Sunday Service – 11:00 am – 1:30 pm
1st, Sunday – Prayer Service
2nd, Sunday – Holy Communion
3rd, Sunday – Thanksgiving service
1st, Saturday – Board of Elders’ Meeting
by Rev Philologus O. Irukera | Discipline yourself to obey the voice of the Spirit through the Scriptures, Godly counsel from others and the careful prompting of your conscience by the Holy Spirit. The Lord indeed demands obedience from His true disciples (John 14:15, 23)
If you are like me, you are probably wondering like Gideon, at the height of Israel’s humiliation, subjugation and oppression by the coalition of enemies (Judges 6:11-13), why is the Church so ridiculed, weak and seemingly unable to fulfill her Biblical mandates today? Where are the aura of God’s presence and power in the Early Church that elicited fear, respect and goodwill from unbelievers (Acts 2:42-47)? Where are the famed divine exploits through both the leaders and members of the Early Church in our time (Acts 5; 6:8-10; 8; 12-13:3; Rom. 16:3)? Coming closer home in ECWA today, why do will find it difficult to replicate the faith exploits of our forefathers and the missionaries that brought to them the Gospel of Jesus the Christ? I presume the answer boils down to just one factor: the quality and depth of our relationship with God through His Spirit. This informed, sustained dynamic relationship with God through the agency of the Holy Spirit is the heart of the topic of this workshop. Being a workshop, it is expected that this meeting would be interactive. However, it would be impractical to venture into being exhaustive with just an hour long meeting. Hence, we shall depend on the Great Helper Himself to direct us to His choice of area of emphasis as we proceed. Also, some questions have been prepared separately to aid and stimulate discussion on the topic under consideration. I. Truth about the Holy Spirit The Bible is replete with information about the Holy Spirit. For example, right at the beginning in Genesis 1:2, the Bible reveals the role of the Holy Spirit in the creation story. Let us briefly consider some revealed truths about His identity and activities in the Scriptures:
II. Meaning and Reasons for Infilling of the Holy Spirit Meaning of Infilling of the Holy Spirit: Certain phrases in the New Testament give hints and shades of what constitute the infilling or the filling work of the Holy Spirit. Such include controlled by …the Spirit (Rom. 8:9), led by the Spirit (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 5:18), live by the Spirit (Rom. 8:5; Gal. 5:16), crucified with Christ …..living by faith (Gal. 2:20), Let the word of Christ dwell in you…(Col. 3:16), …walk in the light …(1John 1:7). They all point to the state of total obedience, surrender and submissiveness under the dominant will and control of the Holy Spirit. So, the filling work of the Holy Spirit can simply be explained as the sovereign act of the Holy Spirit whereby He continuously fills and exercises divine control of the life of a Christian as he consistently and progressively surrenders. Reasons for the Infilling of the Holy Spirit One may ask: why is it necessary for a Christian to be filled with the Holy Spirit? The following deserve our careful consideration:
Practical Steps toward Being Filled with the Holy Spirit Now to the question of how a Christian can be filled with the Holy Spirit. The prescription given here is not exhaustive. It is based on the insight gleaned from the Scriptures and from the accrued wisdom of other saints who have trod this path before us.
Conclusion Holy Spirit is not a mere force. He is fully God in unity with the Father and Son. Holy Spirit is very active in the world out there and in the Church elsewhere today. He is our helper who desires to make His presence and power felt in our lives for our good and to the glory of the Father. Because of our persistent rebellions, we have considerably limited the impacts of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in our lives today. The results are the waning glory and drying river of goodwill that we used to enjoy among men. We now have defeat and restriction in places we ought to have been victorious and unstoppable. We no longer impact the society for the Lord like our forefathers did. The reason is not farfetched. We have not allowed the Holy Spirit the free reign and rule that He is supposed to have in the Church and in our lives. But if we humble ourselves as a people, if I repent and turn submissively to the rule of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in my life, then there will be an end to the era of Ichabod. The renowned acts of the Holy Spirit in the days of yore of our fathers and mothers in the Way (Acts. 9:2) will again be replicated in our own very time. Sinners would be won by loads into the kingdom of God. Fear will grip and awe strike the world all over. And the work of God will be revived again in our church family and in individual lives. Only if we would be ready to say yes to the infilling work of the Holy Spirit! Only if I would jettison my big idol of carnality and you your petty idols of pride, greed, self-centeredness and the likes! If we would surrender to the lead and control of the Holy Spirit and submissively cry, Have your way now Holy Spirit of Christ Jesus! Then we will experience those blessings and benefits of infilling of the Holy Spirit which include peace, joy, practical victory over sin and over power of darkness. We would be empowered to overcome befuddling odds and limitations of life. Above all we would become bold and effective witnesses of Christ, bringing in the bounteous sheaves of ripe harvest of souls like the early Christians (Acts 4:13-20; 5:12-14; 8:4-8) and our forefathers in ECWA did. For the Church, and indeed ECWA, to regain her lost glory, power, fruitfulness, goodwill and respect from the society, we must all go back to the ancient path of total surrender and submission to the leading and control of God the Holy Spirit. For you and me to experience the authentic Biblical prosperity, we must personally allow the Holy Spirit to rule our will and affect. For Him to fill us, we must give Him the total control of our lives. May the Lord help us all as we do so. Amen! References Online Sources Begg, Alistair. (May 12, 2018). Five Truths About the Holy Spirit. June 20, 2018 www.ligoner.org/blog/five-truths-about-holy-spirit/ Bright, Bill. (n.d.) The Steps to Being Filled with the Holy Spirit. June 22, 2018 https://www.cru.org/us/train-and-grow/transferable-concepts/be-filled-with-the-holy-spirit.7.html Walvoord, JohnF. (January 8, 2008) The Filling of the Holy Spirit. July 4, 2018 https://bible.org/seriespage/11-filling-holy-spirit Books and Bible Translations Bridges, Jerry. The Pursuit of Holiness. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006. Cabal, Ted. (G. Ed.) The Apologetics Study Bible (HCSB). Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007. Green Sr., Jay P. (G. Ed.) The Interliner Bible: Hebrew-Greek-English. 2nd Edn. London: Hendrickson Publishers, 1986. Griffiths, Michael. Cinderella with Amnesia: A Practical Discussion of the relevance of Church. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1975. International Bible Society. The Holy Bible (NIV). Colorado Spring: Biblica, 1984. MacArthur, John F. Charismatic Chaos. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992. Willmington, Harold L. Willmington’s Guide to the Bible. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2011
Rev Philologus O. Irukera is a trained and ordained minister. He is an assistant minister at ECWA Church in Maryland.
Kristen Tritt | Faith – may be the most important among these factors that influence change. (image source)
Growing up in the United States, there is a common belief that the very nature of prison itself is so awful that it would inspire in criminals a conviction never to return, and therefore to stay on the "straight and narrow." This perspective, though, doesn't account for the reality that numerous factors – education, access to jobs, a stable family life, and a sense of purpose – impact recidivism (the rate at which people return to prison). In fact, a sense of purpose – faith – may be the most important among these factors that influence change. And faith is something that can develop inside prison walls.
Walking through the gates that separate R.J. Donovan State Prison from the rest of the world, it's difficult not to imagine what it would be like to come into this place knowing that you wouldn't be coming back out. This is the reality for the majority of the inmates I met on my visit to the prison with The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI.) TUMI facilitates a seminary class for interested inmates that teaches coursework on spiritual disciplines, and I was invited with a group of colleagues to catch up with these inmates on their work. I was not prepared for what I encountered there.
A group of about 30 men, varying in appearance and racial background, but sharing a bodybuilder's physique, trickled into a nearly empty room, which housed only a piano and some bookshelves. On the shelves were copies of the Bible. These men eventually mingled into conversations with my group, and it was in this scenario – like a school dance, where two sides of the auditorium eventually, warily, intermingle with one another – that I found myself face to face with Matthew, who was wearing a skullcap and a cross necklace.
He warmly shook my hand and asked how I was. When I returned the question, Matthew smiled, and a flood of warmth flowed from his lips: "Sister, I am so beyond blessed. You know, God is good, and I have so much joy in my life. He's transformed me." This was not an answer that I expected from a man who would be locked behind doors for the majority of his life. I was stunned as Matthew continued his story, a tale of redemptive transformation.
