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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Honesty opens the hearing

11-12"Get up and go over to Straight Avenue. Ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus. His name is Saul. He's there praying. He has just had a dream in which he saw a man named Ananias enter the house and lay hands on him so he could see again."  13-14Ananias protested, "Master, you can't be serious. Everybody's talking about this man and the terrible things he's been doing, his reign of terror against your people in Jerusalem! And now he's shown up here with papers from the Chief Priest that give him license to do the same to us."  15-16But the Master said, "Don't argue. Go! I have picked him as my personal representative to non-Jews and kings and Jews. And now I'm about to show him what he's in for—the hard suffering that goes with this job."
(Acts 9:11-16)

Saul of Tarsus is best known to us by the name Paul.  As the story unfolds before us this morning, we see that Saul of Tarsus was out on a mission - destroy the New Testament believers and shut down the work of the New Testament church.  It was almost a "passion" for him.  If we read the passage surrounding this account, we will find that Saul even prepared to continue his work along the journeys he took.  On this day, he had already gone to the magistrates to receive arrest warrants "in case" he came across any believers in Damascus.  His intent was to arrest them, return them to Jerusalem, and then to have them imprisoned, or worse.  In his "passion" to destroy the church he was well-known to the church and its leaders.

What he could not anticipate on this day's journey was the touch of God on his life - that touch would transform his life completely.  We often see people dead set against something not because they understand it fully, but because they have been misguided in their beliefs.  I think we might say this is the case with Saul of Tarsus.  He was genuine in his beliefs - thinking he was doing exactly what God intended him to do - yet so totally misguided.  There is no doubt in my mind that Saul saw the New Testament believers as a threat to the teachings of Moses (the Law) and all that Israel had come to hold dear as their foundation of beliefs.  The message they taught was of grace - standing in direct opposition to the message of salvation through works that most Jews believed in those days.  Hence, he felt obligated to "shut down" the message being preached by these "radicals" amongst them.

On his way to Damascus, God touches him.  He is stricken blind - blinded by a great light that none with him on the journey seemed to be affected by in the same way.  Now, he is laid up in Damascus, three days without sight.  He has heard the voice of God directly - something not too many of his day had heard.  Those traveling companions heard something, but they saw nothing.  Amazing!  We can be so close to what brings transformation and yet miss it!  Saul is told he will be met by a man who will restore his sight.  Imagine that - the very believers he is seeking to imprison will set him free from his blindness (both physically and spiritually!).

We could focus on Saul alone in this passage, but my attention is caught by the one God uses to complete the work God had begun in Saul's life that day - a man we know as Ananius.  Ananius was a disciple of Christ - he was a believer in the message of grace.  What caught my eye about Ananius is that he would be asked to demonstrate the message of grace in a way that really was above and beyond what he'd "feel like doing" in his natural man.  He was asked a couple of things:  1) to go to Saul; 2) to lay hands on him; and 3) to pray for him that his sight might be restored.

I guess I would have been just as resistive as Ananius was at first - he actually argued a little with God about this "plan" God had for him.  He presents God with the honest protest of his heart - "You can't be serious, God!"  I thank God for putting these little tidbits of honest expression of heart and soul in the Word.  Sometimes we think being a Christian is like being a robot - God asks something of us and we simply get up and do it, no questions asked, no arguments, just simple obedience.  Well, let me assure you - there is NOTHING simple about obedience!  There is probably a whole lot more of the "you can't be serious, God" talk going on amongst believers than we want to admit to!

The neat thing about being honest with God - honest about our feelings, open about our fears, transparent about what we don't understand - is that he appreciates our honesty.  God can work with our honesty to get to us a place of complete obedience - it is our dishonesty that he has trouble working with!  When we are willing to admit our struggle with what he asks us to do - like loving the unlovely, reaching out to someone who has done vile things, or bringing a message of hope to one we don't think deserves to receive any hope - he can use us to accomplish his purposes!  It may mean a little back-and-forth conversation with God, but he will bring us through our contrary feelings, fears, and lack of understanding.

Ananius was honest with God - he could not believe that God was going to do anything good for this man who was persecuting his church.  In that honesty, God revealed his plan - Saul was going to be God's method of reaching the non-Jews, kings, and yes, even the Jews.  The past "occupation" of Saul's mind, heart, and time was being turned upside down in those three days of blindness in that Damascus inn.  The plan God had differed from what Ananius believed possible - but he heard God's plan and he acted on it.  That is all God asks of us - act on what we hear.  Honesty with God got him to the place of "hearing".  Never be afraid of being totally honest (transparent) with God - it may just be what you need to truly "hear" his plan.