Moving Toward Victory

Welcome to the beginning of Holy Week. This is the week, we have been preparing our hearts for as we continue our journey to the cross which will take us through 

Palm Sunday (Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem…today)

Maundy Thursday (Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, betrayal and arrest…Thursday)

Good Friday (Jesus’ death and burial…Friday)

Finally to the glorious victory of the resurrection of Easter Sunday!

We do not go into this week with our head held low. Neither do we go into this week trying to avoid the events that happened to God in flesh, Jesus Christ. We go into this week, reminded that the worst thing in life we face is never the last thing. Death is not a defeat. Because of Jesus Christ, we walk with joy. We walk with hope. We walk with a sense of victory.

We begin Holy Week with Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem – Palm Sunday. This is when Jesus enters Jerusalem as the “suffering servant”, as well as the true Messiah…the Christ…the savior of the world. 

It’s the equivalent of when we say, “hold my drink.” Jesus is saying, “hold my chalice, I got this!”

Remember, Jesus will be saving the world, for us today he, has saved the world, in a much different way than the people of Israel hoped he would – in a militaristic fashion, overthrowing the Roman occupiers.

WHAT IS HAPPENING IN JERUSALEM?

First of all, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was not the only “entry” that day.

As we think about the events on Palm Sunday, Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, we should think about what else is happening in the city of Jerusalem. There were thousands, if not millions, in the city for preparing for Passover. 

Not everyone in the city was laying their coats down and waving palm branches for Jesus. King Herod Antipas was entering into Jerusalem, in a grand gesture. (Note: This is why Pilate took Jesus to Herod so quickly and easily during Jesus’ “trials.”)

The other processional was that of Pontius Pilate. His procession through Jerusalem was meant to be a reminder to the people who was in control – it was a blatant show of force.

2 of the 3 rulers entering Jerusalem in parades that Palm Sunday were iron-fisted men known for their cruelty. They were perfectly willing to kill in order to hold power, and they used impressive shows of forces to demonstrate that fact. Jesus, on the other hand, had no soldiers. He led a ragtag band of followers who waived palm branches as he passed by on a donkey.[1]

With this, we turn our attention to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

In March 2002, the former ruler of Afghanistan, the 87-year-old Mohammed Zahir Shah, returned to his homeland after 30 years of exile. Here’s how an article in the Chicago Tribune described his grand and glorious welcome:

On Thursday, thousands of invited guests lined up for hours at the airport and people gathered on the streets leading to a refurbished seven-bedroom villa to see the former ruler. Delegations arrived from across Afghanistan’s 32 provinces. Governors and their advisers, members of women’s groups carrying posters of the king, most of the interim administration, royalists, warlords, men in turbans and others in suits all converged on the pockmarked runway where shells of bombed airplanes lay. Two red carpets were laid out. The newly trained honor guard was on hand, and young women and children in traditional embroidered dress greeted Zahir Shah with flowers and poems.

I hope you’re thinking of the contrast when Israel’s Messiah was born, when he came to his own people.[2]

READ MARK 11:1-11

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna![a

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[b]

10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

ASK YOURSELF: What catches your attention to this passage?

Have we ever asked, “why Jesus sent his disciples to get the donkey AND THEN RETURN IT?

This incorporates a common folklore technique in which signs identify the desired person or object. These signs may include an encounter with strangers in the process. Romans soldiers routinely requisitioned animal and human labor from the people. Jesus’ promise to return the animal promptly distinguishes him from the ruling forces. [3]Jesus is continuing to set himself apart.

Riding a donkey is a richly symbolic act that goes back to King David. The donkey was a humble beast that symbolized David’s identity as the shepherd king. Davidic kings from that time forward rode on donkeys or mules to identify with David.[4]

HOPEFUL PROMISE

The prophet Zechariah gave a hopeful promise 500 years before Jesus was alive: 

“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
[5]

Since everyone in the crowd may have known these words, Jesus was demonstrating, clearly, that he was the long-awaited promised King spoke about through the prophets. He was openly proclaiming he was the Messiah![6]

The crowd was cheering and waving palm branches as Jesus rode into Jerusalem.

