Celebration

Mound House Church: Here, There and Everywhere

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Action, the book of James tells us, is an evidence of a genuine faith, and an action required of all Christ-followers is disciple-making.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem…”

          Tabitha is baptized in the bathtub—standing room only, fifty joyful brothers and sisters overflowing from the bathroom into the master bedroom, rejoicing with her in her decision to follow Christ.

“…and in all Judea and Samaria…”

          The homeless and the needy at Target Dayton Ministries become the recipients of God’s generosity, are fed physical meals and are, more importantly,offered the spiritual Bread, Jesus.

“…and to the end of the earth.”

          Somewhere in Africa, a community drinks clean water from a well donated through Charity: Water, avoiding diseases that may otherwise have claimed their lives.

Acts 1:8

As I sit comfortably on their living room couch, Sarah and Brian Pelphrey, longtime members of Mound House Church in Miamisburg, animatedly pour out the story of how this house church, which they now help shepherd, set out to become single-mindedly obedient to Christ’s Acts 1:8 commission to them, His Church.

The story begins with a jog, a vision and a football.

Early on, Mound House Church met in the Pelphreys’ home, which they then shared with Sarah’s brother, Rusty, and his family.  One day, Rusty jogged down the street and passed a nearby low-income apartment complex; he jogged back home with a vision for building relationships with these neighbors. These people desperately needed the Gospel, and his house church had what they needed--as well as a Commission from their Savior and a heart for the city of Miamisburg. Rusty brought his vision to the group, who began to pray about how to minister to their neighbors.

This Gospel work was not dramatic at the outset, but it was persistent.  Rusty and his friend Philip showed up at the apartments and started a game of football with some kids who were hanging around. This game of football led to more games of football, and Rusty and Philip kept going back, again and again, supported in prayer by the rest of the house church. Relationships began to develop, and soon the entire house church was involved in a targeted effort to befriend their neighbors at the apartment complex.

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God began opening the group’s eyes to the needs of those around them, and once they started paying attention, ministry opportunities met them at every corner.

A neighbor needed help with a household budget; a house church member offered his services.

A one-on-one Bible study sprang up, and a woman named Tabitha came to know Christ and was baptized.

Thanksgiving became an opportunity to give away Thanksgiving dinner.

House church members gave back-to-school supplies and Christmas presents.

Then, a youth ministry was born.

One summer, in an attempt to build deeper relationships, the house church began to have their house church meetings at the apartment complex every other week.  They invited their neighbors to share their meal and welcomed them to stay for house church. Several 3rd and 4th grade kids were among those who stayed week after week, and these children were lovingly “adopted” by the group.  When the weather turned cold, they continued to find their way to the Pelphreys’ home for house church, usually without parents, sometimes with siblings or friends, always with appetites!

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Ministering to these kids required self-sacrifice.  It wasn’t always easy, especially when the kids tended to show up at 4:30 in the afternoon for house church, which began at 6:00! Sarah described one such evening. “It was pouring rain, and…they came up onto our porch, and I felt like the Lord said, ‘Sarah, are you really going to lay your life down for Me and be in relationship with these people, or are you still looking for your own time allotment?’ I felt like God put it on my heart that I needed to make even that time, precious time with them.”  So she put the kids to work, taught them what serving looks like. While she and Brian prepared for the evening, the kids cleaned bathrooms, wiped counters, set chairs out. Discipleship was happening here!

And it continued to happen. Quads took turns serving and teaching the various groups of students, ranging from preschoolers to teens. Some kids brought their families—Austin’s entire family came to Christ and was baptized in the Pelphreys’ pool. The Mound House Church, in obedience to the Great Commission, was effectively reaching their corner Miamisburg for Christ.

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Then, God enlarged their vision.  This came about partly through the group’s study of the book, The Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Sterns, CEO of World Vision. The book, Brian said, “…took us from mission as being important, to it being written on our hearts.”  They came away from their book study with a widened, three-fold goal for missions, paralleling the model Jesus set forth in the Great Commission. Their mission efforts would be directed “Here, there and everywhere.”

