Now what?

Click on the above link to view the video.

I have grown very fond of the big bang theory.  The characters are more than people, they are real "characters".  In the video Penny says "I love you" and its hard for her to admit that she really said it!!! Once said, it falls to Leonard to act on this knowledge!!! But, today, people have a hard time committing to anything; even to one another.  But, God is not that way; here is just one of many examples in the Bible...

2 Samuel, Chapter 12
  24  David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in to her, and lay with her. She bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. Yahweh loved him; 

David committed sin in "acquiring" Bathsheba. He abused his power and had her husband murdered.  Bad way to start a relationship!!!  The child that was a product of their adulterous relationship died, but Bathsheba had another.  And Yahweh loved him!!!!  Simple statement with profound implications!!!  God loved him AND HE LOVES US AS WELL!!!  There is no ignoring the fact; it must be faced.  The real question is: knowing this... what will we do NOW???!!!

Bible Reading, Feb. 11

Feb. 11
Genesis 42

Gen 42:1 Now Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, and Jacob said to his sons, "Why do you look at one another?"
Gen 42:2 He said, "Behold, I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there, and buy for us from there, so that we may live, and not die."
Gen 42:3 Joseph's ten brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt.
Gen 42:4 But Jacob didn't send Benjamin, Joseph's brother, with his brothers; for he said, "Lest perhaps harm happen to him."
Gen 42:5 The sons of Israel came to buy among those who came, for the famine was in the land of Canaan.
Gen 42:6 Joseph was the governor over the land. It was he who sold to all the people of the land. Joseph's brothers came, and bowed themselves down to him with their faces to the earth.
Gen 42:7 Joseph saw his brothers, and he recognized them, but acted like a stranger to them, and spoke roughly with them. He said to them, "Where did you come from?" They said, "From the land of Canaan to buy food."
Gen 42:8 Joseph recognized his brothers, but they didn't recognize him.
Gen 42:9 Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed about them, and said to them, "You are spies! You have come to see the nakedness of the land."
Gen 42:10 They said to him, "No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food.
Gen 42:11 We are all one man's sons; we are honest men. Your servants are not spies."
Gen 42:12 He said to them, "No, but you have come to see the nakedness of the land."
Gen 42:13 They said, "We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is no more."
Gen 42:14 Joseph said to them, "It is like I told you, saying, 'You are spies.'
Gen 42:15 By this you shall be tested. By the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go forth from here, unless your youngest brother comes here.
Gen 42:16 Send one of you, and let him get your brother, and you shall be bound, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you, or else by the life of Pharaoh surely you are spies."
Gen 42:17 He put them all together into custody for three days.
Gen 42:18 Joseph said to them the third day, "Do this, and live, for I fear God.
Gen 42:19 If you are honest men, then let one of your brothers be bound in your prison; but you go, carry grain for the famine of your houses.
Gen 42:20 Bring your youngest brother to me; so will your words be verified, and you won't die." They did so.
Gen 42:21 They said one to another, "We are certainly guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us, and we wouldn't listen. Therefore this distress has come upon us."
Gen 42:22 Reuben answered them, saying, "Didn't I tell you, saying, 'Don't sin against the child,' and you wouldn't listen? Therefore also, behold, his blood is required."
Gen 42:23 They didn't know that Joseph understood them; for there was an interpreter between them.
Gen 42:24 He turned himself away from them, and wept. Then he returned to them, and spoke to them, and took Simeon from among them, and bound him before their eyes.
Gen 42:25 Then Joseph gave a command to fill their bags with grain, and to restore every man's money into his sack, and to give them food for the way. So it was done to them.
Gen 42:26 They loaded their donkeys with their grain, and departed from there.
Gen 42:27 As one of them opened his sack to give his donkey food in the lodging place, he saw his money. Behold, it was in the mouth of his sack.
Gen 42:28 He said to his brothers, "My money is restored! Behold, it is in my sack!" Their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling one to another, saying, "What is this that God has done to us?"
Gen 42:29 They came to Jacob their father, to the land of Canaan, and told him all that had happened to them, saying,
Gen 42:30 "The man, the lord of the land, spoke roughly with us, and took us for spies of the country.
Gen 42:31 We said to him, 'We are honest men. We are no spies.
Gen 42:32 We are twelve brothers, sons of our father; one is no more, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan.'
