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Finding Significance in Obscurity

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Finding Significance in Obscurity

October 23, 2005

Acts 9:10-19

Focus: Any life can be significant and meaningful when it’s turned over to the Lord.


Please open your Bible and follow along as I read today’s text from Acts 9:10-19: Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, "Ananias!" "Yes, Lord!" he replied.  The Lord said, "Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you arrive, ask for Saul of Tarsus. He is praying to me right now. I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying his hands on him so that he can see again." "But Lord," exclaimed Ananias, "I've heard about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! And we hear that he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest every believer in Damascus." But the Lord said, "Go and do what I say. For Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel.  And I will show him how much he must suffer for me." So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you may get your sight back and be filled with the Holy Spirit."  Instantly something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. Afterward he ate some food and was strengthened. Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days.”

Introduction: Obscure People

A. Ananias

B. 99 percent of people today

I. Significance Requires a Dream

u Illustration: Three stonemasons’ perspectives

u Illustration: View from Eagle Rock

u Illustration: The man who led Moody to Christ

II. Significance Requires Courage

u Illustration: Soldiers marching past a crucifix

III. Significance Requires Faith

u Illustration: Blossoms on the far side of the wall

u Illustration: A Sunday school teacher’s impact

IV. Significance Requires Action

u Illustration: “Where’s the piccolo?”

u Illustration: Spurgeon’s conversion

Introduction: Obscure People

I would expect 99 percent of the people in our society feel very obscure—the kind of feeling that whatever I do doesn’t really matter. Nobody notices. If I were gone it wouldn’t make much difference in this society. It would be an interesting thing to take a poll here this morning and have you respond to me saying either “I feel very obscure” or “I think I’m very important to society.” Well, we can’t do that, but I expect the vast majority of us feel quite obscure or insignificant to society.

If we add to the poll, “How many want your life to be significant and important?” just about everybody would say, “Of course I want my life to be significant and important.” God wants that too. It’s amazing how wrong are our perceptions of ourselves. That’s why God said through the prophet Isaiah in his fifty-fifth chapter, “For your thoughts are not my thoughts. Neither your ways my ways. As far as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

What’s God saying there? He’s saying your misperception of yourself must be corrected by his perception of you. How are we going to get hold of this, so that even though I feel obscure in life, I can feel that my life is significant? Maybe one of the ways to do it is to look at the life of an obscure person. We have lots of those in the Bible. I want you to look at one of them with me: Ananias.

We know little about this Ananias (I say this Ananias because there are two Ananias’s mentioned in Acts – the other one was the Ananias of Ananias of Ananias and Saphira, so we don’t want to get the two confused or think that they are one and the same person). In fact, this-morning you know everything about him there is to know, because I read it. Of course, the apostle Paul gives a brief synopsis of this event in Acts 22 , but that’s all.

Oh, there are traditions about Ananias. Some say he is one of the seventy disciples Jesus chose. Some say he was the first one to preach the gospel in Damascus. Then he became a bishop of Damascus who was so zealous in his faith that the people seized him, scourged him, and stoned him to death. But we don’t know that. All we know is that Ananias was a layman—a Hebrew. He was respected in his community, and he became a Christian. That’s all.

Ah, but there’s one other thing: This obscure person had an impact on the apostle Paul, the greatest person—apart from Jesus Christ—to live in all the history of the Christian church. This obscure man was chosen by God to begin the journey of the apostle Paul in his conversion, his development, and his understanding of the mission and direction for his life. Imagine an obscure person with that kind of significance.

Now, how can that help you and me? Let’s look at the elements of Ananias’ life, and maybe that will help us get a picture.

I. Significance Requires a Dream

First, there must be a dream. Nothing significant in our life ever happens without a dream, a vision, a sense that something bigger could happen to an Ananias. When God said, “Go to that house and see Saul of Tarsus,” Ananias said, “Oh my, how could I do that? That man is after the Christians.”

