To Forgive Is Divine

To Forgive Is Divine

But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespass.

Mark 11:26.

Forgiveness is that vital element at the very core of credible discipleship and moral growth. It is non-negotiable, reliably reproduced and impossible to counterfeit.

The poet Edward Markham draws us in sharply with his poem:

He drew a circle that shut me out, heretic, rebel, a thing to flaunt.

But love and I had the wit to win; we drew a circle that took him in.

The quality and quantity of forgiveness that meets the Divine standard is perfectly modeled by God through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. As men and women under the direct command of Satan were extinguishing His physical life, the Son of Man’s last breath carried a prayer of forgiveness for those whose hands were even at that moment being stained with innocent blood.

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Luke 23:34

There is nothing that my brother or my enemy can perpetrate against me that will place him permanently on the outskirts of the precincts of forgiveness. A story from modern South Africa leaves no room for misunderstanding the magnitude of this often-incomprehensible quality that must also define the disciple’s life. It is a story that I am recounting from a recent radio broadcast. As the system of enforced racial segregation known as apartheid was being dismantled, the government of South Africa under Nelson Mandela adopted this principle as an essential tool for the creation of a just and stable society. The Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) was established to put this principle into action and took the very unusual step of offering complete forgiveness to anyone who would admit to crimes committed during that dark and bloody era of apartheid.

A woman whose family had been victimized by an abominable crime that seemed unforgivable confronted one former police officer who came forward to admit to his role in two particularly horrific murders. This was a woman who had been robbed of both husband and son by this very man in a most brutal, shameful and despicable manner. In that crowded hearing room, all were transfixed by his recounting of those dastardly acts, many with mounting anger, all with disgust. Finally, his testimony came to an end, and the woman who had lost so much was given an opportunity to speak. She asked to be led to where the man was seated and spoke directly to him. Slowly she began to speak, I want to say three things to you: first I want you to take me to where you killed and burnt my husband’s body so that I can pick up his ashes and give him a decent burial. Secondly, I want you to come once a week to my home so that I can be a mother to you and love you, because your life is missing love. Thirdly, I forgive you. The impact on that undoubtedly undeserving individual was devastating, it was reported that the man fainted. It would not be difficult to conclude that this stunning act of forgiveness exceeds by far the seventy-times seven that is often seen narrowly as an absolute outer limit for the extension of forgiveness! Matthew 18:22

For the disciple of Christ, forgiveness, and the unadulterated willingness to adopt active forgiving as a way of life, remains the litmus test for each and everyone who’ve “left all” to follow Jesus Christ (Luke 18:28). To attempt to live as a disciple of Christ and not incorporate active, uninhibited forgiving is no more possible than leaping off the top of a skyscraper with the express purpose of flying across town. Whether or not a crowd is gathered below to watch, the outcome is predictable; as it is for the erstwhile unforgiving disciple.

Jesus Christ himself took great pains to ensure that an unmistakable understanding gives rise to a tireless incorporation of the principle of forgiveness into the life of the would-be disciple. This unlikely but indisputably genuine evidence of the Divine conquest is one of the cornerstones of a life in God. The message embedded in the parable of the hard-hearted servant (Matthew 18: 23-35) entertains no misunderstanding of this unavoidable truth. A disciple cannot benefit from the limitless grace and mercy of his Lord unless he allows himself to be nothing less than an uncluttered roadway, a conduit for the faithful transfer of such bounties. That he should be so blessed to have been such a beneficiary is not a testament to his faithfulness or his suitability, though those may be present in abundance. Rather, his custodianship is a test of his willingness to be a servant in the vein of his master. Should he be a pond instead of a flowing stream, and attempt to keep all the bounties for himself, chief of which is forgiveness, he loses everything that he hopes to maintain in abundance.

This incredible paradox is forcefully and unmistakably transparent in the sometimes troubling parable of the seemingly astute, but parsimonious farmer, whom the scriptures tag for all time with the telling and uncomplimentary appellation: the rich fool. He, in the logical manner of reasonable men everywhere, and in all times, conceived of a plan to maintain a firm and extended, if not perpetual grasp on things temporal and unearned, and lost out on the most valuable of all our unearned bounties—eternal life. Eternal life, life in Christ, is that which occurs in the absence of sin.

