silhouette of 2 people forming heart with extended hands

The Key to Loving Your Enemies / Spiritual Meditations

No part of the Sermon on the Mount is more challenging than it’s teaching to not only love our neighbor as ourselves, but our enemies as well. How we react to that command depends upon our answers to these questions. Is there something or someone outside the range of God‘s power? How great a God do we have? What limitations do we placed upon God? To what degree do we believe that God operates on this side of the street but not on the other side?

We are All One in God

According to the Master Jesus, we are to “call no man our father upon the earth: for One is our Father which is in heaven.” Therefore, no one has an American, African or Asian father; or white or black father. There is but one Father – the Father in heaven who is the creative and governing principle of each one of us and all that is.

We do not live in a world made up of separate people and things. It can be likened to the Hawaiian Islands. From the air, they appear to be six or seven islands, each one separate and apart from the other, but if we were able to go deep into the water, we would find that the Hawaiian islands are really one piece of land – just one island with six for seven upward projections, all one and united.

If we could see beneath the surface and investigate the heart of all mankind, there is no doubt that we would find that we are all united in the one common ground of God. Each one of us is merely a projection, or individualization, of that One, and when we penetrate beneath the surface of outside appearances, we soon discover that we are not alone, but that we are connected with the Source of infinity. We are one with It, and It is flowing out as our individual experience to the extent that we allow.

Carl Jung, noted psychiatrist, was convinced that the similarity and universality of world religions pointed to religion as a manifestation of the “collective unconscious”, those traits that all people have in common and a concept very similar to our understanding of the connectedness of all souls.

If You Love God, You Love All

Only when the Spirit of God touches us, can we feel spiritual love, and that love is not limited merely for family, but extends to our neighbors and enemies far and near. Surprisingly, this universal love deepens and strengthens the love a person feels for the immediate family; it is a love so complete that each member of the family has a genuine feeling of belonging but is a separate individual known by God.

It is easy to acknowledge that we have an Inner Being or Soul, it is pleasant and satisfying to think this about our friends and family; but it is far more important for our own spiritual growth to be able to go beyond seeing the true identity of those we love and admire and begin to realize the true identity of those we like least. Regardless of an individual’s origin or station in life, God is the creative principle of every man, and all that the Father has and is, is his for the asking.

There may be those who because of their ignorance of this principle of oneness do not yet know this truth about themselves and therefore cannot demonstrate it, but that does not prevent us from knowing it about them. Jesus tells us that if we go to the altar to pray, knowing in our hearts that we have not accepted all men as sons of one Father and therefore brothers, we might as well stop praying, get up from the altar, sit down quietly, and decide within ourselves that we must become reconciled with our brother. Only then can we hope to reach God.

We all know that not only are there people whose offenses are as great as our own, but that there are some that are far worse than we are, who seem to be almost beyond human redemption, much less spiritual redemption. For us to be spiritually whole, harmonious, and genuine, and to enjoy the kingdom of God on earth, it is necessary that, in addition to knowing the truth about ourselves and our friends, we expand our faith and know the truth universally so that we do not judge some people as separate and apart from God or as unworthy to be the sons of God, and thereby set up a divided household.

We all have human traits – some good, some bad, some indifferent, some we admire in each other, and some we dislike. But that is not you or I or they. That is the mask that we have built up since birth; molded by prenatal experiences, the environment of early home life, childhood, and school days and then later by personal experiences in the world. All these influences have formed not the soul but the outer armor of a person.

In so far as we can keep from thinking of a person only as their outer appearance and keep our mind stayed on God, realizing that everything emanates from Him and everybody lives and moves and has their being in Him, to that degree we can love our neighbor even though he is an enemy.

The outer signs indicated that Jesus was a carpenter, and a rabbi in the Hebrew synagogue, but because of his spiritual discernment, Peter was inspired to see through that appearance and recognize that it was the Christ that was really functioning as this man Jesus. When Peter was able to say, “thou art the Christ, the son of the living God”, it was because he was able to look through the human appearance and see what it was that animated Jesus and made him a savior and a world leader.

Consider the person who is the most troublesome to you. How do we know exactly except through our mind that he is the kind of person we judge him to be? Is the person we are seeing an actual person, or does what we have in our mind represent our concept of that person, that is, our opinion or thought about him? We must realize that our concept of him is entirely wrong, because in his true identity his soul is a piece of God, individually expressed on earth, and against whom we are bearing false witness. Therefore, we are the sinner, not he. God’s grace is upon this person. He lives and moves and has his being in God‘s household as a member of God’s family.

If we are honestly seeking God as a way of life and not just as a means to some desired end, not only do we discover that we are one with the Father, but also that there is not a man, woman, or child in the world who does not also have a spiritual spark. There are people who we may not like and yet, at some moment of conversion or transformation of consciousness, their past will be wiped out and suddenly they become liberated and new.

Every human being comes from the hand of God, and we all know what the love of God for us. God has His own ways and means to work in the hearts of men, and we do not know how close they are to Him except by their actions. We will always know whether they are at His disposal or not. Whether you are a Hindu, a Muslim or a Christian, how you live your life is the proof that you are fully His or not. Mother Teresa

Everyone is called. Everyone is chosen. Not everyone says yes to the calling. Jesus. Buddha. Martin Luther King. Mother Theresa. They said yes. They reached for the stars not just for themselves, but to inspire you. They have opened the door and shown you what is possible. Jesus himself said, “the things I do, greater than these you can also do “. Kute Blackson You are the One

A Hymn

This well know hymn asks us to pursue unity and guard the dignity of all people as a defining characteristic of a Christian.

They’ll Know We are Christians by Our Love

  • We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
  • We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
  • And we pray that our unity will one day be restored
  • And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
  • Yeah they’ll know we are Christians by our love

 

  • We will work with each other, we will work side by side
  • We will work with each other, we will work side by side
  • And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride
  • And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
  • Yeah, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

Conclusion

When we think of the word ‘love’, what comes to mind is the warm fuzzy love that we feel for our significant other, close friends and family.  If you can experience this kind of love to strangers and enemies, I thank God for you.  However, the kind of love that is possible for most of us is to strive to do what is best for strangers and enemies, humbling ourselves when needed.  Let us forget the good that we believe about some and the evil that we believe about others and see what the spiritual truth is. Then we will understand why we have been told not only to love our neighbor as ourselves, but our enemy as well. The Father within will reveal this to you.

Relevant Scripture

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

Reference

The Thunder of Silence by Joel S. Goldsmith

Sign on urban wall

Eye Opening Events Between the Testaments/Spiritual Meditations

One of the most beautiful biblical stories is not found in the Old Testament or the New Testament, but in the space between the two.

There are those who would call this approximately 400 years, the years of silence. There are no prophetic statements made in this period. Nothing is written as the oracles of God as revealed through the prophets. The “word of the Lord” does not appear again until the Gospels when the angel of the Lord appears unto the priest and informs him that his wife will have a child named John.

Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid Zechariah, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you are to give him the name John.  Luke 1:11

So what happened during these four hundred years? Was there silence? Were there activities? Life always goes on but was there anything significant in these years?

 I would like to tell you a story. If you went to high school or college, you may have already heard this story but it has been my experience in studying history that it is very easy to become so swallowed up by the dates, the names, and the places, that history can become as tedious as reading a phone book. For that reason, I promise not to list any dates. I will offer you few names and when I do, the information I will share with you regarding them will be skimpy by design. I do not want you to become so side-tracked with individual people, philosophies, places, and dates, that you lose the over- all picture.

Back to my goal: It is my intent and hope that this little read will allow you to hear the music. To hear the glorious music of the movement of history as it existed between the Old Testament’s ending with the promise of the anointed One to come at an appointed time [Habakkuk 2:1-4], and the New Testament’s claim that the One arrived “in the fullness of time” [Gal 4:4].

As you begin to hear the music, I hope you will bow afresh to the birth of Christ. Then I would encourage you to go back and check out the people, events, and dates. Catch the big picture and then fill in as much detail as you will. The detail can be found in numerous history books of your choosing for this period of time.

Little Israel at the Close of the Old Testament

At the close of the Old Testament, the Hebrew people were limited because the rest of the world did not understand their language. They were small in area. And they were small in numbers, made even smaller by the number of people that were taken into captivity by the Babylonians. When finally released, many of these people, who had never lived in the land surrounding Jerusalem, simply chose to live in any place where they had business contacts and could support their families. As a result, Jewish communities developed both on the north and south sides of the Mediterranean Sea, but mostly on its far East coast.

The land of Israel was located in a rather insignificant portion of the world. There was some traffic passing through on the North/South interchange but little on the East/West. Likewise, sailors of the Mediterranean had little need to go east to the dead end side of the Mediterranean. Thus, the land of the Israelis was relatively small and insignificant on the big picture scale.

One thing they did have was an unusual claim. Beginning with Abraham, and then later with Isaac and Jacob, and the prophets, they made the claim that the Holy One, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Invisible One in the visible universe, had spoken to them.

Now these people were not naive. After several generations of these ‘encounters’ they set up a way to ‘Test the Spirit’. Even though they had a trustworthy history of hearing “thus said the Lord” and it was so, they were more than aware of manipulations and other possible shenanigans. Thus, the three way test was this:

Whenever someone said “Thus said the Lord” they would pick up stones and be prepared to kill the one who would make such a statement. Then the would-be prophet would have to give a sign and the sign would have to come true. If it did not, the prophet was stoned to death. If the sign did come true, then the obligation was theirs to heed the advice or warning.

The prophets foretold that the Holy One would send someone. This someone would reveal the connection between the visible world and the invisible. His coming, they were told, would be at the appointed time. {Habakkak 2:1-4] The prophets then turn silent.

The Astonishing Spread of Greek Culture

If you were to look at a map of the Mediterranean Sea area at this time, you would see all of its coastal areas with the little area of Israel on the far east coast. But the lights of history shone on the area we know as Greece.

Perhaps, dear reader, you are Greek and would totally embrace the words of the bride’s father in the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” who said, “When the rest of the world was still swinging on trees, we were writing philosophy.” There have been many great cultures of the world before and after the Greeks, but at this period in time, the father of the bride was fairly accurate.  Think of any Greek sir name you have ever heard of. With the exception of Aristotle Onassis, just about every one of them surfaced at this interlude between the testaments.

School of Athens painting

Raphael’s’ painting of the School of Athens,  portrays my thought. All of these ‘heavy thinkers’ come from this period. Raphael not only paints them, but he organizes them as well.  In the center of the painting we find the two ‘Big Boys’ in Plato and Aristotle. Their thinking can be roughly equated and separated into ‘right-wing’ and ‘left- wings’ or ‘right-brain’ and ‘left-brain’ activities.

Aristotle and Plato painting

Plato in red, with his hand up, was interested in the invisible things in life. His interest was in unity, or what the classical philosophers called “universals.” He wanted to know what holds everything together and his thinking was upward and outward. He was interested in transcendence. You beauty lovers, who may not be very interested in how it works, but are mesmerized by its beauty, would be considered followers of Plato.

Aristotle on the other hand, with his hand pointing down, was interested in what was visible, what he could see, and hold, and take apart. He was more interested in what is known as ‘immanence.’ Those of you who are interested in science and it’s many branches would be considered followers of Aristotle.

Not to belabor the point, but others sitting at the feet of Plato and Aristotle are: Zeno, Epicurus, Averocs, Pythagers, Aleibides, Xenophon, Aeschines, Parmenides, Socrates, Heraclitus, Diagenes, Euclid, Zoroaster, Plolemy.  You may not be familiar with all of them but you have probably heard of at least some of them.

These men changed the way people thought. By all of their questioning, they underscored the ‘individual’ rather than just one person in the ‘herd.’ As an individual, one had privileges, duties, and responsibilities. These people of Greece wanted to produce good citizens. A citizens ‘civita—civilized one’ was not to be ruled by a despot but would be able to rule themselves. Although it was many years later, Emmanuel Kant said there were four big philosophical questions:

  1.  What may I know? [epistemology]
  2.  What must I do? [ethics]
  3.  What may I hope? [eschatology]
  4.  What is man? [anthropology]

These Greek philosophers incorporated all of that.

You may be asking yourself at this time, “so what. What does this have to do with the significant events between the scriptures?” Please bear with me. The story goes on.

