Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Persecuted Church: Living by Faith in a Faithless World - Acts 7:1-53

The Persecuted Church: Living by Faith in a Faithless World
Acts 7:1-53
Introduction:  I remember being at a Christian Ed meeting some time ago. We met in the nursery since it allowed some young mothers on the committee to be at the meeting while their kids played. I remember when Mary Ann sat in the rocking chair, one of the little toddlers went over to a box, pulled out a little piece of carpet, laid it on the floor right in front of Mary Ann and sat down. It took a moment to figure out what was happening, but that is where Mary Ann sits when she is going to tell the kids a Bible story, so he just assumed it was Bible time!  Everyone loves a good story! One of the books I have in my library is entitled, “He Gave Us Stories,” by a scholar named Richard Pratt. That book was translated into Portuguese, and in Portuguese the title presents an interesting ambiguity, since “History” and “Story” are translated today by the same word, “histÓria.” Most of the Bible, Old and New Testament, is narrative, it’s history, and it focuses on God’s unfolding plan.
The Story of God is written in human history, and it includes God’s people, the great cloud of witnesses who lived by faith, who took God at His word.  Put that into the context of the New Testament, the Book of Acts, and the speech of Stephen in Acts 7, it’s clear that the message is a call to believe God, specifically, to believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises of God and the very presence of God among His people. It is true that Stephen is on trial, and on one level he is giving an answer to the charges that were brought against him. On another level however, his accusers are on trial as well. Their response to God’s story will reveal the truth about their hearts and show beyond question the path they are on in terms of their eternal destiny. 
I do want to be sensitive to the context here, and so I am saying it is the path they are on that is revealed, not necessarily their destiny. We have a powerful reminder in this context that as long as we have life, it may be that our eyes will be opened, our heart will be changed, and we’ll turn in faith to God. Saul of Tarsus is a part of this story. That is the same Saul who is later known as the Apostle Paul. Here he stands with Stephen’s accusers approving what was happening. A couple chapters over in Acts, he is brought into a dramatic confrontation with the resurrected Christ and his life is changed. Do you have someone you have been sharing Christ with that seems determined in their unbelief? Do they seem like an “impossible case”? God may have a plan for them that is yet to unfold, so stay faithful, keep praying, and see what God may yet do!
Stephen was on trial for his life. He was charged with blasphemy (6:11). The issue was that he was preaching Jesus. Stephen responds by retelling some highlights of the story of redemption, beginning with Abraham.  It is a powerful message since they really couldn’t dispute what he was saying, the actions of their forefathers revealed the depravity of humans despite God’s repeated efforts to reveal himself to them.  You can almost see the leaders reluctantly nodding and agreeing with Stephen, “Yes, our fathers were a stiff necked people!” And then, he makes the application: “You are just like your fathers!”
Stephen mentions at the beginning and end of his speech the glory of God, first God’s glory was revealed to Abraham (v.2) and finally to Stephen even as he is being put to death (7:55,56).  Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reminds us of Israel that “…they are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.  5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all…” (Rom 9:4,5).  The glory of God led them through the sea and through the wilderness. God’s glory descended on the Tabernacle, was revealed on Mt. Sinai, and filled the Holy place of the Temple.  Because of unbelief the glory of the Lord departed for a season, until in the fullness of time God sent forth His Son… Of him John said, “We have seen His glory, glory as the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth…” (John 1:14). Stephen is standing strong in the faith, speaking only the truth, testifying to God’s grace revealed in history, and so giving God the glory. That faithful witness brings glory to the Lord.
The Big Idea: God is glorified when his people live by faith and worship Him in Spirit and in truth.

