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I Timothy 1:12-17 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. Silent Prayer How many of you have been to a class reunion?  I moved just before my senior year of high school so I never really claimed either High School that I attended as mine and really didn’t keep in touch with anyone in a significant way so I never went.  I know it’s a major social catching up party.  I can imagine the conversations go something like, “Did you hear what happened to so and so?”  How many of you have changed a bit since high school?  Would it be shocking to some to be caught up on your life?  I’m thinking Pastor Thom would have been voted least likely to be an ordained minister and Christian Counselor.  Am I right, honey?  I know I’ve changed dramatically since high school.  Life has a way of molding and maturing us. I’ve come this morning, however, not to talk about the normal ebb and flow of life or not the kind of change that simply comes as a result of certain life experiences like going to college, getting married, or having children.  I’m talking about radical, supernatural change that occurs because you encounter the Almighty and Living God in the person of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  That kind of change gets at the core of who we are. The man we’re going to look at was Saul turned to the Apostle Paul.  Imagine the class reunion updates on his life.  He’d be the talk of the party as people would be buzzing with the question, “Did you hear what happened to Saul?”  So unexpected, so dramatic, so supernatural, so powerful was the change in his life that people could hardly believe what had happened.  That’s the kind of change God is capable of making in your life.  Are you interested in that kind of experience this morning?  If so say, “Bring it on, Lord!” The change in Saul’s life took place as at least three things happened: Jesus invaded His space.  Saul was a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man when God came to him.  He was simply going about his own agenda, living as he had been and Scripture says while he was on his journey to do some more dirty work God met him.  Acts 9 says: 1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 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. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. God confronts us even when we’re in the middle of the worst kind of lifestyle.  Even when we are up to no good, He comes to us to show us who He is and to give us instruction. I think many people have a wrong concept of who God is.  They think He’s watching our every move so that He can pounce on us and yell at us, but that’s simply not the case.  He is watching our every move because He is looking for an opportune time to show us who He is because He loves us.  He doesn’t avoid us when we are living in sin.  Just the opposite, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8  While we were drug addicts, Christ came after us.  While we were living in sexual sin, Christ descended on the scene of our lives.  While we were living in rebellion, He plopped into our lives.  Jesus doesn’t avoid sinners.  Just the opposite.  He comes where you are when you least expect it and even when you are doing your very best to avoid any contact with Him, He confronts you with the reality of His presence. He comes to you because you are a sinner.  You and I are what He specializes in, sinners.  He comes to us because He loves us.  He invades our lives because He isn’t politically correct.  He doesn’t wait for an invitation or for us to try to make sure our house is cleaned.  Jesus knows your life can be awesome and wonderful and different from anything you could script yourself and so He introduces Himself to you. Do you remember the calling of the disciples in Matthew 4:18-19?  They had just punched the time clock at the fishing dock and had cast their nets out to sea.  They didn’t expect that day to be any different than the day before.  They didn’t wake up praying, “I hope the Messiah will interrupt my day and call me to something new, different and exciting.”  But Jesus broke in on them in the middle of their routine work to say, “Come and follow me. And I will make you fishers of men.”  He called them.  Ordinary fishermen.  Unskilled and unschooled in spiritual things and told them He would turn them into preachers and miracle workers. He didn’t say, “Cut your hair and follow me.”  He didn’t say, “Change your clothes and follow me.”  He just said, “Come on, right now, just as you are and following me.”  And they did. There are people, many people, perhaps some of you this morning who think that rather than accept Jesus’ invitation to follow Him you need to wait until you change something, that you need to do something, or you need to give up something, or become something and then at that time you’ll do the inviting and let Jesus know “The coast is clear.”  