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Antioch Series: When Worship Prayer And Missions Collide // A Heavenly Family


#4- A Heavenly Family


By Acts chapter 6, the Apostles are so overwhelmed with the work that comes with revival that they call a meeting to figure out how to raise up and train “second tier” leaders to help carry the load of administration that comes with thousands of people under your pastoral care. They were in desperate need to return to the things they did at first anddevote themselves to the word of God and prayer.”  It is now about a decade since the day of Pentecost and they still haven’t left Jerusalem and there are no indicators that they were even considering the possibility of sending out laborers for the task that was given to them by the resurrected Lord Himself.


Something else was beginning to rear its ugly head in Acts 6 that was subtly going unnoticed in the Jerusalem movement. There was a deep undercurrent that was causing an ambivalence, yea even an aversion to the mandate to disciple all nations.

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. – Acts 6:1


Yes, the busyness of revival was real, but something even more real was lurking in the shadows. We see the first glimpse of it in Acts 6 but it doesn’t come to the forefront until about another decade later in Acts 15. It finally comes to a head in ANTIOCH with a rebuke of an Apostle by another Apostle in front of the whole church.

Antioch becomes the flash point where God deals with the sin of racism in the global church in the first century. Antioch is the first place we see a multi-ethnic leadership over a multi-ethnic community. God was doing something unique in this community that was preparing them to be the sending center to the ends of the earth. God was tearing down strongholds that were preventing the church from fulfilling her destiny.

RACISM IS ANTI-GOSPEL AND THE ENEMY OF MISSIONS

 

As Gentiles begin to come into the kingdom and Antioch rises to prominence in the first century Christian movement, some teachers from Jerusalem, feel it’s their duty to visit these “barbarians” and bring some theological correction to their movement that was clearly “out of order”. Paul and Barnabas, who have been a part of this new multi-ethnic leadership team take issue with these racist ideas parading around as inspired words.

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” – Acts 15:1

Paul and Barnabas, who then were based in Antioch, challenge these ethnocentric, anti-gospel teachings and the debate makes its way to the very top. The Jerusalem council (Acts 15) was the first church council recorded and its purpose was to tear down cultural ideas that were masking themselves as theological truths and obstructing the advancement of the gospel to the ends of the earth.

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” – Acts 15:6-11

As the council reached its’ conclusion, those present penned a letter recognizing the legitimacy of these Gentile believers and exhorting them continue in the faith. The sent this letter to Antioch with a team of prophets accompanying Paul and Barnabas. This marks a significant transition in the Book of Acts where the church and leadership in Jerusalem no longer remain the central component to the Holy Spirit record of the God’s activity in the first century. From this point on Antioch and its multi-ethnic leadership team become the “central hub” of New Testament Christianity.

Even though Peter had the correct theological stance of “inclusion of the Gentiles through the gospel” at the Jerusalem council, we soon find out that having the right theological stance can be much different than acknowledging your own ethnocentricity and allowing God, by the power of the Spirit, to search you and fully deliver you from the culture that nurtured your fallen mindset.

When Peter finally makes it down to Antioch to see what is transpiring in this new apostolic center, he comes face to face with his own racism.

For before certain men came from James, he [Peter] was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” – Galatians 2:12-14

Paul’s rebuke to Peter’s conduct in Antioch is simple yet profound. I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

In other words…

 

The cross is the end of racism.

 

Paul says that his confrontation with Peter was over the truth of the gospel itself. Christ not only died for us, but died with us and as us. Now if you became one with Jesus on the cross and joined with Him in the grave, then it is impossible for you not to be raised with Him with a new nature. You died with Christ so that He could raise you with Him and justify you as righteous, holy, and blameless. God raised Jesus, vindicating His life of obedience, and in the same moment destroyed the power of death and the curse of the fall over you, having been raised with him. When he came out of the grave, you were reborn and now have a new nature inherited from the Second Adam.

