Following Jesus Like Paul

Not everyone was thrilled when I decided to follow Jesus Christ.  My co-workers thought that I had cracked under the pressure.  They were amused that I had, “Got religion real bad.”  I have always been an outspoken person and that did not change when I was born again.  What was altered were my character and words.  Although they still poked fun at my new-found “halo”, they saw a new man; a better person, transformed by the grace of God.  Family members were also skeptical.  But over time, they became gratified living with the new me, imperfect but much better.  It was the same problem with the Apostle Paul.  His former colleagues were angry to the point of murder.  There is nothing in the Scripture about how the family of Paul reacted.  The silence indicates that there was trouble at home.  Whatever happened on the domestic side, Paul was hounded by his new-found enemies.  Paul never backed off his testimony or diluted his message to assuage his adversaries.  It has been this way for Christians ever since Jesus began preaching the good news in Galilee two thousand years ago.

One time, Jesus brought sight to a blind man.  The Authorities, who hated Jesus, were angry about the miraculous change that come about in the man.  They were furious that the man gave the glory to Jesus for supernatural healing.  Their hatred of Jesus was transferred to a blind man who could now see by the grace of God.  The Scripture is found in John 9.

“So…they (the Authorities) called the man who had been blind, and said to him, ‘Give glory to God; we know that this man (Jesus) is a sinner.’

He then answered, ‘Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see…’

…They reviled him and said, ‘You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from…You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?’  So, they put him out (of the synagogue).”  Excerpts John 9:24-34 (NASB)

The formerly blind man was kicked out of the social order.  The synagogue was his “safety net” for survival.  He lost just about everything.  So it would be for most of the followers of Jesus.  The Apostle  Paul was constantly harassed by those who hated Jesus.  There is joy with people who truly understand what is going on within us when Jesus brings a new birth.  But with most, there is trouble for following Jesus.  This is what we know: when we confessed our sins to God; when we came to Jesus in real faith, something happened to us that we cannot deny.  We were transferred from blindness to sight; from darkness to light.  Our testimony endures even through the opposition, ill-will, and slander of the world.

The Apostle Paul was a man who endured such things with joy.  He was thankful for the transforming grace of Jesus Christ.  It meant more to him than any career; any possession; any goodwill the world could offer.  He was astounded about what God had done in his life.  Paul’s testimony gives us his attitude from his own pen, “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.”  Philippians 3:8 (NASB)

A prayer…“Father in heaven, thank you for Your transforming grace in Jesus Christ.  I pray that you would help me be a witness for Jesus.  I am astounded by what you have done in my life!  Help me, today, to speak gracefully to those who really do not understand what happened.  Support me now, O Lord, to speak with kindness to them, no matter what they may say against You, or do to me.  In Jesus name, Amen.”

George Cargill

 

 

From the Heart

All the people of the world are being subjected to unspeakable acts of violence.  On every continent, there are people who murder, rape, and oppress others who do not share their religion, politics, world view, or whatever else that drives men mad.  We pass laws, increase the numbers of police, debate the issue, and elect new leaders.  But still, with all our laws, the problem persists.  Laws exist because of law-breakers, who by definition, scoff at laws.  Something is wrong with humanity.  All we have to do to understand this is to open our eyes and ears to what is happening in the world around us.  We have just emerged from a century that was the bloodiest in history.   People, wondering about the causes of mass murder, scratch their heads with foreboding at the coming century.  Jesus told us where the problem exists.  It is in the hearts of people.

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” Matthew 15:19 (NASB)

The story is as old as humanity.  The problem resides in the heart of every individual who comes into the world.  Each one of us must admit that we have a sin problem.  We must do our part to stop the violence.  Each one must repent and surrender to Jesus to be born anew and be filled with Holy Spirit.  When the love of Christ motivates us, there is no room for hate.  Any person, who receives Jesus in true repentance and faith, ceases to be a part of the problem.  Receive Jesus today, surrender all anger, malice, and hatred to Him.  Hatred will be replaced by love.  The human condition will be improved by one heart changed by Christ.

