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24th May 2015
God’s intention has always been to dwell with His people. When we read Stephen’s account in Acts 7, we see how God was with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the 12 tribes, Moses… Leading up to Solomon, who built a temple for God.
But God is not and has never been limited to a building. The presence of God was promised for everyone. But in Acts 7 we see that the Pharisees behaved in certain ways that stopped them from entering into the blessings of God. We can behave in the same ways.
Their first problem was identity versus significance. Significance is based on what you do; identity is based on who you are. Identity is hugely important. One of the chief aims of the devil is to try to rob you of your identity – if he can persuade you that you’re not who God says you are, then you will veer off away from God.
You can do things that change how significant you are to someone, but it takes something outside of you to change your identity. This is something not just for our heads to grasp, but also for our hearts to grasp. Christianity is about heart relationship – the foundation of it is about who you are. Obscurity shouldn’t bother you; ineffectiveness should.
We have the privilege of being children of God: we get to call him Daddy. J I Packer says: “What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father.”
There are lots of distant fathers in this world. When it comes to God as our Father, we don’t need education, we need encounters with Him. Identity in God means you don’t have to reach a standard or have all the answers, we just need to spend time with the One who has and does.
The Pharisees were focused on their significance and status; Stephen knew he was accepted by the One person who matters. If you focus on your significance, your acceptance will be based on the approval of others. But if your focus is on God’s acceptance, then other people’s rejection won’t affect you in the same way.
The second difference between Stephen and the Pharisees was faith versus control. Because Stephen’s significance came from his position in God, whatever happened was a win for him. Our faith in God is dependent on His faithfulness. Fear has no place in the Christian heart – it is an imposter. Fear is based in the wrong reality. Perfect love casts out fear.
Kris Vallotton says this: “It’s your stances, not your circumstances, that shape you.”
When fear and significance are the barometer of your life, as they were for the Pharisees, you want to take increasing control over what happens. Security comes from knowing that God is in control.
There’s something in this passage in Acts about presence and principles that we need to understand. What made Stephen stand out was that he had the presence and the Spirit of God with him. Knowing the facts about your Father and being in His presence are two completely different things.
The starting place of the Pharisees wasn’t that wrong – it was the case that God’s presence had been in the building. But principles became more important than God’s presence to them. Jesus told us to abide in Him – it’s an active thing, to abide. Relationships are an active thing. We need to make an active choice to prioritise God’s presence.
We are now carriers of the Kingdom of God – if you are a Christian, you hold the keys of the Kingdom in your hand. You are a big deal: the odds of blessing change when you walk into a situation because you bring the Kingdom of God to it. You set a platform where you go for the God of everywhere to show up somewhere!
It’s Jesus’ responsibility to build the church; extending the Kingdom is our responsibility. When was the last time you brought light where there was darkness? Blessing where there was none? When was the last time you extended the Kingdom in a dark place? If you recognise who you are, it will change how you live.
Posted by Aled Cousins