Sunday, January 31, 2016

Justin Martyr on Why Christians Are Not a Threat to the Government in 160CE

When you hear that we seek a kingdom, you suppose – without making an inquiry – that we are speaking of a human kingdom. But that is not so. We are speaking of a kingdom that is with God. That is why we so openly confess our faith when charged with being Christians, even though we know that death is the punishment for our confession. If we were looking for a human kingdom, we would simply deny our Christ in order to escape death. We would do our utmost to conceal the fact that we are Christians, so that we might live to attain such a human kingdom. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men kill us. We recognize that death is a debt that we must eventually pay anyway.

Please understand that Christians are your allies. For one thing, we help to promote peace and order. For example, we teach that it is impossible for anyone – the wicked or virtuous – to escape God’s notice. We teach that every person will eventually receive everlasting punishment or everlasting salvation, according to the merits of his actions. If everyone believed this, no one would choose wickedness even for a short time, realizing that he would receive the punishment of everlasting fire. Everyone would restrain himself and clothe himself with righteousness so he would obtain the good gifts of God and escape his punishments. …

The teachings of Jesus have transformed our lives. We who previously delighted in immorality now embrace chastity exclusively. We who used to practice magic arts now devote our lives to the Good and Unbegotten God. We who valued the acquisition of wealth and possessions above all things now bring what we have into a common pool and share with everyone in need. Many of us used to hate and destroy one another; we would not live with people of a different race because of their different customs. But now, since the coming of Christ, we live familiarly with such people, and we pray for our enemies. We seek to persuade those who unjustly hate us to live by the wonderful teachings of Christ so that they can enjoy the wonderful hope of God’s reward with us.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Epistle of Barnabas on the Way of Light Around 70-130CE Pt. 2

Never be in a hurry to speak, for the tongue is a fatal snare. For your soul’s sake, be as pure as you can. Do not be one of those who stretch out their hands to take, but draw back when the time comes for giving. Cherish as the apple of your eye anyone who expounds the word of the Lord to you.

Day and night keep the Day of Judgment in mind. Seek the company of God’s people every day; either laboring by word of mouth – that is to say, by going among them for the purposes of exhortation, and striving to save souls by the power of speech – or else working with your hands, to earn a ransom for your own sins.

Never hesitate to give; and when you are giving, do it without grumbling; you will soon find out Who can be generous with His rewards. Keep the traditions you have received, without making any additions or deductions of your own. Never cease to detest evil. Make your decisions fairly and uprightly. … And make confessions of your own faults; you are not to come to prayer with a bad conscience. That is the way of light.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Excerpt from Chapter 10 of New: Wineskins and the Simple Words of Christ

A few years ago, a college group I was leading felt led to do a water bottle ministry every Saturday at a large park in our hometown. The park was filled with thousands of walkers and joggers every day, but especially on Saturdays. We would bring about 100 iced-down water bottles in coolers and ask passers by if they would like a free bottle of water. If they agreed, we would come alongside them, hand them the water, and ask if there was anything we could pray for them about.

If they declined prayer, we would say, “God bless you,” and go back to passing out water. If they asked for prayer, we would ask if we could pray for them right then. They could continue to walk, jog, or stop. We would pray with them however they felt comfortable; they didn’t even have to close their eyes. Then we would begin to pray as God led. God did many miraculous things through that ministry, and we established some good relationships with both Christians and non-Christians.

Before we would go out, we would meet at church for a brief devotional and prayer time. During one of those times, as we were praying for the folks we would encounter, a picture suddenly flashed into my mind. I saw a fit, blonde woman in blue athletic attire who had body image issues—and then the picture was gone. I shared the vision with the others, and we asked God to bless the woman and demonstrate His love to her.

We arrived at the park, and God blessed many people. However, after an hour of passing out water and praying for folks, no blonde woman in blue had come my way. I was starting to become downcast, as there was only one bottle of water left. But just then, seemingly out of nowhere, the woman came walking right toward me.

I asked if she’d like some water, and she gladly accepted. Then I asked if there was anything I could pray for her about. She looked me in the eye, then looked away and said, “Peace.” I asked, “Would it be okay if I prayed for you right now?” She agreed. I thanked God for His great love for her, for His faithfulness to His Word, and that He is near to the humble. I thanked Him that she was humbling herself right then and believing in the power of prayer. I then asked God to demonstrate His nearness to her.

I asked that she would stop trying to find peace in things of this world, like beauty, wealth, and human approval. I asked that she would be healed from the fear that people would reject her. I asked that she would come to believe in the depths of her soul that the One who truly sees her as she is— the One who knows her best, loves her most, and demonstrated that love by sending His Son to die and rise again for her. I prayed that the Lord of peace would give her His peace at all times and in every way.

When I closed the prayer, she was in tears but was smiling. She asked how I knew to pray that. I told her that God knew her completely and was giving her a sign that His way for her was the best, that he would be with her through whatever changes He was calling her to make, and that He was giving her a sign to believe in Jesus. She walked away overjoyed, knowing the Lord of heaven and earth cared immensely about her and loved her more than she had ever realized.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Epistle of Barnabas on the Way of Light Around 70-130CE Pt. 1

There are two ways of teaching, and two wielders of power; one of light and the other of darkness. Between those two ways there is a vast difference, because over the one are posted the light-bearing angels of God, and over the other the angels of Satan; and one of these two is the Lord from all eternity to all eternity, while the other stands paramount over this present age of iniquity.

First, then, for the way of light … love your Maker; fear your Creator; give glory to Him who redeemed you from death. Practice singleness of heart, and a richness of the spirit. … Abhor anything that is displeasing to God, and hold every form of hypocrisy in detestation. Be sure that you never depart from the commandments of the Lord.

