Skip to content

Bible Reading Plan | Devotion for the week of June 13, 2021

June 16, 2021

Weekly reading: Ruth 1-4; Psalm 26-28
Passages referenced: Ruth 4:21-22; 1 Samuel 13:14; Psalm 27:11; Psalm 119:105
I am sure I cannot be the only person who looks back on life decisions and plays out the “what ifs?” What if I would have gone to a different college? What if I wouldn’t have married my spouse? What if I had never met this particular person in my life? After reading the book of Ruth, I feel reminded of these thought processes.

Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi’s lives would have looked much different if Ruth had listened to Naomi and gone back home. David was a result of that decision. (see Ruth 4:21-22) I think about Ruth’s decision to stay loyal to Naomi. Was that a hard or easy decision to make? Was it easier for her to stay with her mother-in-law in that time of grief and uncertainty? Or was it actually a hard choice because going home would have felt safer?

Life is full of choices like this; some may be simpler and smaller compared to others. But each choice we make could lead to different results and paths. I sometimes question myself on how much thought I put into some decisions. Did I take the time to pray over it? Did I seek wise counsel beforehand? Or did I find it to be a thoughtless decision, too easy to even consider the consequences of my actions?

It is super easy in our culture to just float through life, making all of these choices without a real thought process. We can go with what we know, what feels safer or just easier. But could we possibly be altering our journey or even our destination and not even know it? Consider this concept when it comes to our relationship with others. We all have people in our lives who are not on the same path as us, maybe even a more destructive path. Are we being intentional with the decision to continue that relationship? Is that relationship starting to change our path in a negative direction? Or are we being called to be the light of Christ in their life?

Ruth married Boaz and gave birth to Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse, and Jesse was the father of David. David, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14) and an ancestor to Jesus, lived a life that had a major impact on the world, and his words are still read in the Bible today. The ripple effects of his life are not just from his story but his words as well, “Teach me how to live, O Lord. Lead me along the right path, for my enemies are waiting for me.” (Psalms 27:11)

May our life decisions be bathed in prayer and may God’s word be “a lamp to guide [our] feet and a light for [our] path.” (Psalm 119:105) – Stephanie Cloud

  • Do you have questions about this week’s Bible reading? We’d love to help! Rather than relying on the first thing you find on the internet, email us at biblequestions@warsaw.cc. We are more than happy to answer that nagging question you have, provide you with some clarity, or point you in the right direction for further study.

Bible Reading Plan | Devotion for the week of May 30, 2021

June 7, 2021

Weekly reading: Ephesians 1-6; Psalm 25
Passages referenced: Ephesians 2:4-6; 4:4-6; 6:12, 18

Have you ever watched a food documentary and immediately wanted to make changes to your diet? Or listened to a podcast that finally motivated you to make your dreams a reality? Have you ever had an experience that inspired you to live life a little differently?

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us of the transforming power of the Gospel. It’s no food documentary, but inspiring to say the least.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-6)

This verse illustrates such a beautiful picture of the Gospel. How incredible is it that we can be seated with Christ in the heavenly realms through God’s grace alone? We were dead, and He made us alive. Because of this story of grace, our story is reshaped in every way.

In fact, Paul describes us as being one body, one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God. (see Ephesians 4:4-6) Our gifts and differences contribute to the diversity and impact of the church, but ultimately we are unified by Christ. How much better does a body function when all the parts work together? Jesus came to unite us and reshape us to live more fruitful lives not only for ourselves but for the good of the entire family of God.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

God desires for us to be unified, working together to build the church with Jesus as the cornerstone. Although it often feels like we’re at odds with each other, or even ourselves, we’re actually battling spiritual forces of evil. Paul tells us to “be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18) because we’re all united against the same thing.

After reading Ephesians, I felt inspired not only by the Gospel, but by the desire God has for us to be one. United in Christ, united in our new story, and united against evil. – Kelsey Swanson

Bible Reading Plan | Devotion for the week of May 30, 2021

June 1, 2021

Weekly reading: Esther 6-10; Psalm 23-24
Passages referenced: Psalm 23; John 16:33

 In case you missed Sarah’s great introduction to the book of the psalms, you can find it here. Psalm 23 falls into the first book of the Jewish hymnal (what we call the book of Psalms). This first section has been called by many Bible scholars the book of personal experience. This means that the psalms of this first section are meant to teach us to worship in the midst of real human experience. As such, many of the psalms in the first 42 chapters are psalms of lamentation (heart-cries of pain and sadness). These lamentations express pain and fear but almost always return to the Truth of who God is in spite of the circumstance. This is worship – returning to God in the midst of painful and scary circumstances.

