Today, some people think of the church as a powerless institution made of ancient traditions and stuffy buildings. They're wrong! The church is the new community of God's people. It's filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. And it has as much to say to the world today as it did two thousand years ago. In Acts, you will discover that God wants to do a fresh work among his people by the power of the Holy Spirit. You will find the pathway to authentic community. You will learn how to grow as a worshiper. And you will deepen your passion to invite others into the fellowship of Christ-followers we call the church. Sound exciting? Let's rediscover church together!
About the Author
John Ortberg is the senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC) in the San Francisco Bay Area. His bestselling books include Soul Keeping, Who Is This Man?, and If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get out of the Boat. John teaches around the world at conferences and churches, writes articles for Christianity Today and Leadership Journal, and is on the board of the Dallas Willard Center and Fuller Seminary. He has preached sermons on Abraham Lincoln, The LEGO Movie, and The Gospel According to Les Miserables. John and his wife Nancy enjoy spending time with their three adult children, dog Baxter, and surfing the Pacific. You can follow John on twitter @johnortberg or check out the latest news/blogs on his website at www.johnortberg.com.
Kevin G. Harney (kevingharney.com) serves at Shoreline Community Church in Monterey, California. He is the author of many books and studies, including Organic Outreach for Ordinary People, Seismic Shifts, and Reckless Faith.
Sherry Harney (sherryharney.com) has served as a children’s ministry director and a women’s ministry director, and is the author of more than sixty small-group Bible studies. One of her greatest passions is investing in the next generation of women in the church.
Read an Excerpt
By John Ortberg Kevin Harney Sherry Harney
ZondervanCopyright © 1999 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFilled with the Spirit
Frank Laubach, a pastor who had served in the Philippines as a missionary in the early part of the twentieth century, hit bottom. As he looked at his life's work, it seemed like it had all come to nothing. He and his wife had lost three children to malaria; and now, in his mid-forties, he was separated for health reasons from his wife and their one remaining child. Frank Laubach felt isolated and broken. But then ... he met God! He found relief when he discovered that he could live in intimate communion with God through the Holy Spirit.
During this process of seeking peace, he maintained a personal journal of prayers and reflections. He wrote these words sitting on a mountain, facing a life of failure, separated from everyone he loved:
The most wonderful discovery that has ever come to me is that I do not have to wait until some future time until the glorious hour. I do not need to ... wait for any grave. This hour can be heaven. Any hour for anybody can be as rich as God. For do you not see that God is trying experiments with human lives. That's why there are so many of them. He has, at this moment, one billion seven hundred million experiments going on around the world. And His question is, "How far will this man and that woman allow me to carry this hour?" This Sunday afternoon at three o'clock He was asking it of us all. I do not know what the rest of you said, but as for me, I asked God, "How wonderful do you wish this hour alone with me to be?" And God answered convincingly, "It can be as wonderful as any hour that any human being has ever lived. For I who pushed life up through the protozoa and the tiny grass and the fish and the bird and the dog and the gorilla and the human being and who am reaching out toward eternity, I have not become satisfied yet. I am not only willing to make this hour marvelous, I am in travail to set you akindle with the Christ-thing that has no name. How fully can you surrender and not be afraid?" And I answered, "Fill my mind with your mind to the last crevice. Catch me up in your arms, God, and make this hour as terribly glorious as any human being ever lived, if you will. I scarce see how one could live if his heart held more than mine has held from Thee these past few hours."
Clearly my job here is not to go to the town plaza and convince people to change their religious beliefs or to win a theological debate. My job is to live wrapped in God, trembling to His thoughts, burning with His passion. And my loved ones, that is the best gift you can give to the place where you live.... You and I shall soon blow away from our bodies. Money, praise, poverty, opposition, these make no difference, for they will all alike be forgotten in a thousand years. But this Spirit, which comes to a mind set upon continuous surrender-this Spirit is timeless life.
Frank Laubach's life stands as a testament to the Holy Spirit's power to move through the life of a willing person. This broken and yielded man decided that his one passion would be to walk in the presence of His God, led by the Spirit, every moment of every day. What grew out of this decision, he allowed, would be up to God.
What did God do through this man? Frank Laubach developed a volunteer-based method of literacy education known as "each one teach one" and became the father of a worldwide literacy movement. As a result of his teaching methods, more than sixty million people speaking two hundred different languages and dialects learned to read in their own native tongue. He became an advisor to presidents and national leaders.
