As a Christ-centered people we need to devote ourselves to consistent community, discipleship, and service. One of the best ways to do this is to set aside a day for gathering as the early church did in the book of Acts.
All right. What a blessing to be able to share this time with all of you, all of my friends near and far, uh, together. That’s what we are right now in the name of Jesus, asking God to give us a blessing as we invest ourselves. And hearing His words together. And it is for me a blessing to be able to celebrate and mark this moment, you know, our church is calling this a Celebration Sunday because we’re coming out of summer moving into the fall.
And we wanted to really mark the moment, not because everything’s great. I know it isn’t, not because we’re done with the pandemic. We aren’t. Not because there’s not any problems in the world. There are. And it’s not because maybe our life has, you know, just everything nice and tight and everything’s going great.
No, it probably isn’t. It’s okay. We have, uh, you know, we have problems and challenges and yeah, we can still celebrate God’s goodness and faithfulness. And that’s what I want to do. I wanna say we, we, we wanted to say, look, we just celebrate your faithfulness to get us to where we are and we’re celebrating your faithfulness to get us into our tomorrows.
This is the way, the way of blessing that we’re choosing to acknowledge. And we believe that the Lord is, is going to walk with us just as he has up to this point. He’s going to walk with us into the days ahead, better days that that’s the message today, better days and the Christian way. And we are believing that God has some better days in store for us.
You know, I, I look back on the journey we’ve made so far, and none of us could have imagined where we would be. When this all started in 2019, it, uh, it’s just incredible to me that, that we are where we are and, you know, we’re, we’re dealing with the residue of it and, yeah, we’re believing for better days ahead.
We are. And I pray that blessing over you and over me and over our church, better days in Jesus’ name. So I want to start by having us look at a passage because I want to talk about what our church and you and me can be focusing our attention upon as we make our way into an uncertain future. I know God wants us to grow, and I know He wants us to grow as a people in community, and He wants us to be a healthy follower and He wants life to flow in and out of us.
He wants us to learn the Christian way. And I want to look at that together in Acts 11. It says this, let me just jump right in here. Now, those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch speaking the word to no one, except the Jews.
This is the beginning of a description of how the church expands from its center in Jerusalem. And, you know, the church was initially of a very narrow expression that was really only Jewish in nature. It, it was centered in Jerusalem. And, uh, up to this point, when you read about it, there was, there was no real movement in, in directions outside.
So it was a very narrow scope. The Christian footprint, the way of Jesus. We’re still fairly contained almost within, um, the Jewish people. And yet we see that there started to come something that created a catalytic moment for the early church. They started to get persecuted and that calamity became the impetus for kingdom courage and ingenuity.
You know, Christianity, the way of Jesus has proven over the centuries to be highly adaptive. I know that some of you are aware of this, but not everyone necessarily would be, but compared to other world religions. And I know this is not an original thought by me, historians have, and, and biblical students of, of society and change have discussed this and are discussing this even now.
Uh, but the way of Jesus has proven to be, like I mentioned, highly adaptive compared to other world religions that tend to stay within specific people, groups and geographical areas. Christianity, its center has been movable since its beginning. When we read that opening verse that we just shared the center of Christianity, center of the way of Jesus was Jerusalem, but it quickly moved to the Mediterranean.
And as time went on it eventually had it center shipped again to Europe and for centuries, it, it was a Europe, predominantly European expression. And then in the last few centuries we’ve seen the United States emerge has in many ways, the center of the dynamism of the Christian way. England, and the United States, both playing significant roles in the missionary movements that sent the gospel to the outer most parts of the world and other continents.
And really what we’re witnessing now is in many ways, a product of those missional movements that occurred in the 1800s in the 1900s, because we are seeing the center of Christianity even. as, you know, cause it’s shifting again, even as Europe, certainly. And to some degree, North America has become increasingly secular in its worldview.
The center of Christianity has shifted one more time. If you think about this to other continents, shockingly surprisingly places like Africa, Latin America, and certainly Asia, are becoming centers of vibrant Christian expression. Korea, for example, is an astonishing story. The underground church in China flourishes, and I already mentioned Africa and certain parts of Latin America and how the way of Jesus is just, it’s just alive.
