“The mark of a great church is not its seating capacity, but its sending capacity.” Mike Stachura.
Considering how effective Barnabas and Paul were after they were sent out from the Antioch church, it is well for us to ask ourselves if "sending capacity" marks our churches. If ‘bigger was better’, God would not have allowed persecution in Acts 8 to scatter the church and the Holy Spirit would not have set these two men apart in chapter 13 to be sent out to preach the gospel where it had not been heard. “Seating capacity” is about our plans. “Sending capacity” is about God’s plans to build His church among the unengaged and unreached people groups of the world. In this He is glorified!
One of the most effective ways mission’s reaches the heart of people is through the way the gospel and word of God is presented. Notice what Luke says about Paul and Barnabas at Iconium. “They entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed” (Acts 14:1). Here are points in this verse that challenge us:
Consider the following quote from Oswald J. Smith:
"We talk of the Second Coming of Christ: half the world has never heard of the first.”
While the Second Coming of Christ for His church is a precious truth, our real value of this truth is best seen by how hard and devotedly we labor to complete Jesus command to "Go" with the message of the gospel to those who have never heard. Peter said it well; "What sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God" (2 Peter 3:11-12). We must not "wait" with idle hands and feet, but be actively 'going' to proclaim the message to those who have not heard.
Knowing when to move on to other fields of mission work is vital for maintaining effective momentum in the Lord’s work. Paul and Barnabas had been speaking in the synagogue over several weeks in Antioch of Pisidia, but there came a time when the “Jews were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him” (Acts 13:45). Paul then explains that it was “necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you”, but they “thrust it aside” (13:46). This caused Paul and Barnabas to turn from the Jewish mission field to the Gentiles as the next field of opportunity for preaching the gospel.
How much time and resources do we waste trying to force persons to believe where God is not at work? We must realize that it is God alone who opens the heart (see Luke 24:45; Acts 16:14). I will expand on this thought more tomorrow, but for now, we must honestly examine our efforts in ministry and missions work. If we do not see God working in preparing the soil in hearts, why are we expending energy trying to force spiritual results in rocky soil?
This has been a hard lesson for us to learn. Many years have been spent going to one country (I will not name), and we have reached a dead-end, mainly because money is their objective, not God’s truth. It is heart-breaking, but at the same time we see God redirecting us by the Holy Spirit to other fields where He has prepared the soil and the spiritual reception and growth is amazing. Make sure your mission agenda is flexible and that you are willing to go where God is at work.
I apologize for missing a few days posting our blog, but God has interrupted my writing with health issues and hospitalization which will occur again next week for surgery and five more days in the hospital. Your prayers are vital to the continuance of God’s work through this ministry! In all the trials we pass, I see God’s hand working in my life to sharpen and deepen my focus of His glory in our mission. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on “Effective Missions (14) – Paul’s Example.”
Note the following words of Paul: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!” (Romans 11:33). We can best see and understand God’s ways by first trusting Him through the difficulties, not when we fight against them. Then we can look back as say as Paul did a few verse later, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36).
When was the last time you glorified God for trials and suffering?
The more we examine Paul’s method of preaching, the more we see a servant who saw God’s “Big Picture”. I am so thankful that the Holy Spirit has confirmed over and over to us at NFI that we must keep God’s “Big Picture” before us and those we speak to. Western Bible School and Seminary training has long adopted a ‘dissecting and specializing’ type of education rather than drawing connections with all of Scripture. Paul did this at Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:13-41). He drew from “the Law and the Prophets” which were known by his audience and taught God’s truth as it related to the present work of God through His Son, Jesus Christ among first century Jews.
This contrast between Paul and our day is not so much a criticism as it is a plea for all in ministry that seek help from the Holy Spirit to be more effective in our mission by presenting the gospel and truth in the frame-work of God’s “Big Picture”. No one element of truth is ever a disconnection from all the rest. God’s truth is ONE! The more we see this the more we will realize there are no contradictions in Scripture, no matter what its critics may say. The more we give others God’s “Big Picture”, the more they will see His eternal plan for themselves and the church.
