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Full Minds and Overflowing Hearts

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"You did WHAT for four days?!"

Nearly every time I’ve told someone what I did a couple weeks ago, I’ve gotten a response like “Wow!” or “Are you serious?” The activity that I’ve just described to them is a four-day Bible study that about 25 of us did together at the Rosedale International Center at the end of September. We mostly ignored our phones, our email, and our Facebook friends and dove headfirst into the book of Acts. Many of us were a little apprehensive as we got started. Could we actually sit through a Bible study that lasts that long?

Here’s how it worked. Each one of us had a copy of the book of Acts in manuscript form in a small binder. It was about 70 pages of text, and instead of having chapters and verses (a relatively recent addition to our Bibles), we had line numbers. Dan Byler, who was facilitating our study, suggested that we use colored pencils or markers to highlight, underline, circle, or otherwise mark the text. (He didn’t specifically mention doodling, but I noticed that my wife took some liberties with that ☺) Dan encouraged us to ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to what he wanted us to see, and then look for words, ideas, principles—anything that stood out to us.

We were young, old, and middle aged. Farmers, teachers, pastors, business people. We placed ourselves at five round tables, and Dan managed the clock for us. We’d usually take about five or six pages of text (the equivalent of a couple chapters) and spend about 20 minutes individually, reading, marking, and scribbling notes. Then Dan would ask us to share at our tables what we had seen in that passage. After another 20 minutes hurried past, he’d invite discussion as a whole group. Soon there would be a lively discussion of something like, “How are decisions being made by the church?” or “What is the role of the local church in taking the message of Jesus to other people groups?” or “How is the spread of the gospel being funded?” The observations I had made on my own were often multiplied tenfold by what others had mined from the text.

I saw things I’d never seen before, or at least I saw them much more clearly. I saw the centrality of the resurrection of Jesus in the message of the book of Acts. I saw the power and direction of the Holy Spirit in all that happened. I saw how nimble and flexible and minimal the structures were, so that the word was free to spread and keep on spreading. I noticed how many times great numbers of people were coming to faith in Jesus. I found it fascinating how often Luke mentioned women, like he was trying to make a special point about their essential place in the church.

Sometimes, we’d break from our study to pray for a while or discuss strategies for taking the gospel to “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.” One day we spent the afternoon on the streets of Columbus, praying for people and places we saw and initiating conversations as we could.

Four days later, our minds were full but our hearts were overflowing. God’s word is life-giving, and studying it together as the body of Christ, in community, is especially rich and stimulating. Now at RMM we’re asking, “How can we ‘Acts-ualize’ missions? What does this all mean for RMM and for the local churches we serve?” Holy Spirit, come empower and mobilize us!

We’re talking about how to replicate this manuscript study in other communities or with other groups. It is possible that some who participated this time will facilitate a study back home. If it sounds like something you’d be interested in attending or organizing, let us know at info@rmmoffice.org. We can let you know if we plan another study at the RIC or we can assist you in organizing a study in your community.