Persecution is part of being a follower of Jesus. He was “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53). As His followers, we not only know the “power of His resurrection,” but also the “fellowship of His sufferings” (Philippians 3:10).
Stephen was a respected man in his community, filled with the Holy Spirit, wise, and one through whom miracles and wonders were manifest. Yet, the truth he spoke was fiercely rejected, resulting in his arrest and eventual death by stoning.
Many people reject truth because they don’t want to face their own sins. They claim morality and justice, but only that which permits them to be the judge and determiner. Since the Garden of Eden, human nature is to “be like God,” determining and defining good and evil. In America, idolatry begins with “I” – in more ways than one.
Therefore, those who claim Jesus Christ as the only source of truth are labeled “exclusive” and “intolerant.” Spoken words of biblical truth are considered “hate speech.” Followers of Jesus are pressured to privatize their faith, while others parade their beliefs proudly.
[Note: Regretfully, there are a few followers of Jesus whose speech and attitude truly are hate-filled and arrogant, not reflecting the character of Jesus. Perhaps they are immature and not yet discipled, or hard-hearted and legalistic. Either way, hateful attitudes and spiteful actions are displeasing to the Lord and can be destructive to the testimony of Jesus. Still, many sincere and humble followers of Jesus are targeted and persecuted, simply because of their faith in and proclamation of Jesus Christ.]
Followers of Jesus will be persecuted. How then should we respond? Stephen sets the bar pretty high with his Christ-like response.
“Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
Acts 7:58-60 ESV
Like Jesus, Stephen willingly gave his life.
Like Jesus, Stephen willingly forgave his persecutors.
Like Jesus, Stephen’s death served to give others new life. Did you notice that Saul was there, consenting to Stephen’s death? Think about the impact Stephen made in his life. Saul was educated, religious, and passionate about justice, yet he was actually an enemy of God. He would have known the story of Jesus and heard the details about His crucifixion. Now, standing in front of Stephen, watching him being stoned to death, Saul would have seen the similarities between Jesus and Stephen. But the greatest impact would have occurred when Stephen looked out toward his persecutors, and maybe stared directly into Saul’s eyes, and said, “Father. forgive them.”
That moment had to have been sealed in Saul’s mind and heart. Not long after that event, Luke tells us that Paul had a personal encounter with Jesus that transformed his life – and our world – forever. Stephen’s persecution was a part of Saul’s transformation.
Perhaps your words of testimony are being rejected. Maybe you’ve been marginalized, threatened, or even persecuted for your faith. The worldly mindsets and philosophies around us seek to box us in and keep us quiet. But know this – your testimony, both verbalized in words and visualized in action, is planting seeds of faith, which will grow and produce a harvest of souls for God’s kingdom.
Following Jesus is not an easy path, but it is a worthy one. This is why many believers in the early church had this to say about their persecution: “I was counted worthy to suffer for the One who suffered for me.”
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David was a hard-working shepherd.
David was a passionate worshipper.
David was a respected leader.
However, David also committed adultery, had Uriah killed, and displeased the Lord on several occasions. You would think that these sinful actions would have forfeited any promise for a significant role in God’s kingdom.
If your reputation is ruined, is your legacy doomed?
David’s road was certainly not an easy one. Sin indeed demands payment and comes with consequences. David faced heartache in both his family and his kingdom. However, God brought him through, eventually redeeming David’s reputation. He is not known for his failures; he is known for his heart for God.
David wrote this humble, prayerful song, expressing his desire to still be used by God:
“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.”
Psalms 138:8 ESV
Actions matter. But heart matters more. And only God truly knows your heart.
Many people truly desire to please God, but have experienced personal failure. God’s grace is greater than your sin. His grace overcomes. You may have failed, but the race is not over yet.
Get up! Stop wallowing in the pit of shame – that hellish place where demons taunt you about your past and give you no hope for the future.
Repent! That word is far more important and liberating than you may have imagined. Confess your sins to God and to whomever else you need to confess. Be filled with sorrow for your selfishness and disobedience. Be determined to walk in a new direction to please God and honor others.
Follow Jesus! Every day. With your whole heart. Wherever He leads.
Let Jesus be the Savior.
He is very good at redeeming and restoring.
Photo: Ethan Schoonover via Flickr
The following letter was written by author, and well known and respected Foursquare minister, Pastor Jack Hayford.
Please take a moment right now to read this aloud as a declaration of God’s healing power:
I believe it is God’s will to heal and deliver the sick and tormented, and that He has revealed the fullness of His healing purpose in His Son Jesus Christ. I believe it is God’s nature to work redemptively to heal by every possible means, because His mercy and lovingkindness are ever open to provide grace for the relief of human need, pain, misery and sin.
