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!

The Body of Christ

Today is Saturday, February 3, 2018. Day 21,877.

Felix Mendelssohn, born on this date in 1809 (died 1847), said, “Though everything else may appear shallow and repulsive, even the smallest task in music is so absorbing, and carries us so far away from town, country, earth, and all worldly things, that it is truly a blessed gift of God.”
BrainyQuote

The word for today, from Dictionary.com, is moxie, a noun which means, “courage; nerve; determination.” Or, perhaps, a soda brand popular in New England.

Bonus: Today, February 3, marks the 59th anniversary of “the day the music died.”

Not much on the agenda for today. We’ve put away laundry, got the dishes done. C’s doing our taxes. Don’t know if it will be good news or bad news. I’m doing this, and in a bit, we will go to Kroger to pick up our ClickList order. C and I may go to the Y after that.

That’s all I’ve got, for now.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS
All Scriptures are from the ESV unless otherwise noted

A Maskil of David.
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 
Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah. 
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah. 
Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. 
You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah. 
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. 
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. 
Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD. 
Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

Psalm 32

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
Isaiah 55:8
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
Jeremiah 29:11-14

When we are tempted to question God, or to doubt his love and care for us, it is always important to remember the truth of Isaiah 55:8. Why do things happen in certain ways? We cannot know that, at least not now, because our thoughts are not his thoughts, and our ways are not his ways. Then, we must remember the truth of Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

(From The Business of Heaven, C.S. Lewis)
A Matter of Fairness

“Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him. But in the meantime, if you are worried about the people outside, the most unreasonable thing you can do is to remain outside yourself. Christians are Christ’s body, the organisation through which He works. Every addition to that body enables Him to do more. If you want to help those outside you must add your own little cell to the body of Christ who alone can help them. Cutting off a man’s fingers would be an odd way of getting him to do more work.” (From Mere Christianity)

Yet another admonishment concerning the importance of joining ourselves with a local part of the Body of Christ.

Father, once again, I thank you for the Body of Christ, most especially the group with which we gather each week. I pray that you intensify the relationships within this group, to the point that when one hurts, we all feel the pain, and when one celebrates, we all share the joy. Help us to all get outside of ourselves and be unified within Christ.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

Grace and peace, friends.

Your Great Name

Good . . . um . . . probably be afternoon by the time this is done. It is Tuesday, February 2, 2015. Welcome to the Sick Day Edition! 62 days until Opening Day; 17 days until pitchers and catchers report.

Today’s Word of the Day is day-peep. While you might think it has something to do with those marshmallowy candy chickens, it doesn’t. It means, “The first appearance of daylight; the earliest dawn.”

Today is Carrot Cake Day. I’m actually surprised at the origin of this treat, as explained in the link. Apparently, it is still a Christmas Day tradition in the UK.

Okay, so here’s the scoop. I went to work yesterday, and was pretty miserable all day long. When I got home, I did have a low grade fever, around 99.1. It increased slightly, through the evening, peaking at 100.1 right at bedtime. I was having mild chills, but only when I moved around. The sinus congestion was getting more painful, and the coughing, I now know, is not chest congestion, but coughing up the drainage. At least that’s what the Minute Clinic nurse-practitioner told me. She said my lungs were clear.

When I awakened this morning, the temperature was back down to 99.1, but I was not feeling better. So I decided to take a sick day, which I really hate to do, since our company doesn’t give “sick days,” and we have to use our PTO for it. As noted above, around 8:30, I headed for Minute Clinic, which is a part of CVS Pharmacy. It’s actually pretty handy. It’s cheaper than Care Now or the standard doctor’s office, and, unless you’ve got something serious going on, they can handle it just fine. I was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection (no surprises there), which she deemed to be viral, not bacterial, so no antibiotics. She prescribed Flonase and an over-the-counter nasal saline spray, and said that it should clear my system (except for the coughing, which, we all know, can drag on FOR. EV. ER!) in seven to ten days. Since this started up last Friday, I should be at about the halfway point, and should be right at the worst part of it. In fact, when she took my temperature at the clinic, it was 97.something. And, frankly, I don’t feel at all feverish right now. My face still hurts, and there’s a lot of drainage, but the drainage is good. It needs to do that.

As “they” say, “This, too, shall pass.”

Shout out to my parents, who are always praying for me! Love you!! Speaking of them, I would appreciate greatly any prayers for my mother. She will be going to a consultation Friday in preparation for cataract surgery, which is to happen on February 23. Her name is Bonnie.

Since I’m home sick, I have plenty of time for the “bonus content” today. So, let’s have some history!

