An Encounter With Christ

Paul, formerly known as Saul in his BC days, was a Pharisee known for intensely and viciously persecuting Christians. At this time, Christianity was still a newly budding religion, completely uprooting the norm of Judaism that was prevalent at the time. Paul is first mentioned in Acts 7 at the stoning of Stephen, a minister of the gospel. As the people stoned Stephen unjustly, Saul is in the background, watching and condoning by watching over the clothes of the murderers (verse 58).

A Pharisee, BTW, was of high ranking of Judaism that many looked to for spiritual knowledge and societal leading. They were held in high esteem, but were less focused on a relationship with Christ and more focused on legalistic rules and rituals in their lives. In a nutshell, a Pharisee was a politician held in high regard and feared by the people. So there's Paul- TheBomb.Com in his BC days.

In Acts 8, we are notified of the "great persecution" of the church, at the hands of Saul. I mean, the church was scattering, in fear for their lives because of the tragedies and atrocities happening to the people of God at the hands of Saul. The Bible says, "he made havock of the church" (Acts 8:3) and putting Christians into prison. But what I love is, the next verses talk about how the Christians continued to go about, even though they were separated and scattered, sharing the Gospel. Isn't that like God? Even in persecution, He is still exalted and lifted up.

Here are some things that stood out for me...

1. God stopped Paul in his tracks, as he was pursuing his own desires, with no warning.
So in Acts 9, God has had enough. Thank God that He's merciful and loving enough to get fed up by bringing us to Him. At the start of the chapter, we're reminded that Saul is threatening and slaughtering any disciples of the Lord and was seeking legal decrees to bound and imprison Christians from the high priest. In the midst of going to Damascus to do this, God shuts him down. I don't know about you, but I'm a witness that that's how God works. We are charging full speed ahead at something that is completely against the will of God, and His love for us shuts us slap down.

2. There was a light shined completely around him.
When you're not walking in the will of God, you're walking in darkness, because it is Him who is light. I love that the light illuminated the entire surroundings of Paul; there was no way he could remain in the dark regarding God's desires for him. God made sure he knew that he had encountered God by completely surrounding him and removing darkness. You see, when God has something for you, you can't ignore it. He will make His presence known so that you HAVE to take notice.

3.The instantaneous bowing down and reverence for God.
Paul was a persecutor of Christians. He was completely against the teachings of Christ, yet instantly, he fell to the ground, out of reverence. Isn't it funny that Paul had no respect for Christians or Christ, but AS SOON AS God's light shone around him, he could not help but to believe instantaneously. You see, I've already said it, but when God makes His presence known, you absolutely cannot fight it. When God speaks to you and stops you in your tracks, stop, drop, and bow. Recognize the calling that He has for you and bask in His glory, leading, and direction. Too many of us undeniably receive direction from God and it's evident through the "light shining completely around us" that opens our eyes, but we resist recognizing it's God; we refuse to have a bendable will and reverence for His decision out of selfishness and pride.

4. When you're wrong, you're wrong. Own up to it.
In verse 4, Christ says, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" Saul responds with "Who art thou, Lord?" Saul was KILLING CHRISTIANS! Refuting their faith, imprisoning them for their beliefs, yet a light shines around him and he clearly knows it's God because he responds by calling Him, "Lord". Verse 6 says that he was "trembling and astonished". He knew that this was God; he could no longer refute what God was trying to do in his life. When you're wrong and God confronts you, own up to it. Don't worsen the situation by running from him. Bow down and answer His calling, even if you know you've been wrong in your dealings with him beforehand.

5. Arise and go, with immediacy, no matter what barriers or excuses exist.
In verse 6, Saul asks God what he should do to right his wrongs and where to go from there. God gives him specific directions and he follows them, without questioning it. He was temporarily blinded, but he didn't let that stop him from doing what God told him to do. What barriers or excuses are you allowing to prevent you from serving God? We have no excuses.

6. Paul ends up in Damascus after all, but for a different reason.
Hah! This makes me chuckle. Recall that Paul was headed to Damascus to get legal backing to bound, or imprison, Christians, but God stopped him. After God encounters Paul, he coincidentally still sends him to Damascus, except now it was for God to confirm the calling on Paul's life. WOW! Isn't that God? He can take our limited, human will and desires, and use the situation for His good.

7. Confirmation through Ananias
Simultaneously, which Saul was sent to Damascus, God called one of his disciples Ananias to go unto Saul and confirm his calling. At first, Ananias was scared because he knew Saul's history towards Christians, but I love God's response in verse 15, "Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me to bear my name..." I wonder how Ananias must have felt to know that God had now chosen the top persecutor of Christians to be used by Him. This is such a testament of how God can use anyone. This man had KILLED Christians for believing on God's son, yet God still saw fit to use him. What proof that nothing you or I can do can separate us from the love of Christ!

In verse 17, Ananias extends grace to Saul and calls him "Brother". Again, imagine how Ananias must have felt to be a Christian, walking up to the ringleader of the "Pursuit of Christians". Nonetheless, God confirms Saul's conversion and calling through Ananias, unbeknownst to him. Saul was blinded; he didn't have prior knowledge that while in Damascus Ananias would come to him. Who has God sent your way to confirm things to you, unbeknownst to you? Don't ignore the people and counsel around you. God is capable of using ANYONE to confirm His calling and leading to you. Be ready to accept it. Ananias' arrival restored Saul's sight too btw.

8. Paul was never the same- unapologetically!

Paul stayed in Damascus preaching the gospel of Christ! WOW! Again, when God stopped him, he was on his way to "up the ante" on his Christian persecution efforts, and in the end, he's there PREACHING the gospel! WOW! Seriously- amazing. Look at God! What a testimony! In verse 21, it says that people spoke about the sudden change: "...all that head him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?" I imagine the people squinting their eyes trying to see if this was really the same guy. I love the next verse, "But Saul increased the more in strength and confounded the Jews..."

A changed life is "confounding" to those who knew you in your BC days, but that very life, as said in verse 22, "proves that this is the very Christ". A Christian whose life ceases to change after salvation is completely contrary to the word of God. How can you encounter God, be stopped in your tracks, completely illuminated by God, and not change?!

You see, the chapter continues with Jews wanting to kill him. Part of me is like, "AWWWW Why?" But that's life. While our changed lives are testimonies of the power of God, everyone will not support you in your change. So sorry. That's their prerogative *cues Bobby Brown*; you can't let it discourage you though. God provides coverage from the haters. Verse 25 says that the disciples protected him and helped him escape. How ironic that the very people that he went to that place to persecute, end up being used by God to help him escape from the people that he was a part of 1 chapter prior.

What a great reminder of the radical, converting and changing power of God! Rest in the fact that nothing YOU do can separate you from the love of God! He can use you and turn your situation around for good! When you encounter Christ, refuse to never change and never go back to who you used to be without Him!

Basking In The Change,

Dear God, You're such a great God! Your power is breathtaking, God. You are mighty to save! There's absolutely NO reason why we should encounter You and encounter Your presence and not change! God, I pray that I never get desensitized to Your presence and leading in my life. God, when You make yourself known, help me to stop completely in my tracks and bow in humble adoration to You and Your calling on my life. Help me not to resist the moving that You have on my life, and I pray for the same for anyone reading this. Help us to seek your presence daily and never go back to being the same. In Jesus' name, I pray, Amen.

William McDowell- I Won't Go Back
Amber Bullock- Changed