Morning. David Sorn. Pastor of Renovation Church.
Before we get started this morning, I want to bring you up to speed on some cool things that are happening here over the next few weeks at Renovation Church
Next week, we are going to take a pause from the Book of Acts for a while, and I am going to take one week to speak on the Vision of our church.
We have a lot of new people over the last few months, and many of you have never even had the chance to hear my heart on what this church is all about.
So, make sure you are here next week. I’m going to passionately speak my heart about what drives this church and also where God is taking us as a church.
Then, a week from Wednesday, we are going to have our first-ever “Worship Night” right here from 7-8pm.
We only have 3 Core Values at this church: Community, Reaching People, and Encountering God
We believe as leaders of this church, if we’re going to be serious about saying these things are our Core Values, we better be serious about living them out.
So, there are no House Groups at all that week, and we are all going to meet here and spend an incredible hour together as a church in worship and prayer.
Honestly…It’s going to be really, really powerful. Do not miss this.
Then, last thing. (Sorry, we have a lot going on…which is good!). Two weeks from today, we are going to be starting a new series called “God’s Gym,” a series on the Spiritual Disciplines and how to get closer to God.
It’s going to be awesome, and I think you are going to love it a lot…as it’s super applicable.
But here’s what I need you to be doing right now. And for the next 2 weeks. And we already talked about this a few weeks ago as well.
I need you to be praying, and to keep praying about who you are going to invite to this.
It’s a great time of year to invite people to church, a time when they are typically more open, so start TRUSTING in Him to do HUGE things through you in the next month and a half.
And, we’ll talk about this a lot more next week, but God is really calling us as a church to trust in Him for even bigger things.
So just as a heads up, I want to ask you right now to begin to SERIOUSLY, and I mean seriously pray about who God is going to have you bring to church with you over the next 6 weeks.
He’s starting to do a work in our church. He’s moving. Jump on the train.
Ok. Now, into today’s passage. We are continuing in the Book of Acts this morning. We are going to be in Acts chapter 9. Let me bring you up to speed in case you’ve been gone or if today is your first time at Renovation Church.
The Book of Acts is the story of the early church after Jesus ascends into heaven.
We’ve seen the church grow so far, but they have also encountered persecution.
Some of the fiercest persecution they encountered was from a Jewish leader named Saul.
HOWEVER, last week, Jesus appeared to Saul while Saul was on his way to go arrest and kill more Christians, and now Saul has given his life to Christ
So…this week, we are going to see what happens in the early Christian life of Saul.
As we rejoin the story, Paul is still about 150 miles NNE of Jerusalem in the city of Damascus.
(ACTS 9:20-23) – NIV
20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. 23 After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him,
Timeout for a second. Here’s a little additional background on Saul (who will later become Paul):
The passage says “After many days had gone by,” which we know from Paul’s letters is 3 years.
(Galatians 1:15-19) – NLT
15 But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him 16 to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles. When this happened, I did not rush out to consult with any human being. 17 Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were apostles before I was. Instead, I went away into Arabia, and later I returned to the city of Damascus. 18 Then three years later I went to Jerusalem to get to know Peter, and I stayed with him for fifteen days. 19 The only other apostle I met at that time was James, the Lord’s brother.
SO, for a span of 2 or 3 years, and we don’t really know why, Paul goes to Arabia, which presumably is a time where he’s really growing in His faith and learning more about Jesus.
THEN, he comes back to Damascus…and we rejoin the story as the same Jews he once allied with are now trying to kill him.
(Acts 9:23-25) – NIV
23 After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
The old basket through the wall trick. Get’s em every time.
Paul actually writes about this in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians as well
(2 Corinthians 11:32-33) - NIV
32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.
The passage finishes with these words, and I want you to notice how Paul is going to continue to face people who are skeptical of him and his conversion.
(Acts 9:26-31) – NIV
26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus
31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.
