Written and preached by David P. Nolte

ACTS 7:51-60

We frequently arrive at some pivotal moment in our lives when we say, "This is it! This is the moment I have been waiting for!" Graduation is such a moment. After what sometimes seemed an interminable round of classes, assignments, lessons and tests, when you complete your senior year of high school or college, you can say, "This is it! This is the moment I have been waiting for!" Oh, by no means is graduation the terminus! Oh, no! There is much more ahead, hopefully. Graduation marks a point to which you have grown, and a point from which you must continue to grow. Even if your school years ended long ago, there are lessons to be learned, instruction to be received, and maturity to be attained. As we honor our graduates today, and recognize the level to which they have attained, I want to tell you about a young man named Ron Arney. Ron was from the Woodburn Christian Church and was a student at the then Puget Sound College of the Bible in Seattle, Washington. Ron was a participant in the Traveling College that went to several different countries for learning opportunities. He truly wanted to learn as much of God's word as possible. We can gain some valuable insights as we consider this young man and as we look to Stephen and our text. What should we realize?
    1. The religious leaders didn't consider themselves students; they had nothing to learn; they were know-it-alls!
    2. None of us has reached that place where we can say, as did an arrogant school mate of mine, "At the rate I am learning, by the time I graduate there will be nothing left for me to learn!" We are all students in life; there is always something more to learn.
    3. Some lessons pertain to this life, and others to eternity. Both have their value and place in the scheme of learning.
      1. Some temporal lessons, valuable none-the-less, we ought to learn include:
        1. The work ethic. Proverbs 18:9 teaches us that "He also who is slack in his work Is brother to him who destroys."
        2. Wise use of our time. Ephesians 5:15, 16 reminds us, "Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil."
        3. To serve one another. Jesus taught "Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant;" Mark 10:43.
        4. To benefit from poor choices. Don't whine about your mistakes or keep repeating them, learn from them.
        5. To accept personal responsibility. If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, it's not society's fault, so assume accountability for your own life.
      2. Some lessons with eternal ramifications, even more valuable, include:
        1. To deal with temptation. We are all tempted in many ways, but if we succumb, if we yield, if we indulge, we enter into sin which separates us from God.
        2. To walk by faith so that one day we may receive that for which we have believed.
        3. To live godly and holy lives. Paul wrote saying, "for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." 1 Timothy 4:8.
        4. To really worship God. Many desire a religion of excitement rather than to be excited about their religion. They want worship that centers on their needs and emotions rather than focusing on His Worthiness to be worshiped.
        5. To live with one another in a kind and forgiving manner. We will have to spend eternity with some people we don't care for much here. Better learn to live in love and peace.
        6. To love the Lord our God with all our being: heart and soul and mind and strength. If you don't love Him in time, you won't love Him any more in eternity.
    4. Sometimes lessons are slow learned because, like those who stoned Stephen, we are stubborn, proud, lazy, complacent and we just don't care.
Ron was a student preparing to serve Christ. He and his classmates, taking a break from studies, were swimming in the surf off the north end of Luzon Island in the Philippines when a shark attacked. Ron's leg was severed below the knee. He was carried to shore by his friends. Emergency crews applied artificial respiration. Frantic effort was put into saving the young man's life. But Ron Arney died from loss of blood in spite of all that was done to save him. Charles Selby, a missionary in the islands said, "In my 26 years here I cannot recall anyone being injured or killed by a shark." What a lot of questions that raised: "Why now?" "Why Ron?" "What good can come of this?" When catastrophic events shake our world we can still be students. We can still gain insight. Of what else, then, should we be aware?
    1. The religious leaders found Stephen's lesson distasteful; his were difficult words; they gnashed their teeth at him; they resisted what he tried to teach them.
    2. Sometimes the courses are demanding, sometimes the assignments are painful, sometimes the homework is distasteful. But that well known institution of higher learning we call "The School Of Hard Knocks" matriculates us all from time to time. We all sit under the professor we know as Hard Experience. Here are a few of life's difficult lessons; they are taught, frequently, in adversity, suffering, privation, and hardship:
      1. We should have learned that life is not always easy. Jesus said, "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." John 16:33.
      2. We should have learned that even the innocent suffer. Consider Jesus Christ the sinless Son of God of whom we read, "For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted." Hebrews 2:18.
      3. We should have learned that things don't always go as we purpose and plan. "The plans of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the Lord." Proverbs 16:1.
      4. We should have learned that life is fragile and uncertain. "Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away." James 4:14.
      5. We should have learned to express our love while there is time, instead of waiting to do so weeping beside a grave. When Absalom died, David was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. "And thus he said as he walked, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!" 2 Samuel 18:33. David lamented his son in death but scarcely expressed love in life.
      6. We should have learned that we have a choice in how we respond to life's catastrophes. We can become bitter or better; we can become griping or grateful. James says, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance." James 1:2, 3.
      7. We should have learned that we can keep going long after we think we can't. Paul's words prove true, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13.
      8. We should have learned that in the greatest sorrow there is peace; in the deepest darkness there is a spark of light; in the utmost pain there is healing; and in the midst of despair there is hope. Listen to what the Bible says about that: "Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning." Psalms 30:5.
    3. In college I took some courses we jokingly called, "Underwater Basket Weaving" classes; we didn't consider them useful or pertinent. But we had to take them to graduate. Some of those very classes I wish now I had given more attention. In life, there are some lessons we'd just as soon skip. But is it often those very lessons that are most valuable to us.
    4. Unlike those who gnashed their teeth at Stephen and refused to learn, may we be willing students. May we learn even the unpleasant lessons of life. God says, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, Otherwise they will not come near to you." Psalms 32:8, 9.
We'd all admit that the untimely death of a young ministry student forced upon his loved ones lessons that were difficult to learn. But Ron had something even better to teach. As he died he lifted his eyes to heaven and said, "God, I love you. This is the moment I have been waiting for." He taught more in those sentences than he might have in years of preaching. Then, earth receded, heaven drew near, Ron was gone from here, and present there. For those left behind, a tragedy; for Ron, eternal victory. He never finished his college courses -- but with Paul could say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." 2 Timothy 4:7, 8. That's the greatest graduation we will ever attain!
    1. Stephen didn't die; he went to Life eternal! For the believer in Jesus Christ, "It is not death to die! The body falls asleep, the spirit flies away to God who promises to keep!"
    2. Listen to these promises:
      1. Hear Paul's words: "And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. " 1 Corinthians 9:25.
      2. Hear James' words: "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." James 1:12.
      3. Hear Peter's words: "And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory." 1 Peter 5:4.
      4. And most importantly, hear Jesus' words: "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." Revelation 2:10.
      5. And: "Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master." Matthew 25:21.
    3. Faithfulness, not success is the demand; fidelity, not achievement is the requirement; loyalty, not accomplishment is what He insists upon. Ron Arney and Stephen both manifested and died by that faith.
    4. There is no greater achievement than to live for Jesus Christ, there is no greater joy than doing His will, there is no greater honor than hearing Him say, "Well done!"
On December 9, 1973 Ron Arney's body was laid to rest. His body, not Ron himself. His greatest graduation had come. It will come for each of us, too. There's no escaping it. "It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment." Hebrews 9:27. It will be a day of lamentation or celebration, of loss or gain, of hell or heaven. Which will it be for you? For those who have made Jesus Christ Lord of life, it will be a day of honor, rejoicing, celebration and joy. What you do with Him now determines your destiny then. Jesus calls us to follow and to learn of Him; to do so assures us of graduating with honors; that will truly be the moment we have been waiting for!

Gospel Log, Puget Sound Christian College, Edmonds, Washington.

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