Most of us, as humans, are really bad at centering our worship on God. We put all kinds of things in His place. We worship people and things that make us feel powerful and, most especially, people and things that make us feel safe. Depending on how one translates the Greek and Hebrew, some variation of the phrase ‘do not be afraid’ appears between 100 and 140 times throughout the Bible. [1] Fear is obviously something that scripture takes very seriously because it is one of the things that leads us most quickly into faith. For me, it’s pretty convicting to look honestly at the places my faith goes when I am afraid. Usually, it is to myself, my resources, and my allies. And on rare occasions, I just decide it’s not something I can fight, and I hide.

David reminds us in Psalm 23 that fear is meant to lead us to God. This psalm is a short and powerful reminder of why we ought to worship God when we are afraid.

For those who are tempted to fear that God is not paying attention to your personal life:
“The Lord is my Shepherd.” (v1)

For those who are tempted to fear that material needs will not be met:
“I shall not want.” (v1)

For those who are tempted to fear that there is not enough energy to finish the day:
“He restores my soul.” (v3)

For those who are tempted to fear that God has abandoned you to human opponents:
“He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (v5)

For those who are tempted to fear that there is no hope left in life:
“Surely goodness and covenant love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (v6)

Fear is a real part of the human experience. It is something we all face to varying degrees at different times in our lives. David’s hymn reminds us to worship God, who is greater than all of our fears. Jesus reminded His disciples of this very thing when He told them, “In this world you will have tribulation. But take courage! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Friends, we can worship God in the face of every one of our fears because He provides. His promise is that there will be tribulation (pain, fear, suffering), but we worship with courage because He has already triumphed.

A note on the end of Esther this week: Esther chose to act boldly and rely on God for the outcome. Her courage has echoed down through millennia. Last week we saw her fear; this week, we get to see God use her as a tool for the salvation of His people because she was faithful and courageous in spite of her fear. Based on the timeline, it is possible that she was being encouraged by this same psalm 2500 years ago. Indeed, the Lord literally prepared a table in the presence of her enemy.

God bless you all as you explore God’s Word this week. – Zach Tingle

  • Do you have questions about this week’s Bible reading? We’d love to help! Rather than relying on the first thing you find on the internet, email us at biblequestions@warsaw.cc. We are more than happy to answer that nagging question you have, provide you with some clarity, or point you in the right direction for further study.

[1] A search using Accordance Bible Software for the 17 Hebrew words for fear and the 4 Greek words with each of their negations yields 133 results with anywhere between the numbers in the range above being translated as ‘fear not’ or ‘do not be afraid’ depending on translation.

Bible Reading Plan | Devotion for the week of May 23, 2021

May 26, 2021

Weekly reading: Esther 1-5; Psalm 21-22
Passages referenced: Esther 4:14; Psalm 22:9-10;
Romans 8:28; Philippians 1:6; 2:13

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians1:6

For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
– Philippians 2:13

What’s my purpose in this life? How many of us have asked that question, either to ourselves or to God? I know I have many times. We know we’re each given special gifts and talents to use for the Lord’s purposes, but discovering what those are and what to do with them can be difficult.

Esther was a woman of great outward beauty, which helped her seal the role as queen to King Xerxes, but her inward strength and faith in God were what helped truly set her apart. The Lord established Queen Esther on her throne for more than just looking beautiful next to King Xerxes. He had a very real and purposeful plan for her.

Esther had the esteemed title of queen and access to so much, but she still had doubts and discouragements like any of us. When she heard of Haman’s plan to annihilate the Jews (Esther’s people), her cousin Mordecai helped convince her to take a stand against his evil plan. He reminded her of her current role as queen and the standing she had with King Xerxes. “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14) Mordecai also made it clear in his message to Esther that God’s plan would prevail, whether or not she decided to participate in it.

This is such an important and timely reminder for us as well. We are called to be a part of God’s great plans, and they will be fulfilled even if we choose to sit on the sidelines. God, however, wants us to participate fully. We are given our positions in life “for such a time as this,” and it’s up to us to trust God to help us use them wisely.