And God said, “My thought is higher than your thought, and let my thought have something to do with your thought, so your vision is big.” His perspective got bigger. Henry Blackaby calls this perspective “God-sized”. Our vision for our church or community needs to be so big that we cannot achieve it without God.

So often, in our feeling of obscurity, we get so little in our thinking. We focus on the little problems of life instead of getting that bigger picture of life. Ananias got a bigger picture.

When you drive down the highway, it’s never good to focus your attention on the dirty spot on the windshield. It’s always good to let the whole vision be in front of you. Life is so much that way. We focus on that little thing instead of getting the big picture.

For example: A man came to a construction site, where stonemasons were working. The man said to one, “What are you doing?”

The stonemason said, “You can see, I’m chipping a stone.”

The man walked over to another mason and said, “What are you doing?”

He answered, “I’m building a wall.”

The man walked over to a third mason and said, “What are you doing?”

This mason answered, “I am building a cathedral.” Ha! All three were doing the same thing, but what a difference perspective makes!

Gordon Johnson relates the following story from his life: I was pastor of a little church of 140 members in New Jersey at the foot of the Orange Mountains in Montclair. The church was nestled on a little-used street.

On the top of Eagle Rock, one of the Orange Mountains, there was a lookout. On a clear day, I could look east across the Hudson into Manhattan. And I could look south to Trenton, New Jersey. And I could look north into Connecticut. I would look out there and say, Gordon, 10 percent of the population of the United States is right there in your view. I was just that young preacher with 140 members in a little spot that you could hardly find, but it gave me a big feeling. It made a difference in Gordon Johnson.

Edward Kimball is probably not known to you. He lived over a hundred years ago. He was a Sunday school teacher in Boston, where a young teenager became part of his class. The young man was a country boy. He didn’t know the ways of the city or of the church. But he came to Kimball’s Sunday school class.

When the teen first came to his class, Edward Kimball handed him a Bible. When Mr. Kimball said, “Turn to the Gospel of John,” the country boy didn’t know how to find the Gospel of John. Edward Kimball recognized what was happening, and while the other boys were snickering, he opened the Bible to the Gospel of John and handed it back. When he asked the boys to read, the country boy fumbled as he read.

But Edward Kimball had a big perspective, and he saw possibilities in the boy. Kimball worked with him, and after some months he went down to the store where the boy was working, went into the back room where he was stacking boxes, and led Dwight to Jesus Christ. That was the beginning of the ministry of Dwight L. Moody, this continent’s greatest evangelist during the last century.

You didn’t know Edward Kimball, an obscure Sunday school teacher who had a vision. But his vision transformed a young man who became a significant person.

So, ask God to give you His vision for Millet. Don’t be afraid to dream big. Be wary of dreaming too small! We know God wishes that none should perish (2Peter 3:9). God gave Ananias a vision to help Paul. Who is He giving you a vision to help in His name? In the original King James Bible there is a verse that says “without a vision the people perish”. Although it has been lost in translation, we know that God still gives His people His vision for His work.

II. Significance Requires Courage

There’s another factor in Ananias’ story: courage. Anything worthwhile in life will take a risk. You can’t accomplish anything unless there’s a willingness to step out and say, “Okay, I’m not really sure about this, but somewhere I believe this is what I ought to do.” You take the risk. That takes courage.

When Ananias heard from the Lord, “You go and see Saul of Tarsus,” he said, “Wait a minute. I have heard that he has come to destroy the Christians. Your saints in Jerusalem have been harmed by him.”

God’s idea countered the human idea, and God said, “My idea is for you to go.” It took courage, but Ananias went.

After Moses died, Joshua was called of God to take over and lead the people of Israel. Joshua was without courage. He was frightened because there were more than two million people. That’s more than twice the population of Edmonton. I can’t even imagine being out there in the wilderness with that kind of population. Lead them? Who wouldn’t be frightened? What a risk to take! Joshua was listening to God when God said, “As I was with Moses, I will be with you.”

Three different times God said to Joshua, “Be strong and of good courage.” Joshua did it.

