The Silence of the Lambs (1)

christian-persecution-1

Muslim destruction of Joseph Colony, a Christian region, in Pakistan, 2013

Introduction

One of the primary failures of contemporary Western Christianity is its silence on persecution of Christian communities throughout the world.  This situation was recently highlighted during the absolutely legitimate outrage over the massacre of innocent Muslims as they worshiped at two Mosques in Christchurch New Zealand.  Without a doubt these vile acts of murderous terrorism must be powerfully denounced.  And they were.

However, contemporaneously to this terrible event was another that would seem to be of similar weight, that being the massacre of over one-hundred Christians in central Nigeria.

The mosque attacks were indeed a horrific affair and worthy of universal condemnation. Presidents, prime ministers, royalty, and religious leaders rushed to extend their condolences to victims and their families — as well they should — while decrying the hate that purportedly motivated the shootings.

Without exception, the mainstream media gave top billing to the shootings, with newspapers carrying the story on their front pages and television news channels leading off their broadcasts with the story.

The bizarre aspect of the coverage was not, in fact, the attention paid to a heinous crime committed in New Zealand, but the absolute silence surrounding the simultaneous massacre of scores of Christians by Muslim militants in Africa.

Bible-Microscope

Can only Christians and civilizations built on Christianity sin?

It appears that Western Christianity has become deeply uncomfortable with the idea of standing up for their brothers and sisters in Christ who live under persecution.  Simultaneously we have become obsessed by a sense of shame about the sins of our own civilization while minimizing or ignoring the sins of others.

In this series I will attempt to examine and discuss this strange blindness to evil acts perpetrated against Christians accompanied by our obsessive microscopic examination of our own failings, real or imagined.

Decoding Progressivism (11)

child-sacrifice

Stop pretending that this is an ancient evil.

Child Sacrifice Edition

The Progressive-Left is on the move to incorporate abortion up to and including delivery and even infanticide into state law (emphasis added).

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who just made deeply troubling comments on abortion, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who just signed the country’s most radical abortion law, have been the subject of intense ire in recent days. The outrage is coming not just coming from “radical” pro-lifers, but people from across the political spectrum.

Why? Because virtually no one but the far left believes it is morally acceptable to allow infants to be murdered seconds before birth, or to be left to die after delivery at the behest of the mother.

Yet the nation has been shocked by radical left’s boldness in their mission to define preborn human beings as disposable non-persons.

And make no mistake, Illinois is well on its way to joining this radical abortion movement.

Here are a couple of questions.

  1. Has anyone reading this post experienced a Progressive individual or organization recoiling in horror at the Democrat Party’s embrace of abortion up to birth and what can only be called infanticide?
  2. Have they said they had no idea that abortion policy would go to this extreme and that they therefore repudiate their support of both abortion and the Democrat Party?

Me neither.

Perhaps it’s because this was always the unspoken but true nature the abortion regime.  Or as one commentator concludes (emphasis added):

Leftists like Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, the Vermont state representatives who just passed the nation’s most permissive abortion law, or Sen. Patty Murray and the other Democrats who voted against protecting aborted infants born alive, are simply carrying on a millennia-long tradition of depriving children of their rights as human beings and image bearers of God.

Here’s your answer, … : In the womb or out, the far left believes it’s the mother’s decision whether to allow her own child, her helpless and dependent flesh-and-blood offspring, to live. Expect to see more obstruction of protections for live infants, because Democrats don’t believe in their own propaganda. They believe something far, far more terrible.



By the way, PCUSA members, the “saints” attending the General Assembly in 2014 were way ahead of the Progressive curve with regard to infanticide (emphasis added).

The Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly made a lot of headlines when they voted to bless same-sex marriages. But Wesley J. Smith brings up a far more disturbing vote at the convention that isn’t getting as many headlines: voting no to protect babies born alive after a failed abortion. …

The Presbytery of South Alabama overtures the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to do the following:

1. Call for the Presbyterian Mission Agency and member congregations to enter a two-year season of reflection upon the plight of children unwanted by human society, both born and not-yet born, and to purposefully seek to enter the pure worship of God by offering aid, comfort, and the Gospel to those responsible for the care of our most desperate orphans (including those who survive abortion procedures): parents, siblings, church and community leaders, and the medical profession.

