OK, time to get serious with the blog again. I am going to serialise some quiet time thoughts from Acts, starting with chapter 13, which I am preaching on on Sunday. Come back on Monday for the sermon audio.
Acts 13:1-3 is astonishing and bears very careful reading. Steve Timmis just sent through details of the Acts 29 church planting conference in June, which looks fantastic. But in Acts 13 we have the very first ever initiative by a single local church for planting worldwide churches, led by the Holy Spirit.
Luke tells us that there were prophets and teachers. He tells us their names, so we know the people were credible, trustworthy leaders. (One was Herod Antipas' half brother. How amazing that one half brother had a hand in killing the Lord and the other ended up as a church leader. That's election for you!). And we are told what they were doing when the Holy Spirit spoke to them - worshipping and fasting. We don't know what they were fasting for, but given what subsequently happened I think it is a fair guess that it was for God to reveal His plans for them and for the extension of the Kingdom.
Worshipping and fasting. That's a good pattern for a church and church leaders to be in when they are seeking God for fresh Spirit-led initiatives. Getting close to God and seeking Him. Fasting and praying means casting ourselves on his will and actively putting aside our own. Saying to Him "we want you more than food, and we want the revelation of your purposes for us more than food" is something God takes seriously.
The Holy Spirit tells them to set aside their two best people - quite a sacrifice for a single local church. Its interesting that he calls them to set Paul and Barnabas apart "for the work to which He called them". I think that they were already doing this work and were well known for it. This is not a call for them to find out what God's gifts are and subsequently use them. This is a call to the church to release them from all other responsibilities to exercise their gifts and ministry without distraction.
The church takes the prophetic word very seriously, but not without a degree of caution. After the Holy Spirit speaks they go to prayer and they fast some more before laying hands on them, commissioning and sending off.
And so the great adventure of church planting began. With spiritual leaders, close to God, worshipping and fasting. With a church that didn't go too fast or too slow. With obedience, willingness to do what God says, openness to going, openness to sending. I can't remember who said that there are three types of Christians (Piper?): those who go, those who send and those who are disobedient. There were none of the third type in Antioch. No wonder they attracted attention, so much so that they got themselves given that nickname for the first time: Christians.
Isn't it great that the slightly mocking name was given to a group who were visible for their passion for the Lord and for planting churches to extend the Kingdom? Maybe we ought to only use the word for believers and groups of believers like Antioch. If that's how the word was originally used maybe we should remove it from those who don't fit the original definition. Keith Green used to say that lots of people call themselves Christians, but the only real ones are "people who are bananas for Jesus." I suspect the Antioch church would have agreed.