Yesterday we looked at Stephen’s character and why he was so bold even though he was “seized… and brought…before the council…and [facing] false witnesses” against him (Acts 6:12-13). Why was there such a violent reaction to God’s servant?
“The high priest said, “Are these things so?”” (7:1). From that question, Stephen gives a wonderful recap of God’s ways with Israel beginning with Abraham, but not without exposing the sin and unbelief of the nation (7:40ff). Idolatry and tradition caused God to “turn away and give them over to worship the host of heaven” and to become a “stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you” (7:42, 51).
Before we too quickly condemn these people who stoned Stephen, it would be appropriate for us to examine our own hearts and the condition of the Church today. To what extent have we left the original principles on which God built the Church and created forms and traditions that have become more important and valuable to us than the truth in God’s Word?
If Stephen or Paul were to walk into any one of our churches today and faithfully expose our current state, what would we do? Jesus was as bold as Stephen with the Churches in Revelation 2 and 3. Is our lack of power and effectiveness due to forms and traditions that have shut out the Spirit of truth? There is only one way to correct this problem. “Repent and do the works you did at first” (2:5).
“And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue…rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:8–10).
The description of this opposition makes me realize that they felt powerless by one man. They had to gather all their forces of evil in order to satisfy their hatred for truth and refute what this godly man represented. Stephen is unflappable. How can one man endure such an organized assault against his faith and character. It was both his faith and character that were built on Christ and he was “full of grace and power…wisdom and the Spirit.”
Nothing of Stephen’s ability was based on human accomplishments but on what God had done through the Spirit in Him. All of what Stephen had is available to us if we will come under the Spirit’s authority and control. It is that simple.
When Jesus was challenging His disciples with acknowledging Him before men, He said, “for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:12). Do you really believe that? So often I feel myself getting very nervous, tongue tied and afraid instead of simply asking the Spirit to give thoughts and words that are full of grace and power!
Relying on the Holy Spirit is the only way to be an effective witness. That is what Jesus promised in Acts 1:8. There was no school, college or seminary that taught this. It was and is God Himself!
I spent a few minutes today looking through my Bible thinking and praying about a conversation I had this morning with man a who shares my passion for reaching the unreached with the gospel. As my fingers turned the pages, my eyes landed on pages in Ezekiel. One of the last times I read this prophet I noted in the margin 67 times where God says, “they shall know that I am the Lord” or “the nations will know that I am the Lord.”
What a promise! Remember God’s promise in Habakkuk 2:14? “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Combine these promises with Jesus’ promise; “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”” (Acts 1:8).
As these verses capture my heart, I cannot imagine for a moment not being part of God’s plan and purpose in fulfilling these promises. Giving ourselves to this must be a very high and first priority.
When the disciples asked Jesus about the end of this age, He sets the priority in Mark 13:10; “the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations [ethnos, or people groups].” This is often presented in the Church as an obligation or command as in Matthew 28:19, and it is, but I want to present this to you as a high privilege. To think that we can be part of fulfilling God’s promise is an honor!
There are so many examples for us in Scripture of persons who were determined to follow God’s leading and direction. They were surrounded by others who chose not to follow the Lord, but that did not change their commitment. God honored their leadership, stood by them, and gave them rewards for being faithful.
One of these men was Joshua who took over leadership from Moses. The challenges he faced were not just a few people that opposed him, but a whole nation. As he came to the closing days of his life, Joshua put a choice before the people:
““Now therefore fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”” (Joshua 24:14–15).
With Joshua, there was no room for half-hearted commitment. Look at how the people responded to his challenge! “But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good”” (24:19–20).
As soon as Joshua died, the people went back to idolatry. Is your commitment only as good as your leader, or have you surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, willing to pay the cost of following Him whatever that might be?
William Whiting Borden was born into the prominent and wealthy Chicago family connected to silver mining in Colorado. His mother took William to the Chicago Avenue Church which later became Moody Church where young Borden was converted under the preaching of R. A. Torrey. From that point on, William gave himself to prayer and study of the Bible.
Charles R. Erdman, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary commented about this young man; “No other student exerted a greater influence over him than Borden. His judgment was so unerring and so mature that I always forgot there was such a difference in our ages. His complete consecration and devotion to Christ were a revelation to me and his confidence in prayer a continual inspiration”(1)
William’s intent was to evangelize the Uyghur Muslims in northwestern China but decided to study Arabic in Cairo in 1912. In March of 1913, he contracted cerebral meningitis and died a few weeks later. On his gravestone is inscribed the words:
“Apart from faith in Christ, there is no explanation of such a life.”