North of Greece, there was a ruler by the name of Phillip of Macedon. He was a warrior. He wanted to go to battle, to fight, to control. He also recognized that the people we call Greeks were not typical of humanity. They seemed more advanced than everyone else. They were more civilized, more cultured, more aware.

I have already acknowledged that there were other great cultures in the world so let me share two things that those other cultures did not possess. They did not have the number zero. You may be saying to yourself, “so what? What is the big deal with having a zero?” The Greek aquisition of the zero from the Egyptians became the basis of our economic system and our currency. Every time you handle money, move a decimal point, etc. you are indebted to the Egyptians for that magnificent zero.

Another thing other peoples did not have but borrowed from the Babylonians was counting by 12.  You are probably asking the same question:“So what?” Are you wearing a analog watch? There is a reason those numbers go from 1 to 12. You can thank the Babylonians for figuring out that system.

Anyhow, Phillip of Macedon was so impressed with the Greeks that he insisted that his son be taught by them in order to learn their ways and thinking processes.  He sent his son, Alexander, to the Academy to study with Aristotle. After absorbing a great deal from Aristotle and his new found Greek culture, and after Phillip dies, Alexander, decided it was time for him to do his own conquering.

His goal was not to destroy the world around him, but to conquer and expose these tribes or peoples of the world [nations is too strong a term] to the Greek culture.  In his path, he left the Greek language for people to learn. He left Greek food and culture. He built libraries where the people were exposed to the books of all of the philosophers previously mentioned. He constructed theaters where the questions of the philosophers were asked. Because he was opening up the minds of the people to cultures different than their own, it becomes a time when synagogues flourish and expanded westward as far as Spain and along the north African coast.

Having libraries, theaters, and synagogues may not seem like a big deal to you who have TV sets in your home or ipads, iphones, etc. but these were all channels of communication. It allowed people who were preoccupied, as we are, with providing food and shelter for their families, to learn about other people. It gave them a place  to listen and to know what others were thinking and doing. It encouraged them to think for themselves and to ask those haunting questions about what is real and what isn’t. What is important and what isn’t? Why am I here? What am I supposed to believe? In a world where everyone dies, what my I hope?

At the age of 33, Alexander the Great dies. The entire Mediterranean area is marked with his footprints and the Greek language, Greek books, Greek theaters, and synagogues are everywhere.

The Roman Takeover

With the death of Alexander, a different people began to expand. Unlike the expansion of Alexander with the desire to conquer and to spread the virtues of Greek culture, these people expanded with the idea of control, power, and money. Beginning in the area we call Rome, a series of smaller expansions turned into larger and larger expansions. They wanted to ‘annex’ all of their neighbors. Motivations often became mixed. They quickly discovered that if they could build A, and someone else could build B, together they could be A&B. Likewise, if this new ‘merger’ could build A&B, and another people  could build C, then the combined group could build A, B and C.

map of roman empire

It was the same for the opportunity to purchase from a larger area and to sell to a larger area. They would import grains that they needed and sell wines that they produced. Over the years they learned where to get what was needed. They did not have their Home Depots, Lowe’s and Wal-Marts, but they knew exactly where to get their tin and marble, silk worms and cloth, fruits and vegetables. With this knowledge and power, they became more knowledgeable and more powerful—and richer. The cast of their shadow expanded everywhere that Alexander had controlled and a great deal more.

The Romans were in it for the long term and their expansion needed to be managed. Although the Greek language continued around the Great Sea, these people spoke Latin and it was an essential ingredient in the management of the government, commerce, and military control.  Many construction projects, including a huge network of roads leading to Rome, were built with Latn as the working language.  Thus, three languages existed throughout the land: Native tongues, Greek, and Latin.

As part of the management, and building on the Greek’s concept of citizenship, with privileges, rights, and obligations, the Romans built a system of law. The Roman citizens were accountable to and protected by the law. This is where it becomes interesting. Not everyone in the Roman Empire was a Roman citizen. The people of the City of Rome were,  but the rest of empire was a different story.

It is not my intent to romanticize the Roman expansion with all of its warfare.  It was often a bloody war with deaths throughout the lands. But it was not always that way.  So valuable was the “Roman Citizen” title that much of the land was conquered, not by force but with a bribe. Sometimes soldiers would simply surround the town and make a deal with the movers and shakers (the influential) of the city. “Don’t fight with us, just join us. If you do, we will make you Roman citizens.” There was generally about a 10% limit on the number of people allowed to do this in any city.

Especially for the merchants, the Roman citizenship classification was a “Golden Ticket” in the world of commerce. It meant that one could travel throughout the empire and still be protected by Roman law. Thus the merchant was free to sell his wares anywhere. He could even sell someone else’s wares as a sales representative. This was a time when merchants from different lands could be found throughout the empire and their buying and selling made commerce work.

It was also the time when signage came into being. Before people traveled a great deal, the shops of the village did not need a sign that said “Butcher”, “Baker” or “Candle-Stick-Maker”. One simply knew where to buy their shoes, get a hair-cut, or purchase cloth. With all of the strangers in town, signage was needed.

In Alexandria, a city named for Alexander, it was decided to build the biggest and the best library in the world. They wanted a copy of every book written. This was especially interesting and important to the Jewish communities. The synagogues around the Mediterranean did not speak Hebrew. That was lost to them. They spoke Greek. They requested of the library in Alexandria that the Old Testament scrolls  be translated into Greek. The library then contacted the Jews in Jerusalem and made their request known. The Jewish authorities appointed six Hebrew scholars from each of the 12 tribes. They did all of the translation work and this highly significant Old Testament translation is known as the Septuagint and you may see it written simply as LXX for the 70 translators who did the work. This Old Testament was then shared with the synagogues around the great sea.

Are you getting a glimpse of how the world had changed? Looking at the same map, with its libraries, theaters, and synagogues spread around the sea, note again the land of the Hebrews. It is still in the same location, but now it is more than a dead end of the Mediteranean cul-de-sac. Rather, it is in the middle of the significant commercial trade routes between north and south. Given the nature of the mountain, one has to travel through a narrow pass known as Megiddo. The New Testament speaks of Armageddon and notes that whoever controls this pass controls the world. As sand travels through an hour glass at its narrowest point, so too the land travelers must go through here.

We have arrived at that point in time when the entire area is tied together with language, with roads, with commerce, with communication centers with the theaters, libraries, and synagogues. It order for it to function so that trade is not interrupted, where money and supplies continue to flow freely, where prosperity can continue to be a hope and dream, there has to be peace in the land. There is always war and rumors of war, but turf battles interrupt business. All of these diverse cultures, though united in language, and dependent on commerce and law, were free and encouraged to maintain their own culture as long as they kept the peace.

Encouraging peace, and successfully keeping the peace, was a Roman accomplishment that became known as the PAX ROMANA.

It is Time for the Extraordinary

Let us now turn our attention to the New Testament. It is not my intent to offer NT lessons, but merely to connect a few of the dots. Let us begin with the birth of Christ.

  • When the entire area of in this part of the world was with one tongue [Greek]
  • When the ground work had been laid where people knew they were individuals, with rights and obligations,
  • When the major questions of the world were being asked,
  • When theaters and libraries flourished,.
  • When synagogues were numerous and the old testament scrolls were being translated into Greek,
  • When merchants and scholars possessed Roman Citizenship that allowed them to travel anywhere in the empire and still be protected by law,
  • When peace was plentiful, and the rule of the land,
  • When this little land of Israel became the gateway connecting North and South,

Then and only then did God send an angel to a young girl named Mary and say to her:

The time has come. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God. Luke 1:35.

Pentecost Ignites the Good News

God the Giver

Let us now take a quick look at Pentecost. Christians look at Pentecost as the time when God gave his Holy Spirit and a time when those gathered were speaking in tongues. To the Jewish community, which represented the people who were attending this regular service of worship, Pentecost was a time to celebrate God’s “giving”. People receive, but it is the Lord who “gives”. How does the Lord give? The Lord gives in three specific ways

  1. The Lord gives through His harvest. Human kind may plant and water and work, but it is the Lord who gives of the harvest. It is all the Lord’s creation. I have come to the persuasion that if one properly understands the term “creation” one understands the rest. If one fails to properly understand “creation” then one does not understand the rest of the scriptures.
  2. The Lord gives through His law. It is the gift of the law that leads to prosperity. It is the law that forms the type of person we are. It is the law that points to the direction we need to go.
  3. The Lord gives “as in the book of Ruth”.

Without going into it, the book of Ruth is a great story. It never tells the reader what to do, what to say, nor what to believe. It shows you what the Lord does and how He does it. The workings of the Lord are such an “easy yoke”, such a mature and smooth wine, so kind and gracious, that His workings become revealed after events and generally not before or during. Whenever you smack your forehead and say in amazement, “look how that all came together!” you will understand.

The Old Testament used the term “HESED” throughout the Scriptures to indicate the “Loving Kindness of the Lord”

These are the three characteristics of the Lord that are being worshipped when the worshippers are gathered together in Acts 2. They are worshipping the Lord—the GIVER.

Tongues of Fire

Now, consider the people who are at this service.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment because each one heard them speaking in his own language. [Remember, they all knew Greek so there was no need for them to hear in their native tongue]. Utterly amazed they asked, “Are not all these men, who are speaking, Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; resident of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Tonus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the part of Libra near Cyrene, visitors from Rome [both Jews and Jewish converts], Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues! Acts 2:5

Jewish merchants from around the Sea are in the major trading center of Jerusalem when they hear the story of the resurrected Christ from Peter and when the Holy Spirit is another gift, given by the Giver, who they have come to celebrate and worship.

These merchants were all passing through on business but eventually they journey home. When they get to wherever their homes are, their wife and children meet him at the door and say, “Daddy, what did you bring me? How was your trip? What did you learn?” When the time is right, perhaps after dinner, he shares with them his story and his experiences at the Jewish Pentecost Service. The wife will eventually ask, “What will our Rabbi say to all of this?”

I image the Rabbi asking him to remain quiet awhile until the Rabbi himself can examine the scriptures. Rabbis seek counsel from other Rabbis and a Rabbi in Cappadocia can readily contact [via Roman snail mail] any Rabbi throughout the empire. So he does. And when he does, he soon learns that the story he heard from the merchant in his synagogue is the same story other Rabbi’s are hearing from the merchants in their own. Pretty soon, the Jewish community is spreading the gospel of Christ throughout the Roman Empire.

And the questions! Oh, the questions!!! All of the rabbi’s have them and they need to ask for help. The news quickly spreads that the rabbinic scholar in Jerusalem, originally from Tarsus, has gone from trying to kill the Christ followers to becoming one. He even changed his name from the Hebrew Saul to the Greek Paul. So, they write to him. When he writes back, his letters become circulated from synagogue to synagogue. He even travels to a number of these places, since as a Roman Citizen, he is free to travel the Roman Empire and to be protected by Roman law.

Conclusion

It is my hope that this little story has helped you connect some of the dots. During these 400 years of silence, it may not seem that anything significant happened, but as you can now tell, one of the ways the Lord works is “as in the book of Ruth” where the truth sneaks up on you.

Regarding your celebration of Christmas, my prayer continues to be that you will be able to bow afresh to the Christ child and all of the events that had to happen before he came. If He had arrived a few hundred years earlier, no one would have known about it. It would have been an isolated event amongst a far away people. If it had happened a few hundred years later, everyone was embroiled in war.

In happened, as foretold, in the fullness of time.

In your personal life, you too will discover periods of silence. You too have had and will have your years of silence. When you do, smile. He who gives the harvest, and gives the law, and “as in the book of Ruth” gives silently, graciously, easily, and smoothly. It is done with such purity that the movement of the spirit is generally seen in hind-sight. Remember, Robinson Caruso only had to see one footprint in the sand before he knew, he was not alone.

Written by my friend Dr. Frank Leeds III

Michelangelo Gods hand human hand heart

The Magic of Courageous Love / Spiritual Meditations

Extolled as the greatest virtue, love is fascinating and complex, and takes courage to reach its pinnacle.  Yet for a language containing over 500,000 words, English is short on the distinctions between the various kinds of love. It uses the same word to show as much preference for a cup of tea as for your soul mate.

Greek, on the other hand, does not need any clumsy clarification when talking about love. In fact, Greek has several words to choose from, for different kinds of love and for different people whom you love. By deciding where your relationships fit into these types, you may find you are loved or love more than you think.  Always a good thing.

