Never too far Gone
The story of God's intervention in Paul's life teaches us that one can never be "too far gone."
Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor of Renovation Church.
Ever been in a place where you knew doom or maybe destruction was coming…and all you could do was wait?
It makes me think of Tornado season in MN.
Every summer we are terrorized by meteorologists who forecast that we must immediately head to the basement, get to the cellar, or at minimum get in a bathtub or something.
A few years ago, there was a tornado that came through Coon Rapids where I presently live.
I heard on TV that there were Tornado warnings for our area, so I went and checked the radar online.
Now, let me point out, I love the radar. Just like I love maps…it is in itself, sort of a map, right?
IN fact, when I was in college, my summer job was to be a DJ at a local radio station in Mora, MN.
KBEK 95.5FM, where we play the songs from the best times of your life!
And every summer, I got to stare at the radar all night long and tell people if there was any severe weather coming.
So that afternoon in Coon rapids, when I heard there was a tornado warning, I looked at the radar and arrogantly proclaimed to Lindsey, “It’s gonna miss us. It’s not even gonna rain here.”
It looked like it was going to go just north of us.
But all of a sudden things changed. And it looked like it wasn’t going to go north of us at all.
A “Hook Echo” developed…Tail hooks was coming right at us. I looked out the window and it was literally raining tree branches.
I’ve never seen anything like it.
And at this point, I’m thinking…it’s over. We’re on the 3rd and top floor of a poorly built apartment building.
Well, it was a good run anyway.
Let me come back to that…
SET-UP DAMASCUS SCENE
We are continuing in the Book of Acts, which is the story of the early church after Jesus ascends back into heaven.
We are going to be more fully introduced into one of the Book’s main characters today…who at this point is still named Saul.
We know a little bit about Saul at this point from what we’ve read in the Book of Acts, but not much.
A few chapters ago, one of the leader’s of the Jerusalem church, Stephen, was murdered, and Saul was there.
(Acts 7:59 – 8:3) – NIV
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. 1 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.
So Saul is this overly religious Pharisee, and he is, let’s just say, not happy about Christianity.
Christianity is the new way. It’s challenging his old way of doing things, and he’s not interested in change.
So he sets about putting Christians in prison, and many of them often were then brought before the Sanhedrin (Jewish religious congress), and then often probably put to death.
Now, word has gotten out that this guy Saul who is going around from town to town arresting Christians, which often is going to lead to their death, word gets out that he’s coming to this town called Damascus.
See Paul wants to get to Damascus and stomp out the Christians because Damascus is a gateway city.
Damascus, which is 150 miles NNE of Jerusalem, was sort of like what St. Louis was in the early 1800’s.
St. Louis was called “The Gateway to the West.”
Because of the fact that the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers both meet in St. Louis, so many people went through it when they went out West.
It’s why they have the Gateway Arch there.
And Damascus is kind of like that. If you were going to go East, you went through Damascus. Otherwise you were going to have to go through the Arabian desert.
Why does this even matter?
Because if Christianity started to flourish in Damascus, it was going to start to flourish EVERYwhere to the east.
It was a gateway city for commerce with travelers from all over.
And Saul was going to have none of that.
And the people in Damascus have heard that Saul has authority from the chief priests to go to Damascus and arrest every single Christian he can find and bring them back for trial.
And the word is out. He’s on his way. Death is coming.
They might have thought they were safe way up in Damascus, but things have changed.
They might have thought the storm would miss them, but now it’s coming right for them.
And what would that feel like? Can you imagine if you got word that some powerful leader was coming to Anoka County, and he was going to arrest every single Christian he could find…and you’ve found out that He’s on the way?!?
You can feel the tension.
And yet think of Saul himself.
Think of the storm that is coming.
Think of what he’s done.
You know sometimes in our day when people try and justify themselves before God, often they try and think about whether or not they deserve to go to heaven, one of the phrases they say is, “Well it’s not like I’ve ever murdered anyone.”
Well, this man has. And not just anyone. He’s strategically pursuing, arresting, and murdering the very people who are trying to tell the world that God’s son can save them.
He’s not only murdering innocent people, he’s trying to put a stop to God’s movement.
And let’s even take it a step further.
He’s not only murdering God’s witnesses, He’s doing so “in the name of God.”
The storm is coming and the storm is coming! And it’s massive. And it’s a storm on a mission. A mission of destruction.
But when God is in control, things can change, and they can change quickly.
Think about tornados. They’re really hard to predict.
Because one moment they can be wreaking absolute destruction, and the next, they’ve vanished right back into the sky.
And the same thing happened to us that day in Coon Rapids.
Just when we saw it raining branches and thought we were done for, all of a sudden, it was calm again. And all of a sudden we were fine.
We found out later that the tornado did touch down about a mile from our place by Lowes, which I’ve interpreted as God’s now divine favor towards Menard’s, but then just like that…it was gone.
Now watch this reversal that is going to happen
(Acts 9:1-19) – NIV
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. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 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. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered.
11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” 13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” 17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “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 Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.
