I just finished a blog post titled, “The Long and Winding Road,” on my new blog site when I realized I wasn’t done with that particular topic. I finished what I had on that blog as it fit in with the theme for that blog, but there is more to that story, and the rest of it will fit in nicely on this blog.
I found the following article published in 2014 titled, “God on the Move: The Long and Winding Road–Acts 23,” by Randall D. Smith, Ph.D., Professor/Director of Great Commission Bible Institute, Director of Christian Travel Study Abroad, Ltd., and teaching pastor at Grace Church of Sebring, on his teaching blog titled, “The Wandering Shepherd.” I didn’t run into his article until I was just about finished with my previous blog post (mentioned above), but as I looked it over, I knew I wanted to continue on with the theme of “the long and winding road” that I started on my earlier post , so this is a continuation of my blog post titled, “The Long and Winding Road.”
Dr. Smith takes the theme of “The Long and Winding Road” as it relates to the Apostle Paul’s life, specifically in Acts 23, in his article,“God on the Move: The Long and Winding Road–Acts 23.” For a brief outline on the background of Paul you can click on this link. After Paul’s conversation on the Damascus Road to Jesus Christ, for the remainder of his life (approximately three decades) he went on four missionary journeys (click on this link for info on those journeys). It was after Paul’s third missionary journey that he was imprisoned and bound for Rome. As Acts 23 opens up, he is standing before the Sanhedrin addressing them. Here is the text from Acts 23:
Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.”At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”
Those who were standing near Paul said, “How dare you insult God’s high priest!”
Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’”
Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.)
There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.
The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
The Plot to Kill Paul
The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot. They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.”
But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.
Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.” So he took him to the commander.
The centurion said, “Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.”
The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, “What is it you want to tell me?”
He said: “Some Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. Don’t give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.”
The commander dismissed the young man with this warning: “Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.”
Paul Transferred to Caesarea
Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.”
He wrote a letter as follows:
To His Excellency, Governor Felix:
This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him.
So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, he said, “I will hear your case when your accusers get here.” Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.
As we can see, Paul is in a very dire situation. On the one hand, the Lord has made it clear to Paul that he would make it to Rome to testify about him (Jesus Christ), yet on the other hand, many were trying to kill him before he ever gets that far.
In this chapter, Dr. Smith gives us a key principle which is this–“God’s will for us is not only about us–it also fits into His larger plan.” He goes on to state:
Christians need humility when looking at the experiences of their life. We often don’t know where things are going, even though we know where all things will end. The Bible offers us the ultimate destination to world history, and to our own final state – but the path to get there is not always clear. We need to be careful not to oversell our understanding of events as they come across our path….
The Apostle Paul faced a mob but was assured by Jesus that he was Rome bound. The encounter with Jesus–like the one long before at Corinth that kept him ministering during the second mission journey–settled Paul. He would not die at the hands of the Sanhedrin. His time was not near; some of his work for the Kingdom was still incomplete. At the same time, the path Jesus took him on was neither straight nor easy. Why not? The answer lies in the truth that God was doing other things – He was also providing solutions to other problems and addressing other needs while dealing with Paul in his series of personal defenses of his faith, imprisonments and delays to be heard.
In Acts 23, Paul stood to defend himself before what had to be considered, from the Jewish perspective, the premiere educational and religious institution of his day. These were ostensibly the leaders of God’s people, yet nothing was as it seemed that day – and it often isn’t in our journey, either. God was at work staging the events – and Paul had to learn to lean on God’s provision – no matter how “long and winding” the road.
Look at how things were so different than they appeared to be. What looked like a setback in Paul’s arrest was actually God providing a paid bodyguard service for him to deliver a message to the Jewish leadership (Acts 23:1-10).
At this stage in the story, Paul had been “rescued” by Roman guards out of a mob scene at the Temple, taken to the garrison building, and held overnight as much for his own protection as to stop any rioting in the city. In the morning, the Apostle was walked under guard to the Sanhedrin chamber…. We “enter the scene” with Paul on a witness dais, while the assembly of leaders was gathering in a less formal array – for not everyone had their full regalia on, signifying their various positions (read their exchange in verses 1-5)….
There are two important thoughts I want to highlight about this brief exchange. First, we must be careful to be humble even when what we are saying is right, and what they are saying is wrong. Many believers spend time learning an apologetic of the faith, and become emboldened to speak truth in difficult circumstances – that is a good thing. At the same time, we who spend so much time around other believers need to be very careful about how we sound, and how we react in particular, to the world. The best evidences are lost in discourteous behavior.
…Let me raise a specific caution flag about how you and I answer when being “struck in the face”. The unanticipated response, and especially the cruel one can drive us to overreact, and we must understand that is ever a temptation. If we do step out of line, we should be humble and accept correction. Meekness is “power under control” – and Jesus said the meek are blessed. In fact, in all of the Gospel accounts, the only self-description of His character Jesus offered was that wor–”I am ‘meek’ and lowly of heart.”
