While the news can seem grim and it may seem like the foundations of life are being shaken, Jesus councils us to build on the solid rock. Jesus is the sure foundation.
Take a listen to the song:
Jesus you’re my firm foundation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVPsW4csPs0
Here is an encouraging message in Acts 6 and 7. Pastor Dan
Text for Today: Acts 6 -7
1. As the church grew the challenges of meeting the various needs also increased. People who had no support – widows – looked to the church for help. Part of the challenge was facing the charge of racial prejudice between the different people groups who formerly were in opposition – the Hebraic Jews and the Greek Jews (also called Hellenists).
o Racial disputes are not new; not just American phenomenon.
§ Fallen humans are fearfully suspicious of different people. We are born into a world that is not living in harmony of the law of love. (See previous messages that speak of neuroscientist Dr Timothy Jennings and the fear-based brain). We are normally prejudiced. Becoming believers does not automatically erase the fear-based brain.
§ Sometimes being overlooked is non-intentional. Fallen humans create fallen institutions that can overlook others
· It is not easy to see humans clearly. Mt 7:3,5 talks about seeing a speck in another but not seeing the log in your eye. We are fallen human beings and are capable of misreading things. So, God gives substantial help to us overcome our blindness prejudices and ignorance – so if we remain blind it is our own fault.
· He has given the Holy Spirit of truth who wants to live in us and transform us from the inside out; to straighten that which is crooked or bent or twisted by lies. He has given us the scriptures of truth which gives us a picture of what made in God’s image looks like and how such a one is to act. And thirdly he has given us the body of Christ – each other. When we truthfully open our lives to one another concerning our hurts, needs, finances, fears, weaknesses, etc. we discover that you are my friend and are willing to help. If I would open my life to you, that would help me to be a better Christian and my relationships with you would be a more effective witness than any of us alone can ever give. (D Kinlaw 6/22)
· Loneliness affects us deeply and left unchecked it is toxic – creating fear based reasoning, avoidance of others leading to fear based prejudices as well as physical sickness.
The chronically lonely are 29 percent more likely to develop heart disease, 32 percent more likely to have a stroke, and are more prone to mental disorders and cognitive decline (especially in seniors). There is a reason for this. The only thing in the creation story God said was not good was man’s aloneness (Gen 2:18). This is not God confessing humanity’s design flaw. He was highlighting our most basic God-given need: relationships. We were created to be un-alone which doesn’t mean just having a spouse, golf buddies or even a small group at church. Those can be good things, but their lasting value is when they put us on a trajectory to the being fully seen, known and of relational consequence to another (Gen 2:25, Gal 6:2). One of the great tyrannies of sin is it brings a poisonous shame and causes us to buck against this reality. The first thing Adam and Eve did when sin entered the world was dive into the trees to hide from God (Gen 3:7-8). Adam and Eve believed if God saw what they really were, their most fundamental fear would be realized: He would reject them and they would be alone. The irony is, Adam and Eve were creating the very isolation they were trying to avoid by diving into the trees. We have been diving into trees ever since. We all believe on a basic level people would reject us if they saw what and how we really are. So, we hide in forests of our own bravado, Instagram selfies and dating app profiles. Like Adam, we only end up creating the very isolation we are trying to avoid. Thankfully, God made women and men with the purpose of pursuing them. While the first thing Adam and Eve might have done was go into hiding, the first thing God did was call them out of it (Gen 3:9). He didn’t do this to dole out consequences (though there were many). He did this so they would encounter the reality of His love and tell them He would one day fix the problem through a mysterious Savior (Gen 3:15). Jesus was that promised Savior and He didn’t become man to scold us for hiding in the trees (Jn 3:17). He became man to walk into them with us and all the unsavory things we store in there (Jn 1:14). Jesus did this so we would know we are fully seen, loved and un-alone (1 Cor 13:12). Also, so He could dress us once again, but not with animal skins. By His cross and resurrection, he dresses us with His righteousness and we can never take it off (Rom 3:22, 11:29). He did all this inside our self-constructed forests so he could lead us out of them. If the grace of a God who meets us in our hypocrisies, failures and curated photos teaches us anything, it is we no longer have to be alone. (Billy Cerveny | Fox News)
2. Stephen, a man of faith, full of the Holy Spirit. One of those chosen to distribute food.
§ Church is to ensure no one is overlooked, no one to be elevated due to their wealth or race or culture
- James 2 addresses those who would give preferential treatment to the wealthy. He stands up for equality. Favoritism is forbidden even in the seating arrangement.
§ People filled with the Spirit- sensitive to others. The committee was composed of Greeks – men with Greek names – to ensure the Greek widows would not be overlooked. The church was actually seeking a solution, not just seeking to look good and maintain control. It is more difficult to hand the control over to others when they might have a different way of doing things.
§ Stephen stood up to represent those overlooked, those oppressed, to right the wrongs done intentionally or not.
