Tag Archives: Saul

He Went Back Into the City

…he got up and went back into the city.
Acts 14:20 (NIV)

This past weekend Wendy and I were asked to give a short talk at a retreat about our experience with the Enneagram. We spoke in turns about the ways in which we’d learned things about ourselves and then talked about how we’ve learned about one another and how to relate to one another in deeper ways within our marriage.

As I’ve continued to ponder the question, “What have you learned about yourself?” I realize just how deeply I’m motivated by living and acting with purpose. It’s at the core of a Type Four whose basic fear is described as having “no identity or personal significance” and whose basic desire is the opposite: “to find themselves and their significance.

I thought about that as I read today’s chapter and the purpose with which Saul, now called Paul, takes the Message of Jesus to the towns of Asia Minor. I was struck by the stark contrast with the Saul we first met back in the eighth and ninth chapters. Saul began as a passionate Jew bent on stirring up trouble for the followers of Jesus. In today’s chapter Paul is a follower of Jesus having trouble stirred up against him by passionate Jews. Saul began by having Stephen stoned for proclaiming the Message of Jesus. In today’s chapter Paul himself is stoned by Jews for proclaiming the Message of Jesus. I wonder if Paul thought of Stephen as he felt the stones pummeling his body.

What struck me the most in today’s chapter was the simple fact that after his bloodied, bruised, seemingly lifeless body is drug outside the city walls, Paul picks himself up and goes back inside the city. I couldn’t help but think of the words of Jesus: “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn and give him the other as well.” For Paul to continue on after such persecution speaks to the tremendous sense of purpose with which he proclaimed Jesus’ Message. I’m also reminded of Paul’s words in his letter to the believers in Corinth: “Christ’s love compels us.”

In the quiet of my hotel room this morning I’m thinking about this man Saul whose purpose in life was turned 180 degrees, his name changed, and his fate altered. The One he purposed to destroy became the One to whom he would purpose to give everything he had.

I don’t think Paul was a Four, but his sense of identify and purpose certainly stirs the heart of a Four. I’m reminded and encouraged this morning to embrace my Four-ness; To continue doggedly pursuing the purpose for which Christ took hold of me. And when I’m feeling beat-up, bruised, bloodied, and left for dead, I’m reminded to get up and go back into the city.

I leave you with one more item that came to mind this morning as my scattered brain spun in meditation on the chapter. This quote from Teddy Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

And now, I move on to that which is purposed for this day.

Have a great day, friends.

Outside of the Lines

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
Acts 9:10 (NIV)

I’ve always had a bit of a rebellious streak in me. Working inside of large institutions typically brings it out though I don’t have a lot of examples to share because I’ve never been able to work well inside of large institutions. I’m allergic to bureaucracy. I believe God made me to work best from the outside in.

I was a few months shy of my 15th birthday when God first called me. “You will proclaim my word,” was the simple message I received. I was just naive enough, and just maverick enough not to ask questions about how. I just figured I was meant to start immediately. I delivered my first message just two months later, and within a year I was part of a team of young people traveling the state each week and speaking about Jesus wherever I was given opportunity.

As I read through the book of Acts, I’m continually struck by how the body of Christ expanded. My maverick heart immediately recognizes that it didn’t happen institutionally. In today’s chapter Jesus dramatically calls Saul, a man eager to be Jesus’ greatest enemy. Remember when Jesus said, “love your enemies and bless those who persecute you?” Yeah, Jesus did that with Saul.

Then Jesus calls on a man named Ananias. We don’t know anything about Ananias. We don’t know his background, where he came from,  or how he became a follower of Jesus. His name was quite common in that day. It’s like God choosing a guy named John Smith. Ananias was just a guy in Damascus sitting at home praying. He wasn’t one of “The Twelve.” He wasn’t in Jerusalem where the leaders of Jesus’ movement were headquartered and deciding things. Out of the blue this nobody in Damascus gets tapped by Jesus to heal the man who was His self-proclaimed worst enemy. His name only comes up one more time in the Great Story.

From a leadership perspective, I love what Jesus is doing. He isn’t confining the work of His movement to be channeled only through his chosen leader, Peter, and the other eleven proteges. Jesus is expanding the work through everyone who believes and follows. Holy Spirit is filling everyone. Spiritual gifts are being distributed to everyone; Even an unsuspecting, common man named Ananias sitting at home in Damascus praying.

Jesus isn’t creating an institution. He’s creating an organism just like He did back in the opening chapters of Genesis. He’s creating a complex living body made up of millions of individual cells each called on to do their individual part for the whole, that it may accomplish its purpose of love and salvation.

