I Did It ___ Way!
Are you moved when Frank Sinatra sings, "I Did it My Way?" As he builds to the last triumphant declaration that he did things his way, does every fiber of your being shout, "Yes!" St. Paul could relate to that song for truly he was a man who did things his way. At least that's how he started out, but there was a problem. His way was wrong. Paul was convinced that he was totally right in persecuting Christians; he was sure it was a godly thing to kill Christians for their faith; he had no doubt that God was pleased with his religious zeal, but Paul was wrong.
However you've got the picture all wrong if you think Paul was a monster; he wasn't. He was a zealous Jew. He knew the Bible forwards and backwards. He faithfully went to church. He dutifully gave to the support of it. He didn't go to Damascus for personal reasons. He didn't personally hate Christians, or want personal gain from hauling them back to Jerusalem for trial. Saul, which was the Jewish name Paul went by, believed that Christianity was a real threat to true religion. He believed that his way of persecuting Christians was God's way to work, but Saul was wrong.
Friends, you and I can be wrong about something we're doing even though we believe it right. We can be singing, "I did it my way!" fully believing that it's God's way too but be horribly wrong. You know there are plenty of people who believe killing babies in the womb is right. There are many people, maybe even a majority, who believe living together before marriage is right. Some of you are shaking your head at anyone being so misguided. But you can be just that wrongheaded about something you're doing.
Those grudges you have toward family, friends, co-workers, or neighbors that you believe are so right, so justifiable are terribly wrong. That pet sin, the one you excuse by saying, "O that's just the way I am," is terribly wrong even though you feel so right about it. Those personal opinions you have that you believe are right are terribly wrong even though you're sure they're doctrines of God.
You can be positively certain that your way is God's way and be dead wrong, even damn wrong. Paul was. But God was merciful to him, and showed him he was wrong. Do you want God to be merciful to you too? I ask you if you want God to be merciful because when God shows a man or woman they're wrong, He generally does it in a big way. Do you remember how He showed Aaron and Miriam they were wrong? Do you remember how He showed Ahab he was wrong? How about Korah? Well, no matter; you do see how He showed Paul he was wrong. God threw him to the ground, blinded him with light, and made him shake in his sandals.
I'm warning you. You might be on the way to your Damascus - on your way toward something you believe so right, but God in His mercy is going to show you different. He's going to throw you down because of your grudges; He's going to blind you with the truth about the disgusting nature of your pet sin; He's going to make you tremble by showing you that what you consider personal opinion is really damnable false doctrine. God is going to stop you in mid-chorus. Just as you're trumpeting how you did it your way, He's going to grab your throat and choke you to a stop.
May God do this for each and everyone of us. You know why? Doing things "my way" even though it feels so right, so rewarding, so triumphant only leads to death and damnation. Unless God stops us from doing things our way, our grudges, our pet sins, our false doctrines will indeed damn us straight to hell. Cain did things his way. King Saul did things his way. Judas did things his way. When God leaves you to yourself to do things your way it always results in losing your salvation.
But God hasn't left us to ourselves. He sent His Word to us to expose our grudges, pet sins, and false doctrines even as He sent His Word to Paul. The Word won't leave you alone till it exposes every spiteful grudge, every shameful pet sin, every false doctrine you have. The Word won't let you alone till it reveals your sin in all of it's wretched colors. Then you'll really see it, and then you'll be tempted to bury your face in your hands and never look at God again. Why? Because you'll realize that while you've been strutting around before God as if you were dressed in heavenly robes in reality you've been naked; while you've been feeling like some kind of super-Christian, you've really been an embarrassment to God.
Surely Paul must have felt that way too. Imagine the shame and guilt that flooded his heart when he saw his way for the horrible sin it really was. Imagine how the faces of dead Christians haunted him. Imagine how the blood of dead Christians stained his conscience. It truly is a terrible sight when you finally see something you regarded as right and good for the shameful and damnable thing it really is.
