The account in Acts 8:26-40 of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch through the witness of Philip fascinates me every time I read it. There are so many surprise factors in the story.
- I’m surprised by an angel commanding Philip to go to the desert road that led from Jerusalem to Gaza.
- I’m surprised by Philip running up to the eunuch’s chariot and overhearing the Ethiopian reading from Isaiah 53, a passage so clearly about the suffering of the Messiah.
- I’m surprised by the eunuch’s question, “Is the prophet talking about himself, or someone else?” That simple question gave Philip an opportunity to tell the Ethiopian about Jesus.
- I’m surprised that, on a desert road, at just the right time, there was enough water for the eunuch to be baptized on the spot.
The passage overflows with surprising providences of God. Perhaps I’m only surprised because, like many people, I underestimate God’s supernatural ability to order the daily details of our lives.
However, the biggest surprise by far is what happens at the end of the story:
“When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.” (Acts 8:39)
Instantly, Philip found himself whisked away, and the eunuch traveled on, celebrating his newfound salvation, never to see Philip again. It’s a reminder: God can bring us momentarily into the life of someone just for the sake of bringing that person to Christ.
Not long ago, my wife Michele and I were standing near a bus stop in Nicaragua, witnessing to people as they passed by. As we spoke to them through our translator, Anna, the people were amazingly receptive. Nearly all of them took time to listen, and, within an hour or so, around a dozen people had prayed with us to be saved.
We were thrilled. Then, in a moment when the foot traffic had slowed down, I asked Anna, “Do you really think their decisions are real? And how can we know when we’ll never see them again?”
Anna smiled and said, “We don’t have to see them again. God will work.”
Then Anna told us her story. During her last year of dental school, one of her requirements was to go to public schools and teach dental hygiene. She and her boyfriend, Cokie, had traveled by bus across the city for Anna to make a presentation at a high school.
After she finished, Anna found Cokie in the principal’s office. The principal, a middle-aged woman, had been sharing the Gospel with Cokie while he was waiting. Cokie had just prayed to receive Christ. Now, he wanted Anna to hear the same message.
Anna was in a hurry. They had a long bus ride home, and it was getting late. But, the principal seemed like a nice lady, so Anna listened.
After sharing, the principal asked Anna, “Would you like to ask Jesus to save you?” Anna had understood the Gospel, but she mainly wanted to catch her bus, so she said, “Yes, yes, I’d like to pray.” She only agreed because she needed to get out of the principal’s office.
Just as they were bowing their heads, the principal looked at Anna and said, “You have to mean it with all your heart.” Anna sighed in resignation and said, “Okay, I will mean it with all my heart.”
As Anna told her story, she said, “Somehow, in that moment, I went from doing something just to appease that principal to really asking Jesus to save me. And He did!”
Within ten minutes of Anna meeting the principal, hearing the Gospel for the first time, and praying to receive Christ, she and Cokie caught their bus home. They never saw the principal again. Cokie and Anna wound up getting married and finding a church that helped them grow in their faith. They have spent the rest of their lives serving Jesus.
When we seize moments to share the Gospel, God can use us just as He used Philip with the Ethiopian and that principal with Cokie and Anna.
Is there value in sharing Jesus with people you already know and can disciple? Yes, without a doubt. But God can also supernaturally bring you into the paths of people you’ve never seen before and may never see again to make an eternal difference in their lives.
Here are a few things we can do to seize moments for sharing the Gospel:
- Pray for moments. Ask God to bring lost people across your path. The truth is, He’s already doing that every day. So ask for courage and willingness to share with lost people when the moments arise.
- Make moments. Consider how you might open up a conversation with someone that can lead to sharing the Gospel. I have found that questions like, “Are you going home or leaving home?” on an airplane, “Are you having a good day?” in a shopping center, or “Can I pray for you?” at a restaurant can create opportunities to talk about spiritual things.
- Be prepared for the moments. When people ask, “What’s the best Gospel presentation?” I answer, “The one you will actually use!” One simple way to be prepared is to memorize verses that will help you share the Gospel. Romans 3:23; 6:23; and 10:13 are a great place to start. Carrying a Gospel tract in your pocket or handbag will help prepare you and also remind you to share the Gospel consistently.
