The Unknown God

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Photo:  Joe Walsh Tours

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious;  for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:  TO THE UNKNOWN GOD…” – Acts 17:22, 23

One of my favorite sermons of the apostle Paul’s was the one he made at the Areopagus.  When he was in Athens and he saw the idols, he was provoked.  He wasted no time talking to the people, both Jews and Gentiles about Jesus and His resurrection.  That got the attention of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers and they were curious about what he was talking about.  Some called him a “babbler” while others perceived that he was preaching about foreign gods.  So, they took him to the Areopagus and asked him, “what this new doctrine is of which you speak?  For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.”  That’s how they spent their time–standing around and telling about or listening to new things.

This was a perfect opportunity for Paul to talk to them about the true God whom they called, “the unknown God”.  So, he stood in their midst and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus said would “teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:12).  Paul starts out by acknowledging that the people were very religious and that he was considering the objects of their worship.  He mentioned the altar with the inscription:  TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.  He then proceeded to tell them about the God whom they were worshipping in ignorance.

God who made the world and all that is in it, being Lord of both Heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands, nor is he ministered to by human hands, as though he had need of anything—seeing that he is the one who gives to all men life and breath and everything else.” 

Unlike the other gods, we shouldn’t imagine God as being like gold, silver, or stone, or is an image carved by humans using their own imagination and skill. Idols cannot see, hear, talk or move.  They have to be taken up and carried around.  Why would anyone worship gods made by people when they could worship the true, living God? 

Paul informed his audience that “God tolerated man’s past ignorance about these things, but now he commands everyone to put away idols and worship only him.  For he has set a day for justly judging the world by the man he has appointed, and has pointed him out by bringing him back to life again” (Acts 17:22:31). 

When he mentioned the resurrection, some of the people laughed but others wanted to hear more.  A few, however, joined him and became believers, among them was Dionysius, a member of the court of Areopagus and a woman named Damaris

When it comes to sharing our faith with others, we will encounter the skeptics and opposition but we will also find those who will believe and accept the message.  What Paul did that day was worth the ones who wanted to hear more and the few who believed.  God will present us with opportunities to tell others about Him.  We just have to be open and willing like Paul.

Sources:  Bible Gateway; Blue Letter Bible

A New Experience

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PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot

My family and I drive past it every day on our way to drop our son to school. It’s a beautiful old building in a quiet neighborhood. I’ve often wondered what it looks like inside.

I recently learned that the word synagogue comes from the Greek word for gathering together. It can be a house of prayer, of learning or a meeting place.  It’s a place where people of shared faith feel at home.

I have a Jewish friend. I wonder if she wouldn’t mind me tagging along one Saturday. I want to experience what their worship service is like.

100 Words

This was written for the Friday Fictioneers challenge hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields For more details, visit Here.  To read other stories based on this week’s prompt, visit Here.

Source:  BBC

Gifts From the East

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him” – Matthew 2:2

Wise Men from the East traveled all the way to Jerusalem to see the King of the Jews.  They didn’t know where exactly to find Him.  They had see His star and followed it.  It led them there in Jerusalem.  They visited King Herod, believing that he would know where the Christ was but the king didn’t.  He was greatly troubled by this and called the chief priests and scribes together to inquire where the Christ was to be born.  They told him what the prophecy said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:  ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’

King Herod met alone with the Wise Men and told them that the Child was in Bethlehem, tell them to, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”  The visitors left and the star which they had seen in the East went before them and led them to where the Child was.  Seeing the star filled them with great joy and they rejoiced.

They went into the house and saw the young Child with His mother, Mary.  They fell down and worshipped Him.  They presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. What was the significance of each of these gifts?  Were they simply customary gifts from the regions or were they chosen specifically?  Gold is a precious and valuable metal.   It is rare and it doesn’t tarnish.  Precious things and ornaments are made of gold.  In this instance, gold represents Jesus’ kingship.  Frankincense is a perfume or incense.  It was used in religious and spiritual rituals all over the world..  It represents Jesus’ priesthood.  Myrrh is a bitter gum and costly perfume which comes from a certain tree or shrub in Arabia and Ethiopia.  It is also an antiseptic used for embalming.  The myrrh prefigures Jesus’ death and embalming.

