Paul Gave Thanks

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Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5

I laughed with them. But inwardly, I thought glaucoma.

“Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people- greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me – a sinner!’ I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:10-14

Funny thing about my eyes. Seems they’re pretty good about looking outward and finding fault in the world. And yet, they can be totally useless when looking inward… back at me.

That’s where I find myself today. Looking inward. And it was the Apostle Paul’s words that pointed me in that direction. See, we’re on the eve of Thanksgiving and the world at large is feeling grateful.

We give thanks for our full bellies and good health. For the roofs over our heads and the clothes upon our backs. For God’s mercy and goodness and grace. And Paul gave thanks, too. However, his prayer sounded a little different than one I’d utter at Thanksgiving…

I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry- one who was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man. 1 Timothy 1:12-13

The Blasphemer

Paul called himself a blasphemer and the word stumped me in recent days. Because really, what is blasphemy? I just didn’t know so I dug it up. I just had to in light of Paul’s words to Timothy.

Timothy was exhorted to follow Paul’s instructions, to engage strongly in battle, having faith and a good conscience. He then gave an example of two people who rejected these and suffered the shipwreck of their faith. Furthermore, Paul said he delivered them to Satan so that they may be taught not to blaspheme.

And that scared me. Horrified me, actually. Because what does that have to do with me? What in the world?

The Persecutor

To blaspheme is to spurn or contemn (not condemn), to despise and to abhor. Blasphemy is slander, detraction, or speech injurious to another’s good name. To blaspheme is to be impious and reproachful, evil speaking and railing.

Basically, a blasphemer is scurrilous. Calumnious against men. Most especially, impious against God. And let me assure you, I had to look up at least four of these words.

But within these words I discover why Paul gave up some up to Satan. And why they needed to be taught not to do and be all these things. Because blasphemy is so utterly harmful.

And Paul would know. Because that’s what he formerly was. A blasphemer. And it’s what caused him to persecute Jesus and His followers…

 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, either men or women, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me” Acts 9:1-4

The Arrogant Man

Paul used to be an arrogant man. If a man thought he had grounds for confidence, Paul had more: circumcised the eight day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, persecuting the church; as to the righteousness that is in the law, blameless (Philippians 3).

According to the religious sector, Paul had and was everything. The best of the best. The most religious of the religious. So much so, he murdered and imprisoned those who didn’t do or act as he did.

Like Stephen…

The first Christian martyr.

Oddly, Stephen was falsely accused of very thing that Paul really did. Blasphemy. Seems some hyper-religious dudes incited the crowds to speak out against Stephen, claiming he spoke blasphemous words against Moses and God.

This didn’t sit well with the Pharisees, of course. Nonetheless, when Stephen had an opportunity to speak, he spoke truth which enraged the leaders. They were filled with hate and fury and screamed and rushed at him, throwing him out of the city.

Then they stoned him.

The witnesses laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And this man, Saul, was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man.

But later, he became Paul. On the road to Damascus.

And after he became Paul, he was thankful. Because Jesus strengthened him. It was Jesus who considered him faithful, and who appointed Paul to the ministry.

The miracle, though?

It happened when Paul was the vilest of men. So deeply entrenched in sin. Blaspheming and persecuting and boasting and proud. And murdering. Let’s not forget that one.

But he was Jesus’ choice. A murderer appointed to ministry.

Inconceivable.

the blasphemer, the persecutor, and the arrogant woman

One who becomes stiff-necked, after many reprimands will be broken suddenly-and without a remedy. Proverbs 29:1

A dear friend of mine wondered out loud recently… she said she felt that God has just given up on her and let her go her way. That he was done with her. And deep down, I’ve had the same ponderings.

Because I read the above proverb last month. And it was mid-October when I learned that Paul gave some over to Satan to teach them a lesson. And honestly, I was terrified.

I wondered if this was happening to me…

Because God told me to stop something. Over and over and over and over. But I keep doing the thing He tells me not to. And the thing is, it has to do with Paul’s issues. When he was still Saul.

Paul’s a picture of me for I am a blasphemer. Because I judge and criticize his chosen people. His leaders. Oh, I’d say it began in earnest five years ago when I gained a little knowledge. And honestly, at times, I think I know more than they do. So I become arrogant.

And here I sit looking at others and criticizing, thinking I know best. And because someone sits in the place I feel I should be, bitterness and resentment fill up my heart. All traces of love dissipate in the fogginess of hate…

And because hate is present, that makes me no better than a murderer. It’s just as Jesus says in Matthew 5: murder begins in the heart. So I’m just like Paul when he was Saul. Breathing out fiery threats as I point out a speck I see in another’s eye. And all the while, there’s a huge plank in my own.

It’s blinded me. I’ve not been able to see clearly.

This log of my own…

So the truth is revealed. And I realize it’s not glaucoma, after all.

And so, I regain my eyesight as I dislodge the plank from my eye. And it’s only then I’m able to hear His words clearly. He says, “Pam, Pam, why are you persecuting me?”

Because that’s what I’ve been doing. In persecuting them, I persecute Him. No different than Paul when he was Saul.

The Wretch

I love the story of the adulteress in the Bible. There was a riot and a whole bunch of ultra-religious folk surrounded a poor woman caught in adultery. They wanted to stone her.

But that wasn’t Jesus’ way. Basically, He ignored their railings and rants. Their injurious speech. And when they persisted in questioning Him, He answered simply, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.”

And so beginning with the oldest to the youngest, they left. The older ones being wise enough to recognize their own sin first. One by one they left till not one accuser remained.

And Jesus, He didn’t condemn the woman. Just said go and sin no more.

And this gives me hope today on the eve of this Thanksgiving season. Because He says the same to me. No condemnation… He just says go and sin no more.

So by an adulteress woman’s story, I understand Jesus never gives up on anyone. Not me or my friend. We don’t have to think this way again. Wondering if He’ll eventually tire of us… our antics.

God will never give up on me. What a gift. No matter how many times I screw up – or how royally – He won’t ever give me up utterly. No one can pluck me from my hand.

And the reality is, if He can convert a man like Saul, who later became Paul, surely He can do the same for me. Because we’re really the same, Paul and I.

It’s just his sins were easier to see. Outward. And mine are inward. Some things that only I can see.

So this Thanksgiving, I find I am thankful indeed. And miraculously, I can pray just like the apostle Paul. A man just like me.

I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry- one who was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant woman.

For this, I am thankful.

And for this, I rejoice.

And oddly enough, the awakening of who I really am, a wretch in need of conversion, coincides with my eye clearing up. Mom gave me some drops and they seem to be working. Looks like the red is receding.

So it turns out she was right, after all. Mom wondered if I’d gotten something in my eye and I did.

It was a speck.

Either that or a log.

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