Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Thursday, 15 Feb 18:
1. Leviticus 1:4, 5 – “He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting.” The guilty person showed personal responsibility and involvement by pressing a hand on the animal; this was a very powerful reminder of the destructiveness of sin as well as the need for atonement before God. The guilty person, the one responsible for sin, kills the animal. The priests would present the offering to the Lord on behalf of the sinner.
2. Proverbs 15:7, 28 — “The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools…. The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” Our words are far more important than we think. “Proverbs alone uses the word ‘mouth’ 44 times, the word ‘tongue’ 19 times, the word ‘lips’ 33 times, the word ‘words’ 45 times, the word ‘speech’ 12 times, and the word ‘speak’ 7 times. Today’s Proverbs tell us that our words are a direct reflection of our hearts. We may not be willing to physically assault our enemies, but we are likely willing to call them fools. (Matthew 5:22) Of course, words can be very destructive. The most revealing words are our ‘careless’ words, what we say without really thinking. Have you ever had to apologize for words you let ‘slip’ out of your mouth? Did you say, “I didn’t really mean it.”? The truth is you were only saying what you were thinking based upon what was in your heart. When your guard was down you spoke the truth of your heart. Do you occasionally lash out at others and then say, “I’m not really an angry person”? Your words reveal otherwise. Do you occasionally allow profanity to slip out of your mouth? What does that say about the condition of your heart? What will come out of your mouth today? Will your words reveal the love of Christ to others? Will your words be a blessing? Will they bring healing and reconciliation? Will your words reflect the character and will of God? Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” (Matthew 12:36) A good disciple discipline is to hold yourself accountable at the end of each day for every word you spoke. Each evening, consider your interactions with others and what you said to them. Did you speak love?
3. Proverbs 15:19, 24 – Proverbs uses the word “path” 23 times. Everyone is on a path, but only those who enter the “Gate” of Jesus Christ, and follow Him as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” find eternal life. A leader who does not lead others to Christ is an anti-Christ, preaching hope in something else which is an idol. Jesus said that the path of Life is narrow, and few take it.
4. Proverbs 15:28 – Proverbs 15 uses the word “heart” eight times, and all of Proverbs uses the word “heart” 77 times. Beyond behavior, God judges the heart. You can do the right things with the wrong heart and fall short of the Greatest Commandment and the First Commandment of total love for God. We are not perfected in love, but this is our goal. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see the truth of your heart.
5. Proverbs 15:31 — “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.” Proverbs uses the word “listen” 16 times, hear 19 times, “ear” 14 times, and “receives” four times. So much of your growth and sanctification depends upon your ability and willingness to truly listen to God’s word, from the heart, a heart that is humble and fully receptive. It is the Holy Spirit that convicts you, enlightens you, and empowers you through God’s word.
6. Acts 6:1 – Cultural differences can cause division within the church. We must learn to accept the cultural differences within the body and take steps to build trust and confidence between groups.
7. Acts 6:1 – People will judge the truth of your faith by how you treat people who can offer you nothing in return, how you treat people who are often forgotten by society.
8. Acts 6:2 – God expects people to serve the church in accordance with their God-given abilities. Human nature tempts people to expect leaders to do everything instead of pitching in themselves and contributing in leadership. Have you noticed that in any organization, a very few people seem to do all the work? That should not be so in the body of Christ. “Everyone wants to change the world, but no one wants to help Mom do the dishes.”
9. Acts 6:3 – “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.” All service to the kingdom is vital and requires far more than just a good reputation (though that is essential) – service requires faith, integrity, wisdom, and the power of the Holy Spirit. The smallest job in the church is a calling.
10. Acts 6:6 – The church body must pray for those in service.
11. Acts 6:7 – A healthy church body requires everyone doing their part. Healthy church bodies naturally grow, and the growth is not temporary.
12. Acts 6:8 – “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.” Don’t miss this: God worked mightily through a faithful head waiter. Stephen was a faithful laborer who did miraculous things through the power of the Holy Spirit. God honors faithfulness, not titles, positions, degrees, or certificates. God is glorified and revealed when His power works through His humble servants, right where they are, to do what they could not possibly do under their own power.
13. Acts 6:8, 10, 15 — “And Stephen, full of grace and power…. they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking…. all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” The reality of Christ in Stephen’s life was truly powerful, evident to all, healing to many, threatening to some. Stephen’s relationship with God filled him with the Spirit, grace, power, and great wisdom. Even Stephen’s appearance reflected God’s presence within him. Stephen’s angelic face is reminiscent of the change in Moses’ appearance after his direct encounter with God: Moses’ face “shone because he had been talking with God.” (Exodus 34:29) Our readings today about Moses reveal another key aspect of the Spirit-filled life – obedience. Eight times in Exodus 40, the Bible points out that, Moses did “all that the LORD commanded him;” not some of what the LORD commanded – “ALL”. Obedience was the natural product of Moses’ genuine relationship with God; his obedience ‘shone’ in his life longer than his face did. The life of the faithful witness (or martyr) is truly, undeniably powerful and impossible to ignore. It ‘owns the room’, but it is not at all about personal power but rather about the glorification, magnification of Christ. We are Ambassadors for Christ. What is an ambassador? The Greek word is ‘presbeuō’ which means “to act as a representative,” or to ‘re-present’, or ‘present again.’ So, when a faithful ambassador for Christ enters any environment, that person is presenting Christ. It should be as if Christ were actually there, only through the life of another. Our lives should reveal the power of Christ in an undeniable, transforming way. When people encounter you, are they struck by the power of Christ in your life? When you leave a room, are people left talking about you or about Jesus?
14. Acts 6:9, 10 – Faithful servants will definitely find themselves at odds with those who adhere to worldly ideas, even within the church such as these Greeks who were Jews that had obtained their freedom from Rome (a likely sign of compromise). Stephen did not hesitate to counter worldly ideas and to speak the truth in love; his boldness would cost him his earthly life, but he had eternal life and is memorialized in God’s word forever.
15. Acts 6:11, 12 – “Then they secretly instigated men who said, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.’ 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.” Listening to hearsay and gossip can lead you to sin terribly against others.
16. Acts 6:13 — The truth is always countered with lies. Truthful people are always countered with false accusations, and there are always weak-willed people ready to believe those lies. In the end, there can be no fairness and justice among the ungodly. Justice comes from the Lord. Acknowledge the reality of the world in which you live, and trust God with your fate – you will not be disappointed.
17. Acts 6:15 – Under persecution, Stephen’s light shone only brighter. What do people see in you when you are treated unfairly, when you see everything coming apart around you?
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 15 Feb: Today, carefully consider how you might be treating people differently because of cultural differences or because of what you have heard about them that may not actually be true. Consider how you might be misinterpreting the motives of others because of personality or cultural differences. Start with grace, and seek to see past the superficial. God’s people are called to totally disregard the labels and stratifications the world seeks to place upon people. (Proverbs 11:6; Acts 6:1-12; see also Romans 10:12)