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Part 1: The Big Idea

04.23.15 | Advance Global | by PJ Smyth

    The Book of Acts is an amazing book. It kicks off in Chapter 1 with Jesus “giving commands through the Holy Spirit” with maybe the most important command recorded in verse 8: “And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth”. There are obvious echoes from Isaiah 49 where God says that it is “too small a thing” for the Gospel just to be known in Israel, and that far off islands and distant shores will hear the good news. Before he ascended to heaven, Jesus was commissioning his disciples to take the Gospel to the neighbourhoods and nations in their generation. He was commissioning them to evangelise their generation. And many of their endeavours are recorded for us in the Book of Acts.

    And this same commission comes to every subsequent generation – it has to be because the generations are not born believers. Every generation needs to be freshly evangelised. The Book of Acts needs to happen in every generation. This is the Big Idea of Advance:

    Let’s do it again. Let’s do the Book of Acts again. In our generation.

    The 28-chapter Book of Acts spans a period of about 30 years. Frankly, when Jesus tells them to take the gospel to the ends of the earth in Chapter 1, you would be forgiven for thinking this was overly ambitious, especially considering the checkered record of the disciples to date. But by Chapter 28 – just thirty years later – the gospel had made outstanding progress all round the Mediterranean, at least as far as Rome and probably further. Why could similar gospel advance not happen again in our day? They were as normal and flawed as we are. Their God is our God. Their success can be our success. What could we do in the next thirty years if we took God at His word, drew on His power, and partnered together to see people saved and discipled through planting hundreds of gospel-centered, gospel-proclaiming churches?

    Over the walls.

    For the first ten or so years, the church in Jerusalem grew to many thousands, but there was little action beyond the walls of the city. Then in Chapter 8 persecution hit and the believers were scattered and the Gospel began to spread through Judea and Samaria. The conversion of the Ethiopian politician (Acts 8) suggests that the Gospel might have leaped South into Africa, but we know for sure that the Gospel travelled north via Cyprus as far as Antioch, “where they were first called Christians”. Barnabas fetched Saul from Tarsus to help out in Antioch, and by the end of Acts 12 Jerusalem could be classified as something of a church-planting hub, and Antioch was growing nicely.

    Set apart for wider mission.

    Acts 13 launches with the sovereign commissioning of Barnabas and Saul to take the Gospel beyond Antioch. On their first journey they preached the Gospel in Cyprus and several towns of the North East Mediterranean. The new converts in each town formed up into local churches, and Paul and Barnabas doubled-back to appoint elders in these churches before returning home to Antioch at the end of Chapter 14.

    Setting out again in Acts 15, Paul revisits several of the new churches (note his commitment to not only planting but also strengthening), and then felt that God was directing him north into Bithynia and south into Asia Minor, but he was mistaken. And “the Spirit of Jesus prevented them from doing so”.[3] Shortly after, Paul had a dream prompting him and his companions to conclude that God was calling them to take the Gospel to Macedonia. Modern-day Eastern Europe was about to receive the Gospel. After a remarkable church-planting story in Philippi the leading city of Macedonia, Paul kept moving through Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth and Ephesus, enjoying great planting success in every town.

    By the time we get to Chapter 28, Paul is in Rome testifying to the risen Christ. Rome. A long way from Jerusalem. Over these thirty years the Gospel made breath-taking progress. Immense progress in just 30 years.

    Think back thirty years. How old were you? Think ahead thirty years. How old will you be? You may have two Book of Acts ahead of you. You might have one. Maybe you have half. But who says we can’t enjoy similar progress to what they did in the Book of Acts? With the technology and resources at our disposal we could know even greater progress then they did in the Book of Acts.

    My first thirty years.

    At the time of writing I am 43 years old. I really got going with Jesus in my early teens so you could say I have already lived through one Book of Acts. The highlights of these thirty years were crossing the line of faith, then starting to help others across the line of faith and move deeper into faith territory. The first guy I led to the Lord was Scott Marques. We were both fifteen. We started to talk about spiritual things on the school bus, and I asked him he would like to cross the line of faith and believe in Jesus as the one true God. He said yes. We became best friends. Thirty years later he is leading a region of churches in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi.  

    The next big highlight was discovering local church. Aged twenty I thought Jesus was awesome, Christianity was cool and the Church was rubbish. But then I walked into a church that was working right. I couldn't believe my eyes. I saw what the fuss was about. Truly, the local church was family of God, the Body of Christ, the Army of God, the Hope of the World, the Pillar of Truth, the Bride of Christ, and the sharp-end of God’s mission in the earth. I wanted in. In fact, although I could hardly spell church, I wanted to lead one. Five years later I would. But first, Ashleigh.

    We fell in love in our teens and had to survive 6 long years until we married at the ripe old ages of 21 and 22. I prayed as a teenager, “Lord, don’t return until my wedding night”. He didn’t. Nice. Then we had three sons who are now in their teens. Their first Book of Acts has already begun. I’m just starting my second.

    In 1997 we planted our first church in Harare, Zimbabwe. Ashleigh and I had read the Book of Acts and wanted to do it again. Over seven years one church become five in Harare and sixth in Bulawayo. A region of churches was coming into being. Maybe Harare was our Jerusalem and Bulawayo was our Antioch. And then to our surprise, we felt God call us to do it again again, but this time 1200 kms south in the massive city of Johannesburg in South Africa. 8 million people. 10 million trees. 2.3 million cars. Hundreds of thousands of orphans. Obscene wealth. Hopeless poverty. The largest stock exchange in Africa. The largest city in the world not built on a river or by the sea. It was built on gold. It still is. This was our new mission field.

    Over a ten-year period one church became ten congregations became 7 churches, and we also planted a church in Tanzania and sent another family to take over a small church in Canada. Despite a number of bumps (including cancer), God was graciously allowing us to do it again again in Joburg.

    Advancing Together.

    And what about the next thirty years? Conscious of James’ exhortation not to speak presumptuously about tomorrow,[4] if God graciously spares me I want to keep doing it again. And specifically help others in different parts of the world do it again. I want to keep doing it with my amazing friends in Advance. Doing it together means we can do more, do better, and have a lot of fun along the way.

    Of course, this is not really optional. We are under Christ’s orders to take the Gospel to every nation in our generation. [5] And, it really is a matter of life and death. A few years ago we helped Malcolm and Megan Gammon plant a church in the east of Joburg. I was recently at a funeral in Malcolm’s church for a seventeen year old called Lebo who died of cancer. At the funeral his father Colin said that one of the happiest days of his life was carrying his first-born son Lebo home from the hospital. Then he said that maybe the second happiest day of his life was when Lebo came home from a church meeting in this same building saying that he had been re-born; that he had become a Christ-follower. A year later he was dead. Well not really, because God had reached out to Lebo through the Gammon’s church and granted him eternal life. Through Malcolm and Megan doing it again, Lebo is now enjoying a Christ-filled eternity. This generation has millions of Lebo’s needing to meet Jesus through existing churches and brand new churches. Let’s get them planted. Let’s get them strengthened. Let’s do it again.

    Some people die wondering if their life was worth it. Let’s not have that problem.