Ok. We mention this often, but one of the things I love about the fact that we spend around 50% of the year teaching through books of the Bible is it forces us to look at topics we wouldn’t normally look at
And I think that’s what we’re dealing with today. Because what we really see in this passage is Saul having to unfortunately deal with the consequences of his past
It’s a topic we don’t talk about a lot in churches, and one that I’ve seen often is confusing to new believers.
When we give our lives over to Jesus Christ, whether you’ve done that lately, or you did it in your twenties, or as a teenager or whatever, when we do that, we are completely forgiven.
If you accept what Jesus did for you on the cross, that he took your place and died for your sins, he wipes away every sin you’ve ever committed or will commit.
It’s like He now looks at you as completely clean…as “not guilty” in his eyes.
But here’s the deal, and here’s what we sometimes miss because it sounds like such a downer to talk about, we still have to live with many of the consequences of the decisions we made in the past.
Ugh. Sounds like such a downer. Doesn’t it?
But look, we can see this in Paul’s life.
He’s had his life completely changed by Jesus. Completely changed.
And all he wants to do is go out into Damascus and start telling people about it. This is how he’s wired.
But yet, we see in the passage that the people are saying, “Wait a second, isn’t this the same guy we were all just terrified of a few days ago?!? Remember when we were all trembling with fear that this guy was coming to town to KILL us!” (hide your kids…hide your wife)
“And now, you want us to come hear him speak!?!?”
“COME ON! LIKE THAT isn’t a TRAP!!!!”
Seriously though, I imagine a lot of people that it was a trap. That he was pretending to be converted…like a spy who was only getting close to them so he could Kill them. They’ve seen way too many movies
And this is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.
Paul is completely forgiven by God. God has changed his life. He can feel God now.
And yet…he can’t completely escape who he was. People don’t trust Him yet.
MATURITY TAKES TIME
Because Trust and Maturity take time.
It’s potentially one of the main reasons God sends Paul away into Arabia for a while and we don’t know a whole lot about what happened there.
And one possible reason that Luke, the author of Acts, doesn’t tell us much about it (which he does for so much of the rest of Paul’s life) is because perhaps not a lot went on there.
Paul needed to take some time to mature and grow in his relationship with Christ.
I mean, sure, he knew the Scriptures already, as he was a devoted Pharisee. But that didn’t mean he knew Jesus or was mature or that people trusted him yet.
I mean for goodness sakes, he was just murdering Christians a few days ago.
Paul speaks of this principle in his own letters.
For instance, in one of his letters, 1 Timothy, he is writing to Timothy who is a younger, but very mature leader of a church. He gives Timothy a whole bunch of commands on the qualities of a leader in the church, and one of them is that the person must not be a recent convert.
It reminds me a lot of my college days.
I became a Christian 3 months before I went to college. However, I had already decided where I was going to college a few months before I became a Christian.
So, when the fall came, I went off to college at St. John’s University, which is in Collegeville, MN. Sweetest name for a town ever.
If you’ve never heard of Collegeville, it’s just on the West side of St. Cloud.
I didn’t even meet a Christian on campus for the first two weeks I was there. There was virtually nothing going on spiritually on the entire campus.
And my first 2 weeks remind me of the principle Paul is making here.
It wasn’t like Paul didn’t preach right away or talk to people about Jesus. OH, he did that! But just because you are telling others about God doesn’t mean you are ready for leadership.
When I got to college, I was a little bit crazy for God.
I’m still a little bit crazy today, but I was a lot more stupid back then too.
My plan was to not tell my roommate I was a Christian for the first few weeks. I was going to win him over with how kind I was, and then start slowly talking to Him about God’s love.
However, that plan lasted all of 2 days.
The 2nd night we were there, I couldn’t help myself and I started telling him all about how I became a Christian.
Which was great, problem was, he started asking me a lot of tough questions, and I just turned it into a debate and got him really mad at me.
Nice effort. Nice intentions. No maturity.
My 2nd week of college, I got invited to a Bible Study that had just started the week before.
