Our most recent family pic with only Andrew missing

Friday, July 1, 2016

Saul/Paul's Turnaround, Britain's Turnaround, Your Turnaround

What a week it has been in British politics ... talk about a turn around, a change of direction, which, you might remember from previously, is what is at the root of the word repentance. The New Testament word translated as repentance is the Greek word metanoia which is not a confession of sins but a change of mind (here is an excellent article on this subject) implying a change of direction from moving away from God to now moving towards God. As I said: "What a week of mind changing, direction changing, we've had."

Our reading today, as we continue our journey through Acts, has Saul changing direction, metanoia-ing, repenting, from moving away from the the Kingdom of God as revealed in Christ, to now moving towards that same Kingdom. Is God calling you to a complete change of mind, of direction, today ... calling you to move towards Him rather than away from Him?

The UK has changed direction, metanoia-ed, away from the European Union after 40 years of moving towards it; several of our politicians have similarly changed direction, turned around, in the last week. With no preference or bias I mention a few:
1. Our Prime Minister emphasised repeatedly during the campaign that we are not a nation of quitters. His first announcement after not getting his way was to quit! That is a change in direction, a metanoia, a repentance.
2. Mr Gove stated emphatically during the campaign on national television that he would not be a candidate for the position of prime minister. On Thursday he announced his desire to run for prime minister; that is a change in direction, a turnaround, a metanoia.
3. Mr Johnson believed he was the right person to lead the national campaign towards Brexit, he did nothing to imply that he would not run for prime minister when myriad insinuations were made in that regard, but this week indicated he would not run. I don't think anyone disagrees that this is a major change in direction on his part, a turnaround, a metanoia.
4. Mrs May, who a while ago campaigned fiercely for remain now proposes that she is the best person to lead the nation to ensure the best leaving.
5. And then Mr Corbyn. It would seem almost everyone, including the Prime Minister, wants him to change direction, to turnaround, to metanoia but he doesn't see any need for a change in direction on his part.

I hope from all this you realise afresh, firstly, that metanoia, repentance, changing direction, is an every day event and the Greeks had an every day word for this, metanoia, translated into English as repent; and secondly, that sometimes events compel us to repentance, compel us to change our minds, to change direction. It can be argued that each of the above have had good and valid reason to change their minds and quite possibly, we might believe they have acted honourably in changing their minds. 

What will it take for you to change your mind, to repent, in particular in the areas where God (and quite possibly others) are waiting for you to change your mind, your way of thinking. What will it take.

For Paul, it took the Damascus Road experience. Now, I often hear folk, when they talk about their moment of changing direction away from God towards God, also called their conversion, they often say: "I didn't have a Damascus Road experience." You can, quite literally, thank God you didn't have a Damascus road experience. Damascus road experiences are for the most wicked of the wicked, evil personified which is what Saul in his zealous persecution of Christians was. He personally was quite possibly responsible for the murder of more Christians than any member of modern day Isis. His conversion experience saw him blinded by an intense light (thinking of the flash of light associated with a nuclear explosion perhaps come close) .. a flash that leaves him blind for 3 days and many believe severely visually impaired for the rest of his life (some think this is the "thorn in his side"); but not only blinded but also thrown to the ground (possibly from his horse) .... no, no, no ... believe you me, rejoice that you didn't have a Damascus Road experience as if it were something pleasant ... it's not!! And let me make this clear: to my mind Paul was a man of deep integrity both before his conversion and after. Sometimes circumstances make honourable people change direction, do an about turn.

What does God have to do to get you to change direction in your life? Are there any areas of your life where a change in direction, a repentance, a metanoia, is required?

I want to highlight 3 things that might be important for us in a Brexit Britain:

Firstly (verse 3): Then Paul said: ‘I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city.'
Paul, now nearing the end of his ministry, 20 years after his conversion, is still a Jew. Judaism has always been and still is a religion as well as a nation and culture and Paul was never ashamed or afraid to confess that he was a Jew. We live now in times in Britain where many from different nations and cultures are beginning to be somewhat afraid to confess that and wondering if the future holds discrimination and persecution for them and their children. As the people of God we are called to "fight" against the racism and anti-semitism that is rearing its head. Don't be silent when people mock or speak ill of foreigners ... the Old and New Testaments have a special place for the foreigner, the alien, in our midst.

Secondly (verse 7): Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?asks the Lord Jesus Christ. In one of His last parables Jesus gives one of the most important principles of the Christian lifestyle, namely that whatever you do for the least among us, you do for Jesus. Likewise, whatever you refuse to the least among us, you refuse to Jesus. And so Jesus can say to Paul Why do you persecute me? because in persecuting these human beings Saul was persecuting Jesus. I've asked before and I'll ask again and again until I see the answer: "Who are the least among us here in Hellesdon and Norwich, and what are we, Meadow Way Chapel, and what are you and I doing for them? Because of this we can be sure, one day Jesus will say to us: 

I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was ill and in prison and you did not look after me.”
and like them we might answer “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or ill or in prison, and did not help you?”
‘He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

What are we, what are you, doing for the least among us?

And thirdly: ‘Then the Lord said to me, “Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.”’  The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, ‘Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!’

This one is a warning that when we reach out to other nations, religions and cultures in our midst; and when we look for and embrace the least in our midst who may well be of our own nation, religion and culture, ... people, especially those closest to us in the fellowship and the family, might well raise their voices and shout, ‘Rid the earth of him, of her! She, he, is not fit to live!’

When we live for Jesus and the Kingdom of God, we might well find that the greatest resistance we encounter is from the very one's we expect to support us.

That never stopped Paul, it should never stop us.

Si, in the midst of Britain's turnaround we've been given Paul's turnaround to study and I pray the LORD has called us and shown us where we need to turn around.

Let us pray.

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