Saturday, May 28, 2022

Arguments and Compromise

They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.”
-- Acts 15:39

Remember the scene in the movie “Elf,” when an enraged Miles Finch huffs and puffs across a conference room table to beat up poor, startled Buddy the Elf? Well, sometimes truth is just about as wild as fiction. Years ago, one of our church leaders told me the story of a meeting at a church down the hill where he once served as an elder. During this meeting of the elders—a group of seasoned, experienced leaders in the church—an argument broke out. Two of the elders were adamantly disagreeing about something. As they argued, tempers started to flare, words were exchanged … and it escalated to a point where one of the elders pulled a Miles Finch.

Yep. He stood up and started to crawl across the conference table to exchange blows. The other elders had to hold him back before the punches started flying. Not exactly church fellowship at its finest, was it?

If you live under the same roof with another human being, sooner or later you’re going to argue about something: maybe about the bills, maybe about who’s supposed to do the dishes, maybe about who left the toilet seat up. Similarly, if you have a church family, sooner or later you’re going to argue with another brother or sister in Christ about something. You don’t live with a clone of yourself, and you don’t go to church with a clone of yourself. So, there’s bound to be some conflict along the way. In the Book of Acts, an unexpected conflict came up between two of our favorite church leaders: Paul and Barnabas.

Paul and Barnabas made a GREAT team! They did amazing ministry together in their home church of Antioch in Syria. They led great numbers of people to a saving knowledge of Christ. Then they joined forces for their first missionary trip, spreading the gospel and planting healthy, self-sustaining churches throughout Cyprus and Galatia. But at the end of Acts 15, they had an argument that tore their relationship apart.

After Paul and Barnabas had been back home in Antioch for a while, Paul suggested they go back to visit the Christians in all the towns where they had preached the gospel and planted churches (v. 36). Barnabas thought this was a great idea. But then Barnabas suggested taking along his cousin John Mark (v. 37). And Paul basically responded, “Over my dead body!” (v. 38), remembering that John Mark had jumped ship early into their first mission trip. So, the argument began. Verse 39 says that “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company”—and as far as we know, they never did ministry together again.

It pains me to say this, but it seems clear to me that these two great heroes of our faith—Paul and Barnabas—screwed up. They could have come to a God-honoring compromise … but they didn’t. And I believe God placed this incident in the Bible without sugar-coating it so that you and I don’t make the same mistakes in our marriages, in our families or in our churches.

So, how do we argue in a way that honors God and nourishes relationships? Here are 3 keys:

Key #1: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). When I think about the most immature, toxic arguments I’ve had with my wife, my kids or with other Christians, they have this in common: I talked too much. I listened too little. And I became angry too quickly. Can you relate? Never forget: God gave you two ears and only one mouth for a reason.

Key #2: Even if it seems to be out in left field, work hard to see and understand the other person’s point of view. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). So often we climb on top of our moral high horses and make the case that our opinion is so much more right and biblical than the next guy’s opinion. Believe, really BELIEVE, that the person you’re arguing with is better at certain things than you are and smarter in many ways than you are. So, listen to them, learn from them and understand their point of view. It’s valuable. They are valuable. 

Key #3: When both sides have validity, seek a wise compromise. Moral compromise is sin. But loving, submissive compromise is very Christlike. During his ministry years, Jesus routinely sacrificed his own personal comforts and preferences for the good of those around him. And He’s calling us to do the same.

Barnabas had a deep desire to give his nephew Mark a second chance. Paul had a deep desire to assemble a trustworthy, hard-working team of missionaries to do the best work possible. Both perspectives were valid. Both men made some great points. So, if they had been living out these three keys, their knock-down, drag-out argument could have turned out so much better. God ended up using their breakup in an amazing way. But that doesn’t mean their rift didn’t grieve His heart or cause their church collateral damage.

So often what we argue about is not sinful, but the way we handle the argument IS sinful. And sin always causes damage. So, let’s honor God by handling our arguments and disagreements wisely—like Jesus—with humility, love and grace.

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

What Was Paul’s Secret Sauce?

