I do not know anyone who does not want to succeed. Deep in our hearts some of us may feel like we have lost or that we have no chance of winning, but feeling like we are fumbling around in the dark is quite different from wanting to be a desperate failure. I have no friends or acquaintances who have purposefully set out to lose, to get knocked down and stay down, to stay in the blocks, or to set their mind on being a miserable failure.

I do have many friends who, at one time had high hopes of making a difference in this world, but who now find themselves sitting on the sidelines convinced that they just don’t have what it takes. The tragedy is that for many of them their seat on the sidelines has been secured because they listened to the clamoring crowd of critics, the zealots of doubt and discouragement who heard of their dreams or saw their efforts and came pointing long fingers of criticism and spouting their words of cynicism.

There are two churches most prominent in the world today – The First Church of Unity, Encouragement, and Support and the First Church of Doubt, Defeat, and Discouragement. The First Church of Unity, Encouragement, and Support sees their fellow members as projects of God, a work in progress. Those who fill the pews are not what they hope to be, but neither are they what they used to be – they are a work in progress being crafted by the hands of Almighty God. The First Church of Unity, Encouragement, and Support stands by those who enter their doors, they trust in the God of the second, third, and fourth chance, and they have a habit of picking one another up instead of putting each other down. They use their eyes to see the possibilities that rest before them rather than to point out problematic differences in taste or style. They use their hands to bless those who are seeking after God’s will rather than to distance themselves from those who struggle along the way. They use their lips to lift up, build up, and sure up those who feel weak and faltering rather than to curse those who are unsure of their relationship with the Lord. What a wonderful church, a church we would all love to be a part of, but the sad reality is that the membership seems to have plateaued. With the app at https://get.tithe.ly/text-giving-for-churches we have been getting our tithes digitally.

Many are gravitating to the other church most prominent in our society today, the First Church of Doubt, Defeat, and Discouragement. The two churches differ greatly as the modus operandi of the First Church of Doubt, Defeat, and Discouragement is to question everything and to be suspicious of everyone. Any new member’s potential is questioned at length, for we all know that if they would have been “real” believers they would have been here long ago. Any new idea is passed off as compromising with the world since the First Church of the Three D’s most certainly has the full truth. When someone falls they roll their eyes and say, “I told you so.” When someone says they want to make a new start, to see their life turned around by Almighty God, the congregation says, “We’ve heard that before.” The pastor has even told his people on more than one occasion, “I know of a few people other than myself who are truly seeking after the heart of God, but I’m wondering about most of you.”

That’s not the church I want to attend, but the fact of the matter is that the First Church of Doubt, Discouragement, and Defeat has been around for a long time. The damage they have done has left untold millions of folks who’ve heard the voice of God calling them to greatness, to service for our King, sitting on the sidelines of life.

I have come to tell you today that Britton Christian Church has a choice to make and the choice will be made as each and every one of us makes the decision for ourselves. The First Church of Doubt, Defeat, and Discouragement didn’t get to the devilish state they are in because the church board voted to destroy the lives of those who frequent their facility. They have become an instrument of death because of the decisions to be suspicious and cynical made by each individual who calls the church their home.

We have a choice to make, each and every one of us. You will make that choice before you leave here today. I pray that you will choose for God to use you to bring about the unity of the Body of Christ, to encourage those He places in your path, and to support your brothers and sisters in the face of insurmountable odds. It is only when we choose to make the Church of Unity, Encouragement, and Support our home that we are later able to tell great stories of men and women coming to know Christ in a deep way and seeing their life changed for the Kingdom of God.

The Church of Unity, Encouragement, and Support does have some great stories to tell. Like the story of the young man who struggled and strained to taste victory, but for most of his life tasted the bitterness of defeat. There were those who stood by him, and in the end they were able to smile, wrap their arms around him, and say with thankfulness to God, “I told you so! I knew he had it in him!”

Maybe you’ve heard the story of the young man’s life, if you haven’t let me give you a brief synopsis.

He failed in business at age 22.

Ran for the Legislature and was defeated at age 23.

Tried his hand in business once again and failed for a second time at age 24.

Finally at the age of 25 he tasted victory for a change when he was elected to the Legislature.

The very next year he tasted bitter defeat when at the age of 26 his sweetheart died.

At the age of 27 he had a nervous breakdown.

Two years later at the age of 29 he was defeated when he ran for Speaker of the House.

At the age of 31 he was defeated in his effort to run for the office of Elector.

At the age of 34 he was defeated in his effort to run for Congress.

At the age of 37 he was elected to Congress.

The victory didn’t last long as he was defeated in his run for re-election in Congress at the age of 39.

At the age of 46 he was defeated in his run for a seat in the Senate.

The very next year, at age 47 he was defeated for the office of Vice President.

At the age of 49 he was defeated for a seat in the Senate.

At the age of 51, after many years of tasting the bitterness of defeat, Abraham Lincoln, a man who would never give-up or give-in no matter how grim circumstances appeared, was elected to the highest office in the land. This is the life story of President Abraham Lincoln.