Here: In Miamisburg, the group would continue to reach out to their friends from the apartments, in particular, the group of growing kids they had adopted.

There: They hatched a plan to serve a meal once a month at Target Dayton Ministries in downtown Dayton.

Everywhere: They would raise enough money to donate a well to supply clean water to a community in Africa through an organization called Charity: Water.

It was a God-honoring and obedient plan. It was an others-focused plan, and sacrificial. It was a plan that took into account God’s love for the lost, His valuing of the needy, His passion for justice.

It was an expensive plan.

Together, Mound House Church members set a three month goal: Raise $6,000.  One thousand dollars of the amount raised would go toward purchasing food to serve at Target Dayton and the rest toward donating the well in Africa.  It was a tall order, and as the group sat down to brainstorm fundraising possibilities, the order seemed to grow taller. Brian described his feelings at one point in the conversation as people began offering up fundraising ideas. “Oh great,” he thought. “We’re going to raise $8.00!”

But, as all God’s servants know (and as most of us sometimes have a hard time believing), “…with God all things are possible” (Matthew 10:27).

House church members rose to the occasion and used their gifts. One girl made and sold jewelry. A woman who owned a farm held a horse jump-a-thon, in which her horseback-riding students amassed pledges for the number of times they jumped their horses; the house church sold snacks for the event. People had garage sales. There was a block party—donations welcomed but not required—to raise money for the well, complete with music, a bouncy house, snow cones and pony rides.  Neighborhood children came bearing baggies full of coins, telling tales of broken piggy banks. Halfway through the party, the house church shared not only about the need for clean drinking water, but about our need for the Living Water, Jesus.

In the end, God—as He always does—provided for His work. In fact, He provided “…far more abundantly beyond…” what the group had envisioned.  All told, they had raised $13,000—enough for two wells plus meals for Target Dayton—evidence that God builds His people’s faith as they turn to Him with a trust that is willing to act in obedience.

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Action, the book of James tells us, is an evidence of a genuine faith, and an action required of all Christ-followers is disciple-making.  As house churches, how are we doing when it comes to being obedient to this directive?  Are we looking for where God is working and then joining that work? Are our priorities Kingdom priorities?  Because serving the King, after all, is the only thing that matters.

“But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” James 1:25 (ESV)

 

Author: Erin Steelman

When Selah Smiled

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"We are not the saviors, He is. And His work of adoption in her life reminded us so much of His work in adoption of our own lives."

By the time Ben and Julie Swain were celebrating four years of marriage, they had two young boys – Bryson and Lincoln. In the spring of 2013, before their five-year wedding anniversary, the Lord began breaking their hearts for adoption – specifically for young girls in China who were eagerly waiting on their forever families. Ben and Julie knew that many Chinese girls who aged-out of orphanages were pulled into a tragic life of sex trafficking and then often used to bear offspring – also resulting in high rates of abortion – further breaking their bodies and souls. Given the Swain's passion to speak and act for the unborn, adopting a child out of these possible circumstances was a conviction carved deep into their hearts.

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apex anthologies

The Swains followed their call to obedience and received a referral for a little girl in February of 2014. They were told that their daughter, who would be named Selah, was quiet, reserved and did not smile much in the orphanage. Julie mentioned that the advocacy group who visited Selah's orphanage did everything they could think of to get her to smile. Alas, no smile. The Swains received photographs of Selah during her time in the orphanage and Julie recalls the child's scared and sad face in every single one of them. These images really worked over Julie's motherly heart, wishing she could just reach out grab her daughter from afar, helping her to feel safe and secure and loving on her in her soon-to-be home.

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apex anthologies

When Ben and Julie met their daughter in person, in August of 2014, Selah cried herself to sleep the first night they were together. Julie mentioned that Selah even woke in the middle of the night with a detached and glazed over look on her face. Julie wondered what the transition period would be like; she wondered what and how long it would take for Selah to feel joy in her obviously broken and scarred heart.

