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Testimony of a First-Century Terrorist
Acts 9:1-6
Skip Heitzig

Acts 9 (NKJV™)
1 Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest
2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.
4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"
5 And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads."
6 So he, trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" Then the Lord said to him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

New King James Version®, Copyright © 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Homeland Security

Historians still talk about the amazing transformation of Saul of Tarsus. He was once rabidly hostile to the early Christians, terrorizing them in Jerusalem and in attempting to do the same in Syria. Paul's life shouts to us that no one is too hard, too lost or too far-gone to be saved. If we could really believe that last sentence, it would change forever how we deal with people. Let's consider how God might use us to reach out to the Islamic world with the gospel.

We live in a country that is on constant guard to preserve the democracy and freedom of its current state. But do we pay as much attention to the security of our souls as we do the security of our nation?

Pastor Skip Heitzig breaks apart the basic components of today's society and looks at the threats that believers face at every level: personally, family, communally, nationally, and globally. This series focuses on what God's word says about each of these levels of society and how we can best follow God's original plan for our lives, our family, and the rest of the world.

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Outline

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I. An Impossible Case? (Vs 1-2)

A. Angry

B. Wealthy

C. Scholarly

D. Holy


II. An Incredible Conversion (Vss 3-16)

A. A Sudden Interruption (Vs 3)

B. A Searching Question (Vs 4)

C. A Simmering Conviction (Vss 5-6)

D. A Serious Mission (Vss 7-16)


Security Questions:

1.
Why do you think you have considered certain people as "impossible cases" when it comes to salvation? Read Luke 1:37 and pray for them through the lens of that truth.

2. Pray this week for the Muslim World. And when you turn on the news and hear of uprisings in the Middle East or other parts of the world, learn to pray immediately that God would change hardened hearts towards His Son.

Transcript

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[MUSIC PLAYING]

Today we're going to be studying Acts Chapter 9. And before we begin our study, to sort of illustrate what we're going to be talking about, I've invited a sister who's a part of our fellowship. She was born in Iran, born a Muslim, and is now a believer and a part of this fellowship, to come up briefly and give her testimony. So please welcome Sharon Stanton.

[APPLAUSE]

[NON-ENGLISH]

Greetings to all my Christian family here today. Like Skip said, I was born and raised in Iran as a Muslim. And the depression back there is just so heavy that two of my brothers committed suicide. And I was heading that way when I met a wonderful lady at work. And she won my trust, and I believed whatever she said. And one day she told me that Jesus was the Son of God. And I said, wow, does he help Muslims too? And she said, yes.

So I went home and then I prayed that he would come to my heart and help me. And the experience was beyond words and all my depression left. And the next day I went to work and fearfully, I told her, well, I said that prayer. And I was afraid that she might say, you need to go to church, you need to do this, you need to do that. And if I was uncomfortable, that would have been difficult. But she said, good.

And I was left with Jesus in my heart, and it was magnificent. And I try to do things that would please Him and that he would be proud of me. And the following week or so, she actually became my roommate. And she said, "Do you mind praying that prayer again?" I said, "No, I don't mind." And she said, "Say Jesus died for me on the cross." And I said, "Jesus died for me on the cross." And I thanked him for that. And he said, "Say Jesus is Lord and Savior." And I said, "Now Jesus is my Lord and Savior."

And I went to my room and I totally freaked out at what I had done. Because I needed help, but I wasn't quite sure that I wanted to make Jesus Lord. And I felt like Muhammad-- now I know he was Satan telling me, what have you done, you little piece of nothing, giving up your faith; now you're on your own. And I was very, very scared.

And I just went to God, and I said, God, what have I done? Am I worshipping the devil or something? And suddenly he took me back to when I was 10 years old, and I had prepared for the [INAUDIBLE], got up way early in the morning, praying, mullahs singing in the radio.

And suddenly I felt that sensation, and I knew He was confirming that Jesus was from God. And what I was talking to Ronda was from Him. And quickly after that, I discovered that Muhammad wasn't even in the Bible, so he wasn't even a prophet or anybody. And that was a blow to my understanding.

