While shepherds kept their watching O’er silent flocks by night, Behold throughout the heavens There shone a holy light
Go, tell it on the mountain Over the hills and everywhere Go, tell it on the mountain That Jesus Christ is born.
The shepherds feared and trembled When lo above the earth Rang out the angel chorus That hailed our Savior’s birth;
Go, tell it on the mountain Over the hills and everywhere Go, tell it on the mountain That Jesus Christ is born.
Down in a lowly manger The humble Christ was born; And God sent out salvation That blessed Christmas morn.
When I was a seeker I sought both night and day I sought the Lord to help me And He showed me the way.
He made me a watchman Upon the city wall And If I am a Christian I am the least of all.
Go, tell it on the mountain Over the hills and everywhere Go, tell it on the mountain That Jesus Christ is born.
During the Christmas season, we often focus on giving. And it’s certainly appropriate. But there is another aspect of Christmas that sometimes gets overlooked– Telling.
Christ came to earth humbly, but he didn’t come secretly. Angels announced his arrival to the shepherds; stars aligned and shone brightly as a signal to the wise men. Prophets had foretold his coming for centuries. John the Baptist even went ahead of Jesus, baptizing and preparing his hearers for the good news yet to come. The earliest followers of Christ were eager to tell of his words, his deeds, and his glorious resurrection. Many lost their lives doing so.
If the birth of Christ was reason to fill the night sky with songs and wonders, reason enough to send angels and stars, prophets and messengers; what about the news of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension? Why do we allow this amazing news to sit on a dusty shelf, unopened and unshared? Or treat it like a secret, good news for only the few, the righteous?
We have the greatest news in all of history– more important than any political scandal, more amazing than the latest technology, more joyous than any other announcement imaginable. Emmanuel– God WITH US–He came, he lived, worked, spoke, laughed, shared, loved, cried, ate, slept, and died, WITH US. And he died and rose so that we could continue to live WITH HIM!
God didn’t send all the signs and wonders– he didn’t come into the world to be a guilty secret. And though there is still a risk involved in proclaiming the gospel, it is no less good, and no less NEWS now than it was nearly 2000 years ago. Let’s TELL it! SHOW it! POST it! SING it out!– Everywhere!
Father, Thank you for this wonderful news. Thank you for the Greatest Gift–Yourself. Give us hearts filled with joy and courage, and lips eager to share your grace and love with those we meet. Help us to be faithful messengers of that grace and love; transparent and true in word and deed. May every mountain and valley, forest, meadow, desert and ocean ring with the hope and glory of your nativity, your ministry, and your death and resurrection.
I know by writing this, I’m dating myself a bit, but when I was younger (MUCH younger!) we used to listen to a Hi-Fi stereo system. It was a piece of furniture, made of wood, complete with legs and fabric-covered speakers, and it had an enormous hinged cover that had to be locked into the “open” position or it would slam shut as your head and upper body was “inside” trying to adjust the settings! It had a turn-table for records, an AM/FM radio, and even storage for albums and other gear. It stood proudly, if awkwardly, in the living room or family room, off to the side of the other large piece of entertainment furniture, the giant television set, complete with rabbit-ear antenna. Hi-Fi stood for “High Fidelity”, reassuring us that the sounds issuing from this box were as close as we could get to “being there” for concerts, broadcasts, and other recordings. Our model was “old school”– there was no remote control, no way to record in any other medium (no tape deck or USB port), no “pause” or “mute” function– all the knobs and buttons and “arms” had to be operated by hand.
Today, we have “Wi-Fi”– a word that looks and sounds very much like the earlier “Hi-Fi.” Most people think that Wi-Fi probably stands for “Wireless Fidelity.” I looked it up– the “Wi-” does stand for wireless, meaning that information is transferred via radio waves, eliminating the need for a wire or cable connection. But the “Fi” part does NOT stand for fidelity (or anything else, exactly). It is simply a brand name for a particular wireless protocol See more about the definition of Wi-Fi here. Still wireless communications, including cell phone service and internet, has radically changed our world, making it possible to connect with virtually anyone, anywhere, any time. It is a marvelous innovation with potential for great good. In our world and culture of global communications, we rely on Wi-Fi or wireless connections every day. We use them for information, entertainment, business, and social networking. I rely on it for this blog.
