“Gentlemen…this is a Christian!”

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Jan 282018

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE:  “Gentlemen…this is a Christian!”

By:  Ron Woodrum


     Are you a Christian?  What does that mean?  In today’s world?  Where did that name originate?  In the ever-changing transition of words evolving to mean new things, can we still define “Christian”?  What did it mean in the first century world, and the twenty first century?  If we choose to identify with the name Christian, we must make sure that we reflect the intended original meaning to our twenty first century.  I am not sure we have been doing that.  Not just in our generation but even in previous ones.  E. Stanley Jones was a Methodist missionary to India in the first half of the 1900’s.  He became very good friends with Mahatma Gandhi.  In his book, The Christ of the Indian Road, he tells of that friendship, and how he asked Gandhi what he would do to win the Indian population to Christ.  In so many words the message came back-“I love your Christ…I do not like your Christians!”  That gap between Jesus and his followers was a major stumbling block then!  Kevin Max, past lead singer, and songwriter for the Christian group D.C. Talk reiterated that problem when he said, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians!  There are those who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him with their lifestyle.  That is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable!”


     The name “Christian” was not the first designation of those who followed Jesus.  They were called “believers, disciples, saints, followers, and people of the Way”.  The term “Christian” was first used by pagan gentiles of the city of Antioch to describe the Disciples of Christ at Antioch.  Though some feel that it was a designation of derogatory nature, attached to the followers of Christ, who used to be followers of Antiochian pagan lifestyles, the important fact is that it was a label given by the pagans, giving us a perspective of what it was they saw as the primary characteristic of those who deserted their ranks for the ranks of Christ.  Acts 11:26 says, “The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch of Syria”. The word there is the word “Christianioi”.   It is a name that is a combination of three languages.  Christ is the Greek name of the Hebrew word Messiah…meaning “the anointed one”. The suffix came from the Latin, into the Greek-“ianioi” meaning “belonging to”, “a slave of”, or “of the household of”.  When you add this to the precise word that Luke uses for “called”, it is even more significant.  The normal Greek word for called is “kaleo”.  But the word that is used here is the Greek word-“kramatidzo”.  It refers to what people are called as a designation related to their vocation.  A person who bakes bread is “called” a “baker”.  A person whose vocation is making clothes or fitting clothes is “called” a “tailor”.  A person in Antioch who had made it their life’s business, their vocation, their life’s calling to “follow, please, imitate, serve, and testify to Christ, the Savior and Messiah” were soon designated “christianioi” i.e. “Christians”.  From a pagan perspective it was not a compliment.  But for the first believers it was a “compliment extraordinaire!” When you and I are so committed to Christ that our loyalty and devotion matches that of those first century Christians at Antioch then perhaps the designation we have chosen most often for ourselves will not be so offensive!  It will not be the hypocritical stumbling block it has become.


There are two pictures from Church history, around Antioch, in the Roman world of the first century, and following that better help us understand and comprehend this designation that has become a favorite of the followers of Jesus in the 21st century.  The first concerns a preacher named Ignatius.  After the book of Acts closes in 64 A.D.  and before the Book of Revelation was written in 95 A.D., there was a Pastor in Antioch named Ignatius.  He was a dynamic, Spirit-Filled, anointed preacher of the Gospel.  He was so effective that the whole population of Antioch seemed to be converting to Christ.  Emperor Trajan had to come to Antioch himself to see why emperor worship, idolatry, and pagan rituals had fallen out of favor with the majority of the population in the city of Antioch.  As he listened to Ignatius preach Christ, and saw the throngs of people turning to the Lord, from Roman idolatry he was enraged!  After giving Ignatius an Imperial Ultimatum to forsake the Christ he was preaching, and embrace the religions of the Empire, Ignatius was arrested and brought to Rome to face the Wild beasts.  Five years after Paul and Peter had been martyred by Nero; Ignatius would be subject to a new form of capital punishment.  Trajan had a new method of putting criminals to death.  He had built the majestic Coliseum.  It had been finished in 72 A.D.  Historians tell us that Ignatius was the first Christian martyr to be given the Imperial “thumbs down” and to be fed to the lions in the Coliseum.  In the midst of tiers of thousands of Roman citizens, in that Great Amphitheater, stood God’s faithful preacher!  The crowds cried out for blood.  The cages were opened, and the hungry lions rushed at the lone figure, God’s preacher, standing in the middle of that arena.  Ignatius, we are told, raised his arms out to the lunging lions, and over the sound of crunching bone and tendon, and the wild passioned screams of the blood-thirsty crowd, he was heard to say, “Now I begin to be a Christian!”  There’s that name!  There is a man that defines the name in a way worthy of His Master!  What faith.  What commitment.  What a testimony.  Can the name mean anything less today?  Perhaps in our mind it can.  But not in the mind of Christ!  Christ gave His all on Calvary-He deserves no less of a commitment from those who embrace His name today.  With that definition in mind, let us ask ourselves again-“are we a Christian?  Really?”  Like Ignatius?


