And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose. (Acts 11:21–23)
I can hardly believe that it has been nearly a year and a half since you called me to be your pastor and provided me with the opportunity to minister alongside you. I have been in awe of and encouraged by all that God has done with us. And I do mean ALL of us! The Holy Spirit has worked the Church’s vision to be one body of disciple making disciples into the entire church family and it has been evident in many different ways, but particularly in your faithfulness.
Your willingness to follow through and reorganize our church government to reflect the model revealed in Scripture is just one testimony to that faithfulness. The leaders who God called and you elected, and those they appointed grabbed ahold of the church’s mission and led us through a year of incredibly fruitful ministry. That fruitfulness was soon revealed as we collectively trusted our Lord to do all He promised, provided we were faithful to our call.
So what lies ahead in the coming year? How can we continue to see God’s grace abound despite trials, challenges and a culture that seems disinterested in the Gospel? A good place to look for an answer might be the early church in Antioch. The Jewish believers scattered following the persecution, under Saul, that arose with the martyrdom of Stephen. Many of them scattered to the northern Mediterranean city of Antioch and lived among the Hellenists (Greek speaking non-Jews). In that city, the early Christians were faithful to proclaim the Gospel of Christ, causing many of their Hellenist neighbors to believe. It was a testimony to the power of the Gospel for salvation (Romans 1:16) resulting from the faithfulness of the Church to its mission. Hearing of this, the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch to check it out. Upon arrival Barnabas was overjoyed to see God’s grace abound among both the Greeks and the Jews. And it is Barnabas’s advice to the church in Antioch that we must also take heed: “He exhorted them to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.” (Acts 11:23) Like us, that church knew something about trials and challenges and was surrounded by a culture disinterested in the Gospel. Yet, in order to see God’s grace upon grace continue, they were told they must remain faithful to the Lord and steadfast in His mission. That, too, is where we must remain in the coming year if we are to continue in God’s grace.
There is much that we can learn from the early Church, especially in the area of faithfulness. That’s one of the reasons why we’ll be spending a good portion of our Sunday mornings together in 2013 looking at its faithful journey by reading the book of Acts. My hope and prayer is that it will serve to equip, encourage and lead us into greater faithfulness in the years ahead. May we run the race well, to receive an imperishable reward, not as those who do so aimlessly, but as those who have been given purpose. And when the race is finished, may our Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servants.”