Harvest Raleigh Church

Loving God, One Another, & Others

A CALL TO PRAYER AND ENGAGEMENT THIS RAMADAN

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UNDERSTANDING RAMADAN:

March 10th marked the beginning of Ramadan, an important time for Muslims worldwide. During this month, they fast, pray, and reflect, showing their dedication to Allah. They abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, coming together for special prayers and communal gatherings with meals after sundown.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF RAMADAN FOR MUSLIMS:

For Muslims, Ramadan holds deep spiritual significance. It’s a time for renewal as they seek closeness to Allah through fasting, prayer, and reading the Quran. By observing Ramadan, Muslims hope to find favor with Allah and earn salvation.

A CHRISTIAN OPPORTUNITY:

As Christians, we see Ramadan as a unique opportunity for prayer and engagement. While we’re always praying for God to send His laborers among the lost, Ramadan’s focus on spiritual practices among Muslims creates a unique atmosphere. While our Muslim neighbors devote themselves to spiritual practices, we can join in prayer, asking God to open their hearts to the message of Jesus Christ.

RESOURCES FOR PRAYER & UNDERSTANDING ISLAM:

To help pray effectively, the International Mission Board offers a helpful Ramadan prayer guide. It’s filled with insights and specific prayer points to guide our prayers. You can access the prayer guide here.

Our ministry partner, John Messiah, through Global Gates, also provides daily prayer points straight to your inbox. You can sign up here.

PRAYER POINTS:

  1. Pray for God to open the hearts and minds of many Muslims this month, creating an open door for us to share the gospel with them.
  2. Pray that many Muslims will come to believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven and place their faith in Him as Lord and Savior.
  3. Pray for all Muslims observing Ramadan and seeking closeness with Allah that the one true God would reveal Himself to them unexpectedly.

Let’s embrace the opportunity presented by Ramadan, approaching this season with compassion and commitment. Through our prayers and witness, may God’s love touch hearts, transform lives, and draw all people into His grace.

Shelly and I took this photo in Hyderabad, India, during Ramadan.  It was taken around 1 am, the night before Eid, the end of Ramadan. Muslims were out shopping late for Eid and preparing to celebrate with family and friends. The atmosphere was lively, with lots of delicious food options.

Part III of Our Journey Through Union with Christ

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Finding Hope and Glory in Suffering

Introduction: The Inescapable Reality of Suffering

In my preaching class, we’re taught to highlight the Bible’s relevance to our audience. Yet, for this third installment of our series on the principle of suffering, there’s no need to draw such connections artificially. From the moment of the Fall, suffering has been an indelible part of our existence, touching every life in various ways. It’s crucial to understand that our suffering is a direct consequence of sin, even if it is not our own. As we peel back the layers of our faith, we find at its core a truth that binds us to Christ not only in His death, life, and resurrection but in His suffering.

The Union with Christ in Suffering

When Jesus asked Saul, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4), He unveiled the profound union between Himself and His church. This verse, Acts 9:4, has become precious for me, a reminder that I am not alone in my own trials and sufferings—Christ is with me, experiencing my pain and tears.

Our union with Christ means not only that He shares in our suffering, but we share in His—John 15:18 like Master, like servant. Suffering identifies us with Christ. And His mission becomes our mission, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21).

To be part of His mission often involves suffering. If we were of the world, the world would love us as its own John 15:19. And since we are not of the world, we face opposition. It’s worth pondering that sometimes the absence of suffering in our lives is a sign of conformity to the world’s ways. Recognizing our shared sufferings with Christ naturally leads us to a pivotal question: how do we then embrace these trials with a sense of hope?

Hope in the Midst of Pain

We hold onto hope as we face suffering, recognizing it as crucial to following Christ. Suffering deepens our spiritual maturity and brings us closer to God, ensuring no pain or hardship is wasted.

When I first embraced salvation, my family turned away, offering no words of welcome or celebration. Friends distanced themselves, viewing my choice as folly. It was in this isolation I understood I wasn’t yet where I truly belonged, with Jesus. God taught me a great lesson through that experience: It’s in the emptiness of having nothing that you discover Jesus is everything. Every trial is an opportunity to be conformed more to the image of Christ.

