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God’s People, part 283: Epenetus

Read Romans 16:5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”  (Galatians 5:22-23, NRSV)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 283: Epenetus. There isn’t a whole lot to write about Epenetus, who is only mentioned in one verse in the entire Bible; however, it is important that we do mention him because of the distinction that Paul gives him in that verse. Paul wrote: “Greet my dear friend Epenetus. He was the first person from the province of Asia to become a follower of Christ” (Romans 16:5, NLT).

Thus, as can be seen from Paul’s own words, Epenetus was the first person to convert to Christianity in all of the Roman province of Asia, which includes modern day Turkey and Greece. Thus, in many ways, Epenetus was the beginning of Western Christianity. Prior to that, Christians were relegated to Judaea and Syria and the surrounding areas. There were, of course, Christians who spread the Gospel east into the continent of Asia; however, Paul was responsible for bringing the faith West through the Roman province of Asia to Rome.

Paul refers to Epenetus a dear friend, which makes sense given the amount of time he would have known him for by the writing of this epistle (letter). Epenetus would have first met Paul somewhere between 48 and 52 CE, either during Pauls’ first or second missionary journey. Traditionally, Epenetus was from Ephesus, though Paul does not specifically say that he was and, so, it is possible that he met Paul as early as 48 or 49 CE. By the time Paul wrote Romans, it was 57 CE and he had known Epenetus for many years.

Epenetus was among the group, led by Phoebe, bringing the letter of Paul to the Romans. Paul asks the church to greet him, stating that Epenetus was the FIRST to convert to the Christian faith in the province of Asia. This is important to Paul to mention because it meant that Epenetus was the first fruit of the mission to the Gentiles, a fruit that would not have been born had it not been for the receptiveness of Gentiles from the province of Asia, such as Epenetus.

There’s not much more to write about him, but it is clear that Paul was showing the Roman church the glory of God through Epenetus. We may start small, but God takes those small seeds and grows them into and untameable and luscious garden filled with the fruit of the Spirit. Apart from God, our efforts would be futile; however, with God, our efforts grow immeasurably.

This should challenge us. As Christians in the modern world, there are a host of challenges that might scare us from spreading the good news; however, do we trust that God can see us through those challenges and immeasurably grow our efforts. Let us be truthful, the challenges we have to day may be slightly different than the challenges in the first centuries of Christianity; however, that makes them no less challenging.

The question for us is this: will we persist in spreading the Good News to all people and communities we come across? If so, how will we spread it? Through personal witness, through acts of kindness, through generosity, through the way we conduct ourselves, or through other means? Our efforts may seem small and miniscule; however, through God, there is nothing that will be able to stand in the way of people coming to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Let us, then, accept this challenge openly and see it through, for Christ’s sake.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
There is no limit on Christ. Through Christ, all things are possible.

PRAYER
Lord, renew my faith in you so that I may take risks for your kingdom and bear witness to your miraculous work. Amen.

Thanksgiving Day

Read Psalm 100

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:7 NLT)

FirstThanksgivingBigWell, it is getting to be that time isn’t it. Tomorrow is the holiday that we in America call Turkey day…I mean Thanksgiving Day. After all, not all of us eat Turkey, and all of the turkeys that survive T-Day are ever thankful for that! All jokes aside, this is the holiday that begs Americans to remember the story of the Pilgrims. When the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts in 1620, they were not prepared for life in the wilderness and they did not really know what to grow or when to grow it. Enter in the Native Americans, namely the Wampanoag tribe, who taught the settlers how to survive (including how to grow and harvest their food) in exchange for protection against tribal enemies.

By the time of the first Thanksgiving meal, there were only 50 out of 100 Pilgrims alive to share in the meal. Half of them had died during the first winter in the New World. Those remaining Pilgrims invited 90 Wompanoag to share with them in a feast, as a way of giving thanks to them and to God for their alliance and survival. Of course there is a ton more to the history than what I have recounted here; however, this is the gist of the story that the Thanksgiving Day observance in the U.S. is centered on.

Of course, it wasn’t long before more settlers showed up in Massachusetts and it is quite unfortunate that the original thankfulness that the Pilgrims had shown toward their Native American neighbors had all but been forgotten. The rest is sadly history. The European settlers flourished and grew in numbers, while the Wampanoag suffered major losses in their population. The European settlers, unbeknownst to them, brought bacteria and illnesses which killed many within the Wampanoag tribe. On top of that, with the European settlers came Western Civilization and it’s wars. One such war was King Phillip’s war, where the English colonists and their Native American allies fought against other Native American tribes. During that war, the Wampanog lost over 40 percent of its population and many of the surviving males in their tribe were sold into slavery in the West Indies. On top of that, many of the women and children were enslaved in New England. So much for the spirit of thankfulness, huh?

While this may seem like ancient history, the fact remains that the very feast we partake in year after year is rooted in that ancient history. What’s more, like the original Thanksgiving between the Settlers and Wampanoag tribe, our Thanksgiving is so short-lived that we often forget what we were even thankful for before the turkey, or Tofurky, coma settles in. In fact, it seems like our thankfulness is, by and large, nothing more than a trivial tradition that bears little resemblance to true thankfulness.

The challenge for us is become a truly thankful people who do not trivialize such an important part of what we were created to be. Let us begin to truly be thankful for everything we have been given. Too often we express our thankfulness through words, but words are so often very cheap! The first Pilgrims did not express their thankfulness merely with words, but through their actions in protecting their Native American allies and through inviting them to share in their harvest feast! Let us, too, be a people who show God that we are truly thankful by sharing what we have with others, no matter how unlikely it may seem for us to have a relationship with them. God has created us all and has provided all of us with all that we need. If we are truly thankful for those things, and if we truly recognize that everything we have are gifts from God, then we will not hesitate in being generous in our giving and THANKFUL in our living! This Thanksgiving, make thankfulness the meat that you feast on!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melodie Beattie

PRAYER
Gracious God, I thank you for all that I have including my life. Give me the strength take what I have and share it with those in need, so that my thankfulness can move from words into action. Amen.