Female: In Jerusalem, AD 30, Jesus died on the cross, resurrected on the third day, and then ascended into heaven. Fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, the Holy Spirit fell on the apostles, giving them power, purpose, and a plan. Out of joy, the church was born. Empowered by the Spirit, Peter gave his first sermon, and 3,000 hearts were transformed. Hearing, receiving, and repenting, the young church walked in unity and garnered praise. Out of joy, the gospel creates community.
Peter and John then continued to spread the gospel through preaching and miracles, and the church grew by 5,000. Yet inside and outside forces threatened the unity of the church. Still, out of joy, the church multiplied. In AD 31, Stephen gave a powerful sermon connecting the Old Testament to Jesus and rebuking the people for their hard hearts. Enraged, the people stoned Stephen, making him the first Christian martyr.
In AD 34, the gospel continued to multiply through Philip’s ministry in Samaria and Caesarea. Meanwhile, on the road to Damascus, the Lord transformed the heart of Saul, a man who persecuted countless Christians, and Saul became Paul. After this conversion, the gospel continued to spread through the ministries of Paul and Peter. God gave Peter a vision and used him to first reach the Gentiles. As the believers were scattered because of persecution, Antioch became the church’s center of operations, while the Lord continued to protect the church in Jerusalem.
In AD 44, King Herod Agrippa the First executed the apostle James and had Peter arrested, but an angel rescued Peter, leading him out of the prison. In every day and age, the church faces both persecution and praise. All multiplication comes at a cost, but we must fight for and pray for unity. We must be willing to give up our preferences. We must be willing to say goodbye. We must continue to move forward for the good of the church and the sake of the gospel. Out of joy, the church multiplies.
[End of video]
If you have your Bibles, go ahead and grab those. Acts, chapter 13, is where we’re going to be today. In fact, I’m going to cover chapters 13 and 14. If you think that’s ambitious, you should have been here last week when we covered four chapters. Despite the fact that we have two full chapters here, I’m going to spend the bulk of my time in the first three verses of Acts, chapter 13. Let me explain a bit why.
Eleven years ago, Highland Village First Baptist Church, or The Village, was 25 years old and running about 160 people. Since then, The Village has grown from 160 to close to 12,000 and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. In the middle of all that, over the last 11 years, we’ve done a wide variety of things, both to try to continue to see people come to know Jesus Christ and be discipled as well as to get people to leave this church and be a part of other gospel works. We have worked diligently to accomplish both of those.
When I first got here, there were two services on Sunday morning. As people started to come and people became Christians, we did the only thing we knew to do, because we were young and dumb, which was to add services. So we added services and started to plant churches. Very early on, that was our strategy: “Let’s add services and plant churches.” We learned that planting churches wasn’t going to keep up with the volume of people coming.
We also learned that most of you would not leave to be a part of church plants but would rather just stay here, or you would go be a part of a church plant for a little bit and then come back here after a few months. So two services became four services became six services. Then we physically couldn’t do six services anymore, so we introduced video on Sunday nights. We thought that would kill the thing, but not at all. It just continued to grow even with that.
So we got all the more aggressive about planting churches. Then someone donated a building to us, gave us a building. We had this section of time where $11 million worth of facilities were just deeded over to The Village Church. Both our Denton Campus and Dallas Campus were given to us. We did not purchase those campuses; they were given to us. The remnants of that congregation and some of our congregation, according to land level, marinated and became The Village Church, Denton and Dallas.
Then from there we purchased a property in Fort Worth. We purchased this building I’m standing in. This is one of the highlights of my 11 years as your pastor. We knew there were three grocery stores. We knew we didn’t want to build the monster. We had met with some architects. We had been told it would require 30-something acres just to park us at the person-to-car ratio we were. I just wasn’t for building the monster. I didn’t want to spend $70 million. I’m not against those who do that, but my own conscience wouldn’t let me get there.
We noticed there were three grocery stores on this little corner here: an Albertsons, a Tom Thumb, and a Kroger. We just began to ask God to let capitalism work its magic and let one of those die. Like vultures, we just floated around waiting for one of them to die. We got news that Albertson’s would be the one going to be with the Lord. Through some contacts we had, we heard they would be asking about $4.5 million to $5 million for the facility.
We thought we would offer them $4 million and see what happened. They took $4 million, and in the most ghetto giving campaign in the history of Christendom, I stood up and said, “We need $4 million in the next 60 to 90 days. You’ve got it, we need it, let’s go,” and you did it. It still to me blows my mind. We were so broke back then, and you did it. People sold cars and downsized and cast in that change jar that everybody thinks isn’t much money, and we bought the building.