(NOTE: Matthew depicts the crowd “waving” the palm branches on the streets on Jerusalem while Mark says they laid their palm branches down on a street outside Jerusalem as Jesus was about to enter the gates. We do not need to be concerned about this detail; but rather we should be concerned with the purpose of Jesus entering Jerusalem.) 

Palm Branches were a symbol of goodness, victory, and well-being.

The finest specimens of palms grew at Jericho and Engedi and along the banks of the Jordan.

In ancient times, palm branches symbolized goodness, well-being, and victory. They were often depicted on coins and important buildings. King Solomon had palm branches carved into the walls and doors of the temple:

“On the walls all around the temple, in both the inner and outer rooms, he carved cherubim, palm trees and open flowers.” (1 Kings 6:29)

Psalms 92.12 says that “the righteous shall flourish like the palm tree.”

At the end of the Bible, again people from every nation raised palm branches to honor Jesus:

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”
(Revelation 7:9)[7]

SO WE HAVE TO ASK, WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH US TODAY?

My guess is we have focused so much on Jesus riding into victory, that we may have missed another point as well. A point that is not mentioned specifically in this scripture; but one that we notice in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

God has won the war. Good ultimately triumphs over evil; but this does not mean we do not face challenging, frightening, unbearable things in our life. We sometimes know, or we anticipate, what will happen in the coming days, weeks, months, years:

Cancer diagnoses, terminal illnesses, spouses leaving, relationships crumbling, jobs ending (either by our choice, or by management’s choice). Jesus has been in similar circumstances. He knew he was about to die. That is why he kept pressing toward Jerusalem. This is part of his mission.

We like to think about Jesus just going forward in strength, in courage, with his head held high. Jesus was fully God. The God-part probably did do this; but was also grieved because of why this had to happen.

Jesus was fully human. The human part of Jesus was probably nervous or anxious. Imagine him riding into Jerusalem, his stomach was in knots, his mind racing about the events that would take place soon.

Jesus knows what it is like to get a death sentence, get a diagnoses for a disease he did not want (sin), feel the pain of people rejecting him for his mission and who he was. Jesus knows our every weakness, knows what we go through.

Jesus shows us, we too can keep moving forward. Why?

Because God is there. God is with him, you, I, all of us[8]. God will provide the strength and power when we need[9]it and give a peace beyond understanding.[10]

Jesus is the ultimate example of the power of God, especially in life’s darkest hours. Look at how the Apostle Paul shows how Jesus handled his life, his mission:

Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very natureGod,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very natureof a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.[11]

Pay attention to the events of Holy Week. Be part of the services offered to help us trace the final week of Christ’s earthly life (tonight’s “Easter Experience”, Thursday’s Maundy Thursday service, Friday’s Good Friday service).

Remember the power of God that strengthened Jesus to endure the mocking, humiliation, torture, death sentence, and finally a humiliating death of crucifixion.

Through all of this, Jesus still had the joy of God, the joy of heaven, in his life. He did not allow the weight of the world to bring him down, he still prayed the Psalms on while on the cross. He did not focus on the negative and dwell on it, like we tend to do. He stayed the course of life, trusting God will do what he promised. The promise and presence of God was still experienced by Jesus, even on the cross.

Keep moving forward. Anything you and I experience, God can and does give us strength, peace, wisdom, himself. Move forward because, even though we have to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” the Victory has been won!

God may not get us out of the conflict, the situation we’re in; but he is in it with us. He will ALWAYS get the last word, as we will see next Sunday, Easter morning.

Keep moving toward the victory of Jesus Christ in the world. Everyday, wake up and tell the world, “hold my cup…watch what God will do in and through me today!”

Let’s pray…

Holy God, You have paved the way for us to live as your lights in the world. May everything we do point to you, to Your victory over sin and death, evils which seem to be more noticed than the good, than You in the world. Give us the strength to handle anything life throws at us, help us remember you have won and allow us to walk as joy-filled people shining your light and love to all we encounter, to all who live not knowing the True light of the world – Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. It is in His name that we pray. AMEN


[1]“The Way” by Adam Hamilton page 139, 143

[2]Preaching Today web Site: Afghans Give Ex-King a Royal Homecoming

[3]The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary – Mark. Page 658

[4]“The Way” by Adam Hamilton page 137-38

[5]Zechariah 9:9 NIV

[6]“The Way” by Adam Hamilton page 138

[7]https://www.thoughtco.com/palm-branches-bible-story-summary-701202

[8]Matthew 28:20

[9]Acts 1:8

[10]Philippians 4:6-7

[11]Philippians 2:5-11

I Still Believe in the Power Through the Church

I have to believe in the Church. It is a vessel that has been used by God to do incredible world transformation since it’s beginnings. The Church is also still around, even though it seems like it should have died a long time ago.

