Thursday, May 23, 2013

Free Chapter -- "Unknown: The Extraordinary Influence of Ordinary Christians" by Matthew Everhard

Editor's Note: The following is a free chapter from Matthew Everhard's new book entitled, "Unknown: The Extraordinary Influence of Ordinary Christians."  This new e-book is available FREE on Amazon until midnight tonight. (After tonight, $5.99).  


If I were to ask you to name the man who was the first person to walk on the moon, I am sure that most of my readers would be quick to cite Neil Armstrong. You might even be able to add a couple other names to the mix: Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins also served on that incredible Apollo space mission.

Our nation has always been captivated by this incredible achievement of human ingenuity. When the United States became the first nation to put human beings on the surface of the moon, the rest of the world was put on notice: the USA has unmatched technology.

If it was possible, would you have traded places with Neil Armstrong to become the first human being ever (think about that!) to walk on our planet’s moon? Would you be pleased to have your name perpetually committed to Trivial Pursuit and game-show status? Would you desire to have your personal accomplishments become the content of every third-grader’s routine course work?

Most of us, I think, would jump at that chance. How amazing it would be to be a person of historical significance!

But behind Neil Armstrong’s amazing “first,” there were literally thousands of men and women who helped him get there. While his name is inscribed indelibly in all American History text books, these same books don’t have room for the names of all the other persons without whose work the great space walk would have been impossible.

Can you name any member of the team that led the Houston-based mission control center? Can you name any of the engineers who designed the now-famous lunar landing module? Can you name even one of the men or women who designed Armstrong’s uniform or the individual who sewed the flag patch on the shoulder of his space-suit? Likely not. I can’t either. They are “unknown.”

Paul’s First Mentor

In the same way, while many of us could name many of the details regarding the Apostle Paul’s conversion in Acts chapter nine, we might get a bit fuzzy about the details of the aftermath. The truth is that God had been preparing a man behind the scenes to help to train the great Apostle—a humble “unknown” named Ananias.

Let’s look at this man who became Paul’s first mentor in closer detail.

“Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias” (Acts 9:10). Notice the word that is used to describe Ananias—a disciple. The Greek word mathetes simply means a “learner.” The root word “math” is the same word from which we get the word mathematics. A learner. A student. A pupil. One who is still in the process of learning the faith and following Jesus.  

I find it interesting that God did not use a man of great prestige or reputation to train Paul. Ananias is not called a prophet, or a priest, or an Apostle. God did not call one of the original followers to disciple Paul. Peter and John were not given this task! Just an ordinary, regular disciple: Ananias. A simple man who, like Paul, is on the path of sanctification. He too is still learning about the great doctrines of the faith and is following hard after Jesus. He may be a few steps ahead of Paul at this point, but what does that matter?

“And the Lord said to him, ‘Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying’” (Acts 9:11). Hmm. Straight Street? Sounds kind of boring to me.

I can imagine Ananias thinking, “Wow. I’ve been waiting my whole life for the Lord to speak to me audibly! Surely God could have called me to a more exciting place than Straight Street! Nothing remarkable about that at all! In fact the only thing I know about it is, well, that it’s straight. What about calling me to Mountain Pass? What about Adventure Island, or even Devil’s Canyon? What about Calvary Road? Oh well. Straight Street it is. Here goes…”

And so Ananias prepared for his journey to the other side of town. He was obediently following the Lord’s leading as he had grown accustomed to doing since he met Christ as his own master some time ago.

But wait, Ananias paused. An objection arose in his mind. This one he even dared to voice aloud: Isn’t this the Saul of Tarsus (later to become Paul) who has “done much evil to your saints at Jerusalem” (Acts 9:13)? I like the fact that Ananias is concerned for the church. Here we are beginning to see why God chose Ananias for this mission: this man had a tender heart of compassion for the people of God.

His first thought was of the safety, unity, and health of the Body of Christ. By raising this objection about the welfare of God’s people, Ananias has only confirmed that he is in fact the right man for the job. An arrogant man would not suffice for this task.

As he laced his sandals and gathered his staff and water bottle to prepare for this strange encounter with the infamous persecutor of the church—then known as Saul—perhaps Ananias’ thoughts began to wander. (Again, I’m speculating here). He might have thought to himself something like this:

“Wow, I wonder what great message God has for me! If he is using such a scoundrel as Saul to tell me something—even if he really is a changed man—it must be very important! Perhaps God is going to raise me up for some great work in His Kingdom! I can’t wait to hear what message Saul has to tell me!”

And then, just as Ananias is about to leave for his journey to Straight Street, God gives further clarification about the mission. It’s not about Ananias at all.  “Go, for he [Paul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16, emphasis added).

