Well, Hey church. Um, man, it is so good to be here with you guys today. And honestly, it's a humbling experience to be here. Um, I don't want us to be fooled by this stage today. Um, I am no smarter or wiser than any of you. Um, I'm messy. I'm a broken person. Most days. I'm. The best sister or daughter or wife, um, and for all the moms out there, um, most certainly not the best mom on, uh, certain days.
Um, but I've accepted this grace that Jesus has given me, um, to be in this place today and to be here in this moment. Um, so today I am grateful for his grace. Amen. All right. Uh, let's invite God into these next few moments. Would you guys pray with me? Uh, awesome. God, um,
man. God, we are just so grateful for you.
God, we're grateful that we get to sit here in these moments and open up your word. I pray that you would, uh, move our hearts this morning that you would make our hearts look more like yours for your people. God, may we be challenged today? May we get a little uncomfortable in our faith so that you will reveal more things to us?
God, we love you.
we praise you. We give you all the glory and your name, we pray, and everyone said, amen. Um, so today we've arrived at one of the most well known stories, um, that we know as Christians, it's the road to Damascus it's Saul's conversion story, better known as Paul. So you have to promise me that you're not gonna tune it out.
You're not gonna say I know this story. I got it. I know what it means. Um, because I feel like every time we read this, every time we open God's word, Story. We can be challenged a little bit more, and it has the potential to challenge us in the best of ways. Uh, but we love this story. We, uh, love the conversion of Saul and who he became the name of Jesus.
And I've been thinking, why do we love this story so much? Why is it so significant as followers of Jesus? And I've come to the conclusion that we love. God stories. We love God stories. We're here for it. Every time. Uh, someone finds hope in Jesus that someone finds Jesus, the transformation, the resurrection from death to life.
Um, we love to hear stories of broken and messy people finding new hope and mercy and grace. And when that light bulb goes off for people and they say, I.
we love those stories and guess what? So does God, we celebrate them. God celebrates them every time someone lost finds him and finds their life in him.
But what I've learned about the church and about all of us, and I include myself in all of this, we want to be at the celebration. We don't wanna be at the.
we wanna see the end product. We wanna skip the in between. We wanna skip the mess. We wanna ignore who that person was and is. And we wanna say, Hey, I'll meet you at the end.
See you there. Baptism's in your future. And God is with you. And someone else will probably be with you too. We want the celebration. We don't want the.
we're gonna sit in acts chapter nine today, starting in verse one. So if you wanna open up your Bibles, that's where it will be. Luke told the story of Paul's conversion in acts nine.
Uh, but B, uh, Paul told this specific story at least four more times in the new Testament. And each time was for a different reason or a different audience, a different intention. And I love when the Bible repeats itself over and over again, because normally when it does, it means that God really wants us to pay attention to something specific.
Versus when he mentions things like one time, not that we discount that one thing, but I'm starting to realize that just God is really intentional. And when he repeats things, he really wants us to pay attention. The road to Damascus, like I said earlier is a story we all know and love, but spoiler alert, Paul's miraculous conversion didn't happen on the road.
It happened in a place called Damascus and it happened because of another person that God used in Paul's story. And that's the specific story that we're gonna wrestle with today. But first let's start out in verse one and learn about. 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. So let's stop here. It's safe to say that Saul hated disciples of Jesus. He hated people who followed Jesus.
He was not seeking Jesus. In any way now, when it references the way, this is what is believed to be the earliest name for Christianity, when the movement started, they refer to it as the way. And it said five more times in the book of acts. The way also implies that Christianity is more than a belief or a set of opinions and a big emphasis on opinions, cuz our culture loves and bleeds and breathes opinion.
It's more than that. It's more than dos and don'ts and laws and yeses. And no's, it's a way of living. It's a way of believing. Let's keep reading in verse three. 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, SA saw, why do you persecute me?
Who are you? Lord Saul.
I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting here. Applied now, get up and go into the city and you'll be told what you must do. The men traveling with Saul stood their 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. It didn't did not eat or drink anything. Okay. This is terrifying.
this is so scary. God doesn't normally do this. And, uh, I don't know about you, but I've never witnessed anything like this. And if you have. The man I pray God is with you in more ways than one.
