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God Gets Your Attention

GOD CAN GET YOUR ATTENTION
By Mark E. Hardgrove, D.Min., Ph.D.
Text: Acts 9:1-6

1 Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" 

5 And he said, "Who are You, Lord?"

Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads." 

6 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." 

INTRODUCTION

          Let me ask you a simple question today.  What does God have to do to get your attention?  On a larger scale, what does God have to do to get the attention of the church, or of a country?  When we read the history of Israel in the Old Testament we see that when they forgot God, or when they disregarded their covenant with God, God had a way of getting their attention.  He doesn't strip them of their freewill and simply manipulate their emotions and wills to do what He wants them to do, but when they were ignoring God or doing their own thing, God would bring the nation to its knees until they finally looked up and began to seek God again.  After they obeyed and began to return to their covenant relationship, they began to experience God's blessings once again.  The point being that we should never force God to have to get our attention.  We should already be paying attention and constantly be in tune with God.  I think this is what is behind the words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, when he writes, "Pray without ceasing." 

          In our text we read where God moved in very specific ways to get the attention of a man named Saul.  We would later come to know him as Paul, but at this point he is still known as Saul of Tarsus.  Saul was a man of influence and power.  He was also a devoutly religious man who was zealous for the Jewish religion as practiced among the Pharisees.  As such, Saul had no tolerance for this bunch of believers who claimed to be following the teachings of crucified man named Jesus of Nazareth. 

          Saul had already been exposed to the teaching of Christianity when a disciple by the name of Stephen was defending himself to a mob of angry Jewish religious zealots.  Stephen began with the history of Israel, tracing the work of God through the history of the nation, and highlighting the constant failures of Israel in terms their commitment and devotion.  Eventually Stephen's monologue ends in a crescendo of criticism of the Jews.  Stephen says in Acts chapter 7, versus 51-53

51 "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, 53 who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it."

Obviously the Jews did not appreciate the punch line of Stephen's sermon.  So they laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul, and they proceeded to stone their fellow Jew to death.  Refused to listen and they moved in rage to silence the voice of someone who was telling them truth that could set them free.

          As you may remember, just before he died, Stephen "being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, 'Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!'" (Acts 7:54-56, NKJV).  That experience, seeing Stephen stoned and hearing Stephen's final words must have stayed with Saul from that day forward, but instead of remorse or sorrow, Saul doubled his efforts to put an end to this foolish religion and this group of Jewish people who said that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, or the Messiah.

          This brings us to our text.  We are told that Saul was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord and he had receive the authority to go into synagogues and arrest man or woman who were of the Way, and to bring them in chains to Jerusalem.  At this point believers were referred to as being "of the Way," and it was only later at Antioch that believers were derisively called Christians for claiming that Jesus was the Christ. 

          So Saul would go into worship services in synagogues and if he found someone who believed that Jesus was the Christ he would drag them out, tie them up, and take them to Jerusalem to stand trial before the Sanhedrin court and to be imprisoned if they were found guilty of this heresy. Obviously, Saul had not been paying attention when Stephen preached.  Saul was blinded by his own religious presuppositions and refused to see the truth of Jesus Christ in the lives or the witness of the believers.  He was religious, he was zealous and he was sincere, but Saul had refused to pay attention until now God decided to get Saul's attention.

          How many of you know that God can get your attention?  Some people are simply so wrapped up in their false religions that they will not listen to the truth.  Some people are so opposed to the very idea of God that they ignore His Word, His will, or the witness of His people.  Some folk are obsessed with their own agenda and they don't want God messing with their plans, so they simply ignore God if He tries to speak to them through His Word or through His church.  I've had people cuss me and slam the door in my face.  I've had people laugh at me and mock me.  At times I felt like I was wasting my time, but I believe even when I am rebuffed and rebuked by the world, God is mercifully giving them an opportunity to hear the truth, and if I can't get their attention, He can. 

          How does God get our attention when we aren't paying attention?  Look at verses 3 through 6.

