An Encounter with God through Prophetic Ministry

I hear His voice again — it’s the familiar, gentle nudge to speak a specific word of encouragement into a person’s life. The word fills my ears, although my natural ears never hear it. It becomes my breath, permeating the air around me. It floods my mind and soul. The word He gives is specific and deep yet simple.

friends

I glance over to the woman for whom the word will be given. My introverted, shy heart races; and doubt suddenly clouds my mind. What if I heard wrong? What if she isn’t receptive? What if she rejects me?

“Faith requires risk,” I remind myself.

A second gentle nudge shakes away the confusion. His tender voice repeats the same word. Peace accompanies it and anchors within my heart. As new courage builds within me, I walk over to deliver the word. Now, it’s time to speak.

The person before me stares for a long moment with curiosity as the word flows from my mouth like a living spring. As it touches the woman, her eyes well with tears. The word ministers to her in ways I can only imagine.

“How did you know?” she asks. “I’ve prayed about that issue for months.” It takes her mind a moment to realize God just encountered her for something her heart was desperately seeking. Her shocked expression shifts to a broad smile.

For a moment, I see through His eyes, staring upon her with unfathomable love, grace, and mercy. I feel His immense compassion; my heart is full of uncontainable joy. The emotions are overwhelming. My eyes also fill with tears.

Recent strangers quickly become sisters. The woman hugs me. The Presence of God always carries relationship from which life and love flow. We celebrate God’s revelation for her, and we pray together. The woman is forever changed by her God encounter. Honestly, I won’t be the same either.

This story is from another “ordinary” day as a follower of our amazingly loving and personal God. Like you, I am a simple conduit of His love. The story above is true and an illustration of how God can use anyone to minister to people. We just have to be willing to wait, listen, and respond when He calls to us.

Love and peace to you, friends. I pray this story encourages you to seek His Presence and share His love boldly when the opportunity arises. It’s time to be His hands and feet to this broken world.

Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols, and Ponderings Series: Moses as a Type of Christ (Part 1)

Moses is one of the best known types of Christ found in the Old Testament typology. His life, teaching, preaching and predictions as a major Old Testament prophet directly parallel Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. Below, you will findegypt “Part 1” on Moses’s early life and the corresponding direct parallels to the life and ministry of Jesus. “Part 2”, which will be posted in the coming weeks, will contain the second half of Moses’s life.

Born under Foreign Rulers:

  • Moses was born in Egypt many years after Joseph, who famously saved the region from famine, died. The current reigning pharaoh knew nothing of the Hebrew-Egyptian partnership and worried about the growing Jewish population and their influence within his land. Out of fear of being overthrown, he made the Hebrews his slaves and forced them into hard labor and oppression (Exodus 2:3-10).
  • Jesus was born during the rule of the infamously power hungry, murderous and paranoid Herod the Great, the king of Judea (a client kingdom of Rome). Aside from Herod, the Romans were generally considered much less oppressive than the pharaoh of Moses’s day; however, the Jews’ activities were carefully monitored by the Roman government to ensure the peace was kept and no activity would lead to an overthrow (Franz, Gordon; Matthew 2).

Child of the Poor; Born to be a King:

  • Moses’s mother was a Jewish slave; but he became a prince of Egypt. As a prince, he could have forsaken his heritage as a Hebrew and experienced the lavish riches and lifestyle of the royal Egyptian family. However, he was nursed by his biological mother and raised in his early years with his kinsmen. It was a bond he never forgot, eventually causing him to reject the Egyptians as his adopted family and resent the unfair treatment of his people (Exodus 2:11).
  • Jesus was born in a manger, but He is the Son of God and often referred to as the “King of kings and Lord of lords”, which refers to a ruler who holds complete power to exercise dominion over His realm (GotQuestions). When He walked among His disciples, His intention was never to rule over men as a “king” in the traditional sense. For His followers who were vying for control, power and a special seat of honor, this caused a great amount of confusion (Matthew 20:20-28; Revelation 17:14, 19:16).

Lives Threatened at Birth:

  • Pharaoh feared the Hebrews in Egypt and commanded the midwives of Jewish mothers to kill all newborn boys; however, the little boys were spared because the midwives feared God and protected them. As a result, God blessed the midwives for their faithfulness (Exodus 1:15-22).
  • After Moses was born, his mother hid him to ensure his safety. When she no longer could keep him hidden, she placed Moses in a basket along the Nile to be noticed by Pharaoh’s daughter who had gone to the river to bathe. The Egyptian princess took pity on the baby in the basket, and Moses’ life was spared from death (Exodus 1:15-22).
  • Jesus’ life was also threatened at birth. King Herod, who ruled over the land where Jesus was born, was paranoid and power hungry. In fact, the fear of losing his thrown consumed him to such a horrifying degree that he murdered his own family (Frankz, Gordon; Losch, Richard).
  • After Herod heard the prophecy stating a king more powerful than he would be born in his land during his lifetime, he instructed his soldiers to murder all the little boys born within his kingdom to ensure no one could take his crown (Matthew 2:3-18).

Adopted:

  • Moses was adopted into Pharaoh’s family; Jesus was adopted into Joseph’s family. Neither man was raised by his biological father (Exodus 2:10; Matthew 1:19-21).

Childhood in Egypt:

  • Moses was raised as a prince of Egypt (Exodus 2:10).
  • Mary and Joseph fled with Jesus to Egypt to hide him from King Herod (Matthew 2:13).

An Early Calling; Realized Years Later:

  • Moses felt a deep calling to deliver his people, the Hebrews, from slavery. After Moses killed an Egyptian man for abusing a Hebrew slave, he fled to Midian and was unable to realize the calling on his life until 40 years later (Exodus 2:11-15, 3:7-10; Acts 7:25-30).
  • At the age of twelve, Jesus spoke with the religious teachers in the Temple. He began His ministry when He was about 30 years old; and He completed His calling through His death, burial and resurrection at the age of 33 (Matthew 4:12-25; Luke 3:23).

Wandered through the Wilderness before Fulfilling Calling:

  • The wilderness is used in the Bible as time of change, transition and revelation. Moses wandered through the wilderness when he fled Egypt (Exodus 3). In the wilderness, he married Zipporah, had children, and encountered God in the burning bush, changing the course of his life forever.
  • Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. In the wilderness, He fasted and was tempted by the devil. The experience in the wilderness was a necessary precursor to Jesus’s ministry (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1).

Kept the Company of Gentiles:

Performed Miracles:

Both were Tempted:

  • Moses could have enjoyed the life of a prince, but his heart was with his kinsmen, the Hebrews (Hebrews 11:24-27).
  • After 40 days of fasting, Jesus was tempted in wilderness to turn stones to bread, test God the Father and take the world as His kingdom. However, Jesus never sinned (Matthew 4:1-9).

Became Shepherds:

  • Moses watched over his father-in-law’s sheep (Exodus 3:1).
  • Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” (John 10:6-16).

Moved by Compassion for Israel:

  • Moses saw the unfair treatment of his family and friends in Egypt, and felt called to rescue them (Acts 7:23-24).
  • Jesus chose to die for us. Even as His own people called for His crucifixion, He asked the Father to forgive them (Luke 23:34).