Another great story told by the First Church of Unity, Encouragement, and Support is the story of the founder of the Methodist church, John Wesley. I’ve gotten a few pages from his diary, a diary which illustrates for us how the Church of Doubt, Discouragement, and Defeat tried and tried to win him over, but to no avail – he would not give up or turn back from being faithful to God’s call upon his life. His diary reads,

Sunday, A.M. May 5…Preached at St. Anne’s. Was asked to not come back anymore.

Sunday, P.M. May 5…Preached in St. John’s. Deacons said, “Get out and stay out.”

Sunday, A.M. May 12…Preached in St. Jude’s. Can’t go back there either.

Sunday, A.M. May 19…Preached in St. Somebody Else’s. Deacons called special meeting and said I couldn’t return.

Sunday, P.M. May 19…Preached on street. Kicked off street.

Sunday, A.M. May 26…Preached in meadow. Chased out of meadow as bull was turned loose during the service.

Sunday, A.M. June 2…Preached out at the edge of town. Kicked off the highway.

Sunday, P.M. June 2…Afternoon, preached in a pasture. Ten thousand people came out to hear me.

I’m so glad that Pastor Wesley didn’t give up after being kicked off the highway on Sunday morning or he would have never known the joy of seeing 10,000 people come to hear the Word of God on Sunday afternoon!

In our Scripture for this morning we see how the two churches we’ve been discussing were at work in the life of Saul. Take a look our Scripture for this morning.

…Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. {20} At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. {21} All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” {22} Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. {23} After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, {24} but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. {25} But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. {26} When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. {27} But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. {28} So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. {29} He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. {30} When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. {31} Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord. {32} As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda. (Acts 9:19-32 NIV)

I get so excited when I study God’s Word because it speaks to us with clarity and precision concerning our everyday living. The Word of God is like a foghorn crying out in the heavy haze of our days of confusion and chaos to bring us direction for all aspects of life.

As we look at today’s Scripture we can see that there were two powerful forces at work in the life of Saul following his new decision to become a follower of Jesus – suspicion and support. I want us to take a look at how these two forces, both coming from the lives of fellow followers of Jesus, impacted Saul’s life and how support finally won out.

Luke tells us that Saul spent several days in Damascus with the believers there. They were amazed at how this man who just a few days earlier was a persecutor of the Lord Jesus was now preaching that Jesus was the Son of God. They knew of his reputation as a persecutor, they knew why he had come to their town, and they were caught off guard by his passionate endorsement of Jesus as the Son of God.

Luke leaves out a little information which Paul shares with the believers in Galatia in his letter to the church. The information is very important because without it we are led to believe that Saul suddenly became this well-versed spokesman for the Kingdom of God. We know this is not the case because of what Saul himself shares with us in his writing to the church in Galatia. After Saul was converted and spent some time in Damascus he left and went to Arabia where he spent at least two years and possibly even three years studying and being prepared by Jesus for the work he was given to carry out. In Galatians 1, Paul writes,

For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. {14} I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. {15} But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased {16} to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, {17} nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. {18} Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. {19} I saw none of the other apostles–only James, the Lord’s brother. {20} I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. (Galatians 1:13-20 NIV)

After he returned from Arabia and set out to continue the ministry given him by Jesus, Saul found out that the Jews in Damascus were not going to be supportive of his ministry, they were suspicious. They were more than suspicious, they were seething with anger at Saul’s about face. Saul tells us that they tried to kill him. Luke writes,

{23} After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, {24} but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. {25} But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. (Acts 9:23-25)

They were laying for him. Watching night and day so they could kill him because of his testimony about Jesus. Saul escaped because of the love of his friends, his supporters who took him in the middle of the night and lowered him in a basket over the city wall. Isn’t it ironic that the once persecutor of the followers of Jesus was now being persecuted because of his love for Jesus.

Saul left Damascus and traveled back to Jerusalem. Seemed like a good idea since he knew that the leaders of the Church were there. Surely the leaders of the Church, the most mature of all Christians, the most steeped in the teachings of Jesus, those who had spent time with Jesus – surely they would welcome him with open arms. Wrong! Luke tells us, {26} When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.

There is an interesting series of events that took place when Saul arrived in Jerusalem which you need to be aware of in our study. When Luke says Saul “tried” to join the disciples, he uses a word which implies that he tried over and over again. He didn’t just give them a call and then go away, Saul worked and worked to some how gain their trust and confidence so that he could join the followers of Jesus, but they would have none of it. Those who were supposed to be the most mature followers of Jesus, those who should have been willing to take the biggest risks – they were the ones who shunned Saul.

The descendants of those early skeptics are with us to this day. How many people have recognized their need for Christ and have come to the church looking to find support and encouragement, but only finding suspicion and doubt?

