Monday, September 7, 2015

Lights. Camera. Action!

Like a deer in the headlights. 

Acts 9:1-18

New International Version (NIV)

Saul’s Conversion

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?” 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 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.
10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
11 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. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
17 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.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized,

The opening words of Chap 9 let us know that a page is turning, and while we were away focusing on the Apostle Philip and all his wondrous ministry, the same old thing still going on with this religious nut called Saul. Persecution is still going on and Saul the Pharisee is at the heart of the movement. His attention is now turned toward Damascus.

The time frame we are looking at here is A.D. 33-36. Possibly three years have gone by since Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives. So much has transpired. Everything has gone exactly as Jesus predicted. The Holy Spirit has come. Persecution is at an all time high. The world would hate the disciples because it first hated Jesus. This man named Saul is on a crusade to rid the world of these people who claim to follow this Messiah. 

We should all be familiar with the words "best laid plans". 
Saul's plans are to walk into Damascus and turn everyone's life upside down. It's funny how when we make plans for ourselves God has a way of interjecting with His plans for our lives. 

Damascus is the second largest city and the capital of Syria. It is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. It is also a major cultural and religious center of a movement known as the Levant. The Levantines (Latin speaking Christians) can date their histories back to Damascus as this center for religious life would stretch across the Middle East from the Mediterranean, with it's islands, all the way to what we would refer to as modern day Libya.  There should be little doubt as to why Paul would choose to go to a place like this to begin his quest. His work thus far has centered mostly around Jerusalem and inside of Israel's borders. This is the first major step we see in the scriptures where he goes outside his countries' borders to confront these early believers. 

The major theological issue to confront in this passage is realizing and knowing who God is on a personal level. There are usually plenty of idiomatic points inside of each one of us that keep us from seeing who is God. What are some of those issues for the religious pharisee Saul? Lets look at Paul's mindset. Acts 9 says he "was still breathing out murderous threats". Who is he speaking this way about? His own people. As much as we want to make a big deal about racism and unrest on a social level the unwavering account is that we have the some of our biggest problem in life with people who are the same ethnicity as ourselves. Here it is Jews vs Jews. It's Saul, a religious and overly zealous Jews vs some other Jews who believe in this new Messiah they proclaim. Right there within their own social and racial structure is where the tension lies. People who believe the same and sound the same yet have differing views is what we as human seem to struggle with the most. Forget, for a moment, that there are people of different skin color or culture or traditional values to deal with in the world. The greatest anxiety for many us to deal with simply comes from having to get up each morning and interact with people who live right across the street from us. 

It is when we are fed up with the world around us that we begin to react like we see Saul doing in this passage. We go way to far in effort to find a way to deal with what we see going on around us. We begin to blame other around us for what we feel inside. We feel confusion. We feel an uneasiness at the thought of having to embrace a culture that shows us something in which we don't agree. We lash out and try to force the world around us to calm down and come under our control. The most recent illustration come right out of the great state of Kentucky. When a person forcefully refuses to simply do their job because they can't get along with other people's viewpoint then we have a problem. It is when we take other people's view so personally that it affects what we do for a living and how we interact with the world. There is lies the deeper issue. We make it about us. Ourselves. Beware of those moment full of issues that allow us to make it about ourselves instead of focusing on God and the welfare of others. Beware of those moments where we use God as an excuse to act the way we act. God is not a crutch we lean on to get what we want the way we want it. Saul is the one breathing murderous threats. And, he thinks he is doing all of this for the glory of God. He thinks he is serving God in the proper manner. He is so blinded by his need to persecute and drive what he doesn't understand that he cannot see that the very person these new believers speak of is exactly what he needs. 

It is in a crisis moment that we find out who is truly God. 

The crisis moment can be defined by our conscious. It can also be defined by the parameters we find ourselves in on a social, economic, and especially, religious situation. Lets look at the word. 

Full Definition of CRISIS

1 a :  the turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever
   b :  a paroxysmal attack of pain, distress, or disordered function
   c :  an emotionally significant event or radical change of status in a person's life <a midlife crisis>
2:  the decisive moment (as in a literary plot)
3 a :  an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; especially :  one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome <a financial crisis>
   b :  a situation that has reached a critical phase <the environmental crisis>
 It is difficult to define the parameters when we are the outside party.
Saul would need to speak up and define it for himself. Later in his letters he reflects and puts his mindset before his readers. Later in Acts 22, Paul would give his own testimony and account of these very events. 

Acts 22:4-5

New International Version (NIV)
I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.

What emotionally significant event would bring about the radical change that would put this in the category of a crisis moment?  Jesus. Our Lord and Savior is the crowning moment of a crisis moment. A moment such as this should cause us to ponder as we read the scriptures in search of understanding and answers. How have we treated those around us? How have we tempered our own convictions with the religious views of others? Have we shown them love and graciousness even when we do not agree with where they stand? Or, have we pushed our own agenda down their throats because we cannot stand the thought of someone else having their own convictions that differ from our own? When we have pushed and prodded until the breaking point arrives then we might find that
we were the ones who needed to have a change of heart. Jesus is the one who breaks through the harsh circumstances, forcing us into a crisis of conscious. 

My favorite movie is The Natural.
Robert Redford plays the part of Roy Hobbs. This young man who grew up in the Midwest came up with a great desire and an equally great ability to play baseball. After going the trials of not making it in baseball, partly due to his own personal choices, he comes back later in life with one more chance to make it in the game he loves. The movie, however, plays out different from the book. In the movie, at the end of the season, while playing for the pennant, Roy is hurting from life long injuries. He still swings for the fences and hits a homerun. The Knights win the pennant. All is right with the world. Roy winds up back on a farm throwing a baseball with his son.

That is not how the book version ends, however.
In the book, Roy and the team make the final game for the pennant against the Phillies. Just as the movie depicts a new, young southpaw is put on the mound to pitch to Roy. The young pitcher reminds one of Roy in his youth. From the mound comes a fastball. Roy swings and strikes out. The Knights lose. No pennant. No glory. The only thing left is to go back to where he was raised. 

In either story, it is what he has in the end that matters.
As Roy lay in the hospital before the pennant game suffering from a wound in his side, he utters the core lines of the movie. "God, I love baseball." Roy was asked what he hoped to accomplish by playing the game. "To be the best there ever was." And then what? "
And then when I walked down the street people would've looked and they would've said there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in this game."

What a crisis moment does for us is it helps us put things in perspective. It helps us decide what is most important. For Roy Hobbs, he finds out that all that really matters is that he is the best in the world in the eyes of his son. For Saul, he'll find out that the rage and the anger that he holds on to so fiercely needs to be let go of in order to find something more precious. Sometimes it takes a bright light in the sky. Sometimes it is that billboard sign traveling down the interstate of life. Sometimes we need to be put flat on our backs, looking up. The famous picture of the Damascus road event gives it all clarity. Saul is on the ground looking up into the light. Later his eyesight would be taken. Later it would be given back. All of this is a sign that God is at work in his life. A sign that would never leave his mind nor his side. A moment he can look back upon with realism.

This event we read about here begs us to look at it with a stark personal revelation.
Do you have a moment like this that you recall? Is there a moment in your life where Jesus became real? A time when the light came on? Is there a place in your history where you can say that Jesus came into your heart and life? We are asked to open the door of our hearts and to let Jesus come in. "Behold I stand at the door and knock. Whoever will open the door I will come in and be with him and he with me?" The light shines so brightly here on the Damascus road that the door is forced open from the other side. Saul's vindictiveness needs to be squashed. What inside of ourselves needs to be squashed? Do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Have you ever invited him in?

The light is on. The door is open.

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