Other Interesting Discoveries while Researching this Topic:

  • When the mummy of the Egyptian pharaoh named Thutmoses II was discovered, scientists were surprised to find cyst-like scars covering his body, indicating he may have experienced the infamous plague of boils (www.bible.ca).

Resources:

Female Leaders, Apostles, Disciples, Prophets and Other Women of Influence in the Bible and Early Church History

The more I spend time in the Scripture and study the Greek and Hebrew lexicons, the more I believe many of our disagreements over the roles of women in church leadership are frequently based on misunderstandings of the original languages and a loss of cultural context.  The intended audiences would have easily understood the depth and breadth of the meanings of the words used.  However, our English translations often fail to sufficiently explain the authors’ intended messages and grammatical nuances.

This is not to say the Word of God contains errors.  For example, in the English language we use the word “love” to describe a wide range of feelings or actions.  It may be used to describe a deep affection for a spouse, child or close friend.  The emotions may be complex and shift in meaning depending on what, whom, how or why I love.  However, the word “love” may also be used to describe a favorite food or song on the radio, which are obviously shallow expressions of the same word.  These examples may be oversimplified, but they were my starting point for researching and understanding this topic.  After all, God’s Word never changes but my understanding should as I read the Scripture, spend time in study and commune with Him.

I humbly pray the summaries of the influential Old Testament and New Testament women below will inspire you to perform your own research. After all, our most powerful tool as Christians is knowledge. Our most destructive weapon is ignorance.

“God never violates His Word. But He’s quite comfortable violating our understanding of His Word.” – Bill Johnson

INFLUENTIAL WOMEN OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

Ancient inscriptions upon the walls of early church tombs and catacombs indicate many women were leaders within Gentile churches between the first and sixth centuries. Women were recorded as apostles, synagogue leaders (archisynagōgos or archisynagōgissa), elders (presbytera), deacons (diákonos), church mothers, bishops and other prominent roles.  Many of these inscriptions were found in Tripolitania (former province of Libya), throughout Italy, Malta (European island country in the Mediterranean Sea), Turkey and Kissamos (Greece).

Examples of a few historically recorded female deacons include Sophia he diakonoshe deutera Phoibe (the second Phoebe) and Maria of he deacons whose name and title is etched into a stele of grey marble inside a Byzantine church.  More evidence of female leaders can be found in the historical records of the reign of Trajan (98-117 C.E.).

Although some early church leadership titles were honorary or given by inheritance or marriage, many titles of these women differ from their fathers and husbands, if they were married at all. This indicates these leaders were likely given these roles for their level of importance, influence and dedication at their local churches.  Based on the root of Greek words like arch (meaning “ruler”) used to describe many of these leaders, a person with these roles would have overseen the organization of the church or synagogue, taught, preached, collected money from congregants and performed other administrative duties (Brooten, Bernadette).

PRISCILLA – AN EARLY CHURCH MISSIONARY, CO-PASTOR AND THEOLOGIAN

Acts 18:24-27 – Meanwhile, a Jew named Apollos, an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well, had arrived in Ephesus from Alexandria in Egypt. He had been taught the way of the Lord, and he taught others about Jesus with an enthusiastic spirit and with accuracy. However, he knew only about John’s baptism. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him preaching boldly in the synagogue, they took him aside and explained the way of God even more accurately. Apollos had been thinking about going to Achaia, and the brothers and sisters in Ephesus encouraged him to go. They wrote to the believers in Achaia, asking them to welcome him. When he arrived there, he proved to be of great benefit to those who, by God’s grace, had believed.

Romans 16:3-4 – Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers (“collaborators” or “fellow-workers”) in the ministry of Christ Jesus. In fact, they once risked their lives for me. I am thankful to them, and so are all the Gentile churches. Also give my greetings to the church that meets in their home.

I love the picture Paul paints of the powerhouse couple named Priscilla (Prisca) and Aquila. They were pastors, traveling missionaries through Asia Minor (Acts 18), church planters and theology teachers. According to Romans 16, they were well known in the Gentile churches and preached the Gospel courageously, risking their own lives for Paul’s ministry.  Together, Priscilla and Aquila taught and encouraged Apollos who was already a passionate man of God with a gift for preaching and teaching. As spiritual parents to Apollos, they, along with the encouragement of other believers, launched Apollos’s pastoral ministry in Achaia (Acts 18:24-26).

PHOEBE THE DEACONESS AND LEADER OF THE CHURCH AT CENCHREAE

Romans 16:1-2 – I commend to you our sister Phoebe (Phebe), who is a deacon (diákonos) in the church in Cenchrea. Welcome her in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God’s people. Help her in whatever she needs, for she has been especially helpful (prostatis) to many, and especially to me.

As the first recorded deacon in the history of Christianity and someone who was given the titles “deacon” and “prostatis”, Phoebe was a notable woman within her church. Many scholars believe the church met in her home, she was Paul’s courier for the Book of Romans and a wealthy financier for Paul and others (McKnight, Scot).

The Importance of a Courier: The role of courier was not usually given to women because the roads used to deliver letters were dangerous and full of bandits. Paul must have trusted Phoebe greatly to give her such a responsibility.  As a courier, coworker and emissary of Paul’s ministry, Phoebe likely would have read the Book of Romans aloud to congregations as a normal duty of a courier for that time period.

It’s All Greek to Me: Paul used the masculine Greek work diákonos (meaning “minister” or “servant” depending on the English translation) to describe the ministries of Phoebe, Paul, Stephen and Philip (compare Romans 16:1-21 Corinthians 3:52 Corinthians 3:6,6:411:23Ephesians 3:76:21Colossians 1:723251 Timothy 34:6 and the Greek Lexicon). The term “deacon” has various meanings to different denominations today; therefore, when looking at an New Testament character like Phoebe in relation to her role in early church leadership, it is important to understand the original Greek terms and context compared to similar Scripture passages.

The Greek word prostatis means “female guardian”, “protector/protectress”, “patroness” and “caring for the affairs of others and aiding them with her resources” (see “Strong’s Greek: 4368”, Bible Hub). When reviewing the meaning of this word, it may be helpful to review its context through the lens of epigraphical evidence to understand the complete Biblical implications of this statement (McCabe, Elizabeth).

MARY MAGDALENE THE APOSTLE TO THE APOSTLES

Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47, 16:9; Luke 23:49, 55; John 19:25; John 20:1, 11, 16, 18; Acts 1:14; Acts 2:1-5

St. Thomas Aquinas famously said, “Just as a woman had announced the words of death to the first man, so also a woman was the first to announce to the Apostles the words of life.” (Pope Benedict XVI).

Mary of Magdala (The Magdalene) is famously known as the severely afflicted and demon possessed woman that Jesus miraculously healed. After He removed the demons, she became a devoted disciple, traveled with Him and the Twelve, and she became one of Jesus’s closest friends.

Mary is well known for her devotion to Jesus. The depth of her commitment to Him is best exemplified through her presence during His crucifixion and burial. Unlike most of the other disciples who fled or denied their association with Jesus during crucifixion for fear of being arrested or killed, she never abandoned or denied Him.

