TITLE: From Saul to Paul
By Tom Brennan
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From Saul to Paul, the second half is the best when it's invested in the Gospel.
Saul of Tarsus had an impressive resume. Young and vigorous, a firm defender of The Law, committed to eradicating the blasphemous cult that called itself “The Way”.If there ever were a candidate for Pharisee of the Year, it was Saul. His family trade was that of tent makers, tents were essential to life in his culture. Only the best craftsmanship went into the goats hair palaces that Saul's family made. Saul later declared his pedigree in his letters to his former enemies. “A Hebrew of Hebrews.....”
What must have gone through Saul's mind when after being knocked off his horse (having been knocked off a horse several times myself, I can attest to the shock of being in the saddle one second and on the hard ground the next). The answer to his question of “Who are you Lord?” was one that he could never have imagined. The Jesus Who was at the center of the cult was now speaking to him. Was he about to be punished by this dead/resurrected Galilean ? Did He really rise,? Was He really the Messiah ? Was He God ? The fear must have been overwhelming. From riding to prosecute the cult of The Way, now Saul was to be at their mercy. He would be torn from his former associates and allies the Pharisees and Temple authorities and thrown into the midst of a group that feared, mistrusted and avoided him. He was a man without a country, a traitor to one group and a captive enemy to the other. His world was changed forever, then familiar was gone, his assets and all he was no longer mattered. It was the turning point of his life and then beginning of its greatest moments. He was dying to self and becoming a renewed man.
Saul spent several days, blind and helpless in the hands of his enemies. He was treated with kindness, fed and cleaned. Soon his affliction was healed as a visitor convinced Saul's hosts of the genuineness of his conversion. From that point on Saul's life took on a renewed meaning. The next couple of years began his ministry, he was still distrusted by many of The Way, but his energy and passion for the risen Messiah soon won them over and aroused the rage of his former Pharisee compatriots. Death threats and a beating or two made his life a daily struggle to stay alive. He went to Tarsus when it became too dangerous for him to stay where the Pharisees could get to him and spent ten years there. Imagine ten years spent away from your world, the familiar ideas, contacts, rituals and daily habits. His whole life and identity had been swept away in a flash. And yet, this was the beginning of what had true value. In the years to come he would be beaten often, shipwrecked and nearly drowned, have close associates disappoint him, have a serious confrontation with chief of the Apostles, Peter, over a critical issue in ministering to the world. He would journey tirelessly throughout an area where the church would grow furiously and see constant conflicts and internal stress that tried his patience, and all this on a man approaching his 50's. He would learn the meaning of grace, abandoning his own goals, purposes and resources, to depend totally on the Messiah Who struck him down and took him away from his own course of life and success.
Finally,in prison, deserted by close friends (much like the Messiah had been in the garden), he faced execution by the Roman's divine Emperor. In his late 60's now, strained by constant stress of imprisonment, most likely hungry and tired, the final test of faith awaited. He had run the race, kept the faith. To the Roman onlooker, he must have seemed a pathetic failure: in a threadbare robe, half starved, an old man with no friends to plead his case for mercy, deluded into believing in an executed Jew Who claimed to be God, when there were so many, including the Caesar who had condemned him.
Conventional wisdom said failure, fool, off with his head and done with him. And yet, those who watched were a dying generation of unbelievers, The Way took hold as the witness of Paul, Peter and the other men and women who followed and surrendered their lives and lifestyles to be transformed into new men and women.
Today many “baby boomers” have watched their savings, pensions, lifestyles and plans become meaningless as the world has changed almost overnight into a nightmare of economic trauma and uncertainty. Leaders have betrayed the trust placed in them, people in high places have placed personal profit above honesty and integrity and succeeded in a worldly sense with riches and being protected by powerful officials. The media lies and manipulates, radio entertainers rant, rave and spew violent hatred over the airwaves and internet, claiming free speech (when they are merely highly paid entertainers). Perhaps, like Paul, we have to be knocked off our horses to see where the truth is, what is really important, and especially where we have to put our first allegiance. Only a full submission and surrender of ourselves can allow us to truly be the men and women we are meant to be. Our resumes, portfolios, gold bars and silver bullion, our BMW's and SUV's and our rank and position within society are “vanity”.It's time to turn off the rant radio, the soundbite sellers, and log off the web and get on our knees. The prodigals are still welcome by a Father Who runs to embrace us, if only we will just get our priority set. “Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven”. Don't worry we'll get through it all. Just keep your eyes on the prize.
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