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The words on the front screen at church were reiterated in our pastor’s message a few minutes later. What intrigued me most was the expression “witnesses.” Who were these people? Why had they chosen to be present when Paul preached? And what prompted the Apostle Paul to even use this term in his letter to Timothy in the first place?
According to scholars, the witnesses were men, women, and children who had gathered throughout Paul’s ministry to discover for themselves what this man had to say. Whether they had believed Jesus was Messiah and accepted God’s free gift of salvation wasn’t Paul’s point. He had shared the Word, and people had been present – watching, listening, and, for some, taking action based on the Gospel message.
Witness is an interesting word. It infers the ability to provide a testimony based on some experience or observation. While it often relates to legal or official proceedings, it also is connected to faith – but not just any faith. In fact, one of Microsoft’s dictionary definitions is “somebody who publically states his or her strong Christian beliefs.” So the assembly mentioned in the Scripture above would have included those who had been onlookers as the apostle shared about Jesus, and some of them would certainly became true witnesses for their Lord and Savior after they believed.
There are many places in God’s Word that talk about this topic, and one of the most famous is that “great cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Hebrews 12:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith . . . (verses 1-2a).
So this group not only includes earthly observers but also those standard bearers of our faith who have gone before us (as mentioned in Hebrews 11). Basically God gently reminds us that we’ve got a bigger audience than we ever imagined! Those faithful onlookers – including Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, and David – surround us! Along with mere mortals in our world, these heroes in the Lord’s kingdom are also our witnesses – watching and waiting to see what we will do with our lives.
I don’t know about you, but this concept alone urges me to strive harder as I serve my Savior! Champions of our faith are cheering us on – like a crowd gathered to witness an event here on earth might do! And, just like the Apostle Paul encouraged, we need to be passing on to others who we truly are and what we really believe. Each and every day people should be able to observe our commitment to Christ – for this is the best testimony we can offer.
Oh may our witness grow stronger and stronger in the days ahead! Let’s remain firm in our faith, fervently serving our Savior as we finish the race He already has planned – with His grace and for His glory!
Thought of the Week
You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD,
March often seems like an idle month . . . a bit of a boring season tucked between the end of football and the start of baseball. Sometimes Easter arrives early, but otherwise we’ve only Saint Patrick’s Day to celebrate – that holiday when even non-Irish men and women wear green garb and eat corned beef and cabbage
Who was that fellow Patrick, anyway? Like another famous figure, Saint Nicholas, Patrick was also a real person – and he lived 385-461 A.D. He belonged to a Christian family of Roman citizenship in Britain, but he was kidnapped at the age of 16 and shipped to Ireland as a slave. After six years of hard labor, Patrick had a dream that urged him to return to Britain – so he escaped, but ended up in Gaul.
After wandering for some time, the young man eventually ended up in a monastery to study God’s Word. He then received another somewhat shocking vision – God wanted Him to return to Ireland! His love for the Lord led him back to the very people who had enslaved him . . . and Patrick’s desire was to help the Irish find freedom in Christ. In fact, one of his first acts was to defy pagan priests by putting out a fire they had set for the false gods worshipped in those days.
In his book, Confessions, Saint Patrick summed up his mission this way:
“I came to the Irish people to preach the Gospel and endure the taunts of unbelievers, putting up with reproaches about my earthly pilgrimage, suffering many persecutions, even bondage, and losing my birthright of freedom for the benefit of others . . . If I am worthy, I am ready also to give up my life, without hesitation and most willingly, for Christ’s name. I want to spend myself for that country, even in death, if the Lord should grant me this favor.”
Patrick’s dedication to those who had hurt him is amazing, and it was only with Christ’s transformational power that he was able to not only forgive them but also want to fight for their salvation. This is what God’s grace can do in us. It can change our hearts and help us show compassion to others who desperately need to know the love of the Lord!
Another lesson we can learn from Patrick is that we don’t have to go on a special pilgrimage to become saints. The word saint literally means “holy one” . . . someone who is set apart for the Lord. God actually begins this transformation from sinner to saint when we accept Jesus as our Savior. Here are a few verses to remind us of who we are in God’s sight:
” So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household.”
“. . . to the church of God, which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified to Christ Jesus, saints by calling . . .”
I Corinthians 1:2
So, dear Saints, may you find meaning this month in the special calling you have from the Lord. Look for ways you can reach out into your world to share about the Savior. Walk closely with Christ so that nothing gets you off track from doing God’s will. And pray for wisdom and strength as you continue this journey, living up to your status of saint no matter where life takes you.
