June 11, 2012

Step Up: Ananias Acts 9:10-19

Our society is obsessed with safety...but it also enjoys fear. News programs love to use fear. If we are having a mild winter, and suddenly get a 2 inch snowfall...they call it Snowpacalypse 2011. I really need one of those echo effects right there.

If we don’t have enough people killed in our own city to report on they report some from another city just to remind us how dangerous things are. They believe that people will not watch the news unless they create enough fear to get them to watch.

A few years ago I took a friend backpacking in southern Ohio. After you hike a few hours in, thing get eerily quiet because you no longer hear the noise from the road and other man-made stuff. My friend, with a tinge of dawning fear, asked, “Are there any bears here?”

“Well, not really. We are close to Kentucky so there is the possibility, but it isn’t likely,” I said.

“What happens if we run into a bear.”

“Don’t worry, I can run really fast,” I told him.

“You can’t outrun a bear!”

“I only have to outrun you.”

This is the basis for a very common joke many of us have heard, but he walked into so I took the easy lob and knocked it out of the park.

But many people when they to the outdoors fear bears. But bears attack only 2 people per year average. Just to give you some perspective 15 people a year die from dog attacks and 90 people a year are killed by lightening.

We fear a lot of things that will never really hurt us.

You have all heard of the poisoned Halloween candy...which has never happened at the hand of a stranger...there have been a few reported incidents of tampered candy, but it was confirmed that it happened at the hand of a family member.

So out of fear, we try to make ourselves safer and more secure. We wear helmets, padding for sports, and improve our equipment, but even then that doesn’t seem to work. In fact, research indicates the more safety equipment we include the more danger we face.

The Peltzman Effect postulates safety equipment makes people feel safer so they engage is riskier behavior. This is something economists call “risk compensation.” Bicyclists ride faster, feel less fear, and take more risks when they have helmets on. Children crash into more obstacles and run the obstacle course faster when they wear padded equipment.# Football players, with better helmets, face shields, and better padding, simply run faster and hit harder.

But risk compensation isn’t just about riskier behavior because of better safety equipment. It also says our behavior becomes more cautious depending on our perception of danger. The more danger we perceive to be present, the more cautious we become.

So fear is cyclical. We fear so we create safety devices to help us. These safety devices help us feel safer so our behaviour becomes less guarded even reckless and injuries continue to happen. As bad things continue to happen we become more fearful. The cycle never ends.

We are in a series titled Step Up, and over the past few weeks we have looked at some people in the Bible who stepped up in obedience to God even though they weren’t all that well known. Many of them have only had a sentence or two written about them, and most haven’t even been named. But they prove there is no such thing as a small act of obedience in the Kingdom of God.

When God asks us to step up, though, there can be a tremendous amount of fear. It is crippling enough when the cycle of fear takes root in our lives, but when it happens in our spiritual lives it can have devastating consequences.

Fear settles in when God asks us to speak up about our faith to the person struggling with their own. What if i say the wrong thing? What if they think badly of me?

Fear settles in for the student whose friends decide to engage in reckless or sinful behavior and they fear losing those friendships...being made fun of...becoming and outsider.

Fear settles in for the person whose boss insinuates the need for something unethical, and we know what God would have us do.

Fear settles in for those who want to stay away from the dangerous places only to discover that sometimes God leads us directly into those places and situations.

This morning we are looking at Acts 9. Usually when people approach this passage they focus on the conversion of Saul. It is a wonderful story. Saul. the persecutor of the church, is knock off his horse, hears the voice of Jesus say, “Why are you persecuting me?”, and becomes a follower of Jesus!

But right in the middle of this story is a man who stepped up...despite all the fears he faced...and obeyed God in the midst of situation with many perceived dangers.

Acts 9:10-19
10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 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. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 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. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17 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.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Ananias rightfully has a lot to fear...

