Stephen and the Spread of the Gospel

Today is Monday, the thirty-first of May, 2021, in the second week of Ordinary Time.

Peace be with you!

Day 23,090

Today is Memorial Day, the idea behind which is to commemorate the soldiers who have fallen in the line of duty. Hence, “Memorial.” Most working people, unless they work retail, have the day off. Which is why I’m just now getting around to posting this blog, this morning.

34 days until July 4, our next major holiday. It falls on Sunday, this year, so my company is giving us Monday, the fifth, for our holiday. C’s company is giving them an extra holiday on Friday, July second, this year, so I’m taking a PTO day for that day. We will have a four-day weekend. At this point, we have not made any plans, but you can bet they won’t be for any outside activities. Not in July, in Texas. No, sir.

Today, the Church celebrates the angel’s visitation to the mother of Jesus, Mary.

We had a beautiful day, yesterday. The drive to and from Mineral Wells was nice and uneventful. We enjoyed getting to visit Mama’s church for their Sunday service, even though their senior pastor did not preach. They had a guest speaker, a missionary with Mission Aviation Fellowship, Luke Bryant, along with his wife, Joy, and at least their oldest son.

I have to confess, my first thought, when I heard there was a missionary speaking, was, “Great. We’re going to be there until 1:00 PM.” When I saw he had slides, I adjusted that to 2:00 PM.

However, his presentation was relatively brief, with not too many slides, and totally relevant to the ministry that he supports. His story was heart-warming, and he was atypically honest about some struggles that he recently went through. I felt guilty for my cynicism.

The highlight of the morning, of course, was at the end, when S presented herself for membership in the church. In case you missed this, she began speaking with their pastor a few weeks back about joining the church as a non-resident member. She has connected with him and the church family, and has been watching their broadcasts each Sunday morning, on the Internet. I know that she misses the feeling of “belonging,” as the little church that we are part of has no “membership,” no building, no pastor, none of the traditional accoutrements of “church.” Yet, by New Testament standards, we certainly qualify as part of the “Church.”

All that being said, we were perfectly fine with S joining the church, especially since it’s her Grandma’s church. And Grandma was, understandably, proud as could be. Also, it was her first time to attend church in person in over a year, and she was encouraged by how well she felt that she did, so I believe she will try to go back, at least occasionally.

We had a nice lunch from Mesquite Pit, after church, and after sitting and chatting for a while, we headed back home around 2:30 or so. The rest of the afternoon was, after getting the trash set out to the curb, just resting. There might have been naps.

Today, there are no plans. We are hoping that the 84% chance of rain might hold off and we can get our pool equipment repaired. We might have lunch from Applebee’s, and we have steaks and corn on the cob ready to cook with the sous vide cooker, for dinner.

Update: We have already received word that our pool guy will not be here today. He forgot that it was Memorial Day when he scheduled it. Fair enough. He should get a holiday, too. He says he will be here tomorrow, which is C’s normal work at home day.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Your Name. May Your kingdom come, and Your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; for Yours are the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I will sing of the LORD’s unfailing love forever!
Young and old will hear of your faithfulness.
Your unfailing love will last forever.
Your faithfulness is as enduring as the heavens.
(Psalms 89:1-2 NLT)

Today I am grateful:

1. for the wonderful day we had yesterday
2. for an extra day off, this week, to refresh and recharge for the coming work week
3. that You neither slumber nor sleep as You watch over us
4. for the martyrdom of Stephen, which resulted in the Gospel being spread throughout the known world
5. for the privilege (and responsibility) to pray for all people, including, and especially, those in authority over us

Scriptures and Prayers from Seeking God’s Face: Praying with the Bible through the Year

ORDINARY TIME – DAY 2

INVITATION

God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
(Romans 5:5 NIV)

After a few interruptions, I am pausing, now, to center my spirit, meditating on Your unfailing love and faithfulness.

BIBLE SONG

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD watches over you— the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
(Psalms 121:1-8 NIV)

BIBLE READING

And Saul approved of their killing him. [Stephen]
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.
(Acts 8:1-8 NIV)

DWELLING: SILENCE AND MEDITATION

As I try to become more aware of God’s presence, this morning (a bit of a challenge, for some reason, as my focus is drifting quite a bit), I linger on these passages, inviting the Holy Spirit to point me toward a word or phrase upon which to meditate.

I’m sure I have previously noted that the series of psalms called “A song of ascents” were songs that were sung by people as they made pilgrimage to Jerusalem. I have heard it said that the first phrase, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains,” or “hills” in some translations, is an indication of expected danger. The hills along the road to Jerusalem were good hiding places for bandits, or so I’ve heard.

So, as a traveler would walk along the road, he might look at the hills and wonder who would help him, should a bandit do a sneak attack on him or his group.

One of my favorite sayings about God comes from this psalm. In fact, Felix Mendelssohn composed a beautiful song from it, as part of his oratorio, Elijah. “He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

I suppose we don’t think about that often, do we? Our God, our Father in heaven, doesn’t need to sleep. He is always watching over us, so when that expected danger shows up, He is there to protect us.

