What Makes Desires U-Turn?

What Makes Desires U-Turn?
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The year is about AD 33. It is a dangerous thing to be a Christ-follower, especially with Saul hunting down Christians to kill them or jail them. What believers don't know is that their worst enemy is about to make a major u-turn. Have you ever wished you could travel to another time in history on something like the Magic School Bus to meet the people who lived back then? We can pretend. Let’s get on our imaginary school bus and travel back in time to visit people who really lived years ago. Buckle your seat belts! We’re on our way to AD 33.

The Antagonist

An antagonist is the bad guy in the story. He's the one making trouble for the hero or heroine. Read the verses below and decide who is the antagonist working against Christians during this part of history.
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

And Saul approved of his execution.

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Acts 7:54-8:3 (ESV)
Who is the antagonist? This person wants nothing more than to stop Christians from following and teaching about Jesus. He wants with his whole heart for people to stop following what he sees as foolishness and lies. But then something happened that made this man take a huge u-turn in what he felt, desired, and believed.

Ideas Trashed

What would make a person make a complete u-turn and completely change everything they thought, believed, felt, and desired? Let's see what happened to our antagonist.

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. Acts 9:1-19 (ESV)
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This u-turn is big. Let's think about this a minute.
  • How complete was Saul's u-turn? What changed?
  • Why? What made Saul make a complete u-turn in what he thought, believed, felt, and desired?
  • Do you think living a u-turned life will be easy for Saul (now Paul)? Why or why not?

The Outcast

How would you feel if someone who had actively worked to hurt you suddenly wanted to become your best friend? How do you think the Christ-followers that Saul had been trying to imprison and kill felt when Saul came and told them he was now a Christ-follower too? How do you think he was treated? Let's find out.
For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, 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 upon this name? And has he not 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. When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket. And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. Acts 9:19-26 (ESV)
The story doesn't end here, but Saul (now named Paul) needs something. What does he need? What would you need if you were in this situation? Saul's old friends are trying to kill him and the people he now wants to be friends with (Christians) aren't sure that he's really changed. They are afraid Saul is trying to trick them and still take them to prison. What does Paul need? Let's see what he got.
But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. Acts 9:27-31 (ESV)
What two things happened to help Paul? (HINT: one was a person and the other happened at the end of the verses above.) Was that the help you expected? Which one of those "helps" do you think Paul liked and appreciated the most? Why? How do you think Paul felt about both of those things? The Christ-followers in Jerusalem are starting to turn in their feelings toward Paul, but it doesn't look like they are fully convinced just yet. Read that last part again. It kind of sounds like the Christians in Jerusalem sent Paul out of the country, forgot about him, and went on to live happy lives, doesn't it? Guess what, though, the story's not over yet. Where is Paul now? Paul started in Jerusalem. How far away from Jerusalem is he now? How would you feel if you were all by yourself that far away from home? Let's see what happened next.
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The Protagonist

The protagonist is the hero or heroine in a story. This is the person we are rooting for as events unfold. Do you remember what happened to Stephen in Acts 7:54-8:3? What was Saul's role in that story--protagonist or antagonist? Let's see how God used Stephen's death for good, even good for his antagonist (Romans 8:28).
Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. Acts 11:19-30 (ESV)
Wait. I thought the Christians didn't want anything to do with Saul (now named Paul). What made the Christ-followers feelings about him u-turn? Who helped Paul once again? It sounds like this person was a great encouragement to Paul. He came to get Paul and took him along to share God's love and the gospel of Jesus Christ with people who needed it. You can do that too. Who do you think you could help?

Stand Fast

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Saul made a complete u-turn in his thoughts, feelings, desires, and actions. Have your thoughts or feelings ever completely changed about someone or something? If our feelings can make such a complete u-turn to be the exact opposite of what they were before, how do we know what is real and what is not? How do we know if it's just feelings that will change or something solid we can trust?
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Hebrews 3:18 (ESV) "God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?" Numbers 23:19 (ESV) " 'Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.' And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes ." Matthew 7:24-29 (ESV)
Feelings fade like shifting sand, but God's promises stay the same. That is the solid foundation we can trust, no matter what. Take time today to thank God for His faithfulness. Thank Him that u-turns are possible. Ask Him to u-turn your life if you haven't already. (Learn more here.)

Why Study Biblical Backgrounds and Church History?

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History doesn’t have to be a dry, dusty subject of boring people who lived a long time ago. These were people who had to live one day at a time, just like we do, and make the best decisions they could, just like us. Some of them wore funny clothes, but some of the clothes your parents wore when they were kids look funny now too. That’s what happens with time. “Biblical backgrounds” is a fancy way to say, “What was life like during Bible times?” It fits right in with church history. Church history is an extra special type of history because these people did their best to live for Jesus. It looks a people and events connected with the Christian church from Pentecost (Acts 2) to today. Are you trying to live for Jesus too? Is it always easy? It wasn’t for them. When we learn about the hard decisions they made and how God used them, it can encourage us to live for Jesus, no matter what.
A huge cloud of witnesses is all around us. So let us throw off everything that stands in our way. Let us throw off any sin that holds on to us so tightly. And let us keep on running the race marked out for us. Let us keep looking to Jesus. He is the one who started this journey of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIRV)

Additional Sources Used for This Post

As always, be sure to have an adult read these websites before you do.
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