A second truth can be gleaned from the short exchange. We need to learn that God isn’t always doing what we think He is! Think of it! There is certainly irony in the “Apostle to the Gentiles” getting a Roman escort to the Sanhedrin that was currently accusing him of taking a Gentile into the holy precinct of the Temple. This account drips with irony! They had Gentiles in their chambers, but Paul never did. Yet they accused him!
[Now read verses 6-10] God sent Paul with a specific message to give to the Sanhedrin leadership – and it was successfully delivered. The message was that Jesus’ resurrection was their key offense, but not all Jews disagreed with it. That belief didn’t put Paul and other Messianic believers “outside” of Judaism – so they needed to be careful about tossing them all away as though they were not faithful Jews. Some who were not believers began to defend Paul, and the meeting escalated. The Roman commander stepped in and “pulled the plug” on the meeting.
Yet that is not the only thing that was not as it appeared… Paul was whisked away to a quiet place, his heart pumping fast from the whole highly-charged incident. Eventually, he settled down and the day passed by. Follow Paul down the hall to a place to rest, and Luke recorded what happened next… What looked like an arrest was actually a guarded and secure meeting place to meet with God (read verse 11).
The Roman tax sesterces provided a bed in seclusion for Paul to have a meeting with Jesus. That simple verse reminds me of how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego got a private meeting hall provided by Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3. Now it’s true, the meeting hall looked like a fiery furnace – but nevertheless God provided a place at government expense to meet the Savior and have a chat. Here God did it again!
What looked like a discouraging abandonment by family and friends was actually the stage for an encouraging opportunity to show hidden support (read verses 12-15). We know much about Paul and his companions, but little about his extended family. Interestingly enough, in this one instance we see one of his nephews saving Paul. The plot had to bother him a bit, but after all – this wasn’t exactly new to him. He had been dodging men who wanted his head for years! The encouragement was that God used his family – however distant to him in belief at the time – to send a message of rescue. Yet, there is more…
What looked like a threat to his life was actually a select invitation to an otherwise “closed” palace (read Acts 23:17-24). Paul eventually had to stand before Roman authorities – so this back story bode well for Paul. It was clear, at least in the report of the commander, that Paul was being “set up” and the Roman guards were preventing an injustice. Seeing this, the commander responded (read verse 23).
Paul is staying in style and traveling in the most secure fashion he has ever traveled – and all this was provided by God! It is true that he was not free to leave yet, but it was clear in the narrative that the commander helped Paul escape alive, and his continued intervention kept Paul well.
We have to remember that God doesn’t always provide the way we think He is going to – because there are issues beyond the scope of our own understanding that He is also carefully monitoring and caring for.
By all accounts, eagles are very responsive to their eaglets. The “mother eagle” dotes over the eggs, then over the hatchlings. That same “mother” knows that to help them, she must force them into discomfort to get them flying. She does so by taking them as high as possible and then drops them. They have never flown before, so they plummet downward. As they gain their senses, the ground is approaching quickly, so she swoops to save them and takes them high in the air again. After several drops, they begin to use their wings to fly. She is providing a way for them to live as they grow. She is giving them experience while keeping them from the ground.
Consider this: Sometimes God places us in situations that are terribly uncomfortable, so that we can learn, step by step, how to follow Him better for the next encounter. Paul was receiving help and assistance from the Romans to reach Rome with the Gospel – and we must remember that the Gospel DID reach and transform Rome – all in God’s time. God kept “giving” Paul help that didn’t look helpful, but it was.
What looked like an arrest warrant was actually a letter of introduction (read Acts 23:25-35). Paul was escorted to the palace at Caesarea with a safe escort, and a letter accompanied the entrance.
I am certain that Paul did not want to be kept under guard, but it was better than being dead on the road somewhere, which is what would have happened had God not stepped in to rescue him from his countrymen. God works, very often, in mysterious ways… but we need to be aware that it is STILL GOD at work. Let me illustrate…
A cheerful but elderly, Christian widow was financially struggling. Her house was in desperate need of repair, yet she praised the Lord continually for His provision for her. There was an old man who lived next door who had no time for God, and he kept deriding her in conversation, saying there was no God – and she was wasting her life in belief of a fantasy. One day, the old man happened by her window moving his hose around his yard and overheard the old woman in prayer. She called on the Lord and asked for provision, for her cupboards were bare, and no additional money was expected until the following week. She simply prayed: “Lord, somehow, if You would, can You send some groceries.” Her neighbor crept away and thought to himself: “That is perfect! Now I can show her there is no God, and she is wasting her time!” He went to the nearby grocery and bought milk, bread, and some other food essentials, and placed them at her door. He rang the doorbell, and hid from view. As she opened the door and observed the provisions, she cried: “Oh, thank you God! You have done it again!” Just then, the old man came around the corner and said to the woman: “You see! I heard your prayer. I bought these things! God has nothing to do with it!” He sneered at her, but she smiled back and said: “Oh my, how exciting!” The old woman stopped and looked at the frumpy old man. “Jesus not only got me these groceries, but he got an unbeliever to pay for them! Isn’t He grand!”
