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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Before There Was Santa

The excitement of Christmas is right around the corner. Shoppers fill the malls while jolly men dressed in red suits with a white beard chuckle, “Ho Ho Ho,” to the smiling children. Oh, there’s nothing better than good cheer this time of the year!

Santa Claus, a commercialized entity in the United States, was a mere Coca-Cola sketch in 1931, which grew into a life of its own. But, before there was Santa, the true patron saint of children, St. Nicholas, filled the shoes (quite literally). Yes, this is the true story that links the roots of Santa Claus and a man named Nicholas.

Nicholas was born about 280 A.D. in the village of Patara on the southwest coast of Turkey. A devout Christian, he was left with a large inheritance when his wealthy parents died in an epidemic. He gave all of his money to the needy, sick, and those in distress. A servant of God, they blessed him with the title of Bishop Nicholas at a young age. His heart, though, remained with children.

One would not think such an honorable man (and the first Santa) could be a victim of Christian persecution, but this event tells us otherwise. In 325 A.D., Nicholas attended the Council of Nicea meeting, and the fundamentals of Christian faith was the topic of discussion. He challenged a lecturer, named Arius, on the beliefs of Orthodox Christianity. An argument ensued, and Nicholas slapped Arius in front of the Roman Emperor Constantine. The Council put Nicholas in chains, stripped him of his leadership position, and jailed him for assault.

Nicholas prayed for forgiveness and humility. He hoped God would forgive him. A recall of the story claims the Lord visited him in prison one night, removed his chains, and returned his garments. The next morning, prison guards discovered him praying and dressed in his bishop attire. The Emperor received word of the mysterious event and ordered Nicholas to be released – it was divine intervention. Nicholas rejoined the Council of Nicea and helped to create the Orthodox Christian religion as we know it today.

Many stories are told of Nicholas’ good deeds through the centuries, and they portray him as a gift-giver. But how did he receive this name? The following incident forever links him to Christmas stockings…

A poor man had three daughters whom he wanted to marry off to prospective husbands. In those days, however, a woman’s father offered a dowry for marriage. The larger the payment, the better the chance of finding a husband. Having no money, he knew his daughters would soon be sold into slavery.

Nicholas learned of the family’s harrowing story. On three different occasions, bags of gold balls were tossed through an open window of the poor man’s house, and they landed inside the stockings and shoes, drying near a fire. Today, three gold balls are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. Do you recognize the connection to Christmas stockings?

You may also ask how St. Nicholas was linked to Christmas, so I will tell you. After his death in 343 A.D., many miracles involving children occurred, and they were all contributed to St. Nicholas. Small gifts and candy silently appeared for poor children on the holiday celebration, Feast of St. Nicholas, which is celebrated on December 5 and/or 6. Are the stories true? I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Image courtesy of Pinterest

Most European countries still celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas today. It is a day about giving and recognizing those who contribute to society. Good children receive treats or small gifts in their shoes. The Europeans teach us that to celebrate Christmas, large amounts of gifts unnecessary – keep it simple to retain the real reason for the season.

Over the centuries, St. Nicholas transformed into another similar figure called Santa Claus. Known as Sinterklaas in Holland, their customs entered the United States and the fat man in a red suit, was soon born. But, let us not forget the roots of St. Nicholas, who came before there was Santa. Compassion, charity, and giving the greatest gift of all – himself – took center stage. This should be the image of Christmas!


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The Fact Remains

This world still evolves in the past tense. I quoted a proverb in Ecclesiastes 1:9 which reads, “there’s nothing new under the sun,” and I’ll be darned if it isn’t true. Solomon wrote this statement, 500 years before Jesus’ birth, to emphasize the cyclic nature of human life on earth and the emptiness of living only for the “rat race.” It’s a life separated from God. But, our gracious God continues to rain down His love on us… even amidst the turmoil.

I’m not a great biblical scholar, but it’s obvious we, as God’s children have not learned a thing. It’s clear the hardships of Jesus are repeating themselves in the modern-day. How odd to read the trials of Jesus and then observe Christianity today.

The Pharisees and Jews took it upon themselves to discredit the Son of man. Jesus came to save the world and to give us salvation, but we’ve still not learned our lesson. He was a man so brutally beat, chastised and ridiculed because no one believed him. It was easier to side with the laws of the land, then to be uprooted to another religion.

But, a few knew the truth about Him in biblical days. They did not fear the religious upheaval, but embraced the faith, which led them to Him. In all His splendor and integrity, Jesus ultimately proved His identity when He died for our sins.

