Can you imagine what the Apostle Paul must have looked like towards the end of his life. I mean what would his physical appearance be after having been flogged within an inch of his life 3 times, stoned and assumed dead, ship wrecked, and imprisoned in some of the worst dungeons imaginable? He must have been quite the sight! Which makes his dialogue with King Agrippa in Acts 26 that much more interesting.
Paul was a man who had a life most would be jealous of. He was a leading Pharisee, well respected, well paid, well educated, and on his way to the top when he gave it all up. He went from prestige and respect to being persecuted, imprisoned, and rejected by all. King Agrippa needed to know why!
Here is Paul's answer.
“Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance." Acts 26:19-20 (NKJV)
It's interesting to me that Paul uses the term "the heavenly vision." I think is speaking about much more than the fact that he saw Jesus on the road to Damascus. I think he is referring to the instructions themselves as the vision of heaven. In other words, what Jesus told him on that day was Heaven's vision statement. It was the mandate of Heaven to the church and that this cause was what drove Paul to live the life he was living and why he was standing before King Agrippa right now. Listen to how he describes this heavenly vision in verse 17 and 18 from the Message Bible.
"I'm sending you off to open the eyes of the outsiders so they can see the difference between dark and light, and choose light, see the difference between Satan and God, and choose God. I'm sending you off to present my offer of sins forgiven, and a place in the family, inviting them into the company of those who begin real living by believing in me." Acts 26:17-18 (Msg)
Did you catch it? “I’m sending you to the outsiders." This is still heaven's vision for the church today.
In his book UnChristian, David Kinnaman, a researcher for the Barna Group wrote: “Outsiders think Christianity no longer represents what Jesus had in mind, that Christianity in our society is not what it was meant to be.”
Do you think he is right? Do you think we have lost the heavenly vision that Paul willing sacrificed his life for? Have we become so insider focused that we no longer represent what Jesus had in mind for the church?
I believe the natural drift of every local church is to focus on it's insiders. I believe it takes intentional effort on the part of the churches leadership to remain focused on the outsiders.
I am going to start a series of blogs on how to Redesign our churches for the purpose of keeping true to the heavenly vision. Stay tuned!
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