The psalmist declares, in verses 7 and 8:

The LORD will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
(Psalms 121:7-8 NIV)

Does this mean that I will never get hurt?

That’s a question that has much more depth than I can even tackle, this morning. The short answer is no. But it is much more complicated than this. I heard a song, last week, by Vince Gill, called “Threaten Me with Heaven.” No, I don’t normally listen to Vince Gill, but it came up on the True Tunes Gallery Mix Tape on Spotify. The idea behind the song is that the worst thing any human being can do to me is threaten me with heaven. In other words, yeah, they can kill me, but what is the end result of that?

Jesus encouraged us to not fear those who could kill the body.

It is also good to remember that these psalms are poetry; they are songs. It is dangerous to try to build a theology from just Psalms. The idea behind Psalm 121 is that, because of the fact that our God never slumbers nor sleeps, we have, ultimately, nothing to fear. “Bad” things are going to happen to us. You might remember me sharing something from a wonderful book that I read, called Prayer in the Night, where the author stated that God doesn’t promise to keep bad things from happening to us. God didn’t even keep bad things from happening to Himself.

But, ultimately, we are in His protection, and nothing can happen to us that does not meet with His approval first. I am fully persuaded that this is the truth.

I mean, just look at what happened to Stephen! (Good segue, right?) God allowed him to be stoned to death by a rowdy bunch of self-righteous Pharisees, the leader being a young man named Saul.

And while, on the surface, this might appear to be a “bad” thing (he was “harmed” after all, was he not?), look at the result of it. There is a reason people like Stephen are referred to as “martyrs.” His death resulted in mass persecution of these new-fangled “Christians,” which resulted in them being scattered, which resulted in those being scattered boldly and fearlessly preaching the Word wherever they went!

Because of the death of Stephen, the Gospel began to be spread throughout the known world.

And Stephen? He got heaven out of the deal, after a very brief time of temporary pain. And during that pain, Stephen had a vision of Jesus Christ standing at the right hand of God.

Of course, another result of all of this was what happens to Saul in chapter 9 of Acts. You’ll have to read that for yourself, because that’s not part of today’s devotional.

Father, I thank You that You neither slumber nor sleep. I confess that I have wondered, sometimes. Maybe not wondered if You were sleeping, but wondered if You are looking down here, paying attention to the mess that is going on on this planet You made. Even within Your Church, things seem to be a mess, as division seems to be running rampant. I know that Jesus did not die for us so we could bicker and fight over politics. Please forgive us, Father! And deliver us from the enemy’s tactics. Drive us back toward unity over the things that really matter, which, according to Your Son, are loving You and loving people. We have two jobs.

As the model prayer, quoted above, states, I pray, Lord, that Your great Name would be honored and revered throughout the world. I pray for Your Kingdom to come on this earth, and that Your will will be done (as I fully believe it will) on earth as it is in heaven. May You protect us; provide for us; and forgive us. And may we forgive others, just as You have forgiven us. Thank You for washing away all of my sin with the blood of Your Son.

Sending God,
thank you for not allowing your church to get stuck in Jerusalem,
limited to one location or bound to one era.
Instead,
your church fits and functions in any and every context,
spread across the world and yet joined in heart and will,
united in one and the same Spirit.
Thank you that I am part of this amazing community of faith.
Amen.
(Belgic Confession 27)

BLESSING

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
(2 Corinthians 13:14 NIV)

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.
(1 Timothy 2:1-2 NLT)

In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy.
(1 Timothy 2:8 NLT)

The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases.
(Proverbs 21:1 NLT)

Father, I confess that I have been lacking in my prayers “for all people.” Certainly I pray each day for individual requests, as they come to my attention. But my prayers for “kings” and “all who are in authority” have been lacking for some time. Grant me repentance of this lacking and draw me closer in, that I might fulfill my obligation in this matter. Make it my heart’s desire to obey these commands. Two jobs, one prayer. Make my life line up with these, Father! All glory to You, through the Son, and by the Spirit!

Lord, may You give us all a “wide appreciation for the beauty and complexity of creation.” I can personally attest to the wonder of traveling while looking around at Your creation and envisioning the trees praising Your Name, and the fields shouting “glory!” to You. I pray that we humans would do a better job of caring for creation. I especially lift up all who might be suffering persecutions for their faith, today. While we, in the U.S., have not endured such persecution, there are many places in our world today where this kind of thing still goes on. May You protect them, and give them the same kind of boldness You gave Stephen as he faced his accusers.

I pray for peace in our nation, peace in our world. I pray for racial injustice to end, and I pray for the pandemic to be over. Above all else, though, I pray for Your will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. For Yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! For the LORD will remove his hand of judgment and will disperse the armies of your enemy. And the LORD himself, the King of Israel, will live among you! At last your troubles will be over, and you will never again fear disaster. On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be, “Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid! For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
(Zephaniah 3:14-17 NLT)

Grace and peace, friends! Shalom Aleichem!

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