Today, our system finds it easier to ruin and destroy His direction than to believe in our Savior, who came to deliver us, two thousand years ago. The evil brews to the point of boiling, for unbelievers are monumentally winning over the world. The fact remains, if not for the faith of believers who held on to their principles, the rampant corruption would go wild. This is a prophecy in the Bible that our world is quickly fulfilling today.

My Dad, God love him, always said it’s easy to find fault in a person. I believe goodness lies beneath hatred when the truth slowly emerges from the layers. I can’t help but think back when Jesus walked on this earth. His ministry was short, for evildoers who had little faith and didn’t believe in His integrity blemished it. Doesn’t this sound familiar today as many allow the media’s march to undermine the truth of God’s word? I cannot imagine the inner turmoil of those who do not have faith in anything for they relish in hatred.

I energize my faith in the name of God’s glory, for the great master and overseer of all evil, brings to light the doers of animosity. Just as in biblical times, the proof takes a while to expose, but eventually, the truth will be revealed for it is God’s will!

Pray for those who live in doubt and fear faith because they find it easier to condemn than to compliment. The fact remains, God’s love will intervene in their destructive behavior.

My dad’s words ring out once more!

Proverbs 26:24-26

“A hateful person disguises himself with his speech and harbors deceit within. When he speaks graciously, don’t believe him, for there are seven abominations in his heart. Though his hatred is concealed by deception, his evil will be revealed in the assembly.”


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Familiar Signs of the Antichrist

I recently reread the Book of Revelations to digest the word “Antichrist,” a beast who will rise to power during the end times. If we study Apostle John’s writing (called the “Beast from the Abyss”), he claims there will be many antichrists (false teachers) between the time of Christ’s first and Second Coming, but only one great Antichrist. Paul the Apostle even painted a great picture of this character. Though the Antichrist is considered an entity, it will be led by one person. So, let’s review this person’s attributes according to the Bible.

ATTRIBUTES OF THE ANTICHRIST

1 – He speaks blasphemies against God (Revelation 13:5) and changes the words of Jesus. The Antichrist also claims priests can forgive sins (but only God can do this). (Luke 5:21) He will also deny Christ lived as a human being. (1 John 4:3)

2 – He has the authority to rule over every tribe, people, language, and nation. The Bible considers those who follow him as the names not written in the Book of Life before God made the world.

3 – He has great political power as he rises to power as a very influential, charismatic, political, or religious diplomat. The Antichrist won’t appear to be evil at first.

4 – This person will be an economic and foreign policy genius.

5 – He will institute lawlessness across the nation.

6 – The Antichrist will emerge from one of ten countries in Europe as a Gentile. (Daniel 7:7-8) This constitutes the revival of the Roman Empire. (Daniel 7:16-24)

7 – He will be a liar and deceiver whose natural abilities Satan enhances with a counterfeit supernatural power to confuse people.

8 – He will claim himself to be God. (2 Thessalonians 2:4)

9 – He will represent a world religion, not predominately Jewish. (Revelation 13:11-18)

ANTICHRIST MOVEMENTS ARE EVERYWHERE

Today, there is a movement called the AntiChrist Warriors. They are on a rampage to destroy Christianity, a sign of the end times. Some of their names include anti-Christian, anti-Christ, and atheism. They cause upheavals such as the use of “Happy Holidays,” not “Merry Christmas.” They petitioned for the US Capitol Christmas tree to be called the “Capitol Holiday Tree.”

The AntiChrist Warriors also fought for the removal of prayers in schools. We can witness their lobbying at abortion clinics, Hobby Lobby, Family Planning clinics, florists, and wedding venues. As you can tell, they are the leaders of Christian persecution.

Events predicted in the Bible which precede the Antichrist include a substantial increase in Christian persecution. Random attacks of Christians will come from hundreds of thousands of Antichrist minions around the world. These individuals, organizations, and events were foretold thousands of years ago, so Christian friends, be on high alert.

IS THE ANTICHRIST AMONGST US TODAY?

Many people today are trying to figure out who the Antichrist is in the world today. My opinion is we have not seen him surface yet. This Gentile will be a staunch non-believer of Christ, and he will hail from Europe, Greece, or the Middle East. It’s unfathomable a great leader will convince the world that no god exists, but Revelations predicts the event. In the meantime, his followers are in place around the world.

HOW CAN CHRISTIANS AVOID THE ANTICHRIST?

