Everyone knew his name. It was a name they feared, though, not a name they were excited to hear. He was an imposing man who caused children to hide behind their mama’s skirts in fear and men to keep their heads close to their work and avoid eye contact when he walked by. His every request was granted by the government, making him a man to be respected – and hated. He was highly religious, but had no relationship with the true God, though he was convinced otherwise. He felt he had one goal in life: to help God wipe out every Christian in existence. And he had the blessing of the government to do so. Imagine the fear of dads who heard the sound of boots on the path outside and then the pounding on their door as soldiers came, by his orders, door to door to take Christians off to prison, never to be seen or heard from again. Families must have had contingency plans in place for their children for when, not if – but when, the knock finally sounded on their door. It was only a matter of time. He led a small army in their quest of ridding the kingdom of Christians. They were at his beck and call and he held their coats while they carried out the murders. His silent, approving gaze was enough to instill resiliency in the cause in the hearts of his followers, and fear and trembling in the hearts of the hunted. No one was safe. No city was far enough away to escape his reach. He was coming for them; it was just a matter of time.
Then, the very One he was persecuting intervened. With a flash of lightening-bright light, this murderer was transformed. Not only was he converted into the very belief system he had been trying to destroy, he became a champion of it. Not only did he understand now what he had been trying to wipe out, he became a chief teacher. His letters were not just an encouragement to the early church; they are now the foundation upon which we live our very Christian lives hundreds of years later.
Paul is an ancient picture of a modern day terrorist.
Yes, he was Jewish, not Muslim. But, his goal was the same: wipe out every Christian in existence. His hatred was just as pure, just as evil. He was just as feared – and revered. He was just as radical in his thinking.
Yet, God chose to save him. And not just save him, but to use him more than possibly any other Christian in history. His writings make up the bulk of our New Testament and have shaped the Christian way of life ever since. He was inspired by God to write letters we never could have fathomed.
Here we sit, hundreds of years later, being confronted by another enemy of Christianity. He has many names – Boko Haram, Al Queida, Hamas, ISIS. Yet the goal is the same: rid the world of every Jew, every Christian, everyone in opposition to the Islamic faith.
We are scared of them. We look at every bearded man or lady in a burka with great suspicion. They don’t dare ride on airplanes or carry back packs in public anymore. However, fear is exactly what the radicals are going for. If they can get us to live in fear, they will have done half their job.
Whenever a huge event like the attacks in Paris happen, we scream, “Death to the terrorists! Bring them to justice!” We cower and hide in fear. We may post our solidarity all over Facebook in hopes of telling the terrorists that they have not scared us, but in reality, we are taking fewer trips to sight-see in the Middle East and working less at befriending our Muslim neighbor. We don’t want them to think we are scared, so all over social media we make it sound like they have done nothing to frighten us – but, we silently praise the security guard for more thoroughly searching the Arabic man with a turban in the airport and we subtly pull our children off the playground when a mom in a burka shows up with her kids.
Instead of praying for these men and women, we shun them. We fear them. Worse yet – we ignore them. We pretend we don’t see them and we certainly don’t befriend them.
After all – they hate us and want us dead, right? We’re just staying out of their way.
But, let’s think this through: for one thing – just like there are those who believe in radical Islam, there are those of us who are radical Christians. What if there were more radical Christians than there are radical Muslims? What would that look like?
- They pray three times per day, no matter where they are or what they’re doing. It’s repetitive, but it makes them stop and focus.
- We are commanded to not just pray three times a day – but to pray continuously. We are not given prayers to memorize; we are told to pray about everything, with thanksgiving. We are told to pray for our enemies – their salvation, not their death.
- They take serious time each year to fast and offer sacrifices.
- We are told to fast regularly. For us, sacrifices are no longer necessary because Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice. We remember this by taking the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis.
- They are commanded to proselytize and make sure all convert to Islam. They are not ashamed of their faith and how they are commanded to dress.
- We have been commanded to make disciples – not just converts. All nations, all people are to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and we are to be the vehicle that tells them.
- We hide our faith and do our very best to blend in with everyone else so we don’t appear strange. Our clothing styles and way of life mirror the world because stepping out and being different draws attention and makes us uncomfortable. We believe we can make more converts if we blend in. What if we did the opposite? What if we did what we are commanded to and NOT be conformed to this world? What if we didn’t care so much about outward appearances and quit blending in so strongly that people have no clue we’re Christians?
- Their ultimate goal is to give their life for their faith because that means instant, guaranteed paradise.
- Our ultimate goal should be to spend our lives for others, making sure everyone knows the Gospel, including our neighbors, family, and those across the globe. Martyrdom is feared and avoided. Though being martyred has absolutely no bearing on our salvation and eternal destiny, it certainly should not be something we are afraid of.
- They are not afraid to let people know where they stand, even when it’s offensive.
- We were warned that we would be an offense to others because Jesus was an offense to the world. So, we hide that we attend church, carry small Bibles that are inconspicuous if we pull them out in public, and avoid controversial topics so people don’t suspect that we might be “religious.”
What if we lived radically?
What if we did the unpopular thing and prayed for the terrorists? We claim prayer is the biggest, best weapon for fighting disease, depression, divorce – yet we don’t utilize prayer for the biggest worldwide battle in our time.
Many terrorists are coming to faith in Christ because Jesus is appearing to them in dreams and pursuing them even when they don’t think they need to be pursued. They are hearing about Christ through those they have captured who are not afraid to continue to preach because the Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be chained. What if we just prayed for them on a regular basis? What if we stormed the gates of heaven and implored the God of the universe to fight this terrorist battle for us?
What if, among the terrorists today, there is another Apostle Paul? God did it once; He could certainly do it again.
What if we were just as radical in our Christianity as they are in their Islam?
If they can do so much damage by being radical, imagine the amount of good we could do by being radical?
The most feared man who once walked the streets of Jerusalem terrorizing Christians became one of the most revered, respected apostles of Jesus Christ to ever walk this earth.
We know the early church met often to worship and pray together. I wonder how many people were praying for him? We have no reason to think they didn’t; they were pretty good at following the other instructions Jesus had given them.
Maybe we should spend more time in prayer for and befriending the Muslims in our lives and around the world and less time fearing and hating them. Let’s be radical, too, but radical the way Jesus commanded us to be. You know, simply fully living out the commands He gave us to begin with.