Week #4: Opening Up
Begin in Prayer (5 minutes)
Ask God to give each person in the group a divine perspective on the events of the last few months and on what He may be up to in our lives individually and collectively. Don’t forget to thank God for his desire and ability to bring about our good and His glory no matter the circumstances.
Read: Acts 1:8; 6:8-8:5; 11:1-26
(NOTE: Consider having your group read the passage in a few different versions)
Overview: [For Leaders]
For the Jewish people, there were essentially four key symbols you did not mess with. 1) The Temple–God’s space, where heaven and earth collide. 2) The Law of Moses–the terms of their agreement, their covenant, with God. 3) The Land–promised by God and the place of the temple. 4) And the national ethnic identity of the Jewish people–marked out, for men at least, in circumcision. These were live wire issues for the Jewish people. And in the minds of many Jewish leaders, the new Jesus movement posed a threat to all four.
How seriously the Jewish leaders perceived the threat is captured in the story of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. It’s not difficult to see why Luke tells us this story. Stephen’s death was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, forcing the Christians out of Jerusalem and into the surrounding regions of Judaea and Samaria, just as Jesus said. Stephen’s death is also the moment we are introduced to Saul, later and better known as the Apostle Paul, who would do more than anyone else to get the gospel out to the ends of the earth.
On the day that Stephen was stoned, it’s doubtful that you would have found anyone– apart from perhaps the Jewish leaders–who viewed his death as anything but a terrible moment, an existential threat to the Jesus movement. But with the benefit of time and perspective (not to mention the Holy Spirit), Luke is able to see that Stephen’s martyrdom was actually the counterintuitive moment that the Church was forced to take a great leap forward in its mission to the world. This is not to say that the forward progress of the Church is why Stephen died. It is only to observe that in all things, even the very worst of things, God is able to use it for our good and for His glory.
Years from now, this season of our lives will be nothing more than a story we tell. The question is this: What kind of story will we tell? With the benefit of time and the clarity of hindsight will we be able to see all of the ways God was at work for our good and His glory? We may not have chosen to go through this moment of global pandemic, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been left with choices. We can choose, right now, the kind of story we want to tell later–as individuals, as a missional community, as a local Church. May God give us wisdom as we ponder our stories, and the courage to step into the future boldly as his witnesses in this world.
Questions for Discussion (20-30 Minutes)
- What arrested your attention/heart/mind from the weekend talk or overview above?
- Can you identify one big takeaway that resonated with you most during this “Outbreak” series?
- Can you think of a moment in your life where something really bad happened, but now, with the benefit of time and perspective, it has become an important (maybe even positive) part of your story?
- What kind of story do you hope to be able to tell when this season is over–about yourself, your family, our group, and/or our church?
- Based on what we’ve learned together through the book of Acts, what kind of advice, wisdom, or challenge(s) do you think those of the early church would give us if we could talk with them about our present moment?
This Week’s Practices (10 Minutes)
Schedule a block of time this week to get alone for a few minutes, perhaps with a Bible and journal, and prayerfully process this season. No doubt, time and distance from these events will give you a better perspective, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make some important discoveries in the meantime. Try to identify all of the good things that have come out of the last few months and areas where you are trusting God to bring good still in the future. Consider writing out the story you hope to tell with your life in the coming weeks, months, or years as we emerge from the pandemic. Finally, we strongly encourage you to share your thoughts with at least one other person, whether a family member, friend, or someone in your group.
Close in Prayer (5-10 Minutes)