Gen 42:33 The man, the lord of the land, said to us, 'By this I will know that you are honest men: leave one of your brothers with me, and take grain for the famine of your houses, and go your way.
Gen 42:34 Bring your youngest brother to me. Then I will know that you are not spies, but that you are honest men. So I will deliver your brother to you, and you shall trade in the land.' "
Gen 42:35 It happened as they emptied their sacks, that behold, every man's bundle of money was in his sack. When they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were afraid.
Gen 42:36 Jacob, their father, said to them, "You have bereaved me of my children! Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more, and you want to take Benjamin away. All these things are against me."
Gen 42:37 Reuben spoke to his father, saying, "Kill my two sons, if I don't bring him to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him to you again."
Gen 42:38 He said, "My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he only is left. If harm happens to him along the way in which you go, then you will bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol."



Of all of the prominent characters presented in the New Testament, Paul is second only to Jesus Christ. When we read the Acts of the apostles, Paul comes to the forefront beginning in the ninth chapter. The remainder of that treatise is an historical account of much of Paul's life, from persecutor of Christians to bold proclaimer of the gospel. Of the twenty one epistles, Paul is found to be the writer of at least thirteen of them (and if he is the writer of the Hebrew letter, fourteen).
Unlike Peter, whose impetuousness often resulted in the need for rebuking, Paul comes on the scene with relentless faith in the face of incomprehensible persecution and trial. Admittedly, I come much closer to relating to Peter than I do Paul. And while I am thankful for Peter's real-life experiences in which I find hope for myself in my own struggles, I am also thankful for Paul, who demonstrated a level of commitment toward which I can aim.
We are introduced to Paul under his Hebrew name, Saul. His namesake had been the first king of Israel (1 Sam. 9-10) whose name meant "asked of God." Later, after the Holy Spirit chose him and Barnabas from among those of the church at Antioch "for the work to which I have called them" (Acts 13:2), Luke referred to "Saul, who also is called Paul..." (vs. 9) This marked the inception of the first of Paul's several missionary journeys. Whether that occasion marked any significance to the fact that Saul is thereafter always referred to as Paul I do not know. However, it is interesting to note that the name Paul was of Latin origin, meaning "little." Perhaps there is some significance that he should thereafter willingly refer to himself by this name after the humbling experience on the road to Damascus. After the events that followed that day, Paul became "little" in his own eyes. The remainder of his life was one of humility.
On that fateful day, as Saul bore down upon the city of Damascus with official documents from the chief priests in hand authorizing him to arrest and seize anyone professing allegiance to "the Way", his life changed forever. "As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. The he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?'" (Acts 9:3-4) Those words must surely have rung in his ears from that day on. "And he said, 'Who are You, Lord?' Then the Lord said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'" (vs. 5)
The preaching of Jesus and His claim to be the Son of God had repulsed the Jewish leaders of His day. And now, the multitudes of His followers, as they grew in number, had become a target of the Jewish hierarchy's wrath. As one of prominence among the strictest sect of the Jews (Acts 26:5), this "Pharisee of the Pharisees" had been caught up in the fervor of their cause to eradicate this "movement" and their message. In so doing, Saul had been like a stubborn ox that kicks against the prodding of its master with the sharp end of his ox goad.
How well does that describe us when we try to resist the pleadings of God's word that are intended for our good? Not unlike Saul, many in our day, in their rejection of Christ, direct their wrath at those who follow Him. Jesus forewarned His disciples saying, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you." (Jn. 15:18) Therefore, we find Saul confessing that, "...I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities." (Acts 26:11) For Paul, all that would change.
While waiting in the city of Damascus, having been led there by the hands of those who had been accompanying him, Saul spent his next three days in the total darkness of his blindness, praying and fasting - anticipating and wondering what it was that he was to be told to do. That answer came by the words of Ananias; "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins. calling on the name of the Lord." (Acts 22:16)
Paul's thankfulness to God for what He had done for him and for the work that he had been given is evident. He said, "...I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power." (Eph. 3:7) Notice that Paul never took credit for any good thing that he received or accomplished. In fact, he wondered at the grace of God in choosing him for such a ministry; "To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." (vs. 8)
His thankfulness and the humility that he continually expressed was seated in the knowledge of his past rebellion to Christ; "For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy 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 toward me
was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." (1 Cor. 15:9-10) Even in the zeal which set him apart from the rest of the apostles in his work as a servant of Christ, notice that Paul gave glory to God, not taking any credit to himself.
