“Christ purchased our freedom and redeemed us from the curse of the Law and its condemnation by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs [crucified] on a tree (cross).” Galatians 3:13 AMP
The Law brought a curse. There it stopped short. That was all it could do. The first thing that Jesus did was undo this result of the Law by deliverance from the curse. John 8:36
This deliverance is represented in the form of a ransom. Christ “bought off” the human race from the penalty of its sins, the price paid to be His death, as it says in I Corinthians 6:20:“You were bought with a price [you were actually purchased with the precious blood of Jesus and made His own]. So then, honor and glorify God with your body.”
In the fourth century a champion for God wrote these words:
A Soul Set Free
“Who am I, and what am I? Is there any evil that is not found in my acts, or if not in my acts, in my words, or if not in my words, in my will? But you, O Lord, are good and merciful, and your right hand has had regard for the depth of my death, and from the very bottom of my heart it has emptied out an abyss of corruption. This was the sum of it: not to will what I willed and to will what you willed.
But throughout these long years where was my free will? Out of what deep and hidden pit was it called forth in a single moment, wherein to bend my neck to your mild yoke and my shoulders to your light burden, O Christ Jesus, my helper and my redeemer? How sweet did it suddenly become to me to be free of the sweets of folly: things that I once feared to lose it was now joy to put away. You cast them forth from me, you the true and highest sweetness, you cast them forth, and in their stead, you entered in, sweeter than every pleasure, but not to flesh and blood, brighter than every light, but deeper within me than any secret retreat, higher than every honor, but not to those who exalt themselves. Now was my mind free from the gnawing cares of favor-seeking, of striving for gain, of wallowing in the mire, and of scratching lust’s itchy sore. I spoke like a child to you, my light, my wealth, my salvation, my Lord God.”
THE CONFESSIONS OF
BOOK 9 – A Soul Set Free
“The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission.” John F. Kennedy
The cost to participate in this great American experiment, which we call democracy, has always come at a great cost to some of us. We marched for it. Bled for it. Suffered humiliating indignities for it. And even died for it. We served our country in the military, honorably, to keep it secure and free, yet our struggles are not over.
As I witness the political upheavals in our country today it saddens me. I think of the way it must have been for Jesus when he was laser-focused on setting us free at all costs. The bible says: “Christ purchased our freedom and redeemed us from the curse of the Law and its condemnation by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs [crucified] on a tree (cross).” Galatians 3:13 AMP He paid the price with his own blood.
Jesus paid a high price for our freedom. The brave men and women who fought in Americas’ wars, from the civil war to Afghanistan paid a high price for our freedom. The brave and courageous men and women who marched were beaten and humiliated and died, paid a high price for our freedom. I pray that it all wasn’t in vain.
The burden of renewing our zeal and, summoning the courage and determination, to take this fight up once more has sent the call out to all who love ‘Freedom’ and ‘Justice’. Will you answer the call? As for me and my house, we vote yes!
The space in your heart where the Lord doesn’t reign and rule is an empty space where stray spirits run in and out at will.
When the writer of the book of Hebrews wrote concerning the office and person of our High Priest he said:
“Concerning this, we have much to say, and it is hard to explain since you have become dull and sluggish in [your spiritual] hearing and disinclined to listen. For though by this time you ought to be teachers [because of the time you have had to learn these truths], you actually need someone to teach you again the elementary principles of God’s word [from the beginning], and you have come to be continually in need of milk, not solid food.”
Hebrews 5:11,12 AMP
As followers and co-heirs with Christ, we are obligated to allow His influence to have free access to our whole hearts. Of course, this is something that is not altogether possible instantly. It’s a progressive, conscious and, deliberate course of action.
Before Jesus was arrested, He warned Peter that he would deny Him three times:
“And Peter said to Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with You both to prison and to death!” Jesus said, “I say to you Peter before the rooster crows today, you will [utterly] deny three times that you know Me.”