You can’t go by what things look like–God may be doing many other things at the same time! God’s will for us is not only about us–it fits into His larger plan.
Let me close this lesson by urging all of us to make the effort to seeing things differently. That’s hard to do – but it’s the best way for us to begin to humbly admit that most of our complaints about how things are happening are unjustly blaming God when He is busy doing what is best. (Quote source here.)
So you see, even our own “long and winding roads” are not just about us. We just don’t get to see what else is going on behind the scenes until God finally chooses to show us His larger plan. I’ll close this post with the words from Psalm 34:1 . . .
I will bless the Lord at all times . . .
His praise shall continually . . .
Be in my mouth . . . .
YouTube Video: “God is on the Move” by 7eventh Time Down:
Twenty three years ago Franklin Graham, the first born son of Billy (1918-2018) and Ruth (1920-2007) Graham, wrote an autobiography titled, “Rebel With A Cause.” In the book he talks about the challenges of growing up in the shadow of his father’s fame (the renowned evangelist Billy Graham), being a Christian in contemporary America, and his work with Samaritan’s Purse. The following excerpt is taken from Google Books:
Franklin recalls childhood memories that are both happy and tainted. There are the warm memories of hunting and exploring with his father in the mountains around their home. But there are also the memories of the death threats targeting his father and the endless tourists who would peek in the windows of his family’s house to get a glimpse of life in the Billy Graham household.” “By the time Franklin was a young man, he was running from God and from the public’s high expectations of him as the oldest son of the best-known preacher of our time. His teen and young-adult years were marred by smoking, drinking, fighting, confrontations with the police, and eventually, expulsion from college.” “But finally, one night in a Middle East hotel room, God caught up with Franklin, and Graham’s daredevil, destructive life was from that point forward transformed into a creative, God-glorifying adventure.” “God instilled in Franklin a passion for the suffering and oppressed peoples of the world. Just six years after that hotel-room encounter with God, he was named president of Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief and evangelism organization that meets emergency needs around the world.” “In thrilling narrative after narrative, “Rebel with a Cause” recounts Franklin Graham’s often dangerous adventures as a worldwide emissary of Christ’s compassion: opening a medical clinic and orphanage in war-torn Rwanda; setting up a shelter in Croatia for Bosnian girls raped by enemy soldiers and now pregnant; organizing and training a chaplain’s corps for the Nicaraguan Contra army; and reaching out to Muslim Saudi Arabians with “Operation Desert Save” during the Gulf War. (Quote source here.)
Too often in today’s America we hear some pretty loud voices from the opposing side of Christianity that too often drown out the good that Christianity has done in this world of ours down through the ages, and that still happens all over the world today. The arguments get bogged down in politics and other agenda areas, not to mention a very active agenda to silence Christian voices in the media. However, religious freedom is still very much a part of our Constitution, as is freedom of speech. Tolerance isn’t tolerance if even one voice is trying to be silenced.
We used to be more civil in our disagreements, but thanks to the relentless 24/7 access of social media and the fact that civility isn’t being taught anymore, we are becoming a nation of loud and often angry voices whenever a dispute arises. Here is a case-in-point, taken from an article titled, “Too Few Pastors Spoke Up. It’s the Real Reason We’re in this Mess Today,” by Dr. Michael L. Brown, founder and president of FIRE School of Ministry, director of the Coalition of Conscience, and host of the nationally syndicated talk radio show, “Line of Fire,” as well as the host of the apologetics TV show, “Answering Your Toughest Questions.” He holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University and has served as a visiting or adjunct professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Fuller Theological Seminary, Denver Theological Seminary, the King’s Seminary, and Regent University School of Divinity, and he has contributed numerous articles to scholarly publications, including the Oxford Dictionary of Jewish Religion and the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. He is also the author of 30+ books (source here).
The following is taken from Dr. Brown’s article noted above and published on Charisma News on June 11, 2018. I am including a small portion of that article below to show just how vitriol the responses can be when a dispute arises on a “hot topic” issue. It is the type of responses he received and not the topic of the article that I’m addressing. Here is that excerpt:
…Of course, I’ve written and spoken on these topics for years, but I’m stirred to do so afresh in light of the reaction to our recent video “Can You Be Gay and Christian?” (If you follow my articles at all, then you’re quite aware of what’s going on. We still need your help and solidarity.)
