Jan 07 - Fighting, Accepting Or Encouraging Change

Fighting, Accepting or Encouraging Change

January 7, 2018

Acts 6:8-14

** Audio Portion Not Available **


January 7th, 2018

Acts 6:8-14


Change that actually affects us personally, whether good or bad or morally neutral, is always hard to adjust to.  However, some changes are simply inevitable.  Aging for example. 


One inevitable change is growing older.  That’s simply not an option.  And we know that the changes in our bodies as we age can sometimes be annoying, sometimes troublesome.  Getting old is not for wimps.


Some people would like to change the aging process, or at least prolong it.  Botox, lipo-suction, face lifts, tummy tucks, cremes and lotions.  While some of this may make a person look younger, the problem is that the actual aging process cannot be stopped.  And sometimes trying to look younger just backfires.  - Change we truly cannot do anything about - accept it gracefully (serenity prayer).


As I’ve mentioned previously, change that affects us personally is hard for us to adjust to.  It was so throughout history and it is today.


[When the King James Version of the Bible was first published in 1611, it was widely criticized and rejected.  At the time, Hugh Broughton (1549-1612), a renowned Hebrew scholar, wrote,


Tell his majesty that I had rather be rent to pieces with wild horses than any such translation by my consent should be urged upon poor churches.[1]]


Back in the 1600’s a relatively young Isaac Watts didn’t enjoy church worship and wrote 222 hymns over 222 Sundays, which single-handedly changed the worship of his time.  One of those hymns was “Joy to the World.” 


At the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America in 1789, a priest, Rev. Adam Rankin said,


I have ridden on horseback all the way from my home in Kentucky to ask this august body to refuse to allow the great and pernicious error of adopting the use of Isaac Watt’s hymns in public worship in preference to Rouse’s versification of the Psalms of David.


[When Robert Raikes started his Sunday School Movement for very poor children and youth in England in 1780, the Archbishop of Canterbury (Frederick Temple?) called together the bishops to discuss what could be done to stop him.  The Presbyterians from Scotland and the Congregationalists of New England opposed it because they said that running Sunday school broke the Sabbath commandment.]


Some changes are opposed by well-meaning people even when those changes are good.  Today, I want us to think about change, both inevitable and not, both good and bad, and how we can respond to it. 


What do we do when change is definitely bad?  Even though something bad might be happening, a lot of people don’t oppose it, most often because it doesn’t seem to affect them personally.  I mean whether or not the war in Syria ends or continues doesn’t really touch the average Canadian. The depletion of the ozone layer doesn’t seem to negatively impact us at this time. 


In Canada, political change usually doesn’t affect us personally either, except when it comes to the amount of tax we pay.  The growing national and provincial deficits don’t seem to have a negative effect on us.  


Generally I’m inclined not to say anything about politics from the pulpit. I mean, some of you are Trump supporters, others of you are not.  But today I think I will say something.  


Justin Trudeau is quite open about the fact that he (and the liberal government) will push for gender diversity and gender fluidity, by which is meant the right of everyone to choose their gender at will.  That wouldn’t be so bad, I guess, but by “everyone” they are including children, even of prepubescent age


So it’s perfectly OK for parents to refuse to put down the gender of their newborn child.  The health card for their child will read “u” for unspecified. 


In the immediate future, Canadian passports will designate gender as male, female or “x”. 


Prisoners soon will be placed in prisons based on gender identity.  Which may be fine if you were born male and are placed into a female prison population, but may get you in a heap of trouble if you were born female and you’re placed in a male prison.


In Ontario, under bill 89, the provincial government can potentially take away children from parents and foster parents who don’t accept their child’s (or young persons’) “sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.”  And again, that’s regardless of age.[2] 


Imagine that!  The government is able to seize your biological children if you are known to oppose the current theory of “gender identity.” 


Personally, I think there is so much gender confusion because children are told that gender is a matter of how they feel.  So you’re 6 years old.  It’s high time you figure out whether or not you’re a girl or boy.  Well, mom, I think I feel more like a girl than boyThat’s terrific, honey, so today you’re a girl, you dress like a girl, you go to the girls’ washroom and change room, regardless of your biology or genetic make-up, and regardless of how you may feel in the future


But this is not only happening in North America.  In Britain, parents of 4 year olds received letters from their school board encouraging them to let their children choose their gender before they start elementary school, either male, female or something else - maybe the educators thought of genderqueer, tri-gender, gender fluid, intersex, non-binary.  I think the intention behind this may be well meaning ... it is supposed to reduce bullying. 