The greatest and what will prove an ultimately fatal impediment to a life of forgiving is the professed disciple’s deliriously contented, but grossly distorted view of himself. This deceptively comforting image is the reflection of that conveniently placed and impeccably polished mirror of self-righteousness. It is a highly flattering, reflective surface whose sheen is maintained by the devil himself. This ‘self-centric’ core ripples outwards as vanity, graceless religiosity, hardheartedness, and the most dangerous of all, complacency. Thus, the apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Corinth speaks with unusual forcefulness of the metamorphosis that occurs when the would-be disciple encounters and commits to a life of obedience via the constant enabling of the Holy Spirit. “Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature.” 2 Corinthians5: 17.           Here he is laying the essential groundwork for a life to be lived in unending gratitude, best manifested by a life in which forgiveness is hard-wired into his operating platform.

The practice of active forgiveness is a sublime and mysterious reality. Though disarmingly straightforward it is an uncommonly tough proposition for the disciple of any grade, but particularly hard for the disciple still following a far off (Luke 22:54). Restrained by an unholy, uneasy and fragile alliance of scriptural prohibitions, religious traditions and ethical constructs; his life as he orchestrates it is a volatile equilibrium. Anything, however insignificant it may appear to be, can become an unwitting catalyst that disrupts this hair-trigger homeostasis. A neighbor’s perceived transgression, his name not appropriately credited for services ‘willingly’ rendered in the name of God, can in a fraction of a second shatter this critical balance. The inevitable fallout from such an unrehearsed and unsupervised reaction is highly undesirable and can pose a very grave and definite risk to his per-validated reputation as a stalwart for God.

It was this latter possibility that was proving to be an uncomfortable, and the more he thought about it, an also unacceptable proposition for the well-regarded prophet Jonah. He had been tapped for duties far outside his usual scope of practice, and needless to say, well outside his comfort zone. Thus the call to deliver a message of impending doom couldn’t have come at a worse time for Jonah. Nineveh had reached the zenith of corruption and debauchery, and the astute prophet correctly assessed that his prospects for making an impact were immeasurably slim. He was of course making his assessments through his very experienced, though very inadequate eyes. And it was precisely for those reasons, that the prophet, having taken counsel of his fears, boarded an innocuous looking cargo ship headed away from Nineveh.

It was a calculated action intended to minimize, if not eliminate entirely, the ongoing risk that God would exercise a disturbing penchant for pardoning sinners. God had always been reputed to be capable of forgiving sinners of even their most egregious transgressions. There was also an unearthly willingness and a hair-trigger readiness to deluge said sinners with this warm, restorative forgiveness. It was a reputation that the noteworthy prophet, may not have had reason to personally validate, and perhaps could not speak to with any degree of confidence.  However in this particular instance, a conspicuous external validation such as a Divine reprieve for the citizenry of that rambunctious city would have devastating ramifications for Jonah’s own sterling reputation as an A-grade prophet.

Furthermore and equally troubling, should such a situation transpire, it would leave in shambles the prophet’s long-held and highly prized construct on sin and punishment.  The seminal reality that God is and has always been in the forgiveness and reconciliation business was as lost on the prominent prophet as it is on many professed disciples transiting the current age.  We scrupulously and dutifully conduct the business of religion more often than not, resting on the very shaky and curiously contradictory foundation of a spurious and exclusionary grace.

It really never invades my buffered consciousness that perhaps I may be in the same dire predicament as all those worldly, hardheaded, conscience-dead and clearly irredeemable folk living large in the city of the ‘world’. Nineveh was for Jonah, what the nebulous term ‘the world’ is for many a disciple living in this age. It is synonymous with egregious transgressions and, a place undoubtedly, primed for a divine lightning strike. Entirely unappreciated either, is the salient reality, that in proclaiming the message of divine forgiveness and reprieve, the disciple would in fact  be speaking experientially. Inherent in such a message is my irrefutable attestation to the fact that I, once upon a time lived in Nineveh. Most importantly, were it not for a proactive Divine grace of unfathomable depth and infinite reach, Nineveh would undoubtedly still be my preferred residence.

