Posts Tagged With: persecution

God, bless You!

Image courtesy of Sabbath Truth

As you are about to hear in this PODCAST, Peter begins his first lovely little letter literally with a literary explosion. It’s as if he has so much that he wants to say so quickly, that the syllables come pouring out of him like a waterfall of words.

Believe it or not, verse 3 all the way to verse 12 is one long and winding and wondrously scenic sentence. You heard that right. A grand total of 315 words (in the NLT), all of which form one single sentence. Only the first part of which we will discuss now, with so much more rich and glorious truth to follow in the coming weeks.

There is an life-altering, soul-stirring insight embedded in verse 3 that we would do well to consider. Since verses 1 & 2 serve as Peter’s greeting, the letter itself actually begins with Verse 3.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

A rather remarkable statement given dire circumstances in which Peter’s original readers were living. We’ve already detailed them for you in the previous two podcasts. I’ll simply remind you that due to circumstances beyond their control—an empire-wide persecution at the bloody hands the infamously ruthless Nero—these were precious people—committed Christ-followers each, each our ancestors in faith—who had literally lost everything.

Even to the point of potentially losing their freedom and even their lives.

Theirs were the darkest of clouds with no silver linings.

A very fragile people living on the precipice with no safety net, clinging to their lives lived under the capricious actions of an unpredictable madman.

So if you were Peter, someone who fully understood and appreciated their seemingly insurmountable challenges—fears, insecurities, uncertainties—why would you begin your letter to them with the words,

“Blessed be the God & Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”?

Does that not sound like a typically empty Christian cliché?

What prompted Peter to write with such audacity as to command his readers—including us—to bless God:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Even in the absolute worst of circumstances?

Obviously, Peter’s words, “Bless be the God,” did not come out of a vacuum. Fact is, there is a long and rich history to these words, and the life-altering, soul-stirring insight embedded within them.

Peter’s opening line was anything but a cutesy little Christian cliché. Not to his original readers. After hearing this podcast, not to us.

Although this does raise one intriguing question:

Bless God?

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”?

I thought God blesses us.

How in the world do you and I bless God?

The answer to that question will change your life.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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“We Must Never Forget…”

What perfect timing!!! This PODCAST coming not a moment too soon!

Last week you might remember, I referenced the fact that so many of our precious Safe Haven family—You, not to put too fine a point on it—are going through profoundly challenging and difficult times.

Well guess what? In God’s perfect timing, that just happens to be the theme of 1 Peter.

“God’s Sustaining Strength Through Our (Your!) Sustained Sufferings.”

Be it physical, mental, emotional, relational, or spiritual—I know that many of us come stumbling into Safe Haven on a Saturday night, or click the link to this podcast—some of us feeling as though we are teetering on the breaking point.

Here is what I want you to hear: So did Peter’s original readers. This is a letter written specifically to them/to us/to you!

Get this: In the five short chapters that make up this beloved little letter, Peter will reference the suffering of his readers (including you!) 16 times.

“God’s Sustaining Strength Through Our (Your!) Sustained Sufferings.”

By way of this podcast, welcome to Peter’s world.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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“About That Time…”

Acts 12 begins with this poignant—or pregnant with meaning—phrase, Κατ᾽ἐκ-ε-νον δ τν και-ρν,

“About that time…”

Words that, as you will hear in this PODCAST, could just as well have been translated,

“At the same time…”

“In the meantime…”

Or,

“Meanwhile…”

  • Meaning that while our old friend from last week, the Prophet Agabus, was in beautiful downtown Antioch 300 miles to the North, warning of a coming famine to Jerusalem and Judea in the South…
  • Meaning that while the predominantly non-Jewish believers in Jesus were taking up a love offering to help to alleviate mass starvation and woeful suffering among their Jewish brothers and sisters in Jesus in Jerusalem and throughout Judea…
  • Meaning that while this gloriously beautiful unity of all of these first-generation Christ-followers was being realized throughout Israel and beyond…

Κατ᾽ἐκ-ε-νον δ τν και-ρν, “In the meantime,” much was going on in Holy City of Jerusalem itself—gut-wrenching, faith-challenging, life-altering events that rocked the world of these early believers. Profound challenges that had nothing to do with Agabus’ future famine about which they didn’t yet know.

Our passage tonight—a modest four verses in total—goes to the very heart of the #1 longing of every human heart—including our own.

As well as the #1 question that has plagued the human race since time immemorial, including us.

Four short verses that describe what was going in lives of early believers particularly, and the residents of Jerusalem generally.