Then we purchased Fort Worth. There were people who said, “We don’t buy buildings. People give us buildings.” I said, “Don’t you go to Flower Mound?” Because we bought that building and retrofitted that building. Then we bought Plano. In the middle of all of this, we’ve just continued to plant churches and continued to send missionaries to the farthest parts of the earth.
Really, there has been no real consistency at The Village Church in how we’ve approached the mission of God other than us prayerfully considering, growing in a knowledge of the Word of God, taking risky steps of faith, and trusting that God is who he says he is. Really, that’s the only consistent thing I can point to at The Village Church.
We’ve planted churches and we’ve planted campuses and then we’ve planted churches and campuses and then the last weekend in January, I laid before you the idea that over the last five years the elders have in varying degrees of intensity prayed about, had robust dialogue around, and considered, and that is to take our Denton Campus and roll it off into an autonomous church. We rolled that out because, after five years of discussion, five years of praying, five years of seeking the Lord, we believe this is a natural progression in how the Lord would have us respond to his mission.
So what I want to do in our time together today… I told you the book of Acts and our series on the book of Acts didn’t have a lot to do with that but rather had everything to do with reminding us of how we have always operated and how we had better always operate, lest we grow comfortable and begin to navel-gaze and, now that we have resources and age and momentum and influence, downshift into patting ourselves on the back and making things more comfortable for us here and get off the track of mission and instead grow stale, cold, old, and die.
Although this study of the book of Acts is tied somewhat to what we feel God compelling us forward in in regard to campuses and how we utilize and work with campuses, primarily, almost 12 years in, this is a gut check of, “Let’s make sure that as God has blessed us with the money he has blessed us with, the size church and the influence he has blessed us with, that we not press pause on aggressively taking big, global, scary risks for the glory of his name and the good of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
That’s what I want to talk to you about today. All of that and how the elders have interacted in this really can be found in these three really compact, dense verses in the first part of chapter 13 of Acts. Now let me tell you what we won’t be able to cover. Last week in the four chapters we covered I just showed you the gospel exploding out of Jerusalem. It moved out of Jerusalem, which is where it began, and crossed socioeconomic lines and ethnic lines, and we have ourselves a global community now bursting out of Jerusalem.
In fact, I said if it helps you to get a mind picture, think of any zombie film you’ve seen or any film where a virus tries to wipe out mankind. There’s always a scene in every one of those movies where there are generals and politicians and scientists. There’s always a big screen, and one guy, the lead scientist or whatever, has a remote of some kind and says, “Here’s the virus at eight hours. Here’s the virus at fourteen hours. Here’s the virus at two weeks. Here’s the virus at six weeks. Here we are at twelve weeks: total human extinction.” There’s dramatic music, and there’s one guy who has a solution to it.
That scene of the virus spreading across the globe and killing all of us before we figure out how to defeat the zombies is what’s happening in the book of Acts. That little red dot, that little outbreak, starts in Jerusalem and then begins to spread. In fact, the whole purpose of the book of Acts as we’ve covered it is found in Acts 1:8: “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 ends of the earth.”
We know this has happened because we’re here, because we’re in this room, because we’re believers in Christ. I don’t know how well you know maps and globes, but we’re a long way from Jerusalem. Yet we’re here, because as I said last week, the gospel cannot be stopped. In fact, the more people try to destroy it, the more it grows and flourishes. Like I said last week, Rome is a pretty legit empire. Can we agree on that? From India to England they ruled the world.
If you’ve been to Rome, you know there are streets you can still drive on that they built 2,000 years ago. Think about that. Our streets don’t last a month and a half. I joked about the Chick-fil-A parking lot. They can’t figure that thing out. Rome built roads you can still drive on, and they threw us in the arena with lions and sawed us in two and crucified our brothers and sisters by the thousands and strung them up alongside city walls and gates.
They tried to crush our faith, and historians tell us that by AD 351, of the Roman Empire, 51 percent called Jesus Christ “Lord.” If you watch the Discovery Channel, they’ll tell you Constantine made Christianity, but the historic reality is that Constantine, as an emperor, could see what was happening and wasn’t an idiot. If you’re an emperor, you don’t vote every four years.