Matthew, by his own admission, entered prison as a devout, but angry, Muslim. He actually used the term "radical Muslim" in reference to himself, and admitted harboring deep hatred and violent thoughts towards Christians. He said he blamed them for the social ills that plagued the world and eagerly sought out others who shared his beliefs. Also, Matthew was afflicted with cancer in his stomach that required weekly doctor's appointments. He wasn't expected to live, and I can only imagine how that dark knowledge must have colored his already stormy worldview.
At one point during his cancer treatment he was given a new cellmate, a young man who was originally from Egypt, a fact that Matthew hopefully clung to, expecting his new cellmate to share his radical anti-Christian sentiments. Instead, to Matthew's horror, his new cellmate happened to be a faithful Christian, whose reaction to Matthew's cancer diagnosis was to pray fervently for him. In fact, Matthew told me this young man enlisted his own mother to pray for the cancer as well – and she traveled all the way to California from Egypt to do so. Having never seen one another before, the woman prayed over Matthew and praised God for what was to come. He had never before experienced the love and kindness that would prompt a person to travel far and wide just for him, motivated by the desire to help.
In the midst of others' faith – people who were essentially strangers to him – and commitment to God's healing powers, Matthew found himself grappling with his own fundamental beliefs about Christians and God, and tenuously he began to hope that their convictions were correct. After a few weeks of ceaseless prayer from his cellmate and his own fledgling hope for himself, Matthew was overcome one night by a feeling of warmth spreading through his stomach. It's this sensation that finally provoked in him an uncontrolled outpouring of prayer to the same God as his cellmate, and he found himself prostrate on the ground, begging God for a miracle and for forgiveness, and finally, worshipping Him in the same manner as he'd witnessed his cellmate doing many times before.
The following morning was the day the doctor came, and Matthew was scheduled for an MRI, where he was diagnosed cancer-free. Literally overnight, Matthew had been healed from the cancer that was devouring him from the inside out, and ever since then he has been filled with an indescribable sense of joy, and even love.
"I had never felt love before," he admitted to me with happiness in his eyes, "and now I am filled with love for God."
Every time I minister in the prison I am reminded of Matthew 9 where Jesus says, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few." God is at work in America's broken prison system. He is quenching the thirsts of those who have longed for something to drink. It is time to for Christians to overcome stereotypes, and realize that prisoners are not outside the bounds of God's grace. Now is the time to help with this harvest.
Kristen Tritt is the media and communications coordinator for Serving California, a foundation committed to building a community of empathy for those who are struggling and provide them with resources to transcend their situations. Kristen is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz with a degree in pre- and early-modern literature. She has worked with various nonprofits and is most interested in social justice issues and work that serves others and builds community.
by Rev. Ketlen Solak, Brandywine Collaborative Ministries (image source)
Lent this year begins Wednesday, February 14 and ends Thursday, March 29, during this forty-day journey, we will do our best to walk “The Way” – that is, we will do our best to follow Jesus more closely. Most of us will observe Lent in some manner, perhaps by spending more time in study, prayer, fasting, or by embracing something new that helps us grow spiritually.
The Church calls us to celebrate Lent for that very purpose – for the purpose of deepening our spiritual experience. The season of Lent gives us the opportunity to follow Jesus as he deliberately walked toward Jerusalem knowing that there he would inevitably face the suffering of betrayal, humiliation, torture, and death. Lent gives us the opportunity to remember more keenly the courage, the generosity, and the priceless gift of Jesus.
Hence, on Ash Wednesday we receive the invitation to observe a Holy Lent, which is an invitation to set time apart to engage in the types of spiritual enrichment that I have already mentioned. Yet, for many of us, Lent has arrived at a time when life is particularly difficult and painful. In this case, Lent is a time to simply remember that Jesus understands – a time to remember that Jesus has tasted pain and suffering, and that Jesus is walking the way with you.
No matter where we are in terms of our experience of life, I pray that the Holy Spirit will give us the measure of hope and strength that exactly fits our need. I also pray, as we observe Lent together, that each one of us will gain greater insight about the magnificent grace of God, and that our hearts will be moved anew by the power of Holy Spirit – that our hearts will be moved to new depths of gratitude and adoration for the One who first loved us and has fully demonstrated the meaning and cost of love.
The Rev. Ketlen Solak was called in 2014 to serve as Covenant Rector of the Brandywine Collaborative Ministries (BCM). Solak is leading the work of the three linked parishes of Brandywine Hundred, Wilmington: Calvary, Hillcrest, Church of the Ascension, and Grace Church. Ketlen graduated from the Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) in May of 2005 and was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Virginia in June of that year. She has a deep passion for music and enjoys to sing.
I am writing in earnest and crying out for the igniting of an awakening to prayer
America is suffering from an extended spiritual drought. While the social and moral decay of this hour may grieve us, discernment of the larger reason for this blight lies at the door of an all-but-prayerless church.
We share a part of that responsibility because—had we been more conscientious earlier—we would not have allowed the progressive dismantling of weekly, united, extended corporate prayer gatherings.
I am not writing to assign guilt, for I have been too slow a learner myself. But I am writing with an invitation, one spoken from heaven and beginning to resonate in many hearts.
Although the enemy of humankind is rising viciously, knowing he has only a short time, the Holy Spirit of God is present. He is not here to condemn, but to convene the hearts of believers with His promise, wisdom and expectancy.
Above all, I feel a hope, born of prayer rising from my heart and one of love and brotherly commitment to Foursquare pastors, leaders and members. With that hope, I am writing in earnest and crying out for the igniting of an awakening to prayer.
Pray with me that we would unite to lead our congregations from our knees. Let us lead people into a lifestyle of intercession as God's Word directs (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
Unless we are biblically renewed to this first of all calling of the body of Christ, our first calling as believers will be sacrificed on the altar of sloth, and the spirit of the age will run even more rampant.
Let us affirm that there is nothing old school about the New Testament's order of the church's prayer-life. It is an ever-contemporary pattern of biblical spirituality, and nothing—not even the finest programming, productions or tactical strategies—can substitute for it.
Our Spiritual Foundation
Prayer is the foundation and fountainhead of spiritual power, breakthrough and revival; prevailing prayer, both at the local and national level, is what we and America need.
Given this situation, my hope is that The Foursquare Church may "rise to this hour" and make it a "restoring the ancient landmarks" of former victories. That, as a united-and-agreed fellowship, a vast majority of pastors and congregations would unapologetically welcome the Holy Spirit into their midst.
Pray with me that we would unite to lead our congregations from our knees. Let us lead people into a lifestyle of intercession as God's Word directs (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
Such well-ordered prayer gatherings will overthrow strongholds of darkness and release rivers of "living water" and revival blessings. Sound-minded, bold and believing prayer is prayer with a "cutting edge," namely, a lifestyle that penetrates the darkness of spiritual blindness and brings God's mercy and deliverance.
It is this kind of prayer that shatters the darkness and drives back the kind of spiritual challenge we face with the plague of evil and rebellion in our nation.
Jesus' Concern for the Last-Days Church
Someone recently asked me: "Some people think of the 1950s and 1960s as a golden age for the church in America, but were there drawbacks to the church being socially respectable?"
I answered: "I don't think of the church being 'respected' as a drawback. However, a socially comfortable church has not historically produced a spiritually passionate church."
Jesus' letters to the church in Revelation contain a similar opening, where Christ spells out His awareness and notice to each congregation and its leaders. His love for them all is never in question, but His concerns wave red-flag warnings to all of us who lead today:
You who have ears to hear, listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying!
Jesus points out that many of these churches are distracted or have neglected their central call, values and mission. The distractions are the same today; congregations are either:
The issue is clear: The Holy Spirit is seeking to find—and speak to—those with ears to hear!
Whether you are a Foursquare pastor, leader or church member, I am a bond servant with you. I invite you to join a multitude of those who are unabashedly attuned to hear, obey and respond as Holy Spirit-filled servants of Christ. This is vital for two crucial reasons:
In this critical hour, we dare not hedge on the implications of "hearing" the Holy Spirit. We dare not compromise His intentions for our fellowship as Spirit-filled and Spirit-led people.
The Key Question
The question of this hour in history resounds from the lips of the Lord: "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8, NIV). Namely, the faith that answers the call to rise up in prayer!
