Movies are powerful cultural artifacts that entertain, shape, andinspire people all over the world. This four-week series harnesses some of the biggest blockbusters slated for 2017, using them as illustrations that will help us to see God in a new way so that we can experience His presence in a powerful way.  
This week’s Movie:  Beauty and the Beast
Read the Sermon Summary below

The Beauty That Can Change A Beast

Going from where you are to where you want to be

“One thing the young Christian should be taught as quickly as possible after his conversion is that Jesus Christ is all he needs”  A.W. Tozer

As a child, I grew up watching Disney animated cartoons.  It’s hard to deny the impact that Disney Studios has had over the years, not only in the movie industry, but also in defining one’s childhood.  One such movie that has stood the test of time and has even been re-released as a live-action movie is “Beauty and the Beast”.

The movie tells the story of a cold-hearted prince who rejected to help a poor old lady in need.  The old beggar was really a sorceress who placed a curse on the prince, turning him into an ugly and vicious beast that reflected his true character.  The only way to reverse the curse was for the prince to fall in love and get someone to fall in love with him, all before the last rose pedal falls from the bright red rose that the sorceress had handed over to the wicked prince.

Years later in the story a girl named Belle, the beauty, enters the picture.  After finding herself imprisoned in the Beast’s castle, Belle finds herself warming up to the former prince.  The Beast has trouble romancing Bell, and struggles with self-esteem, wondering how would any women love someone like him.  By the end of the movie, the Beast had been changing first from the inside then on the outside as he and Belle both proclaimed their love for each other in the final scene.

One universal theme that in this movie that people connect with is the power of love to change an individual.  The Beast knows that he needs to change before his time is up or he will be condemned to live the remainder of his life as a hideous monster.  Belle yearns for change and seeks to go against the status quo in order to find a better life.  The need for change is the same reason why so many people today spend tons of money on stuff, consume self-help books, binge on videos from motivational speakers, and even seek out spiritual guidance because they recognize that something needs to change in their lives if they want to live a better one.

I’m willing to go as far to say that one change we are strive for is the chance to tame our own inner “beasts” in order to improve our lives.  These beasts have names like depression, rage, anger, unforgiveness, hopelessness, lust, greed, loneliness, insecurity, etc.  The most cunning of them all is PRIDE.  It is a beast that makes us think that we have it tamed.  But that is when it does the most damage in our lives.

Even if you like who you are, at least I’m sure you are able to recognize areas in your life that needs improving.  The need for change is something that we all can sense deep within us.  The problem lies when we are quick to point out what needs to change in everyone else while being slow to recognize our own blind spots.  But love has the power to do the unthinkable and change the unimaginable.

Most of us can relate to this with either a personal story or can share a close friend’s experience with this powerful force.  True love can cause and inspire people to make a change for the better, especially when it’s done with the benefit of those we care for the most.  But also, love can blind many people to the extent that they end up becoming someone else entirely.  This kind of transformation isn’t usually for the better.  What is undeniable in life is this; we all have an inmate sense that people (and the world) is in an imperfect condition that begs for change, and nothing has the power to transform a life and the world the way that love can.

When we look at the Word of God we see these same truths.  The world has fallen into an imperfect and sinful state, causing mankind to act in beastly ways that are contrary to God’s nature.  And if we are unable to experience true love before our time is up, we too will be condemned for all eternity to experience an unspeakable hell as sinners.  When it comes to the scriptures, there is one transformation story in particular that stands above many great ones.  Paul’s conversion.

Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus takes up more space than anything in the New Testament except for Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.  The reason why God inspired the authors of these accounts to slow down is so that we can see God’s love in a way that will lead us to experience His presence in a powerful way.

The begin you have to understand three things.  Paul was a real person, who wrote real letters, and had a real encounter with the risen Jesus which caused him to have a real impact in the world.  Even secular scholars will admit that there is no debate on whether the Apostle Paul was a true historical figure.  There is also a strong consensus that the books of the Bible attributed to Paul were written by him.  Every year archeology is helping to not only prove the validity and accuracy of Paul’s letters but also of every book found in the Bible.

