In every person's story who encounters Jesus, there is a Before and an After.
I have a missionary friend whose story includes a very dramatic Before & After. She said that before she took Jesus seriously and let him make a huge change in her heart, she was a very different person. So different that when a friend from her "Before" life heard she was a missionary, the friend said, "No way. We must not be talking about the same person."
She is not the same person she used to be, and she will be the first to tell you that. In fact, she has turned her life upside down in order to go and tell people that.
I was thinking about that because in Wednesday Bible study, we've been learning the story of Paul's encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul, like my missionary friend, has a dramatic Before and After story. We are all pretty familiar with the After part of Paul's story—what a great messenger of God he became. We still read his letters to the believers to understand how to live an "After" story. But until this week, I never really thought about what it was like for Paul right after he encountered Jesus.
What was it like for Paul to wait, blinded, fasting and praying for three days? What was it like to wait in the dark, the vision of Jesus still burning in his mind, trying to make sense of what he had seen and heard? What was it like to feel the touch of Ananias' hands on his shoulders, to hear a stranger call him brother?
What was it like for the believers to have this former enemy, this Pharisee of Pharisees, this man who moved among governors and chief priests, sit down to dinner with them? What was it like to see him go under the water, baptizing him into their community? What was it like for Paul to depend on them, his new family? What was it like to step out onto the synagogue steps and hear him say, "Jesus is Lord?" How long before they understood and accepted that this was not the same person?
Luke tells us that the believers in Damascus were skeptical of Paul's "conversion." And the believers in Jerusalem were downright afraid of him when he tried to meet with them.
But a believer named Barnabas took Paul under his wing.
He introduced him to the disciples. He told them how Jesus had appeared to Paul and called him to be his special messenger. He told them how bold Paul had been in Damascus, telling everyone about Jesus.
- Acts 9:26-27
Today in Wednesday Bible study, we acted this story out. It was powerful to see the women playing the circles of believers in each town shrink away from the woman playing Paul. To see their fear, to see Paul's alone-ness. And so poignant when Betty, who played Barnabas, put her arm around Jaina, playing Paul, and vouched for Paul. As she shared what had happened to Paul and validated the change in him, the group playing the Jerusalem believers began to soften. And everyone watching in the room began to visibly relax.
On our church staff, we often refer to a management model called "The Change Curve." The Change Curve shows us what a congregation goes through as they make major changes in their identity or in the way we do things. It's not always a smooth upward arc—in fact, there is a sharp dip in the Change Curve known as "the valley of despair." Because, as we know, following Christ involves dramatic change. It involves risk and fear and vulnerability and an ever-fluctuating combo of cowardice and courage. Jesus said it would be complicated.
“I assure you,” Jesus said, “there is no one who has left house, brothers or sisters, mother or father, children, or fields because of Me and the gospel, who will not receive 100 times more, now at this time —houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions —and eternal life in the age to come. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
- Mark 10:29-31
What's your Before & After story? How big was the change curve for you? Who came alongside you and helped you? What have you lost in the change? And what have you gained?
Click here to listen to this week's story of Paul's change curve and download the Bible study.
Who will you tell this story to?