Sunday, June 15, 2008

An Unchanging Speaker For The Ever-Changing Audience

What does it take to understand something? How does one understand a story; a conversation; a testimony? Well, it’s all about the speaker and listener; the author and audience. That’s the important point that Chad made when starting his new sermon series on Colossians today. (Be sure to listen to all the details when the sermon is uploaded online!).

The concept of knowing your audience is something that my English teacher always emphasized. He always told us that in order to communicate effectively, we always had to have our target audience in mind. In order to reach them, we must understand them and put ourselves in their shoes. The better we understand them, the better they will understand us and the less of a communication gap there will be.

Paul (who penned the letter that became the book of Colossians) understood his audience. He always knew how to explain things and help his readers/listeners understand the spiritual concepts he was trying to convey. However, that was years ago and the audience has now changed. Therefore, there is often a very huge gap between what Paul wrote and meant then and what we understand about it in the here and now. It’s kind of like Shakespeare. We, in the present day, sometimes have a hard time understanding the things Shakespeare wrote because we no longer talk in the same form or live in the same time period. Therefore, we don’t understand and receive his message as well as his target audience did. I laugh to think of how future generations might scratch their heads at our own present-day communication. Can you imagine how a phrase like this might perplex someone a hundred years from now?: “I gtg…bbl. I’m gonna go hang with my peeps 4 a while (fo shizzle!). LOL So,…I reckon I’ll ttyl….tc!” Did you get all that? I’m assuming most of you did because these are the times we live in. That type of lingo, dialect, and communication isn’t foreign to us. But, for the members of my “audience” who do not understand, let me clarify the meaning for you: “I’ve got to go. I’ll be back later. I’m going to spend time with my friends for a while (definitely!) *laughing out loud* So,…I suppose I will talk to you later. Take care!” When there is very little burden on the audience to decipher what the author is saying, there isn’t much room for confusion, misunderstandings, or misinterpretation. However, because so much has changed between then and now, we DO have that burden to try to understand more about the communication, culture, and what things were like THEN if we want to understand it NOW!!

This is why Chad likes to “peel back the layers of history” in order to get to the core of what the authors of the Bible were trying to say. Studying intensely will help the text “come alive” and help the present day reader relate and understand. Therefore, Chad’s introduction to Colossians begins with some foundational understanding about Paul.

As most of you may already know, Paul wasn’t always the “saint” that we know him to be. Our author, Paul, or rather “the author formerly known as Saul” (See! Many in this present day “audience” will understand this referential joke and laugh!) was once a persecutor of the very faith that he professed in his letters. As Saul, he was a Jew, and he followed the laws of his Jewish faith very strictly. He and others persecuted those that “belonged to ’the way’” because “the way” (Jesus) wasn’t “their way.” However, all of that was about to change….

In Acts 9:1-22, we read of Saul’s miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus. A sudden bright light from heaven brought Saul to his knees and Jesus asked him; “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul inquired to who He was and Jesus revealed himself to him saying: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” Then, He directed the now blinded Saul to get up and go into the city where he would soon be told what to do next.

After Saul’s three days of fasting and praying (oh yeah, there’s a sermon in itself right there!!), the Lord sent Ananias to Saul to lay hands on him and restore his sight. IMMEDIATELY after the scales fell from his eyes, he was BAPTIZED (as Chad pointed out, he didn‘t wait until he was “spiritually mature” but rather, got baptized at his conversion - as we all should in order to signify our rebirth and our faith in Christ! If you’ve been born again, why wouldn‘t you want to be baptized?). Then, he ate some food to regain his strength, and then began preaching about Jesus!!

Saul/Paul traveled everywhere and all were amazed that he was once a violent persecutor of the Christian faith! Even Jesus’ own disciples had a hard time believing it at first; some even had disagreements with him about different things (oh yeah, Christians do have disagreements sometimes!). Chad reminded us that Paul and Peter even had to part ways after Paul called him out on his hypocrisy (See Galatians 2:11-21). I won’t go into a whole other subject by discussing the content here, but basically, Peter was in the wrong and he and Paul had to part ways. Thankfully, Jesus worked on Peter’s heart and through CHRIST’S intervention, he was able to see the truth and have a changed heart and mind on the issue (and then some!!). Once Peter humbled himself, surrendered, and got over his pride and stubbornness, he became sensitive and open to the truth of what Jesus was trying to show him (please see Acts 10:9-48 and continuing in Acts 11:1-18). And, through his humble submission to the AUTHORITY and WILL of CHRIST, change occurred in him; and subsequently in OTHERS TOO!! (You just got to read it for yourself!! It’s awesome!!)

Chad said if there was one thing to asterisk about this message it would be this: **JESUS CHANGES PEOPLE!!** AMEN TO THAT!!! A TRUE ENCOUNTER with Jesus Christ brings surrender and repentance, just like we have seen with Saul/Paul. Jesus grabs our hearts and transforms us into a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Our lives are changed and WOW….WHAT A DIFFERENCE!!!

When was your encounter with Jesus on your own “road to Damascus”? Or, have you not had that encounter yet? Or, maybe you have, but the “wow factor” of your conversion has fizzled out. You’ve taken a detour, gone your own way, and now, you are “lukewarm” like in Revelation 3:16. That’s not a good place to be!! If you are unsure of your salvation don’t hesitate to reach out for some help. I’m your sister in Christ and I’m here to help you and pray for you!!

Jesus really does change people!! He is the ONLY one that can change anyone; and that is a concept that every audience in every era can understand!! Even though the times and audiences change, He never does. He remains the same wonderful, loving, merciful, forgiving Savior He has always been!! He’s still in the business of creating life-changing transformations each and every day. And, each testimony resulting from those transformations carries a tremendous impact!! The world is our “audience” and each story has the power to show everyone the reality of how wonderful and REAL God is!! God really can do anything, and he can soften and change even the most hardened of hearts!! Paul said so himself in 1 Timothy 1:15, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” If the self-proclaimed chief of sinners can be saved, there is indeed hope for anyone to change!! It’s just like what my former atheist friend always likes to remind me of: “No one is beyond redemption.” He hated Christians just like Paul did, but God brought him to his knees as well on his own “road to Damascus” and changed his heart forever. If he can change; if Paul can change; then I KNOW there is hope for everyone and it motivates me to pray all the harder for those I know who are unbelievers or backslidden. I know that Jesus can open their eyes and change their hearts!!

If you haven’t already done so, please, encounter Christ and allow him to change your life from the inside out!! Then, boldly live and share your story in order to glorify and bring honor to HIS NAME!! Like Saul was renamed Paul, so are you also renamed as a son/daughter of your heavenly Father when you are adopted into His family!! You are an heir of God; a child of the King!! Bear that title well and may all the world know that you are His disciple!! The world is your “audience”….and they are watching and listening to you!! God bless you all!!

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