By Pat Russell
Considering the sermon by Pastor Bruce on August 23, 2020
Acts 9:1-9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 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. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
Galatians 1:15-20 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.
18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.
1 Cor 2:1-5 When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
• • •
“Conversion.” This word has been used many times throughout history to mark a change within a person’s deepest being. Other words that have been used are “saved,” “born again,” “washed in the blood of the lamb,” “accept Jesus as your Savior,” “receive Jesus into your heart,” to mention a few. In conservative Christian circles where I grew up, the question often was put forth, “Have you been saved?” Another one was, “Are you born again?” I often thought that if you did not know the Bible, you would have no idea what was being asked.
Today, Pastor Bruce expanded on Paul’s conversion experience and the impact it had on his life. The Lord came to Paul in a very dramatic way. In that moment Jesus spoke the words that Paul needed to hear; words that “knocked him off his horse;” words that caused him to re-evaluate his life’s direction; words that made him realize that he had “gotten it so wrong for so long,” as Bruce said.
When I was 8 years old, two important events happened in my life. One, we bought a very large, somewhat wild horse for me to ride, and two, I “accepted Jesus as my Savior.” With relief, I say that the two events did not happen at the same time. I was not knocked off my horse with words from God (I did, however, get knocked off that horse many times!). What did happen was, as I sat by my mother in a small country church during what was known as an alter call (come forward and pray at the alter to “receive Jesus into your heart”), I said to her, “I want to do that.” I had to be brave, stand up in front of everybody and walk up there alone. The voice of the Lord was a quiet yearning inside of my 8-year-old heart. I had not had enough life to have many regrets, but I did have my share. That was the beginning of my life’s ongoing conversion.
I have a dear friend who cannot say when she was “saved” or “born again.” She only knows that she has been a follower of Jesus her whole life from as early as she can remember. Being in her 80’s and on hospice has only brought her into deeper communion with Jesus. So, her “conversion” looks very different from Paul’s story and very different from mine. My point is that God works in us according to who we are and how we can best be drawn to him. We cannot compare the individual creative work of God within each of us.
The story of Paul’s conversion, however, does give us some common elements about our conversion stories, no matter how they happened and are continuing to happen. This is how I see it from what Pastor Bruce said…
1. Our pride is addressed – the great Paul was blinded and had to be led around. I, as a child, had to get up in front of everybody and walk down that aisle. My friend knows that it is God at work within her not her own work.
2. Our view of what is true changes – Paul’s understanding of Jesus was transformed. I knew Jesus was real, not just a character from the Bible stories I learned. My friend has found ongoing truth in Jesus throughout her life.
3. Our Guide becomes someone different from before – Paul went to the wilderness to receive insight and understanding from Jesus’ Spirit. I started listening to another Voice inside of me. My friend has a strong inner sense of the Holy Spirit.
4. Our life direction changes course – Paul became a missionary to the Gentiles, a people the Jews rejected. I NEVER wanted to be a missionary because I was afraid of going to places like Africa; I ended up going to China. (Being a missionary to a foreign land is not a requirement, by the way, but you may head in a way you never expected.) And my friend is following Jesus in the midst of an uncomfortable ending to life as she knows it.
Then, in follow-up to those common elements, these important questions come to us from Pastor Bruce’s sermon…
1. To whom do we listen? Jesus’ voice or the voice of human wisdom and understanding?
2. What traditions from our culture or from our human family do we need to release?
3. What are we choosing to be or do because of the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit that might be very different from the opinions of others?
So, my friend, what is your conversion story? Dramatic, quiet, young, old, public, private, a one-time experience, an on-going experience? One thing for sure, Jesus calls each of us in the way we best require, and he keeps on calling. I have this quote on a sign in my “she-shed” AKA “My Hiding Place”: “I choose you. And I’ll choose you over and over, without pause, without doubt, in a heartbeat I’ll keep choosing you.”
I add, “Will you choose Me?” Paul could have gotten back up and kept going his own way thinking he simply was hit with some strange weather event.