Posted by: mikebackup | April 13, 2013


Acts 9:1-20

New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

Saul’s conversion

9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’

5 ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.

‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 6 ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’

7 The men travelling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’

‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered.

11 The Lord told him, ‘Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.’

13 ‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptised, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.

I’m a keen Aurelian or Lepidopterist and have been as long as I can remember. If you don’t know what that is – it’s a lover of Butterflies and Moths. My earliest memory that I know to be true and not just my imagination playing tricks is going over the road into the field where we lived in Glenfield, Leicester and looking for butterflies with my Dad. It would have been 1977 as my Brother wasn’t yet born and we moved house in 1978. That made me 3 years old. We took Blueband margarine tubs with holes in and captured Large Whites. I kept them for a little bit before letting them go. I get quite emotional thinking about that memory, yet my love of butterflies must have started earlier than that as I was already familiar with the joy they made me feel. Butterflies and snow still make me feel like I’m 3 again and I feel so blessed because of that. I get a tingle of excitement that is just priceless. Shame you never get them together, that would be amazing.

I’m not the only one who has felt this way, butterflies have been very important for people of many faiths. Let me read this extract from ‘The Butterfly Isles’ by Patrick Barkham.

‘We have long seen ourselves in the miracle of metamorphosis, whether we are Chinese or ancient Greek, Christian or Hindu. Psyche is the Greek word for Butterfly. It is also the Greek for soul. The demi-goddess Psyche appeared as a butterfly and both ancient and modern societies have seen butterflies as our souls, elevated from the earthly constraints of living in a body and liberated from suffering. In seventeenth century Ireland, an edict forbade the killing of white butterflies because they were seen as the souls of children. During the Second World War, Jewish children in Nazi concentration camps wrote poems about butterflies and carved them on walls. In late twentieth-century China, single white butterflies were found in the cells of executed convicts who had recently converted to Buddhism

If an adult butterfly is, symbolically, an elevated soul, the caterpillar is more down to earth. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, when butterfly collecting became a sociable, fashionable pastime in Britain, good Christian collectors – and many early Aurelians were clergymen – saw their prey as a small but brilliant part of God’s work. They spotted something that repulsed them in the life cycle of a butterfly: themselves.

Caterpillars were loathsome and greedy worms, doomed to perpetual toil on the Earth – mankind in other words. Yet the miracle of the butterfly gave hope and purpose to our meaningless crawling. From wriggling maggot, man too could hope to ascend to a higher life in the skies, via a chrysalis-like-coffin, as long as he sought out a purposeful life on Earth devoted to the enlightened study of the wonders of God’s creation’.

At the heart is that incredible physical change and the metaphors we can reflect on. In Christian circles we often talk of becoming a new creation, death to old self, new life in Christ and all that Christianese that people not in those circles at best give you an odd look if you mention it. I was hit between the eyes recently with the final reflection at the end of the documentary ‘Metamorphosis: The Science of Change’ which used the word ‘metamorphosis’ and applied it to us. It’s not a metaphor; we can completely redefine the nature of our lives. We are in fact the most metamorphic creatures ever created. That struck me with real power. It also said that many of us are afraid of it, the challenge that metamorphosis brings. Our reading today is perhaps the greatest Biblical example of a metamorphic change. In the course of a few days Paul is completely transformed, he isn’t the same man in any way.

Within Evangelical circles, there has been much written about what’s called the ‘doctrine of assurance’, the moment when in your spiritual journey you know and receive your salvation. Prior to the emergence of Evangelicalism this never existed, people lived in a grey world of uncertainty. While this doctrine has been useful it has also caused much anxiety for those that don’t have a road to Damascus experience. If that has ever worried you, please relax and not worry if you can’t pinpoint a moment you heard God speak. What’s important is that you get there and take the metamorphic journey from being religious to a person of faith. The tools of religion for example a Sunday morning service are there to shape, guide and hold our hand but at some point we have to go on our own. As Margaret Shepard said ‘sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith’.


This is helped enormously through the spiritual disciplines such as those brilliantly explored by Richard Foster in ‘Celebration of Discipline’. The  inward disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting, and study, the outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission, service and the corporate disciplines of confession, worship,  guidance and celebration  provide God the opportunity to transform us into his likeness.

The problem is if you don’t make that leap you will simply stay a religious person. You can tick every box – baptised, church member, involved, but deep down the metamorphosis hasn’t really happened. When I breed caterpillars I truly lament when some of them don’t make it as butterflies. I lament even more when I see Christians that haven’t made the leap and don’t have that transforming faith and true connection with the living God when they think they do. I call it ‘those that get it’ and I’m now attuned to recognising the signs. Someone that gets it will have a combination of or all of the following. – lightness and exuberance to life regardless of age or what life has thrown at them, lots of smiling, an aura of peace, someone that doesn’t need asking to do something, they will have already spotted where help is needed and be doing it, they aren’t argumentative about theology or how to do church, they will reflect and offer insights into differences of opinion. They will live a very prayerful life. When they’re not happy someone in church, they won’t moan about them – ‘why this, why that, didn’t like that’, they will be praying for them. Is that you?

You may think deep down ‘no it’s not – I’m worried now’. What you need to do is allow the transformation to happen. Oli each morning at primary school takes part in ‘wake and shake’, it gets rid of the tension and gets the blood flowing.  We need to do something similar to allow our spiritual transformation and that begins by moving from and defending religiosity. Jesus and Paul were very observant Jews, but then they let their faith shape a new world. One of the great problems we have with our metamorphosis is that we’re afraid of it, of what we might lose and the things we won’t be able to go back to. Jesus and Paul can be our great guides when we feel that fear.

You need to live and breathe prayer, and by that I mean real prayer, communion with God, not giving a list of I wants. Let your conscious thought be a prayer, let it soak your senses so that on many occasions you won’t even need words in order to pray.

When you get enough people in a Christian community truly transformed, remarkable work of the Sprit is possible and there lies the real beauty. As individuals no matter what we achieve in life we will soon be forgotten. In 100 years none of us will be mentioned or remembered. But communities that transform are remembered and now’s our time to make that happen, our one chance to be remembered in the future.

Here at Boulton Lane we have come a long way – and that’s being recognised in the wider Baptist family, like our feature in Baptist Life magazine (

Since 2007 we have made a true metamorphosis, the very nature of Boulton Lane has changed. That doesn’t mean we’ve made it and we sit pretty. When a butterfly emerges from its pupa the first thing it does is pump blood into its wings. It will then sit there for a long time while the wings dry out. Then it might open and close them a few times before taking to the air. We’re at the opening and closing of the wings part. We’ve made a remarkable change that has a great story and we look beautiful. All we need to do now is fly and go onto places we’ve not even dreamt of and see the world in a way only God can.

Let’s take to the air.

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