"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" John 13:34
Imagine being a Christian in a place where meeting secretly and having your life threatened at every turn is common.
Imagine knowing there is a band of angry church officials after you, silencing you at any cost.
Imagine this group of church officials is ruthless and brutal in their exploits.
Imagine knowing that you will be backed into a corner while a band of angry men throw large, sharp stones at you until you slowly bleed to death or take a blow to the head that will knock you unconscious while they continue to stone you until you take your last breath.
Isn't that frightening? How terrifying to know there is a group of powerful men at work, seeking you out to literally destroy you.
Now imagine you know the leader is a man held in high esteem. He's powerful and he has an impeccable background. He's from an upstanding family, he's highly educated, and he'll stop at nothing to achieve his goals. Nothing.
He has witnessed and commissioned countless killings, beatings, and stonings of men simply for believing Jesus was the Christ and boldly professing as much.
Now...now imagine that very leader shows up at your doorstep one day. He tells you that he wants to join you, that he now believes Jesus is the Christ.
What do you do? How do you feel?
I'm certain most of us would not throw our arms open wide, welcoming him in with a hearty back slap.
Imagine the fear, the distrust, the paranoia. Think for a minute how it would feel to wonder when the other shoe is going to drop--when he's going to strike and kill you.
Now...imagine the other side of that...imagine you are this leader who has had a sudden change of heart. Imagine how you have to constantly prove yourself and break down walls, barriers and defenses. Imagine living with yourself for all the persecution and destruction that you caused. Imagine going to sleep every night with the knowledge that there was innocent blood on your hands. Imagine realizing that you had men killed for believing the Truth.
You may have caught on by now that we're talking about Paul. We have covered him and his life a great deal in this devotional series. His life is so rich and so full that it's difficult not to use him as an example for many things.
It's easy for scripture to feel flat and 1-dimensional. It's difficult to convey and capture the emotion behind the things that happened so long ago. We forget that these stories we read are real. There really was a man named Saul who murdered countless Christians. There was real fear and terror surrounding professing Jesus as Christ. There was real bloodshed and carnage at the hands of men who believed they were doing what was right and just by stoning any who stated boldly that Jesus was the Messiah.
Christians today deal with many of the same emotions. Maybe the "wolf" in your midst isn't a professed and proclaimed Christian-killer, but maybe there is someone who has a past that you'd like to run from. Maybe someone in your church body has serious skeletons in their closet, maybe more than the church is comfortable with? Perhaps there are discussions of whether or not this person is really a believer? Perhaps there are whispers of making this person "tow the line" before allowing them to be welcomed into the fold...just to test things out.
Sometimes we as believers get so caught up in the egregious acts of others and so patently revolted by the actions of other people that we can't look past the offense to forgive and welcome in the offender.
Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus. Please read Acts 9:9-31.
Saul, with all the destruction and fear and turmoil he caused was met by Jesus. Jesus came to Saul and met him right where he was. Saul was changed immediately. He followed Christ's directive and went to the house of the man he was sent to.
Now, let's look at Ananias. Can you imagine being him? I almost chuckle at what was surely the look on Ananias's face when God told him to go to Saul. I imagine he was thinking something along the lines of "Are you KIDDING me??!"
I wish I could hear the thoughts of the other believers as they met Saul and learned that he was now a professing Christian. Can you imagine?
Maybe you can.
Maybe you know someone who is reluctantly welcomed into the body. Maybe you are the reluctant party--unwilling to completely allow that person in.
Saul--now Paul--was genuine in his profession of Christ. His heart was changed and his actions proved that. Maybe the person in your life isn't genuine...we may not know or it may take time to discern whether or not their intentions are pure.
Keep in mind Acts 9:11-15:
11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
Not once did the Lord try to assuage Anania's well-founded fear. He offered no guarantees, no promises. He simply told Ananias: "Go!"
Maybe God is telling you that today.
Go reach out to those who are coming to you, even when their past is too much for you to handle. Meet them where they are and extend the love and grace of the Lord...the same love and grace that was extended to you.
"Now, regarding the one who started all this—the person in question who caused all this pain—I want you to know that I am not the one injured in this as much as, with a few exceptions, all of you. So I don’t want to come down too hard. What the majority of you agreed to as punishment is punishment enough. Now is the time to forgive this man and help him back on his feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown him in it. My counsel now is to pour on the love.
Focus on this today: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." John 13:34
Devotional written by Mandy.
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