4/30/2023 0 Comments
May 1, 2023
This Week's Teaching | Prayer Requests
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The first believers "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer... and they enjoyed the favor of all the people." But soon enough they were persecuted, and this continues to be our lot.
As Wendy and I get ready to set out on our mission adventure, planting and encouraging microchurches around the U.S., this phrase is meaningful to me. I believe we are enjoying God's favor for it. And, while we are not truly persecuted for our faith in the U.S., it's true that our gospel does not enjoy the favor of all the people. And this makes our call especially poignant.
Our heart is to go bring the joy of the gospel to people who have become resistant to the "messenger" of big church, and to set people in families where they can again become tender to the Holy Spirit, and to each other. Your prayers and support are so appreciated!
Read below as you watch above.
<TRANSCRIPTION OF ABOVE VIDEO>
In my microchurch, the one that we started in our house, we've been going almost two years and we went through Luke and then just finished Acts a couple nights ago. We did it in an interesting way.
You know, when you're reading through the scriptures, the goal isn't to like quick get through it. There's no timeline to get through it. It's the same way that I read scripture. It's to spend time , letting it speak to you, asking questions of the apostles, so to speak, and talking our way through it.
So here last Tuesday, we found ourselves with a decision to make, because as Wendy and I prepare to leave, we were still at Acts 20. Do we finish out Acts or not? Our group is gonna continue to go, but then two other couples are feeling called to start other microchurches.
We wanted to finish out Acts and there were eight of us in the room, eight adults in the room. So each of us read one chapter. We would read the chapter out loud and then not talk about it, which normally we read the chapter in sections and then we talk about it. But we read the chapter and then I would say, "Okay, no comments, just make yourself some notes, reflect on what you just heard." Then we would read the next chapter to the next chapter and the next chapter. We got to Acts 27 and Acts has 28 chapters in it. So one chapter left. And then we did something. We've never done it this way before. We each read a verse in succession, just around the room, just each reading a verse. And we concluded the book of Acts. And then we started talking about it. Which was a wonderful way to do it.
The reason we went through Acts and started with Luke — and for those of you who haven't been listening from the beginning — I wanted us to go through Acts because we're looking to find what is the simplest, most essential way to be church. And I wanted to know what is it to go back and be church like the early believers did in the book of Acts. And I thought, Acts is a sequel. It starts with the gospel according to Luke. And so we actually went back and started with Luke. And I think the first time we met, we went through four verses of Luke 1. So we went through Luke and that took a long time. And then we went through Acts. And we just finished it up.
In Acts 2:42, now this is where we get our network name. X242 is shorthand for Acts 2:42. The Holy Spirit falls on the believers. The 120 are gathered for prayer. Jesus has died, been resurrected, and he returns to heaven saying, " Go and take this gospel to the nations."
And the believers are gathered in the upper room. 120 of them or so. And they're praying and the Holy Spirit falls on them with what looks like tongues of fire on their heads, and they start speaking in other languages, speaking the praises of God. Everyone comes running and then Peter preaches the first sermon and it's: Jesus came, you all crucified him. They say, what should we do? And he says, repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins and receive the Holy Spirit. This promise is not just for you, but it's for you and all your children, all who are far off. And so they did that. 3000 people were added to their number that day.
And then it says in Acts 2:42, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer."
Now, we don't read that as a prescription. This is what we're supposed to do. We read it as a description. This is what they did. What is it that the first believers did when the Holy Spirit first fell on them before they had added other things? What did they do? Well, they gathered around the apostles and said, teach us, tell us what you know. And they were in fellowship with each other because that's what the Holy Spirit always does to believers. And they broke bread in their homes and they shared communion, but they also just ate together and they prayed together.
And we just said, that's what we want to do. And so that's what we've been doing in my microchurch that meets in my home for the last almost two years. One month shy of two years, and it's been really good.
Now it's interesting. This morning I was reading Acts 2 and just reflecting on it and after verse 42 it reads on that, " Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts and they broke bread in their homes and. Ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily, those who are being saved."
Now, I would say that for those of us in the West in America, do we enjoy the favor of all the people? Well, it's tempting to say that we're being persecuted and yes, we're being pushed against. Sure. But here in the West, none of us is facing a legitimate threat of death or imprisonment or dismemberment for our faith. It can happen in isolated cases, of course, but we aren't living under direct persecution that if you're Christian, you will have your house taken from you or your arm taken from you, or your life taken from you. We're not facing that. So you could say that we live with the favor of all the people.
