I have long clung to Acts 17:26-27 as two of the most encouraging verses in the whole Bible.
“And he [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us…”
When the Apostle Paul originally preached those verses, he was addressing a group of people from the city of Athens who worshipped countless false gods. Paul was saying that – even in those circumstances – God the Father was in control. He was at work. And through the work of the Holy Spirit, he would be victorious in drawing people to worship and follow his risen Son – Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.
At first glance, modern-day Gilmer County, Georgia seems to have little in common with first-century Athens. The steeples of Christian church buildings are scattered throughout the community. One of our radio stations exclusively plays Southern Gospel music. At first glance, there seems to be little evidence of even religious pluralism – much less the widespread worship of a god other than the God of the Bible.
These realities are deceiving. Only about 17% of the Gilmer County population is regularly involved in the life of a Bible-believing local church. As odd as it may seem, this percentage is lower than the national average, which is consistently reported to be about 20%.
At first glance, these statistics paint a bleak picture. Yet I’m convinced that this dark cloud has a magnificent silver lining. Based on the conversations I have shared with a large number of local pastors, God is already at work in some special ways in this community. I am sure that there are other pastors in this community who can say the same for the churches they lead (and I look forward to hearing these stories from them in God’s good timing!)
Therefore, I take these statistics to be signs of God’s imminent evangelistic blessing. There is a reason that so many unsaved, un-churched, and de-churched people call Gilmer County home. There is a reason that this community is projected to grow by about 40% between the 2010 Census and the 2020 population estimates.
I believe that Gilmer County is positioned for an Acts 17 moment.
The truth of Acts 17:26-27 is just as true for Christians in Gilmer County as it was for Paul in first-century Athens. From eternity past, God has chosen people to live in this community at this time for one solidary reason: that they might seek him. Christians and churches, then, have been placed in this community at this time for one solidary reason: to glorify God by proclaiming the gospel so that people will hear and respond with saving faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:17).
God is drawing lost people to this community in order that he might save them. And he will save them as the gospel message is faithfully preached through a multitude of healthy local churches.
Gilmer County Christian – are you prepared to join God in this Acts 17 moment? Though each one of us has a unique role to play in the mission of God, here are a few truths that are universally binding on all who claim the name of Jesus:
- Pray for the mission. As we prepare for a new wave of evangelism and disciple-making in Gilmer County, the words of Jesus from Matthew 9:37-38 are appropriate. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Pray for the Lord to equip and send a generation of faithful disciple-makers for this special time. Pray for pastors, church planters, and ministry leaders to equip their people to saturate this community with the gospel message.
- Be faithful to a local church. It is the local church that the gates of hell cannot withstand (Matthew 16:18). It is the relationships between the members of the local church that have a special ability to put the opponents of the Christian faith to shame (Titus 2:1-8). It is the leaders of the local church which are uniquely called and equipped to mobilize Christians for greater effectiveness in ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16). Accordingly, every Christian needs the local church, just as much as every local church needs Christians. So faithfully attend the gatherings of your church. Ask how to pray for her ministries and her leaders (and then pray!) Give sacrificially of your time, talents, and treasures to support your local church. And ask God to plant more churches throughout the world.
- Assume that everyone you encounter needs to hear the gospel (because they do). Believers and unbelievers alike need to be reminded of the gospel. So find the intersections between peoples’ stories and the gospel message! Tell them that it is God – not our feelings or our desires – that is the ultimate authority in this world (Genesis 1 & 2). Remind them that the suffering, pain, and death which often marks our lives are the products of the human race’s sinful nature and sinful choices (Genesis 3). Encourage them that it is not up to us to “find our identity” or to “work our way to God;” God has made a way for us to be adopted as his children through the virgin birth, sinless life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15). Remind them that there is coming a day in which every tear will be dried and every broken thing made new, and in which every cause of evil will be put away forever (Revelation 21).
What are your ideas for being involved in Gilmer County’s Acts 17 movement? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.