Do not exaggerate your own importance, but be modest at all points, and never claim credit for yourself. Cherish no ill-natured designs upon your neighbor. … Commit no fornication, adultery, or unnatural vice. … If you have to rebuke anyone for a fault, do it without fear or favor. Keep calm and mild; reverence the words you have heard, and bear no resentment towards a brother.

Never be in two minds as to whether something is or is not to be. Never make free with the Name of the Lord. Never do away with an unborn child, or destroy it after its birth. … Do not cast covetous eyes on a neighbor’s possessions. Do not be greedy for gain. Do not set your heart on being intimate with the great, but look for the company of people who are humble and virtuous.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

New: Wineskins and the Simple Words of Christ - Introduction

Hi. My name is Phil Baker, and I can be a bit of a jerk. My wife, Stephanie, on the other hand, is an amazing woman. I knew she was a wonderful woman of God before we were married, but it’s been over the roughly eight years we’ve been married that I’ve realized how truly amazing she is. Interestingly for me, this increasing awareness of the blessing I have in Stephanie has coincided with an increasing awareness of how much of a jerk I can be.

It started on our honeymoon. About five days into our adventure in Costa Rica, we came to the city of Arenal, where one can view a breathtakingly beautiful volcano and go on a zip-line through the rainforest. Being that Arenal is in a rainforest, there are several different types of primates wandering around that one would usually only be able to see firsthand at the zoo.

Now, you must know that we were married in the winter, and basketball season takes place during the thick of wintertime. I possess a slight addiction for all things NBA and especially the Houston Rockets, so being away from Internet access and American television for a few days during the season was sending me into the beginning stages of withdrawal. I know. I have a problem. You should pray for me.

Unfortunately, it gets worse. The first morning after breakfast, we were made aware that there were two computers in the main lobby that would be able to connect to the Internet. I was ecstatic! My prayers had been answered! Stephanie, not possessing the same perspective of God’s benevolence, went outside with a few other travelers to look at the scenery.

After about fifteen minutes she hurried back inside, telling me there were howler monkeys in a tree a few yards away. She implored me to come outside and share that special moment with her. I assured her I would only be a few more minutes with Yao Ming and the Rockets, so she went back outside without me.

An additional fifteen minutes later, after the howler monkeys had disappeared into the forest, she dejectedly walked back in the lobby and found me still immersed in the website. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you make your brand-new bride cry on your honeymoon. I thought I messed up because I chose basketball over howler monkeys; she had to explain to me that I chose basketball over her.

I’ve found that marriage is often like having to take a prolonged, hard look in the mirror when you’ve just gotten up one morning hung-over, bloated, with bloodshot eyes and have nothing to fix yourself up with. Though some singles have done the hard work to develop remarkable self-awareness, being married forces us to confront dark, ugly truths about our character that, as single folks, we often spend a lot of time, money, and energy covering up and avoiding.

In the honeymoon phase of marriage we put our best foot forward and see each other through rose-colored glasses. However, suddenly the reality phase bursts on the scene, many expectations are proven fantasies, spouses’ true natures are revealed, and conflicts ensue. The reality phase is the stage in marriage when the majority of affairs and divorces occur.1 I believe one of the foundational reasons behind this heartbreaking fact is that during these years we come to see ourselves in an unfamiliar light that is at times overwhelming. Then, instead of doing the hard work of self-examination and repentance, we cast the spotlight onto our spouse, make him or her the villain, and look for a way out.

This same pattern began to rear its ugly head in me during the beginning of the reality phase of my relationship with Stephanie. I never considered having an affair or getting a divorce, but if my Savior had not mercifully intervened, I don’t want to think what could have happened. In this window of time, Stephanie saw my inner-ugliness in ways no one else probably ever will. I’m so glad she loves Jesus more than she loves me, because it’s her love for Jesus that caused her to continue loving this jerk.

One excruciatingly painful, but good thing, that Jesus began to show me during the reality phase was that I had entered marriage with a single-Phil mindset in many respects. I wanted to eat what I wanted to eat, when I wanted to eat it, without being questioned. I wanted to spend money how I wanted to spend money, when I wanted to spend money, without being questioned. I wanted to go wherever I wanted to go whenever I wanted to go there. I wanted to drive how I wanted to drive, watch what I wanted to watch, and listen to what I wanted to listen to at the volume I so desired (which, by the way, may be the reason my hearing has worsened over the last decade).

Without realizing it, I was trying to be married and single at the same time. I know that may sound like an awesome concept to some of you out there, but allow me to fill you in on a little secret: It doesn’t work. Never will. What it produces is chaos. Mass-marital chaos. God began to show me again and again that if I wanted my marriage to be everything it is designed to be, single-Phil had to die.

Single-Phil didn’t like hearing that at all. He put up quite a fight. In fact, I’ve realized that I’ve got to kill him every day for this to work, so that’s something I’d love for you to pray for me about. And pray for Stephanie too, so that she will continue abiding in the Vine of Christ and manifest much fruit of patience toward the jerk she’s married to.

This lesson about marriage is quite similar to an analogy Jesus told concerning how we are to receive Him and His teaching. He said in Matthew 9:16-17, But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.

This is a book about Jesus and how His new wine systematically burst many of my old wineskins that I entered Christianity with, and also how He graciously helped me find new wineskins to receive Him correctly and live victoriously. Part one will cover the person and teaching of Jesus. Part two will pertain to the Holy Spirit and spiritual warfare. Part three will deal with how Jesus helps us to better understand the Old Testament. So, as you read this book, may you receive the new wine of Jesus Christ with new wineskins. And as you do, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him so that you will overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.