Lesson from the Apostle Paul

Posted on November 24, 2022


How many times have you done or said something wrong? If you are not in this category of humankind, just quit reading and continue with your cup of coffee or glass of wine. If you have done or said something wrong, keep reading.

There are two questions you need to answer: 1. What did I do or say wrong? and, even more importantly, what do I do about it?

I took the Apostle Paul’s experience, often described as his “road to Damascus” moment for my model. The way I understand life in general is that there are both passive and active moments in what we do. Passives are generally not conscious wrongs or evil doing, while active ones are just that, we know what was wrong and yet went ahead and did it.

Today we seem to be able to offend everyone with what we say or do. Paul had a similar experience, although in Paul’s case it was recorded for all time in Scripture. Most of you are familiar with it. If not, here it is in a nutshell.

Paul was a rabid Pharisee in the time of Jesus, even bragged of having studied with the leading Pharisee of the time, Gamaliel. Kind of like if you graduated from Yale Law School or played football at Alabama. Although I have to add that Alabama lost two games this (2022) season and Yale no longer applies strict academic exams to get in. But those for another time.

Anyhow, being a strict Jew, Paul was taught to persecute and eliminate the new Christian communities of Christians—call them sects, believers, anything you want to designate followers of Jesus. The story is told best of all in the Book of Acts.

While chasing down Christians, he heads off to Damascus in Syria on a new expedition to persecute Christians when he’s blinded by a light on the road. He hears Jesus’s voice say: “Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). Um, good question. This sets in motion Saul’s change of heart. He regains his sight, gets baptized, changes his name, and becomes one of Jesus’s main men.

In fact, Paul writes a major portion of the New Testament and helps define and explain what Jesus taught for all who read his letters and listened to his sermons until he died sometime between 62-64 A.D. martyred in Rome for his faith. He is, in short, the first Christian theologian and evangelist, along with the first twelve disciples, like Peter, John, James, etc.

Jesus and how he thought, what he taught, and how he behaved is of course our principal model for discerning what have I done wrong and how do I correct it as we mentioned above in the beginning of this little essay. Paul is a pretty close second model, along with the Disciples, several of whom also wrote letters that were incorporated into the New Testament.

And you will no doubt disclaim, but I am NOT a first-generation disciple of Jesus! How can you expect me to behave like Paul, or Jesus himself, the divine son of God! I am just a plain human being, with all the faults and foibles that involves. And let me add, to move us slowly down the right track, with all the gifts and recipient of all the wonderful things he did for us, starting with, for example, salvation. More that later if you want. For starters, see a nice book A New Tale of Two Cities. You can order it by toggling on the image.

This is not about two cities—Paris and London– hundreds of years ago (read Charles Dickens). It is about two very different truths about American life today: one embraces and edifies self; the other turns to Scripture for the center of our lives. The questions raised in this volume, and especially the answers offered, bring us face to face with perhaps the hardest question we all ask ourselves at one time or another which introduced this little article: where do we turn to for answers to the problems, issues, and challenges of life we all face?

The secret to the answers of, first, what did I say or do wrong, and second, what do I do about it is simple and it has to do with two pronouns. One is “I” and the other is “You,” and, to put it another way, you think wrong when all you think about is yourself, and you do wrong when you put yourself ahead of others all the time.

Now don’t be climbing into our playground of other parts of our cultural structure, like capitalism, freedom, liberty, socialism, sex, race, ethnicity, IQ, victimization, equity, talent, and standardized testing just for starters.

We are addressing who is responsible for what you say or do. I’m not talking about children before the age of responsibility, whatever that may be. It could be a Jewish rite of passage, like Bar mitzva, or a Christian one when one reaches the age of, let’s say, thirteen. One might be formally inducted into the Church or said to have passed into manhood. Sorry girls: peoplehood or humanhood just sounds too Woke. You are supposed to transition to maturity.

Whatever the age you move to responsibility for your thoughts and acts, you become responsible. It’s not your parents, your teachers, your pastors, your doctors anymore, but yourself. That is both a liberating act and one that demands you look for answers outside of yourself. And those answers are found in Scripture. I am not putting aside parents, teachers, pastors, and doctors as guides for good behavior, just placing them not beside you but slightly behind you, someone you can turn to, but not ultimately responsible for what say, do, or are.

Ok, I admit my prejudice. I am a Christian, born again, “saved” by my confession of Jesus as my Lord, and love Scripture and what Jesus taught us about love and dependence upon him for everything. That word, “everything,” is not a metaphor for everything, but it is in fact the truth. You can depend upon Jesus for everything.

And, again, I can hear you skeptics, pessimists, “realists,” like “Larry, you just don’t know how the world really works.” It is made of extreme poverty, outrageous accumulations of great wealth, and everything in between where all of us inhabit.

We may be the greatest nation in the history of the world, exceptional in the extreme, but I have been reading about the 1930s in this country as some of us prepare to make a movie on the Jimmy Doolittle air raid over Japan in April 1942 in response to the surprise Japanese attack of December 7, 1941, on our fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The Depression era was real. It hurt. Tens of thousands, millions of men, despaired because they were jobless, wanted to work, and some even committed suicide which sure didn’t help those thin, scraggly wives and children dressed in rags left behind.

You’ve seen pictures of that age.

On the other hand, millions celebrated the end of Prohibition, hit the bars and saloons of the country while the new President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, closed the banks for a week to stem the bloodletting of banks going under, and with them, everything people had saved.

It was an extraordinary picture of despair and hope, only ending with the breakout the Second World War. More if you want later.

What happened here? Why did the Roaring Twenties end in 1929 with a spectacular crash on Wall Street? Where was God and his son Jesus Christ in all of this? Look up Aimee Semple McPherson if you want more. She was dishing out the faith in new spectacular ways, including the pioneering use of a new electronic gadget, the radio, in the early 1920s. You techies of the twenty-first century, Internet, and computer nerds were not the first.

Again, we can return to the story at some other time. Could true prayer and total trust in God get you off the dry, dusty road taken by the Okies (you can look that up) on their way to California to escape drought, massive dust storms, and despair at home?

In the meantime, John F. Kennedy’s father was selling lots of scotch and other booze he had been importing from Canada into American speakeasies during Prohibition. If you don’t know who John F. Kennedy was, look him up. His father was eventually appointed U. S. ambassador to Great Britain on the eve of World War II and he argued vehemently for the U. S. to remain neutral as Adolf Hitler’s anti-Jewish armies strode through Europe. It was a complicated era!

Who did you put your trust in? You know the answer. It wasn’t the Republicans, the Democrats, the Socialists, the Communists, the Fascists, or anyone else. It was Jesus. So, what did he promise us, and what did he give us to deal with the world, and with our part in the world? That for another lesson.

Published in Substack, Feb. 24 2022 and in the Northport Gazette, March 2023.