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James Merritt - What Does Conversion Mean?

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    James Merritt - What Does Conversion Mean?
TOPICS: Conversion

So how many of you are old enough to remember where you were on that day? How many of you remember where you were? I was the president of the Southern Baptist Convention and I was supposed to fly to Nashville that afternoon and I was working out upstairs and phone rang and it was Teresa. Said, "You are not gonna believe this". She said, "A plane just flew into the World Trade Center". And my first response was, how stupid do you have to be to fly into a tower? I mean, I'm not being funny, I'm just, how dumb that is. So I ran downstairs and turned on my TV and it was while I turned on the TV, it hadn't been maybe eight minutes, I see the second plane fly into the tower.

What I did not know was that I started, I cut my teeth in student ministry. If you don't know that I was a minister of youth calling back in the day in three different churches. And in First Baptist Church Smyrna, one of my top students was in one of those towers and lost his life that day. I didn't know it until I went to the memorial and I was looking at the names and there was Chris. So it's very personal to me. It was because of that that I wound up, as I told you before the next week in the Oval Office with President Bush with six other religious leaders just talking about that day. It left an indelible mark. But in a strange way, that is a perfect segue in what I want to talk about today 'cause it's a really big reminder of something we all need to think about. Because one thing we all know, we all would've said if we had been in New York that day, there wouldn't have been a safer place in the world to be than on the top floor of the World Trade Center.

Nobody walked into that tower thinking this is where I'm going to meet God. So it takes me back to a story that I wanna tell you that shortly after Teresa and I moved into the neighborhood where we lived for 20, almost 21 years, we met a man who lived up the street. He lived about eight houses up the street from us, his name was Mike. And so we hadn't lived there very long and they had one of these BYOB parties. You know what those are, neighborhood parties. And so we wanted to get to know our neighbors and so we walked, in fact, it happened to be at Mike's house. So we walked up the street. As I'm walking up to the driveway, I didn't know him, but there was Mike having a beer and talking to some of his neighbors. Well, he spotted me and I didn't know this was Mike and I didn't know that he knew me, but he knew that I was a pastor and he'd already made up his mind he didn't want to have anything to do with me whatsoever.

So I walked up to him and I went to shake his hand and he said, "Well, you know, I'm drinking a beer, I guess I'm going to hell," and turned around and walked off. I didn't get even respond. And so that's kinda the way he was. And so we had neighborhood parties after that and there was always a pattern. Wherever I went, Mike had a disappearing act. And so wherever I went, Mike was not. And I found out later that Mike was a big party guy and was kind of into the world and he didn't even wanna talk about spiritual things. I didn't see Mike much, 'cause again, he lived way up the street from me and so this has been, I don't know, about eight or nine years later, I'm driving home, always drove by Mike's house and a neighbor flagged me down and he said, "Hey". He said, "Have you heard about Mike"? And I said, "No". He said, "Well, Mike has esophageal cancer and he's not doing very well".

So I just pulled into the driveway, I wasn't maybe two driveways down. I just pulled into his driveway. I walked up to the door and I knocked on the door. I mean, it was a shocker. Mike's on a walker, he has an oxygen tank, probably has lost 100 pounds, looked like a skeleton, wheezing. And he said, "Hey, Pastor, how are you doing"? And I said, "Mike, I'm doing fine". I said, "Man, I just heard about you and I just want to know if I could come in". Well to my surprise, he said, "Yes, I'd like for you to come in".

So I went in and sat down. We had maybe five seconds of small talk and just to be honest, I just lost it. I just couldn't help it, I just started weeping. And I said, "Mike, number one, I didn't know you were sick. I'm sorry, I just heard about it". And I said, "But before I say anything," I said, "I've come to ask you to forgive me". And he said, "Forgive you for what"? And I said, "I've lived all these years nine houses down from you". And I said, "I really have not shown the concern for you that I should have had, but I wanna get right to the point. I'm not gonna beat around the bush". I said, "I wanna talk to you about Jesus". And I'll never forget the way he looked at me with, I mean, it's a look I'd never seen. And he said, "I'd like to hear about Him".