Such humility of spirit and such zeal for the cause of Christ to which he gave himself, was likely the result of the debt of gratitude that he felt for the mercy extended to him by God. This is the point of the parable that Jesus spoke to the prideful Pharisee named Simon. To him Jesus said, "'There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?' Simon answered and said, 'I suppose the one whom he forgave more.' And He said to him, 'You have rightly judged.'" Certainly, Paul recognized that his past sins had been great, which made His forgiveness even greater.
Paul confessed himself to be "chief" of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15), to which he prefaced that declaration with these words; "And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus." (vs. 14) If Paul was "chief" of sinners, then he considered himself "chief" of God's mercy and grace.
Lesson learned - Humility
When Paul (Saul) found himself trembling on his knees in the dust of the Damascus road, under the heat of the noonday sun, surrounded by the brilliance of the light of Jesus' presence, his purpose in life changed. From the mission that had brought him to Damascus to persecute Christians, he would become a defender of Christ and His gospel, as well as a sympathetic encourager of those to whom he was previously so adamantly opposed. At that moment, this staunch Pharisee, whose zeal and leadership attracted the admiration of those who accompanied him on this fateful trip, was suddenly brought to his knees and humbled before his admirers. Now a blind man, he was dependent upon these admiring associates to take him by the hand and lead the stumbling, groping Saul on the remainder of his journey.
Isn't it interesting how quickly the Lord can put us in our proper place? Circumstances can change our lives in a moment. It should be a lesson to us that there is no place for arrogant pride as we live under God's watchful eye. Paul learned this lesson beginning on that day just outside of Damascus. But he would continue to be a student of humility throughout his life.
When Paul wrote his second letter to the church at Corinth, he made this point very clear as he related another experience that he suffered and the lesson that he learned from it. At some time in his life, Paul "...was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." (2 Cor. 12:4) Paul's humility would not allow him refer to himself as the one who experienced this vision, but rather introduced his experience saying, "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago - whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows - such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man - whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows -" (vss. 2-3) Then he said, "Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities." (vs. 5) Paul's former arrogance was by now long-since gone as he refrained from boasting or bringing upon himself any undue recognition as he continued by saying, "...But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me."
(vs. 6)
As Paul now identified himself as being the one having received such an exalted vision, he proceeded to relate the humbling experience that followed and the reason he was allowed to suffer it; "And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure." (vs. 7) Exactly what this "thorn in the flesh" was we are not told. However, we know that it was something unpleasant that plagued Paul because he said, "Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me." (vs. 8)
God's mercy manifests itself in some unexpected ways. In Paul's case, it was allowing the constantly annoying discomfort of a "thorn in the flesh." The purpose of that malady was to keep him humble lest he allow such privileged information to give him the "big head." Such a reminder is described as "a messenger of Satan" and for good reason. Satan stands at the threshold of our stumbling to catch us in his grip, because, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." (Prov. 16:18) Then we read that it is "Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud." (vs. 19)
The Lord's answer was obviously not that which Paul had hoped for; "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9) It should be noticed that the "grace" which the Lord described as being "sufficient" would have reference to the very thing Paul had asked to have removed - the "thorn in the flesh." What we may often view as an annoyance may just be what we need for our own good. Paul learned that lesson as you hear him reply, "Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (vss. 9-10)
Many people have a tendency to "look down" on others when they know more about something than their counterparts. Preachers often distinguish themselves from others by wearing special clothing and allowing themselves to be referred to in elevated terms such as "reverend" or "father." Jesus described the motives of such self-esteeming people as being for the purpose of being "seen by men." (Mt. 23:2-10) But He warned that "...whoever exalts himself will be humbled." Sooner or later, all such high-minded people will be humbled, "For it is written: 'As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.' " (Rom. 14:11)
Greatness is not achieved by deliberate effort, but rather is conferred on one deemed worthy by another who is higher in order. Jesus said, "When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, 'Give place to this man.' and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, 'Friend, go up higher.' Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Lk. 14:8-11)
At the final judgment and for eternity thereafter, "...the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Mt. 13:43) and "...those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,..." and "...shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever." (Dan. 12:2-3) God will see to it that His children are appropriately recognized in due time and with great fanfare - and He doesn't need our help to accomplish that.
