Profiles: St. Patrick

Every March 17th there are parades and the wearing and drinking of the color green all in the name of St. Patrick’s day. But who was St. Patrick and why should there be a day to celebrate him? As we have previously looked at St. Nicolas and St. Valentine, St. Patrick is no different in that who he was can be an inspiration to us today as one who loved God and sought to live according to His ways.

What is know about him largely comes from his own writing or Confessions. An upper-class Briton, whose grandfather was a Church leader, Patrick himself was not a dedicated believer until after he was kidnapped and enslaved at the age of 16 by Irish pirate invaders. Patrick would be in captivity for 6 years before escaping back to Britain and his family. Two important things happened to him during this time, he would learn the Irish language and he would turn to the faith of his grandfather and dedicate his life to Christ.

Not much is known about his time back in Britain but that he studied the Word so much so that one writer referred to him as, “a man of one book.” We also know that it was through a dream in which he heard, “the voice of the Irish” pleading with him to return that he would know his calling to Ireland. While he was met with much persecution Patrick confessed, “I am very much God’s debtor, who gave me such great grace that many people were reborn in God through me.” It is said that thousands were converted through his missionary efforts from pagan idolatry. “Bound by the Spirit,” Patrick would live the rest of his days in Ireland giving his life for the Irish and for the gospel.

Whether or not you wear green this Friday, I pray that we would remember Patrick and be encouraged to have the same dedication and commitment to the spreading of the gospel that Patrick had and be reminded that, whatever the situation you find yourself in, God can turn it around and use it for His glory.

 

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Profiles: St. Valentine

On Tuesday, couples all over the world will be celebrating romantic love, exchanging flowers and chocolates, there may even be a wedding anniversary (Pam and Phil Stratmoen). But who is St. Valentine and why do we celebrate love in his name every February 14th?

While much of what is known of Valentine may be legend truth can still be learned from what is told about his life. In the Third Century AD, Claudius II was Emperor of the Roman Empire. As Emperor he persecuted Christians and also got involved in wars that were not popular. Because of this many men were not joining the military so in an attempt to get more men to join, Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage believing men would be more willing to fight if they didn’t have wives and families to worry about at home. Due to this edict and the Christian belief in the sacredness of marriage between one man and one woman for life, Valentine, a priest, or possible a Bishop, secretly married young couples in the church. Eventually Valentine was caught and tortured and sent to prison. It is here that legend sets in but stories are told that while in prison he met one of the judges, Asterius. This particular judges daughter was blind and when Valentine prayer for her she was healed and received her sight. This resulted in the salvation of Asterius and his household! When sent before Emperor Claudius, Valentine began to gain favor with him until he tried to persuade him to become a Christian. Claudius disagreed and, instead, ordered Valentine to be executed by beheading on February 14th.

Whether you’re single or married and whether you celebrate Valentine’s day or not, remember Valentine’s stance for godly, true marriage. With all the false ideas of love in the world, let us, like Valentine, stand for Biblical marriage no matter what the world says!

 

Quoting Scripture

Paul tells Timothy to, “Study to show yourself approved by God, a workman who need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2Tim. 2:15, MEV).  The New Living Translation says, “Who correctly explains the Word of Truth.”  As a Christian, we need to use God’s Word, the Bible, carefully and study it daily.  With this in mind, I recently wrote a post on Facebook about something that is quite important to me. To a certain extent, I sometimes feel like Jesus when He went into the temple and, with righteous anger, threw out those who were not honoring God and the temple. If there is one thing that gets me upset, in righteous way, it is when people misuse the Word of God, when they quote it the wrong way.

Social media is a great tool that I am thankful is available to us but, it also becomes a platform where many people want to share their opinions. For us as Christians, the Bible is the Word of God. It is truth and should be the lens in which we view all of life. It is the foundation of our worldview and it is powerful! With that in mind, I am not opposed to anyone quoting from it and sharing their love for God using the platform of social media, but if we, or anyone else, chooses to quote Scripture there are a few things that we need to consider.

First of all, if we choose one verse, are we using it in the context of all of Scripture? Let me give you an example, you could quote a verse about David having more than one wife and try to make a case for polygamy, but knowing all of Scripture, we understand that this is not God’s plan. When quoting a verse, be sure it properly applies to the situation or argument that is at hand. One verse should not be used as the basis for an entire stance on a certain subject.

Another thing to keep in mind, as I said before, the Bible should inform our beliefs and not be used to support our own personal opinions. I may feel a certain way about a subject but if I use one verse to support my opinion as opposed to studying all of the Bible to make sure my opinion is in line with God’s Word, I am not understanding the Bible the way it was intended.