Perhaps this is at the heart of the matter, for I do not see myself in the same light as publicans and sinners at all. It would seem obvious that neither I, nor my like-minded peers, fervent fellow disciples, have ever approached that level of sin and rebellion that defines such a class. Realistically speaking, the odds of such a class earning the Divine imprimatur, and meeting my own high standards are, to say the least, very difficult to estimate. Hence my standing with God can never be as tenuous as theirs, and consequently my need of Divine grace, far less pressing. As it relates to the professed disciple and his peers, the divine injunction: “all have sinned and fallen short of the Divine bar” (Romans 3:23 Paraphrased) seems to have encountered a notable exception to the principle of ‘all’.

This is the deadly opium of self-righteousness that has many a churchgoer in a life-threatening stupor, and is by no means a twenty-first century phenomenon. The brutally blunt prayer of that ancient churchgoer as recorded in the Gospel of Luke hammers home the point with painful directness:

God, I thank you that I am not like other men are; extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess. Luke 18:11, 12

It is also light-years distant from the Spirit-bequeathed, redemptive realization of this modern disciple moved to pen these arresting words:

The Christian is a person who is amazed at the fact that he is forgiven. He does not take it for granted.  Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Quoted in Real Worship by Warren Wiersbe

It is this divinely imparted amazement (sanctification, no less!) that works tirelessly to complete the erasure of that highly flattering, deceptively utilitarian, unwarranted and ultimately fatal self-concept. It was this false perception that had, up until the Damascus road encounter, defined the life of the man Saul of Tarsus.

This disciple also senses in his own journey some frightening similarities and a cautionary tale. In the absence of this encounter and its life-changing consequence, my discipleship becomes nothing more than a lukewarm attempt at adherence to utilitarian ethical constructs. This would be as redemptive as the possession of a satchel filled with desert survival manuals would be to a parched, disoriented and illiterate traveler stumbling around in the Sahara desert. An enlivened life of reflexive, sustainable forgiveness is an impossible bar to vault without the wellhead changes that Paul states with determined clarity and finality in his second set of letters to the church in the port city of Corinth.

Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are now passed away. Behold all things are become new! 2 Corinthians 5:17.

It is not a work that the beneficiary can initiate, nor execute, but one that is impossible to complete without his decisive, purposeful, unadulterated and aggressive surrender. It is as with any paradox, inexplicable. The stunning outcome of this uninhibited acceptance and incorporation is a brand new, invigorating and life-altering reality that is to die for!

After this manner therefore pray ye:Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven

Give us this day our daily bread

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil for thine is the kingdom

and the power, and the glory forever. Amen Matthew 6:9-13

But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:15

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The Trouble With Being A Disciple

The Trouble With Being a Disciple

He must increase but I must decrease. (John 3:30)

John the Baptist, a man whom many prominent church folk considered a fanatic, was a vociferous, and uncompromising, individual. Not surprisingly, these uncomplimentary attributes as well as his other eccentricities would also render him a dangerous offshoot. He was a loose cannon, not only dangerous to himself, but to reasonable people all around. But far more ominous was the ever-increasing probability that John’s activities would do nothing, other than to invite increased scrutiny and perhaps hasten the onset of persecution against the church. Whatever the cost, this terrifying prospect had to be deferred for as long as possible, though it would be far more desirable if the threat could be entirely eliminated

He had been preaching for some time now, and had attracted a fair number of followers, some of who even considered themselves disciples—whatever

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The Long Road Home

The Long Road Home

Anchor Texts: Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or, whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend into heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me and thy right hand shall hold me. Psalm 139:7-10.

I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments. Psalm 119:176

Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word. Psalm 119:9

My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according unto thy word Psalm 119: 28.

Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage. I have remembered thy name, O Lord in the night and have kept thy law. This I had because I kept thy precepts. Psalm 119:54, 55.

Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word. It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant. Psalm 119:67, 71, 76

Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction Psalm 119:92

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. Psalm 119:105

The entrance of thy word giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple. Look thou upon me, and be merciful unto me, as thou usest to do unto those that love thy name. Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me. Psalm 119:130,132,133

How does one come to recognize his own prodigal status, and subsequently become infused with an irresistible desire to return home? What if he has never known home, does he still have a place called home? Several facts are incontestable. First, it is God that plants the yearning (God gives the will…Phil 2:13)), next, God kindles the flame (…fire shut up in my bones… Jer. 20; 9), and finally, God enables the journey (God gives the way…Phil. 2:13). For persons of a certain age, defined less by chronological time than by the reality of having taken a particular road, this title, with its mention of home, stirs the most intense of emotions. Sorrow and loss, the pain of terrible missteps along roads that should not have been taken; so much pain delivered and received ,so many regrets to mark a journey that one would sooner forget but more desirable still, escape. But for that man then and this wanderer now, the most powerful stir is the dawn of hope. The rapid downwards slide or the slow painful drift into meaninglessness is arrested, a proactive navigator takes the control room of his life and a new course is charted.

As the growing realization of the magnitude of the change, and the unmistakable sense of direction and meaning registers, this timeless traveler makes the magnificent rhetorical outburst noted above but bears repeating, if only for the sheer sublimity of it.

“Whither shall I go from thy spirit, or whither shall I flee from thy presence?

How can I escape (and not that I would want to anyway!) this amazing, reconciling, restorative grace? The grateful prodigal is of course expressing a most profound joy that mercifully, the snare of love was present and he was unable to escape. His gratitude is unassailably genuine, grounded as it is in the bedrock of battered expectations, the palpable darkness of a driftwood life and the permanence of experiential loss. The sheer heights and depths of the Psalmist’s emotional as well cognitive awakenings remain undiminished to this day.

There are seven distinct elements in this cataclysmic era of the prodigal’s life, all of which interact almost seamlessly to save his life.

•         Recognition of prodigal behavior. This is clearly expressed by the Psalmist in chapter 119: 176. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant for I do not forget thy commandments.

•         The weight of transgression. Again, the Psalmists own words: “Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction” 119:92. “Order my steps in thy word; and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.” 119:133.

•         The solution to the crisis. The dawn of realization arrives carrying both a stark assessment and mercifully, a complete answer; “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word”.

•         The sometimes sharp edges of redemptive love. There is no sugar-coating, the work of grace is not always pain-free: “Before I was afflicted I went astray but now I have kept thy word. It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me. Let I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort according to thy word unto thy servant”. 119:67, 71, 75, 76.

•         The guiding beacons and retaining walls of a forever-vigilant love. The Psalmist here pays tribute to God for the ever-present divine guardrails that kept him from a fatal plunge into the abyss of eternal loss. “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage. I have remembered thy name, O Lord, in the night, and have kept thy law. This I had because I kept thy precepts. Thy word is a light unto my feet and a light unto my path”.119: 54-56,105.

•         The life vests of love. The Psalmist goes to heart of the matter; he looks backwards from where he has come for he must understand just how close to disaster he has come, but also because he understands that he can never again tread those paths of perdition. ‘Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction. I will never forget thy precepts, for with them thou hast quickened me. Therefore, I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold. Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way”. 119:92,93,127,128.

•         The recognition of a new and unmistakable day. The harrowing journey through the night of life’s day is coming to an end, and though the psalmist is under no illusions about the future, he can see the sunrise and he will not be denied; he will also not remain silent. ‘The entrance of thy word giveth light; it giveth understanding to the simple. I opened my mouth and panted; for I longed for thy commandments. Look thou upon me, and be merciful unto me as thou usest to do unto those that love thy name. Let thine hand help me for I have chosen thy precepts. I have longed for thy salvation, O Lord, thy law is my delight. Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee; and let thy judgments help me. 119:130-132;173-175

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Joy In The House

Joy in the House—Home Is Where the Heart Is

Anchor Texts: I was glad when they said unto me; let us go into the house of the Lord. Psalm 122:1

What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits towards me? Psalm 116:12           O, give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: because his mercy endureth forever.

