Hero of our Faith

Acts 7-8

            Stephen is a great hero of our faith who does not get a lot of limelight, as he is only covered at the end of chapter six and chapter seven.  He is an honorable man we can all learn a lot from, as he was willing to lay it all on the line.

            At the end of chapter six, Stephen was seized for preaching about Jesus of Nazareth.  Some false witnesses ensured that he would get into trouble with the high priest and other Jewish officials.  The high priest had Stephen speak for himself, and that is the majority of the content in chapter seven.  In the first 50 verses of Acts chapter seven, Stephen provides a pretty nice summary from Abraham to King David.  At the conclusion of this summary, he begins to rip into the Jews for being a “stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in hearts and ears,” (Acts 7:51).

            The Jews did not take too kindly to the words of Stephen, so they decided to stone Stephen.  I can’t even imagine the level of pain Stephen would have been going through, as he was being stoned to death.  If it were me, I would have been so riled up in anger, and I would have wanted to retaliate.  However, that is not the course of action that Stephen took.  Just moments before Stephen’s death, he fell “to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’  And when he had said this, he fell asleep,’” (Acts 7:60).  What a way to go out!

            Stephen followed the example set by his Lord and Savior, Jesus of Nazareth, as Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of the people who crucified him.  There is so much to be learned in this short recording of the life of Stephen, a lesson of strength and grace.

            At the same time that Stephen’s life comes to an end, we are introduced to the man who wrote nearly half of the books of the New Testament.  It is an introduction that is only made for the movies (and, well, the Bible).  This man proved to be a foundational piece in the spreading of the gospel message.  He would go by the name of Saul.

            Saul is introduced in the scriptures as approving the execution of Stephen, a hero of our Christian faith.  Not only did Saul approve the execution of one man, but he “ravaged” the church.  Saul went from house to house finding people who claimed to believe in Jesus.  Once he found these people, he would send them to prison.  Surely, this led to many of them having to die for their faith.

            What an awful start to one’s life!  Thank the LORD that Saul did not follow this course of action for much longer, as we will see in the coming chapters.  We can learn from Saul that God is willing, able, and wanting to use anybody, no matter what someone has committed in their past. 

Let this serve as an encouragement to you, as you may struggle with some choices you have made in your past.  Don’t let decisions you made in your past prevent you from being an instrument of God’s work, as God was even willing, wanting, and able to use the likes of Saul, a man who persecuted many Christians.  Praise God that we serve a forgiving God.

There’s a lot to learn here, as we take a look at the life of Stephen and the introduction of Saul.  It’s my prayer that we all learn to have the strength and grace of Stephen, and we don’t let our past stop us from serving God like Saul.

-Kyle McClain

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Acts 7-8

Tomorrow we continue the story of Saul with chapters 9-10. Don’t miss it!

A Chosen Instrument

Acts 9-12

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Thursday, June 8

Saul fought Christ in every way possible throughout his life up until this point.  He was the most unlikely Jesus follower.  He loved God and served God and thought he was doing His will.  But he thought that Jesus had been a false teacher and liar and that everyone who followed and spread Jesus’ teachings needed to be stopped.  There are people today who think they are doing God’s will but instead are ignorant of the truth, possibly because, like Saul, they don’t understand who Jesus is.

 

And then came the light!  Following the spectacular flash of light and the great voice of Jesus, Saul was led to Damascus where he was blind and did not eat or drink for three days.   I imagine this was a time of tremendous wrestling and questioning and perhaps doubting everything that he thought he had known about his whole life’s work and about Jesus.

 

Enter Ananias.  In a vision, Ananias, a follower of Jesus, is given specific directions to find Saul and place his hands on him to heal him.  Ananias answers, telling the Lord what a bad guy Saul is and how dangerous this could be.  Has the Lord ever tried to send you in one direction and instead you had your list of reasons why it didn’t make sense?  God’s work and His will doesn’t always make sense to us, and it doesn’t ‘have’ to make sense.  Our list of excuses and reasoning is worth nothing in comparison to God’s plan and desire for us.  So the patient Lord once again told Ananias, “This man (Saul) is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.”  (Acts 9:15).  How might you also be the Lord’s chosen instrument?  To whom has he prepared and designed you to carry His name?  Perhaps not to kings, but maybe to your neighbor and facebook friends and co-workers?