This week, I am continuing a sermon series, for the season of Advent called, “Prepare the Way.” As I was working on, reading the scripture, and definitely praying about this week’s message (God Finds Favor in Us – Luke 1:39-59), I kept having a nagging feeling tugging at me. I have not been able to focus on the message at all this week.

God seems to be up to something.

This Sunday is also the third Sunday in Advent – the Sunday of Joy.

When have you felt JOY when you have been with other believers of Christ? How long did that joy last after you departed your friends or family? What would make this joy return and stay rooted in you?

I still believe in the power of the Church. I still believe in the power God gives his people. I still believe God is at work in this world even though it seems as if more and more hatred, crime, indifference, gossip, you name it, seem to be running rampant.

I still believe in the power of God through the Church.

Whenever I come across Christians, I tend to find there are a few different responses about God’s power: 1) some people expect it, 2) some people think God still has power today, 3) some people think God’s shown power was at the time of the original apostles, 4) some people will think God does not have any power, that it all depends on the people.

Where do you fall in those categories?

I find whenever things are going really good, my faith seems to rely more on what I can do. Whenever things are not going well, I find that’s when I cry out to God for help. I wonder how many of you can relate to this?

What would happen, what would change, if we took the time to truly cry out to God, not just speak out minds, but really cry our heart out to him and sit still so we can listen to him? God is still in the business of making the impossible possible. There is nothing God cannot do.

I’m not calling for us to ask for whatever we want. Through prayer, we find our hearts, minds, and intentions are beginning to get aligned with God’s heart and mission for the world.

Do you ever feel like your prayers are not being answered? Like you’re just talking to the ceiling? Like you haven’t experienced God’s power in your life?

I encourage you to block out as much time as you can and be patient on God. He is already with us. Be patient to hear from him because, we may not understand or realize how much junk we have clogging our ears and hearts that muffles his voice.

As you sit and be still before the Lord, pay attention to how you begin to feel. Pay attention to what seems to be calming down. Pay attention to the still small voice that is constantly speaking to us, and we tune out much of the time because we get busy with “our lives.”

I still believe in the power of God through the Church, but I wonder how much of God’s presence and power we are missing and not living out because of all the junk we have clogging our spiritual lives.

Do you believe people can really be changed by the power fo God?

Do you believe our communities can be transformed by the power of God?

Do you believe our state and nation can be transformed by the power fo God?

Do you believe our world can and will be transformed by the power of God?

If not, why?

The longer I am walking with Christ, the more I realize I do not know. The more I realize how much I depend on my abilities, my talents, my power, my personality.

If we want to see the power of God move more, in our lives, in the world, we should expect what we do not expect to witness. We should also be unashamed to share the full message of Jesus Christ. His life is where the power is and lives are never the same after encountering Jesus Christ.

How would you react if there was someone who came in off the street and joined us in worship ion Sunday? What if this person smelled, was on drugs, just finished a night of “work”, did not have a nice home? What would we do? Could we love this person as we know God loves us?

God still does miraculous things in our world. Let’s open our hearts to pay attention. Then let’s also be the people of joy, a joy that the Holy Spirit uses to fill us so we can spread this joy out into the world.

Next, if we haven’t experienced the power of God lately, how many people are we not encouraging to do what God called them to do? How many do we put on hold because it doesn’t line up with our agenda? How many people need to be encouraged to live the life God has called them to live, even if it seems impossible?

I have seen people get crushed when another person says the dream is not right, or gives false information about not having enough to to the work. God will always provide what we need to accomplish his mission. If we haven’t experienced the power of the Holy Spirit lately, how much are we getting in the way of God working in and through other people?

Everything I have just written has been what’s convicting me lately.

I know the power of God is so strong that you will experience a miracle either in your life or to/through someone around you. This is God’s favor. Grace for us so we can show his love and power in the world.