I. Take God at His Word: Abraham (7:1-8). God told Abraham to go, and he went. He believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.
            Notice first of all that Stephen addresses his accusers with empathy and humility: “Brothers and fathers…” Rather than emphasizing their theological differences at the start, he begins by calling them “brothers.” He is putting himself in the same boat with them, affirming their common heritage and history. They were Jews, like him, they had the same blood, and they acknowledged the history of God’s dealing with the Jewish people.  By calling them “fathers” he seems to be acknowledging with respect the Sanhedrin and their role as religious leaders of the nation. “Listen…” i.e., “hear me out.” He will appeal to their common faith and also the history of their people of rejecting the deliverers God had given them. The facts were the facts, it was their history, and Stephen will use that history to explain the current situation.
 Stephen begins by saying the God of glory appeared to Abraham and spoke to him. That passage, starting in Genesis 12, is so familiar that we maybe take for granted how significant that was. God’s revelation was more generalized before that, but now He was focusing His promise on a man and his descendants. We see God in his sovereignty revealing himself to that human, not only in theophany as he appeared to him, but by speaking to him. The God who is, the great I AM, the creator and sustainer of the universe, has chosen to use human language to reveal himself to us, and to show us what he wants from us. We have a fuller revelation than Abraham had. We can read in the Bible of God’s work in the past, His instructions on how to live, His plan for the future. We have the Light of His full revelation in Jesus and the reality of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Abraham had a much more limited revelation, but he heard the Word of God, and he stepped out in faith, leaving what he knew for what he did not yet know, because God said to go. 
            It is certainly true that Abraham did have to learn to trust God, and his faith had some ups and downs along the way. But God was teaching him, building his faith, enabling him to believe, to trust. He went out in faith, but then was afraid when a famine caused him to go down to Egypt and he lied about Sarah his wife for fear of the men in the land (and does the same thing a second time in chapter 20!). He showed faith when he trusted God and took what was left when Lot walked by sight and pitched his tent toward Sodom. He believed God when he was promised a multitude of descendants, then he doubted, and agreed to take Hagar as his concubine. Finally, when God tells him to sacrifice his promised Son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah he is ready to do the unthinkable, to the point of lifting the knife over his son, until God intervenes…   The lesson is to believe, God is trustworthy, we can take Him at His word. Because God is glorified when his people live by faith and worship Him in Spirit and in truth.

II. Trust God when we don’t understand: Joseph (7:9-16). The son’s of Jacob, the patriarchs of the twelve tribes, were not all, at all times, great examples of living by faith.  Joseph’s brothers betrayed him, but God was with him. The story of Joseph emphasizes God’s sovereignty and His grace.
            Stephen reminds his own accusers that the patriarchs became envious and sold Joseph their brother into Egypt (7:9). These were the men to whom every Jew could trace their family tree – they betrayed their own brother out of jealousy and lied to their father, saying he was dead. Stephen is making it clear that their ancestry is not a cause for being prideful, quite the contrary their fathers were far from righteous. In fact they had acted cruelly and deceitfully to the one God had chosen. Yet we see grace in the story of Joseph and his brothers. What set them apart was God’s sovereign choice and his providential hand working to accomplish His good purpose.
             Stephen is saying that the partriarchs, the sons of Jacob (ex-Joseph), rejected the one that God had chosen to deliver them. Even so, God in His grace worked to accomplish that deliverance through the one who He had chosen. Does that sound familiar? These people did same with another chosen Son, Jesus, by rejecting Him and delivering Him up to be killed. Even so, through His death God saved a remnant, chosen by grace, who would repent and believe.
            Joseph trusted God, even when it seemed that His world was falling apart around him.  Jesus had trusted the Father, in the Garden and to the Cross and the grave. And now Stephen, even as he spoke to his accusers, was trusting God.  God is glorified when his people live by faith and worship Him in Spirit and in truth.

