Saul, Saul

Acts 9: 1 – 2

Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them in shackles to Jerusalem.

In yesterday’s Word of the Day, I attempted to persuade you not to judge people, Catholics specifically but people generally, based on their religious affiliation. Today, I am hoping we can take a step further.

Imagine, if you will, that you were a Christian living in the time of Paul, but before his conversion. Survival alone would cause us to be wary of him. He was passionate about pursuing and killing Christians. At that time, Christians were called followers of “The Way” because Jesus proclaimed himself as the way (John 14: 6). Saul was not a person you would wish to encounter. In fact, he participated in the stoning of Stephen. The Bible says, “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death” (Acts 8: 1). So, who would want to be around this guy? Moreover, how could you help but judge him as dangerous and a hater of Jesus and all who followed him? And yet, God saw something in this man that few of us would have. God saw passion and love for the God of the Jews. Sure, Saul was dead wrong in denying Jesus as the Messiah, but God saw in him something He liked, something He could use. Although Saul went from town to town persecuting Christians when God struck him it was to convert him, not kill him. It seems, then, that being wrong isn’t a sin. Failing to seek truth is a problem, but if one seeks, he shall surely find.

Do you think Saul was a man of prayer? I kind of think so. He was devout in the ways he knew. We know he was a Jew’s Jew and a keeper of the law, so I imagine he gave himself to prayer and was generous in his offerings. Without a doubt, he was a tither. He thought he was serving Yahweh when he rooted out Christian groups and subjected them to harsh, even lethal penalties, for their religious beliefs. I bring this up because it was said of Cornelius that he was a man of generosity and prayer. Both Cornelius and Saul received visitations, so I extrapolate from the passage about Cornelius and what we know about Saul that both men were generous in their giving and that they both were people of prayer.

Second, we can see that Saul was passionate in his service to God, even if he was misguided. Passion and devotion in prayer and offerings seem to be common factors in these two men’s lives. So, my first point is that we too should consider being as devoted as they; that we should give generously and devote ourselves to prayer. Now, this is not the current American Christian culture so we have to make our own concerted efforts in these directions for you will not be able to follow the crowd.

The second point I would like to make is that even though many of us consider Muslims our enemies, an idea which became more pronounced after the 9/11 disaster, we should be praying for them. When I say pray for them, I mean to pray from a heart of compassion. Think again about Saul. I am sure there were people of that day praying against him. I wonder, though, if there were some praying for his eyes to be opened so that he might see the truth. I think so and here is why. When Saul was knocked off his donkey, he arose blind. Well, many of that day would argue he was already blind, otherwise he wouldn’t persecute the followers of Jesus. Anyway, Jesus spoke to a believer named Ananias telling him to go to Saul, lay hands on him and pray. Ananias didn’t want to go because he knew Saul and was afraid of him, but Jesus told him to go revealing that right at that very moment Saul was praying to him. Jesus revealed that he had given Saul a vision of a man named Ananias praying for him. So, I wonder, were people praying for Saul to receive a true revelation of Christ or was it his own passion for God that stirred the trinity?

Truthfully, it doesn’t matter. The conclusion of the story is that Ananias obeyed God, prayed for Saul and with the laying on of his hands, Saul’s vision was restored. Metaphorically, it could be said that Saul began to see for the first time. His life completely turned around, later to be imprisoned himself for his belief in Jesus, the Christ.

Whether we like how someone believes or even fear their zealous service to their faith the best thing we can do is pray for them to have an encounter with Jesus. We can pray that the shingles will fall from their eyes as was so with Saul. God can do more with one person of passion than with a boatload of lukewarm Christians. The passion of Saul might have been misdirected, but one touch from Jesus can turn around even a Saul. Our job is to stir up that kind of zeal in our own hearts so that we become people of devoted prayer. Second, pray for those who persecute us so that they may see the truth and be transformed from Sauls into Pauls.

Truth be Told

Proverb 19: 5

A false witness will not go unpunished, and one who declares lies will not escape.

