Entitlement

Today’s society is bombarded with many slogans that portray us to be “deserving” of something. Such self-focused messages are:

            “You deserve a break today…” used by McDonald’s

            “You owe it to yourself…” used by cruise lines

            “Treat yourself to take the break you deserve” used by Hilton HHonors

In the dynamics of families and relationships, how many times have you graciously gave a gift and never received a “thank you” of any kind? How often have you heard the stories of parents passing away, and the children fought over the estate and money? If a sibling or parent is near their deathbed, do they deserve to be treated with respect if they never reciprocated love to family members in a state of healthiness? What if a husband and wife purchase a home with their hard-earned money – should their children feel entitled to the parent’s assets?

Within the business world, employees arrive late and perform their duties with little ambition. They demand pay raises and better benefits. Are they really deserving of it? Or, a parent scrapes and works hard to grow a business, and their grown children now believe they’re entitled to run it when the parent is deceased.

Churches also run into the same dilemmas when the congregation feels entitled to receive answers from their pastors or to hold positions within the house of worship. And, while I walk down the path of religious connotations, many believers feel deserving of God’s blessings. Speaking of this, do you know why much of humanity walks away from God and stops believing in Him? They prayed for an answer they wanted to hear and didn’t receive it. He was a means to get what they felt entitled to in life! Ironically, I believe our church leaders are responsible for this incorrect train of thought. They stand on the pulpit and preach God will meet all our needs and give them their desires if they pledge their soul to Jesus. The fact is our sin separates us from the Lord.

Entitlement is a dangerous walk in life – it’s Godlessness. Let me be frank here – God, parents, and employers owe us nothing. God blesses us with things because He wants to – an unconditional love of grace. A selfish demand for His generosity will reap no benefits. It’s that simple!

Jesus’ ministry spoke of loving others with a grateful heart. This includes treating each other with respect, even amidst our differences. The well-being of gratitude promotes healthy relationships, both in our walk with the Lord and relationships with others.

In the subject of parenting, fewer children today respect their elders. They ignore the recognition parents deserve for years of hard work and dedication to their families because they live in the “gimme, gimme” world. These generations are gifted with their heart’s desires, and they expect it from the parents. Thus, the slogans I mentioned at the beginning of the message above, come into play. As the children grow older, they feel entitled to life. Little do we know, it promotes laziness, ungratefulness, and the subject of this blog – entitlement. What are we teaching our children and others?

So, how can we live a life feeling less entitled to things and people?

•          Humbly give thanks to God for all we receive. “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

•          Remember the grace of God, for Jesus died on the cross for our sins. We do not deserve to be treated with graciousness for our sinful attitudes, but the Lord’s love and grace reaches out to us, anyway. “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” Titus 3:3-5

•          Set your mind on eternity with the Lord and not on this world. Money and physical possessions mean nothing, for they cannot be taken with you to heaven. “But, as it is written, what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him…” 1 Corinthians 2:9

•          Continuously pray for discernment of entitlement. Why do I feel entitled, and how can I change this train of thought?

In summary of today’s message, expect little, receive with a grateful heart, and always give thanks. Give God the glory for your unexpected blessings!

Written by Anne Bicks, Editor and Marketing of Bicks Books LLC


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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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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!

Learning is critical

Have you found that learning is critical to success? Of that, I am certain.

Each time I take time and learn how to do something, I usually find it easier to do it; and the results I get are satisfactory.

On the other hand, each time I have dabbled into something important without having taken time to learn how to go about it, not only have I found it harder to do, but also, the results have not been pleasing.

This explains why I do encourage all my friends, readers and whoever I can to make an effort to put learning ahead of doing.

Take time to learn how to do whatever you want to do.

By the way, learning is a life long affair. If you stop learning, you stop growing.

It is important that no day should pass when you have not added to your stock of knowledge. By this I mean when you have not learned something new, be it a new word, a new idea, new fact, or a new way of doing things.

Ensure that you grow in knowledge everyday.

At the end of each day, you should be able to show to yourself one or two things that you learned.