- Trust God beyond the moments. Sometimes, the moment God gives you to share with someone will result in them trusting Christ as Savior. At other times, your moment may be a time for planting or watering seeds of faith that will come to harvest later. Sadly, some people will reject Christ not only for a moment, but for a lifetime. Even so, you can trust God to keep working beyond the initial moment when you share the Gospel.
Since the day of Pentecost and the beginnings of the Church, persecution against the church has been a reality. Stephen, the first martyr, was stoned to death for his bold proclamation of the gospel. The apostles were threatened not to “preach in this name,” which is to say the name of Jesus. James the apostle was killed by Herod to gain political favor.
However, persecution was not a new phenomenon when the church began. There are numerous examples of the persecution of the people of God in the Old Testament. Jesus had promised his followers, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).
Indeed, Jesus’ death on the cross was an act of persecution—a necessary one for our salvation. His resurrection, in turn, was the greatest response to the persecution and rejection of the world. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus we find the greatest answer for the church today as it faces persecution throughout the world.
So how should Christians pray for their persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the world? I would like to offer a few suggestions to help us.Understand the nature of persecution
In western culture, we can sometimes use the word “persecution” rather loosely. We might call it persecution when kids are not allowed to pray or study the Bible in public schools. We might call it persecution when a business uses the words “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” in the month of December. We might consider it persecution when someone is told not to pray in Jesus’ name in a public setting or when a worker is not allowed to display a copy of the Bible at work.
Whether these are instances of persecution or not, I will leave it to the reader to decide. I am not saying that they are not. We might say that they are at least indications of attempts to segregate expressions of Christian faith from the public sphere. However, when we compare such limitations on faith expression with the fact that in some countries churches are being burned, Christians are being killed, families are losing their homes, children, and their livelihoods for the sake of Christ, we are forced to ask the question again, “What is persecution, really?”
Again, Jesus said that if they had persecuted Him, they would persecute us also. As we look at the life of Christ, we will discover perhaps what He meant by the word persecution. We see that Jesus, for the sake of his preaching and teaching, was ridiculed, lied about, rejected by men, illegally tried, unjustly condemned, mocked, beaten, and killed by crucifixion in an attempt to silence Him. If any of these types of things have happened to us, we might justifiably say we have been persecuted. It may be helpful to us to distinguish between what is persecution and what is spiritual inconvenience or annoyance. Again, I will let the reader make that distinction under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.Understand the reality of persecution in today’s world
Usually our understanding of the nature of persecution is based on perspective. If we only see persecution as we think it exists in the USA or the Western World, our understanding of worldwide persecution will likely be skewed. It can be argued that we owe it to our persecuted brothers and sisters in the world to at least make an attempt to understand what they are facing.
There are a variety of resources that are available to us to understand persecution in today’s world. Organizations such as The Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors USA provide information about the persecuted church worldwide and list and describe countries where Christian persecution is most witnessed and experienced. Mission agencies often post articles regarding persecution on their websites.
The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, for example, has information about persecution throughout the world under the “Research” tab on its website. A simple search of any trusted Christian website may yield a number of articles that have been posted which will serve as resources for understanding worldwide Christian persecution. Simply reading a variety of missionary biographies can give us a new perspective on how God uses persecution to advance the gospel. Adoniram Judson, John Paton, Jim Elliot and the Ecuador martyrs, among others, are good examples.Pray specifically and discerningly
Armed with information about the persecuted church in the world that we have received from sources such as those listed above, we can pray specifically for the real needs of persecuted Christians. The next question we must ask, however, is “How do we pray?”
Should we pray that persecution stop? Should we pray that there be unhindered freedom of religion for Christians everywhere in the world? Should we pray that no one dies? The temptation is to pray such prayers. We certainly do not want a brother or sister who loves Christ as we do to suffer. In a perfect world we would not want it to be so. However, we certainly know that we do not live in a perfect world. It was this imperfect world that Jesus was referring to in his high priestly prayer in John 17 when He said “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)
While the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ and the evil one exist simultaneously in the world, there will be persecution. Jesus and the Word of God make it clear that we can expect this and biblical and church history teach us that we should see it as permitted as part of God’s plan for His church and the expansion of the gospel. It is also clear that some are chosen for martyrdom. The reasons for this are God’s and we should not pray against it.Know specific needs
Here are some specific ways to pray for the persecuted church in the world:
- Pray for the wisdom of the persecuted church in the preaching of the gospel and evangelism.
