Thoughts on Acts: How Saul’s Transformation Parallels our Current Containment

As I mentioned in my Instagram post, I was not terribly familiar with Acts before starting it. I had familiarity with the gospels, but Acts was somewhat of a mystery to me.

And to my surprise, Acts is the most action-packed collection of fantastic (and harrowing) stories of the apostles as they begin to build the Christian church against all odds.

The apostles are repeatedly punished for their proclamations of Jesus as Christ. For instance, Stephen, an apostle whose countenance was like a “face of an angel,” enters into a grand debate with religious officials from surrounding regions and proclaims the truth of the Lord (Acts 6.15, ESV). He is stoned for his actions, and as he dies he cries out “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit… do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7. 59-60, ESV).

One of the witnesses of this stoning was “a young man named Saul” who “approved of [Stephen’s] execution” (7.58; 8.1, ESV).

Saul’s radical conversion

Saul grew into the champion of anti-Jesus initiatives by “ravaging the church, entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (8.3, ESV). Can you imagine? The same person who is credited with writing thirteen of our Bible’s books, once was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (9.1, ESV).

Bound for Damascus to capture and imprison more followers of Christ, Saul receives a message from Jesus:

Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?

Saul is on the ground, overwhelmed by the intensity of this message. Jesus asks him to rise and enter Damascus and await further instructions.

So Jesus has given Saul his first direct command: rise. And what does Saul do? Saul obeys. Saul’s rising from the ground is the first act of obedience to the Lord.

But he is instantly struck blind.

So in the very same moment that Saul follows the instruction of the Lord, his eyesight is taken from him.

Is the blindness a punishment? Perhaps an argument could be made as such.

But I would posit that his blindness is the method Jesus uses to transform him into the apostle He needs Saul to be.

His blindness is the method Jesus uses to transform him into the apostle He needs Saul to be.

The cocoon of blindness

For three days, Saul is entirely blind and neither eats nor drinks. After the third day, Jesus calls a disciple named Ananias to lay his hands on Saul and restore his sight:

Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.

9. 15-16, ESV

When Ananias lays hands on Saul, “immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight” (9.18, ESV).

Jesus could have used any method of transformation he wanted, but he chose blindness. Why? How did removing Saul’s sight aid in his transformation?

In removing Saul’s eyesight and appetite, Saul is effectively removed from distractions and a space is created for reflection and preparation.

Though it does not explicitly mention either reflection or preparation in the Bible— consider it for a second. Up until that important moment, Saul has dedicated his life to persecuting Christians, and has now undergone a polarizing change. He now believes and he is obedient.

So the Lord silences all input and allows Saul to just be still with his thoughts for three full days.

If I were Saul, I would be thinking about all of the things I had done wrong. I would be repenting and praying for forgiveness. I would be considering how I could correct my actions. I would be wondering what Jesus had in store for me next. I would be dedicating my heart to Jesus and preparing to follow his guidance.

And just as a cocoon is created around a caterpillar, blocking out everything external so it has the time and space to transform, so Saul emerges from his cocoon a completely different being.

A cocoon of reflection and of preparation.

Containment is a cocoon

And strangely, we all find ourselves in a cocoon of sorts right now, don’t we?

We had gone about our days, perhaps complacently, until the COVID-19 containment changed all of that. Suddenly, we aren’t going to work and the kids aren’t going to school. We don’t go to restaurants or the movies. We can’t even hold large-scale celebrations at the moment.

We are relegated to our most essential spaces, and our daily rhythms are completely changed.

If you have a pulse and an internet connection, you know that our society tended toward online laments and snarky memes to deal with the frustrations of this containment. And don’t get me wrong, misery loves company. I enjoyed some of the memes immensely.

But should we be using this space, this metaphorical cocoon, to reflect on our past practices and prepare for our new lives?

Some of the changes in my house have been so drastic that it is hard not to consider how things were, are, and will be.

Starting the day off right

One of the most welcome changes was abandoning the frantic morning rush out of the door. To get myself to work by 8:45, I had to wake up at about 5:45 to get everyone— myself included— fed, dressed, groomed, and packed up for the day. Three hours of scrambling just for the day to begin.

Now, our mornings are calm. My husband and I have taken to making breakfast for each other. I get to pull a sleepy boy into my lap and inhale his hair scent deeply (moms, you know exactly what I mean by the heavenly hair scent).

I’m not scolding said boy to finish his breakfast more quickly or for-the-love-that-all-is- if your shoes were in your shoe bin, they wouldn’t be missing!

If you were a young child, wouldn’t you want your day to begin with long snuggles with mom?

Having hard conversations the right way

In containment, conflict resolution has taken on a completely different M.O.

My husband and I used to rely on the space that going to work brought to diffuse arguments, and we would often resolve them via apologetic text messages.