So we start talking, I'd put it in the top five of one of the sweetest experiences I've ever had in my life. He was like a thirsty man in the desert drinking out of a faucet. He couldn't get enough of the gospel. When I said, "Mike, would you like to ask Christ into your heart"? He grabbed that walker and literally shaking, went to his knees and said, "Yes, sir, I wanna ask Jesus into my heart". And so there on his living room floor, he prayed and he asked Jesus to come into his heart. And he lived about two months after that and here's what happened. He didn't even have a Bible, so I brought him a Bible. I said, "Mike, I want you start reading the Bible". He started reading the Bible and I'd go by a couple times a week and I'd talk to Mike and I'd disciple Mike and I'd give him passages to read and passages to memorize. And he just wanted to talk about the Lord. Every time, we just always would talk about the Lord. And all the time he was going down physically, he was going up spiritually. And the spiritual change was just unbelievable. I mean, he was radically transformed.

So the day before Mike dies, I get a call from his wife and she said, "You probably need to come up, Mike's not gonna last very long". I was driving home from church and so I dropped by his house and he was not communicative at the time. And I spent some time with him, prayed with him. And so I got up to leave and she said, "I gotta tell you this incredible story". Mike had been raised Catholic. So earlier that day the priest had come by to give Mike the last rites. So he comes in and Mike's laying in his bed and he starts to give Mike the last rites. And Mike says, "I don't need the last rites, I'm good". Say, "What do you mean"? He said, "Well," he said, "I met Jesus". And he says, "Jesus has radically changed my life". And he said, "What happened"? He said, "Well, what happened wasn't because of you and wasn't because of your church".

And so as he walked out, my wife said, "It's because there was a pastor down the street that cared enough to talk to Mike about Jesus". So as I'm about to walk out, she says, "I've got one other request". She said, "Mike's already gotten permission from the Catholic church. He wants you to do his funeral". I said, "You mean they're gonna let me do the funeral in the Catholic church"? She said, "Yeah". I said, "Man, I'm all in". So Mike actually, by his death, gave me a gift. And so that, when he died, I got up, almost every person in my neighborhood came. And I not only got to preach the gospel, but I got to share the change that had come into Mike's life. Now, if you came up to me and you said, "Hey, so can you tell me in one word what happened to Mike"? I'd say, "Yeah, that's easy, that word is conversion".

Now we use that word a lot, but frankly, that's again one of those big churchy words that people don't understand. So let me just kind of put a definition so you know what I'm talking about. Conversion is an inward transformation that leads to an outward reformation because of the salvation that comes from trusting in Jesus. Let me say that again. Conversion is an inward transformation that leads to an outward reformation because of the salvation that comes from trusting in Jesus. We're in a series, if you're a guest of ours today, we're in a series we've been calling "Lost in Translation" because we're guilty a lot of times of using these big, churchy words that nobody really understands, believers and unbelievers. And we better know what they mean because every word we're talking about is very vital and necessary if you're going to have a relationship with God.

In fact, Jesus said this, Jesus said, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are," what's that word? Say it loud. "Unless you're converted and you become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven". Now if that is true and everybody better ask themselves this question right now: have I really ever been truly converted? Well, there's no greater example in all the Bible of a total, complete conversion than a man that was named Paul. Take your Bibles and I want you to turn to Acts chapter nine, the ninth chapter of Acts. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts. It may be the most well-known, well-documented conversion in all of the Bible. As a matter of fact, it's talked about in detail three different times in the Book of Acts. You're gonna read this story about Paul. In fact, the story of Paul's conversion, listen to this, it occupies more space in the New Testament than any other event except the crucifixion of Jesus.

So evidently, God had a point. God is saying to the Church today, you need to study what happened to this man because what happened to this man better happen to you. He was converted. As a matter of fact, it's probably the most intense, in-your-face, radical encounter with Jesus that ever happened in all the New Testament. So let me tell you how important it is. Because of what happened somewhere around 35 to 36 AD is why we're sitting here today, it's why we have a Church today. As a matter of fact, it is so well known that even today, we talk about a Damascus Road experience. We get that right out of Paul's life event. Now let's keep one thing clearly in mind before I get into this. Paul's conversion was unique in more than one way. And I'm not gonna tell you today that there's a one-size-fits-all conversion in the Bible. You get converted different ways. Paul happened to be converted his way, God's way.

