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Going--First Means Coming
07/11/2004
Scripture: Acts 9; 22; 26
Track 7 of 14 in the Being with Him Compels Us to Go for Him series


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Sermon for Sunday, July 11, 2004
"Going--First Means Coming"
"Being With Him Compels Us to Go for Him"
(Acts 9, 22, 26)
Copyright 2004 G. Charles Sackett

Everybody has one. . . . . .a story. Their story. . . . .how their story intersects with his story. It's the saga of a journey of faith, how God works in the lives of people to bring us to a living relationship with Him. Every story unique. . . . .one of the reasons why they are so powerful. Every story powerful in its own way. Every story more about God than about us, in his relentless pursuit to draw us to himself.

Luke chooses to tell Paul's story three times. It's a bit unusual in light of the fact that there is so little in the book of Acts that is repetitious. Oh you see the same kinds of things happening but you don't see the same story over and over again except for this one in Acts 9, 22, 26 Luke chooses to retell this story. Three different occasions, same basic story, but just slightly different as the occasion calls for and each one follows, essentially, the same kind of pattern. This is who I was. This is what happened to me. This is what I am now.

Let's look at Acts 22:1 We know what precedes Acts 9 because we've already seen Paul's presence at the stoning of Stephen. He is reeking havoc on the church and that leads up to his convergence story in Acts 9 but Acts 22 he provides for us just a bit of background material. At this point he is giving some kind of a speech to a maddened crowd. He says in Acts 22:1 "Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense."

When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.

Then Paul said: "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.

Paul identifies himself as a good zealous Jew convinced that Jesus was another one of those who had arisen as a false Christ, making false claims, and needed to be eradicated.

If you read his lineage Paul tells his story again in Acts 26. He repeats pieces of it in Philippians 3. He reminds us of all that he was and how absolutely unworthy he was of knowing God. Righteous to the hilt. Born in the right tribe. Lived on the right side of the tracks. Paul's story is as different from mine as you can possibly get.

If there was anything I wasn't, it was born on the right side of the tracks. In fact, I was born on the side of the tracks where those people live. You know those people. They're the ones who live just slightly below average lives, economically and socially and every other way. I was the bartender's son. That in itself carried its own ring. It brought with it its own set of interesting dilemmas. I wasn't churched. Oh, I lived in a town, very small, where there were three churches. One of them, a block from my house. But I didn't go. Well, I remember going, I think, on an Easter, once, vaguely remember that. I wasn't antagonistic to church. I was just totally apatetic about it. It was totally meaningless. It didn't mean anything to my parents. Why should it mean anything to me. I wasn't opposed to God. I actually grew up, I think, like most people back in the 1950's and 60's as a believer in the sense that I just assumed there was a God.

People talked about prayer. And I certainly would not have mocked people who prayed. That wasn't part of my system. It just was foreign to me to think about what it would be to be Christian. Somebody asked me once ( it's among the two or three worst questions I have ever been asked by anybody), what would your life be like had you not become a Christian? It's almost depressing frankly, to try to put that into words. In fact, this morning as I have been pondering this, it has been almost depressing to think about it. I'm grateful for the testimonies that we've heard that have reminded me of the power of God. I think I can tell you where I would be. I would be an alcoholic. I have no doubt about that whatsoever. It runs in my family. I strongly suspect I would have ruined one or two marriages along the way somewhere. That was also fairly rampant in our family and it comes with the territory of having a lot of alcohol around. I suspect I would still live in sub-average economy in a small town, trying to eke out a life like most of my family. Anything but that which was abundant. That's my best guess. Have you thought about that lately? Where would you be? What would your life be like if someone had not introduced you to Jesus.

When Paul tells his story or when Luke tells Paul's story, it always moves from what I was to what happened. Now you don't have to do that when you share your testimony with somebody else, but, that's the pattern that happens to follow in this particular text. We come to Acts 9 but we're introduced to Paul back a bit earlier in Acts 8:1, he's there as Stephen is stoned. We leave him for a little while when we go to Samaria and then we come back to Acts 9:1 Meanwhile (it's a great word isn't it?) He's introduced in Acts 8:1 as holding the coats and giving consent to the death of Stephen, then we leave him for a little while, while we see this incredible experience of God bringing people to faith in Samaria. . . . . . Meanwhile while all that is going on up in Samaria, the folks down in Jerusalem are not fairing quite so well. Saul was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"

"Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked.

"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he would see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

It's a simple little story. Saul has been reeking havoc on the Jerusalem church. He gets an opportunity to go to the city of Damascus. He takes with him letters from the high priest with the right to arrest Christians. He's on his way through that journey and he meets Jesus, face-to-face. He speaks to him. Why are you persecuting me? It happens to all of us at some point, the intersection with God. Sometimes we recognize it. Sometimes we don't. Sometimes it's a face in the sand kind of experience and sometimes it's not. But these personal stories are more about God than they are about us.