AND just when you think a story’s gonna go one way…it goes a completely different way.
The story is brought to a screeching halt…and not only that…a crazy U-Turn is made in Saul’s life
Because when Jesus gets a hold of your life, things change.
And this crazy, mad with rage Saul, is going to be transformed. In fact, he’s going to get a new name. The name of Paul.
And God is going to use Paul to reach much of the known world at that time for Christ.
He’s going to use Him to do miracles. To speak in front of kings. In front of Ceasar himself.
And He’s going to use him to write close to a 1/3 of the New Testament we have today.
Saul. He’s going to use Saul. The murderer of God’s people: Saul.
And this has implications for you and me. Even if you’ve known God for quite some time.
In fact, if that’s you, let’s have a talk. You and I.
Where are you right now with God? Are you close? Can you feel his love? Are you living everyday in his Forgiveness?
Most of us are not. At least to the degree we would like to
Here’s what happens. At first, we often get quite excited about the fact that God would forgive someone like us.
But then the excitement wears off.
It’s like a kid getting a new toy on Christmas.
At first the joy is out of control, and they won’t stop playing with it. But by December 27th, it’s just another toy.
Or even for adults, say you got an unbelievable gift you weren’t expecting from your spouse/parent for Christmas. Let’s say they went out and went and got you a brand new car, and put it in the garage, and even put a giant bow on it.
For a while, you would be SO excited about that. Or some of you would be really mad they didn’t consult you on it.
But even if you were really happy, 2 years in, it’s just another car you drive to work every day.
And that kind of thing can happen with our relationship with Christ. It starts off with passion, but eventually passion can turn into ritual.
It’s just something we do every day…or maybe just every week, or maybe just once a month. It’s like driving to work.
But how does that happen?
Part of the issue is that any relationship takes work.
But there’s a deeper problem that we often don’t admit to or maybe you haven’t even realized
It’s called: Shame.
I mean, after all, let’s just be honest, we’ve cheated on God.
Instead of finding all of our joy in Him, we turned to idols.
Instead of looking to Him, we try and find joy in our own pleasures. People look for joy in success, in lust, in sex, in money, in status, in the size of their house, in their looks, in the success of their children, in virtually everywhere but God.
And even though we once said, “Lord, I give you my heart,” we’ve only given him a piece of it.
And when you’re aware of that…which most of us are to a degree, here’s what we do.
It’s easier to see on a human-to-human level.
Pretend there’s a married couple and one person has basically given none of their time and love to the other.
Instead they’ve given all their time to work, their money to possessions, and maybe even their passions instead to pornography.
When that person becomes aware of the fact that they aren’t giving much of their heart to their partner, which won’t take very long…
What do you think is more likely to happen?
Will they think A) “Oh, I have an awareness of this now. Wow, I’m just going to come back full strength to my spouse!”
Or B) Feel shame and slowly withdraw out of fear of what the person might think of them if they could see their heart.
They might hope for A, and even try for A, but often our shame, whether we admit or not, is so overwhelming, that we withdraw even further from the person we are in relationship with.
And the exact same thing happens with God. We start to become aware of our massive imperfections, and whether we consciously realize it or not, we foolishly start to withdraw from Him.
Adam and Eve did the same thing in the garden.
When they became aware of their sin, what did they do? They hid. They tried to hide from God!
Then why do we do the same?
Why do we continue to avoid him? To avoid long talks with Him like you used to? To avoid giving your heart fully back to him?
Why??? You want to know why? We forget. It’s what humans do best. We forget.
We forget that his love is unstoppable, unflappable, and there’s nothing we can do to lose it.
I want to read to you a passage from the Bible, and we aren’t going to put it on the screen. In fact, I want you to just let me read it straight to your heart. To open up your heart to let God speak to you. So, I actually, if you’re willing, I want you to close your eyes and just listen.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Do you know who wrote that? Saul of Tarsus.
The same Saul that murdered a chunk of God’s followers.
He knows that He has been forgiven. And forgiveness is final.
You can’t change that. Nothing can separate you from God’s forgiveness. He’s not going to STOP forgiving you.
You are as the Bible says permanently without blemish. You are permanently white as snow in His eyes.
But we start to trick ourselves that God must feel differently. He’s probably changing his mind on us now.
But look at what Saul/Paul writes about this and his life in 1 Timothy
(1 Timothy 1:13-16) – NIV
13 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.
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: 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.
Paul is saying, “HEY. HEY! If he did it for me…if he could have unlimited patience with me, he’ll do it for you. He’s DOING it for you.
We too often forget Paul’s other wise words from the book of Romans, “That while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Or think of it this way, when God sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross for you, he could already see every single sin you were going to commit in your entire life, EVEN after you gave your life to Him…
And yet, He still sent his son to die for you.
And if that’s true, which it is by the way, come back to Him with your full heart. I plead with you. Give Him your full heart again.
He already KNEW EVERYTHING you would do, and yet He still pursued you, wanting to show you his love.
God stands here today, not with the iron fist but with open arms.