 “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:2

Years ago, a church was having a farewell dinner for their pastor, who was moving out of state. Partway through the dinner the pastor noticed that one of the charter members of the church—a sweet, gray-haired widow—was crying. So, the pastor went up to her, put his arm around her, and said, “Don’t be so sad. The next pastor might be better than me.” She responded, “I doubt it! That’s what they said five years ago when they hired you!”

There’s no doubt: Doing life-changing ministry has its ups and downs, for both churches AND the pastors who lead them. When Paul and Barnabas traveled through Galatia, the first town they visited gave them a cease-and-desist order and kicked them out. In the next town, they narrowly escaped before their critics carried out a plan to beat them and stone them to death. And in the third town, Paul’s haters DID stone him and left him for dead. From a human standpoint, Paul and Barnabas’ ministry wasn’t going so well.

But Paul and Barnabas returned to every one of those towns, encouraged the disciples they’d made there—and planted churches that would last. How? For centuries Christian leaders have wondered: “How on earth could Paul roll into a town, lead people to Christ and—in a matter of just a few months—plant a healthy, self-sustaining church that survived and thrived without him?” What was Paul’s secret sauce?

Well, his secret sauce really wasn’t so secret. And it wasn’t even complicated. It was actually quite simple, and the Bible reveals it to us in Acts 14:22-23. Here are the three keys to building a healthy new church that survives and thrives long after its founding pastor leaves town.

Key #1: Paul laid a foundation of Christ-centered gospel teaching (v. 22). When Paul and Barnabas made their way back through the towns they’d been tossed out of, they spent time “strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.” How did they do this? They strengthened and encouraged them in God’s Word—specifically, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Years later Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). Paul’s teaching could be summarized in three powerful words: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! And the churches Paul planted didn’t close their doors six months after he left town, because there is no better or stronger foundation for a church than the foundation of Jesus Christ: crucified, buried, and resurrected to glory.

Key #2: Paul appointed and trained mature Christian men to pastor their church in his absence (v. 23). Verse 23 tells us, “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church.” Every day churches rise and fall on their leadership. Just as kids start to think and act like their parents after living with their parents for years, a congregation starts to think and act like their pastor after a few years. If a pastor’s teaching and preaching are shallow, the congregation’s relationship with Christ will tend to be shallow. But if a pastor sets a good example of being faithful in prayer and the study of God’s word, loving people and prioritizing the next generation, the congregation will tend to follow in his footsteps.

But wasn’t every Christian in these new towns a recent convert? Where, then, did Paul find qualified candidates to appoint as elders/pastors? Remember where Paul almost always went when he arrived in a new town: to the Jewish synagogue. Most likely, there he found Jewish men who had spent years studying the Old Testament and living moral lives before Paul ever rolled into town. So, in all likelihood, they were the ones who, after becoming followers of Jesus, were able to become Christian leaders in a short amount of time.

Key #3: Paul trusted the Holy Spirit to protect and lead the church long after he was gone (v. 23). Verse 23 tells us that when Paul and Barnabas appointed elders, “with prayer and fasting, [they] committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” Just a few hours before Jesus was led to the cross, he told his disciples, “I have much more to say to you … But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth.” No one in human history was as good a teacher as Jesus. Yet even He left before He had finished teaching his disciples all they needed to know, because they couldn’t absorb any more at the time. So, when it was time for Him to leave, Jesus fully trusted the Holy Spirit to pick up where He left off and lead His followers into all truth. In the same way, Paul could move on to the next town without any guilt, shame or regret—because he, too, was leaving the new Christians in the very capable hands of the Holy Spirit, who would pick up where he had left off.

These are three powerful keys that we should never forget. When it comes to building healthy, self-sustaining churches—and healthy, self-sustaining Christian kids and grandkids: Lay a solid foundation of simple, Christ-centered gospel teaching. Raise up and train mature, godly leaders. And finally, trust the Holy Spirit to protect and lead those around you long after you are gone.

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Perseverance Pays Off

“We must all go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
– Acts 14:22

I’m not a big Survivor fan, but I have been watching and enjoying the latest season. And I’ve been enjoying it for one main reason: one of this year’s contestants, Jonathan Young, a 29-year-old bodyguard from Gadsden, Alabama. When he was just 3 years old, his dad taught him how to do pull-ups, and he’s been building his muscles ever since. He holds the Guinness world record for doing the most chin-ups in one minute …with 100 pounds strapped to his back. This guy is something else!