Because I believe this, I praise our Creator who has made all things well, affirming that all sickness and pain is contrary to His will and desire for mankind and has only come because of man’s fallen condition. I declare thanksgiving to Him that despite every effort of hell to steal, kill and destroy, the Father has appointed multiple havens of refuge from sickness and pain through climate and diet; the efforts of mankind through hospitals, doctors, and medicine; and the divine means of healing gifts distributed by the Holy Spirit and ministered in the Name of Jesus.
I believe in the power of Jesus Christ to heal the sick and afflicted and to break through bondage when His Name is invoked in any circumstance. I believe His power is as consistently available today as it was during His own earthly ministry, and that through His Cross He provided the grounds for us to expect and receive healing and deliverance as surely as we may receive forgiveness and sanctification.
Because I believe this, I accept the ministry of healing as a part of Jesus’ commission to go to the whole world with the Gospel. I proclaim God’s will and power to heal, the power of Jesus’ name in prayers of faith, and that confession of sins brings deliverance. I affirm the authority of elders to anoint with oil, and the practice of laying hands on the sick that they may recover.
I believe in the power of God’s Word and Spirit to sustain and supply health when those who believe walk simply and humbly before Him in faith. I believe the fruit of such faith will be manifest in love and patience, and so I reject any attitude that induces guilt when a believer in Jesus does not seem to be able to receive physical healing or personal deliverance from sickness or any other torment.
Because I believe this, I am convinced the good fight of faith will prevail unto health. I am equally convinced that in any case where victory is not immediately evidenced, that a victory of another order is being realized by the divine grace of Almighty God.
With such faith as this, I move in the ministry of prayer, faith, and healing, so that Jesus Christ is glorified and, in all circumstances, His Church is edified.
Grateful for His Healing Touch,
I often drove my kids to school when they were young. Through the years we developed particular rhythms, habits, and traditions. One tradition that remained throughout elementary, middle, and high school years was the quotation of this Scripture:
“From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised!”
Psalms 113:3 ESV
There are few things more beautiful and majestic than dawn and dusk. They happen every day, but we often take them for granted. We often plow through our daily and weekly schedules without pausing to take in the beauty of sunrise and sunset. Some of us seem to appreciate these breathtaking views only when we are on vacation or visiting some place away from our normal lives.
Perhaps today is a good day to pay attention to the world God created. Why not go outside and look beyond man’s creation to see that which is truly spectacular. Human structures and inventions are amazing (after all, we were created in God’s image), but God alone is Creator, and His work is matchless.
God’s handiwork restores wonder and awe to the soul. The mountains are His. The lush valleys were His idea. He scattered the stars and spun the planets. The aardvark and wildebeest? Brilliant! And He did it all with His voice. He spoke…and it was.
There was a moment, however, when God decided to use His hands as well as His voice. First, He spoke: “Let Us make man in Our image.” Then He formed man from the dust of the earth and breathed into him the breath (spirit) of life. No other creature bears God’s image, nor carries His breath. You are His masterpiece. More than creating you to love Him, He created you so He could love you.
Instead of seeing this Psalm as an emotionless instruction of your duty to praise all day, see it as a key to release the praise that’s already in you. In other words, just stop and look at God’s creation, and a song of praise will naturally flow.
When we stop admiring God’s creation we have a hard time seeing God Himself.
Photo: NASA Image by Astronaut Ron Garan
“And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.””
Revelation 10:4 ESV
Several years ago I visited the island of Patmos and saw the cave believed to be where John resided after he was sentenced for his proclamation of Jesus Christ. He would have likely been in his nineties when he served time on this Alcatraz-type island.
While there, John wrote letters to the seven primary churches of that region, in what is modern day Turkey. John was their spiritual overseer, a father in the faith. Of course, Patmos is best known as the place where John received detailed prophetic revelations from and about Jesus Christ. We know those insights as the last book of the Bible – The Revelation of Jesus Christ.
Through detailed visions given to John, Jesus revealed the past (things which were), the present (things which are), and the future (things which will be). Most of what John experienced was written down and shared with other believers through his letters. However, there some things Jesus showed John, but then forbade him to share with others.
It makes you wonder, “Why would Jesus show John things he was not permitted to share?”
I believe this happens quite often with God. He typically reveals things to us with the intention that we share those things with others. But there are also times when He leads us to NOT share those things. I can think of a few reasons why that may be the case:
- Sometimes revelation is given for the purpose of intercession. God will show us things in order to invite us to pray for situations and people.
- Sometimes revelation is given to test our obedience and trustworthiness. Can God trust me with information and insight about others?
- Sometimes it is a matter of timing. God may reveal something to me now, but have me wait until the appropriate time to share it with others.
- Sometimes God has me keep silent because I have only been given partial knowledge, and I need to gain further insight before sharing something that is only partial-truth.
Prophecy must be discerned before it is declared.
I must exercise discipline to hold my tongue, even when I believe I have been given insight from God. Not every thought has to be vocalized. And patience is always part of the process.
Father- please reveal Yourself to me more each day. And please help me to be trustworthy with your revelations.