If predominate culture supplants an emperor, you tend to end up getting stabbed a bunch of times in the shower by your best friend. (Some of you know literature and were with me; others of you are a product of a broken education system. That’s another talk for another day.) When all is said and done here, I hope to God Constantine was actually converted, but he jumped on the wind blowing through the Roman Empire that had men and women surrendering to Jesus Christ in an atmosphere that was trying to destroy them.
In fact, I said this last week. I earnestly believe it. You and I are in far more spiritual danger than any of our brothers in Iran and Iraq and Sudan and these places where at any moment they might be killed for loving Jesus, because you and I are fickle about it. Our approach to it is nonchalant. For our brothers and sisters around the world who are risking their lives today to worship him, for whom there’s complexity of sharing the gospel, courage required in evangelizing, and the freedom you and I so breathe we don’t even know we have it is absent…
I feel like they are far more spiritually safe than we are. They’re not physically, but could it be our physical safety has left us somewhat taking for granted all the mercy and grace of God he has so beautifully lavished upon us? So what we see happening is the further expansion of the church in the ancient world. In fact, right after these three verses, Saul and Barnabas are going to set sail from Seleucia to Salamis, which is about 146 miles away.
If you remember geography from last week, we went 146 miles northwest and 64 miles west. We were just kind of showing the spread. Now we’re 146 miles away. Then from Paphos to Perga was 225 miles. Then just a quick little jaunt from Perga to Attalia, which is just about 10 miles. I know some of you guys actually run that. I would never run 10 miles. In fact, I’ll turn and fight you to the death before I run 10 miles. They went 10 miles. Then from Attalia back to Antioch was 406 miles.
So when I’m saying to you that the gospel is spreading and spreading rapidly through hostile waters, this is what I’m talking about. It’s just growing. It can’t be stopped. It can’t be slowed down. God will accomplish his purposes. It is a surety because he cannot fail. The reason the Pew foundation and even NATO will say there will be 633 million Christians in Africa by 2025, even more in Asia and in South America, seeing it explode, is that God can’t fail.
If you go, “What about Europe? Isn’t it Westernized now?” No, no, no. I was just there. We’re planting churches all over Europe, and those churches in Europe are actually engaging people groups who everybody is saying want nothing to do with the gospel, and yet they do want something to do with the gospel because we’re seeing them get saved.
That’s why I invited you last week… If you want to risk your life, don’t parachute; we can send you to a place. If you want to be a part of X Games, we can do some X Games. If you want to waste your money on “trinkety” stuff, how about not do that, and let’s sow into things that can’t fail. With that said, I want us to look at the church in Antioch, because I think what we see in the church at Antioch is the thing I want us to be, how I want us wired, how I want us operating, and how I earnestly pray to God he keeps us, lest we drift and become something silly. Acts, chapter 13, starting in verse 1.
“Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 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.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”
I believe the church at Antioch, far more than the church at Jerusalem (which is where, ironically enough, all of the apostles are now stationed, outside of Saul of Tarsus), is a gospel-centered church. They are a church that has been shaped by, molded by, and fueled by the gospel of Jesus Christ: the good news that Christ has come and has absorbed God’s wrath toward all sin and has imputed to those who are repentant his righteousness so that men and women are seen as sons and daughters who are perfectly blameless and spotless in his sight regardless of background.
There are three reasons I’m confident that Antioch is this kind of church. Here’s the first one. The relational dynamic in this church is a sight to behold. Let’s get into that relational dynamic. First of all, the fact that Saul and Barnabas were ever friends who worked together for the cause of Christ is a testimony to the mercy of Jesus Christ. Let me show you that.
We first met Barnabas in Acts, chapter 4, starting in verse 36. “Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” It’s safe to say that Joseph/Barnabas is in. I mean he’s full-on in. When the apostles rename you, you’re in. “Hi, I’m Joseph.”
“Not anymore. I’ve been watching you. You’re so encouraging. Your name is Barnabas.”
“Well, my mama called me…”
“Okay, we love your mama, but your name is Barnabas.”
Barnabas was so known as an encourager… Have you ever been around people like that? They’re just always speaking life, always encouraging. Well, this was Barnabas. Not only had his spirit and temperament been changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, but his hold on his wealth and what had been given to him by God just completely loosened up under the beauty of the gospel.
He sold a field, a piece of property he had, and he didn’t try to manage it. He didn’t divvy it out as he saw fit; he laid it at the apostles’ feet. So now we have a generous man, an encouraging man, and a man who has no problem getting under godly authority. Maybe you’re a skeptic in here and you’re like, “He was just trying to curry favor with the apostles, trying to be a big shot in the church.”
