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Entering the Trail to True Freedom

Today is a special day in the United States of America, the birthday of our nation and the day we focus on the liberty and freedom God has blessed us with as a nation. But there is an even more essential freedom than political freedom.

As I was reading today in Breaking Free, by Beth Moore, I was reminded that the key to true freedom is knowing Jesus Christ personally. As Beth says, “Christ is the only entrance to the freedom trail.”

John 8: 36 expresses the truth so clearly: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

One of the most beautiful elements of salvation is its simplicity. Christ has already done all the work on the cross. Your response includes four elements:

  1. Recognize that you are a sinner and that there is nothing you can do to save yourself.
  2. Acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and only He can save you.
  3. Believe that His death on the Cross paid the penalty for your sin, that He died on your behalf
  4. Surrender your life to Him and ask Him to be your Savior and Lord.

If you do not know Christ personally, there is no better time to make that decision than today. If you already know Christ, is your relationship distant, close and personal, or somewhere in the middle? Knowing Christ begins with an initial decision, but growing in our knowledge of Him is an on-going process. My prayer for this day our nation turns it’s focus on freedom is that each of you will experience the freedom that comes from personally knowing Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and growing daily in your knowledge of Him.

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St. Patrick’s Day: The True Story Behind the Annual Celebration

St. Patrick’s Day, celebrated each year on March 17th, is about more than shamrocks and leprechauns. St. Patrick’s Day commemorates the life of an early Christian missionary.

In the fifth century, Ireland was a beautiful island enshrouded in violence and spiritual darkness. Warlords and druids ruled the land. But one man would be used by God to break through the darkness and introduce the light of Christ to this heathen land.

The man we now know as St. Patrick was born in Roman ruled Britain to a middle-class Christian family around A.D. 390. The grandson of a priest and son of a deacon, Patrick was exposed early to the truth of the Gospel, yet by the time he was a teenager he had rebelled against his Christian upbringing to the point that he was pratically an atheist.

Then his life took a drastic change for the worse. Irish raiders attacked his home and he was abducted from his village and thrown onto a slave ship headed for Ireland. At 16 years of age he found himself a slave in a foreign land, separated from everything he’d ever known. He was sold to an Irish chieftain named Milchu, who put him to work as a shepherd.

Patrick saw this difficult situation in his life as God’s chastising him, believing he deserved what had happened because of his rejection of the faith of his fathers. And while a slave in Ireland, his life began to change. Instead of becoming bitter, he turned to the God he knew about but had previously refused to acknowledge as his God.

Rev. Brady, the Roman Catholic Archbiship of Armagh and Primate of All of Ireland, says of young Patrick,

“He says, ‘I prayed a hundred times in the day and almost as many at night,’ Through that experience of prayer and trial, he came to know another God — God the Father, who was his protector. He came to know Jesus Christ in those sufferings, and he came to be united with Christ and he came to identify with Christ, and then of course, also the Holy Spirit.”

Patrick’s hard years of slavery came to an end six years later, when during a time of prayer and fasting God spoke to him that he would soon return to his own country and gave him clear direction when it was time to leave. He escaped and traveled 200 miles to the west coast, where he found a ship – the ship God had shown him in prayer – ready to sail. Though at first refused passage, after desperate prayer Patrick was allowed aboard. He returned to his home and family, where he began to study for the ministry.

Patrick had no desire to return to Ireland, but that was exactly what God asked of him. Philip Freeman, author of St. Patrick of Ireland, says:

“One night, he had a dream. There was a man who came from Ireland with a whole bunch of letters. And he opened up one of the letters and it said ‘The Voice of the Irish.’ And then he heard a voice coming out of this letter that said, ‘Holy boy, please return to us. We need you.'”

Patrick struggled in his soul, not convinced this dream was from God and having no desire to return to Ireland and minister to the same people who had enslaved him. Once again, he turned to God in prayer. He received the answer in a dream. God truly was calling him to return to Ireland as a missionary, and he stepped out in obedience to God’s leading.

Patrick gave 29 years of his life to ministry and established the first Christian church in all of Ireland. During that time, he preached the Gospel, baptized over 120,000 Irishmen, and planted 300 churches. Freeman declares, “What Patrick did was really lay the groundwork for Christianity.” Because of Patrick’s willingness to die to his own will and return to Ireland, the land of his suffering, in obedience to the Lord’s call, that nation was forever changed. Reflect on this truth as you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year.

The Christian Origins of Valentine’s Day

This week we celebrate Valentine’s Day. Every year on February 14th, this special day of romance is celebrated through the exchange of cards, chocolate, gifts or flowers with a special “valentine.” What we seldom hear mentioned is where the name of the holiday comes from. The day of romance we call Valentine’s Day is named for a Christian martyr and dates back to the 5th century.

Saint Valentine was a bishop in Rome who lived during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. The Roman Empire was collapsing from corruption within and also facing attack from several fronts, from the Gauls, Slavs, Huns, Turks and Mongolians from Northern Europe and Asia. When Claudius became emperor, he was faced with recruiting many capable men as soldiers and officers to protect the empire from takeover from these foreign aggressors. He believed married men did not make good soldiers because they were too emotionally attached to their families. So to assure top quality soldiers he issued an edict forbidding marriage.

Not surprisingly, this edict met heavy resistance from the people of Rome. As a priest and bishop of the Roman Catholic church, Valentine refused to comply with the emperor regarding this ban on marriage. The church taught that marriage was a sacred union between one man and one woman for their life and that it was to be encouraged. So in spite of the edict from the emperor, Valentine began holding marriage ceremonies in secret. But as his fame in Rome spread, Valentine was caught, imprisoned and tortured. Valentine stood firm in his belief in the sacrament of marriage, and on February 14th, 270 A.D. he was executed for his stand for Christian marriage.

In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius I declared February 14 as “Valentine’s Day” to honor Bishop Valentine. It has since become a yearly celebration of love and romance around much of the world.

As in the time of the Roman Empire and Emperor Claudius II, marriage is again under attack. This year, as you celebrate this special day with the ones you love, reflect back on the history of this holiday. Remember, marriage is God’s plan, given to us as a lifelong relationship between a man and a woman, a gift from God meant to complete us. As Christians, may we like Bishop Valentine stand without compromise for marriage. As the apostle Paul said in Ephesians 5:3, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”