When it comes to prayer, it’s important to recognize the important difference between Hi-Fi and Wi-Fi . Both are important, but they are not the same.
High Fidelity Prayer (as I see it) is consistent, daily prayer. Faithfully coming before God and seeking His face. Some may use a rote prayer for grace, or bedtime prayers, matins, or other standardized prayers. Others may set aside a daily time to pray–15 minutes in the morning, or an hour after breakfast, or even 10 minutes before bedtime. Some people set an alarm to pray at a certain time each day. Many even make a habit to pray with a group once or twice a week. To some, this type of prayer may seem passe, outmoded, old fashioned–after all, if God already knows our every thought, why does it matter if we pray every day or meet with the same group? It matters because fidelity matters– faithfulness, even in the “small” things, matters to God.
High Fidelity Prayer may seem awkwardly placed in the middle of our “living room”–forcing us to take time; to make and keep a commitment; to face questions or ridicule–it may seem clunky and wooden at first, even scratchy and hard to tune. And they depend on being “plugged in” to our power source!
Wi-Fi Prayer is not the opposite of Hi-Fi Prayer. It is not “wrong”, or illegitimate. In fact, it is great to know that we can talk to God anywhere, any time, for any reason. Wi-Fi Prayer (again, as I see it) is spontaneous prayer that is poured out to God “in the moment”. It can happen as you are driving or walking down the street (just don’t close your eyes!) It can happen alone or with a group. It can happen in response to something you overhear on a bus or a train, or read in an e-mail, or hear on the news. It is not a substitute for Hi-Fi Prayer, but it is certainly a healthy addition to it.
But Wi-Fi Prayer, just like Wi-Fi communication, can be taken for granted. Wi-Fi prayers can become “small” and “hand-held”– things we bring before God because it seems like the thing to do. We tend to put little thought, and even less grammar, into our wireless messages; we sometimes put little thought, and even less doctrine, into our Wi-Fi prayers, relying on common phrases that sound religious, but lose meaning. “Jesus just be with _____________ during this time”, “put a hedge of protection around ________________”, “I’m just claiming your promises, Lord.” There is nothing “wrong” with any of these statements, but what do we really mean? Isn’t Jesus always with us? Why is protection always a “hedge”? Which promises are you claiming? Again, there is nothing wrong with any of these phrases, and we know that the Holy Spirit can understand even our deepest utterances and wordless groaning. But just like auto-correct can mess up the simplest message, so our auto-pilot praying can mimic real communication with our Lord and Creator. There are entire comedy routines built around this kind of praying– but it creates an uncomfortably convicting kind of laughter. We should not be shamed out of Wi-Fi prayer, but we should also be careful not to let our prayer lives become a joke. Thankfully, God listens to our hearts and not just our words!
Hi-Fi or Wi-Fi, prayer is a sure connection to a faithful God.
On a final note, whether we have to turn down the knob or hit mute, there is another important “sound” principle of prayer– LISTEN! There have been some voices mocking this element of prayer, claiming that those who claim to hear from God are hallucinating or just plain crazy. God rarely ever speaks aloud and directly to an individual–even Jesus, while He claimed that He only did what His Father “told” Him to do– never claimed to hear the audible voice of God telling Him what to do or where to go next. There are only a few recorded instances of anyone else “hearing” the voice of God directly throughout history. But there are countless instances of people discerning the “voice” of God, and the leading of the Holy Spirit throughout the ages. How? Often through changes in circumstances, other trusted voices, new insights into scripture, or the “still small voice” of their own conscience giving confirmation. The one caveat about “listening” for the voice of God– it will NEVER lead you to contradict God’s own word or act in contradiction to His character.
We have a Hi-Fi, Wi-Fi kind of God–let’s keep in tune, log in, and listen!
