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How your church can change the world

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Acts 13:1-5

Stan Parks, son of Keith Parks, the former president of the International Mission Board, is a missionary to Indonesia for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. He is here today to share with us how what God is doing in Indonesia and how our church is involved.

The point is simple: through the Parks family, our church has touched Indonesia, a country 9,421 miles away.

I cannot touch Indonesia from Dallas. I cannot touch the world with the incredible good news of God’s love and compassion. But we can! And we should, for their sake and for ours as well.

The eminent psychologist Dr. Karl Menninger was lecturing to a packed hall of graduate students. During the time for questions, one asked Dr. Menninger what he would prescribe for a depressed person. All pens were at paper, ready to record a brilliant diagnostic and treatment strategy. Dr. Menninger smiled and said, “I would tell the person to leave his house, cross the street, knock on his neighbor’s door and ask how he could be of help.”

An upset and angry college student came for counseling to Dr. George Truett at First Baptist Church of Dallas. He was ready to abandon his faith. Dr. Truett listened to his problems, then asked him for a favor. The young man agreed. Dr. Truett gave him the name of a person in the hospital who needed a visit, and his room number. “I just don’t have time to make the visit. You make it for me,” he said. The young man agreed. He became interested in the person’s troubles, eventually put his own to the side, and left that hospital room a new man.

340 million people worldwide are considered depressed today. Loneliness, purposelessness, a lack of meaning and direction is pervasive in our culture today. Mother Teresa was right: loneliness is an epidemic.

But it doesn’t have to be so. We can walk across the street and help someone in greater need than ourselves. Antioch of Syria was the city least likely to become the greatest church in Christianity. If they could, so can we. Here’s how, in very practical terms.

Follow Jesus personally (11:19-21)

Antioch of Syria was the third-largest city in the Roman Empire, with a population of half a million people.

Situated 300 miles north of Jerusalem, the city was founded in 300 BC by Nicanor I, who named it for his father Antiochus. In 64 BC it became the Roman capital of Syria. Today it is the city of Antakya in modern-day Turkey.

Antioch was a city of great beauty and sophistication. Unfortunately, it was known the world over primarily for its corruption and decadence. The cult of Artemis, five miles to the south, practiced all kinds of sexual immorality and temple prostitution. Every kind of illegal activity was found there. If you crossed Las Vegas with Sodom and Gomorrah, you’d have Antioch.

It is amazing that this city would have the greatest church in early Christianity. We can never give up on any city, including Dallas.

What happened is this.

Persecution had scattered believers out of Jerusalem (v. 19). These first missionaries preached only to fellow Jews. But then some courageous believers from the island of Cyprus and the African town of Cyrene came to Antioch and began to preach to Gentiles.

Remember how Jews hated Gentiles, and considered them firewood for hell. These unnamed first missionaries set aside their prejudices and gave the gospel to these cursed Gentiles. And in this way multitudes in Antioch came to Christ. Among them was Luke the physician, author of Luke and Acts.

Later Peter would preach here; in fact, there is still a church building where he first preached in Antioch. In short, “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (v. 21).

To be a church like Antioch, of course we must first follow Jesus personally. We must accept him as our personal Savior and Lord. You can only give to others what you have received personally. Have you accepted the amazing gift of his miraculous grace and love? No matter what you’ve done, or how you’ve struggled, you can. You may be in Antioch, but you can. This is naturally where we start.

Love each other (22-24)

Now, the Jerusalem church sends Barnabas to check out what’s happening in this Gentile, notoriously immoral city. When he arrives, he witnesses a miracle. Not only are thousands of Gentiles becoming Christians, but the Gentiles and Jews there are one family in Christ.

According to Galatians 2:12, they were eating together, taking the Lord’s Supper together, and worshiping together. This was unheard of! But Jesus had told them, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). They proved they loved Jesus by loving each other.

So with us. We cannot reach our city and world unless first we reach out to each other. Controversy within a church or denomination will always hinder missions without. Satan always attacks first at the unity of the people.