With hope as our anchor, we now explore how our present sufferings are not merely challenges to endure but pathways leading us to future glory beyond comparison.

Shared Sufferings, Shared Glory

Paul’s letters often juxtapose suffering with glory, emphasizing that one precedes the other.

Romans 8:17 – “and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

2 Corinthians 4:17 – “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,”

Other verses include Rom 5: 2–4, Romans 8:18, Col 1:24–27, 1 Peter 5:10, etc.

This pattern, suffering then glory, mirrors the journey of Jesus Himself—a “man of sorrows” who entered into glory through the cross. Understanding suffering as a pathway to glory, we are compelled to confront our trials with an awareness of God’s unfailing presence and love, which sustains us through every trial.

Confronting Our Sufferings with God’s Unfailing Presence and Love

When facing suffering, there is a temptation to question God’s love. Does God really love me? If He does, then why am I going through this? The presence of suffering does not mean the absence of His presence or love.

God’s Presence in Our Pain: In ancient Hebrew writing, they didn’t have tools like italics or bold text to highlight something important. Instead, they used a structure called a chiasm–– arranging ideas in a specific sequence to spotlight the central message. Imagine a chicken sandwich—the most crucial part isn’t the bread, but what’s in the middle: chicken.

In Psalm 23, that central, crucial part is “You are with me,” capturing the essence of David’s message about God’s presence amidst suffering and guidance through every trial and tribulation.

The Unbreakable Bond of Christ’s Love: In Romans 8, Paul poses a rhetorical question, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” knowing about the suffering Roman Christians were under, “Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword” (Romans 8:35). But, notice he’s not asking if our love for Christ can handle the heat. He’s asking if anything out there—any hardship or trial we face—can cut us off from Christ’s love for us. Spoiler: The answer’s a resounding No.

God’s presence and love is the greatest prize for people who suffer. His presence, comfort, and empathy mean much more in the moment of sadness than all the intellectual answers we can suggest. As we’ve explored suffering, our union with Christ, and the hope that guides us, let’s bring together our insights to understand how they strengthen our faith.

Concluding Reflections: Walking Together in the Light of Easter Hope

Reflecting on the nature of suffering and God’s understanding of it, one might wonder, “What does God truly know about suffering?” Living in the realm of eternal peace and joy, how can He grasp the depth of grief, fear, or suffering that part of our earthly existence?

Yet, this question finds its answer in the raw, anguished cry from the cross: “Elahi Elahi Lama Sabachitani,” which translates to “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” This moment captures the depth of God’s empathy and understanding of human suffering. It is a powerful testament that God, in the person of Jesus Christ, has not only observed our suffering from a distance but also lived through its ultimate form. This act of God, becoming man and bearing the cross, shows us that He is intimately connected to every facet of human suffering.

To my church family, whether you are going through trials or not, know this: your suffering is seen, known, and shared by a Savior who loves you deeply. Let the reality of “Christ in us” be your strength, your comfort, and your hope. As we approach Easter, the ultimate symbol of suffering transformed into victory, let’s hold tightly to the hope of resurrection. Our union with Christ means that we, too, can look beyond our present sufferings to the glory that awaits us. Let’s walk this path together drawing near to God, where one day He will wipe away every tear, and His joy will be ours for eternity.

Blessings, 
Pastor Ronny

Part II: Embracing the Principles of Salvation and Sanctification

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In our journey through the three-part series delving into the richness of Paul’s theological insights, shaped profoundly by his dramatic conversion, we arrive at Part II. While the first part focused on the conversion of the Apostle Paul, we now focus on the profound principles of salvation and sanctification. 

The Principle of Salvation: A Profound Union with Christ

Imagine the moment when Jesus confronts Paul with a question that pierces the heart: “Why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). Here’s Paul, who’s never laid a finger on Jesus Himself, known for targeting His followers instead. Yet, Jesus doesn’t say, “Why are you persecuting my followers?” He makes it personal: “Me.” It’s a moment of profound confusion for Paul, a turning point where his self-righteousness begins to fall—even before the scales fall from his eyes (Acts 9:18).