His mother found in his Bible these words:
“NO RESERVE, NO RETREAT, NO REGRETS”
I have written these words in my Bible and want them to be true of me. What would be the epitaph of your life?
How do you see your ministry today? As Tim and I sat in my office this morning reviewing so many aspects of what God is doing, we are amazed! COVID-19, vaccine requirements, unexpected travel restrictions, and plans that must be changed because regulations in the US and destination countries are constantly in flux. Is Satan winning against the plan of God?
Paul didn’t think so! He was put in prison because of severe opposition from Jewish leaders. Paul did not waste time sitting in his cell complaining about the conditions or food, or not being able to travel to strengthen new churches or plant new ones. Neither did Paul consider his limitations a detriment to the spread of the gospel. Read how Paul describes his outlook:
“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). Paul is speaking to you and me!
Instead of looking at our limitations, let’s find the next “God opportunity!” It might be the person next door, at your place of work, or a note written to someone who needs encouragement through the gospel. Whatever it is, throw yourself into the Lord’s work with all HIS energy and power. It will “served to advance the gospel!”
I felt the fire of revival burning in my heart. It was shortly after 6 a.m., sitting at my desk where I love to spend time early in the morning in prayer and meditation on Scripture. It was Acts 4:23-37. As I read these verses, the longing and desire welled up in my heart to experience this freedom in the power of the Spirit, this boldness in witness and prayer, and this unity of heart and mind with others in the Church. Could this really be experienced in our day?
Those in the Early Church were all working together for God’s purpose - the proclamation of the gospel. There were no personal, selfish or hidden motives and agendas. In the face of public and religious opposition, the Church resorted to collective prayer which expressed unity in the Church and a unified passion that the Lord give them increased boldness in their witness.
When they asked the Lord in prayer, “consider their threats,” they were not asking for vengeance but that these threats would be answered by an increased power in speaking the Word of the Lord, miracles, signs and wonders for the sake of getting the gospel into more hearts and lives. Luke calls this movement “much grace was upon them all” (33).
Do you want this to happen today? Some reading this blog will shout back at me that ‘it is not possible in our day.’ Let me ask you; who changed from the days of the Early Church? Was it the Holy Spirit? Of course not! Our understanding and appreciation of the Spirit and power of God has slipped from a biblical world view.
Oh Lord, do this in me and in the Church today again! AMEN!!
We have been reminded in this ministry from many parts of the world that God is still working to accomplish His plan and purpose in spite of what happens in the world. If we allow events in the world to consume our attention, we will miss the most important things that God is doing.
We received a note from a beloved “Timothy” in Myanmar (Burma) which said, “I thank the Lord for giving us a chance to train many people for His kingdom, especially in Kalay, Zozang, Lashio, Rakhine, Myitkyina and Mandalay. I saw so many children who are very thirsty for the Word of God. I am so thankful to God for these children.
This reminds us of Jesus’ teaching the disciples; “He took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”” (Mark 9:36–37).
Jesus also used the term “Little Children” (John 13:33) as a special term of endearment to communicate His heart to the disciples. I see this attitude in our “Timothy” and his love for God’s work. He is not seeking to ‘domineer’ or ‘lord’ it over the flock (believers), but teach them through a close relationship that helps them mature through love and genuine care.
Is this our attitude?
Do we have zeal for the right things? Paul realized that his own people, Israelites, were very zealous; “they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2). They did not know “the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (3). How hopeless it is to pursue the most important thing in life for hundreds of years and in the end discover that you were pursuing it the wrong way.
I am afraid that we often do the same thing with much determination. If we place our hopes in man’s institutions, promises and governments, we quickly find out they are empty. The end of all such pursuits is disillusionment that leads to discouragement. “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25).
Let us have zeal for the right things. Paul has some strong words about this; “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Romans 12:11). Put in some other words, ‘don’t be lazy or hold back in being eagerly devoted with enthusiasm’ in the way we make the Lord our sole pursuit and purpose for serving.
You can be absolutely certain that this attitude of the heart will have a huge impact on those around you, those you serve and witness to. They will see in you a passion because your serving will have a “joy” in and for the Lord that cannot be taken away by circumstances.
We live among fakes and frauds. Hopefully, we are not one ourselves. As I write this blog, I wonder to what degree my own heart is insincere and how much I project an attitude of being true but underneath there is hypocrisy. Every time in history has been marked by leaders who we trusted and proved at some level to be untrustworthy.
When it comes to the Church, these conditions should never be. Paul makes this point clear for us. “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:9–10). Can you imagine if this was our daily rule of behavior?
Was this optional for Paul? Read carefully the times that he lived in. “As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:4–10).
No wonder this servant of God had such a powerful impact on the Church. So can ws follow the example he gave us.
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