SOS Paul

Three days is a long time to be in darkness.

It’s long enough to think about what you’ve done.  It’s long enough to reflect on how wrong you’ve been.  It’s long enough to realize that you’ve participated in murder.  It’s long enough to consider how much of an enemy of God you really are.

It’s also long enough for your other senses to sharpen in compensation.  I experienced deeply the clinking of utensils used to prepare food.  I felt the way the sound of a room changes when a door is opened.  I heard things I don’t ever remember hearing before and I gathered the world around me through smell and changes in the movement of the air.  It was a time of heightened sense both externally and internally.  My introspection went deep and was relentless in nature.

The bright light that had flashed around me was just the beginning.  Knocking me from my path, knocking me to the ground it was a literal shock that was a small thing compared to the spiritual earthquakes to come.

In my crusade against the Way, I had never once considered it might be true.  I hadn’t wrestled with the possibility that Messiah had actually come and walked among us.  I hadn’t seen Stephen as he truly was, a holy and great man, not a crazed and raving heretical cancer.  I was the one who was lost.  My heart was the true cancer, and it was being excised hour by hour in unseen extremis and pain.

In my blindness I saw Isaiah for the first time.  I realized the promise of Abraham had come.  Scripture after scripture seared my thoughts with fire and I simply couldn’t believe that I hadn’t seen this before.  He came from Bethlehem.  He was from the house of David.  The signs that I discounted as fanciful rumors and wish fulfillment were real.  Of course He was the one.  How could I have missed this?  How could anyone miss this?

And He was opening a door beyond the captive children of Israel.  This was for all nations.  Everything I knew before was becoming unknown… and my hands gripped the rough cloth around me as revelation swirled like the rain.

I felt gentle hands and voices as they offered me food and drink, but I refused.  I couldn’t eat yet, this was too important.  I didn’t want anything to break the spell of this realization until it was time.

The Christ had come. His Spirit would be poured out on all flesh. And I would get to be a small part of His working in these early days. I would speak over cities, I would write things to be revealed.

When Ananias came, I was ready.  I was drinking deeply of His presence and while excited, I was more than a little afraid of what would happen next.  Still, I was ready.  His voice to me was as clear as music confirming what I already knew in my heart.  As He prayed I felt the weight of my old life break away and my eyesight return.

In joy, I held my breath as his hands lowered me into the water.  Closing my eyes, I was returning to the horrible, blessed darkness that had been my world for a time.  A heartbeat, two, then a gentle pulling led me back into the light.  Rising from the water into the sweet air of redemption, I was surrounded by men whose hearts were full of love for me.  I embraced every one of them and they didn’t seem to mind getting a little wet from the waters of my resurrection.

We ate together and talked of many things as I took my first communion with them at the table.  God’s presence was as thick as incense on high holy days, a powerful context for a simple meal.  I felt alive.  I felt amazing.  My mind continued to roll and everything pointed to Him.

I was born again.

When this story is told, the focus will inevitably be on the diving light and dramatic nature of the moment.  Men will recall the very voice of God thundering to me upon the road.  I’m not downplaying that; it is my shame that it took such extreme measures to get my attention.  The more poignant lesson for me was this:

Love one another.

It was my first lesson of true spiritual life.  I experienced it from the ones who helped me walk, leading me to safety.  I learned it as others cared for me unable able to feed or care for myself in basic ways.  I saw the heart that God Himself had placed in His people and saw their willingness to play their part.  And I learned the greatness of His love, not from loving, but from being loved.  In my weakness, He showed His great love through the very people I sought to destroy.

God’s plan is bigger than ours. His powerful love can cause a movement bigger than anything we could start or catalyze.

Love one another.

Devotional Thought for the Day

Paul left an indelible mark on the church, making disciples, teaching and leading communities to Christ, training up leaders, encouraging accountability. But it wasn’t always that way with Paul.  It was God’s powerful love that took Paul to the ground and made him a sold-out, devoted, disciple-making believer.  Sometimes in ministry, we get caught up in the mechanics of discipleship. But as with Paul, it starts with love.  God’s act was one of love and His love flowed through those who ministered to Paul. Love still grows disciples today.  Love for God and love for those around us.

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