"No ifs, ands or buts about it."
Those seven words were a go-to for my parents while raising three teenage boys. The meaning was simple. Their word was final. No arguments. No questions.
I'll return to this point momentarily.
As I'm sure most pastors would say, I've always been intrigued by the life and ministry of Paul. One would be hard-pressed to find a more instantaneous 180-degree turnaround than his own.
In a moment, he went from persecuting the church to leading the church, from hunting believers to making believers. At one point in his ministry, Luke points out that God didn't just do miracles through Paul; He did extraordinary miracles through Paul (Acts 19) - so much so that handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul were taken to the sick, and instantly they would be healed.
Elsewhere through his ministry, the lame would walk, and the dead were raised to life again. What an anointing! Paul claimed that this, in fact, was how the church grew in his ministry; not by wise and persuasive words, but with demonstrations of the Spirit's power (1 Corinthians 2).
Most believers would love to walk with this kind of power in their lives. However, for obvious reasons, most would have no desire to participate in the other parts of Paul's life. Thirty-nine lashes on five separate occasions, beaten with rods on three occasions, shipwrecked on another three, constantly in danger of a multitude of enemies, often hungry and thirsty, cold and naked.
To top it all off, you can add the frequent stints in prison for simply preaching the gospel.
I do wonder at times if Paul had a secret to his perseverance.
I ponder how I would hold up if I were put through the wringer in the same way as he was. Would my faith remain steadfast after the first occasion of 39 lashes? What about the third, or the fifth?
Would my faith be shaken after my third beating with rods or my multiple stretches in prison for merely preaching the Gospel?
I find that perhaps what I appreciate most about Paul is despite all of these experiences, Paul unswervingly taught of God's amazing love. He wrote to Ephesus of the heights and depths of God's love - a love that "surpasses all knowledge." In other words, the greatest theologians could devote their entire lives to learning about God's love, and still never fully grasp how great it is!
To the Corinthian church, Paul wrote the famous chapter on love, defining God's love as a love that, no matter what, simply never fails.
And then there's my personal favorite, found in Romans 8. "I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
If Paul did have a secret to his perseverance, I wonder if it wasn't in those first three words: I Am Convinced.
Paul was absolutely convinced that if all else failed, nothing could change the truth: God loved him. His life surely wasn't perfect. His circumstances weren't always desirable. Far from it in fact. Yet nothing could sway him concerning the love of God, for he was convinced.
Simple translation: No ifs, ands or buts about it. God loved him. No arguments. No questions.
God loves you. Maybe your life circumstances don't point to this reality, yet the truth remains that nothing can separate you from His love. Be convinced of it. No arguments. No questions. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
The Rev. Joseph Gibson is pastor of the Cranberry Community Church. Readers may reach him via the church website at http://www.CranberryChurch.org.