As with any nation, the battle for America's soul will only be won with the weapons of spiritual warfare. These weapons—wielded by people systematically meeting in prayer gatherings to marshal sound-minded, biblically ordered intercession—have yet to be restored in The Foursquare Church in America.
Yet if God's people don't assemble in agreement, on their knees, who else will "destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5, ESV)?
The church is the one agency on Earth with access to this promise. Heaven is waiting. God has indicated His sovereign choice: He is ready to answer with His open hand of unlimited blessing if, under His authoritative directive, we will take our stand and advance in prayer.
Today, we must remember the promise God made to Solomon long ago: "If my people … humble themselves, and pray … then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chr. 7:14, ESV).
However, we must ask ourselves, "Where can God find a people who will align themselves with God's conditions?" This cannot be a halfway proposition. His Word of promise is only spoken into action where people welcome His Holy Spirit, and on His terms.
Aligning With the Spirit
I want to honor the wisdom, sought and applied, by which our leaders have brought administrative adjustments that we as a movement have pragmatically applied in recent years.
However, whatever else we have wisely and worthily realigned structurally, our definition of local intercessory alignment has yet to "hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches."
In this critical hour, we dare not hedge on the implications of "hearing" the Holy Spirit. We dare not compromise His intentions for our fellowship as Spirit-filled and Spirit-led people.
We are in need of reviewing Jesus' confrontation of leaders who busied themselves with religious duties but neglected God's command: "My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations" (Is. 56:7, NIV). Let us abandon all self-excusing passivity indulged when we negate our Lord's focus on the priority of prayer.
No society should ever be seen as beyond hope of revival, the recovery of sanity or the rebirth of multitudes—if it is laced with congregations everywhere where the Light of the world still shines.
The divine call of God addressing The Foursquare Church in America is no different than the one trumpeted to the larger believing body of Christ. Too many have traded the timeless for the transient, the costly for the clever, the eternal for the contemporary and the seeker-sensitivity for man-pleasing management.
Our beginning point of reference must be on our knees, in our closets and at altars of repentance. New furniture isn't required, but a ready and renewed passion is!
Jack Hayford is chancellor of The King's University and former president of The Foursquare Church.
James W. Goll | The spirit of this world is out of control and vying for the attention of any half-interested soul (image © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers)
A battle is being waged in our day—an end-time battle of passions, an unprecedented competition between the altars of fire. The spirit of this world is out of control and vying for the attention of any half-interested soul. Sometimes it seems we have more "Hollywood" than "holy good" in the church.
But good news is on the horizon. This fierce fight of the ages will escalate as waves of God's irresistible love wash over us, and the constraints of stale religiosity are replaced by passionate, fiery, relatable Christianity. A revolution of intimacy is coming in the church. Is that not what your heart is aching for? Like John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, we too shall learn to lean our heads on our Master's chest and rest in the sound of His heart beating in the rhythm of love (John 21:20).
As we look at the lifestyle of intimacy in the life of a prophet, let me share with you some thoughts and principles drawn from the book of Genesis on the relationship between intimacy and the prophetic.
Genesis 2:7 grants some awesome relational insights: Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being." What a beginning! All humankind took on life by the very breath of God's mouth. Talk about an intimate exchange! Ponder this for a while. In some manner, God blew into the lump of clay that He had fashioned, and Adam's body took on an added dimension. Man became a living being.
That is what the prophetic life and ministry are all about—human beings being filled with the breath of God and then in turn exhaling onto others the breath of life they have received from their Creator. This is what our Messiah did as well. After His resurrection, He appeared to His disciples, who were hiding for fear. He said, "As My Father has sent Me, even so I send you" (John 20:21). Then Jesus breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (verse 22).
At the Last Supper of Jesus with His trainees, John leaned back on the Lord's chest (John 13:25). What do you think he heard? Yes, probably the pulsating heart of the Savior, but he also would have heard something else: the Messiah's very breath as He inhaled and exhaled. Imagine being so close to the Lord that you hear Him breathing!
God's original intent was for all of us to be carriers of His presence. Today the Lord is looking for vessels He can breathe into once again. He seeks some He can put His mouth on, as it were, and blow His Spirit into them, so that their lungs, their hearts, their souls, their bodies, their temples will be filled with the very breath of the Almighty. He wants us to be carriers of His most brilliant presence. What could be greater?
That was the Lord's original intent. And we know what followed: "Therefore a man will leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and they will become one flesh. They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed" (Gen. 2:24-25). Here we are given a graphic picture of what things look like when a man or woman is filled with the brilliance of God's presence. When we are filled with His pneuma (the Greek word for breath), we are not self-absorbed and fearful but walking with God and others in transparent love.
Adam and Eve were not ashamed. They were not overcome by guilt, nor were they driven by condemnation. They were not hiding behind whatever leaves they could find. They were naked; they were walking in honesty; they were enjoying intimate communion with God; and they "knew" each other.
That is God's design for marriage, which is the picture of the union He plans for us as the bride of Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:22-32) and our incredible, glorious Husband. This Master of ours wins our hearts with one glance of His eye (Song 4:9). And the amazing thing is, one glance of our own eyes shining back into His undoes His heart as well. What a profound mystery! The revelation of this truth alone would create a revolution of intimacy among God's people. It is awesome, and it is pictured right here in the Garden of Eden, at the beginning of all things.
Adam and Eve were hiding behind nothing. Their hearts were beating with love for one another, and they were not ashamed. There were no barriers to intimacy.
*Excerpted from The Lifestyle of a Prophet. Dr. James W. Goll is the cofounder of Encounters Network, a ministry to the nations. He has written fifteen extensive Bible study guides and is the author or coauthor of fourteen books, including The Coming Prophetic Revolution and Praying for Israel's Destiny. Goll is a contributing editor to Kairos magazine and speaks and ministers around the world.
Dr. James Goll is the founder of Encounters Network, Prayer Storm and helps carry on the work of Compassion Acts. For information on his online school visit: geteschool.com. James continues to live in Tennessee and is a joyful father and grandfather today.
Being a New Yorker, I only go to the top of the Empire State Building about once every thirty-five years, and I have been to the Statue of Liberty just twice. Merely once in my life have I welcomed the new year in Times Square, and I had the impression that I was the only New Yorker in the crowd. As for the opera, people who live here boycott it under its present management, and I have never shopped in Macy’s, even though it is practically next-door. Only one time, as a child, did I see the Easter show at Radio City Music Hall, and even then the spectacle of a rabbit and a lily dancing to Rubenstein’s “Kamennoi Ostrow” played on the mighty Wurlitzer was a shattering experience never repeated. By way of reaction, it may have been an impetus for my choice of theology as a career.
Theatrical depictions of the Three Wise Men are even more problematic. For the best of intentions, their jeweled turbans and bedecked camels in Christmas pageants relegate them to the realm of charming fantasy. Actually, most things Middle Eastern used to be that way, a vague place of flying carpets and magic lamps, Aladdin and Ali Baba, and “Kismet” with melodies by Borodin. For one of my aunts, Arabia was forever the land of Rudolph Valentino. Romance makes the story of the Magi seem unreal, and harder to comprehend than that other epiphany when the Lord was baptized in a muddy stream not as exotic as Abanah and Pharpar.
In the “global village” of the electronic media, Arabia, and the whole Middle East, are not the illuminations of story books any longer, not even in the purview of New Yorkers for whom the divide between the Occident and the Orient is Fifth Avenue. It is likely that those “wise men from the East” were Zoroastrians from Persia, not kings but magisterial priests of the monotheistic and dualistic belief system called Mazdayasna. Its god Ahura Mazda had a prophet, although he did not think of himself as such, who was Zarathustra, or to the Greeks named Zoroaster. Some claim that he was born in 628 B.C., and by another calculation, he may have been a contemporary of Moses. There are fewer than 200,000 of them today, dwindling in numbers since their persecution by the first Muslim caliphs starting with Abu Bakr, for whom Islam, in the mode of Mohammed, meant submission or death. The Muslims defeated the forces of the last Shahinnshah, Yazdergerd III, at al-Qadisiya in 635; two years later they seized the capital of Ktesiphon, and, in a grievous loss for civilization, destroyed its vast library, including its scientific texts, for the Zarathustrians were highly accomplished astronomers. Much of that knowledge was lost after the collapse of the Sassanid Empire in 651. The Magi knew both the stars and the Hebrew Scriptures, and shared an expectation of a Messiah born of a virgin. Their people had long been on friendly syncretistic terms with the Jews whom they protected after their release from the Babylonian exile.
