Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Straight Street

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 place his hands on him and restore his sight.” (Acts 9.12)

Not Much to Tell

Luke introduces Ananias with two slim facts: “In Damascus there was a disciple.” (Acts 9.10) Other than his interaction with Saul of Tarsus, soon to be Paul the Apostle, that’s all that we have. We don’t know if he traveled with Jesus or if he’s among the disciples at Pentecost. Is he on a first-name basis with Peter, Mary Magdalene, and John? Or is he a newer disciple—part of the 3,000 who join the 120 after the Upper Room (Acts 2.41), or one of those “the Lord added daily”? (v47) We don’t know. He’s just a disciple who lives in Damascus, not far from where Saul encounters Christ. While we’d love to know more about someone who plays an enormously pivotal role in our faith, I believe we’re not told more about Ananias because there’s not much to tell. He’s just one of many, a disciple. He’s chosen to end Paul’s blindness because being in the right place at the right time qualifies him for the job.

Ananias has heard of the infamous Saul “and all the harm he has done.” (Acts 9.13) He’s aware this tireless persecutor of Christ recently stumbled into town, blind and shaken on the arms of his companions. Nonetheless, Ananias seems convinced Saul “has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on [Christ’s] name.” (v14) He admits this during a vision in which Jesus instructs him: “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street. Ask for Saul. He’s seen a vision of you restoring his sight.” Ananias has concerns about his safety, and rightly so. But the Lord tells him, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles.” (v15) He bravely enters Straight Street, finds Saul, and says, “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.” (v17) Brother Saul….

Courage to Obey

The Church has never been more dynamic than in its infancy, when believers’ days and nights are jammed with activity. The task is so great Acts 2 says they pool their resources to devote more time to teaching, fellowship, dining together, and prayer. Yet the Church also has never been at greater risk, as zealots like Saul work equally hard, with solid backing, to stamp it out. Thus, as we read of the bookend miracles of Saul’s transformation into Paul—the vision that blinds him and his healing three days later—we can’t overlook the one connecting them: the transformation of Ananias from a believer troubled by fear to one emboldened by faith.

That he’s given the name and address of Saul’s host inclines us to think Ananias walks into unfriendly quarters. For Ananias to accomplish his mission, he has to trust he’ll pass through Straight Street unharmed, he'll be welcomed into Judas’s home, Saul’s consorts won’t attack him once he arrives, and the man himself will listen to what he says and allow him to do his work. With all these factors in play, what Christ asks of the disciple sounds unreasonable—except for the reason why Ananias must ignore his doubts and fears. God plans to use Saul to destroy faith boundaries. In his blind state, he’s already seen Ananias and heard his name. He believes the disciple will arrive. If Ananias doesn’t show, Saul’s faith won’t be honored. His life won’t change. So Ananias not only holds the key that will open Saul’s eyes and unlock The Way for millions of Gentiles. He also holds the key to saving hundreds, possibly thousands of fellow believers from future oppression. Not surprisingly, they’re the same key: courage to obey.

Knock

Ananias has to rely on confidence his vision is real and not an imaginary figment or erroneous impulse. Personally, I’m not convinced many of us could get past those doubts. Thankfully, we don’t have to. In Matthew 7.7-8 Jesus assures us: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Everyone. This promise gives us courage to obey the call to Straight Street—the summons to unfriendly places where blind eyes await healing and the gift of God’s Spirit. And we must go, not for our sake, but for the benefit of those who’ve been told to expect us, the lives they’ll impact as a result of our obedience, and the fellow believers who will be spared from oppression because we courageously complete God's work.

How much quicker it would have been had God told Saul to send for Ananias. How much easier it would have been if Saul’s emissaries had knocked on his door and invited him to Straight Street. But how much more powerful it is for God to show Saul He honors faith and endows His people with courage to obey! Quick and easy aren't important to God. Deploying His plan and displaying His power are how He changes lives.