I hope you are enjoying the book of Proverbs. It is the first book of the Bible I latched onto when I began studying the Word. This book of wisdom made sense to me. One is not required to mine the passages for the deep meaning. Solomon makes strong, clear statements. If there is anything hard about the Proverbs, it is in being the person who will receive Solomon’s wisdom and guidance.

Today’s verse is a good example. What is difficult to understand about this passage? It is not a lack of understanding that trips us up here. I am continually amazed, though, at how Christians have not put lying behind them. It is not convenient to be a truth teller. I certainly appreciate that. Sometimes there are consequences to telling the truth. Well, the consequences are usually tied to some other activity, an activity we would rather lie about than face consequences and that is where the genesis of lying often, well, lies.

Conversely, truth telling can have a positive effect on behavior. If you know there is a chance you will be questioned about an event, and you are a person who is wedded to the truth, you are more likely to behave in a way that allows you to avoid unpleasant circumstances. For example, I don’t like getting up early in the morning. However, I know there is an average chance that someone in my circle will ask me about my day and even ask what time I arose. Since I do not lie, I am more likely to push myself out of the bed in the morning. I do not want the consequences of having to confess that I slept in. When we allow ourselves the luxury of lying, we also allow ourselves the luxury of other misdeeds.

So, the difficulty is not in understanding. I mean face it; this passage is as clear as fine crystal. The hard part is obeying. We are like petulant children. We don’t want to grow up and face the consequences of our actions, so we lie about them.

God is listening to every word we utter. We have studied the power of words and I constantly encourage you to use positive, edifying words at all times. If we buy into the idea that guarding our speech is important, how can we justify using our words in a false and misleading manner? Afterall, lies are intended to mislead others. How can that be good use of our words?

Lastly, Jesus is the truth (John 14: 6). Shouldn’t that be sermon enough for us all?

I Am . . .

John 14: 6

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

We may think of this as a simple verse. It is well known also. I wonder, though, if it has profound depths that we don’t always see.
Imaging being one of Jesus’ disciples. You are sitting together after supper and he says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  What would you think? One of my first questions is, the way to what? The better question would be, the way to whom? Jesus is the way to God. We know no one goes to God apart from Jesus. What we may lose touch with is that part of Jesus’ mission in the earth was to connect the Father with His people. He doesn’t want us to have a great relationship with him because we are “Christians” and fail to have a great relationship with our Father.

What about the truth? What did Jesus mean by that? Were his disciples perplexed? He is all truth and in him is no untruth, no deceitfulness. What an amazing statement that is. You do not have to question his motives or his words. What he says, literally, is gospel. Any word Jesus has ever spoken is absolute in its veracity. The other side of the coin is that no lie has any part in him. No, untruthfulness, deceit, fraud, cheating, treachery or duplicity has any part in him. He is whole in his honesty and forthrightness.

I am the life.” He is eternal life, yes, but he is also the air we breathe right now. Because he is the life, we know he is alive. If he was not alive, nothing else could have life. I often wonder if the world began to die those three days he was in the grave. Did the life begin to seep out of the earth? Another thought, he said he came here to give us abundant life. Okay, if he is the life, then he came to give us himself in abundance, right? He is to be found by us and absorbed, breathed, and lived.

Well, perhaps it is a simple verse but it sure is amazing to ponder.

Seas Roar; Rivers Clap

Psalm 98: 7 – 9

Let the sea, everything in it, the world, and those who live in it roar like thunder. Let the rivers clap their hands and the mountains sing joyfully in the Lord’s presence.

Do you ever wonder what happened the day the Lord died? I mean, if he is the life (John 14: 6) what happened to the world when the life died? And then, did the earth rejoice when he came back to life? Did the animals feel something happening in the earth? Did they hide in their burrows when Jesus died? What about the grass? Did it begin to wither and die?

I have a creation theory which may be a bit different from others you’ve heard. This began forming in mind in the sixth grade, so I’ve had a bit of time to think about it. Scientists have been on the hunt for the smallest particle in the natural universe. Everything they find is made of something else, but what? Electrons? Protons? Quarks? What is a quark composed of?

