God’s Grace

10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 The 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. 12 In 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 holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Acts 9:10-16

Saul’s legacy preceded him. He was known throughout the community as someone who shouldn’t be trusted. But God had different plans for him, and those who would encounter him. Not only would he have to change his ways, but they would have to change the way they felt about this murderous man. That’s not such an easy hurdle to overcome if you have relatives who were punished unjustly, but it’s what Grace is all about.

I suspect there are millions of people worldwide who have to deal with these kinds of forgiveness hurdles. And it’s not easy at all. Our natural self wants to stay angry and bitter at those who have caused us (and loved ones) pain.

Pray for that man or woman in a foreign land who has seen a loved one persecuted before their eyes. Consider the pain and anguish they have had to endure. There may even be anger towards God for allowing it to happen. Pray that God will give them grace to give it all over to Him.

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Humbled by God

8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. Acts 9:8-9

It’s always fascinating to me to see strong leaders who are humbled by circumstances beyond their control. Saul was led into Damascus by others who were stronger and more capable than he was.

How could this be? How could he be so fragile after being in such control?

Of course we have the benefit of being able to read ahead in the story to see how it all ended. Saul didn’t have that luxury because he had to go through a lot for us to be able to read about it. This blindness and being led into Damascus was just the beginning.

That’s the story of our lives as well, isn’t it? Sometimes God humbles us for seemingly no apparent reason. Often the trials we face don’t make any sense at all.

Just remember that the Lord blinded Saul, and told him little after that. He didn’t need to know anything else. He only knew he was going to Damascus.

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Dreams and Visions

3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He 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.”

7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Acts 8:3-7

The Lord was moving in supernatural ways during these times. Saul’s men were also privy to what Saul heard. What was going through their heads when they heard this? Saul seemed to have been the only one blinded.

Saul didn’t need a lot of direction. He didn’t need to know what awaited him over the next several years. It wouldn’t have been helpful. He just needed to get to Damascus.

In many “closed” countries around the world (where the Gospel is closed to Christian missionary work), we see this kind of supernatural manifestation of the Lord Jesus, usually through dreams and visions. Often He appears over the course of months or years. Until Jesus returns, men, women and children will continue to dream dreams and see visions in order to advance His kingdom.

Pray that God will continue to reveal Himself to men, women, and children in these lands.

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Real Life Persecution

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and 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. Acts 9:1-2

Why was Saul still vehement about throwing Christians in jail? Not only did he persecute them but he went out of his way to do it. He even got implicit permission to do it from the high priest who gave him letters of passage to give to Damascan synagogue leaders. But why? We know that he was a very intelligent and fervent leader himself. What did he gain from the hostilities?

We all have people who oppose us, though probably not as dramatic as this. Sometimes you may not even know why they’re hostile towards you. The Bible teaches us to “pray for those who persecute us” Matthew 5:44. Whatever bitterness that person has will show itself even stronger. Don’t let that discourage you because God is probably still working on that person in ways you can’t know. Continue to pray.

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36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea. Acts 8:36-40

We do not know much more about this Ethiopian eunuch except that he was the first African who became a Christian. He didn’t need much teaching to be baptized. Just as Philip came into the man’s life, he left just as fast. How much did Philip talk with him about Christ? Presumably not long, but long enough to travel with him a bit.

Every so often people pop into our lives, leave an impact, and leave just as quickly. As a new baptized Believer, this Ethiopian was able to read the Scriptures with the knowledge that he had actually met someone who personally knew the Messiah. The Ethiopian now had a fantastic story to tell others when he returned home.

Like Philip, you and I can have great influence on people we talk to every day as well. We may not appear out of nowhere, share the Gospel message, and disappear like Philip did, but our great deeds and encouraging words can go a long way in building and maintaining relationships.

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A Firsthand Account

32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
    and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
    Who can speak of his descendants?
    For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. Acts 8:32-35

How appropriate that Philip was able to talk about the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world. Teaching the Gospel is easy with setups like this!

Think about this, though. Philip walked beside and talked with the man lamb in this passage. He probably saw the crucifixion and the horrible injustice Christ endured. He knew Jesus Christ firsthand.

And now, Philip was talking about his friend, the lamb who was slaughtered. It was perhaps a bittersweet experience for Philip (even though the passage doesn’t suggest that).

It was easy for Philip to talk to the Ethiopian about Jesus because he had a close relationship with him.

Have you walked and talked with Him today? Have you let Him know what was on your mind? Have you enjoyed His presence?

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The Gospel Spreads to Africa

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Acts 8:30-31

It has been said that there are no coincidences in God’s universe. Philip miraculously appeared in the desert and approached a chariot that had an Ethiopian leader reading Holy Scriptures. Forget for a moment where he was reading because that adds to the drama of the moment.

God had appointed Philip to go to the desert. He didn’t know what he’d find there but went anyhow. The Ethiopian was heading to Jerusalem to worship so he was probably a Jew.

Those are not chance occurrences. Those were divine appointments.

These occurrences happen every day if we look for them. They may not be as dramatic as this, but they do occur.

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Not For Sale

18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.” Acts 8:18-24

I don’t do this often but I am repeating these verses to clarify what was being discussed.

It was brought to my attention that Peter strongly rebuked Simon the Sorcerer for good reason: Simon was wrong in wanting to buy the Holy Spirit. Yes, Simon was a new Believer but Peter rightly rebuked him for his desires. Simon was trying to do in the spiritual world what he was successful at in the physical world. He needed to repent of this, and he did. Simon needed that “firm hand.”

The takeaway today is very simple: we’re thankful that we cannot buy the Holy Spirit. They Holy Spirit is not for sale at any price or deal. He resides within us as Believers to strengthen, empower, and encourage us along life’s journey.

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Go South, Young Man!

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Acts 8:26-29

In those days the direction of the Holy Spirit was clear and obvious. It was the quickest way for the Gospel to spread. The recipient of this command, Philip, still had to be obedient to the Lord, but when an angel of the Lord appears before you, it’s a pretty good sign that it’s what the Lord wants.

Our “messages” from God are usually not quite as distinct. Often we have to decipher what God’s will is for us in a given situation. We pray and ask for clear direction. We ask Him to open and close doors, but it’s just not the same as having an angel of the Lord standing before you and telling you to go south. Actually, Philip really didn’t know what he was getting into when he went south. But it became evident when he saw the chariot.

There are times when the will of the Lord is apparent. Most of the time, though, He gives us wisdom to make good choices.

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