Stained Glass Masterpiece

S (Scripture) – Acts 8:1-4 “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.  And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.  Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him.  But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging of men and women, he would put them in prison.  Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.

O (Observation) – Lord, the persecution that was meant for evil to eradicate the Name of Jesus from this earth is precisely the means used to proclaim His Name to the uttermost parts of the earth.  Perhaps Saul believed that allowing Stephen to be martyred would set an example for the rest of the members early church.  Maybe Saul believed that the fear he instilled in followers of Jesus would shut them down completely.  But, that’s not how it went down.  Instead of quenching the flame of the early church, Saul fanned it and actually caused it to spread like wildfire.  This flame could not be contained by any man.

A (Application) – Sometimes, things that happen to us seem unfair.  They may seem like attacks, and we pray against anything that may cause us discomfort or pain.  Romans 8:28 tells us that, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  Sometimes we are attacked.  Sometimes evil invades our lives, and we are confronted with circumstances that don’t line up with what we think should be happening to us.  Through it all, may we know that we are never alone (He never leaves us, nor forsakes us.  Deuteronomy 31:6), and that despite the pain and frustration of the moment, our God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above and beyond all that we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).  He is able to turn our test into a testimony, our pain into our pulpit, a mess into a message, a trial into a triumph, and a victim into a victory.  What is meant to be evil, God redeems for good (Genesis 50:20).  May we not be so consumed by our brokenness that we miss our Creator’s ability to put together a masterpiece stained glass window with the pieces of our lives – one that when the sunlight beams through is far more beautiful than anything we can imagine.

P (Prayer) – Precious Jesus, only You can pick up shattered pieces of pain and bring restoration to our souls.  May we not find ourselves in the pit wondering where You have gone if we are in desperate situations.  Rather, don’t let us forget that You are right there with us, with Your arms wrapped around us, ready to help us catch our breath and stand up again.  Thank You, Lord, for Your faithfulness.

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Resisting the Holy Spirit

S (Scripture) – Acts 7:51-53 “‘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; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.'” NASB

“And you continue, so bullheaded!  Calluses on your hearts, flaps on your ears!  Deliberately ignoring the Holy Spirit, you’re just like your ancestors.  Was there ever a prophet who didn’t get the same treatment?  Your ancestors killed anyone who dared talk about the coming of the Just One.  And you’ve kept up the family tradition – traitors and murderers, all of you.  You had God’s Law handed to you by angels – gift-wrapped! – and you squandered it!The Message

O (Observation) – Stephen, a man in the early church who was filled with the Holy Spirit, was accused of incessantly speaking against the temple and the Law, and saying that Jesus would destroy the temple, and alter the customs handed down by Moses.  When asked by the high priest if these accusations were correct, Stephen proceeded to tell the account of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, finishing with Moses, then David and Solomon.  He accurately recounted the stories of the patriarchs in order to prove that he knew his Jewish history.  The difference was that he not only knew the history, but he understood exactly what all of the prophets were saying when they foretold the coming Messiah.  Stephen’s heart was in step with the Holy Spirit, and all of the knowledge he possessed came to life, and the promises about the Righteous One, Jesus, were experienced first-hand.  Stephen turned the tables on the high priest and his court, asserting that it was actually they who were not understanding the whole point of Jewish history – that instead of responding to the Holy Spirit, they were quenching it with their stubborn hearts and refusal to listen.

A (Application) – The promises were available to them, but instead of claiming them and recognizing their need for forgiveness, the religious leaders became so infuriated that they stoned Stephen to death.  The information given throughout history was the same for both Stephen and the high priest.  Yet, both had very different responses.  Stephen’s heart was in tune with the Holy Spirit, and he searched the Scriptures and found Jesus all throughout them.  The high priest had a calloused heart – one that had consistently disobeyed God so much that he could no longer accurately hear His voice.  When we decide to disobey God and His word, we are taking a step away from Him.  The next time we disobey, we step away even further.  This process continues until we are so far away from Him, that we can no longer hear what He is saying.  Our hearts, too, become calloused.  God hasn’t stopped speaking – our ability to hear Him has changed because of our own selfish decisions.  We need to recognize how far away we have drifted, stop what we are doing and turn around (repent), and begin to walk back to the truth.

P (Prayer) – Lord Jesus, You are so faithful.  You promise us that “if we confess our sins, You are faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).”  You never give up on us; You continue to draw us closer to You, even when we are walking in the wrong direction.  May we recognize when what we are doing is not in alignment with what You say is right, and may we decide to follow after You instead of our own desires.  Keep our hearts pure, Lord, so that we will never struggle to discern Your voice.