You now are altogether different than who you once were. You no longer are identified with the nature you inherited from the first Adam. The finished work of the cross makes you a new creation.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17

…and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.Colossians 3:10-11 

This new nature you have inherited is Christ’s nature within you. You in Him and Him in you. This nature is shared by all who believe in Him.

Something finally clicked with Peter in Antioch. Maybe it took a public rebuke for his racist attitudes and actions to finally be purged. Later he writes, near the end of his life to the church dispersed all over Asia minor, You are a chosen race [genos], a holy nation [ethnos]…once you were not a people [laos], but now you are God’s people [laos]…”. 1 Peter 2:9-10

These words from Peter take aim at any remnant of ethnocentrism that may have been lingering in the dispersed believers throughout the Roman empire. The same Peter that pulled back from fellowship with brothers from different races is now declaring that through the body and blood of Jesus, God has created a whole new genos, ethnos, and laos. This new family, race, and nation is made up of believers from every ethnic group on the planet. The Blood of Jesus has freed us from every earthly, Adamic, unspiritual, means of separation. We no longer are defined by our Socio-Economic status, Politics, or cultural preferences. Jesus is the end of Ageism, Sexism, Nationalism and most of all Jesus is the end of racism. The church is a global family of affection and the ruling aristocracy in the earth. You have more in common with the brethren in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia, and Indonesia than you do with your closest unbelieving friend that has the same political, cultural, and social views as you. You share the same spirit, blood, and nature.

Jesus displays this on his leadership first leadership team. The Lord handpicked men from polar opposite sides of the spectrum and turned them into something altogether new. He takes them through such a magnificent transformative journey that their former political allegiances, passions, paradigms, all melt under the power of the leadership and love of Christ and they in turn begin love each other in the same manner.

Racism denies the power of the cross and clings to the nature that we inherited from Adam. Racism and the Gospel are mutually exclusive. One cannot “deny himself, pick up his cross and follow Jesus” and at the same time attach themselves to ethnocentristic mindsets and racist attitudes. As Russell Moore so eloquently states, “You can’t serve Jesus Christ and Jim Crow at the same time.

We learn to love beyond ourselves when we embrace those that are ethnically and cultural different than us. The comfort of the homogenous bubble of Jerusalem Christianity was robbing the apostolic church from entering into the John 17 “glory” of being united in Jesus Christ across the diving wall of hostility that separated races. When we are surrounded by people who look like us, think like us, talk like us, and dress like us, our love is fenced in by our own comfort and self-importance. We are not loving like the cross teaches us to love, we are loving our self-reflection.

Racism makes us irrelevant because it refuses self-sacrificial love. Racism strips us of our authority as peacemakers standing between two parties at odds because it attaches itself to one side of the argument.  

Racism makes us deaf because we cannot hear the wounded groan of our brothers and sisters while our ears are clogged with cultural narratives. Therefore, we cannot “weep with those who weep.” (Rom 12:15)

Racism makes us blind because we cannot see glaring injustices through the fog of political rhetoric. Like the lawyer in Luke 10, desiring to justify ourselves, we smugly ask Jesus, “WELL WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?!?!”

Racism is the enemy of missions because true missions is born out of a vision of the worth of Jesus that produces a self-sacrificing love for peoples and nations. These nations we would have nothing in common with on our own. Now the commonality we have with the unreached of the earth is the compassion of the Lamb that compels us towards and not away from our “enemies”. 

Here in Antioch they began to call themselves not by their ethnic identities, not by their national allegiances but simply by one word that described what they now were together, “Christians”. (Acts 11:26) Little Christs… crucified with Him, buried with Him, and raised with Him in the newness of life where there is no Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

What is the indicating marker in your life that tells everyone you are have been so radically transformed by the gospel and ripped out of your former passions, former mindsets, former allegiances? Is it not that we love what we formerly hated? And what does that love look like except to lay our lives down to serve those that could never repay us? Is it not that we care for our brother in his need?

 

Then we can truly call ourselves, “Christians”.