When situations put us in the right the place at the right time, we must believe we’re right for the job and do it. Gay believers can’t wait for Straight Street to open up. There are doors there, waiting for our knock. Women disciples can’t wait until roadblocks to Man Avenue fall and other rejected Christians can’t wait for Faith Boulevard to widen its lanes. There are doors there, waiting for our knock. And when they open, we embrace old adversaries, saying, “Brother Sexist, Sister Homophobe, Reverend Judge, the Lord has sent us so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 9.18 says, "Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again." As his blindness fell away, it took his hatred, false piety, and proud name with it. The same happens when we allow God to use us. Without Ananias, there would be no Paul. Without us, who else may there not be?

It’s not about us. It’s about who’s behind the doors we’re led to and what God wants to do through them after He uses us.

Postscript: Friendly Reminder

I’ll be interviewed on The Drew Marshall Show this Saturday between 2 and 4 PM EDT. Live streaming audio will be available at the show’s Website. Please listen in and keep me in your prayers!

6 comments:

Philomena Ewing said...

Wishing you Good Luck Tim. This is exciting and I pray that it will be a success. Don't forget to enjoy it !!

Tim said...

Thank you so much, Phil. It is exciting--a new step in this journey, one I'm sure I'll enjoy and look back on fondly. Your prayers and good wishes mean more to me than I can express!

Blessings,
Tim

claire said...

What a great description of Ananias' faith in action! Wow! This is really inspiring! Thank you!

As to praying for you for your Saturday Show, with great pleasure!
And if my grandsons permit, I will definitely listen to the Show!

May the Force be with You, Tim :-)

Tim said...

Claire, rereading this passage lately, I was struck by how much hung in the balance for Ananias. Had he given into fear and social conditioning--thinking that Saul's institutional backing gave him the upper hand--who knows how long it would have taken for the Gentiles to be accepted into the faith?

What if he had adopted the attitude so many Christian outcasts currently have: "I'll wait until he gets his act together. When realizes he needs me, then I'll go to him." It's not inconceivable you and I and most every believer we know wouldn't be Christians, that the Church would be a Jewish sect.

This story convinces me many of the inclusion champions we pray God to send are probably already out there, waiting for us to bring them new sight. God has already spoken to them about their erroneous ways. That's why we can never delay an opportunity to share our confidence in faith equality and acceptance. We never know if the person we suspect of being our greatest rival is the very one God has chosen to tear down our barriers.

(And we can't afford to reason our way out of obedience based on their current status. After Ananias ministered to him, Paul entered the Church as a nobody, viewed with great suspicion. But, oh my, how quickly that changed!)

Blessings, and thank you for your kind words,
Tim

PS: Please, by all means, enjoy your grandsons! These are precious moments you'll never capture again. Drew archives his radio shows. The interview will be there when you have less important things to do. (And thanks for your prayers in advance of their effect!)

gmc said...

Hey Tim, thanks for continually prodding my grey matter and my faith muscles. I just read a 'bit' Drew presented at a comedy fest: "I’m supposed to defend religion?" It encapsulates so many of my own frustrations with what our religioius institutional culture has become
(bottom of his bio page:)
http://www.drewmarshall.ca/bio.html

I pray you'll be reaching folks who need what the Lord offers through you. Have fun!

Tim said...

Grant, beyond the fellowship it provides me with extraordinary people, the joy of this space for me is exactly what you describe: it prods my grey matter and faith muscles.

Just earlier this evening, I was saying something very similar to a friend. We were talking about all the apocryphal books and why this or that one didn't make the canon. And finally I said, you know, all that's interesting, but what we have in 66 "approved" books is bottomless as it is. There's just no end to the way it speaks to us.

And--not ironically--all of this grew out of his frustration with "religion." Of course, I fell back on my constant answer: It's not about religion anyway; it's about faith. I think we're all frustrated with religion to some degree; it's manmade and therefore apt to fail and fall short. But faith, ah, that holds when everything else but love fails. It's a great gift!

Grant, once again, thank you for all you've done for me and Straight-Friendly. Tomorrow's program with be a joyful experience, I'm sure, because it will be done by faith!

Blessings,
Tim