How did they handle persecution? The Biblical Record

Saint Philip Baptizing the Eunuch of the Queen of Ethiopia, Théodore Chassériau, 1819–1856

Saint Philip Baptizing the Eunuch of the Queen of Ethiopia, Théodore Chassériau (1819 – 1856). Click image to link to the post.

How ought the brethren to have handled the sudden, violent death of Stephen in Acts 7? “Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him” (Acts 8:2). Naturally the initial response was emotional.

The biblical record however does not dwell on their emotional turmoil. In 31 AD (Williams 1964:33), straight after the initial persecutions, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ” (Acts 8:5). How did Phillip handle persecution? By confidently confessing Jesus Christ and him crucified.

In 33 AD (Williams 1964:33), after Saul’s conversion, “the Jews plotted to kill him” (Acts 9:23). Yet their scheme was thwarted. As soon as he was delivered out of their hands “he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord” (Acts 9:28). How did Paul handle persecution? By valiantly declaring the whole counsel of God.

In 44 AD (Douglas 1962:523), “Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also” (Acts 12:1 – 3). Yet after Peter was miraculously released “the word of God increased and multiplied” (Acts 12:24). How did Peter handle persecution? By becoming increasingly more bold to speak the word without fear.

“How did they handle persecution?” We must answer: every persecution levelled against the early church was used by God to fan into flame the zeal of His Church.


Who can I turn to? (Part 5)

Have you picked up this series of posts from Part 1 of Who can I turn to when things come crashing down around me? If not you might appreciate the context.

I love God’s Word and I wish to faithfully preach it. Nothing has aided me more in that process than reading it, praying it and living it. However to ensure that I’m as faithful to God’s intent during my preparation for a sermon, before I turn to a commentary or any other tool, I diagram the text in question.

Over the last few posts I’ve jotted my ideas on Psalms 121. In truth I didn’t spend too long on this “sermon” as it was intended as an assignment rather than a sermon for Crystal Park Baptist Church. I got to start the preparation at 18:00 on a Sunday night after services and evangelism and fathering and husbanding [sic] and finished at about 24:00. Below is the diagram I put together for the work. It took about an hour to do (I usually spend 4 hours diagramming and include language study in the process).

Psalm 121, Outline, Sermon

Click the image to enlarge.

Below is the handout that the congregation would receive for keeping track and note taking. The idea is that the sermon that is preached follows the same structure as the text which is used. God’s intent is explained to the people.

Psalm 121, Handout, Sermon

Click the image to enlarge.

Why did I use the KJV? No particular reason other than I like the way that the thees and the thous roll off the tongue when reading poetic books like Psalms.

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

7 The LORD will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.”

Want to hear the verse in context? Psalm 107 – 121
What is this about?

Who can I turn to when things come crashing down around me? (Part 4)

Did you read Part 1 of Who can I turn to when things come crashing down around me? If so, the first reason to trust in the LORD during times of tribulation is that the LORD will help His own. The second reason to trust in the LORD during times of tribulation is that the LORD will keep His own. The final reason given in Psalm 121 to trust in the LORD during times of tribulation is that the LORD will preserve His own.

Hear the words of verse 7; whist listening out for the word “preserve”,

7 The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil:
he shall preserve thy soul.”

Want to hear the verse in context? Psalm 107 – 121
What is this about?

Most certainly the Psalmist has been climbing towards a climatically conclusion. That the LORD would be our helper is elevated when we recognise that the LORD is also our keeper which in turn is exalted when we realise that the LORD is our preserver.

The Psalmist here has risen above the temporal concerns of the body and is now considering God’s preserving of the soul. That He might keep us from the clutches of sin, the perversion of error, protect us from the lusts of the world, the flesh and devil is a wondrous thought indeed.

Consider the glorious conclusion to Jude’s short letter where he too extols this preservation work of the LORD, 24 Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present [you] faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, 25 To the only wise God our Saviour, [be] glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever.” (Jude 24 – 25). Are we not moved to sound out a joyous resounding “Amen!” along with him as we ponder the preservation work of God?

8 The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in
from this time forth, and even for evermore.”

Want to hear the verse in context? Psalm 107 – 121
What is this about?