We’ve received a torrent of horrific comments. A flood of vile death wishes. The most vulgar, almost unimaginable attacks against God. Responses pouring in by the thousands. YouTube demonetizing the video. Google reminding us of their guidelines against “hateful” content. And commenter after commenter expressing their absolute shock that anyone in our day and age could be so bigoted as to think God made men for women and women for men.
To quote one comment from among thousands (and a milder one at that), “What a [expletive]. He’s stuck in the 40’s and I honestly feel sorry for him. He’s blinded by his lack of intellectual thought process.” Or, in broader terms, from another commenter, “The bible is not honest. It’s a [expletive] middle eastern jew book from crazyland. You monkeys have all been conned.”
That’s what people are thinking. Christian conservatives are living in the dark ages. We’re ancient fossils, soon to be forgotten. We’re out of touch and out of our minds.
This is the response we get for simply laying out what the church (and synagogue and mosque) have believed throughout history, virtually without debate, until recent years.
But what shocks me is not that so many people are angry. Or hateful. Or vile.
What shocks me is that so many people are shocked. It’s as if they had no idea we still believe what we have always believed. (Quote source here.)
Ten years ago this type of outlandish commenting wouldn’t have been found on what was then the early stages of social media. Again, I’m not addressing the particular topic of this article (either the “pastor” issue or the “gay and Christian” issue). I’m addressing a civility issue. And I find it hard to believe that while Google apparently reminded Dr. Brown of their guidelines against “hateful” content, I didn’t read anything about Google reminding the commenters about their “hateful” content in the comments they sent to Dr. Brown. So where, exactly, does Google draw the line? Hate is still hate no matter what side it is coming from, and it certainly came from some of the commenters to Dr. Brown’s video.
We have a couple of generations of folks now who know next to nothing about Christianity other then what they get from social media or other sources, and what often comes off as a bad caricature in movies and on TV, and quite frankly, all the “selling” of Christianity out in the marketplace (it is a billion-dollar business here in America). There is much that I see on TV and in social media and elsewhere that if I wasn’t already a Christian I might think it was bogus, too. But much of that isn’t genuine Christianity.
In a June 12, 2018, article published in The Week titled, “The Maligning of Early Christianity,” by Pascal Emmanuel Gobry, a writer and fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (his writing has appeared in Forbes, The Atlantic, First Things, Commentary Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Federalist, Quartz), he states:
Christianity is, if nothing else, one of the most successful cultural phenomenons in all of human history, and still powerfully shapes the world. But in many ways, this is happening reactively in much of the secular West, where a major plank of the Enlightenment sought to use history to show that Christianity represented a steep decline in our history.
This anti-Christianity revisionism is basically political propaganda. As George Orwell pointed out so masterfully, you can change how people think if you can change their vocabulary. A term like “the Middle Ages” is meant to imply that a thousand years of European history was basically just an ellipses between antiquity and “the Renaissance,” a loaded term if there ever was one, when it was only the “rediscovery” of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy — which had been suppressed by fundamentalist Christians — that enabled the start of a “new age” of “rationality” and “free inquiry.” Even if we didn’t pay much attention in history class, we’re all familiar with this narrative, because it’s everywhere. The ancient world, we are told, was tolerant, open-minded, and believed in philosophy and free inquiry, and the advent of Christianity ruined all of that.
You can find this narrative in countless works of popular culture. The latest salvo is a book by the historian Catherine Nixon whose title, The Darkening Age, speaks volumes. As a review in The New York Times puts it, Nixon casts the early Christian church as “a master of anti-intellectualism, iconoclasm, and mortal prejudice.”
I hope I don’t have to spell out the political advantages that this narrative can have today. Too bad it’s wrong.
Take the ancients’ supposed open-mindedness and pursuit of rational inquiry, and Christians’ supposed anti-intellectualism. The fact of the matter is that in the ancient world educated Christians were just as enamored of scholarship and philosophy as anyone. The early Christian writers spoke of the “spoliatio aegyptorum,” which meant the use of concepts from pagan philosophy in Christian theology, which they did avidly and gratefully. Stories of early Christian mobs attacking pagan sites are used to portray fanatical Christianity crushing whatever opposed its “dogmas.” But pagan mobs attacked Christians too. And let’s remember that Christianity was illegal, and that these mobs were often incited and abetted by Roman officials as a convenient way to put down those unruly Christians.
What of scientific inquiry? The idea, again, that ancient society had any sort of commitment to open scientific inquiry and that the Christians did not is false. Most historians today admit that the Romans were pretty much stagnating technologically by the time Christianity came on the scene and that there was very little scientific progress in the intervening centuries. Scientific progress started accelerating in the Middle Ages. Building a cathedral would have been just as out of reach of the Roman Empire at it’s height as building a moon rocket.
