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A Faithful Man of God Named Stephen

And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch” Acts 6:5 (KJV)

Acts 6:5 introduces a faithful man of God named Stephen: “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” It is noteworthy that there have always been those faithful believers whose love for and commitment to the Lord seem to shine through so greatly that others around them notice, and Stephen was such a man. Nothing is known about the personal life of Stephen his parents, his siblings, or whether he had a wife or children, however, what is known about him is what is truly important. He was faithful, even when faced with certain death.

Stephen found himself in the middle of a conflict between the Jews who still embraced the Jewish culture and those who had turned more toward the Greeks in their language and culture. Satan always causes dissension within congregations, as a means of division; therefore, faithful men such as Stephen were chosen to combat the ever-increasing problems that were rising. After being unable to find a winnable argument for their erroneous beliefs, the unbelievers decided to falsely accuse Stephen, labeling him a blasphemer and having him arrested (Acts 6:11).

Acts 7 is the record of Stephen’s testimony, which is perhaps the most detailed and concise history of Israel and their relationship to God of any in Scripture. Stephen was not concerned about his earthly existence, determining instead to stand firmly on the side of Jesus Christ, no matter the consequences. God inspired him to speak boldly, rightly accusing Israel of their failure to recognize Jesus, their Messiah, rejecting and murdering Him, as they had murdered Zechariah and other prophets and faithful men throughout their generations. Stephen’s speech was an indictment against Israel and their failure as the chosen people of God who had been given the law, the holy things, and the promise of the Messiah. Naturally, these accusations, though true, were not well received by the Jews.

In his speech, Stephen reminded them of their faithful patriarch, Abraham, and how God had led him from a pagan land into the land of Israel, where He made a covenant with him that was still in effect. He spoke of the journey of his people, through Joseph’s sojourn in Egypt to their deliverance by Moses 400 years later. He brought to mind how Moses had met God in the wilderness of Midian in a burning bush, and he explained how God had empowered Moses to lead His people from idolatry and slavery to freedom and times of refreshing in the Promised Land. Throughout his speech, he repeatedly reminded them of their continual rebellion and idolatry, in spite of the mighty works of God to which they were eyewitnesses, thereby accusing them with their own history, which only irritated them until they did not want to hear any more.

The law of Moses states that the sin of blasphemy deserves a death sentence, usually by stoning (Numbers 15:30-36). Just before these arrogant, unredeemed Jews follow the prescribed penalty and begin stoning Stephen, Acts 7:55-56 records his final moments of earthly life, just before he stepped through the veil between heaven and earth: “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'”

The words of Colossians 3:2-3 could have been written about the life of Stephen, even though they are applicable to all believers: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Stephen’s life-and even more so his death-should be an example of how every believer should strive to live: committed to the Lord even in the face of death; faithful to preach the gospel boldly; knowledgeable of God’s truth; and willing to be used by God for His plan and purpose. Stephen’s testimony still stands as a beacon, a light to a lost and dying world, as well as an accurate history of the children of Abraham.

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The New Jerusalem Is

There is no need for a sun means just that. In Creation, God made light before he created the sun and moon. Do not try to limit the New heaven by our human terms. This is going to be quite different from anything any of us knows!

The New Jerusalem, which is also called the Tabernacle of God, the Holy City, the City of God, the Celestial City, the City Foursquare, and Heavenly Jerusalem, is literally heaven on earth. It is referred to in the Bible in several places (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 11:10; 12:22-24; and 13:14), but it is most fully described in Revelation 21.

In Revelation 21; the recorded history of man is at its end. All of the ages have come and gone. Christ has gathered His church in the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). The Tribulation has passed (Revelation 6-18). The battle of Armageddon has been fought and won by our Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 19:17-21). Satan has been chained for the 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth (Revelation 20:1-3). A new, glorious temple has been established in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 40-48). The final rebellion against God has been quashed, and Satan has received his just punishment, an eternity in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:7-10.) The Great White Throne Judgment has taken place, and mankind has been judged (Revelation 20:11-15).

In Revelation 21:1 God does a complete make-over of heaven and earth (Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:12-13). The new heaven and new earth are what some call the “eternal state” and will be “where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). After the re-creation, God reveals the New Jerusalem. John sees a glimpse of it in his vision: “The Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). This is the city that Abraham looked for in faith (Hebrews 11:10). It is the place where God will dwell with His people forever (Revelation 21:3). Inhabitants of this celestial city will have all tears wiped away (Revelation 21:4).

The New Jerusalem will be fantastically huge. John records that the city is nearly 1,400 miles long, and it is as wide and as high as it is long-a perfect cube (Revelation 21:15-17). The city will also be dazzling in every way. It is lighted by the glory of God (verse 23). Its twelve foundations, bearing the names of the twelve apostles, are “decorated with every kind of precious stone” (verse 19). It has twelve gates, each a single pearl, bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (verses 12 and 21). The street will be made of pure gold (verse 21).

The New Jerusalem will be a place of unimagined blessing. The curse of the old earth will be gone (Revelation 22:3). In the city are the tree of life “for the healing of the nations” and the river of life (verses 1-2). It is the place that Paul spoke of: “In the coming ages [God] might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). The New Jerusalem is the ultimate fulfillment of all God’s promises. The New Jerusalem is God’s goodness made fully manifest.

