July 31, 2023

July 31, 2023

Daily Bible Reading

To prevent the frustration of falling behind, which most of us tend to do when following a Bible reading plan, each month of this plan gives you only twenty-five readings. Today we start a few “free days” . We encourage you to catch up on any readings you may have missed this month.

If you have finished the month’s readings, you can use these final days of the month to study the passages that challenged or intrigued you.

Daily Devotion

Breaking Free From Labels 

Acts 9:1-18 (NLT) Saul’s Conversion

1 Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. 2 He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.
3 As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”
5 “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.
And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 6 Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7 The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! 8 Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. 9 He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.
10 Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord!” he replied.
11 The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. 12 I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.”
13 “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! 14 And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.”
15 But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.”
17 So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized.

We live in a world that is fanatically obsessed with labels. The social climate of our society is wrapped up and consumed in how to best label individuals based off their economic status, race and gender. Labels seem to be the currency of choice that many seem to draw their value from. We can be labeled by where we came from, the area we grew up in and the family we were born into. All of these factors can place a label upon us which may have either a negative or positive impact upon us and how people perceive who we are. 

When looking at our text, it would seem fair to say that Saul had a label that the members of the early Apostolic Church came to know him by. That label most likely was, enemy. Saul was an enemy of the Apostles and those who had been converted by their preaching and teaching. 

The scripture tells us that Saul was so consumed by his hatred towards the followers of Jesus, that every breath he took was saturated with threats and curses towards Christians. In fact he was so zealous to stamp out this “new religion” that he went to the High Priest in Jerusalem asking for letters addressed to the synagogue leaders in Damascus, that would give him the legal right to arrest and bring back to Jerusalem in chains, anyone who confessed Jesus as their Savior. Saul was an enemy of the Church. But on his way to complete what he thought to be a “holy mission”, Jesus stopped him dead in his tracks, and changed the course of Saul’s life forever. 

It was Saul’s upbringing and education that turned him into that label. Enemy. His grasp and understanding of the law of Moses, was unmatched by any of the Apostles. He was so blinded by fanaticism which was grounded in his past and upbringing, that it was impossible for him to see those very same scriptures and laws he poured himself into learning, were all pointing to the coming of Jesus. Yet, it was that very same past and upbringing that God used, to turn him into the greatest Evangelist in history. 

God isn’t concerned about where we came from or what the world has labeled us. When we meet Him on our road to Damascus, He can change us in a moment. His voice speaking into our life can break every yoke of bondage that labels have put upon us. We don’t have to be defined by our past. Labels of shame and addiction are no longer your name. Just as God used Saul’s past for good, your greatest moments of pain and turmoil can be turned into a powerful testimony. Saul left Jerusalem an enemy of the Church, but in a moment that label was broken off him. Saul, the enemy, became Paul, the Apostle, Evangelist to the Gentile nations. God can do the same with us. He can break us free from labels and anything else that may be holding us back from becoming all He has called us to be.

~Jesse Sanders