And what of the supposed open-mindedness of pagans when it comes to sex, which contrasts with Christians’ much-mocked prudishness? I think this one takes the cake. Did the pagans have orgies? You bet they did. But people typically forget to point out that in those merry occasions depicted in Roman art, the women would typically be slaves. Indeed, buying, selling, and renting slaves for sex was absolutely legal, and not even frowned upon — including that of children — and was therefore done on an industrial scale, in a society with permanently skewed sex ratios due to gender-selective infanticide.
Did Christians “impose their beliefs” when they got into power? Yes. For example, one of their first acts was to ban the use of slaves for sex. As a Christian, somehow, I don’t feel shame about that. Did Christian mobs deface pagan statues and monuments? Absolutely, yes. In the ancient world, pagan religion represented an entire social order that sanctioned all kinds of terrible things. It’s not hard to imagine why someone might want to deface a statue or two. I wish they hadn’t, but it’s not exactly monstrous that they did.
Remember that early Christianity did an awful lot of good, too. It created the first organized welfare system in all of human history, enabling the poorest and most destitute in Roman society to lead lives with dignity. Christians paid widows pensions, in a society where unmarried women had no rights and widows (of which there were many) were forced to remarry or face destitution. Other notable innovations of the early Christian church included the first schools (for children whose families could not afford private tutors) and the first hospitals (for those who could not afford doctors). They had to build all these things because they believed in serving the poor and pagans did not.
Christianity was indeed a rebellion against a lot that the ancient world stood for, in particular paganism, which suffused through the social order. Society was dominated by the idea that the entire cosmos was essentially a celestial hierarchy, ruled by fate, with the hierarchy of gods, also bound by fate, up top, and free male citizens somewhere in the middle, and everyone else below. And that any violence, any cruelty, in the service of this order, or by those higher up against those lower down, was basically fine.
Did Christianity “destroy the ancient world”, as the Times review of Nixey’s book has it? My first thought is “not enough.” Sadly, Christianity in its early centuries did not destroy cruelty or evil, which would continue to haunt it throughout its history, as we all well know, but instead only the belief, which lay at the heart of pagan philosophy and religion, that cruelty and evil is right and proper. I, for one, don’t have a problem with that. (Quote source here.)
I’ll end this post with an article titled, “The Litmus Test of Genuine Christianity,” by Cap Stewart, a videographer, freelance writer, and media manager for a multi-state southeastern construction company:
In our pluralistic culture, churches have become so varied that they spread confusion about what it really means to be a follower of Christ. When it comes to hot-button issues like gun rights, abortion, and homosexuality, professing Christians line up on opposite ends. Can Christianity legitimately be so divided? Or, to put it another way, can anyone discern the “real deal”? Is it possible to know what functional, practical Christianity truly looks like?
James, the brother of Jesus, says yes—and he gives us a simple litmus test:
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James. 1:27).
James provides a short, two-item checklist: (1) love—helping those in need, and (2) holiness—separating from worldly influence. These two traits summarize the practical outworking of a life changed by the gospel.
Much of the current division within the church comes from overemphasizing one trait over the other. Some churches tend to emphasize love, whereas others tend to prioritize holiness. But neither is negotiable. Both are essential for living the Christian life.
First Essential: Love
One way Christians can be tempted to forsake the requirement of love is to pursue our rights. Especially in America, where individualism is one of our sacred cows, we can get caught up in fighting for our rights, particularly as they pertain to religious freedom. There are certainly times and places to use proper legal means to secure those rights (as Paul did in Acts 22:22-30), but we should be known for something better than demanding equal treatment.
We can become so consumed with our liberties that we end up treating those in the world as our enemies, to the detriment of the gospel. God has called us to proclaim a message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20), something that is hard to do if we constantly approach unbelievers armed for a fight.
The Christian is called to consider the needs and preferences of others (Gal. 5:14). Yes, we must sometimes draw attention to a person’s—or even a nation’s—sins, but are we going to do so with our fists in their faces or with tears on our cheeks? During New Testament times, the government was far more corrupt and hostile to Christianity than ours is today, yet we don’t see Scripture commanding us to fight for our rights. Instead, we are instructed to expect unfair treatment—even blatant persecution—and to return hostility with love (John 15:18-20; Rom. 12:18-21).
Second Essential: Holiness
The sacred cow of individualism has affected not only our love but also our holiness. Too often, we have turned our personal happiness into the greatest good. As long as it makes me happy (whatever “it” may be), and as long as no one else gets hurt, I can and should pursue it. If I don’t pursue my own happiness, I am being untrue to myself. Or so the argument goes.
