Tag Archives: Acts 7

Not Bricks and Mortar, but Flesh and Blood

“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands.”
Acts 7:48 (NIV)

I remember going to church as a kid and being taught a certain reverence for the sanctuary of our church. It was a classically designed sanctuary with an altar that sat on a dais at the back. Over the altar hung a giant cross and from the bottom of the cross hung an old-style lamp which was “the eternal flame.” Just in front of the altar was a lectern that sat on one side from which the scripture readings and announcement were made. On the opposite side was the pulpit which was larger, and stood higher.

As children we were taught that this santuary was special. This was where you went to worship God on Sunday. There was sacredness attached to the room, the altar, and the pulpit. You were to be quiet when you were in there. No running. No playing. Don’t go near the altar unless Reverend Washington is up there serving communion.

After I became a believer and began reading God’s Message for myself, I came to realize that the entire notion of a “sacred” church building was never a part of Jesus’ paradigm. Jesus never asked his followers to build buildings. Quite the opposite. Jesus said, “I will destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days.” With His death, resurrection, and the subsequent pouring out of Holy Spirit, Jesus did away with the old notion that there was a physical building that would be the center of worship. The “church” Jesus came to build is not made of bricks and mortar, but of flesh and blood.

A time is coming,” Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”

In today’s chapter one of Jesus’ early followers, a man named Stephen, is dragged before the Jewish religious authority, called the Sanhedrin, in the Temple in Jerusalem. This is the same council who convicted Jesus and gave Him a death sentence just weeks earlier. Stephen, in his defense, walks the religious leaders through the Great Story from Abraham to Joseph to Moses to the Kings and to the prophets. He tells of Solomon building the Temple where he, himself, was now standing. Stephen then says to religious authorities:

“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:

“‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
    Or where will my resting place be?
Has not my hand made all these things?’”

This morning I’m thinking about sacred spaces, and enjoying the memory of being a kid and finding out that the “eternal flame” that hung over our church’s altar was simply a 40 watt light bulb that sometimes burnt out and had to be replaced by the custodian.

Having a physical building for believers to gather, worship, and create community is a great thing. I just never want to lose sight of the truth that Jesus never intended “the church” to be a building down the street. When Holy Spirit indwells me as a believer my flesh and blood becomes “the church” because God is within me, one with my spirit. I am sacred space. “Don’t you know,” Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, “that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” So, “the church” is wherever I happen to be. It’s wherever two or more believers gather together.

I don’t go to church. I am the church.

Scattered Seeds

the sower after millet detail 1

Stephen replied, “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.'” Acts 7:2-3 (NSRV)

Last week I gave a message at our local group of Jesus followers entitled Scattered Seeds which came from a verse in tomorrow’s chapter. The message in one sentence was this: “We are saved to be scattered.” In the message, I talked about the fact that God’s modus operandi throughout history has been to save people and scatter them so that they might accomplish their roles in the Great Story.

I found it fascinating this morning to read through Stephen’s words to his Hebrews executioners, because he uses three of the very examples I used in the message last week: Abraham, Joseph, and Moses. I added a few examples in Noah, David, and threw in a more contemporary reference that was audience specific.

In wrapping up, I summarized with three key observations:

  1. A faith journey always begins with a single step. What are you waiting for?
  2. A faith journey always requires that you leave something behind. Let it go.
  3. In a faith journey you can’t always see where the road leads. Trust. Don’t be afraid. That’s why it’s called a “faith” journey. God’s message is a foot lamp to reveal the next step, not a headlight to see the road ahead.

I’ve embedded the message for any who are interested in listening.

The embedded audio file is presented with the gracious permission of Third Church in Pella, Iowa who holds the copyright. All rightsreserved. It is intended for personal listening only and may not  be used for any other reason without permission. 

Chapter-a-Day Acts 7

Woodcut for "Die Bibel in Bildern", ...
Woodcut for “Die Bibel in Bildern”, 1860. The Stoning of Stephen Deutsch: Holzschnitt aus “Die Bibel in Bildern”, 1860. Français : Gravure en bois pour «Die Bibel in Bildern», 1860. Русский: Гравюра из цикла «Библия в картинах», 1860 год. Мученичество Стефана (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. Acts 7:57-58 (NLT)

My wife is great at guessing the outcome of a whodunnit movie or television show long before the end. She will often catch the little hints and clues that the writers and directors provide. As we sit on the couch watching a murder mystery she will reference a seemingly trivial object or line and muse, “That’s going to be important to the story later on!”

As I read through today’s chapter and got to these verses, I thought of Wendy as I realized that this seemingly trivial side note is going to be very important to a larger story. Weeks and weeks of tension between Jesus’ impassioned, vocal followers and the religious leaders have escalated. The arrests, the floggings, the imprisonment of the twelve and their growing throng of followers finally builds to a tragic climax as Stephen is singled out and stoned to death.

You’d think that this would be the beginning of the end for Jesus’ followers. The powerful religious machine that had put Jesus to death was now going to squash Jesus’ followers. When things look their darkest, however, God’s power is most powerfully revealed. God specializes in eucatastrophe. This tragic moment starts a potent chain of events that are part of a much larger story.

And it begins with the young man checking coats at the stoning of Stephen. As Wendy would say, “Pay attention. That’s going to be important to the story later on!”