 

Sunday morning remains one of the most segregated hours in American life, with more than 8 in 10 congregations made up of one predominant racial group. Jesus is calling the church to stare its racism in the face and repent. The current conversation about racial tension in America is an opportunity to do just that. Somewhere along the way we lost the biblical command to be “slow to speak, quick to listen, slow to angerand in its place we have inserted “categorize the opponent, attack with counterpoints, win the argument”. Make no mistake, God is using the discussions around police brutality, institutional racism, criminal justice reform, income disparity, educational inequality, southern strategy politics, privilege, ect… to refine us in love and humility. What’s at stake here is more than losing an argument, it might be losing our soul. The church in America divided over social, political, and economic issues says to the world that the gospel is weak, the kingdom is fractured, and Christ is an inadequate leader.

What we don’t realize is, by ignoring, dismissing or worse, actively emboldening one side of the conversation, we could actually be forfeiting our destiny as the church in this nation to become an Antioch at the end of the age. I believe that the church in America is called to be a sending nation that participates with the Lord of the Harvest in praying, training and sending laborers to the ends of the earth. We are throwing away our destiny with every dismissive, apathetic or argumentative attitude when it comes to race in America. The current racial climate is a training ground to teach us to love like never before and to cleanse us of our ethnocentrism so that we can actually look up and see the white fields ready for harvest in the nations of the earth.

 

R.A. Martinez

 

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Triumph Through Fasting

I felt the Lord stirring me to fast… I said “God Again?” “Yes again” He said.

As a ‘worker’ trainee on a short three month trip, I have been preparing for this season abroad. I have prayed, studied, meditated, and even fasted. In fact I had fasted right before coming on this trip for an extended time beyond the normal 3-7 day period. In many ways I felt I had prepared enough, done enough to make this trip a success. In my heart I resisted having to do more particularly when it takes away something that is a comfort, like food. And yet I feel my soul weakening here, my spirit growing dull, and the enemy’s voice growing louder. I must have thought before coming here that the enemies attacks would be less than they are or that I am stronger than I actually am in resisting temptation. So here I go preparing for the Lord’s grace to fast, but also preparing for whatever the Lord will do in the process.

Outside of my comfort zone of America, the enemy feels stronger than normal. Because we are humans, no matter how hard we prepare for these kinds of trips there is always something unknown that comes up in our hearts. For example, if we ask the Lord to give us love, patience, and humility, of course, He does. Yet, other areas that are hidden come up, such as anger, fear, or self preservation. The enemy of our souls has been messing with humans so long that he has a 1, 2, 3 step program. Step 1. He will try attacking your surface level weakness areas. Step 2. If he can’t get you there he will go to the deeper, hidden, weak areas and attack. Step 3. He will repeat steps 1 and 2 again and again and again, every time he feels he has you are going week in those areas. Your welcome!

My hope is in the fact that the Lord knows this all to well. Our weakness, temptations, and struggles do not cause Him to change His mind about our calling. In fact He will use the devil, and our weakness; unphased He approaches us and says, “I’m going to use this and make you triumphant.” “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9. When we call on Jesus He comes to deliver us. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10.

I am reminded that Jesus Himself after being commissioned to ministry went into the wilderness for 40 days and was tempted by the enemy. Not only was He tempted in the wilderness, in Matthew 4:1 it says the Spirit lead Him to be tempted. John Piper said, “The Spirit of God willed that the Son of God be tested on His way into ministry and He willed that Jesus triumph in this testing through fasting.” Somehow fasting played a big part of the triumph that Jesus had in the wilderness. Perhaps I have seen fasting in the wrong way. Many times I have seen fasting as giving up pleasure of food to get something I want; instead of a way of triumphing through testing.