You see, anything that’s worthwhile in life is going to take some risk. And God is going to give the courage to do it, if you’re trusting him.

During World War I, a British commander was preparing to lead his soldiers back to battle. They’d been on furlough, and it was a cold, rainy, muddy day. Their shoulders sagged because they knew what lay ahead of them: mud, blood, possible death. Nobody talked, nobody sang. It was a heavy time.

As they marched along, the commander looked into a bombed-out church. Back in the church he saw the figure of Christ on the cross. At that moment, something happened to the commander. He remembered the One who suffered, died, and rose again. There was victory, and there was triumph. As the troops marched along, he shouted out, “Eyes right, march!” Every eye turned to the right, and as the soldiers marched by, they saw Christ on the cross. Something happened to that company of men. Suddenly they saw triumph after suffering, and they took courage. With shoulders straightened, they began to smile as they went. You see, anything worthwhile in life will be a risk that demands courage.

Isaiah 40:28-29 (in the New King James version) says: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength.” And, in verse 31: “But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.”

Let me say something to you who may not have come to a personal commitment of your life to Jesus Christ. You’re seeing it as a struggle. You’ll never discover significance in life until you’ve allowed our Lord to take over. But you don’t know the risk involved in doing this. “It will change my lifestyle,” you say. “It will change what I do at work.” “It will change my relationships.” “It will make a difference to me in the community.” Oh yes it will! It will! The Lord is good to those who wait for Him. To the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:25-26)

I say to you this morning that nothing in life is going to be significant or worthwhile until you’re willing to take the risk. Let me assure you the Lord who told Joshua to be strong and of good courage will say it to you. And I urge you to think this morning about the possibilities, if you commit your life to Jesus Christ. And if you have already committed your life to Christ then continue to do so. As Psalms 139:23 says: Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxietiesLamentations 3:40 adds, “search out and examine our ways, And turn back to the Lord;” Then, (Psalm 77:11-12) …..  remember the works of the Lord; …. remember His wonders of old …….  meditate on all His work, ….. talk of His deeds.”

III. Significance Requires Faith

But there’s another element we see in Ananias: faith. You see, faith is facing the unknown with confidence in the One who knows the unknown. Faith is living on earth with an insight that leaps beyond what human eyes can see. Faith is discovering that God’s idea is more significant than my idea. Faith is believing him who can overcome my human limitations.

Too often we emphasize our limitations. Ananias could have done that. He could have said, “But this is an impossibility. There is no way that I can have dialogue and conversation with this great man, Saul of Tarsus.”

But God said, “You do it,” and he believed God. You see, faith leaps beyond our human limitations.

u A certain lady loved flowers and plants. She planted a rare vine against the stone wall near the back of her yard. She nurtured it, and it grew well. It was vigorous; it was beautiful. But it had no blossoms. She was disappointed.

One day she stood there looking at that vine with the beautiful foliage but no blossoms. Her neighbor called across the wall, asking her to come over. The lady went over to the other yard. The neighbor said, “Thank you for planting that vine. Look at these beautiful blossoms.” You see, the vine had crept through the stone wall, and the blossoms were on the other side. The owner hadn’t seen them yet.

And that’s the way faith is. It leaps beyond our human limitations to the other side. If you feel obscure, don’t forget the God of our faith will overcome your human limitations. He will be our strength in our weakness. He says in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Many years ago in the city of Minneapolis at Bethlehem Baptist Church they needed a Sunday school teacher for the junior boys. This class wasn’t bad, just energetic. No teacher had been able to control them. Ewald Chaldberg, a Swedish masseur, was asked to teach, and he took the junior boys class.

Ewald still had his Swedish accent. Buzzing all over the church was the word, “He’ll never make it. Three weeks, and that will be the end.” But somehow Ewald Chaldberg believed God when he took the class, and he stayed with it through the years. He kept teaching boys.

Some years ago a visiting pastor came to that very church to share in a service. It was the tenth anniversary of the death of Ewald Chaldberg. How do you like that—a layman in the church, and they’re celebrating the tenth anniversary of his death!

