I think my face is finally showing signs of aging and I do not relish losing my youth. While it has been thoroughly satisfying so far, I must be honest and say that it has also fatiguing to preach the last three consecutive weeks (so I salute RY who has been doing that week-in, week-out for the last decade). Preparing a sermon excellently is indeed a labourious challenge; I spend 15-20 hours on average with each one. The bigger challenge however, is to wait upon the Lord as I allow the Word to saturate my heart and mind – I try not to write a sermon academically; the biggest challenge is to hear from the Lord the word in season for my congregation. I find it easy to deliver a generic sermon, so it is vastly gratifying when I preach a sermon that speaks specifically to my people. I always pray that the Holy Spirit will do His work of revelation in my youths’ hearts as they receive the Word.
I am thankful to God for the generous encouragement and plentiful affirmation that I’ve received over the last three weeks; I never take any for granted – these pats-on-my-back spur me on to preach even sharper and deeper sermons! As I conclude Part III of Facebook with the Newbies, I embark on the preparation of the final installation. I pray that this series won’t just end on a climax, but it’d end in a manner that the Spirit leads. In the meantime, do check out the slideshow below to refresh yourself on the two main themes that Stephen leaves with us – managing anger and overcoming unforgiveness.
Part One – Managing Anger
- The main difference between the angry Jewish leaders who couldn’t control themselves, and Stephen who clearly was in control of his emotions, was that the latter had the Holy Spirit while the former didn’t; in short, the Jewish leaders had the presence of anger and the absence of the Spirit.
- The greatest obstacle to forgiveness is anger – for anger kills. It gives birth to murderous intent, which is different from incidental or accidental manslaughter. The Jewish leaders didn’t kill Stephen unexpectedly – they had planned to do it.
- Hate is a choice and the judgment of hate is murder in your heart (1 John 3:15).
- The Jewish leaders’ answer to Stephen’s inspiring and riveting sermon in Acts 7 revealed a three-step progression of anger.
- The first stage of anger is when you realise it with your senses, through your eyes and ears – “When they heard this”. When this happens, ask the Holy Spirit to be your filter, to separate and sieve away the things that make you angry.
- The second stage of anger is when you respond to it with your emotions, in your mind and heart – “They were furious“. When this happens, ask the Holy Spirit to help us to choose the right response in any situation.
- The third stage of angeris when you react to it with your actions, by your hands and mouth – “And gnashed their teeth”. When this happens, ask the Holy Spirit to help you do the right thing that doesn’t cause you to sin.
- Ephesians 4:6 states that we should not sin when we are angry, but it doesn’t say that it is a sin to be angry; what we do when we are angry makes all the difference.
- Anger is an extreme emotion that can sometimes be damaging and destructive; it is always a decision made in our thoughts and feelings, and it never happens by chance. Remember that anger is an emotion, not an action.
- We cannot control what happens externally (situations and circumstances) but we can ask the Spirit to help us to control what happens internally (emotion and cognition).
- The biblical remedy to managing anger is to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help us – that’s why Stephen was known to be a man full of the Holy Spirit.
Part Two – Overcoming Unforgiveness
- While Stephen’s answer to the Jewish leaders was completely different from the way they treated him, his reply to them in the face of being stoned was actually quite similar to the way Jesus Christ in the way that He was crucified.
- Stephen had an absence of anger and a presence of the Spirit; he demonstrated for us three possible approaches to overcoming apparent unforgiveness.
- The first approach is to be filled with the Holy Spirit (“But being full of the Holy Spirit”) by exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Actively deal with unforgiveness and not passively avoid it.
- The second approach is to look to God’s love intently (“He gazed intently into heaven”) and remember our God is One who is ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Nehemiah 9:17)!
- The third approach to know Jesus’ mission wholeheartedly (“Do not hold this sin against them”) for when we understand that the mission of Jesus is to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), we’ll understand how to honour and give Him glory in our most trying situations.
- The glory of God is evidently distinguished and displayed when we compare manmadestructures to GodmadeWonders (pun intended); hence we should fix our eyes on something bigger than ourselves, better than our situations and more glorious. We should put on heavenly spectacles.