I might give you that, except right after this story there’s a couple who actually tries to go that route with it, Ananias and Sapphira, and God kills them. So it’s probably safe game to say that our boy Barnabas, Joseph as his mama called him, is legit. He loves the Lord. He has been moved on by the gospel. This is Barnabas. He is in the inner circle there at the church of Jerusalem. He is a part of its leadership. He is an example of what godliness looks like.
So there’s Barnabas in Jerusalem. Saul is hanging out in Jerusalem at this time also, and we pick up his story in Acts, chapter 8, starting in verse 1. This is right after the murder of Stephen. Here’s what we read: “And Saul approved of [Stephen’s] execution.” Execution is an interesting word there. More like a murder, a mob-styled murder.
“And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”
Now you probably can’t get too far away from life goals than those two brothers, can you? Here you have Barnabas selling all he has and with his mouth and life trying to build the church and Saul with his wealth and all his energy trying to destroy the church. Although it’s not in the text, it is not a leap to say surely Barnabas knew some of the men and women… The church in Jerusalem was a small church at this time. Surely Barnabas knew some of those men and women whose front doors Saul kicked open, whom Saul dragged out into the street and committed to prison.
This is first-century Jerusalem. There is no Bill of Rights. There are no laws against illegal search and seizure. In fact, the picture we get even as we read into the book of Hebrews is as these men and women are arrested, their stuff is looted and stolen. Literally, their worlds crumble. So how in the world are Barnabas and Saul working together to build up the church? Because the gospel reconciles people who you would think there’s no way they could ever be reconciled.
Think about it. Isn’t this somewhat miraculous? Even if Saul never did anything to Barnabas directly, can we be honest enough to say in this room that some of us dislike people who have never done anything to us but did do something to somebody we love? We don’t trust them. We don’t like them. In fact, if you want to talk about that, I’ll jump on their lack of integrity, them being liars, them being not able to be trusted. “Did they lie to you?” “No, but they lied to a friend of mine.”
Yet, the gospel has so moved upon Barnabas and Saul that these two partner with one another for the building up of the church in some of the most difficult scenarios, willing to die together for the gospel. The gospel reconciles people, and we see that here at the church of Antioch, as the two primary teachers and leaders at the church of Antioch were one time enemies who the gospel has reconciled.
There’s another guy in the room, and all we know about him is his name is “Manaen.” We’re just going to call him “Manny.” Manny was a friend of Herod the Tetrarch. Now here’s what we know about Herod the Tetrarch. We know the Herods are not great people. If you’re of the Herodian camp and you’re on ancestry.com, you’re not going to be on there long. There’s no good news for you.
Herod the Great, if you remember the Christmas story, was the one who, after the wise men did not return and report on finding Jesus, had all of the baby boys 2 years old and under in Bethlehem killed because he was nervous about losing his throne. On top of that, Herod the Great had his brother-in-law and mother-in-law executed. (Some of you are starting to like this guy.) Then he had his second wife executed. This is a dysfunctional family.
Herod the Tetrarch is not Herod the Great; he’s Herod Antipas. He is also a train wreck. We’ll talk just a bit about our boy Herod Antipas, who’s great friends with Manny; in fact, lifelong friends with Manny. It’s an interesting way for the text to describe their friendship. Grew up together kind of friends. Here’s what we know about Herod Antipas, or Herod the Tetrarch. We know he married his stepbrother’s ex-wife. Awkward family reunion. “Hey, Philip. It’s just been weird.”
We know that upon marrying his stepbrother’s ex-wife, she had a daughter who was a little bit on the sultry side, if I can be kind. One night the family is together just doing a bit of drinking with a good bottle of wine. They got a little loose. In comes his wife’s daughter, and she does a little dance for him. He’s so filled with lust at the dancing of his stepdaughter… I mean, you want to talk depravity. He says, “Anything in my kingdom is yours. Tell me what it is.”
She’s a gem, so she says, “Give me the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” Wow. Biblical counseling, please. Herod Antipas gives it to her. He has John the Baptist’s head cut off, put on a platter, and brought to this little teenage stripper girl. Then, on the night Jesus is arrested, right before he is crucified, Pilate is gleefully filled with joy to find out that Jesus is actually from Bethlehem, so he sends Jesus to Herod, trying to wash his hands of the situation.