Pastor George

The Boldness of An Apostle

 

A preacher said something recently that shook me.  I was visiting at a very large church with over a thousand members.  The service was carefully crafted to be winsome to believer and seeker alike.  The Pastor spoke in his shirtsleeves and had no pulpit to stand behind.  Everything was done to make the gospel message palatable to the modern contemporary person.  The sermon was about boldness in telling others about the hope that people can have in Jesus Christ.  He looked out into the congregation and said, “If you are visiting with us today, I want to apologize to you for our church.  In all probability, no one will share with you their testimony about Jesus Christ, either in this building, or any other place they may meet you.”  My heart was in my throat speaking in agreement with the preacher.  I knew that his statement was true.

The Apostle Paul had no such problem.  He would speak to anyone at any time about Jesus Christ.  He was an apostle.  He had been sent by Jesus into the world with the message of the gospel.  Paul, and all the Apostles of Jesus had a common trait infused into them.  They spoke boldly about Jesus and His message of hope for the world. There is a New Testament word used frequently about their preaching, parresia.   It means to have “boldness”, or “confidence” in speaking publicly.  Peter and John spoke boldly before the religious authorities, even though they did not have formal theological training or credentials.  In the face of threats and efforts to suppress their bold speech, the Apostles prayed for more parresia.  Their prayers were answered with an infilling of the Holy Spirit so that they could speak with even more boldness. Acts 4:29-31

The world cannot defeat the reckless boldness that was displayed by Paul.  Whether he was speaking to governors, philosophers, nobility, or rubbing shoulders with the people in the marketplace, Paul spoke plainly and directly to everyone.  He knew that he had the solution to the problem that has plagued the entire human race since Eden.  He thought of himself as the ambassador of Christ, fully authorized to administer to the entire world the message of grace, faith, and obedience.  Paul knew how to risk his life at just the right time to accomplish the mission that he had been given.

Paul is the perfect kind of person on which to base the main character of a novel.  He was a man of weaknesses who knew where his strength lay.  He was fully convinced of the rightness of his cause, being totally committed to the completion of his mission.  Paul pushed back forcefully at those who lied and spread slander about him.  He defended the flock as fiercely as any sheepdog, but led them gently as a loving shepherd.  He had enemies, but they were all the right ones.  When Paul asked the Saints to pray for him, he displayed the qualities that recommended him to me as the main character In the Grip of God.  From prison, he asked the church in Ephesus to pray that he might have more boldness.

“…pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” Ephesians 6:19-20 (NASB)

George Cargill

 

 

 

 

 

Out of Disaster

The Emergence of an Apostle

The career of Paul in Jesus Christ came out of the ashes of the carefully planned life of Saul of Tarsus.  What happened to Saul on the Damascus Road was a personal disaster.  (Acts 9:1-30) His whole life lived to that point was destroyed.  He came from money.  Gone.  He had a great relationship with the movers and shakers of his culture.  Ruined.  He had the best degree of education.  Worthless.  He had good health.  Broken.  His carefully made judgments about Jesus and the Christians.  Wrong.  All the self-justifications that Saul had wrapped around his violent life were refuted.   His carefully thought out reasons for existence were smashed in a moment.  When Saul tried to join with the Christians that he formerly had persecuted, he was sent away to Tarsus, his hometown, to face the disappointment and wrath of his family.

Saul, the violent persecutor of Jesus, was going to emerge from the fire of the Holy Spirit as Paul, the small, forged into a fine instrument of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It would take years of training by Jesus and character shaping by the Holy Spirit.  Paul would be totally broken to the will of God in Jesus Christ.  Those whom he had formerly hated, he would love as his own soul.  He would embrace Gentiles, whom he would not touch before.  Then, he would totally submerge himself in the mission of Christ.  Jesus was offering the redemption and transformation that He offered Paul to the whole world.  Paul had received his new career.  He would be the faithful ambassador of Jesus Christ.   An Apostle.