2. Direct the Moderator of the General Assembly and the Stated Clerk to issue statements that denounce the practice of killing babies born live following an abortion procedure, such as was revealed in the Dr. Kermit Gosnell clinic in Philadelphia. …

Evidently, denouncing infanticide and praying for children born after an abortion fails doesn’t fly in today’s Presbyterian church. The motion didn’t call for the Presbyterian church to stop supporting pro-abortion organizations, like Planned Parenthood, either — or is asking for an assessment of support given to both pro-life and pro-abortion organizations somehow too pro-life for them Presbyterian church, too? …

It should also be made clear that this wasn’t a narrow victory. The margin of defeat for this motion was 465 – 133. It was a landslide, because for PCUSA, saying that what Kermit Gosnell did is horrific and wrong, and should never happen again, is evidently too much to ask.

GOSNELL

The practitioner of mass infanticide that the “saints” of the 221st PC(USA) General Assembly couldn’t bring themselves to denounce by a 3.5-to-1 ratio.

And yet we continue to avert our eyes, hoping not to notice the moral corruption that now dominates our denomination’s General Assembly and many of our Presbyteries.



So finally, the decoder image.

Abortion-Child-Sacrifice

Making Sense of Progressive Nonsense (5)

Green-Deal-Great-Leap

This in meant as satire, but is it really?

Environmental Death Cult meets Satire Killed by Reality meets Questions for Socialists meets Intentions vs. Results in the Green New Deal

Alexandria_Ocasio-Cortez_official_high-resolution

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

This an embarrassing, pathetic and dangerous time for our republic.  We have reached the point at which a 29 year-old know-nothing/wrongthing can be elected to Congress who believes that her ideological purity literally enables the fundamental physical transformation of the United States from fossil fuel based to green energy based within 12 years.  The Green New Deal document, released and then pulled yesterday, was pre-supported by most of the Democrat presidential candidates.

Others have provided the necessary assessment of this dingbattery. Following are comments on just a few of the too many cringe-inducing ideas in this document.

  • Ban cars. To be fair, under the GND, everyone will need to retrofit their cars with Flintstones-style foot holes or pedals for cycling. The authors state that the GND would like to replace every “combustion-engine vehicle” — trucks, airplanes, boats, and 99 percent of cars — within ten years. Charging stations for electric vehicles will be built “everywhere,” though how power plants will provide the energy needed to charge them is a mystery.
  • Gut and rebuild every building in America. Markey and Cortez want to “retrofit every building in America” with “state of the art energy efficiency.” I repeat, “every building in America.” That includes every home, factory, and apartment building, which will all need, for starters, to have their entire working heating and cooling systems ripped out and replaced with…well, with whatever technology Democrats are going invent in their committee hearings, I guess.
  • Eliminate air travel. GND calls for building out “highspeed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary.” Good luck Hawaii! California’s high-speed boondoggle is already in $100 billion dollars of debt, and looks to be one of the state’s biggest fiscal disasters ever. Amtrak runs billions of dollars in the red (though, as we’ll see, trains will also be phased out). Imagine growing that business model out to every state in America?

My personal favorite for absurdity is this (emphasis added):

We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.

Strassel-Green-DealBur for sheer infuriation this item may be the tops (emphasis added).

  • Build on FDR’s second bill of rights by guaranteeing: …
    • Economic security for all who are unable or unwilling to work

The fact that this bizarre screed was received with almost universal mockery and disbelief gives me cold comfort.  Yes, I understand that the Green New Deal has exactly zero chance to become law.  However, the following facts bode ill for our future.

  1. Our educational system has delivered people who are simultaneously so ignorant and so confident.
  2. There were enough people in a Congressional district to elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the U.S. House of Representatives.
  3. As stated in the Los Angeles Times: “Equally notable, however, was the list of who signed on — most of the major Democratic presidential candidates in the race so far.”  Thus the supposedly most seasoned and serious Democrat politicians, either by cowardly submission or true-belief, supported this proposal.
  4. Ocasio-Cortez and company wrote and released this document based on their ideological fantasies that by simply believing so completely and having such good intentions they were sure to be right in all that was contained therein.

mazie_hirono_hawaii_aoc_green_new_deal_2_7-19-1-800x489They must have been shocked by the response.  Even a natural ally like Senator Mazie Hirono couldn’t help but point out an obvious logical flaw.  For these reasons Representative Ocasio-Cortez took down the web page that had previously held the Green New Deal FAQ document.

