Teaching Summary (5/19)
Being a Surrendered Church
Surrender is a scary word. It implies weakness. It means you give up. You quit. You failed the test of self-sufficiency. No one wants the reputation of being a loser, and surrender means that you lose.
But sometimes unless you surrender, you can't win. Sometimes we dig in our heels and refuse to lose and fight to the death for something that isn't even worth it. I can set my mind to fixing my carburetor. I can educate myself and sweat it out. And after I totally destroy my engine, I can rest in the fact that, although I'm down a thousand bucks, I didn't give up. That makes sense. OR I can take inventory of my abilities and inabilities, count the cost, and surrender myself to someone who actually knows something about a car's design. That's the smart play.
Christianity is all about surrender. We take inventory of our inability to overcome sin, and count the cost of refusing the grace of God, which leads us to the smart play of surrendering to someone who actually knows something about our design. We let go of our selfish pride and submit to the grace and love of God. Of course, some people don't see it as the smart play. They think it's worth digging in their heels and fighting to the death for their reputation, or their sense of control, or their sense of self. I don't get it. My sense of self is the most worthless thing about me. All it ever does is get me in trouble or make me depressed. And most of the time, it isn't even true.
In Acts chapter 7, we meet a man who knew a thing or two about surrender. Stephen was one of the seven men picked to work in the food distribution center of the early church (see the previous post). He was arrested and brought before the religious council in Jerusalem for speaking against the Law and against the Temple. In response to the allegations, he delivered one of the longest sermons recorded in Scripture, and one of the best ever preached. Beginning with Abraham, and going through Joseph, Moses and David, he explained how the scriptures had pointed to Jesus. But his sermon was really about surrender.
Regarding the charge that he was speaking against the Law, he pointed out that for all of history, the Israelites had missed the point of the Law and prophecy because it didn't meet their expectations. He pointed out that their forefathers had rejected Moses, just like they now were rejecting Jesus. In fact, he asks if there was ever a prophet that wasn't persecuted or killed by the very people he was bringing a message to. And if the Law was so precious, why didn't the people actually surrender to it and obey it? Instead, they missed the point and they missed the Messiah because they were expecting something else. Stephen goes to great lengths to use the word of God to talk about surrendering to the word of God.
We need to let go of our expectations and surrender to the Word.
Too often, we think God will work how we expect him to work. We think we need a magical phone call that will tell us everything we need to know about life or some subjective feeling about what God wants us to do. What God wants us to do is pretty explicitly written in his word. He wants us to love him and love our neighbors. He wants us to share his truth with others, and obey his commands. He wants us to be free, enjoying the life he's given us, while we pursue holiness. And surrender to his Word.
Regarding the charge that he was speaking against the Temple, Stephen pointed out that the Temple really isn't that big of a deal. He talks about the history of the tabernacle in the wilderness and the first Temple that Solomon built. Quoting Isaiah, he explains that God doesn't need a building, and in fact, who could build one big enough for Him? This is very similar to Jesus' words in John 4, when he explains to the Samaritan woman that worship isn't about a place, it's about spirit and truth. Stephen argues that since the religious leaders are so consumed with place, that they're resisting the Holy Spirit. Their traditions about a building have caused them to miss the very presence of God and the movement of the Holy Spirit.
We need to let go of our traditions and surrender to the Holy Spirit.
Too often, churches confuse the style with the substance. We think that we've cornered the market on how God will reach people. It's a criticism fairly leveled against the stodgy, wooden denominational church on the corner with wooden pews and organ music. But it's an attitude just as common in the big program-driven, baby-boomer, mega-churches. Tradition doesn't have to be 50 years old to be dangerous. To be a healthy church, we need to constantly embrace change. Our culture needs to be defined by the fact that our culture always changes and can't be defined. We can't be another generation that misses the work of God because we're so wrapped up in "the way we've always done it." And we need to resist the rut in our personal lives, as well. Our pursuit of God can become stale if we just go through life as usual. We need to be open to new things and even radical change as we grow in our faith. Even radical things like a new church.
Stephen was a man who was surrendered to the Word of God and to the Holy Spirit. His final words showed his commitment to that surrender. Above all, he surrendered his personal plans to the will of God. He was willing to give his own life for the sake of Christ and realized that the will of God for him was to speak boldly and give his life. He is a great example for all of us that need to surrender our personal plans in life to the will of God.