Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds to their side. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead. But as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe. After preaching the Good News in Derbe and making many disciples, Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia, where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and with prayer and fasting committed them to the Lord, in whom they put their trust.Acts 14:19-23
There is one aspect I need to comment on before I move on to experiencing the things we read. That has to do with an extension of the idea of how God strengths us. Once thing I missed out from the previous Gem but intended to comment on, it just slipped my mind in the rush to finish because I woke late. That one thing is being strengthened to go through hardships. I am sure one of the things Paul and Barnabas would what told the people in each place they went was they need to be prepared for hard times. Because as long as you live on this earth you will have hard times. It is part of life. Bad things will happen to good people. “In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer because I have overcome the world.” I am sure Paul would have made that statement as he strengthened others. But for those of you who are awake this early in the morning know that statement and who said. Well I wrote it because is applies to me. I put it in inverted commas because it was said by someone else. I suspect Paul would have told his hearers or audiences that statement. But of prime importance, the source of the statement is Jesus himself. If Jesus said it, it has to one of life’s truisms.
I have often said to people who say to me day after day when asked how they are and they reply with statements like: “Excellent”, “Always Good”, “I am a Christian, life is always good” – Well, wait a while, it will change. You are living in the midst of a fallen world. Don’t expect life to always be good. There is a sense of inevitability to the fact that difficult times will come. Oh you can learn to rise above them. You can learn to be like Paul and Silas who could sing in prison – that account is still to come. But as sure as death follows life you will encounter hard times. Note what Luke told us that Paul and Barnabas specifically told those they strengthened – “They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” The way Luke writes that statement implies that Paul and Barnabas told every group of people they met wherever they went that entering the kingdom of God brings with it suffering. There are different degrees of suffering. Organisations like Barnabas Fund and Voice of the Martyrs tell us more people are suffering persecution for being Christians in this day and age than in any period in history before this. Making the decision to become a Christian in many places often carries with it a death sentence. Paul and Barnabas were right when they said “we must suffer hardships to enter the kingdom of God”. Hearing the testimony of so many people today I hear the varying degrees of persecution and hardship they experienced to make that step of faith, especially so when they want to be baptized. It is the act of being baptized which most often attracts the opposition and persecution. Why? Because the people around them who are of another persuasion know they are serious about being a Christian and then all of hell reacts against them. I hear that frequently with the people with whom I relate.
But stop and think for a moment. No matter who you are, when you made the decision to become a Christian inevitably you will face opposition, even in a country like New Zealand. Friends, family, workmates will react against you and think you have lost your marbles (gone mad). Simply because the majority are moving along the broad path that leads to destruction in the opposite direction. So you will face those who oppose you for that very reason. I am sure this is one of the factors which influenced Paul and Barnabas to remind people we must suffer hardships to enter the kingdom of God. If they didn’t warn people of this fact then they would not be doing their job well. Don’t let anyone tell you, “Come to Jesus and all your troubles will be gone.” It is simply not true. Rather we should say: Come to Jesus and your troubles will start. Better to tell people the truth of what lies ahead. Making a decision for Christ is not for wimps. Making a decision to follow Christ takes guts, courage, the willingness to be different from the majority of those around you. You know that human beings don’t like you to be different. Different means you will attract their attention in negative ways. People don’t like having people around them who live the kind of life which challenges the onlookers to rethink their position. Just dare to be different and see what happens. You will realize the truth of my statement.
People often ask me what I think about the rapture and when it will happen. “Ian, will the rapture be pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation or post-tribulation?” Most often I evade the question in terms of stating specifically what I think and I say, Consider this. If I believe the rapture will happen before the tribulation but it doesn’t happen until half way through it, that is a problem. Even worse, if I believe the rapture will happen before the tribulation but it doesn’t happen until after it, then that is a bigger problem. I think it is better to be prepared to face tribulation. That way you will be more prepared for it when it comes. Little wonder that Paul and Barnabas strengthened the people with that thought above. It is the only reasonable and logical thing to do. Even more so when new believers are either living in a country prone to persecution or even living in a county which doesn’t have persecution but is one of the Christian countries of the world. People, wake up and face facts. I am now living in New Zealand, a supposed Christian country. Oh yes it was founded on Christian principles and the initial work of the missionaries who came in the formative years. Much like America, Britain etc. But no longer. The majority of people if left to their own desires will reject Christ. That is a recurring refrain of the Bible. Unfortunately is it part of being human. Thus be prepared to face opposition.
There is another angle to all of this. God also uses the difficulties and struggles we go through in order to test our faith and validity of our decision to follow Him. If after making the decision to follow Christ everything became heaven on earth then it wouldn’t take long for observant, thinking people to make the decision for what they could get out of it. However God is smarter than that. He made us. He knows how we think. Like the billionaire needs to know the woman of his dream loves him for who he is and not for the money he has and what she can get. So too God when He asks us to love Him. No I will rephrase that – commands us to love Him. That being the case He uses the circumstance of life on this planet to test out the validity of the confession of our love for him. Go and read the Book of Job again. And just like in the Book of Job, that is why satan opposes you. Enough said.
- I find it amazing Ian that we are reading all about this and you are experiencing it as you write in Jakarta. How can that be?
- I love how God uses you wherever you are. I want Him to use me like that. Tell me how it happens.
- Looks like the enemies of Christianity followed Paul and Barnabas and stirred up the crowd. Sounds like where you are Ian?
If heaven and hell are not real, the teachings of Jesus are null and void and His death and resurrection are needless.Anon
Know the difference between people who love you…and people who love what you do for them!Ian Vail
Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity – it is an act of justice.Nelson Mandela
One of the things that made me long to be back in prison was that I had so little opportunity for reading, thinking and quiet reflection after my release.Nelson Mandela
After one look at this planet, any visitor from outer space would say ‘I want to see the manager’.William S. Burroughs
Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.Martin Luther King
And that is why God so loved that He gave.Ian Vail