Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How the Apostle Paul Got Zapped

It was sort of like a personal lightning strike. But it was much more than that - much more powerful in more ways than one, as you'll see. The light was so intense, so bright, that it actually blinded Saul as he fell to his knees. Not only was there a blinding light, there was a loud voice - a voice from Heaven!

Saul, who was later called Paul after he became an Apostle, was a fierce persecutor of Christians. “I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the very name of Jesus the Nazarene. Indeed, I did just that in Jerusalem. Authorized by the leading priests, I caused many believers there to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death. Many times I had them punished in the synagogues to get them to curse Jesus. I was so violently opposed to them that I even chased them down in foreign cities." (the words of the Apostle Paul in reflecting on who he once was - Acts 26:9-11)

It wasn't that Saul was an evil murderer or a madman. His intentions were actually good, at least that's what he thought. It's just that he was such a zealous Jew, an expert in Jewish law and customs, he thought he was honoring God and defending God's chosen people against those who were supposedly blaspheming God. Actually, Jesus thought Saul's qualifications were perfect  - perfect for the type of man Jesus had in mind for him to become. 

That's why Jesus stopped him in his tracks. As Saul was on the road to Damascus to find followers of Jesus and bring them back to Jerusalem in chains, he had an encounter with the King of kings. First, Jesus blinded him to get his attention. Then Jesus spoke directly to him, in Aramaic, in a loud audible voice. Jesus identified himself and told Saul that he was His chosen instrument to take His message to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. 

Saul's transformation was a total and perfect 180. He is the ultimate example of someone transformed by Jesus. For the remainder of his life, he was totally sold out, converted, committed, and devoted to the call that Christ gave him. "However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace." (Acts 20:24)

Paul's life as an Apostle, his perseverance and faithfulness, is proof of his loyalty to Jesus. "Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm." (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)

In addition to his amazing life-accomplishments as an Apostle, Paul has influenced an innumerable amount of people for nearly 2000 years by writing the majority of the New Testament letters. Incredible. 

Even though we, as Christians, are certainly not Apostles, we can correlate some important principles found in Paul's life that can serve as models for our own lives. 

Every human is born with some ability or talent - with a specific personality and passion. Paul's ability was in speech, in law, in debate, all with a zealous spirit. He fully developed his talents, although they weren't initially used for God's ultimate purpose. It reminds me of myself. Although in my early rock and roll days I wasn't using my talents to glorify God, it certainly equipped me to be the worship leader I am now. Of course, ideally, and what I hope for my children, is that people use their God-given abilities right from the start to glorify God - that's the correct way. Regardless, the Lord equips each of us with talents and abilities, desiring us to use them to glorify Him. 

We may not be zapped like Saul was. We may not hear the voice of the Lord, literally. We may not be blinded by a light from Heaven, but we are certainly called. I love the simple plea of Jesus, "Follow me." It's probably the most general and basic call, but perhaps the most powerful. We are also called once we hear the basic Gospel message. And we are called through the Word of God, the Bible, through the influence of the Holy Spirit. The question is, do we listen, and do we respond? It's up to us. It makes you the Lord choosing you to do specific things for Him? Small things? Lifelong things?

Just like Paul turned his life around 180 degrees, that's how it is with many who have become Christians. It's called repentance and reformation. The Lord is able to totally transform lives. That's what Christianity is all life, a transformed life, a resurrected life. And for those who were brought up in a Christian home, transformation may not be so dramatic as Paul's. Instead it's an ongoing process for all of life because, for Christians, we are continually transformed, becoming more spiritually mature, by the renewing of our minds through the Word. 

Paul had a special, specific commission - to preach to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. For us, we have a mission also. It's basically the same as Paul's, although maybe not on such a large scale. Our mission essentially is, In Paul's words, "the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace." All of us are ambassadors for Christ. Maybe even some are called to more specific tasks as well. If we sincerely follow Christ, such tasks will be revealed as we go. 

So...thank you Paul, for your teachings, for your example, and for your life.  May we echo your words when our time here is up, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful." (2 Timothy 4:7)