It’s Not Where You Start, It’s Where You Finish

I was watching AD the Bible Continues, a fabulous series on NBC this spring, produced by Roma Downey, a devout Catholic and her husband, Mark Burnett.  AD dramatizes the first half of Acts of the Apostles.  It’s gritty and extremely well done.  If you’re a Christian and want to grab the attention of millennials used to watching TV shows such as Game of Thrones or Walking Dead, AD is the way to do it.  The show prompts you to pick up the Bible and read it for yourself, which is awesome.

Back to AD the Bible Continues…a few weeks ago viewers were introduced to Saul of Tarsus.  Saul, a devout Jew, wasn’t taking the “blasphemy” of the new believers in Jesus lightly.  He was intent on tracking them down like animals.  He was there when the first martyr, Stephen, was stoned to death and he reveled in the bloodshed and thirsted for more.  His plan was to murder every last disciple.  After going house to house in Jerusalem and pulling out every man, woman, and child and throwing them in prison, Saul finds himself on that road to Damascus committed to find any believers who had scattered after his attacks.  However, things didn’t go as planned.  Instead of Saul finding the followers of Jesus, arresting them, and dragging them back to Jerusalem, Jesus finds Saul and everything changes.  Saul went from being the hunter to the hunted and from persecuting believers to becoming one of them—and not just any one of them.  Saul, or as we know him, Paul1, became the energizer bunny of evangelism.

Out of all the people in the New Testament, I find St. Paul to be one of the most fascinating.  The apostles knew Jesus.  He was their friend.  They lived with Him for three years; they were there through His many miracles, teachings, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and His Ascension.  Paul, like us, did not know Jesus in the physical sense, and like us, he was blinded from the truth.  His letters to the early churches are deep.  How many of us listen to Paul’s words but never truly grasp their meaning?  If you’re lucky to have a pastor who explains in detail or a teacher who has great knowledge of the Bible I can guarantee Paul’s message will leave you speechless.

Paul’s message is great, but what of his life after meeting Jesus?  It was a tremendous journey filled with peril, sacrifice, torture, imprisonment, and the joy of spreading the word of Jesus Christ and converting the Gentiles, and ultimately ending in martyrdom, which he knew he would face.  He knew his mission and he went after it with a zeal matched by few.  Even when his worldly life was coming to a close he kept his eye on the prize, as summed up in 2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight to the end, I have run the race to the finish, I have kept the faith.”  How many of us at the end of our lives can say that?  St. Paul began his life as a not such a good person, but he finished as a rock star.  It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.

Speaking of television shows, there is a new one premiering this summer called Proof.  It’s very similar to its predecessors; They Came Back, Resurrection, and The Returned.  All are fantasies about “life after life.”  Unlike AD, which is Bible based, Proof is based on an actress portraying a doctor who has gone through the fictitious death of her son, a fictitious divorce, and a fictitious rift with her fictitious teenage daughter.  An actor portraying a billionaire with fictitious cancer, who is facing fictitious death, hires her to find answers from psychics, ghost hunters, and people who have experienced near death experiences2.

Yesterday I read that researchers at the Mayo Clinic believe they’ve “cracked the code” to happiness3.  Do you know what it is?  The research shows the biggest hindrance to being happy is too much thinking about one’s self.  Really?  Jesus said that over 2,000 years ago!  Love others as you love yourself.  People in the US are screaming for truth.  They are yearning for God; they are looking for answers but instead of seeking Him, they rely on supernatural fantasy put out by Hollywood because somehow that’s more believable than the Bible?  They’ll take the word of fiction writers over that of God?   I keep hearing about the new evangelization.  How and when do we begin?

The problem is we can’t evangelize unless we actually stand for something.  We can’t preach the Word unless we live it.  You can’t succeed with a church full of “cafeteria-style” Christians and expect to show the world this is what it means to be Christian.  This little light of mine can’t shine under a basket.  You can’t pick and choose the laws that are to your liking.  Several churches that bend to the pressure of the culture find that out the hard way.  Their numbers go down instead of going up.  I believe marriage is between a man and a woman.  It does not mean I hate gays.  I believe in the sanctity of all life, including life in the womb.  It doesn’t mean I hate women who’ve had an abortion.  Nobody wants to offend anyone.  I certainly don’t.  St. Augustine said, “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.”4

In order to evangelize you must believe in something—I mean really believe.  Stand strong in it so firmly that you would die for it because you know it’s true.  I recently heard a story about a father in the Middle East who was given the opportunity by ISIS to spare his children if they converted to the Muslim faith.  He went to his priest for guidance who told him to go ahead.  God will understand if they converted.  The man rushed home only to find ISIS asking his children who they believed in and before the father could intervene the children shouted “Jesus!”

My journey and yours is not yet over.  For years it’s been relatively easy in the United States to be Christian.  Not so any more and I fear it’s going to get worse.  In the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, “The ultimate test of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and moments of convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge and moments of controversy.”  It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.

Will you fight the good fight?  Will you finish the race?  Will you keep the faith?

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1 God did not change Saul’s name to Paul, a popular myth.  “Saul was a born Jewish and his Hebrew name was Saul, but because his father was a Roman citizen (and therefore Saul inherited Roman citizenship), Saul also had the Latin name, Paul.  After his conversion he was determined to bring the gospel to Gentiles, so he dusted off his Roman name and became, Paul, a name Gentiles were familiar with.”  Catholic Answers To Explain & Defend The Faith.

2 TNT.com

3 CBS New York newyork.cbslocal.com/2015/6/05/researchers-cracked-code-happiness

4 St. Augustine Letter 211 (c.424)

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