Let today be the day you just come back to Him.
Put it off no longer.
He wants you to come home.
Max Lucado, who’s a great Christian story-teller told this story once that I would like to share with you.
Longing to leave her poor Brazilian neighborhood, Christina wanted to see the world. Discontent with a home having only a pallet on the floor, a washbasin, and a wood-burning stove, she dreamed of a better life in the city. One morning she slipped away, breaking her mother’s heart. Knowing what life on the streets would be like for her young, attractive daughter, Maria hurriedly packed to go find her. On her way to the bus stop she entered a drugstore to get one last thing. Pictures. She sat in the photograph booth, closed the curtain, and spent all she could on pictures of herself. With her purse full of small black-and-white photos, she boarded the next bus to Rio de Janiero. Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money. She also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to give up. When pride meets hunger, a human will do things that were before unthinkable. Knowing this, Maria began her search. Bars, hotels, nightclubs, any place with the reputation for street walkers or prostitutes. She went to them all. And at each place she left her picture—taped on a bathroom mirror, tacked to a hotel bulletin board, fastened to a corner phone booth. And on the back of each photo she wrote a note.
It wasn’t too long before both the money and the pictures ran out, and Maria had to go home. The weary mother wept as the bus began its long journey back to her small village. It was a few weeks later that young Christina descended the hotel stairs. Her young face was tired. Her brown eyes no longer danced with youth but spoke of pain and fear. Her laughter was broken. Her dream had become a nightmare. A thousand times over she had longed to trade these countless beds for her secure pallet. Yet the little village was, in too many ways, too far away. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes noticed a familiar face. She looked again, and there on the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother. Christina’s eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and removed the small photo. Written on the back was this compelling invitation. “Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home.” She did.
If I can, let me talk for a moment to those of you who are in the stage of considering God.
Maybe you heard of him as a kid. Maybe even went to church some, but since then…you’ve gone another way. Forged out on your own.
And maybe you’ve even done some pretty bad things.
Maybe some of you have even done some pretty terrible things.
It doesn’t matter to Him.
I don’t care if you did drugs, embezzled money, cheated on your spouse…
You have to know this. In Christianity, EVERYTHING is forgivable. That’s what’s so remarkable about Jesus.
That’s why God gives us this story of Saul.
There is simply no such thing as “too far gone.”
For not even a murderer of God’s people is too far gone for Jesus to forgive.
And just like Saul, and just like that story that I read where the mother is putting her picture around town. So is God doing the same thing in your life.
Appearing here. Appearing there. Trying to get your attention. He’s pursuing you. He wants you to be with Him. He’s seeking you out.
He’s telling you to come home. The question is: Will you come.?
2,000 years ago Jesus died on a cross and here’s why. Not just so we could have trendy necklaces or start a religion.
He died because God is just. Here’s the deal: You and I fall WAY short of perfection. We sin against God. A Lot.
And we don’t get to just stand in the presence of an all Holy God for all of eternity just cuz.
We’re way too sinful for that. We’ve sinned against Him. Justice must be done.
But God in his mercy decided to send his son to take the punishment for us. Unbelievable.
So he sent his son to die on the cross to take our place, it should have been us.
And if we would believe in that, he would wipe away all our sins and forgive us for everything we’ve ever done, be in a relationship with us, and offer us eternal life.
But to do so is to surrender to Him. Surrender to Him as Paul once chose to do.
It’s not just a package we accept for our own benefit. We surrender because He is God and he bought our life. He REDEEMED us, and now we are his.
And maybe you need to stop running, and surrender. To put your faith in Him.
And some of you need to do that today.
In fact, I’m going to pray for that right now. Let’s not delay.
And if you want to give your life to Jesus today, I want you to pray with me silently in your heart right now.
If you made that commitment today, I need you to do something for me. Seriously. I need you to tell someone you know who is a Christian in this church. Or, if you don’t know someone. Talk to our prayer Team. Talk to me about it. Email me about it. Let us know so we can help you get started in your walk with God.
This morning, we are going to take communion together
Communion is always a great time for us to remember what our faith is all about.
In the NT, Paul writes this about the reason for communion:
(1 Corinthians 11:23-26) –DON’T PUT ON SCREEN
23For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." 25In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
And that is what we will do. But Paul also writes in this passage that we ought to examine ourselves before taking communion.
To 1) not do it in vain. To only do it if we truly believe it. And if you’re still just seeking, that’s ok. You’re on a journey. 2) Communion is an opportunity for believers to examine themselves (ask yourself some tough questions)
In the back, there are 2 tables….with pieces of bread and a bowl of juice. When you’re ready, you can get up take an individual piece of bread and dip it in the juice.
However, take some time to examine yourself before you go back.
Sometime to remember what He’s done and what He will do
And when you’re ready, at any time during the next few songs (if you need to wait, wait), you can go back and take communion.
If you would like to pray while you’re back there, we encourage you to do so. With each other, by yourself, or get prayer from our prayer team.
We really just want you to encounter God during communion.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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