THE AMEN CORNER
with Deacon Brown
December 10, 2017
This feature replaces “ESSAY-LIKE SUNDAY MORNING”.
It was a beautiful day to be at “The Grove” (Mitchell Grove Baptist Church) today. Country churches like ours are on the decline it seems, but I love traveling down the two dirt roads that lead to our beloved church. It was indeed a blessing to be able to be there one more time, even if I did happen to take a tumble on the ice-slickened ramp that rises to the side entrance of the church. Fortunately, or should I say Thank God the only thing injured was my pride.
The Sunday School lesson was entitled, Facing Opposition. The Scripture was from Acts 13:1-12. The textbook tells us that, “There are many challenges in life. Obstacles appear to be just another part of the journey” (Marshall, 2017, p. 12). That wooden ramp certainly presented an obstacle on my journey into the church this morning. However, the lesson informs us that we must have “a good grasp of discernment” (Marshall, 2017, p. 13) if we are to overcome our obstacles.
Discernment is one of the things I learned to pray for early in my Christian journey. It is a good tool to have in your spiritual toolbelt. Wisdom is another. Discernment helps us to see people and situations as they really are; devoid of their disguises and camouflage. Indeed, we live in a state of warfare between good and bad, right and wrong and like warfare, a sound strategy is needed to emerge victoriously.
Dr. Marshall (2017) writes that, “Faithful discernment will help guide you to the right decision. Sometimes the decision is to forge ahead, sometimes it is to take a different route or approach sometimes it may well be to wait” (p. 13). Or, as the Donnie McClurkin song’s lyrics entreat us, “to stand”; stand and wait on the Lord, for we realize that God has already devised a strategy for us, complete with contingency plans which the Holy Spirit is on hand to execute in our lives, and on our journeys.
In the military, we had contingency plans or simply contingencies for every possible incarnation, revolution, derivation or manifestation of a situation or situations. In other words, we had back-up plans. We even had back-up plans for the back-up plans. No stone was left unturned. If man can develop such strategies, just think of what strategies God has for us in our daily battles.
In today’s Scripture, we find a group of men; leaders of the early Christian church. These men’s names were; Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.
I’d like to take a moment to examine the diversity of the early Church leaders. Barnabas was a Cypriot Jew, meaning he hailed from Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean Sea most often associated with Greece. Simeon was called “Niger”. Niger is of Latin derivation and means “black”. So, Simeon’s nickname was “Black”. Now I know some people nicknamed “Black” and all of them, without exception, have dark skin. It is highly probable that Simeon was of African descent. Lucius was from Cyrene. Cyrene was an ancient city in what is now Libya, a country in North Africa. So, Lucius was definitely African. Manaen was brought up a little rich kid. How else could he have had Herod’s son Herod the tetrarch (one of a group of four leaders of a territory) as a playmate? Finally, we have Saul, and yes this is the same Saul, who later became Paul. The same well-educated, well-spoken Jew who tormented the early Christians and who was converted on the road to Damascus.
The Holy Spirit sent Barnabas and Saul on a mission. They ended up in a city called Salamis where they were joined by a young man named John Mark. This is the same John Mark who would later write the book of Mark in the New Testament. In Salamis, they were to preach the Gospel to the Jews who resided there. This task was seen as a far easier task than converting those who didn’t know God at all, and was deemed a good place to start spreading the Gospel. But, even here among “friends” they encountered a “fiend”.
Let’s take a second to look at the words “fiend” and “friend”. There is only one letter separating the two words. If you but only drop the “r” in friend, it become “fiend”. That’s how it is in our world. Sometimes there is only a dab of a difference between a “fiend” and a “friend”. That’s why we pray for discernment.
The fiend encountered by our dynamic duo was a man named Bar-Jesus, which means “son of Jesus”, however, he was not the son of any Jesus we are familiar with nor any Joshua’s; Joshua being an alternative pronunciation of “Jesus”. Bar-Jesus was also called Elymas which is translated as a “sorcerer or magician”. Bar-Jesus viewed Barnabas and Saul as threats to his power, for he knew that if his leader, Sergius Paulus was converted to Christianity, he would no longer have need of an Elymas, and thus would end his power and influence.
Unfortunately for Bar-Jesus, Saul/Paul was starting to feel his oats. Paul turned his significant intellect and powers of oration on Bar-Jesus and gave him three swift kicks in the rear.
First, He told the fiend, “You are a child of the devil”. Next, he blasted Elymas by stating, “You are an enemy of everything that is right.” Lastly Paul said to Elymas, “You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery.” Then Bar-Jesus was overcome by a “cloud of darkness”. He was blinded, just as Paul had been blinded on the road to Damascus. Incidentally, Christ had also accused Paul/Saul of being an enemy of the righteous, making Bar-Jesus’ plight similar to that of Paul’s. Perhaps Paul does this intentionally; using Jesus’ words to himself to condemn Bar-Jesus. But, whereas Paul was blinded by light, indicating knowledge and enlightenment, Bar-Jesus was blinded by darkness, indicating despair and hopelessness.
The city’s leader, Sergius Paulus was so overcome by the working of the Holy Spirit on Elymas, that he was converted to Christianity; mission accomplished.
The lesson concludes by telling us that it is alright to draw the attention of potential converts with fanfare, but once we have their attention, we must use that opportunity to spread God’s Word.
Also, we must forge ahead, no matter the obstacles. When I slipped and fell on the ramp, I had some choices to make. I could have turned around and went home, I could have continued trying to ascend the icy ramp, or I could have taken the steps next to the ramp and continued ahead. I chose to enter the church by the steps.
What will you do when you face your obstacles?
Dear God, You are my Rock, my Strength, my Shield, my Deliverer. With you I am ready for any battle of life.
AMEN, AMEN, AMEN.
Marshall, J. (2017). Facing Opposition. Faith Pathways Bible Studies for Adults (2nd ed., Vol. 103). Nashville, T: Sunday School Publishing Board.