Is there any place to hide from the power of the coming Antichrist and his followers which live amongst us? As Christians, we cannot hide from the world’s corruption – it’s in our backyard. But, instead of hiding in the pages of the Bible, we should continue to live by the Lord’s Word.

Be selective of your friends and acquaintances. I have a personal example to share with you. I knew a woman who attended my church and was part of the choir. She sang the praises of the Lord. Her demonic behavior soon surfaced when it was revealed she was labeled a “black widow.” She married seven times, just long enough to steal the money and possessions of each husband. In the 90s, she and her parents began a mission church. But, God halted that when she was arrested for extortion. The lawlessness of the Antichrist’s believers, which Paul the Apostle warned us about, are everywhere.

From one Christian to another, stand up for God! Do not crouch behind your TV screen and silently watch the Antichrist protests and destruction. Fight for your beliefs by voicing your opinion. Disconnect yourself from the media, which gives glory to the Antichrist movement. Do not be misled by clergy with ulterior motives – money and fame.

Be an avid reader of the Bible so you will be familiar with the signs of the Antichrist and false prophets. Follow God’s word for your eternal salvation. God bless.


BEGINNING NEXT SUNDAY!


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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!


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The Dynamic Story of Paul the Apostle: Part 3, Second Missionary Trip

Paul and Barnabas settled back home and enjoyed leisurely visits with the disciples. They discussed their handpicks for church leaders in their first journey. They also detailed how God used them to open the door of faith to people of all nations. Excitement filled the air.

Not long after their arrival home, some Jews from Judea appeared at Antioch (of Syria) and insisted they must circumcise every man for eternal salvation. A fierce protest ensued, so the church sent Paul, Barnabas, and a few others to Jerusalem to settle the dispute. (Acts 15)

The Jerusalem conference happily received Paul and Barnabas. They knew about the good works of the two disciples. The meeting began, and it wasn’t long before they argued both sides. After a long period of heated discussions, James (the brother of Jesus) declared the decision. Non-Jewish people would not be burdened with circumcision. A letter would be given, instead, to every male – ‘Do not get involved in idolatry, guard the morality of sex and marriage, and do not serve offensive food to the Jewish Christians.’

Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, reported the decision of the conference, and it relieved many – they were pleased with the result. It was time to return to their missionary work. Paul wanted to return to a few of his earlier churches to give them continuing encouragement. But Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways. Paul chose Silas, a leading member, and preacher of the early church, to make this three-year journey with him through Asia Minor.


Image of Paul’s second missionary trip courtesy of freebibleimages.org

LYSTRA/ PHRYGIA (Acts 14:8-16:40)

It was the fall of 51 A.D., and Paul and Silas arrived in Lystra. He met a disciple named Timothy whose excellent reputation preceded him. Paul took the young man under his wing and mentored him, but one stipulation applied before he could travel with Paul… he must be circumcised so he wouldn’t offend the Jews who lived in Lystra. Timothy became one of Paul’s most steadfast and trusted companions as they traveled from town to town, presenting the Gospel. Day after day, the congregations grew larger and stronger in faith throughout Lystra and Phrygia.


MYSIA to MACEDONIA (Acts 16:16-40)

The apostles went to Mysia (northwest corner of Turkey) at the suggestion of the Holy Spirit. They finally arrived in the seaport of Troas which sat on the Aegean Sea. Macedonia would soon prove to be an eventful trip.

The night of Paul’s arrival in Troas, he could barely sleep. He had a vision of a Macedonian standing on the far shore yelling to him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” Paul understood God’s message; He wanted Paul to settle into Europe, so he quickly put his plans and map in place.

When they arrived in New City, Paul and Silas walked to Philippi, the main city and a Roman colony of Macedonia. They prepared the list of cities they would visit, which also included Apollonia, Amphipolis, and Thessalonica.

Several days later was the Sabbath, and the apostles strolled down to the river where there was to be a prayer meeting. They sat amongst the women who gathered there and talked with them. Lydia, a purple-dye textile dealer from Thyatira, was a good God-fearing woman. She developed a lasting relationship with the disciples, and they even stayed as guests in her home until they moved to their next location. But, before the disciples left, Paul baptized Lydia and her family. Today, we know her in the Bible as the first European convert to Christianity.

Image of Lydia courtesy of freebibleimages.org

Some time passed, and a discerning incident occurred in town. The disciples ran into a slave girl on the street who was a psychic. She began following Paul around for several days, sarcastically yelling to everyone, “These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you!”

Paul became irate one day and turned to her, “Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!” And the spirit departed from her.

