Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”
When we got married, Mary Ann and I had both lived north of Baltimore all our lives. Mary Ann lived her entire life in the same house that she came home from the hospital to. I was living in the second home of my life, but they were only two miles apart. After getting married, our first house was less than a mile from the house she grew up in and five minutes from mine.
Because we lived in the same area all our lives, we knew everything about it. Where the best burger joints were. Where the best Italian deli was. Where to get apple cider in the fall. Where all the movie theaters were. The fastest way to get anywhere. And if there was an accident, how to navigate the back roads to get around the backup.
And we were never far from help. Our parents, brother and sisters all lived in the same area. We both had a whole bunch of aunts, uncles, and cousins close by, not to mention the friends we grew up with.
Life was good. Life was comfortable. It was peaceful because we knew everything about the area. We were surrounded by friends and family. Like a pair of slippers that we’d worn for a long time, we easily slipped into them and immediately felt comfortable.
But then we moved. It wasn’t a cross-country move, or anything like that at all. Only 90 minutes north on Interstate 95. It was only six turns from my parents’ house to our new house in Delaware. It wasn’t all that far when you counted the miles, but it might have been on the other side of the universe to us. All the things that we took for granted were gone.
Gone was knowing where everything was.
Gone was being able to drive anywhere without a map.
Gone was having lots of family nearby.
Gone was having built-in babysitting available at a moment’s notice.
Gone was running into family and friends just about everywhere.
The Apostle Paul hadn’t been to his hometown of Tarsus for some time. He traveled to Jerusalem for his advanced education. He quickly became a leader against followers of Jesus. He went all over the place to harass and arrest them. He even had some killed for their faith.
And then he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, and everything changed. He was baptized as a public symbol that he was a different person. and started hanging out with other Christians in Damascus immediately. He also started talking, trying to convince everyone that Jesus was the Son of God.
When Paul went to Jerusalem to meet the Apostles and leaders, they weren’t sure what to believe. His past and reputation made him someone to be careful of. But Barnabus stepped in and broke the ice. He again started speaking with anyone about Jesus being the Messiah and being raised from the dead.
The change was immediate and huge. Paul converted from a Christian killer to a Jesus follower. He didn’t try to make excuses for his past, but he certainly was humble, calling himself the least of the apostles because he persecuted the church. And his past motivated him to work harder than the other apostles and disciples.
Everyone knew of Paul’s reputation. There was nothing hidden about his past. He had been a leading enemy of all Christians, trying to destroy the people and the young church. But now he’s being a very powerful speaker, supporting the truth that Jesus died for everyone’s sin. Instead of destroying, Paul’s building up Christians and the community of believers.
People’s ideas about Paul changed. They didn’t want to know Paul because that could mean prison or death. But now, with Jesus in his life, they want to know him. His powerful presentations of the truth built up individual Christians and the church as a whole.
Whenever there’s a change, things go from unknown to known. When you move to a new part of the country, eventually things go from unknown to known. When you go to a new church, things go from unknown to known. It was true for the Apostle Paul, and it’s true for you and me.
The question is whether we’re willing to let God move us, changing where we are. Moving from where we’re familiar and comfortable to someplace new that’s unknown and very different. It’s at times like this that having Jesus walk with us makes all the difference in the world.
Describe the process of getting to know one of your best friends.
How did it feel when new people rejected you? Or weren’t sure about you?
List some things that are keeping God from being God.