3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit …
Acts 6:3-5a, ESV, emphasis mine
He was full of faith and the Holy Spirit, a man of good repute and full of wisdom. Full.
8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretlyinstigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” 15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
Acts 6:8-15, ESV, emphasis mine
Stephen was doing, serving and he met opposition. Opposition that rose up and disputed. Opposition that secretly instigated. Opposition that stirred up the people. They set up false witnesses. All this against a man full of grace and power, who was doing great wonders and signs among the people. He was full of faith and the Holy Spirit.
Stephen was resilient. It’s likely the opposition’s efforts spanned days or longer. Stephen kept on. He kept his eyes on Jesus. (To the very end.)
There’s a lot of description about the priests’ garments. Skill and care went into making them.
2 And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. 3 You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him for my priesthood.
I love that God filled them with a spirit of skill. I love that he had specifications of how things should be made. I love that in the colors and gems and details, he lists the names.
9 You shall take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, 10 six of their names on the one stone, and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, in the order of their birth. 11 As a jeweler engraves signets, so shall you engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel. You shall enclose them in settings of gold filigree. 12 And you shall set the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for remembrance.
Exodus 28:9-12, ESV
29 So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the Lord. 30 And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart, when he goes in before the Lord. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the Lord regularly.
Exodus 28:29-30, ESV
From the detail of the garments, the sacrifices offered, the anointing of the priests–a way of setting things apart, a holiness. Even the names of the sons of Israel. Each act and detail meaningful. But the names–being known by the Lord.
Known by the Lord.
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
Acts 1:1-3, ESV
21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”
Acts 1:21-25, ESV
This is a precious pause in my day–to consider his vast love, his intentional creativity, and that in the details he includes names, he knows hearts. He chooses and equips people to glorify him.
Lord, you show me that you’re in the details and that nothing is overlooked. Thank you for your Word.
The word chosen catches my eye, and I’m hooked. “For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” (Genesis 18:19, NIV)
After delivering the news that Sarah will birth a child the next year, the Lord is on the way to Sodom and Gomorrah to examine the situation for himself. There’s a conversation between Abraham and the Lord, about sparing the city if there are at least ten people who are righteous. It turns out, there are not. Lot, his wife, and his two daughters are told to flee. In this, I read protection, and it is life. Protected from the angry mob that is struck blind. Protection from the impending destruction.
When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!” (Genesis 19:16-17, NIV)
I’m currently reading a book written by a Hungarian Holocaust survivor (The Choice by Edith Eva Eger). There is a haunting mention early in the book where her parents had been given warning to flee, and papers to help with safe passage, and they didn’t act upon it. I think of them in this moment of Lot’s hesitation.
There are other moments of protection and provision in this reading: of Sarah being spared from Abimelek’s attentions, of Hagar’s provision when she is sent away.
When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.
17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”
19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. (Genesis 21:15b-19, NIV)
In these Bible stories, I read of God’s very real presence, and it comforts me.
Lord, thank you for reminding me.
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Faithful work … loving deeds … enduring hope. When I read the encouragement poured out in 1 Thessalonians, I imagine a group of believers in life’s sweet spot where it’s easy to be faithful and loving. Understand: they weren’t in a sweet spot, yet a sweetness poured out from them–their faith. They were known by it, and God was known by it.
2 We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly. 3 As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ.
4 We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people. 5 For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true. And you know of our concern for you from the way we lived when we were with you. 6 So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord. 7 As a result, you have become an example to all the believers in Greece—throughout both Macedonia and Achaia.
8 And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere, even beyond Macedonia and Achaia, for wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it, 9 for they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God. 10 And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment. (1 Thessalonians 1:2-10, NLT, emphasis added)
In a three year drought, faith ignited a fire. Unwavering, confident, expectant faith from knowing God.
30 Then Elijah called to the people, “Come over here!” They all crowded around him as he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been torn down. 31 He took twelve stones, one to represent each of the tribes of Israel, 32 and he used the stones to rebuild the altar in the name of the Lord. Then he dug a trench around the altar large enough to hold about three gallons. 33 He piled wood on the altar, cut the bull into pieces, and laid the pieces on the wood.
Then he said, “Fill four large jars with water, and pour the water over the offering and the wood.”
34 After they had done this, he said, “Do the same thing again!” And when they were finished, he said, “Now do it a third time!” So they did as he said, 35 and the water ran around the altar and even filled the trench.
36 At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. 37 O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”
38 Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench! 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, “The Lord—he is God! Yes, the Lord is God!” (1 Kings 18:30-39, NLT)
(And rains came, ending the drought. Imagine the elation!)
Land is set aside for the tribes of Israel, and I read this piece:
11 This area is set aside for the ordained priests, the descendants of Zadok who served me faithfully and did not go astray with the people of Israel and the rest of the Levites. 12 It will be their special portion when the land is distributed, the most sacred land of all. (Ezekiel 48:11-12, NLT, emphasis added)
These are stories of man’s faith in a faithful God, not in life’s sweet spot, but in drought, in severe suffering, in focused and enduring service. It’s not just a believing faith, but a persistent, confident, expectant, actionable, demonstrable faith.
Lord Jesus, when I am burdened and bear a weight that’s heavy, what pours out of me? A three year drought … I am humbled, when I know a poor night’s sleep and a taunting stress are enough to make me snap. These scriptures remind me to keep a sure and eternal focus.
5 You placed the world on its foundation so it would never be moved. (Psalm 104:5, NLT)
My husband will ask for a list of gift ideas near a gift-giving occasion. Some families go big on birthdays, but we’ve chosen to go small: one gift (which actually became two when the kids wanted in on giving, so really, two gifts). Ideas can range from really practical (like cookware) to pleasurable (like perfume). When the Lord asks Solomon what he wants, I lean in.
5 That night the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!” (1 Kings 3:5, NLT)
I paused. I wondered: what would I ask?
7 “Now, O Lord my God, you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. 8 And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! 9 Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?”
10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for wisdom. 11 So God replied, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies— 12 I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have! 13 And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life! 14 And if you follow me and obey my decrees and my commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.” (1 Kings 3:7-14, NLT, emphasis added)
Solomon chose practical over pleasurable. He knew he needed discernment to govern well and that he was faced with an important responsibility. I value that he chose with a kingdom focus (not only an immediate kingdom, but one that would outlive him). And I love God’s response: that and more.
3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. 7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. 8 He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.
9 God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill his own good plan. 10 And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth. 11 Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.
12 God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God. 13 And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. 14 The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him. (Ephesians 1:3-14, NLT, emphasis added)
I realized I don’t really let my mind go free in the possibilities, that I don’t go big or small with God. Sometimes, I don’t even ask. And now I wonder: why?
Lord, I want to praise and glorify you with my life. Help me to come to you and ask. I know I trust you, so why don’t I ask? I know you love me, so why don’t I ask? I know you’re generous, so why don’t I ask? I know when I draw near to you, you meet me. Thank you for your word to remind me I am chosen and dearly loved. You call me yours, and that truly is a gift.
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