Our Road to Damascus
Study No. 109
I would like to tell a story. It is one I have told before. It is a true story. As you will see, it is a story with lessons for us all.
It was a hot sunny day in July. Heat waves radiated from the railroad tracks. A boy clad in shorts and sandals scuffled along. He was about ten. Although firecrackers were illegal, he had managed to have an abundant supply of the little explosive toys.
As he walked down the tracks, the boy would light a firecracker and throw it into the dead dry grass along the right of way. Most of his "fun" came not from the sound of the explosions, but from the fact that he was breaking the law, and getting away with it.
This "Sunday school boy" obeyed his parents and seldom missed going to the Baptist church. Yet there were these private times, when nobody was looking, or so he thought, that he could freely "sow wild oats" and do "bad" things.
The boy lit a firecracker and carelessly threw the still burning match off to the side. Instantly the tinder dry grass burst into flame, spreading quickly. Frantically he tried to stamp the fire out with his thongs. The leaping flames burnt his legs and he screamed in pain. It was hopeless. He began to fearfully run home. Hysterically he ran as fast as he could the one or two miles home. He was scared and feeling guilty for what he had done. He knew the fire was quickly spreading close to homes.
"God help me!" he cried. "Please get me out of this mess I've gotten myself in. If you help me, Iíll do whatever you want me to do. Please God, help me."
He burst into his home crying, "I didnít mean to do it!" His sister was talking on the phone, and hastily hung up and got her little brother to calm down and explain what had happened. The fire department was called, and the brushfire was extinguished before there was any serious damage to property.
The boy trembled in fear, hoping he wouldnít be arrested for arson. No punishment came, and he forgot his vow made out of desperation.
A Time of Growth
Unknown to this Sunday School boy, the other party to his vow hadnít forgotten. The Eternal was allowing and using circumstances such that the boy would sooner or later fulfill the bargain he had made to be obedient to his Maker. To do this, He had to teach the boy many things.
Here are a few episodes along the way:
The boy enjoyed listening to the adults talk. One time he and his parents visited his aunt, Ann Wiens. She discussed Bible prophecy with the boyís father. Ezekiel showed that a third of our people will die by war, a third die from famine and pestilence, and the other third would suffer a terrible captivity worse than the Holocaust. There was a man on the radio teaching this, and he published a magazine. These things made a very deep impression on the young man.
A couple of years after the July fire, the boy responded to his parentsí wishes and "went forward" at an altar call, joining the Baptist Church. He was "dunked." Returning his wet clothes to the family car, he noticed a beautiful rainbow in the sky. "Could this mean God is watching over me?" he thought.
In 1960, he was fourteen, and his parents decided to move to the Oregon coast. He and his father spent the summer in a little shack as they cleared their lot of trees and built a house. In the evenings they would listen to the radio. A program called "The World Tomorrow" with Herbert W. Armstrong and his son Garner Ted Armstrong caught their interest. The two carpenters frequently discussed the program and the Bible truths they learned. In order to receive the program at night from Radio Station KGO San Francisco, the boy had to put his hand on the radio to improve the reception.
Although the family still regularly attended the Baptist church, there was a growing realization that Protestant churches were rejecting Bible truths. There were many Baptist doctrines they had to "unlearn." For the first time in his life, the young teenager read the Bible completely through.
Finally in his Senior year of high school, the boyís father gave a copy of The Plain Truth to their Baptist minister. Next Sunday, in the middle of the sermon (which was on a totally different subject) the minister lambasted the magazine and an article in it which attacked the doctrine of the Trinity.
This was the last straw. Unable to refute the magazine article, the minister ridiculed the magazineís anti-trinitarian stance.
Next week, the young man sent a postcard to the Baptist church withdrawing his membership. This broke his motherís heart. The father agreed with the son but failed to follow his strong action, managing to keep a semblance of family peace in the face of religious dissension in the family.
The college years that followed were times of further growth. Naturally skeptical, the young man disbelieved at first glance many of the teachings of the Worldwide Church of God. He began to prove them, one by one.
There was a time when he just couldnít believe that the early New Testament church kept the Passover on the fourteenth of Nisan each year. The Baptist church held the "Lordís Supper" on the first Sunday of every month. At the college library, the young man went to the Ante-Nicean Fathers to check out the Passover Question. To his astonishment, the dusty volumes said that Philip, Polycarp and Polycrates followed and others followed the Apostle John and the original disciples in always keeping the Passover on the fourteenth of Nisan, scrupulously observing the exact day. Incredible! Amazing!
And then the young man came to the point that so many do when he realized that what he knew to be true was more than what he was personally doing. He had proven that Christians are to keep the Sabbath and Holy Days, yet was not keeping them. He asked himself, "Why not?"