I)       FIRST, HE'LL TAKE US DOWN A NOTCH

          Saul was full of himself.  He had authority and power.  He was looked upon favorably by the other Pharisees for his zeal and passion for the Jewish faith.  In his mind, he was doing the Lord's work.  He seemed to revel in the opportunity capture and imprison these Christians.  He was riding high that day on his way to Damascus.  But God got his attention.

          Look at verses 3 and 4

3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" 

God turned His searchlight on Saul.  We need to remember that we may ignore God.  We may choose not to acknowledge Him or open our eyes to what He is doing or what He desires to do in our life, but God knows where we are.  He knows where we're going.   He knows what we're doing.  He knows the very thoughts and intents of our heart.  He knows our downsitting and our uprising, our going out and our coming in.  He knows our thoughts afar off.  In other words, He knows what we are going to say, before we even thought about saying it.  We may choose to ignore God and we may act like He isn't there, but He knows where we are and He knows how to get out attention.  We can't hide from God.  The Psalmist said (139:8-12)

8 If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. 
9 If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, "Surely the darkness shall fall on me,"
Even the night shall be light about me;
12 Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.  NKJV

          When that light from heaven shone upon Saul, Saul fell to the ground.  This proud man with his letters of authority was now face-down in the dirt in the presence of the Lord.  There is nothing that God despises any more than pride.  Proverbs 6:16-17 tells us that "a proud look" is "an abomination to Him."  Proverbs 16:18 say, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."  Saul fell to the ground.  God was taking him down a notch. 

          I heard someone say that God knocked Paul off his high-horse, but there is no horse mentioned in this text, and the fact that they eventually led Saul away by the hand suggests that they were all on foot.  But the truth is that God can knock us off our high-horse if we will not humble ourselves before Him.

          Sometimes people think they're too smart to believe in God.  They think they're too sophisticated or too educated to believe in an all-powerful, everlasting God, who is Creator of heaven and earth.  They think the church is just a group of superstitious people with weak minds.  So they ignore God and even mock God.  But God knows how to get their attention and God knows how to bring them down a notch.

          When the world turned its back upon God in Noah's day and worshipped idols and false gods, when the world laughed at the warning of Noah and mocked him for building an ark, the day finally came when the rain began to fall, but the people who had ignored God and had ignored His prophet suddenly began to pay attention.  They weren't laughing now.  God got their attention, but it was too late, the door was shut and sealed by God and those who are outside of the ark perished in judgment.

          What did Jesus say about Noah?  He said in Luke 17:26-30

26 And as it was in the days of Noah , so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man:  27 They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.  28 Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built;  29 but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all.  30 Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. 

These are the days we are living in.  The world is not paying attention.  They are eating and drinking and marrying and giving in marriage.  They act like the end of time is not upon us and judgment is not coming.  But we need to pay attention.  We live during a time of wars and rumors of wars.  We live during a time of earthquakes in diverse places.  We live during a time when the stage is set for a one world economy.  We live during a time when the nations of the earth are turning on Israel.  The signs of the times are here, but is anyone paying attention?  Is anyone reading the writing on the wall?

          All that arrogance and pride will not silence the sound of His voice when God thunders from heaven.  Saul fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"  Now Saul is listening.   With his face in the dust in the presence of the Lord, those papers and that authority don't mean much.  How the mighty are fallen.

II)      SECOND, HE'LL PUT THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE

          Notice what God says.  God put's Saul's actions in perspective.  Saul thought he was punishing some heretics, but Jesus says, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?"  In verse 5 Paul asks, "Who are You Lord?"  God has Saul's attention now.  Now that searchlight of heaven has shown upon him, now that Saul has been taken down a notch, now that the thunder of God's voice has penetrated the pride and arrogance of Saul, God has Saul's attention.  Saul asks, "Who are You Lord?"  Then the voice responded, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."

          God was putting things into perspective for Saul.  Saul thought he was doing God's work, but in reality Saul was persecuting the Lord Himself by persecuting God's people.  When God gets our attention He has a way of breaking through the fog of our own delusions and personal agendas and plans, and opening our eyes to what is really going on and what He desires to do with our life.