David reminds us in the Psalms that God sets us apart, and we can trust in Him and His purpose for our lives. “Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” (Psalm 22:9-10)

God is good, and His purposes for each of us are good. God’s plans will always prevail; we just need to trust in Him above all else. The things God chooses for us are ALWAYS for our benefit and to fulfill His kingdom purposes. We can have faith in that, even when we question and doubt what God’s purpose for our life really is. As Paul teaches in Romans 8:28, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Brooke Price

  • Check out The Bible Project’s overview video of the book of Esther. It is an excellent source for background information and context that walks through the book’s sections and themes. It can be really helpful for those who appreciate some visuals while learning.
  • Do you have questions about this week’s Bible reading? We’d love to help! Rather than relying on the first thing you find on the internet, email us at biblequestions@warsaw.cc. We are more than happy to answer that nagging question you have, provide you with some clarity, or point you in the right direction for further study.

Bible Reading Plan | Devotion for the week of May 16, 2021

May 18, 2021

WEEKLY READING: ACTS 26-28; PSALM 17-20
PASSAGE REFERENCED: PSALM 17-20; ISAIAH 6:9-10; 55:10-11;
ACTS 21-28; HEBREWS 12:4

This week’s devotional writer is Mark Swinger. Mark has attended WCC for many years, served as an Elder, and currently leads one of the men’s Bible studies. Because of Mark’s experience with Bible studies, you’ll find this devotional has a bit of a study flavor compared to the devotional flavor of previous weeks. As it covers each of this week’s chapters, you might consider waiting to read this until you’ve finished the week’s reading.

Acts 26-28
When we come to Acts 26, we should recall some of the events that brought Paul to this point. He had already been confronted by a murderous Jewish mob (Acts 21:7), a Roman commander named Claudius Lysias (21:37-40), the Jewish high council or Sanhedrin, including the high priest Ananias (22:30-23:2), Governor Felix (23:33), and then Felix with his Jewish wife, Drusilla (24:24). In chapter 25, Paul appealed to Caesar to save himself from the murdering Jews, then was brought before King Agrippa and his sister Bernice (25:23). King Agrippa was an expert on Jewish customs and controversies (26:3).
Try to imagine the number of Jews and Gentiles who heard Paul’s story and the Gospel, then believed in Jesus because of Paul’s testimony. Even though some didn’t agree with his beliefs, they could not refute his witness. When we tell our own story, though some might not believe it, hopefully, our lives and the changes in us will bear witness to the truth. In Isaiah 55:10-11, God declares that when He sends out His Word, it always produces what He wants. In Hebrews 12:4, we read that “the Word of God is full of living power.” Wow! What an impact His Word can have in our lives and in the lives of others. We may never know the impact even a few kind words coupled with a loving attitude might have in someone’s life. We can only imagine, as the song goes!
Some who hear us may say we’re insane, having too much “study” (Acts 26:24). Some may study just for knowledge, which isn’t totally wrong. But we grow as Christ-followers when we prayerfully study with the purpose and desire to grow ever closer and more intimate with God.

In Acts 27, God speaks to Paul, informing him about some of what lies ahead. God doesn’t include all the details. Paul will need to trust God despite all the hardships, as well as life-threatening experiences he and many others will have to endure.

In Acts 28, the most impact is in verses 26-28, as Paul quotes Isaiah 6:9-10. The very thought of God including Gentiles in His plan of salvation was diametrically opposed to the Jewish mindset, which excluded anyone who wasn’t of Jewish descent. They considered Gentiles the same way the rest of the world viewed the Jews. They were God’s chosen people, and therefore better than everyone else. Do we ever consider ourselves better than others?

Psalms 17-20
In Psalm 17, notice the worship and trust in verses 6-9.

Psalm 18 contains worship and some remarkable imagery.

Verses 1-6 of Psalm 19 tell of the evidence of God’s existence and great power. Verses 7-11 speak of God’s word and commandments. And verses 12-14 contain a well-known prayer, especially verse 14.

In Psalm 20, verses 1-5 provide a prayer for others. Verse 6 is a testimony, while verses 7-9 declare that the LORD is our real salvation, not weapons, but God’s power! That’s something to consider and believe! – Mark Swinger

Do you have questions about this week’s Bible reading? We’d love to help! Rather than relying on the first thing you find on the internet, email us at biblequestions@warsaw.cc. We are more than happy to answer that nagging question you have, provide you with some clarity, or point you in the right direction for further study.