Thought of the Month
As for the saints who are in the earth,
St. Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. Some people ask me why – after all, it’s really a relatively minor holiday that allows stores to sell cards and candy to the masses.
While that may be the commercialized side of February 14th, I prefer to look at the heart of the celebration. Valentine’s Day is about love – and that is the Lord’s message to us each and every day of our lives.
Look at this verse from one of the first books of the Bible:
“. . . for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God . . . showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”Exodus 20:5b, 6a
In this section of Scripture detailing the 10 Commandments, God explains how He detests sin – but He also describes His love that extends to generations of people who love Him. And part of the Lord’s lovingkindness includes Him clearly pointing out how He wants us to live and interact with one another.
In fact, if we go to one of the final books of the Bible, we find these words:
“The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” I Peter 4:7-8
Since we don’t really know how much time we have on this earth, God gently reminds us that “above all” we are to love others. Why? Because love helps put a lid on our selfishness and sinfulness. And when we show love for each other, we are really revealing what the Lord is all about to everyone watching us!
So even if you aren’t overly sentimental – or don’t have a soft spot for cuddly stuffed animals and cream-centered chocolates, you can still experience an overwhelming rush of emotions this month when you think about the way the Lord cares for you. He has loved you from the beginning – and He longs to share that compassion with you all the way through eternity. His love is unselfish, unbridled – unending. Most of all, He desperately wants all of us to love more and more like He does in the days ahead!
May the Lord of Love bless you and keep you this month -and always!
Thought of the Month
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him”
“And Nehemiah continued, ‘Go and celebrate with a feast of choice foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!'”
So the people went away to eat and drink at a festive meal, to share gifts of food, and to celebrate with great joy because they had heard God’s words and understood them.”
This little passage is found in the book of Nehemiah (chapter 8, verses 10 & 12), tucked away in the midst of the Old Testament. Although it may not be read as often as some Scriptures, this text is a beautiful reminder of how we can – and should – experience joy in our lives each and every day!
A little background may be helpful to really understand the impact of this story. After the Hebrew people had been freed from captivity and allowed to return to their homeland, they still struggled with building a wall that would protect their citizens from enemy forces. Nehemiah, who happened to be the cupbearer to the king of Persia at this time (a very important position since he got the “privilege” of tasting the king’s wine to be sure it wasn’t poisoned!), heard about the trials of his countrymen. Because of his favor with the king, Nehemiah was allowed to return and help his people.
In just 52 days, Nehemiah organized his fellow citizens, and the wall was finally finished. A ceremony was held to commemorate the accomplishment – but, most importantly, the leaders decided that God’s Word would be read to all of the people. This is when things got emotional! The men, women and children “. . . chanted ‘Amen! Amen!’ as they lifted their hands toward heaven. Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.” (Nehemiah 8:6)
And they began to weep. Why? Maybe some were just happy to hear the Word of their God read aloud again after so many years of captivity. Perhaps others felt conviction in their hearts for things that they had neglected to do or for sins they had committed against the Lord who loved them so much.
Yet the leaders stopped them in their tracks. Look again at what they wanted the people to do – “And the Levites, too, quieted the people, telling them, ‘Hush! Don’t weep! For this is a sacred day.'” (verse 11)
Did Nehemiah’s countrymen still have bullies and bad guys living all around them?
Did these people have troubles in their homes and families?
Was it possible that some of them were experiencing health problems, financial worries, or other stressful issues?
More than likely!
But they got the message God was trying to send them despite whatever dilemmas they were dealing with: the Lord was with them in the midst of their trials – and His love for them was worth celebrating!
What a lesson for all of us as we begin this new year of life! We can have joy – real, God-given joy – despite what’s happening in the world around us. We can be encouraged and even celebrate because the JOY OF THE LORD is our strength!
Notice that this type of celebrating should include others too! These followers of God were instructed to look around them and bless others less fortunate than themselves.
Oh may this be true of us in the days, weeks, and months ahead! Let us begin 2011 by us rejoicing in God’s Word. May we celebrate each and every day because of the joy of knowing our Lord and Savior! And let’s find ways to reach out into our world so we can share from our many blessings.
All of us at Sonkist Ministries wish you and yours a Joy-filled New Year!
Thought of the Month
“Always be full of joy in the Lord, I say it again – rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.”