Uh, because this is just terrifying and acts 22. When Paul retells us, he reveals that this happened at midday when the sun shines at its brightest, but still it says the light was brighter than the sun. So obviously we know that this is some crazy heavenly light that indeed blinded. And let's get this straight Sauls falling to the ground.
It wasn't this really cool, awesome way that, uh, we say like, oh Saul, like he notices sin. He's worshiping God. He sees Jesus. His life has transformed. It's changed. It was not that at all. It was survival, purely survival. His reaction was him literally trying to not die in this moment because of how overwhelmed he was, how terrified he was.
So he went into survival. I'm not sure if you can relate, but so much of who Saul was before he actually encountered Jesus. I can relate with survival mode being terrified of what's gonna happen next. Sometimes I look at my worship and I look at my belief in Jesus as a survival mode, or as a fear that if I don't or if I don't do it this way, what's gonna happen to me.
Jesus doesn't want us to have a faith based on fear.
of what he will do if we do or don't do these things. That's no way of living in the grace of God. And I see moments in Saul that I relate to this next part. I just love when God says Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me these few words?
shows such an incredible nature of who God is.
Saul Saul. This was not an angry, God, God repeating his name twice shows us this deep emotion that God felt in this moment. Not anger. Is it to say no, Saul, what are you doing? My child who I love, where are you going? Why are you doing. And it's actually really beautiful because when we stray from God or when there are people that haven't found freedom in Jesus, yet, I feel God is this gentle, but powerful voice saying child, child, where are you?
Where are you going? What are you doing? Sometimes we're so concerned about what people are doing and the sin. And we say, look at that terrible thing that they did though. And we point the finger.
and we fail to let people know first that we are for them. We see it firsthand that God is more concerned about letting Saul know that he is for him and not against him.
He wasn't angry. I know now why gentleness is a fruit of the spirit and how much as Christians, we need to embody this Saul thought he was serving God. And attacking and persecuting Christians. But in this moment he discovered he was actually fighting against God. Unfortunately, this has been true through history.
People have been convinced that they're doing terrible things as a favor for God. When in fact they're partaking in the worst persecution and torture ever practice, then we get to Saul's question. Now it gets personal. Saul says, what do you want me to do? Dang. We are so interested in what God wants to do with others.
Remember the God stories. We love them. We wanna know all day what God does with other people.
but the actual surrendering of the heart, the actual hard work, the actual picking up of your cross daily is asking God.
God, what do you want me to do? God, what do you want me to do in my marriage? God, what do you want me to do in this relationship?
God, what do you want me to do with this person that I can't agree with? God, what do you want me to do when this world is so messy that I can't see you or find you in anything? God, what do you want me to do? When I feel offended? Attacked, scared.
what do you want me to do when it's so hard to get up in the mornings and start my day?
God, what do you want me to do? When Saul asks this question, Jesus' only response is telling him what to do right at that moment in time. One day, one hour, one minute. This is so the character of God. He leads us one step at a time rather than laying it all out for. It's the most beautiful thing about God and the most frustrating thing about God, but he's intentional.
Don't forget that. Let's talk through this blindness. So Saul was blind. This light took away his sight, but it wasn't just about the physical aspect of it. A lot of it had to do with the spiritual part of it. We can almost hear God say you shed your eyes against my. Saw. So have it your way, spend some days physically blind as you have been spiritually blind, God is not gonna beg us.
He's okay with saying, have it your way then let's see. Let's see how this goes. Once again, I find myself relating way too much to Saul rather than Paul, who he became.
because I think how many times have I been spiritually blind in my life? When have I been blind to what Jesus is calling me to do? When have I been blind to loving and being gentle with people that drive me crazy?
When have I been blind to doing things my way and not finding truth in Jesus first? How many of us are spiritually blind? Like Saul? We are far too like.
and this is a guy that murdered Christians, attacked, imprisoned followers of Jesus. Sure. You haven't done things like that. And maybe you have, I don't know your story, but my bet is, is that we are keeping from, we are keeping SAS from being Pauls because we want to only be at the celebration and not.
my bet is that we are co we are the cause of stopping the grace of God from extending to people because we wanna skip to the celebration and not sit in the messiness of the trial with someone at the end of verse nine, we read for three days, he was blind and did not eat or drink anything. Three days of blindness.
of being deprived of water and food. Saul was literally dying to himself. Do you see the significance three days? And then after that he would find resurrection in life. In Jesus. I know of another guy where something miraculous happened in three days. God is intent. There's one more piece of scripture. I want us to read you'll continue down in verse 10 in Damascus, there was a disciple named an Ananias, the Lord called to him in a vision.