- Pray for boldness for Christians who are persecuted for their faith.
- Pray for secret house churches that are meeting daily throughout the world.
- Pray for Christian brothers and sisters who are imprisoned for the sake of the gospel.
- Pray for specific examples of persecuted believers or churches that you read or hear about in various parts of the world.
- Pray for the power of the gospel to transform oppressive nations throughout the world by name.
- Pray for God’s grace for those for whom God has chosen the way of extreme suffering or death for his glory.
- Pray that the burden for the persecuted church will be placed on your heart more heavily.
- Pray that we will pray about persecuted believers in the world according to God’s will.
- Pray that we will be ready to give an answer for our faith in Christ should we be chosen for persecution.
As you pray for the persecuted church, consider it an obligation to pray with knowledge and discernment of God’s purposes in the world. By all means, pray!
This article was previously published on Reaching & Teaching.
The post 4 keys to actually start praying for persecuted Christians appeared first on Southern Equip.
by John Cartwright, Gabriel Etzel, Christopher Jackson, and Timothy Paul Jones (Baker Academic 2017, $19.99)
Review by RuthAnne Irvin
Humans interact with more technology today than ever before. Most traditional forms of education, media, and communication shifted with technological advances, that brought both advantages and prospective challenges. One of those advantages is the opportunity for distance education. Students can enroll in courses from home, eliminating the need to uproot their family, career, or other circumstances in order to pursue an education. In recent years, the growth of online theological education has increased as more institutions offer degrees taught online by seminary faculty and staff.
In their new book, Teaching the World: Foundations for Online Theological Education, John Cartwright, Gabriel Etzel, Christopher Jackson, and Southern Seminary’s Timothy Paul Jones collaborate to bring a diverse collection of essays about the origins of online theological education, the benefits, the objections, and prospective ways to produce a fruitful online theological education experience for distance learning students.
The main argument for online education, the authors write, is Paul’s example in his epistles in the New Testament. They introduce the topic discussing the external and internal reasons institutions often initiate online learning programs. External factors such as student body growth, monetary needs, or growth in resources all affect the decision to offer an online program. Internal issues, such as theological and pedagogical ideas that change over time, often affect the decision to start or terminate online programs.
As institutional leadership begin to think through how to offer the best online theological education, the authors use Paul’s epistles as both an example to follow, and as cautions for potential issues with distance education. They discuss issues ranging from the power of presence with a physical classroom, the importance of place and education, and social presence theory. One common objection to online education is the priority of presence, but throughout Teaching the World the authors provide a fair and balanced examination to both online and in person theological education.
“Giving priority to traditional, face-to-face formats does not preclude the use of online formats in theological education, just as the primacy of visitation in Paul’s apostolic ministry did not preclude the use of the epistle,” they write.
Online theological education’s legitimacy correlates with Paul’s epistles, which form much of the authors’ arguments for online learning. Instead of standing as separate instances of instruction, the authors emphasize how Paul’s epistles held significance as “not merely supplemental to his visits but were rather an integral part of his grater cohesive apostolic mission.”
The authors continue the book with essential aspects of a successful online program, including the integrity and spiritual leadership required of professors. The role of a professor in the spiritual formation of his or her students is an imperative aspect of education, and it is the institution’s responsibility to ensure the professor is equipped to train students both academically and encourage them spiritually.
“For the online faculty member, servant leadership through one’s courses and interaction with students must become a way of life, as the image of God affects all reads of life, including relationships to God, to others, and to God’s creation.”
This book is a good starting place for those interested in learning more about the necessary foundational theories and historical arguments for and against online theological education. Students taking online courses will benefit from the authors’ thorough examination of the benefits and implications of distance education. Each author writes from their experience in education and ministry, and they provide a robust selection of topics for readers, including application and practical questions at the end of each chapter, creating an immediate opportunity to think critically about each topic.
In a previous post, I explored the nature of beauty as understood in the Christian tradition. I contrasted this traditional Christian story regarding the nature of beauty with philosophical naturalism and exclusive humanism, two sides of a now standard story that aims to account for beauty purely in the eye of the beholder, exclusively within the walls of the physical cosmos, a world without transcendence and devoid of windows or skylights.
