Can a Leopard Change its Spots?
Can a Leopard Change its Spots?
Brian Emmett was a career criminal in south London – a drug smuggler and gangster and contemporary of the notorious Kray twins, who he knew well.
Brian had a son called Michael, who joined ‘the family business’ at a young age. Father and son worked together as international drug smugglers. Their activities were very successful until, one night, they were arrested as part of a massive police operation involving twelve armed officers and sixty regulars in a small Devon fishing port, where a hoard of four metric tonnes of cannabis with a street value of £13 million was being landed.
At the time, it was the largest ever known importation of cannabis to the UK and they were each sentenced to twelve and a half years.
In 1994, Brian and Michael heard about Alpha while in Exeter Prison and decided to give it a try. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and their lives were completely transformed.
As father and son continued to serve their sentences, they were regularly transferred from prison to prison throughout England as is the normal practice. On arrival in each one, they introduced Alpha and more and more prisoners experienced the love of God for the first time.
From those beginnings, Alpha in Prison has grown. In 2016 (the last year for which we have the statistics) over 45,000 men and women did Alpha in prisons in dozens of countries around the world.
When I interviewed Michael, I asked him what difference Jesus has made. He replied, ‘I was a drug addict for years, entrenched with crime. I looked the part but inside I was very broken. There was a hole inside of me that I tried to fill with things that didn’t work. Jesus is real. He did an inside job on me. The change is dramatic – healing and changing, transforming my mind and heart. The curse has been broken over my family.’
Brian and Michael’s lives were changed because Jesus set them free from their addictions and the sin that was destroying their lives. After lives of crime and lawlessness, they never went to prison again.
Is it possible for you too to change? One of the most difficult things in the world is to break a bad habit or to give up sin. In one of today’s passages Jeremiah asks, ‘Can a leopard change its spots?’ (Jeremiah 13:23).
Changed by God’s helpPsalm 118:1-16
Are you fearful about what other people think or say about you? Are you worried about what they might do to you – that they might treat you unfairly or reject you?
Realise how big God is and how small our problems are in comparison with his power. The psalmist gives thanks to the Lord because of his great love (vv.1–4). He writes, ‘In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free’ (v.5).
Freedom gives us a new perspective on life. The psalmist turns to God, knowing he can be relied on no matter what: ‘God’s now on my side and I’m not afraid: who would dare lay a hand on me? God’s my strong champion; I flick off my enemies like flies’ (vv.6–7, MSG).
Praise God today that, like the psalmist, you can say: ‘The Lord is my strength and my song, he has become my salvation’ (v.14).
Lord, thank you that you are always with me, and that you are my helper, my strength, my salvation and my song.
Changed by JesusColossians 2:6-23
Sometimes we overcomplicate our faith. It can appear that if you want to be part of the ‘spiritual elite’, there are various extra things you need to understand or do. Paul challenges this kind of false teaching head on.
All you need is Jesus. It is not a matter of adding anything to Jesus, but rather of living out what you already have in him: ‘You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught’ (vv.6–7a, MSG).
Paul warns the Colossians against the false teachers who try to dazzle them with their ‘big words and intellectual double talk’ (v.8, MSG). ‘You don’t need a telescope, a microscope or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ and the emptiness of the universe without him. When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything’ (vv.9–10, MSG).
In the immediate context, Paul was telling his readers that they had no need to be circumcised. He explains that they have already been circumcised – not ‘by human hands’ but ‘with the circumcision done by Christ’ (v.11). Those who have been baptised do not need to be circumcised (v.12). Baptism symbolises something even more amazing than circumcision: death and resurrection.
You are in Christ. Therefore, when Jesus died, you died in him. When Jesus was buried, you were buried with him – and when he rose from the dead, you rose with him (v.12). This is how you got rid of your sinful nature – ‘putting off of the sinful nature’ (v.11). It died with Christ and was buried with him. ‘When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive – right along with Christ!’ (v.13, MSG).
In the ancient world, triumphs over hated enemies were celebrated with public spectacles (v.15). The spoils of war were brought back, often consisting of a long line of prisoners whom they had disarmed.
Understand and think about the amazing victory of Jesus on the cross: ‘All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ’s cross. He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets’ (vv.13–15, MSG).
Jesus has done it all. You don’t need to add anything: ‘So don’t put up with anyone pressuring you in details of diet, worship services or holy days’ (v.16, MSG). All you need is Christ ‘who puts us together in one piece, whose very breath and blood flow through us. He is the Head and we are the body. We can grow up healthy in God only as he nourishes us’ (v.19 MSG).
Lord Jesus, thank you that as you hung on the cross for me and for the entire human race, in your apparent defeat you actually triumphed over all the powers and authorities of this dark world. Thank you that you set me free from sin, addiction and death. Help me never again to allow anyone or anything to take me captive.
Changed by testingJeremiah 11:18-13:27
Don’t be afraid of pressure. Pressure is what transforms a lump of coal into a diamond. Life can be seen as a series of tests. We test things by putting them under pressure. Physical muscles grow through being put under pressure. God is more interested in how your heart and mind grow when they are tested; he tests ‘the heart and mind’ (11:20).
God is not impressed by what we say that we will do – he is impressed by what we do when we are put under pressure. Progress in life and in ministry happens when you are tried and tested, and you pass the test. Jeremiah was tested. He had the unenviable task of warning people that they were about to go into exile – ‘the Lord’s flock will be taken captive’ (13:17).
As a result, he was very unpopular and under constant attack. God revealed one of the plots against him: ‘… the Lord revealed their plot to me, I knew it, for at that time he showed me what they were doing (11:18). He turned to God for help: ‘… to you I have committed my cause… I bring a case before you’ (11:20; 12:1).
God warned him that even worse was to come: ‘So, Jeremiah, if you’re worn out with this footrace with men, what makes you think you can race against horses?’ (v.5, MSG).
Jeremiah calls the people to change their ways. He says, ‘Can a leopard get rid of its spots? So what are the odds on you doing good, you who are so long-practiced in evil?’ (13:23, MSG).
It is hard to change. It is difficult to pass the test. But the New Testament tells us that change is possible through Jesus. Brian and Michael Emmett are examples of how this is still being worked out today. A leopard can change its spots.
Lord, help me when I am tried and tested to rise to the challenge. Thank you that it is possible to change through your help and by the power of the victory of Jesus on the cross. May my life be transformed and may I continue to proclaim Jesus and his power to change me.
‘The Lord is with me; he is my helper.’
It’s a busy day. I’m dependent on his help and presence with me today.
Verse of the Day
‘The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid’ (Psalm 118:6).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.