How are you dealing with being stuck at home these past two months? Feeling frustrated?
This week we’re studying Acts 11:19-30, and what we read there could help us move from frustration to purpose. So grab a Bible and and read that passage.
Did you notice there are three sections in the passage? There is a phrase repeated in each of the three sections. Do you see it? Look at verse 21. Then 24. Then 26. “Great numbers”.
I’ll admit there is part of me that wishes the text did not repeat that phrase. Frankly, our American passion for focusing on numbers can be very detrimental, as if bigger is always better. It is a constant battle in my heart and mind, and in countless conversations with pastoral colleagues, to have the proper perspective on numbers. Since the virus shutdown, here’s what I’ve heard numerous times: “How is your church responding to the quarantine? Are people tuning in? How have people responded to giving during quarantine?” It can get frustrating.
So while there is part of me that wishes that the author of Acts, Luke, didn’t mentioned “great numbers,” he did…three times! What do we do with this focus on numbers? I suggest we take it at face value. He mentions numbers because there was a great response to what was happening in the church. So what was going on in the church in Acts 11?
We just read a story of church planting, of outreach. Christians from one town (Jerusalem) travel to other towns (Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch) to tell the message of Jesus.
In essence, it’s similar to how so many churches are started. My congregation, Faith Church, for example began in 1968, when people, Grace EC Church, from one town (Lancaster City) traveled to another town (Smoketown/Bird-in-hand/East Lampeter) and started a new church.
So let’s take a deeper look at this church planting outreach story, and how it could inspire us now to live on mission, even during quarantine. Verses 19-21 tell the story of unnamed Christians who travel about sharing the message of Jesus.
This episode connects back to chapters 7 and 8, where we studied Stephen’s death that resulted in a great persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem. They fled the city fearing Saul who at the time was rounding them up and throwing them in prison. They Christians made a fascinating choice at this juncture. Rather than allow fear and trauma to have them running scared into hiding and rather than give up the faith, the persecution did not deter their focus on outreach.
Prior to the persecution, the church was experiencing great peace and growth in Jerusalem. They were living the dream. Of course they didn’t want the persecution. Who would? But when hardship came, they handled it with grace and trust in God. Yes, they had to go through the awful experience of fleeing for their lives. Yes, some of them were thrown in prison. Stephen was killed. But in the middle of the unsettled, confusing, frustrating time, they made sure that the mission of Jesus was still their priority. He was their focus. In the midst of a mess, he was their heart.
How about us? We haven’t asked for the virus. We don’t want quarantine. In the middle of our frustrating time, what will it look like for us to remember to focus our hearts on God’s grace, and trust and mission? For sure, in a traumatic situation like a global pandemic, it is natural for us to have fear and disappointment. Clearly no one likes or chooses to live in fear and disappointment. So it could be helpful to examine which one of these is the primary outflow of your heart? Fear and disappointment? Or grace and trust and mission? How can you transition from the normal fears and disappointments of the pandemic to remembering and focusing on God’s grace and his goodness, then moving toward pursuing his mission?