Where the agreement stops is on whether Paul had a real run in with the risen Jesus.  Before his encounter with Christ, Saul was a “beast” in his own right.  He was an incredible scholar, speaker, and communicator.  But also, he was very harsh, cruel, and tenacious in his effort to stop the spread of of Christianity.  What would cause this great persecutor and “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) to being remembered as a great preacher and one of the greatest of saints?  One word.  JESUS!  In the Bible, a name change like Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, and Saul to Paul was a sign of a deep and radical conversion and transformation.  Just like in the movie where the Beast was changed from the inside out because of the love of Belle, Saul was transformed from the inside out by the beauty of God’s love into the man we know today as Paul.

The light that shined on Paul that day while on the road to Damascus not only caused him to go blind to the world but it actually opened up his eyes to how wrong he was and how much in need he was for a Savior because of his sins.  He deserved to have been judged and condemned by Jesus for being such an enemy to the Truth of God’s grace and love.  Yet instead, Jesus took Christianity’s greatest enemy and turned him into His greatest champion.  Paul was never the same again after having encountered the beauty of the love of God, despite the ugliness of sin in his life.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come”  – Paul, 2 Corinthians 5:17

I will never forget the day when Jesus stood in my path and confronted me.  I experienced something similar to when Jesus shined a light on Paul’s sin and opened up his real eyes for the first time.  For me it was like a scene in the movies when a kidnapped victim has a bag ripped off of their head, in order to keep them from knowing where they were going, and then having the captured victim finding himself in an interrogation room.  This is how I felt when the presence of Jesus confronted my sin.  I had no place to hide and no way to run fast enough to escape His gaze.  Just as the terror of the moment began to overtake me, I began to feel His love for me, despite having done things that He hates.

Time was running out for me.  If I would’ve ignored this opportunity and continued in my ways, my beastly-sinful nature would’ve been made permanent and I then would’ve been condemned to hell.  At that moment I felt unworthy of such love and grace.  But reluctantly and desperately I reached out to the God who was reaching out to me, and I can stand in agreement with Paul as I say that the old me began to die that day while a new me was being born again.  It was “out with the old and in with the new” and I couldn’t have ben more grateful.

What I found in Jesus I was unable to find anywhere else.  I made it this far without Him because I found many counterfeits in the world that were able to satisfy me temporarily, but none of them were able to fulfill me permanently.  They all left me having to come back for more because it was never enough.  But it’s different with Jesus.  I keep coming back to Him, not just because I need to but mainly because I want to because He is more than enough for me.

Everyone is looking for a way to get to where they are to where they want to be.  So the faster you learn to following statement, the further you will grow in your faith.  Society and stuff can only offer you recreation.  Science can only provide a transition.  Religion can only provide information.  But Jesus alone can provide the transformation that we all desperately seek.  And it all starts with a decision to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

My friend, if you want God to change your life you have to change your mind and change your ways.  That is called repenting.  Repenting is not repeating an apology and then repeating the offense.  It means changing your opinion of your choices and of your need for Jesus.  Repenting then involves coming back to God daily while relying on this same Jesus to see you through your life.   Noticing that your hamper is overflowing with dirty laundry is not going to change the state of the clothes.  You have to pick up your clothes, put them in the washing machine, pour in the needed cleaning materials, and then you have to turn the machine on.  After that, the washing machine does the rest.  In the same way, recognizing that areas of your life are in need of God’s miracle working power is not enough.  You have to take your mess to Jesus, put them in God’s hands, pour out your heart in prayer, and activate your faith.  Then the power of God’s love does the rest!  This is not just a one time action, but it should be a daily habit for all believers.

“Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion.  It is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ”  Billy Graham

Paul’s process involved a one-time life changing moment that was followed by a lifelong pursuit of Christ.  This is how the Holy Spirit can transform our lives and make us better Christians, parents, friends, and neighbors.  If you are a believer in Christ, continue to draw near to God on a daily basis.  That’s how He will make a difference in you.  Paul lead by example.  He was blind for three days after meeting Jesus, and during those three days he didn’t eat a thing.  He was that desperate.  Are you that desperate?  Are you willing to reject anything and consider all things as nothing in order to gain Christ (Philippians 3:8)?  If you are, God will not disappoint you.

If you want God to change your life then begin by changing your mind and trust in Him to help you to change your ways.  The beauty of God’s love can change any beast.  Repenting of your sins is the first thing that you need to do.  When you turn to God in this way you will then allow God to do what only He can do in you and through you.  Christ is standing in front of you today in the same way He did with Paul, calling you to turn onto the right road and waiting for you to walk in it.  When you do, God will then do only what He can do, and take you from where you are to where you are called and destined to be!