Pastor Rob Karch recapped his biography:  Born in Seattle and grew up in Oregon.  He was invited on a missions trip to France while in college (1998).  Met his wife there on the trip and they were married in 2002.  That summer in 1998 and 1999, God gripped his heart with the French-speaking world.  His heart was broken by the fact that the majority of people in France had never even opened a Bible and didn’t have any interaction with Jesus except as a statue.  They never realized that Jesus is still changing and transforming lives TODAY.  Rob and his wife, Martine, both applied to World Venture and wanted to go back to France.  God redirected them to Quebec.  God did incredible things in Quebec.  Rob and Martine helped launch new churches and sent out church planters.  Caleb and Constance are his children.

Over the last couple of weeks, we walked through and examined God’s relentless pursuit of humanity.  He loves us!  We looked at Adam and Eve and how God created them to have a relationship with Him.  They turned away from that relationship.  We saw how God called and pursued Abraham and to lift up Abraham as a people group, not for their benefit, but for the benefit of the nations.  We saw God work through the life of Moses, pursuing Moses.  We saw King Solomon as he was dedicating the temple; he was dedicating it not just for Israel, but so the nations would know there’s one God, the creator of the universe, that loves all nations.  Last week, we also saw that Jesus came, God in the flesh, to this earth.  He walked and lived a perfect life on this earth.  He died and rose again, conquering sin, death and our spiritual enemies.  Then He unleashed the church, sending His Holy Spirit.  The church was unleashed and left Jerusalem, went to Judea, went to Samaria, to the uttermost parts of the earth—which includes Littleton, Colorado and we’re part of that unleashing here today.  It’s fantastic to hear this story and realize we’re in the story!  We’re part of it!  And the story isn’t over yet.  We see some hints of what’s to come in Revelation 5, 7 and 21, where representatives of the nations and the people groups of the earth, one day, will be standing in front of the God of the universe and worshipping Him together.  We saw that last week and that was awesome, wasn’t it?!

One of the things that I’m convinced of is that God works through disorientation.  As God introduces disorientation into our lives, especially as adults, our learning ability skyrockets!  When we’re comfortable and in our rhythm, we don’t really want to learn anything.  Like life is good, right?  But when our life is upside down, all of a sudden we want to learn how to get out of the situation.  I believe that right now, when we look around the world and what is happening in the Middle East and North Africa and other parts of the world, that God is using disorientation today to open up the world to Jesus Christ.  Today we’re going to look at “ordinary people unleashed” and how God used a disorientation to unleash ordinary people, like you, like me…..and use them to unleash them to transform a city.  We looked at the broad spectrum.  Today we’re going to dig down deep into one particular city in Acts 11.  We’re going to look at the church in Antioch.

Just to review and not forget this:  “Mission is not ours; mission is God’s.  Certainly, the mission of God is the prior reality out of which flows any mission that we get involved in… It is not so much the case that God as a mission for his church in the world, but that God has a church for his mission in the world.  Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission–God’s mission.” (Christopher J.H. Wright)

Let’s pray.  God, thank you for your relentless love, your pursuit of humanity throughout history and your pursuit of us and your love for us and your desire to use us to woo other peoples to yourself.  God, please bring that home to us.  Open our eyes for us so that as we walk out these doors we would be completely enamored with your love and your desire to work through us and to unleash us where we are.  In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.

What better way to start a sermon then to talk about the French, right?  Yes!  A little known historical figure called Napoleon Bonaparte.  Prior to Napoleon, European nations had there own professional army that was funded by the royal treasury.  They had these small professional armies of 30,000, 40,000 or 50,000 people….they would have their little wars or skirmishes.  At the end of the war, whoever lost got a parcel of land and they would sign it back and forth.  Well, Napoleon revolutionized all of this.  He didn’t have a professional army.  What he did was turn the entire French nation into a military machine.  Every single citizen of France was either on the front lines or supporting the front lines.  When he started a war, it was a tidal wave of this military machine flowing and overflowing into all the surrounding countries.  He was meeting with one of his counterparts in Austria one day and he told him, “You cannot stop me.  I can spend 30,000 men a month.”  The other European powers were not used to this.  They didn’t know how to react.  I don’t know if I’d like my leader to say he could just spend me like that.

