Since I missed two Sundays with the NU group due to my trip to India, I was thrilled to meet up with everyone again. It is nice to have somewhat of a consistent place to meet at the Homestead Inn. We started off with dinner and some time of fellowship. Our conversations ranged from my trip to India to some blunders we’ve made in lives – some of the stories were hilarious – we were laughing together instead of laughing at one another ;-) But the laughter was good. People say that the level of laughter is a good predictor of group dynamics. We had a lot of it this past Sunday.
After settling down a bit, we went into a time of praise and looked into God’s Word. The passage that we studied was from Acts 11:19-12:25. Some of the key lessons were:
1) We saw that v. 19 was part of the fulfillment of Acts 1:8. Due to the persecution at that time, the followers of Jesus were scattered all through Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the other parts of the world. They were telling people about the good news of the Gospel. We really envision this church in Evanston to be the hub of many more house churches to be planted all over the greater Chicagoland area.
2) The phrase, “the Lord’s hand was with them” in v. 21 is significant. Usually, a person can tell if God’s hand is on someone or something – there is usually God’s favor that just follows that person. In some ways, we can look at it as if that person has God’s anointing upon them. This is what we need as we start off this new church plant – we need God’s favor and anointing. On one hand, there is nothing we can do to get it. God’s favor is unmerited and there is nothing we can do to earn it. But then on the other hand, God’s anointing comes to those who are consecrated and wholly surrendered to Him.
3) It is interesting to note the importance of the church in Antioch. Not only was it the place where the disciples were first called Christians, but it was the place where the whole apostolic paradigm came into play. First of all, Barnabas and Paul spent time there teaching the Christians (for a whole year). They were laying down the foundations for the Christian faith and building up a strong local church. Secondly, we notice the use of the prophetic gifts. In fact, some prophets from the mother church in Jerusalem came to Antioch to help build up the church. Lastly, there was a sense of connection between the churches. When the word of prophesy came about a future famine, people from the church gave and supported their brothers and sisters in Christ. The churches were connected and had concern for one another. This is something that we need to see in this new church plant. Not only HMCC, but all the AMI churches will be supporting this new churh, whether it is by prayer, financial help or through other resources.
4) We also talked about expectancy and faith when it comes to prayer. It is interesting that in the story of Peter’s miraculous escape from prison, the disciples could not believe that what they were praying for actually came true. In 12:5 it says, “the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” But then in 12:15-16 all the disciples were saying to Rhoda, “You’re out of your mind.” Even when she kept on insisting that it was actually Peter, they say, “It must be his angel.” How hilarious is that? They were praying for a miracle and then God answers their prayers with a miracle but then they do not believe. Finally we notice, “Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished” (v. 16). We need to lift up some bold prayers for this new church plant and we need to BELIEVE that God will answer those prayers.
5) We also talked about the power of a testimony. In v. 17, we see Peter describing how “the Lord” had brought him out of prison. All the attention and focus was on God – it was all of God’s doing that brought forth this joyous time for the believers. We want to build a testimonial culture in our new church. There are several things that begin to happen when we learn how to give a testimony – a) it reinforces what we have experienced and causes our heart to be thankful; b) it encourages people to believe in a God that is for us and not against us; c) it produces greater faith in other people b/c they begin to think – “if God can work in that person’s life, then surely He can work in mine; d) it give all the glory, honor and praise to God and God alone. May we never be silent.
After our study, we worshipped some more and then spent the rest of our time praying. One thing we did differently was to have people spend some time alone in prayer and to listen to God. We were listening and waiting for God to put some of His burdens regarding this church plant in our hearts. Whatever the burdens were, we ended up going around in the circle and praying for those burdens. It was so awesome to see that many of the burdens that people received from the Lord were translated into prayers.
I cannot believe we are going to head into August soon and then in about 1.5 months we are going to start the church. God is already doing some great things… we are humbled and thankful.