As you might know, in every episode of Survivor, there are immunity challenges that protect you from getting voted out of the game. In one of this season’s team immunity challenges, three teams had to retrieve a heavy ladder that was strapped to the ocean floor in choppy seas. Two of the teams had to give up after almost drowning. But not Jonathan’s team! He put that ladder on his shoulder—while he dragged his struggling teammates through the waves to safety.

On Survivor, Jonathan Young demonstrates strength, determination and perseverance. And it consistently pays off. The same could be said about the Apostle Paul. He demonstrated incredible strength, determination and perseverance. And it consistently paid off, as we’ll see in Acts 13 and 14.

When Paul traveled on from the mainland of modern-day Turkey, his missionary team was down to just two people—Paul and Barnabas. And Paul was dealing with some kind of life-threatening illness, likely malaria. But even though he was physically sick and emotionally spent, he persevered. He and Barnabas hiked over 100 miles, climbing 3,600-foot mountain peaks, to reach the city of Pisidian Antioch.

Paul’s first stop was the Jewish synagogue, where he was called on to speak. Given that opportunity, Paul didn’t beg off because he was worn out from a long journey and recovering from an illness. Instead, he delivered an inspiring, God-centered sermon, letting them know that “God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as He promised” (Acts 13:23). As a result, many people were drawn to the Lord. And everyone loved it, right? Not exactly. Instead, jealous leaders from the synagogue “stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas” and kicked them out of town (v. 50).

Undaunted, Paul and Barnabas traveled on to the city of Iconium. There, once again, they “went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed” (Acts 14:1). And there, once again, they met resistance from the local leaders, who cooked up a plan to stone them to death. But Paul and Barnabas got word about the plot and fled.

They reached the town of Lystra. Once again, they preached the gospel. Once again, people listened and were beginning to believe, when guess what? Some of Paul and Barnabas’ opposers from Antioch and Iconium showed up and “won the crowd over” (v. 19). They stoned Paul, dragged him outside the city and left him for dead. After suffering a major concussion and lapsing into unconsciousness, Paul was finally ready to throw in the towel, wasn’t he?

Fat chance. Look at verse 20: “But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city.” Notice that little word, “disciples.” Evidently, there were people in Lystra who had become disciples of Jesus Christ. Paul wasn’t about to leave them without a proper goodbye. So, once he regained consciousness, he stood up, turned around and staggered right back into town. And the next day, Paul and Barnabas moved on to the city of Derbe, where they “preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples” (v. 21). Then, incredibly, they went BACK to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, to encourage the new disciples they’d made while they were there.

Paul is a marvelous example of a Christian who persevered through pain, hardship and difficulties. I’d like to highlight three of those difficulties that God has called you and me to persevere through as well.

#1: Persevere through surprises and unexpected curveballs. It seems clear that in Pisidian Antioch, Paul didn’t know he was going to be given the opportunity to preach on that Sabbath Day. He was not feeling 100 percent, and he was tired from his 100-mile hike over the mountain range. But when called upon, he spoke a clear, powerful message about Jesus.

#2: Persevere through compliments and criticism. You’ve probably heard the old saying: “Don’t believe your own press releases.” I’ve discovered over the years that the truth about Dane is rarely found on the lips of my biggest fans. Neither is the truth about Dane found on the lips of my biggest critics. The truth is usually somewhere in the middle. I’m definitely not Jesus. But I’m not Satan either. The same is true of you. So, don’t let either compliments or criticism sidetrack you from your God-given mission. Persevere through compliments AND through criticism.

#3: Persevere through pain and persecution. I doubt that any of us will ever be knocked unconscious by rocks being thrown at our heads by a mob. But in one way or another, all of us will experience pain for Jesus. All of us will suffer persecution for Jesus. Jesus promised it. He tells us in John 15:20, “Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” But every bit of pain and persecution we endure for Jesus Christ is fruitful.