 

So, with no more excuses left, Ananias went to Saul and placed his hands on him to give him sight.  Ananias told Saul he would be filled with the Holy Spirit.  With the Lord’s powerful light, three days spent questioning what he had thought he had known, and Ananias’ faithful intervention, Saul realized the mistake he had made in his life and he was healed and baptized.  Just like Saul, anyone can change their life and follow Jesus.  God can set anyone straight.  Keep praying for those fighting against Christ and consider how He wants you to carry His name to others?

-Jason Railton

Your Enemy Dies – So You . . . ? (II Samuel 1-3)

Tuesday, October 18th

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Nathaniel Johnson

Now that Saul is dead, there’s nothing in the way to stop David from being anointed as the King of Israel. You’d think that this would be a time of celebration for David; he’s finally free from the threat of Saul! But when David hears that Saul fell in battle, we see the opposite of celebration. David and his whole camp fasted and mourned all day. It would be one thing if David was just sad about his friend Jonathan dying, but he also wrote his song about Saul, a man who tried to kill him. How many other people do you know that would praise their enemies? I can think of at least one: Jesus. Jesus said to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

David is certainly living out a Christlike virtue here and we should strive to do the same. It can be really easy to be happy when we see our school bully get in trouble with a teacher. But that’s not how David would react and that’s not how Jesus says we should act. We should wish the best on our close friends and our enemies and pray for them daily, because if we do, we will “be sons of [our] Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44)

Seeking Answers (I Samuel 28-31)

Monday, October 17th

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By Nathaniel Johnson

For Saul, his main method of communicating with God, was through Samuel, the prophet. Unluckily for Saul, Samuel died and the Lord stopped supporting him. When Saul saw the army that he was supposed to fight, he got scared. He was so afraid of the army that he tried to ask God for help and that’s a great first step! But when Saul didn’t get an answer right away, he went looking for another way to get help. That’s where he went wrong. He went to Endor to ask the Ewoks for help. Just kidding, but he did go to Endor to see a medium. When he finally got the medium to bring Samuel up from the grave, Samuel was not happy. He reprimanded Saul for disturbing him and only brought bad news. Saul and Israel would be handed over to the Philistines. That’s the worst kind of news possible. Saul was going to die.

For David, his way of talking to God was by wearing the Ephod and following the proper ceremonies. When David came back to his city and found his wives and people missing, he was as distraught as any of us would be. He and all his men “wept until they had no strength left to weep.” The men who were with David wanted to stone him but he remained calm and found strength in God. He asked God what he should do and then he listened. He heard God’s answer and then acted upon it.

For us, we have Jesus, which means we can talk to God through prayer (1 Timothy 2:5). If we don’t get an answer from God right away like Saul, we shouldn’t go and seek answers from the wrong sources. All that led Saul to was death. We should be like David. He wept and then he “found strength in the Lord his God.” We should not let our emotions cause us to run off and take matters into our own hands before we consult with God. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). If we don’t get an answer to our prayer immediately, like Saul, we should be still like David and wait for direction from the Lord.

Awful Choices (I Samuel 21-24)

Saturday, October 15th

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by:Terrence Raper

In the chapters we read today, the violence between Saul & David continues to increase. There are a lot of lives taken by both sides out of vengeance and fear. We have a term for all this extra violence “casualties of war”. What a strange way of putting it. As strange as “friendly fire”.

 

Back to David and Saul. Both of these men were ordained as king at some point. We know that David was ultimately the true king, and a man after God’s own heart. However, there had to be behavior during these chapters that even David was ashamed about. I have really been struggling to add some positive takeaways from these chapters in 1 Samuel. I feel like it is important as a historical account of what happened, but I would really be reaching to make a connection our personal experiences in 2016.

I do think it is important for us to consider the way in which we go about achieving our goals. It is easy to look at Saul, and even David in these chapters, and realize that they made some awful choices out of necessity, or desperation. We have heard the term “the means justify the ends”. I believe this to be helpful for those people who are driven, and don’t want to be bothered with caring for others on the path to conquering their goals. However for Jesus followers, we know how important people are to God. God cares about how we treat others. So as followers of Jesus, and a people obedient to God-we must adopt a more Gandhi-esque approach. Gandhi taught the means must express the end that we desire.

(By the way the Gandhi (1982) movie is certified fresh at 88% on rotten tomatoes… I haven’t seen it.)

