So, after Jesus leaves the earth and pours out the Holy Spirit onto the early believers at Pentecost, what we know as the Church is established in the book of Acts. Thankfully for you and me, this is not the end of the story, but merely the beginning. At the end of the book of Acts (Chapter 28 in the Story) we are introduced to a man named Saul. Saul was a high ranking Jew who was so zealous for his faith that he would go to extreme lengths to make sure that any threats were abolished. This included the early Christians. The message of the gospel was seen as an affront to his Jewish faith. Since they did not believe Jesus to be their Savior, their Messiah, anyone claiming to be or following one who claimed to be was a threat. Saul was on a mission to eradicate the early Christians.
Fortunately, Saul had an encounter on one of those missions. While traveling to Damascus, he met the Jesus that he was set on destroying. Through an extraordinary encounter, Saul is transformed and becomes Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ and the first great church planter of Jesus-centered churches. Talk about a turnaround.
In Chapter 29 of The Story, we travel with Paul. His mission is not just to stop killing Christians, but to plant churches throughout the region to enhance the spread of the Jesus-message. He travels on three journeys and started somewhere around 20 churches. Fourteen churches are clearly identified in his New Testament writings, while another half-dozen are inferences from stories told.
Paul seems to have been a classic Type-A personality. He lived on mission. He never wandered without aim, but carried a bold confidence with him in whatever his mission. When Paul would go to a new city, he often started in the local temple. He would spend some time trying to persuade the local Jewish leaders that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. This made sense because he was one of them. However, he would get frustrated with their hard hearts and then leave and move to someone’s home where the local believing Gentiles would be gathering. The early churches were not in the temples, but in homes. These irreligious followers of Jesus were not welcomed in the temples. Paul often encourages them in their journeys by reminding them that they are equal heirs to Jesus’ Kingdom and that they are in no way second rate children of God – no matter their race, gender or social status.
Here are some “big concepts” from Chapter 29 that keep us moving along in the Upper Story. Over the next few days, I will look a little more closely at some of the teachings.
- The Church is the Presence of Jesus in the world. (1 Corinthians 12)
- God raised up a point leader to take the Jesus-message to the world: Paul.
- Those of us who are Christ-followers now are responsible to carry this message.
Here is where the rubber hits the road for us, as a church. We are a local, small c church called to represent the big C Church in our communities, where we live, where we work and where we play. We are called to clarity when it comes to the Jesus-message. We are the message-bearers for those around us. Our representation must be accurate – we must think like Jesus thought, act like Jesus acted and love others the way Jesus loved them.
Over the next few days, I’ll look more closely at how we get to engage. Hope you are still reading The Story. Chapter 29 is filled with incredible hope and encouragement for people who were just like us – planting churches.