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Youth Lesson: The Stoning of Stephen

While we are unable to meet for Sunday School, I will post an adaptation of the youth Sunday School lesson every Wednesday.  Think of the lesson as a guide to discuss a passage of Scripture as a family.  Each lesson will include some introductory material, a Scripture reading, questions for discussion, and a short prayer.  I encourage you to take just 15-30 minutes every week over dinner, at the end of the day, or whenever best fits your family schedule to actively engage your students in this opportunity to grow together as a family in faith. 

Introduction:

The first six chapters of Acts discuss the beginning of the church in Jerusalem.  The church in Jerusalem was led by Jesus’ disciples.  The church consisted of both Greeks and Jews who had become Christians.  Early in its inception, the church faced conflict.  The Greeks felt that their widows were not receiving as much food in the daily distribution as those widows of Jewish descent.  The disciples decided that they needed to add additional leaders to the church who would be responsible for caring for the people while they focused on preaching, teaching, and prayer.  Seven men were chosen to fill this new role, and Stephen was one of them.  Acts 6:5 describes Stephen particularly as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.”  The church had been growing rapidly, and the church continued to grow rapidly.

Acts 6:8 describes Stephen as “a man full of God’s grace and power,” and he performed many miracles.  A group of Jewish leaders had grown very upset by this, brought people together against Stephen, and had him arrested.  They brought Stephen before a Jewish, religious council known as the Sanhedrin, and he was placed on trial.  They found people to serve as witnesses who lied about the things that Stephen said.  Stephen testified that the Jewish leaders have been wrong to not recognize Jesus as the Messiah God had promised them.  He delivers an impassioned speech in chapter seven that recounts many events in Jewish history. He compared these Jewish leaders to the people who had persecuted the Jews throughout their history.  Our story today picks up at the sentencing phase of Stephen’s trial.

Read:

Acts 7:54-60

Discussion:

  • Talk about the passage together to review its contents. How did the Sanhedrin react to Stephen? What was Stephen’s sentence? How did Stephen respond?
  • Do you think Stephen could have stood up for his faith without putting himself in danger?
  • What do you think Stephen is thinking and feeling? What do you think you would be thinking or feeling if you were in Stephen’s place?
  • Read Acts 6:15 and then Acts 7:54. What do you think about Stephen’s testimony in Acts 7 caused the Sanhedrin to change their response to Stephen so drastically?

 

Reflection:

In the way Stephen responds to his impending death, we are reminded of Jesus. Before his death, Jesus spoke to God and asked God to forgive those who were bringing about his death. As Stephen is being stoned, he also speaks with God and asks God to forgive those who are killing him. While God does not call all of us to die for our faith, it does seem as though the story of Stephen here does serve as a model of what it means to follow Jesus even into death.

Being a witness for Jesus means that we must be able to tell of Jesus’ work. Stephen knew the story of how God had been at work since the beginning of time, but he also could testify about the work of God through Jesus in his own lifetime. Even more than that, Stephen was a part of God’s continued work.  He had been chosen to serve those in need, but God had also given the power to perform great signs and wonders.  We must know our Christian faith, but we also must allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and use us in order to fulfill our call to be a witness for Jesus.

Application Questions:

Stephen’s story can be a prompt for us to consider how faithfulness to God may go against common assumptions or practices in our culture today. Talk through some of these questions below (taken from “The Stoning of Stephen” lesson in the Youth Feasting on the Word Curriculum) and consider how you might need to rearrange your own priorities, take a stand, and express your beliefs through action.

  • What does the Christian faith have to say about rampant consumerism and our complicity in it?
  • What does Christianity have to say about our nationalistic impulses and the self-interest that guides the foreign policies of many nations?
  • What does our faith have to say about environmental stewardship and our current patterns of living?

 Pray:

Dear God, we know that you have called each one of us to serve as a witness for you. Help us know how, when, and where we can take a stand for our faith to help others know your love, grace, and power. Thank you for being with us wherever you call us to go. Please give us your words and your wisdom so that others will see and hear you in us.  Amen.

Posted by Sam Oakley

Children's Lesson: Early Believers

While we are unable to meet for Sunday School, I will post an adaptation of the children's Sunday School lesson every Monday.  Think of the lesson as a guide to discuss a story from the Bible together.  Each lesson will include some introductory material, a Scripture reading, questions for review and discussion, an activity suggestion, a short prayer, and a memory verse.  I encourage you to take just 10-15 minutes every week to actively engage your children or grandchildren in this opportunity to grow together in your faith!

Introduction:

Share some background information before reading the story together.

This week’s story is about how Jesus’ earliest followers were beginning to come together as the church.  When Jesus was on earth, the people who believed there was something special about him could be with him, and many people even followed him as he traveled from town to town telling people about God’s love.  After Jesus’ resurrection, he spent several weeks on earth; but then he went to be with God on a day we will soon celebrate called Ascension Sunday. 