- Those who are full of the Spirit are game for anything in life, be it good or bad – because they are willing to do His work and to suffer for Him.
- Forgiving others is a natural cause of action when we are being forgiven by God.
- When evil does its worst, God does His best; Stephen’s martyrdom indirectly resulted in Paul’s conversion. Paul became a legendary missionary and author of half of the New Testament.
- God desires for us to be reconciled to Him first, before we are reconciled to others (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). We experience freedom to relate to others when we are liberated in how we relate to God.
I sincerely hope that was helpful for you. With that, I conclude Stephen’s chapter and look forward to the last character in this series, as well as some much-needed rest at the start of the week.
After youth service today, I found myself presented with the opportunity to share the Gospel with two pre-believers, in the presence of two other R-AGE youths who are believers. It wasn’t these guests’ first time in our service, so I was a little surprised that no one has taken the effort to formally share the Gospel with them. I enjoyed the 45-minute conversation with these youths because it has been a while since I presented the Gospel in such an informal manner; it was refreshing to remind myself of my own salvation.
As I shared, the Spirit started to bring back to memory on exactly how to do it in a systematic manner. The sequence, scriptures, truths and probing questions all arrived at the right time. I was a little rusty but I thought I managed to deliver the message clearly while interweaving my own testimony into it as well as involving the two christian youths to share as well as inviting the pre-believers to ask questions. Interestingly enough, on my way home after sending HY back, JP’s sermon on Romans 1:16 was the first track on my shuffled playlist.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
In the very short message, JP compared the shame of the 60’s against the shame of the 90’s. In the 60’s, a believer would be ridiculed for believing the Gospel to be the truth. In the 90’s, a believer would be ridiculed for believing that there’s even a truth. Isn’t that postmodernism in a nutshell? I realised that youths today are a lot less receptive to the truth (regardless of whether it’s biblical truth or moral truth), and would much prefer to define it for themselves, according to their terms and what works best for them. No wonder we have more and more free-thinkers and pseudo-intellectuals thinking that they know everything. (I don’t even dare to say I know anything, hence my personal pursuit of knowledge and prayer for wisdom.)
I’d like to think that believers these days, as many are second-generation Christians, are becoming slack in their knowledge of the Word, hence they are unable to put up a defense for their own faith. I’m not talking about big-time apologetics; I’m talking about the simple justification of why they are even a Christian to begin with. Faith is never a hand-me-down commodity. It has been well-documented and preached by many pastors that “God has no grandchildren”. I firmly opine that one must own and be responsible for their own faith!
Faith is becoming a poisonous element to skeptics. It is precisely due to the subject of faith, their lack of and non-subscription to it which prompted their skepticism. No wonder the Word declared it clearly in Hebrews 11:6, as if it preempted postmodernism, that, “Without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” I’d like to think that one reward of having faith in God is that we have the peace of God that reigns in our hearts forever, in the face of skepticism and postmodernism, rendering our faith to be unshakeable (by God’s grace).
In future posts perhaps, I’ll share my other thoughts on my faith issues. But for now, I’d like to exhort all serious Christians (who naturally should be compelled to be passionate about evangelism) to be prepared to present the Gospel and their testimonies at any given time, for any given occasion, simply by ensuring that they have:
- Memorised the necessary scriptures for sharing (John 3:16, Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Romans 5:8, Romans 10:9 etc.)
- Practised the chronological sequence of themes (Creation, Judgment, Sin, Redemption etc.)
- Written and rehearsed their own testimonies of how they came to know the Lord or how the Lord has been real to them
- Familiarised themselves with frequency asked questions about the Christian faith
May I also encourage you to engage the Holy Spirit and rely on Him to direct the session and to do the convicting; this is crucial because we must remember that our duty is evanglism, not salvation – we leave that to Jesus. In closing, note that these above four factors are in past tense. I firmly believe that we must be in state of readiness, not preparation. Perhaps it’s time to have remedial sessions for Gospel-sharing.