Encounters With God.09 – Stephen & The Holy Spirit

the-stoning-of-stephenAfter Jesus died and the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, which we looked at last week, it took a while for the followers of Jesus to settle down and get organized. As we saw last week with the birth of the church, this movement began & the church was growing & big things were happening. The group that is gathering with the disciples and following Jesus is growing to the point where they need to appoint leaders to help care, support, train, and disciple these new followers.

One of the big problems that came up early in the game was how to take care of the poor, especially the widows who couldn’t support themselves. The apostles decided to appoint a group to handle this side of things, and one of the ones they appointed was Stephen.

And it is his story and his encounter with the Holy Spirit that we looked at on Sunday.

In Acts 6.5 Stephen is listed in a group of others who were chosen to take up a new leadership office called deacons. Stephen is listed as a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.  In Acts 6.8 he is mentioned again, so just 3 verses later and he again called a “man full of God’s grace and power.” And that he “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.” No one else in the list gets any extra mentions like Stephen.

This story is so FULL of information, but at it’s most basic Stephen by the power of the Holy Spirit is able to have courage to speak truth about the problems of power and injustice to the most powerful people of his time – the Sanhedrin.  And through the text we see a bunch of echoes of Jesus’s story as Stephen says and does many of the same things he saw his Lord do in his lifetime.

This is a story of someone who is by the power of the Holy Spirit able to confront injustice with courage and who is insistent to love, and pray for the enemy.  To be willing to show compassion grace, love, and forgiveness on those who are brutal, corrupt, unjust, and even abusive to others.  To people at the very least that are against you.

And when ever I read a story like this I wonder to myself.  Could I do this?  If these believers back then could do this why couldn’t I?  Could I?  Do I love my enemies?  Do I pray for my enemies?  Am I courageous enough to speak truth to my enemies?  Let alone am I willing to forgive my enemies?  To get at the application and ponderings for this text we looked at and wrestled with two main questions.

The 1st question is this…WHO IS YOUR ENEMY?  Noting that an enemy can be a lot of different things…

  • Could be someone far away – like a leader of a rogue nation
  • Could be a political enemy
  • Could be someone who has personally betrayed, injured, or harmed you
  • Could be someone who has injured, betrayed, or harmed someone that you love and you become allied with that victim and that becomes your enemy
  • It could be a bully at your school
  • It could be a teacher that seems to have it out for you.

Could be something even simpler then that…                       Could be even less personal…

  • An enemy could be the person sitting next to you that doesn’t have the same theological views that you do
  • It could be a person who doesn’t approve of the church you attend [lets hope not]
  • It could be someone who doesn’t share your political persuasion
  • If you are on wall street your enemy is occupy wall street
  • If you are in the tea party you may say your enemy is the government
  • If you are in the government you may say your enemy is the government…or whatever
  • It could be the neighbor that doesn’t take care of there yard next door to you

The problem is that we tend to think of enemies more like this story.  People who are out to kill us.  Extreme situations.  But enemies come in all shapes and sizes.  We have to understand this before we can get to the next question.  WHO ARE YOUR ENEMIES?

  • your spouse can become an enemy
  • your children can become an enemy
  • your parents can become an enemy
  • your inlaws
  • your co-worker
  • your boss
  • a random shooter that enters a room and starts gunning at people

We all have enemies.  Who are your enemies?

The 2nd question then, in light of this story, is to answer what does it mean to extend love to your enemies?  When you have your enemy/enemies in mind…what does it mean to show love, grace, and forgiveness to that person or persons?

The only way Stephen is able to pursue justice and have the ability to speak the truth in love and actually have a heart of grace, love, and forgiveness in him while being stoned to death is by an encounter with the Holy Spirit.  THIS IS A DANGEROUS SPIRIT OF LOVE THAT WE HAVE IN US…  The ability to love our enemy is the hardest and highest virtue in the Christian faith and that is why so few of us do it .  To love our enemies is HARD.  It’s one thing to love our neighbors… which we aren’t great at…  But to love our enemies…that is REALLY HARD.

I DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER TO THIS FOR YOU.  What I’m saying is that we have to be able to wrestle with answering the question what does it mean to love our enemies, because it is going to look, feel, and be expressed and shown in different ways, in different ways, in every situation. AND NO ONE FROM THE OUTSIDE CAN TELL YOU WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOU TO LOVE YOUR ENEMIES.  It is a condition of your own heart as moved and convicted by the Holy Spirit within you.  It is our willingness to orient ourselves to God and ask the question…  “God you know who my enemy is, how do I go about loving them, in light of the situation and all the people involved?  What do I do that best expresses love in this situation?”  

I think the best way to start with all of this is to do what Stephen did as he was about to die from being stoned and that is that he prayed.  He prayed for his enemy, he placed these wrestlings before God, and was informed & empowered by the Holy Spirit to respond.  May we as OneLife Community Church learn from this as well.