For one thing, his father believed in the Holy Days also, but didnít seem to have the spunk to stand up and do something about this knowledge. There was latent opposition from his mother. School and good grades meant a great deal to the young man, and would conflict with Sabbath and Holy Day observance.
But the Bible was clear! The young man was uneasy about not living up to what he knew to be true, but there was no motivation to obey. As the years passed, the July vow by the railroad tracks was totally forgotten.
It was a miracle summer. Jobs were hard to find, but very necessary to pay for college tuition. The young man obtained a high paying job working for the railroad installing signal equipment on a construction crew.
There was a day when work was nearly completed on one set of signals. The foreman was having the men pick up their tools to move to another site. He had the young man and another worker move down the tracks to warn the crew if any trains approached from a curve south of the work site. It was the mainline railway, two frequently used tracks between Seattle and Portland. Southbound trains went on the west tracks, while northbound trains used the east tracks.
As the two workers walked south to take up their positions around the curve, the construction crew shouted, "train coming!" There was a speeding freight train moving south. The young man continued walking south and moved between the two sets of tracks. Suddenly, his co-worker further around the curve frantically waved, "train coming!" There was another train, a northbound passenger train coming around the curve!
In what seemed like an eternity, the young man hesitated. He didnít seem to know what to do. He was the only one who could pass the message ahead to the crew that there was a northbound train coming. And yet he failed to act quickly.
Finally, he turned around and saw some of the crew a good distance north. It was too far to shout. He waved half-heartedly, trying to tell them another train was coming. Quickly the southbound train hid his view of the work crew.
He wheeled around and discovered that he was standing in the middle of the northbound tracks. The northbound passenger train was almost upon him! He dived towards the bank. Just as he left the tracks, the northbound passenger train roared past him, barely missing him. The southbound train shot past the other.
Then there was an awful silence. Only the sound of his heart pounding and his heavy breathing. He had a strange feeling of guilt and uneasiness. His co-worker walked up to him and asked, "Why didnít you act more quickly?" He didnít know.
They waited, not knowing that the passenger train had ground to a halt up ahead. Then the young man saw the foreman walking toward them. He rushed up to his superior, who grimly said there had been an accident. "We think Olsen is dead. Another man is hurt."
Like a lightening bolt, the news of the grisly tragedy struck the young man. Olsen had been walking north in the center of the northbound tracks. Because of the noise of the southbound train, he could not hear the warning shouts that there was a north bound train coming up behind him. He was struck full force by the speeding passenger train, mowed down like grass. The other man was more fortunate. He was walking on the edge of the tracks and was knocked off the tracks with only his left arm crushed.
Feeling an immense personal responsibility for the tragedy, the young man dropped to his knees and cried out, "God, forgive me!"
My Road to Damascus
I got up a new man. In less than two years, I was baptized. Yes, I was the young man. I saw clearly now that there was a relationship between this horrible accident and my failure to act upon what I knew to be true. I knew that unless I obeyed the truth, I was a dead man! God didnít kill the man to get my attention. He allowed this terrible accident to happen to impress upon me the seriousness of life, and that failure to heed His truth results in death.
I felt a personal responsibility for the death of a man and the crippling of another for life. I do not know whether or not if I had acted more quickly that the accident could have been prevented. But I do know that the Eternal delivered me from the railroad track fire when I was a boy. And now He had delivered me from death. What was I going to do about it? In the final analysis, I knew I had to submit to Him totally.
There is a great unfathomable gulf between knowing the truth, and doing the truth. With circumstances allowed or brought about by the Almighty, I had crossed that great chasm. I had come to my personal "Road to Damascus."
Paulís Road to Damascus
Prior to his road to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle Paul, was as stubborn as I was. Viciously fighting the truth, he was traveling from Jerusalem to Damascus in order to destroy the new Christian group there. In his Pharisaical self-righteous attitude, Saul was earnestly doing what he thought was right. He had been a party to the mob who stoned Stephen, Acts 7:58 - 8:1, and was out to kill more Christians, all in supposed obedience to God.
On the road to Damascus, Jesus Christ struck Saul blind, and he fell to the ground. The Messiahís voice boomed out, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" Blind and trembling, Saul cried out "Who are you, Lord?" "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is dangerous and it turns out badly for you to keep kicking against the goad ó that is, to offer vain and perilous resistance." "Lord, what do you desire me to do?" "Arise and go into the city and you will be told what you must do" Acts 9:1-6, Amplified.
The rest of the marvelous story of the conversion of Saul is given in Acts 9:7-22. The scales fell from his eyes, he received again his sight and was baptized. Hardhearted Saul who had a "murderous desire against the disciples of the Lord" Acts 9:1, Amplified, was totally changed. He was converted from the greatest foe of the faith to the greatest advocate of the faith.