During World War II, the United States actually adopted this philosophy.  We’re fighting a two-front battle—one with the Japanese and one with the Germans.  As we’re going through World War II, the United States was transformed into this military machine.  We were.  We won, right? Isoroku Yamamoto, a Japanese admiral, discouraged Japan from invading the United States.  He said, “If we do, there will be a rifle behind every blade of grass.”  We know it’s true, right?  How many of us, if somebody was invading Colorado, would wait for the military to arrive?  We wouldn’t.  We’d pull out our weapons and go to war.  That’s who we are as Americans.  {I was in Montana speaking.  I would ask guys in Montana, “How many weapons do you have?  Just out of curiosity.”  They would answer, “You mean total or in my truck?”}

So what we see in Acts 11 is a church that takes this to heart.  That every single person is a part of the mission.  Every one!  Acts 11:19 (NIV)–Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenecia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews.  So….a little bit of background.  Jesus came.  He died.  He rose again.  He conquered death.  In that gap between His resurrection and the ascension, he’s spending time with the disciples, unleashing them.  A little bit later, they’re in Jerusalem.  They receive the Holy Spirit.  They’re speaking in tongues.  All of these things are happening.  Peter gets up and explains to the crowd what’s happening.  He tells the people they need to turn away from their own selfish ways and turn to the way of Jesus and 3000 people did that that day.  Later on in Acts 4, we see that the church in Jerusalem had grown to 5000 men.  If you take that and add women and children, we’re talking about a church of 10, 15, 20,000 people in Jerusalem.  This huge church in Jerusalem.  Then we see the government and local leaders clamped down on the church.  They begin to throw people in prison and even murder one of the key leaders, Stephen.  The church is scattered all around the world, like Alexandria and Cyprus and Cyrene and Antioch.  That’s where we are.

…..spreading the word only among Jews.   The parallel is these Jews show up in Antioch and they find people like them who speak a similar language, have a similar culture and traditions and they begin sharing the good news of Jesus with them.  That would be like if your work takes you to Saudi Arabia or to Hong Kong or to Mexico.  When you show up there you find an American ex-pat community and start telling them about Jesus, because Jesus is awesome and He’s the central figure of all human history and He’s the one who came to save us.  So you’re sharing this good news with them and that’s good and we’d applaud that!  What happens in verse 20?  Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene {Cyprus is this island out in the Mediterranean and Cyrene is actually modern day Libya.  So they’re coming from North Africa, which is pretty interesting and end up in Antioch.} ..went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also.  {They cross some ethno-linguistic boundaries.  They go and speak with people who do not necessarily share the same cultural heritage, the same traditions, the same mother tongue.  They begin to share the good news of Jesus crossing these barriers and when that happens, when they’re getting outside their comfort zone, they’ve already been disoriented because of the persecution….they’ve been thrown out of Jerusalem.  They end up in Antioch.  They’re going outside the box.  They’re doing this crazy thing….talking to people different than them.}  Verse 21 – The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.   God did a mighty work in Antioch.

Couple of things about Antioch.  Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire.  So it’s basically the Chicago of the Roman Empire.  New York, Los Angeles, Chicago.  In the Roman Empire, my understanding was it was Rome, Alexandria and Antioch.  It was this major urban center.  It was this huge city with Roman and Greek influence.  What ended up happening was this church was begun in Antioch.  The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed….  This church ended up becoming one of the greatest mission-sending churches in the history of the world!  Who started this (church)?  We don’t see any apostles’ names.  We don’t see seminarians’ names.  We don’t see celebrity pastor-type names.  We see regular, ordinary people that ended up in Antioch.  They began making disciples in Antioch where they were.  It became the greatest mission-sending church in history and we don’t even know their names!  That’s awesome to me!   That means that God can use you, God can use me, God can use anyone of us where we are to make disciples.  We don’t know where that thing could go.  All we know is that God can use us where we are!  If you walk out with anything today, I hope you walk out with the renewed vision that God has called you where you are and God can use you to do amazing things to see transformation where you are as you walk with the Spirit.  Unleashed to multiply unique disciples….ordinary people, regular people.