What can God do through one life fully surrendered to the leading of the Holy Spirit? Only God can answer that question. Do you dare ask Him?
Making the Connection
1. What does it look like when the Holy Spirit is at work in the life of a person or church?
Describe a time when you had a deep sense of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in your life.
Knowing and Being Known
Read Acts 1:1-5 and Luke 1:1-4
2. Describe a time when you had to wait for something that you were very excited to receive or experience.
How did you feel when the waiting was finally over?
Why is waiting so hard for us?
3. What connections do you see between the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts?
4. Imagine you were one of the disciples who saw Jesus and heard Him teach in the forty days following His Resurrection. How do you think you would have felt after meeting Him?
How do you think you would have responded when you heard that Jesus' primary instruction was to wait (Acts 1:5)?
Read Acts 1:6-11
5. What do you learn about the person of the Holy Spirit in this first chapter of Acts (Acts 1:1-11)?
What do you learn about the work of the Holy Spirit?
6. What does Luke teach us about Jesus in each of these time frames:
His earthly ministry
His work following the Resurrection through today
His return at the end of time
What is the relationship of Jesus and the Holy Spirit?
7. If you had some misconceptions about the Holy Spirit as a young Christian, what were they?
In what ways has your grasp on the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the church grown?
Read Galatians 5:22-23 and Romans 12:3-8
8. What is one fruit of the Spirit that you see growing in your life (Galatians 5:22-23)?
What is one fruit that needs to be watered and grown more in your life?
9. If you have had opportunity to discover, develop, and use a spiritual gift, how has this experience deepened your understanding of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit?
What is one spiritual gift God has given you, and how are you seeking to use it for His glory and for building up others?
The Hard Work of Waiting
My childhood church expected everybody to attend the main service-even little kids. We had no children's church, no developmentally appropriate age-sensitive curriculum, no special message for kids. From the time we were old enough to graduate from nursery, we were old enough for big church. We had none of this contemporary, seeker-friendly jazz. No dramas or stirring visuals enhanced our worship. No Generation X, guitar-playing, surfer dude led worship to make it exciting, entertaining, or relevant. We did church the good ol' fashioned way, with hymns accompanied by the organ and sermons that seemed eternal. And we liked it that way! ... Well, not really.
I made it through by snacking from a little plastic bag of Cheerios that my mom brought for me. I would ration them and eat them as slowly as I could. If the message finished before my Cheerios ran out, I considered the morning good. But if the Cheerios ran out before the message was over, I knew it would be a long morning for all of us. To this day, if a sermon or message goes particularly long, I find myself having a strange craving for Cheerios.
Meeting the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is not in our employ; we are in his.... We must let him work on his terms and schedule. We cannot manipulate his power or program his activities. But because he is Lord, we must be open to whatever he wants to do, receptive to whatever gifts he sends, responsive to whatever priority he sets.
God is at work in the world today-that is the heart of what the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit. The Sovereign Father has not left the completion of his plan to chance. He, with the Son, has sent the Holy Spirit as the guarantee that the entire divine purpose will be carried out.... Our task (as God's people) is to apply God's truths to our lives, to believe his promises, to obey his orders, to experience his forgiveness and power, to rejoice in his magnificent gifts to us. -David A. Hubbard, The Holy Spirit in Today's World (Word, 1973)
The Life of the Spirit
I heard a story about a group of college students in Southern California who would often go door-to-door and ask this question, "Would you like to receive the gift of eternal life?"
One day, they knocked on a door that was answered by a woman who had a screaming baby in one arm, a vacuum in her hand, and loud kids running around behind her. She looked exhausted. The students smiled and asked, "Would you like to know how to have eternal life?" She sighed and answered, "Frankly, I don't know if I could stand it!" For many people, stretching this life out for eternity is not very appealing.
The Spirit, though, offers and brings to followers of Christ a life that is qualitatively different from this one. The presence of the Spirit always gives life-not simply by adding years, but by replenishing souls. Life in the Spirit is not just about eternity, although eternity is an important part of it, but about radical transformation, meaningful direction and purpose, amazing discoveries of real life, and indescribable joy.
Excerpted from Acts by John Ortberg Kevin Harney Sherry Harney Copyright © 1999 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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