The Light of Saint Lucia

I love learning about holiday traditions, especially when they’re linked to our ancestry. Last year, I did a Christmas blog on the German ritual and southwest U.S. practice of placing a pickle on the tree. This year, on December 13, the light of Saint Lucy shines on Scandinavia and Italy. It is Saint Lucy’s Day, also called the Feast of Saint Lucy, signaling the arrival of Christmas. Though her personal story is quite sordid, Saint Lucia shines the light of Christ for all Christians. So, let’s bundle up and get ready to visit the countries of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Italy!

Who was Saint Lucy?

Image courtesy of catholicsistas.com

Once coinciding with the Winter Solstice (shortest day of the year), the Feast of Saint Lucy has become a Christian festival of light since the 4th century. Lucy was born in the year 283 to very wealthy and noble parents. She was a devout Christian who promised her virginity to the Lord. Her father passed away when she was five years-old, but as she reached her teenage years, her mother arranged an engagement with a man who was a pagan and paid him a handsome dowry. Against her religious beliefs, Lucy was not interested in a relationship not condoned by God. She prayed He would spare her the marriage.

This young lady worked to help Christians hiding in the catacombs during their persecutions conducted by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. She brought them as many supplies as she could handle, wearing a wreath on her head. It had candles attached so she could see in the darkness of the caves.

Image owned and courtesy of The Tour Expert

It devastated Lucy when her mother came down with a long-term illness, shortly before her wedding. She went to the shrine of Saint Agatha to pray for her mother’s health and was told by the saint her mother’s illness would be cured through faith. Lucy returned home and convinced her mother to cancel the wedding and donate the dowry to the poor.

Furious at the snub, Lucy’s fiancé reported her to the governor for being a Christian. She was arrested, tortured, and threatened to be taken to a brothel if she didn’t renounce Christianity. But, something divine occurred…

When the prison guards tried to remove her, she was a dead weight. No one could budge her away! So, they built a woodpile around her, instead, and lit it afire. In the name of God, she kept denouncing their horrific acts. One guard stuck a spear through her throat, but she didn’t stop speaking, and another gouged out her eyes. Miraculously, her eyes were restored. It is said Lucy could die only when she was given the Christian Last Rites. Saint Lucy’s death, on December 13, 304, is celebrated with a feast and different rituals by each country.

Croatia and Hungary

A popular tradition on this day is planting wheat grains, which will be full grown on Christmas. It symbolizes a new life born in Bethlehem. They also place a candle next to the plant for the Light of Christ.

Sweden

Though not an official holiday in Sweden, St. Lucy’s Day has been a special occasion since 1764. Formal dinner parties are the protocol. In the school system, students choose someone to be Lucy, and she dresses in a long white robe, red sash, and a wreath with candles are put on her head. Then maids are chosen who dress in white robes. They even hold regional contests for the best Lucy.

Saint Lucia Island in the Caribbean

Boys also dress up in several attires. Some wear a long white robe with a cone-shaped hat, or a Santa elf costume with a lantern, and some don gingerbread men outfits.

Everyone snacks on Lussekatt, a special  baked bun made with saffron. Early on Lucia morning, Swedish television airs a procession and concert, which features a different choir in a different church each year.

Finland

St. Lucy was first celebrated in Finland in 1898, and Helsinki Cathedral crowned her St. Lucy of Finland in 1949.

Denmark

In Denmark, the Day of Lucy was first celebrated on December 13, 1944. It is a yearly event in most churches at Christmas. Candles stay lit all night, representing the light of Saint Lucy.

Norway

The modern-day celebration of Lucia in Norway was adopted after World War II but it only remains popular in kindergarten and middle schools. They, too, dress in the white robes with wreaths and candles on their heads.

Saint Lucia (Caribbean)

This Caribbean island was named after Saint Lucy and is celebrated as National Day. They hold the National Festival of Lights and Renewal the night before the holiday, and the capital is covered in lights and decorated lanterns

Italy

The roots of this holiday are originally traced to Sicily, Italy. Lucy was born, lived, and died a martyr in this city, and today, it points to the arrival of Christ, the light of the world. Italians gather on December 13 to light candles and torches, and to eat, drink, and be merry. Many religious parades and feasts permeate the cities.

As the darkness falls upon Northern Europe on December 13, let us help our ancestors to celebrate Saint Lucia’s Day. Though not observed in the United States, we can pray for a message of light and the hope of Christ in our hearts.