On the other hand, a loving family of faith is our best witness in a hurting world. If you want to go across the street to help a neighbor in need, start in your pew, your Sunday school class, your choir, your church family. Who needs you today? How can you love Jesus by loving them?

Remember the old rabbinic story about the man who visited hell and found a long banquet table covered with food, surrounded by starving people. They held long wooden spoons, too long to feed themselves. Then he was shown heaven—the same table, food, spoons. But in heaven they fed each other.

Share his love with those you know (25-26)

Now they begin to witness to their immediate community, their Jerusalem. Here’s how it happens.

Barnabas travels one hundred miles north to the town of Tarsus, to find Saul. He knows God has called him to reach the Gentiles, so he brings him to Antioch. Together they disciple the church for an entire year. As a result, these believers begin to demonstrate the character of Jesus.

They take on his morals, his character.

They begin to demonstrate his compassion to those they know.

As a result, their community comes to call them “Christians,” which means “little Christs,” or “imitators of Christ.” They see Jesus in them.

It’s said, “The light that shines farthest shines brightest at home.” This is true of our lives, and our church.

I became a Christian because I wanted what the Christians had. Do people want what they see in your life? Who can you touch this week? A new neighbor? A lonely student? A struggling colleague? The waiter you see often at the restaurant? The person working at the cleaners, or the grocery store? I drive a 1991 car, so I know the dealership service manager well. To whom could you “cross the street” and help?

Give to reach the world (11:27-29; 13:1-5)

Now at last this Gentile church begins to reach outside its immediate community to the larger world. They do this through the “three P’s” of missions support: possessions, people, and prayer.

First they impact the world through their possessions. Prophets warn them of a coming famine in Judea; it actually occurred there between AD 45 and 48.

So, these Gentile converts, who were not reached by Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, nonetheless, reach out to them. They take a financial offering, using their possessions to help people in need. Even though famine will come to them as well, they give their possessions, sacrificially.

Can we do this? Of course. This is what the world missions envelope is for. Every one of us has something we can give to touch the world.

Next they give their people. The story continues in chapter 13: “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'” (v. 2). Even though they are the founding pastors and teachers of the church, and seemingly indispensable to their future. At great sacrifice.

But they respond: “after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (v. 3). The church gives its possessions and people to the world.

Could some of us go? Could one of us be the next Barnabas or Saul?

And finally, their prayer commitment. Note that they “fasted and prayed” for them (v. 3). They began what became a lifelong spiritual commitment to support this global mission effort. Any missionary will tell us that the most important way we can help is to pray.

Can we pray? Specifically and passionately?

The result of their possessions, people, and prayers is the beginning of the global missions movement which takes the gospel to the entire world. Paul will lead three missionary journeys, and each one will originate in Antioch. Each time he will return to this church for their help and support. Each time they will send him out with their prayers and help.

And one church will touch the world.

Conclusion

Today one quarter of the world, 1.2 billion people, have never even heard the name “Jesus Christ.” And three out of four do not know him as Lord. Over 3,000 people will die without Christ in the time it has taken me to preach this sermon.

Do you need to cross the street today and help a neighbor in need? For her sake, and for yours? Start by giving your life to Jesus; then find someone here to help; then someone tomorrow; and give your possessions, life, and prayer commitment to touch the world. For we really can touch it, together.

Chuck Morris is someone none of you know, but thousands of people are in heaven because of him. Chuck was the pioneer missionary in East Malaysia, on the island of Borneo; the rest of the island is part of Indonesia. I spent a summer there doing missions and followed Chuck. Then came the pivotal day of the entire experience.

It was a clear Saturday morning. I was sitting on the bed of our small room, talking with Chuck as I packed. He asked me if I was open to missions ministry. I told him I would go if God opened the door. He looked at me, pointed his finger at me, and said, “Never say you’ll go if God opens the door. Say you’ll go unless God closes the door.”

Has God closed the door to us? Clearly not! Our church can touch the world. Now, what if our global mission depended on you?

It does.