Changing Hearts – August 4, 2019
August 4, 2019
This is the story that is known as “The Conversion of Saul.” And I see this as one of the most amazing strategic moves ever made in any conflict. It was the early days of the church. And last week we read that the persecution of the church had begun. It would last for some 300 years! It lasted until the time of Constantine, the Roman Emperor who declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Empire. (Anybody remember? 325AD!)
Well this was the early end of that timeline. And the persecution of the Church had just begun. And one of the worst enemies of the church was this young Pharisee named Saul. We met him last week when we read about the stoning of Stephen, As we read then, Saul was ravaging the church. He was going into people’s houses and dragging them off to prison, both men and women.
So now, in this story, in one of the greatest strategic moves of all times, God took his greatest enemy, and made him his greatest ally! And I think that’s so amazing! God certainly could have defeated Saul some way, or empowered his Apostles to defeat him. But instead, he “turned him,” and made him his greatest Christian leader!
This is an amazing story. And from it we get one of the greatest proponents of the Christian faith of all times, one whose writings we have preserved in the New Testament, and whose wisdom we have looked to to guide the church for two thousand years. And what I want you to see this morning is that this story is not about God changing Saul’s mind about Jesus. This was about changing his heart!
We know what it means to change our minds about things. In a sense, we “decide otherwise” about something. Maybe we decide to wear a different shirt than we first thought. Maybe we decide to buy a different car, a different house, or vacation in a different place. We make decisions about all kinds of things every day of our lives. And sometimes – even at the last minute – we change what we’ve decided to something else.
Sometimes we might even change the way we think about something. We might say, “Hey maybe I do like Brussels sprouts, or country music, or Chevys. That’s changing our way of thinking about something. We realize we like something we didn’t like before, or vice versa.
When I was young I did not like pork and sauerkraut. (Do you?) But in 1972 I got to go to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. It was the trip of my lifetime growing up. We spent two weeks backpacking the mountains of New Mexico, and it was indescribable! But, for two weeks we ate dehydrated trail food, which in those days all tasted the same! I’m told it’s much better now, but then it was all the same. It could be oatmeal, it could be beef stroganoff. You really couldn’t tell.
So after two weeks of that stuff, I was really looking forward to my first real meal in base camp when we got off the trail. And we got there, and guess what they had?! You guessed it, pork and sauerkraut! And I have loved them ever since! That’s changing a way of thinking!
But this story was more than that! This is about the changing of Saul’s heart. And when I say “heart” I’m talking about more than just something we know about, or even something we love. “Heart” is about the passion, the drive, the enthusiasm about something. It’s not just that you like something, it’s that you really like something. You have a passion for it. It is all consuming.
If a person is not all that excited about something, we might say, “His heart is not in it.” After a particularly bad Phillies loss recently, I heard someone say, “The Phillies pitchers have no heart!” And we know what that means. And sometimes heart is more important than talent or ability. Heart is the drive to excel, to get the job done, no matter what! That’s the kind of player any coach wants! That’s the kind of believers God wants.
That’s what God changed in Paul. He struck him blind on that road to Damascus. He spoke to him directly. Saul heard the voice of Jesus. And he called himself an “Apostle” ever since that day. One of the “requirements” of actually being an “Apostle,” was that they were those who had been with Jesus. Paul saw this event as his experience with Jesus! (He had to defend that claim a number of times!)
But “Apostle” or not, this was a huge change for him! And the “strategic move” God made with him was not just that he stopped persecuting the church, it was not just that he became a great leader and thinker and teacher. But that passion, that drive, that heart, Paul had in persecuting the church, was now channeled into spreading the word of Jesus! He didn’t just become the church’s best leader. He didn’t just become the church’s most intelligent leader. He became the church’s most passionate leader!
That’s what God looks for at the heart of our faith. (And there’s that word “heart” again!) It’s our hearts God is concerned with. He doesn’t just want us to have knowledge about him – in our heads. He doesn’t want just to change our minds about him. He wants to change our hearts!
So I ask you this morning to think about your own faith. Is your faith a matter of your mind. Have you “reasoned it out” that belief in God is a good thing? Is it something that you “believe to be true?” Does it just “make sense” that you are a Christian? Those things are great! But the even more important question is, has God “touched your heart?” Do you have a passion for your faith? Do you have a “drive” to follow Jesus? Are you “on fire,” as they say.
That’s what makes all the difference. That’s what gives our faith meaning in our lives. It’s the difference between faith being the “smart” thing to do, and faith being the “passionate” thing to do.
So, when I say “heart” today, I don’t just mean “love” I mean “passion,” “drive,” “fire!” I believe that’s what it means when the commandment says, “The Lord your God is one Lord. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul with all your mind and with all your strength.” And remember that Jesus called that the greatest commandment.
And there’s another benefit in this for our whole lives. When we’re passionate for something, it gives our lives meaning and fulfillment. Instead of just slogging along through life, doing the right things or the sensible things, we’re doing things we love, we’re doing the things that “jazz us,” the things that inspire us! I believe God wants us to enjoy this life he’s given us. And having things we’re passionate about is part of that.
I like to hear people talk about things they’re knowledgeable about. But what I really like is hearing people talk about things they are passionate about! (That’s probably why I have so many things in my life I’m passionate about!) And that’s what other people respond to. When we talk about our faith with others, their hearts aren’t changed when we “just give them information.” Their hearts aren’t changed when we “give them knowledge.” Hearts are changed when we show that our faith is something we’re passionate about. People’s hearts are changed when we give people our hearts!
We may not have the kind of passion and drive that Paul had. But I believe we can have our version of it. We may not be able to travel around and do the kinds of things he did. But we can know what he knew, that God indeed has come to this earth and changed all of history. And we can know that we are part of that – the greatest earth changing event of all times. We can know that that is something to be passionate about! To be excited about. But – and this is important – we have to think about that often, or the excitement will wane.
So, what about your heart? Do you know, and are you “Jazzed” about the God who has come to this earth and walked among us? Do you know that he cares about you personally? Do you know that you can know him – every day. “Something like scales” fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see clearly, and I’ve always thought that meant more than just that his vision returned! I think Saul finally saw the truth about God! And his heart was changed. And through him, God changed the world! And he can change our world through us!
Eternal God, help us to feel your Spirit moving within us, lighting a fire in our souls, giving us the passion for your story. Help us to love you with all of our hearts, our souls, our minds, and our strength; that our faith may make a difference in our lives and in the lives of everyone around us. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name, and for the sake of his kingdom in our midst, Amen.