14 May 2017

Challenging Calls

Summary: Paul and Ananias are called into Christ’s service. One is called globally while the other is called to local ministry.

#Acts 9:1-9 “Challenging Calls”

I’d like you to watch this short video clip, as a preface to my message this morning.

### 1:38

###**Saul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-9)**

9 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. 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 travelling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 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.

Jesus has risen. He has appeared to the disciples given them peace through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The fear of the disciples has been overcome. The purpose of Jesus’ actions is so he can send out the disciples to carry on the mission that he began.

The key verse found in Acts 1:8, **“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”**

The ministry that Jesus told his disciples about has begun. In the stories contained in the book of Acts, we learn much about our calling, the purpose of the church, and the Holy Spirit’s movement in us as individuals and also as a community of believers.


One of the first characteristics of an encounter with God is that it wasn’t planned. It is always up to God, when He moves, when He leads us, or shows us the way. It is always a total surprise. If it were any other way, it would mean that we are doing the leading, we are able to second guess the Lord, which is a tenuous situation in which to place ourselves.

In our text, Paul was very busy with a project, persecuting Christians. He had been given permission by the Jewish religious leaders, the Sanhedrin, had given permission to him to expand his persecution to Damascus. Why that city? Well, there was a fast-growing number of followers of “The Way” — that is people who have decided that Jesus is the Messiah, did rise from the dead.

On his way to Damascus, Jesus surprised him, the power of the risen Christ knocked Paul off his horse, the brightness of his glory blinded him, and then he spoke to him.

Imagine the scene – here comes a self-righteous man, believing he is on a God mission, to help God out by ridding the world of these crazy people who believe dead Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the son of the living God, when … zap … dead Jesus appears with a blinding gloriousness, identifying himself as ‘the one you are persecuting’. I’m sure Paul would have not gone through with the encounter if it had been planned.

A few verses later, we read about another follower of Christ in Damascus, named Ananias. I am sure that these new Christians new all about Saul, the zealous Pharisee who was on a mission to route them out as vermin, and destroy them, so you might imagine his reaction, when the Lord speaks to him in a vision and tells him to look for Paul.

I think this came up from behind, and surprised him too! Ananias knew that Paul was the one who was persecuting the Christians, and it would be very fair to imagine that Ananias questioned this voice that spoke to him, because it was such a surprise. However, he also was obedient to that voice.

Encounters with God that are recorded in scripture are almost always surprises. For example:

• Moses—the reluctant leader of people

• David—a teenage future king

• Mary—the mother of God

Now it is true that we don’t meet a lot of people who say they have had genuine personal encounters with God, but such experiences do happen. They are called **theophanies** — a visible manifestation of God to a human or humans. The Bible is full of such encounters, but these personal theophanies are not confined to the Bible.

They come as surprises. As followers of Jesus Christ it is wise for us to keep ourselves alert for such surprises. God will find ways to get our attention, when He wants it!


Now, as we read the stories of God revealing himself to individuals and calling them to serve him, we should be amazed at how God matches what He call people to, with the gifts and talents of each individual.

The Holy Spirit does not call us to do something we would hate to do. He may call us to do something that is not our first choice, or even our second or third choice. He may not call us to do something we thought we should train for, or something we consider our dream job.

At one point in my life, I was convinced God wanted me to pack in everything, sell up everything, and go and study psychology at a Christian university in Oklahoma. It felt like a done deal, I had my admission acceptance, had talked Rosie into going to the USA, and we had even started to sell a few things.

Then, it is a bit hazy because it was a long time ago, God somehow started to speak into both of our lives, and we both came to understand that it was not the right time or thing to do this. Looking back at my lie now, I can see that I would not have been that fulfilled or great at being a clinical psychologist. God had other plans. And if I had known THOSE plans, I would have run faster than you could say Usain Bolt.

But back to Paul and Ananias — **Paul** was uniquely gifted with the right Jewish and Roman educations to be a missionary to the Gentile world. **Ananias** was an obedient follower of Jesus who had the courage to follow God’s leading and find the persecutor of Christians. **Moses**, though timid and a stutterer, was trained as a leader, by growing up in the household of Pharaoh, which came in handy as he led the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land. **Mary** was an obedient young woman, who was willing to be the mother of the Son of God.


Encounters with God are gifts from God. However He gets your attention — spectacular vision or voice, or quiet, still speaking into your heart — encounters with God are gifts from Him. When He calls you to something, it is a gift to you. You will do nothing to deserve them, and probably you may even be undeserving of them — but because we have a God of love and grace and redemption and forgiveness and restoration — we get these gifts. Incredible!

Incredible because these things always enable us to become caught up in what God is doing. Back then, they realised that they were part of God’s plan and that the Holy Spirit was working through them, and nothing has changed. God still has plans, and He still wants to gift us with the Holy Spirit.

These encounters were life transforming events. Some people have calls that lead them towards severe trials and tribulations, but there are no Biblical records of people ever regretting that God appeared to them and called them to serve God.

Has God surprised you with a call or a word or a leading, recently? If you can’t think of anything, could it be an indication that you need to learn how to better recognise when it comes — because I can say with great confidence that God has plans for the rest of your life and just want you to be available.

Have you realised that you have talents that enable you to do things that glorify God, that others cannot do? Will you make those talents available to Him for as long as He wants to use them?

And, do you understand that over and above your talents and abilities that you can offer to the Lord, He also can and will give you gifts because He wants His plan, His Church, His kingdom, to do what He wants it to do.


Actually, all our lives are gifts. They have been given to us to be lived in love of God and service to humankind. We too know that we are living for something greater than ourselves; that we are part of God’s plan. We rejoice that God is using us and that the Holy Spirit is moving through us.