It’s safe for Him to come into your cleaned up religious life. I’m telling you Jesus doesn’t work that way and it’s not Biblically correct to think so.  Jesus says,  20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”  Rev. 3:20  He’s not knocking because we asked Him to stop by.  Do you know anyone who just kind of drops by uninvited?  That’s Jesus.  You just have to make the decision, “Are you going to open the door or not?” He’s knocking because He’s a doctor, and He makes house calls to check on in people.  Matthew 9:12 says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”   The reason Jesus has to make house calls and come by uninvited is because we often don’t realize that we are sick.  The person who thinks he is righteous is really sick, and until he understands his diseased state, he won’t follow Jesus but he’ll trust in Himself.  Whether you aren’t aware of your spiritual condition or you are just trying to avoid dealing with the reality that God exists, that Jesus loves you and that eternity awaits you, you won’t be able to put the reality off indefinitely. I don’t care if you think you are the meanest, biggest, baddest person in the Valley.  If you think you should avoid Jesus because you think He doesn’t approve of you, you’ve got a skewed view of who Jesus is.  I’m not suggesting Jesus or the Bible is soft on sin.  There are standards God requires for His children to live by, but the issue I have with the line of thinking I’m trying to confront is that if you think your ability to do right and be right is based on your efforts of trying to clean up your life without Jesus, you’re wrong.  When Jesus invades your space and says, “Come follow me,” your only hope is to do just that.  Following Jesus will take care of any behavior, any habit, any self righteous way of living. When God called Saul turned Paul, he told him to go to Damascus and meet up with a man named Ananias and then he struck Saul blind. Do you think that got Saul’s attention?  Have you ever needed to get someone’s attention and they were oblivious to you?  If you’re a parent, you know it’s not always easy to get your child’s attention when they are focused on something they are really interested in whether it’s a video game, TV show or some kind of playtime.  At times, I’ve literally had to stand in front of the TV and wave my arms like a chimpanzee and cluck like a chicken to get our kids to see me. Sometimes I have to get more drastic than that. You see, sometimes, in order for Jesus to help us, He has to get drastic.  Sometimes in order for us to see Him when He invades our space, He has to blind us to everything else.  Sometimes we have to be so blind that the only thing we have to go on is Jesus’ words so that we’ll get to the right place at the right time.  If we rely on everything we can see and feel and taste and touch, we’re relying on human experience, but when we follow Jesus we “Walk by faith and not by sight.”  II Cor. 5:7 In Damascus, the Lord prepared Ananias for this blind man, Saul, who was headed his way.  Saul had a reputation for “not playing nice,” and Ananias was a bit fearful about meeting up with him.  But God told him, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” What?  A blasphemer and murderer is a chosen instrument?  How would that look on your resume when you are trying to get a preaching gig?  “Blasphemer and murderer.”  Yeah, let’s call him to preach revival for us!  God was meeting Saul where he was because He knew He could use everything Saul was and had done, as negative and foul and awful as it was, as a dramatic testimony which would promote the gospel. God knows just what you are.  Every flaw.  Every sin.  Every habit.  Every thought.  He wants to use it!  Someone ought to shout, “Hallelujah!”  He wants to transform it.  You can’t mess up beyond where God can create a miracle out of your sin.  Great artists can take a smudge on the paper and turn it into a masterpiece.  He created the sun, moon, stars, and Universe, I’d say God knows a thing or two about art!  God wants to show off by using what you are for His purpose and glory as He transforms you into what you will become. God used three days of blindness and this man named Ananias to change Saul’s life.  His sight was restored.  He received the Holy Spirit, and how many of you know once you are filled with the Holy Spirit you see all things very differently from the way you saw them before!  Scripture says Saul went from blind to baptized in the Holy Spirit and in water and started preaching the gospel. What????  How does that happen?  It happens when we acknowledge Jesus as He invades our space and choose to follow Him. Jesus invaded Saul’s space and Jesus gave Him grace. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. I remember one time when Joshua was much younger he asked if he could take a bubble bath.  I told him to put a capful of bubble stuff under the running water.  