Bible Reading Plan | Devotion for the week of May 9, 2021

May 11, 2021

Many people struggle with anxiety and stress. You might be one of those people. I know I am. And when I find myself amid a bunch of anxious thoughts, I’d love nothing more than to pull a Bob Newhart in that MadTV psychologist sketch and just tell myself to “Stop it… S-T-O-P, new word, I-T!” But that’s not how it works. When I try to tell myself to stop feeling anxious, I just become anxious about my anxiety. It’s a real mess. But I’ll let you know what does work: reminding myself of Paul’s advice to the Philippians:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:6-9, NIV)

And after I think about those verses, I try to listen to Paul’s advice. I pray and then remind myself what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Do you know what fits all those categories and more? God. And there are two ways that I can remind (sometimes convince) myself of the truth about God: the Bible and my past.

Let me explain. We can use our past to remind ourselves of the truth about God by looking back on our lives and recalling all the times that God was at work, guiding and comforting us. God is always at work in and around us. We just have to open our eyes to look for God’s presence. The longer we’ve known the Lord, the longer that list of the ways He’s been at work will be.

The other way we can shift our thinking is by reminding ourselves what we’ve learned about God from the Bible. The more we read God’s Word, the more we get to know God’s character. As we read, we see over and over again the ways that God works in the lives of the people of the Bible. We also read promises of God working in our lives as well. God doesn’t change. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So when we get to know God in scripture, we can trust that that same God is at work in our lives today as well.

Psalm 16 is a great example of scripture that helps us remember God’s character. The verses that stick out to me are: “Every good thing I have comes from you… Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing… I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me… You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.” (Psalm 16:2b, 5a, 8, 11, NLT)

In verse 8, David says that he knows that the Lord is always with him. “I know” is a really strong statement. David doesn’t say “I hope” or “I wish” or “if only.” No. David knows that God is always with him. But how? How did David know that? Those two things again: God’s Word and his past. Those are the two ways to consistently remind ourselves that God is always with us – guiding, directing, comforting, supporting, and encouraging us. This truth about God’s character is found beyond Psalm 16. We see it throughout scripture, from the stories of Genesis to the Psalms to the Gospels to the letters of Paul. And we can see it in our past as well. We just have to look for it. – Sarah Neel

  • Do you struggle with anxiety? How can you use God’s Word and your past to help change your thinking and shift your focus away from anxious thoughts onto the truth about God?
  • Consider making a list of God’s qualities that comfort and encourage you that you can look at when you need help with your anxiety. You can include qualities from scripture as well as examples of God’s faithfulness in your own life.
  • An interesting resource you can check out as we slowly work through the Psalms is the work of the band Sons of Korah. According to their website, “Sons of Korah is an Australian based band devoted to giving a fresh voice to the biblical psalms… They endeavor to lead their listeners into an impacting encounter with this book that is often described as the ‘heart’ of the Bible. From lamentation to songs of jubilant praise, from battle cry to benediction, from exclamation of awe and wonder to reflections of tranquility and perfect wisdom, Sons of Korah provide a compelling portrait of the world and experience of the psalms.” They’ve recorded a version of Psalm 16 that you can check out on YouTube & Spotify.

Bible Reading Plan | Devotion for the week of May 2, 2021

May 5, 2021

21After preaching the Good News in Derbe and making many disciples, Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia, 22where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. 23Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. 24Then they traveled back through Pisidia to Pamphylia. 25They preached the word in Perga, then went down to Attalia.

26Finally, they returned by ship to Antioch of Syria, where their journey had begun. The believers there had entrusted them to the grace of God to do the work they had now completed. 27Upon arriving in Antioch, they called the church together and reported everything God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles, too. 28And they stayed there with the believers for a long time. – Acts 14:21-28, NLT

We can learn quite a bit from this passage about the life-cycle of missionaries. They preached the Good News and strengthened the disciples – encouraging them to remain true to the faith. Then they appointed elders in each church, committing them to the Lord.

Here in Papua New Guinea, that’s what our church planters do as well. First, they have to learn the language and culture of the tribal people group they’ll be working with to be able to preach the Good News to them effectively. They then preach through the entirety of scripture, establishing a firm foundation and guiding the tribal people to understand that they’re sinners in need of a Savior and must rely on Jesus and not their own work to be part of God’s family. Once there are believers who are truly putting their faith in Jesus’ blood alone to save them, the missionaries strengthen the new disciples in their faith and encourage them in the hardships they will go through. In this process, the missionaries move out of the tribal location but continue to go back to the tribe to continue discipling and encouraging the church as they grow into maturity. Leaders develop within the church and are eventually nurtured into elders. Then the work of the missionary is complete. But it takes 12-18 years to get there. They must commit the church to the Lord and trust Him to continue the work He started there. Our missionaries will still go back to visit and encourage the tribal church, and so did Paul. But, at this point, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, considering their work “complete.”

