December 6 – Gaze Into Heaven

Read: Acts 7:51-60

But 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.” (Acts 7:55, 56 ESV)

Stephen preached the truth of Christ in Jerusalem and was shaking up the status quo. Grace and power followed his message. Lives were being changed. The religious elite were not happy—Jesus was gone but his followers continued to proclaim his life and message. They drug Stephen to court, trumped up false charges, and asked him to defend himself.

Instead of defending himself Stephen preached his final sermon. It was an exegetical masterpiece as he wound his way through the Torah, Prophets, and Psalms to declare Jesus as the promised Messiah. He delivered solid truth, unflinchingly, to a mob eager for blood. And it was more than they could handle.

As he drew near to the end of his message he looked up, perhaps for a measure of reassurance and comfort. The power of the Holy Spirit came upon him and he had a supernatural vision of God and Christ there with him. The declaration of Jesus’ position was more than the ruling authorities could handle.

Not only was Stephen obviously not going to be shut up, but here he was publicly declaring Jesus alive and well. He was stating outright their powerlessness. They were enraged. They attacked and killed him, stoning him to death.

The truth so offended these leaders that they were willing to forsake everything they pretended to serve in order to justify themselves. The truth of Jesus forces a reckoning. Some will accept it, many will reject it. Stephen gazed into Heaven and saw with supernatural eyes the wonders of God. I pray that the truth of Christ would prompt us all to do a little Heaven-gazing.

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December 5 – Full of Grace & Power

Read: Acts 6:8-15

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. (Acts 6:8 ESV)

Jesus’ followers are supposed to be like Stephen. We are supposed to be people who are full of grace and power. People who do great wonders and signs.

Stephen was so impactful as he ministered in the name of Jesus that it bewildered the extremely religious Jewish leadership. So much so that, just as they had done to Jesus, they decided to have Stephen killed. They concocted a phony trial with false witnesses, and they besmeared his reputation through villainous slander.

Stephen remained full of grace throughout. And it was only by the power of God that he withstood their torments. In fact, the whole ordeal only served to better illuminate the power of God at work in Stephen’s life.

Today when Christians talk about God’s power they are often looking for something supernatural or miraculous. I believe those things can and do happen, but perhaps more often the power of God works in His followers to sustain them through difficulty. Grace and power are fully at work when a lost sinner is made to shine like a saved saint.

November 15 – After Three Days

Read: Matthew 27:62-66

and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ (Matthew 27:63 ESV)

Once Jesus’ body had been entombed a group of religious zealots gathered before Pilate. This was the same group that had had Jesus murdered. The same group that had regularly pitched a fit over Jesus performing miracles on the Sabbath were gathering with Pilate on the Sabbath to get someone to seal the tomb.

They remembered Jesus’ own words. They remembered his promise to rise again. And they were so blinded by their religious idiocy that they thought to thwart it, proof that they never actually comprehended what was about to happen.

Pilate granted their wish. The tomb was sealed. Guards were posted. The religious goons were satisfied. No one was going to steal he body of Jesus. No one would make false claims about his resurrection.

October 5 – Envy Jesus

Matthew 27: 15-23

For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. (Matthew 27:18 ESV)
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Pilate was not a believer. By all accounts he was a stern and sometimes ruthless governor. Yet even he could see that the mob which had handed Jesus over to be killed was pushing for something unjust. And his observations led him to declare that envy was the underlying cause.

Just exactly what were the religious people envious of? Jesus had no money. He had no prestigious titles. He was not a man of remarkable appearance. He had nothing at all by which men so often measure worth and value.

What Jesus had was kindness. He had the Spirit of God. He had unwavering commitment to his cause. He had the power of God working through him. He also had the ear of the people.

His miraculous deeds had granted him a special place on the public eye. His selflessness had promoted him to a level of notoriety that set the religious cadre in a big fuss. They didn’t like it. They did like him. And they didn’t like the way he messed with their stuff. And for all that disliking they still couldn’t help but envy Jesus.

July 19 – Blind Guides

Matthew 15:10-20

Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:14 ESV)

Leading people is not an easy task. It involves great risk, responsibility, and repercussions. To lead well requires incredible selflessness and dedication to those in your charge. It also requires understanding, an open mind, and vision. The Pharisees in Jesus’ time were struggling with their leadership roles.

By the time Jesus was born the Jewish religious system had become so corrupt that for many it was a stumbling block. Those charged with escorting the people to the Father were failing in their mission. They were blinded by their assumptions and arrogance. Their willfulness to embrace arrogant ignorance kept them from enjoying the reality of God incarnate, Jesus. In fact, it lead to great animosity and even murder.

If you want to lead people, you need to be able to see. You need to see with clarity, compassion, and character. Have the faith seek the truth about your leadership successes and failures. Find people that will tell you e loving and honest truth, so that you will have clarity. See people compassionately, as Jesus saw them. People are problems to fix, or riddles to solve. They are lives. They are souls. They are precious. Learn to lead with compassionate vision that cares more about the person than the plan. Learn to live and lead with character. That means a consistency of action and desire that is the same every day.

Seeing with clarity, compassion, and character will help, but its not a guarantee. Pray for help. Lead selflessly. And try to avoid blind spots. This world doesn’t need anymore blind guides.

July 18 – Tradition’s Sake

Matthew 15: 1-9

He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? (Matthew 15:3 ESV)

Traditions can be both beautiful and dangerous. I enjoy some wonderful family traditions, especially around the holidays. And for years I took part in many rich religious traditions. But for me there came a day when I began to understand the inevitable shortcomings of religious tradition.

Jesus was very clear about tradition. He rejected any that compromised truth. He systematically addressed those that enforced the corrupt religious hierarchy. Man’s rules can never trump God’s commandments. That was Jesus’ point.

I know how easy it can be to do something because that is how you have always done it. But that is a trap that leads to idolatry. At some point the comfortable nature of a familiar practice, even one that starts out as a good thing, can become a dangerous snare.

Bad tradition becomes a self serving sickness. It is toxic. It thwarts spiritual growth, encourages ignorance, and focuses inward. At some point where bad tradition is involved you stop doing the right thing and start doing the wrong thing, all for tradition’s sake.

July 16 – A Beautiful Thing

Matthew 26:6-13

But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. (Matthew 26:10 ESV)

Shortly before his murder Jesus was traveling through Bethany, the home of his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, while on his way to Jerusalem. As he enjoyed their hospitality his friend Mary anointed him with a very costly perfume. It was a beautiful, and incredibly selfless, act of worship.

I remember hearing missionaries speak on occasion as I grew up. They would often tell amazing stories of sacrifice and service. The mission field seemed a place ripe with opportunities for selfless acts of worship. In my own life it always seemed to be an incredibly easy thing to love Jesus. It wasn’t until early adulthood that I was faced with a situation where worshipping and serving Christ actually cost me something.

Many people the world over are faced with great difficulty in serving Jesus. Their culture, political environment, or familial situation may make it dangerous to openly worship Christ. Still, millions around the world offer their worship to him. Like Mary at Bethany, they understand he is worth all of their sacrifice.

Jesus is worthy of all that we can give him. Our worship, our adoration, our service—all of these things bring us near to him. Extravagant worship is a beautiful thing in the eyes of God.