Right then it will be hard for you to believe that God, even though He is rich in mercy, can forgive you. It will be hard for you to believe that the blood of Jesus is really thick enough to cover such sin. It will be difficult for you to see how even the death of Christ could be rich enough to make you right again with God. That my friend is when you're to pull out Paul. Paul himself says this in his letters. He says that God used him to demonstrate His perfect patience, His unimaginable grace, His forgiving love.
Use Paul the way God wants him used. Paul calls himself the chief of sinners. That means no matter what you've done, no matter how badly you've done it, no matter how often you've done it, you can't be the chief of sinners. There's only 1 number 1 sinner, and that's Paul. You'll have to settle for number 2 sinner. And if number 1 can be fully forgiven, so can numbers 2 and below. If the chief of sinners can go to bed at night with a conscience cleansed by the blood of Christ, so can you. If the chief of sinners can say, as he did after his conversion, "I have a clear conscience," so can you no matter what you have done or think you've done.
It's true. Though you have spent years holding grudges your way, the way of God for the sake of His Son is to not hold that against you. Though you have kept a pet sin under your table feeding and caring for it brazenly, God kept His Son on a hellish cross for an eternity to pay for that. Though you've set your opinions above the Word of God, God has set the blood of His Son above your false opinions in order to wash you in a soul cleansing flood.
This is the way of God. To forgive our grudges, to forgive our pet sins, to forgive our false doctrines. He sweeps them away by the body and blood of Jesus. But be prepared; when God does things His way, He has more than one way to work things out to the glory of His Name. If you're like me, you think, "There's only one way for things to work out, and if things don't work out my way then they just can't." Let's think again. Let's learn from Paul that God has many ways to work things out to the glory of His Name.
Paul's way was to glorify God by doing. First he persecuted those whom he thought were God's enemies. Then after conversion he went preaching Christ. Later he went to the church seeking to do whatever he could for Christ. But what did God say once He cleansed Paul from his ways? "I will show him how much he must suffer for My name." Paul was to glorify God not by doing but by suffering. In one of Paul's letters, he makes the eerie comment, "In my body I fill up what remains of the sufferings of Christ."
I can't go into that now, but doesn't it make you stop and think? Just by suffering you can glorify God. You don't have to go out and do this or that, you can just suffer. Suffer with that person who is hateful toward you. Suffer with that pet sin that turns into a snarling Doberman when you turn away from it. Suffer with those hard things in God's Word which your human reason screams don't make sense. You may not be able to preach like Paul, but you can suffer like him.
Suffering is one way to glorify God; waiting is another. Paul had his share of waiting. You can't tell that from our readings, so let me fill in the details. Paul was converted at Damascus. He immediately started to preach Christ, but was rejected by Christians and driven off into the desert by the Jews for 3 years. He came back to Damascus, and then went to Jerusalem. He was certain that after 3 years he was ready to do the work of the Lord. He met Peter and James, the heads of the Jerusalem church, staying with them for 15 days, but they sent him back to his home in Tarsus saying, "Will be in touch." 13 years go by before anyone called.
Friends, when the Lord delivers you from all your guilts, forgives you all your sins, rescues you from your petty grudges, pet sins, and false teachings, you want to serve Him. You can't help it. You're ready to go out there and wrestle with lions, get hit by stones; you're ready to suffer a little or do a lot. But sometimes when you're doing things His way, nothing happens. St. Paul, the greatest missionary the Church has ever known, waited 13 years before the Lord called him into service. But by waiting, by pursuing his job as a tentmaker, Paul was glorifying God's name. And so are you when you do the mundane tasks of your daily life. You don't have to do religious work in Jesus' name to glorify God. God's Name is glorified when you in Jesus' name live your everyday life. God is as pleased as can be with that.
Sinatra never would have had a hit song if he had sung, "I did it His way." All the triumph, all the ego fizzles out when you sing, "I did it His way." It sounds so weak, so lame, so ordinary. But friends, nobody, not even Frank ever really does it their way. They may think they do; they may even look like they do, but they don't. In the last analysis everything is done His way, God's way. Read the Book of Revelation; you won't find a soul in heaven from the lowliest saint to the mightiest apostle singing anything but, "I did it His way." May that be our song too. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Conversion of St. Paul (1-25-04); Acts 9:1-22