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Flowers of the Holy Night

How often do you drive down a road and notice the plants and weeds growing along its edge? You might see them if they are shockingly beautiful, but otherwise – not so much. Would you ever think a Mexican roadside weed could become a symbol of Christmas, or be linked to Christianity?

Poinsettia, a name meaning “very beautiful,” grows as a weed in Mexico and Central America. They grow wild in a tall, stringy form, and the red flowers are actually not flowers. Similar to our Bougainvillea in the United States, its upper leaves turn red, and the tiny flowers grow in the middle of the bracts. Cultivated in a variety of colors now, an Aztec king once prized it. So, how did it become a favorite Christmas plant?

The Aztecs used to pull these weeds to make purple dye for clothes and cosmetics. They made the white sap in the stem into medicine to treat fevers. In 1825, Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first ambassador from the USA to Mexico, owned greenhouses on plantations in South Carolina. He began growing these plants and sent them to friends and botanical gardens.

Image of Joel Roberts Poinsett courtesy of scencyclopedia.org

Joel’s friend, Robert Buist of Philadelphia, fell in love with the plants when he received one. He began selling them as cut flowers, using the name of Poinsettias. By the early 1900s in America, they sold whole plants for landscaping and pot plants nationwide.

Albert Ecke, a German immigrant, increased the availability of poinsettias in America when he sent cuttings by air instead of fully grown plants by rail. By this time, the Ecke family had a profuse inventory of single-stem plants. His grandson, Paul Ecke, Jr., was strong in marketing, and he developed a brilliant idea for the poinsettias. Why not send them to early television shows so they can be a backdrop during the holidays?

So, they shipped thousands of plants to the Dinah Shore, Bob Hope, and The Tonight Show programs. The public went crazy over the burst of color on the Christmas shows, and their popularity was born. Throughout most of the 20th century, the Ecke family crop accounted for over ninety percent of all poinsettias sold in the United States. The US Congress even deemed December 12 as National Poinsettia Day to commemorate the date of Poinsett’s death.

As Christianity quickly spread across the Americas, Mexicans became the first people to celebrate the holiday flower’s Christian meaning. They saw its red leaves as a symbol of deep love and the blood of Jesus at His crucifixion. Today, the poinsettia, with its star-shaped foliage pattern, is used consistently in churches at Christmastime, for it is thought it resembles the Star of Bethlehem.

I’m ending today’s blog with the Legend of the Poinsettia for your reading enjoyment. Be sure to join us again on Sunday, November 24, for the next “Everything Christmas Blog.” God bless!

*************

The Legend of the Poinsettia

Pepita, a poor Mexican girl, had no gift to present the Christ Child at Christmas Eve Services. As Pepita walked slowly to the chapel with her cousin Pedro, her heart was filled with sadness rather than joy.

“I am sure, Pepita, that even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in His eye,” said Pedro.

Not knowing what else to do, Pepita knelt by the roadside and gathered a handful of common weeds, fashioning them into a small bouquet. Looking at the scraggly bunch of weeds, she felt more saddened and embarrassed than ever by the humbleness of her offering. She fought back a tear as she entered the small village chapel.

As she approached the alter, she remembered Pedro’s kind words: “Even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in His eyes.” She felt her spirit lift as she knelt to lay the bouquet at the foot of the nativity scene.

Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into blooms of brilliant red, and all who saw them were certain they witnessed a Christmas miracle right before their eyes.

From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the Flores de Noche Buena, or Flowers of the Holy Night, for they bloomed each year during the Christmas season.


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Feed your mind

Take your time
And feed your mind;
It needs
Food to eat
And water to drink;
So that it may grow;
And grow well;
Nourishing food
Is what it needs to eat;
And clean water
To drink;
Knowledge
Is the food
Of the mind,
But, just like
Not all food
Is good
For the nourishment
Of the body,
Not all knowledge
Is good
For the nourishment
Of the mind;
As you must feed your body
With nourishing food;
Do same with your mind;
Learn useful things;
Give your mind
A balanced diet;
Dont forget fresh air
And enough sunlight,
The crops will grow well.
And yield
An abundant harvest.
Your barns will be full.

The 8 Most Powerful Women in the Bible: Part One

What makes a woman powerful? Is it money, fame, a political position, or is it an Oscar-winning actress? Any of these attributes may be true in today’s society, but not in biblical days. Many excellent examples of strong, influential women grace the pages of the Bible, and I will review two a week for the next four Sundays. Our ladies, now two thousand years later, may find much wisdom in the biblical females. Use them as a guiding tool in your personal lives and to develop a relationship with God.