These gifts were not arbitrary.  They were carefully chosen for the One whom they traveled far to behold and worship.  They brought their gifts to Him because they believed that He was the Messiah, the King of the Jews.  What a beautiful story of faith and the love of God who sent His Son to die for everyone.  It is a testimony that Jesus is Savior of Jews and Gentiles.  He came to save the world.

This Christmas season, reflect on the roles of Jesus–King, Priest and Savior.  Think of someone who needs to know that God loves them and offer them His most precious Gift to mankind–His Son.

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Source: Natural Living Family

The Better Choice

And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” – Luke 10:41, 42

Years ago, I had two choices–study my Bible or watch TV.  Unfortunately, I chose to watch TV. This happened after I spoke to my son about making better choices. Before putting him to bed, I read the story of when Jesus visited Martha’s house.

Martha welcomed Jesus before she was back in the kitchen, preparing a big meal for Him and His disciples. Her sister, Mary, however, went into the sitting room where Jesus was and sat at His feet. She listened as He taught the Word. Meanwhile, Martha was busy, distracted and stressed out as she tried to get things ready for her guests. I can just imagine her fuming and fretting because she was doing all the work.

After a while she marched out of the kitchen and approached Jesus, demanding, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” Why did she go to Him instead of going to Mary directly? It’s possible that she thought that Jesus would get better results.

The way she spoke to Jesus comes across as rude but Jesus wasn’t offended. Instead, He chastised her gently. She was focusing on what was not important. She was distracted. Mary, on the other hand, had made the better choice. She chose to spend time with Jesus, listening to His Word instead of being in the kitchen. She chose worship over service. She put Jesus first. Jesus commended her for putting fellowship with Him above feeding Him.

Can you imagine Martha’s reaction to what Jesus said to her? How would you have reacted if you were in her place? Walk off in a huff, furious because Jesus was taking Mary’s side? Or admit that He had a point. She was getting herself bent out of shape, trying to get the food ready and Jesus was in no hurry to eat.

What do you think Martha should have done? I think she should have done what Mary did. Go and spend time with Jesus and listen to His Word. And when He was finished, then she and Mary serve the food together.

What things are distracting you? Is it work, blogging, texting, TV, household chores, church ministries? I encouraged my son not to be so distracted with playing that he neglects to spend time with the Lord. Like Mary, choose to sit at Jesus’ feet and don’t allow anything or anyone to distract you. Don’t replace worship with service.

 

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Living Water

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But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” – John 4:14  

When the Samaritan woman needed water, she went to the well to draw it.  There she met a Jewish Man whom she didn’t know was Jesus.  As she was drawing the water, He asked her for a drink.  She was taken aback asking, “How can you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” because Jews didn’t have anything to do with Samaritans.  Racism existed between them.  The Samaritans were a mixed race resulting from intermarriages between the Israelites and the Assyrians after Samaria fell to Assyria.  For the Samaritans worshipped at Mount Gerizim while the Jews believed that the rightful place of worship was in Jerusalem.  Jesus explained to her that it isn’t where we worship God that’s important but how we worship Him.  God wants us to worship Him in spirit and truth.  Our worship must be genuine.

When Jesus asked her for a drink of water, He was thirsty.  It was her response to His request which led Him to said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Please give me a drink,’ you would have been the one to ask him, and he would have given you living water.”

She thought He was speaking about the physical water but He wasn’t.  She doesn’t realize that her need isn’t physical but spiritual.  Her life is in moral decay.  She had been married five times and was living with a man who wasn’t her husband.  She needed what only Jesus could give her and was freely offering her.  The water in the well could not satisfy her.  It would temporarily quench her thirst but the water Jesus wanted to give her would satisfy her forever.

The woman asked Him,  “Where are you going to get this living water?”  His answer was the water when given to those who receive it, it will become a well, springing up to eternal life.  It was life-giving water.  Jesus is the Source of the living water which He wants to give to all who thirst.  “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:37).  He is offering the gift of God, which is eternal life. 

