Sunday 14th June 2020

Call to Worship: ‘I will give thanks to You, O LORD…And sing praises to Your name’. 2 Samuel 22:50

PRAISE: Take time to do just that. Listen to or sing a hymn of praise.

Prayer: Lord, as our call to worship reminds us, we are here to worship You, to bring You our grateful and heartfelt thanks, and to call out to You in praise. You are our God and we are Your people. Lord, we come conscious of our faults and failings which we bring before You now (take a moment to bring to God your personal confession). Father, through Your Son You have promised that those who come in true repentance will be forgiven. We come thankful for that grace and mercy and the assurance that our sins can be taken away, as far as the east is from the west. Heavenly Father, we bring these our prayers before You in Jesus’ name, the One who taught us to pray, ‘Our Father….’ Amen

Reading: Acts 9: 1-31 The Conversion of Saul

Prayer: Take time now to pray for family and friends, the wider world and for our church. Give thanks for the NHS and Care Workers and the steady decrease in cases of coronavirus and pray for wisdom for our leaders as they consider how best to ease restrictions within the lockdown. Give thanks too that many shops and businesses are now able to open and pray for those businesses as they trade within heavy restrictions. And in these days when unrest has swept the globe, pray for peace on the streets and that we would all work for a fairer, just world in which all feel loved and valued, as God intended and the Bible teaches.

Reflection: An amazing account – An amazing turnaround –  An amazing God! Do you enjoy bat and ball sports? Cricket, rounders, tennis and the like? The ball goes sailing through the air, hits the bat or racket with a whack and in an instant is travelling at speed in a completely different direction. In Acts Chapter 9, we meet someone who, like that ball, had a very sudden and sharp change of direction as if they’d been hit a whack but not by a bat, by God Himself! That man was Saul. The account begins with a simple, matter-of-fact ‘meanwhile’….as it tells of Saul, prominent and influential Pharisee, who thought his direction in life was set: he hated Christians, people of ‘the Way’, and considered it his duty and indeed privilege to do everything in his power to silence them, whether that meant seeing one stoned to death or rounding up men and women and having them carted off to prison ASAP. The phrase, ‘still breathing out murderous threats’ (9:1) paints an ominous and menacing picture of the man and his mission…So, Saul set off for Damascus with a spring in his step and the sole purpose of locating and arresting followers of Jesus….You can almost see him rubbing his hands in glee at the prospect…

But on the way something happened…..something that would not only stop Saul in his tracks just as sure as if that cricket bat had hit him across the head, but would also change the direction of his life from that moment onwards. Suddenly, (the text pointing to the speed and surprise with which things happened), a brilliant light from heaven flashed around him and a voice boomed, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ His name repeated twice for emphasis – as if the Lord were saying, ‘Make no mistake Saul, it’s you I’m addressing’. Saul, who would previously have thought of himself as so sharp and clever, had no idea what was going on, stammering, ‘Who are you Lord?’,  but as his answer came there could be no mistaking, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’… (Note what that means: if anyone hurts Jesus’ followers, they hurt Jesus Himself).….

You hear the phrase sometimes, ‘My life flashed before my eyes…’ I wonder is that what happened to Saul? In that moment of recognition, did he see that everything, absolutely everything, he had built his life upon was misguided and totally wrong? No wonder he was shattered, on the ground struggling to get up, temporarily blind, and it would be three days before he could eat or drink anything. So Saul, who set off on his murderous mission with such drive and energy, entered Damascus being led like a child by the hand….and it would be there that the man who had shown no mercy to others would receive abundant grace and mercy from the Lord and his followers; and just to complete the turnaround, within days Saul would be preaching that Jesus was the Son of God and the Christ, resulting in the religious leaders conspiring to kill him, and the people of the Way whom he had intended to terrorise would instead be strengthened and encouraged. (Pointing once more to the truth of Romans 8:28, ‘…in all things God works for the good of those who love him…)

What an amazing account; teaching so much about our amazing God. Teaching that no-one is beyond the Lord’s touch; there is no heart of stone that cannot be melted; no person who cannot be brought to their knees before Jesus Christ – that should encourage us to keep on praying for those who as yet don’t know the Lord – don’t give up – keep praying – remember this turnaround in Saul. Remember too, that no matter how things look, no matter how many people or events seem to be conspiring against our God, including a pandemic that is keeping us from meeting as a church, our Lord’s purposes will not be thwarted. The gospel will continue to be preached, lives will continue to be turned around, the Church will continue to grow, God’s people will continue to be encouraged and ultimately the day will come when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:11). Take time as well to ponder what Saul, later known as Paul, would write about his new life, ‘I consider everything, (meaning his old life), a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…’ (Philippians 3:8) and ask yourself is there anything you need to put aside or lose in order to ensure it is Jesus who is at the centre of your life – that taking stock is something we all need to do on a prayerful, regular basis….And one last thing, always remember the first Christians were known as people of ‘the Way’. That implies movement, a people who do not stand still in their life of faith. So, keep on with your desire to go deeper in your prayer life and knowledge of God and of His Son – there’s always more to learn…. Just because we are encouraged to stay at home doesn’t mean we can’t be ‘on the move’! Saul thought he knew where his life was going and what his purpose was, when quite suddenly (to say the least), the Lord Jesus Himself intervened, like the crack of a bat on a ball, changing Saul’s direction and life forever and giving him a new Saviour, a new purpose and a new mission. What an amazing account – what an amazing turnaround – what an amazing God!

PRAISE & PRAYER: As our worship draws to a close, thank God for His Word and perhaps listen to or sing a hymn of dedication. Suggestions: All I once held dear, built my life upon/ Amazing grace, how sweet the sound/ As the deer pants for the water/ Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways.

BENEDICTION: May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all, this day, and always. Amen.