Acts 9:1 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord (after presiding over the apostle Stephen), went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
So much to say. First, we have to remember that Saul presided over the execution of the first Christian martyr – Stephen. Saul was a Pharisee, one of the religious authorities whose job it was to teach Israel and hold the Israelites accountable to the laws of God. The Pharisees recognized Jesus’ works as perhaps originating with God the Father, but there were too many instances of Jesus and his followers breaking the rules as they were understood in his day. So they had Jesus killed and then persecuted his followers. Having successfully put Stephen to death, Saul then wanted to pursue more Christians (those who belonged to the “Way”) as far as Syria.
But it turns out Jesus gets a vote!
Just as Saul is on his way, he encounters the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. Later in this chapter Jesus gives to Saul (afterward to be known as the apostle “Paul”) his marching orders. He would not only stop persecuting Christians, but would be the chief apostle sharing the good news that Jesus of Nazareth was not dead, but alive. In fact, Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah who would set people free from bondage to sin and death.
But before Saul began his apostolic work as “Paul” he would take time to abide with the Lord (v.9).
Today is the first day of my Sabbatical leave from work as pastor of Rejoice Lutheran Church. I’ll be away from church responsibilities until August 1st – three months total of paid leave. Sabbatical is a time of rest and renewal in the spirit of “Sabbath”. The idea is to be renewed and prepared for the next season of life and ministry post-Sabbatical. I’m very grateful this provision was included in my contract when I came to Rejoice in 2013. Truth is, I was supposed to go on Sabbatical in 2020 (after seven years) but then a stupid thing called Covid hit the world, so I’ve been delayed a couple of years. Nevertheless, my Sabbatical begins today.
I’ll be doing some traveling with family during this time as well as taking some personal retreat time focused on the topic of Sabbath. I’ll also just be hanging out at home, which I enjoy. I’m actually a homebody by nature which seems to surprise some people. I’ll also be focusing on further improving my personal health and fitness during Sabbatical so I’m physically prepared for whatever comes after Sabbatical. Pray for me and my wife Jana that we won’t drive each other crazy spending so much time together! No, I’m sure it will be delightful. 🙂
Lastly I’ll say how grateful I am to my church for allowing me this privilege and to our church staff who will carry the baton in my absence. Lord hold us all in your care as I begin three months away. Grant us grace to fulfill whatever purposes you have for this time. Amen.