True to Jesus’s cultural taboo-crushing nature, He bestowed the high honor of heralding His resurrection to a woman — Mary Magdalene — earning her the title “Apostle to the Apostles” in early church history (Biblical Archaeology Society). This may not seem like an extraordinary event to us in our modern times; but in those days, a woman’s word was often discredited.  Women were typically not well-educated; and it was not considered socially appropriate for women to learn or debate spiritual truth with men.

According to scholars and based on Luke’s references to the women in his Gospel account, Mary was also likely present with the Twelve and the other female disciples in the upper room as they awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit’s pouring upon all flesh (Elliot, Paul).

MARY OF BETHANY SITS AT A PLACE OF HONOR

Luke 8:35, Luke 10:38-32; John 11:1-44; John 12:1-8

Jesus exalted women as worthy friends and disciples in a society that considered such behavior inappropriate. Like Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany was one of Jesus’s closest friends, a disciple, a financial supporter of Jesus’s ministry and present at Jesus’s crucifixion and tomb.  She is famously known as the sister of Martha and Lazarus and the woman who anointed Jesus with extravagant nard perfume.

Jesus exalted women as worthy disciples and broke several cultural norms when He and the Twelve went to Martha’s home for fellowship and discipleship. The act of visiting the house of a woman was not considered culturally appropriate. In addition, although Martha was fulfilling the female cultural expectation of preparing dinner for a guest’s visit, Jesus commended Mary for sitting at His feet to learn.

To Sit at the Feet of a Rabbi: The idiom to “sit at someone’s feet” is used to describe a student being formally trained as a disciple by a respected rabbi. This story illustrates Jesus’s respect for Mary because He gave her permission to sit at His feet. Women were considered to be a lower class of citizen than men and her primary role was to work in the home. As a student, Mary would have likely been actively engaged in learning and asking questions along with the male disciples (Attenberry, Shawna).

MARY THE MOTHER OF JESUS

Luke 1-8; John 2:5; Acts 1:13

Mary is one of the most intriguing women in the Bible because we know so much about her.  In fact, we know more about her than any other disciple. Her name mean’s “wise woman”, and the Biblical accounts of her certainly appear to justify her name.  Through the New Testament, we are taught her life story.  God chose and entrusted Mary to bring salvation to the world. She was familiar with the Scripture and had prophetic gifting for what it meant. We are also told Mary was at Jesus’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection; and she was present in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. She is sometimes referred to as Jesus’s first disciple. Through the development of Christian traditions over the centuries, she is regarded as a saint and an intercessor within the Catholic Church.  (Women in the Bible).

TABITHA THE RESURRECTED DISCIPLE

Acts 9:36 – There was a believer in Joppa named Tabitha (original Greek: Dorcus, meaning “gazelle”). She was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor. About this time she became ill and died. Her body was washed for burial and laid in an upstairs room. But the believers had heard that Peter was nearby at Lydda, so they sent two men to beg him, “Please come as soon as possible!”

Tabitha is one of only two people recorded in the Book of Acts as being resurrected. She is the only woman in the New Testament identified with the female version of the word “disciple” (mathetria).

PROPHETESS ANNA

Luke 2:36-38 – Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but stayed there day and night, worshipping God with fasting and prayer. She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.

Anna, the only named prophetess of the New Testament, was present at the Temple for the purification ceremony for the baby Jesus. Anna recognized Jesus and prophesied about His significance to everyone who was “waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem” (v. 38).

LYDIA FROM THYATIRA

Acts 16:13-15 – On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart and she accepted what Paul was saying. She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged until we agreed.

Paul met Lydia, a merchant of expensive indigo cloth, from Thyatira (modern day Turkey) on his second missionary journey through Philippi. She holds the distinction as the first person to convert to Christianity in Europe.

An Indication of Her Wealth: The Scripture specifically states that she bought and sold expensive materials which would mean she had the money necessary to purchase expensive wares.

An Indication She was the Sole/Primary Leader of Her Household: She is never mentioned as being married, but she has a household is responsible for making decisions on their behalf. She decided to follow Christ and had her family baptized along with her. She invited Paul and others into her home.

EUODIA AND SYNTYCHE CHURCH LEADERS IN PHILIPPI

Philippians 4:2-3 – Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner (“companion” or “yokefellow”), to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers (sunergoi), whose names are written in the Book of Life.

Paul’s public letter to Euodia (her name means “prosperous journey” or “fragrant”) and Syntyche (her name means “fortunate”) serves as reminder to the Church about how to resolve disagreements and build unity within the body of Christ. Some scholars believe these two women were deacons or held some other significant leadership role in their church. They are mainly remembered for their dispute; however, Paul’s interest in their quarrel speaks to their role in the church’s leadership according to antiquity scholars (New Life).

Early church bishop John Chrysostom, who was in no way a champion of women, made this statement about Euodia and Syntyche: “These women seem to me to be the chief of the Church which was there, and he commendeth them to some notable man whom he calls his ‘yokefellow,’ to whom perchance he was wont to commend them, as to a fellow-worker, and fellow-soldier, and brother, and companion, as he doth in the Epistle to the Romans, when he saith, ‘I commend unto you Phebe our sister, who is a servant of the Church that is at Cenchrea.’ (Romans 16:1)” You can read Bishop Chrysostom’s homilies at Bible Hub.

THE “OTHER” FEMALE DISCIPLES OF JESUS

Matthew 12:48-50; 20:20-28; 27:56; Mark 10:35-40 15:40-41; 16:1-2; Luke 8:1-3; John 19:25

Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then He pointed to His disciples and said, “look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!”

Jesus referred to His disciples as his mother, brother and sister. Jesus chose twelve men as disciples, symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel, but Scripture also references an unspecified number of women who followed Jesus as disciples in addition to Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and Martha who were close friends of Jesus. The other named female disciples are Susanna, Joanna, Mary Salome, and Mary of Clopas known as “the other Mary.” Some scholars also include the “sinful woman”, the “bleeding woman” who traveled 30 miles to receive healing and the mother of the demon possessed child; however, the Bible does not directly call them disciples or specifically talk about them following His ministry. Many of the women became Jesus’s followers after they were healed from demons and infirmities. Some of these women were wealthy and supported Jesus’s ministry financially out of their own private means and were frequent traveling companions (Bible Gateway).

JUNIA THE APOSTLE

Romans 16:7 – Greet Andronicus and Junia (Iounian), my fellow Jews (“compatriots”, “kinsmen” or “relatives”) who were in prison with me. They are highly respected among the apostles (episemoi en tois apostolis meaning “regarded as apostles” or “outstanding among the apostles”) and became followers of Christ before I did.

Bishop John Chrysostom (345-407 A.D.) famously stated this about Junia: “To be an apostle is something great! But to be outstanding among the apostles – just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle.”

Junia/Junias Lost in Translation: Some translations of Scripture call Junia (Julia) the uncommon masculine name “Junias.” As a result, the enigmatic Junia is fiercely debated among modern theologians because if she was indeed a she, it would mean a woman was directly acknowledged by Paul as an apostle. The oldest ancient manuscripts use the common feminine name “Junia” while newer manuscripts (the masculine form of Iounian first appeared during the Medieval period) use the less common “Junias.” In fact, there are no known ancient manuscripts or literature that mention the name “Junias” in Latin or Greek (Preato, Dennis).