When the slave girl’s owners realized their fortune-telling business was bankrupt, they gathered many people together. They searched and found Paul and Silas and viciously attacked them. The mob dragged the disciples by their feet into the market square where the police arrested them for disturbing the peace. They put Paul and Silas in a maximum-security cell with their legs clamped in round ironclads.

Paul and Silas in jail; image courtesy of freebibleimages.org

About midnight, other prisoners in the jail heard praying and singing of hymns. Paul and Silas were clearly amused at their arrest. Then, without warning, the ground beneath their feet started moving and shaking – it was an earthquake! The walls of the jailhouse shook, and every door flew open.

Badly shaken by the disruption, the warden fell on his knees before Paul and Silas. “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The apostles stood shocked and examined his pitiful face.

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” The warden took Paul and Silas home. He bandaged their wounds and fed them a meal. In the morning hours, Paul and Silas baptized the jailer and his entire family.

The next morning, the court judges sent word the apostles were free. Paul objected based on the principle it humiliated them in public and good standing Roman citizens. Surprised the apostles were Romans, the judges hurried to them and apologized for the mishap. It was time for the ninety-seven mile trip to Thessalonica.


THESSALONICA (Acts 17:2-9)

Thessalonica was an ancient and prosperous city of Macedon in northern Greece. It was a major trade route with many cultures. Paul and Silas took refuge in a man’s home named Jason, who was a Jewish Christian.

A community of Jews inhabited the area, so Paul immediately preached in the synagogues, “this Jesus I’m introducing you to is the Messiah.” The apostle won many of the God-fearing Greeks. Mad with jealousy, the Jews gathered a group of brawlers off the streets, and they hunted every street in search of Paul and Silas. They broke into Jason’s house but couldn’t find the apostles, so they collared Jason and his friends instead and dragged them before the mayor.

The Jews yelled hysterically, “These people are out to destroy the world, and now they’ve shown up on our doorstep, attacking everything we hold dear! Jason is hiding them, these traitors and turncoats who say Jesus is king and Caesar is nothing!”

The crowd of people and the mayor were alarmed by their charges. Jason had to post a heavy bail while the case was investigated. In the dead of night, Paul and Silas slipped out of town, but not before contacting Antioch (in Syria) to send Timothy to Berea.


BEREA (Acts 17:10-15)

A more matured Timothy joined the apostles in Berea, a city in northern Greece. They, again, met with the Jewish community and were treated so much better than in Thessalonica. The Jews were enthusiastic to hear Paul’s message, and many converted to Christians.

After only three months in Berea, reports filtered back to the Jews in Thessalonica that the three apostles were in town. Another Jewish mob scene began, and with the help of Timothy and Silas, Paul was put on a boat and taken out to sea. When Paul reached Athens, he sent word back to Timothy and Silas to come as quick as possible.


ATHENS (Acts 17:16-34)

Paul toured the city of Athens while he waited for Timothy and Silas to arrive by his side. The city was full of junkyard idols. Paganism gripped the town and works of art such as statues were pillaged. It was clear the Romans deserted the city. He spoke with many of the locals and developed good friendships. His preaching of Jesus and the resurrection was often met with sarcasm, but many were intrigued too. “That’s a new slant on the gods. Tell us more!”

They soon approached Paul to make a public presentation of “his God” at the Areopagus, a hill west of the Athenian Acropolis, where the government council often met.  He took his stand and faced the audience.

Image of Areopagus courtesy of freebibleimages.org

“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”

Paul’s notorious speech on that day won the conversion of a few people and some Greek poets who attended the program in Athens. A successful trip it was but fifty-five miles to the southwest, Corinth was calling him.


CORINTH (Acts 18:1-11)

Corinth was a thriving cosmopolitan city. Shortly after his arrival, Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, who shared the trade of tent making with him. They were new arrivals to Corinth too; since they were Jews, they were banished from Rome by the emperor, Claudius. A friendship quickly formed between the three, and Paul was invited to live and work with them.  But every Sabbath he was at the meeting place doing his best to convince both Jews and Greeks about Jesus.

At long last Silas and Timothy arrived and now he could devote his time to preaching, but something was wrong. They persistently argued and contradicted Paul, so he walked out and went to the home of Titius Justus. Titius was a God-fearing man who lived next to the Jews’ meeting place. Paul assigned Timothy to be one of his leading troubleshooters for congregational problems within the churches of Corinth.

Many Corinthians converted to Christianity, and with the Lord’s encouragement in the middle of the night, Paul was successful in his mission. He stayed another year and a half preaching while he also wrote two epistles to the church of Thessalonica. These earliest apostolic letters today are known as First and Second Thessalonians of the Bible.