Another faithful Christian, from the second century, was a Pastor at Carthage named Cyprian.  In writing to a friend of his in another part of the Roman Empire he says, “It is as bad world Donatus, an incredibly bad world.  But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and a Holy people who have learned a great secret.  They have found a joy that is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful lives.  They are despised and persecuted, but they care not.  They are masters of their own souls.  They have overcome the world.  These people, Donatus, are called Christians, and I am one of them!”  One of the greatest preachers of all time was the Baptist Preacher of London in the late 1800’s named Charles Spurgeon.  Spurgeon told his members that they needed to make sure that they lived worthy of the name they called themselves!  He defined a Christian as someone to whom Christ is everything.  He said, “If Christ is not all to you…He is nothing to you!  He will never go into partnership as a partial Savior of men.  If He is something…He must be everything!  If He is not everything to you, then He is nothing to you!”


     Several years ago the Green Bay Packers played a terrible game and had lost badly before the home crowd in Green Bay.  They had embarrassed their Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi.  They had embarrassed the city of Green Bay.  They had stunk up the stadium!  They all sat in the locker room after the game.  The coach was eerily silent.  No one dared head for the showers until they heard from him.  Even he sat silent…seemingly at loss for words to respond to such a terrible performance for such a gifted group of athletes.  Finally he picked up a football.  They watched thinking he might chuck it at someone.  Perhaps throw it in utter frustration!  Both actions would be so uncharacteristic for their beloved coach.  Instead, he held it up for all of them to see.  He looked them all in the eye, and said, “Gentlemen…THIS….IS A FOOTBALL!”  In other words—back to the beginning.  Back to square one!  Back to the basics!


     When I am reminded of that story I think of a poem by T.S. Eliot, It is four lines found in Four Quartets.  It is found in his forth poem of Four Quartets, called Little Gidding.  In it he writes:


     “We shall not cease from exploration

      And the end of all of our exploring

      Will be to arrive where we started

      And know the place for the first time!”


When I think of the original meaning of the name Christian…and what it has come to mean to our casual Christian culture.  We need to go back to “where we started”  “and know the place for the first time” again!  Somebody needs to mimic coach Lombardi with this paraphrase…”GENTLEMEN…THIS IS A CHRISTIAN!”  The story is told of Alexander the Great was told that one of his soldiers was a coward.  Alexander confronted him.  He asked him, “what is your name soldier?”  The soldier responded, “Alexander!”  The great general looked at him…then in an angry tone, face to face, he told him—“change your nature…or change your name!”  Not bad advice for Christians in our generation!


