There are a lot of things that start small, but under the right conditions spread out and grow. A small stone thrown into a still pond creates wave after wave. A tiny seed planted into good soil and given the right light and water will take root and become a giant tree. A tiny spark, when it catches the right fuel, becomes a raging fire.
And so it is with the church. This week in Lodi, several local congregations will study the beginning of what we call the church as it is recorded in the Book of Acts. Whenever I read the Book of Acts, I know I am challenged with the questions, "What is the church supposed to look like?" and "What part can each individual play in that church?"
Almost 2,000 years ago, the church began as a tiny group of ragtag followers of a crucified Messiah, and yet today that resurrected Jesus claims more followers in His movement than any other in the history of the world.
Sure, there is still a lot of confusion and discussion about what the church really is and should be. I have had people tell me that the church is everything from irrelevant and out of touch to the hope of the world.
Some say it is full of hypocrites and lacking in any power, while others point out that there were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in the first 19 combined, proving there are still people willing to even lay down their lives in service of Christ's kingdom.
Some critics say the church is not going to last — she has too many problems, too much competition and up-and-coming generations are just not interested anymore. And yet we know that on every continent except North America, the Christian church is growing in size and influence, and more and people of all ages are coming to Christ every day than ever before.
And most importantly, even with all her problems, the church is still God's choice to bring His love and shine his light into even the darkest pockets of our hurting world. For all her faults, there is still no plan B when it comes to sharing the message of redemption and the peace of the Gospel.
And like a pebble thrown into a pond, a seed planted that became a tree or a tiny spark that spreads into a powerful wildfire, the church began with 11 discouraged disciples — and 2,000 years later, when things are running right, the church is the most powerful movement on the planet.
As churches around Lodi journey through the whole story of the Bible, the Book of Acts is especially important when it comes to understanding how Jesus' followers who make up the church should live. In a unique way, the Book of Acts gives the church her mission (be my witnesses to the ends of the earth), shows us her power (the Holy Spirit) and teaches us about how to love one another as a unified family that is committed to God, to one another and to the needs of our community and world.
Being a part of a church can be difficult sometimes, and you may have had some difficult experiences with God's people in your life. Every church in this town, and this world, is made up of imperfect people, just like you and me. And yet getting involved in a local church may be just the thing you need to begin to find your purpose and fulfillment in life.
Who knows? You might just be the person who can help be the loving hands and feet of Jesus to others.
Chapter 28 of the series of "The Story" — which covers the Bible from Genesis to Revelation — will be offered on Sunday at five Lodi churches — Ham Lane Church of Christ, Vinewood Community, Temple Baptist, First Baptist and Emanuel Lutheran churches.
Glen Barnes is associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Lodi.