Sunday, May 10, 2015

"Making a Splash"

            Every mother wants her child to make a splash in this world.  Every mother wants her child to be great.  Of course, goodness is different from greatness.  For example, Amelia Earhart, Galileo, Harriet Tubman, and Billy Graham did great things.  Imagine how their mothers felt!  But great things are not always good.  Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, Hitler, and Queen Jezebel did great things too—terrible, but great.  Imagine how their parents felt about the effect they had on the world!  Yes, we want our children to make a splash—but we want it to be a good one.
            Every life is like a ripple in a pond, spreading out to make more and more ripples that will eventually cover the surface of the water.  The bigger the splash, the more ripples we make.  Sometimes we can’t see where all those ripples will go, how our lives will touch other people.   Stephen’s was one such life.  As one of the first deacons in the church, he served and testified boldly.  In the seventh chapter of the Book of Acts, we read about the martyrdom of Stephen.  What a tragedy that his life was snuffed out, but what an impact he made! 
            Rather than stamping out the witness of Christians, Stephen’s martyrdom inspired courage and commitment in others.  His testimony gave others confidence to share their faith, and the church continued to grow.  History has always shown this to be true: instead of the intended effect of squelching faith, martyrs motivate believers.  Stephen’s ripples went well beyond his own life, making positive change in the church.  Though we don’t want to invite martyrdom, we do want to a positive ripple-effect for ourselves and for our children. 
            One splash that Stephen never intended to make was the increased persecution of the church.  One student of Rabbi Gamaliel, a Pharisee named Saul, was present at Stephen’s stoning.  Acts 8:1-4[i] says:

Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.  And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.  Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.

            Stephen’s martyrdom inspired believers, but it also inspired Saul to persecute Christians all the more.  Yet this persecution served the opposite purpose of spreading the faith even farther.  Because of the persecution, the church that had heretofore been confined to Jerusalem spread beyond that city.  Christians scattered all over, taking the Gospel with them, preaching the word wherever they went.
            Sometimes tragedy comes into the lives of believers.  Just because a person becomes a Christian, that’s no guarantee of a pain-free existence.  In fact, more struggle may come because of faith, as all the persecuted church throughout the ages can attest.  Stephen’s mother had to bury her son.  So did the mothers of the twenty-one Egyptian Christians who were beheaded for their faith this past February.  Besides martyrdom, how many millions of Christians suffer other kinds of persecution for their faith?  We don’t understand why we have to go through these kinds of things, but we do know that Romans 8:28 tells us, “…God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  Even these kinds of tragedies can lead to triumph, if we trust God.
            Along with Stephen’s death and the increased persecution of the church came a scattering of believers that led to more opportunities to share the Gospel in different places.  The church was forced to get out of its comfort zone and made to leave Jerusalem, therefore fulfilling Jesus’ prediction in Acts 1:8: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”  Like ripples in a pond the believers spread out into the surrounding countryside, and eventually throughout the whole known world.  Now, there are very few places on the planet where Christians cannot go, and literally nowhere that the Gospel can’t go through modern technology.  Like concentric circles in water, God calls us all to make a splash for Jesus, and then follow His mission in ever-increasing range and devotion.
            As the warmer weather turns hot, it’s time to open up the swimming pools.  In the pools, everybody wants to make a splash.  One of my earliest memories is when I was four years old.  My brother and I had taken only a couple of swimming classes, and we were playing in the pool in our backyard.  Something happened, and I was in over my head—literally.  My brother tried throwing me something, but all can remember was my head that kept going under the water and the panic that set in as I couldn’t breathe.  I remember trying to swim, trying to tread water, but only splashing.  Then, my mom’s hands were on me, pulling to safety, holding me up.  The good news is that no matter how big our splash is, and no matter how far our ripples go, God will always be there to save us, to hold us up.  I pray that you’ll make a splash for Jesus—and that whatever kind of splash it is, that you’ll trust God to hold you.

[i] All scriptures taken from the NASB.

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