Luke 22:33,34 AMP
I can just hear some of you saying that this happened before Jesus’ death and resurrection. Before Jesus sent us another comforter [Holy Spirit]. Well, if that is your argument listen to this:
“Now when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him face to face [about his conduct there], because he stood condemned [by his own actions]. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat [his meals] with the Gentiles; but when the men [from Jerusalem] arrived, he began to withdraw and separate himself [from the Gentile believers], because he was afraid of those from the circumcision.”
Galatians 2:11,12 AMP
Peter obviously still had an empty space he hadn’t allowed the Holy Spirit to fill yet. He was ‘afraid’ of what the Jews back in Jerusalem would think about him fellowshipping with gentiles.
How do you recognize an ‘empty space?’ An empty space is one that is unruly, unmanageable, unattended, uninviting, etc.,
In 2 Corinthians 5:17 it says this: Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, new things have come [because spiritual awakening brings a new life]”.
When we become new in Christ we stop practicing those things of the old nature that kept us slaves to sin. We don’t suddenly become perfect, but we do continually strive toward perfection. When we stop practicing lying, hatred, sexual immorality, anger, and such things, we create empty spaces. Spaces that they once filled. We have to quickly allow the Holy Spirit to fill those spaces in our hearts with things that will characterize the new person we have become. How do we do that?
The Apostle Paul, writing to the Philippian church said this:
“Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart]”. Philippians 4:8 AMP
That is how you, with the help of the Holy Spirit, fill those empty spaces.
An angel of the Lord descended upon the city delivering a message for one called ………Saint, for the Lord said, “There is a family that has cried out to me, but the cares of the world have made them deaf, they cannot hear me. Go to the one called Saint and say to him, ‘I want someone to go and reveal me to the family that has cried out to me”. When the angel found Saint, he told him what the Lord had instructed. Saint looked to heaven and said, “send me Lord, I will go”.
“This is not an easy task, there is much difficulty and many struggles that lie ahead”, said the Angel. “I have no illusions of it being easy, my only hope is that I complete, and not shrink, from the assignment entrusted to me, as one worthy of being called ‘a son of the living God’, said Saint. “Well said, mortal man; the first difficulty is finding and recognizing her”, said the Angel. “But, where should I look”? asked Saint. “Worry not, my friend, you are favored by the Most High God, you will not fail”, said the Angel, as he faded from sight.
Saint is a born-again Christian who came to the Lord late in his adult life. A former drug addict, booster (professional shoplifter) and, ex-con. He accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior while doing time in a State Prison. He spent the last six years of his sentence as a Christian. Fifteen years after leaving prison he is still a committed Christian.
“Life has many twists and turns, ups and downs, tragedies and pleasures. None of these are to sway you from the commitment you made to the Lord”, Saint whispered to himself. These were the words of the Angel seventeen years ago; or was it all a dream?
The Keller family, headed by Dana Keller, a single mother of three (3), two boys and one girl. Dana came to our Church four (4) years ago after volunteering in our ‘Thrifty Clothing Store’. She was between jobs and wanted to stay busy. She especially wanted to keep her children active. Even though we could only pay her, and one of her sons, minimum wage, Dana worked as though she was at a Fortune 500 company. She was the epitome of courtesy, respect and service. People started coming from miles around because of her.
Usually, people have very low self-esteem when they lose everything (material) like she had. Some even walk around mad at the world and everyone in it. Then, there are those who give up, and succumb to a beggar’s life; but not Dana. She could rub shoulders with all of these, and inspire them, what they thought had been lost. Hope! Her children, ages 15, 17, and 21, had great respect for her. She was a walking epistle if I ever saw one.
When Dana came to our Church four (4) years ago she was biblically illiterate. She had a bachelor’s degree in Human Resources, but because of all the downsizing going on she was cut from her high paying white-collar job. It never occurred to her that this would happen. After eighteen (18) months of sending out resumes, and going on countless interviews, she had finally hit rock bottom. Her money ran out, she was forced to sell her suburban home and she and her children had no health care. She couldn’t even afford to get sick. She was desperate.