And in many ways it’s more alive than what we have here in our prosperous land. And there’s sometimes a correlation I’ve noticed between, uh, people feeling they don’t need the Lord when we are blessed or when we are well, you know, our needs are met. But again, what I look, the reason I brought that up is that if you look at the early church, it was calamity, it was persecution that ignited them to spread the message of Jesus.
The Gospel was actually spread almost, almost more by accident, although I’m sure God was in it, then it was by intention. It was the persecution. And the trouble that hit the church in Jerusalem that caused them to scatter. And when they scattered, they took the message of Jesus into places that it had previously never gone and to their dismay and to their gladness.
It took root in places where there was predominantly Gentile culture. Uh, even Hellenist Jews has choose, begin to embrace the way of Jesus in a way that actually shocked and surprised the early church. And, you know, I was thinking about our times and what we’ve all been walking through, you know, we’ve walked through a time of great calamity as well.
I don’t think there’s any way around it. I, in my lifetime, I can’t remember a time like this one where it’s just been, even when we’ve moved forward, it seems like two steps forward. Even then we have a step backward and many of us have just felt that frustration we’ve been experiencing. And again, that’s, that’s just the way things are.
It’s I’m not trying to be political. I’m just being honest that this has been a hard time for so many of us and still is for our nation. And of course there are things happening right now, internationally that are just out of control as well. And that affects us. It does. Um, but I think one thing is apparent that whatever world we were living in prior to COVID,
has changed. And that change that we were already probably heading towards has just been accelerated because of this unique laboratory that we’ve been experiencing for almost a, you know, at least a significant year and a half or more now, more than that, even it says that we’re, but I go back to it.
Let’s go back to Acts 11. It says, but there were, there were some of them, men of Cyprus since Irene who were. Who on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenist also preaching the Lord Jesus and the hand, I love this phrase, the hand, the Lord was with them. I want the Lord’s hand to be with you.
And I want His hand to be with me. There’s something about that phrase. I love it. And a great number who believed, turned to the Lord that they opened up their hearts to Jesus. And, and this report came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem. That is the leadership got wind of what was happening in this place called Antioch of all places.
It was one of the great cities of the Roman world at the time, in fact it was low, you know, it in the, in the, you know, what is it this first century? It was almost half a million people living in what was known as Syria, Syrian Antioch. Uh, today is a Turkish city with a population of only about 3,500. So it can show you how geography and demographics can shift
over the course of time. But Antioch was about 300 miles north of Jerusalem, about 20 miles inland from the Mediterranean sea and many considered Syrian Antioch to be the third, greatest city in the Roman Empire, behind only Rome and Alexandria and Egypt and Antioch was known for its business commerce.
And it was also known for its, uh, moral laxity. And, uh, it’s idolatry and immorality. And so the fact that this very, you know, we would call it technical center, a place of prosperity and action, and a moral chaos was a place where the message of Jesus took root and started to grow with, with a surprising effect.
It got the attention of the early church leaders. They sent out a trusted leader, a man named Barnabas Barnabas who had been a key player in, uh, also the sponsoring of, uh, of a believer, uh, a man named Saul of Tarsus who had once been a Pharisee who had this astonishing conversion to the way of the Lord.
And honestly, uh, it changed this man. Paul would change everything. He would affect the world. And he went from being someone who hated the way of Jesus to maybe its most effective advocate. Um, you know, other than the Lord himself, but it says that that, uh, when Barnabas saw came, he saw verse 23, that the grace of God was moving and he was glad and he exhorted them all.
He encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord was steadfast purpose. And that is an encouragement for all of us in times like these, I really want to remind you, be faithful to the Lord and steadfast in your purpose. Exercise fixity. Remember we talked about that a few weeks back, sell yourself in the faith.