But at age four, or even at age 10 for that matter, children have no clue as to what constitutes gender differences.  They are still children, for crying out loud. They don’t even think about that stuff unless it’s pushed on them. 


And what happens when it IS pushed on them?  There is one family in Ontario[3] who decided to do exactly that.  They currently have five and a ten year old boys who both identify themselves as girls and are referred to as “she” and “her”, and a 7 year old girl who identifies herself as non-binary and is addressed as “they.”  Repeatedly, this family is celebrated in the Canadian media as special and exemplary.[4] 


But why would you want this for your children?  Yes, there will be adults who struggle with their sexual orientation or gender identity. And those who do are to be embraced and loved for who they are.  But I don’t think any of them would wish this struggle on children. 


Why shouldn’t children simply grow up and figure it out when they’re adults.  Why would educators want to push children into becoming promiscuous, transgender or homosexual, as if that is somehow preferable to being sexually reserved, straight, and fine with their biological gender?


Parents who push gender fluidity on their children need to be reminded that the suicide rate among the transgender population is ten times higher than the overall population?[5] 


And I have a hard time believing that this statistic can be blamed on harassment and bullying?  For one, the BC Teachers’ Federation makes sure that all school children are taught a curriculum that supports and promotes a LGBTQ lifestyle. 


In reality, in Western society it is rather fashionable and cool to be gay, lesbian or transgender, and God forbid that anyone makes any comment that could be interpreted as being less than supportive.[6] 


[On a recent “Survivor” show, when a contestant revealed that another contestant was transgender, something that is obviously wrong to do, the moral outrage and chastisement was something to behold.  It was the only time when the host, Jeff Probst, bypassed the voting and basically kicked the offender off the show.  It was the unforgivable sin, and that despite the fact that “Survivor” is all about lying, deceiving, and often finding devious and immoral ways of discrediting others or gaining an advantage in the game – which otherwise is kind of admired.] 


And why is it that the black population in the USA, who actually receives a disproportionately amount of discrimination, has a very low suicide rate by comparison?


Another value that is high on Justin Trudeau’s priorities is government funded and institutionally encouraged abortion on demand.  Now this is not something new.  What is new is that Justin Trudeau recently earmarked $ 650 million of tax money over the next 3 years to promote and fund abortion overseas, in part to counter Trump’s ban on US tax dollars being used in this way.

And this is also an ongoing priority for left-leaning provincial governments, which is why abortions do not need a doctor’s referral and why they are free.  It is why the abortion pill, a pill that is designed to terminate pregnancies up to nine weeks, is available in six provinces for free (BC will join 5 other provinces on January 15th , 2018 – a prescription is needed).  

If we think that the government priorities do not impact us, maybe we can simply ignore such issues.  But if we do, then eventually it will in fact impact us, for example, when some educator or social worker claims that an 8 year old child is same-sex attracted or confused about their gender and the parents don’t agree. 


Imagine getting to the place where parents who do not encourage their prepubescent or adolescent children to explore their gender identity are considered to be unfit parents.


As a church we are currently faced with a situation where our very successful summer programs, the summer camps, whether sports or crafts or adventure, will no longer be eligible for government funding through the Canada Summer Jobs program.


Why?  Because the program is now only open to organizations and individuals who attest in writing to adhering to a series of “values” that are near and dear to our premier, Justin Trudeau.

 (The attestation:  The (summer) job and the organization’s core mandate respects ... reproductive rights).[7]


The government states quite up front in the applications that a potential employer not only has to follow the values and rights contained in the Charter or Rights and Freedoms, but also the values and rights that are important to the current Liberal Government of Canada


The Canadian Charter of Freedom and Rights is meant to limit the government powers over its people.  Nowhere in it do you find reference to reproductive rights, by which is meant government funded abortion on demand.  Instead the Charter speaks of the freedom of conscience and religion. 


While the application forms for summer intern workers state that this new policy does not automatically exclude religious organizations, it makes it abundantly clear that it will only consider organizations and students that are willing to state that their core mandate reflects the very same values as the current Canadian government. 


In essence the liberal party is making sure that tax dollars are prevented from going to any Canadian employers and students who do not share its own convictions.  Which, if you think about it, is trampling on the rights and values that are foundational to any Western democracy.  It is not at all liberal or free thinking, but exactly the opposite. 


So we can ignore the changes that are happening, because we don’t think they truly affect us, but sometimes when we do, it may bite us in the future.  I am certain that more changes will come along those very same lines.  Maybe non-profits will be required in the very near future to sign similar attestations in order to retain their non-profit status.