Do you remember when you first started thinking about Him? I can't tell you when you did. Maybe you grew up with Him. It's been a part of your life since the day you were born. It's the way it is at my house for my children. But I'm a first generation Christian. It was new for me. I have spent a lot of time thinking about that, trying to wrestle with where were those divine intersections in my life. You know, I had not thought about this for years and one day I was thinking about my own relationship with my family and I realized that one of my most vivid memories in life is walking in the front door of my grandparents home. . . . .immediately to the left of the door was and old rocking chair and in that old rocking chair would be an old man, my grandfather, N. J. Bondi (Danish) came over when he was eleven. He'd be sitting there with a black granny square afghan and a lighted magnifying glass reading his Bible. You know, I don't know what that did to me but somewhere in there, that I think, must have had some kind of an impact.

I remember another day, I don't know, I must have been 9, 10, 11 years old. I don't know. Old enough to be home, well of course, I was always home alone so that could have been any age. But, old enough to be home on a Saturday morning watching cartoons and somebody knocked at our front door. Nobody came to our front door in our little town. Everybody used the back door. This had to be a stranger. Couldn't be anybody that knew us . . . .knock, knock, knock on the door. . . . . I answered the door. There's a young college kid there. He said, "Did you know that Jesus is going to return in 1997?" I said, "No, I didn't." I don't remember anything else he said. I remember going back in the house, however, and thinking,--let's see, 1997, that's like forty years from now. Who cares?????

But I wonder. . . . .I wonder about that divine intersection. I. . . . .I probably shouldn't tell you this but I will. When I was a Boy Scout, they had a heroism award. It's kind of like their equivalent of the Medal of Honor. You gotta do something really special to get it. It's not the kind of thing you can earn. It just kinda has to happen to ya. . . be in the right place at the right time.

I used to lay awake trying to scheme ways that I could drown my cousin to near death and then bring him back and be the hero. My problem was, I'm not sure that if I ever started drowning him if I would have quit. But they had another award and this one you could earn. It was called the God and Country Award and there were certain requirements that you had to do, including you had to go to church, memorize the Ten Commandments and some stuff and so I did it. Took me, I don't know, six or eight months. I suppose I went to church nearly every Sunday for six or eight months. Little church down on the corner near my house. I have two memories of that.

Two little older ladies who used to sit right behind me and sing Leaning on the Everlasting Arms of Jesus in voices only little old ladies have and thinking I could never sing that song the rest of my life.

And being the most pagan God and Country award winner you have ever met, because it was just that. . . . .it was a thing, it was a medal. It was an object, but I found myself later wondering what was going on inside my soul as God was divinely intersecting my life and speaking in ways, that I'm sure at that point, I had no clue were his voice.

Saul spends three days in Damascus and here's what happens.

Verse 10, Acts 9:10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!"

"Yes, Lord," he answered.

The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight."

"Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name."

Can you hear Ananias? I don't want to go. I've heard about this guy. Here's the Lord's response. Verse 15

"Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord--Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here--has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Ananias came, according to Acts 22, he says, Acts 22:16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized. . . . . and so he did. He responded.

I don't know when I met Dan. I have tried for years to figure out when Dan and my paths crossed. I don't have any memory of the first meeting. Might have been Butch's basketball court. May have been when we both rode motorcycles together. I have no idea. What I do remember is that every Sunday afternoon a few minutes before six o'clock Dan would leave whatever we were going and disappear. And one day, I decided I needed to figure out where he was going so I climbed on my motorcycle and I followed him. To my surprise, he went to church. Not knowing any better, I decided to go with him. No shirt, no shoes, very short shorts and I went to church. I think about that now and would die, thinking about walking into a church dressed that way, or undressed, as the case may be.

My recent memories are only of how shocked I am as I think back to the fact that the church never said anything. Like, can we buy you a shirt? Huh!

I don't remember exactly all that happened except that there was this opportunity for us to go to the theater in Boise, ID. . . . . .someplace that my family could never have afforded to have gone and the youth group was going. They were going to go see a movie put out by the Billy Graham Association. It was called For Pete's Sake. (Rick, that's so much like your story.) I'm sitting in the theater and the story is about a guy running around on a motorcycle who doesn't know Jesus. I'm in the very back row, center seat. I am as far as you can get and I swear, you can hear my heart pounding. I mean, it's just throbbing in my chest and I am literally crawling over the seats to get down to the front, at the end of this movie. The frustrating thing was, they handed me a little book and said, "Take this home and read it. Fill out the card in the back and mail it in." And somehow, in my very small spiritual awareness, that didn't make much sense. Fortunately, my preacher was pretty sensitive and it wasn't long until he had shared with me the Gospel of Jesus. And I remember the Sunday morning I stood in a baptistry and confessed my faith in Jesus Christ. I had no clue as to what I was getting myself into but I knew this, he had what I needed and whatever that meant, I was going for it whole hog. But, you know that's not so much the real story.