Iran and Syria are strategic allies now, and Christians there and in Iraq have a history no less complicated than the Magi, some dating their foundation to Saint Thomas the Apostle. Leaders of their suffering Chaldean Catholic Church and Melkite Greek Catholic Church have been issuing letters, hoping that their words will be more than feathers in the breeze. Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako said: “This year Iraqi Christians will celebrate Christmas in deplorable circumstance, on the one hand because of the deteriorating condition of the situation in our country on all levels, and, on the other hand, because of what they have gone through as Christians, victims of segregation and exclusion.” Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria said to anyone who would listen: “Here we are, for a fifth year now, celebrating the Feast of the Nativity as bombs are raining down. I do not know how many of you have lived through such a depressing and sad experience, but I can assure you it is painful these beautiful days, so ardently awaited each year, amidst shortages and lack of security, or electricity and, to top things off, cut off from the rest of the world by a strict and very tight boycott.”
During his visit to Bolivia in July, 2015, Pope Francis said: “Today we are dismayed to see how in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, tortured, and killed for their faith in Jesus. In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end.” Yes, he did say genocide, just as he spoke of the historic genocide of Armenians, causing Turkey to withdraw its ambassador to the Holy See. The genocide of Christians is as real and as palpable as it is nervously unnamed by our own United States government in its captious protocols. On Christmas Eve, President Obama did mention atrocities against Christians, but he cited “ISIL” as the only persecutor, neglecting the fact that Christians are suffering systematically throughout the Sunni Muslim world, in places subsidized by U.S. tax dollars. No one could say that Pope Francis is subtle in his summons to welcome the most problematic refugees, but he has declared: “There is no Christianity without persecution… Today, too, this happens before the whole world, with the complicit silence of many powerful leaders who could stop it.”
This Christmas, the car of the Latin patriarch Fouad Twal was stoned in Bethlehem where no public signs mentioning Christmas were allowed. In 2015, the United States welcomed Syrian refugees, through agencies including Catholic Charities receiving federal monies, but besides 2,149 Muslims, there were only 31 Christians and 6 Zoroastrians, while Christians are about ten percent of the Syrian population. Although Europe is flooding with refugees, they are not welcome in most Muslim territories, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. These states give welfare funds, some substantial, but they fear that immigrants from a more pluralistic Syrian culture might destabilize Muslim fundamentalism, as well as call into question the status of present-day temporary workers.
Such monolithic theocracies are growing, not declining, through internationalism. For one example, four years ago Brunei instituted Sharia law with penalties including beheadings and amputations. The Sultan of Brunei, Hassnal Bolkiah, has been decorated by many European countries, is an Honorary Admiral of the British Royal Navy, and Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. Shortly before he sanctioned a law for the stoning to death of sodomites, the University of Oxford made him an honorary Doctor of Laws. Bad timing. When a group of stoneable undergraduates asked that the degree be rescinded, they were ignored. Brunei has just imposed a prison sentence of five years for anyone celebrating Christmas publicly, and Somalia has followed suit. The Sultan of Brunei, with a personal wealth of 20 billion dollars and a fleet of 2,000 cars—including 600 Rolls Royces collected as a hobby by his brother—has built the world’s largest palace at a cost of $350 million in a gilded style one might call Transitional Moorish-Las Vegas, but he has no room for refugees. Meanwhile, the leading Islamic leader in Saudi Arabia has called for the destruction of “all the churches” in the Arabic peninsula.
At the request of the U.S. State Department, one of my oldest and kindest friends let her house in Palm Beach to King Saud of Saudi Arabia in January, 1962 while he was recovering from eye and stomach surgery done in Boston. He brought along numerous wives and a few of his 115 children. My friend belonged to a Christian denomination founded by King Henry VIII who only practiced sequential polygamy. During that month, in which President Kennedy made a fifteen-minute courtesy visit, his brother Faisal back in Saudi Arabia began a coup with proposed controversial reforms including the abolition of slavery. On the Feast of the Epiphany, my friend told King Saud that she was celebrating the Three Kings, to which he replied through his bewildered interpreter, “Who are the other two?” Anyway, he left her with a gift of rubies that were stolen years later.
So one still might echo Rudyard Kipling: “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.” The Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, Amel Shumoun Nona, has warned from exile in Kurdistan: “Our sufferings today are a prelude to what even European and Western Christians will incur in the near future. Your liberal and democratic principles here (in the Middle East) are not worth anything. You need to rethink our reality in the Middle East because you are receiving in your countries, an increasing number of Muslims. You too are at risk. You have to take strong and courageous decisions, at the cost of contradicting your principles. You think that men are all the same. It is not true. Islam does not say that all men are equal. Your values are not their values. If you do not understand in time, you will become victims of the enemy you have welcomed into your home.”
East is East and West is West. Yet the Wise Men in their wisdom outwitted King Herod, and such wisdom, mated with self-neglectful virtue, melts all physical and ideological boundaries with a charity that gives hope to the most helpless. That is why Kipling continued with his ballad:
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!
Fr. George W. Rutler is pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. He is the author of many books including Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943 (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press) and Hints of Heaven (Sophia Institute Press). His latest book is He Spoke To Us (Ignatius, 2016).
The book of Revelation: The triumph of God and God's people (iStock Photo)
The book of Revelation was not meant to be a mystery, but to be understood. Its name means "what is revealed," not "what was hidden."
However, there are some basic keys to understanding it. These are the same keys to understanding all revelation in the Bible. We will begin our study of this book with the first of these keys—the first statement made in Revelation:
'The Revelation of Jesus Christ'
The book of Revelation is a revelation of Jesus Christ, period. Possibly the biggest reason why there is much confusion about this book is because people try to see it more as a revelation of the Antichrist or of the events prophesied in it. These are important, but only as part of the revelation of Jesus. We must view everything through Him, rather than trying to see Him through everything else.
Just as some get distracted from the River of Life by the tributaries that feed it, many get diverted from the main revelation of this book by majoring on minors. Some of these sub-themes are fascinating, but as our friend Peter Lord likes to say, "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing." Even as we seek to understand the sequence of events and different manifestations of evil in Revelation, we see them in relation to the ultimate purposes of God in Christ.
This is not just key to understanding this book, but to understanding the Bible, and indeed all understanding. As we are told in Colossians 1:16-17:
"For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they are thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers. All things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."
All things were made through Him and for Him. All things are held together by Him. As we are told in one of the most important verses in the Bible:
"… making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Himself, as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Christ, which are in heaven and on earth" (Eph. 1:9-10, MEV).
It is all about Jesus. To fully understand the creation or events of history, we must see from this perspective. All things work toward the ultimate purpose of God—the summing up all things in His Son.
To understand our own lives we must see through this key. Everything in our life was allowed to lead us to the Son and to have our life summed up in Him. All events in Revelation work toward that end. Jesus is the lens we must look through to understand everything.
So why is there so much about the Antichrist and the great evils that come upon the earth in Revelation? As bad as they may seem, they too will lead toward the ultimate purpose of God—the redemption, reconciliation, and restoration found in Jesus alone. The "man of sin" is a personification of the sin of man. In this vision, we see the ultimate result of sin and rebellion, causing us to know that this is not what we want to do again.
To understand our times, we must stay focused on Jesus and what He is doing. We need to understand the evil and the unfolding of events, but even more we must understand the work of God. In the midst of all the evil, the city of God is being built. So we keep our attention more on Him than we do on the Antichrist or all the evils. Even these will work toward a greater revelation of Jesus by revealing the depth of the depravity of fallen men—exposing the depth of our need for the Savior.
Ultimately, the entire history of man on earth will be one of the greatest revelations of God—His grace, mercy, goodness, and power of love over death. This Revelation given to John was the foretelling of how the final stages of God's plan will work out.
Rick Joyner is the founder and executive director of MorningStar Ministries and Heritage International Ministries and is the senior pastor of MorningStar Fellowship Church. He is the author of more than 40 books, including The Final Quest, A Prophetic History, and Church History. He is also the president of The OAK Initiative, an interdenominational movement that is mobilizing thousands of Christians to be engaged in the great issues of our times, being the salt and light that they are called to be.
For the original article, visit morningstarministries.org.