The last point I want to express is “behind every successful man is a strong and wise woman.” So true of these most powerful women in the Bible! I hope you enjoy my review.


MARY MAGDALENE

Mary of Magdala lived in a comfortable village of many Greeks in Galilee. They depicted her as a prostitute in town. According to scriptures, the single Mary Magdalene had a serious sickness caused by ‘seven demons,’ so many people assumed she was a fallen woman. But, in biblical times, certain illnesses such as schizophrenia, blindness, heart disease, and epilepsy were thought to be demonic. The Bible is unclear what her specific situation was, but bible scholars agree she was not a prostitute.

At some point in her life, Mary met Jesus in one of the many villages He ministered to, and He healed her afflictions. She became an immediate follower and a leader of a group of women who traveled with Jesus and helped to support His ministry. Only a strong, self-confident woman would be so brave to spread the Gospel in biblical days.

Jesus had two groups of people who accompanied Him – a group of men led by Peter the Apostle, and a group of women led by Mary Magdalene. However, according to religious tradition, females were meant to be seen and not heard, but Mary, in controversy, was very close to Jesus. Just as I wrote in the past, God chooses people to be His disciples that we least expect to reach this broken world. Mary was one such example. Her great faith earned special attention from Jesus.

On the day they crucified Jesus, Mary Magdalene, along with two others, stood at the base of His cross and watched Him breathe His last breath. Her heartbreak must have been unimaginable!  In the Bible passages of Luke 23 and Matthew 27, Mary prepared Jesus’ body for burial by making a spice anointment for the linens. She observed from afar as they placed His body in the rock tomb. Mary visited His burial site every day as if waiting… did she know something?

Image of Mary Magdalene courtesy of James Tissot Collection at Brooklyn Museum freebibleimages.org

In the early morning light, the following week, Mary visited the tomb. As she sat and prayed an earthquake erupted and forced the rock away from the entrance of the grave. Mary jumped up to look inside, and it was empty! Suddenly, God’s angel appeared before her.

“Woman, why are you weeping?”

With tears streaming down her face, Mary replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

Suddenly a voice from behind her spoke, “Mary! Why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

Not recognizing the face, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” He responded with, “Mary!” It was Jesus standing before her.

She dropped to her knees, grabbed His hands, and said in Hebrew “Rabbouni!” Jesus told her not to hold on to Him because He had not ascended to the Father yet. Instead, He ordered her to go tell the disciples he was resurrected.

Mary Magdalene at Jesus’ resurrection courtesy of freebibleimages.org

Mary ran to them and announced, “I have seen the Lord.”

It is interesting that in a society where women were held in low regard, Christ showed Himself first to a woman. Mary loved her Lord, and she was His truest, faithful follower.

What made Mary Magdalene a powerful woman?

  • She taught us to live courageously and faithfully for Christ. Jesus set her free by eliminating her ‘demons,’ and instead of going about her own life, Mary worked for Him. Even when she faced difficult times, and people called her hopeless, she allowed Jesus to work through her.
  • Mary was more loyal to Jesus than His own disciples. They hid as Jesus was led to His crucifixion, but Mary stayed with Him. She also anointed His linen with spices.
  • Mary was given the honor of being the first person to see Jesus after His resurrection. She was very important to Christ, or He would not have revealed Himself to her before the other disciples. It may be safe to comment Jesus changed the way women were viewed in society.
  • Mary teaches us that even if our lives are in terrible disarray, it is never too late to find hope in God.
  • Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends and His apostle, ostracized her work as a disciple. In the Gospel of Thomas, he said, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of the Life,” but her strength of character and love of God gave her the courage to move forward. Today, she is often called the first woman evangelist.

What happened to Mary Magdalene after Jesus’ resurrection? Much controversy exists about this topic. One theory suggests fourteen years after the crucifixion, she was put into a boat by Jews and set adrift without sails or oars. The boat landed in southern France where she lived in solitude in a cave.

Another theory claims she accompanied John to Ephesus, where she died and was buried. Some say she evangelized Provence, France during her last thirty years.

A recent book titled The Lost Gospel even claims Mary and Jesus were secretly married and had two children, but someone’s imagination was a little overextended.

Today, in the Russian Orthodox church, they know her as the patroness of sinners and penitent women. One of the world’s best-known monuments is the Church of Mary Magdalene in East Jerusalem.