His water ran for quite some time and I went to make sure he wasn’t creating an indoor pool.  When I opened the door, all I could see was his tiny little head, peering through a sea of bubbles.  Knowing he had used way more bubble stuff than I had approved, I asked what happened to which he replied, “You told me to use a cupful.”  He had lots of cups in the tub that he used as toys and instead of a capful, he had used a cupful.  I couldn’t even see him!  He was bathed in bubbles, completely covered up. That’s the way Jesus dispenses grace, not just a capful of grace, but He bathes you in grace.  People no longer saw Saul, but they saw the grace of God poured out upon his life, bathing him in power and conviction. When someone does you wrong and you don’t treat them the way they deserve to be treated, that’s grace. When someone has wronged you and you don’t give them what they ought to have coming to them, that’s grace.  The way Saul had treated Jesus and the people who belonged to Jesus, would have given Jesus every reason to take Saul out.  But He didn’t do that.  That’s grace.  Grace is what God gives that we don’t deserve. Suppose I was speeding on the highway and a policeman pulls me over. If he doesn’t give me a ticket, then he gave me mercy. If he gives me a $100 bill, then he gave me grace.   As sinners, we deserve punishment. But, by God’s mercy, He withholds judgment.  We don’t deserve God’s goodness, but instead He has lavished grace upon us. Ephesians 2:7 says it is by grace alone that we are saved.  We can’t do anything to earn it.  We don’t deserve it.  It’s a gift and it has nothing to do with how many times we go to church, how much money we give to charity or how much we pray.  It’s through God’s mercy that we escape hell and it is by God’s grace, we receive everlasting life. How did this grace play out in Saul’s life?  How did Jesus bathe Saul in grace?  First of all, through God’s grace, Saul was given strength.  I Timothy 1:12 says, 12I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength. Acts 9:22 says, “22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.” When we encounter Jesus and follow Him, we’re better than we were before.  We’re stronger than we were before. We’re more courageous.  We accomplish more.  That is because in His grace He gifts us with supernatural strength, His strength. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.”  Tell your neighbor, “I can do anything!”  That’s right. Psa 73:26 says, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” It is the grace of God that comes to us to give us strength for every day. Saul said that through God’s grace, God considered Saul faithful, appointing him to his service.  Hello?  Faithful?  The only thing Saul had been faithful to do was to persecute and murder Christians and try to slander Jesus’ name! When a president sends an ambassador to a foreign court, it’s because he has complete confidence in that person or he would not commission him unless he had reason to believe that he would be faithful.  However, Saul had given no one any indication that he would be faithful to Christ and would be a good spokesperson for him.  I mean, seriously, if you wanted someone to speak on your behalf somewhere, wouldn’t you have first wanted to hear them say something nice about you? What this teaches me is that God sees something in you that you don’t see yourself.  What do you think Saul thought when God said he was appointing him to be his spokesperson?  Usually a spokesperson on a commercial at least has to try the product they are trying to sell.  Paul had only tasted religion.  That’s quite different from a relationship with Jesus.  Paul hadn’t even taken a sip of a relationship with Jesus, and yet Jesus said, “You’re the best man for the job!”  Paul had proven nothing except that he was good at being mean and nasty. Listen, God doesn’t base his decisions on where you’ve been or what you’ve done.  I don’t care if you were the top salesperson in your company or earned the employee of the month parking spot.  God isn’t interested in what plaque hangs on your wall.  Oh God wants you to do your best at all times, but what God bases His decisions on isn’t your capabilities but His power at work in your willing and obedient heart. When God’s grace gets a hold of you He’ll appoint you to all kind of stuff you never dreamed of because when God gets a hold of you, He speaks all kinds of positive stuff into your spirit.  He’ll say, “You belong to me and I am in you and I won’t ever leave you so anything you need, you have it because you belong to me.”  He says thinks like, “You’re an overcomer.”  “You are victorious.”  “You can do anything I ask you to do.  You will succeed” That’s grace!  When you experience the grace of Jesus, you’ll have all the affirmation and confidence that comes from following Him.  You want a healthy self-esteem?  Follow Jesus.  