Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I want a heart like Stephen

We can read about Stephen in Acts 6-7. As the disciples were teaching God's word, they chose seven people to help them do the work of God. One of these men called was Stephen. After these men were chosen, they went before the apostles who prayed over them. It tells us in 6:8 "Stephen was richly blessed by God who gave him power to do great miracles and signs among the people." It goes on to verse 9 to share with us that some people were against Stephen. Since this group of people were against Stephen, who was doing no wrong, they made up lies about him to mark him for death. All through chapter seven we hear the words of Stephen's speech to these men who charged him of lying. He speaks the truth here. He tells of Abraham and Moses. He shares stories of how God moved in His people. He spoke from his heart. It doesn't say he had a bible with him, no book with written words, these words were written on his heart. And the amazing thing is that he stood before these men calling him guilty of doing wrong. He stands firm in his beliefs, and testifies the greatness of his mighty God. It goes on to share with us in verse 54 that the leaders were furious hearing Stephen speak in such a way. This is one of my favorite verses, listen to verse 55."But Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit. He looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at God's right side." In 56 "He said, Look! I see heaven open and the son of Man standing at God's right side." In this very moment they all ran to Stephen, shouting, and here they stone him. in verse 59-60 it says, "While they were throwing stones, Stephen prayed, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. He fell on his knees and cried in a loud voice, Lord, do not hold this sin against them. After Stephen said this, he died."
Ever held a stone up at another, ready to let it fly? Ever hear something from another and want to run at them? We hold stones ready to throw in a moment just as those before Stephen did. Why? Why do we hold so much anger in another? Many times we hold that anger in another, because in them we see a little of ourselves. Ooh, that doesn't hit the heart right does it? The man holding that stone is more guilty than the one standing before him.

In chapter eight it goes on to tell us that Stephen was buried and how the church was persecuted. In this time, many came to faith through the sufferings they saw in others. They saw Jesus in those who were not afraid to stand for Him. Think those men throwing stones won that day? The kingdom of God won that day as the church grew, and glory went to God.

I want to be like Stephen. I want my faith to shine before all men. I want to proclaim my love for Him, and all His glory before men. I want to be willing to give all for the One who saved me. I want God's word written on my heart, ready to share with others wherever I am. I want others to see Him in my life. I want my life to be a witness to Him.

One amazing fact here is that one man, the one who was willing to call this stoning was Paul. Then he was known as Saul, the persecutor of Christians. Saul was an evil man at this time, but on the road to Damascus, God changed Saul's heart forever, and was changed to Paul, who lived to be one of the most humble, loving men of God, who preached His word across the nations. We can read of Paul in chapter 9. We can see the wonder that God created in Him. We can see how he was moved, and called by God to spread His gospel.

On that day, when the heavens opened and Stephen saw Jesus and God in all His glory, I think he was already there in spirit. His body may have been stoned, but his spirit had already left him and was on its way to heaven. Doesn't that make it all worth it? To see the face of God, to see the Father that has loved us our whole lives take us in His arms is a day we should live for.

Do you think Paul looked back and saw what he had done? Do you think his past haunted him? I am sure once he realized just what he had done, his heart was broken, but God changed him. The Lord came into his heart and changed the old to new. Too many times we allow our pasts to hold us back, to keep us from living for Christ. He had to move forward, leaving his past behind. But don't you think in that moment he remembered and let go that it gave him grace for others? No one is ever helpless. We should never give up on anyone. There is always hope. If God can do a wonder in Paul, if God can change this sinner to love Him, He can change anyone to look like Him.

These two men made an impact on the world. As one gave his life for what he believed, becoming a martyr, the other left his old life behind to suffer for the One he came to follow and love. We can learn much from their lives. We can learn service, giving, love, forgiveness, and grace. Can you hear Stephen asking God to forgive them who were throwing stones? Can you hear Paul's cries from his past? These two men were forever tied together in God's love and mercy.

I have held a stone in my hand for another, and I have felt stoned by others in my life. The greatest gift sometimes is just simply forgiveness. When we forgive, we hold no anger in our hearts. The forgiveness is just as much for us as the one who caused hurt to us.

One man in a hole and one on a road were changed right before God. We can see God's mighty power and grace for us sinners who love Him. I want to continue to be new each day, leaving the old behind.

Where are you today? Are you carrying a stone in your pocket ready for aim, or are you the one being hurled at? Put your stone down today, just drop them to your feet, giving the same grace to others that God gives us in His love. Turn those stones into faith, hope and love. Use those stones as a reminder of who you once were, and who you are now. Its not always easy to put down those stones, especially when we have been hurt so badly, but letting go is the first step to healing, God will do the rest.

Are you walking a road that you know is wrong? Have you lost your way? Turn to God, let go of your past, and watch what He can do with a willing vessel.

Don't give up, keep moving in your faith, and before you, you will see God's wonders before you, just as these two men did so long ago.
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