I was converted sitting in a movie theater. Some of you got converted in a church, some of you got converted reading the Bible, some of you got converted when somebody shared the gospel. There's all kinds of ways to be converted. The point is, you must be converted. So you say, okay, what are the marks of conversion? How do you know you've truly been converted? All right. Let me just give you this statement. Conversion means there will be a celebration of a transformation that results in a demonstration of salvation. That took me a long time to make that up, you need to appreciate that. Conversion means there will be a celebration of a transformation that results, this is important, in a demonstration of salvation. So first question: what are the steps to true conversion? Three things have to happen. Number one, I must see the light of truth. You'll never be converted unless you see the light of truth.

Now we're gonna get into the story, keep something in mind. Paul was not always Paul. Some of you know your Bible. What's Paul's first name? Saul. Paul was Saul. At one time, he was Saul. Now if you'd been making out a list of the least likely people ever to be converted, Saul would've been at the top of the list. You would've said, there is no way, Jose, that guy's ever gonna come to Jesus. There is no way on earth that that will ever happen. I mean, Florida will beat Georgia before that man ever comes to Jesus. That is just never going to happen. As a matter of fact, you would've just stopped, you would've just said, no need to add anybody else. I mean, after all, he was a Jewish blue blood by birth. He was a Pharisee, he was the top of the Jewish pyramid. He was a Hebrew aristocrat, right? All this going for him.

So with all of that as a backdrop, let's start reading what happened. Verse one. "Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogue in Damascus so that if he found anybody there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem". Saul's on a mission. He is the first person in history, not the last, he's the first person that said, I'm going to wipe Christianity out from the face of the earth. I'm gonna stop the church in its tracks. I don't anybody wanting to even hear the name Jesus. He was the Jewish hit man. He was on a mission. I mean he's running hot, his blood is boiling. He's got a raging fire of hatred of anything Christian, anybody associated with Jesus. That fire was so hot, 100 firetrucks could not put it out. He hated anything about Jesus, anything about the Church, anything about Christianity.

Now, he's on a 160-mile journey from Jerusalem to Damascus. One purpose, I'm gonna put this fire out. I'm gonna turn this light out. And wherever I find a Christian, it's gonna be the end of them because here's what Paul thought. If you were a Christian, you deserved the death penalty. If you're a Christian, you don't get the benefit of a fair trial. You need to be killed where you are. He was convinced Christianity was a spiritual plague that had to be eradicated. It was spiritual COVID and it needed to be absolutely wiped out before it infected the culture and the faith of the Jewish people. Say no way he'll ever get converted. Then something happened just like that and in a flash of a moment, not only was his life changed forever, but the entire course of human history, I never get tired of reading this story, verse three. "As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him".

I mean without any warning, Saul is on his way to Damascus and he sees this light, a heavenly light. But what changed everything? It wasn't the light that he saw; that's not what changed everything, it was the voice that he heard. Verse four. "He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'" Then he asked the question I wish everybody in the world would ask at least one time, "Who are you, Lord"? Great question. Who are you, Lord? "'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting', He replied".

Now, keep in mind, Saul had never met Jesus and he didn't wanna meet Jesus. He had no desire to meet Jesus. He despised the name "Jesus". He wanted to wipe out his followers, his faith, his family, his fame from the face of the earth. And then he hears just three simple words, I am Jesus. Immediately thought to his mind, we crucified you. Everybody knows it. We nailed you to a cross. I know the Roman centurion who was there when you drew your last breath. I know what you said, "It's finished. Father, into your hands, I commit My Spirit". You literally died. And then when Jesus said, "I am Jesus," this one thought crashed through his mind and broke down every wall of unbelief. Bricks were all over the road. Paul couldn't help but come to one conclusion: You're not dead, You're alive. You are the risen Lord. And in a moment, not only did everything change about Saul, but everything changed in Saul.

And the catalyst that transformed him was the resurrected Jesus. Because the moment that Saul met this resurrected, crucified Christ, it changed his mind about everything. He changed his mind about God. It changed his mind about religion. It changed his mind about Judaism. It changed his mind about himself. It changed his mind about the Church. It changed the mind about Christianity. And I promise you something today, if you're watching online right now, you're watching on television, you're in this room, if you'll simply ask this question and ask it in sincerity, who are you, Lord? You will find the right answer. I'll tell you who he is. He's the Lord.

The the queen of England is now in the presence of real royalty. The queen of England has met not just the king, the King of Kings, the risen Lord, the resurrected Savior, the reigning Savior. And you will see the light of truth. See Paul had always believed he had the light and everyone else was living in darkness. Now, in a flash, he realized I'm the one that's been living in darkness. I'm the one that needed to see the light. And he finally realized, golly Pete, I've been wrong all these years. It's not my religion that makes me right with God. It's not my righteousness that makes me right with God. It is a relationship with Jesus that makes me right with God. And I mean in the moment, he was changed.