Grow. If you’re new, if you’re just beginning to follow the Lord, go at it with all your heart, throw yourselves into it, learn as much as you can take advantage of everything that we’re trying to make available to you. Connect with us, get involved. We want to help everyone grow. If you haven’t opened up your heart to Jesus, but you’re right on the edge of it.
Go for it. Nothing to lose. Let us know. We’ll help you to get back to. Move forward in your faith. Grow. But for those of us who have been following the Lord, some cases for a little while, some cases for a long while, the key for us will always be to remain faithful and to what be steadfast in our purpose.
Even as our Lord, Jesus was steadfast in his purpose, gave everything for us and wasn’t movable bounding in the way of God. You know, we’re told here that, Barnabas saw was happening. Cause it says what he’s described in verse 24 as a good man full of the holy spirit and of faith, a good man full of the holy spirit and of faith and a great many people were added to the Lord when he saw what God was doing, how people were opening up their hearts to the message of Jesus, he felt like he should find Paul.
That’s what came to his mind that the man named Saul of Tarsus who had been, like I mentioned to you. It was hard to imagine the miracle of Saul’s conversion that’s described earlier in the book of Acts, but this man is so familiar with the Gentile world. And yet also familiar with the Jewish world, uh, was almost like the perfect fit for this, uh, Greek influenced culture of Jews.
And then ultimately it would be of Gentiles as well. But it says that in verse 26, when he is found to me, brought him to Antioch for a whole year, they met with the church and taught a great many people and in Antioch, the disciples were first called Christians. So we noticed a couple of things here at Barnabas found Saul.
He was in, oh, you know, look, we’re in the finding business. Some of you, your greatest contribution to the way of the Lord, the best way you’re ever going to show Him that you love him is to be a kingdom recruiter. To bring people into the way of the Lord, invite them to church, invite them into the Lord’s ways, you know, recruit, recruit, recruit for Jesus. That’s what Barnabas did.
And it changed everything when he found Saul. It says also we told her they met with that church and they taught a great many people for a year. So they were really intent on laying a good foundation is so important. We have a good foundation. It really. Do we know the Bible. We talked about this at the opening of the, of the series on The Way of Blessing.
And it was here notice also that they were first called Christians. The first time people ever referred to followers of Jesus as Christians was here in Antioch. And that term has stuck hasn’t it now, but it began right here. Now, as I looked at it, I go, what are the implications for us? What are the implications for us as a church?
You know, uh, as we want to move forward as a people in these complex and complicated times. And in my mind, as I, as a Christ-centered church, it will mean devoting ourselves to many of the things that characterize the early church as well. And one of the things that you’ll notice when you look at what, what is being described here is that it was characterized by number one, consistent community.
They met consistently, for a year and that was the foundation, they just built on. That consistency of community. And honestly, it’s what we, we want to be as a church. I was thinking about our church. I go, oh Lord. I want us to be a Christ centered spirit, empowered, biblically informed grace infused community of believers who, you know, where friendships and love are expressed with others, even people we wouldn’t normally hang out with.
Maybe that’s even more important. And we’re all being encouraged to live well for God, both in our private lives and our public lives. And let’s not, let’s not forget. They’re both important. Right? They’re both important. What’s often going on privately as was expressed publicly. And if it’s not, then it’s a disconnect of a different kind.
But I think if I were to summarize it in our church goals, I would summarize it as for the four kinds of faith that I’m hoping we can contend for, that will show up in your life as well. I’m talking about an activated faith, a healthy faith, a loving, shared faith, and a generational transferable faith.
And what I mean by that, if I can describe it this way, I’m talking about spiritual vitality. That’s what I mean by an activated faith. A faith that is, is alive. That’s passionate. That’s not just surface level or ritual driven. I’m not against rituals. They can be helpful. I’m not against having good, healthy habits.
That’s, that’s sometimes very meaningful way of staying with something. When a part of us isn’t feeling it, any more habits can keep it. In a good place, if they’re good habits, but I’m talking about not a dormant faith, not a, a nominal faith, but a faith that’s alive and activated. So one of the purposes of our church is to contend for spiritual vitality, an activated faith that our faith would be alive and growing and real and contagious, but also that it would be, uh, emotional and relationally healthy.
