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Turning Points
Phil 3:5-6

In his 84 years, Thomas Edison patented over a thousand inventions. He is most famous for inventing the light bulb, but made more money off the alkaline battery.

Edison was a bulldog, unwilling to accept failure as a final outcome to his efforts. Before he successfully invented the alkaline battery, he failed 9000 times! Edison credited his success to hard work. "Genius is one percent inspiration," Edison said, "and 99 percent perspiration." No one will debate the fact that Edison was a hard worker. He built a laboratory beside his vacation home in Fort Myers, FL and he is known for sleeping very little.

He was unstoppable. On his 80th birthday he announced the formation of a company to do research to develop rubber. He was relentless. (From Fresh Illustrations)

Why did he work so hard? Was it determination? Was it will power? Was it discipline? No. I believe the key to Edison's success was his PASSION to invent. Determination, discipline and will power will only take a person so far, but passion is unstoppable!

Great people have passion-a force that consumes their lives and directs their energy. They are not always the strongest or the brightest of their peers, but they consistently outperform them. Their greatness cannot be explained by their education, privileges or talents, because their accomplishments always exceed their abilities. They are driven. Not by the spirit of competition or self-discipline, but by passion. This morning, you'll discover the origin of that passion. And, if you are willing to pay the price, you could leave on the path to greatness.
 

Saul of Tarsus was a man who kept his shoes shined and his brass polished. He played by all the rules and emerged as a qualified Rabbi. He gives his resume in Philip. 3:5-6"circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; [6] as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless."

But Saul's privilege began before his birth. He was of the tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin, you will recall was Joseph's little brother, he was the son of Israel's old age-the only one of the sons of Israel born in the promised land (Gen. 35:17-18). Perhaps Saul was even named after the first King of Israel, who came from the tribe of Benjamin.

Saul was born into a strict Jewish home and was blessed with a privileged upbringing. Adhering to the command God gave to Abraham in Genesis 17:12, Saul's parents circumcised him on the 8th day.

Saul did not turn his back on his heritage. He was a "Hebrew of Hebrews." The Jewish people have always been a misunderstood and persecuted people. Persecution forced them to the four corners of the earth. Wherever they went they retained a portion of their culture, but usually sacrificed their language. Saul was not a Hellenized Jew-he did not adopt the culture and the language of the Greek people. Though familiar with their language and customs, Saul retained the ways and the tongue of his people

Not only did he fight to retain the culture of his people, he actively fought against those who differed with his view. He was zealous in his beliefs to the point that he persecuted the church.

Saul was a Pharisee. Now, I know that today, the word carries a negative connotation because of their many conflicts with Jesus, but remember that Saul is giving his qualifications as a Jew in this text. The sect of the Pharisees began a couple hundred years before Christ with the intent of combating the Hellenization of the Jews and a desire to restore purity to their religion. They had a strong focus on keeping the law. The Pharisees turned the 10 commandments into 613 prohibitions, including 39 kinds of work that was prohibited on the Sabbath Day.

I know, I know-that sounds a little bureaucratic and extreme, but their heart was in the right place, even if their efforts were misguided. Their "aim was not prudery but piety." (Connick, 47) The Pharisees numbered around 6000 in Jesus' time, the largest of the Jewish sects.

A sparkling resume, but Rabbi Saul never achieved greatness, not until a life changing (and name changing) event-a turning point. 

On the road to Damascus, Saul carried a writ giving him the authority to persecute Christians, but God had another idea. "And it came about that as he journeyed, he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; [4] and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" [5] And he said, "Who art Thou, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, [6] but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do." (Acts 9:3-6 NASB) 

God struck Saul to the ground and sent the proud man to Damascus with orders to wait until someone comes to tell him what to do. Saul went.

What was the journey like? He was a blind man going into an unfamiliar city to receive orders from a stranger. Did he stumble? Did he fall? Was he anxious? Why did God require him to "hurry up and wait?" Why didn't God tell him what Saul needed to know right on the spot, instead of sending him, a blind man on an errand?

Saul had a choice to make. Did he return to Jerusalem and his former life, or did he forget about his privilege, throw his resume on the dung heap and embrace his future? 

He ambled into town, not in the light, but in the darkness. It was in the darkness, that he found his passion and ultimately achieved his greatness.

Many times, God dos not engrave great people with passion in the light. God carves passion, that key element of greatness, on their character in the "dark night of the soul."

In Philip. 3:13-14, Paul gives his formula for greatness: "Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, [14] I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Notice that Paul knew he was on a journey, he hadn't yet attained his destination, and Paul was not allowing his past accomplishments or failures rob him of the potential of his future. But the key to his greatness is found in verse 14. He is driven by God's upward call-he was passionate! A passion he received in the darkness in Damascus.