Christian persecution, once again, played in the forefront. The Jews campaigned against Paul, hauled him into court, and filed charges of seducing people into acts of worship that were illegal. Gallio, the governor, could not have cared less so he let the charges drop against Paul.

Paul stayed a little while longer before he left Corinth with his friends, Aquila and Priscilla, at his side. He wanted to go back to Jerusalem to observe the Pentecost. They boarded a ship in the harbor town of Cenchrea and headed for Ephesus in present-day Turkey.


EPHESUS to CAESAREA (Acts 18:20-21)

Priscilla and Aquila got off the ship and stayed in Ephesus. They pleaded with Paul to stay awhile longer, but he promised he would come back soon. He left the ship briefly to preach to the Jews (the first person to preach Christianity in Ephesus) and then returned to take a boat to Caesarea.

Paul disembarked in Caesarea and headed to Jerusalem where he greeted the assembly of Christians. It was a long three years, and it was time to go back to Antioch and rest.

Did you miss Part 1? Click HERE. Did you miss Part 2? Click HERE.


SUMMARY OF PAUL’S SECOND MISSIONARY TRIP

During this second missionary journey, Paul formed many disciples from all backgrounds. He took a young Timothy under his wing and mentored how to preach and exhibit patience, purity, and integrity. It was important to encourage their congregations, or it will be lifeless.

In Philippi, Paul disciples and baptized a businesswoman by the name of Lydia. She was the very first person to convert to Christianity in Europe. Many Christian denominations today recognize her as a saint, especially in the Orthodox church. A modern baptistry is located, today, on the traditional site where Lydia was baptized by Paul. In, we have to wonder if he had Lydia in mind when he wrote: “Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:11)

Paul developed a strong bond with the married couple Aquila and Priscilla. He disciples them, and they eventually became a first-century Christian missionary team. In some religions, we often think her to have been the first female preacher or teacher in early church history.

Image of Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla courtesy of freebibleimages.org

He planted the church in Philippi during his second missionary journey somewhere the year A.D. 49 or 50. His ministry was so successful that even when he left Philippi, the Philippian Christians supported Paul sending him monetary gifts at various times when he was in financial need. He wrote about this in Philippians 4: 15-16:

“When I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.”

He loved them for their commitment to the Lord, and they became his closest friends.

During the time they imprisoned Paul in Philippi, he suffered mentally and physically, but he knew life was never truly hopeless. God can rescue us from any trouble. We can note the earthquake which occurred while he was in jail was not felt or observed anywhere else in Philippi – another of God’s miracles.

Athens was a disturbing experience for Paul as idolatry overpowered the beauty of this lost city. He wrote about it in the Book of Romans claiming Gentiles and Jews are under divine condemnation, hopeless and helpless, and in need of salvation. His Areopagus sermon was infamous, though, because it was his first attempt to explain the nature of Christ to highly cultivated philosophers. He emphasized the need to know God, rather than worshiping the unknown. The part of his speech which covered “the resurrection of the dead” was his kiss of death. The Greeks felt it foolish and impossible, so they threw out Paul’s entire message. We can find his ministry teachings to Athens in 1 Corinthians: Chapters 1, 2, and 3; Romans chapter 1; and Colossians chapters one and two. Paul never founded a church in Athens.

Corinth, though many people were Greeks, they were more worldly and from other parts of Greece and foreign lands. They were more receptive to Paul and his message that the Savior was the highest expression of love. He made it known there is no higher love than that which gives up a son to die for their sins. It was a different psychological approach to those who praised other gods. Paul successfully founded a church in Corinth.

I hope you are enjoying this series about Paul the Apostle. Next Sunday, I will conclude with his third and final missionary trip and the circumstances of his death. As many finds the Bible confusing, I pray I have shed a light and deeper understanding of the complexity of Paul.


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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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The Dynamic Story of Paul the Apostle: Part 1, The Conversion

The short, balding man with crooked legs leaned against the stone pillar of the Christian church and sneered at the attendees. As believers left the service, he picked up stones and threw them yelling, “Blasphemy! You mock my Messiah with your false religion! Run, or I’ll stone you to death too!” Saul of Tarsus never regretted watching Stephen get stoned to death. “Jesus the Savior”, he exclaimed, “only God is our Savior!” Stephen was a wicked and disgusting Christian, just as the people in this church, he thought to himself. It was Saul’s job to serve and protect God and the Jewish religion. All the talk of Jesus living on earth was lies so he would see to it Christians were imprisoned and killed for their false doctrines.