Paul said in Acts 14:22, “We must all go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” If you were to ask Paul whether it was worth it, he would respond—with scrapes and bruises all over him and a splitting headache to boot—“Absolutely! When we persevere for Jesus Christ, it ALWAYS pays off in the end.”

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc. 

Monday, May 2, 2022

Brace Yourself for a Bumpy Ride

“Paul and his companions sailed to Perga … where John left them to return to Jerusalem.”
– Acts 13:13

James Gilmour was born in Scotland in 1843, and at a young age felt God calling him to the mission field. As he read Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19-20 to “go and make disciples of all nations,” he became convinced that if he stayed home, he would be disobeying God. He said, “to me the soul of an Indian seems as precious as the soul of an Englishman, and the Gospel as much for the Chinese as the European.” So, after graduating from college, Gilmour went to seminary and trained as a missionary.

When Gilmour was in his mid-20s, his dream came true. He was sent out to be a pioneer missionary in Mongolia. Gilmour learned the Mongolian language, built relationships and preached the gospel to all who would listen. But after four years of pouring his blood, sweat and tears into his great missionary effort, James Gilmour wrote in his diary: “In the shape of converts I have seen no result. I have not, as far as I am aware, seen anyone who even wanted to be a Christian.” And after 21 years of missionary work, Gilmour died of typhus fever a few weeks before his 48th birthday.

The world looks at James Gilmour’s life and says, “What a waste!” But God looks at James Gilmour’s life and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We’d like to think that good ministry is easy. That it always leads to thousands of lives being transformed by the power of the gospel. But the truth is, more times than not, Christians who pour their blood, sweat and tears into God’s ministries find it to be a very bumpy road. Even the great Apostle Paul discovered this to be true.

Called by the Holy Spirit, Barnabas and Paul set out on the adventure of a lifetime: to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout Northwest Asia. Their first stop was Cyprus, the island where Barnabas was born and raised. And Luke writes in Acts 13:5 that “John was with them as their helper.” This was John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin. About 10 years later, Mark would write the second of the Gospels in the New Testament. But at this point, John Mark was a young Christian, and he was pretty green.

In verses 4-8, Luke traces the journey of Paul and Barnabas through Cyprus. In the city of Paphos, they ran into resistance from a Jewish sorcerer named Bar-Jesus, an advisor to the local pro-consul. Since Bar-Jesus practiced Satanic sorcery, he knew that if his boss accepted Jesus as his Savior and Lord, he’d probably be out of a job. So, Bar-Jesus selfishly tried to convince his boss NOT to accept Christ. But God’s message prevailed, and the pro-consul became a believer and follower of Jesus Christ.

Barnabas and Paul did some good ministry in Cyprus. But it didn’t come easy. They faced a fair amount of pushback, and that pushback seems to have made a big impact on both Saul and John Mark. After their endeavors in Cyprus, the three men boarded a ship and sailed 200 miles northwest to Perga, where John Mark threw in the towel and went back home to Jerusalem. Many have speculated about why John Mark jumped ship partway through their missionary journey. Some make the case that he was homesick for his hometown; others suggest that as Barnabas’ cousin, he felt offended that Paul was being promoted while his cousin was being demoted. Still others suggest that the journey was just too grueling for John Mark. It wasn’t as rosy as he had imagined. He couldn’t take the heat, so he got out of the kitchen. I think this is the most likely explanation.

At this point in his life, John Mark’s heart wasn’t in it. So, he didn’t stick it out when things got tough. But years later he became one of Paul’s most dedicated helpers in ministry. He had learned that good ministry is rarely a bed of roses. But if God is in it, it’s worth everything that we pour into it. Take these two life lessons to heart:

Life Lesson #1: Our culture desperately needs to hear you and me speak and live out God’s word with boldness and conviction. When Paul preached in Acts 13, he preached with power and conviction, whether he was preaching to Jews in a synagogue or confronting a self-centered sorcerer. Paul spoke God’s true word with boldness and conviction. Sadly, in our day, there are far too few Christians who do that. Truth be told, there are too few pastors who do that.