What is the living water that Jesus gives to those who thirst?  “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”  But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.  Ephesians 1:13 states, When you believed in the Messiah, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” 

Jesus knew this woman and what her life was like.  He wanted her to know that despite her past and her present, He wanted to give her a future of hope.  When He made her aware that He knew about her previous marriages and her current living arrangement, He wasn’t condemnatory.  He came to save, not to condemn.  He commended her for being honest when she admitted that the man she lived with wasn’t her husband.  She realized that He was  prophet to be able to know such things and then she changed the subject.  She spoke to Him about worship.

When He told her that God wanted people to worship Him in spirit and in truth, He was basically telling her that worship isn’t just about going to a particular place or church but we worship God by the way we live.  Many of us go to church every week but there are things, relationships, people in our lives that have no business being there or there are things in our lives that we need to sort out, clean up.  Until we do that, we are not giving God the proper worship He desires.  This woman worshipped God but her life was in conflict with His Word and His commandments.  Jesus wanted her to see that true worship was a life that was pleasing to God.

She was looking for the Messiah to come and explain everything.  After Jesus revealed that He was the Messiah, she dropped her water pot and ran off to tell her community.  She said to them, “Come, see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done! Could he possibly be the Messiah?”  As a result of her testimony, that “He told me everything I’ve ever done,” many of the Samaritans of that town believed in Jesus.  The Messiah, the Savior of the world had come into that town and reached out to a woman whom many shunned and ostracized her immorality.  Jesus saw someone who needed Him and what He could give her even if she didn’t realize it.  He had a dialogue with her and opened her eyes to the fact that God loves her and wants to give her the gift of salvation which leads to eternal life.

Today, Jesus is offering you what He offered her–living water which springs up to eternal life.  All you have to do is drink.

Sources:  Wikipedia; Bible Gateway; Zondervan Handbook to the Bible, pp. 626, 808; Got Questions; Christianity;

God’s Preparing

Courtney stood at the window of her flat, looking out and wondering why her life was so messy.  She found out that Quincy had been two-timing her, Astral was downsizing so there was a possibility that she might get laid off and her car was stolen.  She had gone into a bad neighborhood to drop off food and other items for a single mother and when she went back to where she had parked her car, it was gone.  She had to walk to the subway, praying all the way that nothing happened to her.  The next time, she decided to go there, it would be during the day.  She reported her car stolen but hadn’t heard anything yet.

She pressed her forehead against the cool window pane and closing her eyes, she asked, “Lord, where are you?  Right now I feel as if I’m standing in a tunnel and there’s not light at the end.  What am I going to do if I get laid off?  How am I going to afford to pay the rent until I find a new job which could take a while?  I have to take public transportation now because I don’t have a car.  Why are all of these things happening?  Is it because I don’t go to church any more?  You know why I stopped going.  The older folks looked down their noses at me because I was having sex outside of marriage.  What about Donald?  He was doing the same thing with Deidre but nobody knew.  I made the mistake of telling Stella about Quincy and me and then I got a call from a church elder, chastising me.  Who was she to judge me?  I got tired of the holier than thou attitude and stopped going to church.  I think I’m doing just fine staying at home and reading my Bible.  I don’t need to go to church to worship you.  And even if I decide to go to church again, I wouldn’t go back there.  I would find a church where the people aren’t judgmental.  Lord, I wish I could restart my life from the time when things started to fall apart.  What am I going to do if I lose my job?  Lord, please help me to sort things out.  Amen.”

Just as she opened her eyes, the doorbell rang.  She moved away from the window and went to see who it was.  It was Gregory, her next door neighbor.  Opening the door, she forced a smile.  “Hi,” she greeted him.  He looked rather attractive in the white shirt and light blue jeans.  He had the most incredible blue eyes.

He smiled.  “Hi,” he replied.  “I hope I’m not disturbing you.”

She shook her head.  “You’re not.  Would you like to come in?”

“Thanks.”  He stepped in and she closed the door behind him.  “I was wondering if you are free this evening.”

She shrugged.  “I don’t have any plans.”  Except to stay here and continue to wallow in self pity.