III. Obey God’s Commands: Moses (7:17-43).  God revealed himself to Moses and Moses obeyed God, even as the people committed idolatry.
            One of the specific charges that were brought against Stephen was that he spoke against Moses, so it is not too surprising that he spent the biggest part of his message talking about Moses. Moses was probably the most respected and revered of the human leaders God had given to Israel. He spoke to God face to face, he met God on the mountain and saw his glory pass by, he was used by God to lead the nation out of Egyptian bondage, and he received the Law by direct revelation from God. Moses authored the first five books of the Bible, the Torah. He was the paradigm prophet, the one to who all subsequent prophets of God would be compared and ultimately, a promised “Prophet like Moses,” the Messiah, would come at the right time to deliver the faithful remnant of Israel.
            With all of that, no wonder the nation held Moses in such high esteem!  Yet, like Joseph, Moses did not always have such an easy time with the sons of Israel. After God brought them out of Egypt, they had times of doubting and they began to grumble against God and against Moses and Aaron. Whether it was about water or food or the enemies in the land, the doubts and complaints had consequences.
            God revealed the stipulations of the covenant to Moses and the people committed themselves to obey, yet the history of Israel from Joshua, through the judges and kings of Israel, the faithfulness of God and the cycles of unbelief by the people and their leaders, and the consequences of that unbelief, explains the history of Israel.
            Remember the Word of Jesus, “If you believed Moses you would believe Me, because he spoke of me” (John 5:46). Trust and obey. John put it this way: “He who believes in the Son has life. He who does not obey the Son shall not see life, for the wrath of God abides on Him” (John 3:36). True faith will show itself by obedience, not to the letter of the Law, but to the Spirit of the Law. God is glorified when his people live by faith and worship Him in Spirit and in truth.
IV. Worship the God who is Present: the Temple (7:44-53). Another charge brought against Stephen was that He preached that Jesus would destroy the Temple. Stephen answered that they seemed more concerned about their traditions and the physical building than about knowing and worshipping the One true God, the Great I AM, the God who spoke the universe into existence.
God is the creator of all things and omnipresent (44-50). Yes, Moses and Aaron mediated between God and the people in the wilderness, and the priests continued in that role later. The tabernacle housed the ark of the covenant in the center of the camp and it was the place where the Shekinah glory descended and was present, above the mercy seat and between the cherubim. Later the Temple was built in Jerusalem and took the role of the Meeting Place, the House of God. But Stephen quotes the oracle of the Lord to Isaiah which made it clear that the Creator of the Universe is not contained or limited by a physical building, He is omnipresent.
Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,  49 'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest?  50 Did not my hand make all these things?' (Acts 7:48-50; see Isa 66:1,2a).
Remember the Latin phrase used by the Reformers, Coram Deo, living before the face of God. That is living by faith. Trusting that God is transcendent, He is infinite and omnipresent, not limited to a particular place or building.  See He is also imminent, right here with us, always present, always watching.
And our Hearts are revealed by our response to Him (51-53). Stephen turns the tables on His accusers and charges them with unbelief, a lack of faith in the God the Scriptures which is revealed by their response to Jesus.
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.  52 Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered…” (Acts 7:51-52).
 Stephen told the story of the fathers and he only spoke the truth. You can almost read between the lines and by their silence imagine the leaders nodding their heads in reluctant agreement as he tells the story of God’s revelation and Israel’s struggle to believe and trust Him. “Yes, the fathers were a stiff necked bunch weren’t they?” But then Stephen makes the point: they had rejected the prophets God sent, and the prophets spoke of the coming of Messiah, Jesus. Now you handed Him over to be killed! You are just like your fathers!  Ok, if you are taking notes on how to be an effective witness for the Lord, this may not be the best approach for everyone! But at this moment, in this situation, it is clear the Stephen said exactly what God wanted him to say.
      “…you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it” (Acts 7:53).  Stephen says on the one hand you claim to venerate the Word, yet on the other hand you don’t obey what it says. Faith means trusting God, taking Him at His Word. If we really believe that God is who he claimed to be and that He has spoken, we will want to obey what He says.
What is God saying to me in this passage? God is glorified when his people live by faith and worship Him in Spirit and in truth.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? The glory of God was revealed to humans. Moses met God on the mountain, and when he descended his face glowed with the glory of God’s presence. The prophet Isaiah also got a glimpse of the throne room of heaven, the seraphim circling the presence of the King of Kings. Some of the disciples saw Jesus transformed on the Mount of transfiguration. Stephen, his face like that of an angel, sees heaven opened, and Jesus standing at the Father’s right hand. When John wrote his prolog to the Gospel he said, “We have seen His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Have you come here today to meet with Him and to Worship Him? He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever, and He is worthy to be praised. Do you recognize His presence, now, and as you go about your life through the week, choosing to live Coram Deo, before the face of God? He is glorified as we bring the message of his grace to the world. Stephen spoke the truth, knowing what the consequences might be. Most of us will not be on trial for our life, but lives are at stake. The lives of those around you who desperately need to know Him. Are you ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you? Will you?              AMEN.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Persecuted Church: The Cost of Discipleship