3. Stephen debated with Jews
o Synagogue of the Freedmen: Jews who had been were freed from their Roman masters and returned to Jerusalem, became known as “freedmen.” Forcibly hauled into slavery, experienced intense injustice under Roman masters, these people had lost much – families, health, years – perhaps were bitter and angry. The Hebrew writer might say they changed one form of slavery to another – enslaved to the Law or legalism.
o Stephen had said the Temple is not the only place to worship God, so they accused him of heresy
o When the Freedmen couldn’t “win” the debate, they “stirred up the crowd with lies”
o Emotion-based religion can be deadly to truth; emotions without reasoning, thinking, discussion has proven disastrous to individuals as well as cultures.
§ While we are to crucify the flesh, we are to control our emotions. The emotions are to be controlled by the dispossession of the mind based on truth, reasoning. If allowed to run free, emotions can lead to disaster and danger. Emotions do not make good moral choices. I can “fall in love” with a saint or a sinner; I can fear God as well as Satan. Unless my emotions are disciplined – prevented from going too far – I can expect a pack of trouble. A true disciple has emotions under control. If I do not rule my emotions, they will control me. Whenever, fear, hate, prejudice, desire or any emotion dominates me, I become neurotic, sick, addicted, enslaved. My victory lies in allowing the Spirit of Truth to control; keep putting the reins of my life into the hands of Christ so that my will and his will are one at all times. I need to give total surrender to Christ – including the emotional life – which so much needs his mastery. The fruit of the Spirit is love joy peace … Gal 5:22-23. (Evans 6/22).
§ A true justice system can be frustratingly slow … to keep from emotional mob rule
- On Trial: Stephen as historian who understood and valued the nation’s history
§ Stephen reciting their history reveled they were following the history of rejecting anyone who comes speaking truth. Joseph was rejected by brothers but God used him to rescue the family. Moses was rejected by the Israelites who grumbled and argued, yet God used Moses to save a nation. Jesus was rejected and crucified by the leaders yet God used Jesus’ death to bring salvation to the world.
§ Today many in our nation are trashing historic figures in light of contemporary perspectives. There is an inability to appreciate contributions by flawed people. Such thinking does not learn the lessons from history – they end up repeating the same injustices which they accuse historical figures of having.
§ Stephen’s trial degenerated from seeking truth to seeking to silence the voice they did not like; resorting to lying witnesses (Acts 6:11), and then resorting to mob violence (Acts 7:54-58).
- First martyr
o God does not always act to protect you from the malice of others. Does that make you question God’s ability to take care of you? What do you do when God does not perform acceptably for you? It seems to me that we are tempted to think that God made a mistake in the way he ordered my life because it did not work out the way I thought it should. The Christian life does not necessarily get easier the more we grow. The challenges seem to grow bigger. Most of us want God to change our circumstances. But sometimes the way he chooses to use us in ways we don’t like. It meant the cross for Jesus and it may mean the same for us.
o Stephen’s face was radiant (smiling bright and not strained with fear – like an angel (Acts 6:15) contrasted to that of the angry mob of faces twisted in rage and gnashing of teeth (7:54).
§ The gnashing of teeth is a picture of those in hell. Jesus’ reference to weeping and gnashing of teeth in Matthew 8:12 compares the kingdom of heaven to a feast where “many” come from all parts of the world to “recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” The others, however, are thrown into “outer darkness” where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
§ Dr Timothy Jennings, in his book, The God-Shaped Brain, reveals that one can be at peace amid circumstances that normally trigger the brain’s amygdala to flood the neural circuits creating a reaction of fear. But for those who are practicing the presence of God, filling themselves with the Holy Spirit on a daily basis, there can be peace because the frontal lobe is in control with the knowledge that God is in charge no matter what happens. And if he is in charge then we need not allow fear – or any emotion – to control.
- Great persecution broke out on the church (Acts 8:1). The foundations of truth, justice and mercy were destroyed. Going from house to house, believers were accused and dragged to prison (Acts 8:3). Saul was seeking to destroy the church – the Greek thought underlying the phrase speaks to the destructive ravages of wild animals tearing at pray. Saul was a religious terrorist with the backing of the church leadership. Later Paul confessed that in his “obsession” he resorted to forcing people to commit blasphemy so they could be executed (Acts 26:10-11). For the early church it seemed like the forces of hell had been unleashed. Revelation 12:7 gives a picture of Satan as a dragon in war against all those who obey God.
What are we to do when the foundations crumble and injustice begins to reign?
When those who hate the truth begin to exert violence to gain their way?
When discussion and reason give way to emotional hysterics
When a man’s character and intentions are dismissed and the court of law is overtaken by rioters
When examples from history are thrown out and lessons from history are not learned
In Stephens day the religious leaders as well as the civil authorities were to ensure safety. But the institutions became mired in the same faulty reasoning and prejudices of bigotry that allowed individuals to be sacrificed. Seeking to appease the mob, the leaders became silent in the face of injustice so the not just individual but whole groups of people became the scapegoat and targeted for destruction. This has been the tragic case throughout human history.
