Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Friday, 16 Feb 18:
1. Leviticus 2:4, 5 – “When you bring a grain offering baked in the oven as an offering, it shall be unleavened loaves of fine flour mixed with oil or unleavened wafers smeared with oil. And if your offering is a grain offering baked on a griddle, it shall be of fine flour unleavened, mixed with oil.” Unleavened bread symbolized purity, and oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice, wholly pure, and full of the Holy Spirit. (see Ephesians 5:2) Christians should strive to offer their lives to the Lord, pure and full of the Holy Spirit.
2. Leviticus 2:12, 13 – “As an offering of firstfruits you may bring them to the Lord, but they shall not be offered on the altar for a pleasing aroma. You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.” We are the first fruits, not burnt in the fire, seasoned with salt. (see James 1:18)
3. Leviticus 3 – The peace offering was an offering of reconciliation that brought together in fellowship God, the Priests, and the people. This is a great symbol of the unity Jesus prayed for in John 17. (see also 1 John 1:3) Remember, your mission in life is reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18, 19)
4. Leviticus 3:17 – The fat and the blood was dedicated to the Lord. God’s people do not take what belongs to God. All glory belongs to God. Never try to share glory with God by giving yourself credit before others, by being an ambassador for yourself rather than an ambassador for Christ. You have been commissioned for one message, the Gospel; to proclaim one name, Jesus. Do not be a distraction for others by drawing attention to yourself rather than Jesus. Don’t be a substitute for Salvation (through the blood of the sacrifice) by presenting yourself as a remedy. Don’t try to receive the fragrant offering of praise from others. All praise must go to Him.
5. Proverbs 16:1 — “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord…. The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” From beginning the end, the message in Proverbs 16 is very clear: “The Lord works out everything for his own ends.” The LORD is KING, the LORD is Sovereign, the LORD is in complete control, and the LORD has a plan. When our plan is aligned, in synch, in accordance with and subordinated to His plan, life is good. We are on the “highway of the upright” (Proverbs 16:17). However when we get off course, when we go our own way, life is painful. The problem is that our hearts are deceptive, and, guided by our own pride, ignorance, and emotion, we will always choose the wrong path (Proverbs 16:2, 9, 25). Unfortunately, when we choose the wrong path, we also lead others astray too (Proverbs 16:29). Therefore we must “fear the Lord…. Commit to the Lord whatever [we] do…. Give heed to instruction…. [and] Trust in the Lord… (Proverbs 16:6, 7, 2, 20).” Ultimately, our desire to faithfully submit in obedience to the LORD should be motivated purely by selfless love rather than a self-centered desire for the blessings of God. However, today’s Proverbs and Psalms do remind us that obedience to the Lord leads to fullness of life on earth (Proverbs 16:31; Psalm 20:7; 21:7). Yet to be perfected in love, we all have mixed motives behind our “love and faithfulness” to God and to others – it is partly selfless, and partly selfish. God calls us to approach Him in obedience while He continues to work on our hearts.
6. Proverbs 16:2 – “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit.” God’s word is used by the Holy Spirit to show us the truth of ourselves and our sinfulness that we won’t admit to ourselves.
7. Proverbs 16:6 – “By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.” Faithful obedience is the true measure of repentance and love.
8. Proverbs 16:7, 9 – God is fully aware of how others are treating you, and He allows to happen what He wants to happen to you.
9. Proverbs 16:17 – Your journey to spiritual maturity is fast when you choose to take the path far from evil.
10. Acts 7:1-53 – Pay close attention to Stephen’s example: When accused and attacked by others, he resisted the temptation to make himself the focus or to defend himself. Rather he turned the attention to Jesus, staying true to his mission of reconciliation. He used the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel and to call for repentance. Don’t allow people to make you the center of attention for good reasons or for bad reasons. Don’t allow yourself to be a distraction from Jesus. The moment you start defending yourself, you become the focus.
11. Acts 7:2 – “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia….” God takes the initiative and calls those who are not looking for Him. God also calls us to take the initiative and reach out to people who have not asked.
12. Acts 7:3 – “…and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’” Don’t expect God to tell you where He is leading you – just go and trust Him with the destination.
13. Acts 7:5 – “Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child.” Abraham called on a mission that would not be fulfilled in his lifetime on earth. Are you willing to receive a mission like that from God?
14. Acts 7:6 – “And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years.” God called Abraham and his children on a mission that would require hard living all of their days. Are you willing to receive a mission from God like that? Can you see how faith is required to fulfill God’s plan for your life?
15. Acts 7:6 – “And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” Stephen mirrored the forgiveness Jesus modeled on the Cross.