I’ve always wondered if this disappointed Ananias, that the message primarily concerned Paul’s future and not his own.

Perhaps his heart lamented, “Wait! So SAUL is the chosen instrument? I thought I was being chosen for a great mission? This is about SAUL? How can that be fair? He persecuted your church and I have been a faithful disciple all this time!”

(I can’t prove that Ananias thought along those lines; but I confess that is exactly what I would have been thinking if I were him).

And then, objections aside, Ananias did what he had grown accustomed to do as a simple, unknown disciple: he obeyed. We read these words next, “So Ananias departed and entered the house” (Acts 9:17). Once again, he simply obeyed and put one foot in front of the other all the way to Judas’ house across town.

After a few brief words of exhortation (vs. 17) to Saul—hereafter to be called Paul—some prayer and the laying on of hands (always more powerful than we realize by the way), the new convert regains his sight, is baptized, and eats a meal. The passive construction of verse 18 makes it impossible to know if Ananias was the one who did the baptizing, although that would seem highly likely from the context. We might also wonder who prepared the meal that Saul ate. I’m guessing Ananias did that too. Would a man that just recovered from blindness be expected to fix his own omelet?

In summary, Ananias obeyed the Lord, prayed with the future “hall of famer,” baptized him, and whipped up a tasty morsel for the man that God chose to change the world. I think it is likely that Ananias did some other instructional and doctrinal teaching with Paul privately, but if so, the text does not emphasize that.

The whole flavor of the text seems to minimize Ananias’ role in Paul’s conversion. This is not unusual. God is always given the credit when salvation occurs.

For the rest of the book of Acts, Ananias falls into utter obscurity. (This Ananias is not to be confused with the two men of the same name in Acts 5:1 and 23:2). He is never mentioned again except in Acts 22 when Paul’s conversion story is recounted another time. In this later account of Paul’s conversion, a few details are added that confirm our sketch of Ananias’ general character: he is “devout” and “well spoken by all the Jews” (Acts 22:12). We don’t read words like “amazing,” “gifted,” or “awesome.” Just well spoken of.

He was good, not great. Yep, that’s our man. Obedient, solid, faithful Ananias: a model for all of us “unknowns” today. Nothing fancy here. Nothing sexy. Nothing rock-star-ish. Just faithful.

Spurgeon’s Conversion

This entire story reminds me of the conversion of the great Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon of course is remembered by history as the “Prince of Preachers.” The shadow of his legacy grows longer each generation as the number of believers that are influenced by his writings multiplies. Spurgeon published more words than any other man in history. Each sermon and book he wrote is dripping with the honey-sweet glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

One would have thought that a great man would be chosen to lead Spurgeon to Christ. But as history records the event, it was a far less spectacular beginning. One snowy day the young Charles Spurgeon, then just a lad, trudged to the local church. The weather was terrible. The snow was beginning to grow so fierce that Charles was forced to reroute his path and fall into a local Methodist church for shelter. There, only a handful had gathered for Sabbath Day worship.

As God’s plan would have it, the ordained minister himself was absent that day. The snow was too thick. And so, rising to the pulpit, was an untrained and under-prepared deacon. Obviously terrified to preach, this poor soul had no other recourse. He opened his Bible to a text in Isaiah, and in the simplest language, pointed his single-digit audience to look to Jesus in faith.

Out of words after just a few short moments, the preacher looked directly at Spurgeon, apparently trying to stretch the sermon out a few more minutes. He pleaded with the young boy to repent and believe. That Spurgeon did, and God used the latter vessel infinitely more than the first.

Or so, it would seem, to the human eye.

Perhaps you never will be a Charles Spurgeon. Certainly you never will be an Apostle Paul. But to think that we might be used as an Ananias is a thrill indeed! Maybe you and I will never lead a stadium full of people in worship or preach to thousands, but perhaps God will use us to save the person who one day will!

Maybe in God’s great plan, He is calling us to serve in a way similar as that Methodist lay preacher did. God might use us to reach the one who will reach hundreds. I often wonder if that snow-day preacher ever learned of how greatly God had used him that morning. He might have lived and died not knowing that the great Charles Spurgeon was converted during his own ill-prepared sermon one morning.

Sometimes I think that God even hides our best fruit from us so that we don’t grow too proud.

Look around you. Look at the children in your Sunday School classroom, or the irritating neighbor boy on your block. Consider your own children or grandchildren near you at the dinner table. Is there a Spurgeon in your midst? Is there a Paul there?

Perhaps you will be chosen by God to sew the patch on the shoulder of the next Neil Armstrong!

If God would be pleased to use me in that way, I wouldn’t trade it for the world—even if my name never made it into the history books! 

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. He is also the author of several books in both traditional (print) and electronic formats. 

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