NYMPHA OF LAODICEA

Colossians 4:15 – Please give my greetings to our brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha (Nymphas) and the church that meets in her house.

Nympha led the church in Laodicea that met in her house. The passage indicates Nympha was likely a female pastor of a church that met at her home. Like Junia, the gender of Nympha is greatly debated and was altered to a masculine name and pronoun in the Middle Ages. This was likely not done intentionally to purposefully corrupt the Scripture, but instead was corrected because it was thought to be a mistake. By the Middle Ages (several hundreds of years after Christ walked the earth), the traditions of men leading the church had become well established, and it was assumed women were not allowed in church leadership roles (New Life).

Was Nympha accidentally written into the original Greek as a woman, therefore, justifying the correction by the scribes in the Middle Ages centuries later? At this point, the gender identities of Junia and Nympha are impossible to know with all certainty and will likely be debated by theologians until Christ returns, yet another reason why we as Christian brothers and sisters should be careful not judge each other’s opposing convictions.

TRYPHENA, TRYPHOSA, PERSIS, MARY, JULIA, NEREUS’S SISTER, AND PHILIP’S PROPHESYING DAUGHTERS

Joel 2:28-29; Acts 1:13a, 14; 2:17-18; Romans 16:6, 12, 15

Philip the Evangelist had four unmarried daughters who proclaimed God’s will and truth (Acts 21:7-9). They have been added to this list of influencial women because God appeared to use these women to fulfill the prophecies in Joel and Acts of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon men and women after the resurrection of the Messiah.

Some scholars think Typhena and Tryphosa (Greek pagan names meaning “delicate” or “dainty”) were likely twin sisters or close relatives who were likely missionaries or deaconesses. Paul asks the congregation in Rome to greet them as two of many friends or co-laborers in the Lord. Bible Gateway has an interesting commentary about their names and their prominence and influence in the early church.

Persis, Julia and Nereus’s sister are also listed as women “who worked hard in the Lord” or supported home churches. I have included these women on this list because, when compared to early church history outside of the Scriptures, it seems evident these ladies, along with others mentioned on this list, were the first of many women who led or co-led home churches or at the very least were prominent figures within their churches.

SAMARITAN WOMAN FROM SYCHAR

John 4:1-30

It would be easy to pass over the story of the Samaritan woman at the well who speaks with Jesus. For those of us in the West, our society see the verbal exchange between the woman and Jesus as trivial because we don’t tend to see how violating the woman’s behavior would have been of social norms of that day. I find it intriguing that she was at the well by herself as it was uncommon for woman to go out in public alone. Also, she openly held a discussion with a controversial Jewish rabbi named Jesus. After her encounter with Jesus, she shared her testimony with her community. Women in the Bible has a great article on the Samaritan woman.

 

INFLUENTIAL WOMEN OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

DEBORAH A “MOTHER OF ISRAEL”, JUDGE AND PROPHETESS

Judges 4:4-5 – Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet who was judging Israel at that time. She would sit under the Palm of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites would go to her for judgment.

Judges 5:7, 31 – (v. 7) There were few people left in the villages of Israel — until Deborah arose as a mother for Israel. (v. 31) “Lord, may all your enemies die like Sisera! But may those who love you rise like the sun in all its power!” Then there was peace in the land for forty years.

Deborah, who was considered a major judge in the Old Testament, acted as a commander-in-chief for ancient Israel. In addition to her powerful leadership role over the ancient nation, she was a gifted prophet. She prophesied the ruthless and oppressive Canaanite King Jabin would fall at the hands of the Israelites. When her commander, Barak, failed to have faith in God’s provision, Deborah foretold King Jabin’s armies would fall at the hands of a woman instead of him. In his fear and disbelief, Barak refused to go into battle without Deborah. As a result, she went with him and oversaw the battles against King Jabin’s commander Sisera and his armies, and led the Israelites into forty years of peace.

What’s a Judge: Judges were used by God to deliver the Israelites out of the hands of foreign oppressors. Judges served as reminders of God’s promise of mercy and grace to deliver and restore Israel from their enemies.

JAEL THE BRAVE

Judges 4:9 – “Very well,” she replied, “I will go with you. But you will receive no honor in this venture, for the Lord’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman.”

Judges 4:21 – But when Sisera fell asleep from exhaustion, Jael quietly crept up to him with a hammer and tent peg in her hand. Then she drove the tent peg through his temple and into the ground, and so he died.

Jael bravely used her husband’s friendship with King Jabin’s family to lure his commander Sisera into her tent to rest.  As he slept, she drove a tent peg through the commander’s skull. As Deborah had prophesied, Jael, a woman, is credited with delivering Israel’s victory over King Jabin’s armies.

ESTHER THE HEROINE OF THE JEWS IN PERSIA

Esther 1-8

After King Xerxes (Hebrew name: “Ahasuerus”) of Persia banished Queen Vashti for disobeying him, he gathered beautiful women from his kingdom in search of the “most beautiful woman.” He formed a haram from his selections and eventually chose Esther to be his new bride.

Some theologians don’t consider Esther a leader because Xerxes held the position of authority; however, God placed her in a strategic position of influence, and she interceded on the behalf of Israel and saved them from certain genocide. Plus, she gets extra bravery points in my mind because she spoke to King Xerxes without being summoned which was a crime punishable by death (Womeninthebible.net: Clever Queen, Foolish King).

MIRIAM THE OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETESS AND LEADER

Exodus 15:20 – Then Miriam the Prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine and led all the women as they played their tambourines and danced.

Micah 6:4 – For I brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from slavery. I sent Moses, Aaron and Miriam to help you.

Miriam was the sister of Moses and Aaron. She bravely saved Moses by sending him down the Nile in a basket to spare his life from certain slaughter. She was also considered a prophetess, worship leader and considered part of the core leadership tetrad that led Israel out of Egypt. She was specifically acknowledged for leading the Hebrew women from Egypt (Women in the Bible, “Mariam: Her Story”).

HULDAH THE EXCEPTIONAL PROPHETESS

2 Kings 22:8 – Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the court secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the Lord’s Temple!” Then Hilkiah gave the scroll to Shaphan, and he read it.

2 Kings 22:14 – She [Huldah] said to them, “The Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken! Go back and tell the man who sent you, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this city and its people. All the words written in the scroll that the king of Judah has read will come true.'”

After the Book of the Law (Torah) was found during the restoration of the Temple, Huldah interpreted and confirmed the Book of the Law’s (Torah) authenticity. She must have had an exceptional reputation for her gift as a prophet since she was consulted instead of the famous Prophet Jeremiah.

Huldah’s prophetic words of impending judgment over Israel’s evil and unrepentant acts and the discovery of the Torah assisted King Josiah with leading the nation into revival.

THE SHUNAMMITE WOMAN

1 Kings 1:3; 2 Kings 4:8-37; 1 Samuel 25:2; 2 Samuel 19:33

Although the Shunammite woman’s name is shrouded in mystery, the Scriptures refer to her as someone in her community who was of high rank and wealth within her community. She is known for her hospitality and care for God’s people who were travelers through the Jazreel plain. There is lots more about the Great Woman of Shunem at Bible Gateway.