After Jesus went to be with God, his earliest followers realized they needed to do something to make sure everyone could know that Jesus was God’s Son.  They also realized that they would need to do something to take care of people who were hungry or poor or sick, just like Jesus had taught them.  Today’s story is about how Jesus’ followers took care of others, and how they helped others know about God’s love for them.

Read:

Read the story about how the early church came together, took care of one another, and how their love for one another led others to know God’s love. You can read the story from the Bible or the simplified version of the story from the Spark Story Bible below.

Acts 2:43-47, 4:32-37

The Story:

Some of the early believers were great at sharing. They shared their food and their clothes.  They shared their money and their homes. They were so generous. No one was poor or needy because others gave without holding anything back. Together they saw many miracles and wonders.

They met in the temple, and they met in their homes. They talked about Jesus, and they thanked God for blessing them. And then something amazing happened. 

When other people saw how happy the first believers were, sharing all they had and talking about Jesus, they believed, too.  They became Christians, and they shared their food and their clothes and their money and their homes. They became one, big, Christian family. And their church family grew and grew and grew.

Review Questions:

  • What kinds of things did the early believers share with one another?
  • What did the early believers do when they gathered together?
  • What did other people notice about the early believers?
  • What happened to the church family because of what the early believers did?

Discussion Questions:

  • How do you think the early believers felt when they saw people in need?
  • Do you think it was easy or hard for them to share their food, money, and homes? Why? How do you think it made them feel?
  • What are things you can share to help other people?

Activity:

Every person in your family has an important job. Share with each other some of the important jobs each person in your family does.  What would happen if you all didn’t do your jobs?  Every job, from taking out the trash to picking up toys to making dinner to mowing the lawn, is important!  We depend on each other to each do our jobs.

The church is a lot like a family. Every person in the church is important, and every person has a job to do.  Some people teach, some people sing, some people make food, some people knit, and there are so many other important things people in the church do! Talk about some of the people in our church and the important things they do. Consider calling or sending a card to some of those people to thank them for the ways they serve our church!

Pray:

Dear God, thank you for always being someone we can depend on. Thank you for the people in our families and in our church who love us and care for us. Help us share the things we have with others to help them. Amen.

Memory Verse:

There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. Acts 4:34

 

Posted by Sam Oakley

Faith in Action: A Church United

This week’s readings begin and end with stories about Jesus’ followers disagreeing about whether or not Gentiles could receive God’s grace without being circumcised (becoming Jewish). As I read through this week’s readings, I am struck by the fact that this challenge the early church faced is not that unlike challenges we face today. This issue of whether or not “God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18) is an important issue.  I would venture to guess that most of us, if not all, are not Jewish; so it rather essential for us, in fact.

Thankfully (spoiler alert for those of you who have not yet read chapter 15), the Church in its collective wisdom as guided by the Holy Spirit agreed that God’s grace is a gift to all. This isn’t an issue we really find ourselves debating today, but it does seem as though Christians are constantly at odds with one another. Around every turn we seem to divide ourselves over issues of who is and who is not REALLY included in the family of God. We call each other heretics over beliefs about women in ministry, homosexuality, political affiliations, and even the existence of dinosaurs. 

Jesus, not Abraham Lincoln, gets the credit for the original quote, “A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Matthew 12:25, Mark 3:24, or Luke 11:17). This is wisdom, however, that it seems hard for us to abide by. Maybe it’s pride – a need to prove we are right – that leads us to fight. Maybe it’s a sense of justice – a desire to not leave anyone out of God’s kingdom – that leads us to fight. Maybe it’s a sense of righteousness – a passion for making sure that all of God’s people are living in ways that are consistent with God’s desire for us – that leads us to fight. Maybe it’s a fear of scarcity – a fear that there might not be enough grace for us if anyone can be included – that leads us to fight. Or maybe it’s something else.

We should always seek the truth and stand up for it. The questions of how, when, where, and even why to stand up for the truth are ones we should continue to ask ourselves, though. Should we stand up for the truth by forwarding emails, posting on social media, or covering our cars in bumper stickers? Should we only stand up for the truth in private conversations? Should we leverage any power or position we might have to stand up for the truth? Do we stand up for the truth because we need others to know we are right or because we want others to know the grace of God?

There are so many questions to ask as we determine how we stand up for the truth, especially in the face of other believers.  Jesus’ early followers gathered together to hear from one another and to share the stories of God at work. They relied on the wisdom of those they trusted and on the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in the world to determine God’s truth on this matter.  Maybe this is where we start as we seek to find the truth and share that truth.  Maybe we start by coming together, listening to one another, and looking for the Holy Spirit at work.

Posted by Sam Oakley

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