An Ananias. Yes, Lord. He answered the Lord, told him, go to the house of Judas on straight street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul four. He is praying in a vision. He has seen a man named Anais come and place his hands on him to restore his. Uh, Lord an Anais answered. This is how I imagine Anais saying, saying this.
I have heard many reports about this man and all the harmony has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priest to arrest all who call on your name. But the Lord said to an Anais go, this man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their Kings and to the people of Israel, I will show him how much he must suffer for my.
so then an and I went to the house and entered it, placing his hands on Saul. He said, don't miss this brother, Saul 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 immediately. Something like scales fell from Saul's eyes and he could see.
he got up and was baptized. And after taking some food, he regained his strength, Anne Anais. He was an ordinary man. He wasn't an apostle. He wasn't a prophet. He wasn't a pastor or an elder. And that was for a God used him because he was ordinary because he had special work for Anais to do. And I don't think he gets enough credit in Paul's conversion story.
The road to Damascus was a meeting, uh, Saul had with God, but it wasn't finished. And we don't know very much about Ananias before, or even after his meeting with Saul. He was an average follower of Jesus who had one of the biggest parts to play in the story of a man who came to know Jesus and would change all of Christianity.
And God spoke to Anais in a completely different way than he spoke to Saul. Right. Saul's way was violent and terrifying. And it was, it was crazy. And it's like, okay, well maybe Saul deserved a little bit of that to be humbled a little bit, but Anais was reached in a visioned by God with a sweet, sweet voice and a I's response was awesome.
Yes, Lord. Here I am. Lord. It was perfect. And then God asks him to do the unspeakable, to go, to visit Saul, to lay hands on him, to give him his sight back. And I love Anais is like, uh, well, I've heard about this guy. He's super sketchy. Okay. He could kill me. Um, we're are we talking about the same guy? God, that's how I imagine in my head at least.
But he does it in a way that doesn't question God, but he's just double checking, like you sure, man.
his response is reasonable. That's how I would respond. I don't think God was even angry at him, but then he is like, yep, yep, yep. Same guy go. And he goes and something miraculous happens, but that's what we expected.
Right. When God calls us to do something really scary and terrifying. And we question it and we say, I'm not sure, God, I don't know how this is gonna work, but we go, he equips. Because that's what he does. An an I's heart was something to be celebrated. I imagine he finds Saul. And since he's blind, I've had this vision, this visual in my mind of what he does, I can see Anais.
He approaches Saul. He grabs his face and looks into his blind eyes. And what does he say, brother, brother, other. The man that hated followers of Jesus, the man that persecuted and terrorized Christians, the man that thousands of people were terrified of. And Anna IAS grabs his face and says brother, cuz in that moment, Anna and I sees the man that Jesus loves the man that Jesus extended grace to the man that Jesus used to spread the church.
And the man that Jesus gave another chance to an Anais. How many SAS are not able to be Pauls because we are not willing to be an Anais. I'll say it again. How many SAS are not able to be Pauls because we are not willing to be an Anais and an Anais that went to the trial and an Anais that didn't get any credit and an Anais that softened his heart to a murderous.
An an Annia that lived like Jesus. And Annia say that five times, it's really hard.
that saw his enemy as his brother. What if Anani decided for himself, whether or not Paul was deserving of punishment? What would've happened too many times, we delight and the punishment of others rather than the transformation of.
We need to ask ourselves, do I really want to see redemption or do I want the punishment that they deserve? How many people are walking around in your life with blinders on just waiting for an Anai to intervene, waiting for you, to intervene, waiting for you, to extend grace, two, waiting for you to forgive, waiting for you, to soften your heart, waiting for you to listen and not speak.
waiting for you to grab their face and say, you are loved and you are a child of God, my brother, my sister, back in, uh, 2010, God, uh, called me into a ministry that, um, I literally thought he was crazy. I asked the questions, Anne. And I asked, I said, God, are you sure this is terrifying? Do you know what this industry is?