RESOURCES:

Spiritual Warfare: Finding Victory in the Midst of Battle

If you’re a follower of Christ and you’re trying to live out the Great Commission,savior prayng you’ve probably experienced spiritual warfare at some point or another. That’s not to say everything that happens to us is spiritual warfare. In a fallen world, bad things sometimes just happen, or we experience hardship or pain because of our own sin or the sin of someone else. In contrast, sometimes as Christians we are not prepared for true spiritual attacks because we don’t expect them to happen or don’t believe they happen. Jesus faced temptation; therefore, I believe the battles in the spirit realm are real. Scripture reminds us in 1 Peter 5:8 to always be vigilant of Satan who is always looking for ways to destroy us. Since spiritual attacks are real, how do we learn to recognize and overcome them?

In my own life, I have experienced hardship, difficulty when trying to pray, threatening dreams and other unexplained events that seem to happen without reason. Do I believe these issues were caused by spiritual warfare? It is possible and likely that not everything I just described came from the Devil, but some of it certainly seemed to be. Why would I assume the cause was spiritual warfare instead of something else?

The Bible says the spiritual realm is always active around us, fighting for us or against us. At the time, I was purposely attempting to spend quality time with the Lord because I wanted to grow closer to Him, and I wanted the friends around me to know Him. I also wanted to encourage and assist those friends with restoring hope in their lives during difficult situations they were walking through. Within a couple days, the craziest things began to happen. Everything in my life that was a stability point for me (my basic needs, financial needs and my health) was turned upside down. I also experienced trouble in my prayer life. I couldn’t focus. I went from feeling closer to God than I ever had felt to feeling like I was unable to hear His heart at all. I felt alone and completely separated from Him. If you’ve ever lost your connection to your Father then you know it feels like your whole world has ended. Then the dreams started, and they were awful. I would dream things that were not normal nightmares for me. In one of my dreams, I found myself standing alone in my house. Suddenly, I heard a disembodied voice laughing sardonically and taunting me by saying, “You keep doing what you’re doing, and I’m going to destroy you. Give up.”  This dream repeatedly occurred over several weeks. At the time, I didn’t make the connection that I might be battling spiritual warfare, but before all of those strange events were over, they intensified and got much worse and much more troubling.

What should we do when we think we’re being attacked spiritually? Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:10-18 to “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.”

In addition to following Paul’s instructions, I generally try to analyze the situation before anything else. Was I going after the things of God when the bad things started to occur? Did I cause my own grief? Did someone else hurt me? Did the issue seem to happen randomly? If my sin appeared to be the root of the problem(s), I should ask God for forgiveness. If the problem involved harming another person, I should ask the offended person for forgiveness and reconcile the relationship. What if someone else harmed me? Christ says I must forgive and pray for the person. Basically, forgiveness leads to healing and restoration. Both of these scenarios could include elements of spiritual warfare, but they are likely caused by my actions or someone else. If the issue appears random, sometimes it’s harder to figure out what to do. In any of these situations, I try to keep my eyes on Christ. I ask for protection, wisdom and help. Through God, we find our victories. As Mark Batterson puts it, “I have an unshakable sense of destiny that as long as I pursue God’s calling on my life, then God is ultimately responsible for getting me where He wants me to go.”

The verses below have helped remind me who is in control in the midst of strife. They are written on paper and affixed to my computer to remind me every day of His goodness, provision and protection:

  • Isaiah 41:10: “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”
  • Isaiah 43:2: “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”
  • Isaiah 58:9a: “Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.”
  • 1 Peter 5:7: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”
  • Psalm 121:1-2: “I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!”

If you’re looking for a visual reminder, you are welcome to pin, download or print these Pinterest quotes:

Today is a Good Day

Have you ever had “one of those days”? I’m talking one of thosesmiles can’t do anything right, your car dies, you’re sick and nothing is going right kind of days? Sometimes, it’s hard to feel thankful when the day seems to exist just cause pain and misery. Today has been one of those days — um — weeks for me. The transmission died on my car. My health has been poor. Fire ants invaded my house by the hundreds (counted by the number I saw/squished as they crawled across the floor). The electricity inside my house went bonkers and has already knocked out a panel in my television, ruined one telephone and drained my smoke detectors. And to add to all of those things, the electrician forgot to show up this morning. I spilled scalding, hot soup all over myself. It seems everything I have touched has gone terribly lately! Sigh…yeah, it’s been one of those kinds of weeks.

On days like these, how do we find joy, peace and grace? As I ponder this question today, I am reminded the blessings in my life far outweigh the bad things. Even if I lost everything tomorrow, I am still the richest woman alive. I have wonderful family and friends. I have a good, stable job. I can pay my bills, and I have food to eat. My health issues, although annoying, are few and temporary. I was born in a country where I can worship how I like and write blogs like this one without fear. I have the love of my God, and He calls me “highly favored.” I have carpet and tile under my feet, a big squishy chair to sit upon as I type this blog entry, heating and air conditioning and fresh, clean running water. Yeah, life is pretty good.

So instead of feeling sorry for myself for the cruddy day/week I’ve experienced, I’m determined to say, “It has been a good day. I’m a daughter of the King, and I’m highly favored.” I choose joy. I think the day is looking up already. 🙂

Who God is to Me

How do you know God is real? Various people in my life havebutterfly-lens-flare asked me this question from time to time. And it’s a good question. I truly respect people who can say they have the faith to believe in a God they never see, hear or experience; however, I struggled occasionally with a certain level of doubt about who God is and at what level He is involved with humanity. This is my open and honest self-assessment.

Most of my Christian life (about 20 years) was based on faith alone. For a while, that was good enough, but it was difficult to maintain. I grew up in a church that claimed to believe in a powerful God, but I never saw Him move. I just knew He saved me, and that was enough. And it truly IS enough based on Jesus’s “mustard seed” statement in Matthew 17:20. But I wanted more, and my whole life was about to turn upside down.

The past three and a half years have been the most transformative years of my life. My life changing journey began with a simple prayer to know God at a deeper level. I told Him I was thankful for saving me, but I wanted to actually know Him as more than my “knight in shining armor.” I wanted a real relationship beyond saving the “damsel in distress.”

A couple of weeks later, I was offered an opportunity to join a discipleship group with two other wonderful women. This was a major step for me as an introvert. I didn’t know either of the other two women very well, and it caused major stress and discomfort for me at the time. However, I decided I would never grow spiritually if I didn’t try something; and, I reluctantly agreed to join the study.

A year passed, and the strangers in my discipleship study became like close sisters. Each of us had our own journeys and struggles, but we perfectly complimented each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m extremely thankful to God and to those two women for those days. I’m not sure I could have made it through the months that followed without such amazing support and love as my foundation. By the end of the discipleship study, I began to realize I didn’t know God well at all. This realization broke my heart, and it pushed me even harder to keep searching. Was it a divine appointment for the three of us to meet? I’d like to think so.