 

A Quick Fix? (I Samuel 18-20)

Friday, October 14th

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By: Terrence Raper

I guess this should make me feel bad, but in a lot of ways I identify with Saul throughout most of these last chapters of 1 Samuel. We don’t lead very parallel lives. That is to say, there isn’t a whole lot of killing and foreskin collecting  in my life(actually none, in case you were worried). However I feel like Saul’s story in these chapters is a desperate one. He is a man who was ordained king, and for a brief time was on top of the world. Saul even had favor with God for a short time. However he disobeyed God, and continued down that path.

In Saul’s disobedience, he kept looking for a quick fix. So as he has lost favor with God, and Samuel has ordained someone else as king, Saul thinks he can fix this, just by killing the future king. He continues to make poor decisions, and soon his family is involved. Saul is making a huge mess of everything. I can relate to this. I have had times in my life when I went against what God wanted for me. Because of my disobedience I began to suffer in some way, and instead of repenting and changing my behavior-I looked for a quick fix. A way out of the discomfort without confession.

We can make a huge mess if we decide to go our own route after we have sinned. God has so much better planned for us in our lives, than running from him, and feeling awful. We may have to go through the pain of confessing, or coming clean with God and others. However the reconciliation will free us from the feelings of desperation. And it will eventually repair our sin and relationships.

Anointing (I Samuel 16-17)

Thursday, October 13th

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By Terrence Raper

Saul has some good moments, but eventually fails to follow God. Samuel is tasked with secretly anointing a new king behind Saul’s back. This process for choosing the next king laid out in this chapter has always been interesting to me. God tells Samuel it’s going to be one of Jesse’s sons, and God speaks to Samuel as each one passes by. I can remember God talking to people in the Bible, and I can remember examples of people casting lots. In Chapter 16 it seems like Samuel is doing both in real time. That just stuck out to me.

Samuel’s connection to God in this moment of choosing the next king, reminds me a lot of Paul’s final instructions in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Paul tells them to “pray continually”- Which was “pray without ceasing” in the King James, the original way I heard the scripture. I have always thought of Paul’s instruction in terms of literal and nonliteral. I believe Paul was asking the Thessalonians to be faithful, and prayerful: reminding them it is important to submit to God in all things.I also think Paul was talking about a mindfulness. I don’t mean mindfulness in a new age kind of way. I think Paul was asking them to think of everything in terms of Godly wisdom. I believe this to be a step in the process of obedience to God between belief and actions.
So Saul heard the voice of God in real time. This is not impossible, but it hasn’t been a part of my experience of God. I have had to begrudgingly ask myself what truths do I know about God, and in turn how would God like me to act, react, respond in this scenario. What does Godly wisdom tell me about this scenario?

Strive for Excellence (I Samuel 14-15)

Wednesday, October 12th

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by:Terrence Raper

Jonathan and his armor-bearer are riding a pretty incredible high in Chapter 14. God has clearly given them victory over 20 men, and He continues to allow them to prosper. Jonathan knows all of this prosperity is coming from God. Evidently he didn’t know the entire promise that his dad had made to make the victory possible, at least that is his story.

I find it hard to believe (even by Old Testament standards) that Jonathan didn’t know of the covenant Saul had made. In my opinion, Jonathan knew the details of the promise his dad had made with God. Jonathan was just acting like most of us would have acted after such a hugely successful day. I feel like we have all fallen victim to this in some way. We have a good run, or a big win and it changes the way we act. Sometimes humble people become conceited. Some hard working people decide to ease up and take a little break from the hard work. Sometimes we begin to overestimate ourselves and make lazy choices. Anyone who has ever taken a long break from exercising understands this let down. The moment you step back onto a treadmill for the first time in months, and you see how much you have regressed.

Life is long. We will have extreme highs –  and lows. Sometimes the lows will immediately follow the highs, and conversely. I think what Paul was trying to teach us in Galatians 6:9 is to calibrate our effort. Galatians 6:9 doesn’t assume that someone could live an entirely obedient life. I think it teaches us to continue to strive for excellence at all times. Even when we feel worthless, or when we feel like we are on top of the world. We must not grow tired of trying to do what is best in all situations.

Jonathan grew complacent. Saul grew complacent. God had to continue to remind them of the favor he had shown them. Being mindful of our blessing is not for God’s benefit. Continuing to know how well the divine has treated us, and of the gift of Jesus, should give us fuel for doing good.