Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Evidence of God’s Grace

Evidence of God’s Grace
(or How a Great Church Emerges)

             Churches do not grow by accident, but even a strong desire to grow does not always mean growth happens. The story of the birth and growth of the church in Antioch is a great model of how God can use the decisions that disciples make to create a great church family. Noticing the story of Antioch can help Palo Alto live out our story.

            The birth of the Antioch church was not a planned or financed event. Rather it was a result of the persecution that arose at the time of the death of Stephen. Some unnamed disciples ended up in Antioch and decided to share the message of Jesus with the Gentiles living there. “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” God blessed the sharing of the gospel with the Gentiles because that was his stated will! (See Acts 1:8) Telling the good news about Jesus leads to new disciples because God promises that his word will not return empty! 

            The Jerusalem church heard about the events in Antioch and decided to send Barnabas to Antioch (to help? or to control?). When Barnabas arrived he “saw what the grace of God had done” and joined their excitement! When a church family sees God’s activity in their lives it generates enthusiasm and greater commitment to follow Jesus.

            Barnabas left Antioch briefly to go to Tarsus to bring Saul back to Antioch as a teacher. The Antioch church soon had five named teachers who were dedicated to teaching believers how to grow as disciples and teaching unbelievers the good news about Jesus. The commitment to teaching and living as disciples produced amazing results as “great numbers of people” were added to the church family and the disciples were given the name “Christians” for the first time in Antioch.

            When prophets visited from Jerusalem and predicted a severe famine, the church family in Antioch decided to take up a collection for the Christians in Jerusalem and sent their gift by Barnabas and Saul. A well taught church will always be responsive to the Holy Spirit and to the needs of people around them (even people in other countries!). The connection between obeying God and loving and serving people is a strong part of good teaching.

            The ultimate complement for a congregation is when the Holy Spirit can call for some of your leadership to be moved to a different mission! So the Antioch church was told to set apart Barnabas and Saul for a special work. This was 40% of their named leadership/teaching team. Yet they did not object, because they were obedient and they knew they could train other teachers! In the space of a few years the city of Antioch experienced the birth, growth, maturation and deployment of one of the best church families in the ancient world! Are you praying that Panama City is on the verge of experiencing the same thing?    

- Kenny Payne

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