The years of the early church were a time of extreme growth, but also internal resistance. Believers met in homes, modelling community in a pure and powerful way. But Christians become settled and comfortable. The disruption of the early church came in the form of persecution, forcing believers out of the temple courts and out onto the Roman roads to other nations.
Today, lockdown has forced us out of church venues and into our neighbourhoods and the digital space. Instead we can invite neighbours in and 'enjoy the favour of all the people' as they see the Kingdom of God expressed through radical relationships, generosity and the power of God within our community.
A New Reality
On Sunday we celebrated Pentecost; the day Jesus' followers were filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in different tongues. However, the Holy Spirit didn't just come that day. It continues to dwell among us, and fill those who believe and receive Him. The Holy Spirit opens up new possibilities and has the power to change the patterns of our life, even in 2020. In this talk Rich unpacks four areas in which the Holy Spirit can do this transformational work, and invites you to receive the Holy Spirit today.
A Gift With A Purpose
Our mission statement as a church is to 'make disciples who establish heaven on earth'. Through this teaching series we are learning about the ways in which the early church did this. In Acts 1:8 we find out the power of the Holy Spirit enabled the early followers to be witnesses of Jesus Christ. Yet it was the persecution of the church, scattering them far and wide, which led them to be 'witnesses to the end of the earth'. The gift of the Holy Spirit combined with the practical limitations of the day forced them to fulfil their mission. However the mission is not over. The baton has simply been handed on to us. We have the same gift of the Holy Spirit and have now been scattered in much the same way. Perhaps this is a moment of acceleration for our mission.
Resurrection is a persistent and predominant theme running throughout the Book of Acts. It’s inescapable. The apostles come back time and time again to the resurrection of Jesus. It’s as if it is the most prominent thing on their mind. In this passage Peter explains the coming of the Holy Spirit through the resurrection of Jesus, retelling His story in the process. Imagine you had been there, living and following Jesus, witnessing his incredible life and ministry, weeping with the other believers over his death when suddenly he is once again alive. Of course you would tell and retell that story over and over again.
Created For Community: Pt 1
The realities of living in community are often a little messy. Bringing together various personality types and opinions into one group doesn't come without its challenges. Yet this is the kind of group Jesus chose to spend His time with. He intentionally brought together 12 disciples with different backgrounds and over time He reformed and reordered their ideas by giving them a Kingdom perspective. There is a gap between the messy reality and the ideal of community, and discipleship happens in the middle. Are you prepared to open yourself up to discipleship today?
Created for Community: Pt 2
For the early church community wasn't just about attending the same event every week. Being in community meant being in each other's lives throughout the week, sharing thoughts and possessions, being available and accessible, and supporting one another practically and in prayer. However, this model is not meant to be exclusive. As churches met in homes, others were invited in to experience the warmth and generosity of community. Multiplication was the goal, and still is today.
Healed and Refreshed
The early church was not a philosophy of goodness with no power. They actively declared healing over people in the faith and knowledge that as we partner with the Holy Spirit's power, we release healing in our lives and the lives of others. It is not just physical healing either. Jesus forgives us, healing deep emotional wounds and making us whole where we have been shattered. We don't need to beg and plead for this restoration. We declare God's goodness with confidence because His character is one of healing.
In chapter 4 of Acts we find the priests and teachers of the law in Jerusalem conflicted. They know a great miracle has happened, but when they look at Peter and John they see ordinary, unschooled men. How could they have healed a man? The answer is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gave them the boldness to declare healing and the courage to proclaim Jesus Christ as saviour to thousands. God chooses to work with 'ordinary' people, and He wants to fill us with the Holy Spirit over and over again.
Our prayers can resonate. They resonate when they are in line with the plans and purposes God has for the world. When they are in line with His will they have the power to shake and break strongholds and bring about His kingdom on earth. It doesn't matter how loud or eloquent our prayers are because we pray in Jesus' name. It is by Jesus' authority, His power, that these prayers are answered. So how do we pray these kind of powerful prayers?
Empowerment is one of our values at Open Heaven. Much like the early church we believe giving people opportunities to step into their calling and develop their gifts is crucial to outworking the Kingdom of God. This is not a mission for the few. We all have unique skills to contribute to the community. We all have a part to play.
Worth Dying For
'If you haven't found something worth dying for, you haven't found something worth living for.' Much like today the early church experienced opposition to the gospel. In Acts 7 we hear about Stephen, a martyr who died because he was unashamed of declaring the goodness and promises of God. For many of us there is not an immediate threat of death if we share the gospel with those around us. But perhaps there is a threat to our pride, our reputation, our image. In those moments we ask ourselves 'is it worth it?'. For many of us the answer is yes, because we have not found something, but someone worth dying for.
The real success of the church is not its seating capacity, but its sending capacity. As we seek to be a community that reaches every unreached people group in Loughborough, we have to be prepared to release people like a flowing river into our town. As people trickle into the estates, halls of residence, schools and workplaces, we will see community multiplied and the church grow much like in the book of Acts.
Philip was a man who served. He saw needs around him and devoted his life to helping others and sharing the good news with them. He was prepared to 'go'. Where are you able to share your faith on your journey? If the opportunities seem lacking, maybe you just need to put on your shoes and start walking. The first command in the great commission is to 'go'. Perhaps that is a good place to start.
Saul of Tarsus was a man who had a dramatic encounter with Jesus. An encounter which turned his life, his thoughts, his career, his future completely on its head. He was key in the spread of the gospel to the non-Jewish nations, a man who wrote thirteen books of the New Testament. But without this complete transformation this story would have looked very different for Saul, the early church, and even the Christian faith as we know it today.
In Acts 10 we meet Cornelius, a centurion who loved God but had a very different background to Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ followers. As John takes us through this chapter we find race and status become completely irrelevant as God leads Peter and Cornelius together. Through their encounter they are building kingdom, irrespective of culture, for God loves every nation.
Miracles and Mourning
Like a scene from a movie, Peter gets up and walks straight pass the guards, through open gates, and out of prison. Guided by an angel, he does what would not be possible without a God intervention. Without realising it he is living out the answered prayers of the church. As people earnestly got on their knees and cried out for his release, miraculous plans were unfolding that were even hard for them to believe. Their prayers were earnest, faith-filled and powerful.