When I was sixteen I met Jim Bakker for the first time. He and his wife, Tammy, were doing a children’s television program on the Christian Broadcasting Network in Tidewater, Virginia. (It was a kind of Christianized Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.) Since that time Jim and Tammy have become famous for many things, including:
Heritage U.S.A. in Charlotte, N.C.
A cosmetics line
A theme park
Mail & wire fraud & conspiracy to defraud the public
I have a friend who’s interviewed Jim several times since his release from prison. In one interview my friend said, “I’ll bet the hardest thing about the whole prison experience has been the feelings of embarrassment and shame.” Jim smiled and said, “It was tough, but I’m glad it all happened. Now I can go anywhere and be with anybody in the whole world, and there aren’t raised eyebrows. I can go into any bar, any social circle of outcasts – and nobody tells me that I ought to be careful because ‘people will talk’ and that I might ‘hurt my reputation’. People have already talked. I don’t have any reputation to hurt. It doesn’t matter anymore, because I’m free.” The Apostle Paul would understand that in spades.
In Luke’s account of Paul’s life – Acts 8 through 28, he is quick to chronicle the beginning of Paul’s walk with Jesus as rocky and reputation-dissolving. There’s a six-word statement at the beginning of Acts 8 that says it all – “And Saul approved of his (Stephen’s) execution.” It’s something that the Apostle Paul never forgot; and yet, like Jim Bakker, it freed him from all pretense.
We are going to delve into all of this – Saul’s relationship to Stephen – this Baccalaureate Sunday. Indeed, it seems appropriate to be looking at Acts 6 and 7 this week, because without this experience, Saul would never have become Paul. He would never have walked with Jesus and would never have seen how overwhelming grace is!
In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:
1. Is forgetting a necessary component of forgiving?
2. What does it mean to be “seized with a great affection”?
3. What is the meaning of Stephen’s name?
4. Why does Luke devote 7% of this book to him?
5. What is the meaning of Stephen’s profile in Acts 6:8, “full of grace and power”?
6. Who are these “freed men” in verse 9?
7. What role does Saul play in instigating the crowd against Stephen?
8. What parallels do you see in Acts 6:8-12 and Acts 7:54-60 between Stephen and Jesus?
9. How does God answer Stephen’s dying prayer in verse 60?
10. How do we know that the stoning of Stephen freed Paul from pretense?
See you Sunday!