This is the message of Christmas. God came to earth to demonstrate his love, power, and grace for the world. This power is still alive and is still making a difference.

Are we open to this power? Are we ready to experience and witness God do incredible things all around us?

I am. I pray you are too.


 

 

Live,Laugh and Love

Do you have your copy of the daily devotional on the Book of Acts?

Get your copy here. Paperback version. Kindle version.

The Book of Acts tells the historical events that shaped the early church through the powerful, dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit. This power is still available and working today all over the world. As we encounter the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we have the great opportunity to watch God do incredible work in and through us.This daily devotional walks us through the book of Acts so we can experience a personal revival and help us experience a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit in our own lives.

Connecting Points

Click here to read Acts 17.

“All you need to do is to teach that person how to…” This sounds simple enough; but is it really that easy to get people to learn new things? Just teach them? When we teach, we are actually connecting the person to what they have seen, what they have experienced and give it meaning.

The same thing is true for sharing our faith. If we listen to the stories of those around us, we can hear something that we can help connect them to Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus did. He would look around and see everyday objects and use them to teach about the Kingdom of Heaven. Think about your life for a moment, what part or aspect has someone used to help you know Jesus Christ or help you deepen your faith in God through Jesus Christ?

When the Apostle Paul was traveling, his goal was to preach Christ. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul writes, “I have become all things to all people, so I could save some by all possible means. All the things I do are for the sake of the gospel, so I can be a partner with it.” He was showing that when we go to people, we find what speaks to them and go with it. He understood where he was, and knew the people’s culture, so he spoke to them in the way they were most comfortable with and he gave the people the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

Many people turned away; but many accepted the message. I’m sure it bothered Paul when people criticized him for the message of Jesus Christ; but he stayed the course and kept preaching Christ and him crucified and raised. He may have used the language, symbols, culture of the people, but his message was always clear cut. When we speak with people, we should have this same kind of conviction.

Acts 17 gives us a time when Paul had a great opportunity to share his faith, and he gets ridiculed. He is placed in front of some of the smartest and brightest minds in Athens to be mocked. How would you feel if you were placed in that position? Paul never waivers; he searches around and sees all of the gods the people have made. It must have been hard to try to find something to relate to Jesus Christ; but there it was, a statue to the “Unknown god.”

That was his starting point. Paul used the people’s own poetry, about Zeus, and gave it new meaning to point the people to the real God. Again, some accepted, some left. But, he stood firm in the gospel message and people responded. Imagine what would have happened if Paul never spoke then? Imagine what happens when we don’t take time to really connect our lives with Christ to another person so they can experience Christ.

There are connecting points all around. Look at everything you can see and you might be amazed at how the Holy Spirit gives new meaning to worldly objects.

Trouble Again?

Click here to read Acts 16:16-40.

“Paul and Silas in prison.” This is the heading for this passage in my Bible. With a heading like that, someone is bound to ask, “Wait, wasn’t Paul thrown in jail a couple chapters ago?” The answer would be yes!

In the book of Acts, there is a pattern: Paul goes to a town, Paul proclaims Jesus Christ, people get upset, Paul goes to jail/is stoned/thrown out of town. How would you like this kind of life with a pattern like this? The Christian life is supposed to be easy, right? After all, Matthew 11:28-30 says, “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.” But we miss the point if we think our life is going to be easy.

When we accept Jesus Christ and follow Him, we immediately are different from the world’s viewpoint. This means we get to be the people who bring the light of Jesus Christ with us, wherever we go, to shine light in peoples’ dark lives and to show sin the Holy Spirit is convicting people of.

Paul is on his way for prayer. He is on his way to spend time with Christ and allowing him to fill Paul’s spirit, mind, and heart for the task ahead. But he was interrupted. A fortune teller was there trying to tell everyone who Paul is, causing a disturbance. This happened day after day, after day. This had to be stopped. Paul commanded the spirit in her, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to leave her!” Her “owners” did not like what happened. They lost their income.

Instead of being able to continue on with their mission, Paul and Silas were grabbed and taken before the city officials. Paul and Silas were being blamed for the disturbance within the city. We all have been through some kind of situation like this in our lives. The truth is it is so much easier to blame lack of business, or even turmoil, on another person rather than looking at the true source. (Look at Romans 2:1-11)

Even though it may seem as though you are cut off from the world, because of a situation, the joy of Christ can be so firmly and deeply rooted in your life that it can never be taken.

