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Monday, November 12, 2007
Weeping willow in Kutztown PA
Weeping Willow
Yesterday afternoon I drove through Kutztown Pennsylvania and passed this stunning weeping willow along Main Street.

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"Delivering Grace"
"I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that He considered me faithful, appointing me to His service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 1:12-14).
Manuel Cordero, who also goes by the name of Manny, is a friend of mine from Bible College. As a student I recall his burden for prison ministries and while in college he worked as a volunteer at the Federal Prison Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri. He has served as a prison chaplain his entire ministry and for many years ministered inside federal penitentiaries. He went on to become the national director of training for the entire federal prison system.

Alex and Manny
Pastor Alex Valezquez and Chaplain Manuel Cordero 

We visited at a chaplain conference this last Saturday and he introduced me to Alex Valezquez who has a powerful testimony demonstrating God's amazing grace. In the late eighties Manny worked as a prison chaplain at a federal penitentiary in upstate Pennsylvania and met Alex who was imprisoned as a kingpin drug dealer. Alex turned to the Lord and Chaplain Cordero discipled and assisted him in the restoration of his marriage. Alex went on to receive pastoral training and is now pastor of the Oasis Tabernacle in inner city Philadelphia.  Interestingly, Chaplain Cordero attends this church and serves as assistant pastor!
Manny said that it took a while for him to get used to having a former prisoner that he shepherded now become his shepherd.  The motto of Oasis Tabernacle is "A place of refuge for hurting people."
I love to hear stories of God's amazing grace. They abound. All over the world today, in the midst of so much bad news, the good news of Jesus Christ is impacting scores of lives. Be assured it is happening, although you won't hear about most of them (until you get to heaven anyway.)
The daily text is an abbreviation of Paul's testimony. He testifies to having been "a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man." Perhaps an indication of this was the description, just prior to his conversion on the Damascus Road, that he "was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples" (Acts 9:1).
I am especially intrigued and am still seeking insight on the phrase, "I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief."  Paul, who was a learned man in regard to religious training, realized after his conversion that in reality he had "acted in ignorance and unbelief."  I consider today so many who are taught by this world's standards who also act in ignorance and unbelief.
My, how I am tremendously blessed by the last part of today's Scripture selection, "The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." God continues pouring out His grace abundantly. That saving grace is resulting in remarkable deliverance power for sinners as well as remarkable sustaining power for saints, which I will write about tomorrow.
But my specific word of encouragement today is for those of you praying for a lost loved one. Alex, who now pastors in Philadelphia, was raised in a Christian home in New York City. I wonder how many hearts were broken and grievous* tears flowed for this wayward loved one over the decades? How many years of seemingly fruitless prayer ascended to heaven on his behalf? Keep believing today and never give up. The words from a song I recall from my younger days as a Christian brings out an important truth: "God specializes in things thought impossible and He will do what no other power can do." Keep on praying and believing!
Be encouraged today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber
Daily prayer: Father, I invite the presence of Your Holy Spirit to dominate my life so that every attitude and belief will be submitted to Your Spirit that resides within.  The ongoing struggle I encounter with Satan's desire to dominate my life is overcome by the precious, wonder-working blood of the Lamb.  Sin seeks to steal my integrity, but Your righteousness upholds it.  I intercede on behalf of loved ones who are held captive by sin, that they will lay aside their garments stained with sin and be washed anew in the cleansing fountain of Your precious blood.  Amen.

* Brooksyne's Note:   Recently I was interceding on behalf of a loved one who is not following in the path of godliness.  Tears were overflowing and my heart was hurting and felt as thought it was twice the normal size.  It was full of frustration, fear and helplessness since I could not change the situation. The next morning in my devotions I came across a thought by Henry Gariepy that especially applied to my prayer time the day before and since then.

"Paul tells us 'do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God' in Eph. 4:30.  The Holy Spirit is a divine person, and can be grieved, as Paul warns.  Grieve is a love word.  We grieve those we love.  Because the Holy Spirit is our best friend who dwells within our heart, He is grieved by our wrongdoing." 

After reading the above paragraph it helped me to realize why there is such a heaviness when we pray for those dear to our hearts who are resisting God's voice and tuning into the devil's.  We, full of love and concern for the spiritual state of our loved ones, are grieved by the choices they are making and it is understandable that we will feel deeply as we pray on their behalf.  It also gives us a sense of how we grieve the heart of Jesus as He intercedes to the Father on our behalf when we are struggling with sin in our lives.  

For our many readers who are interceding on behalf of a loved one, keep on praying and believing.  God does hear and answer prayer as we shared earlier in the testimony of Alex Valexquez.  Sometimes they have to partner with the darkness of sin to finally see the contrast of God's wonderful light of salvation.

Some more photos from my weekend

Alvin Worthley
Saturday I visited with Alvin Worthley, my national chaplain representative. Al is a retired federal prison chaplain who continues to serve in an overseeing and encouraging role to the many different types of chaplains in service for Christ (military, prison, hospital, etc.). Al has been very encouraging to me in my specialized chaplaincy role to corporations and over the internet. He has a great burden for souls and reaching them by any means. The theme of the chaplaincy conference was "The Least, The Last, The Lost."

Wanda Carter
I visited with Wanda Carter, a hospital chaplain from New Jersey. I first met Wanda about twenty years ago. At that time she served in a very unusual ministry serving women (generally single mothers) in large public housing projects. Although I strongly hold the complementarian view of women in ministry Wanda's role sure opened my eyes to places where a women's ministry is greatly needed and any standard or traditional role for men just would not work.

Teen Challenge baptism
Sunday morning I visited my brother's church in Easton, Pennsylvania and witnessed a Teen Challenge baptism with sixteen men professing their faith and obedience to Jesus Christ. Al Pundt, the Teen Challenge chaplain (left in photo), is a long-time friend of mine and sure enjoyed his ministry of baptizing the men. Yesterday was his birthday, a very young and enthusiastic 71. Don't you just love his "joy of the Lord" smile!

Many of the testimonies the men shared were moving. One young man declared, "I've been a dealer for the devil, now I'm gonna deal for God!" (An interesting way to put it, but I believe we know what he means.)

Al was tired when it was over and as he began the final baptism he got confused and began to state "I now pronounce you..." as he caught himself and realized it wasn't a wedding ceremony! Teen Challenge is a Christian drug and alcohol rehab program serving all ages.

The original "Couriers"
Last night we heard the original "Couriers" who shared a concert at the Mount Joy Mennonite Church, where my friend Joe Sherer serves as pastor. The Couriers started singing together in 1955 at the same small midwestern Bible College that Brooksyne and I attended about twenty years later. They are now in their seventies yet could still belt out the music including their acapella rendition of the classic hymn, "I Sing The Mighty Power Of God", which is perhaps my favorite of all their musical arrangements.

Today's suggested music:
"Mercy Saw Me" (Audio) This is the version we are familiar with and Linda Reid sang this beautifully in our church in New England. Brooksyne suggested this in light of today's topic and the Teen Challenge baptisms.

"Mercy Saw Me" another version (Hi-speed audio)  (Low-speed audio) by Gail Kreason

"Statue Of Liberty" (Audio) probably the best known song by the original Couriers.

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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. Used by permission; 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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