Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Dirt Roads, Bright Lights, New Names and Promised Restoration

Submitted by Lara Cook
Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  Acts 9:3-5
Saul of Tarsus was a horrible man.  He hated God, Christians, and made it his life purpose to persecute and kill Christians.  His reputation preceded him and everyone knew who he was and what he stood for.  At one point, he asked the high priest for letters to the synagogues at Damascus so that if he found any believers he could arrest them and bring them to Jerusalem.  As he traveled down that dirt road to Damascus, he, and the men travelling with him, were suddenly blinded by a bright light.  It knocked him right to the ground and he heard a voice saying… Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  Then the voice told Paul to get up and go into the city where he would be told what to do next.  The men that were travelling with Saul were speechless.  They heard it too but could not see anyone.  Saul got up, still blinded and they led him into Damascus.  For the next three days, he was blind and he didn’t eat or drink.  When his eyes were opened, he became a zealous witness for the Lord.  When God wants to get our attention, He will take whatever measures are necessary!
If the amazing love and mercy of God can forgive and look past the horrible sins of a man who murdered and persecuted His servants and change him into something new, I know He can look past my horrible self.  There are days when I long for the blinding light of the Savior to strike me and take everything else, every other distraction, away so that I am focused only on Him.  You see, even though I know better, sometimes I am so covered up in wrong that I cannot turn myself in his direction, just like Saul.  God knows this about us and He will give us the opportunity to do it ourselves but when He needs to, He will rescue us. For Saul, it took an event, a blinding experience that knocked him to his knees and kept him down for three days.  Three days of blindness and no food or drink.  God wanted his full attention with no distractions.  I guarantee he was focused on God during that time. 
When God changed Saul, He began to be referred to as Paul in the Bible.  Many Bible scholars say that God changed his name when he changed his heart.  Whether God changed Saul’s name or not, it is a perfect example of how we are a new creation in Christ.  A name change is a sign that something is different, that something new has happened or will happen.  A name change is a fresh start, a do-over, a re-invention.  Saul had a complete change in his life from one extreme to the other.  He turned and literally went in the opposite direction.  What a graphic example of repentance.  God calls us to not only confess our sin, but to turn away from it. 
Unfortunately, Sin also changes our name.  It changes our name to things like liar, cheater, addict, thief, murderer, adulterer, etc… Unfortunately, these names people don’t quickly forget after God has changed us.  Sin makes us into something we don’t want to be and it changes the way people see us. It makes us cross lines and compromise values that we never thought we would waver on.  It takes us places we would never go on our own, into the thick, suffocating, miry, clay.  But even there, God can reach us and pull us out completely and blind us with His great conviction laced with mercy and love.  This is the character of our God: He redeems, rebuilds, renames. As He disciplines, He also restores. Praise God we are never too far gone for the reach of His restoration!
Scripture to Claim:

They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me. Galatians 1:23-24 ESV

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