Now you might say, well, if I saw a bright light, I'd believe. I got news for you. We've got a light today that's even brighter than that light. This book is God's light. As a matter of fact, the psalmist said this, "Your Word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path". And if you don't believe I'm telling you the truth, the apostle, Peter, who spent three years with Jesus, he made an incredible statement about light. Remember Peter lived with Jesus three years. He saw Him crucified. He saw the empty tomb. He saw the resurrected Lord, he saw His transfiguration, he saw His ascension up in heaven. He saw all of that. Let me tell you what he said about this book, listen to this. "We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable and you will do well to pay attention to it as to a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart".

Let me tell you something. I've been reading this book since I was a nine-year-old boy. Every day when I read this book, I meet Jesus. I experience Jesus. I fall more in love with Jesus. I know how real Jesus really is. And I'm telling you today, if you're not a believer in Jesus Christ, you go get a Bible, you open up this book. Go to the gospel of John, read it with a humble heart, read it with an open mind. Say, "Oh God, will You reveal Yourself to me"? And the light of Jesus, who is the Truth will shine brighter than the sun and you'll see it and you will meet the resurrected Lord. That's what happened to Paul. He saw the light of truth. Second thing, not only must I see the light of truth, I will share the life of God. When I see the light of truth, I will share the life of God.

So my first question to you is, hey, have you seen the light of truth? Because the truth that says, now I'm talking about the truth that says just like Saul. Well what is that truth I need to see? Saul, all of a sudden, saw it all in a flash. I'm a sinner, I need to savior. Jesus is that Savior. He's the one that died for me. He's the one that came back from the grave. And see, when you see the light of truth, then you will share the life of God. 'Cause look what happens, notice what happens. Paul sees this light and it blinds him. And this is what happened next, verse eight, "Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes, he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind and did not eat or drink anything".

Here's what happens. Saul companions get him up, he'd fallen on the ground, they take him up by the hand and they take him into Damascus, all right. Here's what's so great. Now he's not going to destroy the Church, he's going to join it. Can you get that? He's not gonna destroy it, he's going to join it. And then this is the part of the story that takes a funny, I love this part, this is kind of funny to me. Watch this. "In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananais. The Lord called to him in a vision, 'Ananais.' 'Yes, Lord?' The Lord told him, 'Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul for he's praying. In a vision he has seen a man named an Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.' 'Lord.' Ananais answered, 'I've heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. He's come here with authority from the chief priest to arrest all who call on Your name.'"

In other words, here's what Ananias basically said to God, 'I got a headache.' I think I've got the flu, I might be contagious. No, you're going. He said to Ananias, "Go! This man is My chosen instrument to proclaim My name to the Gentiles and their kings of the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for My name". Now there's two things kind of interesting about this story. Don't you think it's interesting? It's always Fascinating how God has a sense of humor. Who's the guy, who is this guy that Saul meets? He's gonna meet Ananias. And Saul is taken to a house, listen to this, of a person named Judas. Kind of funny. And then it says he lives on a street called Straight.

By the way, this is why you pay me to do what I do. I did my research. Do you know why the street was, you don't know this. Do you know why the street was called 'Straight'? Anybody know? It was a straight street, all right? So they called the street 'Straight', right? So God tells the disciple named Ananias, "Go to Saul, lay hands on him so his sight can be restored". Now again, you can imagine Ananias is not real thrilled about doing this. He's looking for a way out, but God doesn't listen and you really can't blame him. He said, "Look, I've heard about this guy, I know about this guy. This guy's got a wanted dead or alive, dead preferred for every Christian he meets. He has burned churches, he's destroyed Christian's life. He's watched Christians get killed. You want me to go to this guy"? But God doesn't listen 'cause here's what he didn't know. He knew what Saul had been trying to do to Jesus, but he didn't know what Jesus had done to Saul.

So verse 17, "Then Ananias went to the house and entered it, placing his hands on Saul". And now watch this, you ready for this? This is big. Brother Saul, Brother Saul, Brother Saul. He says it with fear and trembling, but it's music to his ears, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here has sent me that you may see again". Now watch this, "And be filled with the Holy Spirit". Well, who is the Holy Spirit? He's God. So you might say the following happened to Saul: he saw the light, he gained his sight, he received God's might.