The months that followed were some of the hardest in my life. I’ve mentioned different pieces of this part of my life in previous blog entries. I’ve come to understand that, at least in my story, it’s hard to truly know God if you don’t have a situation where dependence on His provision and divine intervention aren’t required. That story is long; therefore, I’ll simply point you to a previous entry that details a series of amazing events that occurred. Here’s very short summary: In a day, I was pulled out a dire situation and given a new opportunity. I was healed from a crippling anxiety disorder and learned the immensity of God’s love. These events radically changed the direction of my life and a level of understanding God.

For months after that life changing moment, I experienced and witnessed things I couldn’t explain. I was from a denomination that didn’t believe in speaking in tongues, but I spoke in tongues anyway. I watched the emotional crutches (over-planning for every situational outcome) I had been using to cope with my anxiety slowly dissolve away. Even my own family admits I’m a different person. I’m strong and confident (although still an introvert). I can speak in front of large crowds, and I don’t become a quivering puddle of gelatin. Life still has its stressful moments, but I’m not anxious. What a difference!

During the last year and half of my life, I saw two dear friends come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior. They claimed some of the events that led to their decisions to follow Jesus were supernatural in nature, and I believe them. They are both normal, logical and sane individuals. How do you explain away things like a car radio cycling through stations with static except for the words “don’t doubt the Word of God” with each word on a different station? My friend’s daughter witnessed the whole thing. If it wasn’t God, but it really happened, then how did it happen?

I’ve also witnessed and personally experienced physical healing. How do you explain away a fever leaving a body or pain and swelling leaving a pair of legs in a moment of prayer? Both occurrances happened. The girl with the fever was one of my discipleship study friends. I was the one with the swollen shins. These experiences as well as being healed from the anxiety disorder have recently stirred a passion to join a local healing ministry to help others find wholeness is Christ.

At this point in my life, I’ve experienced too many seemingly coincidental or unexplainable moments to not believe God is real and deeply cares about us. He cares not just about our final destination but about the person we become and the lives we touch along the way.

An Enlightening Debate with an Anti-Theist

Yesterday, I was conducting research on the writers of the Gospels. Did Bibleyou know that the writers were very likely not the apostles attached to their book names? That is to say, Matthew didn’t write the Book of Matthew and Mark likely didn’t write the Book of Mark and so on. Anyway, that is a discussion for another blog topic.

While researching, I came across a blog written by a well-educated, intelligent astrophysicist with a passionate hobby for using the Bible and his scientific background to attempt to discredit the Scripture. As much as I disagree with many of the points he argued, I appreciated the fact that he was well-versed in his arguments, had the educational and research background to stand firmly on his views of the topics he covered and laid out a clinical, mostly unbiased view of why he did not believe the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God.

As I finished reading the astrophysicist’s blog entry, I noticed several comments by others who had read the post followed. Some of the commenters were complimentary of his research, style and point of view. Others commenters were Christians who argued defensively as to why the post was fundamentally wrong. In response to the Christian comments, many of whom were unnecessarily obnoxious in the their own right, the writer was extremely condescending and hateful. As a result, the comment thread went from cordial to ugly very quickly — an unfortunately common theme if you’ve read any other open forums on the web (and I don’t just mean open forums related to religion or faith). Obviously, in this case, no one was going to change anyone else’s opinion through a comment thread.

There are a few fly-on-the-wall observations of the astrophysicist’s blog that I’d like to share. First, the writer is clearly an anti-theist with an agenda, but he did his homework. He knows why he believes what he believes. In contrast, the Christian commenters argued their points of view; but, in this case, they did not seem well-versed or prepared for the writer’s in-depth, well-researched critiques on their comments. Shouldn’t we as Christians become intimately knowledgeable of the doctrine upon which we stand? I argue we should be. If I was to use a successful example, I would point to Paul. Detailed knowledge of the Torah was a critical part of his ministry. He was well-educated and knew the opposing point of view of his intellectual, religious peers better than most scholars of the day. Second, the Christian commenters on astrophysicist’s blog mainly used Scripture to prove their statements. I’m not sure arguing scripture with a non believer is productive. After all, the author dedicated his whole blog site to discrediting the Bible; therefore, any “proof” was already invalid in his mind. I would submit if we only use the Bible to argue against someone else’s belief, we’ve already failed the debate.

Scripture is a great thing. I’m not trying to dismiss its importance; however, the core of our beliefs should be based on our relationship with God instead of doctrine. If I had spoken to the writer, I might have provided a personal testimony about my relationship with Jesus and how that has radically transformed my life. I would have told him about the debilitating anxiety disorder that controlled me and generations of my family; but Jesus freed me from that lifelong struggle in a moment of prayer. It is likely the writer would have dismissed such testimony because he didn’t experience my personal transformation for himself, but at least the discussion might have disarmed his defensive stance and the scientifically-based, intellectual argument which he is clearly better equipped to make than I. At this point, after such a vile, out-of-control thread on his blog, I don’t plan to leave a comment. Any well-meaning thought would probably not be well received at this point anyway.

I realized before leaving the blog site, I found myself frustrated with the overall discussion. We as Christians should be prepared for discussions with other people we encounter. People who don’t believe what we believe are going to have different views and values about things we hold as core truths. We shouldn’t be shocked by this fact, and we should be careful not to feed and validate a negative stereotype they may already have about Christianity. Once we validate a negative stereotype, the doorway to discussion with the other person shuts — sometimes permanently. We impact people we interact with whether we think we do or not.

We should also remember not everyone feels what we feel. If you’ve never experienced a relationship with God, you don’t know you’re missing anything. There’s nothing to which the feeling can be compared. Trying to argue with someone who doesn’t know God about faith is a bit like encountering someone who speaks a different language and speaking more loudly in a futile attempt to make the other person understand. This is a silly example that I borrowed from a friend, but he’s right. It just doesn’t work that way.

All that said, it is important to remember it is not our job to change someone’s heart. Only God can do that (Matthew 13). We are simply called to bear witness to the truth of change in our own lives and represent Him well. Be gracious, quick to forgive and always willing to listen before attempting to argue a point of view. The way I see it, God is certainly more capable than I when it comes to defending Him. He doesn’t need my help.

Lasting Happiness

Earlier this week, a friend shared an article with me about maintaining lasting happiness. Since my friend thought the article was useful, I agreed to read it. After all, we can all benefit from learning positive techniques to better ourselves, right?

smilesAccording to the article, psychological studies over the past several years have consistently shown many of us are dissatisfied with our lives and depressed due to daily pressures, stressful life circumstances, money concerns or family strife. The article’s author followed the analysis by giving several suggestions on how to maintain happiness: act happy even if you don’t feel it, indulge more frequently in pampering yourself and focus on the things you have and not on the things you don’t.

An Analysis

The article, although well-meaning, seems to provide little comfort for anyone who has suffered with long-term situational depression or difficult moments in life. I know, at least for me, the solutions the author suggested to maintain happiness rarely ever equal anything lasting. However, I will concede to the fact that feelings associated with experiencing happiness can temporarily relieve mental anguish. I also agree there are benefits to filling our lives with encouraging people and things that reinforce positivity and improve our general sense of wellbeing. But if happiness is temporary, what is long lasting?