And even later on, I found out that Jesus was, in fact, God. And I'm so thankful today to know the God that doesn't require me to do all those little things to just be close to Him. And I have the assurance that I have eternal life in Him and I will never die. And, Jesus, you are a friend, that you are closer than anybody still. And you are a king, and I'm so thankful to Him. Thank you.

Thank you, sweetie. Beautiful. Thank you. Would you turn in your bibles this morning to Acts, Chapter 9? Let's have a word of prayer together.

Father, thank you for that great testimony. It doesn't matter if one has a background of being a Muslim or a secularist or somebody who is a churchgoer but never really knew you. Every testimony, when a person talks about what they were but how they've been changed and now they experience love and forgiveness, brings such joy to our hearts.

Today, as we read through this familiar text, we'll understand that that can be possible for everyone and anyone who would call upon the name of Jesus. It's in His name we pray. Amen.

Well, I wonder what you would do if while you were worshipping this morning, singing those songs, looking up at the words on the screen, if Osama bin Laden would walk through the doors and sit down next to you, Bible in hand, and you saw him there. I wonder if you would move and change seats to another part of the sanctuary or put your arm around him or just what the reaction would be. But I bet the reaction you would have would probably be similar to what a guy named Ananias of Damascus had when he found out that God wanted him to talk to Saul of Tarsus.

Who in your mind would you consider an impossible case? Oh, they'll never get saved. There's no way that person would ever come to Christ. We all have people like that.

I remember this guy in high school, and he was the captain of the football team. He was a very intimidating individual, and later on I came to know Christ after high school. But at the reunion, the 10-year high school reunion, there sat John Booth-- same guy, smile on his face.

And I said, John, how are you? He goes, great, I'm a Christian. I thought, no way. He said, way. And I thought, he's the last guy I would expect. I would say it was impossible.

There was a couple having dinner with a man who worked with a magician, an illusionist. And in the conversation, the man said, you know, from the audience's perspective, what illusionists do, it seems impossible-- you know, sawing a lady in half and parts there and parts over here. You think, this is impossible. But he said, when you work in the business and it's explained to you, it's very, very simple and not complicated.

You remember in Matthew 19 when the disciples asked Jesus, well, who then can be saved, and Jesus said, with men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible. Today, we want to take that thought and look at the flip side of what we looked at last week. Last week we talked about the threat of radical Islam. This week we want to talk about the opportunities that exist.

When I say opportunities, I mean God is doing a work in that segment of the world's population that is unprecedented. One source I found cites every hour, 666 Muslims convert to Christianity worldwide. Every day, that's 16,000 who will give their lives to Christ. And I've spoken to leaders, pastors of churches in Islamic countries who are giving me those same testimonies. There's a real hunger and thirst.

Now, in Acts 9, we're going to look at the life of Saul of Tarsus. And please forgive me for comparing the great revered apostle Paul with a terrorist, but he was a scoundrel before he was saved. He was pretty bad, wasn't he. And we're going to look at him before he was converted before he became the great apostle and great missionary and great letter writer and doctrinal writer of the New Testament. And before he was transformed, he was on a personal holy war to exterminate the Christian faith from that part of the world.

And here's what I hope we all walk away with. I hope forever more we will look at people differently than how we have looked at them in the past and that we will realize that no one, under any circumstances, is beyond the reach of the gospel, and we'll start viewing people differently than we have before. Sir Isaac Newton, in his first law of motion, it is stated, "Everything continues in a state of rest unless it is compelled to change by forces impressed upon us."

Take that principle with Saul of Tarsus. We're about to look at a familiar story of how outside forces impressed upon him, compelled him to change. And what I'm going to do as we go through these verses is weave stories and facts and testimonials of not only looking at Saul's life, but these testimonies of conversions from radical Islam to faith.

Let's begin in verse 1 and 2, and let's look at this guy. Let's look at this impossible case. "Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem."

The first thing in reading this chapter, we find that he was an angry man. He's breathing threats and murder. The first time we meet Saul of Tarsus is in the Book of Acts. It's in chapter 7, at the stoning of a young guy named Steven, and in chapter 7, verse 58, it says those who stoned Steven laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. A few verses down in chapter 8, verse 1, it says Saul was consenting unto his death.