If you are reading this blog, you have at least sixteen things for which to be thankful. Some of them may seem like minor things, but they can form the beginning of a much longer list.
First, (and this is NOT one of the smaller things) you are alive to read this. You woke up this morning (or afternoon, or whenever), and you have an opportunity to be thankful. Not everyone who was here yesterday can say that! Life is a precious commodity, and one that should cause us to be grateful.
I am (or was a few hours ago– hopefully I still am) alive to write this! You may or may not be very thankful for this fact, depending on whether or not you agree with me, or enjoy the blog, but I am very grateful…
You can see to read this. Close your eyes and imagine, or just look up from your screen to see all the other wonders within your sight!
You can access this blog to read it. We take for granted the availability of information and access to writings, graphics, and sound in the cyber age in which we live, but even 50 years ago it would have been impossible for a private person to share photos, writings, or videos to a global audience in real time. And the time may come when such sharing is tightly regulated, restricted, or forbidden. (Indeed, in certain areas, you may taking a risk to view this even now.)
You can read this. Worldwide, the literacy rate is estimated at 86.3% See wikipedia chart here You may think this is a small thing to point out, but in many countries–perhaps even the one you live in–this percentage is much smaller. And, if you look at historical accounts, literacy rates have exploded in just the last 100 years, especially for women.
You may be especially thankful if you are reading this in a second or third language, or if your computer is translating this into your native tongue.
You may not be reading this directly– if not, be grateful for whoever is able to read it to you, and is willing to do so.
If you have access to this blog, you probably have access to other modern conveniences — electricity, a cell phone or computer, indoor plumbing, etc. Even if your access is limited, sporadic, or expensive, it is still something many of our great-great-grandparents did not know.
Chances are that you have been the beneficiary of medical advances of which you are not even consciously aware…vaccinations, inoculations, surgery, better nutritional practices, and more– most of us living in the world today have never had to face the ravages of Polio; Smallpox, once a dreaded disease, was deemed to be eradicated within the last 50 years. It seems like such a small thing to be grateful for something you have never had, until you talk to someone or read about someone who DID have it.
You are completely unique and one-of-a-kind! Even if you are an “identical” sibling, you are not the same as anyone else living or anyone else who has ever lived! In all the world, throughout all time, there has never been or ever will be anyone exactly like you!
Conversely, you are part of a 7+ billion-member global family of humans who share the same commonalities– laughter, tears, hopes, disappointments, bad hair days (or no hair days), love, loss, hunger, and, sometimes, rest. We all have thoughts and feelings, and a purpose.
God LOVES YOU– in fact, He adores you. He loves you to death– and He died (and rose again) to prove it! The Father, Son and Holy Spirit look on you and love you–want the best for you throughout all eternity, and want to have a deep and powerfully transformative relationship with you– forever!
I am praying for you– perhaps not simultaneous to your reading this, but I pray for readers. I may not know your name, or where you are, or when you are reading this, but God does, and I’m praying to Him on your behalf. I’m also praying as I write each entry that God will be glorified and that what I write will glorify Him and help others.
God is even more readily accessible than anything I will ever send out– more than anything that can pop up in your news feed, nearer than your next door neighbor. God is available–whoever you are, however you feel, wherever you may be, whatever your circumstances, and whenever you call. Every moment of every day is an opportunity to pursue Him and interact with Him through prayer!
God is not just accessible, He has revealed Himself– through His creation, through His words, through prophecies, visions, and miracles, through the life and ministry of Jesus, and through the examples and lives of those who follow Him.
If you have reached this point, you may be scratching your head…I thought there were sixteen things…what’s left? Well, if you count the smaller bullet points above, this is number sixteen, and the fact that you are still counting means that you are counting your blessings– that’s a small thing, maybe, but I think it means that you want to be grateful– and THAT is another thing to celebrate!
The estimated world population at the time of Christ (c. A.D. 1)– 300,000,000
Estimated world population in 2018–7.6 billion. China and India each have populations exceeding 1 billion.
