This morning I want to talk to you about a murderer. This violent man was a brilliant scholar. But he was also a fanatic who was extremely intolerant. He was literally controlled by his powerful convictions. He held his beliefs with such intensity that he violently defended his views. He was absolutely convinced that his views were God's views. He was absolutely certain that his conclusions were God's thoughts. To disagree with him was to disagree with God. And God wanted him to destroy people who should know better than to disagree with him.

In his brilliance he understood how he could legalize his violent behavior. He found a "legal route" to destroy people who disagreed with him.

Years after he turned away from violence, he confessed. He confessed that he had been a dangerous, violent man who was convinced that God wanted him to destroy people.

  1. This murderer turned his life around 180 degrees.
    1. Years after redirecting his life, he wrote these two statements about his violence.
      1. Galatians 1:13,14 For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. I used to persecute God's church with extreme actions that cannot be measured.
        2. I committed myself to destroying the church and gave that goal my best effort.
        3. My violence was motivated by my commitment to God and tradition.
      2. 1 Timothy 1:12-16 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. In spite of all my violent acts against him, Christ allowed me to serve him.
        2. Without realizing it, I blasphemed God; I was a persecutor and violent aggressor.
        3. I received mercy for three reasons.
          1. I acted in ignorance.
          2. God sent Jesus to save sinners, and that included me, even though I was a horrible man.
          3. By saving me, Christ demonstrated that his patience and grace were great enough to save anyone.
    2. It is extremely important that you see some obvious truths in Paul's awakening.
      1. Paul the violent scholar recognized his ignorance for what it was when he recognized Jesus for who he is.
        1. The violent Paul, the fanatical Paul, the religious Paul who was blinded by his own convictions, was incapable of seeing his ignorance until he understood that Jesus was the Christ.
        2. Paul the violent man was a brilliant Bible scholar who was totally convinced that he understood the will of God.
        3. But Paul the violent man, the brilliant Bible scholar committed himself to destroy what God took centuries to bring into existence.
      2. Why did God not simply destroy Paul the violent man?
        1. Paul was arresting Christians, was he not? Yes.
        2. Paul was searching for Christians to put them in prison, was he not? Yes.
        3. Paul voted for their execution when they were tried, did he not? Yes.
        4. Then why did not God just destroy Paul and end the problem?
      3. Why did God not do that? Let me give you a three part answer.
        1. First, God is sovereign: He does what He chooses to do in the way He chooses to do it to accomplish His own purposes.
        2. Second, God spared Paul's life because Paul acted in ignorance, not in knowledgeably defiance.
          1. Paul had lots of knowledge; he was terribly lacking in understanding.
          2. He thought he was serving God, not opposing God.
          3. His ignorance created a faithless faith; his faith was in Israel, not in the God of Israel.
        3. Third, as God explained to Ananias in Acts 9:15,16 when Ananias asked basically the same question, "I have some special work for Paul to do for Me."

  2. In Paul's awakening, there is a special message for us.
    1. If our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ preached here this morning, if this morning Jesus explained to us what his purposes were when he died on the cross, what his purposes were in Acts 2 when he was presented as Lord and Christ, and what his purposes are right now right here, that would be the most shocking sermon any of us ever heard.
      1. If that could occur, five things would be guaranteed to happen.
        1. First, each of us would be astounded by our misunderstandings and ignorance.
        2. Second, we would be dumbfounded at the ways that our emphasis miss God's purposes.
        3. Third, our mouths would drop open when Jesus listed the religious concerns that are terribly important to us that were never important to Him.
        4. Fourth, we would see self as we have never seen self before.
        5. Fifth, we would look at the world as we have never seen the world before.
      2. If Jesus could preach right here to us this morning, none of us can begin to imagine the awakening we would experience.
      3. I am personally convinced that our discovery would be as dramatic as Paul's discovery when Jesus spoke to him on the Damascus road.
    2. But that will not happen; Jesus will not be speaking from this pulpit.
      1. Yet, our awakening must happen.
      2. There must come a point in our lives when we see our ignorance, and the discovery of our ignorance turns our lives around.
      3. "David, you talking about people who are not Christians, aren't you?" No.
        1. That certainly must happen in the hearts and minds of people who do not believe in Jesus Christ.
        2. But I am specifically stating that this must also happen in the hearts and minds of Christians.
        3. "But we are religious." So was Paul.
        4. "But we follow the scriptures." So did Paul.
        5. "But we accept the responsibility to be obedient." So did Paul.
        6. "But we are trying to do what we were taught God wanted us to do." So was Paul.
        7. "But we are a part of the people God called to be His own." So was Paul.

  3. Opportunities to awaken occur in everyone's life.
    1. Let me state again what I mean by an awakening.
      1. An awakening occurs when a combination of two things happen.
      2. Something happens to force me to stare my own ignorance in its face.
      3. When I see my ignorance, I am shaken to the point that I accept the responsibility to redirect my life.
    2. Commonly, life presents us with several opportunities to awaken.
      1. When I am forced to realize that I justify a lifestyle that opposes my conscience and denies my faith, the opportunity to awaken knocks.
      2. When I find myself in the misery of painful marriage struggles, the opportunity to awaken knocks.
      3. When my children turn my value system upside down, the opportunity to awaken knocks.
      4. When my grown children are locked in a war with evil, the opportunity to awaken knocks.
      5. When my spiritual commitment is a powerful negative force in my life, the opportunity to awaken knocks.
      6. When my mistakes consume me, the opportunity to awaken knocks.
      7. When my ungodliness fails me and devastates my life, the opportunity to awaken knocks.
    3. In one way, life is far more predictable than we want it to be.
      1. In all of life, our teenage years are unlike any other years.
        1. In our teen years, everything is black and white.
        2. When we are teenagers, we see so clearly with such good judgment and such marvelous insights.
        3. Never in your life will you consider yourself as wise or as certain as teenagers typically consider themselves.
      2. Typically, the twenties are very idealistic years.
        1. People in their twenties can see with such vision.
        2. They feel so sorry for people who are older and who do not have vision.
      3. Typically the thirties are the "we can do it" years.
        1. These are our crusader years when we are certain that we can change the world.
        2. We have the energy, and we have the drive.
      4. Generally it is in the forties that life begins to get very complicated, and we discover that we don't have all the answers.
      5. In the fifties, we begin to shake our heads--at ourselves, at the past, and at those who are so sure they know what life is about.
      6. And somewhere in the journey and experience called living, every person must experience a major awakening.
        1. Only those who awaken meaningfully use life in God.
        2. Regardless of what they think, those who do not experience awakening waste life in meaningless living.

[Song of reflection: Grace Greater Than Our Sin, # 111]

What if for one week, you had this unexpected power? What if for one week, every time you saw a child, you immediately saw what was going to happen in that child's adult life? It was not a power that you could chose to use. It just happened, and for one week you could not keep it from happening.

Would you enjoy that experience? No?

Would you say to yourself, "If that child could see what I see, he or she would do anything possible to keep that from happening"?

The wonderful news is this: that cannot happen. Every person has within himself or herself the potential to change and the opportunity to redirect life. The redirection of your life is dependent on three things. Your awakening. Your decision to use your will. You willingness to place your faith in the power and mercy of God by surrendering your life to Christ.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 15 August 1999

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