We are in times of unprecedented change.  But Jesus never changes.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever. As Jesus’ followers, our walk with him constantly opens up new vistas and horizons and new mountains and valleys.  At the same time there are important rhythms in our walk with God that should never change.

The book of Acts provides some insights into what remains the same and what can change for God’s church as we walk with him.  We can apply these insights to our current situation of a global pandemic. Let’s read Acts 2:42-47.

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Here we have a fledging church that has been empowered by the Holy Spirit to be powerful witnesses for Christ.  This new season in the life of God’s people began when the apostle Peter preached the good news of Jesus to a large crowd in the city of Jerusalem.  It was just 50 days after Jesus rose from the dead and the crowd had gathered for one of the great festivals of the people of Israel called Pentecost. In the days following, many new believers were being added to the church, and they in turn have been continuing to share the good news of Jesus with their friends and neighbors.  As they share they also devote themselves to seven basic rhythms of church life which help birth a missional movement that from then on continually grows and multiples.   What are these unchanging corporate rhythms?

1) Teaching the word. First the church devoted themselves to the disciples teaching from God’s word centred round the person and work of Jesus. In our own season of unprecedented change, this is a foundational rhythm that we can all continue to practice.  From this weekend, we are providing weekly online streaming of a church service.  In your homes, your life groups, or our personal spaces, we encourage you to take an hour this week to participate in this online church experience; not just passively watching but actively entering into worshipping God and learning from his word.

2) Fellowship in Small Groups. Second they continued in close fellowship as a community of believers sharing life in common together.  In this season it is so important to be an active part of a life group where you can also experience close fellowship together. Whether online or being physical present with each other, continue to pray, care for, disciple and support each other even more in this season of change.

3) Breaking Bread. Thirdly, they broke bread around the table on a regular basis to remember the centrality of Christ’s sacrifice.  We are coming up to Easter where we remember the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Over that period, we will be streaming online services on Good Friday and Easter Saturday and Sunday.  We are encouraged to consider coming together as a Life Group to participate in any one of these online services.  In particular celebrating communion as part of our online service on either Good Friday in the evening, or on Easter Saturday at our regular services times of 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm. Together as one church in many locations around Melbourne we can participate in an online experience of celebrating the Lord’s supper together.

4) Prayer and Praise. Fourthly, the early church engaged in fervent prayers of praise, thanksgiving, and intercession for others, as well as praying for their own needs.  We have come to the end of our 21 days of prayer and fasting; but let’s continue praying for an on-going empowering of God’s spirit to enable us to be his church at this time and to see an expanding influence of God’s kingdom where the church continues to grow and multiply in new and creative ways.  Let’s continue to worship God whole heartedly in our homes as we gather together online on the weekends and mid week as we connect as Life Groups by Zoom, Facebook, Face Time, Skype or phone calls.

5) Believing for the Miraculous. It is clear that the early church continued to experience signs and wonders on a regular basis.  As we pray for each other over this period, let’s continue to also believe for God’s miraculous intervention to heal, set free, and provide for all our needs.  God can deliver, he will deliver, but if not, we will still praise him.

6) Sharing Resources. The early church also shared their resources together so they had enough to give to anyone in need.  Over this period, we are encouraged to give generously, so that as a united church community we have an abundance to continue our church ministries, including supporting all those in need.

Our church has an online giving platform that supports both regular tithes and offerings for the ministries of the church, and also giving toward our outreach programs through Community Care and World Impact. At present 55% of our giving comes from online sources.  We need to lift to a much higher level of online giving if we are to continue maintaining and extending our kingdom mission in this new season.

7) Blessing the Community. Finally, we see in verse 47 that as the church continued to proclaim the gospel in word and deed they also were “47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” As a missional church they were continually praying, listening to God’s word, eating together, but also serving others and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. They had a regular rhythm of bringing God’s blessing to their community, their city and their nation.  As they did the church multiplied.  Let’s practice that same rhythm of blessing in our communities in these unprecedented times
You may have noticed that one aspect of the corporate life of the early church did change. In the early days they were able to meet in large gatherings in the temple in Jerusalem. But then persecution came.  In Acts 8:1 we read that “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” Clearly they were no longer able to congregate in large gatherings in the temple.  But did the expanding influence of God’s kingdom through Christ’s church stop?  Absolutely not.

The church continued to grow and multiply through the lifestyles and witness of thousands of people and small groups, and the church continued to grow and multiply beyond Jerusalem to other cities and nations in ever expanding circles of influence.

For us in our season that should be an enormous encouragement.  We can no longer meet in large gatherings, but that change in the format and environment of our regular practices of worship and mission should not limit us.  The regular rhythms of church life provide us with practical means to expand the kingdom of God even in the times we are now experiencing.

The kingdom of God is unshakeable and His influence is unstoppable. So let’s pray together that God will continue to expand the influence of his Kingdom in our homes and lives, but also beyond our walls to the lives of the communities and cities where we live and work.

Week One (21 & 22 March): Life Group Discussion Questions – What Remains in Time of Change

For your first discussion focus on an overview of the seven rhythms of church life that have continued to be practiced from the time of the early church until now.  Discuss some or all of the following questions.

1. What in particular stood or spoke to you personally from the weekend message on March 21-22 – “What Remains in Times of Change?”
2. Of the 7 rhythms mentioned, what the 2 that your Life Group is strongest at and 2 that the group could develop towards.
3. Discuss a practical plan how your Life Group can practice all the rhythms in such unprecedented times.
4. Take a moment to pray for each other and also for God to give us creative strategies in these rhythms.

Week Two (28 & 29 March): Life Group Discussion Questions – Songs or Prayer and Praise

Our second week focus is on the fourth rhythm of church of life: prayer and praise.   In particular, look at the psalms which were the prayer and hymn book of the people of Israel.  Discuss some of your favourite psalms for example Psalm 91 or Psalm 23.

1. What in particular stood out or spoke to you personally from this message from the weekend message on March 29/30 – “Songs of Prayer and Praise”
2. Share one of your favorite Psalms and worship songs.  How did these Psalms and/or worship songs help you during difficult times?
3. Discuss practical ways you and your Life Group can practice rhythms of prayer, praise and worship during this season.
4. Take a moment to praise God, to pray for each other and to ask God to give us creative strategies for continuing to connect online.

Resources
In addition to these discussion notes, we are now providing a weekly video called “The Conversation” where some of our teaching and pastoral team briefly discuss the previous weekend’s message.  You can show all or part of this to your Life Group using online tools such as Zoom to help facilitate your own group discussion.

Join Andrew Chisholm, Sam Grimshaw & Brisita Rojas in The Conversation as they talk about what remains in times of change. Watch now on YouTube.
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