May 6, 2018 – Saul – An Encounter with Jesus

Acts 9:1-24

Over the next few weeks we are going to be looking at the life of the Apostle Paul. The man Saul, changes his name to Paul in to have a name that would not hinder his ministry to the Gentiles.

Saul, didn’t grow up as the great missionary, apostle and writer of almost a third of the New Testament. Saul was the exact opposite, but one day, God reached down and touched his life.

Born a Roman citizen to Jewish parents in 6 A.D. in the town of Tarsus, he was sent by his parents to Jerusalem to study the Torah under Gamaliel, one of the most prominent Jewish scholars of his time. Saul was so dedicated that at a relatively early age he was admitted to the Sanhedrin, which was the ruling group of Jewish leaders.

Saul was zealous and ambitious, probably in his twenties we read in Acts chapter 7, that when Stephen, the first Christian Martyr was stoned to death, a young man by the name of Saul, stood by and approved of his death.

Saul’s ambition drove him to persecute Christians, and he decided to go to Damascus to round up followers of the “Way”. As Saul gets close to Damascus, he is blinded by a light from the sky. This light is so powerful that it knocks him to the ground. And as he is lying there, a voice from heaven speaks to him. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  Saul had an immediate understanding, but he needed clarification, and the voice responds, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Can you imagine the fear, guilt and the shame as Saul realized that Jesus was risen, and that he was the son of God?  It all made sense, he must have been in fear that surely Jesus would kill him now, but Jesus graciously doesn’t leave him there as he immediately continues, “rise up – go to the city and you will be told what to do”.

Jesus takes attacks on the church very personally. When we hurt a fellow Christian, someone who is part of the body of Christ, Jesus takes it very personally. Jesus feels the pain, when his body, the church is slandered, persecuted or ill-treated. Never think it is a small matter to ill-treat another believer, whether it is in business or gossip, it is always a very serious matter.

Saul encountered the risen Christ and it transformed him. Saul was blinded, so bright was the encounter with Jesus that he could not see. I believe that Saul didn’t just see a bright light, but he actually saw the risen Christ, what he saw was Jesus in his current glorified being. Jesus, the exact representation of the Father, is so glorious and so powerful that he is brighter than any sun, or any light we could imagine (1 John 1:5).

Saul later writing in 1 Corinthians 15 about the resurrected Christ, was speaking from experience. He was an eyewitness to the fact that Jesus rose from the dead in a resurrected glorious body.

Saul is led into Damascus, where he refuses to eat or drink, he is blind and trying to process all that just happened. He goes through this mourning period of 3 days. And just like Jonah who was in the fish for 3 days, Saul was being reborn, he was being born of the Spirit, being made new so that God could use him for His Glory.

In verse 10 we are introduced to Ananias, we know little about him, but we are told he was a disciple, a follower of Jesus. A disciple is a follower of Jesus who makes other followers of Jesus.

A disciple is an active follower, not just a passive student.

Ananias was looking for people to win to Christ and to disciple. But I doubt he ever expected to encounter someone like Saul. Saul was praying, and his prayers were being answered as God directed Ananias.

Don’t ever think prayer is not the most valuable thing you can do with your time.

Ananias, knew exactly who Saul was and he responds with some hesitation, But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Acts 9:15-16.

God chose Saul. Whether you agree with the doctrine of election or not, the apostle Paul in his later writings, made it abundantly clear that he was chosen by God and not the other way around.

Saul was called to be a suffering servant, Jesus made it very clear that Saul was going to be persecuted for his faith. But this is nothing new and a clear expectation of all who would follow Jesus as Lord (John 15:18-20).

As Ananias prays for Saul, something like scales fall from his eyes, these were a physical manifestation of the healing that took place, but the miracle of his spiritual eyesight was far more important. As Ananias prayed for him, Saul’s spiritual blindness was lifted, and he was able to see the truth that Jesus is the Son of God.

In verse 20 we have the evidence of Saul’s conversion, as he immediately began to tell others about Jesus. He went into the synagogues and declared boldly that Jesus was the Son of God. The priests had obviously heard about what had happened on the road, but now they were seeing the evidence of a life transformed by Jesus.

And the people ask the question, “Is this not the man?”  When you encounter Jesus, those around you should ask the same question. You may not have been a terrible person in the eyes of those around you, but the change in your life must be evident to everyone. Your priorities change, when it comes to how you spend your time and your money, people will notice your commitment to the things of the Lord.