Who are the residents of the New Jerusalem? The Father and the Lamb are there (Revelation 21:22). Angels are at the gates (verse 12). But the city will be filled with God’s redeemed children. The New Jerusalem is the righteous counter to the evil Babylon (Revelation 17), destroyed by God’s judgment (Revelation 18). The wicked had their city, and God has His. To which city do you belong? Babylon the Great or the New Jerusalem? If you believe that Jesus, the Son of God, died and rose again and have asked God to save you by His grace, then you are a citizen of the New Jerusalem. “God raised [you] up with Christ and seated [you] with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). You have “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Peter 1:4). If you have not yet trusted Christ as your Savior, then we urge you to receive Him. The invitation is extended: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17).

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An Eye for an Eye According to the Bible

The context in the Bible, dictates a literal application and not figurative as some have suggested. Civil matters were settled by some form of monetary compensation or damages as is the practice today. In criminal offenses causing bodily harm the law required justice, not mercy. The Sanhedrin became a religious court of sorts.

The concept of “an eye for eye,” sometimes called jus talionis or lex talionis, is part of the Mosaic Law used in the Israelites’ justice system. The principle is that the punishment must fit the crime and there should be a just penalty for evil actions: “If there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (Exodus 21:23-25). Justice should be equitable; excessive harshness and excessive leniency should be avoided.

We have no indication that the law of “an eye for an eye” was followed literally; there is never a biblical account of an Israelite being maimed as a result of this law. Also, before this particular law was given, God had already established a judicial system to hear cases and determine penalties (Exodus 18:13-26) a system that was not followed changed by the Pharisees, Essenes and Sadducees by oral law, or what they thought God had said as stated by Jesus. Although capital crimes were repaid with execution in ancient Israel including stonings, on the basis of multiple witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6), most other crimes were repaid with payment in goods if you injured a man’s hand so that he could not work, you compensated that man for his lost wages.

Besides Exodus 21; the law of “an eye for an eye” is mentioned twice in the Old Testament (Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21). Each time, the phrase is used in the context of a case being judged before a civil authority such as a judge. “An eye for an eye” was thus intended to be a guiding principle for lawgivers and judges; it was never to be used to justify vigilantism or settling grievances personally.

In the New Testament, it seems the Pharisees and scribes had taken the “eye for an eye” principle and applied it to everyday personal relationships. They taught that seeking personal revenge was acceptable. If someone punched you, you could punch him back; if someone insulted you, he was fair game for your insults. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day ignored the judicial basis of the giving of that law.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus counters the common teaching of personal retaliation: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you . . .” (Matthew 5:38-39). Jesus then proceeds to reveal God’s heart concerning interpersonal relationships: “Do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:39-42).

In giving this “new” command, Jesus is not nullifying the Old Testament law (Matthew 5:17). Rather, He is separating the responsibility of the government (to punish evildoers justly) from the responsibility we all have on a personal level before God to love our enemies. We should not seek retribution for personal slights. We are to ignore personal insults (the meaning of “turn the other cheek”). Christians are to be willing to give more of their material goods, time, and labor than required, even if the demands upon us are unjust. We should loan to those who want to borrow, love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us (verses 43-48). Enforcing “an eye for an eye” is the magistrate’s job; forgiving our enemies is ours. We see this played out today every time a victim stands up in court to publicly forgive a convicted criminal the forgiveness is personal and real, but the judge still justly demands that the sentence be carried out.

Jesus’ limiting of the “eye for an eye” principle in no way prohibits self-defense or the forceful protection of the innocent from harm. The actions of duly appointed agents of the government, such as police officers and the military, to protect citizens and preserve the peace are not in question. Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek applies to personal relationships, not judicial policy. The principle of “an eye for an eye” is meant as a judicial policy, not as a rule for interpersonal relationships. The believer in Christ is guided by Jesus’ words to forgive. The Christian is radically different from those who follow the natural inclination to respond in kind.

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The Life of Paul

The apostle Paul born a Roman citizen to Jewish parents born in Tarsus, in modern eastern Turkey. Paul the Apostle commonly known as Saint Paul, and also known by his native name Saul of Tarsus, who trace their ancestry to the tribe of Benjamin.

There is much we can learn from the life of the Apostle Paul. Far from ordinary, Paul was given the opportunity to do extraordinary things for the kingdom of God. The story of Paul is a story of redemption in Jesus Christ and a testimony that no one is beyond the saving grace of the Lord. However, to gain the full measure of the man, we must examine his dark side and what he symbolized before becoming “the Apostle of Grace.” Paul’s early life was marked by religious zeal, brutal violence, and the relentless persecution of the early church. Fortunately, the later years of Paul’s life show a marked difference as he lived his life for Christ and the advancement of His kingdom.

Paul was actually born as Saul. He was born in Tarsus in Cilicia around A.D. 1-5 in a province in the southeastern corner of modern day Tersous, Turkey. He was of Benjamite lineage and Hebrew ancestry. His parents were Pharisees-fervent Jewish nationalists who adhered strictly to the Law of Moses-who sought to protect their children from “contamination” from the Gentiles. Anything Greek was despised in Saul’s household, yet he could speak Greek and passable Latin. His household spoke Aramaic, a derivative of Hebrew, which was the official language of Judea. Saul’s family were Roman citizens but viewed Jerusalem as a truly sacred and holy city.

