“ 1 And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. . . . 4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did.” Acts 8:1,4-6 ESV
Dear Church Family,
Earlier this year, the FBC staff all read Thom S. Rainer, The Post-Quarantine Church. Rainer, who heads a church consulting firm, wrote this book to help churches realize that, although some things may never return to the way they were before the pandemic, we should look for opportunities to rethink how we can be God’s people most effectively in a world that has changed. That goal matches what Paul told the Ephesians: “Take advantage of every opportunity because these are evil times” (Ephesians 5:16 CEB).
I’m happy to note that several of the things that Rainer emphasized are already being practiced at FBC. You don’t have to look hard to find, for example, that we make an effort to see that our facilities are used during the week, not just on Sundays. Some of these uses are explicitly “spiritual” and related to church life, but we also have a “footprint” in the community through things like the bi-monthly blood drive and Cub Scout meetings.
Taking advantage of opportunities, however, is an unusual way to read what happened following the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7. Acts 8 opens with the statement that “there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem” (v. 1). How is that an “opportunity?” Well, as I used to say to my classes back in my teaching days, “It depends on what you mean.” I’ve never agreed with the belief that persecution is a good thing. There were periods of intense persecution in the history of the church where much damage was done. On the other hand, God does have the ability to bring about good results even from evil events (Romans 8:28).
The persecution recounted in Acts 8 offers an insight into how even negative events, when experienced by people of faith, open up possibilities for a new kind of faithfulness to God—a faithfulness that can be a testimony to the world. Jesus himself had stated in Acts 1:8 that his disciples, once empowered by the Spirit, would be his witnesses “In Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (NIV). We don’t know how long it would have taken without it, but the persecution that followed Stephen’s stoning drove God’s people out from Jerusalem towards fulfilling their mission to the ends of the earth.
It’s easy to see some opportunities. Someone donates a shuttle to the church and there’s an opportunity to offer rides to church events. But it takes the eyes of faith to see that even sinful and evil events can still be an opportunity for Christians to tell about God’s love, and to display a different way of living in the world. Have you seized your opportunities today?