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Friday, September 22, 2017

Martindale pickup 9/21/17
These Mennonite boys are enjoying the view from the back of a horse-drawn pickup truck near Martindale, PA. How many of our readers remember riding in the back of a pickup!

"Your Martyr, Stephen"

Message summary:  At Stephen's death he likely had no idea that "someone" was listening to his testimony who would soon take up Christ's commission and take the gospel to all nations. Today are you being faithful to God's call? You really don't know how many "Sauls" are watching you!

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"'Lord,' I replied, 'these men know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in You.  And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him'" (Acts 22:19,20).

We made two hospital visits yesterday, both to people bearing Bible names.

Early in the morning we stopped by Lancaster General Hospital to visit Luke, an elderly friend. He's had a long season of life on this earth and informed us he was ready to move on when his time came, assured of his entrance into heaven due to his faith in Christ. He had a remarkable glow as he described to us a dream he had of heaven with flowers so beautiful they were beyond description. He was in a very weakened condition and our visit was brief but we shared together John 3:16 prior to our departing prayer. What a blessing to see his lips laboriously move as he followed along with the familiar Bible text.

In the afternoon we visited Ephrata Community Hospital to see baby Stephen. Stephen's on the other side of life's spectrum, born the night before to our friends, Jesse and Anna Ruth. Sadie, his older sister called us late Wednesday evening and informed me I had a namesake. At first I said "You mean the peacock?" since I knew they had named him Stevie after they purchased him at the Green Dragon, and we hauled him to their farm. "No" she said, "a real live human baby!"*

Of course I was deeply honored that they would name their seventh child Stephen and this prompted me to again consider the Biblical character we are both named after.

Both Bible characters, Luke and Stephen, have a role in today's message since Luke is the author of Acts which includes the amazing story of the only Stephen mentioned in the Bible.

In our daily verse we have a part of Paul's personal testimony before an angry Jewish crowd (Acts 22). Today, let's consider the impact that Stephen's martyrdom likely had on Saul.

In our text Saul (now named Paul) is relating his response to the Lord when he fell into a trance in Jerusalem shortly after his salvation experience in Damascus. The Lord warned him to leave Jerusalem because his testimony would not be accepted (v. 18). The Greek word for testimony here is "marturia".

Paul responds to the Lord in our daily text acknowledging his own role in persecuting Christians prior to his conversion. Let us especially consider the phrase "Your martyr Stephen".  Perhaps not surprisingly the Greek word for "martyr" here is "martus". Paul readily acknowledges the testimony of the one he calls "Your martyr".

Stephen's stoning
I wonder how many times this final scene in Stephen's life played over and over in Paul's mind, both prior to and after his conversion: "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. 'Look,' he said, 'I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.' At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' 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 7:55-60).

Only moments before Stephen drew his last breath he saw the Lord standing at the right hand of the Father. Surely, seeing the person of Jesus diminished the conflict, fear, and unbearable pain that he was about to endure.  At Stephen's death he likely had no idea that "someone" was listening to his testimony, in fact, the very one who gave approval to his execution. This very one would soon respond to Christ's commission and take the gospel to all nations. Today are you being faithful to God's call? You really don't know how many "Sauls" are watching you!

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Praying manDaily prayer: Father, we are called to share the message of the Gospel to those around us, and for some Your calling requires them to go to foreign soil to share with those who have not heard. Many of these "called" ones have seen the fruit of their labor but there are others who have laid down their lives that people might know Your salvation message. We are deeply touched by the sterling example of Stephen, his uncompromising message, his fierce bravery, and his incredible forgiveness directed toward those who conspired against him and brought about his death. Help us to remain faithful to You, forgiving to those who do us harm, and mindful that others are watching our lives. We want them to see Christ in us. It's in His name that we pray. Amen.

Prayer for the suffering due to hurricanes and earthquakes:

Father, it seems that natural disasters continue to bombard people near and far as we witness the ongoing devastation from hurricanes and earthquakes; so many people cut off from their loved ones in great part due to power outages and others in danger of their lives due to safety issues related to their living conditions, lack of medical supplies, and the basic necessities required for living. How we pray for first responders and volunteers who are risking their own lives to rescue those in greater danger - grant them courage, physical and emotional strength, and the tools necessary to help those entrapped in dangerous circumstances. Bring comfort, peace, and a growing trust in You to those who have suffered the loss of a loved one(s) and loss of their familiar and comfortable way of life. May those who are reaching out to these very needy people be encouraged by the difference they are making. Bless the Christian teams who are providing relief as they lovingly share of their faith giving hope to those who otherwise feel their lives are hopeless due to their present circumstances. Provide the funds, the materials, and the people needed to rebuild and restore the lives of those adversely affected by the destruction and ruin. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Note 1: The natural disasters have given us ministry opportunities expressing interest and care to employees from Puerto Rico and Mexico. Yesterday I was speaking to a man from Puerto Rico and he informed me that his wife was from Mexico so they are bearing a double burden.

* Note 2: We can only imagine the smiles and excitement in the hospital room last evening as Jesse brought their six older children in to see their mom and baby brother, Stephen. This is their first child born in a hospital so the setting is much different than the familiarity of the home, but it's the family bond that brings vibrancy, joy, and the Scriptural blessing God has for the family. Anna Ruth said the children had a hard time leaving her and the baby as they departed - and why not, since all children before were born in the home! But they will reunite today after her hospital discharge.

Some scenes from our travels yesterday

Amish couple in spring wagon 9/21/17
Driving through Intercourse, PA yesterday we passed this older Amish couple out for a pleasant ride in their spring wagon. We think she might have been "resting her eyes".

Cannas on Shirk Road 9/21/17
Every summer these Cannas near New Holland are planted out in the farm field dressing up the landscape quite a bit.

Martindale, PA farmhouse 9/21/17
This tidy white farmhouse near Martindale, PA caught our eyes.

Village Farm Market apples 9/21/17
Apples at the Village Farm Market
One of my favorite Autumn scenes is apples at farm markets!

Visit at Longwood 9/6/15
Here's a photo taken several years ago of Luke (mentioned in message) and his wife Anna Mae at Longwood Manor sitting with Ester and her friend, another Stephen!

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources

"Stephen the Martyr"  Video  Brief drama presentation telling Stephen's story

"Let Them See You"  Video  JJ Weeks Band

Study Note: Many years ago I did a personal study compiling a list of all of the named individuals that Paul interfaced with during his long ministry beginning with his first reference in Acts and those referenced in each of his epistles. There are approximately 115 different individuals specifically named that were associated with Paul! (I must say approximately, due to similar names some of them may be the same individual with a slightly different name or different individuals with the same name.) This does not include the many unnamed contacts like the Ephesian elders.

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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 make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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