Faith is a spiritual force. James is talking about your faith being tested so you will know where you are. Are you able to slay the giants? (image, Che Garman)?
"Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given" (Matt. 13:11, NKJV).
A mystery is a truth to be revealed. As a child of God we thrive on revelation. John tells us that the truth will set you free. As always there is that little word with significant meaning. Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32, NKJV).
If you abide in My word, you will know the truth. Only the truth, the mystery that is revealed to you, will set you free. Until we receive the revelation of the truth, we will go around that mountain one more time! It is time to turn, go north. That is what the Lord spoke to the children of Israel. "You have skirted this mountain long enough; turn northward" (Deuteronomy 2:3, NKJV).
Conversion gives you the ability to see. Jesus told Nicodemus, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3, NKJV). Jesus also told the disciples in John 16:7 that you have an advantage over the world, and the Helper will come to guide you into all truth. Read John, chapters 14, 15 and 16. It is just as important for you as it was for the disciples when Jesus was preparing them for His departure.
In Ephesians 1:15-17, Paul says, "After I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, [I] do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him." Notice, it was after he heard of their faith. He knew they now had the ability "to see."
When you embrace mystery in one hand and revelation in the other one, you are on your way to building a life full of faith and walking in the promises of God. That is where you live, at the corner of mystery and revelation! You must read the Word, meditate the Word, ask for revelation of the Word and then you will live the Word and experience the promises in your life!
In Exodus 23:29-30 (NIV), the Lord told the children of Israel, "But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land."
God knows where you are and if you are ready to destroy the giants in your land. He tests your faith so you will know if you are ready to slay the giants. James 1:2-3 (NKJV) says, "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience." Various trials are in the world. They come in relationships, finances, health and matters of everyday life you face in the world. Faith is a spiritual force. James is talking about your faith being tested so you will know where you are. Are you able to slay the giants?
The "key" to this testing is found in James 1, verse 12, NKJV: "Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." Blessed is the man who endures temptation, not the man who endured the trial or test.
The temptation for the child of God is to doubt God's Word. If you have a revelation of the promises, you will stand tall and walk in faith and see the end intended by the Lord (see James 5:11).
Time is your most valuable asset, and choice is your only real freedom. When you choose to invest a small amount of time, over time it will bring increase in areas that matter most! God is looking for men and women of God to be intentional and consistent in learning to navigate the pain and disappointments of life.
Joyce Tilney is the Founder of Women of God Ministries, teaching women today from women of yesterday. She is an author and Bible teacher. Visit www.wogministries for more information. Her new book and workbook, Why Diets Don't Work – Food Is Not the Problem, share her testimony of how the Lord helped her lose 88 pounds. There is nothing impossible with Him. Visit the website: www.whydiets.com for information.
Many of us today may find it difficult to stand against these kinds of challenges because of fear. (Global Ministries-The United Methodist Church)
King David’s story, found in 1 Samuel (1 Samuel 17:1-54), is characterized by his victory as a youth over the giant warrior Goliath. Goliath had created terror among the Israelite soldiers of King Saul for many years. They struggled to defeat him.
Today, Goliath can be seen as a giant problem or an impossible situation that we face, which we, as young adults in mission, are called to overcome. Many problems come to mind: conflicts, discrimination, tribalism, racism, sexism, classism, and more. Many of us today may find it difficult to stand against these kinds of challenges because of fear. We fear being outside of our comfort zone—yet, in order to strike out what might be hindering our lives and the lives of others, outside may be where we are called to be.Glory Ilunga Kapya Mulimba
From Samuel, young adults can learn many things that can help us overcome Goliath problems in this world, just as David did.
1. We must clearly understand that our fear can be wiped out of our spirit and mind only when we view the giant problems affecting us and this world through God’s perspective. David’s faith in God caused him to look at Goliath in a different way.
When we look at our giant problems from God’s perspective, we realize that he will always fight for us and with us. David knew that Goliath was not as powerful as the God who had saved David from lions and bears (1Samuel 17:37).
2. God always prepares his servants to act at the right time. Sometimes people misunderstand our desire to serve the Lord. Some believe that, because we are young, we are not ready or able to take a stand against impossible situations that have affected our communities for years.
We should remember that we can’t discern God’s will by following the crowd. Once God calls us to stand for or against something, we should not fear anything, because we are more than prepared in the Lord. Only through meditation and prayer will we know how prepared we are.
3. As young adults we should know our gifts and capabilities, which allow us to face and fight effectively against our giants. God works through us in ways that are related to our backgrounds and gifts. David didn’t choose to wear the armor given to him by King Saul. He was comfortable with his simple sling, and he was skilled at using it (1Samuel 17:38-40).
God will use the unique gifts and skills he has placed in us to overcome impossible situations. We should know ourselves and use what God has given us. God will work miracles through us in order to face the social injustices that cause harm in the world today.
Implore always God’s name and be able to see even giant problems from God’s perspective so that you can effectively face them and save lives in your community and in the world.
Glory Ilunga Kapya Mulimba is a Global Mission Fellow commissioned in July 2014. Originally from Lubumbashi, DR Congo, he is currently serving with Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao (InPeace), based in Davao City, Philippines. InPeace is a grassroots, interfaith peace movement that facilitates justice and seeks a lasting peace in Mindanao. This article was originally published in the July-August 2015 issue of New World Outlook magazine. Read original article at Global Ministries.
Which side of Acts 1 are you living on when you wake up each morning? (Photo| ECWA Archieve)
Are you living on the right side of Acts 1? The answer will determine the course of your life.
Every morning when we awaken from a long night of sleep, we stretch, yawn and eventually step into a new day. In the natural we are functioning from a collection of experiences, training, opportunities, challenges and other influences that have helped determine our current experience. Some are waking up in the morning to get ready to operate on somebody’s heart because his natural training provided him that opportunity. Others are headed to classes in a university as a result of healthy planning. Still others are depressed, lonely, fearful, expectant, determined or are experiencing a myriad of other very real feelings due to their position in life. Their natural position.
Spiritually, where are you? Specifically, which side of Acts chapter one are you living on when you wake up each morning?
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:6-11 (ESV)
Of course, the first chapter of Act’s position on the historical timeline comes after the death and victorious resurrection of Jesus. The question I’m asking is directed toward those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb—Christians—those who have responded to the greatest gift man has ever been offered. Christian friend, it’s possible to be functioning on the right side of the cross and on the wrong side of the rest of the story.
Read the short passage in Acts 1:6-11 again. Let the power of that dramatic moment impact you. Put yourself in the position of the disciples of Jesus.
They had just experienced, to put it lightly, a dramatic season of life that culminated with their hero, their friend, God himself being brutally, savagely tortured and mutilated. They were suddenly alone, fearful and confused. Their holy hope was gone forever—so it seemed. Dead people don’t just wake up and walk out of their tombs after all, right?
Lazarus might disagree with that. So would Jesus. The disciple’s overwhelming hopelessness was miraculously displaced by the impossible. Jesus walked out his tomb.
They were fearful, alone and confused no more. Now the celebration begins! Now plans for the future can be discussed! This was the day the Lord Jesus himself created and it was time to rejoice and be glad!
The obvious next step was for Jesus to set up his Kingdom and to reign! The disciple’s question was an honest yet misguided one:
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1:6 (ESV)
They didn’t understand at all what the future held. The victory on the cross, in their minds, would result in Jesus doing much more of what they saw him do previously. Jesus was the man of the hour and they wanted to be in the front row for the show.
After all, Jesus had just spent 40 days talking to them about the Kingdom, right?
3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. Acts 1:3 (ESV)
Yes, the Kingdom was coming, but not at all the way everyone had presumed. Jesus was about to launch them out of Acts chapter one and into Acts chapter two.
If you’ll remember, Jesus had already given them a mandate that it seems they casually overlooked:
4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Acts 1:4-5 (ESV)
The disciples had necessary teaching about the Kingdom and a mandate to wait for a promise that would enable them to initiate a world shaking mission.
However, in their minds they wondered why they would need a Promise if Jesus was there with them. Why would they need anything else? Jesus was going to work wonders and they would be there as his most fervent supporters!
9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Acts 1:9 (ESV)
Again, put yourself in the shoes of the disciples. What type of emotional crisis were they going through? First Jesus died, then he defied all odds and returned in victory. Now their plans for Jesus to build his Kingdom were cut down as they received an inconvenient mandate to pray and wait for some nondescript Promise—as Jesus again left them.