So how do I justify my title?  Here’s how.

Environmental Death Cult

While I’m absolutely sure that it isn’t intended (see below), were the Green New Deal ever actually implemented it would make the Ukrainian Famine caused by the Russian Communists look like a minor event.  Who can doubt that, as reliable, plentiful and affordable fossil fuels are ripped away and “replaced” by unreliable, scarce and prohibitively expensive “green energy,” tens, even hundreds of millions of Americans would die from cold/heat, starvation and social  chaos as the nation’s economy collapsed?

Satire Killed by Reality

I may have to give this topic up.  I simply don’t see how anything else could occur in reality that is so far beyond what could be imagined by the greatest satirical minds (oh please let this be true).  Progressivism has now surely killed satire.

Questions for Socialists

In my series of this name I attempted to force our Socialists to address obvious but unasked questions.  In order to implement the Green New Deal the United States would have to succumb to totalitarian Socialism.  So, here’s my question based on the Green New Deal:

How is it that a political movement that claims to be the vanguard of intellectual and moral thought could generate such an absurd proposal that is so widely supported within the Progressive movement?

Intentions vs. Results

The Green New Deal is a pinnacle of “good intentions” replacing “good results” (see all of the above).  This is the end result of the “participation trophy,” “self-esteem,” and “education by ideology” culture that we have allowed to grow over the past thirty years.  Yes, I blame those among us who have successfully pushed these ideas into our educational system and mass media.

However those of us who knew better but chose to remain silent and passive in the face of this onslaught must also accept responsibility for this situation.  The day is growing late, we must decide if it’s more important to ruffle the feathers of people pushing destructive ideas or protect our nation from the chaos that they would cause.

be-back2

A political movement that knows nothing and forgets nothing is highly unlikely to be deterred by an abject failure.  They are true believers in their intellectual and moral superiority, so they can’t ultimately be proven wrong by actual events (e.g., most recently, Socialism in Venezuela).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing you and yours a blessed time of giving thanks to our Great God!

Screenshot-2016-11-23-at-9.48.29-PMPresident Abraham Lincoln proclaims a Day of Thanksgiving to God Almighty.

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Amen.

The Language of Suffering: Paul’s Suffering (6)

St Paul by El Greco

St. Paul by El Greco

Closing Thoughts

We have seen that suffering was an integral part of Paul’s experience as an Apostle of Christ.  To our surprise, the Apostle actually embraced suffering, seeing it as a means to attain deeper fellowship with his Master as well as to ensure that he remained humble.  Even more stunning, this Great Apostle welcomed the weakness that accompanied suffering so that he might become stronger by having to depend all the more on Christ.

It becomes clear that suffering, far from being an impediment, was actually seen as a powerful, creative tool of spiritual power to be wielded with confidence in Christ’s service.  We can only stand in stunned silence before such faith.  Yes, Paul was of frail flesh and blood.  All who have studied his writings know of his stubbornness, rash decisions and confrontational style.  He failed, faltered, fell; but he never stopped loving his Lord and Savior, nor seeking to serve Him with every fiber of his being.

It is always best to give this Great Apostle the last word.  May we take it to heart, for he always writes with his beloved fellow Christians warmly treasured there.

312Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians)

The Language of Suffering: Paul’s Suffering (5)

Philippians 3:7-11

3 7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10Iwant to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Here we have a window into the Apostle’s spirit.  Through it we see a life so completely identified with his Master that everything else, that which came before, that which comes beside, anything else, is mere rubbish in comparison.

To us, caught up in our many competing cares this single-minded focus appears almost pathological.  Paul would indeed have made a poor husband, father, middle manager or soccer coach.  But these were not his calling.  His calling was to spread Christ’s Gospel throughout the Roman Empire, overcoming every obstacle set in his path, great personal suffering included.  Only a total commitment to Christ that included sharing fellowship in every dimension of His Life could prevail.