At age thirteen Saul was sent to Palestine to learn from a rabbi named Gamaliel, under whom Saul mastered Jewish history, the Psalms and the works of the prophets. His education would continue for five or six years as Saul learned such things as dissecting Scripture. It was during this time that he developed a question-and-answer style known in ancient times as “diatribe.” This method of articulation helped rabbis debate the finer points of Jewish law to either defend or prosecute those who broke the law. Saul went on to become a lawyer, and all signs pointed to his becoming a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court of 71 men who ruled over Jewish life and religion. Saul was zealous for his faith, and this faith did not allow for compromise. It is this zeal that led Saul down the path of religious extremism.

Because of his extremism Saul might have been present at the trial of Stephen. He was present for his stoning and death and he held the garments of those who did the stoning (Acts 7:58). In Acts 5:27-42, Peter delivered his defense of the gospel and of Jesus in front of the Sanhedrin, which Saul heard. Gamaliel was also present and delivered a message to calm the council and prevent them from stoning Peter. From that moment on, Saul became even more determined to eradicate Christians as he watched the Sanhedrin flog Peter and the others. Saul became more ruthless in his pursuit of Christians as he believed he was doing it in the name of God. Arguably, there is no one more frightening or more vicious than a religious terrorist, especially when he believes that he is doing the will of the Lord by killing innocent people. This is exactly what Saul of Tarsus was: a religious terrorist. Acts 8:3 states, “He began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.”

The pivotal passage in Paul’s story is Acts 9:1-22, which recounts Paul’s meeting with Jesus Christ on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus, a journey of about 150 miles. Saul was angered by what he had seen and filled with murderous rage against the Christians. Before departing on his journey, he had asked the high priest for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for permission to bring any Christians (followers of “the Way,” as they were known) back to Jerusalem to imprison them. On the road Saul was caught up in a bright light from heaven which caused him to fall face down on the ground. He hears the words, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He says, “Who are you Lord?” Jesus answers directly and clearly, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (vv. 4-5). As an aside, this might not have been Saul’s first encounter with Jesus, as some scholars suggest that young Saul might have known of Jesus and that he might have actually witnessed His death.

From this moment on, Saul’s life was turned upside down. The light of the Lord blinded him, and as he traveled on he had to rely on his companions. As instructed by Jesus, Saul continued to Damascus to make contact with a man named Ananias who was hesitant at first to meet Saul because he knew Saul’s reputation as an evil man. But the Lord told Ananias that Saul was a “chosen instrument” to carry His name before the Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel (v.15) and would suffer for doing so (v.16). Ananias followed the Lord’s instructions and found Saul, on whom he laid hands, and told him of his vision of Jesus Christ. Through prayer, Saul received the Holy Spirit (v.17), regained his sight and was baptized (v.18). Saul immediately went into the synagogues proclaiming Jesus and saying He is the Son of God (v.20). The people were amazed and skeptical, as Saul’s reputation was well known. The Jews thought he had come to take away the Christians (v.21). Saul’s boldness increased as the Jews living in Damascus were confounded by Saul’s arguments proving that Jesus was the Christ (v.22).

As a result of this miraculous transformation, Saul became known as Paul (Acts 13:9). Paul spent time in Arabia, Damascus, Jerusalem, Syria and his native Cilicia, and Barnabas enlisted his help to teach those in the church in Antioch (Acts 11:25). Interestingly, the Christians driven out of Palestine by Saul of Tarsus founded this multiracial church (Acts 11:19-21). Paul took his first of three missionary journeys in the late 40s A.D. Paul wrote many of the New Testament books. Most theologians are in agreement that he wrote Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Philemon, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. These 13 “letters” (books) make up the “Pauline Authorship” and are the primary source of his theology. As previously noted, the book of Acts gives us a historical look at Paul’s life and times. The Apostle Paul spent his life proclaiming the risen Christ Jesus throughout the Roman world, often at great personal peril (2 Corinthians 11:24-27) It is assumed that Paul was arrested upon his return to Rome and died a martyr’s death by beheading in the mid-to-late 60s A.D.

So, what can we learn from the life of the Apostle Paul? First, we learn that God can save anyone. The remarkable story of Paul repeats itself every day as sinful, broken people all over the world are transformed by God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ. Some of these people have done despicable things to other human beings, while some just try to live a moral life thinking that God will smile upon them on the day of judgment. When we read the story of Paul and know what he had done, it is difficult for us to believe that God would allow into heaven religious extremists who murder innocent women and children. Today, we might see people on death row as unworthy of redemption because their crimes against humanity are just too great. Yet we live our lives in a sinful manner, expecting that God will be impressed by the fact that we haven’t killed anyone. The story of Paul is a story that can be told today-he isn’t worthy in our eyes of a second chance, yet to God he is worthy. The truth is that every person matters to God, from the “good, decent,” average person to the “wicked, evil” degenerate. Only God can save a soul from hell.

Second, we learn from the life of Paul that anyone can be a humble, powerful witness for Jesus Christ. Arguably, no other human figure in the Bible demonstrated more humility while sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ as Paul. Acts 20:19 tells us that he “served the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to [him] through the plots of the Jews.” In Acts 28:31, Paul shares the good news of Jesus Christ: “Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul was not afraid to tell others what the Lord had done for him. This verse is the very definition of Paul’s newfound life in Christ. He would spend the rest of his days working tirelessly for the kingdom of God.

