During today’s worship and Bible teaching with Movement Church, God touched my heart again with the story of Stephen, the very first martyred Christ-follower (Acts 6-7). Stephen’s serving and prophetic ministry was short and effective. He was used mightily by God to confront the religious establishment of that day…the very people who were instrumental in Christ’s crucifixion. Stephen would lose his life as well at the hands of these defiant religious men.
Our first-born son was to be named Stephen after this man of God. My niece was pregnant at the same time and claimed that name first for her son. So we looked for another name of a man who loved God more than man, who spoke God’s truth no matter the cost. Our son was given the name Nathan, after a prophet that God used to wake up King David from a terrible self-deception. After David had taken another man’s wife, murdering that man to cover his own sin, Nathan told a story to David which brought him to his senses and caused him to repent.
David’s anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die.” Nathan then said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul…'” – 2 Samuel 12:5,7
…Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. – 2 Samuel 12:13
I am deeply thankful for the prophets of the Bible and God’s prophets today. A prophet is defined as a messenger of God – “The great task assigned to the prophets whom God raised up among the people was “to correct moral and religious abuses, to proclaim the great moral and religious truths which are connected with the character of God, and which lie at the foundation of his government.”
When our pastor, Cliff Jordan, preached on Stephen today, I was reminded of how God draws us to Himself and the truth of His Word through others – these who become messengers of God in our lives.
My heart was pierced at the times I have read Scripture and chose to see myself as the one without fault…the one who was “in the right” as compared to that “other guy” who fell short…in my estimation, if not God’s. As Cliff preached on Stephen, that passage and two others resonated as to how we allow deceit in our lives. You may recognize these passages and persons…from one side or the other.
- The Weaker Brother – In this passage, Paul challenged the “stronger brother” to resist using his freedom in Christ as a stumbling block for the weaker brother who struggles with whether he’s free or not.
“Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.” – Romans 14:20-22
Sometimes, we are that “weaker brother”. It helps to remember that…it keeps us humble and dependent on God and each other. He means for us to reason together in love to understand the ways of God and how to follow Him…together.
2. The Hypocrite – With the Log in His Eye – Jesus tells a story about judging each other unrighteously. There is a right judging – as we have seen through the prophets in the Word and in our lives. We usually think we are God’s messenger in others’ lives to get “the speck” out of their eyes..and sometimes to get the “log out”.
“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:3-5
Maybe we are the one with the log in our eyes. The most loving thing we can do for that brother or sister is to help them rid themselves of “the speck”, but we can’t help them until we get rid of our own “log”…or own sin, or hypocrisy, or self-deceit. In proceeding this way, we are given a priceless opportunity to walk humbly in community with each other.
3. The Religious Establishment – When Stephen faced the religious authorities of his day, he was in excellent company. Jesus had faced these same men in a hurried trial with his death as the goal of the proceedings. Stephen had to know that his life was at stake. In a riveting review of the history of Israel, he spoke forcefully to the pattern over the centuries of the religious rejecting the ones God sent to them. Such arrogance. God help us!
“You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become.” – Acts7:51-52
Stephen was martyred for his message, but he was not silenced. His witness to a holy God is as powerful today as it was that day he passed from life, through death, to be with God in Heaven. Hallelujah! We are called to be such witnesses to a living, loving God.
After Cliff closed the teaching in prayer, the worship team led us in singing “I Surrender All“. More than anything in my life, I want to live a life worthy of God – to be courageous, to love truth, to serve others, to always remember my need for a Savior – to live a life that points others to Jesus…not because I am perfect, far from it…but because He is.
[Have to include this YouTube video – of a time when celebrity Oprah Winfrey had a I Surrender All moment when she submitted a deep desire to God. Faith Hill belts it from her own experience.]