This morning I’m sitting in my hotel room getting ready to go work with a client, who happens to be a large, global corporation. Like I said, I work best from the outside in. It’s how God made me. I’m sitting here thinking about the stories of an angry man named Saul and a common man named Ananias. I love that Jesus works outside the lines. I love that He’s not a God of bureaucracy but a God of living, breathing, creative power and beauty. That’s the Jesus I know. That’s the Jesus who called to me when I was 14 and still inspires me almost 40 years later. That’s the Jesus this maverick will follow each day of this earthly life (and then into eternity).

 

Names, Nicknames, and Name Changes

source: vblibrary via flickr
source: vblibrary via flickr

But Saul, also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit….”
Acts 13:9 (NRSV)

Names and Nicknames I’ve been given by others over the years:
Thomas James
Tommy James
Tommy James-es
Tommy
Tom Tucker
Tompt
Thomas DiGomas “Don’t Give a Damn” Nostrum
Tommy V.
T.V.
T.

I find names and the monikers we give one another fascinating.

I find it fascinating that a man born and raised as Saul became known to the world and to history as Paul. I have written several posts over the years about names. I find that names can be powerful metaphors. Changes in lives paralleled with a change in names is a somewhat recurring theme across all of God’s Message. Abram becomes Abraham. Simon becomes Peter. Saul becomes Paul.

The interesting thing about Saul’s change is that it happens abruptly in today’s chapter. It just happens with no explanation. Scholars assume that the Hebrew “Saul” gave way to the more Greek “Paul” as his ministry switched from preaching to Jews to preaching to Greeks. It is a logical and simple assumption. The fact that the meticulous and detailed archivist, Luke, does not explain the change leads me to believe that even Luke thought that the reason for the change would be apparent to his readers.

But it’s fascinating to know that “Paul” to the Greeks meant “little.” Paul the persecutor and executioner of early Christians considered himself the “least” (or “littlest”) of the apostles. Paul alluded to physical afflictions that humbled him and left him feeling “little” and weak, but trusting in God’s strength.

This morning I’m asking myself: “What’s in a name?” and “What’s in a name change?” A name is a metaphor. It’s a label placed upon us, and as such it holds a certain meaning.

Things Change

Conversion_on_the_Way_to_Damascus-Caravaggio_(c.1600-1)For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” All who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” Acts 9:19b-21 (NRSV)

There has been a small yet intense debate among local historians and traditionalists in our little town over recent months. The debate concerns the wife of our town’s founder or, more specifically, the spelling of her name. The town has always held that her name was spelled “Mareah,” but archival evidence suggest that her name was always spelled “Maria” on legal documents and the spelling change seems to have occurred in her adult years. It is now believed that the change occurred around the time of a major shift in her life: the death of her husband and her subsequent marriage to a younger man who was the age of her son. And so, the debate quietly continues regarding how we should spell her name today.

The rather meaningless debate has been a quiet reminder to me that things change. We all go through dramatic changes in life. Life’s journey can take abrupt and unexpected turns, especially when you’re on a faith journey.

Today’s chapter chronicles one of the most dramatic and unexpected turns in history. Saul of Tarsus was a radical and conservative Jewish leader intent on persecuting, imprisoning, and/or killing any man or woman who claimed to be a follower of Jesus. Then, on his way to round up some Jesus followers in the town of Damascus, Jesus reveals Himself to the zealous persecutor. In one dramatic moment, Saul’s life takes an abrupt u-turn.

Things change. Saul would become Paul. His life would never be the same. The persecutor of Jesus followers would unexpectedly become their greatest champion. For the rest of his life he would push himself to incredible physical and spiritual limits, ceaselessly suffer the persecution he’d once afflicted on others, and constantly proclaim that Jesus was exactly who He claimed to be. Paul would change the course of human history.

Things change. People change. It was at the core of everything that Jesus taught. Fishermen became fishers of men. Enemies become friends. Hatred is transformed into love. Anger and bitterness yield to grace and kindness. Sin is washed away by forgiveness. Darkness is pierced by Light. Death is swallowed up by Life. Saul the executioner becomes Paul the evangelist.

You and I, we can change, too.

Everyone Has a Past; Everyone Has a Story

An illuminated manuscript showing Dr. Luke at his writing desk.
An illuminated manuscript showing Dr. Luke at his writing desk.

And Saul approved of their killing [Stephen]. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison. Acts 8:1, 3 (NSRV)

Sometimes there is meaning not only in the text itself, but in the context of the writing. Dr. Luke is writing this historic account of the events surrounding the early days of Jesus’ followers after the resurrection. He not only investigated the events but was a primary source. He knew these people. He spoke with them, travelled with them, and observed many of these events first hand. Three of Paul’s letters (Colossians, 2 Timothy, and Philemon) reference Luke specifically.

So, today as I read Luke’s account of Stephen’s execution and the bloody persecution of Jesus’ followers, it was not lost on me that Luke is not shy about naming the responsible party: Saul. In tomorrow’s chapter, Saul will be blinded by the Light and transformed into Paul. Paul, Luke’s friend and traveling companion. Paul, the author of most of the texts we find in the New Testament. Paul, who would be transformed from executioner into the  early Jesus followers greatest champion.