Two verses past that, chapter 8, verse 3, we read, "and Saul made havoc of the church." It's a very strong word. It speaks of a wild boar trampling a garden or an army devastating a city. So we meet Saul as this sort of angry man willing to egg on and consent to the death of a young man by stoning.

He's telling the guys, look, you really want to kill this guy, you really want to throw rocks, take your coats off and really be unencumbered. Then you can really throw those rocks, and, here, I'll watch your coats. And he's egging on this whole process. And then he goes on and he makes havoc of the church.

And then here, in verse 1, he is still breathing out threats and murder. In other words, he's been doing it, and he's still doing it, only now he's not just in Jerusalem; he wants to go to Damascus, 160 miles north, take this murder show on the road. It's a mobile jihad, his own personal holy war, a vendetta against those Christians.

I was reading this week of a young man named Mustafa who grew up in Yemen in the Muslim faith. He was introduced into radical Islam. As a teenager, he developed a real anger and hatred toward Christians, even burned down a church in a village, and stole from Christians as a young man-- all under the banner, he called it, of jihad. And he said-- here's his words-- "I was filled with hatred for Christians. Christians have no rights," close quote. Well, the rest of the story is, later on, God got a hold of his life, and now he is a follower of Christ.

So Saul of Tarsus was an angry young man out to put out the light of Christianity in Jerusalem and now Damascus. Something that isn't stated in this text, but we find in another text, just by a profile of him, is that not only was he angry; he was wealthy. Now follow my thinking here. Saul was from Tarsus-- that's up in Turkey, Cilicia-- but his parents shipped him to Jerusalem in a very exclusive private school to be mentored under a tutor named Gamaliel, Acts 22 tells us. So it would be like if you raised your children here and then at a certain age you shipped them off to a private school, all expenses paid, in the East Coast.

Well, the reason I'm bringing that up is to just show you how many things were stacked against the possibility of him ever making a decision to follow Christ. You see, Jesus said it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven. Sort of easy to see why wealthy people often feel insulated from any sense of need at all. They can always buy their way out of a problem, and hence they feel like they don't really need anything.

I was reading again this week of testimonies of those who were involved in militant Islam and how many of them came from wealthy families. We know Osama bin Laden, for example, came from a very wealthy Saudi family, and some of these young men growing up with that wealth and time on their hands decided to use that resource for the cause of radical Islam. Something else about Saul-- we know from the scripture he's very scholarly.

Now, I mentioned he was attending this private mentoring program in Jerusalem under Gamaliel, and we know that that kind of rigid upbringing forced him to memorize great portions of the Old Testament law and be able to recite them from memory. It would mean that he would enter into question and answer sessions. He had to be skilled in rhetoric and how to answer tough questions. He would be skilled and taught in debate.

And later on, we read about this guy named Paul the Apostle, who was Saul of Tarsus, who stands on Mars Hill in Athens, on the Areopagus. And as he's speaking to the men of Athens, he can quote from memory two of their philosophers, who had been dead a few hundred years-- Aratus of Soli and a guy named Epiminides. He can just pull out a quote and recite it from memory. It would be like going to lunch with somebody today, and as you're talking to them they quote Shakespeare from memory. They quote C.S. Lewis from memory. You go, this guy's pretty smart.

The reason I bring that up is the Bible says in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 8, "Knowledge puffs up." And again, many people who are scholarly and have studied a certain discipline will often feel insulated from the need for Christ. Well, I know more than the average bear. I'm a little bit smarter. I'm studied. I don't need these crutches. They can quickly and easily rationalize it, hiding behind the smoke and mirrors of their own intellect.

By the way, I was reading this week of an Egyptian imam. An imam is the equivalent of a pastor in the Muslim faith. This Egyptian imam, by the name of Mark Gabriel-- that's his name now, since he's come to Christ-- he by age 12 memorized the entire Quran and could recite it from memory. Now, the Quran is about the size of the New Testament in terms of length. Imagine committing all of that to memory and being able to recite it at 12 years of age.