Eros or Erotic Love

The first kind of love is Eros, which is named after the Greek god of love and fertility. Eros represents the idea of sexual passion and desire and the ancient Greeks considered it to be dangerous as it involves a “loss of control” due to the primal impulse to procreate. Because Eros is centered around the selfish aspects of personal infatuation and physical pleasure, Eros must grow into a deeper love to be sustained. When misguided, Eros can be misused, abused and indulged in, leading to impulsive acts and broken hearts.

Kane, a marriage and family therapist says “A person newly in love sees the world through the lens of love and most everything is tolerable and everything their partner does is delightful. Romantic love evolves when one feels a sense of interdependence, attachment, and that their psychological needs are being met”

Philia, or Deep Friendship

As Aristotle put it, philia is a “dispassionate virtuous love” that is free from the intensity of sexual attraction. It often involves the feelings of loyalty and sacrifice among friends, camaraderie among teammates, and sharing of emotions.

Another kind of philia, sometimes called storge, is a love without physical attraction. Storge is primarily to do with kinship and familiarity as between parents and their children.

Ludus, or Playful Love

Although ludus has a bit of the erotic eros in it, it is much more than that. This was the Greeks’ idea of playful love, which referred to the affection between children or young lovers. You may have experienced it in flirting and teasing, during the early stages of a relationship. But we also live out our ludus when we gather together, bantering and laughing with friends, or when we go dancing.

Mania or Obsessive Love

Mania love is a type of love that leads a partner into a type of madness and obsessiveness. The person exhibiting Mania love, needs love to feel a sense of self-value. Because of this, they can become possessive and jealous lovers. If the other partner fails to reciprocate with the same kind of mania love, many issues develop. This is why mania can often lead to problems such as codependency.

Pragma or Enduring Love

Pragma is a love that has aged, matured and developed over time. It is beyond the physical, it has transcended the casual, and it is a unique harmony that has formed.

You can find pragma in married couples who’ve been together for a long time, or in friendships that have endured for decades.

Pragma is about making compromises to help the relationship work over time, and showing patience and tolerance.

The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm said that we spend too much energy on “falling in love” and need to learn more how to “stand in love.” Pragma is precisely about standing in love—making an effort to give love rather than just receive it.

Psychologist, Rachel Needle says. “The truth is that you have to put in time and energy and make a conscious effort to sustain the relationship and the passion. Basic communication with your partner on a daily basis is important to continue connecting on an emotional level. Also, remind yourself why you fell in love with this person.”

Philautia or Self Love

The Greeks understood that in order to care for others, we must first learn to care for ourselves. This form of self-love is not the unhealthy vanity and self-obsession that is focused on personal fame, gain and fortune as in the case with Narcissism.

Instead, philautia is self-love in its healthiest form. It shares the Buddhist philosophy of “self-compassion” which is the deep understanding that once you feel comfortable in your own skin, you will be able to provide love to others. As Aristotle put it, “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself.

The only way to truly be happy is to find that unconditional love for yourself. Often learning to love yourself involves embracing all the qualities you perceive as “unlovable”.

Agape, or Love for Everyone

The highest and most radical love is agape or selfless love. Agape is what some call ‘spiritual love’. This is an unconditional love that you extended to all people, whether family members or distant strangers. It is the purest form of love that is free from desires and expectations, and loves regardless of the flaws and shortcomings of others. Agape was  translated into Latin as caritas, which is the origin of our English word “charity.”

C.S. Lewis refers to it as the highest form of Christian love. But it also appears in other religious traditions, such as the idea of mettā or “universal loving kindness” in Theravāda Buddhism.

Agape is the love which we intuitively know as  Divine grace: the love that accepts, forgives and believes for our greater good.

In his book “You are the One”, Kute Blackson shows us the courage needed to live our lives fully engaged in agape love within a world that discourages it.  He  makes a good case for transforming ourselves into a conduit for God’s love to reach everyone.

True love is always freely given, with nothing expected in return. It is a commitment to share what is in your heart with another person, no matter who they are, or what language they speak.

Yet most of us have been conditioned to hold back our love. We go from being young children who say “I love you“ to the dog on the street or the man behind the counter and we become adults who reserve our love for people we can trust, for people who earn our love, for people who love us back.

We are taught to believe that love is based on certain conditions. Get good grades, be a good girl, look a certain way. That love is dependent on a certain set of actions. If someone doesn’t measure up, love should be restricted. We learn that our love should be held in reserve. It is for our family, our girlfriend, our children, our spouse. We cling to these people. They are the ones who get our love. But we hold the power to love anyone in any moment.

So, when do you hold back? Do you hold back with your spouse? Do you expect him or her to meet a certain set of expectations and then you will offer your love? Do you hold back with your siblings? Still harboring resentment from some inequality or injustice in the past? Do you hold back with your coworkers? Your neighbors? Your kids? Everyone that you meet is desperate for love. When you realize that love is something that can be shared with everyone, there is no limit to the love you can give.

I am not saying that the path of love is going to be easy. It is a muscle you have to exercise. It is a daily choice that you must make. Don’t refuse it. Love is not a feeling you have no control over, but a fierce commitment. There are no good excuses to hold back the one thing everyone in this world is craving more than life itself. Begin to ask yourself the question daily: “Am I loving fully? Could I love right now?” This question becomes a kind of moment to moment meditation, and it can open your eyes to opportunities you may miss otherwise.

Love is not a passive word. Love is not something to store high up on the shelf in your closet and bring out only on special occasions. Love is a living thing to be used every second of your life. Love is not just for the great saints and heroes of history. It is our birthright. Our destiny. Our responsibility. The more you use it, the more it grows. At the end of your life, the only thing you get to keep is the love you give away. All of life is a gigantic temple. Everything in it is an expression of the divine. Everywhere you walk is holy ground.

What the Apostle John Says about Love

Looking to the Bible, the Apostle John clearly indicated that it was God who initiated love.

“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says “I love God “, yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, who he has not seen. And he has given us this command: whoever loves God must also love his brother. “

John  echoed the words of Jesus. When asked by the religious leaders of his day to point out the greatest commandment in the law, he answered,

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind “. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself “. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.

Then John summarized it best when he said,

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

As Jesus Christ lived out his enlightenment and realization of his fundamental unity with God, he had a unique urgency, a poignant wild passion, and a hunger for justice that made him the hero of love to the human race. Christ came not to found a new religion or to ingratiate a new set of dogma but to open up a fierce and shattering new path of love in action, a path that seems now, with the hindsight of history, the one that could have saved – and still could save – humanity from its course of suicidal self-destruction.

Love Your Enemies

In his book What’s so Amazing about Grace, Philip Yancey states “There is nothing we can do that will make God love us more. There is nothing we can do that will make God love us less”.  That being true, a theology of love is grounded in the realization that God loves our enemies as much as God loves us. And we are all created in the image of this God. We are all precious in God’s site. We are all children of God. This is going to be a stretch for many of us, but one of the highest and most powerful forms of love and compassion flows when we learn to pray for those who persecute us, when we dare to love even our antagonists and enemies.

Apartheid

In his book ‘Naked Spirituality, Brian D McLaren describes an example of agape love that touches a life with it’s magic.

A white South African once told me about a time when he was on the receiving end of such a blessing.

During the apartheid years, he believed what he was told by white authority figures, namely, that those working against apartheid were evil troublemakers, rabble-rousers, communist, and heretics. Chief among the troublemakers was an activist Anglican priest named Desmond Tutu.

Once, walking through an airport, this large white man saw Tutu coming towards him. Overcome with rage, he moved toward Tutu and roughly, intentionally bumped him as he walked by. Tutu, much smaller in stature, fell down, landing on his backside with a thud. When Tutu open his eyes, angry blue eyes glared down at him with a sneer of obvious distain, only to see Tutu’s shocked and dazed face gradually focus and form into a smile. “God bless you, my child”, Tutu said, his brown eyes gleamed with an impossible mix of passion and mischief.

The man strutted away, all the more infuriated because Tutu found a way to transcend his acts of hatred. During the hours and days that followed, the words of blessing echoed in his memory and gradually the big, proud white man was brought to repentance by a simple, spontaneous blessing. Tutus nonviolence wasn’t simply a political strategy; it was a spiritual practice. It was rooted in this practice of intercession. The only way we will learn to respond to violent actions with non-violent actions is by learning to respond first with nonviolent words – words of blessing, not cursing, words of prayer, not revenge, words of compassion, not retaliation.

Ghandi

Kute Blackson recounts yet another incident of agape love in action:

Gandhi was in prison many times throughout his life. But he never allowed feelings of anger, victimization, and hated to overpower his call to love now. On one such occasions, after being imprisoned, Gandhi requested a pair of scissors and some leather and cloth from the prison warden. He was given these items, and during his stay in prison, he made a pair of sandals. He made them with great love and attention to detail. Upon Gandhi’s release from prison, he asked to see the army officer who had imprisoned him. He handed the sandals to the officer and said, “Officer, while in prison, I made this for you. A gift from me to you. “ The officer was speechless and stood in silence. Gandhi simply turned around and walked out. No words were necessary.

Even when staring injustice and cruelty in the face, we can choose to love. It’s easy to love when you get what you want. When life is kind to you and people are nice to you. But this takes great courage to love when your life is difficult or you are treated unfairly, and even greater courage when the people around you are unkind and rude. But Jesus taught us that this is when loving really counts.

Mother Teresa

Love is not something that fossilizes, but something that lives. Works of love, and declaring love, is the way to peace. And where does this love begin? Right in our own hearts. We must know that we have been created for greater things, not just to be a number in the world, not just to go for the diplomas and degrees, this work and that work. We have been created in order to love and be loved.

If you find yourself saying, “Oh, well, only the great ones know how to love that unconditionally. They are special.” Kute Blackson tells us “This is an illusion. If it was possible for Gandhi, it is possible for you. The great ones weren’t special people with special powers. They were like you and me. They were simply examples of what was possible. They showed us our capacity to love and what we can all be. They simply dared to exercise their hearts capacity to love more and more.”

Divine love is inside us. Divine love constitutes forgiveness, charity, benevolence, kindness, cooperation, sharing. All of these and more.  We just need to release it and exercise it.

Conclusion:

The ancient Greeks found diverse kinds of love in relationships with a wide range of people—friends, family, spouses, strangers, and even themselves. By mapping out the extent to which all types of love are present in your life, you might discover you’ve got a lot more love than you had ever imagined. You are loved. You were born to love. Everyone is waiting for your love. What else is there to do but love?  Be courageous and share the agape love God has given you with everyone.

Relevant Scripture:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1 NIV)

We love because God first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

References:

8 Different Types of Love by Mateo Sol https://lonerwolf.com/different-types-of-love/

The Ancient Greeks’ 6 Types of Love

You are the One by Kute Blackson

Naked Spirituality by Brian D McLaren

time chasing people down a hill

Simple Guide to Know God Better | Spiritual Meditations

Momma always said “Stop, Look & Listen”. Although excellent instruction for children crossing traffic, it is also good advice in polite conversation, especially polite conversation with God. My friend, Stephanie, explains how these simple words can guide your improved connection with God.

Is it the busy-ness of life that sometimes makes you feel that God is silent? Are the hours at work, family responsibilities, and self-care routines actually building a wall that keeps you from hearing His voice? Does the instant gratification created by the information age make you feel impatient and want to put a time limit on getting the answers to your prayers?

Now let’s be real. God is never really silent. we only have to open our Bibles and He speaks to us. However, there are times when you think you need a timely answer. When life, love, and liberty might hang in the balance and each moment waiting to hear from God is excruciatingly long and exhausting. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when you’ve repeatedly petitioning God, and you’re getting impatient to hear from Him:

Are you listening for God’s answer?

Sometimes the answer is ‘No’ when you really want ‘Yes.’ Or, vice versa. The question may already be answered, but you are hoping that God will change His mind. Other times, the noise around you won’t allow you to hear the whispered voice of God. Just imagine being on a roller-coaster at Disney. You’re strapped in and ready to enjoy the sights, sound, and physical aspects of the ride. The cast member gives the go sign and you’re off! At that same moment, the person in the seat next to you leans over and whispers something really important in your ear. Any chance you’re going to catch what was said? And even if you do hear the words, any chance that you’ll be able to give it the focus it deserves? Probably not. In fact, more than 3000 years ago, God gave you the answer to this perplexing challenge of a busy life in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God…” So, find a place to be still and silent before the Lord. Pray as you always do, but before the ‘Amen’, take a moment to listen and see if God is whispering to your heart.