HANNAH

Image of Hannah courtesy of Moody Publishers and freebibleimages.org

Hannah is an inspiring and wonderful story of humanity and all its flaws. No one is the leading character in the story of their own life.

Elkanah lived in the Ephraim hills of a small town thirteen miles to the northeast of Jerusalem. He practiced polygamy through his Levite religion. Hannah was his first wife, and he adored and loved her, doting on her every need. But, she was infertile, and his family name needed to be honored with children, so he married another woman. Peninnah was envious of the love Elkanah had for Hannah. She cruelly taunted Hannah to tears each time she gave birth to their ten sons, and Hannah lost her sense of appetite.

One day, Hannah traveled to the sanctuary, and she spoke to the priest about her inability to have children. Her soul was crushed as the tears flowed down her lovely face. She dropped to her knees before the altar and prayed.

“Oh, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, if you’ll take a good, hard look at my pain, if you’ll quit neglecting me and go into action for me by giving me a son, I’ll give him completely, unreservedly to you. I’ll set him apart for a life of holy discipline.”

Before the year was out, Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son named Samuel. She told Elkanah she asked God for this son. Hannah also explained when the child was weaned, she would present him before God, where he would remain forever. He agreed with her plans.

Image courtesy of freebibleimages.org

The day arrived when Samuel was no longer dependent on Hannah for nutrition. She took him to Shiloh along with a butchered bull, flour, and wine and presented him to the priest, Eli. “I prayed for this child, and God gave me what I asked for. And now I have dedicated him to God. He’s dedicated to God for life.”

Hannah and Elkanah dedicated their lives to God as they watched their son grow up among the priests. Hannah made Samuel little white robes cut to his size, and they took them to him. Eli often said a prayer over her on those visits, “God give you children to replace this child you have dedicated to God.” His blessings and prayers were heard as Hannah and Elkanah had three more sons and a daughter.

Today, we acknowledge Samuel as a prophet by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, an equal to Moses. He wrote the story of his life, including his mother, Hannah, in the Book of Samuel.

What made Hannah a powerful woman?

  • Hannah’s main attribute was perseverance. She prayed for many years for God to give her a child. She had faith in the power of the Lord and never doubted He would answer her prayers. Hannah teaches us never to give up, even when we think something is impossible. Her faithfulness to the Lord bled into her son, who became a great man.
  • Her boldness, strength, and devotion were like no other for she was a mother who gave up her first-born to the Lord. I’m sure most parents would rethink this decision. But, Hannah recognized all things are God’s possessions, even our children. He honors parents with children as merely a gift, a temporary gift. We are to mold them in the ways of the Lord as a blessing to all nations. In Hannah’s case, because she fulfilled her promise to God, He blessed her with a legacy of five more children.
  • Hannah’s power is also demonstrated through a promise which she kept to God. Her integrity is in the commitment of handing her child over to God. She never went back on her word, for if she did, she might never have conceived any more children. God rewards us for loyalty.

Thank you, Hannah, for teaching us we must trust in the Lord in everything in our lives. Life is not always a bowl of cherries, but with persistent prayer, miracles can and will happen. Dedication to the Master who created us, along with integrity, will reap you blessings beyond your wildest imagination.

Hannah is buried in the Tomb of Samuel in the West bank, beside her son Samuel, on top of a steep hill just north of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot.

We hope you enjoyed Part One and will return next Sunday for two more powerful women in the Bible.


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The Dynamic Story of Paul the Apostle: Part 4, The Conclusion

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.

Paul’s Third Missionary Trip map courtesy of FreeBibleImages.org

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.

School of Tyrannus image courtesy of FreeBibleImages.org

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.


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 reputation.

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.


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).


MILETUS

Paul 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.

When 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)

22 “And 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.

25 “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.

Ruins of Ephusus

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)

Paul 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.

Paul goes to jail.

People 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.

Paul gazed at Chief Priest Ananias and said, “Friends, I’ve lived with a clear conscience before God all my life.”

The 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.

That 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. (Acts 26)

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.


ROME

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.


CONCLUSION

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:

            Acts 18:22-38:  Paul’s detailed his final meeting with the elders of the church in Ephesus in Miletus.

            1 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.

            2 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)

            Romans: 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:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


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Enemy #1: Miseo

The most massive resistance to Christianity encompasses all the thoughts of evildoers. It’s black or white –  you either love or do not love. A lack of love carries traits of bitterness, jealousy, rejection, and envy. How sad we instigate not loving another human being! So I ask, can you truly love if there is an ounce of hate in your heart? There was only one word which described Christ’s mission and it was the word “love.” Jesus, the son of God, surrounded His ministry with this word. It gave birth to Christianity.