Life Lesson #2: Good, life-changing ministry is rarely easy. Most often, it’s really hard. It is a thrill helping sinners get saved. It is a blast seeing God’s Word transform Christians’ character. It is a joy to witness broken relationships being restored. But at the same time, it can be exhausting. And at times it will tear your heart out.  There will be times when you think you have nothing left to give. Like Mark, you’ll find yourself saying, “This is so much harder than I expected! I’m tired, and I just want to go home!” Good ministry is hard, but it’s the BEST kind of hard. It’s ALWAYS worth the effort.

Take it from Paul, who wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Stay in the kitchen. Sure, it’s hot but that’s only because God is hard at work preparing a feast like no other.

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Why Were You in Church on Easter?

“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” – Matthew 28:6

 In the mid-1950s, a British pastor named W. E. Sangster began to lose his voice due to a rare disease that caused his muscles to deteriorate. For him, this was devastating, because he loved to teach God’s Word and sing praises to God. Sangster eventually lost the ability to speak at all. On the Easter morning just a few weeks before his death, he took out a pen and paper, and with a trembling hand he wrote these words to his daughter: “It is terrible to wake up on Easter morning and have no voice with which to shout, ‘He is risen!’—but it would be still more terrible to have a voice and not want to shout.”

On Easter Sunday, most Christian churches saw their biggest attendance day of the year. People who rarely if ever attend at any other time showed up to pack the place. And we might ask ourselves … why?

Before we look at that question, let’s take a look at that first Easter morning. We usually focus on the group of women who went to Jesus’ tomb, but they weren’t the first to arrive there. They were beaten to the tomb by about 36 hours … by Roman guards. Governor Pontius Pilate had ordered the tomb sealed and guarded by armed soldiers after the chief priests and Pharisees remembered that Jesus had predicted, “After three days I will rise again” (Matthew 27:63). They wanted to make sure Jesus’ disciples couldn’t steal the body and claim that he’d risen from the dead. So, when the women arrived, the guards were standing right outside.

As a sign of respect and love, the women had come to anoint Jesus’ grave cloths with spices and oils. But their plans were shaken up—literally. According to Matthew 28:2, there was a “violent earthquake” as an angel from heaven came down rolled back the stone and sat on it. “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow” (v. 3), and the guards were so terrified that they “shook and became like dead men” (v. 4). They were frozen in place—so scared they couldn’t even run away. The angel announced: “He is not here; He has risen, just as He said” (v. 6). The angel sent them to share the good news with the disciples, and the women saw Jesus for themselves on their way back.

In verses 11-15, Matthew tells us some of the guards went into the city and told the Jewish leaders what had happened. The leaders hastily met and devised a quick plan. They gave the soldiers “a large sum of money”—likely a year’s wages, or about $30,000 in today’s currency. They ordered the soldiers that, if anyone asked them what happened to Jesus’ body, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep” (v. 14). The soldiers took the money and obeyed their orders (v. 15). That was their story, and they were paid well to stick to it. But deep down, the soldiers knew the truth. And so did the women. And later that day, so did Jesus’ apostles. Within a few short years, Christianity swept across three continents, because the fact of the resurrection was plain for all to see.

Now, I want to ask you two very important questions:

Question #1: Did you go to an Easter service to worship Jesus because you were somehow PAID to be there … or because you WANTED to be there? The soldiers at the tomb were there on Easter morning because they were PAID to be there. The women at the tomb were there because they WANTED to be there. Across our nation, millions of Americans attended Easter services last week who haven’t set foot inside a church building in a long time. Many of them came because a family member pretty much made them come. Others might have come to church because they were serving lunch afterward. Still others came for an Easter Egg Hunt, prize giveaways or free entertainment. All that to say, many people come to Easter services because they are—in some way or another—paid to be there.

Question #2: Are you walking past a goldmine of eternal treasure for a few quick bucks? As the Roman guards left the temple courts with a bag full of cash, they thought they’d struck it rich. They were fools! They ran past a goldmine to pick up a few pennies. That’s how it is when we choose money over Jesus, when we choose goods over God, when we choose the temporary things of earth over the eternal things of heaven. And many of us do it every day. We live for the moment. We live for pleasure. So, many of us don’t read God’s Word every day, because we don’t feel like reading God’s Word every day. We don’t go to church with our families each week, because we don’t feel like it. We’ve got more important things to do. You can do that. God has given you free choice. But when it comes to your time, your priorities and your money, if you and your family are the center of your universe, you and your family ARE your god.

