A really cool thing happened recently, and I can’t wait to tell you about it. Here goes…
It started at the Light Bearers Convocation earlier this year. The theme was Jesus Only, and was a chapter-by-chapter study through Acts. In preparation for those sermons, I, along with Ty, James, and Jeffrey, read and studied through this book. The convocation went awesome, and everyone, ourselves included, were richly blessed through the study of Luke’s second book.
In my studies one of the things that struck me most was the tremendous sense of community throughout the book. Luke paints a picture of genuine connection and love. His descriptions are simple and yet profoundly suggestive of a deep commitment in the early church to each other and to the larger community. For example, he writes:
Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common…. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. (Acts 4:32-35).
Can’t you just feel it, that sense of love, selflessness, mission-mindedness, connection, and, community? It’s unmistakable. It is something special and beautiful. Or perhaps I should say it was. Let me return to this point in just a moment.
Not long after convocation, the ARISE program started. One of the classes I teach at ARISE is, you guessed it, Acts. I was ready to go this year, since I was already studied and fired up. As I prepped for the class, the same picture forced itself upon my mind: genuine community; real love and real connection.
Now, I have seen and felt glimmers of this kind of community in my 17 years as a believer, but nothing that fully matches Luke’s inspiring description.
Until last week.
I was in Los Angeles, California. And in a strange twist of irony, I was preaching at the Spanish Central Church in downtown LA, which just happens to be located in Jim Jones’s old church. Yes, that Jim Jones—the one who in 1978 led 909 of his church members to commit suicide in Guyana. Jones was aiming for a kind of utopian heaven on earth, but produced, instead, something much closer to hell on earth.
Everything except the clothes on their backs was lost.
So there I was preaching a week-long revival series in this beautiful, old, and historically-significant building, when I received terrible news. It was Thursday. The pastor, a friendly and godly man named Enoc Calderon, introduced me to two young families who were members of his church, and asked if I would join them in special prayer. I happily agreed. Then Pastor Calderon told me their story.
Two days before, the house both families were living in burned to the ground. Everything except the clothes on their backs was lost. Everything. No one was hurt or killed, all seven of them were unharmed! One of the families has two young children; the other, one.
I stood there in silence, looking at the downcast faces of the now-homeless parents. My prayer felt so feeble, so ineffectual. But I prayed nonetheless; I prayed and trusted, and tried to believe. After the prayer I questioned the families about their circumstances. The answers were not comforting. Truly, everything was lost. Red Cross was putting them up in a hotel for a week. Beyond that, all was darkness and confusion, and you could see it on their faces.
When I saw my house burning down I wondered where God was.
Suddenly, somehow, I spoke in faith: “everything will be alright; I can just feel it! We must trust our God and His community.” They nodded in silent resignation.
On Sabbath, I made an impassioned appeal to the church on behalf of the families. And Jesus did something awesome! More than $6000 came in! Violeta and I prayed about our own contribution and we agreed: it had to be sacrificial. It had to be an Acts-type offering! Honestly, when I heard that $6000 figure, I was overcome with emotion. The families were presented with the money at the close of the revival series, and you could tell that they were completely amazed and overwhelmed. One of the wives spoke up and said, “When I saw my house burning down I wondered where God was. And now I know!” How powerful! God loved these struggling ones through His church.
Just like Acts!