I was in Marseille a few months ago.  It’s a city in southern France of about 5 million people.  Beautiful city.  Multi-cultural city.  A large Muslim population–about 300,000 or so, mainly Algerian Muslims.  I was in a particular neighborhood (will not mention names since this is being recorded) which was a very difficult neighborhood.  The police generally do not go into this neighborhood.  It’s mainly an immigrant neighborhood with a lot of violence, drug use, drug dealing.  When we walked into this neighborhood we saw it.  You can see the drug dealing.  You can see the drug runners.  I’ve never seen anything that blatant.  The police only show up once every couple of months.  In comes Gilbert!  With the mustache and glasses and scarf—he’s only missing a baguette!  French pastor.  Gilbert is fantastic!  Gilbert has a passion for God and realizes that God sent His son.  He realizes the price that God paid to reconcile humanity to himself.  He realizes that every single person, no matter where we’re from, is made in the image of God.  He realizes that.  He sees that and he has a passion for this particular community.  For the last 10 years, the French government has been throwing red tape in his way, so he could not use a group of seven churches that wanted to invest in this particular community.  A couple of years ago, the local French prefect, a political leader, wanted to meet with the Evangelicals in Marseille to find out who in the world they were.  In France, about 1% of the population would say they have faith in Jesus Christ as the One who came, died and rose again.  In Him alone.  By that they have a relationship with God starting now for the rest of eternity.  Those are Evangelicals.  In the U.S., about 30%, give or take, would claim that.  30% vs. 1%.  This is a minority.  So the prefect sat down with them and asked them who they were.  Gilbert, with a group of pastors, began sharing with them.  Well, we’ve been transformed by Jesus.  We’re going to proclaim the name of Jesus and we’re going to love our neighbors.  We also organize things in our communities and we’re reaching out to immigrant communities.  We’re reaching out and helping single mothers.  We’re helping the homeless.  We’re involved in the communities around each one of our churches.  Our desire is to be a blessing to those communities.  At the end of that meeting, Gilbert said to the prefect, “Mr. Prefect, for the last 10 years there has been that community over there.  The one the police don’t go to?  For the last 10 years we’ve wanted to go in and bless THAT community and you’ve stopped us!  What have you done for that community over the last 10 years?”  The prefect said, “Honestly, we haven’t done anything.  Honestly, we don’t know what to do.”  The prefect continued, “Make us a proposal.  Write a proposal and we’ll look at it.”  Gilbert walked out of that meeting and got together three different houses of prayer to pray for this process.  Then he brought together a group of French sociologists to build a plan for that community….to bless that community.   Then they presented this plan to the local prefect.  It was a plan that included everything from children’s activities to French classes to computer literacy courses to everything to bless this community all in the name of Jesus.  The prefect came back and said that not only do we approve the plan and we say yes to that, but we would like to pay for the space that you’re going to use for that, using city funds.  If it goes well here, then we’d like to open the rest of Marseille to you and your group.  When Gilbert walks into that community, he doesn’t see only immigrants or Muslims or violent people, he sees people created in God’s image….that Jesus came to this earth and He died to save them.  And God’s relentless love is reaching out to them and pursuing them and desires to use the ordinary people in this church, even if the police are afraid to go into this community.  Every single day members of these seven churches are walking into this community.  They’re serving this community where the police fear to tread.  These are ordinary people.  People like you and I that God is unleashing to bless this community.  Isn’t that fantastic?

