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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Quehanna Highway
The Quehanna Highway is on the Allegheny Plateau in north-central PA in a region known as the Pennsylvana Wilds.  
This area is near where we lived for nearly 16 years
(Click on photo to enlarge)

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"As Iron Sharpens Iron"

"As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend" (Proverbs 27:17).

Today I would like to share a story that I hope will encourage in a different sort of way. It concerns a friend of about 25 years, going back to my years of pastoral service in upstate Pennsylvania. I have Steve's permission to share this message as we both feel it may be of benefit in illustrating the blessings of an enduring friendship that was at times a challenging one.

Stephen EcsedySteve had retired after working for the city of Pittsburgh and moved up to our area, which was about 125 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.  He lived in a small trailer near the site where today's photo was taken in a region known as the Pennsylvania Wilds.  He had a background of broken relationships and alcoholism but several years earlier had made the decision to follow Christ and God was at work chipping away in the re-creation process.

Old janitor
Steve could be somewhat difficult; the kind of person we might describe as "rough around the edges." He himself acknowledged that he was like sandpaper. But he boldly proclaimed his love for Jesus and had a heart to serve, so he volunteered to be the church custodian. He was faithful in his service, but he also had a knack for coming up with ideas that were not always feasible.

The most memorable one was the time he decided to use a small space heater to defrost the refrigerator freezer in the church kitchen. He placed it inside the freezer and shut the door and then forgot he had done so. I suppose he reckoned it would get the job done quickly. Well it did, but it also melted the inside of the freezer!  Steve required much forbearance and at times I felt like pulling my hair out!

We worked together several years and butted heads more than once but we both endured.  In time I took a new pastoral role in New England and Steve eventually moved back to the Pittsburgh area. We completely lost contact for many years until we reconnected through Daily Encouragement several years ago.  He receives the messages and periodically shares an update concerning his life.  He's dealt with numerous health problems but is staying faithful to Christ. Last night we reminisced about our unusual friendship and prayed that in sharing our story it might be a blessing to others.

I've always been intrigued by the brief but pointed Proverb in today's text.  As is the case with many of the Proverbs there is nothing in the immediate context to further clarify the author's intended meaning.

Iron sharpens iron
Hebrews 10:24 expresses a similar concept; "Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds."  The word "spur" translates a very rare Greek word (paroxusmos) found in the NT elsewhere only in Acts 15:39 where it is used to describe the contention between Paul and Barnabas regarding John Mark.  Tracing the roots of this word we find it comes from two words with the sense "to sharpen alongside."  The writer of Hebrews uses it here in a positive sense to describe an essential Christian responsibility.  We need to come alongside one another to keep each other sharp!  The NASV uses "stimulate" and the KJV states "to provoke."
I've often been enriched by the sharpening influence of a thoughtful friend in Christ.  The sharpening itself may be thought-provoking and at times even painful, but in the end I am stronger and better for it. 

But I also consider relationships like the one I had with Steve. I am convinced that God providentially allows these associations to cause us to grow and be enriched by them.

Sadly, for the sake of a surface unity we may neglect this sharpening role and seek to avoid these kinds of relationships, whether we're the one sharpening or the one being sharpened.  Warren Wiersbe observes, "If we are not disagreeable, we usually learn more by disagreeing than by giving in and refusing to say what we really think, 'speaking the truth in love'".
This sharpening process may take place in your own home, among friends in church or at work.   You just might come up against a sharpening friend like Steve was to me.  How you react is a real test of character as God often uses other people to grow the fruit of the Spirit in our lives and develop His character traits in our hearts. 
Be encouraged today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber
Today's prayer: Father, we confess that in the process of being molded and fashioned into Your likeness we are often unyielding and struggle in the process of becoming more like You.  At various times You place people in our lives that stretch and challenge us, which produces endurance and forbearance. Thank You for also placing people in our lives who model godly character and who courageously speak words of direction and loving correction when we most need it.  Help us to graciously receive these messengers and promptly respond to the message they bring when it is supported by Scripture and spoken from a wise and loving heart.  Give us courage to "speak the truth in love."  Amen.

Brooksyne's Note:  We recall Steve's bold witness for the Lord and the burden he bore for the boys of the church.  He didn't want to see boys grow up and go the painful path that he had earlier travelled, and I'm sure this spurred him on to work closely with the Royal Rangers ministry over the years.

Ministry update  For those interested we direct you to a revised update in light of our 12th daily encouragement ministry anniversary.

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources
(Click on the link to open and play)


Neither of us could recall any music that really fits today's theme!

Google map of the Pennsylvania Wilds, the area described in today's message.

Pennsylvania Wilds The official tourism site.

Info about multi-media files used on daily encouragement.

Send a message to Stephen & Brooksyne.

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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 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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