God’s grace on display in my childhood

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I was born to two teenage parents. My parents submitted to their parents and married while I was still in the womb. Their marriage lasted two years, but they remained close. I bounced between apartments and my grandparents. It was frustrating and heart-aching for me not to have consistency in the home, but I imagine it was equally difficult for my parents whose young adult lives now included a little boy.

During my elementary school years, I was both distracted and a distraction. I was known as the class jester. I became such a distraction that my school moved me to the ‘special class’ where I received ‘special’ attention. I got the attention I desired, but I still craved more.  My attitude grew out of control. Rage and bitterness held the reins of my life. Most wouldn’t know it because I learned how to manufacture masks to cover what really was under my skin. Occasionally, it would flare up and my outbursts got me into a lot of trouble. It became such a problem that my school sent me to multiple counselors and child psychologists.

It was about this time, my mom remarried and we moved 3-hours north, away from my dad. I started going to a new school, but my past behavior soon followed. My new guidance counselor created a motivational tool he called, “The Hutts-O-Meter”. It hung just outside the principal’s office. The meter would go up one ‘tick’ on a detention-free day, but it went down two ‘ticks’ if I sat in detention. If the meter reached 100 “ticks”, the entire 5th grade would receive a pizza party in my honor. At first, it was cool. I was overdosing on attention. It didn’t take long to see through my classmate who just wanted a party. On top of this, a certain teacher said to me, “Justin, you will either end up in jail or the psych ward.” I was crushed.

My family started attending a small Bible Church, which was different from the Catholic church I grew up attending. I received a lot of attention there, but it was different. People cared for my spirit and mended my wounds with the Word of God. It was there, Jesus redeemed my life. Thereafter, certain men in the church discipled me and helped me to find joy and affection in Christ.

Years later, I met the teacher who prophesied on my future. He didn’t recognize me, as I was fitting his feet with new shoes. I was working at Schmidt’s Sporting Goods through high school to save enough money to go to Bible College. I asked him if he knew who I was. It took him a minute with a look of surprise he said, “Justin? No! Really? Wow, you’ve got a job?” I shared with him what Jesus had done and was doing. His look of surprise became a look of shock. God’s grace was on display that day.

Also in this Series…

Part 1: God’s grace is powerful enough to redeem anyone (3-weeks ago).

Part 2: God’s grace can lead to a sudden conversion (2-weeks ago).

Part 3: God’s grace uses people as his instruments (last week).

Part 4: God’s grace on display in my childhood (today).

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God’s grace uses people as His intruments

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Saul’s conversion was a miraculous display of God’s grace. Jesus, the commander-in-chief of the universe, intersects with Saul on the Damascus road. There is no doubt that only He could change a soul like Saul’s. And Jesus isn’t finished with Saul. Grace isn’t a one time thing, it’s given for a lifetime of transformation. It’s a gift to be given again. In the next few verses, God’s purpose with Saul will be outlined to a little known Jesus-follower will give Saul another touch of His grace.

Who is the little-known disciple? Ananias (Acts 9:10a). How does Ananias respond to God’s initial call? He too, like Isaiah and Saul, expresses his willingness to obey God (v.10b; cf. v.6; Isaiah 6:8). What does God ask Ananias to do next? God doesn’t give any details about what had just happened to Saul, but asks Ananias to meet Saul at the street called Straight (i.e. Main St.) and touch him (vs.11-12).

Do you wonder what was going on in Ananias’ mind? Now, think about your response to a man of Saul’s reputation, “Lord, maybe we need to rethink this…Saul is coming to imprison me…maybe leaving him blind would be a good idea…at least long enough for me to pack my bags and get out of town…” This response isn’t far from Ananias’ (or the church) response (vs.13-14; cf. vs. 21-28). Have you ever questioned or challenge God’s demands upon your life? If so, you are not alone. Many biblical characters have done the same thing (i.e. Moses, Jeremiah, Jonah). God accepts questions, but will you accept His.