But the second fruit of genuine Christianity, James says, is “to keep oneself unstained from the world.” The world may tell us to follow our hearts, but we are called to be true ultimately to God and his Word—not to our autonomy. And being true to God often comes in the form of denying ourselves what we think we want, because it is actually bad for us (Rom. 13:4; 1 Pet. 2:11).
At the same time, we don’t want to be so far removed from the world that we don’t understand it. We can’t affect the culture if we aren’t engaging with it. In many ways, though, we have sacrificed our holiness on the altar of relevance. With the apparent purpose of being more engaged with our culture, the church has tried so hard to fit in that the distinction between churched and unchurched peoples has often been obliterated. We must take James’ warning to heart: aligning ourselves with worldly values is aligning ourselves against God (James. 4:4).
Christianity Is Countercultural
Christ-like love is a beautiful thing. To love unconditionally, regardless of another person’s maturity or theological depth or moral purity, is to love like God loves. It reveals a heart transformed by the gospel. Likewise, true holiness is a beautiful thing. Avoiding conformity to this world is a sign of a heart satisfied with promises and pleasures found in the gospel that exceed anything the world can offer.
Pure and undefiled Christianity is counter-cultural. It stands out as radically different from anything we would naturally think or do. Wherever we stand politically or denominationally, the true path of Christianity challenges us to confront the animosity and worldliness found in our own hearts. True Christianity may look to the world like foolishness, but it reveals God’s saving power. (Quote source here.)
Enough said. I’ll end this post with Micah 6:8—He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly . . .
To love mercy . . .
And to walk humbly . . .
With your God . . . .
YouTube Video: “If We Are The Body” by Casting Crowns:
1. An effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.
2. Such an effect or event manifesting or considered as a work of God.
3. A wonder; marvel. (Quote source here.)
We also need to define the difference between miracles and magic. GotQuestions.org states that difference as follows:
Magic and miracles might mean the same thing to some people, but there is actually a vast difference between the two terms. It is proper to say that Jesus worked miracles, but it would be wrong to attribute His works to magic. Basically, magic and miracles differ in their source: magic has either a human or demonic source, but miracles are a supernatural work of God.
There are two different kinds of “magic,” and it is good to distinguish between the two. Entertainers who use sleight-of-hand and illusions in their performance are often called “magicians,” but they are actually illusionists, which is what most of them prefer to be called. An illusionist’s audience does not consider what they see to be “real” magic; they understand it is a trick, and they delight in the fact they cannot figure out how the trick is done. The other kind of magic is what some might call “real” magic; it draws on occult, demonic power…. This type of magic, sometimes spelled “magick” to distinguish it from sleight-of-hand, is associated with divination, conjuring, and sorcery….
A major difference between magic and miracles is that magic draws upon power that is not directly from God, and miracles are the result of God’s power intervening in the world. Magic is an attempt to circumvent God in the acquisition of knowledge or power…. Another difference between magic and miracles is that magic involves manipulation and opposition to the truth but miracles reveal the truth. The magician attempts to manipulate people for personal gain. The worker of miracles simply showcases the power and glory of God….
Miracles and magic sometimes look the same, but their goals are different. Magic and illusion distract the eye from reality, while miracles draw the eye to reality. Miracles reveal; magic hides. Miracles are an expression of creative power; magic uses what already exists. Miracles are a gift; magic is a studied skill. Miracles do not glorify men; magic seeks to be noticed and bring glory to the magician.
Jesus was not a magician. He was the Son of God, known for His many miracles (John 7:31). Jesus told His enemies, “Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father” (John 10:37–38). Jesus’ miracles (or “signs,” as John called them) are proof of who He is. (See quote source and full article at this link.)
The other day I picked up a copy of Lee Strobel‘s new book, “The Case for Miracles: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernatural” (2018). Lee Strobel is an atheist-turned-Christian who for the past twenty-five years has been sharing the evidence that supports the truth and claims of Christianity, and he is the author of more than twenty books including his classic, “The Case for Christ,” a perennial favorite (which was made into a movie in 2017) which details his conversion to Christianity. His recent release, “The Case for Grace” in 2015, won the 2016 Nonfiction Book of the Year from the EPCA. He is currently Professor of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University, and a teaching pastor at Woodlands Church.
In his latest book on miracles, Amazon.com states:
New York Times bestselling author Lee Strobel trains his investigative sights on the hot-button issue of whether it’s credible to believe God intervenes supernaturally in people’s lives today.
This provocative book starts with an unlikely interview in which America’s foremost skeptic builds a seemingly persuasive case against the miraculous. But then Strobel travels the country to quiz scholars to see whether they can offer solid answers to atheist objections. Along the way, he encounters astounding accounts of healings and other phenomena that simply cannot be explained away by naturalistic causes. The book features the results of exclusive new scientific polling that shows miracle accounts are much more common than people think.
