Monday, November 1, 2010

Meet Francis de Bernardone

According to the church calendar, today is All Saints’ Day, a day to remember and celebrate the lives of those who followed Christ faithfully—some even unto death. Of course, the Roman Catholics and mainline Protestant churches give much more emphasis to this day than do Baptists or our more charismatic brothers and sisters. Still, there’s good to be had for all of us to reflect upon the lives of saints past and present. Didn’t Paul encourage the Corinthians and the Philippians to imitate him as he tried to imitate Christ? So on this All Saints’ Day I want to post the first of series of brief blogs acquainting you with some of my favorite saints. My prayer is that these stories will inspire you and evoke in your own heart an appreciation for the saints who have made and are making an impact on your life.

My first story is about a young man named Francis. Francis lived in the years on either side of A.D. 1200. He was one of seven children born to Pietro de Bernardone, a wealthy cloth merchant. Francis grew up in the church, but like many children of wealth spent plenty of time walking on the wild side of indulgence and sin. But even early in his life, he discovered a part of him that was drawn to the poor and the needy. On one occasion he was selling cloth and velvet for his father in the marketplace when a beggar came to beg alms. Francis was too busy to deal with him, but when the transaction was done, Francis chased down the beggar and gave him everything he had in his pockets. His friends chided him and mocked him for his charity, and when word of it got to his father he gave Francis a harsh tongue-lashing. His father wanted Francis to be a businessman, to follow in his footsteps, to live the conventional life of the wealthy, to dress like the businessman his father determined he should be.

But those weren’t Francis’ clothes. God had different clothes for Francis. Francis was drawn to care for lepers against the counsel of his father and his friends. Francis had a heart for the needy. He had a heart for God and the church. On one occasion, he had a vision that he was to help repair the church. Francis assumed that meant the church in which he was praying so he sold some of his father’s cloth and gave the money to the church. That was the last straw for Francis' father. And it wasn’t just about the money. He could see Francis slipping away from the life he had planned for him. He tried to talk Francis out of it. He even beat him severely. But finally, in a legal exercise before the local bishop, Francis renounced his father and his father’s ways. And you know how he symbolized his decision? He stripped off the clothes his father provided him and laid them aside. He lived as a beggar for a short while. And the rest is history. You’ve heard of him. He even started a religious order that still exists today—the Franciscans. You know him as St. Francis—St. Francis of Assisi.

Francis heard the voices of his family and his culture: “Wear the clothes of a businessman, Francis. This is who you are. This is what you must do. This is what you should value. This is what should define your life. This is what people do in your station and with your money.” This is the message he received from childhood. But Francis knew God. He knew the Scriptures. He had a God-filled imagination. And he chose to be authentic to who God made him to be. And because he did, he lived a passionate, joyful life that made an impact and a difference in the kingdom of God. His life is still making a difference today.

Whose clothes are you wearing? Whose destiny are you living? Whose voice are you following? Every saint past and present has struggled with those questions. But sooner or later, every saint answers them with one word: “God’s”

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