Luke’s sequel to the Gospel bearing his name is an amazing unfolding story of the church on the move in the power of the Holy Spirit. I love to teach and preach from the Book of Acts – it is a fresh encouragement to my soul and it always ignites a fire in my heart for leading our church family well. This section of God’s Word serves as a helpful guideline for ministry and mission strategy in the 21st Century. Whatever the church was doing back then, it ought to be doing right now. That is how I approach this amazing text and I will be sharing thoughts along these lines for the next few weeks.
It was interesting that our “As You Are Going” message from Acts 5 (Integrity in Worship) coincided with Mother’s Day. I chose not to speak on the death of 2 deceptive early church members on Mother’s Day and intentionally delayed that conversation for this coming Sunday. My wife, Rhonda, supported this as a “wise move” in our preaching schedule. However, the subject of honoring the Lord with the right motive and attitude in our worship will be the primary theme from the Acts 5 passage this week.
One question that is commonly asked when reading the story of the couple who tried to deceive others by pretending to be more spiritual and sacrificial than reality is, “why was God so harsh in His judgment on this issue?” The better question might be, “why does God allow any of us to live another moment when He knows our hearts are impure and imperfect constantly?” My thoughts around this powerful illustration from the first century is that we need to be reminded that God takes worship very seriously. This profound reminder to the friends of Ananias and Sapphira was unmistakable – God desires integrity in worship (see I Samuel 15:22-26)! What a significant wake-up call for saints in our century. In a day when leftovers and half-hearted gifts are the rule (see Malachi 1), the church needs to be challenged to check our attitude and our motive when it comes to all aspects of worship, service, and stewardship. God is serious about these things, but sometimes His people are not so much.
My prayer for Faith Baptist Church is that “As We Are Going”, God will find us faithful in the details related to every arena of life – particularly in the area of worship, service, and stewardship. Integrity is always an issue that the Lord takes seriously. Sunday is coming!
I love the church and it is never my intent to do any harm or speak unkind words about the Bride of Christ. At the same time, I am deeply troubled over the spiritual condition of the church – particularly in the deep south, Bible-belt, America. We are living in the most exciting season of human history and our generation has more opportunity to shape the world with the Gospel than any other. That is why my heart is often frustrated with the church and with my own lack of response to the Lord’s invitation to change the world.
An illustration that helps describe the state of the church in our day is the “mildly sedated” condition of being in the Dentist’s chair. We can hear what’s going on and even respond at some level. The sounds and smells of the procedure are detectable and we can even feel some slight pressure at times. The truth is, we don’t really care. We are relaxed and comfortable. If the Dentist were to say “I’m going to have to cut your head off” it wouldn’t fully register and we would gladly comply. The American evangelical church is anesthetized.
There are times when I am preaching with great conviction and with heaviness of heart for God’s people to respond and it seems as if the church is sedated. They can hear the words, but it doesn’t really matter. There is a gentle nod, but you can tell God’s people are not really fully awake. Sadly, I am often in the same condition as the messenger. I know what’s going on in the world and that the Gospel is our only hope, but in reality – I’m acting as if I don’t really care. No change; no brokenness; no real sacrifice.
Romans 13:11 is a profound reminder in God’s Word that it is “our time” (season, epoch, time of crisis) to awaken and respond. This is our time – our opportunity to wake up and mobilize our resources in fulfilling the Great Commission. But we are comfortable; we are relaxed. My cry to the Lord is “wake up the preacher and awaken your people!”
When the first century believers began to be scattered as a result of persecution (Acts 8:1), they found themselves literally running for their lives and landing in far away cities for refuge. Some ended up in a pagan place called Antioch a long way from home and in a culture that was ripe for the Gospel. Acts 11:19-26 records the details of the humble beginnings of the Church of Antioch – a church that literally changed the world.
Not until Acts 13:1-3 do we actually see a list of names of the leaders of this church. It is interesting that Luke merely referred to them in Acts 11 as “some of them; men from Cyprus and Cyrene.” I actually love that reference and it serves as a reminder that we put too much emphasis on the “who’s who” in modern day church life. God has a long history of using the unknown and the unlikely to accomplish His greatest work in the world. It is a reminder that God uses men who don’t care who gets the credit as long as God gets the glory!
In 2 simple verses (Acts 13:2-3), there are 3 incredible principles that can be applied to any church regardless of size or setting. These principles can be embraced by anyone anywhere who wants to become a church that changes the world. First, they church at Antioch embraced the essentials of ministry. They were ministering to the Lord and fasting in verse 2a. The word “ministering” refers to the worship of the church and the word “fasting” refers to the intense praying of the church. They were a worshipping church and a praying church. That is still the context that God uses to ignite a fresh fire among His people. We must first be loving God and listening to God if we want to change the world. It is a matter of embracing the essentials.
Secondly, the church was sensitive to God’s Spirit (verse 2b). The passage simply states, “The Holy Spirit said…” – this implies they recognized the Spirit’s voice and ultimately responded to His voice. God is speaking to His people all the time. The fact is that we are not always listening and we often fail to recognize His voice. A church that wants to change the world must be sensitive to God’s Spirit.
Third, the church of Antioch practiced Kingdom Principles by giving away Saul and Barnabas for the Lord’s purpose. This was a serious and a costly matter. They were willing to “give away” their very best and pay the price for the success of their mission. Most churches fail to see the logic here – but it is very clear. If we are going to become a church that turns our world upside down for Christ (Acts 17:6), we must first be willing to turn our church inside out for Christ.
My prayer and vision for Faith Baptist Church – and for God’s people in general, is that we will go “back to the future” in following this first century model for missions and ministry. That small band of believers in Antioch could never possibly have imagined how powerful their influence would become. They literally changed their world. Let’s do the same for His glory!