Paul would realize that what we do to Jesus’s followers, we do to Him. This revealed an intimate connection between Jesus and His followers, a union so close that Jesus experiences what His followers experience. This union means we participate in Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension (Romans 6:1–11). It’s a profound reality that signifies the death of our old selves and our rebirth into a life marked by freedom and holiness.

Often, we might limit our view of Christ’s work to a transaction, purely in forensic terms—Jesus paid our debt, satisfied God’s justice, and bore the wrath meant for our sins, enabling God’s forgiveness. While all of this is undeniably true, it doesn’t fully capture the depth of what Jesus did for us. He didn’t just pay a price; He united Himself with us. John Calvin insightfully noted, “As long as Christ remains outside of us and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value to us.”

Consider the daring language Paul uses in Galatians 3:13. It’s bold, almost audacious: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” Galatians 3:13. Pause and let that sink in. It is one of the most precious verses in the entire Bible: the sinless Savior took upon Himself the curse we deserved, so we might receive the blessings promised to Abraham by faith (Galatians 3:14). In Christ, and only in Christ, we receive this blessing of redemption.

2 Corinthians 5:21 further illustrates this union: God made the sinless One to be sin on our behalf. This divine exchange—His righteousness for our sinfulness—allows us to stand before God not in our own flawed righteousness but in the perfect righteousness of Christ.

Philippians 3:9 captures Paul’s longing and the universal Christian aspiration: to be found in Christ, possessing not our own righteousness derived from the law but the righteousness that comes through faith. It’s a declaration that our ultimate security and identity rest in the life of Christ within us, not in our own merits. This union with Christ is the heart of the gospel, a profound and beautifully emphatic truth that it should bring us to our knees in worship, marveling at the mystery and mercy of “Christ in us.”

The Principle of Sanctification: Living the Union

This union with Christ extends beyond salvation into how we live our lives—sanctification. This principle has both a deeply personal and a collective dimension that shapes our existence.

On a Personal Level:

Consider Paul’s intense dialogue with the Corinthians about their moral missteps (1 Cor 6:15-20). He paints a vivid picture: when believers entangle themselves in sin, such as visiting prostitutes, it’s not an isolated act. Paul’s stark message is that in doing so, we metaphorically drag Christ into our mess. This imagery isn’t meant to shock us but to awaken us to the reality of our inseparable bond with Jesus. Whether it’s succumbing to the lure of pornography or stepping into places we have no business being, Paul reminds us that these aren’t solo ventures into darkness. Jesus isn’t waiting outside; He’s in every choice we make because of our union with Him. Our union with Christ means He’s part of every aspect of our lives, even those moments we wish He weren’t. 

Each decision we make in private has the potential to affect the broader body of Christ. 

On a Corporate Level:

As followers of Christ, the very thought of directly hurting Jesus, slandering His name, or turning others away from Him is disgusting to us. The idea of persecuting the One who gave everything to us is unimaginable. Yet, Paul brings to light a challenging truth—we often fail to see how our actions towards fellow believers are, in essence, actions towards Christ Himself. When we engage in slander, spread falsehoods, and allow divisions over non-essential doctrines to fracture our unity, we’re not harming our brothers and sisters but wounding Christ.

This revelation should be a wake-up call for all of us. Imagine if we all lived with the awareness that our actions toward others are actions toward Christ. How we speak about or treat fellow believers is, in essence, how we treat Jesus. If we truly grasp and live out this understanding, imagine the impact— Christian marriages healed, churches united, and a bold witness to the lost world that truly reflects the love and holiness of Christ.

This isn’t about guilt-tripping but a call to the reality of “Christ in us.” Our bond with Christ is meant to be our strength, guide, and comfort—not something we try to temporarily shake off for fleeting pleasures. Let’s live fully aware of His presence, making choices that honor our profound union with Him.

Looking Ahead: Navigating Through Suffering

As we progress to the next part of our series, we will explore the Principle of Suffering, examining how Paul’s insights into suffering offer us profound guidance on enduring hardships and finding comfort in our union with Christ. 

