a life changed in a moment; a picture of repentance

How did a Jew from the strictest sect in Judaism, the Pharisees, become a Christian himself? And how did this person, who not only zealously persecuted, imprisoned, and condemned to death followers of the Way in his own region, but also travelled more than 190 miles by donkey for the opportunity to persecute, imprison, and condemn to death MORE followers of the Way in ANOTHER region, become so radically transformed that he became not only an avid follower of Christ, but the leading apostle, evangelist, and ‘discipler’ in the early Church?


I love the conversion story that Paul relays to King Agrippa. It involves the dramatic turn his life took in response to a mostly one-sided conversation he had with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus.

Christ basically told him, “Why are you persecuting Me, Paul? You’re fighting my plan for you. Stop it. Get it, go to Damascus & I’ll give you what you need for your real mission: bringing My Good News to Jews & Gentiles so they can TURN from darkness to light & from the power of Satan to God. They will receive forgiveness of sins & a place in My family.”


Paul’s conversion experience doesn’t involve sinner’s prayer, a lot of emotion, or even teaching from the Scriptures so he would know that Jesus was the Christ.

He was converted in response to his encounter with Christ – confronted by his sin & the error of his misguided persecutions, he turned from his wrong path, & turned towards obedience… to put into practice what he had heard from Christ.

Repentance. Is it really that simple?

Within a short time of his arrival in Damascus, Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit, & immediately began to share the gospel with the same zeal, fervor, & urgency with which he had previously persecuted the church.

Paul was a changed man; he’d been redirected to his true purpose, calling, & life-mission.


what lies beneath, & other musings…

Now three days after Festus had arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. And the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews laid out their case against Paul, and they urged him, asking as a favor against Paul that he summon him to Jerusalem—because they were planning an ambush to kill him on the way. Acts 25:1-3

I was re-reading the last few chapters in Acts, and couldn’t help but notice the determination and single-mindedness of the Jewish religious leaders in their pursuit of Paul. And here in chapter 25, once again they’re plotting to kill him. Suddenly, it hit me: they think they are on a mission from God.

It might sound silly to say that, but I think we have to take a second and remind ourselves just who these people were: the chief priests, and the principal men of the Jews. The leadership.

These were the people responsible for leading other Jews in their pursuit of relationship with God.

These were men of (presumed) good reputation, character, and integrity who’d come into their priestly and leadership roles not by wile-and-guile, but rather based on recognition of their gifts and callings.

They are the ones leading the charge to kill Paul.

Somewhere along the line their zeal for the LORD had been contaminated with sin and marred by fleshly, even demonic motivation. And they didn’t know it.

They thought they were on a mission from God.

I can’t merely look at the religious leaders & wonder how they got so messed up that they actively & murderously opposed the work (& people) of the LORD, & let that be the end of it.

I also have to consider what lies in the depths of my own heart, because the kind of terrible wickedness we see repeatedly from the religious leaders is something that can lurk in each of us.

Unaddressed sin. Bitterness. Unforgiveness. Jealousy. Unchecked ambition. Pride. Judgment. All provide fertile ground that could allow seeds of sin to grow that would ultimately lead to the manipulation & poisoning of my heart & mind to the point that I could be used to oppose God’s work and stand against His people.

All while thinking I’m on a mission from God.

It’s sobering.

Search me, oh God, & know my heart. Try me, & know my thoughts! If there be any wicked way in me, lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23,24

two years…

Two years.

That’s the amount of time Paul waited in a Caesarean jail cell for his legal case to be acted upon by the governor.

Those two years pass in one sentence in Acts 24: ”When two years had elapsed, (governor) Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.”

Two years.

In that time, Paul’s testifying about his court case and the charges against him morphed into regular opportunities to give witness to his faith through conversations with the governor. Further, he shared with all that would listen about “righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment…”

And instead of getting bitter, wondering how God could forget him in Caesarea (after all, didn’t Paul have God’s promise that he would testify in Rome?), Paul used the challenging circumstances of prison to encourage others through letters that we now refer to as Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, to name a few.

Two years.

Paul saw it not as a waste of his time, but as an opportunity from the LORD.

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Philippians 1:12-14

Two years.

LORD, I pray you give us eyes to see our lives & circumstances, come what may, as God-given opportunities – & may Paul’s words from his jail cell ring in our ears: “Rejoice in the LORD always; again I will say, Rejoice!”

thoughts about Paul’s ‘mission from God,’ suffering, perseverance, & other musings…

Acts 21 tells of Paul’s intent to head to Jerusalem, and also the fact that he received several prophetic words and pictures declaring, “If you go to Jerusalem, you will be thrown into prison.”

I never understood why, after hearing these multiple warnings from the Holy Spirit of the imprisonment, persecution and suffering awaiting him in Jerusalem, Paul still purposed to go to Jerusalem. I even tried to come up with possible reasons WHY he might be so intent to finish this journey; none of the reasons made sense, especially considering the man the Apostle Paul was. So I asked the LORD, “What would make a man choose this path and persist in the face of what looks like preemptive warnings of danger and trouble from the Spirit?”

Immediately, an earlier portion of Paul’s story flashed into my mind, from the time right around his conversion (Acts 9:10-19.) From the beginning, God revealed that He had made Paul His “chosen instrument to testify of Christ and spread the gospel, before the Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” And one of the first things revealed to Paul was how much he would suffer for the sake of the Name of the LORD.

Aha! I get it. Paul was on a mission from God.

The single-minded purpose to get to Jerusalem wasn’t an exercise of stubbornness on Paul’s part – he simply understood that this was part of the living out of the mission given to him by the LORD years before. The fact that his obedience and persistence could (and would) result in imprisonment and suffering were almost an afterthought; the mission, and the spread of the gospel, were preeminent.

I think that we might have an underlying assumption that suffering is to be avoided at all costs, probably because suffering hurts. Digging deeper, we may have an unscriptural ‘karma-like’ belief about good and bad happening in our lives, e.g. if we’re doing what God wants us to do, life will be good, and if not, then that’s when the bad stuff happens.

Jesus told His disciples, “The servant isn’t greater than his master; if they persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” (John 15:20) If I’m living a life of obedience to the LORD, living for eternity and not just for comfort in the here and now, I will suffer. The good news is that any “present sufferings won’t even compare to the glory that will be revealed” in, through, and around us in Christ Jesus and by His Spirit (Romans 8:18.)

Paul was sure about one thing – God had given him a mission, and therefore, whatever it took to complete the mission, he knew that God would provide it.

I pray for such a faith to grow in my heart and mind, and for that kind of faithful perseverance to the calling and mission that God has placed in front of me. LORD, help me live life with eternity and Your values firmly in sight, and with a single-minded focus on my mission.