Now I work hard on these things, you oughta kinda gimme some appreciation here, okay? I mean I'm working hard on this stuff. I don't just come up with this stuff. I'm joking, I'm joking. He saw the light, right? He gained his sight, he received God's might. And for the first time, this guy's a PhD in Judaism. And for the first time his life he says, you know what? My goodness is never gonna be good enough, is it? No, it's not. Going to church won't cut it. No, it won't. Going to the synagogue and ping my tithe, that's not gonna be it at all. Your religion is not only not the way to Me, it is an obstacle. Get it out of the way. God is not interested in religion, He's interested in a relationship. Jesus did not die so we would practice the Christian religion, Jesus died so we would know the Christian Jesus.

And so he says, look, this is all about a relationship 'cause I'm gonna tell you something I've learned: religion by itself will never change your life. Only a relationship with God will do that and that will only come through conversion. And let me tell you why that's such a big deal. What Washington doesn't realize and Hollywood doesn't realize and Wall Street doesn't realize is this. I think we would all agree on two things. I still believe we live in the greatest country in the world and I'm thankful I'm an American and I'm thankful that I was born in this country. I'm thankful I live here. I love my country. If being a patriot is a crime, I'm a criminal. I love my country.

And I'm gonna tell you something, we got major league problems. We got big problems. We've got problems in the inner city, we've got problems in the country. We got problems inside the church, we got problems outside the church. We got major league problems. But here's what I want you to hear. If you want to change a culture, legislation will never do it. Money will never do it, politics will never do it, religion will never do it. If you wanna change a culture, you've gotta change the people in the culture. You say well, how does that happen? Listen to this. Here's the question. The question arises as to whether people do what they are or they are what they do. Because if we are what we do, then all we need to do is to train people to act differently. But if we do what we are, then we do bad because we are bad and we cannot do good until we become good. And the Bible says, contrary to popular opinion, we're not basically good, we're basically bad.

If you don't believe that, mom and dad, just have two kids. I rest my case. We're not basically good, we're basically bad. If we wanna change the culture, we've gotta change the people in the culture and we don't need to change what they do. We need to change what they are. 'Cause you do not do what you are, you are what you do. You do what you are. And the only way you could take a bad person and make that person a good person is through conversion. Not through religion, not through reason, not through legislation. It is through conversion. It's that total transformation. It's that change from the inside that leads to a change on the outside. So you've seen the light, y'all have, you've seen the light of God, you've seen the light of truth. Well then you share the life of God. The Spirit of God comes live in you.

Now watch this. How do I know that's happened? Here's how you know it. If you see the light of truth and then you share the life of God, then you will automatically surrender to the Lord of heaven. You'll just do it. So somebody might ask, well, Pastor, was it real? Was it a flash in the pan? Was it just a temporary fad? Did it last? Boy, it didn't take long to find out. Saul is baptized. Let me just stop right there. I get so weary. We're gonna baptize three people in the next service. I don't understand people who say they're saved, but are just absolutely anti-baptism. I don't get it. You don't read about anybody in the New Testament that had to beg to be baptized. There's some of you listening to me right now, you've never been biblically baptized. Why not? It's one of the marks of, it's one of the marks of conversion.

That's the first thing. So we read, Saul was baptized into the Church. He regains his strength, he spends a few days getting ready for what God has. And now watch what happens. I mean remember now where he came from, watch this. We're down in verse 20. "At once," at once, at once, "At once, he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. And all those who heard him were astonished and asked, 'Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priest?' Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah".

That's just mind boggling to me. That is just mind boggling to me. The man that just a few days before was breathing fire against the Church, is now preaching fire in the church. It's unbelievable. Saul had radically changed. The man of hate had become Paul, the man love. His tree immediately begins to bear fruit and that is the real test of conversion. Let me just say something to all of you right now. Whether you go to church or whether you don't, whatever denomination you're a member of or you're not a member of any denomination, you can have mystical ecstasies, you can have wonderful dreams, you can have mind-blowing experiences of all sorts and they may be a part of your conversion or they may not, but it does not matter. You can have all of those things, that does not mean you've been converted.