Reflection: 

When Paul speaks to the Corinthians about their actions (1 Cor 6:15-20), he urges them to see beyond the act itself to the union their choices affect. How do your private choices reflect your union with Christ, knowing He is with you in every decision?

And on a broader scale, think about how your words and actions impact your church community. Have you considered that a harsh word or an unforgiving stance might not only hurt your brother or sister but also grieve Christ? What steps can you take?

Blessings, 

Pastor Ronny

THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS: A JOURNEY FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT

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PART – I

In the unfolding drama of God’s redemptive story, a moment stands out with stunning clarity—the conversion of Paul as a testament to God’s boundless mercy and transformative power. This significant event serves as a key milestone in the history of the church and lays the groundwork for Paul’s later contributions of deep theological insight to the Christian faith. As we study the conversion of Paul, we’re journeying on a three-part series that will unfold the richness of Paul’s theological insights, which are shaped by his dramatic conversion. This first part focuses on the conversion of the apostle Paul. Next week’s article will focus on the principles of salvation and sanctification. The third article addresses the principle of suffering. These principles offer us profound insights into the heart of the Christian faith and life based on Christ’s union with His people.

WHO WAS SAUL? “SAUL, WHO WAS ALSO CALLED PAUL” ACTS 13:9

Before we delve into the pivotal moment of his conversion, let’s briefly explore who Paul was. We know him formally in the New Testament as both Paul and Saul. Saul, a name that ties him to the first king of Israel, King Saul, reflects his Jewish heritage. On the other hand, Paul is a Roman name meaning “small” in Latin.

Born in Tarsus, now part of modern-day Turkey, Paul was a Roman citizen by birth, a privilege that granted him significant rights and protections such as the right to a fair trial and exemption from certain forms of punishment (Acts 22:28). Despite the present-day Muslim majority in Turkey, Paul’s roots were deeply Jewish. He was of the tribe of Benjamin, a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” and a Pharisee, rigorously educated in the traditions of his ancestors under the guidance of Gamaliel (Philippians 3:5-6; Acts 22:3). Besides his scholarly pursuits, Paul was also a tentmaker by trade (Acts 18:3).

Understanding Paul’s rich background is key to appreciating the dramatic shift his life took. His deep knowledge of Jewish law and passionate persecution of early Christians underscore the magnitude of his transformation.

THE TURNING POINT

Saul, as he was then known, gave his approval when Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7:58). From that moment, Saul’s rage against Christians only intensified. The Bible says he was “ravaging the church” (Acts 8:3), a term that paints a picture of a wild beast tearing apart its prey. Why this intense persecution? With his deep roots in Jewish tradition and law, Saul believed he was serving God by eradicating this new faith. To him, Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross marked Him as cursed, as per the law in Deuteronomy 21:23 (for a hanged man is cursed by God). The very idea of a crucified Messiah was unthinkable, laughable even. So, when he set out that day to destroy Christianity, it was with the conviction that he was doing God’s work. But God had a different plan.

As Saul neared Damascus, something incredible happened. A light from heaven, brighter than the blazing sun at noon, suddenly surrounded him. In that light, Saul heard a voice, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). The initial shock of being addressed by name by the Divine was overwhelming. His fearful response? 

“Who are You, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting.” Can you imagine Paul’s emotions when he realized the One he deemed cursed was, in fact, exalted and speaking to him? Words won’t do any justice to describe Paul’s shock, confusion, and fear. 

First, there’s a shock. The voice from heaven knows his name, knows his actions, and knows his heart.

Then, there’s confusion. Saul’s actions, which he believed were in defense of God’s law, are now being questioned by God Himself.

Beneath the confusion, there’s fear. The realization that he might be opposing God Himself is terrifying. The implications are staggering, shaking the very foundations of his identity and purpose.

FACING THE TRUTH: 

In recognizing Jesus as Lord, Saul’s entire theological framework was dismantled and rebuilt. Jesus was not only the Messiah but God incarnate, the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), the Lord of Glory (1 Corinthians 2:8). Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ divine nature was the product of his careful reflection on the significance of his conversion experience. 

