The thing I love about Paul and this letter to the Romans is that it’s so easy; so straight forward; and so accessible. Paul, in his marvelous simplicity, comes straight at us with no extra words or fancy phrases. What you see, is what you get! And you get it all in just a few short, but marvelous statements about how to live in this world.
The beauty and power of these lessons is that they hold true today. It really is better to get along with everyone; to love fully and deeply; to covet good and run from evil; to not burn out; to see the other’s side; to be a good friend in good times and bad; not to quit when things get tough; to bless your enemies and not be stuck up; to make friends with nobodies; to not hit back; to see beauty in everything.
Paul is one of the most powerful figures in the new testament because he took the message of Jesus Christ out into the world, and kept those early churches going and growing.
But for you and me, today, Paul is incredibly important for two additional reasons. First, God is entirely real to Paul: available and ever-present. God is the driving force of Paul’s life. Second: Paul is one of us: an ordinary guy living an ordinary life; minding his own business; not asking for anything special from God; not a seminary student or learned philosopher or successful entrepreneur. Just a guy, doing his job and trying to live his life.
Until, enter God, and everything changed! Paul probably had the most famous “conversion” in the New Testament.
For Paul wasn’t always our super hero. For most of his life, his name was Saul, not Paul, and he was the great anti-Christian super-cop, trying to rid the world of Christians. That was his job and he was very good at it…until…
One day.. you remember the story. He was on his way to Damascus and he was suddenly dazed by a blinding flash of light. As he fell to the ground he heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul why are you out to get me?” Saul said, “Master, who are you?”And Jesus replied,
“I am Jesus, the one you’re hunting down. I want you to enter Damascus and you’ll be told what to do next.”
And suddenly, Saul became blind and had to be taken by the hand and led to Damascus.
He lived in that state of total blindness for 3 days, not eating or drinking anything. And while he was blinded to the world around him, everything was changing inside of him.
It’s interesting to think about the fact that Paul’s experience of blindness is another 3 day period of time in the Bible, a direct parallel to Jesus’ experience in the three days between Good Friday and Easter. Remember in the Bible, numbers are always important and almost always carry a double meaning. So, Paul’s three days of living in the dark are a recapitulation of the three days between Jesus’ death and resurrection.
And after those three days of blindness, along comes Ananias, who places his hands on blind Saul and says, ”Jesus sent me so you could see again and be filled with the holy spirit”. And “ so you could see again” really also means so you can see and understand! You can get it and then you will be filled with the Holy Spirit!
And no sooner were those words spoken when something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He stood up, was baptized, became Paul, and sat down to eat a hearty meal. No wonder – he must have been very hungry! And the rest is history.
Saul, employed by the Romans to get rid of Christians, was now Paul, God’s missionary to the whole world, and all in 3 days. When God became real to Paul, when his eyes could see again, his life was totally transformed. He was a new creation.
And, in fact, Paul’s story is really both a powerful baptism story and another resurrection story: first a new name to signify this new creation which is what baptism is all about. And then a journey from living in the dark with no food or drink (like being dead) to a new life of knowing God and being God’s missionary to the world.
God provides a second powerful model for us to follow to make sure that we can see and understand! That we get it! First Jesus then Paul – both baptised and both brought into new life. And then all those in history who have found new life in God. And now us – gathered here today.
We all live in the darkness of our own spiritual blindness until God becomes real in our lives – until we can see and understand, until we get it. When God becomes real to you, your life will change. And you will grow in love and spirit beyond your wildest imaginings: just like Jesus; just like Paul, just like all the others throughout history who have encountered God.
But..(and it’s an important but), according to God’s plan, not ours. We’d like a happy ever after model of life, thank you very much, God. Just let me be in charge. I’ll work hard and do a good job. But that’s not how God works in this world.
God grows our spirit – deepens our connection with God, until the reality of God is so powerful in us, it changes everything we do.