I called upon the Lord in distress; the Lord answered me and set me in a large place. I will praise: for thou hast heard me and art become my salvation Psalm118: 1,5,21.

The Lord hath done great things for us whereof we are glad. 126:3

Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.4:7. For thou Lord, hast made me glad through thy work; I will triumph in the works of thy hands.92:4

Finding lasting happiness and durable joy has always proven an elusive quest and the Psalmists in this regard are no exceptions to this inviolate truth. But it seems that some of these individuals for the most part have managed to buck the trend and achieve the seemingly impossible. They have, through Divine discernment, gleaned from their collective experience the necessary ingredients for a bedrock happiness that is as solid as it has proven durable. I was glad when they said unto me; let us go into the house of the Lord! Individual joy blossoms and thrives in a collective joy. This is at first blush an alarming and retrograde paradox, particularly in the current age where individual performance and individual achievement is celebrated in almost every arena of human existence. Yet this man of action, who arguably had seen the world from all sides, is declaring explicitly that his happiness, his joy reaches its zenith with the prospect of sharing in the context of God’s fellowship.

I am loath to confine the house of the Lord solely to a physical place, but regardless of technical definition, according to this psalm writer the prospect of being in God’s presence fills him with unbridled joy. Why should this be so? Is this simply the rumination of an ancient, rural unsophisticated wayfarer? Or, is this the timeless prescription for the fullest expression of life? I will go with the latter analysis, for this, a king of enduring stature, was by any measure, the antithesis of the unsophisticated. He is so certain of the prescriptive, that he declares with final resolve, that this will be the sum of his life from here onwards: … and I will dwell in the house of the lord forever! 23:6.

If this sounds like unchartered territory, it is because so few seem to venture here, much to the dismay of God.  That the house of God is put off limits is an ongoing individual, as well as a collective and universal dilemma is immensely disturbing to this man who has seen the benevolent hand of God on the arc of his life. As a result this Psalmist now takes deliberate and decisive steps to remedy that dangerous and needless predicament. What does going into the house of the Lord mean? Is this a one-time or even periodic visitation or is this indicative of the trend of one’s life, the set of the sail, the new compass heading.

What does one do in the house of the Lord that perpetuates happiness? Why is this individual positively beaming at the prospect of being in the house of God? It seems mystifying that a sinner would welcome the prospect of being in the presence of God who declares: the soul that sinneth it shall die and reinforces that statement (as if it needed any reinforcement!) with this unmistakable statement of cause and effect. The wages of sin is death! I was glad when they said unto me; let us go into the house of the Lord. What am I missing here? How do I reconcile these irreconcilables? What is there in the house of the Lord that would provide a basis for my joy?

Being in the house of God is synonymous with entering into the presence of God. It is far less a physical meeting place (Acts 7:48, 17:24) than it is the opening of one’s life to the inflow of God (John 4:23, 24). With this connection established, joy, happiness and peace, the highly valued byproducts sought by every human being flow abundantly. That’s why the Psalmist is ecstatic; he understands perfectly (bear in mind that this man has seen life from all sides) and is convinced of the only right way. His joy is at once anticipatory and experiential, both intimately linked.It is experiential because the psalmist now knows what he has missed; anticipatory because he senses that there is so much more to be had now that he is connected to the source.

So, how do I appropriate this not so secret power to live my life to its fullest potential? I am after all commanded as it is to covet good things, and I do believe that this joy I do need now!  For this writer, the transformation from fearful sinner to joyful worshipper came much later than I was willing to acknowledge. Despite the years of religious exposure and the practicum that naturally accrues to anyone who travels in the middle of the pack, my heart transplantation was not near the top of the list of priorities. Because I had never acknowledged that I needed a radical change, my life floated along on the passive currents of accommodation always in sight of the well-lit  coastline of  acceptable group norms.  By an obligatory evolutionary operating system, such concerns regarding the direction and destination as well as the quality of one’s commitment are unlikely to be raised, hence the need for a meaningful shift, to say nothing of a transformation are always stillborn. That was the status quo before the Divine conquest and the adoption of a new guidance system. And now like the famous psalmist before me who found joy and gladness in the presence of God, I now have caught a glimpse of the light that shone in his heart; and this Divine illumination now safely guides my path, a lamp unto my feet, a flame in my heart. And again like the psalmists of yore, I am overjoyed at being in the presence of God, a place where forever may just be the beginning.