Are you more like a paid soldier who was at the tomb for the money, or are you more like one of Jesus’ followers, who came to the tomb because they truly loved Jesus Christ and wanted to be close to Jesus, worship Jesus and live for Jesus? If you’re just in it for the money, your church will still be glad to see you. But you and I both know—that’s not going to fly with God. I hope and pray that when you come to church, it’s because you WANT to be there. I hope and pray that instead of toying with Jesus Christ, you trust in Him … love Him … and serve Him.

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Preparing for Change

“Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” – Acts 13:2

A certain man went to see his cardiologist, and the report wasn’t good. His cholesterol was high. Several of his arteries were 40 percent clogged. So, the doctor told him, “You need to make some changes to your diet. You should start by cutting out red meat.” The man thought that was a good idea … so he promptly stopped putting ketchup on his hamburgers.

We don’t like change very much, do we? But here’s what Albert Einstein said about change: “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” And the journalist Sydney J. Harris put it this way: “Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.”

I imagine the Christians in Antioch would have said much the same thing. The Church in that city was firing on all cylinders. Under the leadership of Barnabas and Saul, the Holy Spirit was drawing hundreds, possibly thousands, of people to salvation. They were baptizing those new Christians and teaching them all that Jesus wanted them to know, so they could grow in their faith, lead many others to salvation and bring glory to God. I can just imagine a group of Antioch Christians coming out of a worship service and saying, “This feels like heaven on earth. I hope this never ends!” But a big change was coming to their church.

For a whole year in Antioch, Barnabas and Saul were used by God in an amazing way. People were drawn to that church, including a few Christian prophets from Jerusalem. One of them, a man named Agabus, prophesied that “a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world” (Acts 11:28). The church’s response was immediate: “The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea” (v. 29). As far as we know, this is the first time in church history that a special offering was taken to help Christians hundreds of miles away. And amazingly, the offering was collected before the Judean Christians even had the need that would have prompted them to ask for help. That’s Christian charity at its best: meeting needs even before a brother or sister in Christ shares the need … at times, even before the person knows he or she has a need.

The Antioch Church entrusted Barnabas and Saul to deliver this special offering to the church in Judea, which would have taken at least a couple of months. That required the church to make some adjustments, because Barnabas and Saul were a critical part of their leadership team. But soon after Barnabas and Saul returned, they received a set of marching orders for a much larger and more important mission: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’” (Acts 13:2). God made it clear that their ministry in Antioch was temporary. It wasn’t a final destination for them—it was a launching pad.

After fasting and praying, the Church family in Antioch did what must have been one of the most exciting yet heart-wrenching things they’d ever done: “They placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3). It probably didn’t make complete sense to the Antioch Christians. But they were obedient to the leading of God’s Spirit.

Here are a few life lessons we can take from these world-changing events:

Life Lesson #1: Christ calls us to be cheerful givers who give freely and generously to God’s work. And the most generous givers don’t wait to be asked to give. I find what the Antioch Church did in Acts 11 to be SO inspiring. Perhaps Paul had the Antioch Christians in mind when he wrote in Philippians 2:3-5, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

Life Lesson #2: As Chuck Swindoll once said, “Let’s be willing to release gifted men and women without reluctance. And when you are called by God to go to a place you would never have expected to go, there’s no need to be afraid of change…. Faith and risk go hand in hand.” Sometimes God calls Christians to leave one church and go somewhere else. We need to be okay with that. And at whatever point God calls you or me to go, we need not be afraid. God knows what He’s doing.

Life Lesson #3: In the words of missionary Henry Martyn, “The Spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions, and the nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we must become.” Regardless of whether God calls you to go or to stay, He is calling you to be a missionary.

So, if you are growing in your faith and deepening in your relationship with Christ, but you are not impacting more people around you for Christ, there’s something wrong. Wherever you are, make sure you are sharing Christ with others.