Something else about Saul of Tarsus-- not only angry, not only wealthy, not only scholarly, Saul of Tarsus was holy, and I use the term meaning he was very religious. He was devoted to his cause. He was a pharisee, Philippians 3 tells us. Remember he gives his profile, and he says, concerning the law, I was a pharisee; and concerning righteousness, which comes from the law, I was blameless.

This is what it would mean. As a pharisee, he would have to know all of the major doctrinal precepts of the Old Testament. They gave themselves to the study of scripture.

And I think you've discovered religious people are the hardest to see converted to Christ, because they hide behind their works, their religion. They feel, look, I go to a church, or I belong to some religious affiliation; I'm good enough, I don't really need anything more than this. And sometimes the most religious people are the hardest to convince that they're sinners in need of a Savior.

Moreover, as a religious person, Saul of Tarsus justified his hatred by his religion. It was his own religious convictions that gave him permission to exterminate those Christians who were calling upon Jesus. 30 years ago, there was a young man named Daniel Shayesteh from Iran, and 30 years ago some of you will remember the incident. It's when a coup developed in Iran to overthrow the government, the Shah of Iran, and instill Islamic law through the Ayatollah Khomeini.

He was a part of that. And he said, and I quote, "My background is radical Islam, and when you read the Quran it says that you must destroy other religions-- Jews and Christians. You cannot expect them to value your values," close quote.

Now, Muslims-- and I've found this to be true generally speaking-- are very devout, sincere, dedicated people. It's very impressive, in fact, to see that kind of dedication. It certainly impressed a young Jewish man by the name of David, or Dah-veed, Gartenstein-Ross. Let me tell you his story.

David Gartenstein-Ross was raised in Oregon by hippie parents, and though he was Jewish, it was a very liberal Jewish family, he said. He said, in our living room, we had a picture of Jesus, in the backyard a statue of Buddha. So it was this mishmash of all these different ideologies. He said, but I saw Muslim friends that I had, and I saw their commitment and their dedication. And he was so impressed by that, this young Jewish man by the name of David Gartenstein-Ross converted to Islam and got involved in radical Islam, joined a radical Islamic group.

Now, today he's not a part of that. Today he works for the FBI and he is a born-again Christian. He's given his life to Christ. But let me just sort of run through the devotional life of most Muslims, actually of all Muslims worldwide. It's called the Five Pillars of Islam, and let me run through them quickly.

First is the shahada, and the shahada is the statement, "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet." They believe that sentence to be so holy, it should only be uttered in Arabic, and it's uttered in Arabic in the ears of babies. Throughout life it is recited, and then it is also spoken in the ears of the very aged. If a person who is a non-Muslim can say those words and believe them in his heart or her heart, they will be admitted to the Muslim community. That's the shahada.

The second pillar is the salat, and the salat is the prayer five times a day, facing Mecca, with certain prescribed motions that a person does five times a day. Third is the sawm, s-a-w-m we would transliterate it, and that's the fast of Ramadan. And for an entire month during Ramadan, it is prescribed that the Muslim between sunrise and sunset doesn't eat, doesn't drink, and has no sexual relations. So during that month, they will often get up early before the sunrise and have a huge meal and then after sunset have another huge meal that is permitted. That's Ramadan once a year, the psalm.

Fourth is the zakat, and the zakat is the tithe. It is a required tithe of 2.5%. And 2.5%, if that seems attractive to you, let me just remind you that it delivers a lot less as well. The fifth and final pillar is the Hajj, the Hajj, and that is the pilgrimage to Mecca required of every Muslim once, at least, in a lifetime.

Now, you should know this. Even if a Muslim-- religious, dedicated, devout, resolute-- does all of those things religiously, there's still no guarantee they'll go to heaven. There's no guarantee they'll go to paradise. Judgment is based on the arbitrary will of God, and nobody can predict what that will be.

Even Muhammad was unsure that he'd go to heaven, and he made that statement and it is recorded. So if the founder, Muhammad, was unsure that he was going to go to paradise, it goes without saying that how can any Muslim have assurance? There's one exception.