I went, and I can remember the 10 or 15 of us there sang open the eyes of my heart, and I remember crying because I was so happy to find other Christians.
And this is a big deal, my average cry rate is like once every 4 years.
For some reason, and I think it was just because we were the only thing on campus legitimately trying to do something for Jesus, God started to bless our little and brand new Bible study and we started to grow.
I started to get involved with leadership, even though I had only been a Christian a few months.
And by the one year mark, we had grown from 10 to almost 150, and I started speaking in front of 150 college students even though I had been a Christian for just a little over a year.
Now, did God use us stupid 19 year old kids like crazy? Yes.
But as I look back on it now, I sometimes just shudder about some of the stupid mistakes we made.
I mean, did we have the gift of leadership? Sure. Many of those same 19 year old kids are now doing incredible work as pastors all over the metro.
But just because you might have a gift for something, doesn’t mean you should be leading something.
Maturity takes time.
And we, maybe out of fear, maybe out of the complexity of being a completely intra-denominational group, never got outside leadership to help us.
When I was 22, I got hired as a youth pastor at Constance Free Church in Andover, and was mentored by my boss and good friend Sean McDowell.
Sean was 10 older than me at the time.
And I suppose he still is 10 years ahead of me.
Which, by the way, I think this is kind of creepy, but I can still remember exactly where I was when I realized I was never going to catch my parents in age.
I was devastated. Competitive much?
But in that first year of learning under Sean McDowell, I spent much of the whole year just looking back at what we tried to do in college and shaking my head at our immaturity and lack of wisdom.
Maturity takes time.
It’s why Paul talks about this concept in his letters.
And it’s not completely just about “how long” you’ve been a follower of Jesus…there are a lot of hallmarks of character that must be present as well.
But the recent convert thing is important. Maturity takes time.
In Christianity, we call this sanctification.
It’s the idea that God is continually making us more Holy as we continue to walk with Him.
YES, we are completely FORGIVEN from the start.
But not completely holy.
And we never will be until we meet Him face to face.
So this life, then, is like a Renovation process of your soul. But a renovation project that never really gets finished until the end.
So why does this matter?
It matters because lots of times Christians mistakenly confuse forgiveness with maturity, and thus wrongly desire leadership (whether in the church, or work, or wherever) too soon.
Look at what Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2
(2 Timothy 2:20-21) – NIV
20 In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. 21 If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.
Leadership takes time. It took time even for the apostle Paul himself.
Leadership takes you getting serious about your relationship with God.
We are really, really serious about leadership at this church because we know it matters…A LOT.
And that’s why we place high standards on our leaders.
And some of you are looking right now for God to use you, as Paul said, to be an instrument for noble purposes, to be more useful to the master.
Then my charge to you would be to get serious…and I mean serious about cleansing your life.
Get serious about giving ALL of your life to Jesus Christ.
Let go of some of those idols in your life. Throw off all the sin that is entangling you and slowing you down.
And then, and then, start seeking leadership. If you want to lead in a particular area of your life…earn it.
There’s another implication from this passage that deals with the reality of our past.
Think about what Saul/Paul must have felt going back to Jerusalem. It had been 3 years since he had been there. He had lived in relative seclusion, far away from his former friends whom he used to hunt down Christians with.
And now, he’s returning home.
What are his former friends going to say? He’s now one of the leaders of that supposed “sect” they were trying to destroy? What??
Or better yet, what are the Christian leaders going to say? Just 3 years ago, he was trying to hunt them down.
Just 3 years ago, he had their friend Stephen killed.
He probably had a lot to think about on his way there.
And when he gets there, the disciples freak out. They don’t want meet him. It had been THREE years, and they still won’t believe Him. They just think he’s trying to lie to them, so he can get close to them and arrest them.
Now thankfully Barnabas (who we know from Acts 4 as an extremely generous person) comes along side Saul and vouches for him in front of the apostles.
But you can feel Paul’s pain here.