“About that time…”

All of this, ALL of this, so insightful for us, today, in our time.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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On the Road Again

The Treasury in Petra

It had to be a rather rude awakening to be sure—Paul’s initial introduction to the unenviable life of an apostle.

As we will learn in this PODCAST, there is much—much more than we could possibly imagine—behind Paul’s otherwise enigmatic statement in 1 Corinthians 4:9, a rare moment of personal reflection (and dare-I-say exasperation and frustration) in the writings of this most-prolific apostle:

“I sometimes think God has put us apostles on display, like prisoners of war at the end of a victor’s parade, condemned to die. We have become a spectacle to the entire world—to people and angels alike.”

Well, here in Acts 9, the Apostle to us Gentiles endured quite the humiliating spectacle indeed.

It was hardly the homecoming our new friend, the Apostle Paul, had anticipated as he entered archway in the main gate leading to Straight Street in Damascus.

Was his heart all a-flutter? Mine would have been.

After a three-year absence from its legendary landscape, his formal training as an apostle now complete. I have to believe that Saul-now-Paul had much upon which he would have liked to reflect.

  • Perhaps a quiet, private, personal rendezvous with the spot on the road where he first met Jesus?
  • Maybe a knock on the door of Judas’ house, where he was graciously housed for three days as a man-struck-blind?
  • How about cup of Turkish coffee with Ananias, the man tasked with, and understandably fearful of, being first follower of Jesus to approach just-converted Saul?
  • Possibly some visits to the synagogues where he first preached, “Jesus is indeed the Son of God”?

Paul’s heart had to be pitter-pattering with excited anticipation as he once-again approached the storied city.

But alas. A happy homecoming wasn’t in cards that fate dealt this soon-to-be-suffering servant of Jesus.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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The Man Who Bore the Stigmata

YOU are poetry personified.

A living, breathing, warm-blooded, lyrically beautiful poem.

Want proof? Here’s proof:

His name is Saul of Tarsus.

To us, he will forever be memorialized as the celebrated Apostle Paul. Though, as you will hear in this PODCAST, he would reject out of hand that lofty adjective “celebrated.”

We celebrate Paul because we owe to him more than we could ever hope to repay. For starters, thirteen epistles preserved as New Testament Scripture. Which, when taken together, form 23% of NT.

It is true that our old friend Luke was actually the more prolific of the two—Luke wrote slightly more of the New Testament in terms of word count, 27%. (And BTW, in case you are interested, the Apostle John gets the bronze medal—John’s Gospel, 3 epistles, Revelation combine for 20% of the New Testament.)

It is to Luke we owe a huge debt of gratitude for his compelling biography of Jesus and his gripping history of the ancestors in our faith, in whose glow we bask each week as we study this great book of Acts.

But it is really Paul who more than any other biblical writer lays for us theological foundation for our faith.

So while we do indeed, and for good reason, celebrate the vaunted apostle, he would describe himself as the least—λχιστος (a superlative, “less than the least”)—of all the apostles (1 Cor. 15:9). And Eph 3:8, “less than the least of all God’s people.”

This was not false modesty on Paul’s part. Not at all. This was a guy who was abundantly self-aware. He knew the roots from which he sprang. He knew that his very first mention in the New Testament places him at scene of, and makes him complicit in, the stoning of Stephen. Not Paul’s finest hour by any stretch.

Paul understood that all that he was was do solely and singularly to God’s amazing grace. The chorus of which he sung regularly and repeatedly.

So much for us to learn and know and appreciate and to emulate in this marvelous man. Let’s meet him now.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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A Sin Unto Death

Acts 5:1(NLT)—“But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property.” Hmmm…

Just try to imagine for a second this otherwise unimaginable scenario, as related in this PODCAST:

A highly-respected individual walks into the cozy confines of Safe Haven, only to drop dead on the spot.

Some time later, his unsuspecting wife walks in, and she too keels over, stone-cold dead.

That is exactly what happened here in Acts 5, one of the most mysterious and misunderstood narratives in all of the Bible.

For starters: That word “But,” δ—as in “But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property”—is ominous in the extreme.

In the technical grammar of the passage, δ is an adversative particle, signaling something that could be translated: “On the other hand”; or, “Contrary to what you just read”; or, “By way of a startling, scandalous, and jaw-dropping contrast”…

Alerted by that pesky particle, I can tell you that we are about to hear a strange story, a sobering saga, a troubling tale that sounds totally out of character as far as God is concerned.

Or is it?