Well, ultimately, I believe that answer is, “God.” This actually goes along with the big bang theory and you will see why. Genesis 1: 3 is where we find the well-known language, “Let there be light.” It’s not until verse 16 that God made the sun, moon and stars, so what was the light that He released? John 8: 12 records Jesus saying, “I am the light of the world.” So that makes me think that he was the light in verse three. We know that Jesus was with God at the foundation of the world, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men,” (John 1: 1- 4.) And there is the reference, again, to him being both the life and the light.

So here is my theory, I believe when God made the earth, he did so by releasing a part of Himself. We see that Jesus was an integral part of the creation process. Perhaps when God said, “Let there be light” He was releasing that part of Himself which is Jesus into the universe and earth. There wasn’t a sun and moon, so it wasn’t that kind of light that he released. What if it was energy, the force of life, that God released. Now, if this is, in fact, a part of Him, one can easily imagine a BIG bang. There is room to think about what that might have looked like and a great opportunity for God to reveal the truth of it to someone. Imagine God releasing a part of Himself.

Now if we are on the trail of creation revelation here, that would mean that everything you see, touch, feel or perceive is made from the most basic, but most essential element of all, God’s living energy. God made everything from the only thing that existed at the time, Himself. Isn’t that amazing? That would mean that even the grass and trees get their life from Him. Well, that really isn’t that large a leap. Intuitively it seems to make sense. And when He formed the animals, did they have a sense of Him? Animals have an inner knowing of things. You can see it when storms approach. Did they recognize that something was amiss the day Jesus died? And did they leap for joy when he arose?

It would be something to see the sea teaming with life and praising God with such exhalation that the sea roars. One gets the sense that the mountains would bow down before our Lord. The Lord’s presence is reason for celebration, not for what He will do but just His presence. In His presence is fullness of joy; joy so profound and prolific that even seas will leap, and rivers clap their hands.

Spirit of Truth

John 14: 16 – 17

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another helper who will be with you forever. That helper is the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept him, because it doesn’t see or know him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be in you.

Yesterday we saw the impact of truth on our lives. Because Jesus is the way to the Father, and he is the truth then the truth is the way to the Father. It is interesting, then, that as Jesus was about the leave planet earth, he made this statement about the Spirit of Truth to his followers.

As we go forward, I hope every time you hear “truth” you will think of Jesus saying, “I am the truth,” (John 14: 6). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth which makes perfect sense since he is the Spirit of Jesus. When Jesus left earth, he sent a helper. It turns out the helper he sent is truth, that is the Spirit of Truth. Ultimately, truth is an aide to you. I think that was apparent in yesterday’s Word of the Day. It is truth which leads us into divine integration. You and I are consistently assisted by truth because Jesus is the truth and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. Jesus told us that the Spirit was to be with us forever which means that we were designed to live in and with truth all the days of our lives including our life in eternity. Can you see, then, how offensive untruths are to the Kingdom of God and its inhabitants? There can be no falsehood, white lies or deception in the Kingdom. None!

The world does not know the Spirit and it can’t because it doesn’t know truth. Those who will not accept and acknowledge truth cannot know the Spirit. The Spirit and truth are inseparable. However, Jesus said you can both see him and know him. When you embrace truth, then you make a resting place for the Spirit of Truth. When you embrace the lie, he cannot dwell with you. In the beginning, the Spirit was hovering over the formless mass of the earth. He was brooding, waiting, prepared and ready for the Father to speak. When the Father spoke, the Spirit brought forth whatever Yahweh said.

The Spirit of Truth is hovering over you right now. He is prepared and listening. When you speak truth and faith, he becomes energized to operate in that space. What, do you imagine, is his response to lack of truth or outright falsehood. I imagine that he is stripped of his power in that space. He operates in the light, draws his power from the light. If we dwell in darkness and deception, I believe we handicap the Spirit of Truth. Life and love operate in and by truth. That is how the world was created. It can create in our lives too.