When I first started working in the ministry I was a bit na?ve, probably still am, but I honestly thought that we were to reach out to those who whom Jesus reached out to during His life – the downtrodden, desperate, despondent, depressed, dejected, and rejected of society. I set out to do just that, never really asking permission from the Senior Minister or Associate Minister on staff.

The town I was working in was my hometown and I knew where those folks hung out, I use to hang there myself. I would go one or two afternoons a week to the local park and play frisbee and talk with the kids there. I met one young guy who was in high school who was willing to talk. We would play frisbee and sit on one of the picnic tables and talk for hours. He was being raised by his grandmother because his mom and dad were divorced and they didn’t really want him. He had gotten involved with some kids at school who were willing to be his friend, but they were just as messed up as he was. They were doing drugs and getting into trouble on a regular basis.

After about a month, we were sitting down one day and talking about the difference Jesus had made in my life. I told him that Jesus would never reject him, that Jesus wasn’t ashamed of him, and that Jesus’ heart was broken because of the hurt he was feeling. I said, “You know, there is nothing Jesus would like more than for you to accept His love for you and for you to allow Him to come in and bless your life.” He looked at me like I had just told him he had won the lottery. I said, “Have you ever thought about asking Jesus to be your Lord and Savior?” That day my friend became my brother in Christ.

What do you do with a new Christian? You better get them in Sunday school and church, or so I thought. I picked him up the next Sunday and took him to church. My naivet? shone forth like the morning sun. I never dreamed what would happen. I thought everyone would swarm him with love and demonstrate their excitement for his new commitment to Christ. I was wrong. They were scared to death. They didn’t know what to do and lack of action spoke loud and clear – he’s not one of us.

I have to admit that Jason did look different. He looked like the stereotypical drug addict. There was good reason for that though – that is exactly what he was before he came to Christ! He was cooking crystal on his grandmother’s stove, using it, and selling it to his friends. He had an ashen complexion, long hair, crumpled clothes, and the look of a drug addict, but Jesus was working on his heart. Jesus always works on our hearts before He works on any other part!

The suspicions of the church alienated my young friend and after a period of being looked upon as some kind of freak his enthusiasm for attending church with me waned. We still had church in the park, but he would have no part in attending the building with the cross on it on Sunday.

The skeptics and cynics of Saul and my friend Jason are still with us. Church, pray with all of your heart that Almighty God will help us to rush up and hold the Sauls and Jasons of this world in our arms.

It is possible to welcome those most others doubt. We can be that kind of church. We must be that kind of church if we are going to be the church of Jesus. I am so thankful that there was one there in the early Church who was willing to take a risk to be like Jesus, to go against the flow of what the other followers of Jesus thought of Saul, and to welcome him with open arms. Take a look at verses 26-28,

{26} When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. {27} But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. {28} So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.

Everyone was skeptical except for Barnabas. That maybe an overstatement. Barnabas might have been wondering about Saul, he had heard all of the stories of his past, he had been in Jerusalem when Stephen was stoned, but Barnabas was willing to move beyond his fear to stand with Saul. Who among us will be Barnabas to those Saul’s in our midst this day?

There are many Sauls with us today. Those whose past raises suspicions in the minds of most believers. I know because I’ve heard it myself. When I gave my life to Christ, my buddies couldn’t deal with my new commitment. I want Britton Christian Church to be a church for the Sauls of this city to find support and encouragement. My heart’s desire is for Britton Christian Church to stand with the Sauls of our community when everyone else walks away.

You have done that in the past. I want to tell you as your pastor that I am proud of you. I have served in four different churches and I have never been more proud of a group of people than I am of you. You have been willing to stand with those the Lord has led into our church. Some of you who were here the day I arrived have welcomed so many folks with open arms. Others of you who have come during the past six years were hurting when you arrived, but today you are reaching out to others who are coming to us who are hurting. I am proud of you.

I have heard on more than one occasion that a neighbor or friend has said to one of you, “I’ve heard some strange things are happening at your church.” When asked what “strange” means it is usually conveyed that “strange” means the kind of folks who are coming to Britton Christian Church – people who are hurting, people of different races worshipping together, poor people joining the wealthy in serving God, hungry folks sitting next to those who are well fed, people who have had drug or alcohol problems, folks whose past has been suspect. I know that some of those who say that strange things are happening mean that as a derogatory statement, but I want you to know that I take great pride in the fact that God is doing something marvelously strange among us!

Because you are willing to be a Barnabas to the Sauls among us great stories of newfound life are being told, hope is rising up among the hopeless, and people are being impacted with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus!

If you are a Saul who has come here this morning looking for a place where people will look upon you with hope and encouragement instead of with doubt – you’ve come to the right place. I would like to invite you to ask Jesus to come into your heart and allow Him to bless you with His presence. I will promise you that we will stand with you no matter what we won’t walk away from you. We won’t walk away from you because He hasn’t walked away from us. Won’t you invite Him in?

THE SAINTS OF GOD: Suspicious or Supportive?
Acts 9:19-32