He’ll build you up!  You want strength for life’s journey?  Follow Jesus.  You want to know the shortest route to pleasing God?  Follow Jesus.  He has a grace to give for every challenge you’ll face. Saul turned Paul never forgot that he had been a recipient of God’s grace.  I Cor. 15:10 says, “10 But by the grace of God I am what I am.” Jesus used Saul as a showplace for His glory. A model home in a new neighborhood is a showplace.  It’s supposed to be what you can expect your place to look like if you choose to buy in that neighborhood.  When God gives us His grace, He is creating a model for others to see what their life might look like if they choose to let Him build there. I Timothy 1:15 “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. The worst became a model showplace!  You know what God was trying to say to us through Saul’s conversion?  At least one message I get loud and clear is that if God can save Saul, He can save anyone.  If God can use Saul, He can use anyone.  Saul was a living, walking illustration everywhere he went that God really can and does change lives. Did you catch the phrase, “unlimited patience” in that Scripture?  Saul is confessing that he wasn’t an easy case.  Jesus had unlimited patience with him. In II Cor. 4:7, Saul turned Paul affirms that God wants to use our messy lives to show off His miraculous power.  He says, “ 7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”  When people see us they are to look past we who are the clay pots and see the power of God in us which is on display! Listen to the verse I read a minute ago, ““22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.”  What do baffled people usually do?  They ask questions to get unbaffled!  When we connect to God’s grace in an experiential way, we are transformed so much that people begin to ask questions about like, “Saul, what has happened to you?”  “Tommy, what has happened to you?”  “Gary, what has happened to you?”  “Crystal, what has happened to you?” Another way people will begin to ask questions is if we are giving credit to Jesus for everything we have and are and are pointing people to Jesus through a life of praise.  Saul turned Paul did.  He said in verse 17 of I Timothy 1, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.” When you experience God’s grace, truly experience His grace, you want others to know what He can do for them.  You want others to know what joy you’ve found.  When He’s seen in you it makes evangelism easy.  People will ask, “What’s different about you?”  “Why are you so happy?”  “Why do you seem to have such piece?”  “Why didn’t you tell that co-worker off that insulted you?”  You then have an open door to respond. When the store clerk at Kroger or K-Mart or wherever, asks me how I am, I usually say something like, “God has been so good to me, I’m just enjoying this awesome day.   How about you?”  Eventually, you get the same clerk enough times and they want to know “What is up with you?”  I actually had a clerk say to me about a year ago, “I really see Christ in you each time you are here.”  That’s the goal.  We don’t often achieve it.  Much of the time we may not be conscious of it to be pursuing it, but that’s the calling and goal. The song by Joy Williams asks the question:  Do they see Jesus in me?  Do they recognize His face?  Do I communicate His love and His grace?  Do I reflect who He is in the way I choose to be? Do they see Jesus, Jesus in me?  It’s the question we each need to ask ourselves right now. Right now, God is invading your space.  I’m not saying that because I think I’ve got anything to say that can change or improve your life.  I’m saying that because God’s Word has been used to challenge you on a couple of levels.  It’s His Word that you have heard and have to respond to, not me. God is invading your space.  You need to decide if you’re going to get the door or not.  The next thing you need to consider is where in your life to you need grace or where have you experienced God’s grace that you could praise and thank Him for?  Do you need the strength that God’s grace brings?  Do you need the confidence God’s grace brings in order to achieve something beyond yourself?  Is Christ on display in your life?  If you could identify a need in your life or a reason to respond to those questions, I invite you in just a minute to come to an altar of prayer.  Whether it’s just to kneel and thank God for what He’s done in your life or a prayer to ask Him to use you more and more for His glory, or a prayer to ask Him to do a new work in your life, or to ask Him to come into your life first time in a personal way, come.  Maybe today you just realized that following Jesus means coming as you are and letting Him to any house cleaning that is needed.  The Holy Spirit is a great housekeeper.  Whatever your response needs to be, just obey the Holy Spirit’s prompting.
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