By Woody Woodrick
Empowered to be a Community
Purpose: To emphasize that the spirit empowers the community of faith to overcome the barriers that divide people.
Bible Lesson: Acts 2:1-47
Key Verse: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” — Acts 2:4
To call my inability to learn languages other than English and Southern “limited” would be an insult to limitations. I’ve tried, but I just can’t seem to reach the point where I think in another language. Contrast that with my son not only learning Mandarin Chinese but getting a degree in the complex language; one where voice inflection completely changes the meaning of the word.
The miracle at Pentecost is pretty impressive to me. When the disciples began preaching in tongues that didn’t know and those in the crowd heard and understood in their own languages. That’s an awesome demonstration of the power of God. Imagine how those who didn’t speak the language of the disciples must have reacted. They had heard about this wonderful message, but didn’t know if it could be communicated and suddenly their heard it in their own tongues.
Of course, some “foreign languages” are spoken in English.
For example, my wife speaks “tax.” As a certified public accountant who specializes in tax work, she and her CPA buddies have a language all their own. Among themselves, they make perfect sense when they talk about how some guy’s “1099 wasn’t ready by 815 so we had to file a 5288, and then found out his 2620 wasn’t right and then had to file for a 7299 waiver.” Hut, hut.
Football has several languages. Among players and coaches something like “formation I right, 46 counter; Z fly, X curl, Y out on two” carries all kind of meaning.
Newspaper folks have their own language, too. We talk about two-column ads, column inches, picas, process color, spot color and ABC audits.
In each case, those who know the language can communicate easily. Those who don’t, stand there wondering what in the world is being said. Among the faithful exists a language. Some Christian speakers know all the buzz words and right things to say among themselves, but it leaves out those who don’t understand. It’s easy to fall into being exclusive with the message the disciples spread that day by not speaking in language a non-believer would use.
It is wonderful to hear someone inspired by the Holy Spirit speak to a group of people. It can be amazing to hear someone speak eloquently and with confidence about what God means in their life when you know that person often struggles with language. When we trust totally in God, he will provide the means and the words to say in order to deliver his message.
But we must also be on guard for another kind of language which is said to speak louder than words. As great at the miracle was that the disciples spoke in foreign tongues, their actions backed up their words. Not only must we say the right words, but must live them — or attempt to live them, also.
In what ways does the Holy Spirit provide you with “language” to speak to others? How does the Spirit appear in your congregation? How does your church or class back up the words it uses each week?
Expansion of the Community
Purpose: To discern the guidance of the Spirit in our decision-making in the faith community.
Bible Lesson: Acts 6:1-15; 8:1-8
Key Verse: “The word of God continued to spread; the number of disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem.” — Acts 6:7
Reaching out to non-believers and growing the kingdom is the greatest challenge that faces the Christian church today. Regardless of denomination, church growth in most of the world has slowed.
So why is the Christianity growing in some areas and not in others? Well, the answer is: I don’t know. Entire libraries have been written on the subject. It can be, and probably is, a complex issue, but in our scripture the church was growing rapidly. Let’s look at some of the reasons.
• The new church reached out to everyone in the community. Many churches say they do this and might really believe they do it, but sometimes we have to look closely and see if it’s really true. Does our church make itself attractive to newcomers in the community? Are those people just like us or are they different?
• Leadership. The Twelve accepted that some needs of the community weren’t being met. Now, they could have taken on additional duties, but they recognized their calling was to focus on the word of God, prayer and preaching. They gave the community an opportunity to suggest additional leaders, and then prayed over them for God’s guidance. How does your church choose leaders? Are they chosen based on their gifts and abilities, or are they chosen because they give a great deal or have been on the board for a long time or simply because they are willing to take the job? What about decisions in general? How are those made in your church?
• Guidance. The leaders didn’t rely solely on their own counsel. In fact, they sought God’s counsel first. Does your church or group do that? When Hurricane Gustav was bearing down on the Gulf Coast, some groups were eager to get down there and work! But it isn’t effective or safe to allow teams in until some assessment is done. Sometimes we make decisions thinking we know what needs to be done, where had we prayed and sought God’s guidance we might have realized something else was needed.
• Listening. The Greeks among the faithful had a problem and went to the leaders. The response was not to get defensive or pass the complaints off as the words of malcontents. The leaders listened, recognized a problem and sought a solution. Does your church do that? Do your church leaders listen to members?