Psalm 121, Preserve, Stained Glass Window of the Congressional Prayer Room

This stained glass window hangs in the Congressional Prayer Room. The key text reads, “Preserve me o God for in thee do I put my trust.” I have to point out the pyramid incorporated into the window and the eye above it. Below, the Latin phrase, “Novus Ordo Seclorum” (A new order of the ages is born). Click image to enlarge.

“The psalm ends with a pledge which could hardly be stronger or more sweeping. Your going out and your coming in is not only a way of saying ‘everything’… in closer details it draws attention to one’s ventures and enterprises…perhaps even (by another association of this pair of verbs) to the dawn and sunset of one’s days” (kidner 1975).

Oh that we would lean more heavy upon Him who can bear the weight. When Our load is weighty and our weakness laid bare it is then that that He is most strong, most capable, most able to help and keep and preserve us to the end.

American Baptist missionary, Adoniram Judson, reflecting on this Psalm made the following statement, “He has not led me so tenderly thus far to forsake me at the very gate of heaven” (Stuart 2005:353).

There are three reasons to trust in the LORD during times of tribulation. The first reason is that the LORD will help His own. The second reason is that the LORD will keep His own. The final reason is that the LORD will preserve His own.

Friends, like the Psalmist we are all travellers journeying through this world of ills and woes. Yet as you tread on the path, as you pass through valleys of despair and deserts of desolation I plead with you to turn and rest upon Him who can truly help you, Him you can safely protect you and Him who will ultimately preserve you; to the glory of God and the praise of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.


Who can I turn to when things come crashing down around me? (Part 3)

Did you read Part 1 of Who can I turn to when things come crashing down around me? If so, the first reason to trust in the LORD during times of tribulation is that the LORD will help His own. The second reason to trust in the LORD during times of tribulation is that the LORD will keep His own.

Hear the words of verse 3 and 4; whist listening out for the word “keepeth”,

3 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved:
he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
4 Behold, he that keepeth Israel
shall neither slumber nor sleep.”

Want to hear the verse in context? Psalm 107 – 121
What is this about?

One thing I love about God’s Word is the personal pronouns. As we read the text in verse 3 notice how the Psalmist attributes God’s gracious keeping to the individual; “thy foot”, “he that keepeth thee”. The God of the universe who sustains the heavens above, who plots the paths of the stars in the sky is also our Father who lovingly looks over us.

Psalm 121, Stand Firm, Chris Collingwood

I find military art captivating. This piece, Stand Firm, by artist Chris Collingwood, depicts the Battle for Rorkes Drift. Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded to the defenders of Rorke’s Drift, seven of them to soldiers of the 2nd/24th Foot – the most ever received in a single action by one regiment. Click image to link to source.

This concept of keeping encapsulates the idea that “God will enable you to stand firm… [that] …You are safe in his protection.” (Barnes 1987:233) What a thought! God does not just offer help to those in need but also ensures that that help will be enough to sustain us through the trails that we’re facing. The greatest of reformers put it like this,

“God is exhibited to the faithful as their guardian, that they may rest with assured confidence on his providence… Now, although if often happens that the faithful stagger, yea, are even ready to fall altogether, yet as God sustains them by his power, they are said to stand upright” (Calvin, 2005:65).

5 The LORD is thy keeper:
the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.
6 The sun shall not smite thee by day,
nor the moon by night.

Want to hear the verse in context? Psalm 107 – 121
What is this about?

The Psalmists paints a very practical metaphor here. The heat in the Holy Land can be unbearable. There is scant vegetation to cheer the footpath which cuts through the gravelly ground strewn with rocks upon which the weary pilgrim must tread. The fatigued and exhausted are reminded that there is provision and strength which comes from the LORD. It is He who shields, He who protects, He who upholds.

I’m reminded of Psalm 21 where David says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou [art] with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Ps 23:4).

Do you live knowing the reality of God’s divine hand of protection in your life? When you’re battered and beaten, broken and soar, no will or energy left of your own do you turn to Him who never gets weary, never gets tired, never is frail? Believers, are you able to say “The LORD [is] my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him” (Psa 28:7).

Kathryn’s collarbone

My youngest daughter, Kathryn, has broken her collarbone. Such is the growing process I suspect. If you know her please hold her up in your prayers as God heals her body. Also pray that God will use this incident to His glory in her life.