Herod is excited because he heard Jesus was kind of like a magician. “Oh, David Blaine is coming over. Let’s see if we can get him to entertain the crowd.” He gets his court together and waits for Jesus to get there. Jesus refuses to perform any miracles, so the soldiers mock him and beat him and send him back to Pilate. This is Herod Antipas. And at the church of Antioch, our boy Manny is a dear friend of Herod the Tetrarch, a lifelong friend, and yet he’s in the inner circle of the leadership of this church.
Once again, this is a testimony to the gospel’s power to overcome our pasts. The gospel overcomes them. I think the most consistent lie men and women believe is that you’re too jacked up or you’ve gone too far or you’ve made too many mistakes or there’s no way God could use you, save you, forgive you, that you’re the one person in human history who has pushed the boundary too far.
I would just lovingly tell you, “Get over yourself. You’re not that good even at sinning.” I would lovingly call you a navel-gazer. “Look at how awful I am.” Yeah, it’s not about how awful you are; it’s about how awesome he is. In fact, it is the habit, if not the consistent practice of God to pull from the fringes of darkness his brightest lights. That’s his preference.
If you knew the full-on testimonies of most of this staff, the people you trust to shepherd you and love you and guide you and encourage you in the Lord… Do you know how many military school people we have on this staff? One of them escaped and ran off to Mexico. True story. Now you don’t have to go get your kids. We don’t let them hold your babies. You’re like, “Get the kids.” No, we wouldn’t put them over that. Do you know how many of us have been picked out of the muck and the mire?
See, the glory of God is that you can’t out-sin his grace. “But you don’t know me.” Look, bro. I don’t have to know you. “You don’t know what I’ve been.” I don’t need to know where you’ve been or what you’ve done. I know there’s a whole slew of men in the Bible who would chuckle at what you feel is too far. Manny’s presence in Antioch shows us the gospel not only has the power to take what’s old and make it new, but it shows a level of trust even with the darkest of pasts into the very heart of Christian ministry.
Lastly, there’s a type of diversity in this church that I have pled with God to bring us. Let me just walk through some of the men in the room. Barnabas is from Cyprus. He’s a Hellenistic Jew. Simeon is of unknown origin. We don’t know where he’s from, but they called him “Niger,” which is Latin for black. Every commentary, every church historian, says what we know about Simeon is that his skin is black. So we have a man from Cyprus who’s a Hellenistic Jew and we have a black man.
Lucius is from Cyrene and he is an African, Manaen is a Palestinian Greek Herodian, and then finally you have Saul of Tarsus, who grew up in Jerusalem and is a Jew but not the same kind of Jew Barnabas is; he is a Hebraic Jew. So in this room… Just the list we have is a lot like MTV’s The Real World. It’s like, take people who will not possibly be able to get along and stick them in a house together.
Here they are. These men would have been trained from birth to despise the other men on this list, to feel superior to the men on this list, to position themselves as more intelligent and more intrinsically valuable than the other men on this list. The gospel showed up and blew all that to kingdom come, tore down the walls of hostility, broke down the walls of cultural identification, and created a new body, a new people.
Where we were once alienated and separate he makes us one. There’s no longer Jew and Gentile, no longer slave and free, no longer black and white. We are all one in Christ. The gospel does that work, because in order for this type of work to take place, there must be an ongoing ethic of confession and repentance and the fight for legitimate true community. Without those three things, this doesn’t take place.
Then, on top of the type of relational harmony that’s hard to get your mind around in Antioch, you also see they are a group of men who are serious about seeking the Lord and hearing from him. They’re together and they’re fasting and praying and listening to God. How do we know they’re listening to God?
It doesn’t say they were listening to God, but it does say, “And the Holy Spirit said to them,” and then they obeyed what the Holy Spirit said, which leads me to believe that not only were they praying, not only were they worshiping, not only were they fasting, but they were also dialed in, trying to hear from the Lord so they might line up their worlds to obey him.
Now let’s talk just briefly about how we listen to the Lord and how the Lord speaks. I passionately believe the Lord speaks to us in impressions, in dreams, and in a thousand other ways, but those ways and those words will never, ever, ever contradict, go against, or disprove the revealed Word of God. In fact, let me say this to you. If you want to hear from the Lord, then you grow in your knowledge of the Word of God so that you understand his character, you understand his will, you understand what God is all about, and you understand what he is after.