Lesson learned - Properly directed zeal
There was one attribute that Paul possessed that he didn't have to learn after his conversion, and that was zeal. Prior to his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul had shown himself to be a leader among men. He was known by his Jewish brethren for his fervor even as he pointed out to king Agrippa; "My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee." (Acts 26:4-5) To the Jewish mob that tried to kill him, Paul said, "I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers' law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today." (Acts 22:3)
Paul's diplomacy before an enraged crowd bent on killing him is seen in his effort to reason with them by using their own zeal as a positive foundation upon which to build his defense. The same zeal that motivated them to want to kill Paul because of his allegiance to Christ, is that which had previously driven him to persecute Christians; "I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women." (vs. 4)
Paul's zeal had been part of his "confidence in the flesh" and a point of boasting along with his past heritage as is seen in his remarks to the church at Philippi; "circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." (Phil. 3:5-6) But his confidence in the flesh had given way to Christ; "But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ." (vs. 7)
Paul's zeal had been something that he had once included as part of his identity, but upon his conversion he had resigned all of these things to Christ. He said, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Gal. 2:20) This does not mean however, that Paul lost his zeal. On the contrary, he became more resolute in his zeal as he even surpassed the twelve apostles who preceded him. Paul said, "For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy 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 toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." (1 Cor. 15:9-10)
Paul merely redirected his zeal, and thus he went from persecutor of Christians to defender of the gospel of Christ. Thereafter, he bemoaned the plight of his Hebrew brethren who yet remained opposed to Christ and His gospel. We especially see this in his comments to those at Rome when he wrote, "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God." (Rom. 10:1-3) Having once had "a zeal for God," (Acts 22:3) "but not according to knowledge," Paul's awareness of those who still remained where he had once been was a deep concern to him.
Lesson learned - Patience
In Paul's zeal, it would be easy for him to become impatient with others who did not share his level of zeal and commitment. We see this happen on one occasion after Paul and Barnabas had gone on their first missionary journey. In the early days of that first expedition they set sail for the island of Cyprus with "...John as their assistant." (Acts 13:5) They preached the gospel there from the town of Salamis to the town of Paphos. "Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem." (Acts 13:13) We are not told John's reason for leaving so soon into their mission as he did. But we later see that it became a point of contention when plans began to be made for Paul and Barnabas to go on a second missionary journey.
"Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, 'Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.' Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God."(Acts 15:36-40)
It seems that Paul's zeal got ahead of his patience on this occasion and it resulted in ill feelings between brethren. So Barnabas, which means "son of encouragement" (Acts 4:36), took John under his wing, obviously seeing more value in him as a servant of the Lord than did Paul. Perhaps Barnabas' patience exceeded Paul's zeal at this point in time, however, Paul would come to learn how to bring both zeal and patience together in harmony with his maturity in the faith.
Peter taught about the course of spiritual maturity when he wrote, "...giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love." (2 Pet. 1:5-7) But Paul taught about the pinnacle of our spiritual growth when he began to define love in this way; "Love suffers long and is kind." (1 Cor. 13:4) In short, patience that is born out of love is one of the greatest marks of spiritual maturity.
Paul learned patience in the multitude of his trials as a servant of God's grace. And regarding John Mark - listen to Paul's plea to Timothy years later from his prison cell; "Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry." (2 Tim. 4:11)
Lesson learned - Love and compassion for his brethren
As Paul reminisced about his past misbehaviors, it was not with pride but disdain. He said, "...although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief." (1 Tim. 1:13) Paul makes no excuses for his past by claiming ignorance. Rather, he identifies ignorance and unbelief as being the cause of such sinful behavior. His claim that these things were characteristic of his former behavior is not a boast, but are stated in contrast to the mercy of God from which he had learned its value.
Paul identified himself as having been a "persecutor." Those who were the target of his misguided zeal became the victims of his ignorance and unbelief. He said, "I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities." (Acts 26:11) These were Christians - God's people against whom Paul had marshaled all his energy to punish, humiliate and eliminate. He said, "...many of the saints I shut up in prison...and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them." (vs. 10)
After Paul's conversion "Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, 'Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?' But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ." (Acts 9:20-22) Among his own Jewish countrymen his drastic change in allegiance had become too obvious to ignore. Therefore, "...after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him. But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket." (vss. 23-25)
These who rescued Paul from certain death were Christians who also had previously been on his "laundry list" as those marked for imprisonment and perhaps death. Their act of kindness was an extension of compassion and brotherly love for one who had, only days before, hated them. Instead of vengeance, love prevailed in their selfless act of mercy, and an object lesson on love was being learned by Paul.