A head-turning happening that prompts us to ask three questions:

1. Why did this happen?

2. Could this happen today?

3. What does it all mean for us?

Since context is everything, let me begin by first giving you the backstory.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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Your God-Given Prayer Language

As you will hear in this PODCAST, I stand in awe of our ancestors in the faith, the very first community of Christ-followers ever to walk this planet.

By way of introduction, do you remember when, so very long ago, we studied the Sermon on the Mount?

Let me remind you that Jesus introduced His signature sermon with 8 pronouncements of God’s blessing—We call them the Beatitudes. The most enigmatic of the 8 being Beatitude #3 that goes like this:

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

You are about to see in full color, in High Definition, exactly what meek looks like, courtesy of our earliest brothers and sisters in the faith.

Before we get to that, there is one additional Beatitude to which I want to direct your attention. It happens to be Beatitude #8, the last of Jesus’ pronouncements of God’s blessing. It reads:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10).

Did you know that the words persecute/persecution/persecuted occur in the Bible a combined 142 times? In the minds of the biblical writers, it was a foregone conclusion that they and all of God’s people would be persecuted for our faith.

Jesus certainly understood this, He being the ultimate example of someone who was continuously hounded, hunted, and finally executed—persecuted—for His faith.

Persecution, Jesus repeatedly reminded His disciples, was the price tag for becoming one of His followers.

Perscute—to pursue in a hostile manner, to harass, to trouble, to molest, to mistreat.

Well, Jesus’ many warnings were now coming true for these very first committed Christ-followers. Indeed, what we are about to learn here in Acts 4 was only the beginning.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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On Trial!

Let me take you back to Tuesday of Jesus’ final week.

On that Tuesday, as you will hear in this PODCAST, Jesus made a most-remarkable promise to His disciples, and by extension, to us.

Allow me to remind you of what happened in Luke 21:

“Some of his disciples began talking about the majestic stonework of the Temple and the memorial decorations on the walls. But Jesus said, ‘The time is coming when all these things will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!’”

Now listen to His promise: 

“But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. So don’t worry in advance about how to answer the charges against you, for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you!”

At the time, the disciples had no idea what Jesus meant by all of that. Now, here, in Acts 4, just 8-ten or so weeks later, they suddenly knew exactly what Jesus meant by all of that.

For first time in the now-nearly two thousand year history of Church, an earsplitting thunderclap of persecution now sounded throughout the Holy City, Jerusalem. So true to Jesus’ prediction made in Luke 21, Peter and John were unceremoniously dragged into prison, and held in there there overnight.

The next morning they were hauled before the highest levels of their religious hierarchy to stand trial.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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It’s So Sad-You-See (as in the Sadducess). It really is.

As you are about to hear in this new PODCAST, a new day dawned upon these first committed Christ-followers.

If that metaphor of a new day seemingly overstates the case, then at least we can say that a dark cloud now-shadowed the sun for these first committed Christ-followers. Not quite on the level of our eclipse; but portentous just the same. An ominous bellwether that signaled for these early believers a change in the temperature of Holy City.

For the first eight-12 weeks following Crucifixion and Resurrection, these early believers were able to bask in the glow of their newfound faith unmolested.

Not any more.

Persecution was about to break out for first time in the now-2000 year history of Church. Relatively mild at first. No one died. No one was beaten. It was limited to Peter and John.

But as you will hear, it did involve intimidation, incarceration, and threats of greater reprisals if the apostles refused to cease and desist as far as their preaching in Jesus’ name was concerned.

Refuse they did.

This was a harbinger of things to come. A dark cloud heralding a storm. A storm that continues to rage unabated to our day. Not here in America so much. But certainly in many parts of our troubled world, where committed Christ-followers today attend gatherings at great risk of life-threatening peril to themselves and their families.

As is becoming increasing clear in our ongoing study of Peter in HD, we stand in awe at the strength and resilience of these very first believers—our ancestors in faith, to whom we owe so much, and who have SO MUCH to teach us. As they will do here in this week’s study.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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A Day in the Life of the (First) Early Church

These were exhilarating times indeed for that original company of committed Christ-followers.

In this PODCAST, and in the upcoming weeks, it will be our privilege to relive these salad days of the first ekklesia—in Jerusalem—as we join in a virtual sense these first precious believers, our ancestors in the faith.

Last week, we looked at the four foundational dynamics that characterized this first early church. Foundational for them; foundational for us. You will remember that we considered each of these in some detail—that marvelous biblical blueprint for every local church, both then and now! The elegant simplicity and sincerity of which was breathtaking for us to behold.

Now, we will consider a day in the life of these very first committed Christ-followers. The precious and precarious first hours of this first church’s delicate-if-exuberant infancy.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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