Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Listen Now. We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.” John 20:21
The Book of Acts and the Early Ecclesia—Part Nineteen
For several days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And in the synagogues immediately he proclaimed Jesus saying” He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed, and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called on this name? And he has come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests.” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. Acts 9: 19-22
Good morning Prayer Team!
Saul’s name change to Paul would not occur until later in Acts but to keep things consistent with the way they are now, we’ll refer to him as Paul going forward. We know that Paul was persecuting Christians. He was terrorizing, arresting, imprisoning and overseeing their murders. Christians were afraid of him. He was well known for his behavior towards Christians. He had had a conversion experience on the road to Damascus. He had had some time to think while he was blind. He was miraculously healed, and then baptized by Ananias. He understood that the purpose of his life was not to terrorize Christians but to glorify God. This change of understanding is called repentance. And Paul had a big repentance. Not only he had to change his behavior, but he had to change his reputation. He went from chief persecutor of the apostles to the chief among them. Indeed Paul was emboldened in his conversion experience. He was so emboldened that he went now with confidence and without fear of being persecuted himself. He went and preached to whoever would hear. He didn’t listen to any naysayers. He didn’t deny who he had been. Instead he now embraced who he had become.
The same opportunity is there for any of us. We all make mistakes. We all need repentance. We all do things that we shouldn’t do. We all have been things we shouldn’t be. However, that shouldn’t stop us from repenting. It shouldn’t stop us from changing who we are and becoming who God calls us to be. And it shouldn’t stop us, once we are becoming who God wants us to be, from doing it with confidence. Repentance allows us to loosen the burden of past failings and instead focus on present and future glorification of God.
Paul needed to change. He didn’t know it. He had an “awesome” experience of God that helped him realize that he was not who God wanted him to be. And once he changed who he was, he embraced fully who God wanted him to be. God called Paul to be the greatest of apostles. He didn’t exclude him because he was once the greatest of sinners.
Like Paul, we all have things we need to change. Maybe we know those things and maybe we don’t. Maybe we will have a profound experience of repentance, like Paul’s Damascus experience, or maybe our experience of repentance will be more subtle. At some point, and more likely at some points, we will realize that we are not exactly what God has called us to be. Or rather, that we haven’t fully embraced who and what God has called us to be. Make no mistake though, God has called each of us to be something, to glorify Him and serve others in a unique way. That’s why no two lives are the same. God will not exclude any of us, no matter what we’ve done in the past, as long as we come to Him in repentance. If He can transform the greatest of sinners into the greatest of the Apostles, He can certainly do a lot with each of us.
Having repented though, Paul didn’t keep his faith to himself. He was emboldened to share his love of Christ and his faith with whoever he encountered, wherever he went. He brought a message of truth and love to everyone. He was not deterred when people questioned his past, or his sincerity. He set out to show his sincerity and earn their trust. And he wasn’t ashamed to admit he had been wrong and had changed.
It is not enough for us to follow after Christ and make our own personal repentance. There should be some boldness on each of our parts to proclaim Jesus as our Savior, each of us in his or her own unique way. I proclaim it from the pulpit or through the Prayer Team. That is my calling. Others are not given the same calling, or the same platform. But we can proclaim Christ to our children, to our friends, to someone in need of God’s love. We can pray with others. We can trust God and serve others in ways we didn’t think we could do. When we are timid in anything, what we are doing or trying to do doesn’t usually succeed. When we are bold (though not reckless) and we take a chance, this is where success happens. So, let us be bold and confident in our faith and in God’s ability to use any of us, regardless of our past, to get His message of love across.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me, uttering slanders against me, my adversaries and foes, they shall stumble and fall. Though a host encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though wars arise against me, yet I will be confident. One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I see after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the day of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple. For He will hide me in His shelter in the day of trouble; He will conceal me under the cover of His tent, He will set me high upon a rock. And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies round about me; and I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord. Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! Thou has said, “Seek ye My face.” My heart says to Thee, “Thy face, Lord, do I seek.” Hide not Thy face from me. Turn not Thy servant away in anger, Thou who hast been my help. Case me not off, forsake me not, O God of my salvation! For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up. Teach me Thy way, O Lord; and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence. I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, wait for the Lord! Psalm 27
Be confident in your faith today. Grow even more confident tomorrow!
With Roger Hunt providing today’s Daily Reading: Listen Now.
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The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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