He has to approach Saul who has been terrorizing Jesus followers. Just a few chapters earlier in Acts 7 it tells how Saul stood by approving and directing the execution of the early church leader Stephen. Acts 8 begins by telling us that persecution breaks out against the church driving Christians to flee the city. Now, Saul is coming to Damascus with letters from the Jewish leaders allowing him to arrest and extradite any who follow Jesus.

So when God tells Ananias to go speak to Saul, Ananias is rightfully fearful.

Acts 9:13-14 “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.”

Not only does he have to approach Saul the persecutor...but he has to approach Saul with an unpleasant message. Acts 9:15-16 says, “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.”

That is enough to create fear in anyone. Approach someone who has been persecuting the church, and has come to the city to arrest and extradite all those who follow Jesus. Then give him the message that he will suffer many things in the name of Christ. Ananias has every right to be afraid.

Obedience in the Face of Fear Affects Those Around Us

This command from God does not just affect Ananias. Being obedient means exposing himself, his family, even his church community to danger. Saul could gain information leading him to arrest everyone. But then again our obedience to God’s will never JUST affects us. Despite our American/Western ideal of independence and self-reliance...our obedience affects not just us, but also our family, friends, and community.

A young couple decides to have sex outside of marriage and gets pregnant...it affects them, their future plans, the child, their families. Deciding to keep the child has ramifications to each person involved...as does a decision to terminate the pregnancy. It is never just a personal decision that only affects me.

Take a big scale example of sin affecting many lies. When a pastor fails morally...his life is ruined, but also his family is destroyed...his church is hurt and often split...the community now views the Christian faith with smug indifference at ANOTHER failure.

Take something that may not be considered sinful per se, but has spiritual ramifications...church attendance and participation. When someone takes the stance that they are fine spiritually and personally without the church or with sporadic or non-engaged attendance...they fail to recognize the interconnected way God has set things up. Church is a community where we serve others, use our spirituals gifts to benefit others and receive benefit from other people’s use of spiritual gifts, and we learn to love each other warts and all. Our interaction or lack of interaction has lasting affects on our spiritual lives and the spiritual lives of those around us. Attempting to be a Christian without meaningfully engaging in a church is like trying to be married without a spouse or parenting without children.

Our obedience and disobedience to God’s will has lasting affects on those around us both positive in terms of pushing the Kingdom of God forward or negative in terms of hindering it.  Ananias knew this, and counted obedience to God as far more important than the consequences.

So this begs the question: How was Ananias able to obey in the face of such fear? And how can we be obedient to the voice of God in the face of all the fears that come against us?

Obedience in the Face of Fear Starts with Following.

Acts 9:10 says, “In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias.”

Ananias is a disciple. He is a man who has committed himself to taking on the moral character and competencies of Jesus Christ. He is an apprentice of Jesus. He wants to act like Jesus acts and do the things that Jesus would do.

That is the core definition of what it means to be a Christian. We come to a point in our exploration of Jesus where we want to apprentice ourselves to Him. We want to act like Jesus and we want to do the things that Jesus would do. So many times we have reduce salvation down to a contract where I say a pray and He lets me into heaven. No, Jesus call us to be and to make disciples.

So as a follower of Jesus...Ananias, like us, had to look to Jesus for the way to respond in the face of fear.

Take Philippians 2:5-8,
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death —
        even death on a cross!

And how did Jesus face the fear of death on a cross?

Matthew 26:39, “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

No one said it would be easy. No one even said it would turn out roses either. But as disciples we follow a leader who faced his fear in faithful obedience to God because God had proven himself faithful...We move forward in faith because God has proven himself faithful over and over again.

Faith is not blindly stepping out hoping for someone to catch you. Faith is believing someone will do what they said because they have a track record of doing what they said.

Have you heard about the Team Building exercise called the Trust Fall. You stand on a platform about 6 feet up and fall backward into the arms of your teammates? I don’t like the idea of that thing. I don’t believe they are able to catch me. They have never caught me before. They never look strong enough...besides, they might be Michigan fans!