Notice the how God responds to Ananias’ questions: He is gracious, not harsh, but firmly commands Ananias to go down the street (v.15a) and He gives him insight for the journey. What does God say about His plans for Saul? (v.15b) By His sovereign grace, He chosen Saul and will use him as an instrument to take His name to to the Gentiles, to people in high places, even to His people. What does it mean that Saul is God’s “instrument”? He will be a tool or vessel in God’s hands to increase and expedite the gospel message to the uttermost parts of the world.

God always errs on the side of grace and so should we. Grace is seen in Ananias first face-to-face with Saul. How does Ananias greet him? He calls Saul, “brother” (v.17). What more intimate term could you think of? It’s as if Ananias says, “brother Saul, the Lord has sent me so that you may regain your sight. Once was a day that Jesus opened my eyes too.” And the intimate touch of Ananias hand healed Saul’s blindness (vs.18-20).

God uses reluctant Ananias as His ambassador. God gives him a vision to share the gospel with someone he really is not comfortable. He’s heard of Saul’s reputation, and knows he could be walking The Green Mile. I can relate to Ananias. I tend to be timid. I fear the unknown. I doubt or question God’s grace. Yet His grace is sufficient everyday. He carries my feet outside the gate. He opens my mouth to speak with feeble French and ever more amateur Arabic. He uses me as His instrument to proclaim the name of Jesus.

God’s grace is on display today through your life. It is an example of grace to those around you just as Saul’s conversion is an example. Later, Paul reflects on this with his young pastoral student, Timothy,

“I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost [chief, first place]. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” [1 Timothy 1:12-17]

In the words of R.C. Sproul, “Just minutes before his conversion, all that Paul could think of was what he could do to Christ, but immediately after, all he could think of is what he could do for Christ.” That’s grace on display!

Coming Soon…

Part 1: God’s grace is powerful enough to redeem anyone (2-weeks ago).

Part 2: God’s grace can lead to a sudden conversion (last week).

Part 3: God’s grace uses people as his instruments (today).

Part 4: God’s grace on display in my childhood (next week).

God’s grace can lead to a sudden conversion

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With a flash like lightning, God intersects with Saul (and his entourage). “Now as [Saul] journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him.” (v.3) It was an unexpected encounter. It is interesting, unlike many Christians, Paul never links his conversion to a long process of God convicting or frustrating him of sin or stories scaring him out of hell. All those things may have happened in the instant he fell to the ground.

As Saul lay there on the ground, what did God say to him? First, He says in Hebrew, “Saul, Saul.” (v.4a) God singled out Saul by name. Fifteen times in Scripture names are repeated (i.e. God>Abraham, God>Moses, God>Samuel, David>Absalom, Elijah>God, Jesus>Martha, Jesus>Jerusalem, Jesus>God), which was used to gain attention or warning. Second, God says, “Why are you persecuting Me?” (v.4b) Notice He doesn’t say, “Why are you persecuting My people? Why are you such a bull?What’s wrong with you?” We discover in verse 5, the voice of God identifies Himself as Jesus. And Jesus clarifies that the persecution Saul is inflicting is ultimately against Him (v.5). In other words, Jesus is saying, “If you persecute My people, you persecute Me.” Those words bring such comfort to those suffering persecution for His name sake.

Notice how Saul responds to Jesus. He’s not passive nor is he defensive (v.5). He knows the voice is the Sovereign One of heaven. I can image Saul is as white as a bleached sheet and under the tremendous conviction of all his crimes. Yet in that moment, God’s grace is sufficient for Saul. It is also sufficient for your weakness too.

When I consider Saul’s conversion, it gives me courage to speak about the name of Jesus with friends and family. Their salvation might not happen immediately, but it might happen suddenly. Like My Grandpa Dale. He was a generous and kind man, he didn’t have many enemies (and he worked for the IRS). I’d share the gospel openly with him, since I was a teenager. He would listen intently, but normally respond saying, “Justin, that’s good, but I am happy being Catholic.”