Exception is this. If any Muslim dies in service to Allah, whether good or bad, they will be guaranteed paradise. So by now, bells are going off in your head. You're starting to go, I'm starting to get this, starting to understand why these things can be possible that we see around the world. That is the belief. If you die in service to Allah, whether you were good or bad, you are instantly admitted into paradise. That's the belief.

Now last week I mentioned that there is a theological principle that until you understand this principle, you won't understand the mind in the thinking of Islam. And I said this week I would tell you what that is. And here's the word. Let me explain it to you. It's called abrogation-- abrogation.

And in Arabic, it's naskh-- naskh, abrogation. It means annulling a former law by enacting a new law, so that if you make a new statement-- if Allah makes a new statement, he can by the new statement negate, nullify, abrogate previously made statements. In other words, Allah is not bound by his revelations. He can say, yeah, yesterday I said that and today I say this and in the future I may say something totally different, but when I say something totally different, it can nullify everything I've said before that.

The importance of knowing which verses in the Quran abrogate or nullify other verses is a Quranic science that is known as al-nasikh wal-mansukh. I'll let you spell that. It means the abrogating and the abrogated verses.

One Muslim scholar explains. He says, quote, "God is absolutely free and unrestricted even in the realm of truth. He is free to abrogate truth of earlier revelations by subsequently revealed truths. He is free to judge the same act as good in one circumstance and evil in another, according to the situation."

Well, that explains a lot, doesn't it? When you put those factors together theologically, that helps answer the question that a lot of people have, how can anyone claiming to follow any God do those kind of terrorist activities. What are they thinking? We don't understand that until we understand this. It's because the very God he serves changes His mind, which is totally different from how we understand God.

We understand God to be consistent. We understand the Bible to be a perfect source of Revelation-- absolute, inerrant, consistent. We follow a Savior, Jesus, who said Heaven and Earth may pass away, but my word will never pass away-- Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever. And God himself in Malachi 3:6, who stated, "For I am the Lord. I do not change."

But think of this profile of Saul of Tarsus-- angry, wealthy, scholarly, religious, and now justifying what he's doing through his own religion. Well, having said that, let's turn from the impossible case to the incredible conversion. In verse 3, we find an interruption in his agenda-- verse 3. "As he journeyed, he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from Heaven. And he fell to the ground, and he heard a voice."

I read this, and I think, boy, God must really want this guy saved, because God is willing to use unusual circumstances to get his attention and bring him to faith. Aren't you glad for that? Aren't you glad when you think of loved ones or people that you know, relatives, and you think they're so far gone to know that the Holy Spirit, the hound of Heaven, is unrestricted and can do anything to get a person's attention? And so that son or daughter or spouse who is so far gone into addiction or a practice, and you think there's no way. How suddenly God can break through.

Remember, I mentioned a few moments ago Daniel Shayesteh from Iran. He was overthrowing the government or wanting to join the group to overthrow the Shah. Well, as he was doing that, he got really disillusioned with the whole coup idea. He didn't believe in his political party anymore. He defected from it, started his own political party.

They found out about it, arrested him, beat him, took him over to Turkey, put him in prison. So he's alone, isolated in an Islamic prison in Turkey. One night he said he had a dream. He's in prison, and in the dream, he sees himself in his father's house back in Iran.

And in the dream, he hears Jesus calling him to come out of the house. In the dream, he walks out of his father's house, turns around, and he sees the entire house crumble before his eyes. Soon after that, he gave his life to the Lord, through a series of circumstances, and he said this. "I think this supernatural intervention of God was a cue to cause me to wake up." You think? He gave his life to Christ, his wife, and children, seeing the change in his life followed suit.

Look at verse 4 of our text. Notice the question that Jesus asks him. "Then he fell to the ground." And I just love the thought of angry, wealthy, scholarly, religious, tough Saul on the ground. And Jesus comes to him and talks to him. And here he is out to silence those who are Christians, and Christ comes and speaks to him.