It was 33 AD, and Saul decided to leave his regular tent making job behind, and head to Damascus with three friends on a 136-mile trip. He was on a mission to arrest all Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem for prosecution by the Romans. Saul limped down the dusty road, when suddenly, a great light shone directly in his eyes. He stumbled onto the ground. As he glanced up, he witnessed a vision of the resurrected Jesus.

“Who art thou, Lord?”

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:4-5)

Stunned and speechless, Saul’s friends backed up and looked away with their hands over their eyes. Saul trembled and staggered to his feet, but when he opened his eyes, he was blind! The men took Saul by his hands and led him the rest of the way to Damascus. Saul refused to drink or eat for the three-day trip. He could only stay in deep prayer with every step he took on the road. The Lord had revealed himself to Saul so what else could he do but praise God’s name? Everything he believed until now was wrong – the Mosaic Law. Jesus was the name he should worship!

Upon Saul’s arrival in Damascus, God ordered him to visit Ananias, a disciple (or prophet) of Jesus. As Ananias entered the room, he spoke to Saul, “Brother Saul, the LORD-Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here, has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Ananias laid his hand over Saul’s eyes and the “scales” of dead tissue on the surface of his eyes fell to the floor; Saul’s vision was restored again. The next event was even more profound for Saul was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and filled with the Holy Ghost. It washed away his sins and he later adopted a new Christian name – Paul.

Now baptized in the Holy Spirit, Paul (Saul of Tarsus) quietly headed for Arabia. It was a spiritual retreat where he could learn about himself and the reality of his true Savior. He was comforted and strengthened by God’s powerful presence as he studied the scriptures of the Old Testament. It is here Paul met his confidante, a Christian leader called Barnabas, who put God before his physical possessions. It intrigued Paul that Barnabas sold a field and laid the money before the feet of the apostles. The mentoring relationship between the two men laid the groundwork for Paul’s future superb ministry. He also met with Jesus’ brother, James. God was preparing Paul’s way for the ministry for the next three years. (Galatians 1:18)

COMMENTARY:

Saul of Tarsus (modern-day Turkey), better known as Paul, was born into a devout Jewish family in 5AD. Most Jews, in biblical days, were not Roman citizens, but Rome gave him and his family the honor. It is an educated guess they were of moderate wealth, which made significant contributions to the Roman Empire. Citizenship outside of Italy was only granted to people of substantial influence.

At fourteen Paul went to Jerusalem and trained to be a Rabbi, an occupation he could fall back on if tent-making proved unsuccessful. It was during this time he became a man of firm convictions for the Jewish faith. His fiery temperament caused the death of many early Christians, including Stephen, the first martyr of Christianity. Paul went from house to house, dragged out men and women believers, and threw them into jail.

If we revisit history, Paul was born in the era of Jesus’ birth and entire life. Christianity was the newest religion established in the Middle East and very much frowned on by the Jews. They do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus for he was a mere prophet and son of God. Also, this new Messianic movement (as they called Christianity) denied Roman rule and antagonized much chaos throughout the land. Therefore, Paul’s anger triggered towards the blasphemy which Christians spoke – Jesus was “King of the Jews” and “Jesus the Messiah.”

What can we learn from Saul’s conversion? A person who persecutes a Christian is persecuting Jesus and this sin is mighty. The same fall-from-grace stands true today. The Lord will seek revenge on those who attempt to destroy His children. But like Saul, if we admit our sins and seek God, we will be forgiven.

A little-known fact about Paul, he was NOT one of the original twelve disciples. As he turned his love of God into mission work, many believers assumed God assigned him to be a disciple, but this was not true. Paul began using his name, “Paul the Apostle” in his later writings. He became a prolific writer for of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament, Paul wrote thirteen of them in his lifetime – 1st Thessalonians, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Philemon, and Romans.

I began this blog just before Paul converted to Christianity. We can read his conversion story in Acts 9:1-19; Acts 22:3-16; Acts 26:12-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:8-9. As I researched Paul, I realized his marvelous story spread over many books of the Bible; thus the motivation to condense all the chapters and tell of his life in one dynamic narrative.

Next Sunday, we will cover Paul’s tracks just after his conversion. We will examine the profound impact he established on Christianity during his first missionary trip. His life is nothing short of miraculous – he witnessed and lived through God’s blessings and love. Isn’t this something every Christian should strive to do?


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The Siege Against Christianity, Part 1

Christian persecution

The immediate issues of the day can often obscure other long-standing and important problems in the modern world. That is especially true when many of the immediate issues are also critically important, as is the case today.