Are you watching for God’s activity?

God is at work all the time. All….The….Time. God does not take a vacation, which is confirmed by Jesus in John 5:7 “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” And if He’s working, then something is happening, just like a clock without a second hand moving from one minute to another. Somewhere inside that clock something is counting the seconds until the minute has passed. You don’t see the counting but you know it’s going on. The awesome and amazing thing about God, is that He can work on us all at the same time. He doesn’t have a schedule that says, “Okay, today I work on the people whose names start with L and tomorrow I move on to the M’s.” No, he works on us individually and collectively simultaneously! That movement from who you are, to who God longs for you to be is the journey of transformation, and if you are truly seeking God, you can look back on your life and see the growth and evolution that is your story for His glory. Take a moment to look for God, in your life and in the lives of those you love. It’s an amazing metamorphosis. (Accounts of real experiences of God working in people’s lives)

Are you open to God’s answer?

I think that this is a really challenging aspect of this whole thing. Somewhere along the line, we humans became really stubborn. Really stubborn. We’ve either become so sure that we have all the answers, or realize that we don’t, but we want to ‘fake it till we make it’ and we forget that the only one with all the answers doesn’t answer to us. Allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work in you can be difficult, yet Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be your counselor, intercessor, and guide. This Spirit of God is your biggest fan when you’re reflecting God honestly. Yet the Revealer (Holy Spirit) will also admonish you and nudge you toward God when you’ve strayed or rebelled. It is hard to be open to an answer that will probably change you. Yet growth produces the seeds that will start the next exciting cycle in your life with God.

Finally, remember that you don’t need to be in church for the change to occur, yet having a family (your church family) who recognizes your gifts can be an awesome thing. And you don’t need another person to intercede for you, yet having others praying on your behalf can be extremely comforting.

Conclusion

If you combine these things with a quiet place to regularly listen for the Lord, you will hear Him. He’s waiting to speak with you. You just need to give Him your attention. Stop, look and listen.

many hands in prayer

3 Steps to Successful Prayer | Spiritual Meditations

How to Make Prayer Work for You

If your prayers are not being answered, it’s time to take a look at your attitudes, your pride, your trust in God and your connection with God and His Spirit. The following, written by my friend, Reverend Dr. Tim Ehrlich, talks about the power of prayer and how you can tap into it.

“I have been crushed and completely defeated at least four times in my life; I am talking about times I was brought so low by my circumstances that I felt like I was walking through ‘the valley of the shadow of death’, and I could not find my way out. Neither could I see the sun. I could only see doom and gloom. I felt completely empty inside, like there was a dark cloud on my soul. Every time, it was prayer that brought me back up out of the valley.

The Interview I Tried to do Myself

I am going to tell you about the second time I was crushed and defeated; it happened in my second year of my first church appointment.

I had already graduated from Duke Divinity school with a three-year masters degree, and I was serving as a Licensed local pastor. To be an ordained Methodist Pastor you had to be a Methodist for two years before graduation. I was not ordained yet because I had gone to Duke as a Presbyterian and became a Methodist in my second year. but if no ordained pastors were available, I could be appointed as a Licensed local pastor before being ordained.

For my first assignment I was appointed to serve two little churches in the Catskill Mountains. After about a year and a half, my boss, the DS (District Superintendent), told me I should go before the Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry to seek approval for ordination. I told him I wasn’t sure that it was a good time for me; my wife had just had our baby girl, and my sons were ages two and four. It was pretty crazy in our house, and my two churches, that had been declining for 20 years, were now growing, and there was a lot going on.

Going before the Board of Ordained Ministry is a big deal; you sit in the hot seat in front of about 20 ministers and they pepper you with questions, to determine your knowledge, your calling, your commitment and your suitability to be a pastor. If they say “no” you are done….out….finished. But the DS said, “Tim, you are one of my best pastors, you will do fine, but if for some strange reason you don’t get approved, no problem, I will just reappoint you and you can try again next year.”

I went before the board and I was nervous. I didn’t know enough at that time to just put it in God’s hands and let go of it. And I was holding on to it like it was all on me. My boss was wrong. It didn’t go really well. I will never forget that, at the end of the day, I was alone in a room in a church…. waiting. A bearded pastor came into the room and sat down. He told me, “it didn’t go well for you. There were 28 people applying to be ordained and because you weren’t in the top group, you won’t be ordained and they are giving your church assignment to an ordained pastor.”

How Did I Get Here?

When I was 17, I had offered to give my life in service to God if He would save my sisters life when she was terribly injured in a car accident and expected to die. (Link) God had poured out his Holy Spirit on me to let me know he had accepted my offer and that my sister would live. God confirmed my calling with several other miracles, and I was completely convinced that I was called into ministry. I could not wait to become ordained as a pastor. It was the great joy and desire of my life.

Revived by Prayer

Now it seemed like it was over and my dream was dead. I drove home that day tired, defeated and completely crushed, empty of joy and hope. I am not sure if I cried but I sure felt like it.

There was a group of five or six Christians in that area who called themselves ‘prayer warriors’. They would get together weekly in one of their homes. People who needed healing would go there to be prayer over. I was friends with several of the prayer warriors who would attend my church when the Spirit led them.

The next morning, I called Loretta, who was in the group, and asked her if I could come over for prayer during their next meeting and she said ‘sure’. At the meeting, I sat in a chair and they stood in a circle around me and put their hands on my head and on my shoulders and back and they prayed out loud for me. After about 30 minutes they stopped and asked how I was doing. I said, “I am half way there. Please don’t stop praying.” They laid their hands on me again and prayed. And over the next 20 minutes I could feel myself getting filled, until I was overflowing with joy!

I can’t remember a single word that was prayed over me, but, in less than an hour, those people transformed me from the worst depression of my life to being filled with joy. That is the power of prayer!

Witness to the Power of Prayer

Since then I have seen dozens of amazing miracles brought about by prayer; a woman burned all over her body instantly healed, a man brought out of a coma, another man who flat lined brought back to life. I have seen two different people who were going to die within hours brought back to health. I have seen people rescued from drowning and disaster. I have twice seen my son, Timmy, recover from bouts of cyclic vomiting through prayer when medicine wasn’t working. This week I heard the wonderful testimony of Melissa Hill who told how God miraculously rescued her from death, through prayer, after being stabbed 30 times. Over the years I have seen so many great examples of the power of prayer that it brings tears to my eyes when I stop to think about them.

My Story Continues

My feeling of emptiness was healed and I turned my situation over to God. My boss, the DS, appealed the decision to the Board of Ordained ministry. They met to reconsider my case, and my boss brought with him letters from 124 members of my congregation, written to the bishop on my behalf, and a video the Sunday school kids made. My boss told me afterwards that, because the bishop was angry with him about another matter, the appeal on my behalf was turned down. But the very next day, he called me and said he had another appointment for me in another nearby conference through a friend of his who was a DS there. I went on to get ordained during that appointment.

Prayer – What Works and What Doesn’t

A recent survey found that 55% of Americans say they pray every day; and only 23% say they seldom or never pray; so, I know that many of you know how prayer works and you already rely on it. But some of you may not. Jesus’ apostle James wrote “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” And in Proverbs we read, “God hears the prayer of the righteous.” What makes a person righteous? Hold that thought.

I want to start by telling you about how prayer doesn’t work.

Prayer is not a magic spell that you say and results occur. On TV, in cartoons and in movies I have seen people using incantations, magic spells, which basically are a string of words or sounds that, when spoken, are supposed to have the ability to release some supernatural power. That is BS.

It is not the words you say, but the intentions of your heart that matter to God. The famous Danish, Christian philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.” Actually, there are three things that happen inside us when we pray.

1     The first thing that happens is that your thoughts and actions become righteous or in agreement with God’s will.

God’s will or desire is that we love Him with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. Any thought or action that is in opposition to love, to the decrease of love, or that is damaging to the love of God or neighbor, is something that God finds objectionable (i.e. sinful).

Pray with openness to God, surrendering anything that is in your heart or mind that is against this love. God will bring your thoughts into alignment with His will as you pray earnestly via the gradual inflow of the Holy Spirit which acts to align your thoughts and intentions with God’s will in the same way that a magnet gives order to a pile of iron filings.

This is a process that is not instantaneously obvious, although, it can happen quickly. It depends on how tightly you cling to your anger, your hurt, your improper desires, your depression, and / or anything that is opposed to the love of God. It can take hours of prayer, even hours over several days. But your prayers will not be powerful or effective if you skip this step.

2     The second thing that happens inside you when you pray, provided you pray long enough and sincerely enough, is that prayer opens a channel in your heart. In some ways opening up that channel is like the work of an icebreaker creating a channel. The ice is all the thoughts and distractions you have floating around your mind. See Transcending Mind for guidance on how to stop those thoughts

3     The third thing that prayer does inside you is it prepares a place for the Holy Spirit to come in and rest. The apostle Paul said that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. You are a temple for the Holy Spirit, but the temple is unoccupied if you keep the doors locked. You have to invite the Holy Spirit in. Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if any hear my voice and open the door, I will come into their house…” For you to have effective prayer you need to be willing to have the Holy Spirit living inside your heart and all that that implies.

When you have all three of these, things happen, God will answer. God’s answer is not always “yes,” but it is always in your best interest. When what you are asking lines up with His will; when you pray passionately enough to open a channel of communication; and when you are willing to invite the Holy Spirit to live inside you, then God responds powerfully to prayers. A good example from the Bible is when Paul and Silas were put in jail for teaching about Jesus; they prayed and their chains fell off. (Act 16:16-36)

I was talking to my son, Timmy, recently about prayer and he finally got it. He said, “You mean all I really have to do is talk to God like I am talking to you?!” Paul wrote to the Philippians “Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace,” That’s all there is to it.

Why Does God Care?

Why does the all-powerful Creator of the entire universe care what we say or what we pray? Lucky for us, God sees all people on earth as His sheep and Himself as our Shepherd; and when God sees those who believe in Him and in Jesus, He sees His children. That was a part of God’s plan in creating the universe and it gives Him great pleasure to adopt us as His children. It gives God pleasure to interact with us as a loving Father. And for those of us who have committed our lives to following and serving Jesus, God sees us, not just as children but as holy and royal priests. When we get to that point then we too become prayer warriors.

Conclusion

Through prayer, God opens eyes, changes hearts, heals wounds and illnesses, saves lives, and grants wisdom and power. Prayer is the key that opens the door to all these blessings from God, so let us resolve to pray more, to take full advantage of all that God is offering us.”

Relevant Scripture

James 5:13-18 (TEV) Are any among you in trouble? They should pray. Are any among you happy? They should sing praises.  Are any among you sick? They should send for the church elders, who will pray for them and rub olive oil on them in the name of the Lord.  This prayer made in faith will heal the sick; the Lord will restore them to health, and the sins they have committed will be forgiven.  So then, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you will be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has a powerful effect.  Elijah was the same kind of person as we are. He prayed earnestly that there would be no rain, and no rain fell on the land for three and a half years.  Once again, he prayed, and the sky poured out its rain and the earth produced its crops.

Proverbs 15:29 (NRSV) The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.
Mark 11:24   So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Acts 16:24-26 ( TEV ) About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Suddenly there was a violent earthquake, which shook the prison to its foundations. At once all the doors opened, and the chains fell off all the prisoners.

Philippians 4:6-9 (NLT) Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 1:4-5 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.  God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.

1 Peter 2:5-9 And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God… But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

Psalms 116:1-8 (TEV) I love the Lord, because he hears me; he listens to my prayers.  He listens to me every time I call to him.  The danger of death was all around me; the horrors of the grave closed in on me; I was filled with fear and anxiety. Then I called to the Lord, “I beg you, Lord, save me!” The Lord is merciful and good; our God is compassionate. The Lord protects the helpless; when I was in danger, he saved me. Be confident, my heart, because the Lord has been good to me. The Lord saved me from death; he stopped my tears and kept me from defeat.

­­­­­­­

child reading Bible in bed

The Baffling Look of a Christian | Spiritual Meditations

Who or what is a Christian?

The ambiguity encourages criticism and accusation of hypocrisy against all Christians when non-Christians witness, or become aware of, unchristian acts performed by professed Christians.

In a broad sense, a Christian is anyone who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ. Some people are better at this than others.