The church at Antioch was the church that sent them out, their sending church, and now they return to gather the church together to report all that God had done through them. Imagine that gathering – the report that Paul and Barnabas were able to give of the ways God was opening a door of faith among the Gentiles. I’m sure the church in Antioch came away amazed and encouraged, uplifted by this God-glorifying report. This could happen for WCC as well, as you take time to hear from missionaries and how God is working through them and through this church to reach the nations.

As part of the church body at WCC, both you and the church’s missionaries are part of the same body working together to build and uplift the church. Not only are missionaries part of planting and building up a church where they have gone to serve, they’re also still part of building up their sending church. You are working in partnership with each of the church’s missionaries to grow your church to maturity in Christ. Are you acting as effective hands and feet? Or are you hanging limply alongside your mission partners, failing to play your vital role in supporting them practically, relationally, and through prayer?

Verse 28 says that Paul and Barnabas stayed a long time in Antioch with their sending church. Imagine that time. What do you think it was like to hear all the stories of Acts in person from the missionaries that experienced it? Did the church cherish every opportunity they had to hear more about God’s glory, His mighty acts, His faithful provision? Or do you think they stood at a distance and missed out as the missionaries left on another journey?

Our yearly Missions emphasis just concluded, but you can get more involved with Missions at any time. So make a point to connect with one of WCC’s Mission Partners that joined us in person this past Sunday. Or reach out to a missionary who wasn’t able to come to the Missions Celebration to hear more of their story and what God is doing. You can also sign-up for our mission partners’ email updates and take the time to get to know them and cheer them on as fellow workers in the Lord. And be sure to visit https://warsaw.cc/missions to find out more about our partners, Pit Crews, 3rd Thursday Missions Nights, and other ways you can become more involved with Missions. – Summer Zimmer

A Simple Thank You Means So Much; Volunteers Needed to Help

April 29, 2021

Amidst the many challenges presented to our communities this past year, our local schools staff also faced an uphill battle. Which is why we need your help in taking a moment to thank them. We’re looking for volunteers to write thank you cards and notes of encouragement, as well as donors to help us provide a small treat as the school year wraps up to let them know how much we appreciate their efforts in not only teaching our children, but caring for their physical, emotional, and mental health along the way. 

The 2020-2021 school year will go down in history as unprecedented to say the least. The need for massive planning, constant evaluation and critiques, changing health protocols, and increased training for digital learning, stress prevention, and personal burnout concerns were met with determination, resilience, and perseverance. 

“Local school staff have gone above and beyond their typical job descriptions to be sure our students are continuing to grow and develop in all aspects of life despite the pandemic,” said Laura Robertson, Warsaw Community Church Community Engagement Coordinator. “Our school employees wear many hats and care deeply about the children of our community. Although a simple thank you note may not hold the enormous gratitude we have for our school staff, it is a step toward recognizing them and encouraging them as they close out this year. Please join us as we show them our support and gratitude for all they are doing for our families and the future of the community.”

Here’s how you can help:

Write thank you cards/notes of encouragement – Deadline: Sunday, May 16

  • Pick up cards and envelopes (in stacks of 10) from the WCC Info Center Monday through Thursday (9am-4pm), Sundays (8:30am-12pm) or contact Laura Robertson to arrange a separate pick-up and drop-off time.
  • Write a note of thanks, appreciation, or encouragement to the school staff member to let them know that as a community, we support them, value them, and are so grateful for their dedication and commitment this year. Feel free to include a verse, prayer, or quote and sign your name.
  • After writing in the cards, return them to the WCC Info Center by Sunday, May 16 and we’ll get them delivered.

Donate towards a small ice cream/food treat at the end of the year – Deadline: Sunday, May 16

  • Drop off at the WCC Info Center gift cards for Aldi or Kroger (please put in an envelope marked “School Thank You.”)
  • Drop off cash at the WCC Info Center (please put in a sealed envelope marked “School Thank You.”)
  • If you would like to use Venmo, PayPal, or ApplePay, please contact Laura Robertson directly about these easy digital options. 