For buried beneath the news of dangerous threats from Iran, the overwhelming numbers of illegal aliens creating an emergency at America’s southern border, the advance of Jihadist Islam, the squawking of the increasingly insane Left against anything associated with President Trump is an ancient struggle for the ultimate well-being of every person on earth.

It is a war carried on through more than two millennia between Christianity and the rest of the world. The lone exception to this is traditional Judaism in modern times because the world also aligns generally against Israel today, but that is another article.

Christianity Is Besieged by Persecution

Christian persecutionThe very existence of the Christian population is under a greater peril from persecution today than at any time in history. This begins with the hundreds of millions of Christians in nations where the faith is illegal and the suffering is palpable.

For example, according to Voice of the Martyrs, in most of the Muslim-majority nations in Asia and Africa,

Bibles are considered propaganda and are not allowed to be imported or printed. VOM supports covert Bible operations in this region so Christians have access to God’s Word.

This means that VOM workers and associates must get Bibles, or portions of Bibles, to Christian by smuggling the Scriptures into those countries. The same situation exists in Communist regimes such as North Korea.

If caught with a Bible, Ri Gun would be sent to a labor camp … or worse. So she tucked her small Bible into the fronds of a special mop intended for cleaning the portraits she was required to display of former North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. VOM workers smuggle both print and digital Bibles into the country.

There are those in the Christian community who object to illegally smuggling Bibles and even object to the “house” church movement in China. The Christian church in China is under the control of the Communist government.

Christianity is not technically illegal in China, however, the churches must be approved by the Party and incorporated under the “Three-Self Patriotic Movement.” “House” churches are those which do not register with the TSPM and are thus illegal.

Yes, Christianity in China is legal, and yes, churches can meet publicly under the TSPM banner. But this comes with consequences. The TSPM reserves the right to censor and control their churches to the extent they deem necessary and appropriate.

Under the TSP, churches must register and are not allowed to form anything other than local congregations under the authority of the community-level Party loyalists. These churches are also monitored overtly and covertly.

The Communist Party is fixated on the absolute control of Christianity. So much so that there are reports they are working on their own translation of a Chinese-Communist-friendly Bible.

The underground “house church” movement, therefore, operates in a very risky and dangerous territory should they be caught defying the government. The main reason such Christians take these risks is simple.

This is the house-church stance. Extend all the apparent olive branches you want, but Jesus Christ is still the head of the church, not the TSPM and not the CCC.

Christian persecutionThe stance that Jesus Christ is the LORD and only head of the church is common to all Christians under active persecution from atheistic Communist regimes as well as Islamic theocracies around the globe. The numbers of those who take this stance and suffer for it are mind-boggling.

According to the “Open Doors” organization which, along with VOM, are the largest and longest-operating bodies that aid persecuted Christians worldwide, in 2018 an estimated 215 million Christians lived “under high levels of persecution.” This number has increased in 2019 to 245 million people.

Christians living “under high levels of persecution” face threats against their lives, against the destruction of their church buildings and homes, and threats of arrest and imprisonment for practicing their faith. A personal story of brave believers from North Korea and Iran will shed some light upon the dangers awaiting those who risk all to follow Christ.

Faithful Sufferers for Christ

In February of 2006, a reluctant but faithful recipient of 10 Korean Bibles secretly smuggled into North Korea took a prayerful chance by leaving eight of them hidden in a package of pants at the front door of another man whom he heard humming a Christian tune. A few months later, due to a secret informant, the man, “Min-jae,” was arrested and sent to prison.

In prison, he met a former friend who had been arrested because of his Christian faith. And as they talked, Min-jae came to realize that the man he gave the Bibles to was his friend’s uncle. That man had also been arrested and was being held in a different cell in the same prison.

Christian persecutionMoreover, that had given the Bibles to his relatives and the whole family of 27 people began to secretly meet to pray and study the Bible as a group. They were also arrested and thrown into prison after a suspicious neighbor turned them into the police.

After seven months in prison, Min-jae was released. However, his friend, his friend’s uncle and the 27 family members were all sent to a concentration camp (a REAL one for AOC’s information where they do hideous things to prisoners including torturing and killing them) and Min-jae has never seen them again.

As for Min-jae, in 2014 he managed to escape and defected to South Korea. He still feels pangs of guilt about his friend and the family because he supplied the Bibles which resulted in their being imprisoned.