16. Acts 7:10 – Wisdom is forged in adversity. There is no comfort in the growth zone, and there is no growth in the comfort zone.
17. Acts 7:25 – In service to the Lord, we have a tendency to do things in our way and on our own timing which always leads to sin and failure. We must be led by the Holy Spirit in all that we do.
18. Acts 7:35 – “Who made you a ruler and a judge?” As a priest on this earth, people will question your authority. Your authority and power comes from Jesus (see Matthew 28)
19. Acts 7:40 – The Israelites desired the provision of God rather than God Himself. The Israelites saw the activities of God but did not love, know or trust God. Their religion was self-centered and void of real faith. When they no longer saw the activities of God in their lives, they fell away and sought what they wanted in some other way, creating a fake savior. Do you truly seek Jesus or just His blessings? If you had no apparent blessings, would Jesus be enough to sustain your joy and your confidence? When you don’t see God working, do you look elsewhere for what you want?
20. Acts 7:42 — “But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven.” In His mercy, God does not give us what our sinful hearts desire. In His mercy, God often disrupts our ‘Towers of Babel’. Often our ‘unanswered’ prayers are actually God’s controls where He knows we lack self-control. Often, we need humbling circumstances to keep us humble. Perhaps, you don’t have the ‘blessings’ you desire because they would actually be ‘curses’ in your hands. Perhaps you do not have what you want because God knows you cannot control your own passions. (James 4:3) Perhaps you require a thorn in the flesh to keep you dependent on God rather than falsely believing in your own self-sufficiency. But what if God did give you your “hearts desires?” How quickly would you “turn to Egypt?” (Acts 7:39) Often God disciplines by giving people what they want, by turning them over to their own desires. God’s punishment described in today’s readings was just that, giving the unfaithful what they wanted. Stephen’s warning to his wrongful accusers was that they had not ‘circumcised their hearts.’ Their hearts were not cut and marked for God. The promise of the Bible is that if we truly delight in the LORD, he will give us our desire, and the “fountain of life” will turn us away from the snares of death. (Psalm 37:4; Proverbs 13:14) What does your heart truly desire? What do your actions reveal about your heart?
– Psalm 81:12 — So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.
– Romans 1:24, 26 — Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves…. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.
– Psalm 37:4 — Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
– Proverbs 6:25 — Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes;
21. Acts 7:51 – “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.” Even facing a hostile crowd, Stephen did not hold back the truth or attempt to sugarcoat it.
22. Acts 7:51 – The Holy Spirit is available to God’s people but often resisted.
23. Acts 7:51-53 — “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” Stephen is described as “a man.., of good repute.., full of faith, wisdom.., grace.., power.., and of the Holy Spirit. God worked through Stephen to do “great wonders and signs among the people.” However, when Stephen addresses the high priest after being wrongly accused by other Jews, he gives them both barrels, holding nothing back. How do you think these harsh words would be received in churches today? I think he would quickly be discounted as a closed minded, unloving, judgmental, fanatic. However, it would appear that God honored his zeal, and after He spoke these words, “he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’” The crowd (those claiming to be followers of God) acted in accordance with their hearts and stoned Stephen under a facade of righteousness. Stephen responded in accordance with his heart — “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” The harsh truth, not sugar coated, came from loving Stephen while the churched sought to kill the messenger. Stephen, in a life-or-death situation, undoubtedly knew that his words would not be well received, but that did not hold him back. We likely would have counselled him to soften his words so that he “would not lose his witness.” However, Stephen was not focused on seeking the approval of men but rather to boldly testify to the truth. John the Baptist lost his head bolding speaking out against adultery. Jesus, who harshly criticized the religious leaders, had the same mentality about boldly speaking truth regardless the outcome:
– John 18:37, 38 — 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
24. Acts 7:56 — “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Jesus stood to receive Stephen.
25. Acts 7:58 – God brings circumstances together for his purposes. God brought Saul to the stoning of Stephen for a purpose. God would use Stephen to convict the heart of the most unlikely apostle. You never know what God is doing in the life of the person who is persecuting you the most. Will you continue to pray honestly from your heart that your persecutor will become a mighty ambassador for Jesus?
26. Acts 7:58-60 — “Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep.” How Stephen died was an incredible testimony to his faith in Jesus Christ. How do you think his death affected Saul?
27. Acts 7:60 – “And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” Stephen mirrored the forgiveness Jesus modeled on the Cross.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 16 Feb: Today, meditate upon the life of Stephen and pray that you might emulate his fidelity in service, in evangelism, and in forgiveness.