VOX magazine editor Ruth Garvey-Williams is at the New Wine Ireland summer conference in Sligo this week. She brings you summaries of all the Evening Celebrations and the morning Bible Teaching, so you won’t miss a thing!
Thursday 18 July
Gavin an Anne Calver are leading the morning Bible Teaching in The Arena at #Sligo19 this week exploring lessons from the book of Acts. Anne is a Minister at Stanmore Baptist Church and Gavin is Director of Mission at the Evangelical Alliance UK and chair of Spring Harvest. On Thursday, they explored the story of Stephen from Acts chapters 6 and 7.
Anne: A believer from Iran came to a conference in England. She said, “This is what we dream of - being able to gather in freedom and safety to worship the Lord.” We are so privileged to be able to do this. We are going to turn to Acts 6 and follow on from where we were yesterday. What a man Stephen was!
I remember the first time I heard this. I was a teenager and I wasn’t a Christian and I thought,” What a nutter.” He must have believed this was true in order to be able to put his life on the line. The early disciples had to be willing to give everything to following Jesus. How can you be willing to die?
Acts 6 – this story was a huge moment for the early church. The leaders in Jerusalem were doing everything they cold to stamp out the work of God but what they do is to ignite the Gospel. Stephen would not have known what could happen as result of his death. I do not want to have to die in order to see the gospel spread in that way but, Lord make me willing! There are four things we notice about this passage:
Full of Grace and Power
Gavin: Stephen lived what he believed. One day I had an appointment with a bank manager. Everything went well but as I walked past a Tesco express, I noticed a woman was crying. I kept on walking but then I felt awful and eventually I went back to find out what was wrong. She said, “My husband has kicked me out.” She needed money to get to where she needed to go so, I called a black cab and asked how much – it was going to cost 20 quid and I had exactly 20 quid in my wallet. We cannot speak one thing and live another. We cannot decide who is more important
There is a call to a new level of holiness. In our years of youth work, the question I was asked most is, ‘Where is the line in my relationship? How far can I go?’ There is no line. We need to relentlessly pursue Jesus. If in doubt don’t do it. Stop fiddling your taxes. We need a new type of holiness in a landscape that is getting more morally corrupt.
Spiritual disciplines are out of fashion. We brush our teeth every morning. If we want to be a healthy Christian, we need to spend time with Him every day. I find it amazing that people don’t spend time with Jesus because they see it as a duty. I have a relationship with the living Jesus, and I can’t decide one day that I’ll have a day off from talking to Him in the same way that I can’t take a day off from my relationship with my wife. Too often we treat God’s word like a pick and mix. We need to be people who take it seriously. Why don’t we practice what we preach? Our front stage and our backstage faces need to be the same
The church needs to be full of grace and truth in the power of the spirit.
Anne: Stephen’s face was the face of an angel. It is a bit like when Moses went up mount Sinai – he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. There is something about getting really close to God that makes us glow. That is what we long for. To become more like Him. It happens when we spend time with Him. It is surely no accident that Moses faced glowed having received the law and Stephen had a glowing face as he proclaimed it.
My parents ran a hotel in North Wales. There was one day when a lady came in and she said, “You Christians have no idea the power that you have. I used to be a witch and I was engaged in the powers of darkness. I would walk down the street and I knew who the Christians were. They would glow. I as aware that Christians held a power that was far greater than the power we had.” We glow for Jesus and the enemy tries to stop us realising that and from taking authority for what we carry. Stephen had found the truth and he wasn’t going to let it go.
Gavin: We are coming into a time when we need to be more courageous. I preached at the Christian Union in the Sun newspaper. While I was there, I met a Christian lawyer who works at the Sun. I asked him, “How would the newspaper view me…?” He said, “as a narrow-minded bigot.” Then I asked, “How do you view me?” He said, “You are a child of the living God living out your calling”. We are going to be misunderstood but we must be strong
I’ve developed a theory. We need to be perceived as a bigot early. Hold to everything you believe. Lots of my friends are adapting their theology to the world. Hold firm, let the world think of me what it will.
Stephen says, ‘You stiff necked people. You are too stubborn.” He doesn’t hold back. The people covered their ears. We have to deal with that. People will cover their ears. They will not want to listen to us.
I was at New Wine in England and I felt God speaking to me and saying, “You need to be braver. Don’t look sideways. Look up.” I began to weep not because I was not prepared to be brave but because it is hard! Bravery is not the absence of fear; it is the management of your fears. I told Anne but I didn’t tell anyone else about this. At the end of the holidays, we were praying as a family and we take time to be quiet (to listen to God). Our daughter said to me, “I think Jesus wants you to be braver.” We need to overcome our fears to be bold, in the same way that Stephen was bold.
Anne: Bravery looks different for different people. I have a group of friends that I meet at the school gate. One was going through a really tough time. I sat there and thought, “How can you live with all this and not believe in God.” All I could say was, “I’m sorry it is so hard.” I wanted to say, “Jesus is your answer” but I didn’t. As I was walking home, I was gutted that I had not taken the conversation further. I said, “Lord I am sorry that I didn’t speak about you. I was too scared. That night I could not sleep. I tossed and turned, praying for her and her family. At 5.30am I got up and went for a jog. There was no one around but as I rounded the corner, there was my friend coming towards me. I thought, “No way!” I could feel this nudge “Second chance, Anne.” I said, “OK Lord.”
She had been up all night. I told her I had been praying for her. Tears came into her eyes and I offered to pray for her right then and there. She began to weep. I’ve not experienced the presence of God like that!
Boldness means stepping out in whatever context you are in remembering that He is with you and you will be radiant. Church be bold. Not just when you are in the building!
The authorities were gnashing their teeth and preparing to stone Stephen, but he looks up to heaven and sees Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. Stephen was the first martyr of the early church. We are in a battle, but the Lord is victorious. Stephen was more concerned with serving the Lord than anything else.
About six years ago, I had a dream. I was with other believers and we were walking up to Calvary. I was tired and weary, and I thought, “I can’t do this.” Others started to say, “This is too hard. I am thirsty. I am hungry. I can’t go any further. I need a break.” Everyone agreed and suddenly our minibus was there, and we all climbed inside and sat down.
Then I heard the Lord saying, “What are you doing, Anne?” I said, “Lord, I need a break. I can’t go any further. I need to rest.” There was no reply. And I knew I had to get off the bus and continue walking. I said, “I am going to keep walking. Is anyone coming with me?” A couple of people got up and joined me. There were not the ones you would expect; not the popular ones! So, we continued to walk towards Calvary. It did not get any easier, but I knew I wanted to stay on the road!
That is how Stephen makes Jesus stand… he stuck with it to the end.
Gavin: A 17-year-old piano player was performing at the Royal Albert Hall. Music experts had gathered to see if he was any good. And he played the piano unlike anyone had ever heard before. He was better than anyone! You could have heard a pin drop. At the end of the performance, the audience rise to their feet screaming, “More… Encore…” But the young man goes backstage. The organiser goes to get him. “I have never seen this before,” he said. “You have to play again.”
But the young man said, “There will be no encore. On the balcony, there is one old man and he is still sitting down. He is my teacher. If he stands, I will play again.”
Our lives have one purpose – to live for Jesus, to make Him stand. I hope it doesn’t cost me what it cost Stephen but I’m living for His approval, no matter what!
There is a power in saying, “I’m all in!”