That is, that’s what I mean by a healthy faith. Healthy faith, to me, speaks of us being settled in our heart and calm of spirit and not divided and filled with anxiety and fear that we are living the life of the spirit and that the fruit of the spirit is showing up. It’s not, we’re not perfect, but we are well in our soul.
We are contending for your wellbeing, that I’m contending for my wellbeing as a follower of Jesus, that the context of community means that I have not only an activated faith, but I have a healthy faith that is also affecting my relationships, my critical relationships, my family, my friendships, the people that I work with and touch that there’s a flow of life there.
Uh, so we really, and we’re working for that. Week in, and week out. We want our faith to be not only alive, but healthy so that it’s, it’s giving us peace within and peace without as much as possible. Right? We can’t control everything, but we can’t control our people. We can’t control circumstances. We can’t control current events, but we can control our heart and our mind.
We can walk in a way that is submitted to Jesus that is aligned with Him that is centered in solid and strong and fixed. And then add onto that something I referred to earlier, this idea of contagiousness, uh, uh, a compassionate evangelism I’m calling that, that shared faith, a loving, shared faith that you know, is, is something that is just a part of who we are.
And because we love him, we share Him. That’s what I’m saying, you know, when you love someone you talk about them, they’re part of your life. When we love Jesus. Well, we talk about Him. If someone says, oh, I love the Lord, but then I never talk about Him to people who don’t know Him. They never talk about Him with, with people they work with.
Then we really got to call them the question, how much we love Him. Are we ashamed of Him? Paul said, I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. It’s the power of God and His salvation to everyone who believes the Jew. First, also the Greek. I mean, if we love, Jesus said, don’t be ashamed of me. If you’re ashamed of me, I’ll be ashamed of you.
You know, we don’t, I don’t ever want to be ashamed of the Lord. And it doesn’t mean we get it all right. Doesn’t mean we always talk when we’re supposed to. It doesn’t mean that we always step up when we were supposed to, but by and large, we need to be open to having a shared faith. Uh, that is just spread out like a light shining in a room, and then I’ll add to that a generational blessing.
That is a transferable faith. That’s what I’m talking about. A transferable faith. We are continuing for transferable faith as well. So activated faith, healthy faith, shared faith. and a transferable faith. And I’m talking about a generational blessing that connects to our kids, to our youth, to our families. That the goal is that our faith would be alive.
And it would be something that affects our children. Then we would create an environment. That’s why we’re so committed to kids, ministry, youth, ministry, and families are so important because we want faith to be transferred. That’s what I prayed for Sheryl and I, uh, we prayed for that for our children.
And they were all raised in the church in this church. Actually, we raised them. We prayed, we believed we brought them consistently to the Lord’s house. We tried to live in a way that was aligned. Hopefully again, I always say it not perfect, but aligned well enough with what the, what we were projecting in an external fashion, that they would be able to have the opportunity to have their own choice made and that they would out of their own desire, really lay, hold of Jesus into their own lives.
And it’s been a goal and it’s been something that’s been a tremendous blessing in our home. And I pray for that for my grandchildren as well. And, you know, for my, for my, for every all, all my family, all my, honestly, this church, you are my family. And as well, I have a natural family. I have a church family and I love, I love them.
I love you both. And I want to see everybody follow Jesus and that’s my, my life goal, uh, to see you all strengthened in the ways of Jesus. And so back to verse 26, just read it one more time. It says when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch for a whole year. That is part of his found Saul. And for a whole year, he met with the church and taught a great many people in Antioch.
The disciples were first called Christians. You know what I’m hearing so much today about why, well, people don’t need to go to church or don’t need to, you know, you know, this kind of outdated, you know, you don’t need, you don’t need, you don’t need to have a community or be connected to an institution. I mean, hearing, I’m hearing all this going on.
Especially on social media. And I actually think it’s the exact opposite where more than ever it’s needed. And I realized that, then I say that I realize that some of us, because of distance or the pandemic, and you know, many of us, you know, our, our churches online right now and that, you know, I’m thankful.
