Our Church at Its Best
Our Church at Its Best
Sermon by Rick Crandall
Grayson Baptist Church - May 11, 2014
*I've often recalled something I heard Louis Bartet say 30 years ago: "If I searched and searched until I finally found the perfect church, then after I joined it, it wouldn't be perfect anymore." There is no perfect church on this side of Heaven. But God wants our church to be the best we can possibly be. How can we get there?
1. First, we must be saved by the Lord.
*We must be saved by the Lord Jesus Christ. I am sure that the Lord is able to use lost people to advance His Kingdom. But the men in vs. 1 took the good news of Jesus Christ all over the Roman Empire. They were willing to go through incredible hardship. They saw the Hand of God at work in amazing ways. And all of that happened because they were saved.
*There is no way these men would have ever come together in the first place, except for one thing: They were saved! They were radically transformed by the power of the cross. They were radically changed by a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
*Please take another look at these men in vs. 1: "Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul."
*Consider where these men had started in life. They had nothing in common. Niger was most probably a black man from Africa. His name means "black." Lucius was also from Africa.
*And Manaen? -- He had been brought up as Herod the Tetrarch's foster brother. His foster brother was the ruler of Galilee, so Manaen had lived in the lap of luxury, and in a flood of corruption. Manaen's foster father was King Herod. He was the horrible man who wanted to murder Jesus, when the Lord was just a toddler. Of course, Jesus escaped, but Manaen's foster father murdered all the boys in Bethlehem up to age two. And Manaen's foster brother was the man who had John the Baptist beheaded. That was the atmosphere where Manaen was raised. (1)
*Then there was Saul or Paul. He had been brought up as the strictest Pharisee. The Pharisees hated Herodians like Manaen. Plus remember how much Paul hated Christians. He went out of his way to persecute believers, put them in prison, and even put them to death.
*These men had nothing in common. -- until they met Jesus! Jesus broke down all of the old barriers, and turned these men into spiritual brothers. They were brothers in Christ! -- ready to work together, growing stronger in the Lord, getting ready to go on mission for the Lord. And all of this happened because they were saved. They had trusted in the cross of Jesus Christ. They had received the Risen Savior as their Lord. They had received the forgiveness that only Jesus can give.
*When we trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are saved, and there is a real difference in our lives. Not that we are all that we should be. But thank God, we are not what we were! There has been a change.
*Pastor Randy Smith was the church planter who started the Cross Brand Cowboy Church in Robert, Louisiana. That is just east of Hammond. Randy had gone from being a professional bull-rider to a bi-vocational pastor. And he had a heart for people in the cowboy culture, people who seldom got to hear the gospel. Randy said: "In the (rodeo circuit) world I was living in, I never heard the gospel. There are people in that setting that need the Lord."
*What happened to Randy Smith? He had a personal encounter with God one evening while he was on tour. Then Randy went to a revival service back home. And when the invitation was given, he "ran to the altar!" He literally ran to the altar! Don't you love that? (2)
*What happened to Randy Smith? -- He got saved! God wants us to be the best church we can possibly be. How can we get there?
2. We must be saved. -- And we must be seeking the Lord.
*We see these Christians seeking the Lord in vs. 2, which says: "As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, 'Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.'''
 Notice that they were seeking the Lord through worship.
*Verse 2 says "they ministered to the Lord." Many times the word "minister" comes from the Greek word "di-a-ko-ne'-o". That's where we get our word "deacon." But this word "minister" is "lei-tour-ge'-o." The same word was used in the Greek Old Testament for the work of the priests who served in the Tabernacle. So the "ministry" God's Word is talking about in vs. 2 is worship.
*This Greek word is where we get our English word "liturgy," which is the particular order for a worship service. It's also why we call our time together in worship a worship "service."
*Church, we must seek the Lord in worship, focusing on His goodness, grace and love! We must worship the Lord by bowing our hearts before Him in reverence. We must worship the Lord, in love and gratitude, thankful for His grace, thankful for His death on the cross, thankful for the gift of eternal life and our home in Heaven.
 We should seek the Lord through our worship. -- And through our fasting.
*In vs. 2, they ministered to the Lord and fasted. Then in vs. 3, we see them fasting again. Jeff Strite explained that "usually people fasted for one of several reasons. People fasted when they were grieving over the death of a loved one. People fasted when they were repenting of their sin or the sin of their nation. People fasted when they sought protection from forces they couldn't contend with. BUT MOST OFTEN people fasted when they were seeking insight." (3)
*I don't begin to fast as often as I should, but all believers should fast, as God leads and as our health allows. Of course, fasting can be turned into a pointless exercise of spiritual pride. This is one of the main points God's Word makes in Isaiah 58:1-10. There the Lord spoke to His people about their sins.
*Please listen to this paraphrase from the Living Bible:
1. Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast; tell my people of their sins!
2. Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and are so delighted to hear the reading of my laws--just as though they would obey them--just as though they don't despise the commandments of their God! How anxious they are to worship correctly; oh, how they love the Temple services!