You dial in to his character as he has revealed himself to us in his Word, so that when you do go, “I think the Lord is leading this way,” it is informed by and filtered by the Word of God, lest you buy into that ridiculous lie where you say, “I fell the Lord is telling me to do this” and one of us has to go, “Brother, the Lord has clearly said you cannot do this.” Then you want an asterisk next to the Word of God. You want that asterisk, and then you flip to the back and there’s a picture of you and it says, “Except for you.” You’re just not going to find it.
There are truths that work for all time and all places and all peoples. It has been revealed to us in the Word of God. The filter for “The Lord is leading me this way” is the Word of God. Nowhere in the Bible does it tell me I’m supposed to marry Lauren Walker and make her Lauren Walker Chandler, but here’s what the Word of God did tell me. The Word of God did tell me, “He who finds a wife finds what is good.” It told me marriage was good.
It told me that I would be sanctified in marriage, that I would know the Lord all the more in marriage, and it told me to seek a woman who was after him. So I could look at Lauren and I could look at Lauren’s growing love for the Lord and I could look at her desire to serve him, her desire to walk alongside someone who was willing to risk things for the kingdom of God, her ferocious commitment to grow into a godly woman. She was 17 when we met, so it’s harder to call your shot back then, but I could see the trajectory.
Then what about coming to The Village? I can’t find Highland Village First Baptist Church in here. I’ve read it cover to cover a couple of times now. It’s not in here. But what I can tell you is the gift of teaching has been given for the building up of the church. I knew God had given me the gift of teaching, so that gift must be played out in a church for the good of a church, for the building up of that body for the work of ministry.
So although there’s no text in here that says, “Highland Village First Baptist Church,” I started being led by the Holy Spirit by what I knew about God, what I knew he wanted for his church, and why he had given me the gift, all of which were taught to me by the Word of God. Then when my gut starts going, “I think The Village,” I’m not blind in saying, “I’m going to take this step of faith.” I’m not blind in saying, “I’m going to risk this now.” I know the character of God. I know the will of God. Now I’m going to take steps forward and trust he is who he says he is, because he hasn’t failed me yet.
So they’re doing this and they’re listening and… This is the third piece about Antioch that makes me so impressed with them and makes me so desire that this would be us. They’re so openhanded. What we know about Barnabas and Saul is they’ve spent the last two years in Antioch pouring into these men, training them, evangelizing, building up the church. There is no doubt that these two men are the conduits through which God has been moving in power among the church at Antioch.
Now at this prayer meeting, this seeking of the Lord’s will, the Holy Spirit shows up and goes, “Those two guys, those two vessels who I’ve been using so powerfully in your lives, I’m going to send them somewhere else.” Surely it hurt, but they laid hands on them, blessed them, and sent them out. That’s amazing. I’ll tell you why it’s amazing. God help us; people have a tendency to love vessels rather than loving the One who flows through and is contained in the vessel. I’ll explain it this way.
If God has done a profound work in your heart and he has used someone to accomplish that, then what has occurred in your heart is not due to the person at all but rather the Holy Spirit inside of that person flowing out of that person to do the work in you. The praise of what God has done in your heart goes to God, not to the person. According to the Bible, the person is to be honored as a servant of the Lord but not to be exalted past that.
When you exalt vessels beyond where they’re to be exalted, it’s not good for them and it’s not good for you. It robs you of worship and puts too much pressure on the man or the woman. It puts too much pressure on what the Bible calls jars of clay. I know I have the gift of teaching. I’m not arrogant or anything like that. In fact, I’m probably more baffled by it than anyone else. I’m almost Rain Man. I’m really just kind of a moron. I’m like, “The Bible, hey.” I know who I am.
When people come to me and say, “Matt, God has so used you in a profound way in my life…” Can I tell you some thoughts that almost always go through my head? Here’s the first thought: “I failed the eighth grade.” That’s almost always what goes through my head. Like, I didn’t get held back; I failed. Now that I have an 11-year-old, I don’t even know how I did it. I become more impressed that I did it. How do you fail the eighth grade? Can you not write your name?
Then when people come up and go, “Man, my marriage… God has really started to weave my marriage back together. He has used you in a profound way. Thank you,” I think of how often this past week I’ve tried to spell a word and my computer goes, “I don’t know. Try again. No suggestions. Literally, I have no idea what you’re trying to do. I have every word there is and I’m lost. I’m tied to the Internet and I don’t know. Try again and maybe I can help you.”