The roots of thinking and ethics of Western Civilization came from a relatively few individuals.  The Apostle Paul is prime among them.  Saul of Tarsus would have ended up a ring-kissing functionary of the establishment in Jerusalem.  The only memory of his words and deeds would be in the Judgment.   How many of us would even be following Jesus if our life had gone without problems or personal failure?  Sometimes we need to be forced out of our path, onto the path of the will of God.   Jesus knew what was best for Saul of Tarsus.  It was to become Paul the Apostle.  It was for the ultimate benefit of Paul.  To this present hour, Jesus knows what is best for all His servants.   We must be refined before we are useful.

Hard to Start, Harder to Finish, Unlikely to Publish

“In the Grip of God” A Novel of the Apostle Paul by George Cargill

Every work of fiction by a new author begins with someone thinking, “I ought to write a book about what I am thinking.” A story has been cooking in their brain, and they have a mind to write it down.  Or after reading a novel, saying, “I could tell the story better than that.”  It has crossed the minds of myriads of people to write “something.”  There are a few who actually start writing; fewer still who finish a work; and only a select few who get a novel published.  Those who start, soon realize the difficulty of finishing a polished manuscript of 85,000 to 100,000 words.  The storyline must contain certain elements that make it an engaging and readable story.  The story must be good enough for people to pay money to read it.  It also must be worth the time to read.  Sometimes, a writer can attract the attention of a publisher at a writer’s conference.  But a first-time author must acquire a literary agent unless they want to invest their own money in self-publishing.  A traditional book publisher must be sold on the story enough to invest money for profit.  It is a trying process.

Writing “In the Grip of God” was a blessed agony for me.  I have heard of authors who could produce 30,000 words in a weekend.  Not me.  Sometimes, I would write a paragraph and stare at it for an hour, trying to discern what direction it was taking me.  Days that I managed to produce 1,000 words were sterling.  Re-reading chapters was necessary for me to keep consistency in the story.    I wrote the first chapter and a loose outline, then put it down for a year.  I have to confess, when I began to see the enormity of the challenge, I was not ready to pay the price.  But the Lord is faithful to make idleness in a mission difficult to endure.  Every morning, words came to my waking mind, “Write the book, write the book, write the book.”  The novel was not only a labor of love, but a commission from the Lord.  I met with an author friend of mine and asked him to read the first chapter.  I wanted him to tell me if I was wasting my time.  He encouraged me to pick up the challenge and continue writing the novel.  New energy seemed to come from that meeting.  I began working on the novel every day.  I had a couple of godly friends who read each chapter as the first draft was produced.  They looked for problems and inconsistencies, honestly giving me their opinion of the readability and quality of the story.  Eight months later, I had a finished manuscript.  In the end, it was a joyful experience!

Would my manuscript end up being a dusty, unread family heirloom?  That seemed to be the case.  I could get no one to give the manuscript a fair look.  Query letters and proposals were either ignored or answered with a form email, “Don’t contact us, we will contact you if we are interested.”  I visited some websites that will publish a book for a substantial fee.  Self-publishing appeared to me to be a minefield filled with flimflams and corkscrew artists.  I am sure there are reputable self-publishing houses out there.  But I felt I would need to pay for guidance so that I could find the right publishing house and safely pay for the expenses of publishing.  Then there would be the task of marketing a self-published novel.   I knew that I had a good product.  I believed that I was doing the will of God.  The work had been wrought with prayer and faith in the gospel story it contained.  Frustration was mounting.

The breakthrough came in the midst of a low point like the dark place in a novel storyline where there is little hope.  I had been rejected by a yet another literary agency.  I was at their website, looking again at the requirements for submission of manuscripts, trying to find a better way to submit.  I saw an advertisement for a Christian writer’s conference.  On an impulse, I signed up for the conference and paid the fee.  I had to find out what could be done to make the book more attractive.  The conference package included two fifteen-minute interviews with agents or publishers.  There were also many helpful seminars on writing and submission of manuscripts.  My interviews did not start out well.  I had no idea how to pitch the book in fifteen minutes.  Better progress was made in the critique groups where excerpts of the manuscript were read and critiqued.  At last, I got an extra opportunity to interview with a publisher, Rowena Kuo at Brimstone Fiction.  For the pitch, I briefly explained the story and idea of the book.  Then I asked her to read the first page of the first chapter.  I heard some hopeful words, “Do you have a proposal?”  I sent her the proposal and prayed.  The next day, I heard the magic words, “Do you have a manuscript?”  More prayer.  The next day, I met with her again and she recommended a literary agent for me, Cyle Young.  On the last day of the conference, I signed with Hartline Literary Agency.  Two days later I was offered a traditional book contract from Brimstone, which I signed several weeks later.  Since then, I have been busy promoting the book with a new website, a blog, Facebook and Twitter campaigns.  I continue to pray that the book will be successful.  I am happy for the anticipated royalties, but I am enthused about the gospel being presented in a winsome way.