During the service, they recounted that at least forty men were in Christian service someplace in the world because Ewald Chaldberg taught boys, loved them, and watched over them as they grew. Ewald Chaldberg had faith to believe that God could overcome his human limitations.

On the morning of that anniversary celebration, twenty-seven lay persons stood up to say, “We’re going to be like Ewald Chaldberg in a small way.” The obscure immigrant with a Swedish accent found significance because he trusted the Lord who said, “My idea is bigger than your idea.”

Isaiah 42:16 contains a wonderful promise of God’s help to us if we are faithful: I will lead blind Israel down a new path, guiding them along an unfamiliar way. I will make the darkness bright before them and smooth out the road ahead of them. Yes, I will indeed do these things; I will not forsake them.”

IV. Significance Requires Action

But there’s one other demand to consider from the life of Ananias: action. Action is so tied to the whole matter of faith that you can’t separate them. For when we understand something by faith, and we act upon it, that gives conclusion to the faith. When God said to Ananias, “You go to the house of Saul and talk to him,” his immediate response was no. But the divine command was “Go.” The human idea was countered by the divine idea that said, “Don’t miss it. This is going to work.”

Here’s a real-life example. A conductor was rehearsing his great orchestra. The organ was rolling, giving beautiful melody. The drums were thundering. The trumpets were blaring out. The violins were singing beautifully. Suddenly something seemed wrong. Someone in the orchestra had thought, With all this going on, I can rest a while. This is a rehearsal anyway.

The conductor threw up his arms and said, “Where’s the piccolo?”

The piccolo player said, “I’m obscure. I don’t amount to much. With all of this going on, I don’t have to keep playing.”

But the one with the trained ear said, “Every one of us is necessary.” When you and I feel obscure, we must remember God has something significant for our lives, and we need to respond.2 Thessalonians say that we are not to grow weary in doing good. Galatians 6:9 puts it this way: let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”

You don’t need to be great to make a great impact on someone’s life, and through them impact many. Here’s a true story to illustrate this: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in the minds of some of us, was the greatest preacher since the apostle Paul. When he was 22 years of age, he preached sermons that some of us hope we may preach before we die. We won’t, but we can dream. Until his death, he preached to five thousand people—morning and evening—in London in the days before you had great big crowds, before transportation was like what we know today.

When Spurgeon was 15 years of age, he had not come to a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. On a blustery, snowy Sunday morning, he decided to go to church. He couldn’t get to his planned destination because the weather was so bad. So he turned into a side street, and went into a Methodist church. The preacher didn’t even get there. Only fifteen people had come to the church. A layman decided worship ought to take place, so he got up to preach. He used Isaiah 45:22, “Look unto me and be saved, all you ends of the earth.” In ten minutes he had exhausted all that he could think to say.

Then he noticed a boy in the back, under the balcony. He said, “Young man, you look like you’re in trouble. Look unto Jesus and be saved.” That’s exactly what happened that morning. Charles Haddon Spurgeon gave his life to Christ. That troubled young man became the mightiest preacher of the last century. He was led to faith in Christ by a man nobody knows—an obscure layman.

What about you this morning? Do you feel obscure? An awful lot of us feel that way. But life can be significant and meaningful as it’s turned over to our Lord. The transformation can happen. Ask God to give you a dream. Then when He does give you a dream, ask Him for the courage and faith you will need to put it into action. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll be standing where I am! When I came to know Jesus  as my Savior some twenty years ago, He gave me a vision to minister to His people. He gave me the faith to see I couldn’t do it on my own. He gave me the courage to leave the comfort of my small but secure accounting practice to act on my dream He said to me like He did to Isaiah in the 41st chapter, verse 9 and 10:”are My servant, I have chosen you and have not cast you away: Fear not, for I am with you; I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”


Remember the focus at the beginning of this message: Any life can be significant and meaningful when it’s turned over to the Lord.

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