Now, we have to look each other in the eyes and say the hard things. And listen to the hard things. These conversations are much less comfortable, but I think we move past them more quickly.

Necessity is the mother of invention

The boys no longer have entertainment already prescribed for them in the park structures or the field trips or the trampoline place. They are learning to traverse the swells of boredom which often flow into the shores of creativity.

Though the battle against the screen is one fit for only the most formidable soldiers, the boys have tapped into their creativity to make fun in the most unlikely of circumstances. They haven taken to imaginary play again. They have created an in-house slip ‘n slide with the old crib mattress, and a chalk-marked obstacle course in the front driveway.

We may in fact emerge from this cocoon with some redemption.

The shedding: what needs to be left behind?

When Saul, now Paul, finally regains his sight, he sheds layers, like fish scales, from his eyes.

This detail should not be missed. In previous accounts of men being restored to sight in the gospel, never once is this detail mentioned.

But Paul, it appears had things he needed to discard.

Things he saw— did—valued—believed— those things needed to be left behind. The butterfly does not need the cocoon after the metamorphosis. The cocoon is a necessary part of the transformation, and then it is no longer useful. The butterfly is ready to soar and leave the cocoon without ever needing to return to it.

So not only is Paul able to see again, but he is seeing through new eyes. Fresh eyes. Pure eyes.

Paul goes on to fight for Jesus with more intensity and passion than he had for condemning His followers. Paul willingly suffered for Jesus’ cause, and was able to reach so many people because of it.

I would venture to say that he could not have been such an apostle without the three days of blindness Jesus gave him to transform. He let go of what needed to go and to prepare for a new way of living.

What should we shed?

When we regain normalcy in America, what do we need to shed?

For me, it will be to determine what tasks must get done and creating time for no tasks to get done. That way, there is room for the kids to be embraced and listened to without being herded like cattle from one activity to the next.

It will be remembering to offer acts of service to my husband like making his coffee or breakfast. Sure, we can all function efficiently if we see to our own needs, but that’s not what enriches a marriage.

I will remind my sons that they don’t need someone else’s version of prescribed fun. Fun can be found with just a little bit of imagination and creativity. And your little brother who annoys you? Maybe he’s not such a bad playmate after all.

COVID-19 was not sent from God. It occurred because we live in a broken world that is not heaven. But maybe containment has some gifts in it.

I also don’t want to overlook those who have suffered significantly from the containment. I recognize that this is an incredibly difficult season for some. There may be some serious rebuilding that will occur for many Americans.

I think Paul would consider his life post-transformation righteous but excruciating. Paul suffered greatly. But so many gifts emerged from his suffering.

Is there a gift in your containment experience? Was there any unexpected beauty forged in this strange and unprecedented cocoon for you? I would love to hear about your gifts in the comments.

with His love,

Adelaide

Sips & Scripts: Following His Calling to the College Campus

This is Amanda and her husband, Alex.

Their drinks are an iced amber latte and an iced cold brew, respectively.

They are a newly married couple, and I met them at Cottonwood Park to talk about their mission with Chi Alpha Campus Ministries. Well, if I am telling the whole story, I met Amanda, Alex, and a plucky little squirrel who got brazenly close to our quilt (Amanda wanted to make sure I got the part about the squirrel in there).

AMANDA’S LIFE PLAN

Amanda did most of the talking, mainly because she and I have known each other for years through the local community college.

When I asked what was on her heart, she dove right in to the work she and her husband are doing with Chi Alpha:

“I was raised in a Christian home and knew all of the biblical stories, but it wasn’t until my first missions trip to the Philippines and Indonesia that I started to really embrace the Great Commission as a command meant for me: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations’ (Matthew 28.19, ESV).

I started to really embrace the Great Commission as a command meant for me

After the missions trip, I started college with a plan to be an engineer (I earned my degree in engineering from Fresno State in 2018). However, it was the Chi Alpha campus ministry that really set the trajectory for my future.

The veteran members of Chi Alpha noted my biblical knowledge and started talking to me about what it truly means to be a disciple of Christ.

The members of Chi Alpha refer to 2 Timothy 2.2 as the core of their discipleship mission: ‘You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Jesus Christ, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also’ (ESV).

This verse depicts how discipleship is a continuous process: Paul writes to Timothy to be strengthened by His grace and to take what he has learned and entrust it to those who can teach others. If Timothy is being mentored by Paul and will go on to teach those who can teach others, then this verse outlines four generations of discipleship.

And so this verse paired with the Great Commission have really become reflective of His plan for my life. I wrestled for a bit with letting go of the security that an engineering job would provide me, but stepped out in the faith that I am meant to be a disciple to college students along with my husband Alex.

So it is now my responsibility to witness to young adults, to share my faith, and to hopefully help non-believers find their way to the Lord.