The Spirit lead Jesus to where He knew the devil would try to tempt Him. Jesus didn’t fast in order to get something out of the Lord, but He humble Himself before His Father. By submitting Himself through giving up the pleasure of food, He was able to triumph over the devil and boldly declaring His full submission to the Father. Jesus showed that He wanted the Father’s will above His own temporary desire. He gave up the temporary in order to serve the purposes of the eternal. Nothing changed in the heart of Jesus when the devil tempted Him. It wasn’t the devil that gave Jesus His resolve to submit to His Father. His fasting was the proof of this submission and when the devil tempted Him He was able to verbally declare the resolve in His own heart. For those of us who do not claim to be fully God, fasting can shows us how we can submit to our Heavenly Father. If we can lay down our flesh in order to submit to the Lord by fasting it also can show us the triumph we can have over our enemy. When the devil tries to show us something desirable we have a deeper understanding that connects us to the truth that the temporary is lesser than the eternal. It’s a journey we Christians are on in understanding how to submit to the Lord. “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.” Deuteronomy 8:2.

And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Deuteronomy 8:3

I have spend the last few weeks meditating on the last part of this verse. “Man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” How profound and unfathomable is this statement. I can taste, see, touch, smell and know that God and his goodness is better than bread. Knowing Him satisfies to the very center of my being. I can forever find new manna which feeds me spiritually.

I love the Lord for showing me what it looks like to triumph through fasting. If I can fast it shows that I am capable of submitting to the Lord and resisting the enemy, and therefore I am capable of doing the will of the Father. When I am satisfied with God all other temptations grow distant and lack their appeal.

Caridad Haller, MAPS Student

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Global Shaking From A Different Perspective

Arab Spring. Iranian Protest. The Great Refugee Crisis. Civil War.

Masses of people in worlds of uncertainty. Unsure of where to call home, their country borders called into question. For many -this would cause great fear and panic to overtake their heart. In fact, Jesus says that “men’s heart shall fail them for great fear and for looking after those things that shall come on the world…” (Luke 21:26). With the events that will transpire in the future men and women will be crippled, paralyzed with terror. However, in the midst of these shakings we as believers are not only to have peace-we are actually to be able to advance the Kingdom of God.

How is it that believers as mere men and women should be exempt from falling aptive to this paralyzing fear. I believe the answer is also found in the text of Luke 21. The scriptures that their heart will fail, because they are looking after those thing. I believe that the fear or the peace comes from what we behold and look at. We know we are to look, behold, the One who sits on the throne-who is far above and beyond all that we see and do not see We are to desire to sit and gaze at the One Thing. I am convinced that as we look at Him, we begin to see how he sees-even how He sees these shakings. These shakings-although not His design- are used in His hand to produce the greatest of all goods-salvation.

In Acts, Paul addressing the people at Mars Hill -talked about the “unknown God”. He said He is the God of all mankind. And it is He who determines the boundary lines in which men should dwell. And He does this-so that men may grope for him-and seek Him, though he is not far off. So I believe in the midst of moving boundary lines, the moving of people groups, that in the midst of that tragedy that God is doing the ultimate miracle. He is giving men and women a groan for salvation, a desire for Himself.
I witness this during my first trip into a new region in the Middle East. Over seventy refugees were crammed into a townhouse, house of prayer and home to our host. They were living there. Forced from their homes. All that they had, left, deserted, they had nowhere to call home. Yet they were the most welcome guest of our host. We witness the first time he addressed these that he allowed in his home “My most honored guest….” his remarks went on for a long time. It was not the traditional gospel message. It was one explaining that from the beginning that God was using these shakings to intervene in their life and given them a chance of meeting with God. Most people listen with great intensity. They wanted God. So many of them stood to make this declaration that at one point-our host in disbelief made them sit back down. He re-explained to them-for surely they must not be understanding-this Gospel may cost them their life, they may be persecuted, isolated, shamed—and yet once again-with clear determination they stood. They wanted Jesus!

As I witnessed this, I realized that I have faith that during the greatest shakings -that Jesus has a reward. When I read Matthew 24 and I read that at the climax of history and with some of the greatest shakings on earth, with massive destructions–that this Gospel will be preached to all the ends of the earth and then the end shall come. I have become convinced that God will have his way in the deepest, darkest shaking. He will have His glory. The real question is will I have enough faith, enough determination to look at Him long enough to maintain His perspective over CNN’s. If I can do this-then I have the privilege in participating with Him in the reaping of the greatest harvest yet to come. In the midst of race riots, war, famine, migrations of people, I can stand with Him in the midst of great fear—and introduce them to the Prince of Peace.

