This has been a pretty intense week between Staff Conference and the book of Acts. I just barely got my work done and turned in on time, but pushing really hard all week (except for when I fell on my face Friday and struggled to regain motivation) was really worth it. Today I am really grateful and want to share two things I gleaned this week from the Bible. In two parts because it turns out to be a lot of words 🙂
Paul. I’ll be honest, in the past I have not been a big fan of the guy. I have often felt like there was no way I could uphold his standards. I mean, he went immediately from hard core persecuting Christians to proving that Jesus was the Christ in a very short space of time. He’s headed like a freight train in one direction, meets Jesus on the road to Damascus and BAM he’s headed the other way in an equally unstoppable manner.
There is something in Paul’s heart which encourages God to interrupt him and change his course. Paul heard Stephen’s beautiful speech (Acts 7) before the religious leaders killed him and maybe there was even something in Stephen’s face which deeply disturbed Paul. Maybe in his zeal for God he felt he was facing a powerful adversary and he himself needed to strike back with strength against whatever Stephen had. Until he met Stephen’s reason for preaching and realized that Jesus was actually the God he thought he was defending….
What really stood out to me in reading Acts, story after story of Paul going into towns to preach and teach Jesus, is God’s word to Ananias concerning Paul. Paul is struck blind when he meets Jesus on the road and He sends a dubious Ananias to give him back his sight. Ananias is, with reason, skeptical when God tells him to seek Paul out because everyone knew he was breathing out murderous threats to followers of The Way. But Jesus says to Ananias’ concern, “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
This is not the Christianity of today, is it? I think there are still plenty of preachers preaching about repenting, about not sinning… but who is preaching about suffering? When people hear my own story about the death of my daughter and then divorce, I can see their pain at the succession of events and quite often they say something about how good things will be now. Because, you know, I’ve “been through enough”. But have I? I’m not a masochist but I’m also not so quick to run away from what is hard. This last week was actually a really good example to me of how sweet a hard-won victory can be.
And Paul, he knew he was headed into suffering. This wasn’t God’s way of repaying Paul for the Christians he had persecuted, this was God’s assignment given to Paul as an honor because He knew Paul would say “yes”. On his way to Jerusalem, he knew he would be arrested there. Friend after friend actually prophesied to him that he would suffer if he went to Jerusalem (“Don’t go, Paul!”) and Jesus Himself revealed this to Paul. But way deep down, just as Paul was convinced of Jesus’ sacrifice for our salvation, he was convinced that heading into suffering would produce fruit for the kingdom of God. That was more important to him than having a “good time”. (Think, too of the disciples after facing the council of Jewish leaders who recognized them as Jesus’ followers. It should have felt dangerous because they had just KILLED Jesus for pissing them off in a similar way. But Acts 5:41 says that they “left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” They also were not masochists, but they knew that Jesus was much greater than anything man could think to do against them.)
They knew Him. And because of who they knew Him to be, they gave up everything and scorned the idea of comfortable religion.
In part 2 I want to talk about why this sacrifice is not masochism.