Dana’s sister, Corrine, invited her and her children to come and stay with her. Dana was a tremendous help to her five (5) years ago when she lost her husband to prostate cancer. Dana stepped in to help while Corrine began readjusting her life without her husband of 26 years. Corrine often testifies in Church how Dana was a tower of strength for her when she just wanted to give up. But Corrine was on a fixed income, and could only do so much. Being a member of our Church, Corrine brought the situation to our attention, and asked if we could help.
We were a small Church, with only 81 members, a third of which was unemployed. How could we take on another family on such a shoestring budget? I did what any mature, prudent and wise pastor would do, …I Prayed. The answer came back ……silent. After three (3) days of silence I knew what had to be done. I learned over the years that, many times, silence means you already have the answer, do what’s in your heart. So, I did. I hired her and her oldest son to work in the second-hand clothing store we had. She inspired people to give to the store as much as she inspired others to come and buy from the store. Soon afterwards, the one store we had turned into two, and then three. Within nine (9) months we had six (6) thrifty stores, and two corporate donors.
After attending our Church for a year, she and her family became members. For the first time in many years, after fellowshipping with the saints, she could see and hear Him. “Now I remember”, said Saint. “It was not just a dream”.
Why are so many young and, middle-aged people leaving the church? I can’t speak for all of them, but I can speak to the ones I have personally talked to over the last 30 years in the African American community. Many African Americans feel disillusioned from misinformation, disinformation, and the commercialization of the Christian faith by some. Thus, leaving many shipwrecked in their faith.
The African Connection to Christianity series is meant to answer many of those questions I’ve been getting over the years. This is not to lift one race or ethnic group over another, but to include ALL races and groups as it was always intended. We will see that throughout this series. But, like all things, there has to be a beginning.
The Christian faith began its trek around the world from the African continent. Not only that, but those who carried the gospel were African people. This is something that a large part of the world either neglected to mention or, intentionally deleted from history.
Dr. Thomas C. Oden wrote in his book: HOW AFRICA SHAPED THE CHRISTIAN MIND
“The global Christian mind has been formed out of a specific history, not out of bare-bones theoretical ideas. Much of that history occurred in Africa. Cut Africa out of the Bible and Christian memory, and you have misplaced many pivotal scenes of salvation history. It is the story of the children of Abraham in Africa; Joseph in Africa; Moses in Africa; Mary, Joseph and Jesus in Africa; and shortly thereafter Mark and Perpetua and Athanasius and Augustine in Africa”.
Judaism and Christianity have their roots in the story of a people formed in the space between Africa and Asia. The people from these two groups, Jews and Christians traveled from Egypt to Jerusalem to Samaria to Antioch, and from there to the rest of the world.
The early Christian footprint was formed on three continents – Asia, Africa, and Europe. On each of these three lands were three great cities in the maps of late antiquity: Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome.
At the height of its prominence, the Afro-Hellenic city of Alexandria was the larger of the three cities. Its importance far exceeded that of Antioch and Rome in the world of ideas, literature, and learning.
It’s important to note that the Christian leader of Alexandria came to symbolize and represent all Christians on the continent concerning the ecclesiastical organization.
Other than Alexandria, there was only one other city in the ancient world internationally recognized on the African continent as representative of a large part of Africa, Carthage.
The stand-out difference between Alexandria and Carthage was that Carthage had no known first-generation apostle comparable to St. Mark. We will get more into the important part St. Mark played in the second part of this series.
Alexandria representing Africa was comparable to Antioch representing Asia and, Rome representing Europe.