The Persecuted Church: The Cost of Discipleship
Acts 6:8-15
Introduction:  This week we heard the story of a lifeguard who saw a swimmer in distress and went to try to rescue him. The rescue swimmer lost his life in the process. In this case he was willing to save, but he gave his life in the process. Jesus gave His life, and in the process He accomplished the rescue, the salvation, of all who will come to Him in faith. And He sends us to be His witnesses. The Greek word for "witness" is the word from which we get the English word "martyr." We come today to the story of Stephen, a witness, and the first martyr of the early church. 
Context: The context in Acts 6 reminds us that even the church will have moments when internal conflicts can threaten to bring division and so disrupt the mission God has entrusted to us.  In this case, the matter was related to physical, financial needs, the Greek speaking widows being overlooked in the distribution of food.  The radical generosity of the believers in the early part of Acts is a feature of church life that stands out.  Initially there were no unmet needs among the Christ followers because the radical, cheerful generosity of those that had means was extending the love of Christ to those who would have been in genuine need. There is no indication that the apostles didn’t think this situation, which was brought to their attention, was important. Quite the contrary, they addressed it immediately and effectively. It could have brought disunity and division to the church and that that would have disrupted the church’s mission. They empowered the people affected, to choose spiritually qualified people they knew and trusted, to address the situation. We see a couple of principles, 1) we should make every effort to strive for the unity of the body, and 2) we should be sensitive to the needs of people around us.  We should have compassion when we see genuine needs within or outside of the church. What would Jesus do if He walked through our streets and saw people needy or hungry or hurting?  Giving a drink of water in the name of Jesus is something we want to do, but that isn’t, or should be, the last word. Meeting needs in the community is important, but the essential heart of our mission must be sharing the truth that will meet their deepest need, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Most importantly, God is glorified as His story is shared with the world, and the message of His grace is proclaimed. God created a world that was good, human rebellion brought suffering and death and separation from God. God chose a people to whom and through whom He revealed His covenantal love, his holiness, and his righteousness. He made a way for sinful humans to be reconciled to God by sending His Son in human form, without sin, to die as our substitute and then to raise again the third day. He is the Way, the only way, the truth, and the life. The message that we need saving is not what people want to hear. The truth that God’s way is the only way is offensive and so is easily rejected, its not the affirming and inclusive message that the world wants.
The Big Idea: Though preaching Christ may bring offense it must be at the heart of an effective ministry.      
I. God works in and through His people (8). And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.
  Remember the context, Stephen had been chosen to serve by the people (cf. 6:5). He was recognized by his peers as someone who was full of the Spirit and of wisdom. So he was selected to have a part in the ministry of distributing food and other material needs to the Greek speaking widows. This was an important issue, it was a need that had to be met and a situation that potentially could have divided the church.  The church responded quickly and effectively to this need. But ministering to the physical needs of people is not the “be all and end all” of ministry.  Why are we in the world? God has a mission that He is accomplishing through the church, and the heart of the mission is proclaiming Christ, crucified and resurrected, as the one and only means for reconciliation with God.
 Stephen was selected as one of the seven, an important work that would meet needs and maintain the unity of the church. But God had other work for him to do as well (6:8). The context makes it clear that the ministry of Stephen here was carrying out the mission Jesus had spoken of in Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be witnesses to me, starting in Jerusalem…” Jesus had said that “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you…” The presence of the Spirit was the source of the power to minister in the name of Jesus. The people chose seven men to take responsibility in one area of ministry so that the apostles could continue their primary ministry of prayer and preaching the Word.  Jesus said He has chosen us to bear fruit, and through that God will be glorified.
        One of the most encouraging things about our church family is that virtually every member is involved in some way in the working together of the body. We seem to have learned well that Christianity is not a spectator sport, it is something that requires our participation. When it comes to soccer, I might better stay in my chair and watch so I don’t hurt myself, when it comes to the Christian life there are no “couch potato Christians”! But beyond serving on committees and volunteering to fill needs in the church, it is also true that every one of us needs to embrace our calling to be his witnesses.  Whatever we are doing in the church is important and necessary, but we are also called to have a part, in the place where God has placed us, to testify to His amazing grace.   Though preaching Christ may bring offense it must be at the heart of an effective ministry.