For more details or questions about the WCC School Thank You Project, contact Laura Robertson, 574-268-0188 x217

National Day of Prayer

April 29, 2021

Join our nation in lifting up our prayers for God’s glory across the earth at noon May 6, at Warsaw Community Church, during the National Day of Prayer. The Kosciusko County National Day of Prayer Committee will be also making the live service available online at 7pm through YouTube and Facebook, as well as on the radio through WIOE 101.1 FM. Community leaders will guide specific times of prayer for different sectors of our nation, including; business, education, families, ministry and missions, etc. Right now, more and more people are realizing the impact and need for prayer. Will you join them in praying for God’s glory across the earth?!

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14)

Bible Reading Plan | Devotion for the week of April 25, 2021

April 27, 2021

Weekly reading: Acts 11-15; Psalm 11-12
Passages referenced: Acts 1:8; 9:16; 13:1-3; 1 Timothy 1:16; 2 Timothy 3:16

The Book of Acts is rich with riveting accounts of how God began to fulfill the Great Commission through Jesus’ disciples. Before His ascension, Jesus commanded His followers to be [his] witnesses, telling people about [him] everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NLT) Despite this directive, the young church of Jerusalem focused on its own flock. Very few ventured outside the city walls to share their newfound faith.

Our reading this week is a turning point in the story. Here the Gospel jumps from being shared primarily with the Jews in and around Jerusalem to become the Good News for the Gentiles (all other people groups) as well. Through this shift, God provided the way to take His Gospel to the ends of the earth.

After Stephen’s death, persecution scattered the believers of Jerusalem in every direction, some fleeing as far north as Antioch in Syria. Antioch was a thriving commercial center, attracting merchants and tradespeople from distant lands and diverse cultures. The Jewish believers interacted with shopkeepers and neighbors along the narrow, bustling streets. Believers shared their faith in Christ. Relationships grew. God touched peoples’ hearts, and many responded to the Gospel, Jew and Gentile alike. Soon, a thriving church community was born!

There is much to admire about this remarkable church. The Antioch church leadership team in Acts 13 is an inspiring example of inclusion and harmony, listing men of wide-ranging cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The church was bold and welcoming in its community by pioneering open outreach to the Gentiles. And it was compassionate and generous by sending relief to their sister church in Jerusalem. The people of the church were first called “Christians” there. Perhaps this nickname was a testament to their Christ-like character and love.

The church of Antioch is also a model of how the church is involved in sending out missionaries. The church leaders, led by the Holy Spirit, gathered together to fast and pray. Little is written about that meeting except that they prayed until they had an answer. The Holy Spirit clearly led the men to commission Saul (also known as Paul) and Barnabas for His “special work.” They prayed again, laying their hands on the two, dedicating the men to God. Then the church leaders sent them out on their first mission—to bring the light of God’s grace to a vast and spiritually dark world to the west.

In a time of intense growth, the church of Antioch chose to obey the Spirit and gave two of their best teachers to this venture. The implication in Acts 13:1-3 is that there was unity amongst the leaders about the goal and target of the mission. They were going to preach the Gospel, make disciples, and plant churches where God’s saving story had never been heard. And later in the book, when their challenging journey was complete, the Church of Antioch welcomed the missionaries home, listened to their report, and celebrated God’s work through them. Then Paul and Barnabas returned to their roles in the church body, leading, teaching, and discipling until God called them to their next outreach. These qualities are valuable to emulate in a mission-oriented church, even today.

If one considers his history, Paul was absolutely the least logical choice to lead this mission. He later referred to himself as “a prime example of [God’s] great patience with even the worst sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:16, NLT) This violent terrorizer of the early church became the caring planter of at least 14 vibrant churches. He did this knowing full well how he would suffer (see Acts 9:16). Be encouraged that God uses us, in spite of us, if we will submit to His direction. In the end, the work is unmistakably God’s and can only be credited to His glory.

The Book of Acts is a story of God using flawed but willing followers to advance His Kingdom. It is a story of faith, grit, and deep dependence on His Spirit. It is the story of the birth and beauty of the church. But it is more than a narrative. It is God’s Word, “useful to teach us what is true.” (2 Timothy 3:16, NLT) So, as we read, know that God is revealing these scenes to us, twenty centuries later, to help us continue His story. His Great Commission is not yet complete. We have our chapter to write, and the pen is in our hands. – Mike Boze