Do you know what, you know what happens here? I don't know what this looks like. And God said, I know, go. So for seven years, for seven years, once a month on a Monday night, me and a group of ladies, uh, would go into strip clubs and, uh, we'd go through, uh, those doors. We would go to the back dressing room where the girls were getting ready.
Um, the dancers were getting ready and we would. With them, we would talk, we would laugh. We would sometimes cry. We would sometimes be ignored. We would bring cupcakes in. That was, um, the way God used cupcakes still amazes me because it just, I mean, one thing cupcakes are awesome anyway. Uh, but walking into those clubs with those cupcakes was such a harmless gift.
And I literally saw God use that as a way in for us every time. I'll be honest, there isn't a huge God story in this. We're not gonna applaud. I'm not gonna say we baptized 50 girls. They all found Jesus. They left the industry and they're all attending central and we're in a life group together. Right.
I'm not gonna say it cuz it didn't happen.
We had moments.
in those clubs to make them feel human, to show them a love that wasn't a judgemental love. We didn't preach at them. We didn't tell them of everything they were doing wrong. We loved them and we showed up. We show, we showed them a kind of love that we grabbed their face and said, you are loved.
You are loved by a God. You are loved by. And we just wanna sit here with you and talk. I don't know if those girls had blinders on or were waiting for an N I, but I do know that God was calling us into those clubs for a specific reason, for his reason and a reason that I may never know what the outcome is.
We just did it faithfully for seven years, we sat in the trial for seven years and guys, it was exhausting. It was hard. There's things that I don't ever wanna see again, but God revealed himself in the trial and there was never this overwhelming celebration and that's okay. What does it look like to sit in the trial and not the celebration?
some of you have blinders on right now, and God is calling you up and out of spiritual blindness that you're living in. He's saying child, where are you going? What are you doing? Why are you doing this? And spiritual blindness looks different for a lot of people. And for me personally, it was coming to peace with someone that brought harm into my life.
I, uh, I went on a trip to, uh, Israel, Palestine, um, with central years ago, back in 2017, I think it was. And, um, if you know anything about Israel, Palestine, you know, of the hundreds and hundreds year conflict of happening between two people, groups over religion and money and land and, uh, just a war that's going on.
And, uh, One of the days that we were there, we spent time with two people from the parent circle. This is an organization that, uh, has people come together from different, from both sides of the conflict, people that have lost someone in their life because of the other side. And these people come together and they sit together, they share their hurt and their trauma and their stories, and they love on each other.
And so we met two people, Moira and Ram.
uh, Moira was a Palestinian Muslim woman and Rami was a, a Jewish, um, was a Jewish Israeli Jewish man. And so we heard their stories. Moira, um, had lost her husband and, um, he was in traffic, uh, one day and he got out of his car to see what was going on, cuz he wasn't moving the cars weren't moving and an Israeli soldier, uh, saw him get out of his car and thought that he was threatening and he shot him in.
he was left on the street for four hours before Moira found him Rami lost his 14 year old daughter. She was shopping in Jerusalem and she was crossing the courtyard at the wrong time in a Palestinian suicide bomber, exploded feet from her.
I sat there in shock, listening to these two beautiful. They're best friends, by the way, they weren't trying to sway me to pick a side. They were sharing their hurt and their loss and their trauma and this journey that they were on, that they didn't wanna repay violence for violence that they chose another way they wanted to choose to love.
They wanted to not be blinded by hate or opinions or fear.
they chose forgiveness and continue to help others find the same piece and forgiveness that they have found. They chose to take the blinders off so that they could be an Anani for others who are searching, who are lost, who are people like SA, and to be honest, they were my and Anais.
And it was, if it wasn't for them intervening in my story, I wouldn't be the person I am now, because years later I would find. In a situation where I had to go on a journey of forgiveness. I have a special needs brother. Uh, his name is Tim. He's one of the best things that's ever happened to me. Uh, when I look at him, uh, I , he just makes me smile.
