I recently struck up a conversation with a man in a park. I mentioned that I was a pastor and after a brief conversation he revealed that he drank and smoked and asked if he would be welcomed in my church. I jokingly pointed out that he can do neither in church, but no, those habits would not disqualify him from attending. He stood up and shook my hand. Apparently, my answer caught him by surprise. His reaction is not surprising but is unfortunate. Many people have come to expect prejudgment to come with attending a new church. I didn’t ask, but it’s entirely possible that he has received a different answer from other churches. God makes it clear that if someone has received Him or is seeking Him, then we should not reject what He has accepted or is accepting. Perhaps no portion of the Bible illustrates this better than the story of Saul of Tarsus in Acts 9.

Saul was a Pharisee, a member of the Jewish ruling class. He believed “The Way,” or the Jesus movement, was a threat to all he believed. So, he persecuted and jailed believers in Christ. He was on his way to Damascus to do just that when Jesus appeared to Him:

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Acts 9:3-6 (NIV)

Jesus then appeared to a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. He told him Saul would be arriving and that Ananias should go to him and put hands on him, which would restore the sight God had taken from Saul. Ananias had heard of Saul and let Jesus know how he felt about that idea:

“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.” Acts 9:13-16 (NIV)

So, Ananias set aside his preconceived notions about Saul and did as Jesus asked. The result? Saul of Tarsus would become the Apostle Paul, arguably the greatest spreader of the Gospel in history. God knew the plans He had for Saul. Ananias didn’t. Yet, he trusted in God’s plan for Saul. He knew enough not to reject who God had accepted, even though it made no sense to Ananias to do so. In fact, it was potentially dangerous to do so.

It doesn’t matter how people are different from us, language, appearance, habits or place of origin. We are all part of God’s body. You may have missed it above but when Jesus appeared to Saul, He asked him why he was persecuting Jesus. Not his followers, but Jesus Himself. That’s because believers are the representation of the physical body of Christ on earth. Each part of the church body is a blessing. Let us celebrate and rejoice in that and never reject what God is accepting.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (NIV)

— Pastor Jerry Bader

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