©2016 Lynn Abbott
They said I would have to “give up” my big, girl bed and room for Grandma and Grandpa, noting that it was just one of the things that I would need to share.
“Sacrifices must be made,” they said.
But for me, it was no sacrifice. No, giving up my old, double bed for Grandma and Grandpa’s Thanksgiving visit was a dream come true. I would be allowed to sleep on the canvas army cot in Mom and Dad’s room.
Wedged between my mother’s long dresser and the outside wall, it was a cozy nest. A safe place. And Mom and Dad were just a few feet away.
There were other privileges that came with the “sacrifice”…At bedtime, I was allowed to crawl up onto my parent’s bed, and watch a few minutes of the holiday specials on the one, small, color T.V. in the house. It was diminutive by today’s standards…probably only about a 15 inch screen.
But regardless, I felt pretty special. After all, my family had two television sets, and one of them was color…And I sat enthralled with Leslie Ann Warren’s performance in Roger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella…
It made no difference that my father was horribly ill and, for the most part, bedridden…or that my mom would drag the Redwood picnic table in from the porch the following morning just so that we could all fit around a single table for Thanksgiving dinner.
As the years passed, I no longer crawled into bed with Mom and Dad. But there were plenty of late night conversations… sometimes sitting on the end of their bed after coming home from a Friday night football game.
Or sometimes, finding myself unable to sleep, and wandering into the sitting room, I’d find Dad sprawled on the couch.
I’d sit down in one of the chairs, cover myself with one of my Grandmother’s hand crocheted Afghans, and we’d flip on late night television. Then, we’d laugh until the tears rolled down our faces over the antics of Laurel and Hardy. At two…sometimes three a.m.
And there were times when both my parents listened to my confessions and of course, offered absolution. They were my safe people. And just as the very best parents do, they encouraged me to find my way, and to set out on my own independent adventure.
To their credit, I did just that. In fact, I moved into adulthood with the confidence my parents had instilled in me; I had confidence that in spite of any enormous trial this life presented, I was secure in their love.
I was fortunate, I know. Sure, we were poor by American standards. And my dad’s tenuous health led to one medical crisis after another.
As a result, I grew up fast. Since she worked more than forty hours per week just to scrape by, and simultaneously cared for my Dad as well as her ailing parents, Mom depended on me to help shoulder many burdens.
But I never resented hardship that we faced. I knew without a smidgen of doubt that my parents loved me. And life’s difficulties paled in the light of their love.
Indeed, during those years, I learned that you and I can face just about anything with courage and grace if we are grounded in great love.
And the Apostle Paul’s life certainly seems to bear this out.
Paul’s life certainly demonstrates that supernatural strength is found in Christ’s love. With a new name and identity in Christ, the man who had once persecuted God’s beloved children became the greatest missionary.
As angry Saul, however, he pursued Christians. He sought to destroy those who expressed faith in Christ. Conscientiously practicing the law, he had already reached a high religious rank.
But his ambition likely drove him to greater heights. I suspect he wished to secure his position.
Whatever the case, Saul persecuted Christ followers with vehemence.
That is, until the road to Damascus.
You remember the account, I’m sure. Single-minded in his mission, Saul took his battle outside of Jerusalem. He carried with him legal documents that allowed him to arrest Christians, or “followers of the Way” as they were called.
His first target? Believers in Damascus.
And then, he heard a voice ask, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” he asked
I can only imagine Saul’s shock to the answer: ” I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told what you must do,” (Acts 9:5,6).
Scripture tells us that Saul got up but could not see. The brilliant light had blinded him.
When I read this in scripture, I tend to focus on the difficulty and humiliation this must have brought the proud and powerful Saul. To stumble into the city without his sight rather than to sweep through the city with retribution was a completing unexpected change of circumstances.
And that’s a truly significant part of Saul’s history. But there was so much more to it than a simple lesson in humility.
You see, in that one statement–“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting”–Saul would have understood fully the identity of Christ.
Saul had likely watched Christ crucified; He had certainly supervised the stoning of Stephen, a Christ follower. But in that moment, the resurrection became reality.