II.  God’s work in and through His people may provoke hostility from those who are close to us (9-11). So Stephen was ministering in the power of the Spirit, and we read,
9 But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen.  10 But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.  11 Then they secretly induced men to say, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God."
            “BUT…” begins verse 9. Stephen was serving faithfully, in the power of the Spirit carrying out the ministry God had given, but the preaching of the truth will often offend someone, and so it does here.  There were synagogues in and around Jerusalem where diaspora Jews from various linguistic and cultural backgrounds who had returned to the area could come together for community as well as for reading and study Scripture.  Stephen had been chosen along with others to minister to the needs of some Greek speaking widows in the community and this may have gotten the attention of Greek speaking Jews. People they knew, who had come to believe in this Jesus, they must have been learning their doctrine from this guy!  So they “rose up and argued…” with Stephen. The word argued has the sense of “debated” with him.    
            Notice that they encountered Stephen and were “…unable to cope with the wisdom and Spirit with which he was speaking…” Have you ever had an opportunity to speak to someone about the Lord, you sensed an open door, maybe even a receptive heart, but you were afraid that you would not know what to say, or that you would say the wrong thing?  If our heart is right with God, we can’t go wrong by telling what God means to us or what he has done for us. Just accept that you don’t have to know everything and you don’t need to be able to answer every objection. Just admit that you don’t know everything but that your life has been changed by the One you do know, Jesus. We are not being asked to be “expert witnesses,” only witnesses called to tell the truth about the One we know.
            There was false testimony that Stephen was speaking against Moses and against God. Moses anticipated the coming of Christ, Jesus is God, God the Son, God incarnate. Jesus himself said He had not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets, but rather to fulfill.
            To charge blasphemy was to set up a situation that could result in capital punishment.  Blasphemy merited death. So inducing men to falsely charge blasphemy reveals the hardness of these hearts. This was no investigation or objective seeking of truth.  One of the great delusions people have, and one that we sometimes have about unbelievers, is that they can be objective, neutral, honest judges of the evidence.  As surely as the leaders had hated Jesus, as certainly as the disciples were mistreated for speaking the truth about Him, other faithful followers, like Stephen, will be opposed by unbelief.  Even so, though preaching Christ may bring offense, it must be at the heart of an effective ministry.

III. God’s work and His Word may be misunderstood and misrepresented by those who don’t know Him (12-15, 7:1). We see next the lengths to which the opposition goes. 
12 And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council.  13 They put forward false witnesses who said, "This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law;  14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us."  15 And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel. 7:1The high priest said, "Are these things so?"
            This charge may sound familiar. It is something that false witnesses had also said about Jesus (Mt 26:61, 27:40; cf. Mk 14:58, 15:29). False witnesses spoke against Jesus as He was examined saying,
"This man said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days’" (Matthew 26:61).
Even as he hung on the cross some mocked,
"You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross" (Matthew 27:40).
In both cases, the witnesses are described as “false,” i.e., they did not accurately portray what Jesus had said about the Temple.  A couple of obervations:
·        Jesus did speak against human traditions and rules that were added to the Law, but He also said that not one jot or tittle of the Law would be done away with. It’s clear He valued the teachings of Moses. He said “If you believed Moses you would believe me, for he wrote of me” (John 5:46).

