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Summary: If you’re a person of faith, you are a person in process. It’s process guided by the Holy Spirit, of course, and what he’s doing is -- he’s transforming you from building your life around yourself to building it around God.

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First Presbyterian Church

Wichita Falls, Texas

July 31, 2011

YOUR CHARACTER ARC

Isaac Butterworth

Genesis 32:22-32 (NIV)

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

Every great story has great characters. And in truly great stories, the characters go through significant change. This change is called a character arc. For example, if you’re familiar with the Harry Potter series, you know that Harry starts off in the story as an unloved orphan who would do anything to get back with his family. Only, the members of his family are dead. Of course, in a fantasy story like Harry’s, that’s not a huge problem. All you have to do is sell your soul to the wicked and powerful Voldemort, and he can make all your dreams come true. So, what does Harry do? He chooses to do the right thing, which is to resist Vodemort, even though it means giving up his deepest desire.

It’s not just fictional characters, of course, who have character arcs. In fact, you have one. If you’re a person of faith, you are a person in process. It’s process guided by the Holy Spirit, of course, and what he’s doing is -- he’s transforming you from building your life around yourself to building it around God.

We see this going in biblical personalities all the time. Take Jacob, the patriarch, for one. Jacob starts off life as a self-centered man, taking whatever he wants from others -- often doing it by deceit and trickery. In time, he becomes a God-centered man, not perfect, of course, but much wiser, and more attentive to the needs of others. Starting out as a taker, he emerged as a giver.

What we see in Jacob -- and in ourselves if we but look -- is the process of transformation. And transformation always begins with God. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 the Apostle Paul writes that ‘we...are being transformed into [Christ’s] likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’

You and I, of course, contribute to this process in a secondary sense. Paul says to us in Romans 12:2: ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’

As I said, transformation is seen in the lives of numerous characters in the Bible. There is Abraham, who was called by God and given his promises. Yet Abraham learned to trust God only after failing to do so time after time. Despite the fact that God promised Abraham that his wife, Sarah, would bear a son, he took matters into his own hands and had a son with his wife’s servant. Despite the fact that God had given him the Promised Land, he set off for a time of sojourn in Egypt. He lied about his wife, saying she was his sister, so that no one would kill him to get her. Abraham is called the ‘Father of Faith,’ but at every turn, it seems, he failed to trust God. Until, at last, when God told him to sacrifice his son, Isaac, the son of promise, he finally put his confidence in God. He made all the preparations and showed that he would obey God even though he did not understand.

There is Simon Peter – impetuous, impulsive, slow to think but quick to speak and act. He asks to walk on the surface of the sea with Jesus, and when our Lord invites him to do so, he actually gets out of the boat. But then he loses heart and begins to sink. On another occasion, when Jesus tells him and the others about the Cross, Peter contradicts the Lord. ‘This shall never happen to you,’ he says. Later, in a clumsy effort to protect Jesus from a mob, he cuts off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest. At one point, he swears that, although all others should forsake Jesus, he will never do so! And yet, when Jesus is on trial, a peasant girl points him out as one of Jesus’ disciples, and he denies knowing the Lord. And not just once but three times. Simon was so undependable that it is something of an irony that Jesus nicknamed him ‘Peter,’ which means ‘Rock.’ He was anything but! And yet, on the day of Pentecost, it is Peter, newly filled with the Spirit of God, who stands before three thousand people and proclaims the gospel of the resurrected Christ. And, subsequently, as you know, he became one of the chief leaders of the Christian movement, a ‘rock’ to be sure.

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