All glory needs to go to God!  Throughout my life, the only success I have had is when I am doing what I believe is His will for me.  I have become convinced that, if I am truly doing God’s will in building His kingdom, He will resource me and insure the success of my efforts.  The Lord connected me with many people who helped facilitate the accomplishment of the project.  Having passed the 70th year of life, and having never published, I am thankful to God and to Christian friends for everything that made “In the Grip of God” possible.  Praise the Lord!

George Cargill

 

The Compassion of Paul

What could change a cold-hearted killer into a compassionate and harmless person?  Saul of Tarsus was a dangerous, heartless man.  By his own testimony, Saul persecuted the church.  It began with the stoning of Steven, a deacon in the church at Jerusalem.  Saul then directed a campaign of imprisonment and death for many men and women who were following Jesus.  Consider what Saul did to Steven.  (Acts 6:8—8:3) Imagine yourself taking an innocent, good person, and telling damnable lies about him.  Then getting an angry mob together and supervising the stoning of that person to death.  What “normal” person could contemplate doing that kind of evil?  Who could watch without compassion as stone thumped against flesh and cracked against bone?  Who could look without pity at the sickening splatter of innocent blood?  You would have to be someone whose conscience was clouded by hatred and self-justification.

How was Saul the pitiless changed into Paul, the compassionate?  He was forged in the fire of the Holy Spirit and hammered into a new man.  What happened to Saul was not pleasant.  One moment he was traveling along the road to Damascus.  In the next moment, Saul was forever changed.  In his satchel, Saul carried a blanket warrant for the arrest of any of his fellow Jews whom he thought were following Jesus.  As a Pharisee, his fine clothes and full money bag testified to great prosperity and religiosity.  The slaves that accompanied Saul attended to his every need and heeded every command.  But God was faithful to His future slave.  Saul’s conscience began to break through the barricades of anger and denial.   He was goaded by some frightful vision.  Perhaps the angelic face of Stephen accompanied “heartless” Saul, convicting him of sin and judgment. There was a blinding flash of light.  Saul was struck to the ground.  A thunderous voice spoke his name, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?  It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” Smacked down by Jesus!  It was the beginning of change.

For Saul, the path to humility began with humiliation.  Saul heard Jesus speaking, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”   The servants of Saul heard a loud noise but no voice.   The slaves had to lead Saul by the hand into Damascus as a parent would lead a child.  After taking those stumbling steps in the blindness to a house in Damascus, Saul began crying out to God.  He prayed for three days.  He refused all food or water.  Who did God send in answer to the prayers of Saul?  Ananias, one of the men that Saul was seeking to arrest!  The first words out of Ananias’ mouth were two words of compassion, “Brother Saul…”  Brother!  Jesus sent a servant to Saul who would be obedient to His command, “Love your enemies and pray for them.”  That was the beginning of sight for Paul, the compassionate and harmless.

Paul remained a zealot. But the Lord sanctified the zeal, redirecting Paul’s passions toward the gospel of Jesus Christ and compassion for all people.  The result was something that Paul could never achieve through his own efforts.  He would have become more dangerous, arrogant, and pitiless as the years went by in his life.  The wonderful insight into all the positive change that came to Paul is that the same power is available to each one of us in Jesus Christ.