Finally, we learn that anyone can surrender completely to God. Paul was fully “sold-out” for God. “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:12-14). Paul was in prison when he wrote these words, yet he was still praising God and sharing the good news. Through his hardships and suffering, Paul knew the outcome of a life well lived for Christ. He had surrendered his life fully, trusting God for everything. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Can we make the same claim?

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UPDATE: A Victory for the Florida College Student Who Stood Up for His Faith

CBN News has received word that Rollins College has reinstated conservative Christian student Marshall Polston. Polston was suspended from all classes and college activities after he challenged a Muslim professor’s anti-Christian statements.

Maeghan Rempala, Rollins College Director of Community Standards and Responsibility sent Polston a letter today (March 31, 2017) notifying him of his reinstatement saying that ” Responsibility has found” that he had not crossed the threshold of violating the college’s Code of Community Standards. The letter said evidence presented did show that Polston had been “aggressive, disrespectful and at times vulgar in multiple verbal and electronic communications with faculty, staff and students.”

Watch to see this update from Polston and hear what he says about his reinstatement:

Polston made one fatal mistake, challenging his Muslim professor who argued that the disciples didn’t believe Jesus was God and that the crucifixion was a hoax. That’s when the 21-year-old sophomore at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida said his professor started gunning for him and his troubles began.

“It was very off-putting and flat out odd. I’ve traveled the Middle East, lectured at the Salahaddin University, and immersed myself in Muslim culture for many years. Honestly, it reminded me of some of the more radical groups I researched when abroad,” Marshall Polston told Central Florida Post.

Polston said up till that point he was a straight-A student, but that all changed when his professor retaliated and gave him a 52% on an essay.

“I was upset, understandably. I’ve never gotten anything less than straight A’s,” Polston explained. “So, I was really interested in figuring out how to possibly improve or at least understand the grade.”

Shortly after, Muslim Humanities professor Areeje Zufari reported Rollins to the “Dean of Safety” claiming she felt unsafe to even conduct class. But The CF Post reports that Zufari gave conflicting statements to the school and police as to why she felt threatened by Polston.

When Zufari resumed classes Polston said he was challenged a second time by a radical Muslim student who suggested a “good punishment for gays, adulterers, and thieves was the removal of a certain body part, as determined by Sharia law.”

“It took a few seconds for me to realize that he actually said that, especially after what this community has faced with the tragic loss of life at Pulse,” Polston recalled.

The conservative Christian student said the radical statement unnerved him and several other classmates, but it was only his responses that were reported to school authorities, leading to a meeting with the Dean where he was informed that his behavior was making the campus “unsafe.”

In an interview with Gary Lane, Polston provided details of his disciplinary hearing.

“It’s really amazing when I got to the school they had five police officers there, they had two investigators, or two detectives and they had campus security everywhere and nothing for the young man who said that it was okay to chop off a hand,”  he explained.

“They made it clear that they had not gotten a report about what the student said, and were more concerned about the danger I was causing to the campus,” Polston said. “What danger? A difference of opinion in a college classroom is nothing out of the ordinary and certainly not dangerous. It was surreal and degrading. The bad grade was upsetting, but they were literally refusing to acknowledge the dangers posed by someone who advocated chopping off body parts on campus.”

Last Friday, Polston was alerted in a letter from the school administration that his actions “constituted a threat of disruption,” and resulted in a “summary suspension.”

“It was really reprehensible that I was shut down for voicing my opinion,” he told CBN News.

The private liberal college was in the media in 2013 after kicking the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship off campus for not allowing non-Christian students to hold leadership positons, a violation of the college’s anti-discrimination policy.  In that same year students were banned from having Bible studies in the common areas of their dorm suites.

Polston told CBN News he thinks Rollins College should have done a more thurough background check on Professor Zufari.

“Her connections to these organizations, her history this was all something they should have known before and I guess they just didn’t do due diligence.”

Court documents show Professor Zufari was one of three defendants named in a 2007 lawsuit filed by Rosine Collin Ghawji.

In the complaint, Mrs. Ghawji alleged that her estranged husband, Dr. Maher Ghawji and Ms. Zufari “conspired to in effect terrorize”  her and their two children.

She claimed that Maher Ghawji told the children “he would be proud if they blew themselves up for Allah because it would be glorification of their lives.” The complaint also states that Mr. Ghawji told Mrs. Ghawji that “he would rather see the children dead than them not being fundamentalist Muslims.”

The Orlando Sentinel quotes Zufari telling a school administrator, “You know I would almost be laughing if I could summon the humor.  In my real life, I’m actually a pretty boring person.”

But Zufari’s reported ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Wahhabi Islam are no laughing matter.

The 2007 Orange County court complaint includes allegations that Professor Zufari was secretly married to Mrs. Ghawji’s husband Maher. Together they traveled to Seattle, Washington to conduct “targeting and surveillance” of American interests.

The Central Florida Post reports Mrs. Ghawji worked for the FBI as “a source for years to inform on her husband’s email activity and conversations with contacts in the Middle East.”

The CFP says Maher Ghawji “had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and donated thousands of dollars to charities that funneled money to Al-Qaeda.”

The Post also reported that Zufari once defended the anti-Semitic statements of  Sheik Abdur-Rahman Al-Sudai who appeared on Saudi television saying that “Jews needed to be ‘annihilated” and that he referred to Jews as “the scum of the human race, rats of the world, the killers of prophets, and the grandsons of monkeys and pigs.”