Beneath the confusion and fear, there’s also a profound sense of vulnerability. The voice of Jesus, though challenging, is not condemning. It reaches out to Saul in his misguided zeal, offering not destruction but a chance for transformation. This unexpected mercy humbles Saul and exposes him to a truth he had never considered: that in persecuting the followers of Jesus, he was persecuting Jesus Himself.

LOOKING AHEAD: 

The question, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” underscores a profound theological truth: Jesus so intimately identifies with His followers that to persecute them is to persecute Him directly. This revelation was the cornerstone of Paul’s understanding of salvation. This understanding of Jesus’ identity and His union with believers became the bedrock of Paul’s theology.

In the next two weeks, as we continue to explore Paul’s theological journey, we will dive deeper into the principles underpinning his life and ministry: The Principle of Salvation, the Principle of Sanctification, and the Principle of Suffering. How Paul’s understanding of being united with Christ not only in his death but also in his resurrection informs our daily living, calling us to a life that reflects the holiness and love of Jesus.

REFLECTIVE QUESTION:

Paul’s encounter with Jesus left a legacy that has touched generations. What kind of spiritual legacy do you hope to leave behind? How do you want your relationship with Jesus to influence others?

Blessings,
Pastor Ronny

A Practical Guide to Fasting

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As we continue our journey into the third day of fasting, let’s take a moment to reflect on our unique participation in this spiritual discipline. John Piper reminds us, “Fasting is an expression of finding your greatest pleasure and enjoyment in life from God.” This reminder helps us understand that fasting is not about earning favor with God but about drawing closer to Him. With this in mind, let’s ensure our fasting method is both spiritually meaningful and physically mindful.

1)     Types of Fasts: Embracing Fasting as a Spiritual Discipline Fasting is more than altering our eating habits; it’s a deliberate act of making more room for God in our lives. Each type of fast, whether complete, partial, or activity-based, is an invitation to deepen our relationship with the Lord. 

a)     Complete Fast: Involves abstaining from all food for a significant part of the day, usually from sunrise to sunset. This type of fast is a powerful symbol of our total dependence on God, and It’s a tangible expression that our sustenance comes not from bread alone but from every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:1-2).

b)     Partial or Selective Fast: This could involve skipping specific meals like breakfast and lunch or removing certain foods from your diet. As we let go of meats, sweets, or processed foods, it’s a reminder to feast instead on God’s Word and presence, seeking Him with a purity of heart and mind. 

c)      Activity Fast: This is fasting from daily activities that might draw our attention away from God, such as social media, television, or other habitual distractions. In today’s digitally connected world, an activity fast can be profoundly countercultural. It allows us to redirect our focus from the noise of the world to the quietness where God often speaks. This type of fast creates that much-needed stillness in our lives.

2)     Health and Wisdom in Fasting: If you have health concerns, it’s essential to adapt your fast accordingly. Our physical well-being is crucial on this journey. The purpose of fasting is to draw us closer to God, not to compromise our health.

3)     Hydration and Breaking the Fast: Stay hydrated, and when breaking your fast, do so gently with something light and easy to digest. This is especially important if you’re doing a full fast or are new to fasting.

4)     Flexibility and Focus: If your chosen method of fasting proves too challenging, it’s okay to adjust. The heart of fasting is about seeking God, not about the specifics of how we fast.

5)     Deepening Our Communion with God: As we fast, let’s remember we’re not just abstaining from food or activities but feasting on God’s Word and presence. This time is an opportunity to deepen our relationship with Him.

As we press on in our week of fasting and prayer, I am fervently praying for you, asking God to guide us into the profound privilege of being in Christ’s presence during this time. I trust that these days of focused communion with the Lord will lead you to an even deeper understanding of the incredible joy and privilege of walking with Him.

Know that as you seek God’s face, you are not alone. We are united as a church family, journeying together in faith and expectation. Let’s approach each day of this week with a heart full of anticipation, eager to witness how God will move in and through our lives. Keep pressing into His presence, and may you find great encouragement and strength in the knowledge that we are cheering each other on in this pursuit.

Blessings, 

Pastor Ronny