This shift in the nature and grounding of beauty and aesthetic judgments has crucial implications for human flourishing. To render the ground of aesthetic judgments as nothing more than the expressions of one’s subjective feelings or preferences is ultimately to fail to recognize that certain aspects of objective reality are more worthy of admiration and regard than others. When we strip the world of objective beauty, we no longer have objective grounds for identifying certain objects, ends, and pursuits as more intrinsically worthy of our love and devotion than others; we thereby fail to venerate what is truly worthy of veneration in its own right. Consequently, we cut ourselves off from the knowledge necessary to properly order our lives around what is truly fulfilling, both individually and collectively as a society.
Yet our awareness of objective beauty—beauty that is not purely in the eye of the beholder—remains stronger than ever. This awareness can serve as a signpost or signal of transcendence, pointing us beyond the many inlets of beauty in our world to their ever-flowing wellspring, the eternal dance of the triune God.
A deep irony strikes at the heart of the two-sided narrative of philosophical naturalism and exclusive humanism and its account of the nature of beauty as purely in the eye of the beholder. The irony is that the beauty that is perhaps the most alluring in the cosmos is found among the deliverances of the empirical science aimed to explore the most fundamental physical domain and the formal language used to discover that domain: physics and mathematics.
In his work Dreams of a Final Theory, renowned physicist and atheist Steven Weinberg notes the following:
It is when we study truly fundamental problems that we expect to find beautiful answers. We believe that, if we ask why the world is the way it is and then ask why that answer is the way it is, at the end of this chain of explanations we shall find a few simple principles of compelling beauty. We think this in part because our historical experience teaches us that as we look beneath the surface of things, we find more and more beauty.
According to Weinberg, it is reasonable to expect that when we peel back the layers of physical reality and reach explanatory bedrock, we should find a reality that radiates with “compelling beauty.” Physicists tend to favor theories that are elegant and beautiful in that “The physicist’s sense of beauty is … supposed to serve a purpose—it is supposed to help the physicist select ideas that help us explain nature … we demand a simplicity and rigidity in our principles before we are willing to take them seriously.” But note that the alluring beauty woven throughout fundamental physical theories and their mathematical formalisms is objective not subjective; it is found woven into the very fabric of physical reality, not projected onto it as the narrative of exclusive humanism holds. And not only is objective beauty discovered in the domain of physics and mathematics; such beauty is often found in excess and abundance. “Sometimes,” says Weinberg, “nature seems more beautiful than strictly necessary.”
But if the story of philosophical naturalism is in fact the true story of the world, then it seems rather odd that the most fundamental layer of physical reality is graced by an alluring beauty that is in no way the mere product of human sentiment or taste. The presence of deep, objective beauty in physics and mathematics creates a crucial explanatory gap for philosophical naturalism. Contrary to the claim of Weinberg, it is not at all reasonable in philosophical naturalism to expect to find objective beauty woven throughout fundamental physics and mathematics. And it is difficult to see how philosophical naturalism might close this explanatory gap with respect to objective beauty in physics and mathematics. As atheist philosopher Paul Draper states: “A beautiful universe, especially one containing beings that can appreciate that beauty, is clearly more likely on theism than on naturalism and so is evidence favoring theism over naturalism.”
Yet in the Christian story, this kind of deep, alluring beauty (as well as the existence of creatures who can appreciate that beauty) is precisely what one would expect if the physical universe were the creative overflow of the radiance and beauty of its Creator. There is no similar explanatory gap in the Christian story. The deep beauty found in physics and mathematics is as consonant with the Christian story as a performed symphony is within a great concert hall. The physical universe was created by God to reflect the rhythm and harmony of the eternal divine dance. Creaturely beauty is but a looking glass, beams of sunlight that beckon us to trace them back up to the sun, its source. Indeed, as Jonathan Edwards put it, “Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams. But God is the ocean.”
You and I were created in the image of this beautiful God (Genesis 1:27) to experience and to enjoy deep and alluring beauty (Psalm 27:4). We were made to behold and to manifest divine beauty, ultimately the beauty of God revealed in Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). It is precisely by becoming like the triune God that we glorify God to the full, by living lives that reflect the proper order and beauty of the triune dance, the supreme harmony of all.