The Way

John 14: 6

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

I was riding my bike this week when this verse came to me and at the same time, took on a whole new meaning. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus; we know that. Jesus said he is the way. Thus, he is the way to the Father. As I was riding, I heard it this way. First Yahweh brought to my mind that no one goes to the Father apart from Jesus. The next words that came to my mind were, “I am the truth.” Then this idea reverberated in my spirit, “No one goes to the Father apart from the truth.” “That’s interesting,” but, “what truth?” I queried.

There are many truths; truths about Jesus, truths about the Father. What truth is it that we need to comprehend in order to live our lives intertwined with the Father like Jesus modeled for us and taught? The answer resonated through my whole body and was as clear as it could be. It is the truth about ourselves that prevents us from knowing our Father and living with Him as He desires.

A lot of people know the truth about Jesus. They know he is the one promised, the Messiah. Many people know the truth about Yahweh, that He is the one and only true God, that He is the Almighty and the creator of all. They know these truths, but one can know them and yet remain separated from God. In fact, Satan knows this as do his followers. Knowing this truth will not set you free by itself. We acknowledge these truths yet remain distant and separated from the Father. This is true even of Christians. Why? It is because we have not accepted the truth about us.

In order to draw close to the Father, we have to spend time with Him. One of the main reasons we do not do so is because He reveals the truth about us to us and for many of us that is a very uncomfortable event. So, we pray in the religious way. We attend church but we never reveal our hearts fully to the Father and we certainly do not allow Him to reveal the true content of our hearts to us. When we acknowledge truth, when we embrace it, that is when it changes our lives. That is what Jesus meant when he said, “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free,” (John 8: 32). He meant that you would recognize and accept the truth and when you do, you shall be set free.

He is the truth so when you know him and know him in your own heart then truly you will taste a liberty that is unavailable to those who only intellectually accept facts about Jesus. When we allow Jesus to show us ultimate truths, especially truths about ourselves, then we will experience healing, transformation and complete integration with the Holy One. It is then that we can join with the Father in an unencumbered fashion. That is when we can truly become one with Him. Jesus is telling us today that the only way to the Father is through the truth. The lies and deceptions we have been telling ourselves and others work to keep us separated from God. Allow Jesus to speak truth into your heart for it is the only way to the Father. Jesus is the way; the way is through truth.

In Conclusion

Ephesians 4: 15

But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ.

Here is the conclusion of Paul’s soliloquy. This verse of Ephesians 4 could well be called the topical sentence of all that comes after it. The verses which we have examined hang on this verse. This represents the theme of the chapter.

We are all supposed to be growing up into Jesus Christ himself. We are not only to grow into an image of him, but we are actually supposed to be growing up as part of him just like the branch is vitally integrated into the vine. This is our work as accomplishing Christians. We are supposed to be growing up. Christianity is more than a salvation prayer uttered once. It is life and it is a total way of life. It is Christ.

There are two essential elements that we need in order to grow into him as we should. They are not a mystery. They are in the verse above: love and truth. Only through love and truth can you grow into the integration with Christ that God has called you to. God is love (1 John 4: 8) and Jesus is the truth (John 14: 6), so of course we cannot do without them. You are going nowhere without love and truth.

Jesus said in John 15: 1-2I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine-dresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes (cleanses) it, that it may bear more fruit.” That means you either bear good fruit or God prunes you away. And when you do bear good fruit he nurtures you so that you can bear even more good fruit. See please that truth is the true vine. Makes sense right? Love is the vine dresser. You must abide in truth, thereby abiding in Jesus (John 15:4) and you must allow love to guide your growth.

It all makes sense when you see it this way. The rest of the verses in Ephesian 4 follow from verse 15. Of course, we must keep our mouths from all unwholesome language. Of course, you are kind and gentle because love is kind and gentle. And finally, it all makes sense and becomes easy. If we will allow truth and love to guide us all day every day, we will become well-watered branches lovingly cared for by the Holy Gardener. Every other verse of the Bible folds in here. In this concept is your every need met, your healing, your protection and of course your salvation and redemption. It does not have to be difficult to understand any longer. Where there is love and truth, there is the real first family, the family of God.