An estimated 50,000,000 people died in the influenza pandemic one hundred years ago (1918). Nearly 1/5 of the world’s population was infected/attacked by this virus.
1,503– the number of people who died in the sinking of the Titanic…there were enough life vests for every passenger on board, but not enough boats were available to keep people out of the freezing waters of the Atlantic.
700,000,000 watched at least part of the World Cup this year.
Just over 130,000,000 Americans voted in the 2016 presidential elections (an estimated 58% of eligible voters)
Over 60,000,000 lives were lost in World War II (Some estimates run as high as 80 million) This includes soldiers, civilians, detainees, prisoners of war, and victims of the Holocaust.
Over 60,000,000 Americans have lost their chance at life since the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v Wade in 1973. Fact Check
In 2018– nearly 30,000,000 abortions are estimated to have taken place worldwide– nearly 700,000 of them in the U.S. Abortion Counter
325– the estimated number of people who have been murdered in Chicago, Illinois, so far in 2018.
“Baby Shark” has been viewed over 1.6 billion times on YouTube alone, and the creators estimate a viewership of 3.3 billion worldwide. The Story behind Baby Shark
48,692,183,040 — the number of water drops/teardrops it would take to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool for Baby Shark. calculation here
70 x 7–(490)—-The number of times Jesus suggested we forgive our brother who offends us.
10 — the number of Jesus’s original disciples who were martyred (Judas hanged himself, and John died in exile on Patmos).
3,000 –the number of converts on the day of Pentecost. From this number, the Church has spread to nearly every corner of the earth, and lives, communities, nations, and people groups have been radically transformed.
1–Lord and Savior, whose death and resurrection wipes away the curse of death, disease, and Sin!
Disneyland! Niagara Falls! Tokyo! Paris! Dallas! Machu Piccu! Sydney! Kilmanjaro! Stonehenge! NYC! Souvenirs remind us, and declare to others, where we’ve been. T-shirts, knickknacks, photos, post cards, and more call us to remember places we’ve visited, or even lived. There are apps that allow you to tag, city by city, all the places you’ve ever been (if you can remember them all). Metropolises to tiny hamlets, all can be recorded and seen by anyone else with the app.
Most of the time, when we think of souvenirs, we think of pleasant memories and planned visits. But there is another kind of souvenir–scars, traumas, sickness, crime– that can taint our memory of a place. It’s one thing for my husband and I to visit battlefields from the American Revolution or the American Civil War– it is quite another for a veteran to visit a battlefield where he took a shell to the stomach and had to be carried out still under enemy fire, or for someone to return to a war-torn village they once called home.
As humans, we can only be in one geographic location at any one time. We can watch live footage of events around the world, but we cannot participate in or experience them in the same way. But there is one way we can “be there” from miles away, any time. We can pray. I can pray for people I’ve never met; I can pray for many people at once. And I can feel the power of others’ prayers even when I am otherwise alone.
More importantly, we can be reassured that God is ALWAYS there–He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. He needs no jet or GPS, no visa or key, to reach us wherever we are. And he needs no souvenirs to remind Him of His visits with us, or of the beauty (or disaster) in which we live.
I love looking at souvenirs, but far more, I love the memories that can’t be captured by a keyring, or a T-shirt, or a small statuette. I love the memories of smiles, and warm hugs, meals shared, and tears spilled. And I love the stories that remind me that even if I’ve never set foot in a particular village or city, through prayer, I was There!
25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,27 and give no opportunity to the devil.28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
I grew up hearing that anger is a sin. Yet God experiences anger and wrath. And the Apostle Paul says in this passage that we are to “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26a).
