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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Colebrook Road farm, Lancaster County, PA 8/31/10
Lancaster Pennsylvania farm
We pass this tidy farm just north of Mount Joy.
The hay is harvested and the corn soon will be.

Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide, for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.

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"A Coincidence Or God's Providence?"

"Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul" (Acts 7:58).

In the last three messages we have contended that our impact for Christ is often a composite of smaller incremental components over a period of time, using various methods, and through a variety of people.

Finally, today in our four-part series, we want to consider one more aspect in these incremental steps. Events that may seem coincidental are in reality God's way of working behind the scenes to accomplish His purpose or as it's been stated, "Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous".

The first Christian martyr revealed in the New Testament was Stephen. He was stoned after he preached his only sermon, but what a sermon it was! He didn't attend a homiletics class where student pastors learn how to give an effective sermon and yet he delivered the most powerful and inspired sermon I've ever read. The daily text introduces Saul as [coincidentally] being at the scene and according to Acts 8:1 he also gave approval to the stoning.

But what did Saul (known later as Paul) and the others witness at Stephen's stoning? The Scripture highlights two statements that Stephen made just before his death, both very similar to statements our Lord Jesus made as He was dying on the cross:

1) "While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit'" (Acts 7:59). This statement stands as a great contrast to the rage Stephen's attackers shamelessly revealed as they gnashed their teeth at him, as they covered their ears and yelled to the top of their voices, as they rushed toward him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Of course we see another hate-filled setting and a very similar request that Jesus made when He hung from the Cross.

2) "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" (Acts 7:60).  I think the phrase "cried out" indicates he fully intended this to be heard by the very ones who were causing his death.  Here we see another contrast when those who threw the deadly stones would now look upon Stephen who "fell asleep" following his verbal forgiveness toward his killers.  One can only wonder the impact this had on all who heard it including Saul. Again Jesus made a practically identical statement from the Cross. 

Apart from conjecture, we just don't know the lasting impact that Stephen's words and actions might have had on Saul and all who looked on or were participants in his death.

We need to realize that God is at work in the details of our lives, in the adverse circumstances we deal with, and in the day by day situations that come our way. Ultimately what may seem simply a coincidence may very well be God's plan unfolding and His hand directing us in the larger and smaller details of life.

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Daily prayer: Father, the story of Stephen's stoning is filled with contrasts where we see good in the midst of evil, love in the midst of hate, expansion of the church in the midst of terrible persecution. You are always at work, always providing, always showing loving concern for Your very own.  Enable us to fix our eyes on heaven's throne in the midst of troubles that seek to weigh us down.   Give us the faith to believe that You are working for our good in the midst of circumstances that may seem the opposite.  The devil may deviously plot, but You have a loving plan, and it's always for our good.  And we thank You for it, in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Note: Some commentators feel that the daily verse may indicate that Saul had an authoritative role in Stephen's stoning. However this is not clear. He was initially hardened by the experience and became a great persecutor of the young church before his miraculous conversion.

Al & Adeline Worthley 8/16/09Al Worthley is a friend of mine who serves as my chaplain overseer. The photo to the right shows us when we had dinner with Al and his wife Adeline last year in Springfield, MO. Yesterday, as I was preparing this message I received an email newsletter to chaplains in which he shared a message which illustrates today's message.


Have you ever wondered if your work is making a difference? Even when there are tasks that seem to be outside of the call you responded to when you felt the call to become a chaplain? Early in August I received a call from John Smith (not his real name), taking me back 29 years to when I served as a chaplain at the Federal Correctional Institution in Texarkana, Texas.

Here is the story: John was locked up in segregation for some serious infractions to institutional codes. He sent a formal request to see me, but before I had the chance to go to his cell, I ran into his correctional counselor who informed me that John had requested that I serve as his staff representative to accompany him to the disciplinary committee.

Staff representatives are expected to look over the facts of the alleged infraction and speak on their behalf if warranted. His actions were serious and generally resulted in prolonged segregation time or transfer to another facility, especially if an inmate needed to be separated from one or more inmates. John fit this category.

When I went to see him he said, “Here is what I want you to do; tell the committee that I could not have committed (the infraction) because I was in the chapel during the time of the incident.”

I knew he had been at the chapel that day but not at the time the infraction had been committed. When confronted with this, he became angry and I told him I would be back when he cooled down. Later that afternoon we again had time to meet.  I simply asked, “What would Jesus do?” John had regularly attended a 6 AM prayer meeting on Tuesday mornings where we studied Andrew Murray’s book With Christ in the School of Prayer.

Based on what we were learning about “being in Christ,” I simply stated, “Here is what I recommend that you do: give a full confession, including naming your character faults which allowed you to justify your actions. Take full responsibility and then apologize by naming what you did and how you rationalized your action. Then ask for forgiveness.” We discussed that he would have to bear the consequences of his actions. We also discussed the guidelines the disciplinary committee would use to discipline him.

John did confess and was disciplined and spent several months “in-the-hole.” He used that time to develop personal disciplines based on the book of Proverbs and the Sermon on the Mount.
In his recent call John thanked me for that time in segregation. It changed his life. Now he serves on a church board, has a successful business and has been on several mission trips.  He said, “What I learned in the ‘hole’ made my whole prison time worthwhile.”

I was transferred from Texarkana while he finished his time in segregation. I had forgotten about the incident and the studies I took to him before leaving Texarkana. And what was I thinking over these 29 years of lost contact with John? That he was a loser. 
Chaplains, I tell this story to encourage you.

1) You will not see or know the results of every part of your ministry.
2) What God is doing or using to grip the hearts of others may never be known.
3) All that is required of us is faithfulness.
4) The Word of God is powerful – allow it to do its work.

Stephen's note: I called Al yesterday to thank him for sharing the story. He told me he recalls initially meeting John when he had come into the chapel not out of spiritual interest but to get away from trouble in the yard.  Al approached him to provide a witness for Christ, which was the beginning of his ministerial relationship.

Challenge: Is there someone you can contact today who made an impact on your life? I found it interesting that it took this man 29 years to contact Al, although I am glad he finally did and it sure encouraged Al and through his story it will touch many others. Here's a story of a  delayed expression of appreciation from my life.

Lancaster County Scenes

Schenks Mill Covered Bridge, Lancaster County, PA 8/31/10
Schenks Mill Covered Bridge, Lancaster County, PA.
This is one of the most picturesque covered bridges in our area. On the other side the road ends in a T with a beautiful farm directly ahead (now covered by the lush foliage).

Lancaster County, PA
This interesting, colorful building is actually right here in the small town of Mount Joy although, due to the routes I take, I rarely pass by it.
It used to be the "Central Hotel".

Truck fan windmill, Lancaster County, PA
This non-functioning decorative windmill was made by a friend from a truck radiator fan and really turned fast!  My brother Mike and I wondered if that power could be harnessed.

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources
Click on the link to open and play.
(In some cases you may also need to click again to start the song.)

"He's Concerned"  Video  Cece Winans

"Come Ye Thankful People, Come"  Video  

Yesterday I shared a photo I took on Tuesday on an Amish farm and mistakenly identified it as corn shocks. I was corrected by a local reader that it was actually a photo of tobacco shocks. See here for a photo of corn shocks.

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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. and the King James Version.

Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and I make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and to prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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