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.

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rebel without a cause

This week I have been watching the Olympics on TV. It is interesting to watch the Olympians take the podium with their bouquet and medal. What does copper, silver or gold look like before it becomes an Olympic medal? It is an ugly rock covered with mud. Before it becomes a beautiful medal you wear around your neck it must first become chiseled and purified. This is often how God uses authorities in your life. He puts parents, teachers, bosses, pastors, and authorities in your life to chisel and shape you into precious metals. You have to be willing to get under authorities in order for God to you them in our lives.

The Fall of Saul and Us All [1 Samuel 13:11-12] Saul was a bold, brunette and a beautiful man [i.e. the Brawny Man]. On the outside he was the man for the job. He was a tall, intimidating [6’6’’ to be exact], muscular warrior king of Israel. He was anointed by God to be the political, economic and spiritual leader of God’s chosen people. Though Saul was king he still had authorities to get under: God and Samuel [God’s spokesmen]. Every time the people were to go into battle Saul had to wait for Samuel to make a sacrifice to God.

One day Saul was camped at a place called Michmash. The Philistine enemies were pressing in and Saul was freaking out with fear. Saul sent for Samuel and was asked to wait seven days. After the seventh day Saul had a conniption and couldn’t wait any longer so he took matters into his own hands. He made the sacrifice himself. [Side note: going through the motions of worship never pay off spiritually] It wasn’t long after the smoke from the sacrifice cleared that Samuel showed up and asked Saul, “What have you done?”

“When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Michmash, 12 I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.” [1 Samuel 13:11b-12].

Does this sound familiar? When I rebel against authority I usually rationalize by saying “I saw…I thought…I felt…” We are kings and queens of excuses: I saw someone else do it, I thought it wasn’t that bad of an idea, or I felt compelled even though it was not right. Despite Saul’s disobedience God gives him a second chance.

Can We Try this Again? [cf. 1 Samuel 15:1-19, 20-22] How do you think Saul responded? Did he learn his lesson? Saul was given one command: destroy everything. Samuel showed up after the battle and not everything was leveled. Saul gives an academy award winning response, but truly lame excuse [1 Sam.15:20-21]. Saul blames the soldiers, and then says he is going to give all the remaining stuff to God as an offering. Sounds admirable, eh? God is not impressed [1 Sam.15:22].

What are the Consequences of Rebellion? [1 Samuel 15:23] We take ourselves out from under the protection of God. The prophet of God Samuel says to Saul, “Rebellion is the sin of witchcraft.” [1 Samuel 15:23] What is witchcraft? It is the same as saying you putting yourself under the authority of Satan. Rebellion is having the spirit as the devil that allows him to rule our lives.

God works through authority. You are a link in God’s chain of command. God always works through authority. You have to find where you fit and place myself within that chain. If we take ourselves out of that chain we will never discover the greatness God has for us. Saul missed out on God using him personally and professionally.

What if my authorities are or ask me to do things that are illegal, immoral or unbiblical? This is a good question. What if some in authority over me are doing drugs, promoting sexual or verbal abuse, stealing money, lying to cover up, and more? I know what it is like to live daily under an authority that treats you unfair and is against you for no reason at all. In school, I had this teacher that hated me. She would send me to the principle just for smiling or raising my hand. This really tested my view of authority. Here is how God says to deal with authority:

1) Pray believing God can change hearts. You are accountable and responsible to obey God first and foremost [1 Peter 2:16-23]. 2) Confront in love and humility: Be like Samuel and call sin what it is [Matthew 18:15-20]. Humble and joyful submission to authority is a root to intimacy with God. Submission sounds like a dirty word, but when we submit to God it is the most delightful thing we can do. Submission to God is not easy, nor does it promise an easy life. Sometimes getting under authorities and obedience to God might require sacrifice, require you to surrender, and/or require you to suffer. The question is: will you allow God to use the authorities [even the bad one] in your life to chisel, mold and purify you as gold? [cf. Job 23:10]