One of the greatest stories of transformation in the Bible is told in the account of Saul of Tarsus.
A belligerent man who actively tried to disrupt the burgeoning Christian movement in the years following Jesus' resurrection, Saul was filled with a misguided mission. Yet, in the middle of his determination to bring down Christians, he had a dramatic and life-altering transformation. And it turned him into one of the greatest Christian advocates of all time.
Taking the new name of Paul, he turned his back on his former mission. His conversion on the road to Damascus filled him with a holy fire, and he was reborn - determined to spread Christianity throughout the Mediterranean world.
How would Christian churches look today in every town and city if there were just one Paul in every church? Maybe that one missionary on fire would have a similar effect to what Jesus spoke of in a parable to his followers. He told about the leaven (yeast) that a woman hid in "three measures of meal" - and it leavened the whole loaf (see Matt. 13:33).
Nineteen centuries later, writing about the growing awareness of Christian Science in her own time, Mary Baker Eddy wrote: "Within the last decade religion in the United States has passed from stern Protestantism to doubtful liberalism. God speed the right! ... Christian Science, the little leaven hid in three measures of meal, - ethics, medicine, and religion, - is rapidly fermenting, and enlightening the world with the glory of untrammelled truth" ("Message to The Mother Church for 1902," page 2).
Here are questions each of us may want to consider when examining our own contributions to church and community: Am I, like Paul, on fire with the desire to spread the Gospel, to love my neighbor, to heal the nations? Am I just caring for my own needs? Is my public mission merely lukewarm - tepid, not very enthusiastic, barely warm.
Is a lukewarm commitment to the Christian Church OK with God? What does the Bible have to say on the subject? Jesus didn't place much value in long dissertations and roundabout reasoning. He told his followers, "Plain 'Yes' or 'No' is all you need to say; anything beyond that comes from the devil" (Matt. 5:37, New English Bible). And according to the book of Revelation, the message of Christ is unmistakable: "How I wish you were either hot or cold! But because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth" (Rev. 3:16, NEB).
That's pretty straight talk. Who wants to be spat out as tepid? Yet this counsel can be taken more as an inspiring incentive to expand one's spiritual horizons rather than as a fire-and-brimstone warning - to become more like modern-day St. Pauls rather than spiritual slackers.
It's a call to spread the love and healing message of the Gospel to one's neighbors - friends and enemies alike - and to those in need wherever they cross our paths. To be on fire with God's love, to become the catalyst for healing and reconciliation in communities, and even within our own church families.
Paul wasn't perfect and never pretended to be. In fact, he called himself a chief sinner. And yet he set an example of what can be achieved through what he did more than in the controversial things he purportedly said or didn't say. With this in mind, perhaps it's time to spin off a lesson from the movement that was so popular a few years ago - WWJD? (What would Jesus do?) to ask, WWPD? And wouldn't Paul be finding innovative, far-reaching, barrier-breaching ways to spread the Christian message? Not just by preaching, but through living the life of a true Christian. By moving through both physical and mental walls to offer that cup of cold water to the stranger or to the person right next door. These are the gestures that identify the Christian nature - the open and ready willingness to pray for those who ask for help.
Today is the appointed time, the Bible declares. People across the globe are crying out for healing - for true spiritual love. So what is the temperature of our response? Lukewarm? Not with the message that Christian Science brings to the world! That message is radical, affirming, healing. A message that transforms lives. It's time to be on fire. Time to be modern-day Pauls.