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The Long Loving Arm of the Lord: No One is Outside God's Reach
Scripture: 1 Timothy 1
Track 39 of 52 in the Sermons from 2003 series
Running time: 19 minutes, 52 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, September 28, 2003
"The Long (Loving) Arm of the Lord: No One is Outside God's Reach"
Copyright 2003 G. Charles Sackett

Ideally, in a real world, you would have had a picture up there to watch. For some reason, we're not going to have it yet. If you wanna come back the second service maybe we'll have the video part of that for you.

Would you pray with me. Father, you know that important things need to happen here today, not the least of which that we're wanting to worship you and honor you. And we're convinced that what happens in here today has the capacity to change all of eternity for people, and so we pray that you'll help us beyond those little things that plague us, so that we can see that which really matters. Help us focus our attention on you. Call us to you and help us to see Jesus. We pray this in his name. Amen.

In 1966 they came out with a Volkswagen Beetle ad. Seven foot two inch Wilt Chamberlain was standing beside a VW Beetle and the sign underneath said, "They said it couldn't be done." It couldn't.

They said that as well about Augustine, who eventually became the Bishop of Hippo, back in the three-hundreds. By 16 Augustine was an accomplished teacher. He was also a highly promiscuous young man who had set his life goal to satisfy his own pleasure whenever he desired. His only problem was that he had a mother who was a Christian who insisted on praying for him. And so, when he was 29 years old he decided to escape to Milan Italy, thinking that if he got away from his mother, maybe he could continue his life. Except she found him, and followed him there and continued to pray for him. When he was 33 years old Augustine heard this voice saying to him, "Take and read."--"Take and read." And so, he finally did pick up his Bible and begin to read scripture. On Easter Sunday morning, April 25th, 387 A.D. this is his journal entry.

"We were baptized and all anxiety for our past life vanished away." Augustine went on to become probably the leading theologian for the early church for a thousand years or more.

Well, they said it couldn't be done. They said it about John Newton, as well. John Newton, as a young man, was a slave trader out of Great Britain. Newton was equally promiscuous as Augustine was. In fact, on one particular occasion he was out to sea in a terrible storm, not unlike the storm of Jonah. In fact, that was the storm to which it was likened, because the sea captain, after lashing Newton to the wheel to cause him to stay on deck so he could steer the ship, blamed him for the storm and threatened to throw him overboard. It was in that experience that Newton came to understand that there was a need in his life that he was not meeting by all that he had done. He gave his life to the Lord shortly thereafter. Went from being a slave trader to an abolitionist and a preacher. You know him best, because he's the man who penned the word, Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound. You know that hymn? John Newton.

Well, they said it couldn't be done about Shorty Bachman. Shorty Bachman sat in that pew, about where Mary is, in Garibaldi, Oregon for twenty-seven years, every single Sunday morning, every single Sunday night that he was in town, he sat in the pew and heard scripture preached and yet, for some reason, refused to give his life to Christ. In February, 1973 his brother-in-law happened to be sitting behind him in an evening service. He got up to respond to the gospel and Shorty Bachman followed his brother-in-law, Everett, into the baptistry and both served in that church for a number of years.

They said it couldn't be done about Merv Sattler. Merv was a local automotive mechanic specialized in automotive electrical systems. My friend, Gary Jaeger, heard them say, nobody could ever reach Merv Sattler with the gospel. That was all he needed to hear. And for years, Merv Sattler served as a leader in First Christian church in Caldwell, Idaho.

They said it couldn't be done about Jeffrey Dahmer. Maybe you remember him from serial killing days? In his book, The Grip of Grace, Max Lucato says this. "You know what disturbs me most about Jeffrey Dahmer? What disturbs me most are not his acts, though they are disgusting. Dahmer was convicted of seventeen murders. Eleven corpses were found in his apartment. He cut off arms. He ate body parts. My Thesaurus has 204 words for vile, but each falls short of describing a man who kept skulls in his refrigerator and hoarded a human heart. The Milwaukee monster dangled from the lowest wrung of human conduct and then dropped. But that's not what troubles me most. Can I tell you what bothers me most about Jeffrey Dahmer? Not his trial. As disturbing as it was, with all those pictures of him sitting serenely in court, face frozen motionless, no sign of remorse, no hint of regret. Remember his steely eyes and impassive face? But I don't speak of him because of his trial. There is another reason. Can I tell you what troubles me most about Jeffrey Dahmer? Not his punishment, though life without parole is hardly an exchange for his actions. How many years would satisfy justice? A lifetime in jail for every life he took? But that's another matter, and that's not what troubles me most about Jeffrey Dahmer. May I tell you what does? His conversion! Months before an inmate murdered him, Jeffrey Dahmer became a Christian. Said he repented--was sorry for what he did--profoundly sorry. Said he put his faith in Christ. Was baptized. Started life over. Began reading Christian books and attending chapel. Sins washed. Soul cleansed. Past forgiven."

They said it couldn't be done about Saul of Tarsus, who had set out on a life, of literally, ethnic cleansing, to rid the earth of this new religious movement called Christianity. This one who traveled and imprisoned men and women and stood by watching the murder of Stephen. This Saul of Tarsus, who says later in his life in 1Timothy, Chapter 1 Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst. It's interesting that in the book of Acts, he records, or Luke records Paul's conversion three different times. Once when it happened and twice when Paul recounted it on other occasions. It's the only thing in the book of Acts that has that kind of repetitive value. Let me just read for you the story. You will remember it, as you hear it, I'm sure.

