Sunday, February 19, 2017

Block 52 Barnabas

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"And you will be my witnesses from one end of the earth to the other.” Acts 1:8
Born a Levite Jew in Cyprus, Joses (Joseph) came to Jerusalem to live with family and continue his religious studies with the rabbi, Gamaliel.  This is most likely where he first came into contact with the Jesus and the apostles and converted to Christianity.  Barnabas sold his farm and gave all of the proceeds to the apostles to aid them in their ministry.  He provided help and encouragement to the apostles.  In fact, they called him Barnabas which means “son of encouragement.”  Barnabas traveled to Galilee with Jesus, where Jesus named him as one of the 70 apostles.  He successfully converted his several of his kinsmen, and attempted to convert Saul, a fellow student of Gamaliel.  But Saul chose instead to persecute the Jews.  When Saul returned to Jerusalem after his conversion, the other apostles were distrustful and wary.  It is not surprising that Barnabas believed that Saul had truly converted and was willing to vouch for him and his sincerity. 
The Jerusalem Council sent Barnabas to Antioch to investigate reports that believing Jews and Gentiles were worshiping together.  This practice would have been unheard of at the time.  Jews would NEVER associate with uncircumcised Gentiles.  Barnabas traveled to Antioch and saw with his own eyes that the Gentiles, like himself and other Jews, believed in Jesus Christ.  Barnabas pastored the church in Antioch and told the Christians to “remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion” Acts 11:23. Soon, his responsibilities with the church became too much for one man, so he sought out Saul to assist him.  As co-pastors, the church in Antioch grew even more.  At this point, Saul realized that he had a greater mission to grow the Church, so he and Barnabas left on a missionary journey.  Along the way, Saul changed his name to Paul, and became the leader of the duo.  Barnabas was happy to assist Paul (remember his nickname, the encourager).  Their ministry included bold preaching and miraculous signs.  The established churches and assigned elders to lead the churches.  They split ways later, when Paul wanted to go back and re-visit some of the earlier churches they had established.  Barnabas, however, wanted to give another apostle, John Mark, another chance (this is a whole story in itself).  They disagreed, so each went different directions.  Barnabas and John Mark continued their ministry, first in Cypress, then in Syria, where Barnabas was drug out of a temple and stoned to death. 
In his writings, Luke praised the Barnabas’ work in Antioch, noting that this was the first time the disciples were called Christians.  Barnabas was good, faithful, generous, self-sacrificing, open-minded and full of the Holy Spirit — exactly what the church needed at the time, and still needs today.


Block 51 Paul

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"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7
The apostle Paul (not one of the twelve apostles) was first introduced in the Bible as Saul of Tarsus, a devout Jew who was dedicated to bring and end to the quickly growing Christian movement.  Saul and other Pharisees were given permission by the High Priest to actively persecute the Christians.  Saul went from house to house, searching for Christians, dragging them out and sending them to prison.  He stood over Stephen and watched as he was stoned to death.  Saul was traveling down the road to Damascus to persecute the Christians there when a bright light appeared before him and brought him to his knees.  Saul heard a voice, a voice he did not know, but we know was the recently risen Jesus Christ.  Jesus asked Saul,  “Saul, why do you persecute me?” Acts 9:4.  Saul asked the voice “Who are you?” and the Jesus replied, “I am Jesus, whom you persecute.” Acts 9:5.  Saul’s ears were open to the Lord.  He asked Jesus what He wanted of him, and Jesus replied that Saul should go into Damascus and would be told what to do.  When Saul rose to his feet, he was blind for three days.  Men helped him into the city. 

The disciple Ananias also received a vision from the Lord, and the Lord told him to go to Saul and put his hands on him and heal his sight.  Ananias was skeptical because he had heard of Saul’s acts of persecution in Jerusalem.  But Jesus explained to Ananias that he had big plans for Saul.  So Ananias complied and put his hands to Saul’s eyes and restored his vision.  Immediately, Saul began preaching the word of Christ in the synagogues of Damascus. He wanted to return to Jerusalem to aid in the ministry there, but it was dangerous for him to travel among Christians, as they would want to punish him for his earlier works of persecution.  Several disciples helped sneak Saul to Jerusalem, where he met Barnabas and started going by the name Paul (which was also part of his given name).