The next morning, the family woke and had breakfast together – still no smile from Selah. They gathered their things and left to go finalize adoption paperwork; half an hour later, something amazing happened. Julie illustrated the scene this way,

30 minutes after the adoption was finalized...she smiled. And smiled again, and smiled again. Something in her heart that was broken had been repaired. Something that was once dead had come alive. It was almost like there had been oppression that had been over her that was lifted, and God breathed in hope. We are not the saviors, He is. And His work of adoption in her life reminded us so much of His work in adoption of our own lives. How He took us out of darkness and brought us into the light. How He gave us joy.”

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apex anthologies

As you can see, the Lord has made it obvious that the Swain's adoption story is part of His big story – His big story in all of us! Isn't it an absolute JOY in all of us that He is the Light who leads, who heals, and who rescues us from the depths of whatever darkness we encounter. Nothing is too much for Him. When we are resting in His abundant grace, mercy and goodness – who can do anything BUT smile?

Author: Tess Augustine

Photographer: Hilary Tebo

Breaking Bread

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It is important for believers to break bread together. It is important for believers to reflect the great Creator by being creative with the dishes they bring to house church. It is important to look at the dinner as a way to serve one another and to really enjoy each other’s presence.

God created us to be in complete and total fellowship with Him, because He has perfect fellowship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. We crave this type of fellowship with other believers because of how God created us. Saying that you do not desire community or fellowship as a believer indicates where your heart is and your separation from the Father. One of the great ways that Apex Community Church gives an opportunity for believers to create this fellowship is through a network of house churches. These smaller, more intimate gatherings allow for life-on-life discipleship and bring glory to God through spending time together, encouraging one another and teaching the Word.

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A huge part of a house church meeting is the dinner. This typically happens at the beginning of the meeting. Members bring dishes to share with each other and then the house church follows the example set for the fellowship of believers in Acts: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God” (Acts 2:46-47a). I spoke with a BeACON (the “e” is silent, so yes the house church is called BACON) house church leader, Josiah, about the dinners in order to learn what goes into the planning, why house churches bother to have dinner and what he has learned from participating in and helping plan these dinners.

Josiah has been involved in multiple house churches since early 2010 and now helps lead the BeACON house church (and yes, this house church loves to have breakfast for dinner as one of their regular meals). Josiah does not mince words when it comes to house church dinners, but speaks frankly and honestly by saying that they are pretty annoying to plan: “House church dinners can be one of the most frustrating things about being a shepherd. Everything about it is annoying. You have to navigate the minefield of different dietary requirements, tastes, moral dilemmas, picky eaters. Then there is the whole contributing factor . . . Then there is the whole chaos of trying to bring together all the different parts of a meal from a salad to a protein to a dessert.”

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As a house church member myself, I can totally relate to what he is saying. Sometimes there will only be one dessert for twenty people, or another time everyone will bring bread. As a culture that really centers our days around food, we need to be conscious, creative and generous when it comes to breaking bread with our close Christian community. This includes making accommodations for members with dietary restrictions and making sure the theme for next week is decided before leaving the current meeting so people have time to plan. Without semi-careful planning and very careful thinking about how you can serve others with your dish, the dinner will be haphazard at best. Josiah touched on this point as well: “You just need to show up with something that says you care about your family and you want to have fun eating with them. A meal where everyone brings their best leads to an attitude that spills over into content. You participate, you bring something, you put some thought in it. You don’t disparage someone else’s offering. You enjoy each other’s presence.”

I asked Josiah if he had a favorite house church dinner embedded in his memory, and he said that a Lord of the Rings theme was really fun--people contributed things in the shape of circles, fish - and he brought pints of ice cream. He also said that they spent a couple months on Sesame Street: “This week’s dinner is brought to you by the letter ___.” This is an idea that I am going to have to share with my house church!

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It is important for believers to break bread together. It is important for believers to reflect the great Creator by being creative with the dishes they bring to house church. It is important to look at the dinner as a way to serve one another and to really enjoy each other’s presence. At Apex, we have been blessed with an amazing community of believers and a great way to experience that community is through becoming part of a house church and eating a meal together.

 

 

Author: Elaine McKinley

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