Oh what a privilege!

Ronnette Cooper, MAPS Leadership

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God Does Not Disappoint

Sometimes, things don’t turn out the way we expect. I think for most of us we can actually say they usually don’t turn out the way we expect. Life happens, human hearts are involved and things are constantly changing around us. But in the midst of the tossing to and fro with the uncertainties of life and the moment you snap back from the initial shock of things not going the way we thought, there should always be something we can hold onto. Hope in the midst of the storm. Expectation in the throws of disappointment. The Father is always good, and he is working all things out for our good.

When the initial sting hits us in the place where it seems life is being turned upside down or when we are caught off guard, we don’t always tend to let the first thing come out of our mouth be that God is good. We begin searching for the reason why it is wrong, looking for something or someone to blame for the current state of our life. It’s rare that we can actually let the phrase “it’s going to be okay, because God is in control and He is good” come out of my mouth first. Sure we can sit there later on and know that, but do we really believe it and let that be what helps the impact of what life is currently throwing at us?

God is good. It’s true, I can sit here and recite bible verses and sing worship songs declaring that truth. But when it’s just me sitting in a room alone with pain and sorrow in my heart, can I still say God is good? Or rather, can I say it and truly believe it when my brother has cancer and could have weeks to live, my future is in question because I can’t find an answer I’m looking for, I’m slipping farther and farther into debt and the same lies and accusations of years past are creeping in and taking over? Or when parents are faced with the death of a child? Or in natural disaster when houses, cars, belongings and memories are lost?

Or if we are able to let “God is good” come out of our mouth it’s usually a defensive mechanism to somehow mask the disappointment we are about to face. No where in the Bible did it say don’t get disappointed or don’t grieve. In fact majority of the psalms are songs of grief and lament. A cry out to God to come and fix my current state of being. Yet, we tend to think we have to stop feeling that actual feeling and emotions and be happy and alright. But where’s the growth and beauty in that acting like it’s not there? How can you move forward from that moment and what do you gain but simply “letting it go”?

Saying God is good and He is working all things for our better is not neglecting or disowning the pain and sorrow you are in in that moment, though we tend to think that if we can declare that that we need to be happy and have it all together. Yet, don’t we know that God loves the process? The process where we are met with our brokenness and questions and are able to bring them to Him and lean on Him for the answers instead of searching in books, teachings, people or even ourselves. He’s not looking or expecting us to be met with pain and sorrow and to simple brush it off like it wasn’t there, because we all know that 2, 5, or even 10 years later that’s going to come back to us because we simply shoved it down and acted like it wasn’t a thing. I believe there’s a moment when we are met with all those things that the Father is waiting for us to come running into His arms, not saying everything is good and fine, but telling Him how we are hurt and in pain and how it feels. We read in the bible that Jesus actually wept, before making his way to the cross He actually went to the Father and asked for a way out, feeling the disappointment of His friends not staying up and watching with him or the intense betrayal of one of His own. He went to the cross and He took on the fullness of our pain and sorrow. He knows how it feels, Jesus being fully man actually felt human emotions and pain. So He’s not surprised when we feel those very emotions and actually have a response to them.

But in that moment, when we feel all hope is lost and that it’s gonna take alot to get back from this, He smiles at us, with tears in His eyes, feeling the pain and sorrow, fully knowing all that is happening. In that moment we can fall apart, in His arms. Not relying on ourselves to meager up some hope, but to lean into Him who is our Hope. He is our Hope.

His power is made perfect in our weakness. Not in my strength and what I can bring to the table. But when I let go, run into His arms and choose to trust Him with my heart and my life. Hope does not disappoint. God does not disappoint.

Bethany Tombley, MAPS Global Leader