“My church is having a benefit concert at seven.  It’s for HIV/AIDS awareness.”

She stared at him in surprise.  “HIV/AIDS awareness?” she repeated.  “Your church doesn’t have a problem addressing something that so many other churches don’t want to deal with?”

“No, we believe that caring for people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS is what it means to love your neighbor.  This disease concerns all of us and as Christians we should be doing what we can combat it.  And it’s very personal for me.  My younger sister died from AIDS which she contracted from a guy she was seeing.  She didn’t know that he was infected until it was too late.  She was only twenty-five when she died.”

Courtney reached out and touched his arm, her eyes filled with compassion.  “Greg, I’m so sorry.  One of my cousins died from the disease too.  He was a hemophiliac and he got it from contaminated blood.  He was fifteen.  My aunt never got over his death.  Yes, I will come to the concert.  Thanks for inviting me.  And if there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know.”

He smiled.  “Thanks.  I’ll pick you up at six.”

She nodded as she opened the door.  “See you then.”  She closed the door and locked it, leaning against it for a moment.  Suddenly, what she had been going through didn’t seem so bad.  There were people out there living with HIV and AIDS.  Her heart broke whenever she read about babies and children contracting the disease from parents or through blood transfusions.  She had always thought of doing something to raise awareness but never got around to it.  And lately, she had been preoccupied with her own problems.

As she moved away from the door, she found looking forward to going to the concert.  She spent the rest of the morning cleaning her flat, doing laundry and preparing something for dinner.  The time went by very quickly and it was five minutes to six when she finished getting ready.

Promptly at six, Gregory went for her and they rode down in the lift.  He was wearing a brown jacket, checkered shirt and brown pants.  Without thinking, she reached up and fixed the left lapel of his jacket.  Their eyes met and held briefly before she looked away, thinking to herself, That was very forward of me but he didn’t seem to mind.  She had noticed the way he had looked at her when she opened the door.  She was wearing a black blouse and a brocade skirt with low heel slingback shoes.  Her hair was pulled back at her nape with a clasp.  Even though it was a concert she was attending and not a church service, she still wanted to look presentable.  And she could tell from his expression that he approved.

“So, how have you been?” he asked after they pulled out of the parking lot.

“Not so good,” she sighed.  “I’ve been going through a tough time.  I found out that Quincy was cheating on me so I ended our relationship.  My car got stolen and I could lose my job.”

“Wow,” he exclaimed.  “When did all of this happen?”

“Well, I found out about Quincy a couple of months ago.  Last week I found out that my company is downsizing which means I could lose my job.  And it was two weeks ago when my car was stolen.  I was asking God why all of these were happening to me and then I begged him to help me.”

“I’m sorry that you’re having such a rough time but God never allows us to deal with more than we can bear.  I noticed that I wasn’t seeing your boyfriend around anymore and now I know why.  It’s hard when someone you care about betrays your trust.  Trust once it’s broken it’s hard to get it back.  As far as getting to work, I can give you a lift, if you like.  And I hope that you don’t lose your job but if you do, I can help you to find something else.”

She looked at him.  “You’re a Godsend,” she told him.  “I think you’re the help God sent me.  Rather than allowing me to stay home and mope, he sent you to invite me to the concert.  And telling you about my problems has helped.  I really enjoy talking to you because you are so easy to talk to.  I feel really comfortable opening up to you.  We’ve been neighbors for about eight years now.  I remember when we used to ride the lift together and go jogging together in the park.  Afterwards, we would pop into the cafe and have hot chocolates on the way home.”

“Yes,” he said quietly.  “All of that changed when Quincy came into your life.  I used to watch the two of you together and tried to be happy for you because you had found someone special but deep down inside I was disappointed.  I wanted that someone to be me.  I prayed to God about it, asking him to remove you from my heart but for some reason, He didn’t answer my prayer.  I kept asking Him why He was allowing me to continue to have feelings for a woman who was in love with someone else but all He kept bringing to my mind was this verse from Psalm 27, Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!

Her heart was racing now.  “I didn’t know you felt this way,” she said.

He glanced at her then.  “Would it have made a difference if you did?”