Anger is an emotion; feeding on anger, wallowing in it, stewing and screaming and acting out under the control of our anger– that is sin. That is why Paul goes on to say that we should “not let the sun go down on your anger ” (4:26b). Anger is not a “bad” emotion, but it is a bad master. We need to take control over our anger to resolve it, and let it go. In Genesis, God spoke to Cain about this very thing–Cain and his brother Abel had brought sacrifices to God; Abel’s sacrifice was pleasing to God, but Cain’s sacrifice did not find God’s favor. The sacrifices were voluntary– Cain and Abel were not in competition to see who could bring the “best” sacrifice. God had not ordered them to bring a sacrifice only to find fault with Cain’s efforts or the way he chose to present the sacrifice. The scriptures don’t even say that God rebuked Cain or pointed out a flaw in his offering. He simply found favor with Abel’s offering– Abel had brought the best he had; the firstborn of his flocks. Cain had brought “some” of his crops. The difference in the sacrifices had nothing to do with the content or the manner of offering, but in the intent to worship God halfheartedly, instead of wholeheartedly. God saw that Cain was angry (as well as proud and envious of his brother). Instead of rebuke, God offered grace and wisdom:
Genesis 4:6-7New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
God doesn’t want us to deny our anger or pretend we are never angry. But He does want us to acknowledge it, and deal with it. Why am I angry? What should I do about it? Anger can motivate us to do the wrong things, but it can also spur us to change our course, and do something good. Righteous anger can spur us to speak out about injustice, and seek to correct wrongs. Anger can lead us to our knees, asking God for direction, strength, or His intervention and justice. King David often prayed angry prayers asking God to strike down the people who were plotting against him, or those who were doing evil or mocking God’s people.
I wish I could say that I had mastered this area, but I’m writing as much for my own instruction today as anything else. Here are some wonderful steps we can and SHOULD take to deal with anger:
Pray! Anger can strangle us, or it can sneak up and suffocate us, but the worst it can do is drive us away from our source of help and hope. God WANTS us to come to him. He reached out to Cain in his anger, wanting to draw him near and help him overcome it; He offers us the same help. God can handle our anger– he can give us the power to let it go, and direct our feelings appropriately.
Own it–Angry people tend to deflect responsibility. Yes, other people can say or do things that make you angry, but they can’t make you say or do sinful things in response to their actions. You still bear the responsibility for what you do with your anger– even “righteous indignation.”
Question it!–This is something I have found helpful. Just as God asked Cain, ask yourself, “Why am I angry? Why am I downcast?” And then, answer them honestly. Many times, the root of my anger isn’t justified–instead it’s “just a lie”. I have no right to be angry with someone else when I chose to waste time, cut corners, or neglect to do what was necessary. I have no right to be angry or outraged because someone else feels differently or sees a different side of an issue. In fact, if I keep listening instead of exploding, I might find compassion overriding the anger. I might even learn something new! Or I might better understand why I feel or think as I do, and be better able to explain it to others, instead of just yelling the same thing over again.
Deal with it–This is a difficult one for me. I don’t like confrontation. If someone hurts me, I just want to walk away and lick my wounds. And we shouldn’t confront others WITH our anger, striking out at them and seeking to hurt them. But I have found that a lot of anger and hurt that I have harbored is not only unjustified, but is based on misunderstandings and pride. It takes humility, but it also takes courage to seek out someone to offer an apology you don’t want to give, or to ask for clarification instead of harboring hurt.
Don’t spread it! “Don’t let the sun go down upon your wrath” is not permission to “vent” to seven (or seven hundred) friends by spreading your hurt and outrage until you feel calmer. This is particularly true in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In the short-term, this may seem right– “they need to know what is happening”– but it is just the opposite. Anger often leads to rash judgments, and hasty actions that we can’t undo or call back. If you are not talking with the object of resolving a misunderstanding, apologizing, or offering a positive solution, you are engaging in sin. The old saying, “If you can’t say something nice about a person, say nothing at all” applies here. And it applies about situations and circumstances, too. I am angry about various practices and policies by governments, companies, even churches; what I need to spread is not my anger about them, but awareness of how God can change them, and why we should be seeking His justice, His righteousness, and His grace toward those who have been impacted by them.
Repent of any anger-related sin. Remember, anger itself is an emotion. God experiences it; we are made in His image, so we experience it, too. The only people who never experience anger are those who have lost their conscience.