Disciples On the Move

S (Scripture) – Acts 6:7-10 “The word of God kept on spreading, and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.  And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.  But some men from what was called the Syngagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandraians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen.  But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.

O (Observation) – The Christian life is not a spectator sport.  The word of God kept on spreading and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly because lives were being transformed.  The grace and power was visibly evident among these people.  They were different.  They had become followers – disciples – students – spiritual athletes on the playing field waiting for the Lord to make the call, and ready for action.

A (Application) – The apostles were not interested in preaching so that more men and women would check off the church attendance box, and then go on living their respective lives until next Sunday came around so they could get back together for a nice sermon.  They wanted men and women to experience what a redeemed life is; what an utterly transformed existence is; what it feels like to be controlled by the Spirit of the living God each and every moment.  They wanted generations of families to be saved and set aside for God’s special purposes; families healed, brokenness restored, curses eradicated, and blessings poured out.  Stephen was one such disciple that walked boldly with the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.  The generation around him was unable to cope with him and the wisdom and Spirit with which he was speaking.  Are we walking with that same anointing?  Or are we content with being a lukewarm fan on the sidelines?

P (Prayer) – Lord Jesus, light a fire in our hearts for You.  You want all of us, every bit of our hearts, and You won’t relent until You have it all.  To the church at Laodicea You say, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.  So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth (Revelation 3:15-16).”  Help us, Jesus, to continually be reminded that the only thing that matters in this life is what we do for You while we are here.  Everything else will go away at some point, but what we do for You will follow us into eternity.  May we find ourselves in Your presence when we die hearing the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21)!”

Like a Wrecking Ball

S (Scripture) – Acts 5:27-32 “When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council.  The high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.’  But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.  The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross.  He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.  And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.‘”

O (Observation) – Lord, the apostles preaching Your message were arrested, thrown into prison, released miraculously in the night by an angel, found to be preaching the same message the following morning in the temple, and then arrested again before declaring these words to the same people that had them imprisoned the day before.  Nothing could stop them – not fear of imprisonment, suffering, or death.  They were proverbial wrecking balls for You.  The boldness with which they preached and the confidence they had in Your Name inspires me.  You were with them each and every moment…a life lived in step with Your Holy Spirit is a supernatural existence.

A (Application) – Am I like a wrecking ball for you, or am I a cinder block?  A wrecking ball doesn’t mean that we are abrasive and knocking people over with the truth…it means that we are breaking down strongholds in His Name, and moving the kingdom of God forward – whatever that may look like in each of our lives.  The nature of construction is progressive; buildings must first be knocked down in order to clear the way for a new building.  God cannot begin to build something new without the old coming down and going away.  While He is ultimately the One responsible for taking down the old, He uses ordinary people with His extraordinary Spirit, to accomplish His purposes.  It’s not about our ability, but our availability.  Will we allow Him to use us fully?  Are we wholly surrendered to Him?  Or are we comfortable sitting on the sidelines as a cinder block?

P (Prayer) – Heavenly Father, use me.  Speak, for Your servant is listening.  I don’t want to miss out on anything that You have for me in this life.  I pray that I would have no fear, and Your presence would guide me each and every moment.  Bring people into my life that I can speak Your truth and love to so that they might experience the newness and abundance of life that You promise.  Thank You for always wanting us to take the next step with You – You are not done with us, and You are constantly drawing us closer to You.  You are my shepherd, and I love You.

Having Been with Jesus

S (Scripture) – Acts 4:13-20 “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.  And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply.  But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, saying, ‘What shall we do with these men?  For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.  But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.’  And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.'”

O (Observation) – Lord, I see Peter and John’s confidence did not come from a formal education or years of studying the Torah with the best Rabbis of the day.  No, their confidence came from having been with You – from a very special relationship in which You shared Your very life with them.  When the Council members saw Peter and John’s confidence coupled with the healed man, they had nothing to say.  There was no longer an argument.  When faced with potential imprisonment or death if they would not stop sharing Your message with others, there was absolutely no question about which they were going to choose – “we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

A (Application) – I believe most people have heard of the phrase “having a personal relationship with Jesus” at some point in their lives.  That verbiage is so common that it has really lost its meaning; so many people do not understand what this personal relationship means, why it is important, and how it actually happens.  People cannot argue with what You’ve done for us – they may debate semantics in the Bible endlessly, but no one can take away what You have done for me personally.  I know where I was before You rescued me, and I know what it is to have been with You in Your presence.  There is nothing more real to me, and as a result, I cannot stop speaking about what I have seen and heard.  This relationship with You, Lord, is available to anyone that will call on Your Name to forgive them (Romans 10:13), and by Your grace (Ephesians 2:8-9) will take up his or her cross daily and follow You (Luke 9:23).  Like any relationship, our one with You is built over time, through experiences, and with honesty and trust.  If we do not feel that we know You personally, it is time to start pursuing the most important relationship we could ever have in this life.