According to the CFP, Zufari led the effort to bring the Sheikh to speak at a conference in Kissimmee and was also involved in promoting an event with Brooklyn Imam Siraj Wihaj, one of the named co-conspirators in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

CBN News was unable to contact Professor Zufari for comment. She has refused to respond to other media requests.

Rollins College President Grant Cornwell released a statement to the campus community saying, “As an institution of higher learning we value the exploratiion of a broad diversity of beliefs, identities, backgrounds and faith traditions, and welcome those who manifest them in our community.”

So, what would Polston like to see happen?

He says the college should reinstate him and Professor Zufari should be dismissed from her duties.

“I think that they realized that they maybe had made a mistake… there are certainly groups I think within every organization in academia today in America that are out on a witch hunt—in my opinion against Christian students like me. ”

He still believes that “Rollins is a great school,” he” loves it” and would like to continue his studies there. source

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Good Friday and the Cross

Simply put, the meaning of the cross is death. And on Good Friday it meant Jesus death. From about the 6th century BC until the 4th century AD, the cross was an instrument of execution by the Romans that resulted in death by the most torturous and painful of ways. In crucifixion a person was either tied or nailed to a wooden cross and left to hang until dead. Death would be slow and excruciatingly painful; in fact, the word excruciating literally means “out of crucifying.” However, because of Christ and His death on the cross, the meaning of the cross today is completely different.

In Christianity, the cross is the intersection of God’s love and His justice. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The reference to Jesus as the Lamb of God points back to the institution of the Jewish Passover in Exodus 12. The Israelites were commanded to sacrifice an unblemished lamb and smear the blood of that lamb on the doorposts of their homes. The blood would be the sign for the Angel of Death to “pass over” that house, leaving those covered by blood in safety. When Jesus came to John to be baptized, John recognized Him and cried, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29), thereby identifying Him and God’s plan for Him to be sacrificed for sin.

One might ask why Jesus had to die in the first place. This is the over-arching message of the Bible-the story of redemption. God created the heavens and the earth, and He created man and woman in His image and placed them in the Garden of Eden to be His stewards on the earth. However, due to the temptations of Satan (the serpent), Adam and Eve sinned and fell from God’s grace. Furthermore, they have passed the curse of sin on to their children so that everyone inherits their sin and guilt. God the Father sent his one and only Son into the world to take on human flesh and to be the Savior of His people. Born of a virgin, Jesus avoided the curse of the fall that infects all other human beings. As the sinless Son of God, He could provide the unblemished sacrifice that God requires. God’s justice demanded judgment and punishment for sin; God’s love moved Him to send His one and only Son to be the propitiation for sin.

Because of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross, those who place their faith and trust in Him alone for salvation are guaranteed eternal life (John 3:16). However, Jesus called His followers to take up their cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). This concept of “cross-bearing” today has lost much of its original meaning. Typically, we use “cross-bearing” to denote an inconvenient or bothersome circumstance (e.g., “my troubled teen is my cross to bear”). However, we must keep in mind that Jesus is calling His disciples to engage in radical self-denial. The cross meant only one thing to a 1st-century person-death. “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). Galatians reiterates this theme of death of the sinful self and rising to walk in new life through Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

There are places in the world where Christians are being persecuted, even to the point of death, for their faith. They know what it means to carry their cross and follow Jesus in a very real way. For those of us who are not being persecuted in such fashion, our job is still to remain faithful to Christ. Even if are never called to give the ultimate sacrifice, we must be willing to do so out of love for the One who saved us and gave His life for us.

Jesus died on the cross for redeeming our sin, a punishment for a rebellious man against God’s commands (Isaiah 53:3-12), so the meaning of the cross is: to remind a rebellious man against God’s command to repent! (Mathew 3:1-3; 10:38; 16:24; Galatians 5:22-25).and become a believer and follower of Jesus (John 3:16-18).

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Messianic Judaism

Messianic Judaism or Messianic Believer is the term given to Jewish people who believe and have accepted Yeshua (the Hebrew name for Jesus) of Nazareth as the promised Messiah of the Hebrew Scriptures. These Jewish people do not stop being Jewish, but they continue to remain strong in their Jewish identity, lifestyle and culture, while following Yeshua as He is revealed in the Brit Chadashah, the New Covenant. Many Messianic Jews refer to themselves as “completed Jews,” since they believe that their faith in the God of Israel has been “completed” or fulfilled in Yeshua.

In reality, Messianic Judaism began 2,000 years ago. Yeshua Himself was an observant Jew, most of the Apostles and writers of the New Covenant were Jewish, and the vast majority of the early believers in Yeshua were also Jewish (see Acts chapter 2).

Traditional rabbinical Judaism today does not believe that Yeshua is the Jewish Messiah. Observant Jews are still waiting faithfully in accordance with the Rambam’s (Rabbi Moses Maimonides, 1134-1204) “Thirteen Principles of Jewish Faith,” which states in Principle 12, “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah. However long it takes, I will await His coming every day.” Most secular Jews do not believe in the physical coming of a personal Messiah, but some still look forward to a general Messianic concept or Messianic Age.

Today, it is estimated that there are over 350,000 Messianic Jews in the world, and the numbers are growing all the time. Messianic synagogues have also become very popular, and recent estimates number more than 200 congregations in this country. There are also many Messianic congregations in Israel and around the world.