And if you never experienced all those things, it doesn't mean you haven't been converted. Because a conversion is not a feeling, it is not a subjective experience. I'll tell you what conversion is: it is a radical change in your heart, it's a radical change in your life. It's when you know something in your life has died and something has come to life. It is a change of direction. It is a moral and spiritual conversion and reversal. It is not what you say with your words, it's what you show with your life. So if anybody had any doubts that this man had radically been changed, all they had to do was go to the synagogue that one day and look at him and say, man, it's not because of the light that he saw or the voice that he heard.

I'll tell you how I know this guy met Jesus. He's a different man. There's 180 degree change. There's 180 degree turn because he's fully surrendered his life to Jesus. So here's the question I'm trying to get you to ask this morning. The question is not have I ever had an experience like Paul did? Because let me tell you, I'm exhibit A. I have never had an an experience like he had. I didn't see a bright light when I got saved. And at least outside I didn't hear any voice at all. And I'll tell you what did happen in that theater when I was a nine-year-old boy, I was radically changed. I've said this to you 1,000 times and I never get tired of saying it. The one thing I knew that night was the kid that walked in was not the kid that walked out. Someone had come into my heart and had radically changed my life.

Here's what a pastor said one time and I love it. He said, "If you're not different after you meet Jesus than you were before you met Jesus, you've never met Jesus". "If you're not different after you meet Jesus than you are before you meet Jesus, you've never met Jesus". That's why, let me tell you something, hear me and hear me clearly. These people hear about these celebrities, these songwriters, these musicians, these pastors, these preachers and all these people. Well, I've turned away from Jesus, I've left Christianity. I once knew the Lord, but I don't need the Lord anymore. No sir, you've never met Jesus. 'Cause the Jesus you meet, you will never turn away from, you cannot turn away from, there's nothing that can make you turn away from Him. 'Cause nobody changes your life like Him. Nobody does that.

So the question is not have I ever had miraculous events happen around me? That's not the question. The question is, has a miraculous change ever happened within me? And what a breathtaking moment it must have been. Paul opened his mouth and he gets up and I mean all these, you can just see it now, right? They paid big bucks to hear this guy and they're sitting there saying, "Yeah, Paul, you let 'em have it". He says, "Okay, I'll let 'em have it". And boy, he gets up in the first words he says is, "Jesus Christ, the one I've been persecuting, the one that said He was God, the one that said He died on the cross, the one that was raised from the dead. He is exactly who He said He was and did exactly what He said He did".

And everybody wished they'd worn Depends that morning in church. And that scene was to be repeated all across Asia from the marketplace of Ephesus to the Acropolis in Athens to the Coliseum in Rome. So if you wanna know why today Christianity has roughly 20% of its followers in Africa, 20% in Asia, 20% in Europe, 20% in North America, 20% in South America while every other major religion has at least 80% concentrated on one continent. The only one that is spread all over the world is Christianity. Can I tell you one name why? Paul. Because of Paul, Christianity exploded and went everywhere, all because of the conversion of one man.

I got an email from a lady a few years ago, matter of fact, some of you may remember. She was baptized in our church, her name was Eleanor. And she sent me this story and she gave me permission to share, so let me tell you Eleanor's story. She was born in Israel and she moved to America in 1997 just before her 15th birthday. Well, nine years later she met her husband who asked her to go to church with him. Well, she was Jewish and she said, "I can't go with you, I'd be cheating on my religion, I'd be turning my back on my mom and dad". And she wasn't to devout Jew, but her parents were drilling it into her head: you're Jewish, you always will be Jewish, don't ever be anything except Jewish. But there was something inside of her that just said you oughta go to church.

So she walked into church. She said, "That first service," she said, "I felt so outta place, but I began to listen to the music and I began to hear the Word of God". And she said, "For the first time in my life, I was filled with love and I was filled with joy in a way that I could not explain". She said, "I felt confused". She said, "How could I walk into a place feeling like a stranger and walk out feeling like I was family"? She went back to church the next Sunday and the next Sunday and the next Sunday and she kept going for months and she began to examine her faith. And she realized that even though she was Jewish, she had never had the connection to Judaism that she did to Christianity. She was afraid of cheating on her religion, she was afraid of being shunned by her family. But she said, "I just could not resist the pull of Jesus".

And then one day, it hit her. Jesus was Jewish just like I am. He is my Jewish Messiah. I can be Jewish and I can still love Jesus. So she wrote me these words, "On Friday, September the 6th, 2013 at approximately 11:30, I accepted Jesus into my life while sitting on my couch with my husband. I watched my life transform from that day on and from that day until now, I pray to God, 'Your will be done in my life and not my own.' My life has never been the same". So what is conversion? It is a celebration of a transformation of salvation from a risen Lord who's still saying today, "I'm Jesus. Follow Me. I'll change you forever".

