Over the past few weeks, my Bible Study has been going over Stephen’s story in Acts 6:8-7:60. In his story, we see that Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, has to deal with opposition. Well, not just opposition. He’s arrested and put on trial, facing false accusations, and forced to defend himself. In the face of this opposition, Stephen relies on God and confidently responds, confounding and infuriating the Jews.
Stephen was accused of speaking against the temple and the law, both of which were held to be very sacred by the Jews. When asked to defend himself, Stephen gives a sermon about the work of God through the nation of Israel. He showed that God did not dwell primarily in the temple, and that He actively sought a relationship with His people. This culminated God the Son becoming a man, namely, Jesus, whom the Jews had killed. Enraged, the Jews drag him out of the city and begin to stone him. And with his dying breath,Stephen prayed that God would have mercy on his murderers.
Stephen’s confidence came from knowing that he was a part of the work that God had begun thousands of years before. During his sermon, Stephen traced God’s work, starting with Abraham, and he derived a confidence and security from the eternal perspective that this gave him.
If you’re a Christian, have you ever taken the time to trace God’s work all the way up to you? Not only does it give us a new perspective on everything, but it’s also kinda fun.
I wanted to do that for our group at West Covina Christian Church. It’ll start out with things that are applicable to every believer, but as we get closer and closer to our time, each of our stories will begin to diverge. And that’s the beauty of it. God has been weaving our threads together since the dawn of time, creating an immense tapestry that we can just barely glimpse if we really try. So let’s try!
Everything starts with God. It is, after all, the story that he is writing. But then, in pretty rapid succession, we have creation and the Fall (Gen 1-3). Fast forward and we find Noah, delivered from God’s wrath on a boat that he obediently built. Fast forward in history again and you have Abraham. Stephen gives a pretty good rundown of everything that happens in Acts 7. We have Joseph, leading his family into refuge in Egypt (the end of Genesis). Then we have Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus). We have the conquest of the promised land (in Joshua), and then the kings of Israel. David was the standout king (read about him in 1-2 Samuel. He’s pretty awesome.), but he was still imperfect. The prophets said that there would be a perfect king who would rule forever (that’s Jesus). So we jump forward to Jesus and learn about his life, death, and resurrection in the 4 gospels. Then Acts tells us what happens right after Jesus goes to heaven.
This is where we exit the Bible and start looking to what historians have told us. For the first few hundred years, Christianity grew steadily, but it hit the majors in 312, when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, declaring that Christianity would be the official religion of the entire Roman empire (which was believed to be the whole world). Flash forward twelve hundred years and the Roman Catholic church has a very strong following… but something doesn’t seem quite right. In 1517 a monk named Martin Luther (MLK’s namesake), tried to start a discussion about some teachings he felt weren’t biblical. This turned into what is now called the Reformation, and marked a huge division between the Roman Catholic church and the group that is now known as Protestants. Because they protested. By the mid-1500s, Luther translated the first Bible into German. This was the first vernacular translation produced. Up to this point, the Scriptures had only been reproduced in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin, so the average Joe and Jane couldn’t read it for themselves. Now they could, if they were literate, and it changed the game.
In the 1620s, we see the first traces of Christianity in North America. The good ol’ Pilgrims set sail from England in the Mayflower. Of course, they weren’t the first, as the Notre Dames-des-Anges church was being built in French Quebec, but we don’t really talk about that. Yay! Christianity’s in North America! Now we start to get really specific.
In 1877, The Gospel Society formed the 1st Japanese-American church: The First Japanese Presbyterian Church of San Francisco! Forty-three years later, Henry Sakuma, George Yahiro, Paul Okamoto, Toshio Hirano, Hatsu Yano, Aya Okuda, and Hanako Yoneyama begin meeting to pray for Japanese Americans to come to Christ. They were in their early 20s, and several were still in school. One year later, in 1921, Toyo Senkyokai (Oriental Missionary Church) is formed. This is LA Holiness, where our entire church conference started.
On June 4, 1933, our church started as an offshoot of LA Holiness. There were 14 adults and 19 children. On February 24, 1935, Baldwin Park Holiness Church was officially launched. There were some name and location changes, but in April 2000, West Covina Christian Church opened its doors at its current location. Now, 17 years later, here we are, a group of young men and women meeting together to study the Word of God and spread the gospel to those around us.
God is at work in the world, and he has revealed himself to us in such a way that we can trace his work through the annals of history. How amazing is that!? And so we can confidently move forward in God’s plan, knowing that he is in control, and that we have a security of eternal significance.
How does it make you feel to know that God is active in the history of the world?
Take some time to reflect on all the things that God arranged in order to bring you to where you’re at today. How did you come to know Christ? Was it your parents? A camp? It’s amazing to think about all the things that God put into place so that you would come to know him.