Ultimately, Paul became one of the most important figures of the early Church.  He founded several churches in Asia Minor and Europe.  Because he was a Roman citizen, Paul ministered to both the Jews and Romans.  He wrote several books of the New Testament, including Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philipians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Philemon, and (probably) Hebrews.  Toward the end of his life, Paul was imprisoned in Caeserea.  He wrote a letter of appeal to Caesar in Rome, who released Paul to come to Rome and live under house arrest.  During this time, Paul did much of his writing.  When he was released from prison, Paul returned to the area that he had previously ministered.  Shortly thereafter, he died.  It is believed that he died in prison.  The  life and ministry of Paul demonstrates to us that we do not choose God, God chooses us to continue His work.  Even the most unsuspecting individual might be chosen to be God’s messenger to others.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Block 50 Titus

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For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people Titus 2:11
As a young man, Titus heard Paul preach during his first missionary trip.  Titus was Greek, he was not raised with the Jewish scripture, so when he listened to Paul, he heard the word of God for the first time.  Paul’s words touched Titus’ heart, and he believed.  Paul was so impressed with Titus that he brought him to Jerusalem to show the other apostles that it was possible to convert a non-Jew to become a Christian.  Titus became the poster child for non-Jewish people who wanted to become Christians (like most Christians today).  The Jews encouraged Titus to be circumcised in order to be saved, but Paul wanted to show them that Christians could be saved without being circumcised.


After Paul’s first imprisonment, he travelled with Titus to the island of Crete, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.  Titus served as Paul’s interpreter and secretary.  Soon, they began establishing several small churches on the island.  Once the churches were established, Paul sent a replacement so that Titus could join him and continue mission work in western Macedonia (what is known as Albania today).  Titus eventually returned to Clete to continue to strengthen the Church there. Titus’ role was primarily administrative.  He was charged with straightening out the mess that had been made during his absence from the island.  He also appointed elders in every town.

Titus traveled to Rome during Paul’s final imprisonment.  Paul suspected his end was near and sent his faithful servant to Dalmatia (now known as Serbia and Montenegro).  Paul trusted Titus because he was a gentle man with great insight, and was able to handle problems and criticism with grace.  It would be wonderful to have a fraction of Titus’ grace and harmonious nature when facing criticism, discrimination or spiritual defamation.  Today, Saint Titus is the patron saint of the US Army Chaplain Corps.  The Corps has established an “Order of Titus” award, given for outstanding performance in ministry by chaplains or chaplain assistants.

Block 49 Timothy

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“Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” Timothy 4:12
When the apostle Paul visited Lystra, he healed a man who had been crippled from birth, causing many in Lystra to become believers.  A couple of years later, Paul returned to Lystra and met Timothy who was a respected member of the newly formed Christian church.  Timothy’s father was Greek, and his mother and grandmother were Jews.  Paul was impressed with Timothy’s knowledge of the scripture, and encouraged him to evangelize other Jews and Greeks.  But in order to be more accepted by the Jews, Timothy had to be circumcised.  So Paul handled this procedure himself.

Timothy had been raised by his mother  and grandmother, steeped in scripture and faith.  He had been taught from infancy to be ready to meet the Messiah, so when Paul came to Lystra preaching Christianity, Timothy’s heart was open to his ministry.  Paul and Timothy were kindred spirits.  From Paul’s letters to Timothy, it is clear that Timothy held many characteristics that would enable him to continue Paul’s ministry.  Timothy was affectionate and loved others deeply.  He was trustworthy and steadfast — Paul trusted him implicitly.  Timothy was studious, which made him a good candidate for ministerial writing, but combined with his shyness, Timothy’s studious nature sometimes kept him from going out and meeting new people.  Paul, in his letter to Timothy, encouraged him to overcome his shyness and go out to evangelize with and open heart and mind.

