Monday, May 16, 2011

New Testament star

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 7:51-60

TO CHEW ON: "And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.'" Acts 7:59

Stephen is like a shooting star on the New Testament scene — spectacular, bright, but short-lived. He shows us how inspiring a short but well-lived life can be.

Stephen makes his first Bible appearance in Acts 6. There he is one of the men hand-picked to work in the widows' feeding program. He is chosen, along with six others, for good reputation and being full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.

In Acts 6:5 he gets special mention as "a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit." In Acts 6:8 he is singled out as a person of faith, power and the ability to do signs and wonders. Acts 6:9 shows that he is also a gifted apologist, for when members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen debate with him, they are unable to resist his wisdom. They are so humiliated, they set up Stephen with false accusations.

As he stands before his accusers, Stephen takes the opportunity to explain God's plan through Jewish history, concluding with the Jews' recent killing of Jesus. Our reading today is the end of that speech where he is condemning them for this: "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you."

They stone him for that. But even in death he is admirable, asking God to forgive them.

My thoughts, as I read his story, are What a waste! He seems like too gifted a man to merely serve tables. His reasoning and speaking talents could have been so useful in the church. But God had other plans.

What challenges can we take from Stephen's life?

1. To take every assignment, no matter how insignificant and unspiritual it seems, as  from God and worthwhile. It's interesting that the disciples looked for men who were full of the Holy Spirit to distribute food. We can learn from that that for even mundane jobs, maybe especially mundane jobs, we need Holy Spirit fullness to complete successfully.

2. To realize that God's plan for a successful, full and finished life are not measured by our criteria. "It was too soon for him/her to die," we say whenever a young person dies. But God sometimes has different plans.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.
       “ For
as the heavens are higher than the earth,
      So are My ways higher than your ways,
      And My thoughts than your thoughts."  - Isaiah 55:8-10

3. To nurture within us a genuine faith that will stand up, even under pressure. Stephen's faith in God never faltered, even as the stones were  bruising his arms and legs, crushing his ribs and smashing his skull. Though God didn't miraculously swoop down to rescue him he didn't exhibit one iota of bitterness, using his last breath to pray for forgiveness for his killers.

PRAYER: Help me to be like Stephen, full of Your Spirit for every job, concerned with Your kingdom more than my own comfort or longevity, and with a heart so in tune with Yours that I can forgive my enemies. Amen.

MORE: Modern Martyrs

Dying for one's faith continues into our time. Check out these sites:

Links to stories about some modern martyrs

Worthy News

Bible Drive-Thru

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