Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people.
The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
- Acts 11:19-26
A little background... according to the common understanding of their faith, the Jews didn’t associate themselves with any non-Jews. This crept into the early church, and for a while they struggled with who they were supposed to reach out to.
So picture this if you can– there was a time when it seemed as though Jesus just came to give a message to the Jews and only the Jews.
This line of thinking isn’t just a first century ideal, though… just this past Tuesday Pope Benedict of the Catholic Church issued a statement that asserts that the Roman Catholic Church is the one true church and that anything else is not a true denomination.
In other words, non-Catholics are not the proper church.
Well... not trying to argue with the Pope (especially if you're Catholic), but... um... John 1:12:
Yet to all who received [Jesus], to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.
Apparently, God is into building bridges and He did just that as Jesus Christ. Maybe that’s why when the church decided to reach for people who it normally avoided the culture called them Christians or little Christs.
Because the image of God shows up in the most unexpected places and it often requires us to look beneath the surface... even in groups of people who are into things that we don't get.
Maybe because it can be hard to track our growth in Jesus Christ… and so we sometimes make up some rules to make us feel better that we’re not like “those people” over there. So we train each other that there are people we’re supposed to stay away from – and we build fences instead of bridges.
Which is why Jesus Christ totally messes with our world as He demonstrates what compassion looks like in real life.
It would have been shocking for people in the first century to do what Jesus did, not to mention His followers. It would be like Osama Bin Laden sending George Bush a birthday card... or LeBron James stopping his game to bring a drink of Gatorade over to Shaquille O’Neill... and so on.
Restoration of the world and people to their original image can come from the most unlikely sources... including us. If we are originally made in the image of God, then each one of us have a value beneath the surface. We need to look for this in others instead of quickly jumping to an “us” versus “them” mentality.
For instance, why are some families so into a book like Harry Potter? Maybe because it gives them something to talk about. Maybe because this book (like other epics and movies) gives a broken glimpse to the fact that we are a part of a great story.
Author J.K. Rowling put it this way about the "source" of her stuff...
''Yes, I am [a Christian]. Which seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I've been asked if I believe in God, I've said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what's coming in the books.”Then again... a lot of people say they're Christians these days and aren't. Maybe the difference is when things happen like they did in Antioch... and the world can't help but recognize when we're like Jesus Christ.
If we are originally made in the image of God, then it stands to reason that whatever stories we get swept up into it is because deep down we know there is more to us than we’re even in tune with. It’s why boys often pretend to be superheroes or knights… why girls often pretend to be princesses. We are looking for ways to reconnect with our Creator and our God-given image without even knowing it... even through broken pathways.
Aren’t you glad that God didn’t ban us from Him? Instead He chose to use a broken opportunity to bring healing. I don’t believe God has called us to ban Hollywood or other things in this world in as much as He desires us to point to Him through the language of lost people.
Make no mistake – God has called us to be separate... but He hasn’t called us to stop building bridges in any way we can.
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6)