Messianic Jews continue to celebrate the Jewish festivals and feast days as prescribed in the Hebrew Scriptures (i.e., Passover, Day of Atonement, etc.) but they do it in a way that demonstrates how Yeshua has already fulfilled these Holy Days. Most Messianic Jews do not celebrate Christmas or Easter, since neither holiday is mentioned in the New Covenant. Jews who now follow Yeshua the Messiah understand that everything given in the Old Covenant was a “mere shadow” of the better things to come in the New.

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Different Spiritual Gifts Mentioned in the Bible

There are actually six places in the New Testament where spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit are listed. Romans 12:3-8 mentions seven gifts, 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 lists nine gifts, 1 Corinthians 12:25-31 mentions eight gifts, 1 Corinthians 13 & 14 compares three gifts, Ephesians 4:11-13 mentions four gifts (though not all consider these spiritual gifts), and 1 Peter 4:10-11 mentions two gifts (although they may be two categories representing several other gifts). Only one gift appears in all lists (if we assume that “speaks” in 1 Peter 4:11 is a category that includes the gift of prophecy). But most gifts occur in more than one list. Some scholars consider “serving” in Romans 12 the same as “helping others” in 1 Corinthians 12. Also, some consider “leadership” and “administration” in those same two lists to be the same gift. Also, in Ephesians 4 some consider “pastors and teachers” to be two gifts, while others cite reasons it may be better to take them as one gift. With all these variables, there are various counts that are suggested for the actual number of spiritual gifts mentioned in Scripture.

Others, including myself, notice that no two of these six passages completely agree with any of the others in listing spiritual gifts. Since every list leaves off gifts that appear on other lists, none of the lists is comprehensive, listing all the gifts. If this is so, how can we be confident that there might not be other gifts the Spirit could bestow that are not on any of the existing lists? If this is so, then perhaps we cannot come up with a single specific number of spiritual gifts. My efforts to arrange and count the gifts mentioned in the Bible comes to eighteen, but I suspect there are likely others which are not mentioned in Scripture. It may be presumptuous to guess what some of these might be, but I would not be surprised if there might be gifts of such things as apologetics, music, mediation/reconciliation, motivating others. Now most assume there are eleven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Most Bible scholars recognize more than that, although there are reasons not everyone agrees exactly how many there are.

1. Prophecy
2. Serving/Helping Others
3. Teaching
4. Encouraging
5. Giving
6. Leadership/Administration
7. Showing Mercy
8. Message of Wisdom
9. Message of Knowledge
10. Faith
11. Healing
12. Working Miracles
13. Distinguishing Spirits
14. Tongues
15. Interpreting Tongues
16. Apostle
17. Evangelist
18. Pastor/Teacher

In God’s great gift of salvation, we have a number of benefits and responsibilities. Most Christians are quick to point out the personal benefits we receive with our salvation, but we are a little slower to focus on the responsibilities that come with it. When people speak of spiritual gifts, the focus is often on questions like, “Do you know what your spiritual gift is?” or “Have you taken this spiritual gifts survey?” While the knowledge of one’s gifting can be beneficial, we often lose sight of God’s design in these matters. Yes, the particular gifts of the Spirit are benefits to each believer, but they come with great responsibilities. Let’s take a walk through the biblical lists of gifts during this spiritual gifts survey.

There are two Greek words that are primarily used to describe the gifts of the Spirit. Pneumatika refers to their source, the Holy Spirit (pneuma) of God, and charismata refers to the fact that they are granted as an act of God’s grace (charis). Since they are given by grace, we are reminded that they are not based on our worthiness or personal abilities, but on God’s sovereign choice. Since they are given by the Spirit of God, they are a part of the new life granted to us in Christ (and may be drastically different from our perceived capabilities or desires prior to salvation). A brief examination of three key texts (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 1 Peter 4:10-11) will show us God’s design regarding His gifts.

One of the first things that becomes clear in these passages is the diversity of the gifts. When Paul listed the gifts in Romans 12; he identified different gifts than what he wrote in 1 Corinthians 12; and when Peter spoke of them in 1 Peter 4:10-11, he didn’t even bother specifying them. Among the things listed are prophecy, ministry, wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, teaching, exhorting, giving, ruling, showing mercy, speaking in languages, and interpreting languages. Whatever the specific use of each one was, they each fit together as the parts of the body work together to make a functional whole (Romans 12:5).

There are varying opinions regarding the number of spiritual gifts, as well as what the gifts are. Romans 12 lists at least seven, and 1 Corinthians 12 lists nine. There is some overlap in these, and there are certainly indications that God has more that He gives His children. What are some of these gifts? First Corinthians says God gives the word of wisdom and knowledge to some. This would seem to identify a particular ability to grasp spiritual truths in the Word of God and apply them to life. Prophecy is the ability to proclaim divine revelation to the church. As it is used in the New Testament, this gift seems more focused on determining God’s will in particular circumstances than on foretelling future events. Discerning of spirits seems to be connected with the gift of prophecy, and refers to checking the authority and validity of the message, in order to prevent false prophecy. Healing and miracles are often referred to as ‘sign gifts,’ since they were part of the validation for the ministry of Jesus and the apostles. God certainly still heals and does miracles, but these gifts to the church have largely ceased with the completion of the Bible and the validation of its message.