OK. If making God real in my life is so critical to who I am, how do I do that?
How do I make God real in my life? And Paul answers us directly: “Be fixed on God and you will be changed from the inside out!.” It’s not what we do…
It’s what God is doing in us that we have to pay attention to.
“God sets it right; puts it together and completes it – with you. God starts the process and we complete it! Or put another way, God offers us the gift and we have to say, “yes”.
So what does that mean? At a very basic level, it means that we have to open our eyes to see God acting in our lives: Not the way we think God should act, but the way God is actually acting in our lives.
Let me tell you some experiences that other people have had when God became real in their lives. Remember, Lew and I have been listening to God experiences for 15 years and have heard hundreds of stories of God acting within people’s lives. The stories speak for themselves:
1. The two women coming late to church.
2. The man on a golfing weekend with his wife.
3. My story of finding God while dusting books on a book shelf.
God sets our life right; puts it together and completes it so that we might single-mindedly serve Christ. We often make the mistake of thinking that when God becomes real in our lives that our lives will automatically get better – and we will be happier, richer and healthier. And all will be well.
But it’s not what we do that makes God real. It’s what God is doing inside of us.
And the gift that God has to give us is a life richer and deeper in spirit than we could ever have imagined.
It is our spirit that is transformed when God becomes real: not our outside, external circumstances. Spirit connects to spirit – and then everything changes. Let me give you a visual picture of what I’m talking about.
Our spiritual life has two parts: the one that I control and the one that God controls.
In my own private spiritual life, I pray, read the Bible, go to church; work on church committees, try to live a good live, be kind to my neighbor; take care of my family; treat my friends and co workers with respect. In otherwords, I try to be a good person.
The part of my spiritual life that God controls, is literally outside of my control. Nothing I do controls God. But God is around 24/7. And God is always the constant, waiting for us to notice. And once in a while, God’s spirit and my spirit collide and then God becomes real, just as God became real to Paul on the road to Damascus. And when God is real, my life changes – not for just an hour or a day…but forever.
Now remember! When God’s spirit collides with our spirit, it’s rarely a mountain top experience with angels and bells and a trumpets and lights. It’s when you’re cleaning house, or going to play golf, or coming late to church or anytime, any place in the world.
When God becomes real in your life, something in your world shifts to let God enter your heart and spirit. It happens on the inside and may not be apparent to anyone else. But something in you has been touched…and changed.
The most important part of the experience is that you recognize it and acknowledge it for what it is. Each time you do recognize the experience as a God experience, God becomes absolutely embedded in your spirit and heart.
But it also creates an obligation to share the experience with others: to spread the word of God active in the world today – just as Paul did 2000 years ago. Unfortunately, we learned in our study that when people experience God, they usually don’t talk about it to anyone for fear of being seen as weird, crazy or too religious…even in the church. All that wonderful spiritual energy, embedded in that God experience, is lost to the world.
But these God experiences are never forgotten and if you share them with someone, you open the door to their discovering God in their lives and God grows in this world to transform it.
Let me pull all of this together in a few words. God is real: God is present 24/7 in this world. But God is also mystery, unexplainable, and uncontrollable spirit. We cannot explain God; But we can experience God. It is the critical piece of knowledge we need to know about God. We cannot explain God, but we can experience God,
In closing, three things to think about:
1. Do not let a day go by without praying by yourself, and also with others. Prayer is the essence of our relationship with God and we can pray all day long. (That’s how we pray without ceasing.)
2. Do not let a day go by without talking to someone about God. Sharing a God experience takes God into the world to grow.
3. Do not let a day go by without looking for God in unusual places. Be prepared to be surprised! For God’s other name is always surprise!
Pray, talk, look around for God; let God become real for you, and God will set your life in the right direction to single mindedly serve Christ and be transformed!
Let us pray!
Gracious God: fill us with your spirit; set us straight; help us to see you and be filled with your most amazing grace and peace. Amen.