Christians Are Not Perfect

Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Romans 12:13)

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building other up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)

Granted, nobody is perfect and, try as we might, we do the things we don’t want to do and we don’t do the things we want to do. (Roman 7:15) It may not be in a person’s personality to be generous because their economic circumstances were less than desirable as children. Or perhaps, due to low self-esteem, someone criticizes others a little too much. But for the person who is trying to live the teachings of Jesus, these should be mistakes, not a way of life.

Christians are Diverse

The amount of devotion to Christianity varies widely among individuals and progresses along a continuum. On one end are the politicians who say they are Christians to solicit the Christian vote. On the other end are the people who have dedicated their lives to God’s work through various ministries or by becoming missionaries.

In between there is a host of people, from many denominations, with priorities that they have chosen or have been imposed upon them. Their development toward God can stall at any point as they mature, resulting in a group that lacks uniformity with an inconsistent application of Jesus’ teachings.  Christians do not all develop their faith at the same rate or at the same time.  I expect there is a continuum of devotion or interest with most religious and secular groups.  We humans have the free-will to decide the extent to which we want to be involved.

My Relationship with God is of Little Importance

Many individuals were taken to church by their parent when they were children. As soon as they reached puberty and had more voice in their activities, church fell by the wayside. Another group views church attendance as a part of the expected festivities on religious holidays, similar to fireworks on Independence Day.

This group self-identifies as Christian, but is missing the regular reminders of what their relationship with God could be and what kind of people they need to be to have a relationship with God. As a result, they have less knowledge of what the Christian life entails. They are not guided by the Holy Spirit and are, therefore, more likely to provide a poor example to non-Christians.

Is Church Necessary?

It is possible to have a healthy relationship with God without Christian fellowship, but it requires much individual study of resources that you may not be aware of. Building your understanding and relationship with God can take years and not everyone has the inherent personality traits that allow the consistent prayer and dedication required. Church resources and the help of other Christians makes it easier.   If you are a person who wants to help others, such as the economically disadvantaged, service opportunities are generally already initiated by churches and you can just plug in to them or lead new ones.

Once a Week is Enough for Me

There is a group of people who attend church regularly because they started as children, were told it was the right thing to do, and it is now a habit. Some churches try to frightened parishioners into attendance and are successful in doing so, but the individual may regard it as a duty rather than an opportunity to grow in their faith. Yet others have so many commitments that church attendance once a week is all they can manage. The type of services to others, that Jesus asked his followers to embrace, is largely ignored.

The exception in this group, of course, are the folks who have served God during their earlier years, but no longer have adequate health to continue in an active way. They generally do their best to attend religious services regularly and contribute financially to support others in good works.

I’m Born Again

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”  Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”  Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:1-8)

A ‘Born Again Christian’ is someone who has had a conversion experience. A person accepts Jesus Christ into their life and they are filled with the Holy Spirit. They may have already considered themselves a Christian or not. It may be a very quiet or a very charismatic episode, but it is always emotional. Afterwards, the individual is highly motivated to learn all they can about Jesus and God and they are ‘on fire’ to put their new found Spirit into active service.

Their heightened response to the experience may continue for a life time or it may resolve into a more internal dedication, depending on the personality. Some people may have a decline in interest, called ‘back sliding’, but this can reverse again at another time. Jesus compared being ‘born again of the Holy Spirit’ to the wind….it is difficult to explain and must be experienced.

Let Me Help

You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

Individuals who have developed a connection with God, no matter how strong it is, get involved in God’s work. Having received the Holy Spirit, they cannot help themselves…. they are compelled by God’s love from within to do so. Their contribution can be physical and/or financial.  It may be out of their own abundance or, as Jesus extoled, they may give all that they have. (Mark 12:41-44 see below). For those that can, the occasional mission trip may be part of their service to God and humanity. Local community needs are identified and church groups are organized to address those needs.

I want to Minister to Others Full Time

….to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Jesus Christ, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. (1 Cor 1:2)

One hundred years ago a trained missionary moved to an area in the world where non-Christians lived and tried to convert them to Christianity. They were the administrators of evangelistic schools, hospitals and churches

People involved in missions today, sacrificially cross social, cultural and political boundaries to spread God’s love through service. They come from all walks of life and may receive many months of training which is broader based than a century ago. With the advent of cheaper airfares and the internet, medical, business, agricultural, and apostolic short term and long-term missions have proliferated. There is now an emphasis on working with a community to develop solutions to its needs and train it to maintain those solutions.

The ministers or pastors of churches are generally called by God to fill that role. Additionally, they must meet the educational and experience requirements of the church that is hiring. This could be very little or could include up to four years of college and two to three years of graduate school. This is a big decision, but because of their ability to sense God’s guidance, it is a decision they are confirmed in making.

Conclusion

Those who lump together all Christians, expecting them to meet the single perfect standard that Jesus encourages, are not aware of the continuum of spiritual development. The amount of time and effort one puts into reading spiritual texts and meditating on Christian values, which is invisible to non-Christians, is the determining factor in the level of Christian maturity that is achieved.

Each Christian may be the only Christ that some people will ever see and we must be vigilant to be the best role models we can be. It is possible with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Relevant Scripture

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said to you (John 14:26)

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watch the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, the poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth, but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on. (Mark 12:41-44)

Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38)

References

http://www.bu.edu/cgcm/files/2009/09/101015dldanarobertpaper.pdf

The Bible

 

name of Jesus

Who is Jesus? A Peek at the Unique /Spiritual Meditations

Hundreds of thousands of people ask this question every month. If you asked it, I’m going to assume that you have an interest in developing, or, at least, exploring your spiritual side.

Jesus is considered a prophet by Muslims.  The Jewish faith considers him a teacher at best.  Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world, but is found in our hearts, souls and in heaven.  The Jews were expecting a Jewish ruler who would relieve their earthly persecution. Because he did not meet this expectation, Jesus is considered a false-messiah by many of them.

But Jesus is the central figure in Christianity creating a stronger connection between God and man.  There has been so much written about who he was that an exhaustive answer would be …. exhausting. So, I’ll just touch on a few important aspects from the Christian perspective, which provides the most in depth information. Even if you have had significant Christian experience, you will find some food for thought and maybe a surprise or two in this article.

What did Jesus do?

I posed this question to my friend, Pastor Nathan. In his opinion the following four acts performed by Jesus while walking this earth, were the most important. The vast majority of Christians would agree with the first two. There may be various opinions regarding numbers three and four, but Pastor Nathan’s reasoning is eye-opening.

Crucifixion

Jesus’ crucifixion is the most important thing that He did. He voluntary clung to the cross in death and took upon himself all of our sin and punishment fulfilling the role of the Hebrew Scriptures as scape goat.

Resurrection

Being resurrected is the second most important thing Jesus did. It is important because through His resurrection we are given the down payment on our own resurrection. His death consumed death, His resurrection restores and promises life. [This event is celebrated at Easter. ] A Bible reference for Jesus’ resurrection.

The Samaritan Woman at the Well

The next most important things Jesus did was to have a conversation with a Samaritan woman at a well.  [Samaritans were a people scorned and avoided by the Jewish community because their beliefs about God were somewhat different than the Jewish teachings.) Because Jesus embodied God, this conversation revealed the radical nature of God’s grace and inclusion in the salvation plan carried out by Jesus. This conversation paved the way toward the recognition that all people are offered the opportunity to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and it extended the ministry of Jesus beyond the Jewish people.

The Feeding of the 5000

When Jesus was teaching, huge crowds could gather and follow him. One of the stories documented in the Bible describes a day when 5000 men plus women and children gathered on a hillside to hear Jesus teach. After several hours it became clear that these people were hungry and had not carried food with them. A boy offered his lunch of fish and bread which Jesus multiplied to feed all the people there.

Feeding the five thousand was the fourth most important thing that Jesus did. This is because he demonstrated, in a significant way, the radical nature of God’s grace, mercy, and power. The number of people fed matters little other than that it was a lot. The nature of how they were fed, revealed who Jesus was, and that they were fed even though they could give nothing in return. This reveals the truth about God’s economy in this world and the next.

[Parentheses are mine]

Who was Jesus?

By reading one of the first four books (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) of the New Testament, you will learn about the miracles Jesus performed and how he went everywhere doing good.  He was helping, loving and encouraging to others. He was merciful and humble.

There are several names for Jesus found in the Bible. Because they usually contain information as to who Jesus was or thought to be, let’s take a look at some of them. This review is also useful as sometimes Jesus was written about, using one of these titles, without telling the reader that Jesus was being referred to.

“Emmanuel”

means “God with us” in Hebrew, which was the language that the Old Testament (OT) was originally written in. It refers to the idea that Jesus embodied God’s spirit when he walked this earth. In the NT (New Testament) it is found only once where it refers back to a passage {verse} in the book of Isaiah in the OT. (Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 7:14)

“Rabbi”

is a Jewish teacher or master. Used in several NT episodes but most often in the gospel of John.

“Lord”

is used over 700 times in the NT. It was a respectful form of address for one who was more than a teacher, closer to a rabbi.

“Christ”

means “anointed one” and was taken from the Greek language which is what the NT was originally written in. The idea was that Jesus was anointed (blessed/chosen) by God. In religious ceremonies of the time, a person could be anointed by having oil rubbed on them as a symbol of this blessing.

“Master”

is used only in Luke and seems to indicate a status just below Lord.

“The Word”

is found only in the gospel of John and Revelation, which was written by John. John indicated by its use that Jesus was eternal, existed before he walked the earth and was divine like God.

“Son of God”

is used many times in the NT. It was spoken by God as a voice from heaven in Mark 9:7 and affirmed by Jesus himself. This indication of family relationship with a deity was used for centuries by some political rulers and was adopted by the early Christians in reference to Jesus. The concept of Jesus as the Son of God has had a lasting impact on Christianity and is part of the basic beliefs of Christians.

“Son of Man”

appears many times in the gospels (first 4 books of the NT-Matthew, Mar, Luke, John) and is an affirmation of Jesus’ humanity in contrast to his divinity as indicated by the title Son of God.

“Son of David”

indicates ancestral lineage from King David to Jesus. This was important as Jewish teachers taught that their Messiah would be of the Davidic line and, therefore, one of the Jewish people. Jesus, the man,  was Jewish.

“Lamb of God”

is only in the book of John.  John the Baptist exclaims “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world “ in John 1:29. The Jewish people sacrificed lambs and other animals at the temple as restitution for their sins. John the Baptist here predicted that the coming sacrifice of the sinless earthly life of Jesus, would compensate for all the sins of humanity, thus allowing forgiveness by God.

“Light of the World”

is only in the gospel of John where Jesus applies the title to himself. It indicates that the teachings of Jesus provide the pathway to the Truth and a relationship with God.

“King of the Jews”

is used on three occasions coming at the beginning of his life and at the end. In the account of the nativity in the Gospel of Matthew the wise men called Jesus “the King of the Jews”. All four Gospels mention that the “King of the Jews“ title led to charges against Jesus that resulted in his crucifixion. The title is used only by the Gentiles (non-Jews) mainly by the Magi (wise men), Pontius Pilot (who ordered Jesus’ crucifixion) and the Roman soldiers.

“Brother”

is one of my favorite titles. Jesus repeatedly referred to God as our Father and as his Father, making us all one family and highlighting the fact that the same Holy Spirit that filled Jesus is available to us and is waiting for us to realize it.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8. 15-17,” For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of Sonship. And by him we cry “Abba, Father”. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children then we are heirs – heirs of God and coheirs with Christ”.

Recognizing Our Gifts from God

So, why aren’t we experiencing all the great gifts, joy, harmony and love that an heir of God should expect? God’s gifts are there for the taking but we must develop spiritual consciousness to realize it. Joel Goldsmith gives some insight into how we can achieve this.

People ignorant of art may behold an oil painting done by a master and say that it is only daubs of paint on canvas. To them that is all it is and can ever be, they cannot appreciate it. Yet the person who has learned art appreciation goes into raptures over it. So it is with music. Some will hear a magnificently performed symphony and think that it sounds terrible, while others sitting beside them are in raptures. The difference is art appreciation and music appreciation. To appreciation art or music, we behold what those without it can never know.

When we have been touched by the Spirit, we have a “spiritual appreciation” which we call spiritual consciousness or spiritual awareness or spiritual discernment. With it, what has heretofore been unreal, ephemeral and transcendental becomes the reality. The heart and soul of our experience, of our entire lives, and the things of the outer world, become the shadows. Oh yes, we continue to eat and drink and sleep and enjoy, but the things of the outer world never move us or thrill us to the same extent as the things of the inner world that we now perceive.