In the first half of the first millennium, the African intellect blossomed so much that it was emulated and widely sought out by Christians of the northern and eastern Mediterranean shores. Origen, an African, was sought out by the teachers of Caesarea Palestina. Lactantius was invited by Emperor Diocletian (245-313) to be a teacher of literature in his Asian palace in Bythinia. Augustine was invited to teach in Milan. There are many other intellectual movement cases from Africa to Europe – Plotinus, Valentinus, Tertullian, Marius Victorinus, and Pachomius are just a few.
As we deep dive into the historical annals of Christianity, we need to understand how the first Christians understood and transmitted the gospel. It is my opinion that leaving this crucial part of our Christian heritage out of our collective, and personal, conversations could leave us wanting.
For the first five hundred years of Christian history, Africa played an undeniable and pivotal role in shaping the global Christian mind. If we are going to tell the Christian story we need to tell it all.
I hope you will find it important enough to search and find out for yourself that the Christian faith is for us all, from all of us.
This is the first of a three-part series concerning Christianity’s African connection.
WHY BETHLEHEM? How is it that this, seemingly, insignificant place was chosen for Jesus to be born? When the council of heaven convened to consider the advent of Jesus into the earth every detail was carefully planned. How, when and, where was never given to chance. All was by divine appointment. How? From the first mention of the virgin birth of Jesus coming into the world, Gen. 3:15, the world was put on notice that the Saviour was coming. Generational signposts were emblazoned in the minds of God’s people as a constant reminder. The prophet Isaiah said: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Listen carefully, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will call his name Immanuel (God with us).” Isa. 7:14 AMP When? We can look to Daniel for an answer to that question. In the 9th chapter of the book of Daniel it says this: “While I was still speaking in prayer and extremely exhausted, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me about the time of the evening sacrifice. He instructed me and he talked with me and said, ‘O Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and wisdom and understanding. the command [to give you an answer] was issued, and I have come to tell you, for you are highly regarded and greatly beloved. Therefore consider the message and begin to understand the [meaning of the] vision. Seventy weeks [of years, or 490 years] have been decreed for your people and for your holy city (Jerusalem), to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make atonement (reconciliation) for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness (right-standing with God), to seal up vision and prophecy and prophet, and to anoint the Most Holy Place.” Dan. 9:20-24 AMP.
He informed me–i.e., gave me understanding (as Daniel 9:2, Daniel 8:16). The angel gave Daniel understanding in the perplexing words of Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 25:1-11; 29:1-10), showing him that what affected his people was a period of seventy weeks that were yet to come, rather than seventy years which were already passed. The act of anointing as a sign of consecration, though applied to the tabernacle (Exodus 30:26; Exodus 40:9), to the altar (Exodus 40:10), the laver (Exodus 40:11), is never applied to the holy of holies. It is applied most frequently to persons; as to Aaron (Exodus 40:13), to Saul (1 Samuel 10:1), to David (1 Samuel 16:3). The words of Gabriel thus point forward to a time when all iniquity shall be restrained, sin atoned for, and a priest anointed.
Approximately 700 years before the birth of Christ, the exact location where He would be born was identified by the prophet Micah. “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah; From you One shall come forth for Me [who is] to be Ruler in Israel, His goings forth (appearances) are from long ago, From ancient days.” Micah 5:2 AMP.
Bethlehem is a collection of very fertile villages that grows almonds and, more importantly, olives for oil. It’s so fertile because Bethlehem sits on an enormous aquifer, which eventually became the water source for Jerusalem in around 200 BCE. There were so many Jewish pilgrims coming to Jerusalem that the city couldn’t cope. The older water supply was contaminated by the animals slaughtered in the temple. They needed fresh water and this came from Bethlehem. Bethlehem was built specifically to sit on top of the aquifer and be the defensive military installation guarding the whole infrastructure. It’s a fortress town amongst a series of villages, which is why the Bible talks about the best tasting water coming from Bethlehem. And David had a craving and said, “Oh that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!” 2 Samuel 23:15 AMP. That’s what Bethlehem is: a place that guards the water. About 200-300 years ago, they built a reservoir. Over the course of history, another three gigantic reservoirs were built just to the south of Bethlehem, which became known as Solomon’s Pools. They’re still there.