Today, I prayed. I thanked God for Who He Is, and I lifted up those who are sick or needy. I thanked Him for my family and friends, for the freedom to worship without fear, for His faithfulness in providing food and shelter and comforts. I asked Him for wisdom to guide me through the new week; that I would say and do things to bring Him honor and glory.
It was a nice prayer. A safe prayer.
I didn’t cry out my unworthiness, nor did I boldly rejoice in His Holiness, laid over me by His son’s blood. I didn’t plead with Him on behalf of the lost and suffering. I didn’t rage at the continued injustice and evil I see around me. I didn’t spend precious hours listening as He whispered assurances to my soul. I didn’t worship in the splendor of His Lovingkindness.
I got up from prayer, feeling mildly better– I had done my duty. I had spoken with God…or spoken AT Him…I left feeling unchanged.
I sat down to write this blog on prayer. God forgive me for thinking I have more to say to an unseen readership than to You, my Creator!
I stumbled upon a site that promotes a concerted minute of prayer for our nation. In the light of upcoming mid-term elections, recent violent outbreaks in some of our cities, and other urgent issues, there are movements afoot to unite American Christians in our prayer efforts.
The National Minute of Prayer is based on an effort carried out in England during World War II. I want to be careful in promoting this idea– I DO NOT believe that God is swayed solely by people praying to Him in large numbers or at certain times– God sees our hearts and knows our minds. He wants hearts that are sincere, humble, and attuned to His will, and He will act, not on our desires, but on His own knowledge of what is truly best for our individual lives, for our nation(s), and for our world.
Still, I think this is a good idea, even though I don’t necessarily agree with all the ideas and aspects of the blog. I don’t believe there is anything magical or super spiritual about any given minute or hour of the day, so if the chosen hour of 9 p.m. (ET/8 p.m.CT, etc.) doesn’t work for you, or you can’t commit to a single minute during the day, just commit to pray for a solid minute at least once each day. I think the value of a project like this is in the commitment and the community–even as individuals search for a closet or a quiet corner to seek God’s face, the knowledge that others are doing the same adds to our commitment and our courage.
There are dozens of websites, blogs, and videos with similar programs and suggestions. Find one and consider following or joining!
And this doesn’t just apply to a particular nation facing a particular time of crisis. Christians living in Australia, Bolivia, Cambodia, Djibouti, Estonia, Fiji, Greenland, Haiti… you get the idea– can set aside one minute every day to pray for their nation and its leaders.
Think what it would mean to the heart of God to hear His children praying in unison for healing and justice to be done around the world in our home nations! Think what would happen if we set aside just one more minute to pray for the Church universal!
A few months ago, I went to the theater to see the movie “Paul, the Apostle of Christ.” It was an excellent movie, not the least because I found so much of it relevant to what is happening in the world today. The movie was centered around Paul’s time in prison in Rome; the upheaval and persecution facing the early church, and the looming certainty that Paul would be martyred and his words and leadership sorely missed. The church in Rome was facing division– some were militantly opposed to the corruption in Rome under Nero, and wanted to form a rebellion. Others wanted to flee Rome in hope of supporting outlying churches, starting new churches, or just finding a safer haven. Still others were losing hope and wanted to give up or hide.
The movie also covered (in a series of flashbacks) scenes of Paul’s earlier life. I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but this part of Paul’s life is covered in the Bible, so I will stick to the facts presented there, rather than the drama from the screen…
Saul of Tarsus was both a Jew and a Roman citizen by birth. He had studied God’s word intensely his whole life, and became a Pharisee. He had studied under some of the greatest scholars of his age–in today’s world, he would have been one of the greatest legal minds of our time– a superstar in the arena of law, philosophy, and logic. Of all the people in Jerusalem and throughout the Jewish world, Paul KNEW right from wrong. He KNEW the words of God, the laws of God, the traditions of God’s people. The result of all that knowledge was an obsession with wiping out those people (Jews, especially, but also Gentiles) who followed Jesus of Nazareth and “The Way.” Saul was a man filled with righteous anger, and a zeal to have everyone conform to what was “right.” He was a man of power and influence– a man to be feared and respected. In his letters, we can still see some of that intensity and the way he has of arguing both sides to their logical ends. But something happened to Saul..something that changed his entire future, including his name.
