From persecutor to follower
Acts 9: Things calmed down after that and the church had smooth sailing for awhile.
From the Day of Pentecost on there’s tension between the followers of Jesus and the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Obviously, the murder of Stephen is the primary example of that. Now, Saul, who was there as Stephen’s last words were addressed to Jesus, becomes the main enemy of the believers. He terrorizes them, showing no mercy. Then, on the way to Damascus to root out even more Jesus followers, he encounters Jesus, himself. It’s a dramatic turnaround. The greatest enemy of Jesus and his people is now one of them. Saul is as zealous for Jesus as he had been zealous against him. Following the martyred Stephen’s approach Saul debates the enemies of Jesus in Damascus. Then, when opposition is stirred to murderous proportions he returns to Jerusalem. Thanks to Barnabas, Saul is welcomed into the Church there. Soon he’s debating with the Hellenists of that city. Before long they decide to deal with Saul as they dealt with Stephen. Saul is hustled out of town and soon is sent to his distant home town, Tarsus. It’s only then that things calm down for the infant Church. As I read of these events, I once again wonder if debate is the best way to advance Christianity. It’s Stephen’s use of this approach that touches off the firestorm of opposition and it’s when Saul, with his debate style is moved from the mix that things calm down and the Church advances under a banner of peace. Also, I can’t help but wonder if Saul’s conversion doesn’t frighten the enemies of the Church. Saul was one of them, in fact, the most zealous of the lot. If attacking followers of Jesus can somehow make a person into one of “them” maybe it’s best to just leave them alone! No real application here but there’s plenty to think about as I consider this chain of events.
Take Away: Debate probably isn’t the best way to influence people for Jesus.
Isaiah 19: God will openly show himself to the Egyptians and they’ll get to know him on that Day.
The words of condemnation to Egypt compare what’s coming to a powerful storm, sweeping away everything in its path. Even the mighty Nile, the symbol of life in Egypt, will be dried up and the nation will be in a hopeless state. Surprisingly, Isaiah’s tone suddenly changes. It’s almost as though the storm ends and the sun breaks through. God will make an appearance to Egypt and, with all else swept away, the people of that land will turn to him with all their hearts. Isaiah says, “Egypt will come back to God.” Additionally, we’re told, Assyria will join Egypt in the worship of God and the result will be that they’ll “share the blessing.” In one of his most famous statements Jesus announces that God “so loved the world.” However, here we are back in the Old Testament where a Hebrew prophet has been, just as would be expected, telling how God’s going to destroy all the enemies of the people of Israel. Then, the tone of his prophecy suddenly changes. The enemies of God’s people aren’t going to be wiped off the face of the earth. Instead, they’re going to be converted! Here, then is the heart of every missionary effort. If God wants to do away with those who reject him, he can do it with just a word. Instead, he engineers circumstances designed to draw us to him. Granted, some of those circumstances are stout medicine, but, then again, it isn’t annihilation, which is what we deserve. In this somewhat confusing turnabout passage we get a glimpse of what will only become clear through the ministry of Jesus.
Take Away: The Lord wants to save all people – that’s good news for you and me.
1 Samuel 10: Saul among the prophets! Who would have guessed?!
The young man Saul is not a leader and he isn’t especially known for his spirituality. On this day, after his meeting with Samuel, Saul is headed home when he encounters a group of prophets on their way to worship. Before he knows it, Saul falls in with them, and then to everyone’s surprise he joins them in their religious expression. This is an unlikely event and word of it spreads throughout his family and friends. People are surprised at “Saul among the prophets.” After he becomes king a saying based on this incident becomes common. Anytime a person is surprised at something they shake their heads in wonder and say, “Saul among the prophets! Who would have guessed!” I’ve seen God do some surprising things in people’s lives. When I was a kid I knew a man who had been the town drunk. He was wonderfully converted and became the Sunday School Superintendent in the church where I grew up. “Saul among the prophets! Who would have guessed!” Another man, who was raised in the church, got away from God. His mother never stopped praying for him, but for years he seemed distant. One night he came to revival and responded to the invitation. A few years later he was a terrific youth leader in the church. “Saul among the prophets!” I love it when God does stuff like that and look forward to more “Saul among the prophets!” events in the days to come.
Take Away: The Lord does wonderfully surprising things in the lives of those who cooperate with his purposes for them.
A practical conversion
Joshua 2: They left and arrived at the house of a harlot named Rahab and stayed there.
As the Israelites prepare to cross the Jordan two spies are sent to learn about their first target, Jericho. They slip into the walled city and take up residence in what was likely a common place of lodging. The commentators tell me that Rahab’s house was likely a tavern and inn. While some squirm around Rahab’s being called a “harlot” it’s likely that the scriptures are simply telling it as it is. We’re talking about a Canaanite women living in a Canaanite town here. When she acts to protect the spies it isn’t because she’s gotten saved in a revival meeting! She’s acting out of self-preservation. Still, her actions carry real weight. In spite of her questionable past and her lack of knowledge about the God of the Israelites she’s concluded that this God of theirs is powerful and will deliver Canaan to his people. She may not know the Ten Commandments or the Shema or the story of Abraham and Isaac, but she’s heard enough about this God that she’d rather be on his side than on the side of the people and gods of Canaan. In what might be considered a “practical conversion” she picks that God over all others. Hopefully, in the years to come her theology will mature and her relationship with God and his people will deepen. However, for all of us, our faith journey has to start somewhere. Deciding one would rather be on God’s side in the battle isn’t a bad place to start.
Take Away: All spiritual life begins with a simple decision concerning one’s relationship to the Lord.