Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Acts 6 & 7: Stephen and embracing change

Stephen is described as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 6:5) and “full of faith and power” (Acts 6:8) who “did great wonders and miracles among the people (Acts 6:8). He had been appointed as one of the seven over the daily ministration (Acts 6:1) to “serve tables” (Acts 6:2).

Then, somehow he torks off people of the synogogue of Libertines, Cyrenians, Alexandrians, Cilicians, and Asias, disputing with them and confounding them to the extent that they haul him to the Jewish council and accuse him of blasphemy variously against “Moses and against God” (Acts 6:11) and against “this holy place and the law” (Acts 6:13) for prophesying that God would destroy the place and change the Mosiac customs (Acts 6:14).

This all seems pretty vague to me.

I gain greater insight when I think of Stephen as if he was like my father-in-law, Larry Stephens. Larry is extremely forward thinking and when he sees technology is going in a certain direction, he adopts it for his use in his classroom. He has the know-how to install things in his classroom, and he tends to annoy the IT personnel because he does stuff without asking them. They get mad at him and make him rip it out or uninstall the programs or whatever… but then a number of years later, what happens? A number of other classrooms get wired for the same advances (which have become needed more widely), the same advances he anticipated and put in himself and had to remove. The programs he was asked to uninstall eventually become widely used and… installed. Larry is the kind of person who, if he can make the improvement or build it or fix it or whatever, he will do it. His initiative is amazing. (Did you know that he designed, acquired parts for, and welded together a swingset? No pre-made kit for him!)

If Stephen was like my father-in-law, then he was already anticipating the changes that would come in the church from following the higher law of Christ. He was starting to let go of the Mosiac traditions and he was teaching others about it too. But then he ran into a synagogue of people who were so hidebound in tradition that they saw all his forward thinking as inexcusable, uncomfortable blasphemy against all they knew and loved best. (They loved the wrong things, you see; instead of loving God, they loved Moses more, the law, “this place” and more.) They stirred all the people up against Stephen, even when he was right.

I always had a hard time seeing how Stephen’s discourse had anything to do with his case, but when I looked at it from the perspective of “tradition-bound” versus “forward-thinking progress,” it became clear. Stephen placed before the people a number of cases of spiritual leaders who were “before their time” and contrasted them with the foot-dragging of the faithless people around them.
  • Abraham, who was told the land of Canaan would be given to him long before it ever was given to the children of Israel.
  • Abraham, given the covenant of circumcision, long before it became part of the Law of Moses.
  • Joseph, who anticipated (through dreams) the authority he would have over his family of brothers. (His brothers, on the other hand, couldn’t stand the idea.)
  • Moses, who know before his prophetic call that God would use him to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage. (The Israelites, on the other hand, asked, “Who made you a judge over us?”)
  • Moses, who gave the law in the wilderness, while the Israelites still clung to their Egyptian idolatrous practices.
  • David, who wanted to build a temple to the Lord, long before Solomon built it.
  • All the prophets, who anticipated the coming of Christ.
Stephen’s last point is that the children of Israel have always resisted the Spirit of the Lord (which asks them to change) and the current generation is no different, killing the very Messiah they were told of for ages.

So, this leads me to consider what changes are being asked of me that I am fighting. How can I embrace change with an open heart instead of dragging my feet? Part of it, I think, is being willing to use my agency to act and not be acted upon. Another part is acting in anticipation of the future, rather than being content to react to events. Anticipating the future requires visualizing the future, visualizing the place I want in it. (There’s an element of prophecy in that, which can’t be acquired without a testimony of cause and effect or a testimony of Christ’s power to help us change.)

What makes it difficult is that there is so much that I want to change and there is only so much time in a day and only so much I can do.

What changes have you planned for and went forward toward? How do you approach coming changes that you know are good for you, but which appear painful? How can do you make it your own?

5 comments:

Kimberly said...

Oh this is hard. I try and change our family on a regular basis, but so many things get in the way. It's so hard to overcome inertia. But I'll press on,thanks for the encouragement.

Thank you for clarifying what Stephen was teaching in these chapters, it really helped my understanding.

Michaela Stephens said...

I sympathize about the inertia. I struggle with it too. Then I go through stages when I want to change EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW, and then when it fails I get discouraged.

RGG said...
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RGG said...
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grego said...

Ha! Ah, so that's what it was all about!