Now, their close friend, their superhero who would protect them from the threats of the many enemies in the land, was gone from them a second time—this time for good (at least in their lifetimes).
The Bible says that they were just standing there gazing into heaven.
My question to you is this: Are you gazing into heaven waiting for Jesus to show up and do what you are yearning for him to do? Or, are you taking action in the power of the Holy Spirit to do it yourself?
On the cross Jesus famously said, “It is finished!” His part is done. We have been left with an extreme mandate and a costly mission that must be in front of us every morning when we awaken, stretch and yawn and move into our day.
So often we are crying out for Jesus to heal the sick when he commanded us to heal the sick. Those on the wrong side of Acts chapter one will gaze into heaven waiting for Jesus to do it. Those who have been baptized with power and who have embraced their spiritual mission will function in the power of the resurrection by looking at someone and commanding that they take up their mat and walk!
I’m convinced that casual ‘gazing into heaven’ type prayer is often unanswered because Jesus is putting the pressure on us to get into the prayer rooms where supernatural baptism can be found.
The angelic question in Acts 2 remains for us today:
11 …“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?” Acts 1:11a (ESV)
Those who are living on the wrong side of Acts chapter one have bought into the resurrection power of the cross but have yet to step into their life mission that requires a devotion that will put every other life focus at risk. They want to continue in their day-to-day life hoping that Jesus will be the hero and rescuer they might need in times of trouble. The call to greater consecration is unnecessary since they are already saved and the victory of the cross was complete.
The truth is that the victory of the cross launches our mission. It doesn’t end it. When Jesus said “it is finished,” for us it meant, “it has begun.”
The enemy is moving across the earth stealing, killing and destroying. How could we even begin to think our work is done or unnecessary?
The blood of Jesus doesn’t grant us immunity, it grants us authority—authority to tread on serpents, authority to heal the sick, authority to advance the Kingdom, authority to go and make disciples.
Those living on the right side of the chapter are burning with that mission every single day. They wake up on fire with an urgency to fulfill their extremely important commission.
The life of someone living in Acts chapter two and beyond looks radically different than the lives of other Christians.
The call to prayer was too inconvenient for most everybody who saw Jesus alive after the resurrection. Only 120 showed up in that room. Only 120 determined it was necessary to actually obey Jesus. To them Jesus was more Savior than Lord.
Living on the right side of Acts one requires obedience. It requires us to be people of extravagant, inconvenient prayer.
Acts two started with prayer in an Upper Room and it continued with prayer daily in the temple.
17 pray without ceasing, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV)
Today we have innumerable people who are naming the name of Christ who are living in constant disobedience by refusing to live a life of continual prayer.
Corporate prayer is such a clear and obvious mandate for Christians that it is beyond shocking and nonsensical that so many are not investing in it. They are living after the resurrection but before Acts, presuming that all is well and there is nothing left to be done. Both Resurrection power and Holy Spirit power are required before we can even begin to understand our life purpose—much less fulfill it.
The corporate prayer meetings are the most important meeting and every Christian must be in attendance. In fact, In Acts 2 corporate prayer was a daily occurrence. This is what must return to our churches today.
46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day… Acts 2:46 (NLT)
This means we can no longer continue without coming together for Holy Spirit infused prayer every day and presume it’s okay or normal. It’s not. Those living on the right side of Acts one can’t stand the thought of going a day without encountering God in prayer with other Believers.
Acts Christians were radically invested in both corporate church gatherings and planting of new churches.
I’m grieved at the number of Christian “church haters” (is that even possible?) that are on the rise. People are creating theologies that argue against the corporate church setting that are laughable.
Consider Chinese Christians who gather together every morning at 4:30am, seven days a week, to pray and worship together as the church before they begin their day. In America we think a couple hours a week is too inconvenient!
Can somebody explain to me how coming together with other Christians every day to pray on fire is a bad thing? How is that something that doctrines are being created to oppose? Truly those are doctrines of demons.
Some might say that they don’t need to attend church because “they are the church.” They would be incorrect.
From my article, You are not the church:
If we understand the meaning of the word ‘church’ we could never presume that we alone are the church. That idea is contrary to the origin of the word (ekklesia, meaning “assembly”). In fact, that word has secular origins. It literally means an assembly of people who have been called together by an authority in the city or region. Wow! That sheds a lot of light on what the church is.
The church is an assembly of people organized under defined governmental leadership. It’s a regular gathering of people who are deeply agreed and in pursuit of mission advance under God’s apostles, prophets and other governmental leaders.
Further, the pure definition of the word reveals that it isn’t used as easily in the context of the global company of believers as it is in the regional and local gathering of believers.
The definition reveals that it’s a well defined local group vs. a loosely defined larger group of people (who mostly don’t know each other at all). We can’t be a part of the church if we aren’t gathered together with other parts of the church. Church is corporate.
Additionally, the church is a group of people who assemble, fellowship, pray and respond together to apostolic teaching. That can’t happen in a more nebulous global context.
The church has inherent in it’s core call the expectation of assembly and a corporate response so as to ensure the local mission is fulfilled. Again, a fulfilled mission can’t be realized without this type of intentional and faithful participation at a local level where communication and commonality are clearly defined.
Those living in Acts Holy Spirit power understand the need to be rightly aligned with men and women of God. They understand the church gathering isn’t foundationally a social one. It’s a strategic one. Great numbers of people coming together to pray and to receive apostolic instruction is necessary on a daily basis if we are to advance the gospel in victorious fashion.
The church is a military. It has a mission.
Church haters have gripes about how they were treated, about disagreements with focus, about not being recognized, about most anything. True biblical Holy Spirit empowered Christians are ready to die to their own opinions and serve. Today when people are rejected they run from the church with complaints in their hearts. Two thousand years ago when Jesus was rejected he died for the church with love in his heart.
Acts Christians are not flowing under the radar, blending in with their culture. They are causing controversies and inciting riots!
40 For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” Acts 19:40 (ESV)
It angers me that so many supposed Christians refuse to declare the offensive Gospel message out of fear that they may lose friends, offend family or put their financial security at risk!
Did you know that’s why there was a riot in Ephesus? People’s financial well being was compromised when Paul and his team of firebrands arrived on the scene!
23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. 25 He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: “Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.” 28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater. Acts 19:23-29 (NIV)
I absolutely love Acts 19 verse 23:
23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. Acts 19:23 (NIV)
Where is such a disturbance today?
“God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” is not the gospel message! It’s a true message, but it’s not the gospel message. When we start preaching about man’s depravity, our darkness, and God’s holiness and Lordship and his extreme sacrifice on the cross we will begin preaching the gospel. Anything that does not upset culture as it sets people free is suspect as a true message.
People on the right side of Acts chapter one will burn with a mission. Others will live normal, low impact lives. Sure, they may enjoy God, say their prayers, go to church, worship him, read their bibles and be people of great conviction. However, the very reason they were born eludes them. The tears over the lost and the zeal for intercession are absent. An aggressive, unwavering daily pursuit of humanly impossible God given projects and assignments is nowhere to be found.
The primary purpose of the Promise in the Upper Room was not to make us feel better as we worship or to help us in our daily lives. The primary purpose of the Holy Spirit is to empower us to live free from sin (He’s the HOLY Spirit) and to preach the message of the cross to the world; to expand the Kingdom. How different this is than what the disciples presumed in Acts one!
The Holy Spirit enables us to work and to advance in mission in ways that are not possible via human determination. Jesus is physically gone and we are the ones to do the work!
12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. John 14:12 (NIV)
When on the earth, Jesus was about his Father’s business. Now that he is gone we are to be about our Father’s business!
49 And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” 50 But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Luke 2:49-50 (NKJV)
I propose there are many post-resurrection/pre-Upper Room Christians today who also don’t understand what it is to be about our Father’s business.
Acts chapter one where we see disciples of Jesus transition into apostles. In a moment, they went from followers to ‘sent ones’ with a mission.
I want to encourage you, when you wake up each morning, stretch and yawn and get ready for the day that you function as a sent one. Burn with a passion for Jesus and the advance of his Kingdom. Embrace the impossible assignments that God has for you. Pray continually with others. Live and walk in the Spirit. Disrupt the culture you live in. Trouble the lukewarm and awaken the sleepers. Live in great power—power that’s found on the other side of Acts chapter one.