Have you had that life changing encounter with Jesus, where he changed your priorities and your goals in life?

Saul had priorities and goals, being a driven man, he was motivated to eradicate Christianity. But when he encountered Jesus, all that changed, and he was never the same again.

Sermon November 05, 2017 – International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

November 05, 2017

In his book, “The Global War on Christians”, John Allen calls the worldwide persecution of Christians, “the most dramatic religion story of the early twenty-first century, yet one that most people in the West have little idea is even happening.”

Christian persecution is any hostility, experienced from the world, because of one’s identification with Jesus Christ. In Matthew 5:10-12, Jesus said that persecution is a blessing! For those who have not undergone persecution, it is difficult to understand why persecution is a blessing. But it is a known fact that the church grows quicker in nations where it is persecuted.

John 15:18-25 is a passage that does not preach well in our western “Prosperity Gospel” mindset, where our culture, upbringing and education all teach us that we have rights.  It is expected that Christians are respected members of society and by living out our Christian values and principles people will give us honor. But this is so far from the reality of what Jesus taught.

We have the mindset that persecution is something that happens somewhere else, in third world countries, where people are less educated perhaps. We also tend to think that persecution of Christians was something that only happened in history.

However, persecution is right on our doorstep, Jesus taught that this world is not our home (see John 15:19), and Jesus continues in verse 20 to say that a servant is no greater than his master, this is the normal Christian life. We have recently completed the series on the normal Christian life, noting that the foundation for the normal Christian life is applying the cross of Jesus Christ to our lives, daily dying to ourselves, being willing to lay aside our preferences, our rights and our desires for the sake of the Gospel.

It is almost predictable that when I teach in any setting on dying to our rights, people get angry. It just proves how conditioned we are to expect that this Christian life is a life of leisure and prosperity and peace. Jesus taught the opposite and he was persecuted more than any other man in history. In 1 John 3:13 we read, “Do not be surprised, brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.”  This is the normal Christian life.

For millions of Christians around the world, persecution is their daily reality. From intimidation to isolation, beatings, imprisonment and even death, they live with the ongoing threat of persecution, and yet they choose to faithfully follow Jesus.

Faithfully being a follower of Jesus is the cause of persecution. Remember we saw that the life of the Christian is not found in simply becoming a better person, but rather we are “in Christ”. Being in Christ is the reason for and the target of persecution in our world.

In Romans 8:17, the apostle Paul tells us, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.” So, when we share in Jesus’ sufferings we become heirs who will also share in his glory. Suffering is part of it the process that leads to us sharing in the glory of our resurrected Lord.

Persecution isn’t something we think about often, but it is incredibly real for believers all over the globe. The Pew Research Center estimates that 75% of the world’s population lives in regions with severe religious restrictions—with many of those being Christians. And according to the United States Department of State, Christians face persecution from their neighbors or government in as many as 60 different countries, simply because they claim Jesus as Lord.

Todd Johnson of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary documents that one hundred thousand Christians, eleven per hour, have been killed on average every year of the past decade. And it is estimated that more Christians died for their faith in the last century than in the previous nineteen centuries combined. Unfortunately, many Christians today, operate under the assumption that persecution is a part of the Church’s past.

Jesus told His followers to expect persecution, John 15:20 reads,“…If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” So this is expected but what is our response to be? How are we to respond as we sit here in comfort and ease without the threat of violence for our belief in Jesus.

It’s easy to hear about Christian persecution and feel afraid, but God did not give us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7).

It’s also natural to want to put an end to the suffering of persecuted Christians. But the persecuted Church isn’t asking for an end to their hardships, for them, persecution is normal. In fact, many of our Christian brothers and sisters who are being persecuted are praying for you and I, that we would remain strong in the face of an increasingly godless society. Instead, they pray for the strength to withstand persecution. These hardships produce believers with genuine faith, who truly understand the cost involved in being “In Christ”, and they ask for our prayers for strength to withstand.

Christian persecution is overwhelming, and we can all too easily become desensitized by the statistics.

But I want to challenge you to spend some time today praying on your own or as a family for the persecuted church. Let us pray with them rather than for them, that the word of God will move swiftly across the whole earth.