Luckily, that isn’t how faith works for us. We move forward looking back at God’s track record of bring good out of bad. A track record of faithfully caring for those who trust in Him.

Obedience in the Face of Fears comes with Hearing the Voice of God.

“The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’” A little bit later it says, “The Lord told him...”

When we sense a leading or have a thought...when we are faced with a ministry opportunity or a decision...we look for God’s guidance. I think most of want to be obedient...we just want to be sure we are hearing God’s voice. But God never seems write stuff in the sky.

God always give us enough to go on, but never so much that we are beyond a shadow of a doubt. And even when we have an impression or believe we have heard God’s voice...we have to realize this could be God’s voice...this could be Satan’s voice...this could be my own internal voice.

And sometimes our fear of getting it wrong keeps us from getting obedience right.

So How do we know we are hearing the voice of God?
Tim Keller says (paraphrased), “The Bible doesn’t tell us how to know God’s will for our lives. It tells us the character of a person who is able to discern God’s will.”

That is the secret. Ananias was a disciple. He had followed. He had learned to listen to God’s voice so that when the Vision came he was able to discern that this was really God speaking. And there is something very overcoming when we know that God is really speaking.

When Lori and I moved to Dayton, we left a lot of things behind. We both had good jobs, a house, and friends. When we loaded our truck to come to Dayton neither of us had a job, we were still trying to find a place to live, and while we were from here we hadn’t lived here in over 12 years. It was frightening. It didn’t go smoothly. But we were able to overcome the fear and go with it because we knew God had set this up and had something in mind.

Learning to hear God’s voice requires 3 very important things.

Spend time in God’s Word...Scripture. You can’t know God’s voice if you haven’t spent time in reading God’s Word. In reading Scripture we get used to hearing the patterns of God’s speech and seeing how God works. If we don’t spend time in Scripture we can’t know if the prompting is true to God’s character or not.

Spend time in God’s Presence...Prayer, worship, and The Holy Spirit. Scripture is certainly a part of this section too, but in prayer we learn to sit and listen for God, in worship we learn to trust Him, and through the Holy Spirit we learn to recognize God’s movement. The Holy Spirit is at work...He is God at work in us and in our world. He speaks to us in our thoughts, through insights or words of knowledge, sometimes through dreams and visions. It may sound weird, but when we learn to slow down and listen, we can sense the the movement and hear the voice of God in our lives.

Barb is starting a Small Group this Tuesday Morning at 10am at McDonald’s that will address both spending time in Scripture and Using that Scripture to guide our personal prayers...and in that hearing the voice and leading of the Holy Spirit.

Spend time with God’s people...Godly counsel, the confirmation of others, receiving guidance and encouragement through the spiritual gifting of others. These are an essential part of receiving guidance. God regularly works through others to accomplish His will.

Obedience in the Face of Fear takes Courage.

Acts 9:17 says, “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it.”

Ultimately, like Ananias, we just have to do it. We have to jump in, fear and all, and be obedient. God isn’t going to do the hard part for us. He gives us grace to enable obedience, but ultimately we are responsible for doing what we are told.

When we are faced with difficult choices the goal is not freedom from fear...the goal is courage in the face of all the fears.

Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Friday night I attended a fellowship gathering for Vineyard pastors in our area. We met at an old Catholic church that was purchased by Vineyard Central in Cincinnati in 1995. The building is a hard to describe how it is both rundown and cool in a grungy sort of way. But even more interesting is the church. Most of them are couples with children who left promising careers and other opportunities to move into this rundown, inner-city neighborhood to make a difference for the Kingdom of God.

What act of courageous obedience might God be calling you to step up to?

Our obedience to God has an impact for good or ill on the world around us for the Kingdom of God...and it takes courage in the face of fear to see great things happen for God’s Kingdom.

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