One of the most misunderstood gifts is that of language and interpretation. ‘Tongues’ in the KJV is simply a translation of the Greek glossa, which is the normal word for any language. In Acts 2:6-11, the people who were gathered in Jerusalem marveled that, even though the disciples were all untrained Galileans, they heard the ‘wonderful works of God’ in their own languages. Whatever else people might teach, two things here are clear: 1) The people in the crowd heard and understood what was being said about Jesus Christ, and 2) we are told what languages the message was received in at that time. Other gifts mentioned are faith, serving, encouraging, giving, ruling, and showing mercy. These are fairly self-explanatory. Whatever gift we look at, one common denominator is always in place-gifts were given by God Himself and are to be used for His glory in His church.

We can certainly learn of the gifts from these lists, but if we limit the gifts of the Spirit to those few that were enumerated, we miss the point. In all three passages, we are given a specific purpose of the gifts, and that is where we should direct our attention. In Romans 12:8, we are told to use the various gifts according to the character of God and His revealed will “…with simplicity…with diligence…with cheerfulness.” In 1 Corinthians 12:25, we are told that these gifts were given “so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” In 1 Peter 4:11, the purpose is “that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” The best way for us to understand spiritual gifts is to know how we can care for and serve one another to the glory of God. Whether we do that through teaching, feeding, healing, or any other method, we have a responsibility to God and to one another to offer ourselves as servants (2 Corinthians 4:9). So we also see that no one person is to have all the gifts, they are dispersed within the body of Christ, to make the body of Christ whole.

Here are a few more.

Vocational Gifts.

1. Apostles-Special Messengers Commissioned by Christ (the 12 Apostles of the Lamb) And those sent forth by the Holy Spirit Acts 13.

2. Prophets-The office of a Prophet in the Bible is different to an OT prophet. Agabas was a prophet in the New Testament Context and he demonstrated his office by revealing the future famine coming and that Paul would be bound when he went to Jerusalem. A prophet in the New Testament also receives Revelation but not to change anything in the Bible nor to contradict it.

Act 21:10..And as we stayed more days, a certain prophet from Judea named Agabus came down.
Act 21:11..And coming to us, and taking Paul’s belt, and binding his hands and feet, he said, The Holy Spirit says these things: So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man whose belt this is, and will deliver him into the hands of the nations.
Act 11:27..And in these days prophets from Jerusalem came to Antioch.
Act 11:28..And one of them named Agabus stood up and signified by the Spirit that there should be great famine over the world (which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar).
Other NT prophets mentioned.
Act 15:32 And Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, exhorted the brothers with many words and confirmed them.

There were prophets and teachers in the Church mentioned in Acts 13.
This ministry is still functioning today and plays a vital part in Church growth and protection from false prophets and teachers.
3.Pastors– Shepherds of God’s flock, leaders, elders. Mostly known and accepted by all denominations.
4. Teachers– distinct from Pastors and deal more with explanation rather than leadership. Pastor’s teach but in a different perspective to the distinct gift of teaching. Pastors teach with a father’s ability and include discipline and organization.
5. Evangelists– Preach the Good news to bring the message of Salvation to the unconverted and often have the miracles signs and wonders mentioned in the Bible following their ministries. Such was the case with Philip the Evangelist and a host of others recorded in Church history and our modern day.

The gifts of Power revealing God’s Omnipotence
1. The Gifts of Healings (miracle healings)

2. The Gift of Faith (drained of unbelief by the Spirit for a particular miracle purpose)

3. The Gift of working of Miracles. The active operation of a miracle like stretching the rod over the red sea.

The Gifts of Revelation Revealing God’s Omniscience
1. The gift of the discerning of spirits (this is where the Holy Spirit gives a person a view into the spirit world to distinguish a devil spirit, an angelic spirit and the ability to know a prophetic utterance is inspired by the human spirit, a demon spirit, Or the Holy Spirit.

2. A Word of Knowledge- the revelation given to a person by the Holy Spirit of facts past and present that are not known to the person except by the Holy Spirit. Peter knew what Ananaias And Saphira had done by this gift. Cornelius was told facts about where Peter was by this gift. Acts 10:5, 6.

The Gifts Of Inspired Utterance Revealing God’s Omnipresence.
1. Diverse tongues- Ability by the Holy Spirit to speak languages never learned

2. Ability to interpret the Message Of a Language never learned by the power of the Spirit.

3. The Gift of Prophecy- an utterance whereby God puts His word in the mouth of the speaker and the speaker becomes literally the mouthpiece of God.
The real gift of prophecy is just that. God transforms the person prophesying in such a way that God Himself is speaking directly through the human instrument. This is clearly what God is able to do and indeed it’s what He does. Mat 10:20..For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Numbers 22:8

In addition to knowing what the spiritual gifts, I believe it is important to get a perspective on;

1) why the gifts were given,

2) how the spirit uses the gifts to benefit the local church, and

3) what we can learn from personal experience.

I organize the gifts in four ways;

1) Role,

2) Gift,

3) Ministry, and

4) Office. Each gift has a corresponding role, ministry and office. If we want to know what all the gifts are then we need to start with the lists provided in scripture as already referenced, then add to and define all the other roles that Jesus performed when he ministered to people. Jesus commanded us to learn and obey everything he had commanded and carry on the ministry he established through the local church.

