Acts 13:1-4, Prayer, and Mission
The Antioch church is an important one. It is generally considered to be the first Gentile church, and it is the church out of which Paul is commissioned for apostolic mission to the Gentiles. It is a church planting church.
In Acts 13:1-4, this church is described at worship: Prophets and teachers (including Saul) are worshiping the Lord, fasting, and praying. Out of this experience of worship, fasting, and prayer, the Holy Spirit speaks and commissions Saul and Barnabas for work. After more prayer and fasting, the church leaders place their hands on Saul and Barnabas and commission them before sending them out.
It strikes me that the Holy Spirit spoke and sent in the context of worship, fasting, and prayer.
In my own context, I began to seek the Lord in prayer with fasting and worship, and out of this experience, I believe the Holy Spirit spoke to me as well.
As I prayed, three words came to my mind: Mission, Members, Many. I prayed longer, and the words began to take on shape: Multiplying Mission, Maturing Members, Making Disciples of the Many. I began to discern a way forward, a triangle of activities, a rhythm of life that God was calling me and the Love First Church to.
Discipleship is best thought of as a way of life with a certain rhythm to it. I discerned that if we “multipled mission” in our Learning Circles, “matured members” at our prayer meeting, and “made disciples of the many” in our “love first lifestyle,” then we could motivate church planting movement.
The Holy Spirit revealed a further rhythm: If we lived our lives according to the up-in-out rhythms of Learning Circles, prayer meeting, and made disciples of the many through intentional “love first” mission, we would also create a disciple-making movement that reproduces. The heart of this movement is not the activities behind it, but the way that our lives are shaped for mission by love by living according to this rhythm.
I am grateful to God for this revelation that will help us engage his mission for his kingdom.
Convictions in Quarantine
Certainly, our lives have been upended. Massive change happened very quickly for all of us. Quite literally, one day life was normal and the next it wasn't. I'll be honest, for the first week or so, I felt stress and anxiety over the future, fear for my family's and my own health, and worry about finances.
One thing that really helped me was maintaining my daily routine of reading the Bible, meditating on it, and praying. Love First Church happened (providentially, I believe) to be in a reading cycle that included several psalms, and the psalms spoke and testified about the goodness of God and the reasons we have to trust to him and find our refuge in him. I added journaling to my daily routine to help me track the promises of God and the reasons to be confident in him and this helped immensely.
I want to share with you several convictions I've developed over this time in quarantine. I'd love to hear what you are learning during this time, so feel free to contact me and let me know what you are learning. Also, if you have a specific challenge you're working through, or something you'd like to talk about, let me know -- I'd love to help you through this time. And certainly, please let me know how I can pray for you.
Here are eight convictions I've developed, in no particular order.
I pray that you have been blessed by these and I would love to hear what you are learning during this time. Feel free to reach out and share, or let me know if I can help you in some other way.
Many churches are scrambling to find suitable ways to stream or deliver content to their members. Some are finding that their existing streaming system is inadequate in empty buildings. While content delivery is okay, and it is advisable to have something online as an anchor point for the church, it is, in my opinion, more advisable to make sure that connection between church members and church leaders happens, and happens regularly. Folks who feel disconnected and anxious need to be able to check in with church leaders and other members. Here are some ways this can be done:
In my opinion, there is too much focus on churches delivering content without a corresponding focus on connecting members. Most of us cannot compete with large, very professional churches. This is fine for a couple of weeks, but if this crisis goes on for any length of time (a month or more), this response is inadequate. We need to be prioritizing mission and ongoing discipleship, rather than creating a culture of "church service watchers." We need to be the church right now, which doesn't stop just because we're socially distanced from each other.
I would love to help any of you flesh some of these things out, especially if you are interested in discipleship or are a church leader who knows you need to do more but isn't sure what to do. Please reach out and let me know what you need, and I will do my best to help you.
Sharing and practicing hospitality
“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13 NIV)
A discipleship group I’m part of has committed to reading through Romans 12:1-12 every day for a week. As I meditated on that section, I included verse 13 because it was part of a paragraph that included the other verses. I’m thankful that I did include it.
Mixed in with instructions pertaining to sacrificial service, life in the body of Christ, and love and honour for others, Paul exhorted the believers to share with the Lord’s people who are in need and to practice hospitality. It’s not worth debating whether the commands should be understood together or separately; the broader context of the instructions indicates community involvement, and these instructions should be understood the same way. Sharing and hospitality are basic Christian values and virtues.
This verse caught my attention today because of the scrambling many churches have done recently to address the public health crisis stemming from the COVID-19 virus. Under normal circumstances, we’d think about these verses in terms of the physical, tangible help we provide for others. But what does obedience to these instructions look like when people are being encouraged to quarantine themselves and avoid groups of any size?
I believe there are many ways we can share with the Lord’s people and practice hospitality. First, hospitality is something given, not something received. We often associate hospitality as house-based; the way we entertain people in our homes. But hospitality is about the generous and giving way we approach life. We can practice hospitality by not hoarding food and supplies and leaving some for others; by calling those we know are vulnerable or at risk to check in on them; by using technologies such as Zoom or Google Hangouts to provide online meeting areas for folks to check in with each other and pray for one another.
Second, we can find a number of ways to share with each other. I have read stories of churches becoming distribution centres where people can access their food pantries by phone call and the church will set needed items out curbside. In this way, the church shares resources while practicing good social distancing procedures. Others are taking responsibility for grocery shopping for elderly or vulnerable people to reduce their risk and are leaving groceries on their front porches. Still others are making known what they have extra of that they are willing to share.
Sharing with those in need in this crisis takes courage and some degree of innovation, but we can do it. We may not share our homes with others during this time, but we can share what we can. It’s no coincidence that these instructions are given in a paragraph that includes, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). Selfless, sacrificial service on behalf of others is worship that is holy and pleasing to God.