A Jesus-like Life

Scripture Focus: Acts 6.15
15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. 

From John: On Maundy Thursday, many Christians observe a ceremony of foot-washing in memory of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet as a model of service. It is fitting then that today we focus on Stephen, one of the church’s first servants, or deacons.

Reflection: A Jesus-like Life
By John Tillman

What does it look like to follow Jesus? To be one who devotes the pattern of their thinking, acting, and speaking to follow him? In two short chapters, Luke tells us.

In less than 2,000 words in the NIV, we read the life, ministry, and death of the church’s first martyr, Stephen. It’s shorter than your average online article. Nearly 1300 words are Stephen’s sermon to the Sanhedrin, so narratively, we have a 700-word story of a life patterned after Jesus.

Stephen’s life maps onto the ministry of Jesus. We can both observe and adopt this pattern.

Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit. Stephen’s faith was strong and he knew the scriptures well. We can make an intimate inner life of devotion, filled with prayer and scripture, our foundation. (Luke 3.21-22; John 3.34; Acts 7.55-56)

Stephen’s first ministry was serving outcasts and those hurt in a church controversy. He brought justice to an unjust situation, healing to those harmed, and restored the good name of the church in the process. We must serve the hurting and hungry for the sake of the gospel. (Luke 4.16-25; Acts 6.1)

Stephen performed “signs” among the people. We don’t know what kind of “signs” Stephen performed, but we know they were evidence of grace and pointed people to Jesus. We can be known for powerful, beneficial work in our community. God’s power must be used for his purposes, not our own. (Luke 4.2-4; Luke 9.12-17; Acts 6.8)

Stephen faced trouble boldly, but with grace and love. Even in his sharp critique of the leaders, Stephen held out hope and the gospel to them. And he forgave those who killed him. We can be both convincing and winsome. We can forgive our enemies and offer them God’s redemption. (Luke 23.1-4, 33-34; Acts 6.15, 7.59-60)

The pattern of Stephen’s life is the pattern of Jesus’ life and that pattern is the pattern of the cross. Not many Christians will face physical death for the sake of the gospel but we all must lay down our lives on the cross.

What would have to die in our lives for us to live according to this pattern?
…to be more devoted to scriptures and prayer?
…to serve the outcast and the hurting?
…to seek God’s purposes and rely on his power?
…to contend with grace for the gospel?
…to forgive our enemies and do good to them?

Stephen-like, Jesus-like lives will bring salvation to people and growth to the church.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Remember your word to your servant, because you have given me hope.
This is my comfort in my trouble, that your promise gives me life. — Psalm 119.49-50

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 9 (Listen 3:18)
Acts 6 (Listen 2:35)

Read more about The Overflowing Plate
When tempted to add to an already full plate, know that it is wise to ask for help.

Read more about Intimidating, Liberating Glory
When we know the forgiveness of Jesus, God’s glory goes from intimidating to liberating, from terrifying to electrifying.

The Overflowing Plate

Scripture Focus: Acts 6.1-7
“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’ This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

Reflection: The Overflowing Plate
By Christian Englert

Regardless of vocation, a busy person will face temptation to add more to a full plate that cannot hold any more food. We see things that look luscious, healthy, and fulfilling. Taking on one more task in the kingdom of God might seem like a no-brainer. But we all have a limited capacity, and we need to be humble enough and wise enough to delegate to faithful people those things that we can’t fit on our plates. 

In the passage for today, the apostles felt the pressure of neglecting one task for another. If they focused on attending the tables, their teaching would suffer. So, they wisely sought people that could help with waiting on tables. They did not just seek out any group of people though. 

Rather, the apostles intended for a specific group of servers to be chosen. They were to be wise and “full of the Spirit.” That phrase is significant because Scripture states that the fruit of Spirit is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5.22-23) Those who are in Christ carry this Spirit and its fruits in them. Therefore, by choosing those “filled with the Spirit,” the apostles ensured those being served would experience these fruits and the nature of God.

When food continues to be piled on a full plate, eventually the plate will overflow. The same is true with schedules. They can become overbooked; resulting in overlooked tasks and compromised health. Even the most important thing we have to do in a week might be at risk of being done poorly, because the time required to complete it has been taken away.

When tempted to add to an already full plate, know that it is wise to ask for help. However, make sure you pay great attention to the person you choose to provide assistance. Are they someone who has the ability to complete the task at hand? Are they someone that is known to be reliable? This can be a difficult tension to manage but God will guide us in the process. Ask God for direction and watch for him to place the correct people in your path.

Remember that all things are to be done as though you are serving God, even when it takes a village to complete them.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Bless the Lord, you angels of his, you mighty ones who do his bidding, and hearken to the voice of his word.
Bless the Lord, all you his hosts, you ministers of his who do his will.
Bless the Lord, all you works of his, in all places of his dominion. — Psalm 103.20-22

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 48 (Listen – 3:39)
Acts 6 (Listen – 2:35)

Read more about Faith Requires Humility
One reason faith is so difficult for today’s culture is that we devalue humility. And faith cannot exist without humility

Light Shines in the Darkness :: Epiphany

Scripture Focus: Acts 6.7
So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. 

1 Peter 2.9-10
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Reflection: Light Shines in the Darkness :: Epiphany
By John Tillman

On Christmas, the Advent candles fill our homes and hearts with joy and light. In Epiphany, we set that light on a lampstand for the world to see the light of Christ.

