Today we continue in the Book of Acts, against Jews who had come to a newfound faith in Jesus is well documented.
- Saul was a leader of the conviction and stoning of Stephen, the first martyr (Acts 7:58)
- Saul was at the helm of the persecution of Christians throughout Jerusalem (Acts 8:1-3)
- Saul was a murderer responsible for the imprisonment and death of many Christians (Acts 9:1-2)
In our modern faith, we think of Paul as a Christian hero whose God-inspired words have shaped theology and led countless people to faith. Yet before his salvation, Saul committed terrible sins against the followers of Christ. Today Pastor Miles interviewed some brothers and sisters in Christ who experienced an encounter with God at a dark and troubled time in their lives. As you read their stories, keep in mind that though their faults and wrongdoings may be different from your own, they are really no different in God’s eyes, for we are all sinners who fall short of His glory.
- Taz was born in New York and became involved with gangs, drugs, and alcohol at the age of 14.
- Frankie grew up in southeast San Diego. At age 13, he began rolling with his older cousin. His lifestyle soon became out of control as he began making rap music and being involved in the hip-hop scene, and he developed a love of money that drove his decisions and actions.
- Noelle was raised in San Diego as well and grew up in the church until she decided to turn away from God at age 13. She began hanging out with a gang of junior high girls in City Heights and her life soon became tangled with drugs and violence.
- Larry grew up in southeast San Diego in an era when gang violence was at an all-time high. He started gangbanging at the age of 12.
Saul was rashly chasing a life of violence and persecution of believers until he was knocked down in an encounter with God:
As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from
heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul,
Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
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.” Acts 9:3-5
We all have times in our lives when we want to do as we please. If we take it far enough, God comes in to say “enough is enough” and slams us to the ground. When life starts falling apart and we lose the things that mean the most to us, it may be God’s desire to get our attention and show us that we are not in control. Just as Saul did, our interviewees each experienced a knock-down experience with the Lord that opened their eyes.
- As Taz’ troubled life began to spin out of control, his family fell apart, he lost his football scholarship, he became an alcoholic, and was actually stabbed in an incident while hanging out with a gang of Skinheads (who are openly racist against blacks). God began to open his eyes when it was a black doctor that saved his life in the hospital.
- After a fall and injury Noelle experienced at work, the doctors discovered that her blood pressure was at stroke level, the first symptom of Graves Disease, a hyperactive thyroid disorder. The treatment she underwent caused her experience the loss of most of her hair, bulging eyes, heart palpitations, and an unexplained sore throat. In further diagnostics, it was discovered that she had million-to-one reaction to her medication that had compromised her immune system so badly that exposure to infection of any kind would have immediately caused her death. She was taken off the medication and given a stack of face masks, a can of Lysol, and directions to “go home and pray that your white cell count will be restored.” That moment caused her to realize that God was her only hope of survival.
- Frankie had experienced a lot of success in the rap scene and was making a lot of money. Everywhere he went, he felt powerful, like a king of San Diego. Then all of a sudden, all of his friends started going to prison to serve long sentences. He himself was facing 6 years for a crime he hadn’t committed. Though the 7-month trial process found him not guilty, at the end of it he had lost his car, his job, his apartment, his friends, and his fiancée. Everyone had walked out on him. He had gone from a wealthy, powerful rapper to a broken, betrayed, lonely and insecure man. It was in that low period that Frankie’s cousin invited him to church. He fel incredibly welcomed and inspired by the Gospel, so he got a Bible and started opening His mind to God’s Word.
- God threw Larry to the ground in 2009 in the form of a federal indictment. For four days he ran from the law, watching himself on the news in shock at how they portrayed him: a gang leader, drug runner, and gun runner who was armed and dangerous. Eventually, he turned himself in and was looking at 20 years in prison. But little by little, God was revealing Himself to Larry and showing Him that he had control over case as the charges were lessened and the years of imprisonment came down. Eventually, Larry went to prison for the light sentence of 4 years. He knew that God wanted to get his attention and had some things to show Him. While waiting for his initial housing, the verse Proverbs 16:7 was running through his mind, so Larry challenged God to reveal His presence and truth. Within minutes, Larry encountered two of his former enemies in the yard. Prepared to fight as they approached him in turn, Larry was stunned at their interactions with him: they only wanted to know if he was still doing his music. Even more amazingly, the second man left him with the advice that he should use his talent to praise God. From that moment, he was sold out for the Lord. He found the yard barber and asked for his long hair to be shaved off as a symbol of his new beginning with Christ.
When Saul encountered Christ, he immediately asked for direction. Jesus told him to go to Damascus, where Jesus was about to prepare his servant Ananais to baptize Saul. Jesus changed his name and began one of the most incredible ministries that Christianity has ever known.
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.”
And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Acts 9:6-9
Our interviewees have experienced miraculous life change. Like Saul, they now live for Christ and work to spread the Gospel and fight against the very things that enslaved them before their salvation.
- Taz is now working in gang prevention and intervention in local schools and at juvenile hall.
- Frankie joined the Rock N The Hood Gang Ministry
where they bring in youth for mentoring and Bible Study. He also serves in the Hospitality Ministry
that played a vital role in helping him to feel loved and accepted at church.
- Noelle is part of the Rock’s Financial Ministry, as well as the Pastoral Support Ministry that provides prayer and counseling.
- Larry is involved with Predestined House for Sober Living that provides support for men who are exiting the prison system and gang intervention. He also serves with Peace and Unity – to stop gang violence in San Diego.
So what does all of this have to do with you?
God doesn’t care about your past or present; He just wants to know if you will trust Him.
The apostle Paul thought he was approved and righteous, but because he hadn’t bowed his knee to Jesus, he was headed in the wrong direction. No matter the crime or the sin you have committed, whether you wear a T-shirt or a tie, you are still a sinner. God doesn’t care about your past or present; He just wants to know if you will trust Him. What will it take? Will you need to lose your job, your health, or your family? Will you need to be knocked down? Or will you trust and serve Him more fully today, right where you are?