Now, there is a lot of things that Jesus could have said to him. I could think of a few choice words, like, "you want some of this." But notice how gracious Jesus is. He calls him by the first name, Saul, Saul, not "hey, idiot."

Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? What a question. You? I never knew you existed until, like, one minute ago. And then he says later, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting," when he says, "Who are you, Lord?"

Impossible cases. Who are they in your own mind? I mentioned John Booth. I'll tell you about another guy.

I was a Christian. I was working in Israel, working on a kibbutz, a farm, and there was a guy from England. He had gone to Cambridge University. His name was Tony. He was very smart.

He was a botanist, and he was a verbal terrorist. Every day, he'd go out of his way to find me, because he knew I believed in Jesus and a few others that were there. And he would mock Jesus to my face and mock us, and he was very erudite and had a great vocabulary. And honestly, I thought, there's no way this guy will ever come to Christ.

I went home to America. A few months later, I get a phone call. It was Tony. Hello, Skip? Yes? I've given my life to Christ. I said no way. He goes, way. Impossible cases.

Young man named Timothy from Egypt was a part of a very mystical Islamic sect, the Sufi sect of Islam. He became an evangelist at age 14. Young Timothy was preaching out on the streets of Egypt, but he said he wanted more intimacy with God.

And in a period of soul searching, he said, "One night Christ appeared to me and said in a tender, sweet voice, I love you. I saw how obstinately I had resisted him all these years, and I said to him in tears, I love you, too. I know you. You are eternal forever and ever," close quote.

Look at verse 5 and 6. We find something going on. In 5 and 6, we find out that there has been thinking, a process going on inside the heart of Saul of Tarsus, where he is feeling conviction. He said, verse 5, "Who are you, Lord?

The Lord said, I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads. So he, trembling and astonished, said, Lord, what do you want me to do? And the Lord said to him, arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.

Here's a guy on a mission of terror in Damascus. He gets stopped by the Lord, but we discover that he has been experiencing these goads of conviction. A goad is a prodding device. It's hard for you to kick against the prods.

Now, this is what I think has been going on. Everywhere Saul of Tarsus would go, he would encounter Jewish converts to Jesus. He would see the change, the joy, the peace, the conviction in their lives, but also he was there when Stephen was stoned, as those rocks pelted his head, his blood gushed out, as he was watching the coats of the men who did it. The Bible says that Stephen's face shone like an angel, and he looked up to heaven and he said, Lord Jesus, don't lay this sin to their charge; Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

He had never seen that kind of faith and graciousness, and that haunted him. That bothered him. He probably couldn't sleep at night. It's hard for you to kick against those goads, isn't it, Saul of Tarsus.

Let me tell you a story about a young man named Ahmed who was plagued by nightmares. Every night he'd wake up, and the nightmare was the same every night. It was a nightmare of coming judgment. And he found no solace in reading the Quran, because it just simply added to that fear of judgment.

So secretly, he found an Arabic Bible, and he would sneak it into his room. And whenever he was asleep, he'd turn on the light when he'd wake up and start reading the Bible. And he discovered Jesus Christ. He knew Jesus from the mention of him in the Quran when he started reading about his life and his miracles.

One day in the mosque, Ahmed, in front of everybody, to the imam said, hey, why don't we respect Jesus Christ; he's in the Quran. He's mentioned, and the Bible says he's a man of great miracles. Well, you can imagine the firestorm. They kicked him out of the mosque, they beat him up, they called him an infidel, and said, you must come back to Islam. He didn't come back to Islam. The conviction that had been weighing on him continued to weigh on him, and young Ahmed is today a Christian missionary, spreading the gospel to his Muslim compadres.

Well, let's finish this off and begin in verse 10. We didn't talk about this guy named Ananias yet. And here's the beautiful thing, is that God up to this point has on his own supernaturally been dealing with Saul of Tarsus, but now he involves a human instrument named Ananias, a special mission he's called to, verse 10.

"Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias, and to him the Lord said in a vision, Ananias. And he said, here I am, Lord. So the Lord said to him, arise and go to the street called Straight."