What’s more, Strobel delves into the most controversial question of all: what about miracles that don’t happen? If God can intervene in the world, why doesn’t he do it more often to relieve suffering? Many American Christians are embarrassed by the supernatural, not wanting to look odd or extreme to their neighbors. Yet, “The Case for Miracles” shows not only that the miraculous is possible, but that God still does intervene in our world in awe-inspiring ways. Here’s a unique book that examines all sides of this issue and comes away with a passionate defense for God’s divine action in lives today. (Quote course here.)
In a book review on “The Case for Miracles” published in Influence Magazine on March 27, 2018, by George P. Woods, executive editor of Assemblies of God Publications, including Influence Magazine, and coordinator of Religious Freedom Initiatives for the national office of the Assemblies of God, he writes:
On Pentecost Sunday evening, 1981, a young woman walked down the aisle of Wheaton Wesleyan Church in Wheaton, Illinois. Church attendance wasn’t uncommon in that city, which housed the headquarters of many evangelical institutions, including Wheaton College. And yet, this young woman’s steps elicited gasps from those in attendance.
Why? Because Barbara — that was the young woman’s name — had been diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis 16 years earlier. She hadn’t been able to walk for seven years. Indeed, at that point, the progression of her illness was so severe that she was in hospice care at her home, with a life expectancy of six months.
What accounted for the change? A prayer request for Barbara had been communicated to Moody Bible Institute’s radio program. Over 450 people wrote letters to her church, indicating they were praying for her.
As Barbara’s aunt read some of those letters to her at her bedside, Barbara heard a man’s voice say, “My child, get up and walk.” And she did. Barbara’s been free of MS ever since and now lives with her husband, a pastor, in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Lee Strobel recounts Barbara’s story in his new book, “The Case for Miracles.” Strobel was the award-winning legal editor of “The Chicago Tribune” and an atheist before coming to Christ in the early 1980s. Since then, he has written “The Case for Christ” and other books investigating evidence for the truth claims of Christianity.
Christianity is an inherently supernatural religion. Among its supernatural truth claims are the existence of God, the creation of the world, the inspiration of the Bible, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and Christ’s resurrection from the dead, among many other miracles. In the modern world, under the influence of science, many have come to doubt the reality of the supernatural.
To understand their doubts, Strobel interviews Michael Shermer, a well-known atheist and editor of Skeptic magazine. Shermer agrees with the critique of miracles outlined by the Scottish philosopher David Hume in his essay, “On Miracles.”
Hume defined a miracle as a violation of the law of nature. He believed that claims of miracles come from uneducated persons in less advanced societies, people and places unaware of how the world works. And he argued that, in any case, it was more likely that there was a natural explanation for an event than a supernatural one. Shermer considers this the best argument against the miraculous.
Barbara’s case provides evidence that Hume was wrong. Here was a modern person, treated by doctors at the Mayo Clinic no less, whose instantaneous healing was documented by her doctors in two separately published books. And that healing took place in the context of a spiritual experience.
Those facts indicate that naturalistic explanations — remission, psychosomatic cure, placebo effect, etc. — are insufficient empirically.
And Barbara’s case is not the only one Strobel cites. Strobel interviews Craig Keener for further evidence in favor of miracles. Keener was an atheist who became a Christian. He is a well-known New Testament scholar and author of the two-volume book, “Miracles.”
While writing a commentary on the Book of Acts, Keener realized that too many scholars believe Acts is unreliable historically because it contains accounts of miracles. Keener decided that if he could provide evidence that miracles happen today, it would buttress the historicity of Acts. He provides documentations for hundreds of modern miracles, including Barbara’s.
Strobel goes on to interview other scholars about Christianity’s supernatural truth claims: Candy Guenther Brown on the efficacy of prayer and Michael Strauss on the Big Bang and the fine-tuning of the universe, for example. And Strobel summarizes the case for the resurrection of Jesus through an interview with atheist-turned-Christian J. Warner Wallace, a cold-case homicide detective.
Of course, miracles don’t always happen. They’re exceptions to the laws of nature, not the way that nature ordinarily works, after all. Strobel interviews Christian philosopher Douglas Groothuis to understand how Christians can remain faithful in the absence of miracles.
Groothuis’ wife, Rebecca, a scholar in her own right, was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, which has slowly robbed her of her ability to speak and to think. It’s been agonizing to watch, but Groothuis’ faith has helped him. “I’m hanging by a thread,” he says. “But, fortunately, the thread is knit by God.”
Whether through their presence (Barbara’s case) or through their absence (Rebecca’s case), miracles are signposts pointing to God. On the one hand, if readers approach miracle claims with an open mind — i.e., one that doesn’t rule out miracles because of a dogmatic naturalistic worldview — they might come to believe that there’s more to nature than meets even the scientifically trained eye.
