Change is never easy. Very broadly, Living Water has navigated changes from small to large, mono-generational to multigenerational, and monocultural to multicultural. Very broadly, Blanchard has navigated changes from a comfortable (yet declining) stability to an uncomfortable (yet growing) change, from an older and deeply trusted leadership to a new and younger leadership, and from monocultural to multicultural. Yet we are not the first church to go through seismic changes; the early church went from small to large in a day, from monocultural Jewish to multicultural Gentile, from a predictable Jewish practice to unpredictable Spirit-filled obedience. How did the Holy Spirit prepare the church for such change? How do we navigate such seismic changes well? In Acts 7:44–50, Stephen shows how God’s presence leads the church through change. How?
First, God’s presence is not limited to past encounters (Acts 7:44–47). When we encounter God powerfully, we want to confine God to the boundaries of their past. The Jews in Stephen’s day wanted to confine God’s presence to the temple. Yet Stephen reminds them throughout Acts 7 that God’s presence is not limited to any one place. The tent of witness had traveled from the wilderness to the Promised Land until it found rest in a house (7:44–47). Yet previously, God’s presence had been known to Abraham in Mesopotamia (7:2), Joseph in Egypt (7:9), and Moses in Sinai (7:30). Similarly God’s presence is not limited to past encounters in Jerusalem. This is critical to hold onto in times of change. We must remember that past encounters do not confine God to the past, but they should prepare us for the future because God leads us forward.
Second, God’s presence dwells with the humble (Acts 7:48–50). Even when Solomon built the temple, he knew that “the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands” (7:48). Where then does the Most High dwell? Stephen quotes Isaiah 66:1–2 in Acts 7:49–50 which continues, “But this is the one tow home I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isa 66:2). God’s presence is manifest with the broken and contrite in spirit.
Now Stephen’s sermon about God’s presence gets him martyred. But this sermon also lays a theological foundation for the expansion of the church beyond Jerusalem, and the church learns that it need not confine God to their past encounters with him in Jerusalem. Similarly as we move forward this year, let us not confine God to our past encounters with him at Blanchard or Living Water. Let us move forward, propelled by our encounter with his presence and following him wherever he goes.