1.  Do you pray for your enemies? Yes/No Explain

2.  What are the barriers that get in the way of you extending love to your enemies?

3.  How might the Holy Spirit be moving you to extend love for your enemies?

Pentecost conversations & ponderings…

Acts 2:1-4. When the day of Pentecost came. Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012.Yesterday we are looked at the story of Pentecost as found in Acts 2. It’s a day that Christians across the world celebrate. Pentecost is not as well-known or as popular as Christmas and Easter, though it commemorates a historic event in Christian history. In many ways, Pentecost is considered as the birthday of the church.

So lets look at the text found in Act 2:1-13

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” 13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

One of the interesting things about this passage is that it’s on this day that God sends the promised Holy Spirit.  Pentecost was a Jewish holiday that came 50 days after the Passover.  For over a thousand years Israel had been celebrating this holiday established by God after he brought them out of slavery in Egypt.  It was a celebration of the hope of God’s salvation.

Interestingly – Jesus’ death and resurrected coincided with the Passover.  In hindsight it is easy to see that the whole purpose of the Passover really pointed to Jesus.  The victory over death that came from the resurrection of Jesus, not only freed his followers from the slavery of death, but it also ushered in a new kingdom.  In other words, the Passover completely describes the victory of Jesus. [but that is another sermon for another time]

HERE IN ACTS 2 THE COMING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT COINCIDES WITH THE DAY OF PENTECOST.  This is the backdrop that God choose to give here in Acts 2.  Pentecost was this wonderful joyful celebration at the end of the harvest.  It was a response from the people praising God for the fruit or the harvest that came to God’s people in the land that God promised.

DURING OUR SERMON…we made a number of observations that come from this story…1. about Jesus being the literal fruit of the kingdom of God 2. that in pentecost the barrier between us and God has been broken, 3. that the barrier between humanity is also broken -connecting to the tower of babel story, 4. that the intent is that this story is bigger then us that it is intended to go from the church out into the community and world.

IMAGES OF THE HOLY SPIRIT…we also spend time looking at four images of the Holy Spirit as a way to ponder what it looks like to encounter the Holy Spirit today in our everyday living.  Those images where breath, wind, water, & fire.  In looking at these images we took time to ponder if we had ever experienced the Holy Spirit in any of these ways.


This story ends with two responses seen in verse  12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” 13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”  In other words some responded with wonder and interest and the other of scoffing and disbelief?

1. When it comes to the Holy Spirit in your life how do you respond?  With wonder and interest or disregard and disbelief?

2.  What role [if at all] would you say the Holy Spirit plays in your daily life?

3.  Of the four images of the Spirit [breath, wind, water, fire] which have you experienced the least and which have you experienced the most.

LISTEN TO THE SERMON…if you’d like to hear the entire sermon click HERE

Connecting with Thomas – Encounters With God Sermon Series

Albrecht_Dürer_-_Doubting_Thomas_(NGA_1943.3.3665)This last Sunday we looked at a character, a disciple, one of the 12 people closest to Jesus, who has gone down in history as DOUBTING THOMAS – He is known, named, and remembered in our biblical history as… “THE ONE WHO DOUBTED THE RESURRECTION”

His name has actually been coined and put in the dictionary.

“a doubting Thomas” — is defined as “a person who refuses to believe without proof”

The disciples basically came and reported to Thomas that they had seemed the unbelievable and Thomas didn’t believe it. They said they saw Jesus alive. Well, Thomas saw him alive until late the previous Friday afternoon where Thomas also saw him dead. It was now Sunday afternoon — and Thomas’ response was, “Seeing is believing,” and until I see something different from what I have already seen, I will not believe a word of what you say.

Thomas wanted tangible proof of Jesus’ resurrection. He had this kind of proof of Jesus’ death. He was there. He wanted the same proof of the claim that Jesus, had been seen alive. For Thomas there was no doubt that Jesus was dead, and he had every reason to doubt that Jesus was alive.Yet, for his honesty, he has gone down in history as “doubting Thomas” — the man who doubted the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the term “doubting Thomas” has negative connotations to this day.

BUT SHOULD IT?  As we studied this story, his doubt seemed very understandable. The hope in considering all the evidence about Thomas was to help us see Thomas in a different light and hopefully as a result see ourselves and our doubts before God in a different light as well.

In short…God welcomes our honest doubts and more often then not our honest doubts are the places that eventually become our places of strongest convictions and beliefs.

The word doubt is the greek word apistos pronounced AWE–PE-STAS [πιστος ::  Lexicon :: Strong’s G571]  and it can absolutely be translated doubt, but more often is translated, without faith, faithless, unbelieving

WHAT WE FOUND – all the disciples were referred to as AWEPESTAS – faithless, unbelieving, doubters…NOT JUST THOMAS.


1.  What role does doubt play in your faith?

2.  What are your fundamental doubts about the Christian Faith?

3.  What do you do with these doubts?