You must realize that this God …is not external to you or separate and apart from you, but is your own selfhood, your soul, at the center of your being, which you call your Self, the Spirit that is of God, the God individualized as you, the Christ, son of God, who is heir of God, and with whom you are joint heir to all of the heavenly riches. As a child of God, you cannot be disinherited.

Today we may be a worm in the dust and feel unworthy to sit at His [God’s] feet. With a little spiritual enlightenment, we may come to the point where we say, “oh no! I am a Truth student and something higher than a worm in the dust”. Then a little more enlightenment comes, and we say, “I am the child of God”. That brings more enlightenment, and we say that “not only am I the child of God, but I am heir, joint heir with Christ to all the heavenly riches”. We seem to be growing now, but we are not. We are merely becoming more and more aware of what we already are, always have been, and always will be.

Jesus said the way is straight and narrow and few find it. Once we achieve spiritual freedom in Christ, we are challenged to maintain and sustain it in the world that we live in. But anything that can bring us better health, greater harmony, greater supply, or that can enable us to bring these freedoms to our family or friends is worth working and striving for.

With the study of spiritual writings, prayer and meditation,  and following the example of Jesus, it is possible for you to increase you “spiritual appreciation”.

Relevant Scripture

Hebrews 2. 11-13 We who have been made holy by Jesus, now have the same Father he has. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers. For he says in the book of Psalms, “I will talk to my brothers about God my Father, and together we will sing his praises.” At another time he said, “I will put my trust in God along with my brothers.” And at still another time, “See, here am I and the children God gave me.”

1 John 3 Tree of Life Version (TLV)  See how glorious a love the Father has given us, that we should be called God’s children—and so we are!

Gal 3.:26-27.  For now, we are all children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and we who have been baptized into union with Christ are enveloped by him. We are no longer Jews or Greeks or slaves or free men or even merely men or women, but we are all the same—we are Christians; we are one in Christ Jesus.

Gal 4:6-7. And because we are his sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, so now we can rightly speak of God as our dear Father. Now we are no longer slaves but God’s own sons. And since we are his sons, everything he has belongs to us, for that is the way God planned.

References

The Bible-New International Version

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_and_titles_of_Jesus_in_the_New_Testament

Invisible Supply: Finding the Gifts of the Spirit Within by Joel S Goldsmith,  HarperSanFrancisco 1983

 

light rays

A Thought-Provoking Question That You Might Face-Spiritual Meditations

There are no statistics on how many people are given an opportunity to answer this important question. Some people know what their answer would be while others have not thought about it. If asked, another segment of the population will say it depends on their circumstances at the time. Where do you stand?

This is an experience told to me by a friend of a friend.

Roberta’s Near-Death Experience

It was November 6, 2006 when Roberta and her husband, Al, left Alaska to winter in Arizona for the fourth year. The nighttime flight landed in Phoenix in the early morning after which they had a 3-hour drive to their winter home.

Upon arriving, Al started turning on the utilities and preparing their home for occupancy. Roberta went inside and shortly thereafter experienced the worst headache she’d ever had. When he came inside, Roberta told Al about her headache and he suggested that she lay down. As she turned to do so she blacked out into his arms. As their phone was not yet connected, Al ran to the next-door neighbors to ask them to dial 911.

To the outside world, it looked like Roberta was unconscious, but, for Roberta, there was much more happening. She was drifting toward a light that gradually enveloped her. It was pure and peaceful like nothing she had experienced before. Roberta saw no one, no deceased family, no angels…she was totally alone but unconcerned. It then came to her mind that she had a decision to make. She was being given the choice between heaven and earth…between additional life in the world or eternal life in paradise.

Which would you choose? Would your health or financial situation cause you to select heaven? Or do you have family that you are not ready to leave? Is the prospect of paradise more enticing than your life on earth? Or do you have unfinished projects that you want to complete? This is a big decision that you may get to make, but probably only once…what would you do?

Roberta decided to spend more time with her family and she was immediately returned back in her home. As she was being lifted onto the stretcher, the medics asked what medications she was taking and, surprisingly, Roberta woke up long enough to tell them. This was her last memory until one month later when she awoke in the hospital, survivor of a bleeding brain aneurysm.

It wasn’t until her release and arrival outside her Arizona home that she realized the enormity of what had happened when a neighbor happily greeted her with “There’s our miracle!” Roberta had been a woman of faith but now she was a woman of knowledge. There is an afterlife.

Relevant Scripture

2 Corinthians 6:2 Living Bible (TLB)

For God says, “Your cry came to me at a favorable time, when the doors of welcome were wide open. I helped you on a day when salvation was being offered. Right now God is ready to welcome you. Today he is ready to save you.

 

boy in sleeveless T with hand at mouth brick background

A Shocking Number of Children are Vulnerable | Spiritual Meditations

“It takes a village to raise a child”. This African proverb means that an entire community of people must interact with children for them to experience and grow in a safe environment.  My friends, Amanda and Nathan, took this to heart….then didn’t think it was enough.

Convicted by Their Faith in Jesus

My wife, Amanda, and I have been reading, learning, thinking, and praying about the great need that children have for a loving home, a stable environment, security, and support. Our hearts break when we see children enter into our “spheres of existence” who lack these things.

After getting to know a number of people, in very personal ways, who became foster parents, we found ourselves naturally reading about it. All of this noticing, learning, and reading led us directly to praying about it. Praying, “Lord, please raise up enough stable families for these children. Please call people who are willing and able to love those who need to be loved…”.

We started moving in directions that would lead us to a more direct influence on the lives of the children we know. Through our participation in youth sports leagues, Amanda’s job move to pediatrics, kids we know through the church, and mentoring at the high school, we noticed even more need. We had started to do something about it.

Yet in our reading, learning, thinking, and praying, we still felt this wasn’t enough. After doing everything we could think of to be involved and give back to the lives of the children who need it, we were finally convinced and convicted that we were called to do something more.  We then arrived at the decision to become foster parents and are nearing the end of the process of certification now.

When I talk about active discipleship, I like to think I’m talking about something I’m endeavoring to live out. I’ll be honest, there are times I preach something and it is born more out of self-examination than experience. Yet this is a time when I see a clear parallel in my life, because my wife and I both view this calling to fostering as being connected to our journey as disciples of Jesus.

Following Jesus, to us, means caring for the most vulnerable, feeding others, providing clothing for those who cannot clothe themselves, and so on. Is there a more tangible sign that we believe these things to be true, than fostering children….the children who Jesus cares for a great deal?

Active discipleship, to me, means putting the beliefs and faith I have (about who Jesus is, who Jesus loves, and what the church should believe) into action in my life at home. I don’t always get it right (just the other day I apologized to someone for not being gracious), but sometimes I hope I do. And I believe this might be one of those times.

Fostering isn’t for everyone. Heck, after we care for a few children it might not even be for us. But we all have ways in which we can be more intentional about putting our faith into action, about living out our faith while “on mission” in the world. I encourage you to examine yourself and ask how you are living your life on mission or how you might start in some area.

What would it look like to put some component of what you’ve learned and believe about Jesus into action? You might be surprised where it leads you, and you might just change a little part of the world to look more like heaven.

Pastor Nathan

Orphans – a Worldwide Crisis

This is one busy family making a difference in the lives of several vulnerable children. “It takes a village to raise a child”, so there is room for all of us to contribute and our village has become worldwide.  The IHH Humanitarian and Social Research Center produced a lengthy report in June 2018 that is overwhelming in its scope and implication.  Here are a few excerpts:

Wars, invasions, conflicts etc. are all crises which lead to an increase in the number of orphans. Currently, the crises prevailing in Eastern Turkistan, Syria, Nigeria, Iraq, Somali, Mali, Sudan, Palestine, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Arakan, and Pattani leads to ever increasing numbers of orphans in these areas. Natural disasters also leave behind many orphans. The tsunami that hit South Asia, the earthquakes in Haiti and Pakistan, and the drought in East Africa, have all left millions of children orphans.

11 countries with most orphans

Children account for one of every three asylum seekers in Europe. In 2016, more than 63,000 unaccompanied children reached Europe.  Since the outbreak of the refugee crisis following the war in Syria, 480,000 children have crossed the border into Greece. 5,174 of these were not accompanied by any adults.  During these exhausting journeys, the children are exposed to many problems such as violence and sexual abuse, whereas the greatest danger is that posed by human traffickers. According to studies, tens of thousands of the children, who had arrived in Europe after overcoming such major obstacles, were lost.  96,465 of all the children who filed asylum applications in European countries in 2015 are now unaccounted for.

Approximately 33% of the people in question in Germany, the country hit hardest by the flow of refugees towards Europe, are children.  According to a report published in 2017, more than 350,000 children who applied for asylum in Germany are housed at unsafe locations while reviews are pending, and many may be exposed to physical, psychological and sexual violence during that uncertain period.

In the first half of 2016, approximately 26,000 children, who reached the border of the US, were found to be unaccompanied by any adults.  In the US, approximately 3 million children strive to maintain a life without parents. Each year approximately 22,000 babies in the US are abandoned in hospitals, while 2,000 to 3,000 kids are left as orphans due one of the parents killing the other. 60% of these kids are assigned to foster families as a result of exposure to domestic violence and abuse, while a further 17% are assigned to foster parents due to the death, imprisonment, disability or illness of the parents. These studies reveal that the children living under such conditions have difficulties in adapting to the society, and often face violence, abuse, and ill treatment sometimes at the hands of foster families. As with the case of any orphan, these children also have difficulties in many areas of life, such as education.

Today, 153 million orphans are registered around the globe. Yet, estimates of the actual figure range above 400 million. This is because it is impossible to get an accurate count of the children who live on the streets or who have been kidnapped or conscripted.

street traffick soldiers graph

The Magnitude of Child Abuse

A UN report published in 2014 on global child abuse states that one out of every 10 girls suffer sexual abuse.  (See also Generations of Women Endure Abuse)  The report is based on data from 190 countries, and notes that in 2012, 95,000 children and teenagers were murdered.

This is the leading reason of death of boys aged 10-19 in Latin American and Caribbean countries such as Brazil, Guatemala, Colombia, Panama, and Venezuela.

Reports produced by the UN again reveal that in 58 countries, 17% of children face severe physical punishments. Another noteworthy point raised in the report is the fact that three out of every 10 adults consider such punishment as a necessary element in raising a child.

child abuse stats

Conclusion

The numbers are overwhelming and make us feel helpless to make any improvement.  However, we are many and like the Butterfly Effect if we each make an effort to enhance the life of one child, it can result in a large difference overall.

The impact of child poverty, which is an alarming development for any country,  unfortunately, is usually permanent.  Consider the impact of many permanently damaged children, now adults, on our communities.  Like Nathan and Amanda, we can all do something to help grow healthy people.  If you are interested and unable to find a volunteer opportunity to make an impact in your community, please consider UNICEF.

Relevant Scripture:

1 John 3:18
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

2 Esdras 2:20
“Guard the rights of the widow, secure justice for the ward, give to the needy, defend the orphan, clothe the naked,

Matthew 10:42
“And if, as my representatives, you give even a cup of cold water to a little child, you will surely be rewarded.”

Matthew 18:10
“Beware that you don’t look down upon a single one of these little children. For I tell you that in heaven their angels have constant access to my Father.

Mark 9:37
“Anyone who welcomes a little child like this in my name is welcoming me, and anyone who welcomes me is welcoming my Father who sent me!”

statues of Christian Apostles on Roan building

15 Elusive Apostles Unlocked|Spiritual Meditations

More than historical names, the Apostles were real people with strengths and weaknesses, like you and me.

We often lump the first followers of Jesus into a group with few distinguishing characteristics. The Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles present the facts and it takes some deduction to find the story behind the faces. These were real people, who made up a tiny, vulnerable group, often persecuted, and on fire with the Holy Spirit, making missionary efforts in major city centers. “The Apostles were the cutting edge, spreading the message across the vast trade networks of the ancient world and leaving small Christian communities in their path. The reach of science is limited, so much remains inconclusive. We must rely largely on legend and historical accounts” (National Geographic March 2012).

Jesus chose 12 Apostles, possibly paying homage to the 12 tribes of Israel. On this list of great original evangelists, I am including Mark, Paul and Luke, who, although not part of the 12, made huge contributions to spreading Christ’s good news to all parts of the world.