OK, now stop just for a moment. You've got to think right now Ananias is stoked. Wouldn't you be if God spoke to you? You hear it. It's unmistakable. It's a real voice.

"Ananias?" "Yeah? Lord?" "I've got a mission for you." "Great. I've been waiting. Anything you want; you just say it. OK, arise-- no problem, I'm up." "Go to a street called Straight." "I know right where that is. I live here."

"Inquire in the house of a guy." And he mentions the guy. "I know that. I know right where that is." And then finish it off. "Inquire for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying." Dead silence. Dead silence. Ananias isn't all that excited.

Notices this. "And in a vision, he has seen a man named Ananias coming." You think, he's dreaming about me? "And putting his hand on him so that he might receive a sight. Then Ananias answered, Lord I've heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priest to bind all who call in your name."

No thanks, Lord. I was really excited about this, but I've been reading the papers. I know about this guy. "The Lord said to him, go." Now watch this. "He is a chosen vessel of mine to bear my name before gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel, for I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name's sake."

Now here's Ananias, here's about Saul, and immediately what does he do? He puts a label over Saul's life. He's an evil man. "How much harm he's done to your saints." And Jesus had to say, yeah, that's what he was; let me tell you what he is. And what he is is a chosen vessel of mine to bear my name for the world.

Now here's my question. What labels have you erected over certain people you know, or certain people in different parts of the world? And you go, impossible, unreachable; never will they come to Christ. How much evil and harm. God, you probably don't even want them.

And the Lord would say, I want to take down that label, and the label I want to put is they're a chosen vessel of mine. What I can do in a life, totally transform. If you ever say about any person, he'll never change-- if you ever say that, you presume too much and you believe too little.

God can do anything with anyone, and Saul's life screams to us of that. In fact, I bet some of you sitting here were those "impossible cases." You're the very ones that people said, no way, and here you are going, way.

Do you think that some of those early saints in Jerusalem and Damascus ever sat around and maybe said something like this, "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if that Saul of Tarsus guy got saved"? We do that when somebody is famous or somebody is really antagonistic. Wouldn't it be great if they got saved?

And then there's somebody in the group who goes that's impossible, it's not going to happen, forget that. God took an impossible case and worked an incredible conversion. So there's not anyone, anywhere, in any circumstance, that is beyond the possibility of God touching them.

So I would hope that we start viewing people through a new lens, and here's the lens. Every person is a spiritual opportunity that may be disguised as an impossibility. You bring God into the equation, you'll start looking at people very differently. Think about it-- 667 Muslims per hour. What opportunities lie ahead of us. Let's pray.

Our Heavenly Father, how grateful we are to live in the day and age in which we live. We think of the great possibility, the tremendous opportunity that is before us, and we pray that we would stand for the task as men and women of God to be involved in some of this activity. Though you can work totally supernaturally-- we hear of stories like that-- but you do love to use people, even as you called Ananias to tell him the rest of this story and to lay hands on him and to be involved.

Lord, I pray that we would take the banners down, take the labels down of saying, impossible, unreachable, too evil, too hard, and think of the spiritual potential if you were to touch a life and you could use us to do it. So here we are, Lord, do it. We ask in Jesus' name. Amen.