Left: Penrith kids are tough. Not so tough that they don’t get hurt mind you. This photo show’s Kathryn sporting her new fashion accessory, a sling. Right: It’s to the upper left of the X-Ray. The break is clean, the bone is misaligned and separated by a gap of 2mm. Click any photo to enlarge.

I’m happy in the certain knowledge that God uses the good and bad to achieve His purposes. Case in point, think of Joseph speaking to his brothers at the end of Genesis,

20 “As for you, you meant evil against me, {but} God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.

Many thanks, In Christ and for His glory,


How has God used situations in your life to His glory?

Cold framing – Part 1

Blood, sweat and…

Last weekend I tackled winter. Now I’ll be the first to admit that winter in South Africa is not overly harsh. We don’t suffer the scourge of snow. Yes we get hail but it’s the size of smarties not baseballs. Even the frost hardly bites. However, some of my* softer veggies don’t do to well during the colder months, and so, equipped with a few Google inspired designs, I began building a cold frame.

A cold frame is kind of a mini greenhouse of sorts but it’s always smaller, sometimes portable and often disposable. By using a cold frame the green fingered horticulturist can warm plants in the autum, protect seedlings from frost in the winter and even integrate irrigation all year long for effortless gardening (ja right!). My plan was to ensure that tomatoes, lettuce, beans and other softer veggies make it to my plate during the colder months.

Step 1 – Planning

Blood, sweat and…

This is definitely where you want to spend some quality time. More thought during planning will directly translate into less frustration during execution.

When it came to the frame I considered wood and steel but settled on PVC. The reason for this is that PVC is dirt cheap, very light and functionally acceptable for what I was trying to do.

Even before I got started I invited Dave, an older, wiser more ten fingered friend of mine over to the house to give me a bit of advice. As I think of that I’m reminded of Solomon’s words to the wise in Proverbs 15:22:

22 Plans fail for lack of counsel,
but with many advisers they succeed.”

To build the frame I collected the following material from the local hardware:

14 4 metre long spans of 20 millimetre PVC pipe R4.95 each
1 4 metre long span of 22 millimetre PVC pipe R6.95
4 20 millimetre T-connectors R7.95 each
1 4-way-connector R9.95 each
4 Right-angle-connector R12.95 each
4 20 millimetre joins R4.95
1 Bottle of PVC rock cement R16.95

The frame cost about R150. At about R8,30 to the dollar that translates into $10.

Step 2 – Assembly

This is the not-so-fun part of the exercise.

I read the Old Testament book of Exodus a while back. A lot of the book concerns the building of the tabernacle. Chapter 31 verses 1 – 3 really struck me:

1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 3 “I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all {kinds of} craftsmanship,”

The real workers.

Did you notice how God in His infinite wisdom bestowed the knowledge of craftsmanship on Bezalel? Well, in His infinite wisdom, He chose not to be so benevolent with me. Putting the frame together took about 4 hours longer than it should have.

Step 3 – Preparation

It all started out as rubble.

2010 Soccer World Cup fever has hit South Africa. It’s really exciting to be in a country hosting such a major event. One of the projects that the City I live in is undertaking is called the Gautrain. It’s a rapid rail system to facilitate the quick movement of tourist in and around the city. The track eats through the earth about 5 kms from the plot that I stay on. They’ve excavated tons and tons of dirt and rock to carve the route for the train. This comes with benefits: A quarry of stone just waiting to be utilised.

The digging resulted in a hole.

I had already decided to build a raised bed on which the cold frame would stand. I have a nursery on the plot behind our house and I figured in addition to warming up the winter sprouts the frame could add to the privacy of the back garden if it were raised about 60 centimetres.

Also I’ve wanted to do something with stone my whole life.

The hole was filled with rubble.

Now I’m no engineer, but I figured if I was going to have a natural stone wall I had better lay some type of foundation. After Casswell and I cleared a 4 metre by 2 and a half metre bed we got around to digging a 30 centimetre foundation.

Step 4 – Building

Yes, my back was sore for a week after this.

Maybe you can see the grey border around the perimeter of the bed? It’s a clay sand that we dug up from the dam in the middle of the plot and then mixed with water into the foundation rubble. It took forever, but my kids had a blast and ended up totally caked in mud.

