Friday, April 8, 2016, 4:45 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song, “He Reached Down.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Acts 9:1-19a (ESV). Getting Our Attention (vv. 1-9) But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Saul (Paul) was a religious man. He was a Pharisee. Pharisees were a Jewish sect. They were religious leaders in the temple, and they were extremely legalistic. As a Pharisee, Paul knew the scriptures, for he had studied them. Yet, he was convinced that Jesus and his followers were a threat to the Jewish faith and that what they were teaching was against God, so he, with great zeal, persecuted all those who professed faith in Jesus Christ. For those of us who have grown up in the church or in any particular religion, we have most certainly been indoctrinated with a particular way of thinking and believing. Yet, not every way is the right way, and even within the right way there are many different ways of interpreting scripture and practicing what it teaches. Thus, even though we may be devout about what we believe, and we may follow it with great zeal, it is possible that we have been taught wrongly. And we may even be found guilty of acting in opposition to God and to his Word, because we follow what we were taught by humans, instead of by God himself. Yet, if God wants to correct our faulty thinking, and if he chooses us to be his servants, he may do something to get our attention, too, like he did with Saul, so that we can hear him speak clearly to us, and so that we will listen to what he says. Nonetheless, Satan also wants to correct our thinking and believing because, if we are truly following Jesus Christ, we serve as a threat to him and to his kingdom, because we are working in direct opposition to him. So, he will try to get us to listen to what he says, and to follow him. He will do so through attempting to deceive us, or through persecuting us, as Paul did to the believers in Jesus in order to get them to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. So, how do we know if what we are following and believing is false? How do we know if our zeal for God is misdirected, as was Paul’s? For one, we need to stop listening just to humans, and we need to not let humans be our soul source for biblical interpretation. We must not let a religious sect or a church denomination determine our beliefs for us, either, because they could be wrong, and they could be leading us astray. So, how do we know? We know by praying to God, by asking for his guidance, direction and wisdom, and by asking him to lead us into all truth. We also know by studying the scriptures intently to learn what they teach, but by being careful to interpret scripture in context, and to compare scripture with scripture, because many false doctrines stem from taking scriptures out of context and developing entire belief systems around one or two disjointed scriptures. A Chosen Instrument (vv. 10-19a) Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. God’s grace is amazing! Not one of us deserves his grace. All we like sheep have gone astray. We have all sinned, and we all come up short of attaining God’s approval. No matter how religious we are, or we think we are, or how righteous we think we might be, because we think we don’t do really bad things like murdering others, we all begin the same. Every human being on this earth is born with a sin nature, without God, without hope, and destined to spend eternity in hell. Our own righteousness is like filthy rags in God’s sight. We can never be good enough. Only by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, can we be saved from our sins and have the hope of eternal life with God in heaven. No one is too bad to be saved, because we are all bad from birth. I think we often look at Paul’s life and think, “Isn’t God’s grace amazing?” because even Paul, who was persecuting and murdering Christians, was saved. But, in reality, it is a miracle of God’s grace that any of us can be saved, because it has nothing to do with our own goodness or merit that we are saved. Jesus Christ, God the Son, came to earth to die on a cross for our sins, because not one of us could ever obey God’s commandments with absolute sinless perfection. We cannot even come to Christ unless the Father first draws us to him. And, even the faith to believe and the ability to repent of our sins come from God (See: Eph. 2:8-10; 2 Tim 2:25). Yet, we do have to cooperate with and participate in that work of grace in our lives. We do have to willingly turn from our lifestyles of slavery to sin to follow our Lord in obedience (See: Ac. 26:16-18; Ro. 6:1-23; Ro. 8:1-14; Eph. 4:17-24; 1 Pet. 2:24 & 2 Co. 5:15). God’s grace is amazing, too, that he would take sinners like us, and not only choose to save us by his grace, and to transform our lives away from sin to faith in Jesus Christ, but that he would choose us as his servants and messengers. Other humans might not choose us, and they may reject and persecute us. Even others who profess to believe in Jesus Christ may reject us because we are not like them. They may not choose us because they don’t like our personalities, or because we are too serious about our faith, or because of past sin in our lives, or for whatever reason. And, so we may feel dejected or even as though we are useless and non-essential in God’s plan and purposes for humankind. Yet, God doesn’t see us that way. If we are in Christ, by faith in him, He sees the “parts of the body that seem to be weaker” as “indispensable,” for it is his grace working in us that makes us fit for his service, and not our own righteousness. Nonetheless, we do need to be walking according to the Spirit, and no longer according to the flesh, for if we live by the flesh, we will die, but if by the Spirit we are putting to death the deeds of the flesh, we will live. Amen! He Reached Down / An Original Work / February 3, 2014 Based off Psalm 18 How I love You, Lord, My Rock and my strength. My God is my fortress; I hide in Him. He is my shield and the horn of My salvation, whom I praise. I have found my refuge in Him. He reached down from heaven And rescued me; Drew me out of waters So deep, I’d sink. He delivered me from Satan And my slavery to sin; Gave me hope of heaven with Him. My God turned my darkness Into His light; Opened up my blinded eyes; Gave me sight. As for God, his way is perfect. He gives strength to stand secure. I have found my vict’ry in Him. My Lord lives! Praise be to my Savior God, Jesus Christ, who died On a cruel cross. He is my Rock and the source Of my salvation, whom I trust. I will give praise always to Him.