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Escape From Paradise

“ Yea, doubtless and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” Philippians 3:8

At what point in his life did Saul begin to question the basis of this zeal for which he was so renowned? Was this unquenchable desire to exterminate all challenges to the established order a function of an experiential faithfulness to God? Or was it rather a matter of perpetuating and protecting an exclusionary status quo under which the privileged few prospered and the many would never be able to share in?

For the contemporary practitioner, as was true for our forbearers, there is the ever-present danger of applying an exclusionary label to the practice of Christianity. We are prone to view our status, not as a beneficiary and of necessity, a witness to the efficacy of an incredible grace, but rather as that of the favored scion of royalty. We interpret, as did the religious folk of Jesus’ day that the connection to a historical Abraham would forever guarantee rights and privileges, not granted to any others—and would remain forever so.

It was from these genetic and historical battlements, that these diehard religious folk would launch their most bitter and personal assaults on Christ. It was when confronted with the startling reality that each individual must for himself experience personal, redemptive relationship with the Divine, through Jesus Christ, that these pious folk took their stand. They reminded Jesus and not too subtly either, that they could trace their lineage all the way back to the “Father of the faithful”, and wondered aloud if he Christ would be able to do the same.

In my day, the disciple often finds himself as part of a peer group that stridently and with numbing regularity proclaim to all the others out in the “world”, that we are a carefully selected bunch—the remnant of the remnant. The historical and genetic connection to the aforementioned Abraham is a little harder to pass muster hence less frequently cited. We still however do a rousing little jingle celebrating the linkage.

Father Abraham had many sons…!

It is without doubt a fraudulent elitism as most such claims usually are. But it is all the more heinous since the very basis on which this sense of entitlement and superiority rests, has as its’ avowed purpose, the utter destruction and erasure of such divisions.

For He is our peace, who… hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.” Ephesians 2:14

“… There is neither Jew nor Greek there is neither, bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

How can the honest disciple who has answered the call of God, escape such  deadly missteps that has slowly and imperceptibly trapped so many like himself in that foul swamp of complacency and self-righteousness? To the casual observer, and most tragically, to the disciple himself, these swamplands appear as lush, vibrant blossoming gardens of evangelistic bustle and color. Perhaps this man from Tarsus, having himself made a dramatic and perilous escape from that very place can show us a way out. That this harrowing journey out of the swamps of deceit would become the stuff of joyful reminiscing was as unlikely a circumstance, as was the act of escape itself. It was as improbable as the high priest Caiaphas (Matt. 26:3, 4) declaring as forcefully to his fellow “defenders of the faith”, as did that remarkably enlightened Roman Centurion: “…Truly, Jesus is the Son of God” Matthew 27:54

For the apostle Paul, despite having come down the long hard road of imprisonment, torture, betrayal, disavowal, shipwreck, and forcible exile, his gaze remained undeterred, his resolve unshakable. Living under the ever-present threat of death, Paul would be able to say confidently and defiantly—I would not hesitate to do it all again! I have kept the faith. I have run with patience and perseverance, the course laid out for me, and have finished it. 2 Timothy 4:7 (Paraphrased)

For the casual observer, it was an unlikely journey, a road that should not have been taken if religious logic held permanent sway. But conventional wisdom and religious logic could not hold permanent sway against the persuasiveness of an unchanging Divine grace. For this man whose life change was so radical and comprehensive, even a change in his given name was deemed as not too extreme, but rather a necessary expedient to hammer home the finality of the parting with everything that was before. For this man, Saul of Tarsus, this was the life of faith seen through eyes that were fixed on God. And the joyous, unabashed obedience that ensued was the guarantee that this faith would not be in vain. His uninhibited, declaration of the scope, purpose and ultimate meaning of his life is recorded in his letters to the hard-pressed folk in Philippi is brief but telling. It also leaves no question unanswered.

“For to me, to live is Christ…”

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