Timothy was a young man when he met Paul and became a minister for Christ.  He is often pointed to as an example of a young and faithful servant. Timothy joined Paul and Silas as they continued to evangelize other areas of Asia Minor.  Eventually, Timothy was entrusted to minister on his own.  In his letters, Paul reminded Timothy that his faith might come at a price, preparing Timothy for possible suffering.  It is likely that Timothy was witness to Paul’s abusive treatment and suffering.  Later in his ministry, Timothy was imprisoned for his faith.  Later he was stoned to death by a mob of unbelievers who believed in the pagan goddess, Artemis. Even in his death, Timothy’s life mirrored the apostle Paul.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Block 48 Judas Iscariot

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Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me.’Matthew 26:21
Arguably, one of the most despised characters in the Bible, Judas Iscariot, son of Simon Iscariot, was one of Jesus’ friends and disciples.  His birth defines one of the differences between Judas and the other disciples who were all Galileans.  The Bible tells us very little of Judas Iscariot’s call to ministry or share of ministry and miracles.  In fact, every time he is mentioned in the Bible, his betrayal is also referenced.
During the last supper, Jesus predicted that one of the twelve disciples would betray him. We can only imagine what they were thinking as they looked around trying to guess who the betrayer would be.  According to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Judas Iscariot agreed to betray Jesus by handing him over to the chief priests for 30 pieces of silver.  Judas identified Jesus by giving him a kiss on the cheek.  After Jesus died, Judas repented, returned the coins by throwing them on the temple floor and committed suicide by hanging himself in shame.

Why did Judas betray Jesus?  Matthew (26:15) implies that greed was the driving force behind the betrayal.  John (13:27) suggests that Satan caused Judas to betray Jesus.  Regardless of WHY he betrayed Jesus, Judas Iscariot will forever by brandished with the moniker “the betrayer.”  In fact, the word “Judas” is frequently used to describe anyone who betrays another. 

There are two sides to every coin, however.  In the early 70’s, the “Gospel of Judas” was discovered near a cave in El Minya, Egypt.  The document, a Gnostic text, was translated and presented to the public in April 2006.  The document claims that Jesus asked his friend Judas to hand him over in fulfillment of prophecy, allowing Jesus to shed his earthly body and ascend to heaven.  The document also states that the planned betrayal would set Judas apart from the other disciples and assure him a special place in heaven.  The document has been determined to be authentic, but not accepted as divine revelation, so don’t expect an addition to the New Testament any time soon.

Block 47 James the Less

“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” James 2:17

The Apostle James is another mystery man.  He is described in Mark 15:40 as “James the Less”.  We can only assume that he was being compared to James, son of Zebedee, and that he was either shorter or younger than the other disciple.  In Galatians 1:19, James the Less is described as “brother of the Lord.”  While some believe that James was Joseph’s son by a previous marriage, it is most likely that James was Jesus’ cousin.


What we do know is that James was one of the twelve apostles who were present in the upper room after Christ’s ascension to heaven. He is listed as such in Matthew, Mark, Luke and Acts.  In his epistle, James calls himself “servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  He speaks with authority, and was considered to be the leader of the early church of Jerusalem.  Paul reported to James and sought his opinion several times.  At times, it appears that James is in conflict with Paul regarding faith and works.  But their differences are most likely a difference of vocabulary. Paul describes faith as the believer’s relationship with Christ,  whereas James describes faith as sound theology in relation to works. Where James emphasizes works (James 2:14-17), Paul emphasizes fruits of the Spirit (Galations 5:22-23).  But ultimately, they are talking about how we live our lives, how we demonstrate our faith to others and how we serve the Lord. 
Like most of the apostles, James was martyred for his faith.  He was thrown from the roof of the temple in Jerusalem by the Pharisees.  He was stoned and had his brains bashed out with a club.  Throughout the attack, James continued to pray for his attackers.  It is said that just before he died, James forgave his attackers.  Truly faithful to the end, James continued to follow the words and acts of Jesus Christ by forgiving his attackers and praying for them.