• Open minds. This group of Jesus followers were saying and doing things vastly different from what the Jewish establishment had long taught. The believers were even chided for being drunk. Stephen challenged the established church’s notion that God was limited to living only in the temple, that Jesus was the messiah and that the Jewish people had continually rejected God’s plan. This so angered the temple leaders, they stoned him to death.
How do we respond to new or unfamiliar ideas? Do we “stone” those who seem overly enthused?
One of the most common complaints I hear is about the introduction of certain musical styles in to worship. It’s too loud. Guitars and drums have no place in worship, some say. Only Charles Wesley hymns should be sung in church. Well, when we set up such rules, we miss out on some great opportunities to share the Gospel. I’m not wild about certain types of music, but I see the message as more important than the way it’s delivered. It’s been my experience that the most successful church programs are those able to blend tradition with innovation.
Transformed to Witness to the Community
Purpose: To understand conversion as a new way of seeing, thinking and living.
Bible Lesson: Acts 9:1-31
Key Verse: “The Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” — Acts 9:17
When digital photography began to take hold, I was reluctant to change from film. At the time, my skepticism was justified. The reproduction quality of most digital images was poor and the cameras were terribly expensive. As the price came down, I looked at them again, but still maintained that I would never give up film.
But then I had an opportunity to use a digital camera a bit. This was pretty neat. I could take a huge number of pictures without changing film, and I knew right away that I had messed up a photo instead of finding out three days later. Now, I doubt I’ll ever shoot on film on any regular basis. I’ve been converted.
Many faithful Christians can recall the time of their conversion, especially when it resulted from a dramatic encounter with the love of Christ. I believe that even those who didn’t have such a change can point to a time when they felt their hearts “strangely warmed;” when they knew they belonged to God.
Our scripture tells of one of the most important conversions in Christian history. When Saul went from persecuting Christians to being one of the great missionaries, it could only have come about through the hand of God.
Ananias doesn’t get discussed much. I wonder what went through his mind as he was called to minister to Saul. He probably knew who he was going to see, probably feared him. Yet he went and played a key role in Paul’s conversion. Have you ever been reluctant to share God’s word or power with someone? What caused your reluctance? What was the outcome?
A friend once found himself in a situation where he would be sharing God’s love with someone from his past. These two men had not seen each other in years and had parted on very bad terms. What to do? My friend prayed and just tried to do what he believed God needed him to do. He put the message of God’s love ahead of his own apprehension and reluctance. God touched both men, and they became close friends in Christ.
Who are some of the people God has used to shape you in your faith walk? Are we converted once, or do we change direction more than once? What does conversion mean for us in terms of God’s plan?
Paul had to create quite a stir when he returned to Jerusalem. The believers were skeptical. How might you have reacted? What does it take for you to accept the conversion of someone you knew “before?”
Do conversions happen in your church?
Commissioned by the Community
Purpose: To see our mission as Christians as being sent into the world to represent the cause of Christ.
Bible Lesson: Acts 13
Key Verse: “After fasting and praying, they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” — Acts 13:3
Two of the events I’ve come to appreciate more and more during Annual Conference are the ordination and the commissioning services. Those in the ordination service have reached a certain level of experience, education and practical experience. Most have been serving an appointment for a few years. It’s touching to see the level of emotion and awe at the responsibility these pastors have accepted. Those being commissioned seem to be more wide-eyed with wonder, yet equally eager to begin their ministry journey.
What often gets less attention, but is also important is when a group of laity are commissioned in their local church before going on a mission trip, particularly overseas. These believers, too, do important work. They carry the love of Christ to others outside their normal comfort zone. They usually combine physical labor with witnessing.
One of the differences between most mission work today and that of the disciples in our scripture is that we rarely encounter hostility. Most mission trips are arranged to locations where the visitors are expected and often welcomed enthusiastically. I’m not knocking that; most of us aren’t equipped to enter an area where the Gospel is not accepted.
How would you respond to someone hostile to your message on a mission trip?
Jorge Navarrete wrote a good column in the Sept. 3 issue of the Advocate reminding us that mission work need to be done in our hometowns, too. Local missions present an interesting situation. Many find local missions harder to do than missions far from home. Something about sharing the Gospel with folks you might run into in the grocery store seems harder than going to another state or country for a short time. Both are important. Both are important. What is the relationship between global and local mission? Can you be effective in one type of mission (local or global) and not the other? Where does your church fit? Where do you fit?
Called to teach?
Would you like to take part in the Advocate’s Sunday school lessons? Laity and clergy who would be interested writing lessons for 2009 are encourage to call 601-354-0515 ext. 16 or 866-647-7486 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.