Theologians, Bible scholars and historians can tell us a little about them as people. Unfortunately, there is very little documentation available about some of these inspired men. We must assume that those who are not fully represented had similar experiences to those whose activities are better documented.

Inquisitive Andrew

Andrew was the first disciple. Because he had an enquiring mind, he was actively looking for the truth.

He was a fisherman, like his brother Peter, with whom he lived in the area of Bethsaida and Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. The two brothers were followers of John the Baptist and it was Andrew who introduced Peter to Jesus. They became Jesus’ first followers.

Andrew had a very different personality from his brother. He was less impulsive, more approachable, a man who thought quite deeply. He had educated Greek friends who respected his opinion. Some of them asked to meet Jesus, and Andrew introduced them to Jesus and his ideas. He may have been something of a quiet intellectual among the group of people who formed Jesus’ core supporters. Every time Andrew is mentioned as an individual, it is because he is bringing someone to Jesus.

After the events described in the book of Acts, he is never mentioned again. According to tradition, Andrew spread the teachings of Jesus Christ in Greece and perhaps the area adjacent to the Red Sea, now Georgia, Bulgaria and Ukraine. He suffered martyrdom in Achaia (Greece), and was there crucified on the X shaped cross, now called St Andrew cross.

Outspoken Peter

Jesus gave some of his disciples a second name – Simon the fisherman was also Peter, the rock. No other man in the New Testament bears the name Peter.

Peter was a married man with children.  Andrew, his brother, and Peter’s mother-in-law, as well as his children lived with him.  It as possible the Mark the Evangelist (author of the book of Mark) also lived with him for a time.

Most of us find Peter to be likable – he was outgoing, gregarious, transparent and enthusiastic. Most important of all, he loved Christ. And Simon could be anything but a rock. He wasn’t dependable. Without God’s Spirit, he often spoke or acted in a way that would be inappropriate. His actions belied an underlying insecurity in spite of his outward confidence. He could be audacious, presumptuous and foolish.

Because he was impulsive and strong-willed, his faults were obvious. That’s what enables us to clearly see the contrast in his personality after he received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Because of this, Peter’s example and writings are a great inspiration. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter was no longer self-centered and vain. He sought to do all to the glory of God.

Peter’s first recorded sermon is related in Acts 1:15-22. Already we see an added dimension of sobriety, maturity, wisdom and knowledge of Scripture. With his second sermon in Acts 2, we see a mighty preacher of the gospel giving a focused and powerful masterpiece of a sermon.

When Peter and John were arrested, they were inspired and fearless in their testimony because they were “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:8). The officers “saw the boldness of Peter and John” and marveled (verse 13).

Peter’s humility and loving-kindness are evident all through his two epistles, I Peter and II Peter.

He was the first to invite non-Jews to join the early church. With John, he went to Samaria where, with laying on of hands, the Holy Spirit fell on the Samarian believers. He also toured in Judea.

With the opening of the door to the Gentiles and the spread of Christianity, Peter receded in the Biblical narrative and was last mentioned in connection with the Jerusalem conference where he championed the liberty of the Gentiles. It appears that Peter traveled widely, taking his wife with him, doubtless in Jewish evangelism. Tradition uniformly asserts that Peter went to Rome, that he labored there, and then in his old age suffered martyrdom under Nero. New Testament reference to the closing years of Peters life is found in John 21:18-19. Tradition says that he was crucified on an upside down cross at his request, as he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as Christ.

Peter spread the good news to modern-day Turkey, Betania on the West Bank, Italy and Asia

Practical Phillip

Like nearly all of the apostles, Philip came from Bethsaida in Galilee, the region in the northern Israel were Jesus‘ ministry was centered. He was a good friend of Andrew and Peter who lived in the same fishing village. It is almost certain that he was first a disciple of John the Baptist, because Jesus called him near Bethany on the Jordan River where John was preaching.

It appears from the Apostle John’s account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, that Philip may have been in charge of the supplies and food, the road manager of sorts. He was the kind of guy who was practical, always thinking about the bottom line. And on this occasion, Jesus, trying to stretch Philip’s faith, posed a question to him as the crowd gathered:

“Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” (John 6:5). Philip responded, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little” (verse 7).

Philip didn’t do so well on that test. He didn’t have the most faith, but he was a follower of Jesus who was used by God.

Philip is known for bringing Gentiles to Jesus. His days after receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost are shrouded in legend and mystery, but the best tradition says that he did mission work in Asia Minor. The historian Eusebius says that he was a “great light of Asia” and that he was murdered, possibly by crucifixion, and buried in Hierapolis, which is in what is now South-Central Turkey.

Skeptical Bartholomew

Some believe he was also called Nathanael.

The one and only opportunity for Bartholomew to shine in scripture, comes in a very curious and intriguing passage found in John 1:43-51.

The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me” Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses told in the law, and also the prophets wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And Nathanael said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.” Nathanael said to Him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

This passage is interesting for a variety of reasons. It reveals at least two important aspects of the apostle’s character–his relationships with other apostles, and his honest and sincere personality.

There is no further reference to him in the New Testament and the traditions concerning him are not trustworthy. He may have gone to Turkey, India and Armenia.

Ambitious James the Greater

It is thought that this James was called “the Greater”, to distinguish him from the other James, being either taller or older. His home was in Galilee, probably Bethsaida.

James he was a fisherman with his brother John and they may have been in partnership with Peter and Andrew early in the ministry of Jesus. They were the sons of Zebedee and Salome. Salome may have been Mary’s sister, making the sons cousins of Jesus.

From the reference to “hired servants” in the employee of Zebedee and the mention that Salome was one of the women who ministered to the needs of Jesus and his company, it may be inferred that the family was one of some means.

The Apostle James and his brother John were, in the beginning, hotheads. They received from Christ the name “Boanerges,” meaning “sons of thunder,” for their impetuosity. When they went with Jesus to a Samaritan city, they were spurned by the local residents and this angered James and John. They asked Jesus “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven and consume them” (Luke 9:54)? Jesus rebuked them for their attitude (Luke 9:55) and said “the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:56). This was not likely the only time that they lost their tempers.

Because of the ambitious self-seeking of James and John, they asking Jesus for a special place in his coming Kingdom, calling forth the wrath of the other apostles.

James occupied a prominent place among the apostles, and, with Peter and John, became a special confidant of Jesus. Only these three are present at the Transfiguration, at the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, and when the daughter of Jairus was raised from the dead. He was also present when Jesus appeared to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias after His ascension.

James was the first of the disciples to die.  In the year 44, the zealous temper of James and his leading part in the Jewish Christian communities, probably led King Herod Agrippa to choose him as his first Christian victim in his attempt to please the Jewish community. James preached in Judea and was beheaded in Jerusalem, although, some believe that he preached in Spain and was buried there.

The book of James is not attributed to him.

John, Transformed

John was a fisherman and the son of Zebedee and Salome and brother to James the Apostle.

The fact that John knew the high priest well enough to gain entrance to the court where Jesus was tried and could also get permission for Peter to enter, further reinforces the thinking that the family made a comfortable living.

John is introduced as a disciple of John the Baptist. One day as he stood with Andrew and John the Baptist, he heard John say as Jesus walked by “behold the Lamb of God“. The two disciples immediately followed Jesus. That day changed their lives and was so memorable, that many years later when John the Greater wrote his gospel, he still remembered that it was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

During the course of the Lord’s ministry the experiences of John were common to all the apostles. There are, however, a few scenes in which he takes in important part. The Gospels makes it clear that he was one of the most prominent of the disciples. With the other two in the inner circle of the apostles, James and Peter, John was also chosen by Jesus to be present at the Transfiguration. They were nearest to Jesus during the agony in Gethsemane and the raising of Jairus’ daughter.

John had an explosive or fiery personality and could be over zealous to protect Jesus interest. Further, John and his brother offended the other Apostles because they and their mother asked Jesus if they could sit at His right and left hand in glory (cf. Mk 10:35-41).

However, John is known as the “Apostle of Love.” He really loved the church and always encouraged the brethren to love each other. John was brave enough to stand at the foot of the cross where Jesus was nailed, while all the other Apostles were still in hiding. John could also be trusted; he received Jesus’ commissioned from the cross to look after his (Jesus’) mother.

Five books of the New Testament are attributed John; the fourth gospel, three epistles, and Revelation. The only one in which he his name actually appears is the last.

Very likely the seven churches of Asia enjoyed his ministry. The book of Revelation was written on the small Greek isle of Patmos, where he was exiled for preaching the word of God as the testament of Jesus. Tradition says that he wrote his gospel in Asia at the request of Christian friends, and that he agreed to do so only after the church had fasted and prayed about the matter of three days.

It is evident from his Biblical writings that John was very aggressive in dealing with heresies in the church, while at the same time remaining very loving and gentle. He was a man who studied and knew the scriptures. Throughout his gospel he tells how Jesus fulfilled certain scriptures. In fact, John was so knowledgeable that he was able to call Jesus the “Word and the Word was God” (cf. John 1:1).

John was described as the “disciple whom Jesus loved”, no doubt because of his understanding of and love of his Lord. The defects of character with which he began his career as an Apostle –intolerance, and selfishness – were in the course of time brought under control, until he became especially known for his gentleness and kindly love.

John was a man of prayer. In his golden years, the historian Eusebius reports that John was still a mighty intercessor and he was considered a sacred priest devoted to God (Eusebius, 106, 107, 116, Roberson, 2).

John was the last survivor and died peacefully in Ephesus about year 100.

Matthew was Scorned

Since double names were common among the Jews, there can be little doubt that Levi and Matthew (meaning “Gift of God”) were one in the same person. He was the son of Alphaeus and as a tax collector, he would have been literate in Aramaic and Greek and skilled in record keeping and writing.

Jesus met him at the tax office in Capernaum and called him to be one of his disciples. Society was shocked when Jesus dined with Levi because he was a  tax collector, and therefore, an outcast. Under the Roman Empire’s system, Levi would have paid all the taxes in advance, and then collected from the citizens and travelers to reimburse himself. Tax collectors were notoriously corrupt because they extorted far and above what was owed, to ensure their personal profit. Because Roman soldiers enforced their decisions, no one dared object.

The readiness with which Levi responded to Jesus’ call seems to indicate that he had previously encountered Jesus and his teachings and had already decided to dedicate his life to his cause.

In addition, he must have been a man of deep spiritual conviction. This is revealed by his concern for his former colleagues, whom he invited to a dinner at his home, Jesus being the honored guest. No doubt, his purpose was to win these men to Christ.

Matthew seems to have accompanied Jesus in his ministry up to the time of the Last Supper. After Jesus’ death, Matthew retreated to the Galilee (Matt. 28:16), where he became one of the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. Later, he was among the apostles in Jerusalem said to be present at the Ascension and the election of another “Matthew” (Matthias) to replace Judas Iscariot among the Twelve (Acts 1:10-14).

The Gospel ascribed to him does not claim to be written by “Matthew,” but he has been characterized as its author since the second century. Modern scholarship now doubts that he was in fact the writer of this work.

It is thought that Matthew preached the Gospel to the Jewish community in Judea, before going to other countries – possibly Ethiopia, Persia, Macedonia, and Syria.

There is wide disagreement in the sources as to the place of Matthew’s martyrdom and the manner of his death, which is variously reported as being by burning, stoning, stabbing, or beheading. According to the historian Hippolytus, Matthew died at Hierees, a town of Parthia (near modern day Tehran in Iran)

Mysterious James the Lesser

The Bible reveals very little about James the Lesser – only that he is a son of Alphaeus. He is usually identified as the brother of Joses and son of Mary. Since Matthew/Levi is also called the son of Alpheus, it is possible that he and James were brothers.

There are only a few Biblical verses about James the Lesser and what he did for the early church. He was one of the Apostles who witnessed Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7), a confidante of Peter when he was on the run from Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:17), and later rose to prominence in the church along with the other apostles (Acts 15; 21:18; Galatians 2:9).

The writer of the epistle of James refers to himself only as “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” As many as six different men in the Bible are named James and there is little consensus as to who wrote the book.

According to Roman historian Eusebius and Hippolytus, James became the bishop of Jerusalem and was killed by a Jewish mob. He was thrown down from a parapet and clubbed to death after he refused to abandon the Christian faith – all the time praying for his attackers. He was possibly buried beside the temple.

