"You remind me of the Apostle Paul." -- said to me by my friend, Ben Wall, years ago, as we did ministry together
I have long felt a kinship with Paul of the Bible. I think that anyone who has seriously committed his life and soul to advancing Christ's Kingdom can find a version of his own story in Paul's story, but I still like to think that he and I have a special affinity. And while I like to imagine having a powerful, global impact like he, that's not what I'm talking about.
Remember when Paul (he went by Saul then) used all his zeal and passion to defend "God's religion" from moving into error by Christians? I used to do that. Remember when Paul was then interrupted by Jesus and was told to stop what he was doing because he, in fact, was working against God and didn't know it? I feel like that happened to me. Remember how Paul sat in Damascus, dazed and confused and blinded, waiting for Jesus to tell him what to do? I experienced that.
And remember when Jesus promised and then commissioned Paul personally, "I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." I so totally feel like I have had this experience.
I feel sent, like Paul, to the "gentiles" of our day. No, not "non-Jews", for I am one of them, and indebted to Paul for initiating such a powerful ministry to us. The gentiles of our day, at least in America, are the "non-churched". I don't really like that word, but haven't found one I like, and so will trust you know what I mean.
And you know how Paul went first to the Jews in each city he visited to see who would accept the Messiah so that he knew who he could count on in that city to be a church fellowship for these hard to accept gentiles? I feel like I'm supposed to do that, too. The way Paul and his buddy Barny explained themselves to the Jews was, "We had to speak the word of God to you first." (Acts 13:46) And I honestly feel like, too. As a matter of fact, that is a PERFECT description of the season of Paul's life that I am in right now, right here in Amarillo. The "Jews" in my life (per this analogy) are my friends at the Southwest Church of Christ. Probably the best statement from Paul's life, that reflects this current priority of mine, is a comment by Luke when he said, "Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ." (Acts 18:5)
Up ahead, however, a dramatic decision awaits me. (I am fortunate that I have many brothers and friends and intimate allies that surround me. And I don't know about Paul, but I need them. They remind me of what matters most when I'm weary. At the first sign of possible discouragement or distraction, they notice and firmly keep my eyes on the Goal.) And sometimes I put my head down to the ground and watch my feet take one step at a time and forget, but God oftentimes forces my head up to look ahead...and when He does, excitement and passion and conviction (and emails like this one) just pop out of me.
Before too terribly long, the day is coming that I will turn resolutely to the "Gentiles" and take the Word of God to them. It will be great because I know there are folks out there who are just waiting to hear about this life-giving message from me, and are ready to embrace it with both arms by letting go of everything else...and that many of my "Jewish" brothers will go out there with me. But it will also be sad because it will mark an end of the current season of life for me, the one where I get to preach Christ to "my own people" first, inviting them from the religious life we were brought up with to the abundant life of a singular focus on Christ's mission.
The way Paul said it, when it came upon him, was..."We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us." (Acts 13:47)
The way Luke continued his commentary about this was..."Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." (Acts 18:5-6)
I am currently preaching to the Southwest Church of Christ, explaining and declaring to them the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus from the law of Moses and from the Prophets and from the Gospels and from the Letters (see Paul's version of this in Acts 28:23-25). And it is awesome. I have joined many among these people who have been doing this for years before I got here, most notably the elders and ministers that I get to work with, and there are dozens more.
So for now, I am full of joy as I pursue this season of life and calling, patiently watching to see who else has already and will continue to join us in discovering the "more and more" available to us in Christ. But I also enjoy lifting my head, looking forward, and seeing that the time is coming (the day and hour I don't know) that my heart's desire to see new life flow into the hearts of those outside our Southwest walls, because of the people inside of our walls. It will be a time in my life where I feel I will have been faithful to God's commission to me...to go to "the Gentiles" and share with them our lives and this great news.
Then, I hope and pray, what happened in Paul's life will happen in mine..."When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region." (Acts 13:48-50)