May the joy of Christ continue to shine in and through your life and become so contagious that the people around you are drawn to the Spirit of Christ dwelling in you.

Philippians 4:4-7

Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

United in Grace

Click here to read Acts 15:1-35.

Unless you…

Believe, belong, accept, perform, think, dress like, etc.

We have all been part of this kind of thinking at some point in our lives. Maybe we have said this to another person to make sure they were the “right material” for the group, the club, the organization. Maybe we have heard these stipulations given to us. What is the first thing that comes to mind when stipulations are placed on others for the sake of making them conform?

Part of the reason we create these “rules” is because we are more comfortable being around people just like us. We would rather have everyone in the group agree with us. No one likes to be called out for being “wrong.” (I know I don’t.) But can we be missing something when we try to force people to conform to a certain way of thinking, to be a certain kind of person?

The early Church had this same kind of issue. There were people who were nervous, including some of the apostles, for Gentiles (non-Jewish people) to become followers of Jesus Christ. After all, the people of the Jewish faith had to go through rigorous training, knowledge, liturgies as part of their faith. Jesus was raised as a Jewish person. So why not make everyone follow the Jewish law and then give them the opportunity to follow and believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?

Why not? Because grace has something more amazing in store for the world. I want to add, this does not mean, or say, that creating liturgies, ways of learning, or any training to deepen our faith is bad or wrong. It just means that we do not have to go through all of that BEFORE experiencing God’s grace. Throughout scripture, we see the image of God reaching out to the world. God reaching out to the poor, the outcasts, the sick, the dead, the rich, everyone. He makes no qualms about the way people grew up and lived their lives. He met them exactly where they were.

Here’s the kicker to all of this. Just because God meets people where they were/are in life, it doesn’t mean he desires them to keep living that way. It is through His grace, His unmerited favor, that He gives us a new life, a new purpose, a new heart, a new mind. He knows what He created us to be. As for the laws the Jewish people lived by, He did not abolish them; but God did work in the hearts of the Christian leaders, the apostles, to say no one should have any barriers to coming to faith in God through Jesus Christ.

When Jesus died on the cross, the temple curtains were torn in two, the direct path to God was now available to ALL people, not just the High Priests or the Temple Priests. This is great news! You and I get to enter into eternal life, living in the presence of God, here and now. The only barriers to not living into this grace are those we place on ourselves.

No, you and I are not good enough, nor can we do enough to earn God’s grace. That is why His grace is a FREE gift to ALL people. The apostles and early church leaders learned this, and they became united with God in the sharing of His grace in a new way. We are given opportunities to experience and share His love and grace each and everyday.

Strength to Stand

Click here to read Acts 14:8-20.

The passage today has many things going on. First of all, we see Paul and Barnabas come upon a man who was crippled in his legs and couldn’t walk. Paul heals the man who is able to walk. The people in the crowd see the miracle and call Paul and Barnabas gods. Paul then is stoned by the people. All in a day’s work, right?

For Paul this basically was normal, it seems. Every time he went to a new place, the people would either love him, making him as high as a god, or despising him, forcing him to leave, either on his own or by stoning/lashing him. Sounds like a cool job, doesn’t it?

But pay attention to what is happening here in this passage. Paul and Barnabas come upon a man who couldn’t walk. Now we, in our cities and day to day life, see people all the time who seemingly cannot take care of themselves. Most of the time, people just walk on past. After all, “God helps those who help themselves,” right? Nope. God uses people to help those who cannot help themselves. Paul goes beyond any prejudice for a begging man, and (with the power of the Holy Spirit) heals him. The man is now able to walk and life his life all because someone stopped and gave him what he needed: physical healing which could have lead to his spiritual healing.

The crowd seeing all of this happen, think that Paul and Barnabas have special powers and begin to elevate them into the position of their gods. Paul began to teach the people where the real power comes from and how the man was able to be healed and who the real God is.

After hearing about the one true God, people in the crowd became angry. Makes sense. You don’t like people flat out telling you you’re wrong. Pride becomes and issue here. People in the crowd did not want anyone to “mess with” their beliefs, so they stoned Paul.