Meanwhile, Saul was still 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?"

"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 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 could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!"

"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, 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."

But the Lord said to Ananias, "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.

They said it couldn't be done and yet, he became a Christian. In fact he went on to begin preaching except that nobody, of course, wanted to listen. And when he came back to Jerusalem, the early church couldn't decide whether or not it was actually a real conversion. So just a few verses later in this Chapter it says, When he came to Jerusalem, he (Paul) tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was really a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.

He retells that story in Galatians Chapter 1 when it simply says that the saints could do nothing except praise God because the one who used to persecute the church, was now preaching.

So what happened? He encountered Jesus. He ran face-to-face into the one he was persecuting and he heard the message. In fact when you look at Chapter 22 in Acts where he retells this story in a speech given from the steps to the crowd, you get down to Verse number 12 and he starts talking about what Ananias had to say,

"A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!' And at that very moment I was able to see him.

"Then he said: ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.'

He encountered Jesus. He listened to the message and he obeyed that message. In fact, when he retells this story one more time in front of King Agrippa, Saul says, I could not be disobedient to the heavenly vision.

See, it doesn't matter what you've done. Nothing! Nothing you can do, can put you outside God's reach. Nothing you can do, can put you beyond God's love for you. . . . . . except, say NO!

Charles Templeton was the partner of Billy Graham. In fact, destined, probably to surpass him as an evangelist in this country. In 1946, the National Association of Evangelicals named Charles Templeton as the man best used of God in our nation evangelistically. Nobody knows exactly, for certain, what happened, although Templeton himself said, it all started when he saw a picture in Life Magazine of an impoverished woman holding up a dead body before God, as if she were wondering why God allowed her child to die and it began to cause him to question his faith.

In an interview with Lee Strobel, Charles Templeton says this. "Well, yes, He is the most important thing in my life. I, I know it may sound strange, but I have to say I adore him. Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know I learned from Jesus. Yes. Yes, and tough. Just look at Jesus. He castigated people. He was angry. People don't think of him that way, but they don't read the Bible. He had a righteous anger. He cared for the oppressed and the exploited. There's no question that he had the highest moral standard, the least duplicity, the greatest compassion of any human being in history. There have been many wonderful people, but Jesus is Jesus."

Strobel says, "So the world would do well to emulate him, not in a religious sense necessarily, but morally?"

"Oh yes, I've tried. And tried, as hard, as far as I can go. To act as if I believed he would act. That doesn't mean I can read his mind, because one of the most fascinating things about him was that he so often did the opposite of what you would expect."

Strobel says, "Abruptly Templeton paused, almost as if he was uncertain whether to continue." And then he said, "If I may put it this way, I miss him." And with that tears flooded his eyes. He turned his head and his shoulders bobbed as he wept. And so Strobel asked him, "missed him in what way?" Templeton fought to compose himself and after a few awkward moments, he waved his hand dismissible and finally adamantly he insisted "enough of that". You see Templeton had turned his back on Christ and had written one of the most profound books in literature on why to be an atheist.

Billy Graham, on the other hand, though deeply troubled by his friend Charles Templeton's struggles and deeply troubled by the questions that Templeton asked him about the Bible, found himself in the San Bernardino Hills in the mid-1940's wrestling with his own faith.

And in Graham's auto-biography, this is his statement. "Father, I'm going to accept this (talking about scripture) as your word, by faith. I'm going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts and I will believe this to be your inspired word."

It doesn't matter what you've done. It does matter what you do. Nothing can put you beyond the reach of the loving arm of God. Not a thing that you can do can keep him from wanting a personal relationship with you and doing everything in his power to cause that relationship to happen. Nothing you can do can keep him from reaching to you, except say NO. And some of you have been saying NO. He has tried to reach out to where you are. He has tried to draw you in. He has brought you into contact with godly Christian people. He has done everything he can to pull you to himself and you continuously say NO. He hasn't stopped loving you and he has not stopped reaching out to you, but, he deeply desires that you'll come. And so do we, desire that you would come to faith in Christ. That you would let him touch your life. You may not want to come up here in front of everybody--maybe that's too troublesome to you. If so, come and find us in the hallway. Meet me down in the hospitality room. Grab somebody who's a Christian and just let them know that you want to know Jesus, because he loves you deeply. So deeply, that he would die for you and it doesn't matter what you've done. It only matters now what you do.

So there are really two invitations this morning. One is to those of you who do not know Jesus. If you're not ready--then we're just asking you to hang around--stay with it--don't give up--don't get out of his reach. If you just don't know yet what to do, don't walk away from it. Stay around long enough so that you can make an informed decision, one way or the other. At least, if you're going to say NO to him, say NO as an informed person, not someone who just gives up. But my friends, there's a world outside this door that needs to know Jesus loves them. They need for us to tell them that Jesus loves them. They need for US to be the voice of Jesus on a road to Damascus that changes their journey for ever. Do you know some people like that? That need to hear from you how deeply God loves them in Jesus. We're encouraging you to befriend them, to invite them, to speak to them, to reach out to them, because without your voice, without your hands, he cannot get the job done.