity are inseparable.
Jesus died on the cross for our sins – even for those who denounced His existence.
Missionaries and all other Christians must realize God warns His righteous saints
they will be persecuted for believing in Him.
are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the
kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and
falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad,
because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the
prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)
Have solace for your loved ones, and others who served the Lord, and believe in His name because they will be forever in His presence. If I had to lose my life for someone, let it be for Jesus! It would not be in vain for mercy reigns over ignorance! For two thousand years, believers have fought the war of standing up for God. Many procrastinate changing their life’s sins for the anticipation of the return of Christ Jesus. With the love the Lord placed in my heart, I bleed for those who choose not to concede before they die. Fathers, mothers, sisters and sons, Christ sent you a personal invitation to live in heaven with Him. What are you waiting for? It’s in you! Open your eyes and listen to your soul. Let the books of the Gospel lead your spirit for they are not fiction but the genealogy of your life.