This is who we are as a church.  We are the body of Christ.  We’re people who have been transformed by Jesus.  Maybe you haven’t yet.  Maybe you’re struggling with this right now and aren’t sure about this.  Just know, this is the vision that God’s given us!  As we live, we’re transformed by Jesus.  We’re living this out in community. We’re loving one another.  And we’re going.  We are a going people as we saw last week.  And we’re going to all different sectors of society.  We’re involved in sports, media, education, health care Monday to Friday.  This is where we’re going.  Government, arts, family, science, agriculture, police and fire.  God calls us to join in His pursuit, His love for people, as we’re going into these different communities.  As people meet Jesus and they see who He is and they’re transformed by Jesus, then they, too, become part of the community.  And then they’re a going people as well.  This is what we’re called to as a people of Christ.  This is what we saw in Marseille and this is what we’re seeing here in South.  A couple of things I want to highlight.  Ordinary people unleashed at South and God is using….the Holy Spirit is working in this congregation right here, right now.  We’re a part of this.  I spoke last week with a couple of people involved in prisons in the area.  They’re involved in prisons and sharing the Good News of Jesus and loving people sacrificially.  Families adopting children.  Family Promise where we’re coming around and loving families who are going through a difficult time.  Isn’t it great?  It’s not just in Marseille, but it’s here, too!  God’s calling us to be a part of this.

A couple of other things.  If you’d like to open your bulletins, we’re launching a third service.  We’re having a third service launch team tonight because we’re convinced that God is not done with this place yet.  So if you’d like to join that launch team, we want to see God work mightily here in Littleton.  This is one of the creative ways that South is being a part of that.  If you’d like to be a part of that, you can sign your name, phone, email and drop it in the basket on the way out.  We’d love to have you as we pray about being a part of what God is doing around the world.  Also, “Adopt a Global Partner”.  South is involved all around the world right now.  We have a privilege of being a part in supporting what God is doing in Kenya.  So I’d encourage every single one of you, when you walk out of here, to walk over to the table and pick up one of the cards and pray about adopting and supporting and loving on some of these people that we’re connected with all around the people.  Both here and there.  We can all play a role.  We can all be a part.

The second thing we see in Acts 11:22 is chaos happening.  This chaotic thing in Antioch.  No one’s directing it, guiding it other than the Holy Spirit.  News of this chaos reaches the church in Jerusalem, so they decide to send Barnabas to Antioch to find out what in the world is going on in Antioch!  Barnabas is called “the son of encouragement.”  He was a leader in the church in Jerusalem.  It would be like sending Pastor Dan down the road to find out what in the world is going on.  (I’ve been encouraged so much by Pastor Dan.)  So Barnabas showed up there.  When he saw what the grace of God had done, he said, “Hey, we need to rein this thing in and stop it!”  No!!  …he was glad….   So this chaotic thing was happening that we’re not exactly sure what God is doing, but He’s doing something amazing and he was glad.  I know my reaction…..I can have a tendency, when I see God doing something outside the box that I’m not comfortable with, to kinda feel skeptical and try to rein it in and kinda want to box it in.  Barnabas realized that if God is working, I’m glad!  I pray that that’s our response to that.  ….he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.  He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith… {So he shows up and this thing is happening, but Barnabas does not believe that it is done, it’s finished.  What’s happened has happened.  Barnabas is convinced that this is the beginning of a movement of God.  So then after Barnabas shows up…..}  ….a great number of people were brought to the Lord.   That’s a question I have here.  Isn’t it great to be part of what God is doing here over the last few years?  Are you encouraged?  I am!  Can we have the attitude of Barnabas?  That maybe God is building the foundation for something else.  That’s exactly what was happening in Antioch.  God was building a launching pad for the church to not rest in Antioch, but to explode, both in Antioch and to the surrounding areas and uttermost parts of the earth.  I don’t know what God has in store for South.  It’s possible that five years from now South Fellowship doesn’t look anything like South Fellowship today.  But we pray that the Holy Spirit doesn’t stop today.  That tomorrow and the next day and the next day we see the Holy Spirit work even more powerfully and in mightier ways than He has up to now.

Verse 25:  Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul…  This is so ironic.  Jump back up to verse 19:  Now those who had been scattered by the persecution….  That Saul started!!  Let’s go get him and bring him back to Antioch.  So in a weird way, Saul actually launched out these people to start the church in Antioch—against his will.  But Barnabas realized these people need shepherding.  We need to walk alongside them and not just leave them.  We need to not say, “Ok, they believe in Jesus. Great.  Now let’s move on!”  No, we need to walk with them and help them walk in a healthy, long-term way to make more disciples and multiple disciples and invite other people to join and follow the Way of Jesus.  We need to see this thing to grow in maturity.  We need to walk with them and he was convinced of that.  Verse 26:  ..and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch.  So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people.  The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.    Isn’t that incredible?  All of these new beginnings.  All started by people we don’t know….ordinary people the Holy Spirit used in extraordinary ways.  Last week we learned that a convert will never multiply himself, but a disciple always will.  Paul and Barnabas were convinced that we need to walk alongside these people and show them what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and see them multiply in healthy ways.  And they did.  They were committed and they stayed there for a year.

