Summary: Don't limit God to one place and to one plan if you want to continue to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ.
Two moose hunters in northern Canada shot an unusually large moose. It was a real trophy animal, but there was only one problem. The moose was too big for their packhorses to carry out of the woods.
That didn’t bother the hunters, though. They just used their cell phone to call in a tiny seaplane. When it arrived, they tried to talk the pilot into strapping this huge bull moose onto his plane and flying it out for them.
The pilot took one look at that moose and said rather dubiously, “I don't know if I can take off with that much weight.”
“We've done this before,” they reassured him. “Don't worry.”
So they strapped the moose on, draping it across both pontoons. This made the pilot even more nervous. “Look how far we are sinking below the waterline,” he objected. “I'm the pilot. I know how much it takes to lift off.”
“Relax,” the hunters persisted. “We've done this before. Trust us.”
Reluctantly, the pilot agreed. He gunned the engine, took off down his runway of water… and crashed into the treetops at the end of the lake. Debris flew everywhere, and the moose carcass got lodged in the branches of a tall pine tree.
Down on the shoreline, one dazed hunter called out to the other, “Hey, George! How did we do?”
“Well,” George replied, “we're about 50 feet farther than last year.” (Gary Smalley as cited by E. Glenn Wagner in The Church You’ve Always Wanted, Zondervan, 2002)
I know of some churches like that. They work on improving the same old programs every year, but they never get off the ground. They never think that they need a whole new approach to ministry. And as a result, they never accomplish what God has called them to do. Change is hard for most people, and most people resist it, even if what they’re currently doing no longer works.
The question is: How do we keep that from happening here? How do we keep ourselves from getting stuck with ineffective programs and approaches? How do we remain on the cutting edge of ministry to continue reaching new generations of people with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Well, I think it would do us well to take a little advice from Stephen – a sharp, young leader in the first church, who challenged the religious traditions of his day. If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Acts 6, Acts 6, where we see Stephen at work.
Acts 6:8-10 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. (ESV)
Stephen is a sharp, young man, and the old, religious establishment can’t answer him. So they do what most people do when they have no answer. They attack.
Acts 6:11-14 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” (ESV)
Now, that’s a low blow. You might talk about a Jew’s big nose, or even a Jewish Momma, and the Jewish people in the 1st century might be offended. But when you say anything against the Jewish Temple or the Jewish Law, they are incensed! That’s because nothing is closer to the Jewish heart than their Temple and their Law.
But that’s exactly what they accuse Stephen of doing. They accuse him of speaking against the Temple – God’s holy dwelling place, and they accuse him of speaking against the Law – or their sacred duties. Do you think Stephen is intimidated?
Acts 6:15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (ESV)
Stephen is not one bit intimidated. His face shines like an angel’s.
Acts 7:1 And the high priest said, “Are these things so?” (ESV)
Listen to Stephen’s answer as it is recorded in the rest of this chapter. I’ll be showing it on the screen in front of you from a project called The Visual Bible. As you watch, put yourselves in the shoes of the Jewish Sanhedrin, and pretend that you are one of the 70 people gathered together in a great hall near the Temple. Pretend that you are part of the Old Guard, the Religious Establishment, listening to a man who was accused of criticizing two of the dearest things in your heart – your house of worship and your spiritual disciplines.