 “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

Tertullian

Sermon October 23, 2016 – The Word Part 2

 word-pt-2-title-2 

The Enduring Word of God

Psalm 119:105-112

Throughout history many dictators and rulers have tried to eradicate the Bible from their society, but the Word of God is still the most published book and read book in all of history.  The word of the lord endures forever – Isaiah 40:8

The truth is that the Bible is not always popular, and as followers of Jesus Christ if we obey the Word of God we will be in the minority in our culture. Here in America, we need to come to terms with the fact that this world is not our home, we are living for our eternal home and as time moves closer to Jesus coming again, we are going to experience more persecution for believing the Bible. No matter who wins the election next month, we need to understand the season we are living in, and it is not one that promises wealth and prosperity to Christians.

The writer of Psalm 119 was living in similar times. In the 176 verses of this Psalm there are 27 references to persecutors or an enemy who were making life difficult for the Psalmist. But the attacks on the Psalmist seem to get worse, as we see mocking and slander in verses 51 and 69 leading to violence and fear of death in verses 87 and 95. The Psalmist is in real danger of physical harm and even death.

Looking at the four sections of Psalm 119 verses 105 to 112:

  1. The first section starts with that well known verse; “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” The Psalmist was referencing a small flickering olive oil lamp, which was only bright enough to light the way for a traveler to see a few steps ahead. As Christians, we look at God’s word as a lamp that gives us light for the next few steps, we are called to walk in faith that the next steps and the months and years ahead are in God’s hands.

The Psalmist continues in v106 stating that he took an oath to follow the righteous laws of God, he was willing to give his life to this. But not only that, he confirmed it, he followed through and did what he promised to do. It doesn’t help to make a commitment and then sit back and do nothing, we cannot simply drift into holiness, we cannot become more like Jesus in our personal lives without intentional effort.

  1. The second section of the stanza begins with a harsh line that stands out; “I have suffered much”, but the suffering and danger is not over, he goes on to cry out to God to; “preserve my life” how? “According to your Word” According to the promises in God’s word. In the midst of trials and our darkest seasons, we can go back time and time again to the promises of God’s word. There are over 2000 promises in God’s word, these promises are our hope and strength in difficult times. In the midst of suffering and persecution the Psalmist praises God (v108). He praises God for the many good things he has learnt from the Word of God and he goes on to ask God for more teaching of the word because in it he knows that he has life, the priceless treasure of God’s word.
  1. Continuing to verse 109; the author uses the expression; “I constantly take my life in my hands”. This is similar to what Job experienced in Job 13:14; “Why do I put myself in jeopardy and take my life in my hands?” or when Jonathan defending David before his father King Saul in 1 Samuel 19, said that David took his life in his own hands when he killed Goliath. We don’t know who the Psalmist’s enemies were, but it is evident that he was in mortal danger and his enemies had set a trap for him.

In the face of such opposition he stands firm and declares “I have not strayed from your precepts”. Even in the face of death, he will keep his oath to following the word of God. Much the same as so many people around the word today who face death for believing that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Open Doors has released its annual list of countries where Christians face the greatest persecution and found that it has reached unprecedented levels worldwide. Over 7,000 Christians were killed for their faith between Nov. 1, 2014, and Oct. 31, 2015. There are millions of Christians in the world today, who face persecution and death simply for believing this book.

see: https://www.opendoors.org/

  1. Looking to verses 111 and 112, we see the Psalmist gaining an eternal perspective, he looked beyond the trials and challenges he was facing and looked to his eternal destiny, the reason why he could stand firm. The author knew and acknowledged that the Word of God was his heritage forever.

in the midst of his challenges and threats, his heart was glad, he experienced joy in his heart, a real deep-seated joy that is found in knowing the presence of God.

The author of this Psalm made a commitment to follow the Word of God, even when times got tough and his very life was threatened, he still stayed true to his commitment that he made. The word of God was his foundation, it was his security and it was his joy.

What are you struggling with today? You may not be facing a life threatening persecution as the author of this Psalm, but the Word of God has promises that apply to your life right now;

  • You may be going through financial trials that don’t seem to have any answer. Philippians 4:19
  • You may be struggling to believe that your sins are truly forgiven. 1 John 1:9
  • You may be struggling with the weight of a stressful life that is crushing you. Matthew 11:28-29
  • You may be struggling to really grasp that God loves you. Romans 8:38-39

The Word of God is relevant and has the answers for your situation today. Where are you turning for help?

In order to apply the promises of the word of God, we need to know the Bible.

Psalm 119:165 says; “Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.”

In 2016 we need a firm foundation for our lives and our families, there is no better foundation than the Word of God.

bible