The third thing we see is ordinary people unleashed to impact the entire world.  How does this happen? They weren’t seeking it, but it happened.  Verse 27:  During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.  One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)  {I love that Luke, who wrote Acts, inserted this parentheses to show that it’s true.  Seek the historical record.  You will see there was a famine during the reign of Claudius.  It happened….real people, real places.}  Verse 29: The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea.   {So Antioch, which is a larger, richer city with more resources, finds out that their brothers and sisters in Judea need help.  So they come together and decide to bless their brother and sisters in Judea.  This is the first step towards this amazing mission.}  Verse 30:  This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.    Later on in Acts 13 what do we see?  They send out Paul and Barnabas and then they send out others and this church becomes this mission launching pad, where the city itself is transformed and then it grows and it grows and grows.

I saw an example of this when I was in Montpellier, which is in southern France.  I met a pastor by the name of Daniel Mattioli.  He’s an Italian who grew up in Switzerland who’s a pastor in France.  He speaks French with a Swiss accent.  He also speaks Italian.  I had actually heard Daniel speak in Quebec at a conference.  I was really impressed by him.  I had other friends who had been taught by him at a local seminary and had been deeply impacted by him.  When I was in Marseille, I had to make the two hour train ride to Montpellier and spend a few days there and explore what God was doing in that particular city.  What I found was astounding!  So Daniel’s church is a church of about 200 people, significantly smaller than South.  Montpellier is the fastest growing city in France.  Ten’s of thousands of people are moving into Montpellier every year.  One of the things that Daniel told me as he was showing me this city and showing me the growth…he said, “Rob, one day God is going to hold us accountable for how we do or do not welcome these new people into our community in the name of Jesus.”  That’s true for South, too.  We know Jesus and he’s sending people from all different cultures, countries and nations to Littleton and the surrounding area.   It’s our responsibility to welcome them in the name of Christ. Also, there are four main Muslim communities around Montpellier. They’re mainly Moroccan communities.  Twenty-five percent of the city are students.  One of four are attending a university.

While I was there I was praying, with my wife and other people, what the next steps look like for us.  We were able to pass the baton in Quebec and we were praying what God had for us in the future.  It isn’t clear yet.  If Quebec churches and American churches invested in the Montpellier churches—-we were there on the ground in Montpellier—-then those churches have a vision for church planting.  This is part of being accountable to God for Daniel.  They have a vision for twelve new churches.  Not because he wants to be audacious.  He realizes that God is sending him so many people that they need twelve churches to keep up.    They’re investing in students.  They’re fighting human trafficking and they are building a vision to make disciples in those four Muslim communities, which would trickle back to North Africa.  So we see the possibility.  One of the options for us on the table is to go there and be a part of that.  We’re not sure yet.  Possible timeline for us:  June 2015-We brought our stuff down from Quebec to Colorado.  Martine is applying to become a U.S. citizen…that would facilitate coming and going from the U.S.  She was actually refused at the border once.  Lord willing, we could go on a family vision trip to Montpellier in November 2015 and explore how our family could get involved in that ministry working with Daniel, if that’s what God would have for us.  If that was positive, then possibly move to Montpellier next June.  That’s kinda what we’re looking at right now.  That would cost a lot…what we’re looking to raise right now is a total of $16,500 and a good portion of that has already come in.