I, uh, I see Jesus. He doesn't have an enemy. He wouldn't hurt a fly. He greets people with hugs and kisses and has zero personal space. And it's really awesome. Um, he doesn't know who bad people are,
but he had a care provider
who verbally and physically took advantage of him.
Tim doesn't know.
how to not love people. I don't think it exists for him and because of who he is and because of what God has revealed to me about grace and what I saw in Israel and Palestine, I was left with a choice. Do I do this hard work of forgiveness for his abuser? Or do I fill my heart with hatred guys?
I sat there in those moments. I had visions of my mind of what I would do if I came across this person. If I faced this person, what I would say, what I would do, then it took months and months for me to get to a place where I said, God, I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted by this hatred.
So I decided to let him do the work to be free of hatred, to love the way that Jesus love. The way that Jesus loved Saul and honestly, the way that Tim still manages to love people, despite what's been done to him to find the grace, to extend to people that definitely don't deserve it, they sure don't.
But if they don't, then I
close with these different stories. Cause I want us to heart check ourselves.
to look deep into who we are and find the blinders that are keeping us from following Jesus. You may be like me and need to allow God to work in your heart. Some deep pain that you're holding onto, or a deep anger that you're clinging to, or a deep sadness that you need to find in.
Let him sit with you in the. So that you may learn how to sit with others in the trial and not pass over to get to the celebration. Moira and Romy were my Annia that forever altered my life and how I extend grace and understanding to people. But guys, this is not easy. Again, I'm just as messy as you are.
I don't stand out here and say grace for you and love for you and grace for you. And I got it all. I have to choose it every single day. And there are still things in people in my life that I have to let go of that I have to continue and let God do the work. It's easy to look at. People like saw and point out all the terrible things they did or do saw was the worst of the worst.
Who's the worst of the worst for you in your.
but he was saved by grace God's grace, but also the grace of Anais because he chose to go and do the terrified thing. And because of that, Paul forever changed our lives. The way that he followed Jesus without Anais, there would be no, Paul, there are SAS waiting for the Anais waiting for you, waiting for us.
Where are you blind to what Jesus is calling you to.
church. I pray that we will not get in the way with our legalistic ways with our dos and don'ts and, but they did this.
I pray, we won't just show up for the celebration. I pray that we'll show up for the trial and allow God to move our hearts to a heart of grace, to a heart of understanding.
so that people may know all people may know that they are children of God, no matter what,
God, we come before you
just broken and messy. God, we're grateful that we're reminded of stories like Saul and how he was saved by you,
because God, you saw him as a child. As you see all of us, God, I'm grateful for people like Ananias that step into the unknown that are not blinded by their own opinions. And their own ideas of what people deserve,
but his faithfulness to step into it and to see his enemy as his brother,
God, we're all on a journey,
but we have to go through the trial to get to the celebr.
and God in the trials is when you do incredible work in our hearts,
I pray that you would continue to challenge us to move us to a place where we're able to extend grace to people. It may not be today or tomorrow or the next day, but God, let us be honest with ourselves of what we're clinging onto, what we're holding onto.
that we need to be released from. And that's only something that you can do.
God work with us in the trial.
And I pray that we would be at the celebration, cuz God is exciting. When people find
you can be a.
I pray that we would find ourselves in Anais God, that we would step into the unknown that we would say, yes, Lord, here I am. Use me. Use me. God. We're grateful for who you are. We're grateful for your son that died on the cross for all so that we can be reminded when we say they don't deserve it.
we remember the cross and we realized that we all didn't deserve it, but you extend it to us anyway. And for that we're grateful. God, we love you. We praise you. We give you all the glory in your name. We pray and everyone said, amen. Amen.
I love that imagery that Rachel has slept us with. What are the solves in your life? What are the things that you're not seeing? What are the things that you need to see? What are the things that you are blinded by? And I believe that it's an incredible opportunity for us. To see things differently to see things the way God sees it.
I'm reminded of when. My second oldest, we got her glasses and it was quite the experience, not an incredible experience because of just buying glasses, but it was quite the experience to see what she saw because when the optometrist put the glasses on her, I'll never forget the way she stared at things.
And it's incredible to think when she looked at a tree, she said, she explained in the doctor's office. I didn't know. The tree had leaves. You see her vision was limited. She didn't.