As Barnabas and Saul left Antioch, they had probably talked about where they were going. But I think it’s safe to say the Holy Spirit doesn’t give them a detailed road map. Much as He did with Abraham, He simply said, “Go.” And they obediently went. A big change had come to the Church at Antioch, and I am so thankful that they were smart enough and—more importantly—obedient enough to accept it from the hand of God.

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The First Christians

“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”   Acts 11:26

Beginning on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Jerusalem was the original launchpad of Christianity. It’s easy to see why. Jesus had been crucified in Jerusalem. Jesus had risen from the dead in Jerusalem. And all 12 of the apostles lived in and led the church in Jerusalem. Since Jerusalem was the launchpad of Judaism, it made sense for Jerusalem to be the launchpad of Christianity as well. But in Acts 11, Jesus Christ created a strategic shift.

In Acts 8:1, we read that on the heels of Stephen’s martyrdom, “a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem.” As a result, “those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (v.4). It’s remarkable to realize that the great persecution against the Christian Church in Jerusalem was led by Saul. But his plan to wipe out Christianity backfired. His persecution actually helped Christianity spread—just as Jesus had planned all along.

Driven out of Jerusalem, some followers of Christ began to spread the gospel 300 miles away in Antioch. And just as Jerusalem had been the launchpad for the Christian church to reach ISRAEL for Christ, Antioch would become the launchpad to reach the WORLD for Christ. It was in Antioch that some Christian men began to do something revolutionary: They “began speaking to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus” (v.20). This may not sound like a big deal today, but it was a HUGE deal! Up until that point, Christians had only been leading Jews and Samaritans (who were half-Jews) to Christ. But these Christ-following men in Antioch didn’t hold back from sharing the gospel with ANYONE; they even shared the gospel with Greeks.

And the Greeks referred to here were complete pagans. Not only were they not Jewish, many of them couldn’t care less about God. They probably worshiped gods like Zeus, Apollo and Daphne, and many of them likely spent their weekends getting drunk and having sex with Daphne’s temple prostitutes. These were not God-fearing or moral men. They were heathens—heathens who desperately needed to hear and be transformed by the power of the gospel. And some Christian men in Antioch were willing to stick their necks out and try what had never been done before—lead complete pagans to salvation. And look what happened: “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (v. 21).

What was happening in Antioch was so revolutionary that word of it spread 300 miles south, all the way back to Jerusalem. So the church leaders found just the man to go up north and check it out: Barnabas, whose name means “son of encouragement.” When Barnabas went to the church at Antioch, he liked what he saw: “He was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (v. 23). But something must have been missing, because he tracked Saul down—150 miles away—and brought him back to Antioch. Verse 25 tells us, “For a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people.” And don’t miss this last sentence in verse 26: “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”

Non-Christians most likely were the ones who coined this term for Christ’s followers. Outsiders who observed the Christians in Antioch noticed that their lives were all about Jesus Christ. Christ was first on their lips. Christ was first in their actions. Christ was first in their worship. It reminds me of a wonderful morning prayer written by St. Patrick, whose holiday just came around in March: “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me. I arise today.”

Here are three life lessons to consider:

Life Lesson #1: If you are a Christian, you have to think, act and share Christ outside the box. Jesus’ followers in Antioch were the first to freely share the Gospel with ALL people regardless of their socio-economic, ethnic or moral differences. Regardless of how unchurched they were. Regardless of how godless they were. Regardless of how immoral they were. To live up to the name “Christian,” you and I need to do the same. We need to reach beyond social, ethnic and religious barriers and introduce people to Jesus Christ. And once they accept him, we have to disciple them—helping them to build a brand-new life centered on Jesus Christ.

Life Lesson #2: You need a Barnabas in your life—a faithful, spirit-filled Christian who will encourage you to love and serve Christ with all your heart and will stand with you as you do. That’s one of the reasons Jesus gave us … the CHURCH. Chances are, your home church has many Barneys and Barnitas who can come alongside you and encourage you to grow in your faith and obedience to Christ.

Life Lesson #3: Just like Barnabas and Saul, we are much better and stronger together. So, don’t be a lone-ranger Christian. When God calls you to do something for Him, enlist at least one other Christian to do it with you. Evangelist D.L. Moody hit the nail on the head: “It is better to put 10 men to work than to do the work of 10 men.”

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.