On the other hand, if they realize that this-worldly suffering poses unavoidable questions of meaning and significance, they might come to believe that they need more out of this life than this life can offer.
Either way, that “more” is God. If you’ve never thought about the case for miracles or the importance of finding meaning in life, I encourage you to read “The Case for Miracles” and reach your own verdict. (Quote source here.)
Another short article published on October 14, 2016 in Influence Magazine titled, “The Majority of U.S. Adults Believe in Supernatural Healing,” states:
Regardless of how many Americans are leaving traditional Christianity, many are still taking elements of faith with them. According to new research from Barna, the majority (66 percent) of U.S. adults believe people can be supernaturally healed by God.
An even greater number (68 percent) has personally prayed for someone to be supernaturally healed. According to Roxanne Stone, Barna’s editor in chief, these beliefs in an increasingly postmodern society should come as no surprise.
In Stone’s words, “Being sick personally, or having someone you love face a serious illness, is one of the most vulnerable and devastating experiences of a person’s life. It’s a moment that drives many—even those who do not believe in God—to their knees in desperation. Many people seek God in that space when they may not otherwise….” (Quote source here.)
In one last article titled, “Do You Believe in Miracles? Turning to Divine Intervention When Facing Serious Medical Illness,” published on December 15, 2017, in Psychology Today, the two authors, Shoba Sreenivasan, Ph.D., and Linda E. Weinberger, Ph.D., both clinical psychologists, state:
Believing in miracles is somewhat common. Holding these beliefs is not limited to certain age groups nor is it restricted to certain religious denominations or a religious affiliation. In 2007, a study surveyed almost 36,000 Americans, aged 18 to 70-plus-years-old, and found that 78 percent of people under the age of 30 believed in miracles versus 79 percent among those older than 30 (Pew Research Center, 2010). With respect to religious affiliation, 83 percent of those who were affiliated believed in miracles in contrast to 55 percent of respondents who were unaffiliated. Although people from all religions believe in miracles, over 80 percent of those with Protestant and Catholic affiliations endorsed this belief.
Even physicians believe in miracles. In a national poll of 1,100 physicians from different religious faiths, the physicians were asked whether they believed in miracles. Seventy-four percent believed miracles occurred in the past and 73 percent held the belief that miracles occur today (Poll: Doctors Believe in Miracles, 2004). Moreover, 72 percent of the physicians believed that religion is a “reliable and necessary guide to life.”
Some people rely on religious or spiritual beliefs as a way to live their lives; however, many others turn to such beliefs in time of need. Relying on a powerful, beneficent, supernatural being (e.g., God, angels, guardians) to be present, and hopefully intervene, can help the afflicted cope with extremely difficult situations….
There are many people whose spiritual and religious beliefs include the existence of miracles. To some, these beliefs may seem peculiar or even reflective of mental illness. We should not be so inclined as to mistake this faith in the supernatural as a sign of a mental disorder. Doing so takes away the power of giving meaning to life; particularly, in the direst of circumstances when life is threatened. This vehicle of hope should not be underestimated or debased. (Quote source here.)
There are many miracles mentioned in the Bible. Jesus performed many miracles that are recorded in the Gospels (see list at this link), and his disciples performed many in Jesus’ name in the Book of Acts in the New Testament. So, does God still do miracles today like He did back then? The following answer comes from BillyGraham.org:
God is not limited, and He is certainly able to work in miraculous ways today just as He did in biblical times, if He so chooses. If He didn’t, why would we bother to pray when a loved one falls ill or God’s work is opposed by evil forces?
At the same time, much of what God does in the world is hidden from us. Think, for example, of the work He has given His angels to do on our behalf. Occasionally they may make their presence known, but for the most part, they’re hidden from us, and only in heaven will we understand how they protected us or delivered us from danger. Much of what they do could be labeled as miracles. The Bible says, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14).
Would more people believe in God or in Christ if they saw a miracle? Not necessarily. Countless people saw Jesus perform miracles, yet they refused to believe in Him or give their lives to Him. Don’t let this be true of you!
The greatest miracle of all, however, is the miracle of a changed life—and this can happen, as we open our hearts and lives to Christ. Do others see Christ in you—His love, His compassion, His purity, His joy? Make sure of your commitment to Christ, then ask Him to change you from within by His Holy Spirit, and make you a living witness to the miracle of His transforming power. (Quote source here.)
Jesus told his disciples (and that includes those of us who believe in him today) in Luke 18:1 that we should always pray and not give up. So pray, and don’t give up, because . . .
God still . . .
Does . . .
Miracles . . . .
YouTube Video: “He Still Does (Miracles)” by Hawk Nelson: