Thought for the Week 08 - Sunday 10th May 2020 by Rev Peter Baxandall

‘Thought for the week’ – 10th May, 2020

We trust that all is well with each and every one as we send out this, our latest ‘Thought for the week’.

Thank you for all the comments that assure us that God is blessing many of us as we continue to work through this ‘lockdown’ with these ‘Thought for the week’ emails.

We pray that this week we will also find it to be a blessing to us as we allow God to speak to us by the Holy Spirit and teach us new things from God’s word.

As we begin the ‘Thought for the week’ for this week we start with the Song ‘As the deer’

Here, as with so many of our songs and hymns, God can speak to us as we allow the words of them to touch our lives – and we pray that this one does just that today – so let’s look at it and sing along with it right now.

 

As the deer pants for the water,

so my soul longs after You’

You alone are my heart’s desire

and I long to worship You.

 

   You alone are my strength and shield,

   to You alone may my spirit yield.

   You alone are my hearts desire,

   and I long to worship You.

 

I want You more than gold or silver,

only You can satisfy.

You alone are the real joy giver

and the apple of my eye.

 

   Chorus  

You’re my Friend and You are my Brother,

even though You are a king.

I love You more than any other,

so much more than anything.

 

   Chorus

Having looked at the hymn and perhaps sung along with it we turn to prayer

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ have overcome death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant that by your grace you put into our minds good desires, so by your continual help we may bring them to good effect. Help us to think of our fellow church members both as we share the ‘Thought for the week’ and in the week ahead, through Jesus Christ our risen Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen                

This week there are two suggested Bible Readings and they are Acts 6:1-7        where we find the choice of Stephen as a helper and Acts 7:51-8:1 where we read that Stephen was stoned to death

If we were to ask the question, ‘when is St. Stephen’s Day’? there is that thought of would know the answer?

It is of course 26th December and it easily gets overlooked and lost because we refer to that date at Boxing Day.

The date of 26th December is allocated to Stephen because, having celebrated the birth of Jesus on the previous day, and through His birth the coming of the Christian faith, in the person of Stephen we remember the first person to lose their life as a Christian ‘martyr’.

However, Stephen is often overlooked and so we are going to look at something of his life today.

The record we have of his life is brief – but powerful in so many ways – and as we see, only a short while after his appointment as one of the seven ‘helpers’ we find him being stoned to death.

Next week we will look at the effect of the ‘stoning of Stephen’ and its impact on the early church, but before that we take a look into his life as we read this account here in the book of Acts.

The whole account of Stephen is recorded in Acts 6:1 right through to Acts 8:1 – and as mentioned earlier we have given two sections of these verses for us to focus on for this ‘Thought for the week’

As we turn first to Acts 6:1-7 we find that the church was experiencing ‘growing pains’ and this was making it difficult for the Apostles to minister to everybody. 

Often, we don’t even begin to ‘imagine’ the numbers involved as we read a Bible passage, but by the time we get to Acts chapter 6 the early church numbered around ten thousand people!

Most of the church fellowships here in Lowestoft are ‘small’ fellowships, and that has its own problems as we know only too well.

However, in the record given in The Acts of the Apostles the church had the opposite problem – that of being a very large church fellowship.

We saw last week that as the church grew and as fellowship deepened – so too did the sharing of wealth and property to help meet the needs of fellow believers.

However, this brought its own problems of just how to cope with daily distribution of food and other essentials that had become a part of the life of this early church.

At this stage, most of the new converts were from a Jewish background – on the whole speaking Hebrew or Aramaic.

However, there were also some of Greek origin coming to faith, and most of them only spoke Greek.

In that situation, with cultural and language differences, it was possible for some groups to feel ‘left out’

The “Grecians” were the Greek-speaking Jews who had come to Palestine from other nations, and therefore may not have spoken Aramaic, while the “Hebrews” were Jewish residents of the land who spoke both Aramaic and Hebrew. 

The fact that the “outsiders” were being neglected may have been accidental but it created a situation that could have divided the church. 

However, the Apostles handled the problem with great wisdom and did not give Satan any foothold in the fellowship.

When a church faces a serious problem, this presents the leaders and the members with a number of opportunities. 

For one thing, problems give us the opportunity to examine our ministry and discover what changes must be made. 

It is easy for us in church life dwell on past success and then simply to seek to maintain the status quo, but this is dangerous.

Someone once said that success is “a last-year’s nest from which the birds have flown.” 

Any ministry or organization that thinks its success will go on automatically is heading for failure. 

We must regularly examine our lives and our ministries and the way we do things lest we start taking things for granted.

The Apostles studied the situation and concluded that they were to blame: they were so busy serving tables that they were neglecting prayer and the ministry of the Word of God that they had been called to. 

They had created their own problem because they were trying to do too much. 

Even today, some pastors are so busy with secondary tasks that they fail to spend adequate time in study and in prayer as they seek God’s will for the direction the church needs to take.

This creates a “spiritual deficiency” in the church that makes it easy for problems to develop.

This is not to suggest that serving tables is a menial task, far from it, because every ministry in the church is important. 

But it is a matter of priorities; the Apostles were doing jobs that others could do just as well, but they had been called and equipped for other roles. 

D.L. Moody used to say that it was better to put ten people to work within the church than for one person to try to do the work of ten. 

Certainly it is better for the leaders, for the workers enlisted, and for the church as a whole.

Church problems also give us an opportunity to exercise our faith, not only faith in the Lord, but also faith in each other. 

In this situation the leaders suggested a solution, and all the members agreed with it. 

The assembly selected seven qualified men, and the Apostles set them apart for their own particular ministry within this growing church. 

The church members were not afraid to adjust their structure in order to make room for a growing ministry. 

When structure and ministry conflict, this gives us an opportunity to trust God for the solution. 

It is tragic when churches destroy ministry and restrict growth because they refuse to modify their structure. 

The Apostles were not afraid to share their authority and ministry with others.

Problems also give us the opportunity to express our love. 

When the problem came to the surface it had the capacity to cause a divide within the church. 

The leaders wanted not only to avoid conflict but also they wanted to act out of love for those feeling left out.

What an illustration of Romans 12:10 where we read, ‘be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourself’. 

When we look to solve church problems, we must think of others and not of ourselves only.

These seven men were humble servants of the church, men whose work made it possible for the Apostles to carry on their important ministries among the people – and Stephen was one of these men. 

The emphasis in Stephen’s life is on fullness:

  • he was full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3, 10),
  • full of faith (Acts 6:5),
  • and full of power (Acts 6:8).

In Scripture, to be “full of” means “to be controlled by.” 

This man was controlled by the Spirit, faith, wisdom, and power. 

He was a God-controlled man yielded to the Holy Spirit, a man who sought to lead people to Christ.

What was the result? 

The blessing of God continued and increased!

The church was still unified (Acts 6:5), it still multiplied (Acts 6:7), and it was magnified (Acts 6:8). 

Acts 6:7 is one of several “summaries” found in the book of Acts - statements that let us know that the story has reached an important juncture.

In Acts 6:7, Luke describes the climax of the ministry in Jerusalem, for, as we shall see, the persecution following Stephen’s death will take the Gospel to the Samaritans and then to the Gentiles. 

It has been estimated that there were 8,000 Jewish priests attached to the temple ministry in Jerusalem at any given time, and “a great company” of them trusted Jesus Christ as Saviour!

This Spirit-filled man did not limit his ministry to the serving of tables; he also won the lost and even did miracles. 

This was part of God’s plan to use Stephen to bear witness to the leaders of Israel. 

Stephen’s powerful testimony would be the climax of the church’s witness to the Jews. 

None of those who wanted to silence Stephen could match or resist his wisdom and power. 

As far as they could see their only alternative was to destroy him – and that’s what they did.

As we turn our attention to the second of our two readings – Acts 7:51-8:1 we see how this all unfolded.

Their treatment of Stephen parallels the way the Jewish leaders treated Jesus. 

First, they hired false witnesses to testify against him. 

Then, they stirred up the people who accused him of attacking the Law of Moses and the temple. 

Finally, after listening to his witness, they executed him by stoning him to death.

The Jews were jealous of the growth and popularity of this early church and they wanted to take steps to halt this growth and popularity in its tracks 

The church faced the opposition of Jewish tradition for many years to come, from within its own ranks (Acts 15) and from false teachers coming in from the outside (Gal. 2:4).

The leaders arrested Stephen while he was ministering and they took him before the same council that had tried Jesus. 

It was not even necessary for Stephen to speak in order to give witness, for the very glow on his face told everybody that he was a servant of God. 

It is entirely possible that this would cause the members of the Sanhedrin to recall Moses’ shining face (Ex. 34:29–30). 

It was as though God was saying, “This man is not against Moses! He is like Moses - he is My faithful servant!

As far as our records are concerned it appears that Stephen ‘came from nowhere’ and was suddenly seen in a very prominent place.

In this sense, his ministry seems to have been short – but he must have already shown his strength and gifts for them to appoint him to this role in the first place.

As we said at the beginning of this ‘Thought for the week’ the record we have of Stephen is short – but powerful in so many ways – and one that we can learn from.

Here was a man that was ‘God controlled’, full of the Spirit and ready to be used by God in any way.

And so, we turn to a time of prayer as we come to the end of this ‘Thought for the week’ before we sing our next song.

We thank you for all that we have learned in our ‘Thought for the week’ about the life of Stephen who was willing to be used by you according to your plan and purpose.

May our lives be challenged as we continue to consider his life and example.

Help us to listen to your voice, to receive your assurances, to allow you to touch our hearts and may we always be aware of your constant presence with us.  

We pray for our church and parish at this time of Interregnum with all the change that it brings.

Help us to be open to seek your will and purpose for our parish as we move forward and we pray for a ‘God-controlled’ person to become our next incumbent.

Lord, we pray for all those people around the world who are the victims of this Pandemic, or of accident, war, disease, violence, greed and natural disasters.  We pray for Hope and we pray for peace.

We pray for those we have missed in the community, and in our church, giving thanks for the Internet which allows us to keep in touch with those we love.

We pray for our government as it seeks to make plans to move on beyond this virus epidemic – give them wisdom and courage to make good and right decisions

Risen and reigning Lord, whose touch alone can heal the sick; hear our prayers for all who we know who are ill as we ask for your help and mercy to restore them to health.  

Thank you for the continuing work of our Health Service personnel who are risking their lives on a daily basis, coping with the pandemic.

We lift before you Lord those whose hearts have been saddened by the death of someone close and dear to them, especially any known to us. 

Help them experience the comfort of the Holy Spirit especially at this time

Risen and reigning Lord, we thank you for ‘Thought for the week’ and for the challenge you bring to us through it.

Be with us through the coming week and help us to always be aware of your loving hand upon us.

Merciful Father: accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. 

Amen

As we conclude this ‘Thought for the week’ we sing the song ‘In Christ alone’ – and we trust that it is a real blessing to all

In Christ alone my hope is found

He is my light, my strength, my song;

this cornerstone, this solid ground,

firm through the fiercest drought and storm.

What heights of love, what depths of peace,

when fear is stilled, when strivings cease!

My comforter, my all in all,

here in the love of Christ I stand.

 

In Christ alone - who took on flesh,

fullness of God in helpless babe!

This gift of love and righteousness,

scorned by the ones He came to save;

till on that cross as Jesus died,

the wrath of God was satisfied -

for every sin on Him was laid;

here in the death of Christ I live.

 

There in the ground His body lay,

light of the world by darkness slain;

then bursting forth in glorious day

up from the grave He rose again!

And as He stands in victory

sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,

for I am His and He is mine -

bought with the precious blood of Christ.

 

No guilt in life, no fear in death,

this is the power of Christ in me;

from life’s first cry to final breath,

Jesus commands my destiny.

No power of hell, no scheme of man,

can ever pluck me from His hand;

till He returns or calls me home,

here in the power of Christ I’ll stand!

 

 


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