Our constitution sought to protect the US citizens against such a time. Ensuring the right of freedom of speech was designed to allow even an individual the right to be heard without fear of harm. Freedom of speech is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction. First Amendment of the constitution. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (Wikipedia).
Our constitution also sought to ensure the right to a fair trial with an impartial jury – not a trial in the press or by mobs.
But such safeguards need to be defended by citizenry who know the importance of the rule of law as well as their history.
David wrote in Psalm 11:3, “When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
We don’t know exactly when David wrote this psalm. Many writers connect it to the time when Saul chased David in the wilderness (1 Samuel 23:13-14). The psalm comes at a desperate moment when his enemies seemed to be closing in on him and his friends encouraged him to run away.
In the Lord I take refuge.
How then can you say to me:
“Flee like a bird to your mountain.
2 For look, the wicked bend their bows;
they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows
at the upright in heart.
3 When the foundations are being destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”
4 The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord is on his heavenly throne.
He observes everyone on earth;
his eyes examine them.
5 The Lord examines the righteous,
but the wicked, those who love violence,
he hates with a passion.
6 On the wicked he will rain
fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot.
7 For the Lord is righteous,
he loves justice;
the upright will see his face.
David cried out to God in his time of distress, and said, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3). It’s how we all feel when adversity comes to our lives: It’s as if the ground beneath our feet has started to crumble. The story of Saul persecuting David illustrates how to find a sure path when it feels like your life is falling apart. If a house is to last, it must be built on a strong foundation, otherwise, it will begin to crumble, and the house will fall. In the same way, a nation whose foundation is weak cannot endure. A strong national foundation consists of law and order, justice, truth, morality, decency, integrity, fairness, and trustworthiness. When these are abandoned, the foundation begins to crumble, and the nation is in danger of collapsing.
How should we respond if the foundations are destroyed?
1. Turn to God’s Word … take refuge in God (V1)
The Bible gives examples of how God used even the bad to bring about good. The persecution that broke out following Stephens death led to an explosion of conversions as believer scattered telling the good news of Jesus. We are not the only ones who face injustice and terrible times. But in all things God is at work for those who love him and are obeying him. It gives comfort and strength and guidance. God gives promises of victory. our nation is experiencing great uncertainty. Many look to elected officials for the answers. Others look to the experts in various fields to guide us. The believer listens to the elected official, experts as well as they listen to God in order to find strength for each new day so they can live in optimistic hope. God is the ruler yet. The wrong shall fail the right prevail.
· Psalms 27 The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom will I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom will I be afraid?
· Psalms 46:1-2 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
2. Know that God is in his temple (v4) …. He is still in control. There is more going on that he is doing that we cannot see. We do not need to run or “flee as a bird to the mountain”. Don’t run away, instead run to God.
God sees everything that is happening (v 4,5,6) and justice will occur. The Lord has us under His divine protection. When we are in a right relationship with Him and walking in obedience and submission, He determines the limits of our trials and suffering. This doesn’t mean He’ll remove all pain and trouble from our lives, but He guards us through it. And even if we lose our lives, He promises that we will immediately be in His presence (2 Cor. 5:8). He hates violence, and promises that one day He will punish the wicked (vv. 5-6).
3. Encourage others. David wrote this Psalm, not just for himself but for others.
People who don’t know Christ become frightened when the foundations around them crumble and circumstances become difficult. They look for ways to protect themselves, but we can encourage them to look to the Lord, who is the only true source of security. He will show Himself strong to those who are willing to trust Him. As believers, we have a responsibility to share the teachings of God’s Word.
4. Pray for salvation for those who commit evil – Saul became Paul the Apostle when Ananias came and prayed for him. We are in difficult times. The attempts to return to normalcy – CDC guidelines, re-opening of businesses and planning a season of virtual sports – has not alleviated the pain.
The difficult times we face are larger than our own issues; our entire country and world is in trouble. The solution is not found in voting new candidates into office, but in pleading with God to send a revival. According to history, revivals always begin with just a few people who humbly seek the Lord. If we’ll sincerely turn away from sin and to God, a handful of individuals could become a crowd joining together to cry out to the Lord for our country.
When the foundations begin to crumble, whether personally or nationally, turn to God and His Word. Stephen did so and the heavens were opened for him.
Oh God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come.
Our shelter from the stormy blast
And our eternal home.
Under the shadow of thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure
Sufficient is thine arm alone
And our defense is sure
Before the hills in order stood
Or earth received her frame
From everlasting thou’ art God
To endless years the same
Songs from Carol:
Draw Me Close, Michael W Smith, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7d_oYr-P16M
Lord, I Need You, Matt Maher, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gS9e0nxHP-w
I Want To Be Where You Are, Don Moen, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7BFQftD0o4
Abide With Me, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTQoPg856Ow
Precious Lord, Take My Hand, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-zh16Gysi4
Jesus you’re my firm foundation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVPsW4csPs0