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Monday, August 1, 2011

A Terrorist Becomes a Christian

Walid Shoebat was a Bethlehem-born, Palestinian Jew-hater from the cradle. His chief goal in life was to kill Jews and die a martyr for Allah. In the mid-1970s he became active in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and did everything he could to help accomplish his life's goal of carrying out terrorist attacks in Israel. Walid moved to America to attend college, all the while raising funds for the PLO.

In 1993 he married a Christian. "I wanted to convert her to Islam," He told BBC News. "I told her Jews had corrupted the Bible." She asked him to prove it, so he bought a Bible. For six months he studied the Word intensely from cover to cover and discovered the truth. He renounced terrorism, repented of his sins, gave his life to Jesus Christ, and became a new creation in Christ Jesus—all because he read God's Word with a sincere heart that wanted to know the truth.

Today he is a devout Christian and loves Jews. His Muslim family disowned him. His father said he should be killed, and at one point he was certain the PLO planned his demise. But Shoebat is undaunted and remains outspoken in his love for Jesus and for a Jewish Israel. - Steve Herzig.

Transformation happens when falsehood yields to Jesus Christ the Truth. Walid and Saul experienced it. Saul’s business was killing Christians until he encountered the Resurrected Christ. Saul (whose name later changed to Paul) was on his way to Damascus from Jerusalem (150 miles) to arrest, torture, and kill Christians when the Risen Christ encountered and stopped him. He fell down, blinded and helpless. Now, for the first time he could see the truth that Jesus is the Christ and find freedom in Him.

Saul knew that he was not dealing with a mere man. Jesus asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Jesus questioned Saul’s motives to help him see, why he was engaged in such destructive activities. Saul cried out, “Who are You, Lord?” Jesus did not scold Saul. He simply answered him, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” The “I am Jesus,” is similar to the answer that God gave Moses in Exodus 3. He stated the unchanging nature and power of Himself, as affirmed in Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” This unchanging Savior and Lord became Saul’s passion and commitment. Saul lived and died urging people to become followers of Christ, the same faith he tried to destroy before Christ transformed him.

1) Saul’s plan was to destroy Christianity (Acts 9:1-2). “Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priests. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.”

Have you noticed Acts 9:1 started: “Meanwhile?” I think it’s worthwhile for us to go back to Acts 8:1 to see Saul’s murderous activities, “But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.” Saul’s opposition to Christians showed when he stood in approval with those who stoned Stephen to death. Saul heard Stephen’s prayer for those who stoned him: “He fell to his knees, shouting, ‘Lord, don't charge them with this sin!’ And with that, he died.” (Acts 7:60)

Why was Saul so angry about Jesus and his followers? Saul believed that Christians were trying to destroy Judaism. Jesus to him was a false Messiah. Saul, as a good Pharisee, believed he was serving God when killed Christians. Zealous people always think their way is the only right way and they are approved of God, even when what they do contradicts God’s command. God’s command is to treat others the way He treats us. God treats us with love and mercy.

2) Saul encountered the Death-Conquering Lord and Savior (Acts 9:3-5). Saul traveled on the road of falsehood and destruction until he met the Lord of Life and Truth. He was knocked down so he could look up to his redeemer, according to Acts 9:3-5, “As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground...”
“Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.
The Voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting.”

Just imagine you’re Saul, face down, listening to the words of Jesus. Saul knew he was encountering a supernatural power. He asked,” Who are you, Lord?” He knew, like
Isaiah knew when he saw the Lord, “I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. Attending him were mighty seraphim. They were calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.”

Saul encountered the living Lord, and he was terrified like Isaiah. Luke tells us Saul’s state of mind: “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.'"

Saul asked the Living Savior, “What to do you want me to do” instead of doing his own thing. The paradigm shift happened. It was no longer about Saul’s plan but about doing his Master’s will.

William Barclay said, “Up to this moment, Paul had been doing what he liked, what he thought best, what his will dictated. From this time forward he would be told what to do. The Christian is a man who has ceased to do what he wants to do and who has begun to do what Christ wants him to do.”

When was the last time you asked, “Lord, what you want me to do? What matters to you? If you have never asked this question, it’s about time to ask it—otherwise you will miss God’s amazing plan for your life. God has a plan for each one of us according to Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

When Saul was blind he had to depend on God’s plan. When we depend on the Lord, that is wisdom. God spoke to one of his humble servant Ananias to minister to Saul’s need. When God calls, God always provides.

3) Saul was cared for by the Christians he tired to destroy (Acts 9:10-16). When Christ calls us to follow him, he invites us to belong to his family. Look how our Lord prepared Ananias to help Saul become whole. “In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’
‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered.
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. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.’
‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’
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. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’"

Have you noticed how Ananias knew Who spoke? But when the Lord gave him assignment to minister to Saul, Ananias explained to the Lord how dangerous Saul was and how he tried to destroy Christians. However, the Lord assured Ananias that everything was under his control. Then Ananias obeyed the Lord by helping Saul.

Jesus’ call for relationship gives us a chance to remake our lives and have a great future with God. Don’t let the past hinder you from going forward with God. Saul was offered a makeover of his life in the family of God.

According Acts 9:17-19, “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.” Jesus Christ hunted down Saul, the killer of Christians, and transformed him into His partner in saving the lost.

This excerpt of The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson shows how Christ loves and pursues us until we find our rest in him.

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
“And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I make much of naught---
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!"---

The story of Saul and Francis’ poem shows us, God’s embracing love for accepting his saving grace!

What does today’s lesson teach us
1) About God? It teaches us that God is in charge of everything. He is Sovereign!
2) About us? It teaches us that God loves us and we can’t escape his eyes.
3) About our neighbor? It teaches us that God want us to be His hands and feet like Ananias.
Question: Does my to-do list leave room for God to use me like Ananias to show mercy in his name?

Shim Habte, Willows United Methodist Church, 544 N. Shasta St. Willows, CA 95988 (530) 934-3190
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