BE LIKE STEPHEN: MAKING THE RIGHT KIND OF TROUBLE
by: A. Brother
“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.”
When a man gets a full vision of Christ, and has his eyes opened to who Christ really is, and then seeks to communicate that fullness to others, he will run into trouble, and create much opposition. Here we have that happening. Stephen had testified to the full message of Christ in front of the religious establishment of his day, and he was rewarded by being dragged outside the city walls and stoned by a large crowd of men.
When any of us begins truly seeking to have his eyes opened to this fullness of life in Christ, and it begins happening, Christ in us will overflow to others, and the truth will often offend and even infuriate those who do not see. It happened throughout Scripture, and it will happen to those today who make it their sole aim in life to know Christ, the fellowship of his suffering, the power of his resurrection.
My heart is grieving this morning over the state of the Body of Christ. Not because I choose to be critical, or because I am legalistically imposing the measure of Scripture upon our current modes and methods of doing church. But because I see the people of God like Jesus saw the Jews in His days among them, and wept. I was raised in these churches, and spent many years trying to live the life they represented was the Christian life. The Spirit of God grieves today at the hardness of our hearts, and the proud insistence that we know how to do everything Christian in the best way.
God’s people in our modern, affluent society are like sheep without a Shepherd. Running to this man or that man who can speak well, or has written some landmark book about the Christian life. Running after this or that new method, or clever program, or way of doing church that seems to breathe something new into their spiritual walks.
Scripture points back to Christ Himself, who is not only our Savior and Lord, but whose Life must be in us, whose Eyes must illuminate Truth to us, whose Mind must open us up to His fullness. Our hearts must beat to the drum of His love in our chests. This is what Jesus taught, that we are the branches to His Vine, and the Father the source of all nourishment. That remaining in Him is the essential, and all other things are optional.
So why do we concentrate on the optional?
Today we have a plethora of pulchritudinous programming going on among Christians. (Sorry for the cheesy PPP acronym). That means a complete array of attractive systems for practicing and distributing the gospel. The church has become like a spiritual candy store, holding out sweets and treats, hoping to lure people into attending.
Come here to church because we have so many services of different worship styles to meet your needs. Come here and enjoy cappuccinos while you fellowship after worship. Does your back get tired while meeting together? Can’t see or hear the presentation very well? No problem, we’ve installed expensive theatre-style seats and fabulous sound systems so you can concentrate on hearing the music and viewing the sermon in total comfort. The Pastor is on a huge screen or multiple screens around the room so you can feel like you’re actually in a more intimate, personal setting.
Tired of traditions that bore you? No worries, I feel you, we’ve done away with the things that take too much time and effort. Communion is only hassled with on occasion, and then with little cups and tiny wafers, and love feasts among believers are a thing of the past.
Remember how Paul used to speak on and on to those early believers, cramming in Truth until late at night, meeting in homes day after day, gathering anytime they could find to be together, hungry for the Word, hungry for the Spirit to work, thirsting after righteousness like it was Life itself? Forget about it! We don’t need all that.
We have schedules to keep, and people to see, and business to conduct, and lives to live out in the world. We’ve figured out how to do both! Just keep your appointment with God in our services once or twice a week, or if you’re really zealous, meet for a Bible study, too. That will set you on fire.
The reason we’ve settled for this type of Country-Club Christianity is that we have not understood the Christ-life.
We have been taught wrongly, by men who have only known the casual, easy gospel of modern, affluent religion, instead of the radical, revolutionary, life-changing, outside the city gates, stir-up-opposition-everywhere-you-go, stumbling-block, hate-inducing, cliff-edge, religion-destroying, faith- and love-filled Gospel of Christ that God absolutely will not allow to be contained in man-made systems or programs.
You can be a member of the Christian Country Club set, or you can be a member of the Body of Christ. There is no middle ground. From the birth of the Body, men have sought to impose their own religious mind-sets upon it, and have succeeded in the form of the huge Christian denominations and organizations throughout history.
The dynamic ekklesia, Christ’s church, which originally meant the “called out to be together” people of God, has been hijacked by religion. Every day more Christians get together and decide they want to form another group, or build another building to meet their needs. Every day Christians make another list of options they want in their religion. Every day Christians miss the simplicity of Christ, and His love and power, in favor of building another platform from which to proclaim an easy gospel. With their list of choice options, they have managed to derail the Spirit of God from reaching men. Like the Pharisees, they keep others out of the Kingdom as they are keeping themselves out.
The point is this: Stephen saw what we must see.
Christ is all, and is our focus. Not our methods and man-made options. Not our forms of doing church. We don’t worry about that. We seek Christ, and He seeks us. We die, He lives. Individually and corporately. Christ leads us by His Spirit, and dictates what we do and how we do it.
Today, Christ may do this. Tomorrow He may do that. Just as He did with His disciples, He is busy doing the Father’s work, and will not be pinned down as to where or how He’ll be doing it. He looks for needs, and He responds. Today He is in Bethany, tomorrow in Cana of Galilee, the next day in Jerusalem. Today He’s healing people, tomorrow preaching from a hilltop, the next day He’s confronting the religious leaders. He is ever meeting where two or three of us are gathered together. He is not bound by our calendars and schedules. And He would have us be more responsive and flexible, open to the Spirit of God to respond to one another and to His prompting. Many of our modern churches are just as hide-bound and fixed in their ways as the highly liturgical churches they criticize. They just have different traditions.
This dying to the Old Man and living to Christ in the New Man is a messy, hard, can’t-be-contained-in-traditions thing. No carefully-programmed new church service format or electronic gadget is going to make this happen, or, more tragically, even allow this to happen. There is no room in our carefully-scripted lives for God to move.
One thing is certain. If you and I have the explosive, uncontainable Spirit of God in us, we will be like Stephen. Seeing clearly the Christ we love and serve, and speaking of Him to whoever asks, no matter the consequences. There is no room for compromise in the Kingdom of God. We love and serve Christ, without any option. That is the gospel, the good news of the Kingdom. This hard, beautiful and ultimately impossible-without-God gospel that is Christ in us.
Like our Lord Jesus Christ, like Stephen, like a host of others including many around the world today, when we stand and tell the Truth from Scripture many will oppose us. The fury of the oppressor, religious or pagan, has the same result. The stoning of the one who sees. The shooting of the Messenger. The eradication or excommunication of the offender.
Be ready, brother or sister, if you seek Christ in all His fullness. He will uphold you.