I did not mention to you the human trafficking piece.  This is something I don’t have words to express.  The gravity and the astonishment at how the Holy Spirit can work through ordinary people.  Four years ago, a woman from South Africa traveled up to Daniel’s church in Montpellier and shared what she was doing to fight human trafficking in South Africa.  She shared what she was doing and then she shared with a group that human trafficking was a huge problem…in Montpellier!  Daniel was surprised!  He had no idea!  She told him to go to a particular street and look for these particular things and you will see it.  When the meeting was over he drove to that particular street and he saw it!  He saw these teenage Nigerian girls.  He pulled up in front of them not sure what to do.  One of the girls opened the door to his car and started to get in.  He said, “No, no, no.  I’m not here for that.”  She said, “Well, what are you here for?”  He didn’t know what to say.  He said, “I’m here to say Jesus loves you.”  Over the next year, he began to research and explore what was happening in his city.  He began to reorganize his personal life, reorganizing the ministries and structures in the church.  He realized that there’s a part of the city where there are Nigerian girls who were brought in.  Another part had Eastern European girls, another part had boys and another part that had trans-gender men selling their bodies.  There were unique situations and problems in each part of the city.  The Nigerian girls would think they were coming to France to go to school or for a job.  When they showed up in France the traffickers would say, “Now you owe us 80,000 Euros and you have to work it off.  So you’ll work for us until that’s paid off.”  You can just imagine a 14 year old English-speaking Nigerian girl ending up in French-speaking France.  And being told that if you try to run we know your family back in Nigeria—we know your parents, we know your brothers and sisters—and we’ll kidnap one of them to come and replace you.

Daniel said that was another moment when he and his church said, “Okay, God, this is happening right in front of us, right here.  We didn’t know about it, but now we know.  So we as a church have to respond to that somehow.”  They began to organize and send out people in teams on Friday nights to pray with these girls.  They’ll go out every Friday night.  They have four teams—-two teams on each side.  One team praying with these girls and giving them gifts and asking how they’re doing and how they can help them.  Then two teams in the back that are praying for the teams praying with the girls.  They have a limited amount of time and there are issues with pimps and all of these kinds of things.  They started Bible studies with these girls.  They translated their services into English so these girls could listen to an English translation of the service and be part of the church.  The got a group of lawyers together, who are working with the government, to work on legal solutions to these issues.  So there are all of these things happening at the church.  They’re doing everything they can as a church of 200 people.   I had a chance to meet these people who are going out on these streets.  This is not the International Justice Mission.  These are not CIA agents or FBI.  These are 21-year old university girls from the church going out and praying with them.  These are 63-year old women, who have a little bit of extra time, going out and praying with them.  These are ordinary people that God is using in extraordinary ways in their community.  What we see is that Daniel’s church is actually having an influence on Moroccans.  It’s having an influence on Nigerians.  It’s having an influence on Eastern Europeans.  It’s having an influence, now today, on us, because ordinary people decided to give themselves over and join with God in this passionate pursuit, this relentless love for other people.  He desires to do the same thing here with us.  We don’t know where this thing could go, but we know that God is powerful enough and strong enough that He can work through us to do amazing things.

One last thing.  One of Daniel’s good friends is a Muslim.  And as they were discussing the differences between Islam and Christianity and how that works, his friend said that at their mosque every Friday they would have four conversions.  Four French who would become Muslims every Friday.  His friend asked Daniel, “Daniel, you’re a pastor at a church.  How many converts do you have every Sunday?”  That was a troubling question for Daniel. So Daniel’s friend laid down the gauntlet.  We’re all called to make disciples.  It’s up to all of us to respond to Daniel’s friend…where we are, as we’re going, as the Holy Spirit works through us and uses us.

Let’s pray together.  Jesus, these things are too big for us.  They’re too dangerous.  They’re too massive.  But we know that your Spirit is powerful and can work through us the same way it worked through the church at Antioch.  The same way you’re working in Marseille.  The same way you’re working in Montpellier.  God, I pray that anyone here today that’s struggling and doubting that You can use them, God, overcome that doubt.  Give us confidence, not in our own abilities, but in You as the one, Almighty God that has sent us your Spirit.  Oh, God, and us as a church….help us to embrace the disorientation, the chaos, as your Holy Spirit works and leads us into new places that we’re not used to and leads us into being uncomfortable.  Help us embrace that knowing that our comfort is not our God, but You are our one true God.  Use us, please.  Amen.