Miseo, the Greek word to love someone else less than you love the Lord, is found 173 times in the New Testament. It’s a viral unrest in the world which extends back as far as time permits. Why I wonder, do some hate so much, especially if they claim to be a Christ-follower? I ask my Father in heaven, why can’t we denounce hatred and share the benefits of having You in our life? How can I word this emotion best?

I can begin by explaining Satan’s evil ways. Though he runs rampant in the world, Satan will be short-lived because God has bigger plans for his demise. Hatred is a dominating force where prevailing winds howl – a lack of compassion. Wikipedia defines it well though as “a prejudice-motivated crime.” It’s a fear of things different from us and a lack of empathy. Did you know to hate others is also to hate yourself and God? This is an emotion the Lord never created humans to endure.

If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

— 1 John 4:20-21

I’ve often read and was told Jesus “hated” throughout his life. Let me start by saying the Bible was translated hundreds of times from its original script. Certain words, which could not be interpreted accurately, entered the scriptures we read today, and “hate” or “miseo” is one such example. Our Lord is not a God of hate, but true, righteous, and holy. “Hate” in the Bible only describes the intense feelings of anger God has toward sin and persistent sinners. It also implies, “to feel less love”. If Jesus hated people, He would not forgive sin nor the sinner.

Hate is a state of mind and as barbaric as the animals in the wild. It is an unwanted gift conceived by the principals of a demonic character. Where there is hatred, there is no love. It’s impossible to speak of love (and mean it) from one side of the lips yet spew out verbs to imply hatred from the other side of the mouth.

I have a Sunday series currently posted about Paul the Apostle. This was a man who fought the hatred of Christianity every place he traveled in his missionary trips. It caused riots, his brutal beatings, imprisonment, and even his ultimate demise… and for what? Christianity is still alive. Paul stood up, dusted himself off, and walked back into their cities filled with love for the nation who despised him! What was the purpose of the Jews hating what Paul stood for when he always had God on his side? Hate’s negative energy doesn’t serve a purpose except to the sinner committing the crime.

If you pay close attention to your TV or even your children’s electronic games, evil hatred is broadcast, subtly agitating the subconscious of the brain. Enemy #1 becomes a deadly virus waiting to encompass someone’s life. Spiritual warfare is more pronounced today as Satan’s time is nearing the end. Fight to avoid falling into his pit of fire for it goes against the grain of our heavenly Father. God will, as always, prevail in your times of disasters and feelings of anger. Fill your ark with prayers for “Enemy #1: Miseo” to go away. A Christian must uphold God’s commandment to love one another.


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The Dynamic Story of Paul the Apostle, Part 2: First Missionary Trip

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.


SALAMIS/ PAPHOS

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.

Three months 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.

“You 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)

Image courtesy of wikipedia.org

Elymas stepped 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!”

The governor’s 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.

“It is 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 13: 23-24

He told the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and the laws of forgiveness. Paul ended his speech with these final words:

“Brothers, 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 13: 38-40

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…

“…since 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

The Ruins of Antioch

The elated 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…


ICONIUM

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.


LYSTRA

This 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.”

“You! Stand up!” Paul yelled to the man. The startled man jumped to his feet and started walking. (Acts 14: 8-10)

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.

“Friends, 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 14: 15-18)

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!”

Stoning of Paul. Attribution to Sweet Publishing/FreeBibleimages.org

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.


DERBE

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 churches.


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.

COMMENTARY:

Paul’s first 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?

  1. Though 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.
  2. The 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.
  3. The 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.

Paul’s first missionary trip teaches us several Christian highlights:

  1. Christianity 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.
  2. Perseverance 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.
  3. It is unnecessary to fully convert non-believers. God uses Christians just to plant the seeds.
  4. Paul 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.
  5. Paul could 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.

Did you miss Part 1? Click here to read it.


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Schools issue quarrel

Are you aware
Of this fierce quarrel?
I call it schools issue quarrel;
Whether schools should open, or they should not;
Whether children should go to school
Or stay at home?
Whether children should be learned
Or be illiterate
When they grow up?
An issue best appreciated
in context;
Education, no doubt is good;
But what do we do
When the context is a complicated one?
That is where
I and my people are.
Caught between a wild fire
And the deep sea.
We are in deep trouble;
May God help us!