We would do Paul a great injustice were we to pity him.  For though he almost surely suffered more than most humans ever will, he even more surely knew more joy, love, hope and peace than almost any human who has ever lived. He had these riches because of the victory of Christ in him.  Would that I could surrender so completely to such a worthy King.

The Language of Suffering: Paul’s Suffering (4)

Paul-Writing

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles; Valentin de Boulogne or Nicolas Tournier; ca. 16th century

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

12 7To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

The Apostle Paul was here engaged in a controversy relating to his authority in the Corinthian church. In verses one through six of this chapter he is responding to those who have claimed superior authority from having received their teachings directly from God through ecstatic visions.  Paul describes his own experience of being “caught up to the third heaven” where he “heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.

However, unlike his adversaries, Paul follows this disclosure not with boasting but with a sustained passage in which his own unworthiness and weakness is highlighted so that Christ can be exalted.  It is this attribute that ultimately separated (and continues to separate) the true from the false leaders in the Christian fellowship.  Lord, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil!

8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.10That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The Judeo-Christian tradition is replete with unexpected reversals from weakness to strength – the good as dead bodies of the aged being chosen as the wellspring of a great people of the Covenant (Abraham and Sarah, age 100 and 90, respectively), the youngest son raising above all his elder brothers, and against all social conventions of the day, to the pinnacle of power (e.g., Joseph to Egyptian Vizier and David to the Kingship of Israel), a Savior who dies in disgrace on a cross, and, yes, an Apostle of Christ who begins as the leading destroyer of His Church.  It sometimes appears that our God prefers to do His work through human weakness.  We shouldn’t be surprised by this fact.  How better to demonstrate that an end has been obtained by God’s power rather than human effort?  And yet, this is a lesson that we continually struggle to hold on to.

The Apostle Paul had no such difficulty.  So deeply had he drank of the spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14) that his identity was as completely surrendered to Christ’s service as can be imagined for frail human flesh.  Inherent in this identity was the affirmation of his own weakness and of Christ’s supreme strength.  This is the spirit-print of a man humbled down to the very foundations of his character. In his own words, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” (1 Corinthians 15:9,10a)

And so, this Great Apostle delights in weakness, in insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties, for in them he finds a deeper fellowship with his Savior and access to greater power to serve His cause.  Even more, by Christ’s own words, His power is not made stronger, or more effective, but perfect in weakness.”  When we suffer, do we not experience weakness? What of Christ’s power is being offered to us when we suffer?  To answer this question is to delve deeply into the language of suffering.

Finally, a prayer, offered at a service of worship on April 29, 2001 that explores the issue of weakness within the context of Christ’s church.

Dear Heavenly Father, we approach your holy throne this morning in prayer for your body, the Church.

We come in thanksgiving that you have given this precious gift to those that you have graciously called to be your own.

But we also come in sorrow, because the influence of your Church appears to be receding.  We see the powers arrayed against her and oh how strong they appear!  We see hate, envy and corruption organized into terrible weapons of destruction by all the energy of humanity.  In the face of these terrible machines oh how weak does the Church appear.

But she will not be cowered, she will not be defeated.

Yes, we the living members of this body are weak, but we are bound together by invisible sinews of grace and love that contain all the strength of Jesus Christ.  Empires and despots have raged against this body only to be shattered by a power that they could neither see nor understand.

Yes we are weak, but you are the God who chooses to work through weakness. Says the Apostle, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

Therefore, let us, the Church, find in our weakness the humility, the thankfulness, the peace to boldly confront a dark and dying world with Christ’s message of forgiveness and new life.

May we stand before your Cross with heads lifted up not because we are strong, but because we are forgiven.   Amen.

The Language of Suffering: Paul’s Suffering (3)

2 Corinthians 6:3-10

6 3We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

The Apostle Paul’s writing can be extremely difficult to parse.  The above passage is a case in point.  There we have two sentences, the second of which contains 111 words.  I sometimes imagine grammar teachers wincing as they read sections of Paul’s Epistles.  Yet, the Apostle is dealing with ideas relating to the most complex and important subject possible – our right relationship to God.  Even more challenging, he is explaining these concepts within the context of a new and extraordinary revelation that is only a few decades old, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Lastly, he is explaining these ideas to people (i.e., Gentiles) who often have little to no familiarity with the tradition from which Christ emerged (i.e., Judaism).  Given all this, we can forgive Paul his long sentences.