The compassion of these Christians in their helping him to escape was accomplishing two things. Paul was learning the humility that had begun on the road to Damascus when he was blinded, and he was also learning the meaning behind Jesus' words to him; "I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you" (Acts 26:17) It was by their hands that he was being rescued according to the protection that the Lord was providing him. We are not told if Ananias ever related to Paul what Jesus said to him in his vision (Acts 9:10-16), but if he did, Paul was also learning those words of Jesus now; "...I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake." (vs. 16)
Suffering has an humbling effect which allows ones eyes to be opened to the compassion extended to them by the hands of others who care. Paul was now hated by many of his own countrymen and the help of his newly acquired brethren was an eye-opening experience for him. But his experiences after this initial indoctrination to suffering would also serve as part of his continuing education.
Sometime after having escaped from Damascus, Paul came to Jerusalem, the city from which he had initially gone "Christian hunting" with papers in hand from the high priest who resided there. His reception was not an easy one. "And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple." (vs. 26) Paul had previously taken great pride in striking such fear in those whom he persecuted, but now he must look at these same people as his brethren in Christ. Their fear was legitimate because this same Paul had hurt them and their families deeply. As he came to these Christians in an attempt to join himself to them, he was looking into the eyes of people whose relatives he had likely imprisoned or cast his vote against for their execution. How humiliating could that have been? It is no wonder that they were reluctant to accept him into their number.
"But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out." (vss. 27-28) Paul was learning a lesson on grace as Barnabas took him under his wing and vouched for him. He was also learning this lesson from the acceptance of people who had suffered at his own hand, yet took him into their number as "one of them." In overlooking Paul's past and embracing him as one of their own, they were demonstrating the essence of love as Paul would later write about - a love that "thinks no evil [keeps no accounts of evil] (but)...bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (1 Cor. 13:6-7)
While writing of Christ's love for them, Paul was condemning his own past behavior; "Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword ?...Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." (Rom. 8:33-37) Paul, the one who had tried to separate them from Christ, had learned to love them. From persecutor to Christian, his love extended now to the lost; "...I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh." (Rom. 9:2-3)

Lesson learned - Sacrifice
Paul came a long way from the heritage and birthright of his Pharisee background. His circle of admirers along with their respect and approval of his zeal had been part of the influence of his past. As one who could boast of having been "... brought up...at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers' law..." (Acts 22:3), he eventually came to the realization that in spite of his education, he had acted "...ignorantly in unbelief." (1 Tim. 1:13)
There was much in Paul's past for which he could boast. In writing to the church at Philippi, he noted that "If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so; circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (Phil. 3:4-6) All of these things for which he could once boast were part of who he had been and were part of his identity. But Paul learned that these fleshly benchmarks of life were only superficial, that in spite of such credentials that set him in the limelight among men, Paul had been lacking something.
We can all certainly relate to the dissatisfaction of earthly standards by which we are judged or by which we measure ourselves. The problem in such an imperfect standard of measure is that it falls short of that in which we can become complete. If our standard of measure is the world and the accomplishments of the flesh, we will always be less than what we could otherwise be in Christ. Paul warned that "...we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise." (2 Cor. 10:12) Therefore, Paul's critics were not an influence on his character. He could confidently say that "...with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court ...but He who judges me is the Lord." (1 Cor. 4:3-4)
All that had once meant something to Paul as important and worth boasting about soon lost their luster. After having pointed out some of the things that had once meant so much to him, Paul said, "But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ." (Phil. 3:7-8) Paul had learned the lesson of sacrifice.
