Religious Conversion

(Acts 9:1-20) – J G White
11 am, E3, Sunday, May 5, 2019 – UBC Digby

A number of months ago some divinity college students met ‘a convert.’   

One Friday, I went with my favourite divinity student, Sharon White, and others, to prayers and a luncheon at Umma Mosque in Halifax.  For the divinity students, it was an assignment: to visit a very different worship event.

It was during interfaith harmony week, and the Mosque was ready for lots of visitors.  We were part of a big crowd visiting that day, observing their Friday Prayers. And there was a big lunch served after, information booths, and a panel discussion.  

After prayers, before lunch, a friendly young woman from that faith community, wearing a hijab, spoke to the little group of us, and answered our questions.  Ironically, this Islamic woman who stopped to welcome a group of Baptist divinity students, was a former Baptist. She had left being a Christian, and converted to Islam.

What happens when the religious persons makes a conversion?  By ‘Religious Conversion,’ today, I don’t mean getting a non-religious person to become faithful.  I mean, getting a religious person to change their religious ways.

Today’s Bible story, the Saul of Tarsus story, is of a very religious person converting to a new Way.  It is not the story of ‘a heathen’ seeing the light and meeting God. This is a faithful Jew, meeting the Messiah, and learning to follow Jesus.  

It is, really, another ‘resurrection appearance’ of Jesus!  And though we use the phrase “Damascus road experience,” Saul’s story is not necessarily the typical, normal conversion story.  It’s not how I became a Christian. Saul, who becomes know better as the Apostle Paul, gets moved to make a big step. As a Jew in the ministry, he becomes a leader of a new religious movement, that eventually becomes Christianity.  

All these centuries later, within Christianity, Christians can need ‘conversion.’ A big change.  A paradigm shift, as some call it. The Spirit moves, and your way of being a believer gets made new.  

This is what the revival movements of the past centuries were all about. Converting your religion.  & what’s religion, but a way of sharing your spirituality?

But a big change is not just up to you: it is God at work. As with Saul, Jesus gets actively involved, and He also recruits helpers to work with you.   In Saul’s case it was a man named Ananias who was Saul’s helper, aiding a new faith to be born in Saul.

And even the messenger chosen to help Saul needed some convincing to take up the mission.  Ananias was even told that Saul would be told how he must suffer. Sounds like a hard sell! Yet Saul was transformed.

When someone’s religion gets converted, some things change, and some things stay the same.  Saul, he kept the same scriptures. He had the same skills. He had the same line of work, so to speak.

In our days, there is a lot of change in the practice of our Christian Faith.  Everything old is new again. Notice the Three Priorities of our denomination? The Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada?  
65 New Congregations
75 Emerging Pastor-Leaders
300 Mission-Edge Churches

65 New Congregations: Multiply! Multiply! Multiply!  New Churches. Multi-site congregations.  Re-planted churches. Fresh expression of church are creatively being established.  Pray about something new your neighbourhood needs. How many times will your church multiply over the next 8 years?

300 Mission-Edge Churches: We must discover how to live on mission at the edge of culture in our neighbourhoods, engaging neighbours effectively, living out a faith that attracts people to Jesus.  Is your church displaying the markers of a mission-edge church? Remember the six markers of a missional church?  I gave you six sermons in a row about them last September and October.

Things are changing a lot in Christianity, in our lifetimes: it is a new reformation, 500 years later. The ways things have always been don’t stay the same.  God breaks & remoulds them, like a Potter with clay.

Example: ‘Not Your Grandmother’s Offering Plate’, a webinar by John Campbell, ADC:
Tithes and offerings just aren’t what they used to be. People in our pews have a wide range of options when it comes to where and how they give their money to the Lord…and it’s not always in your offering plate. In this workshop, we will discover the changes in giving across generations in Canada. We will wrestle with a theological understanding of tithing to the Lord and then explore practical ideas of how we can better help people to support your local church ministry.
Join me for a live webinar on Tuesday, May 7th 2:00pm.

Such little things, these pieces of our lives, get to be new, every once in a while.  The way we always did things shifts. Our attitude gets an adjustment.

When your personal religion gets converted, it can mean several things.
Your beliefs change.
How you practice your faith changes.
How you understand who is in your religion, who is in fellowship with you, changes. Joining changes.
What kind of God you serve may change.
The stories you tell and that you sing change.

I am so grateful to Christ for own transformation through the years.  As a child and a youth, I loved all the activities of my local Baptist Church.  When I was almost 18 years old and moved away from home, I met some Baptist Christians who opened the door from me to think new thoughts I was ready for, and worship in fresh ways I had never before experienced.  I was given real permission to believe God was great enough to have created the world over the past 14 billion years, not just six days. I was encouraged to trust the Bible to speak not just as history, but to inspire as a form of holy poetry and storytelling.  I was welcomed into worship that was quite fancy and formal and serious and beautiful.

Years later, I am a Pastor in my thirties, and I must come to terms with what I am as a leader: because it is not what I thought leadership was supposed to look like.  The leadership of Jesus, and Moses, and others, again opens more doors for me as a person with purpose.

Today, my thinking about our Bible storytelling and how we explain the Gospel is being touched by God.  The violence we see that runs so deep in the Holy Scriptures, and in our Church History, must be handled carefully and creatively.  I am just now learning how to read the Bible more like Jesus did.

When God wills the change in us, it is an improvement, of course. It is the next step for you and what you do.  Sometimes, as with Saul, it will involve being told what we will have to suffer for the sake of our mission in life.  And, like Saul, we become convinced, motivated, transformed. We count the cost, and go for it. And we thank those who led us and corrected us and inspired us.

There may be a better way for you.  A better way for you to live you life.  A better way for you to live out your purpose in the world.  Better ways to be religious, to share your spirituality. Your next step in the right direction may not start with a ‘Damascus road experience,’ but it may be an important change, nevertheless.  

Somewhere down the road, just around the bend, there may be a turnaround. A new thing.  A fresh expression of live Faith in Christ. It’s not that we need to get saved. But, you and I may still be ‘New On the Road.’

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