P (Prayer) – Lord Jesus, thank You for never giving up on me.  It’s been a a few years that I have been walking with You, and as I look back over my life I can easily see how You have never left me.  Despite so many trying experiences, You were with me, protected me, guided me, and led me as my Shepherd each step of the way.  It pains me to think about all those who go through this life without You – the hopelessness that people can feel, the depression, anxiety, brokenness, and pain that plague our society can all be healed and redeemed by You alone.  Equip me to share Your message of hope with a lost and hurting generation.

Times of Refreshing May Come

S (Scripture) – Acts 3:13-21 “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him.  But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.  And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.  And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also.  But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.  Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.”

O (Observation) – Lord Jesus, Peter and John had just finished speaking life to this lame beggar, and the crowd witnessed this miraculous demonstration of Your power.  The crowd was full of people that were inside the Temple for the afternoon prayer service, yet their hearts were obviously far from You.  Apparently, it is possible to attend church services, yet have a heart that is not beating for You.  This is the same crowd that had recently chanted the words, “Crucify Him!” to Pilate and witnessed Jesus being murdered in front of their very eyes.  What an astounding contradiction to then be in the Temple praising You with their lips, yet with hearts that were far from You (Isaiah 29:13,  Matthew 15:18).

A (Application) – When we find ourselves feeling distant from You, it’s not that You have gone anywhere.  It’s us that, like sheep, have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6).  When we repent (change our minds) and return (turn from our ways and back to You), You are there waiting for us with open arms; not standing there with a paddle ready to hurt us for being disobedient…but rather, ready to embrace us and welcome us back into fellowship with You.  Times of refreshing and restoration come from being in Your presence, but we will not experience Your goodness if we are living our lives without You in it, and deliberately harboring sin in our hearts.

P (Prayer) – Heavenly Father, You so desire to have rich fellowship with us.  You want us to slow down, rest in Your presence, and experience a refreshing that can only come from Your Holy Spirit.  May we drown out life’s noise with the praises of Your Name, and may we desire to know what Your view is on a matter, and agree with You.  You know all things, and know what is best for us.  Yet, we seem to think that we sometimes know better than You.  Help us to move past our self-dependency and disobedience in order to be drawn in closer to You and Your sacred times of refreshing.

Living Alongside

S (Scripture) – Acts 2:36-47  “‘Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified.’  Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’  Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sin; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.’  And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!’  So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.  They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.  And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.  Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

O (Observation) – Lord, You had just days before told the apostles as You were ascending into heaven that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit would come upon them, and that they would be Your witnesses all over the world (Acts 1:8).  The apostles must have been at least partially terrified about that thought.  How could eleven men possibly take Your message and Your promises to the uttermost parts of the earth?  In a world before Internet, social media, video streaming, and even the printing press…how was this message to be shared with the entire world?  Yet, You show Yourself faithful.  The power of the Holy Spirit came upon these men in that room, and everything changed.  No longer were they afraid, confused, or doubtful.  They now had Your presence with them, and knew that they could do whatever it was that You had called them to do.  Peter began to preach the first sermon of the early church, and 3,000 people gave their lives to You that day.  That was the beginning of what is still a growing movement in this world called Christianity.

A (Application) – The apostles lived alongside these new believers, sharing themselves with them, training and equipping them to carry the message forward.  Facing intense persecution not long after this initial period of favor, the people of the early church must have been strong in their faith and able to have the confidence that no matter what was happening all around them, that the message of Jesus and of God’s redemption was going to be carried on into future generations.  How difficult it would have been to transfer the knowledge from one generation to the next without some acutely intentional effort.  Christianity should have been extinct by now if one looks at the probability that it had of surviving all of these obstacles.  We must carry on the apostolic tradition of living our lives with others, being authentic and vulnerable, teaching them what living a life devoted to the Lord looks like.  We must come alongside them and show the same love and care that allowed this message to survive this long.  We must also equip this next generation to do the same with the generation after it…or Christianity may become extinct within one generation after surviving for over 2,000 years.

P (Prayer) – Holy Spirit, come.  Show us God’s glory.  Thank You for Your equipping, and for Your faithfulness if what You have called us to do.  I pray that all who are devoted to the Christian life will seek out others to help disciple and encourage in their journey.  You gave the instructions to go into all the earth and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and then You provided the means to do so.  May we walk in the calling You have given us, and not miss out on the most important thing we can do in this life.