We also need to be consistent. It is easy to be passionate about one topic and know what God has to say about it but, I believe, we need to care about all that is on God’s heart. There are plenty of wrongdoings and injustices in the world and some will hit home with us more than others but, again, let Scripture inform all areas of life!

Lastly, when it comes to social media, be gracious to those you disagree with. Quoting the Bible but not acting or speaking in love towards others can ruin your testimony and turn them off to ever searching the Bible for themselves.

 

 

 

Profiles: Ignatius

The early church, under Emperor Trajan, faced harsh persecution as he passed an edict that all Roman subjects were required to sacrifice to the Roman gods. Ignatius, one of the foremost Christian leaders of his time was a prime target and was tried by the Emperor himself when he came to Antioch, where Ignatius was bishop. During the trial it was clear that Ignatius would not turn from the truth he believed as he declared to Trajan, “There is only one God, the maker of heaven and earth, and the seas, and all that is in them. He is the one, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God whose Kingdom I desire to enjoy.” When Trajan pronounced the sentence, that he be bound and sent to Rome to be devoured by wild beast, he was surprised at Ignatius’ reaction who prayed, “O Lord, I thank you that you have guaranteed to honor me with a perfect love toward You.” In the following months as Ignatius was taken to Rome, he used the time to write to and encourage Christians along the way. Seven of his letters, including one to his friend Polycarp, have survived. Upon his arrival in Rome, Ignatius was submitted to more torture but his faith only grew bolder. At this he was sent to the arena where two lions were released that quickly devoured him gaining him the triple honor of Apostle, bishop and martyr.

Proverbs 28:1 says, “The wicked flew when no man pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” Ignatius faced death with no fear knowing that he was “the righteousness of God in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:21) When we live our lives knowing that we are not righteous in and of ourselves but it is Christ in us, we can live with the same boldness as Ignatius. While it is interesting that one as bold as a lion was devoured by lions it shows that when we stand for truth and righteousness it won’t always be easy but we can do so without fear.

 

The Wise Shepherd King

Every year many of us dig out dust covered boxes from basements and closets to start decorating for Christmas. For many of us, among those decorations a Nativity set can be found. My parents still have, and set up the same one from when I was a child. Each set contains the characters that we have come to know from the accounts of Christ’s birth in Luke and Matthew. The shepherds and the wise men always play a prominent role with small statues of sheep and a camel nearby. Much has been taught about the significance of these visitors to baby Jesus. It seems as though God wanted all demographics of society to know that a King had been born. The rich and wise and the poor, blue collar workers alike were invited to worship the One who would be the Savior and Lord to all. I believe this to be true but I also see how these visitors represent something more as well. I believe they also point to who Jesus would become.

First, let’s look at the shepherds. Shepherds, of course, were charged with the care of a flock of sheep both providing food and protection. We see in John 10 Jesus explaining His role as the “Good Shepherd” saying He, “lays down His life for the sheep” and, “I know my sheep and am known by my own.” (Vs. 11, 14) Jesus has laid down His life for us and has provided us with all we need.

Second, the Magi. While there is much speculation as to who these men were, we at least know that they were wealthy and functioned in a number of areas of expertise as teachers, physicians and astrologers. These truly were wise men. What, then, do we see from Jesus? A great teacher, one who sought the sick and not the healthy and one who is greater and more wise than Solomon. These Magi also brought gifts to the new born King and, again, we see Jesus as the giver of the Holy Spirit to us and the One who, “ascended on high…and gave gifts to men.” (Eph. 4:8)

This year when you admire your prominently displayed Nativity scene, look at the shepherds and Wise Men and be reminded that the baby in the manger is now our good shepherd and only wise King reigning in heaven for eternity!

Profiles: St. Nicholas

As the weather gets colder and the holidays approach there are many images and traditions that come to mind. Turkey, Christmas trees and, of course, Santa Claus. To find the origin of Santa, first known as St. Nicholas, we must go back through the centuries to the southern coast of modern day Turkey. It was here that a young Nicholas would lose his wealthy parents but take seriously Jesus’ words to sell all and give to the poor. While it is hard to separate truth from legend in regards to his life, we can at least determine from the stories about him that he was a man who gave his life for the poor and needy and stood strongly for the Gospel.

One story that stands out is that of three daughters of a poor man. In those times, for women to marry the father was expected to provide a dowry to the prospective husband. These daughters would unlikely marry and may even be forced into slavery without a husband. On three nights St. Nicholas secretly tossed a bag of gold through an open window, where they landed in stockings, or shoes, drying by the fire. Stories like this, and many others, solidified St. Nicholas as a gift giver.