BETHLEHEM Biblical scholars believe Bethlehem, located in the “hill country” of Judah, maybe the same as the Biblical Ephrath, which means “fertile”, as there is a reference to it in the Book of Micah Bethlehem Ephratah. The Bible also calls it Beth-Lehem Judah, the New Testament describes it as the “City of David”. It is first mentioned in the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) as the place where the matriarch Rachel was buried “by the wayside” (Gen. 48:7). Rachel’s Tomb, the traditional grave site, stands at the entrance to Bethlehem.
According to the Book of Ruth, the valley to the east is where Ruth of Moab gleaned the fields and returned to town with Naomi. It was the home of Jesse, father of King David of Israel, and the site of David’s anointment by the prophet Samuel. It was from the well of Bethlehem that three of his warriors brought him water when he was hiding in the cave of Adullam.
The Hebrew Bible, which says that the city of Bethlehem was built up as a fortified city by Rehoboam, identifies it as the city David was from and where he was crowned as the king of Israel. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke identify Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus. Bethlehem was destroyed by Emperor Hadrian during the second-century Bar Kokhba revolt, its rebuilding was promoted by Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, who commissioned the building of its great Church of the Nativity in 327 CE. The church was badly damaged by the Samaritans, who sacked it during a revolt in 529, but was rebuilt a century later by Emperor Justinian 1.
The convergence of time and circumstance had convened together on the town of Bethlehem. The Word of God had come to His appointed place and time, as spoken of in the book of Isaiah. The beginning was here. This is when and where God would begin nurturing a personal relationship with His people. As God began to reveal more of His purpose in the person of Jesus the Christ, all of creation was awakened to bear witness. The heavenly bodies were awakened and the lead star guided the wise men to the savior. The shepherds in the field were awakened by the angel Gabriel that the messiah was born. Previous to these events Mary and Joseph received a visit from the angel Gabriel to assure them that the baby Mary was carrying was indeed the messiah spoken of by the prophets and to give them his human name. Nothing was left to chance. All was planned from before time began, even his human name.
“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn”. Luke 2:1-7 NKJV
In accordance with the Jewish law, his parents presented the infant Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem, where two people in the temple, Simeon and Anna the Prophetess, gave thanks to God who had sent his salvation. Time and circumstance had followed the passage that the Almighty had fashioned for them, and brought the promised Messiah a safe place to land.
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king (Herod the Great), magi (wise men) from the east came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. So he called together all the chief priests and scribes of the people and [anxiously] asked them where the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed) was to be born. They replied to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what has been written by the prophet [Micah]: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not in any way least among the leaders of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” Matthew 2:1-6 AMP.
“Hear my prayer, O LORD! Listen to my cries for help! Don’t ignore my tears. For I am your guest— a traveler passing through, as my ancestors were before me.” Psalms 39:12; 119:19 NLT
The word “pilgrim” (which comes to us through the French form Pelerin, from the Latin peregrinus) does not originally, or in this place, mean one on a pilgrimage. It implies no journeying, but simply residence in a foreign country. Here it represents the same Greek word which is rendered “strangers” in 1Peter 1:1 but is used in a metaphorical and not literal sense. Though no longer “scattered,” but gathered mercifully once more into “a people,” they were still far from home–unprotected residents in an alien and hostile world, which scrutinized their conduct and was anxious for an opportunity to get rid of them.
“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.” John 14:2-4 NKJV
THE HEAVENLY HOPE
When the writer of the book of Hebrews referred to the enduring hope of the patriarchs of old, he took our minds home with these words:
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say, such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had the opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” Hebrews 11:13-16 NKJV
We have been guaranteed a safe place to land. A homeland.