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Jan 212018


By:  Ron Woodrum


Dr. Adrian Rogers, Pastor of the Bellevue Baptist Church, in Memphis, Tennessee used to tell the story about a professional football player who told him this story: “When I graduated from college, my coach asked me, ‘Mike, would you help me do some scouting?’.  I said, ‘Sure coach, what kind of player are you looking for?’  He said, ‘Well, there’s the kind of guy that when you knock him down, he just stays down’. ‘We don’t want him, do we, coach?’…’No! Then there’s the kind of guy that when you knock him down, he gets back up. But if you knock him down again, this time he stays down. ‘We don’t want him either, do we coach?’  ‘No, we don’t.  But then there is the kind of guy that when you knock  him down, he gets back up; knock him down, he gets back up again; knock him down, and he gets back up; knock him down, and he gets back up again; he just keeps getting up!’ ‘That’s the guy we want, right, coach?’ ‘No-we don’t want him either!  What I want you to do Mike is find the guy who is knocking all these guys down, and sign him to a contract, he’s the guy we want!’


Peter, in I Peter, talks about the testing of our faith.  That testing comes in all kinds of ways.  Jesus had warned Peter about Satan wanting to sift him as wheat, to see how genuine his faith was. Peter failed the test and denied be knew the Lord. Not once.  Not twice.  But three times!  He was devastated!  He almost never got back up!  But Jesus had prayed for him-that his faith would not totally fail.  He was restored at a breakfast encounter with Jesus on the Sea of Galilee.  He then spent the rest of his days warning believers about the roaring lion, Satan, who keeps on pursuing them to devour them as prey.  He not only tells them to keep getting back up! But to resist him in the power of God.  It is not enough for the people if God to be on the defensive, but with the Armor of God, and power of prayer make an all out offensive to knock him down instead. Amen?


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Jan 142018


By:  Ron Woodrum


His name was Marion Mitchell Morrison. His stage name was John Wayne.  His nickname was “The Duke”. He won an Academy Award for his movie True Grit.  His acting career covered five decades. He was a survivor of my g cancer in 1964…but lost his battle to stomach cancer in 1979.  His grave marker has this epitaph…”Fro, Fuerty, Formal”-translated from Spanish means “ugly, strong, and dignified”.  So he was.  His biographer…Ronald Davis wrote “John Wayne personified for millions the nation’s frontier heritage”.  He did over 83 westerns. In 1955 he turned down the role of Matt Dillon, on Gunsmoke, and recommended his friend James Arness.  He wanted the role of Dirty Harry but conceded he was too old to really play the part. In the movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, his character (Tom Doniphan) calls Jimmy Stewart’s character (Ransom Stoddard) “pilgrim” over twenty times.  He calls him that because he is new to the West.  He doesn’t belong there or for in there.  He is, out of place.  He became famous for using the term “pilgrim”.  Some of his quotes were “take er easy pilgrim”; “don’t fret about that pilgrim”; “you’re a persistent cuss pilgrim”; “cool off pilgrim”; “good luck pilgrim”;”think back pilgrim”.


Peter used the term Pilgrim to describe Christians well.  They lived in a world were they didn’t belong either.  Hebrews 11:36-38 spoke of Old Testament believers as “pilgrims” and after describing their trials says “the world that mistreated them were not worthy of them”. The English Puritans chose that name for themselves based on the Hebrews 11:13 passage.   Peter told these “pilgrims” that in spite of their persecution from the world that they have a “Living Hope” in Jesus Christ.


One of my favorite res of John Wayne was his role of Davey Crockett in the movie-The Alamo.  He had opposed President Andrew Jackson in talk g land from the Native Americans.  As a result he lost his re-election to US Senate.  He came as a “pilgrim” to Texas to help in their struggle for independence from Mexico and intended to relocate there and run for office.  The night before the Battle he spoke these words…”when I came down to Texas I was looking for something. I didn’t know what. Seems like if you added up my life…I had some money and some medals…but none of it seemed a lifetime worthy if the pain my mother had in birthing me.  It was like I was empty.  Well I am not empty anymore.  What is important in this old world is, to hit a lick against what’s wrong and say a word for what’s right. Even if you get walloped for it.  I may sound like a Bible-beater yelling up a revival at a camp meeting but that don’t change the truth none.  There’s right and there’s wrong.  You gotta do one or the other.  You do one and you’re livin. Do the other and you may be walkin’ around BUT YOU’RE AS DEAD AS A BEAVER HAT!”  GREAT ADVICE FROM A PILVRIM TO PILGRIMS!


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