But still, it is easy to ignore.  Now the Jews in the first century did not see Christianity as something to be ignored, maybe because they knew that acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah would revolutionize their faith, and they did not want it to change.  


In the NT book of Acts (short for “The Acts of the Apostles”), chapter 6 we meet the first deadly resistance to the message about Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah.   It is the story about Stephen, the first Christian martyr.  I’m not going to read the whole story for you, just the reason why Stephen was arrested and the charges that were brought against him.  Keep in mind this was likely only a year after Jesus’ crucifixion (i.e., around 34 CE).


Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.  Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called) - Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia.  These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.                            Acts 6:8-10


Steven was one of seven men who were appointed by the apostles to oversee the provision of food for the widows in the Jerusalem church.  His name, like that of the other six, is Greek, which indicates that he may not have been born in Palestine. 


He was someone who not only was full of personal charm (God’s grace), but also whose ministry was accompanied by signs of divine power, miracles, what exactly these consisted of we’re not told. 


The Synagogue of the Freedmen (Gk. Libertinon), could be in reference to Jews whose grandparents or great-grandparents had been enslaved by the Romans in 60 BCE when Pompey conquered and the Romans occupied Palestine, but who were set free by Roman slave owners.  On the other hand, it could be referring to individuals who themselves had previously been enslaved and who, in some way, had gained their freedom. 


It is unclear whether there was just one such Synagogue or a number of them in Jerusalem. 


Those Jews who attended this synagogue were, in part, from northern Africa.  Cyrene was a city in what today is Eastern Libya, near the border to Egypt. Red dot at the top and a bit left of the screen.  Alexandria was the major sea port in Egypt in the Nile Delta.[8]  Probably more Jews lived in Alexandria than in any other city outside of Jerusalem.


Cilicia and Asia were Roman provinces in Asia Minor, what today is the country of Turkey. The apostle Paul came from Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia, the red dot toward the right of the screen.[9]  Ephesus was the capital of the province of Asia.  The other red dot.


The Jews from both Northern Africa and Asia Minor had left their places of birth and had moved to Jerusalem, likely because of their zeal for their faith.   They would have continued to speak Greek and their synagogue services would have been conducted in Greek, while other Jews in Jerusalem likely spoke Aramaic and read the Torah in their synagogues in Hebrew. 


Steven may have previously attended the Greek speaking synagogue prior to and maybe even after his conversion.  Some NT scholars think that he is likely from Alexandria because his speech is a bit reminiscent of Philo of Alexandria. 


Whether or not he was from Alexandria, Steven seemed to have been eloquent and intelligent, using his intellect and mind in dealing with the arguments or disputes that arose between himself and his fellow Greek-speaking Jews. 


The arguments were likely over the identity of Jesus and the implication to Judaism. 

  • Was Jesus the Messiah or was he not? 

  • If yes, how did Jesus’ death impact the Jewish sacrificial system at the temple in Jerusalem? 

  • How did his healing ministry on the Sabbath impact the way that the Sabbath rest should be understood and practiced? 

  • Did Jesus teach that food in and of itself is not what defiles a person – makes that person unclean, and was does that imply about the Mosaic food laws?  


Because Steven’s arguments seem to be convincing, at least that’s what’s implied in this passage, his former synagogue friends turned opponents decided to deal with him in another way. 


Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, "We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God."  So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law.  They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin.  They produced false witnesses, who testified, "This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law.  For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us." Acts 6:11-14


Blasphemy in the narrow sense, meant that Stephen would have said something sacrileges about God.  But here it likely has a more narrow sense.  The blasphemy was “against Moses and God,” that is, the charge was that he spoke out against the Law of Moses as found in OT books like Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, likely as understood and interpreted by the Pharisaic Rabbis. 


So false witnesses were produced by this synagogue to testify against Stephen in front of the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court of law.  Blasphemy against God was punishable by death.  And if putting into question the Mosaic Law was considered to blaspheme God, then this also held the death penalty. 


As the Jewish historian Josephus tells us, 28 years after Stephen’s death (62 CE), Jacob, the half-brother of Jesus who had become the primary leader in the Jerusalem church, was convicted by the Sanhedrin of breaking the Mosaic Law, and was subsequently stoned to death.[10]   .


The high priest Hananus (Ananus) … assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was Jacob (James), and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.


In Stephen’s case, the false witnesses didn’t fabricate something that was completely untrue, but they told half-truths.  Stephen was alleged to have spoken against the temple and the Mosaic Law when in fact he had likely said that Jesus is more important and better than the temple and more authoritative than the Law of Moses. 