Now in my notes, I'm done. I don't wanna change the light from red to yellow, I got one more thing to say. I have a one, one of my ones, I'll call him Tom. Tom may be watching, I don't want to give him away, But I've got a one named Tom. I've been working on Tom for 12 years, 10 or 12 years. So Tom and I had lunch this past Thursday right over here at a restaurant not far from our church. Tom always knows why we're meeting. It's not a hidden agenda, but we talked about a lot of things. We have a grace, really a super guy, nice guy. He has a daughter who up 'til now has been an unbeliever, but he let me know his daughter's come to Christ and she's going to a Bible study, goes to church over in a place over in Cobb County. So into the meal, we get through and he gets his checkbook out. I said, "No, no, I'm gonna buy". He said, "Well, you bought last time". I said, "I'm gonna buy every time". He said, "Why"? "'Cause," I said, "if I get to buy, I get to talk about what I wanna talk about and you gotta listen".

So I said to him, I said, "Tom, I wanna ask you one question. Actually, I have two questions. Number one, have you ever been born again? Have you ever been converted"? He said, "Well, I think so". I said, "Okay". I said, "You died right now, where you going"? He said, "I don't know". I said, "You haven't been converted. Can I tell you what it means to be converted"? I shared the gospel with him. Bad news, good news, worse news, best news. He's heard it five or six times. By the way, two Easter Sundays ago, he sat right over there about one, two, three, about four, where Jim's sitting right there. He was sitting right where you were sitting, right there.

And I watched that man at the end of that Easter service grab the back of that chair you're sitting on so that is knuckles turned white, he had tears coming down. I said, "I knew God was dealing. I brought this back up to him in the restaurant". I said, "I knew God was dealing with you". Here's what I said to him. I said, "Tom, I just got one question, just one and I'm done. Tell me why you will not give your life to Jesus. Tell me why". Listen to what he said. He said, "Oh," he said, "I'll tell you why". He said, "'Cause I'm gonna do it on my own time". I said, "Tom, I don't wanna be offensive, I really don't". I said, "We're coming up on 9-11 Sunday and if any day you've ever lived through ought to tell you you don't get to do anything on your own time, it's 9-11".

I said, "I wish I could guarantee you that you'll make it back to your office. I can't. I wish I could guarantee you got all the time in the world". I said, "If you don't hear anything else I say, I want you to hear this. You don't get saved on your time, you get saved on God's time. And God's only got one time on His watch and it says, 'Now.' and God's got only one day in His calendar and that's today". And I say that because Paul didn't choose when he got saved, God chooses when you get saved. And if you've never trusted Christ and you've never given your life to Jesus, you've never been converted. And you say, "Well, I'm gonna wait till the right time". You're in it now. Today is the day. Here is when you need to be converted.

Would you pray with me? With heads bowed and with eyes closed, I want us to pray together. I want us to pray out loud. And then after we pray out loud, I've got one thing I wanna say to some people in this room, some people listening and we'll be finished. But I want you right now to join me in prayer and especially, if you've been converted, if you've been saved, you'll love this prayer, okay? Pray this prayer with me out loud right now. Say it out loud.

Dear God, I thank You that I've been converted. I thank You that I've seen the light of truth, that I share the life of God, and I'm surrendered to you, Lord, in heaven. Lord, on this day, help me to remember I don't have a greater mission in life than to be sent from this place and share the gospel with anybody that needs to be converted.

Now, if you've never been converted, if God spoke to your heart just now and you know deep down, let me just tell you, I'm gonna say it one more time. If after you think you got saved, your life hasn't changed, you didn't get saved. And if you've never been converted, you're watching online right now, you're in this room, I'm gonna ask you right now, if you're willing, to simply say this in your heart right now.

Lord, I don't have to ask who You are. I believe exactly what Paul believed. You are the risen Lord. You died for my sins. God raised you from the dead and I believe in my heart You did what You said You did and You are who you said You are. And Lord Jesus, right now sitting in this chair, sitting in my home, I repent of my sin. I confess You as my Lord. I trust You as my Savior and I surrender my life to You. Thank You for hearing my prayer. Thank You for giving me eternal life. Thank You for saving me today.

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