I don't know what was going on in the back of Saul's life. I don't know the presence of people in him but I can tell you this. I learned fourteen years later about two old people, Mr. and Mrs. Reynard (?), who had not missed a single day praying that God would do something in my life. I am thoroughly convinced that I was prayed into the Kingdom. I found out that on Wednesday nights, in that little church in Idaho, there were a group of people who met and circled up and prayed for me, by name--Wednesday after Wednesday after Wednesday. Not that I would move my motorcycle out of the front door or that I would put clothes on, but that I would come to know Jesus.

My guess is that you've got people like that in your life that you don't even know about. Maybe you're like my friend Bill, who sneaking in one night in highschool, having been out drinking, tried to get past his mother's bedroom quietly when he peeked in and realized that there she was on her knees beside her bed. And he stopped long enough to listen while she poured her soul out in prayer for him and it turned his life around.

I guarantee you in your life, God is at work. There has been or will be someone who is that person that God intersects in your life to make a difference. You may not meet Jesus face-to-face on a road, but I guarantee you'll meet him in someone who intersects your life.

Well, Luke goes on to tell us the rest of the story about Saul, Acts 9. He takes up that story in the middle of Acts 9:19 Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues and people were astonished. And his preaching grew more powerful and the story begins to unfold as God uses him as he has promised.

If you had asked me thirty or forty years ago where I would be at the turn of the century, I guarantee you I would not have told you. . . .preaching in Quincy, Illinois. I certainly never thought I would be a seminary professor. It would have been outside the furthest reaches of my imagination to think that I would have had the opportunity to be in a dozen different countries teaching about Jesus. But isn't that just like God? To take your life and to do things with it that are absolutely beyond your imagination. To give you peace where you believe there can be no peace. To give you hope in what you feel like is otherwise an absolutely hopeless situation. To be able to take the wreck of your life and to put it together and to give it purpose and meaning and allow you to believe that God is going to do something with this shambles you call life, in ways that you can't even dream. Because that's what he does. And as we begin to tell our stories like Luke tells Paul's story, we begin to see that some people respond to it with great animosity and that has always been true. There are those who would have liked to kill Saul because of his conversion. I don't know that I have anybody wanting to kill me over mine, I only know that there were family members who would just as soon I had been thrown out of the rest of the family. And for all practical purposes, I was.

There were some, however, who responded to Saul. They heard his story and they likened his story to theirs and they began to come to faith the way he came to faith. It's an odd kind of a service, at least an odd kind of a sermon, when you think about telling a personal story. This isn't about me. This is about Jesus. It's about what he's done in my life. It's what he's done in the lives of the people who have been up here speaking. It's what he has the power to do in your life. In fact, in most of your lives it's the power of what he has already done and you don't have to be a preacher to share that story. All you gotta do is sit across the dinner table from somebody and just let them know. This is what Jesus has done in my life. It's the story your children need to hear from you as you begin to tell, this is how I became a Christian. It's the story that your friends need to know of why you. . . . .who you are. Every person has a journey and there are those divine intersections along that way where God has acted in your life and people need to know that.

And so, we're encouraging you to go and tell your story. Tell it to your friends and your family. But you understand as well as I do that you can't tell a story about being in a relationship with Jesus if you haven't taken that next step in the journey and actually responded, as Rick talked about. Recognizing there's a place. It's what Rob talked about, knowing that there's one more decision. It's another step in the journey that says I need to do something about my relationship with Jesus.

You notice one common theme that has shown up in all of these stories, it doesn't all become strawberries and cream. It's a little rough at times. There's no promise here that if you decide to go another step in your journey of living with Jesus that it's necessarily going to make everything easy. For some of you it will make it worse, because now you'll have to face life and do it with a new set of values. But you have the promise of his presence to walk with you every day.

Can you imagine facing life without Jesus? Some of you have been trying to do that and you know how hard that is. Well, life doesn't get any easier. Just facing it, gets possible, because you have someone here to be with you. He came, he gave, so you'd come. So you'd come to know him personally and that's what we're inviting you to do.

If you don't know what's next in your journey, we're inviting you to ask. If you know that the next step for you is to respond to the Gospel of Christ and to be immersed, we'll make that preparation for you today. We just want to encourage you one more step in the journey.

Would you stand with me?