He was accused of teaching that Jesus would destroy the temple, when in fact he likely taught that Jesus at one time had foretold the complete destruction of Herod’s temple (cf. Matt 24:2). 


The reference to Jesus destroying the temple is based on Jesus’ words after he had cleansed the temple, that should “this temple” be destroyed, that he would rebuild it in three days (John 2:19). 


The author of the gospel of John tells us in an explanatory note that Jesus wasn’t speaking about the actual temple, even though he was standing in it when he spoke the words, but about his own body … in other words, if the temple of his body was killed he would be rebuilt or raised from the dead within three days (John 2:21).


This was a charge that was raised against Jesus during his trial as well (Mark 14:58), and was shouted up at him in mockery when he was hanging at the cross (Mark 15:29), although at both of those occasions, Jesus was accused of saying, I will destroy this temple and will rebuild it in three days”. 


Stephen may have argued that, based on Jesus’ words, the sacrifices performed at the temple were no longer the primary way of being made right with God.  In essence that would have sounded a lot like the priests and the sacrificial system as outlined in the Mosaic Law were no longer necessary, and this would have threatened not only the livelihood of the priests and Levites, but also the authority of the high priestly family. 


If we jump forward in Acts to Stephen’s speech, notice his words with regard to the temple of Solomon:


Solomon built a house for God.  However, the Most High does not live in buildings made by human hands.  As the prophet (Amos) 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?  Have I not made all these things?’”                 Acts  7:47-50[11]


God does not need your temple, the Herodian temple, Stephen said, because he fills the universe.


Stephen might also have said that the whole of the Mosaic Law could best be obeyed by focusing on two commandments: Love of God and love of one’s neighbour.  Taken to its logical conclusion, this also put into question the validity of the commandments having to do with ritual cleanness. 


Further, like Jesus, Stephen may have rejected the rabbinic interpretations of the Law of Moses which had become as important to the Pharisees as the Law itself.


Stephen had told those in the synagogue, “The Rules Have Changed” and it’s a good thing!  He told them that a new age has dawned, the age of the Spirit, the age of the Messiah, the age of the New Covenant.  The old is passing away. 


But in saying this, Stephen challenged the status quo of his religious world and thereby attacked something that was considered sacrosanct.  They responded by killing (stoning) Stephen.  They could not accept that this new thing was good, was life-changing, was necessary, was planned by God. 


The real question then, is one of discernment.  Is some change good and necessary?  Is another change bad and detrimental? If it is good, can I encourage it?  If it is bad, can I do something about it?


If you’ve been around for a while, maybe you can remember the changes that have taken place in the church in just the last 50 years - some good, some bad.  If you went to church back in 1968, maybe you can remember what it was like. 


Worship style has changed considerably, at least in those churches that do not consist of just a handful of aging seniors.  Some Christians are still sitting on a dead horse and don’t realize it’s time to dismount. 


And to some extent, post-modernity has caught up with some churches as well.  In those churches, morality has become relative … what is ethically right for you may not be for me, and what I understand to be evil may not be for you


Sin is just so much grey and God will forgive everything in any case.   That, unfortunately, has not been a good change.  Hopefully we will never be like the immoral people about whom the Prophet Isaiah wrote about:


Woe to those who say that evil is good and that good is evil; that darkness is light and that light is darkness…

                                                          Isaiah 5:20


So within the church that follows Jesus, the essentials shouldn’t change.  Faith about the person and work of Jesus, for example.  Or the mandate of Jesus’ followers.  For example, do you know what the mandate of FCC is?


A few years ago, the staff of FCC tried to distill the mission of the church to:  “We strive to be authentic people who are compelled by God’s love to make a difference.” 


This mandate is based on some biblical principles.  For example, being authentic or real means that Christians aren’t phonies who think they’re better than others.  I think of what the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome: 


AUTHENTIC PEOPLE:  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.   For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think… . Let love be genuine.  Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  Love one another with brotherly affection.  Outdo one another in showing honour.

                                                Romans 12:2-3,9-10      


We want to be real.  To be true.  To be authentic.  To be genuine. 


Second, the motivation to do what is right and caring and good is the fact that we have received God’s love, as we read in 1 John 4.  I’ve just picked a few verses from the passage, but the whole passage carries the same theme.


COMPELLED BY GOD’S LOVE:  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. …  We love because he first loved us. …  And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.             1 John 4:9-11,17,21


And what does God’s love compel us to be and do?  To make a difference!  And by that we mean a positive difference in the lives of others.  This positive difference may be spiritual, emotional, relational, or financial … but it is actually making someone else’s world better. 