(Source: This Day In History)

I’m sure I featured this last year on this date, or in previous years, but it will always remain a day of infamy. It was on this date in 1959 (I don’t remember, as I was not yet one year old) that a chartered Beechcraft Bonanza plane crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa, minutes after takeoff. On that plane were, of course, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. There are varying stories about how Waylon Jennings, one of Buddy’s band members, should have been on that plane. The link above states that Richardson had the flu and convinced Waylon to give up his seat. Ritchie Valens “won” a coin toss for the remaining seat. Buddy Holly was 22; The Big Bopper was 28; Ritchie Valens was only 17. February 3, 1959 has since been called “The Day Music Died.”

Here’s Buddy Holly and the Crickets on the Ed Sullivan Show, January, 1958.

My favorite Big Bopper song, “Little Red Riding Hood.”

And last, but not least, Ritchie Valens, “Donna.”

The day has been immortalized in Don McLean’s song, “American Pie.”

Okay. Now that I’m all emotional, I’ll do some birthdays. Today’s birthdays include Felix Mendelssohn (composer), Horace Greeley (journalist), Gertrude Stein (writer), Norman Rockwell (painter), Pretty Boy Floyd (gangster), James Michener (author), Robert Earl Jones (James’s father, also an actor), Joey Bishop (entertainer), Henry Heimlich (physician), Fran Tarkenton (quarterback), Blythe Danner (actress), Bob Griese (football player), Dave Davies (musician, The Kinks), Morgan Fairchild (actress), Fred Lynn (Red Sox baseball player), Maura Tierney (actress), Warwick Davis (actor), and Isla Fisher (actress).

Felix Mendelssohn was a German composer from the early Romantic period. He was born on this date in 1809. Here is his piece, “The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave) Overture.”

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL

O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart;
who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend;

Psalm 15:1-3

Today’s reading from Solid Joys is “The Greatest Love.”

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
1 John 2:12

For today, the most important phrase in that verse is “for his name’s sake.” We emphasize the fact that God loves, saves, and forgives for his own glory. There are more than two reasons for this, but, for today, we will just look at two of them. The first, and probably most important, is that the Bible also emphasizes this truth. Look at all of these verses.

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”
Isaiah 43:25
For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.
Psalm 25:11
Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!
Psalm 79:9
“Though our iniquities testify against us, act, O LORD, for your name’s sake; for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against you.”
Jeremiah 14:7
We acknowledge our wickedness, O LORD, and the iniquity of our fathers, for we have sinned against you. Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake; do not dishonor your glorious throne; remember and do not break your covenant with us.
Jeremiah 14:20-21
whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Romans 3:25-26
. . . your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
1 John 2:12

Another reason that we emphasize this truth is that “it makes clear that God loves us with the greatest love.”

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
John 17:24

There was a trend, earlier on, that seems to have faded somewhat (and I’m very glad about that), that made people what God cares most about. I even read a statement in a popular discipleship book that said that the only thing Jesus cared about is making disciples. (I’m not quoting it directly, because I don’t remember the exact quote, and I no longer have the book.) I question and even rebuke that kind of thinking. We are not supreme, and God loves is in a way that makes not us supreme, “but makes himself supreme.” When we get to heaven, we won’t find a “hall of mirrors, but an increasing vision of infinite greatness.”

“The greatest love makes sure that God does everything in such a way as to uphold and magnify his own supremacy so that when we get there we have something to increase our joy forever — God’s glory.”

What a day, glorious day, that will be!

Father, I pray that you increase my joy in these truths, that you have loved me, saved me, and forgiven me for your own name’s sake, not for any glory that I might attain. May I never attribute any of the mercy and grace that you have given me to anything that I have done. I have never done anything to deserve your mercy, nor will there ever be anything that I could do to increase that mercy! It is all for your glory and for your name’s sake! I praise you for this, Father!

I pray for the rest of this day. Give me rest, that I might heal. I pray for quick recovery from this infection, and that I might be able to return to work tomorrow, so as to not have to use any more PTO. I pray that the rest of the team at work is feeling better, as well, as there were a couple out sick yesterday, as well. I pray that Christi is having a good day at her job today, in spite of developments that are bringing her down. I also pray for a reduction of the family drama that she has been enduring. May Stephanie know your peace, along with your unfailing love.

I lift up a prayer for a young boy named Andrew, Father, who is recently begun experiencing night terrors. May you bring peace to him while he sleeps. Enter into his dreams with the presence of your holy peace. Bring comfort to his mother and father, and help them to know how to help him.

Your grace is sufficient.

Everything that God has done for us is for the sake of his great name.

Grace and peace, friends.