So I’m aware of my own weaknesses, my own shortcomings, but this is how God works. It’s why you must be careful, for your own joy and the safety of those whom God uses, to praise the Lord for his work and not his vessels for that work. You can thank them. You can encourage them. You can honor them. Don’t exalt them too high. They’ll run out of air. God doesn’t run out of air; men and women do.
Be careful that you don’t put them in an altitude where they can’t survive. They’re just men. They’re just women. They’re all perishing. They all have cracks in their jars. It is God who is honored, it is God who is praised, and it is God who is building his church. Antioch didn’t panic. When the Holy Spirit said, “Free up Barnabas, free up Saul, and send them out,” they didn’t panic. They didn’t go, “What about us?” No. They laid hands on them and sent them out.
I want us to be this kind of church. Last weekend, while we were doing our services, Blake Chilton, who was best man in my wedding and I was best man in his, launched the first service of Declaration Church down in Bryan-College Station. They had about 200-something people show up, and already gospel work is beginning to flow.
Bob and Julie Mendonsa left our church. They’re doctors. They went to Africa and started several projects. One of those was to raise up local churches in and around Kenya. Now we partner with two churches that are actually planting more churches in and around Kenya and training pastors in southern Sudan, and on and on and on I could go. We’ve been openhanded with our people.
Listen. Being openhanded stings. Blake, who has lived within three to four miles of me since we were freshmen in college, who has been on staff here for seven years and was a dear friend of mine long before he was on staff here, is now five to six hours away. I don’t like that. My wife and his wife are great friends. She doesn’t like that. That has been a loss, a net loss for our family.
My little sister is a missionary on the other side of the planet. I have not seen her in two years. I hate that. Maybe you don’t have a problem with not seeing your sister. I really love mine. Maybe you’re going, “Sounds like heaven to me. Maybe my sister could be called…” That’s not where we are. In fact, Heather actually came to the same college I was going to. I’d like to think it was because of me. I think she thought my roommate was cute. She ended up marrying him, by the way, and he is with her on the other side of the earth.
We’ve just always had a special connection. When she was in her rebellious state late in high school, for several months she would crawl into my bed at about 3:00 in the morning just drunk and just a mess and sob and say, “I don’t want to be doing this. I don’t want to be living like this.” We would pray, and I’d try to encourage her heart. Then sure enough, the next weekend, right as she was going out, I was like, “Hey, I thought you didn’t want to do this.”
“No, no, no. I’m not going to do it. I’m just going to be there for a little while.” Sure enough, by 2:30, 3:00 in the morning, she’d crawl back in bed with me, reeking of the party scene (which, by the way, doesn’t smell great), and just would sob and would hate life and didn’t know why she was doing it. I would just pray and try to encourage her and edify her during the week, and then she’d go right back the next weekend.
We did that for several months until the Lord really moved upon her heart. I picked her up from where she was when God really did a profound work, and as I drove her home, she knew she was going to need to break up with this idiot boy she was dating. She knew her whole friendship world was going to have to change. She literally twice on the way home asked me to pull over so she could throw up on the side of the road she was so anxious about the changes she knew were coming.
I love her. I miss her. I haven’t seen her in two years. These are gospel goodbyes. What I do get is eternity with these men and women and more, hundreds more, from this church. We’ve been openhanded. We must stay this way. So when we lay before you the idea of the Denton Campus becoming an autonomous church, this is one of those things that’s going to sting. It’s going to hurt. It’s going to be a loss for us. It’s not just a loss for Denton; it’s a loss for us.
They helped shape the covenant we abide by. It was out of the Denton Campus that covenant renewal was birthed. They send out a ton of missionaries. They have sown into the pastoral ethos of our staff a desire to serve you and love you and encourage you well. Despite the fact we’re as large as we are as a church, we’re going to be dialed in to your lives. We’re going to come see you when you’re sick. We’re going to show up before you die. We’re going to come to the hospital and pray over your baby. We’re going to be engaged.
That ethos was created by Beau Hughes and many of his staff. One of the primary writers of children’s curriculum is on staff in Denton. I helped baptize Beau Hughes. I met him when we were in college. I meet with him all the time. He’s one of my favorite people on earth, and I’m not going to be able to interact with him at the level I do now. It hurts, but we have to stay openhanded.
Let me just end this way, and then I want to ask you to do something for me. Let me tell you some weirdness in my mind. When I look at all that God has done here over the last 11 years… So 160 people to close to 12,000. When I start to think about it, here’s where I make my mind go. What if this isn’t the big thing at all? What if this isn’t the “Wow”? What if the “wow” is a hundred years from now?