Nicholas also was known for his unwavering belief in the truth. He suffered persecution under the Roman Emperor, Diocletian, being exiled and imprisoned and later would attend the First Council of Nicaea. At this council a controversy arose concerning the nature and relationship of Jesus to God the Father. Nicholas was strongly opposed to the false view that Jesus was not equally God to the point that he was said to have struck the face of Arius, the primary leader of the opposing view. While this incident is likely legendary, the view of Nicholas’ unwavering stance for truth is unmistakable.

This year when you see Santa remember the real St. Nicholas. Remember the love of Christ he shared with others and do the same. Remember his stance for truth no matter the cost and be willing to do the same.

For more information on St. Nicholas this website is a great resource to learn more about the man behind the legend: http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/home/

st-nicholas

Seasons

After living in Texas for the past two years, one thing that has been a welcome sight, since we have moved back, is the changing of seasons. Upon moving in July we have witnessed the corn field across from us go from a lush green to a golden tan to being harvested, tilled and now (at the time of writing. It has melted for the time being), snow covered. Experiencing these changes is a good reminder that we all go through different seasons in our own lives. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 says that there is a time and season for everything.

Having children has reminded me that we need to learn to enjoy the season we are in. In the hot summer we get our swimsuits on and go cool down, in the winter we get on our gear and build a snow fort and a snow man. Look for the ways God is using the season you are in to grow and challenge you because we know He is using it all for our good.

We may not always enjoy the season that we are going through, both in our lives and the climate, but God has promised that He will never change through it. Isaiah 40:8 says that His word stands forever and Hebrews 13:8 declares that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Whether it is a dry season, a dark one or a plentiful one, be encouraged and know that He and His love will never go away (Rom. 8:31-39) and His unchanging promises can be clung to like a strong tower and refuge (Pro. 18:10).

 

Polycarp: Disciple, Bishop, Martyr

In Sunday’s Bulletin (Oct. 23), I published a short article about Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, which I have also posted here on the website if you missed it.  The following, however, is a more in depth research paper I wrote in school about Polycarp.  I hope you enjoy!

In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John writes to the church in the Asian Minor city of Smyrna (modern day Izmir, Turkey), “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer…Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (2:10, MEV)  These words were most likely familiar to Polycarp (69-155 AD), a man that was taught by the Apostle John[1] and eventually appointed as the Bishop of Smyrna[2].  These words would also prove to be prophetic to Polycarp as he would be put to death as a martyr[3].  When looking back through the history of the church there are many leaders that stand out as reformers and revivalist who were great catalysts of change, but Polycarp stands out as one who maintained the truth taught to him by those who were originally entrusted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and as one who lived a life of righteousness and integrity before all.  He is also set apart in that he trained faithful men to carry on the work and teaching of the Gospel and was committed to the truth, willing to sacrifice his life for the sake of the Gospel.  Because of this, Polycarp’s life and death is one worth studying as it is a pattern for Christian leaders to this day who want to be trained to teach and live out the Gospel.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a disciple is, “one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another as a convinced adherent of a school or individual.”[4]  This definition perfectly describes Polycarp as seen in his own writing and in the writings of others concerning him.  One surviving document, a letter written by Polycarp to the Philippians consists of numerous quotes taken from the Gospel accounts and from the writings of the Apostle Paul.  In it Polycarp writes, “Neither am I, nor is any other like me, able to follow the wisdom of the blessed and glorious Paul.”[5]  Even at this early stage in church history, Polycarp recognized the authority of Paul and his writings that would later be canonized as scripture.  In a more direct way we see Polycarp as a disciple of the Apostle John, among others.  Irenaeus, a student of Polycarp[6], in his work, Against Heresies, says, “Polycarp also was…instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ… having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true.”[7]  As a disciple, Polycarp was also a faithful teacher allowing the true Gospel to be carried from one generation to the next and much of the way he did this was through a life of love and integrity.

A problem in the modern church is not a lack of charismatic preachers with great personalities and sermons, a problem today is the lack of integrity and character that these leaders can often possess.  Polycarp stands in stark contrast to such men.  One writer describes him as the, “benign and beloved bishop…Revered for the quality of his life rather than the profundity of his teaching.”[8]  This quality of life can be seen in his care for others as a fellow bishop, Ignatius, on his way to Rome to be martyred, stopped in Smyrna where, “Polycarp…sought to minister to his needs”[9] and “befriended him.”[10]  The account of Polycarp’s martyrdom records that he had food and drink brought to the arresting officers.[11]  These are only a few examples of the compassion and integrity that characterized his life but, perhaps, one of the greatest events of Polycarp’s life to learn from is his death