I wonder what it was like for Luke to write these things about Saul, even as he knew Paul.

This morning I am reminded:

  • Everybody has a past. I wonder how many of Paul’s later converts knew that he was responsible for the killing, torture, and imprisonment of many fellow believers. No time for shame. It’s not about who we’ve been, but who we are and who we are becoming.
  • God can transform lives. Saul became Paul. God can and does transform lives. Light shines in darkness. Love conquers hate. Old things pass away, and new things come.
  • Every person has a story to tell. I love hearing people’s stories. I find it fascinating to hear people talk about what they’ve experienced, what they’ve learned, and where they are purposing to go in life. So, what’s your story?

Leaderless

Français : La Mort de Saül et de Jonathan
The Death of Saul and Jonathon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When all the Israelites in the valley saw that the army had fled and that Saul and his sons had died, they abandoned their towns and fled. And the Philistines came and occupied them. 1 Chronicles 10:7 (NIV)

My daughter, Taylor, and I had a Father’s Day date this past Sunday afternoon. We spent an hour and a half talking and catching up over a bite, a beer, and some ice cream. As we stood in line for ice cream we talked about the pain and confusion many people experience on Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. Taylor has been working for a non-profit art program that works with juveniles who are in the court system. She has many kids she works with who have never known a father figure of any kind. Some kids, she shared, have a birth mother, step mother, and foster mother and not one of them wants anything to do with the child. I tried to imagine how confusing it must be for these kids to imagine celebrating a mother or father.

Along my life journey I’ve noticed that there are certain themes which emerge in my thinking and writing during particular seasons and stretches. When I read a chapter each day there are nuggets in the text that resonate with me because of the things on which my brain has been ruminating. So it was this morning when I stumbled upon the verse above. Left without a leader, the entire social system of the Israelites fell apart. Without a leader who could organize and rally them, the army fled and left the people in the villages vulnerable. Without anyone to defend them, the villagers fled their homes and town for fear of being killed by the enemy. The enemy took over the abandoned towns as the villagers scattered across the land seeking safety and shelter. It sounds like chaos.

With that mental picture in mind, I thought of the kids with whom Taylor is working and the parallel between the two systems. The reality is that when a family is left without a strong leader who can organize and rally its members, a family system breaks down into chaos and leave the weakest members vulnerable. The entire system and each individual in it is open to occupation by negative forces and is threatened by isolation, fear, and the primal need for survival.

This morning, in the quiet, my mind continues to contemplate the theme of parents, children, and family systems. Perhaps its the combination of celebrating Mother’s Day and Father’s Day over the past several weeks. Perhaps it’s the transition we’ve made in recent years to having independent, adult children or the experience of entering back into living with and leading a teenager. Whatever the reason, this morning I’m again grateful for the strong leadership of my parents throughout the journey and I’m motivated to be a strong leader for my family system even though that role and its responsibilities change drastically over time.

The True Spiritual Test

 

English: Nathan advises King David
English: Nathan advises King David (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
2 Samuel 12:13a (NIV)

 

When I was five years old, while on a Christmas Eve sleepover at my grandparents’ house,  I stole all of my siblings’ gift envelopes off of the Christmas tree and hid them in my suitcase. I watched in silence on Christmas day as grandma racked her brain to figure out where those envelopes went. Then, I promptly forgot that my mom would be the one unpacking my suitcase when we got home. I was totally busted. My butt cheeks were rosy from the spanking that quickly followed, the cheeks of my face were quickly stained with tears of remorse as I called grandma to confess my heinous crime and to ask her forgiveness.

 

I learned early that your sins find you out. Having said that, let me readily I admit that it didn’t stop me from sinning. I’ve made plenty of tragic choices since then. I make them on a regular basis, in fact. Along the way, however, I’ve come to realize that hiding, concealing, obfuscating, blaming, and excusing my wrongdoing is both delaying the inevitable and stunting my spiritual growth and development. The further I get in the journey the more readily I’ve embraced my fallibility and shortcomings. I might as well cut to the chase, admit I blew it, and allow everyone to move on.

 

In this morning’s chapter, David is confronted by the prophet Nathan and his illicit affair with Bathsheba, his conspiracy to murder Bathsheba’s husband, and his attempt to conceal his paternity of Bathsheba’s child is revealed in dramatic fashion. David’s response was to quickly confess his wrongdoing and seek God’s forgiveness. It’s a fascinating contrast to David’s predecessor. When the prophet Samuel confronted King Saul of his wrongdoing, Saul excused his behavior and refused to repent of his actions.

 

We all make mistakes. We all make selfish choices that hurt others. The true spiritual test is in how we respond to God and others in the ensuing guilty conscience, or when when we are confronted and exposed.

 

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