I love moments when the Holy Spirit uses pop culture to help me glean spiritual truth from a passage of scripture. There are days when I grapple with God’s viewpoint and can’t seem to arrive at a conclusion. Then, out of nowhere, some random scene from an iconic film rushes into my consciousness and helps me take steps forward in my journey of discipleship.
I especially love when it’s a movie that defines a generation. You know, the kind of story that causes you to take pause and contemplate your life and it’s meaning. It’s the sort of film where the writing, acting and cinematography fuse together and help your emotions soar to new heights.
On one particular afternoon I stopped at such an intersection. The passage of scripture was in the book of Acts. And the movie? Tommy Boy, of course.
Let’s start with the passage of scripture. In Acts chapter 9 the Christian movement was about to add a general into its ranks, a man that would end up writing most of our Bible’s New Testament. This man would literally carry the global Church on his back and utter phrases like, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24)
But that was chapter twenty. In Acts 9, we find this same Saul (later the Apostle Paul) lying on his back in the middle of Persian highway. Jesus had knocked him off of his high horse, literally. Saul was on his way to Damascus to persecute the fledgling church and terrorize anyone that stood in his way.
As Saul’s anger boiled, Jesus intervened in a flash of lightning and revealed Himself to Saul. Saul had a change of heart (no kidding) and made a choice to put his faith in Jesus. The very movement he violently fought against was now the truth he was anchored to. Blinded by the encounter, Saul was led to a house in which he stayed for three days without eating. You can call it fasting; I’ll call it anxiety.
Meanwhile across town another Christian disciple, Ananias, was also engaged in prayer. As he was interceding, God came in a vision and delivered the report about Saul’s conversion. Then He adds this uncomfortable set of instructions, “Go find Saul and pray for him to receive his sight.” To which Ananias contends (and I paraphrase), “But Lord, I’ve heard all about the heinous acts this man has committed and how he’s authorized to arrest anyone who calls on Your name.” In other words, “Are you kidding me God? Do you know what this guy has done – what he could do to me?”
God tells him again to go find Saul. He tells him that Saul is His choice to bring the gospel across the known world. So Ananias goes out to find the location of the sightless persecutor. The Bible says in Acts 19:7 that when he found Saul, he laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus has sent me to find you…” and in an instant Saul was healed of his blindness and filled with God’s Spirit.
Brother Saul. Brother….Saul. Perhaps the magnitude of Ananias’ greeting is unappreciated. Brother (and sister) was an expression used by Christians to convey a family bond and promote intimate access. And later Paul himself would use this term to continue the tone of community and equality in the body of Christ. Brother Saul. Ananias demonstrates an incredible example of God’s grace. As a result of one conversation with God, he is able to overlook Saul’s history of savagery and extend an invitation of family. Ananias chooses restoration over retribution, acceptance over alienation.
How often do we struggle to look past the past of others? How often do we battle internally to fully embrace someone who made a choice to follow Christ?
I’ve heard it said that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. This truth applies to you, to me and to everyone who calls on the name of the Lord for salvation. Instead of seeing ourselves as spiritually superior and judging others through a distorted filter of moral perfection, we need to accept people the way God accepted us: without condition.
Brother Saul, I thought…and then, suddenly, the following scene from Tommy Boy raced into my mind as the most complete of illustrations:
I wonder what our churches would look like if we freely embraced one another like this? According to Jesus Himself in John 13:35, our love for one another will prove to the world that we are His disciples.
We need to shift our focus from tearing each other down to tearing down every wall that dares to separate us as believers. We need to fight for family. Sometimes it’s a show of kindness. Other times we need to repent for our prejudice. You may even find yourself hugging it out.
After all, brothers (and sisters) gotta hug…