Why the Difference between Happiness and Joy Matters

As a follower of Christ, I have learned over the years that happiness is a byproduct of joy and a renewed mind, meaning happiness is a product of what resides in the deepest recesses of our hearts (Romans 12:2). I may seem too picky about separating the terms “happiness” and “joy” which most people swap out interchangeably; however, these terms are starkly different from each other. It’s important to recognize and discuss these differences within Christian circles as well as with non-believing friends to discover lasting fulfillment in our lives.

Like anything we choose to make a primary focus in life, “happiness” can become an idol, which, like a spoiled, needy child, constantly demands attention. I believe this is why so many people who seek permanent happiness outside of spiritual fulfillment in Christ never find it. Life happens. Things go wrong. We experience great sorrows. Suddenly, happiness becomes non-existent.

Just as happiness is a byproduct of joy, joy is a byproduct of the One who lives within me. It is not dependent on my circumstances or emotions of the moment. I have joy so that I may bless others and wear it as a living testament of a life changed by the love, mercy and grace of Jesus. It is my identity in Christ, and when I use the gift of joy to bless others, I find the true meaning of long-lasting joy and fulfilling happiness.

When I use the gift of joy to bless others, I find the true meaning of long-lasting joy and fulfilling happiness.

Personal Lessons Learned

A couple of years ago, I experienced several painful sorrows. Those hard moments defined the weakest and most human aspects of my life. During that time, I forgot my identity. Although my happiness was completely gone for several long weeks and months, I never truly lost my joy and hope in Christ for a new day just beyond the dark clouds.

It is likely many of us have faced or will face hard times at least once in our lives. If you are struggling to find joy in your circumstances, you are not alone. Keep going. There is hope just beyond your clouds of sorrow.

Peace, love and joy to you, dear readers.
The In-Place Missionary

Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols, and Ponderings Series Part 4 – Abraham and Isaac

The story of Abraham’s (almost) The crosssacrifice of his son Isaac is one of those awe inspiring faith builders that initially inspired me to write the blog series “Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols, and Ponderings.” If you’ve questioned whether or not the Bible is truly the Word of God or wondered about the relevance of the Old Testament to your own life, I hope this story will show some links between the two testaments.

Parallel 1:

  • Abraham and Isaac: God promised Abraham’s family line would be more numerous than the stars in the heavens (Genesis 15:4-5 and 21:12). This promise was fulfilled through Isaac many years later after almost a lifetime of anticipation.
  • Jesus: The long awaited promise of the coming of Isaac can be paralleled with Old Testament prophecies of the anticipated coming of the Messiah.  For example: the prophecies in Isaiah were written more than 500 years before Christ’s birth (Isaiah 43 and many other references).

Parallel 2:

  • Abraham and Isaac: The Bible says Sarah laughed when she realized she was pregnant at the age of 90. Abraham was 100 years old. Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children naturally; therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude the birth of Isaac was miraculous. Amazingly, Abraham and Sarah had several more children after Isaac’s birth!
  • Jesus: Mary, who was a virgin, became pregnant with Jesus (Luke 1:34-38).

Parallel 3:

  • Abraham and Isaac: Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac, his only son whom he loved.
    • Isaac was a direct ancestor to Jesus.
    • Abraham also had a son named “Ishmael”, but out of impatience with God, he was born to the servant named Hagar. Therefore, Ishmael was not part of the line of Jesus; however, God blessed Ishmael’s family line because he was also Abraham’s son (Genesis 21:14; 22:2).
  • Jesus: Father God called Jesus His only beloved Son (Matthew 17:5).

Parallel 4:

  • Abraham and Isaac: Isaac was offered as a burnt sacrifice (Genesis 22:2).
  • Jesus: Jesus was offered as the sacrifice to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

Parallel 5:

Parallel 6:

  • Abraham and Isaac: In addition to Isaac, Abraham took two men with him to Moriah (Genesis 22:3).
  • Jesus: Jesus was sacrificed beside two thieves (John 19:18).

Parallel 7:

  • Abraham and Isaac: Isaac carried the wood to be used for the burn offering (Genesis 22:6).
  • Jesus: Jesus carried a wooden cross.

Parallel 8:

  • Abraham and Isaac: Abraham bound Isaac and laid him upon the wood (Genesis 22:9).
  • Jesus: Jesus was nailed to the wooden cross (John 19:17).

Parallel 9:

  • Abraham and Isaac: Isaac knew his father was going to offer him as a sacrifice, but he willingly went to the place of his death (Genesis 22:7-8).
  • Jesus: Jesus could have freed Himself or called down the angels to rescue Him. He was God after all! Instead, He willingly offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins (John 12:23-24).
    • “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)

Parallel 10:

  • Abraham and Isaac: Isaac was offered as a sacrifice at the end of a three day journey to the mountain in Moriah. He was essentially dead to Abraham the moment God commanded him to sacrifice his son. But because of God’s promise to make Isaac’s family line more numerous than the stars, Abraham trusted God would raise his son from the dead if he was sacrificed (Hebrews 11:17-19).
    • Instead of allowing Abraham to sacrifice his son, God provided a ram as a sacrificial substitute. The ram redeemed Isaac, essentially bringing him back from death (resurrection from physical death).
    • Although Abraham told Isaac that God would provide the lamb, a ram is given by God as a sacrifice. Did Abraham have it wrong? No. The use of the word “lamb” foretold the story of Christ who would become the “Lamb” according to John 8:56 which states: “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”
  • Jesus: Jesus was dead for three days and on the third day He resurrected, eventually returning back to His Father. Jesus was the Lamb who was sacrificed as the substitute for our sins and redeemed us from spiritual death (Matthew 12:40, Matthew 17:23, and Acts 10:40).

The comparison above was first mentioned to me by a good friend of mine who is an amazing teacher of Biblical truths. She taught me how to look for parallels between the Old and New Testament.  As a result, this type of research has greatly strengthened and reinforced my faith and ignited a passion for studying the Word. Thank goodness for wonderful friends who help us grow!

I hope this comparison and the “Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols, and Ponderings” series will ignite the same passion for you!

Faith, Evangelism, and the Non-Believer

I hope you enjoy this heartfelt post by a dear friend about his view of the world from an atheist’s eyes. – The In-Place Missionary

Faith, Evangelism, and the Non-Believer by Eternally Grateful

A friend and I were talking one day about life prior to my recent conversion. For most of my adult life, I would have said I was an atheist. For people who have been raised in church, with God being part of their life ever since they could remember, it is probably difficult to understand the atheist’s perspective. After all, how could anyone reject something so important as God? My friend and I found ourselves agreeing it would be interesting to attempt to articulate the view of the non-believer from the perspective of someone who, until very recently, used to be one.

Atheists, Agnostics, and the Hard Numbers

It was difficult to decide how to approach writing this article due to the many misconceptions about atheism. So, I decided to start with the basics and take a look a couple of definitions. Most dictionaries or encyclopedias define “atheism” as a lack of belief in a deity of any kind. Whereas an “agnostic” is often defined as someone who “neither believes or disbelieves” or someone who believes there is just not enough information to determine whether there is a supreme being or not. Atheists and agnostics are a rather small, disjointed group according to a Pew research poll (Pew Forum On Religion & Public Life / U.S. Religious Landscape Survey) conducted in 2007). The poll asked Americans about their religious beliefs and reported 1.6% of Americans said they were atheist; while 2.4% were agnostic. Another 6.3% of Americans claim to be secular unaffiliated. If I were to sum up the numbers, about 10% of Americans do not believe in God. I can confirm the statistics are basically right because I lived it for almost 40 years.