·        The Temple had an important role in the history of God’s people: it was the meeting place between God and men, it was the place where sacrifices were offered. The disciples still went to the temple, but they went to preach Jesus, the One who reveals the Fathers.
            Jesus did say a couple of things about the “Temple” that were misunderstood. In the Olivet discourse (Mt 24; Mk 13) He predicted that Jerusalem would be sacked and the Temple destroyed. Historically we know that happened in AD 70 when the Romans razed the city.  So He didn’t say HE would destroy the Temple, but simply predicted that it would happen. Perhaps more importantly we read near the beginning of John’s Gospel, in John 2:19, something Jesus said about a Temple being destroyed.  There He said,
"Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
Notice there, Jesus makes no statement about destroying the temple himself, but says when some of his hearers would do that, He would raise it back up in three days.  But the context clarifies that Jesus was not talking about the physical temple, but rather was predicting His own death and resurrection. The saying of Jesus was misunderstood then and even his own disciples didn’t get it until after the resurrection.
The Temple was the place God had chosen to manifest His presence in the midst of the people. It replaced the Tabernacle which was the holy place in the midst of God’s people in the desert. The “house of God” motif goes even further back, to the vision Jacob had in Genesis 28 of a ladder going up to heaven on which the angels of God ascended and descended. Jesus is the revelation of the Father, the one mediator between God men, the only way into the presence of God (see John 1:49-51). He said, “Tear down this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” They could kill him and lay his body in a tomb, but three days later He arose. His death and resurrection rendered the temple obsolete, since sacrifices were no longer necessary, and since the way into the holy of holies was opened through faith. Seated at the Father’s right hand He sent the Spirit to indwell the New Testament church.
            Notice that there is no sense of honestly, openly, investigating what Stephen was preaching, and seeking the truth together. The simple fact is that fallen humans are not “neutral” about spiritual things. They are not “open-minded.” They have been blinded by the enemy, they are spiritually dead, they are unable to understand the things of the Spirit, they are at enmity with God. Because that is true, they will not be won merely by our careful and logical presentation of the facts. We need a miracle. We need God to open their heart, we need the Spirit to lead them to repentance and faith. There is mystery here since God has chosen to work through us, through the foolishness of the message preached, to save those who believe. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
            The question in 7:1 was not a search for truth, it was a search of an opportunity to condemn.  As they had already done with Jesus.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Though preaching Christ may bring offense it must be at the heart of an effective ministry. 
What would God have me to do in response to this passage?
            1. Whatever we do in the name of Christ, whether it is feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, comforting the hurting, the most loving thing we can do is to seek to share the truth about Jesus. Stephen had an important ministry to see to the needs of the Greek speaking widows, but then he also sought to preach Jesus.
2. As we think about the church, and about following Jesus, this section of Acts is not something that really resonates with most American believers. We are thankful for Voice of the Martyrs and other such ministries to let us know what is going on in other parts of the world, but it seems like it’s a long way away. Biblically, if one part of the body suffers, we all suffer.

3. When it comes to our calling to be His witnesses, do you ever feel like you just can’t do it, you’ll say the wrong thing, no one will listen? The same God that went with Stephen, the same Spirit that empowered him to speak, is with you and in you. You already care about the people in your sphere of influence, not allow God to use you to share Christ with them.
Not every rescue swimmer comes back safe, unscathed. They are not required to come back, they are called to go out. Because our great Rescuer has paid the price and defeated death in the resurrection, we are called to urge those we go to, those around us, to look to Him for their deliverance. He will never fail.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Pastor's Report - July 2014

Pastor’s Report – July 2014

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my
witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
          Our “God and Country Day” celebration last week was an excellent opportunity to remember our heritage and to consider our ongoing mission to represent our faith in a clear and convincing way to our neighbors and the world.  I have enjoyed our current preaching series in the Book of Acts on Sunday mornings. The central theme in Acts revealed in the verse at the top of this page focuses on our calling to be His witnesses.  As a church family we have agreed that our mission is to “Know God and to make Him known.”  As we enter the summer season with visitors and seasonal residents flooding into the area we will have ample opportunity to bring light into the darkness.  Those around us desperately need to know Jesus! One exciting outreach coming up this month is our Vacation Bible School. A great team of volunteer workers is coming together to reach out to children and their parents by presenting the gospel through Bible stories, music, and recreation. A small group of volunteers participated in the Windjammers parade and handed out hundreds of invitations to VBS. Your prayers for this outreach and your willingness to help, and to invite neighbors, friends, and family to bring their children are vital to its success.
            I continue to be encouraged by the sense of “family” that is developing within our church. Our vision statement says that “We envision a community of Christ followers, rooted in the Word, treasuring God as supremely valuable, and proclaiming the riches of His grace to the world.”  I am convinced that an involvement in a small group is an important means to deepening our relationships internally, and also a key to preparing us to more effectively share Christ with those in our sphere of influence.  As we look ahead to re-start many of our small groups in September, would you prayerfully consider your involvement?  We would love to see an even greater participation in small groups. If you have not been a part of a group we would love to help you to get connected.  It also may be that God would have you host or lead a group in the fall.  If you are interested in the possibility please talk to me or to one of the other elders.
            The realities of life in a fallen world mean that inevitably we will have times of struggle and conflict in our lives and relationships. I continue to be available to counsel individuals and couples as needs arise.  Our Wednesday night prayer time led by Sam Michael has been an opportunity to spend some time in the Word and then to bring our petitions and prayers before the throne of grace. Bible, prayer, fellowship: that is a combination that the Lord will bless.
Your co-workers in Christ,

Pastor Steve and Mary Ann