After that we laid a rim of larger stones and filled the centre with soil. My plan was to use the inertia of the soil pressure to keep the stone in place. Time will tell if this actually works out or not, but I have certainly enjoyed the effort involved in putting the whole thing together.

The jobs not finished by a long shot. I still have to cover the frame with plastic and do some planting, but the rest will have to wait until Part 2, who knows, maybe next week?

The half finished process.

Right now I thought I’d say this: In Genesis because of man’s sin God pronounces judgement on him. Genesis 3:17 – 19 says:

17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. 18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; 19 By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.””

Painful stuff. I experience the ramifications of that curse every time I don gloves pick up a spade and head out into the garden, and every time I go into the office, in fact every time I attempt anything. Basically sin has messed everything up. Everything.

Adam, and each one of us, caused and causes this mess we find ourselves in. That’s why the words in Romans 5 are so startling:

6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

How do you experiance this curse? Do you enjoy the fruits or the labour?

* too be honest the veggie patch really belongs to Liezl.

Between a rock and a hard place

They’re just so precious aren’t they?

bzzzzzt… bzzzzzt… BZZZZZ, bzzzzzt… bzzzzzt… BZZZZZ. The Nokia vibrated in my pocket, again, making me wonder what could be so urgent. I’d been in a meeting for 15 minutes and this was the sixth time a call had come through.

“Hi, it’s Mark,” I half whispered as I stood and headed towards the door excusing myself by nodding to the other meeting participants.

My dad’s voice was on the other line, he sounded short, serious, a bit worried. “Mark, Liezl is trying to get hold of you, there’s something wrong with Kathryn. She’s not breathing well.”

Anxiety mixed with one part worry, two parts concerns and a dash of anger left me feeling a bit punch drunk.

That night was almost sleepless and I had plenty of time to think. One of the things I was reminded of was the way that David wrote Psalms. You see David was a man who frequently had to stand up to life’s curve balls. When he wrote to and about God he would put his problems forward, honestly, plainly, in his humanity. Then he’d remind himself of God’s ability to take care of him. Finally he would also burst out into praise, exulting God as his hope and shield in times of trouble.

Check out Psalm 59 for instance:

For the director of music. To the tune of “Do Not Destroy.” Of David. A miktam . When Saul had sent men to watch David’s house in order to kill him.


1 Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;
Set me {securely} on high away from those who rise up against me.

2 Deliver me from those who do iniquity
And save me from men of bloodshed.

3 For behold, they have set an ambush for my life;
Fierce men launch an attack against me,
Not for my transgression nor for my sin, O LORD,

4 For no guilt of {mine,} they run and set themselves against me.
Arouse Yourself to help me, and see!


5 You, O LORD God of hosts, the God of Israel,
Awake to punish all the nations;
Do not be gracious to any {who are} treacherous in iniquity.

6 They return at evening, they howl like a dog,
And go around the city.

7 Behold, they belch forth with their mouth;
Swords are in their lips,
For, {they say,} “Who hears?”

8 But You, O LORD, laugh at them;
You scoff at all the nations.

9 {Because of} his strength I will watch for You,
For God is my stronghold.

10 My God in His lovingkindness will meet me;
God will let me look {triumphantly} upon my foes.

11 Do not slay them, or my people will forget;
Scatter them by Your power, and bring them down, O Lord, our shield.

12 {On account of} the sin of their mouth {and} the words of their lips,
Let them even be caught in their pride,
And on account of curses and lies which they utter.

13 Destroy {them} in wrath,
destroy {them} that they may be no more;
That {men} may know that God rules in Jacob
To the ends of the earth.

14 They return at evening, they howl like a dog,
And go around the city.

15 They wander about for food
And growl if they are not satisfied.


16 But as for me,
I shall sing of Your strength;
Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning,
For You have been my stronghold
And a refuge in the day of my distress.

17 O my strength, I will sing praises to You;
For God is my stronghold, the God who shows me lovingkindness.

Acts 13:22 describes David as a man after God’s own heart. Man, that’s what I want be, turning life’s situations into praise.

What are you facing at the moment? Feeling overwhelmed? Are you honest with God when you lay your petitions before Him? When things are tight how do you do on the praise side?