I just am thankful because what a blessing it has been to be able to be the church together online. And I have to commend so many of you. You have been consistent. You’ve been faithful and you’ve been diligent and you’ve been committed. Well done. And I know that a lot of us are starting to try to figure out ways to reconnect in person as well.
There’s a lot of hybrid things going on. We’ve got small groups of different kinds. Some people are more comfortable meeting together in person than others. Others of us are taking advantage of, you know, online small groups still. Some of us have made our way back into in gathered community. And that’s been a huge blessing.
It’s one of the blessings that I’m very thankful for as well. I don’t take it for granted anymore. I don’t. In fact, I remember, um, what we were told in Hebrews 10:24-25 for another verse, couple of verses worth us remembering. Look what it says. Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.
How to stir up one another to love and good works. And don’t neglect meeting together. As is the habit of some people to just treat casually the idea of Christian community, but encourage one another so much even the more as you see the Day drawing near the more crazy the times, the more it looks like we’re in the end times, the more we should be gathering together.
And again, whether it’s in presence or even, even online, it’s a huge blessing to commit ourselves to do this. And one of the things we’re noted here in three things are specifically mentioned. I just want to quickly allude to them for all of us. One that is the need to stir one another to love and good works, right?
Stir one another to love and good works. That’s why, one of the reasons why church is huge. Billy Graham said this, you know, he actually said that churchgoers are like coals in a fire. They cling together. They keep the flame aglow; when they separate, they die out. So he was, he was Billy Graham, probably the greatest, most influential, impactful follower of Jesus in my lifetime that I ever, ever have ever had a chance to see live.
Uh, and only the Lord really knows, but I hold him in such high regard because of the, not only the amount of people he brought to Jesus, but the way that he finished his life, And I love his son as well. And he and his wife, Ruth were just wonderful examples. But anyway, Billy Graham was such an evangelist and yet he was a believer in the local church.
He really believed in the value. He wasn’t a pastor, but he believed in the value of Christian community as she could just see there and this, because we need each other, we need each other more than ever. We, we, we are not designed. God did not create us to be solo, spiritual travelers, no way. In fact, Jesus modeled that.
And when he nurtured the, the, the, His disciples, He did it in the context of the small group. So we have an example from Jesus of the value of being in a small group. I am in a couple of small groups. It is a value to me to follow in the way of Jesus. I think it’s huge. It’s helped me many times you say, oh, you’re a pastor.
You, why do you need to be? I needed to just as much as — firstly, I’m a follower of Jesus. Then I’m a pastor, right? In terms of my Christian life. And I, I am not always strong. I need others. We need, there are gonna be times when we’re not always going to be on our game. Pity the one who is alone. The scripture reminds us two is better than one.
A threefold cord, not easily broken when you’re alone. If you’re alone, you’ll have no one to help you when you fall into a ditch. But if you have someone with you, they can help you out. Confess your faults one to another and pray for one another that you may be healed. How do you do that? If we’re not in community, Jesus even said it Himself.
He says to where two or three are gathered in my name. There I am in the midst. This is Matthew 18, what He was saying. I can be with you individually, but it’s different when we come together for an intentional purpose. And that’s why even online, I think is helpful to watch it as much as we can. I’m not saying there’s no blessing.
Believe me. There is a blessing in just receiving and I, a lot of times, I’ll, I’ll not only take a moment to experience church in community. Sometimes I just do it on my own. Now that I have the ability to do it through the app and revisit it, uh, you know, on YouTube or something, I just, I like reworking,
sometimes things that I’ve been experiencing either in worship or something. I wanted to revisit in the word for me, it’s very helpful to be able to do that, but I will say that it’s not enough to just follow Jesus on our own. He told us He taught us that it’s better to have others with us and that He would show up in a different way.
No, we need each other to sustain our faith and we need each other to live out and share our faith. We need others. Like the likelihood of me sustaining my faith is enhanced when I have other people who are following Jesus and training with me, uh, and helping stir me to do good. And, and the idea of me sharing Him will probably improve, be improved because I’ll be better and healthier.