Epiphany’s purpose is to draw attention to the expanding and inclusive nature of the gospel. It is good news of great joy that will be for all people. The light has come to everyone—Gentiles included. No one is to be left in the dark.

The Temple Ezra rebuilt had always been intended to be a light to the nations, demonstrating God’s holiness and love. Just as the priests, stood between the people and God, confessing sin and administering pardon, so too was the nation of Israel intended to be a priest for the nations. It is this function to which Peter is referring when he describes the church as a “holy priesthood.” (1 Peter 2.9–10) Israel struggled to maintain the tension, however, between being holy and being a light to the other nations. We do too. 

Holiness and mercy seem to be consistently difficult for communities of faith to balance. In some communities, the emphasis on holiness is an impenetrable cultural barrier. Sinners don’t dare approach, even if the community would allow them to. In some communities, there is little in the way of holiness, for mercy has come to be interpreted as the non-existence of sin, rather than forgiveness offered for sin.

The Temple Solomon built was destroyed by God because it lost sight of holiness. The second Temple Ezra built would be condemned by Christ for losing sight of mercy and for preventing those of other nations from seeking the God of Israel. 

God would make us holy not so that we will be absent, abandoning the world, but so that we can be present, serving the world to demonstrate God’s love for them. It should be light which dispels darkness, not the other way around. 

Pray to be a light:
Jesus, Light of the world, help us to have a holiness that is not off-putting. May holiness be a light that comforts and reveals love, rather than condemnation. May the light of your holiness and love be a beacon in us, calling others to repentance and the renovation of their souls.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will confess you among the peoples, O Lord; I will sing praise to you among the nations.
For your loving-kindness is greater than the heavens, and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. — Psalm 57.9-10

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Ezra 6 (Listen -4:24) 
Acts 6 (Listen -2:35)

Read more about Radical Outreach to Outcasts :: Epiphany
If we listen long enough, Jesus will ask us to allow someone in, whom we would prefer to keep out…share our blessings with people who do not deserve them.

Read more about Setting a New Standard
Jesus rejected the morally compromised thinking of his culture, while at the same time welcoming into his fellowship those in clear violation of what he taught.

The Necessity of The Spirit

Acts 7.55
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

Reflection: The Necessity of The Spirit 
By John Tillman

We look ahead today reflecting on our readings for tomorrow and two extraordinarily different outcomes for two men led by the same Spirit…

Many times in Judges, the Israelites rebelled over the course of one generation and from the next generation a Judge would rise up to save them. But not the first Judge, Othniel. He had been there the whole time.

Othniel was already a great hero of Israel. He had every advantage and privilege available to him at that time. He was wealthy from his military conquests. He was part of an influential family. He was a seasoned military leader. He had a strong spiritual heritage, being from the family of Caleb, a mighty hero of faith. But despite this, Israel suffered and Othniel could not save them. Until God’s Spirit came on him.

Othniel was a great leader and a great warrior. But it was the Spirit of God, not Othniel or his skills that saved Israel. In Othniel’s day, the Spirit of The Lord coming on a leader was a rare, miraculous event. But in our case the miracle has already occurred. The main thing keeping us from accessing the Holy Spirit is…us.

Jesus promised the Holy Spirit and told the disciples that it is to our benefit that he leave and the Spirit come. But the benefit may not be something that looks like victory to the world. In Acts, we read of Stephen, who was filled with the Spirit and spoke with power. We like that part. Then he was stoned to death.

Othniel and Stephen are two men touched and led by the Spirit of God to very different outcomes. From the world’s point of view, one was a victor and one a victim. In many ways, the Kingdom perspective of their situations is the reverse.

Othniel seems to have won a great victory and Stephen seem to have lost everything, until you keep reading. 40 years later, Israel is back in the same predicament, tragically repeating the same mistakes over and over. But 40 years after Stephen’s death, the church he died for was spread across the known world by one of the very men who helped put him to death.

We need the Spirit in our lives not because our skills, our wealth, and our influence cannot accomplish things of significance, but because what is truly significant is often hidden, like a treasure buried in a field, and we must follow the Spirit, forsaking all else to find it.

Prayer: The Greeting
O Lord, I cry to you for help; in the morning my prayer comes before you. — Psalm 88.14

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Judges 2 (Listen – 3:19)
Acts 6 (Listen – 2:35)

Today’s Readings
Judges 3 (Listen – 4:30), Acts 7 (Listen – 8:49)
Judges 4 (Listen – 3:57), Acts 8 (Listen – 5:10)

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Readers’ Choice Submissions

It is once again time for us to seek out the voices of our readers and hear from you about posts from the past eleven months that have challenged and comforted you and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

Readers’ Choice posts will be republished during the month of August and periodically throughout the Fall.

Follow the link to fill out the form. Feel free to fill out the form multiple times for multiple submissions. Please limit your submissions to posts published this calendar year, between September of 2018 and today.

For any questions about The Park Forum, or to make suggestions of posts via email, contact John Tillman at john@theparkforum.org

Why Do We Need the Leading of the Spirit?
The leading of the Spirit—O, how highly necessary is it! Who can be without it?

Read more about Spiritual Practice as EDC
The daily practices of prayer, reading the scriptures, meditation are tools that can connect us powerfully to the Holy Spirit, help us define who and whose we are, and allow us to walk with the confidence of our secure identity in Christ.