This role challenges me in so many ways:

  • It pushes me to know the Bible better
  • It pushes me in my prayer life because I can’t do this on my own
  • It forces me to grow so much more in my faith”

SEEDS PLANTED

I asked Amanda to give me a couple different examples of how students have responded to her attempts to help create disciples:

“I remember meeting a girl on campus who became a fast friend. I would pick her up, and we’d go hang out, share life, talk about things. I would bring her to the Chi Alpha worship services with me, and she had some powerful experiences during worship— she was really moved.

But in our conversations, I could tell that she wasn’t quite in a place to turn over her life to Jesus. If I brought up the Bible, she would tell me that she didn’t really believe that the Bible had anything to do with her life. She would say things like ‘It was written so long ago that I don’t think it really applies anymore.’

I responded by saying that I make all of my decision based on the Bible—my life choices, how I choose to treat people, etc.

When summer came, we drifted apart, and she told me she was no longer interested in coming to the Chi Alpha worship services.

I still keep up with her on social media, and she has since had a baby. In her captions she writes ‘God is good.’ Even the simple phrase ‘God is good’ implies belief in Him.

So she didn’t end up giving her life to Christ while we were ministering to her, but I believe the seeds were planted at that time like in the verse in 1 Corinthians 3:

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labo

(1Corinthians 3. 6-8, NIV)

It’s up to God. I’m not in charge of anyone’s salvation, nor can I take credit if someone gives her life to Jesus. It’s all God. But I do have a purpose: to plant seeds of truth.

SOMETIMES SPRING COMES QUICKLY

Creating disciples won’t always be immediate, but occasionally it can be.

After Alex and I were married, we moved to Turlock to be witnesses to students at Stanislaus State.

We received a call from a local pastor that a mother of a Stan State student was in need of someone to help support her daughter who was having a really difficult time.

So the daughter agreed to meet me and a friend of mine at a local Starbucks.

Over our coffees, my friend and I just listened to her as she poured out all of the difficulties she was undergoing. Her boyfriend had been cheating on her, so they split, and she was having problems with her roommates. She told us she was ready to quit school and move back home. She was mad at God… maybe even denying His existence because how could He let all of these things happen to her if He cared for her?

We listened to her. We reminded her that God loved her, and that He did not make those things happen to her. ‘He sees you,’ we told her, and ‘He has a plan for your life.’ We encouraged her to stick out one more semester.

She appreciated our time and our efforts, but we know she was skeptical when we parted.

Nevertheless, when we invited her to a Chi Alpha retreat in the mountains, she agreed to come. On the second night of the retreat, she had a powerful encounter with God. She ran up to me and said, ‘God is so good! I have forgiven my ex-boyfriend, and I no longer have any hurt!’

Her transformation happened so quickly! When I spoke to her recently, she told me she has given up on the types of guys she used to pursue and now looks for a man in the church with whom she can grow her faith.

She tells me she now looks for opportunities to bless people when she can. She currently works in a grocery store, and so what she can offer people is a smile to brighten their days.”

Perhaps one day she will be sitting down in a coffee shop, reaching over to pray for someone else who is ready to give up.

LOVE FIRST

People don’t care what you know until they know how much you care.

“Our mission is to love above everything else.

People aren’t going to want to hear about Jesus until they feel valued and cared for.

I think of the adage ‘People don’t care what you know until they know how much you care.’

So with each person, I have to determine how to love them best. And because God is love, and Jesus is our savior, telling them about the good news of salvation and forgiveness is an act of love.”

CURRENT MISSION

Amanda and Alex have been called to pioneer a Chi Alpha chapter in Santa Cruz at UCSC. There is not a whole lot of Christian presence on that campus, and they are hoping to change that.

They move in to their new apartment in Santa Cruz next month, where they will begin their mission. Amanda says she is ‘excited to see what God does.’ I asked her what we can be praying for and she has two specific prayer requests:

1. Meeting the right students at UCSC— finding the believers who can help become the foundation for this new chapter.

This may have an added challenge if UCSC decides to close for the fall, but I know that obstacle will just bring out the couple’s creativity and resourcefulness.

2. Finding a faculty advisor— in order to be established as a campus club, a faculty member will need to act as the advisor.

Facing the Mission Shoulder-to-shoulder

Have you ever heard the song “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof? There is a line in it that reminds me of Amanda and Alex:

They look so natural together

Just like two newlyweds should be

There is something really special about the energy between two newlyweds who clearly belong together. Amanda and Alex sat shoulder-to-shoulder for our entire talk, turning to ask each other to confirm details or help finish the words in a verse. They talked with excitement about biking to campus together from their new apartment.

There is no doubt in my mind that Amanda made the right choice in choosing the obedient role of a disciple rather than a financially secure position in an engineering firm. And God only knows how her knowledge of engineering might come to aid her in her mission— His plans are multi-layered and released in the proper timing.

I think Alex would agree with me. And I’d like to believe our new squirrel friend would, too.