As a Pharisee, Saul knew full well what that meant. If Christ indeed had risen from the dead, Christ’s claims were authenticated once and for all.
And if Christ were indeed God as He had claimed when He said, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” then Saul’s had been in grave danger. Well-acquainted with the Old Testament, Saul knew that rebellion such as his had been could result in death.
Yet, his life had been spared. For this reason, I think that Saul probably thought more about the grace that he had been granted than he did about his loss of sight.
But there was more. Christ sent Ananias to Saul to restore Saul’s sight. Ananias’ obedience demonstrated Christ-like love. After all, Ananias called the man who had come to kill him, “Brother Saul.”
I’m not sure I could have done what Ananias did. Courage, faith and love won the day.
And Saul, given a new name and identity as Paul, was never the same again. No longer did Paul seek worldly security. Instead, because of Christ’s great love, he risked his life again and again for the sake of the good news.
His stand for Christ began in the Damascus Synagogue. From a human perspective, to begin his preaching career in the very place he had planned to use as his base for battle against Christianity was both audacious and high risk.
Extraordinary love and grace had transformed Saul. Hatred and fear no longer fueled him. Instead, the love of Christ empowered him.
He later wrote, “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf,” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
And “Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him,” (2 Corinthians 5:9).
Quite frankly, others thought Paul’s faith and his subsequent risk-taking to be madness. The Roman governor Festus certainly did, (Acts 26:24).
Paul’s first time out as an evangelist definitely didn’t bode well. After several days preaching in Damascus, Paul was forced to flee the city. An assassination plot had been hatched against Paul. In fact, the city gates closed in order to prevent Paul’s escape.
Under the cover of night, Paul’s friends let him down over the city walls in a basket. From a human perspective, Paul’s new life promised little security.
But Paul had only just begun his journey with Christ. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul later summarized the hardships he had faced for the sake of the Gospel.
He wrote, “Are they servants of Christ…I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death,” (v.24).
He continued, “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep,” (v.25).
On his journeys, he confronted all kinds of danger including “dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren,” (v.26).
In addition, he listed sleepless nights, hunger, thirst and lack of shelter. Safe?
However, this same Paul writes, “Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am,” (Philippians 4:11).
Paul had certainly given up much; nevertheless, he had no regrets. Despite the difficulties, he felt no resentment. Gratitude and contentment characterized his life.
Almost unbelievable, isn’t it? It would be were it not for Paul’s encounter with Christ on the Damascus road.
A former colleague once asked me how I had endeavored to overcome many of life’s challenges. But before I had ample opportunity to respond, she offered her own hypothesis: “You must have been close to your dad.”
Recalling her words, I can’t help but grin. While some earthly mothers and fathers may demonstrate the kind of parental love that brings a lifetime sense of security, true grit comes from fully understanding Abba’s love for you and me.
Indeed, Paul identified the source of his emotional and spiritual strength when he said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” (Philippians 4:13).
Paul found great security in his identity in Christ; through Christ, he fully understood and embraced the love and grace of God.
He found refuge in Christ. Grounded in God’s great love, the once prodigal child–Paul– wrote confidently, “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us,” (Romans 8:37).
In addition, Paul penned what is perhaps the greatest assurance of a believer’s secure identity in Christ, (Romans 8:38-39).
In Christ, we find our safe place. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, (Romans 8:39)…
Circumstances cannot separate us from God’s love.
Spiritual powers cannot wrench us out of our Savior’s hand.
Neither the future nor the past possess enough “oomph” to divide God’s children from His grace and love.
Geography cannot drive a wedge between us and our God. There is no place we can go that He cannot reach. We are always in His care.
Hardships may beat on the door. The winds may screech and rattle the windows. Waves will definitely dash against our boat’s prow.
But you and I can face life’s storms with great courage.
After all, there is no safer place than in the loving arms of our all-knowing, all-powerful, heavenly Father.
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” ~Romans 8:38-39
“Thy loving-kindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens, Thy faithfulness reaches to the skies,” ~ Psalm 36:5
“But as for me, the nearness of God is my good’ I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, That I may tell of all Thy works,” ~Psalm 73:28