You know, so again, and this does remind me of the second reminder that’s in that passage, right? The importance of gathering, whether it’s online or in person, but even more in these end times, I think it was Mary Neal who wrote this. You said, churches provide a place of gathering for people who share common beliefs, support and encouragement for each other in faith, a place to find insight and teaching about God’s words and they provide a time
and place. This is what, why church, there’s no substitute for it where people can leave the world behind and focus only on their spiritual relationship with God. Gather so much the more as you see the day approaching and then the imperative encouragement, which that is also describing, right? That we are to encourage one another so much, the more as we see the day approaching.
And by the way, I hope you didn’t miss it.
The idea of encouraging presupposes that sometimes we will struggle with discouragement. The need for encouragement reminds us that there will be times when we will be struggling with discouragement and it’s easy. It’s easy to become discouraged. I’ve become discouraged. I try not to stay there. I don’t want to stay there no way, but you can get beaten down by life struggles.
Conflicts and disappointments. And when that has happened and when it hits us, it just keeps hitting us. We can get discouraged, we can get depressed and the Lord wants us to be in community with others so that they can encourage us to not give up and quit. Churches, also, remember this are not museums.
Nicky Gumbel wrote that display perfect people. I love this. There are hospitals where the wounded, hurt, injured, and broken find healing. I’ll say that one more time. Churches are not museums that display perfect people. They are hospitals where the wounded, hurt, and injured, and broken find healing. That’s what we’re about.
You know, so let’s just quickly talk about some action steps that we can take. I mean, one of the things that we remind everybody of is make, then as we’ve been reminded here, gathering in Christian community of priority. You know, do what you’re doing now, whether it’s online or in presence, make it a priority on Sunday and in small groups and ministry teams be involved, get connected and make Sunday as much as possible as it has been called the Lord’s day.
Make that as much as possible, a non-negotiable. I call that the one in seven. Jesus modeled it for us, like it’s really important. I want say it. Right? We, we talk, I talk a lot of times about the one, the one in seven and the one in 10 as key foundation pieces at three, you know, three legged stool that provides stability.
The one is the daily life with Jesus that we need to have, give us this day, our daily bread Lord, the one in seven, that special day that we devote time, space and place to intentionally listening for God’s words in community with others as much as possible. Connected, at least in some way, right? Presence and online.
And then the one in 10, the idea of giving of my tithe, my resource, um, how that is such an important part of a healthy Christian life, because we exchange our, our life for, for money. And when we give, we are giving a part of ourselves and then of course, God wants us to be a servant and a blesser, right? A doer of good works and a sayer of good words.
And He wants that to be lived inside of community and outside of community. Now listen, and I’ll leave it with this. We will never change the world. I want us to put this up. We will never change the world. By going to church, we will change the world by being the church. I’ll say that one more time.
We will never change the world by going to church, we will change the world by being the church. So we agree with that, but listen, one more thing. We are more likely to be the church because we go to church. That’s right. We will never change the world, by going to church, we will change the world by being the church, but we are more likely to be the church because we go to church. That’s a non-negotiable key part of our Christian commitment to community.
So I have a few more things to share with you on the backside of our song. I do want to remind you, because I’m looking for. This is going to be great. You’re going to love it. It’s a reminder to sing wherever you go and spread this message as the church alive and well. But I do remind everybody because it’s the time I get to do it.
I alluded to it earlier, but remember to be faithful in your giving, you can give in so many ways, I always say, give, give your heart first. If you’re new, just joining us, don’t feel pressure. But if you’re a part of our community, be faithful. Remember you can send it in, you know, into our offices. You can give to our website, or you can give through our app.
But, you know, we honor You, Jesus. And I just pray Lord that You would bless the rest of what we’re about to share these closing minutes, this beautiful song and the words behind that we’re going to, we’re all good. It’s going to move in with together. As we send out, the benediction just asked for Your blessing in Jesus’ name.