A few years ago, Gramps called me at the church. In his quirky way he’d say, “Hey Huttshead. You’re a counselor, right? I have two questions for you: First, what do you think about me and my girlfriend living together? Second, could you tell me again how you think one gets to heaven?” His questions caught me by surprise. I answered his first question, letting him know I would rather see them marry, but that dearly I loved him. We spent the majority of conversation going to the Word, the source for the answers to his second question. Gramps, thanked me for the chat. He didn’t convert that day, but seeds were sown. Later, I found out that he had just been diagnosed with a malignant cancer that would soon take his life. Questions about his eternal destiny were his present reality.

A week later, I received another call from Gramps at the church. He started off by say, “Hey Pastor Hutts. I have two things I’d like to share with you. First, I have asked my girlfriend to marry me. Second, after talking to a pastor in town I have given my life to Jesus Christ.” Gramps went into hospice care a few months later. I leaned over the edge of his bed, he looked into my eyes—with tears in his—and said confidently, “I look forward to seeing my Savior.”

Gramps conversion was sudden and unexpected, as it might be with your neighbors, loved ones, or enemies. When you consider Saul’s sudden conversion how does it call you to persevere and be patience? How does it encourage you as you think about those who hard to love or hard to the gospel? As we will see (next week), Saul’s conversion is meant give you encouragement.

Coming Soon…

Part 1: God’s grace is powerful enough to redeem anyone (last week).

Part 2: God’s grace can lead to a sudden conversion (today).

Part 3: God’s grace uses people as his instruments (next week).

Part 4: God’s grace on display in my childhood (in 2-weeks).

God’s grace is powerful enough to redeem anyone

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Have you ever known a heinous somebody, who miraculously turned their life around? Have you ever been threatened by someone and struggled with doubts about them ever changing? Have you been praying for a loved one or friend to believe the gospel for a long time without any difference?

Saul, also known as Paul, is one of the most beloved characters in the NT. He is known for his boldness and bravery for the sake of Jesus’ name. However, don’t forget Saul’s beginnings. I suppose that’s what makes his story so sweet. He the proud student of the Jewish scholar, Gamaliel. He slavishly devoted himself to obeying the Torah among other Pharisaical laws [Galatians 1:13-14]. He rose in rank, becoming a member of the elite group that wielded considerable religious and political power in his Israel. He was a Hebrew through and through and he devoted his entire life to promote Judaism, no matter the cost.

The one thing that Saul saw as the biggest menace to Judaism was the growing movement of people who called themselves followers of the Way (cf. John 14:6). Jews were converting by the hundreds and thousands, believing “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which men must be saved” (Acts 4:12), but the name of Jesus.

In zealous response, Saul wreaked havoc and terror on Jesus-followers seeking to be a one-man roadblock to the Way. In Acts 9:1–2, Saul was not just bullying Christians, he was “breathing threats.” Like a bull snorting and stomping his hooves he was ready to charge at the church. With permission from the theocratic ruler of the Jewish people, his next stop was Damascus.

Saul’s intentions, like a terrorist, was to inflict debilitating fear that would squelch the new movement of Jesus followers (cf. Acts 8). Unbeknown to Saul, God had different intentions for his journey to Damascus. God was leading him down redemption road.

Remember, Saul began as an enemy of Jesus. Like Saul, we all began our journeys as enemies too. But as we will see (next week), God’s grace will be on display (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9)! He is powerful enough to redeem any enemy into a friend. He is powerful enough to redeem the your friend or enemy or anyone. Don’t forget that!

How can the begins of Saul’s journey and the promise of God’s grace give you hope for those you know who are hard to love or hard to the gospel? How are you an example of God’s grace being powerful enough to redeem?

Coming Soon…

Part 2: God’s grace can lead to a sudden conversion.

Part 3: God’s grace uses people as his instruments.

Part 4: God’s grace on display in my childhood.