Paul must have recounted his story many times. Acts 22:1-30 records Paulís retelling of the story of his road to Damascus in the temple before the Jews. His "Road to Damascus " meant much to Paul. He never forgot the lesson.
Your Road to Damascus
And so it is that each true believer has a personal story of his or her conversion, a personal "road to Damascus."
I never tire of listening to others tell about their personal road to Damascus. When I become acquainted with believers, I ask them to tell me how they were converted. There is great benefit in doing so, both to the teller and the hearer.
Malachi 3:16, "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name."
Lest we forget how the Eternal called us, we need to talk about our calling again and again. Never forget your personal road to Damascus, Hebrews 2:3, Isaiah 49:15.
Tell It To Your Children
If there is ever a story I want to tell my children, it is the story of my conversion. Israel was to recount the story of their exodus from Egypt to their children, Exodus 12:24-27, 13:5-16.
Psalms 78:1-8, "Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God."
One minister who dislikes me intensely said that the way to handle a stubborn German like myself is to give them a swift kick in the posterior. I'm sure he would like to do this to me. Iíll certainly admit I do tend to be stubborn. It took seven years of personal wrangling with the truth, before the Eternal finally knocked me over the head with a board, so to speak, before I finally had the scales stripped from my eyes and saw the light. Only the Creator knows how to deal with stiff necked, stubborn, rebellious people such as ourselves.
Road to Damascus ó Past and Future
I am writing to two groups of people. First, those that have been called, repented, been baptized and had hands laid on them for the receipt of the Holy Spirit, and are living lives yielded to the Spirit. And second, those who are yet to travel the road to Damascus.
I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that our children will one day travel the road to Damascus. They will discover, as I did and Saul did, that resisting the Eternal is like butting oneís head against a wall. "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks [goads]" Acts 9:5. A cattle farmer may use a stick or "goad" to direct the herd through a loading chute. What a ridiculous thing for a steer to run against the goad instead of responding to it! Yet how often are we like a stubborn animal!
How do I know our children will travel the road to Damascus? For one, I know that one of the purposes of marriage is to perpetuate a "godly seed." That is why the Eternal hates divorce, Malachi 2:11-17. My wife and I know that we must teach our children the ways of God, to raise up a "godly seed."
One of the things we have taught our children is that they are "special." No, this does not mean better than others. Our children get into the same squabbles and mischief as other kids do. But the Bible says the children of believers are special to God, "holy" (sanctified, set apart for special sacred use).
I Corinthians 7:14, "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy."
This means that in His good time, the Eternal will specially call our children. As it has been truthfully said, the Lord works through families. Church history has shown that the Eternal has often worked through successive generations of the same family.
So I am convinced that each one of our children will one day travel the same road I did. They will have their own personal road to Damascus. Try as they may to escape what they were taught, the Eternal will call them and they will respond.
Every Knee Shall Bow
Philippians 2:10-11, "That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
Romans 14:11, "For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God."
Isaiah 45:22, 23 "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear."
Some Forget Road to Damascus
Nevertheless, the Bible shows there have been individuals who spurned the calling of God. Or worse, those who responded to the call on their road to Damascus, yet later through rebellion or neglect, totally forgot their calling and turned again to their own vile ways.
The Eternal never forces anyone to follow Him. As one man said, many people stumble on the truth, and pick themselves up and go on their way as if nothing has happened. May our stubborn hearts be fully and permanently converted unto Him!
Responsibility of the Young
Young children of believers have an awesome responsibility to respond to the call of the Eternal. Their parents have taught them Godís ways. God will draw them. It is up them to respond to that calling.
"Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right." Proverbs 20:11. This means that the character traits are evident at even an early age. Several Old Testament statutes prescribe the death penalty to incorrigibly rebellious children who curse and revile their parents. To say that the Creator doesnít hold children responsible for their actions just isnít true.
The Prodigal Son
In spite of all good intentions of their parents, sometimes even children of diligent, Bible believing parents become rebellious. These youth choose to go their own way contrary to what they have been taught. Letís look at the example of the "prodigal son" found in Luke 15:1, 2, 10-32.
The lesson of the prodigal son is that God is working with the children of believing parents. They may rebel and turn against Him, but sooner or later they will come to their own "Road to Damascus."
There is the tendency of human nature for a rebellious person to think that God wonít forgive them, will never accept their repentance. But that is not so. Like God, the father of the prodigal son was all too ready to accept genuine repentance and take him back. The son finally had sense knocked into him. He "came to himself" (saw the light) and confessed his sin against Heaven and against his earthly father. All the fatherís diligent teaching finally bore fruit.
Donít Harden Your Heart
Young people, listen! Donít harden your hearts against God, as ancient Israel did when they provoked God in the wilderness. In spite of all the teaching, the miracles, the deliverance and blessings from God, they refused to believe God. As a result, after forty years of working with them, He said they would not enter His rest, His kingdom, Hebrews 3:5-19.
