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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Smoky Mountain stream
 Stream in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park
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Note: During the final prep for this message I received word from a friend named Bill that a mutual friend, Dave, just received word that he has been diagnosed with a serious form of cancer. I dedicate today's message to him. God's grace is sufficient.

"The Grace Outlook"
"Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring" (2 Thessalonians 1:4).
In a prayer service Sunday evening I prayed with a man I did not personally know. He was sitting behind me and when we were encouraged to gather with others for prayer Brooksyne went in one direction and joined some ladies sitting in front of us. and I turned around and prayed with Nick.  In the course of our prayer and brief fellowship that followed he shared with me that just four months earlier his wife died after a lengthy 5 year illness with a progressively debilitating neurological disease, during which time he cared for her.  It was obvious that he was still in the grieving process but he expressed such faith in the goodness of the Lord and shared how his church had rallied around him during his most difficult trial. (I always like to hear good things about the Lord and the local church!)
He shared with me how God's grace had sustained him through the lengthy illness and now in this period of grief following her death.  I shared with him how we can't store up or anticipate when we will need grace, but God just seems to dispense according to our need.
Today I want to consider a spiritual principle known as the "grace outlook."  Each day I can look at the problems and challenges I face in life and make that my major focus, as many do and I certainly have (and still periodically do). Or I can focus on God's blessings expressed in my life through His abundant grace.  That's a choice we make daily.
Paul, writing to the young Thessalonian church, expressed that "among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring."  In typical New Testament usage persecutions and trials would have been referring to the serious consequences they were experiencing as they took a stand for Christ, not the relatively minor annoyances of life that are all too commonplace in times of peace and prosperity.  Of course many of our brothers and sisters are experiencing this NT level of persecution and some readers are experiencing tremendous trials as well. Yesterday I received a note concerning a friend named Tony who passed away after a difficult battle with cancer and am presently processing the loss as are his co-workers, many of whom I am acquainted with.
But I feel the principle truth of the grace outlook can apply regardless of the duration or severity of the trials we incur throughout life.  Paul ends the first chapter of II Thessalonians with a prayer in which he asks the Father to fulfill His good purpose in their lives as they are prompted by faith to do His will. "We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1:12).
In having a "grace outlook" we seek to constantly view life as a gift from God and see His hand at work in every circumstance every day.  That's why wherever we live, whatever we are going through, we can truly declare,  "This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."  I challenge you to do that today!
Be encouraged today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Today's Prayer:  Father, we rejoice in this day because You made it and You also made us.  We are Your handiwork and we desire to please You and be considered worthy of our calling.  May You fulfill Your good purpose in our lives and make us useful to Your Kingdom this day.  Amen.

Brooksyne's Note:  As we practice a "grace outlook" in the midst of testing sometimes the theme of "holding on" is simply another expression for "I'm enduring."  Often I ask people, "How are you doing?" and they respond with "Mmm, I'm holding on."   My sincere comeback is usually, "Just don't let go!"  I somehow envision a person holding onto a rod extended from one side of a deep canyon to the other.  The thought of that person letting go is devastating so that's why I often use a comeback when I hear the oft repeated expression, "I'm holding on."  This morning I read the lyrics of a song I've never heard sung that may be of encouragement to some of our readers today.  Perhaps you even know the song.  The text is by Ruth Tracy and it will bless you as you read it slowly and thoughtfully.

I've found the secret of success,
'Tis holding on, 'tis holding on;
The way to every blessedness,
'Tis holding on, 'tis holding on.
Our warfare may be hard and fierce,
Oft Satan's arrows wound and pierce,
But still we get more smiles than tears
By holding on, by holding on.

If full salvation you would gain,
Keep holding on, keep holding on;
To conquer sins that bring you pain,
Keep holding on, keep holding on.
God loves to give the better part,
Not unto those who only start,
But those who seek with all their heart,
And then in faith keep holding on.

Family photo along a Smoky Mountain trail

Last week we enjoyed our visit to the Great Smoky Mountains and took this photo during one of our many walks. I had to balance the camera on a rock on the ground to use the self timer!

Matangelo familyDuring our trip to North Carolina and Tennessee last week we visited Mike and Kathy Matangelo and their daughter Tina who live in the Hickory NC area. We attended their church and then had dinner at their place on the way from my sister's home in Greensboro to Gatlinburg. Mike and Kathy were among our very first friends when we moved from Missouri to Pennsylvania in 1977 to plant a church in Saint Marys. In fact they attended the very first service!  They continue to serve the Lord and are both active in a prison ministry mentoring young inmates. One of these days I may write a separate article about an experience Mike had but want to briefly share it here. Mike is an electrical engineer and had a successful career in the corporate world. In the last several years he wanted to have more flexibility and time to serve in ministry so he resigned his job and trained to be a real estate agent. When he resigned from his job he told his boss of his intention in ministry and specifically his work with young incarcerated men. His boss told him, "Why would you waste your time with those people." Isn't that the attitude so many have? Thank God for those that go forth with the redemptive message of Jesus Christ to the lost!

Today's Suggested Music

"Amazing Grace"
(Video) This video version is from the movie "Amazing Grace" and features scenes from the movie as well as Chris Tomlin playing a piano covered with leaves. (Worth watching in itself!

"Grace Alone"  (Audio)  A favorite song of our church in New England.

"Grace Flows Down"

"God of Grace" (Audio) (Video)

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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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