When your way collides with The Way
Golf is an interesting game. I first played the game when I was a junior in high school. It was a frustrating day. I would set the ball on the tee, and swing as hard as I could and it would just roll about five feet. For much of the day I would use my driver in the fairway with the ball tee-d up thinking I needed as much distance as I could get. It was a long and frustrating day. The whole time I’m out there I am thinking, “I will never play this game ever again. It was hot and I was miserable. Then on a short par 3 hole I lined up my ball and took all of my frustration and channeled it through my body to the club at the end of my hand and finally to the ball. When I made contact the world just went into slow motion. I just dropped my club and watched as the ball gracefully floated through the air. It went past my usual 5 feet over the green, over the fence behind the green, past the road beyond the green. As the ball sailed out of view beyond the horizon it was still headed up. At that moment I thought to myself, “I love this game! Life could not get any better!” The feeling I had was like the feeling of a kid on a bike. Do you remember that feeling? When you would climb that hill, you reach the top and then you put your feet on the handlebars. Time slows as you feel the wind blowing through your hair. The entire ride down the hill you are laughing as you notice the birds singing and the squirrels playing together. Sometimes life is perfect like that. This is the feeling that Saul has in Acts 9.
Saul led a privileged life. He was essentially born into a family like the Kennedy’s. In fact there is a chance that he was named after the first king of Israel. The family had high hopes for him. Saul quickly advanced to the head of his class at school. He was quickly sent off to learn at the feet of a master, a place reserved for only the most gifted. Under this master Saul witnesses Stephen’s speech and then his murder. Because of this event Saul finds his passion. To wipe out those who are leading people away from Judaism. As a result of his actions and others these people of this new way fled to all parts of the world. Saul was not satisfied. They all need to be punished. Saul takes it upon himself to go and find them and have them arrested. Life was perfect.
Acts 9:1-20 (NIV)
1Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2and 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. 3As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He 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.” 7The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
It was at this moment that things took a radical change. Saul was cruising down the highway of life and here he comes to a crossroads. Saul is told that he is not on the road that he thought he was on. He cannot get where he wants to go on this road. We are going to camp right here at this crossroads today. For right now I want you to forget that you know the end of the story. Forget that you know how Saul ends up being one of the greatest followers of Jesus. Just focus on this present suffering we find Saul in. What does Saul’s crossroad teach us about when our way collides with the way?
A few weeks ago a disturbed young man walked into a dorm room on the campus of Virginia Tech and began a killing spree that has shaken our nation. Every time an event like this happens, there is a renewed sense of spirituality. Many people want to know what role God has to play in events of evil such as this. While Saul’s situation is not evil it is nonetheless a distressing situation for Saul as evidenced by his not eating or drinking for 3 days.
One of the basic tenets of Christian theology is that God is in control of everything. We do not believe that God simply created this world, set it and forgot it. This means that everything that happens is allowed to happen by God. He may not cause everything, but he allows it to happen. We can look at Job to get a picture of this. Satan could only do what he was allowed to do by God. We also read in Romans 8:28 that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord. This means that whatever happens God takes the good and the bad and uses it to our benefit if we are his followers. Take Joseph for example. He was sold into slavery by his brothers. They did this out of anger and hate. However, God used that situation to result in the salvation of the Egyptians and Joseph’s family. We can “endure hardships as discipline” (Hebrews 12:7) because we understand that God allowed this event to happen to shape me and purify me.
The reasons for the hardships many times will be a mystery in the time immediately following. Look at the chaos that Saul and his companions are in. Saul is blinded and has to be lead by the hand. He is only told that he is persecuting the Lord, but is not told what he is doing or how to change. His companions heard the sound, but did not see anyone or apparently understand what was said to Saul. They did not know what was going on. The same will be true in your hardships. It will be initially unclear what God is doing with this hardship that is in your life. Your companions will be even more confused than you are because they are not able to see and hear all that you are able to see and hear. The answer to Saul’s situation is given in verse 10 and following.
10In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. 11The 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. 12In 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. 14And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” 15But 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. 16I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” 17Then 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.” 18Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.
Ananias is told that Saul will be told (vs 6, 16)how much he must suffer for the name of God. This is future tense. The answers that Saul is seeking will be told to him as time passes by. He is only told what he can handle now. That is the way that God works. He only gives us the information that we are capable of digesting for that day. That is why the Holy Spirit is needed. In John 16 Jesus is preparing his disciples for the time that is coming when Jesus will not be with them anymore. He is giving them some last minute instructions. In verse 12 he says that he has a lot more to tell them, but they are not ready for it yet. This is why it is important for us to continue to pray and study daily. There will be things that we will understand tomorrow that we are not capable of understanding today. So while the confusion and frustration is normal, we can rest knowing that God will give us the information that we need when we are ready for it. Our job is to get ready.
We get ready for the new information and the way by putting to death our old way. This is the beginning of new life (John 12:24). When Saul was confronted by this crossroad, he left his way and began a new way with Christ as his navigation system.