God is patient. He gave Israel forty years to repent. They had to go through the school of hard knocks along the way. How much easier for them would it have been if they would have responded to His calling. So young people, donít be like a stubborn mule. Respond favorably to the calling of God.
Psalms 32:8-9, "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee."
Some young people feign obedience. They listen to their parents. They may go to church with them, and be "model" children. But inside they may be itching for the time when they will be on their own as adults, so they can break away from the "shackles" of the supposed "restrictions" of their parents' religion.
God knows their hearts. Dishonesty is the worst form of rebellion, Matthew 21:28-31.
I remember the son of a friend who was able to recite the Ten Commandments word for word at a very early age. Itís amazing how obedient the little boy was. He is now over twenty years old and not really interested in Godís truth. What happened? Why did an obedient little boy lose interest in the ways of God? I donít know. But I am sure the Eternal isnít through with him. Sooner or later, he will be brought to the Damascus road.
"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," Hebrews 10:31. God will work with this young man and I believe one day soften him up.
Why Not Now?
Why knock your head against the wall? Itís hard on you to "kick against the goad"! Youth who have been taught Godís truth are going to be held responsible for acting upon it, just as I was.
Hebrews 10:26-31, "For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
Why learn from the school of hard knocks? Be smarter than I was. Donít be a stubborn, block headed, stiff necked, dumb head like I was. Wise up! Follow God NOW!
Proverbs 1:7-8, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother."
Proverbs 2:1-3, "My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding."
Proverbs 3:1, 11-12, "My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments; . . . My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth."
Proverbs 4:1, 20, "Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding. My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings."
Proverbs 13:1, "A wise son heareth his fatherís instruction: but a scorner heareth not rebuke."
Proverbs 15:20, "A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish man despiseth his mother."
The Big Cop Out
Ah, the excuses some youth give for not following the Bible truths taught to them by their parents!
No matter how diligent and sincere we as parents may be, we do sometimes make mistakes. We may discipline our children in the wrong way or when they are actually innocent. Or at times we may fail to live up to what we teach. Someone else in the church may be guilty of backbiting or blatant sin.
A rebellious child may seize upon such shortcomings and say "If this is the true church, I want no part of it." Actually, this attitude is what many adults have when they react to sins in the church.
This is the worst "cop out" of all. Regardless of the sins of Moses, David, Paul, John, etc., or modern day believers either, sins do not justify anyone else to do the same sins. Every human instrument of God, except Jesus Christ, has had sins and shortcomings. Never use another personís sins to excuse you from having to obey God.
One minister we know has an adult son who has spurned his parentís religion. Another man said of him, "See, he does not have his children under subjection, he is not fit to be a minister" II Timothy 3:4. However, a parent is not responsible for their childrenís sins after they have grown up and left home, Ezekiel 18:20, Deuteronomy 24:16.
A Fatherís Advice
As a parent, here is what I advise a young person to do. Here is a seven point program to make your inevitable "Road to Damascus" and thereafter a little easier.
(1) Read the Bible for yourself. Maybe you will want a modern translation, such as the New King James or New International Version. As you read, jot down questions, notes, things you donít understand.
(2) Ask your parents, your minister, other responsible adults, questions about the Bible and how to put it into practice.
(3) Give the advice from grown-ups a chance. Realize it is possible that they might know more than you do, that they have faced similar problems that you are facing, and that they want to help you go the right way.
(4) Learn to control two powerful forces in human life. Misuse of these two things has resulted in nearly all human misery and unhappiness. These two are MONEY and SEX. Money is only a tool, to be used responsibly to provide for your needs and the needs of your loved ones. Sex is good and right ó ONLY in a right marriage.
(5) Donít compromise. When you know something is right, do it. Donít delay. I reaped the penalty for putting off doing what I knew to be right.
(6) Prepare for baptism. How will you know when God leads you to repentance? What is the earliest age for baptism? Children mature differently. Usually, the maturity required for baptism isnít acquired until the age of 18-21, but this is only the average.
Ecclesiastes 11:9-10, "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity."
Ecclesiastes 12:1, 13, "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them . . . Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man."
Repentance and baptism are necessary to begin the road to salvation. As the saying goes, "You wonít win if you donít begin."
(7) Donít be a quitter. "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" Luke 9:62. Count the cost (Luke 14). Know that the critical step of repentance and baptism and laying on of hands is the most important decision you will ever make.
Hebrews 6:4-6, "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame."
You are responsible for your actions, even if you are young.
Deuteronomy 30:19, "I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live."
Choose life. Prepare for, remember, never turn back from your "Road to Damascus." W
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