As individual Christians we are responsible to fulfill each one of these roles, when the opportunity presents itself, using the natural abilities God has given. We fulfill these roles in order to obey Jesus command to Love One Another. However, this love is first stirred in our hearts by the Holy Spirit and then we are given opportunities to pray, speak and act to express this love to our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

As we demonstrate our faithfulness in carrying out these roles, the Holy Spirit begins to release the spiritual gifts were we given on the day we were saved. We will be able to identify these gifts by the impact they have on ourselves and those we serve. For ourselves, I believe we will discover that;

1) our service feels effortless,

2) we have an abiding love and concern for the needs of others, and

3) we experience a joy that is deeply satisfying.

For other believers whom we care for;

1) they often feel incredibly blessed,

2) they encounter God’s presence through us,

3) they are filled with the Holy Spirit,

4) their faith grows and

5) they want to please God with their own service.

As we discover our gifts and begin to faithfully use them, the Holy Spirit then increases the occasions for using our gifts and establishes our ministries. If our eyes are open to the opportunities, I believe we will have occasions to use our gifts on a daily basis. This level of ministry has a profound effect in building up the body of Christ to maturity and completeness.

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Alabama Theater Won’t Screen ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Due to Gay Character

Not everyone is excited about LeFou’s “exclusively gay moment in a Disney moment.”

The Henagar Drive-In Theatre in Henagar, Alabama announced it won’t screen the upcoming Beauty and the Beast because it has a gay character.

The schedule occurred after director Bill Condon revealed that Josh Gad’s character LeFou, the comical sidekick to antagonist Gaston (Luke Evans), will be Disney’s first-ever LGBTQ character, in dedication to the original film’s late lyricist Howard Ashman. The Hollywood Reporter’s review of the film warned, “Rabid red-state homophobes may be incandescent with fury to see how things end up for him in the finale.”

Beauty and the Beast Cast, Director Bill Condon (front, left) and composer Alan Menken (front, right) join cast members Stevens, Watson, and Audra McDonald (front, left to right) and Evans, Gugu Mbatha-Raw Stevens, and Gad (back row, left to right) for a photo before the premiere.

Beauty and the Beast Cast, Director Bill Condon (front, left) and composer Alan Menken (front, right) join cast members Stevens, Watson, and Audra McDonald (front, left to right) and Evans, Gugu Mbatha-Raw Stevens, and Gad (back row, left to right) for a photo before the premiere.

The Alabama theater’s schedule shift was decided by the business’ new owners who took over in December. “When companies continually force their views on us we need to take a stand. We all make choices and I am making mine,” the business said in a statement on Facebook. “If we can not take our 11 year old grand daughter and 8 year old grandson to see a movie we have no business watching it. If I can’t sit through a movie with God or Jesus sitting by me then we have no business showing it.

“I know there will be some that do not agree with this decision. That’s fine,” reads the statement. “We are first and foremost Christians. We will not compromise on what the Bible teaches. We will continue to show family oriented films so you can feel free to come watch wholesome movies without worrying about sex, nudity, homosexuality and foul language.”

The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to Disney for comment.

Emma Watson

Emma Watson

Condon explained LeFou’s subplot alteration to Attitude: “LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston. … He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings. And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.” Gad tweeted that he is “beyond proud” to lead the major Disney benchmark.

Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Kevin Kline, Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Audra McDonald and Stanley Tucci are also featured in Beauty and the Beast, which hits theaters March 17.

Oh boy now Disney is pushing the gay agenda! Good for Alabama. That does not belong in a child’s movie. Should the theater owner that has a right to stand up for his right to be a Christian be ashamed for his stance in his business? No he shouldn’t be, Disney should be ashamed for pushing that agenda on unsuspecting children. No matter what anyone says being gay is not the norm, as a matter of fact only a small percent of all the people on the planet are gay, so that makes it an agenda when it gets pushed on innocent eyes. What a shame they did this to this movie it was one of the well loved wholesome and clean movies out there! Just sayin’.

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Jesus was Nailed to the Cross so did the Nails go through His Hands or His Wrists

The question of where the nails were placed goes to the question of whether Jesus was crucified on a cross, pole, or stake. Some scientists have suggested that if He was crucified on a cross, as tradition states, the hands would not have been strong enough to hold His weight. Therefore, they suggest that the nails were actually in His wrists, which are considered stronger and more capable of holding His weight. Others have posited that the hands would have been strong enough, considering that His feet were also nailed and would have supported some of His weight. There is also some historical evidence that sometimes a cross would have sort of a seat to help support the crucified person’s weight.

While historical scholars are uncertain of the nail placement in Jesus’ crucifixion, or anyone else’s for that matter, the Bible simply says that Jesus had wounds in His hands (John 20:25-27). The Greek word translated “hands” is cheir, which means literally “hands.” There is no Greek word for “wrists” in the New Testament, even though some versions translate Acts 12:7 to say that the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. But the Greek word in this verse is also cheir.

Suffering Produces EnduranceIt’s possible that the nails may have been angled to enter through the hand and exit through the wrist, but it’s just as likely that the nails were driven straight through the hand somewhere near the base of the thumb. Experiments have shown that both ways do work and either way could have been used in the crucifixion of Jesus.

Spiritually, the wounds of Christ hold infinite significance to us and are a part of His glory, but their exact location is a minor issue. We know that there are five wounds-the hands, the side, and the feet. Although we don’t know exactly where on the hands or the side or the feet, we do know that by His wounds, we are healed (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24). The wounds on His body brought about spiritual healing from sin to all who would ever believe in Him.

Now the next question would be, Is Jesus still with nail scars and the wound on his side?

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