3. "We have fasted before you,'' they say. "Why aren't you impressed? Why don't you see our sacrifices? Why don't you hear our prayers? We have done much penance, and you don't even notice it!'' I'll tell you why! Because you are living in evil pleasure even while you are fasting, and you keep right on oppressing your workers.
4. Look, what good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me.
5. Is this what I want--this doing of penance and bowing like reeds in the wind and putting on sackcloth and covering yourselves with ashes? Is this what you call fasting?
6. No, the kind of fast I want is that you stop oppressing those who work for you and treat them fairly and give them what they earn.
7. I want you to share your food with the hungry and bring right into your own homes those who are helpless, poor and destitute. Clothe those who are cold and don't hide from relatives who need your help.
8. If you do these things, God will shed his own glorious light upon you. He will heal you; your godliness will lead you forward, and goodness will be a shield before you, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
9. Then, when you call, the Lord will answer. "Yes, I am here,'' he will quickly reply. All you need to do is to stop oppressing the weak, and to stop making false accusations and spreading vicious rumors!
10. Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble! Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you shall be as bright as day.
*James 2:17 sums all of this up by telling us that "faith without works is dead." Fasting is not the be-all and end-all to spiritual life. God is looking for genuine faith, and love from His people. He is also looking for us to have genuine love for all people. And the best way to get that is to seek the Lord.
 We should seek the Lord through our fasting. -- And seek Him through our prayers.
*As we see in vs. 3: "Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away." The early church bathed this new mission project in prayer. They bathed everything they did in prayer. Their prayers made a difference, and so will ours! Nothing we can do works better than prayer, and all of us can pray.
*Martin Luther was a great hero of our faith who started the reformation of the church about 500 years ago. Once Luther's puppy was beside the supper table, waiting for a scrap from his master. That puppy was staring at Luther with an open mouth and riveted eyes. Luther noticed his dog's attention and said, "Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches the meat! All his thoughts are concentrated on that piece of meat." (4)
*Martin Luther wanted all of his thoughts to be concentrated on God, and so should we! We should seek the Lord through our worship, our fasting, and our prayers. God wants our church to be the best we can possibly be. How can we get there?
3. We must be seeking the Lord. -- And we must be separated for the Lord.
*The Christian life is always going to call for some kind of separation. So vs. 2 tells us that: "As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, 'Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.''' That word "separate" means "to set apart or appoint for some purpose." And we must separate ourselves for the Lord.
*God wants us to separate ourselves from the ways of the world, and separate ourselves from bad habits. Sometimes God also wants us to separate ourselves from people we love. That's what happened here. And the early Christians here were willing to separate themselves for the Lord.
*Please listen to the Scripture again in vs. 2-4:
2. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.''
3. Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.
4. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.
*The Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.'' And "they sent them away."
*I am sure the church did not want to send Barnabas and Paul away, but they were willing to separate for the Lord. Maybe Barnabas and Paul didn't want to go away, but they were willing to separate for the Lord. Maybe some of the other church members wanted to go with Paul, but they stayed behind. They were willing to separate for the Lord.
*It's a hard thing to say good-bye to friends who have been called to go somewhere else. But our Heavenly Father always knows best. And God wants our church to be the best we can be. How can we get there?
4. We must be separated for the Lord. -- And we must be serving the Lord.
*God's mission was the central focus of the early church. We saw it back in Acts 1:8, where Jesus told His disciples: "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.''
*God's mission now takes another huge step in vs. 4-5, the beginning step of Paul's first missionary journey:
4. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.
5. And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant.
*God's mission still goes on today all over the world. And God deeply desires for us to be a part of His mission. The Lord wants us to be involved with His mission every way we can. And we can be involved, never giving up on the work God has given us to do!
*Adoniram Judson sweated out Burma's heat for 18 years without a furlough. He served six years without anyone being saved! Judson endured torture and imprisonment. And he said that he never saw a ship sail without wanting to jump on board and go home.
*When his wife's health failed, Judson put her on a homebound ship, knowing that he would not see her for two full years. He wrote these words in his diary: "If we could find some quiet resting place on earth where we could spend the rest of our days in peace. . ."
*Then Judson broke off in mid-sentence, and steadied himself with this remarkable commitment: "Life is short. Millions of Burmese are perishing. I am almost the only person on earth who has learned enough of their language to communicate the good news of salvation. . ."
*And Judson kept that commitment. He kept on communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ. He kept on serving the Lord with every fiber of his being. (5)
*And that's what God wants us to do. God wants us to be the best church we can possibly be. How can we get there?
-Be saved by the Lord.
-Be seeking the Lord.
-Be separated for the Lord.
-And always be serving the Lord.
*Would you please bow for prayer.
(1) Original sources unknown
(2) Georgia Barnette State Missions Offering 2008 - Prayer Guide Day 5
(3) SermonCentral sermon "The Prayer of Antioch" by Jeff Strite - Acts 13:1-3
(4) Luther's "Tabletalk" - Source: Sermonsillustrations.com - Topic: Prayer
(5) SermonCentral sermon "Prayer and the Call of God" by Guy Caley - Acts 13:1-5