After his conversion, Persecutor Saul became the Apostle Paul, a prolific writer, penning nearly half of the books of the New Testament. Paul was a church planter, representing the church on three missionary journeys to plant churches and nurture believers. He was a leader that molded the future of the church and trained others to lead. He was passionate.

They stoned him and he kept preaching. Because of his determination? No! Because of his passion!

They threw him in prison, but he kept on praising. Because of his superior discipline? No! Because of his passion!

They chained him to a guard and put him under house arrest but he kept on writing. Because of his will power? No! Because of his passion!

Other great leaders found their passion through trials.

Joseph's journey to greatness wasn't through a life of privilege as the favorite son of his father, but in a pit at the hands of his brothers and a jail cell at the hands of Potipher's wife. Not in the light, but in the dark. He emerged with a passion to know and do the will of God!

Daniel's moment of truth did not take place under a spotlight, but before an openwindow in Babylon where he prayed. Not in the light, but in the dark. He emerged with passion! Whether in the King's court or in the Lion's den, he had a passion for righteousness.

David's defining moment did not come among his father's sheep at home, but in a battlefield against a Philistine champion. Not in the light, but in the dark. He emerged with a passion to know and follow God's heart!

Saul's turning point did not come at the feet of Gamaliel, where he studied, or in the synagogue where he worshiped, but after an encounter with a Holy God who confronted him with his unrighteousness. Not in the light, but in the dark. And Saul emerged with a passion to build the church he once tried to destroy!

You may receive your training in the light, but you will receive your passion in the dark-in moments when life feels like it is caving in on you. In those "dark nights of the soul" God gives you your passion. Great people are driven by their passion and guided by their God!

With his life in disarray, Steven Lavaggi sat on his bedroom's wooden floor, and began searching his Bible for answers. His wife had just left him to marry a writer for The Rolling Stone Magazine. Ten days later, Steven discovered his son was stricken with Juvenile Diabetes. As if coping with the personal crisis wasn't enough, Lavaggi also lost his graphic art business. 

Unemployed, abandoned, and worrying about his son, Lavaggi turned to God's Word. As Steven read, he skipped over the black letters, only wanting to read the words of Jesus. The Risen Christ emerged from the pages. Lavaggi gave his life to Jesus. 

As a new Christian, he clung to Psalms 91:11: "For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways." Out of his brokenness, came a passion to create and message of hope. He left the lucrative world of graphic art to become a fine artist. 

Since Steven's passion is to minister through fine art, he moved to California, to influence the people who influence the world--Hollywood.

He is doing just that. The response to his work is overwhelming. Inspired by the Psalmist's words he painted a 4' X 5' angel. When a friend encouraged him to make the image three dimensional, he collaborated with a sculptor, and together they cast the angel. 

While speaking to a crowd of thirty-five hundred natives in Soweto, South Africa, Lavaggi held a 20" sculpture of a black angel above his head. When he did, the crowd erupted with enthusiasm. A man on the stage told him that just a few days before, a preacher had said, "One of the things we need is for international artists to express the love of God through art, perhaps even painting angels in black." When Lavaggi heard this, he grabbed a 20" white angel, held it above his head and said, "these angels were created to be like brothers and sisters, even as we are supposed to be." Later, as he reflected on the day, he decided to call the sculptures, "The Angels of Reconciliation."

His creation graces the cover of the Winter 2000 GROWING CHURCHES magazine and two 20" bronze statues are in the city of Lake Village, Arkansas symbolizing the hope of racial reconciliation in the deep South.

Steven's message would not exist without his passion! His message is easy to see-it is in the light, but remember, his passion was born in the dark, on a wooden floor while he grieved the loss of his wife, his job and his son's health. Through the struggle, he gained a passion, and today, he is changing the world.(From Fresh Illustrations)

Knowledge will never change the world. Talent won't change the world. Skills won't change the world. Great people who leave their mark are ones with passion. And many times, they get that passion in the dark.

Knowing this, let me close with three challenges:

Recast your Past.

While you walked through the darkness you wondered if God was forsaking you. Could it be that He was incubating passion?

Leverage your Losses.

Why did Candy Lightner found Mothers Against Drunk Driving?

Why did John Walsh become a crusader against America's Most Wanted?

What will you do with what you've learned during your "dark night of the soul?"

Hang On!

Dark times don't necessarily mean you are out of God's favor, they may be the turning point God uses to give you the passion that will propel you into your destiny.

For More Information about The Angel's of Reconcilation, go to http://www.lavaggi.com

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