Go into the whole world and preach the good news.                                                                           Mark 16:15


And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God. 

Hebrews 13:16


Carry one another’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.                                         Galatians 6:2


We are God’s workmanship, created in Jesus Christ to do the good deeds which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.                     Ephesians 2:10


If we are people of faith, then we know that we have a mandate from God, to tell others of God’s love in and through Jesus, to share with the needy, to carry the burdens of those loaded down, to do the good that we were put on this earth to do … and we are compelled by his love to look for ways of fulfilling it. 


So the question for me, as we enter a new year: given our mandate, what does God want Friendship to look like in 3 years, in 5 years?


What changes does he want to see happening.  And I don’t just mean what the changes there might be to the physical building.  And it isn’t as if a lot of good things didn’t happen in the past or aren’t happening now. 


– Dwell service

– Friendship Club luncheons

– Women’s retreat

– Youth & Middle School ministry

– Children’s ministry

– Arts day

– Outdoor service

– Summer programs

– Missions trip


And many, many other things. 


So here are some things that I hope will happen over the next 3 to 5 years. 


Our building and grounds are used for so many community events, and I hope that will continue. 


I hope that our sense of unity and community, that is, among those who call FCC their spiritual home, will increase.  I mean, despite all that could potentially divide us, we focus on what we have in common.  But hopefully that togetherness will grow.


Part of that is the way that we get involved and participate with other believers as we meet in small groups, pray together, help each other grow in our faith, and demonstrate concern and care for each other.  I think we can do much better in this area. 


I hope we continue to be relevant to the younger generations and deal with real life issues, without having to compromise the truth.  


I hope that we will become even more compassionate about a hurting world.  I was blown away that in December alone we raised $ 17,000 for life saving lab equipment for the clinic in Lokoja.  May that kind of care for the most needy and vulnerable never stop and only increase. 


Whatever the changes are, I will not be a part of it because I will be retiring from FCC at the end of June of this year.  20 years is a very long tenure for a pastor, and the reason why I lasted this long is because FCC has been a wonderful place and a joy and privilege to be a part of. 


This has not been an easy decision, but one that I think is necessary for both myself and for FCC.  It is a good thing, so I hope that you will embrace this change. So please don’t tell me that you’re sad to see me go.  On the other hand, you don’t have to tell me that you’re happy about it or that it’s about time. 


I’m not sure where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing, but I know that you have a great board and staff that will make sure that things transition and progress smoothly. 


Will this change be challenging?  I think at times it will be, but more for me personally, and less for the church.  Nevertheless, I am convinced that this particular change will be for the better.  It will bring glory to God as each one of us at FCC fulfills our mandate given to us by our heavenly Father. 


It was Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) who said:


- When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully at the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.                                               Alexander Graham Bell


If we no longer focus on the closing doors, but on the ones that are opening, then we will anticipate changes in our lives and in the church, assured that God himself never changes, and that ultimately nothing surprises Him.


Like the Jews in Stephen’s day, we can dislike change, even if that change is ultimately good and beneficial.  So I hope that you will choose to invest yourself in exploring new initiatives and opportunities that will be there for you.


But not all change is good.  So I also hope and pray, that as believers you won’t look at negative change as something to simply accept.


I also think that the most important change this year, will be the change that will take place inside of you.  And the change agent you will be because God’s love compels you to make a difference..








[1] Broughton complained of the mistakes of the translation in a pungent eight-page pamphlet entitled A Censure of the late

translation for our Churches: sent vnto a Right Worshipfull knight, Attendant vpon the King.

[2] For an online version of the bill, see http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/bills/bills_detail.do?locale=en&BillID=4479.  See 1.2.3.iii. and 74.3.c.iii.

[3] Stocker-Witterick.

[4] In the future, Trudeau wants to house prisoners based on gender identity.  Which may be fine if you were born male, but may get you in a heap of trouble if you were born female.

[5] Suicide attempts range from 32% to 50% across countries (one US study at 41%).  42% report a history of self-injury in the USA.  Suicide attempt rate for Homosexuals are around 20%.  Suicide attempt rate for overall population is less than 5 % (4.6%). 


[7] Both the job and the organization’s core mandate respects individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights.  These include reproductive rights, and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.

[8] Originally founded in 322 BCE by Alexander the Great, who named the city after himself.

[9] Tarsus had a large Jewish population.  The Babylonian Talmud refers to the Synagogue of the Tarsiyim located in Jerusalem (Megillah 26a).

[10] Josephus, Antiquities, book 20.9.1. 

[11] Amos 5:25-27 LXX