The Apostle Paul was being taken to Rome. Having wintered on an island after a shipwreck, the party resumed the trip.
“After three months we sailed in an Alexandrian ship whose figurehead was the Twin Brothers, which had wintered at the island. And landing at Syracuse, we stayed three days.” (Acts 28:11-12)
Syracuse was the capital of Sicily.
“From there we circled round and reached Rhegium. And after one day the south wind blew; and the next day we came to Puteoli, where we found brethren, and were invited to stay with them seven days. And so we went toward Rome.” (Acts 28:13-14)
I wonder how they did that; how did they “find brethren”?
I think that their brethren stood out. I think they looked different. Sadly, I think most of our brothers and sisters today don’t. As a people we seem to be afraid of looking different and guess what? The enemy is cranking up the heat.
As time goes on people will more and more be offered a chance to compromise their beliefs. Christians will more and more be offered chances to compromise their faith. Christians will more and more be offered chances to walk in fear....or faith. Christians will more and more be offered chances to live the Christian life...or live like everyone else.
One Christian leader I know puts it like this:
“Some of the church will be deceived by the subtlety of this attack. Others will be intimidated by the virulence of the assault against their persons and possessions when they fail to conform. Those whose interests are mainly in their continued well being will accept the offer of provision and protection extended by the new order. The rest will be the true Body of Christ.” (Sam Soleyn – Apostolic Message – Shaking the Heavens and the Earth – 11/28/08)
According to what he believes he is seeing, our faith is about to be under attack like never before since the first century. He believes that in this time of trial the majority of “Christians” will roll over immediately, lured by the promises of a new world religion. This religion will have no flavor at all that would appeal to true followers of Jesus; those who give into it will not be true believers (“trusters” in Christ).
A much smaller group will hold out for a time but when the going gets too rough for them...they will cave in and accept a “church” that accepts paths to salvation other than Jesus. These will not stand firm to the end.
“…take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” (Ephesians 6:13 – NASB)
According to Brother Soleyn, the remainder will be the true Body of Christ. These will be the ones that look different, that don’t fit in.
The Apostle Paul rolled into Puteoli and found others like himself…people that didn’t fit in with the rest of the world.
What would he find among us?
You know, we are under attack from every side. Every day I get emails or phone calls about what “the other side” is up to today. I agree: there is an opposing side. If things work as they should we should be a threat to satan’s kingdom. There SHOULD be an “us” and a “them” but the “them” is not other Christians who don’t believe exactly as we do. The “them” is the world which is under the sway of the wicked one.
“We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19)
Every day a news report comes out about some deception in current or future leadership. Every day births a new rumor about a plan to take this or that Christian freedom away.
Every day we get a new prediction that finances are in the dumper and that all is lost.
Every day someone who hates God, the Bible, Christian principles and truth launches some new attempt to thwart God’s order on the earth. Every day our focus is drawn to what the enemy is planning (through people). Every day I hear from Christians who seem panicked….even afraid…of what seems to be upon us. (I’m honored to hear from them but grieved that the enemy is influencing us so much!)
We find ourselves in a time in which the enemy seems to be gathering up his forces. At the very least the enemy is parading his troops; showing his strength; trying to intimidate us.
As I pondered this I was reminded of one of my favorite scenes in the third Lord of the Rings film. Toward the end of the movie, Aragorn and his men are outside the Black Gates. They have taken the battle to the enemy! (How’s that for a novel idea?)
The gates open and a multitude of the enemy’s minions pour out and stand in formation, encircling the relatively tiny band of fighters. In fact, in that film whenever the enemy comes against the “good guys” they do this – they stand there a while to let their horrible and vast numbers be seen.
Their goal: to intimidate them and cause them to be frozen in fear. They want the hearts of men to shrink and waver. The enemy always wants to control our hearts first and foremost because he knows that whatever controls our hearts will be what we ultimately worship.
In the Lord of the Rings movie, Aragorn rises up as a natural ordained leader. He can see the men in his band reel back in fear when they see the great host that has come against them. Here is what he does in response; he rallies the men:
“Hold your ground! HOLD YOUR GROUND! Sons of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Men comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!” (Aragorn – Return of the King)
And so now, the enemy is once again lining up his forces against the people of God. Except for the days in which Jesus was arrested, tortured and crucified and during the persecutions in the first century Church, it seems the enemy has never been as blatant about his plans as he is now. He aims to dominate our hearts, our focus…our very lives.
NOW is the time for us to decide how we will be. Ultimately, whatever we want....is what we will do. In the end, whatever it is we will have done...is what we will have wanted to do. When our story is over, whatever it is we will have BEEN...is what we will have wanted to BE.
So, now...now is the time to decide.
Who are we? How will we live? How will we be?
Are we followers of Christ? Are we active and aggressive trusters in Christ? (Do we have faith in Him?) Will we live lives that reflect faith or will we allow satan, through fear, to dominate our lives? Will we live like the writer of Hebrews suggested, as he wrote to others who faced difficult times because of their faith?
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)
How will we be? We MUST stand out from the world. We MUST look different - because we ARE different!
Back in Acts 28 Paul rolled into Puteoli and found others like himself - people that didn’t fit in with the rest of the world. Paul found his own kind.
May the Lord find us that way when He rolls in. May we be His own kind!
As a final encouragement I would repeat the words of Aragorn, except that I would like to change a few of them. (My apologies to J. R. R. Tolkein and Peter Jackson.)
I call you to hold your ground! HOLD YOUR GROUND! Sons and daughters of the Most High God, my brothers and sisters! I see in some of your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Christianity on the earth comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Men and Women of Christ!” (Adapted from Aragorn – Return of the King)
Or even better:
“Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you; unless you believed in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)