Matthias the Replacement

Peter wanted to maintain 12 disciples after Judas’ death and developed two qualifications that were necessary in the replacement. First, the new Apostle must be someone who had been a follower of Jesus from his Baptism to his Ascension. Second, it had to be someone who had witnessed Christ’s Resurrection. The choice came down to two men: Joseph, who was sometimes called “Joseph the Just,” and Matthias. Both men were qualified, so the disciples drew lots. This means that they made their decision by drawing or pulling a marked piece of straw or cloth from a bundle. Matthias was the winner. The Bible does not give us any information about him after his selection to the Twelve.

Nothing certain is known of his career or subsequent to his appointment. Various traditions have developed to fill in the details of the future ministry of Matthias. One says that he evangelized in Ethiopia, where he was stoned to death. Another says that Matthias traveled to Damascus and later died in Judea. A third tradition says that he spent most of his time in Jerusalem, where he eventually died and was buried.

Paul, Inspired Traveler

Paul was born in the busy first century Greco Roman city of Tarsus, which is located on the northeast corner of the Mediterranean Sea, now Turkey. Paul’s Hebrew name was Saul. The change to the Greek name Paul, was timely as he entered upon this position of leadership in bringing the gospel to the Gentile world. Providentially, three elements of the world’s life of that day-Greek culture, Roman citizenship, and Hebrew religion-met in this Apostle of the Gentiles.

Tarsus was a trading center, known for its manufacture of goats’ hair, and here Paul learned the trade of tent making.

His Gentile connections greatly aided his ability to bridge the chasm between the Gentiles and the Jews, but of central significance was his strong Jewish heritage. His racial affinity with the Jews enabled Paul to begin his missionary labors, in each city, at the synagogue. Born of parents of Jewish blood, the son of a Pharisee, he was cradled in Orthodox Judaism.

He made his first appearance as a “young man “, probably at least 30 years old and already an acknowledged leader in Judaism. He actively opposed Christianity making him an enthusiastic leader of the persecution that arose upon the death of Stephen.

At Damascus the transforming crisis occurred. Repeatedly he refers to it as the work of divine grace, transforming him and commissioning him as Christ messenger. When the supernatural Being identify himself as “Jesus persecuted“, Paul at once saw the error of his ways and surrendered instantaneously and completely.

In assembling an approximate chronology of the apostle’s labor, Ramsay calculated that Paul was converted around A.D. 34, and likely was executed at Rome about A.D. 67. If this dating is accurate, the apostle’s earthly life and labors spanned some thirty-three years.

Paul was a skilled traveler. In the December 1956 issue of the National Geographic Magazine, there appeared an article entitled, “In the Steps of Paul.” The authors, who did  considerable research on Paul’s travels, estimated that his missionary endeavors consumed some twelve thousand miles, some by ship on the Mediterranean Sea, and across the Aegean and Adriatic Seas. In addition, hundreds of miles were traversed by land. He visited approximately fifty cities in his evangelistic endeavors (McRay 2003, 11).

Yet within the thirteen epistles known to have been written by Paul, and penned over an era of maybe just under twenty years, there is no complaint of fatigue, no whimpering at the hardships, no disappointment expressed of having been “crucified with Christ,” or of wasted years, or lack of family, wealth, or fame—just adulation. There was the simple joy in serving his Lord, and for the blessed hope of life to come. Paul could not be budged from his resolute course.

map of the journeys of the apostle Paul

“Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles par excellence, so much so that the church became predominantly Gentile by the end of the first century” (Ferguson 2005, 37).

Paul had a basic understanding of himself as a sinner with all other human beings, and he accepted responsibility for his sins. Yet he was extraordinarily confident in three things:

  1. the importance of the work he was called to do,
  2. the benefit of the gospel to all those he approached, and
  3. the authorization that he had from God for his message.

This confidence came from two sources – from the scriptures, in which he believed completely, and from his personal encounter with Jesus in the road to Damascus. In addition, he did not hesitate to express himself in strong language when he felt strongly about a particular issue.

He was executed at Rome in late AD 66 or early 67. Tradition says he was beheaded on the Ostien Way.

Obscure Simon the Zealot

The most obscure of the Apostles, Simon was the son of Clopas, and was also called Jude. His title may be a reference to his political affiliation, although there are some translations which indicate the meaning of Zealot to be ‘jealous’ or ‘zealous’. Later accounts depict him as a missionary to Persia, where he was murdered; either crucified or sawed in half, but this is not definitive.

According to the historian Hippolytus, Simon the Zealot became the second bishop of Jerusalem, after James the Just. He died in his sleep and was buried in Jerusalem at the age of 120 years.

Little-Known Thaddaeus

Thaddeus was also known as Labbaeus or Jude. His name is included in only 2 of the 4 gospels lists of disciples.

We know that Thaddeus, like other disciples, preached the gospel in the years following the death of Jesus. Tradition holds that he did so in Judea, Samaria, Idumaea, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Libya, possibly alongside Simon the Zealot.

According to eastern tradition, he founded a church and converted the city of Edessa after healing its king. Church tradition holds that he was crucified there as a martyr. One legend suggests he died in Persia because he was executed by an ax or club and these weapons, typical in Persia at the time, are often shown in artworks depicting Thaddeus.

After his execution, his body may have been taken to Rome and placed in St. Peter’s Basilica, where his bones remain to this day, interred in the same tomb with the remains of Simon the Zealot.

Ancient historians agree that he died at Berytus (Lebanon, near Syria and Turkey), and was buried there. Armenians, however, for whom St. Jude is the patron saint, believe that Thaddeus’ remains are interred in an Armenian monastery.

Probing Thomas

The Apostle Thomas (Hebrew or Aramaic for “twin”) was also called “Didymus” (Greek for “twin”). Little is recorded of Thomas the Apostle. He was probably born in Galilee to a humble family, but there is no indication that he was a fisherman. He was a Jew, but there is no account of how he became an Apostle to Christ.

Thomas was courageous, willing to stand by Jesus in dangerous times. He also relentlessly sought the Truth; constantly asking questions. In addition, his wonderful profession, “My Lord and my God,” is the clearest declaration of Jesus’ divinity in Holy Scripture.

Famously, Thomas is remembered for being absent from the Upper Room the first time Jesus appeared to the disciples after His Resurrection. Thomas dismissed the accounts of the others by saying, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and put my finger into the nail marks, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (Luke 20:25). Eight days later Thomas made his act of faith. He fell at the feet of Jesus and said, “My Lord and my God!” and Jesus replied, “Because you have seen me, Thomas, you believed. Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet believe” (John 20:25-29). This incident gave rise to the expression “doubting Thomas.”

Thomas, Reluctant Missionary

According to the Acts of Thomas, one of the New Testament apocrypha written in the city of Edessa, the apostles divided the world for their missionary labors, and India fell to Thomas. However, Thomas claimed that he was not healthy enough and that a Hebrew could not teach Indians.  Even a vision of Christ could not change his mind. Therefore, Christ appeared to a merchant and sold Thomas to him as a slave for his master, a king who ruled over part of India.

One story suggests that Thomas offered to build a palace for the Indian king that would last forever. The king gave him money, which Thomas gave to the poor. Asked to show his progress, Thomas explained that the palace he was building was in heaven, not on earth.

Ultimately, after giving into God’s will, Thomas was freed from slavery and planted seeds for the new Church, forming many parishes and building many churches along the way.

Many historians believe that Thomas did indeed land on the palm-lined coast of Kerala on a site now called Cranganore. Here’s he is reported to have established seven churches – the first in AD 52.

Thomas is said to have raise the first cross in India and performed one of his earliest miracles when he encountered a group of Brahmins throwing water into the air as part of a ritual. He asked why the water fell back to earth if it was pleasing to their deity. “My God”, Thomas said, “would except such an offering”. He then flung a great spray into the air, and the droplets hung there in the form of glistening white blossoms. Most onlookers convert it on the spot, the rest fled.

Although, accounts of Thomas’ missionary activities are unreliable, the most widely accepted report holds that though he was reluctant to start the mission. he went east through what is now Syria then Iran. Historians believe he then traveled to Southern India. He traveled further than any of the other 12 Apostles and represents, most profoundly the missionary zeal associated with the rise of Christianity.

To this day,  Thomas is venerated as the Apostle of India. In fact, there exists a population of Christians on the western coast of India, who lay claim to conversion by Thomas. Their tradition holds that he was martyred during prayer by a spearing on the “Big Hill” near Madras, and was buried in Mylapore, on the east coast of India. Thomas’ remains may have been transported to Ortona, Italy, although some say he is still buried in Inda.

The following two famous authors, although not generally considered to be Apostles,  were disciples of Christ, and instrumental in broadcasting the Good News.  They cannot be omitted from any list of original Christian evangelists.

Mark, First Gospel Author

One of Christ’s 70 disciples, his original name was John and his surname was Mark. He was mentored by Peter, who was his likely source for writing the second gospel-the Book of Mark.

Mark was born in Cyrene of Jewish parents, near the western border of Egypt and his date of birth is unknown.  His parents, Aristopolos his father and Mary his mother, migrated to Palestine shortly after his birth because of the Berber attacks on their town and property. They settled in Cana of Galilee not far from Jerusalem.

A few years later Mark’s father died and Simon Peter, who was married to a relative of Mark’s father took care of Mark and considered him a son. Peter saw to it that St. Mark got a good education, studying law and the classics.

Church Traditions state that Mary, Mark’s mother, was an admirer of Jesus Christ and followed Him everywhere and that Mark was one of the attendants who served at the feast in Cana of Galilee where Jesus turned the water into wine.

Mark traveled with Barnabas and Paul on many religious missions, during which he founded the Church of Alexandria Egypt and established the Coptic faith. He died circa 68 A.D. in Alexandria. In the 9th century, some of his relics were relocated to Venice Italy where he had been adopted as their patron saint.

Luke, Loyal Companion

Many scholars believe that Luke was a Greek physician who lived in the Greek city of Antioch, Turkey. Other believe that, based on Colossians 4:10–11, 14, Luke may have been a Gentile.

A gentle physician who joined Paul‘s mission, Luke chronicled the development of the early church in the third gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. He, therefore, contributed over a quarter of the text of the New Testament.

In Acts, Luke wrote in both the first and third person, indicating that he may have lived in Troas and was in the company of Paul when Paul was in Troas. The composition of the writings, as well as the range of vocabulary used, indicate that the author was an educated man

Based on his accurate description of towns, cities and islands, as well as correctly naming various official titles, archaeologist Sir William Ramsay wrote that “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy… [he] should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.” Professor of Classics at Auckland University, E.M. Blaiklock,

Luke followed Paul until his [Paul’s] martyrdom. In II Timothy 4, Paul wrote that Luke alone remains with him as he sat in prison awaiting his execution.

Luke was an evangelist, a historian, a physician, a pastor, a missionary, a companion, a brother, and a theologian. Christian tradition, starting from the 8th century, states that he was also the first icon painter. He did not write a gospel for fame or recognition, which is why he does not mention his own name in either of the books he wrote. His goal in writing a gospel was to document the exact truth concerning Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation.

Luke died at age 84 in Boeotia Greece. His tomb was located in Thebes Greece, from which his relics were transferred to Constantinople, modern day Istanbul Turkey, in the year 357.

map of mediterranean Click here to see how Christianity spread during the first 1000 years.

IT IS SO COOL.  There is a second video that covers the 2nd 1000 years at the same site.  FASCINATING.

You can skip the ad.

Conclusion

The original Christian evangelists were a brave group, each with his unique set of strength and weaknesses. Although God assisted them in their endeavors, most endured arduous travel conditions and they all endured constant persecution. They would have missed their families, due to travel that could last for years. The dangers of the road required that they evangelize in pairs so their travel companions and converts became the closest thing they had to family. Although, inspired and motivated with the joy of the Holy Spirit, they deserve our greatest admiration and gratitude for the sacrifices they made.

If you are aware of additional information regarding the personal lives of the Apostles, please let me know and refer me to your reference.  I’m interested.

References:

The Coptic Orthodox Church Network (http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/synexarion/mark.html)

St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church (http://www.stapostle.org/st-thomas-church-parish-history/saint-thomas-biography/)

Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/)

Crosswalk.com (https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/bible-study/5-things-to-know-about-luke-from-the-bible.html)

National Geographic March 2012 edition

Pictorial Bible Dictionary, Southwestern Company

The Bible

St Paul by Litsa Hadjifoti, Michael Toubis Publications