To claim to be a Christian in the second century Roman Empire and refuse to sacrifice to and worship multiple gods could mean harsh persecution and even martyrdom.  Due to Polycarp’s reputation and leadership, he was a prime target and his denial of Christ or death would have been welcomed by the pagan society and government.  After his capture, as he was brought into the local arena, the proconsul attempted to get him to deny Christ saying, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar. Take the oath and I will release you. Curse Christ!”[12]  Polycarp’s response is perhaps his most famous words saying, “Eighty-six years have I served the Lord Jesus Christ, and He never once wronged me. How can I blaspheme my King who has saved me?”[13] A witness to the truth until the end, Polycarp was to die by being burned at the stake.  When the fire was lit something miraculous happened.  Eye-witnesses recount, “He was in the midst of the fire, not as burning flesh but as gold and silver refined in a furnace. And we smelled such a sweet aroma as of incense or some other precious spice.”[14] When the fire would not burn him the executioner was ordered to stab him, ending his life.

Looking back through the history of the Church, there are many men, women and movements that have changed the world and yet these would not have been possible except for faithful ones in the beginning who carried the movement that was Christianity beyond the first Apostles.  Polycarp was one of these.  Through his life of teaching the truth, living with great integrity and love and dying as a martyr, he perpetuated the Gospel to the next generation.  These examples and events are only but a few. Much more could be written about his prayer life[15] and his confrontation with a heretic[16] but any study of him will reveal the importance for leaders in the Church today to focus on the life he lived for he, “acquired the crown of immortality, he now, with the apostles and all the righteous, glorifies God the Father with joy, and blesses our Lord Jesus Christ.”[17]

Bibliography:

  • Barker, William P. “Polycarp” from The Portable Seminary, General Editor, David Horton. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2006
  • Dc Talk and Voice of the Martyrs. Jesus Freaks, Stories of those who stood for Jesus: The Ultimate Jesus Freaks. Tulsa, OK: Albury Publishing, 1999
  • Haykin, Michael A.G. Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011
  • Hyatt, Eddie L. 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity, Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2002

Online:

[1] Dc Talk, 136; Hyatt,16

[2] Haykin, 38; Irenaeus, Against Heresies III. 3.4. www.earlychristianwritings.com/polycarp.html

[3] Dc Talk, 136-138

[4] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/disciple

[5] Polycarp, Polycarp to the Philippians. www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/polycarp-lake.html

[6] Hyatt, 16

[7] Irenaeus, Against Heresies III. 3.4.

[8] William P. Barker, 438

[9] Haykin, 38

[10] Ibid, 39

[11]  See The Martyrdom of Polycarp, section 7. www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/polycarp

[12] Dc talk, 136

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid, 137

[15] See The Martyrdom of Polycarp, section 5.

[16] He calls Marcion, “the first-born of Satan.”  See Irenaeus, Against Heresies III 3.4.

[17] The Martyrdom of Polycarp, Section 19

Profiles: Polycarp

Polycarp is considered one of the original church fathers. He was known to have been a spiritual son and disciple of the Apostle John and was himself considered “an apostolic and prophetic teacher.” It is in his martyrdom that much inspiration can be found. By the time he was arrested and captured he was an elderly man but strong in faith. As he entered a loud arena, cheering at the capture of the well-known Bishop of Smyrna, he, as well as the believers who came to witness, heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man.” As he stood before the proconsul he was given multiple chances to deny and curse Christ to which he replied, “Eighty-six years have I served the Lord Jesus Christ, and He never once wronged me. How can I blaspheme my King who has saved me?” The proconsul realized no threat would change his mind so a bonfire of dry wood was prepared and a stake to nail him to. Polycarp refused to be nailed saying, “Leave me as I am; He who gives me strength to endure the fire will enable me to remain still within the fire.” With a final prayer the fire was lit and as the flames rose higher something miraculous happened. Witnesses recount, “He was in the midst of the fire, not as burned flesh but as gold and silver refined in a furnace. And we smelled such a sweet aroma as of incense or some other precious spice.” Not dying in the fire, the executioner was ordered to stab him, with it Polycarp’s blood spilt with such force that it extinguished the flames.

Paul writes that we are to be a, “living sacrifice.” He writes in another place that we are, “to God a sweet fragrance of Christ among those who are saved and among those who perish. To the one we are the fragrance of death, which brings death, and to the other the fragrance of life, which brings life.” Our lives as Christians are to be lives surrendered to Christ and His Kingdom. As we live this way some will understand and “smell” the sweet fragrance of our faith and actions and there will be others who don’t understand, yet we, like Polycarp, must pray to remain within the fire so we can be refined and be an example to others. Remember Polycarp and be encouraged to live a life of sacrifice for others all to the glory of God that we might be a sweet aroma to Him!

 

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