When Jesus told his disciples that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, it’s hard to imagine that they knew what challenges waited for them. Very shortly after the ascension of Jesus, the church was persecuted and scattered. Christians were literally meeting in a cave in Antioch of Syria (which ended up becoming the sending church for Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journeys).
Peter clearly had in mind preaching to Jewish people. But that idea got flipped on its head when God sent him to Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile. When more persecution came, James the brother of John was killed with the sword. This alone would have been a devastating blow to the disciples, because James was one of the “inner circle” during Jesus’ ministry.
As if James’ death wasn’t bad enough, Peter was imprisoned. “He (Herod) killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also” (Acts 12:2, 3 ESV). We don’t know why Herod kept Peter alive and not James, but clearly Herod was most likely going to put on a show for the Jewish people before killing Peter. Luke records a miraculous escape for Peter, then Peter appears to a group of people praying at Mark’s mother’s house. He told them to “tell these things to James and the brothers,” then he left and went somewhere else.
Peter did not shrink back. Neither did the other disciples. They boldly preached the word of God, because Jesus told them that they would be his witnesses. This is an amazing example of the boldness that we need to have today. The Gospel will go on, but we need to be willing to step up and share it.
Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash
There are a lot of really sobering discussions on where the direction of the church is headed. I’ve quoted Thom Rainer a few times recently because I think he really has a good grasp of trends in the church. Mr. Rainer hosted a podcast today called “Five Reasons Why the Speed of Change Must Accelerate in Your Church in the Post-Quarantine Era.” It was spot-on. The problems that the church is seeing at unprecedented rates have been festering just beneath the surface for a long time.
Church apathy, sliding attendance, tensions within leadership–these have all been warning signs that things were reaching a tipping point. When COVID hit, it accelerated these problems at a very high rate. Rainer argues that COVID didn’t cause the problems, but accelerated them. So to counter these problems, leadership needs to accelerate change. The days of “easy conversions,” he argues, are over. Instead of merely inviting people in, he says that churches need to be very intentional about reaching the lost.
This is an “Acts 1:8” moment, he says. Acts 1 is the ascension narrative. Jesus was giving final instructions to his disciples. Acts 1:8 says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Not long after that, the Christians faced persecution and were scattered. The disciples had to move out of Jerusalem and had to be very intentional about reaching people and being witnesses to those who had never heard the gospel.
The face of the church is changing rapidly. The question is, are we keeping up?
Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash
I just returned from visiting my sister Stephanie and her husband Roni in Haiti. I took my oldest daughter along and she got to experience Haiti for the first time at just 8 years old. It was my first time to visit the COTP campus where Steph and Roni live. Haiti is a gorgeous, mountainous country filled with a very rich history and lots of poverty.
Our congregation sponsors the Bhullars and the important work they do there. Visiting Haiti again is a reminder of how great the need is for people to give. Without the generosity of others, the Bhullars and other missionaries could not do the work they are doing there. As Christians, we are called to give and to go. We give of our time and money and we go to where our neighbors need help. This was the heart of Jesus’ mission and it has always been the mission of the early church.
The early Christians “were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45 ESV). When there was a need, they selflessly and happily sold possessions and gave the proceeds to feed the poor and care for the oppressed. Over and over again Christians gave of their time and money. And they did so cheerfully. But they didn’t just give, they also went.
The first action word of the Great Commission is go. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. . .(Matthew 28:19). Steph and Roni went. We don’t have to go overseas to bless people. We can go across the street to our neighbors. But go we must. I could have made up a thousand excuses not to go to Haiti this year. 4 weeks ago there were riots and the US issued a travel ban. It was dangerous to travel and Americans were being evacuated. It’s expensive to go overseas. I was away from my family for a week. It was inconvenient to go. But we are commanded to go. The Bhullars were blessed. We were blessed. My daughter was discipled and is already asking how she can raise more money to give to the good people of Haiti.
Churches that do not give generously stagnate. We are a small church but we can do great things through Christ. In an effort to increase our ability to give and go, we created an online giving page. We’re proud to say that 100% of the money from the online portion will be used to help people in need. Our congregation already gives almost $10,000 a year just to support missions and local benevolence. For a church our size, that’s almost unheard of. But we want to give even more because we want to go more. You don’t have to be a member of our congregation to give. The Lord’s church networked in the first century. And we want to also.
Help us spread the word. We long for people to give regularly and joyfully! We want to increase the amount we give each year to help the poor, oppressed, so we need your help. Please go to our online giving page and partner with us in giving to help the poor and oppressed. And help us spread the word! And join us on mission trips. Even if you cannot physically go on a mission trip, follow our page and get updates. We need your help to give and go!
The cover image is of the Hope House, where Steph and Roni currently care for six orphans.