A Fierce Faith

Our youngest son is fearless. Maybe it’s being the youngest of three boys, maybe its genetics, but there is nothing that he won’t try at least once. And he generally succeeds in his attempts. One of the drawbacks to his confident approach to life is the tendency to be a bit cocky and very competitive. Great for sports, but not so great when it becomes a hammer that crushes his opponents into dust. Humility is our key word when praying for him. And while having an aggressive personality can be challenging, it can also be advantageous. He is well-known and well-liked by most of the kids in his school, including friends of his older brothers, much to their chagrin.

I imagine Saul had a similar personality. I bet he didn’t lose much growing up. And I bet his adversaries both feared and respected him. We get a glimpse of his zeal as a Pharisee persecuting the Way before his conversion at the stoning of Stephen and as he relentlessly pursues believers to throw them into prison. But after his encounter with Jesus…watch out! Everywhere Saul (now Paul) goes, trouble follows. He has to be snuck out of Damascus in a basket at night  to save his life (I bet he didn’t like running away from a fight!). The church in Jerusalem sends him away to Tarsus because of the trouble he’s stirring up for the church there. When Barnabas picks him up as a travelling companion and fellow missionary, Paul’s consistently the one whose beat up, stoned and run out of town. Yet he refuses to back down. He has a fierce faith.

Acts 21-23. Paul’s on his way back to Jerusalem to deliver the offering that the Gentile churches have raised to support their poor Jewish brethren. But even then, he becomes the center of controversy, first with the church and then with the non-Christian religious leaders. With the church because he’s accused of steering Jewish believers away from following the Law, and with the religious leaders because he’s accused of bringing Gentiles into the temple, thus defiling it. Neither charge is true, but ironically, Paul’s mission is to share the gospel which includes the good news that Jews and Gentiles are co-heirs of the kingdom through Jesus, that there is no longer a dividing wall of separation.

Paul’s story begins to look eerily like Jesus’ own story as he is arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin for a mock trial. They call for his blood, while the Roman commander Lysias, pronounces him innocent. Sound familiar? Being made aware of a plot against Paul’s life, Lysias sends Paul with an escort of 470 soldiers to governor Felix.

Paul can’t seem to help getting into trouble. Riots and violence nip at his heels at every turn. But he’s in trouble for the gospel. He refuses to compromise. Bonheoffer in The Cost of Discipleship  writes, “Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men.” The fierceness of Paul’s faith is evidence of his total lack of fear of man. He had a vision for the kingdom to come and was on mission to share that with the world.

I pray that my son is like Paul. Until next time…stay salty.

Operation explosion

Saul and I grew up together as kids. We lived in the same village, went to the same synagogue, and played the same pranks on Rabbi Gamaliel for as long as I can remember. The one thing that stood out most about Saul was his propensity for controversy. It didn’t matter where he went, conflict always seemed to find him. And he didn’t back down easily from a fight. One time I had to rescue him from some of the other boys because he had attacked them after they questioned his understanding of the Shema. One against seven is never good odds, but Saul held his own. Somehow we lost track of each other after our training.

And then, while I was in Jerusalem, I heard rumblings that some of the followers of Jesus were back and claiming that He had been raised from the dead! Unbelievable. I wanted to find out more for myself. I came upon a crowd gathered outside the temple. Lots of shouting, but then a man named Stephen was thrust forward and began to address the crowd. I couldn’t catch all that he was saying, but it was evident that the crowd wasn’t happy. In fact, in an instant, everyone was grabbing rocks to stone him! And as I looked across the way, there was Saul, standing over the helpless body of Stephen. Somehow I wasn’t too surprised. I made my way over to talk to him, and it turns out that he was the Council’s new hitman against the so-called Way. I thought it was an appropriate choice.

Saul was on his way to Damascus, and we talked about catching up more when he returned. But when he came back, something was very different. In some ways he was the same Saul, stirring up controversy. But now he was a powerful proponent of the Way. He claimed that Jesus had appeared to him on the road to Damascus and that He was indeed the long-awaited Messiah that we had been waiting for. And not only that, but He was also the Son of God. I was both shocked and overjoyed because I too had become a follower of the Way. Saul’s zeal was impressive, but also deadly. He invited persecution from the moment he believed. He couldn’t help proclaiming Jesus as the Christ and facing down his opponents. It almost cost him his life, so he came to Jerusalem. And things were no different here.

After a tenuous meeting with church leadership, he was accepted in on the recommendation of Barnabas. But it didn’t take Saul long to stir up trouble and soon he was sent back home to our village. Saul had great zeal for the law and an aggressive personality that made him a dangerous opponent of the Way, but when he collided with Jesus he became a strong proponent of Christianity. God took the passion and the personality and the experience and the training that He had given to Saul and redeemed it to use for His purposes. How does God want to use you?

Until next time…stay salty.