With regard to the issue at hand, Paul’s suffering, the striking feature is how inseparable it is from all of the other attributes of his ministry.  Suffering for Paul is not an isolated event that pushes aside all other experience.  Rather, it is only one of the many and interrelated aspects of serving Christ. It comes along with the purity, understanding, patience and kindness in the Holy Spirit. It comes along with the sincere love and truthful speech in the power of God.  It comes along with glory, good report, genuineness, rejoicing, making many rich and possessing everything.

Yes, if we were to compile all of the words of suffering they too would make quite an impressive list. But is there any doubt as to where the Apostle has placed the emphasis?  This passage doesn’t contain so much as a comma of self-pity.  It’s closer to the excited letter home from a young person on a journey of discovery.  This comparison is not meant in the least to minimize the import of Paul’s mission or the seriousness of his suffering.  Rather, it seeks to draw out the amazing power of Christ that allowed him to live in blessed joy, peace and hope in spite of these burdens.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

The Language of Suffering: Paul’s Suffering (2)

Conversion-Of-St-Paul-On-The-Road-To-Damascus

Conversion of St Paul on the Road to Damascus by Hans Speckaert

The Road to Damascus

Acts 9:1-19

Here Scripture describes the encounter of a man filled with hatred, ambition and violence with the risen Jesus Christ.

1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. 4 And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; 6 but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Anani′as. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Anani′as.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for a man of Tarsus named Saul; for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen a man named Anani′as come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Anani′as answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon thy name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Anani′as departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized, 19 and took food and was strengthened.

Much could be said about this “chosen instrument” who would boldly carry Christ’s name into the Gentile world, overcoming every barrier whether from the outside pagan society or inside the Church itself, to proclaim the Gospel.  Our focus, though, will be on Christ’s last sentence, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name. 

Consider the implications of this utterance.  Christ is saying that suffering will be a hallmark of the Apostle Paul’s ministry.  He is communicating this at the very beginning, so that Saul can make an informed consent to this condition of service.  As we explore this Great Apostle’s suffering perhaps we will begin to understand why he would embrace such a fate with such joy and energy.  

We seem to live with the goal of navigating our paths so as to skirt around the storms of suffering.  The Apostle Paul, resolutely gripping Christ’s hand, drove straight towards the eye of hurricane after hurricane, until, having expended his all, he tasted the final victory.

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O death, where is thy victory?

O death, where is thy sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:54c-57

The Language of Suffering: Paul’s Suffering (1)

StPaulRavenna-1Opening Thoughts

The Apostle Paul didn’t begin as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  We have no record that Saul, for that was his pre-Christian name, ever laid eyes on Jesus during His earthly ministry.  We do know from the witness of Acts and from Paul’s own testimony that he began as a leading persecutor of the post-Resurrection church.  We meet Saul for the first time in Acts 7:58, at the occasion of the first martyrdom of a Christian, Stephen.

But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.And Saul was consenting to his death. (Acts 7:57-8:1a)

It would not have been by chance that Saul was present at this deadly assault, or that his approval would be noted.  Saul was a man of powerful belief and action.  His belief was that this new faith was blasphemy against God and his action was to stamp it out by any and every means available.  The story continues.

And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samar′ia, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen, and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. (Acts 8:1b-3)

Mark this down with care – it is the witness of Scripture that Saul, not the Sanhedrin, not the Romans – began to destroy the church.  Yes, he would have required their authority to carry out the persecution.  But the primitive church’s tormentor had an identity; and it was Saul of Tarsus.  Perhaps we should allow the Great Apostle to speak from his Epistle to the Galatians.

For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. (Galatians 1:13,14)

We have here the old story of an ambitious and ruthless young man who finds the opportunity by which to quickly rise to the heights of power, and seizes it with all his might.  Please understand, there is no doubt being cast upon the sincerity of Saul’s faith.  Let’s just say that when there is dirty, wet work to be done, supposedly in the name of God, not every person of faith enthusiastically steps forward.  Saul certainly did.

It is this man of passionate hatred who set his face towards Damascus in pursuit of Christ’s scattered flock.  But unbeknownst to Saul, the Risen Christ was in pursuit of him.  Saul’s story continues in Acts.