Blog Post

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

Refugee Hope Partner Christmas Dinner

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Dear Church Family,

I’m constantly inspired by our church’s compassion and commitment to those in need. This Christmas, we have a Loving Others opportunity to extend Christ’s love to refugees in our city, many of whom are not yet familiar with the story of Christ or the true meaning of Christmas.

Why Refugees? Our recent interactions with refugee families in our neighborhood have deeply moved me. These families, hailing from places like Burma, El Salvador, Sudan, Congo, and Vietnam, have faced unimaginable challenges. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors, and these refugees are our neighbors in the truest sense, as all of them live within a five-minute driving distance from the Harvest Building.

About Refugee Hope Partners: Refugee Hope Partners, serving the Raleigh community for over a decade, embodies the gospel’s call to love our neighbors, regardless of where they come from. Our collaboration with them extends beyond this event, as several of our members actively participate in weekly homework help sessions and directly support refugees in various ways.

Christmas Dinner with Refugee Hope Partners: On December 9th, from 6 PM to 9 PM, we are excited to partner with Refugee Hope Partners to host a Christmas dinner at their Welcome Center. This isn’t just a meal; it’s a starting point for relationships that can transform lives – both theirs and ours.

This year marks our sixth occasion engaging with refugee families. Our focus is on reaching out to those who have newly arrived and are yet to find a church family. This includes believers seeking discipleship and others who are yet to hear the message of Christ. This dinner is an open invitation to all – to sit at the same table, share stories, and truly listen. 

How You Can Serve:
Currently, there is a significant need for volunteers to minister to children. Additionally, you can also contribute to this event by helping with setup and cleanup, donating essentials like paper plates, and welcoming refugees to share in a meal and conversation. Each act of service is a profound way to embody the gospel we cherish.

 A Call to Go Beyond:

While sharing a meal is a wonderful start, I encourage you or your small groups to consider deepening your commitment by ‘adopting’ a refugee family. This involves being actively involved in their lives, helping them in times of need, showing Christ’s love through practical means, and earning their trust to share the gospel.

As we celebrate the birth of Christ, who came to us as a Stranger in a manger, let us open our hearts to those who are strangers among us. This Christmas, let us celebrate His birth and live out His love in tangible ways. Should you have any questions or wish to learn more about how you can be involved, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
Blessings,

Pastor Ronny

“Loving our Great Senior Neighbors at Treeo”

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We have now been live-streaming our 10:45 service into the Media Room at Treeo for a year! Each Sunday, there are seven to fourteen residents who gather for the livestream. And check this out, every Sunday through the end of the year, there are people from Harvest who are there with them, greeting, interacting, loving and praying! Our goal is to provide a worship service for residents who are unable to join us in person. Join us in prayer for the residents. Join us in prayer toward a Treeo small group. Join us in prayer for the interpersonal ministry of Christian residents who live at Treeo. 

Baptisms November 2023

150 150 Charles Su