Paul, the Apostle of Christ, was still a Jew and a Roman citizen. He was the same man who had studied vigorously and knew the laws of Moses and God’s words through the centuries written by prophets and historians and psalmists. But the Paul we see in scripture, while still bearing the intensity of his youth, is a man of gratitude and peace. Here is a man who works steadily with his hands for honest but meager wages compared to what he might have made as a Pharisee. He is a man who boldly faces down even Peter and James in Jerusalem, but who nevertheless takes orders from a council made up of former fishermen and tradesmen. Paul undergoes flogging, arrests, prison, cold, hardship, physical pain, poverty, and disgrace with the kind of stoic acceptance, and even joy, that makes him a great hero of the early church. Never once does he return to the anger that drove him to persecute others who did not agree with him. Instead, he is willing to be the victim of persecution at the hands of those he used to serve.
I was scrolling through Facebook the other night, and I chanced upon posts from two women I know. Both are about the same age, both mothers of five children, and both are practicing Christians. The first woman was posting about two recent difficulties faced by her family, and how God had been faithful and gracious in spite of a huge loss and a tense situation that could have turned into another tragedy. She spoke of God’s answers to prayer, and how their family was reminded of God’s goodness as people came alongside at just the right moment, and the loss was not as great as it might have been. I was inspired and encouraged by the way she saw God’s love, and gave credit to all who had helped them.
The second woman spoke in vicious tones about how she would not associate with certain Christians who hold political and social views she sees as hateful. She cursed fellow followers of Christ for being “anti-Jesus,” and condemned several of her early teachers and pastors. I read her remarks with great sadness, because I remember her as a younger woman, eagerly memorizing scripture and being a loving and encouraging example to others. I also read her remarks with pain, because I think she includes me in the “hateful” group based solely on the type of church I attend.
It is not my place to say that one woman is a “better” Christian than the other– on another day, their FB posts might cause me to think very differently. And God sees more than just what we post on FB or say in passing conversation–He knows our every thought and motive. So I want to be careful–these women, though similar in some superficial ways, lead very different lives and have very different experiences of following God. But I saw in their posts two ways of “seeing” Christ.
When Saul of Tarsus, in his anger and zeal, traveled toward Damascus intending to kill people he may have never met, he was already a crusader for Jehovah– ready to mete out justice against anyone who didn’t meet his standards. He KNEW all about God. He knew what it took to be righteous.
But when he actually encountered Christ– he was knocked off his horse, blinded and overwhelmed by a vision. And when Christ spoke to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4), Saul didn’t recognize the voice of the very God he so proudly served. Saul remained blinded for three days, but his vision was never the same again.
As Paul, he became a man of prayer– his letters are filled with prayers for the well-being and spiritual growth of those he misses and longs to see. They overflow with doxologies and prayers of worship for the Savior he loves and serves with gladness. He can’t stop talking about God’s goodness– to him, to Israel throughout the centuries, and to the Gentiles who now have access to the throne of Grace. He still has harsh things to say to some of the followers who “don’t get it.” To those who want to compromise with sin or go back to legalism. But he pleads with them; he doesn’t throw stones.
It can be very frustrating in today’s world and in our society to see Christians who have very different ideas about worship styles, ways of interacting with others, even ways of living out the words of Christ. Sometimes, it seems that fellow Christians are blind to the needs of the poor, or the sins of their friends, or the hypocrisy in their lifestyle. I think scripture gives us a clear directive:
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.
Matthew 7:3-5 (English Standard Version)
We should not rush to condemnation, name-calling, and finger-pointing. Instead, we should do a “vision” test and see if we are looking and acting in love or in self-righteous hypocrisy.
God doesn’t want us to be blinded by the light of our own knowledge and self-righteousness. Instead, He wants us to walk in the light of His Word–His Word made flesh! May we live in the light of Paul’s example of prayer, loving correction, and running the good race.