What if the “wow” is us spending the next 40 years sacrificing, giving of ourselves, risking our lives, planting churches, doing ministry all over the world, and the “wow” is a hundred years from now the Holy Spirit pours himself out in a type of great awakening like the world has never seen across every continent on earth, drawing up the nets to heaven and seeing millions upon millions repent, confess, and believe upon the name of Jesus Christ?
I want to give my life to that. Don’t get me wrong. It has been awesome. But do you think right now God is impressed with what he has done? Do you think God is like, “Nailing it”? Well, in some sense, of course he is. He’s the sovereign King of the universe. Everything works on his timeline. But what if we keep being openhanded, keep sacrificing, keep one foot in front of the next, serving him? What if the big thing is a hundred years from now?
I’ve asked the Lord to give me 40 years with you. That’s what I’ve asked for. Even when I got sick and they told me I had two or three years to live, I said, “I know you’re better. I know that coming home to you would be better, but you put in my heart 40 years with this crazy group of men and women. Will you give me that? If you don’t, surely I’m not going to be in heaven going, ’Come on! It would have been great. All those emails were awesome.’”
No, but I feel compelled that the Lord is up to something so much bigger than us. But I do feel like it’s a fight to keep our eyes there. With this series I’m trying to fight to keep our eyes there. We’re seven weeks away from the covenant members at Denton voting on whether or not the Denton Campus will roll off and become an autonomous church.
Denton, we love you. We have not in any way treaded lightly on this decision. In fact, it was five years of praying, conversation, and fasting before we ever even rolled it out to anybody else to pray around. So we feel a deep sense of loss in where we feel like the Lord is leading, but at the same time, I just so in my heart feel like the Lord is saying, “Open up your hand and trust me.”
You have seven weeks, so here’s the way I want to encourage you, Denton. We tried to provide all of these town hall meetings and all of these ways to create feedback loops for you. If you still have questions, still have concerns, I feel like we’ve done our best to answer those, but continue to ask your staff. You have one of the best shepherding staffs I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world.
Please ask questions. Engage. There won’t be any bad questions. We’re not going to get frustrated. We know this is a huge deal. We know God has worked profoundly in that campus and that it’s a special thing the Lord has done here. So ask questions and get comfortable with where the Lord would have us go. Then seven weeks from now we’ll see whether or not we have heard correctly from the Holy Spirit.
Now, the rest of the campuses, let me tell you why this matters for you. It matters because they are us. This isn’t the annexation of a building; this is family. This is people who have prayed with us, fought with us, cried with us, fasted with us, worshiped with us, pled with the Lord to deliver some from diseases, pled with the Lord to bring about the miraculous in other parts of the world. On and on and on I could go about how they are a part of us.
For the next seven weeks, here’s what I want you to do. Will you pray in your groups, pray in your car on your way to work? If you get together with your spouse or a group of friends and pray, pray about this, that as we move forward, God might grant us clarity in knowing that once again we’re going to take a step forward and we’re going to risk and we’re going to trust him because he has not failed us yet.
Now if you’re a guest with us this morning and you’re a believer in Christ, this is the kind of church we’re trying to be. If that’s appealing to you, then come on. If that’s not, I’m under no illusion that we’re for everyone. I yell a lot. I know some people don’t like that. They like the more professorial, you know, “1, 1A…” Some people love that. Praise God for it. I physically can’t do it. I would explode. It would be awful.
But if that resonates with you, come and play. There are a lot of dark places on earth where the light needs to push back what’s dark. If you’re not a believer and a parent dragged you or a spouse dragged you or just a nagging neighbor finally made you give in and go, “Sheesh, okay, if you’ll be quiet,” and now you’re here, all I’ve done today is explain to you how you got in the room.
Over the last 2,000 years, very faithful men and women have laid aside their own personal comfort and safety so the world might know, see, and embrace the forgiveness made available in Jesus Christ. You’ll find it to be no accident that you’re here today. It might just be that the Lord is beginning to woo. That’ll be fun for us to watch. Let me pray for us.
Father, thank you. I pray that you might continue to stir up our affections for you. Free up our hands. I pray that we might mirror well the church at Antioch, that we might be a picture of reconciliation, a picture of lives transformed, that we might be a place that is diverse both in color as well as socioeconomic status. I pray that we might be known as those who seek you and those who are openhanded with every bit of resource and life and energy and gift you so give us. It’s for your beautiful name I pray, amen.