“Really? Really? I still have to deal with this?? Can’t I be done with this already? It’s in the past!!”
And he is forgiven, but some of the consequences are still there.
Lots of times people say to me, I wish I had a more radical testimony like you. Like where God just walked into your life at 18 and turned it around and did all of these things.
And I always reply, “No you don’t.” “I spent 18 YEARS of my life letting my mind fill itself with evil and letting my heart embrace sin.”
“And I still have to live with the consequences of those decisions today.”
Now, my heart and mind have REALLY been changed by God the last 11 years, and the challenges are nothing what they were like when I first started trying to let God change my life, but it’s still hard.
At the Renovation Church house group my wife and I attend every week, we’ve been having one person give a testimony each week.
About a month ago, Kerry Fager got up in front of our house group and started his testimony this way: He said, “I got saved from a life of sex, drugs, and rock and roll at the age of 5.”
And I love that. I love it.
But for those of us with a past, which is ALL of us… Every single person in here has either ignored God until He found us or strayed from Him after he found us…OR BOTH…
So, it begs the question. What do we do with our dishonorable past?
Let me explain in an odd way. Many of you probably don’t know this, but I have absolutely terrible shoulders. My shoulders have dislocated cumulatively close to 50 times, and I’ve had 5 emergency trips to the ER to get one of them popped back in, a few of those trips in an ambulance.
And now, on my shoulders there are just scars. Scars from surgery.
Hopefully, like any surgery, there’s been healing, but the scar remains.
Our scars should really serve as a reminder to us too.
How many of you have scars from just doing really stupid things??
You ran your bike into a pole while you weren’t looking? You sliced off some of your finger while you were cutting something cuz you weren’t paying attention? You were being too risky or trying to show off and got in an accident.
And it’s over now. It’s in the past. But our past is not to be completely forgotten. For our past, and our scars, serve as a reminder to us never go back there.
And many of you have really experienced the effects of sin in your life. The consequences of sin.
And it hurts. Maybe a lot.
Find your forgiveness in God. Let him heal your heart. Let it be over. Let it be the past. It’s in the past.
But remember, we’re not called to FORGET the past. Just let Him forgive the past.
The past is a reminder of where we were and the pain of living without God or walking away from God.
Here’s a good way to remember that principle. Why do kids never touch a hot stove again after they’ve touched it once?
Because they remember the past. And the memory of that past reminds them to never do that again
They don’t FORGET the past, for if they forgot, they would go touch the stove again.
And our scars should not only serve as a reminder, but often then tell us something.
I’ve spent a lot of times asking God why my shoulders have caused me so much pain in my life. Like, what’s the point? Why did I have to go through that?
And I’m not sure, but sometimes I feel like He’s just trying to tell me that I can’t carry the world on my shoulders.
They’re just not that strong.
I might need somebody to help me.
And it makes me think again of what Paul must have felt when he constantly faced the sting of rejection in those early days.
That sting for him though was a reminder. A reminder to NEVER, NEVER go back, but also a statement. A statement that he simply can not change this world on his own.
And neither can you. Left to our own devices, like Paul, we tend to only inflict pain on ourselves and those around us.
So I want to challenge you this morning to be brave and look back. We don’t talk about this a lot, but I think every once in a while we need to look back.
For it’s when we look back that when can really see where He’s taken us.
& not only where he’s taken us, but what He’s taken us away from
What He’s saved us from.
And may that move your heart. That he saved you from that! He saved you from that life!
Look at what He’s done in your life!
Praise God for what He’s done in our lives.
Rescuing and changing people like you and I.
And when you’ve looked back, look forward again.
For even Paul himself in Philippians tells us to stop focusing on the past “and strain towards what is ahead.”
Meaning, don’t live in the past, but we can indeed learn from it. We should learn from it. But don’t get stuck there.
If you’ve accepted what Jesus did on the cross, you’re forgiven. You’re forgiven. You are forgiven. Amen.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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