And yet on the other hand, we're constantly being pushed back at because the Christian Gospel, our gospel is not one that the world receives. They don't enjoy the gospel because it always begins with bad news. It's good news, but it begins with bad news. As I said a few weeks ago, my articulation of the gospel that I meditate on these days:
God is good, loving and powerful, and Jesus is the exact representation of his being. Humanity is idolatrous, adulterous and powerless, and I am the exact representation of its being. And implication is that you are too. The world is too. But Jesus came to redeem and reconcile and restore all who put their faith in him and turn to him and put their confidence in him.
This is our gospel, and if people would tolerate the second part of it long enough and face it honestly, they could get to the third part, which is the good news. But most people don't want to hear that they are idolatrous, adulterous and powerless. They don't want to hear that they're in need of salvation.
And so do we enjoy the favor of the people? Our gospel doesn't.
As we read through Acts — so Acts two and then three and four and five — as we read through the apostles, then very soon start to be persecuted by the Jews. And then ultimately they are persecuted by the government and the religious institutions.
And the church does not enjoy the favor of all the people. It's Acts 8, after Steven is martyred, the church is scattered. But this actually serves God's purpose and the faith, our faith, the gospel, the good news penetrates the different areas of the Roman Empire.
And we find Paul then who persecuted the church, comes to faith, and then he becomes, one of the chief apostles going as a messenger, going and carrying this message to the world.
As Paul goes and plants faith, and then goes back and encourages and strengthens the believers, he encourages them to remain true to the faith, to remain faithful to God. And lets them know that we must endure many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.
It's not an easy thing that we call people to. It's a sure thing. It's a hope-filled faith that we will receive our reward. But it's not easy to follow Jesus in this world.
As Paul goes forward, the Holy Spirit keeps saying through prophets — and it's interesting, many people these days set up prophets on pedestals. But it's interesting, who's Agabus? We know about him just a little bit here, and some other people who come in and they speak prophetically and yet they don't have positions of power in the church. They simply bring a message of God's heart and mind. They're able to articulate it to the people in front of them. And as Paul goes on, prophets keep on coming and saying, "If you go toward Jerusalem, it's not gonna end well for you." And then eventually Jesus says to Paul, "You gotta go to Rome." And Paul keeps on going toward Rome, not just walking toward it, but being escorted by Soldiers because he is under arrest. And he finally gets to Rome. And the book of Acts ends before it tells us what happens to Paul there. We know from history that Paul eventually loses his life, but I think it's some 11 years after he gets arrested and it's during those times that he's writing what we know as the scriptures, the epistles, when he's under arrest.
I'm inspired by this thought that God takes even what we would relate to as inconvenience or hardship or disruption of our plans, and he uses it for good. If Paul wouldn't have been arrested, we wouldn't have many of these scriptures. He was too busy in front of people.
But because he was arrested, we can read his counsel to the people who he had brought to faith, and it's good. It's good.
Wendy and I leave in a couple days. I'm recording this on Friday. We leave in a couple days, Lord willing, and we're going to go and encourage microchurches. We're gonna encourage faith wherever we can. It's not about just this new system of microchurches. That really is secondary.
Our gospel is not "simpler church." Our gospel is the gospel of Jesus. But I am filled with this conviction that many people have difficulty engaging the gospel of Jesus because we have made a gospel of big church that alienates them or that they find utterly uncompelling for various reasons that I would agree with.
And yet we are not those who condemn the gathering of the larger group of people. As I keep on saying, wherever believers gather, man, my heart is there. Like, totally. Passionately. And especially when the two or three gather, when the six or eight gather to open scripture to let it speak, to pray together, to love each other as family, to carry each other's burdens.
And so we're going to encourage people who feel called to do church in this simpler way, to be church in this simpler way. So in a few days, we head out of here, out of Sarasota and head north. Your prayers are appreciated. May God open a door for effective ministry wherever we go.
We want to encourage the saints, we want to explain the gospel to people who have yet to fully engage it. And we want to set up very simple church gatherings that can be sustained and reproduced without wearing people out, without people becoming disillusioned by it.
And so that's what we're doing. Pray for us please. If you wanna see what it is we do, x242.net. If you wanna support what we're doing, you can do that. We feel honored that X242 is helping to make this happen. And so if you go there, there's a support button there and that ultimately helps us do what we're doing.
But mostly pray for us, pray that God would use this to lead people to faith in him and to take the discouraged, disillusioned, disconnected believers and bring them together. Peter writes, God takes us and puts us into families. We wanna put them into families.
And so that's our prayer. If you know anyone who might be interested in it, that might be in our path , just give them this video and let them know.
As always. Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. That's probably the easiest way to connect. If you have my cell, just text me. That's the definite way to connect.
I pray God's blessing over you.
"Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message..." (Colossians 4:2-3).
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Roger Shenk is the pastor of X242, a network of microchurches.