Think about how this passage can relate to you today, this week. The man who was crippled needed someone to help him. We all need help at times, and are grateful when someone pays attention and helps. But this is not just about us needing help.

Paul was the person God used to heal the man. You and I get to be people God used to bring his healing power, grace, and presence wherever we are. By the grace of God, we get to be the answer to another person’s prayers, if we’re paying attention to the voice and prompting of the Holy Spirit within us.

There will be things you and I do that people will love and want to tell us how good we are at what we do. Look how Paul did not allow the crowd’s praise to inflate his ego. He turned it back on the crowd, with humility, and told them about the real God of the universe. But, the people were threatened by an outsider coming in to tell them their whole lives were wrong.

Stand strong when someone helps. Accept the help. God may have brought them to you because of your prayers.

Stand strong with the mission that God has given you. Be an encourager, lift people up, bring the message of God’s love and presence wherever you are.

Stand strong in who God says you are. The praise of people will only make us conceited; but when our faith is in God through Jesus Christ, we can keep the right perspective of who and whose we are.

Even when it hurts or you’re being criticized for following Christ, stand strong that he is using you in mighty ways and trust he will continue to lead and guide you each and everyday.

Stand strong.

People Can Change

Read Acts 9:21:31 here.

We all, I’m sure, have known people who say they are going to change. And then they relapse into whatever they needed to stop. It breaks our heart and we lose trust. We begin to learn that the person “cannot” change. The reality is people change when the desire for Christ and the real recognition change must occur is stronger then the emotional high received from telling others they will change.

Unfortunately most people have to hit rock bottom before change will begin. What is rock bottom? This is the place and realization they have no where else to go. Most of the time, my guess is, people really do want to change. It’s the asking for help that leaves people in a state of embarrassment for some reason. However, when a person hits rock bottom, they know help must come.

When the Apostle Paul was on a mission to imprison the people following Jesus he was so obsessed and addicted to capturing them and interrupting their fellowship. Can you imagine the high he must have been on? The thrill of breaking a meeting, of sending people to prison just for following Christ. This seemed to drive him.

Paul (Saul is his Jewish name so that’s what he’s called in this part of Acts), knew the Torah better than most people. He knew the teachings and scriptures from what we call the Old Testament. He knew the line “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” I know he understood that people were made in the image of God. But he was on a mission to stop people from following or talking about Jesus.

He hit his rock bottom when he experienced a real encounter with the risen Christ on his way to find more people. It was then his heart was opened and the words of Jesus filled his being so he had a greater desire to change his ways and follow Jesus then pursuing his followers.

Did people believe that he had transformed? No. Not at first. All they pictured was this man who went on rampages across the country. All they remember of this man is the hatred they felt whenever he was present. But when we spoke about the risen Christ, they noticed something different. Saul had truly changed. Now they did not accept him fully at first, but they realized he was on their side from now on.

How about you? Do you believe that people can and do change? I know I have made big mistakes. If I were to be remembered by mistakes I have made then I would not have been able to follow God’s calling in my life. Thanks be to God people really do change.

What is more sad to me than when people, who deep down want to change, have difficulty asking for help is when people flat out refuse to want to change. There is so much more joy, peace, hope, love when we allow the risen Christ to shine and work in our live than we could have ever imagined. Our sins (things we do against God or other people with our actions/inaction, words/lack of speaking up, or even or thoughts) cause a real death. Paul wrote in Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin are death.” We cannot keep doing only what we want or giving into our pleasures/desires without some kind of death to occur (physical, mental, emotional, relational, spiritual). But the second part of that verse is even more powerful, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

People can really change. I have seen it happen. I am different because of Christ. Sin does cause death; but God gives us something greater, he gives us himself. He gives us the chance to live in his presence (eternal life) here and now AND in the life to come.

Think of people you know whose lives are derailing. Pray that God might open their hearts and minds to see a better way of life. Find some books on the subject and talk with professionals who can help.

People do change. It’s having the desire to change and leaning into the grace of God that begins a change with our hearts. Trust that God is still working. Even though the road to recovery is challenging, it is worth it and great good can from it. Need an example? Just look at the life of Saul who became the Apostle Paul who wrote most of what we have in our New Testament. Changed lives change lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thanks be to God.