Additional Messages in this Series

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1/6/2008
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Threat Level - Red?
1 Chronicles 12:32
Skip Heitzig
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Message Summary
The Department of Homeland Security was established after the September 11, 2001 attack. Designed to inform the public as to the threat of terrorism by color-coded levels, it has now become part of our culture. But radical terrorism isn't our only challenge. In this series we will consider the dangers we face personally, culturally, with our family, nationally and globally. In a culture conditioned by fear, how can we have peace?
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1/13/2008
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Securing the Foundations
Matthew 7:21-27
Skip Heitzig
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The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security issued an important statement, "We [speak] often about protecting our nation, protecting our states, protecting our cities. [But we need] to reiterate the importance of protecting our homes." He acknowledged that the country's foundation is the individual and individual homes. But what about the foundation of the home? What about the foundation of each person? How can you be personally secure--forever?
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1/20/2008
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Heaven-Bound and Enjoying the Ride
1 John 5:13
Skip Heitzig
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Having the assurance of salvation is a prerequisite for enjoying the Christian life. Some don't have that certainty and it shows--they are weighed down by insecurity. Others feel certain that they're saved but they're delusional. Why is it important to know your eternal destination and how can we know? Let's shore up the security of our souls.
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1/27/2008
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Fractured Families-Broken Lives
2 Samuel 13-18
Skip Heitzig
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The Department of Homeland Security was established after the attacks of September 11, 2001. It was, in part, a response to terrorism. But what about our response to the terrorism taking place to our own homes? Our society is hardly family-friendly. There are powerful forces operating to undermine the moral underpinnings of the family unit. Let's discover what happened to Israel's First Family. Lets review the story of David and Absalom that sadly repeats itself today.
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2/3/2008
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Stop the Dominoes!
Joshua 24:14-15
Skip Heitzig
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Joshua's last State-of-the-Union address to Israel was timely. As leader of that nation he knew his people, and he knew there were forces threatening their spiritual survival. He could already begin to see the "domino effect" of compromise happening in his own day. "Put away the gods your fathers served" (vs14), he admonished them. Then as a leader, both of the country and of his own home, he made his own resolve to serve God with his family. Let's consider what this same kind of steadfast determination could mean today for securing our families. Find out how you can help stop the Dominoes.
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2/10/2008
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How to Prevent Soul Thieves!
Nehemiah 1-2
Skip Heitzig
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The Christian is not to be "conformed to this world, but transformed" (Romans 12:2). This value system that the Bible calls the "world" imposes itself on us twenty-four-seven. It beckons to us to lower our standards of righteousness and conform to its unrighteous standard. Just as enemies and thieves were threatening to invade Jerusalem during the days of Nehemiah, "soul thieves" are breaching the walls of our homes and eroding the souls of those inside. What can we do? Find out how to prevent Soul Thieves.
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2/17/2008
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Is the Church Secure?
Luke 21:12-19
Skip Heitzig
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There is an aggressive, consistently growing, vocal and active attack on the church in our culture. In a society where every viewpoint is tolerated and every ideology is celebrated, there is one that is becoming unacceptable--the Christian viewpoint. Once we were marginalized; now we are attacked. What are we to make of this? How secure is the church of Christ? What can we expect in the future and how should we respond to those who want to silence us?
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2/24/2008
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Casualties on the Battlefield of Truth
2 Timothy 4:1-4
Skip Heitzig
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One of the most probing questions Jesus asked about His future return was this, "When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). Today the historic Christian faith is being attacked, not just by outsiders, but insiders--by so-called Christians! Emergent-church philosophies espouse sentiments like, "Well, your truth isn't everyone else's truth." The idea of absolute truth is considered to be passe and harsh. What are we to make of all this?
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3/2/2008
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The Slippery Slope
2 Timothy 4:2-8
Skip Heitzig
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Here's a question: Is everyone who can say "Baahhh" necessarily a sheep? Is every person who throws around the name of Jesus a disciple? In our series on Homeland Security we have considered how to be secure spiritually, relationally, morally and even socially. But what about the future of the church? What kind of Christian legacy are we passing on to the next generation?
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3/9/2008
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Abraham's Other Son
Genesis 16
Skip Heitzig
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Every Muslim reveres Ishmael as the son of Abraham more so than Isaac (whom the Bible calls the son of promise). In fact, Muslims claim that Islam began with Abraham and his son Ishmael, thus claiming that it is older than both Judaism and Christianity. According to the Koran, Ishmael is called both, "an apostle and a prophet". How does this biblical story relate to the modern threat of radical Islam? How does this ancient account in Genesis 16 tie in with the spread of extremist ideas of jihad?
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3/30/2008
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What Now?
Romans 12:1-2
Skip Heitzig
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For the past 11 weeks we have probed the scriptures to find peace in times of terror. We've considered the dangers we face personally, culturally, nationally and within our own family. Today we bring all the pieces together to wrap up with a final application. I'll be joined with a few friends of mine to help me as we think about what to do now!
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There are 11 additional messages in this series.