Sacrifice is the giving up of something of value in exchange for something else. Paul did this, viewing it as an excellent exchange. It is what all must do who wish to gain Christ. Jesus illustrated this point when He taught that "...the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it." (Mt. 13:44-46) We, as Paul, must learn that fame and fortune do not measure up to that which the Lord offers. Paul said that, "God...has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3)
The life that Paul lived after his conversion was one that was characterized by much suffering. (2 Cor. 11:22-28) Yet in spite of such things, he viewed his former life of relative ease and prominence as "rubbish." He had learned the lesson taught by Jesus that so many never learn; "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mt. 16:24-26)
Paul's exchange of all that he had once been and which he had counted of value was forever behind him. There is never any indication that Paul ever longingly looked back with any hint of regret or desire for what he had walked away from. He was truly converted from his past and devoted to Him in whom he had put his trust. Paul wrote to Timothy of his sufferings for the sake of the gospel saying, "...I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day." (2 Tim. 1:12)
Such commitment focused its attention on that for which he had sacrificed all things with no consideration or regret for that which he had given up. This becomes obvious in these profound words of Paul; "Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 3:12-13)
Paul learned the lesson that many fail to learn. Where there is no sacrifice, there is no real commitment. We can sacrifice things, yet fail to let go of them with our heart. The Israelites are a case in point. As they departed from Mt. Sinai to make their way into the wilderness en route to the promised land, they became discontent with God's daily provision of manna. Therefore they began to look back with regret at what they had left behind. "We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!" (Num. 11:5-6) Jesus said of this attitude, "...No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." (Lk. 9:62)
In Paul's learning to let go of his past, he threw off the encumbrances that can shackle our hearts to this world. In so doing he learned yet another lesson.

Lesson learned - Contentment
In Luke's historical account of the early years of the church, his biography of Paul ends at Rome, where we learn that "...Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him." (Acts 28:30-31) This was Paul's first imprisonment and the place from which he wrote the letter to his brethren at Philippi. (Phil. 1:7-14; 4:22) This letter was partly in reply to a gift (or a "care package"), which they had sent to him by way of Epaphroditus. (4:10, 18) And while Paul experienced the privileges of house arrest as opposed to confinement in a cold dungeon, he was none-the-less bound by a chain to "...the soldier who guarded him." (Acts 28:16)
The inconvenience of Paul's two-year confinement was but one of many things he suffered for the cause of Christ. He said that "From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city , in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness - besides the other things, what comes upon me daily; my deep concern for all the churches." (2 Cor. 11:24-28) Yet in the midst of such suffering, and while chained to a soldier, Paul could write to these brethren and say, "...I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need." (Phil. 4:11-12)
Having learned the lesson of contentment, Paul could encourage Timothy saying, "Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content." (1 Tim. 6:6-8) All those things that we may accumulate between birth and death have little significance compared to a life lived where Christ is its center and heaven is its goal. Paul expressed this sentiment when he said, "Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ." (Phil. 3:8) And again, he said, "Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (vss. 13-14)
Paul learned that contentment does not come from "having it all," but rather from knowing where all of it comes from with the assurance that God will provide what we need. Listen to what Paul said about this; "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:6-7) The money-hungry world whose concept of contentment and security is a big bank account, have their trust misplaced in that which they must leave behind at the grave. There is no peace to be found in such an empty false security.
Paul's life is a testimony to the fact that peace and contentment are not realized by virtue of a life that is free from challenges, inconveniences or even some discomforts. The "thorn in the flesh" that the Lord saw fit to allow Paul to suffer was intended for his good. God's reply to Paul's request for its removal was, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9) Once Paul recognized that fact, he could reply, "Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (vs. 10) The key to contentment is in our perspective. When we view such things as part of God's grace, such burdens become blessings for which we can give thanks. Without thankfulness there is no contentment.
Never do we hear Paul complain of his lot as a suffering servant of the Lord. God's grace toward Paul, even in the form of a thorn in the flesh, was viewed by him as a matter of abundant mercy in light of his past sins. He told Timothy that "...the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." (1 Tim. 1:14-15)
Paul's summation of God's grace in those words is an answer to every person who looks upon their life as being too sinful for God to forgive them. Paul was saying that, if God could forgive me, He can forgive anybody. And indeed, that was the idea behind God's great mercy for one who had once been such an enemy of Christ. Paul continued, "However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first, Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life." (vs. 16) Christ's abundant mercy toward Paul was a demonstration of His great patience that stands as the benchmark toward which all mankind can look with hope and assurance toward eternal life.
In view of heaven's promise, Peter said, "Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation - as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you." (2 Pet. 3:14-15) Therefore we can sing, "When peace like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, 'It is well, it is well with my soul.'"
- Gary V. Womack - March / April 2005