          Saul was sincere and committed in what he was doing.  Most people are probably sincere in what they believe.  I think the Jehovah's Witness is usually sincere when he or she comes knocking on my door.  I think the Mormon is sincere, even the Muslims who reject the divinity of Jesus are probably sincere in what they believe, but like Saul, they are sincerely wrong.  Sincerity alone will not save anyone.  In fact, sincerity in false religion is often the biggest barrier keeping people from seeing God for Who He really is.

          Imagine the shock and awe in the mind and spirit of Saul when God speaks from heaven and says, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."  We live in a world that had better wake up and pay attention.  When the Muslims, or the government, or the Supreme Court come against the church, they aren't just messing with a bunch of religious fanatics.  They are messing with God Himself, because we are the Body of Christ on this earth. 

           You can only poke a bear with a stick so long until the bear gets up and says, "Enough is enough."  And friends, I have a feeling that enough is just about enough.  I have a feeling that God is about to thunder from heaven.  Things are about to shake, and God is about to get someone's attention.  The question for the church and for each of us here today, is whether or not God already has our attention.

           I think that God is getting the church's attention.  The economic downturn has left a lot of church in a tough financial situation.  In fact, I recently read that there are 200 churches in the Atlanta metro area that are in foreclosure and over 10,000 nationally.  I think God is getting the church's attention and He's telling us that the church is not the brick and mortar, but the church is the people of God who are willing to be His witnesses.  I think that people who have been obsessed with building bigger and more opulent buildings have often lost the vision for the harvest and have ignored God's plan for the church to reach the lost, raise up disciples, and send disciples into the harvest.  God is taking churches down a notch to get their attention. 

          Second, God is taking America down a notch to get our attention.  We have been arrogant and proud.  We have looked down on other nations.  We have assumed a cultural superiority to other cultures.  But God despises pride and arrogance and if we will not humble ourselves and pay attention to what God's will for our country is, then God will take us down a notch and bring our nation to its knees so that we will again look to Him as the author and the founder of our nation.

          God told Saul, "It is hard for you to kick against the goads."  God was saying to Saul, "I have a better way."  Jesus said, "My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matt 11:30).  Jesus has a better way.  What is that way?  For the church and for America that way is found in 2 Chronicles 7:13-14

13 When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people,

In other words, "When I have to take extreme measures to get your attention,"

14 if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves , and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

          How did Saul respond when God finally got his attention?  "So he, trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?"  Now that God had Saul's attention, Saul was ready to do whatever the Lord asked him to did not strip Saul of his freewill, but God has a way of getting our attention, and motivating us to do what we know we should be doing.  "Then the Lord said to him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

          I believe that when God finally gets our attention, as a church and as individual believers, we will respond like Saul and say, "Lord, what do You want me to do?"  Notice that Saul personalized it.  We need to stop asking what the government can do, or what the legislators, or what the courts can do and start asking, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" 

CONCLUSION

          Let me ask you today.  Does God have your attention?  Are you listening to Him?  God has a plan for your life.  You are important for the kingdom of God, but if you are not walking in His will, and if you are not allowing His plans to unfold in your life, then God can get your attention.  The spring will dry up.  The rooster will crow.  The prophet will confront you.  The floods will come, the storms will rage, the finances will fail, the famine will come . . . God will get your attention.  He will rock your world until everything that can be shaken will be shaken, but God will get your attention.

          Or, here today, you can open your heart, open your ears, and open your will to Him and say, "Here am I Lord, send me.  I'll be your witness.  I'll be your servant.  I'll do what you want me to do, speak what you give me to speak, and be what you want me to be.  Lord, what do You want me to do?"

          He's already told us to go into all the world and make disciples.  He's already given us power to be His witnesses.  He's already said that we are to be the salt and the light of the world, and now all He is asking is that we would shake and shine.  So what does God have to do to get our attention today?  What more do we need to wake up the church.  We've had earthquakes, hurricanes that have wiped out major cities, fires and floods, we're on the verge of world-wide financial collapse, and yet the world is not paying attention.  The question is whether or not the church is paying attention.  Can God find someone to stand in the gap and make up a hedge for Him that He will not destroy it?  God is asking, "Can you hear me now?"  

          To which we can only answer in utter humility, "Lord, what do You want me to do?  Here am I, send me."