John Burton has been developing and leading ministries for over 20 years and is a sought out teacher, prophetic messenger and revivalist. John has authored nine books, has appeared on Christian television and radio and directed one of the primary internships at the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City. Additionally, he planted two churches, has initiated two city prayer movements and is currently directing a prayer- and revival-focused ministry school in Detroit called theLab University. John's mandate is to call the church in the nations to repentance from casual Christianity and to burn in a manner worthy of the King of kings. He is equipping people to confront the enemies of God (established religion, Jezebel and so on) that hinder an extreme, sold-out level of true worship.
For the original article, visit johnburton.net.
We often overlook the tragic backdrop to Jesus' birth. (Photo: ECWA Archive)
I have always loved the color gray. All my favorite hoodies, sweatpants, and T-shirts are gray. One Christmas shopping trip, my fashion-savvy mother tried to get me to “please, pick some color besides gray—something bright!” As much as I try to branch out, there is something inexplicably comfortable and comforting about the color. I feel at home in it.
Much later, the world itself seemed to turn gray. After six months of struggling with depression and self-hatred in a country that wasn’t my own, I returned home to find my nicely packaged view of how the world works shattered. Gone was the God who did things “for a reason,” the God who, if he called you to a place, would give you a deep contentment, even if circumstances were difficult.
My relationship with God went through a fundamental shift then, and the way I see the world has never been the same. As I struggle off and on with depression, I live through seasons of lighter and darker shades of gray. Instead of rose-colored glasses, I see the world through a dimming and dulling filter.
But even as the world has turned gray, it has also become more complex. It is in some ways too simple to say that I’ve gone from seeing the world as “black and white” to seeing it as gray. Of course, as a Christian, I affirm that some things are black and white; there is both real evil and real good in the world. But beyond that, evil and good can become so entangled in this time-between-times that it can be difficult to see where one ends and the other begins. Seeing the world through the lens of Scripture demands we recognize this shades-of-gray complexity of our world.
The human minds craves simplicity. We tend to simplify otherwise complex situations so that solutions are clear to us. Whether it’s terrorist attacks in Paris or protests against racism on college campuses, we find comfort knowing what the response ought to be, not to mention why it happened in the first place. We simply need more air strikes and more surveillance. We need to stop accepting refugees. We need less war, not more. We need to stop coddling students with political correctness.
I see this simplification happen on a personal level too, with well-intended attempts to explain or answer our suffering. Think of the clichés: God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. Everything happens for a reason. It was just her time. Behind these sentiments, we find the good desire to affirm that God loves us and has our best interests at heart. But too often such simplifications—of individual suffering or suffering on a larger scale—belie our need to control the narrative. If we can oversimplify the situation, then we can understand it and protect ourselves. But in a world tainted by sin, circumstances are rarely that straightforward, as we learn from Scripture itself.
Many have recently invoked Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in their flight to Egypt as “Middle Eastern refugees,” in parallel to present-day refugees. And yet, their story—even in the pages of the New Testament—isn’t an isolated account of a happy-ending journey. What about the other babies and families of Matthew 2, those left behind to suffer the consequences of King Herod’s lust for power? What’s the reason for that? It is easy to see why this part of the story is often left out of our Advent retellings. In the midst of the joy and hope surrounding Jesus’ birth, we find the insertion of one of the most brutal acts depicted in the New Testament.
This detail doesn’t get included as a casual aside. Matthew tells us twice that Herod is fulfilling prophecy. First, Jesus’ family flees to Egypt, having been warned of the danger. This fulfills Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Second—and even more striking—is the “fulfillment” of the words of Jeremiah:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
Weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children;
And she refused to be comforted,
Because they were no more.
Imagine one of those Jewish mothers of Bethlehem. Her one-year-old son, having made it through those first few critical months of life, has been taken by her own king, his life snuffed out in the offhand chance that he might pose a threat. And she was powerless to stop it. She did not have the benefit of the warning that Joseph received. Perhaps she didn’t have the means to flee even if she had been warned. Now imagine had she been told that her suffering and loss fulfilled a prophecy, that it’s part and parcel of the sending of God’s Anointed One, part of God’s “plan.” It rings a bit hollow, doesn’t it?
The questions abound: What about Herod? Ultimately, his acts fulfill the prophecies. Or do they? Just because this is the way it happened, is this the way it had to happen? Could God have fulfilled the prophecies in another way? Let’s put it even more strongly: Did God want those babies to die? Is Matthew implying he did? Like any time we try to grapple with the hows and whys of God’s plan, these are tough questions. There aren’t easy answers. And perhaps that is precisely the point.
Too often we read Scripture expecting nice, neat packages. I suspect this is why some Christians struggle with the Old Testament, where it’s harder to grasp the “whys” behind the tough stories. But Scripture mirrors the complexity of the human situation it is meant to address. And Scripture often whispers, even when we would prefer that it shout.
This Advent and Christmas, I am challenging myself to pay attention to the silences of Scripture—the places where Scripture invites us to ask questions, to wrestle with the text, to wrestle with God, as Jacob did. In the shades of gray, I can listen for the Spirit to whisper in the details I might otherwise overlook.
John Calvin spoke of Scripture as “spectacles” that teach us to see God and the world rightly. As we allow Scripture to shape our vision, we may find that we no longer need the easy answers, the clichéd responses, the knee-jerk reactions. We may find ourselves able to sit and be silent.
Once upon a time, not far from Bethlehem, another prophecy was fulfilled: a strong empire executed a lowly criminal, with the religious leaders cheering them along the way. Many in that time thought they could see the distinctions between black and white. It took a resurrection to open their eyes. We too live in a time when “we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror.” Let us pray for eyes to see the world in all its complexity…until that time when “we shall see face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12).
Mandy Rodgers-Gates is a Th.D. candidate at Duke Divinity School and a Wheaton College graduate. She wrote one of the winning posts in Her.meneutics' writing contest this summer.
If you want to help people see Christmas with fresh eyes, start by dropping these familiar fallacies.(Abraham Bloemaert / Wikimedia Commons.The adoration of the Magi)
Pastors, preachers, and Bible teachers: Have you thought about your Christmas sermon or lesson yet? If you want to help people celebrate Christmas this year (and every year) in keeping with established facts—not later legends, traditions, or popular imaginations—start by avoiding these common mistakes.
This might seem obvious but bears repeating because it happens so often. The massive annual proliferation of Christmas cards, nativity scenes, and TV specials perpetuates these added details and gives the impression that they are facts.
The infancy narratives in the Gospels lack many of the details that have been fabricated in subsequent centuries. For example, they don’t tell us about the nature of the stable (cave, open-air, wood, etc.); whether there even was a stable; whether or not there were animals nearby; or the number of wise men. These magoi (not kings and not necessarily three in number) almost certainly didn’t arrive on the night of the birth as most manger scenes depict. And a star wouldn’t have been suspended right above the roofline. With no mention of a stable, the manger could have been in the open air, in an animal pen near the house, in a small cave, or in the area of a house used for animals.
The texts don’t mention Mary and/or Joseph riding on a donkey. It is equally plausible—if not more so—that they walked the entire way from Nazareth to Bethlehem (70–80 miles; at least 3 days of steady walking). The idea of Mary riding a donkey stems from a second-century apocryphal work (Protoevangelium of James, chap. 17). Actually, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable for a pregnant teenager in antiquity with an active lifestyle to walk such a journey.
Despite what we see in some Christmas pageants, there is no mention of an innkeeper (whether mean and coldhearted or regretful for the lack of space available); Luke simply mentions that there was no room in the kataluma (Luke 2:7). The kataluma was not a formal professional inn with an innkeeper but could point to either a public covered shelter (as in the Greek translation of Ex. 4:24) or to the guest room in a personal home (as in Luke 22:11).
It is important for us to stick with established facts when preaching and teaching. There is, of course, nothing wrong with the use of historical imagination. But it is important to maintain a clear distinction between what we actually know happened and imaginative reconstructions of how events might have taken place. Christianity is rooted in historical fact. This is as true for Jesus’ birth as it is true for the crucifixion and resurrection.