See also Luke 24:27, “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”
“Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down.” (Acts 13:13–14).
Is God’s call and direction for your ministry so clear that even if others leave you and go a different direction, you will continue in God’s calling? Your answer to this question will determine:
1. To what degree God’s glory, will and purpose is first in your life (1 Cor. 10:31)?
2. To what degree you are seeking to please men or God (Gal. 1:10)? Take note of Paul’s strong word’s that if we are “trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
3. To what degree do you trust the Holy Spirit to work God’s will in others even when you are not with them (Acts 20:32)?
Remember that Paul and John Mark are restored to each other after some time elapsed (2 Tim. 4:11). Missions are most effective when we follow God’s call for ourselves no matter what others may do. Make sure you ground every decision on biblical principles and then what others do will not alter your course.
We were told that there was about fifty or sixty new believers who had come to Christ in the last month! These were the people I was going to address! This was so different from our typical groups of pastors and church planters. With very little Bible knowledge and perhaps still learning what salvation was all about, I asked the Holy Spirit to quickly give me a plan for the next two hours. I later learned that the next day would only be an hour and a half.
Realizing that these tender plants need good food to strengthen their faith and set them on a path of rapid growth, I made no reference or comparison between the Early Church and the church today. It would not be in their best interest to create doubt about what they had come to by faith, but rather take them back to the model in Acts and show them how quickly God moved to establish the church and what were the key principles that made it happen. By the end of the first hour, I had them repeating on the white board what they had just learned. It was like pouring gasoline onto a fire. The explosive way they learned took me by surprise and I realize they had not been tainted by a lot of forms that often handicap our learning ability. By the end of two hours, I had covered four chapters of the manual and they were able to draw all four on the white board.
My heart was so full of thanksgiving for two reasons! I had seen the Holy Spirit work in a powerful way in these people; almost all of them under 20. How faithful is our God!!
“They received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
One of the most difficult moments for maintaining effective missions is when we face opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit in someone else. So often we do nothing to protect that work. Acts 13:8-12 shows several critical characteristics that must be strengthened in us so we are more effective in missions. Consider these carefully:
1. Saul (now called Paul) is given the spirit (gift) of discernment. Without God-given discernment, we will overlook dangers to God’s work in others that must be confronted.
2. Paul is filled with the Holy Spirit, not only for the purpose of discernment, but also grace and wisdom to confront what is spiritually dangerous.
3. Being able to put a biblical name on opposition follows the instruction of 2 Cor. 10:4-6. Remember it is the Word of God that is the tool of warfare, not the frustration of the flesh (Eph. 6:16).
4. When confrontation is done in the power of the Holy Spirit, the enemy is not just stopped, but punished for interfering with God’s work.
5. The very person that Paul protected from this attack (the proconsul) “believed when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.” God’s work will always strengthen what the Holy Spirit has started in an individual.
6. Beware that “the teaching of the Lord” is our tool, not human contrived ideas that distort His truth.
I fear that we lack spiritual discernment more than we realize because we have not learned early as Paul did to be filled with the Spirit. That discernment must result in Spirit-filled action that glorifies and strengthens God’s working in individuals. If we are not concerned about God’s glory, we will not understand the importance of this passage and how it causes missions to be effective.
There is a very distinct characteristic of the Holy Spirit’s work when we are sent out by Him (Acts 13:4). “They proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews” (13:5). When we are confident that the Holy Spirit is doing the sending, we can be assured He will have us speak the gospel were it has never been heard and where the need is the greatest. It may seem to be an unlikely place with dangers and obstacles. But God’s Word is not bound by any human limitations.
You can be certain that there is inherent power in the Word of God and does not need human devises to make it acceptable. If we seek to mix it with palatable ingredients, we will reduce its power to a human level which does not “accomplish that which I (God) purpose” (Is. 55:11). Let us be very careful that we proclaim the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit – unmixed!
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