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April 18, 2018

South Africa (Photo by Doris High)
Our friends, Cerwin and Doris High, visited South Africa and she posted many photos of their journey including this one.

"The Final Outcome"

Message summary: The final outcome for true children of God is always good!

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"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'" (Acts 7:55,56).

Keeping up with the increase in Christian persecution around the world can be daunting and discouraging. But we feel it's important to refresh our sensitivity to those mistreated and as an expression of obedience to Hebrews 13:3. We appreciate ministries like Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors, Door Of Hope and others that keep us mindful of the plight of the persecuted.

Most persecution involves Christian nationals in various places all over the world and is greatly under-reported. But those in mission work may also face the brunt of persecution for their obedience to go into all the world.

Yesterday we read the story of 50-year-old pastor Andrew Brunson,
a North Carolina missionary and his family, who had built a life in Turkey for 23 years pastoring a church. For the last year and a half he's been thrown behind bars and left to wonder if he'll ever see America, or his family, again. He has been outrageously accused of spying, conspiracy, and terrorism.

You don't have to read very far into the history of the Church to find persecution, which Jesus forthrightly told the disciples they would experience. Acts 4 has the first account with Peter and John thrown into jail for their proclamation that Jesus had risen from the dead. Later in that chapter they were released but threatened. In Acts 5 the level had increased to physical floggings. But today's account records the story of the first Christian martyr, Stephen.

Allow this truth to penetrate deeply into your spiritual being as you read this message today. The final outcome for true children of God is always good though the sometimes grim circumstances we may encounter on life's journey could lead us or those who observe us to think otherwise.

Stephen or Steven is a common first name. It is particularly significant to Christians, as it belonged to Saint Stephen (Greek Στέφανος Stéphanos), an early disciple and deacon who, according to the Book of Acts, was stoned to death; he is widely regarded as the first martyr (or "protomartyr") of the Christian Church.

Stephen was one of the first followers of Christ. The Scripture records nothing concerning his background or conversion. He is first mentioned when he was chosen by the early church to serve as a deacon. The historian Luke records that he was "a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit." He soon had a preaching opportunity and bears a powerful witness for the Lord, likely his first and certainly his last sermon.

But rather than getting appreciative pats on the back or seeing the altars full of repentant sinners, he faced a very unreceptive crowd who was "furious and gnashing their teeth at him". He was forcefully drug out of the city and stoned to death.

Stephen's stoning
Consider the human dimension in Stephen's experience.  Surely he and others who observed his martyrdom had to overcome the question "Is this what serving God is all about?" As the first recorded Christian martyr he and other believers looking on might have wondered, "Where is God?" "Is God really going to allow this to go on?"  Surely Stephen loved his family and friends and had a promising ministry. At his burial "godly men mourned deeply for him" (Acts 8:2).  Surely he had to overcome tremendous fear as the situation turned from bad to ugly to deadly. And, practically speaking, imagine the horrific physical pain and agony he endured as large stones were hurled at him.

Note Stephen's faith-building vision of "the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God". In spite of the visible defeat that onlookers could not deny, the eternal outcome was truly a victorious win!

Stephen was not delivered from harm in the way he might have expected or would certainly have desired. Yet this was part of God's ultimate plan. Jesus wasn't "off duty" nor was he oblivious to Stephen's plight. I'm thankful for the witness who heard Stephen declare that he saw "the windows of heaven open and the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God". What tremendous confidence and anticipation this must have given him in his final moments of life on this side!

So, back to our lives and our struggles this day. The outcome of our hard situation may or may not be as we desire or expect. But let us, like Stephen, look up to heaven in faith where we can get a glimpse of our Lord, who is never "off duty". And remember the final outcome for the true child of God is always good! Truly there is victory in Jesus!

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Praying manDaily prayer: Father, in faith, we look to You for strength today and bright hope for tomorrow. Just as Stephen, as written in the book of Acts, had a glimpse of Your glory in heaven and Jesus standing at Your right hand he was filled with confidence to remain true to his convictions and calling though painful death was imminent. We pray for those enduring similar persecution today all throughout the world, including Pastor Andrew Brunson and Pastor Raymond Koh missing for over a year now. Bring comfort, assurance and daily hope to their family members and sustain them when they feel weak or helpless. May we all turn our hearts toward heaven so that we seek Your approval and blessing above the temporal thrills this world has to offer. May we perish every fond ambition, all we've sought, and hoped and known in exchange for the glories of heaven where we will reign with You forevermore. I want to make a firm resolve to live fully for You, for it is in You that I have put my trust: I will not be afraid of what man can do unto me.  Amen.

See Psalm 56

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources

"Victory In Jesus"  Video  Gold City

"Victory In Jesus"  Video  George Beverly Shea

News story about pastor imprisoned in Turkey

Some of Doris High's photos from Africa

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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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