We love to find—or even invent—spiritual reasons for various cultural practices related to Christmas. For example, we give gifts to one other to remind ourselves of God’s great gift of Jesus to the world or of the gifts of the wise men to Jesus. That may sound nice, but is it biblical? Or do we really give gifts because that’s what our parents did and what everyone else we know does (except the Jehovah’s Witnesses, diehard secularists, and some religious purists)? What kind of parent would you be if you didn’t give your child a Christmas present (or, in many cases, a whole roomful of them)? Or, just imagine, if you didn’t celebrate Christmas at all (like the Puritans)? Very little is intrinsically spiritual or biblical about these kinds of expectations. They’re almost entirely cultural. That doesn’t make them necessarily wrong, but we shouldn’t invent biblical rationales to justify them.
Examples abound. What does the decoration of an evergreen tree have to do with Jesus’ coming to earth to rescue God’s creation? We may tell ourselves it’s a symbol of everlasting life because it’s evergreen but is that really the reason to set up a Christmas tree each year? Similarly, we may point to candles as a symbol of Jesus being the light of the world, holly as a symbol of the crown of thorns that was placed upon Jesus’ head, the color red as a symbol of Jesus’ blood shed on the cross, the yule log as a symbol of the cross, mistletoe as a symbol of reconciliation, and bells as a symbol for ringing out the good news. Even if some of these associations and symbols are ancient, they don’t explain why we should necessarily incorporate them in our Christmas celebrations today. If we’re honest, we have to admit that we celebrate Christmas the way we do primarily because of our own cultural traditions, even though there’s little real connection between these traditions and the biblical accounts of Jesus’ actual coming to this earth as a baby.
The danger of infusing spiritual rationales into cultural practices is also seen in some of the Christmas songs we sing at church during the month of December. The most flagrant violation might be “O Christmas Tree.” You have to search hard through the stanzas of this hymn to find anything related to Jesus. We should be uncomfortable singing this carol in a gathered group of Christians because it’s basically a song paying homage to a tree. Just because the song has been culturally or traditionally associated with Christmas doesn’t mean we should incorporate it into our Christian Christmas celebrations.
The main danger here is that we present cultural practices as if they carry biblical weight or authority. Obscuring the line between cultural practice and biblical teaching is not only unhelpful and confusing, but also potentially harmful to our faith. When we no longer distinguish what’s biblical from what’s cultural, we run the risk of accepting and propagating syncretistic, hodgepodge ideas that have no biblical basis. Our faith is no longer based in truth but, at least in part, on myths and legends.
There is no need, of course, to abandon all these cultural practices in our family celebrations. We should simply maintain and communicate a clear distinction between the aspects of our Christmas celebration that are inherited from the culture and those that are clearly grounded in Scripture.
The first chapter of Luke includes two lengthy hymns that have traditionally been called the Magnificat (Mary’s song in Luke 1:46–56) and the Benedictus (Zechariah’s song in Luke 1:67–79). The titles come from the first word of these hymns in Latin. These passages—or at least parts of them—are at times neglected because they are rather lengthy and express Jewish hopes in God’s salvation without a clear indication of what that salvation would look like. This deliverance, as we know it in retrospect, comes in the form of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the expansion of the gospel beyond Israel to the Gentiles, and Jesus’ return at the end of time.
The Magnificat celebrates how God, through Mary’s child, will restore and help Israel while opposing her enemies and oppressors. The Benedictus describes John the Baptist’s role in relation to Jesus, the main figure in the fulfillment of God’s plan to restore Israel. The hymn praises God’s actions of visiting and redeeming his people by raising up the Davidic Messiah to deliver his people, all in fulfillment of his promises to Abraham and to his people through the Old Testament prophets. This deliverance will enable God’s people to serve God without fear and in righteousness forever.
Perhaps these hymns are at times neglected in our Christmas sermons because they’re not “Christian” enough. This neglect, however, comes at a serious loss. Both hymns describe the salvation that will result from Jesus’ coming to earth. During his first coming, he decisively dealt with his people’s sin, thus fulfilling passages such as Micah 7:18–20. We’re still waiting for his second coming, when he will set things right in every way—politically, economically, socially, and spiritually—once and for all. We are still waiting for the full and final fulfillment of the declarations made in the Magnificat and Benedictus. Both hymns are also powerful examples of how to praise God by focusing both on his attributes—his power, holiness, and mercy—and his actions in fulfilling his ancient promises to his people in and through the birth of Jesus the Messiah.
The Christian faith is rooted inextricably and inexorably in the Jewish faith. This is why even Luke, a Gentile, presents Jesus’ coming in terms of Old Testament fulfillment (Luke 1:1). Like Matthew, who wrote his Gospel primarily to Jews, Luke presents Jesus’ coming in a thoroughly Jewish cast. If we fail to see our Christian faith rooted in God’s dealings with his people Israel long ago, it will likely remain shallow and leave us with a truncated gospel and canon, not to mention an inadequate understanding of who Jesus is and why he came.
Both birth narratives in Scripture are replete with manifestations of supernatural events surrounding the Virgin Birth: angelic appearances, dreams, visions, prophecies made regarding Jesus, Elizabeth conceiving past the age of childbearing, Zechariah losing his speech, the circumstances surrounding the naming of both John and Jesus, the relationship between the two births, and so on. Matthew, for example, goes out of his way to make clear that Mary was Jesus’ mother, but that Joseph was not his real father. After a long string of references to men “fathering” a son, Matthew concludes his genealogy with reference to “Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16, italics added), indicating that Joseph was not Jesus’ real father. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb.
So let’s not be intimidated by critical objections to the Virgin Birth or other supernatural aspects of the Christmas story. When you read about authors such as Reza Aslan claiming that stories about Jesus’ birth and childhood are “conspicuously absent” from the earliest New Testament writings—such as Paul’s letters and Mark’s Gospel—and that the early Christians filled in the gaps to align Jesus’s life with various Old Testament prophecies, including those related to his birth, don’t be alarmed. According to Aslan, the early Christians concocted the myth of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem in order “to get Jesus’s parents to Bethlehem so he could be born in the same city as David.” Others, such as Andrew Lincoln, deny the historicity of the Virgin Birth on similar grounds. We can’t respond in detail here, though we’ve done so elsewhere. In short, these kinds of arguments reflect misguided attempts to drain the biblical birth narratives of their transcendent elements by using critical reasoning in order to reinterpret supernatural occurrences and to rewrite the narratives in purely naturalistic terms.
On the one hand, as already mentioned, let’s be careful ourselves not to add extraneous details—though driven by tradition, not critical reasoning. Let’s be adamant in defending the reliability of the biblical witness to the supernatural nature of Jesus’ birth, which was unlike any other in human history. The Bible is unequivocal, and careful historical research certainly allows for the fact that it took a miracle—in fact, a whole string of miracles—to save us. That is nothing to be embarrassed or intimidated about.
Scholars continue to debate questions such as the year of Jesus’s birth, and whether or not Jesus was born on December 25. They debate the historicity of Quirinius’s census, the year of Herod the Great’s death, the phenomena surrounding Jesus’ birth—the star of Bethlehem—and a host of related chronological and other issues. They also debate the possible pagan origins of Christmas, such as whether it provided a functional substitute for the Roman Saturnalia, and, as mentioned, the emergence of various other traditions associated with our celebration of Christmas. All of these are interesting questions worth exploring, but don’t dwell unduly on such peripheral issues. Instead, focus on the central message of Jesus’ first coming, on the biblical story of the Incarnation.
Who was Jesus, and why did he come? John’s Gospel roots Jesus’ origins in eternity past, as the Word who was in the beginning with God and was himself the agent of creation. According to John, in Jesus, God visited the world he had made, but his own did not receive him (1:11). How tragic! How inexcusable! That Word, John tells us, became flesh in Jesus, or, as John puts it, “pitched his tent” among us (1:14). In his three and a half years of ministry, Jesus trained the twelve disciples and others to carry on his mission, to take the gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth. Then, he died for us on the cross to pay for our sins and to reconcile us to God. Our broken relationship with God was mended. Those who trust in him enjoy deep spiritual fulfillment and continual connection with him already in the here and now and will do so for all eternity.
That’s worth celebrating, at Christmas and throughout the year, in joyful song and in a life dedicated to the glory of God in the highest of which the angels sang that starry night over two millennia ago.
Andreas Köstenberger is Senior Research Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Alex Stewart is Academic Dean and Assistant Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Tyndale Theological Seminary in Badhoevedorp, The Netherlands. They co-authored The First Days of Jesus: The Story of the Incarnation (Crossway, 2015).