Some people would have you believe the country is over-run with atheists and secular humanists. Obviously, there are a few small groups who make attempts to draw attention to themselves or injustices they see. Some groups are even attempting to ‘evangelize’ using methods normally attributed to an aggrandizing televangelist; however, the number of atheists and agnostics is relatively small by my standards.

What Does It Mean to be an Atheist?

In the end, the term “atheist” is just a label. Like all labels, it just makes it easier for us to categorize things; however, when one looks deeper, things are not as they appear nor do they always fit nicely inside a box. Just like Christians, the atheists I’ve met were a diverse group, and they came from all walks of life. Some had religion in their childhood, some did not. Some were liberal while some were conservative. Some were highly educated, some not. Some believed in spirits or other forces that come to play occasionally in the realms of man. Others did not.

For me personally, being atheist meant:

  • There is no all-knowing, all-powerful being who was creator of the universe.
  • I walk alone, and I was good with that.
  • I don’t care (apathy) regarding the human condition. It is what it is.
  • I don’t matter. In a universe that is billions of years old and populated with an uncountable number of galaxies where each is populated by an uncountable number of stars, my 50 plus years of existence on this rather smallish planet is really quite insignificant.

My Negative Perceptions about Christianity

As an atheist, I felt religion was not the basis of morality or justice, but was based on a social contract between individuals. I saw Christians lie, cheat, and steal just like everyone else, so what was so special about them? Experiences throughout my life furthered my negative perceptions about Christianity when it became apparent that at least some had hidden agendas. The Christians I encountered were often judgmental and hypocritical and tried to “convert” others to their specific brand of Christianity instead of genuinely loving people without any strings attached.

Public prayers during secular sporting events, public meetings, etc. were extremely uncomfortable for me. I always felt like it created an expectation to “go along” with it even if I didn’t agree. If I didn’t participate, I was “bad.” The “moment of silence” made me feel even worse because I viewed it as an attempt by Christians to get other religious groups to gang up on us non-believers. To this day, even as a born again Christian, I still cringe sometimes when there are secular events with public prayers because I don’t want unbelievers to feel excluded or forced like I did.

It would be easy to blame others for chasing me away from God; but, in the end, it was my decision. At the time, I just didn’t see or feel the way Christians said they did. I didn’t feel the Spirit, and I didn’t want to pretend about what I felt just to fit in.

Looking in the Mirror

I was speaking to a friend of mine recently who lives in the UK. In talking to him, I realized he and I had been going in opposite directions. While I had recently embraced the Message and become born again, he had been slowly drifting away from the Church. He said he was “living the lie” by the motions without truly believing. Although he is a secular humanist, he still takes his 86 year old father to church.

As we were chatting, it became obvious he was trying to steer me away from my new path. In effect, he was evangelizing me! My friend cited Christopher Hitchens as an influence and suggested I read his books or at least view his many Youtube videos with the idea that we would talk again on the issue. I was unfamiliar with the name; but after our conversation, as I had promised, I googled his name and watched some videos.

Mr. Hitchens is a rather well-spoken author known for negative views regarding religion. As I watched the first interview, I could see he was a thoughtful, well-educated man. I could also see a very sick man in the last stages of a battle with terminal cancer. Hitchens passed away in 2011. In all honesty, I would have to say I agreed with about 95% of what he said in the interview about man, human society, and religion. I’m willing to bet most believers would agree with a lot of his comments as well. I haven’t read his books or seen all of his public commentary, so it’s possible there are a few inflammatory statements associated with him; however, I’m sure there have been more than a few unkind words thrown in his direction by believers as well. All unkind words and inflammatory statements aside, I am reminded we are still all God’s children.

If someone says they are not a believer, do we really need to criticize them for being honest? They are just telling you what they feel. They have no connection to God. Why attack the messenger, especially when they are telling the truth? If someone tells us it is raining, should we be critical of them because we would rather hear it is sunny outside?

Today, as I write this, I thank God for the opportunity to hear Mr. Hitchen’s words spoken so honestly and eloquently, as they reinvigorate me to find a way to reach those who need Him most. I also pray for mercy for Mr. Hitchens, as I do for my parents and other family members who may not have known our Savior. In my heart, I know I can do no less.

Reaching Out to Others

So, how does one reach an atheist or like-minded person with the message of salvation? That’s not an easy question to answer. I’ll tell you first what doesn’t work. Preaching “fire and brimstone” or trying to force the message on a non-believer does not only fail, but would likely be counter-productive. The harm done by this is incalculable, in my opinion, for the audience will often reject the message as well as the messenger.

I think it’s better to engage each person in a positive manner. Throughout my life, I have found the tone of dialogue changes as one person gets to know another. You don’t have to agree with someone to respect his or her point of view. Try to look at things from the other person’s point of view. Everyone has to deal with the pain of living. Let us not cause someone to close his or her mind to the message and thus the door to salvation.

Also, what do non-believers know about you and your faith? Are you modeling Christ or a persona with perfect hair and flashy charisma? In my experience, people tend to avoid the high pressure salesman; but they will listen and even enlist input from people they trust like close friends. If they see the way you live and the peace you have, they may at some point say, “Hey, I think I’d like to know more about that.” And if the time is right, at some point they may decide they want that too.

Through New Eyes

Less than a year ago, I became born again. I was conquered by love, not fear. One of the things that became almost an obsession with me from the start was to address what I see as a major problem with the Church as a whole. Specifically, we Christians need to do a better job of reaching out to

My friend's baptism
My friend’s baptism

non-believers. We must live the gospel and reach out with love in our hearts. God loves all His children, and we must never forget that.

For those who have spent all or most of their life in the Church, let me say this: We must remember a nonbeliever does not know the joy we know through Him. We must also remember a non-believer may also bear scars from prior encounters from our fellow Christians. We must be inclusive and empathetic, open minded and thick-skinned, and most of all, we need to love on non-believers as we do believers. As I look at my lost brothers and sisters, I feel their pain and loneliness; however, because God loves ALL his children, I am forever grateful and hopeful.

Our time here on earth is all about relationships with other people, as well as, our relationship with God. It’s important to invest the lives of others and sincerely get to know them. We can say things as a friend we cannot say as a stranger. It is impossible to know someone’s needs until you get to know the person.  Listen to the still, small voice and remember to use a still small voice in your relationships with others. Colossians 4:5-6 NLT:

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.

I realize as I write this post how much I need to work on forgiveness. How can I expect God’s forgiveness yet not forgive others who hurt me when I was a non-believer? I know I’ve got a long way to go; but with God’s help, I will get there.

Two final thoughts:

  • The first is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words.” I love that saying! One must absolutely live the gospel first.
  • The second thought is inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 and came to me first through the gift of music (Proof of Your Love, by For King and Country):

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day,
and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere.

So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

I pray that I never be a rusty gate.