She nodded.  “Yes.  If I had known I wouldn’t have gotten involved with Quincy.  I thought you were just being a friendly neighbor.”

“I wanted to be more than a neighbor and a friend.  From the moment we met, I was attracted to you but I wasn’t sure that you felt the same way.  I wanted to ask you out so many times but I didn’t have the courage.  I guess I was afraid of being rejected.  And when I saw you with Quincy, I took it as confirmation that you didn’t feel the same way about me.”

“All the time I was with Quincy, I kept thinking how different you and he were.  I kept comparing him to you.  I found myself wishing that he was more like you.”

“If he weren’t cheating on you, would you still be with him?”

She thought about it for a moment.  “I don’t think so,” she said.  “It wouldn’t have worked out anyway because I didn’t love him and I was hung up on someone else.”

“If you didn’t love him why were you so upset when you found out about him and the other woman?”

“I guess I was upset because I had invested a lot of time and effort in the relationship.  I know it sounds silly but that was my rationale.”

“You said that you were hung up on someone else…”

“Yes, I was hung up on you while I was with Quincy.  I felt guilty about it and that’s probably why I was trying so hard to make things work between us.”

“Are you still hung up on me?” he asked, looking at her.  They were at a traffic light.  His expression was tense as he waited for her answer.

She swallowed hard.  “Yes.”

His eyes darkened and he reached for her hand.  “Now I know why God didn’t remove you from my heart,” he said huskily.  “He knew what was in yours.”  He reached over and kissed her.

She kissed him back.  Yes, she thought, He knew that my heart belonged to you even when I was with someone else.  Thank You, Lord, for showing me that all the bad things that happened to me was not You punishing me but You preparing me for the place where You want me to be and the person You want me to be with. 

 

 

Sources: Bible Gateway Scientific & Academic Publishing; blog.Bible; Psychology Today

Forgive

Does a spring yield at the same opening sweet and bitter water? – James 3:11

The words poured forth like the waters of the dam, gushing out without restraint.  They had been bottled up all morning, threatening to break loose but somehow she had managed to keep them in check.  On the ride home on the bus, she clamped her lips together tightly as the thoughts swirled in her mind.

How could he bring another woman to church and sit in the same pew she and he used to sit in?  She hadn’t seen him since their break-up five years ago.  Why was he here today?  And why couldn’t he have come alone or with a friend?  Why did he have to bring his new girl-friend and sit there, holding hands for everyone to see?

Anger, bitterness well up in her and the worship service was forgotten—the words of the sermon faded into the background.  All she could hear were her thoughts.  All she could see were her ex and the new woman in his life.

How dare he show up at church like that?  She was over him but that didn’t mean that she wanted to see him again so soon and definitely, not with someone else.  She looked at her.  Young, beautiful and…white.

He was with a white woman of all things…A new wave of anger came over her.  How could he?  Was he done with black women?  Had things been so bad between them, that he had to date someone outside of his race?

The service was torture for her and as soon as it was over, she was out of there, rushing past the ushers and the pastor who gazed after her in surprise, his hand outstretched. She sprinted to the bus stop and waited for what seemed like eternity.

As soon as she got home, she let it all out.  She went into the bathroom, locked the door and the words spewed out this went on for a while.  Then when she was spent, a small, still voice said, “You blessed me with your mouth this morning and now you are using it to curse Daryl.  This ought not to be.”

Shame filled her and she sank down on the bath rug.    She had praised God that morning for being faithful and good to her during the praise time and then at the time when she should have listened to His Word, she had thought evil thoughts toward her ex and cussed him in her heart and mind.  Tears poured down her cheeks.  “Forgive me, Lord”, she cried.

“I already have,” He said.  “But you need to forgive Daryl.  You need to let go of the bitterness and anger that you have in your heart.   Only then can you begin to heal.  Do not fear, for I am with you;   do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, yes, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

His Words filled her heart with peace.  The toxic emotions which had overtaken her were dissipating.   The hurt and anger were still there and would take a while to go away but at least she had God to help her to reach the place where she could find it in her heart to forgive Daryl for breaking up with her and move on with her life.

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Sources:  James 3:11; Isaiah 41:10