Yet he also knows that God ultimately gave those Scriptures and God is with those who are suffering even now. Moreover, he has faith that the LORD will deliver them as well.

I believe that these 27 people are children of God and that God will somehow release them miraculously.

Min-jae now lives in South Korea and operates a small coffee shop there. He still carries the Bible that was given to him when he was visiting China and accepted the LORD Jesus as his Savior.

His sincere wish is that others in North Korea hear the gospel. He is getting some support from organizations like VOM, and he has a request for fellow believers.

[Min-jae] asks Christians in the United States to pray that more North Koreans will learn of God’s love for them.

Christian persecutionStories of such incredible faith and action for Christ can be found in every place where the gospel is being restricted by direct government force. A second example comes from a pastor of an underground ‘church’ who was imprisoned, along with his family, for over three years in horrific conditions.

In order to be released, this pastor had to sign a letter,

acknowledging that if they were caught joining an underground church or participating in any Christian activity, they would be imprisoned for life. [Pastor] Houmayoun signed the letter.

However, Houmayoun had no intention of not continuing his Christian efforts and did so in secret for a while. Eventually, after he and his family realized they were being watched and after several threats, they and several other Christians moved to a nearby country with fewer restrictions on the faith.

Houmayoun and his family hope to return to Iran one day. He often thinks about all the inmates the Christians shared the gospel with, especially those who accepted Jesus. “Some of them are out of jail, and we are still in touch with them,” he said. “Some have life sentences, and some are getting ready to be executed.”

However, one of the inmates the pastor shared the gospel with is now with them and attends their house church in their new country. While he was in prison, Houmayoun was sent for a time to be disciplined in a part of the prison named “Hell,” for its terrible conditions.

Now the pastor rejoices that even the gates of a place called Hell couldn’t stop the spread and power of the gospel. In part two of this series, we will examine some other ways in which Christianity is under siege in today’s world.

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:15-18 [ESV]

D.T. Osborn

Sources: The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001

The Voice of the Martyrs magazine, April 2019

Featured and Top Image courtesy of Yi Lin’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 1 courtesy of Steve Moses’ Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 2 courtesy of Joe Wolf’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 3 courtesy of Angela Xu’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 4 courtesy of Sally Vine’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License

All other sources linked or cited in the text

Originally published in TIL Journal

The Sleeping Saints

A simple bible scripture quietly wrapped up within the Easter season, placed a conviction on sinners and nonbelievers. Christ’s crucifixion was not in vain. Allow me to test your knowledge of an event which surrounded the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is written in the Apostle’s Creed.

Did you know many saints were raised from the dead along with Jesus? It’s a shocking revelation, written only in the Book of Matthew, and overlooked by many because the occurrence is not mentioned by any other author of the Holy Word. But, here it remains…

Matthew 27: 52-53

52and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

As Christ died to take away our sins, the heavens turned an angry gray and black. The earth rattled and split rocks on the sacred grounds where He hung on the cross at Golgotha. God’s power showed His wrath to the Romans who did not believe He sent Jesus to earth to prove His existence. What better way to convince them than to raise the sleeping saints from Jerusalem?

The tombs of many people were broke open in a strong earthquake. After Jesus arose from the dead, the saints raised out of their graves and returned to Jerusalem, known as the Holy City. Friends and family instantly recognized them. Though we do not know for sure who these holy people were, they stayed alive during the forty days Jesus continued on earth, after His death. It is suggested they returned, along with Jesus, to heaven.

Can we not testify this biblical event immortalizes God’s power over life and death? The resurrection of the sleeping saints reveals all believers should have no fear of death, for one day, we too, will be raised to join our Almighty Father. This gives us reason to have hope in eternal salvation, and perhaps, assurance our sins will be forgiven in heaven if we become faithful followers of God today.

Image courtesy of Redeeming Grace Church

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EDITOR’S COMMENTS:

Matthew’s Bible passage swirls in controversy. Biblical scholars feel there is no validity to it because the raised dead, seen by others in Jerusalem, was not referenced anywhere else in the Bible. They suggest we should understand this passage to be a preview of our resurrection at the End Times. But, would resurrecting the dead really be so hard to believe since it was a divine act?

Based on 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, this event would undoubtedly undermine Jesus’s resurrection. Theologians believe God has resurrected no one to eternal life as an immortal spirit yet—except Christ.

As we’ve always commented on other controversial blogs we cannot disprove any biblical passages in this life. Our wonderful Lord wrote the Bible with the message it is never to be deciphered as we see fit, therefore in my eyes…so it shall stay.

“Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

www.danabicksauthor.com

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