George Cargill

The Story of the Bible

The Bible is not the story of God.  The Scriptures do tell us everything we know for sure about God.  However, the primary story line in the Bible is the story of humanity.  The very first chapter in Genesis informs us that God created a wonderful home for the creatures that He made.  He placed the man and the woman at the pinnacle of creation and gave everything to us.  We were commanded to “fill the Earth” with our progeny and “subdue it.”  When our first parents rebelled, and sinned against God, sin and death entered the world.  The whole human race was separated from relationship with God and came under the condemnation of the Almighty.  The story of the Bible then follows God’s redemptive efforts to reconcile mankind to Himself through Jesus Christ.   Each of our stories has a place in the Kingdom of God.  We all have a story of grace, repentance, faith, pardon, and eternal life.  Or, we have a story of pride, rebellion, condemnation and eternal punishment.

What we can know with certainty about the Apostle Paul is in the New Testament.  Volumes have been written about him.  But beyond what is related about Paul in the Bible about his conversion and ministry, we have few details about his life, family, appearance or personality.  Was he ever married?  I don’t think it is likely that Paul had been single before he met Jesus on the Damascus Rd.  Did his wife and family, with their generational Pharisaical tradition, reject him?  Paul’s absolute silence on these things is fertile ground for a novelist.

I wanted to write an exciting and inspirational story about just a small portion of the Apostle’s life.  The story came from the first seventeen verses of the eighteenth chapter in the book of Acts.  How did he meet Aquila and Priscilla?  What is their story?  By what circumstance was Paul able to establish himself next door to the Synagogue?  Who was Titius Justus?  How was Paul able to affect the conversion of the leader of the synagogue, Crispus?  How did it happen that Sosthenes became the leader of the synagogue just a short time later?  Why did they “all” beat Sosthenes before the judgment seat of Gallio?

Everyone has a story.  In the Grip of God tells the story of these people without damaging the character of the Apostle or contradicting the Bible.  It does not pretend to be Scripture or a precise description of first century Corinth.  It does tell the story of Paul bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to Corinth with power.

George Cargill

Why a Novel?

Why a novel?  If one wanted to explore the life and ministry of Saul of Tarsus, better known as the Apostle Paul, why not take a traditional approach?  Take biographical information from the Bible, add historical and cultural research, mix in Paul’s theology from his letters, and voila!  Several excellent books have been written using similar formulas.  These are books that appeal to me.   I like to study and to take a scholarly approach to the Bible and theological concepts.  The Bible, along with these kinds of books, are the resources that I use to formulate my sermons.   But I also love what Tolkien called “a ripping good story.”  I read Tolkien’s story of Bilbo and Frodo with wonderment at the power of his parable of good and evil and the prideful self-will of mankind.

The reason that I preach or write anything is to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ. I want to write about the ways that we walk with Him in integrity.  The goal is for people to grasp the Biblical concepts of salvation, faith, grace, love, redemption, and make them their own.  But my observation is that, apart from technology and engineering, all people form their most closely held beliefs in their hearts, not their heads.  Our intellect works to justify what our heart desires.  From the most intellectual to the most vulgar of thinkers, this is true.

The secularists operate in that way to promote their worldview.  Stories, drama, movies, and music are their methods of “evangelism.”  They seek to move the emotions of people in order that they might receive their philosophy.  Fredrich Nietzsche brought about the “God is Dead” movement and the idea of “supermen” through fiction about “Zarathustra” and “The Mad Man.”   I also know that, besides the Bible, the most successful Christian book ever written is speculative fiction— “The Pilgrims Progress” by John Bunyan.

In the 1960’s Robert Heinlein wrote a science fiction novel called “Stranger in a Strange Land.”  It was about Valentine Michael Smith, a young Martian colonist come to visit Earth.  Heinlein coined a term “grok” which was the Martian word for water.  “Grok” connoted completely understanding someone or something by empathy or unity; like understanding water by taking a drink.  I began to see “grok” bumper stickers and hear about cults formed around “grok.”  There is power in a good story, well told.  I want people to “grok” the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The great desire of Paul’s heart was, “…that I may know Him (Jesus) and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10-11 (NASB) Paul wanted a profound understanding of Jesus by empathizing with Him.  Like understanding the life-giving properties of water by taking a long, thirsty drink of it.  This is what I want to create for the reader of my novel, “In the Grip of God”—a great desire to drink of the living water of Jesus Christ.

George Cargill