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Friday, September 18, 2009

Union Mill Acres pumpkin stand  in Lancaster County PA
Pumpkin variety at Union Mill Acres

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"An Italian Convert"

Note: The first part of today's message is admittedly filled with some personal reflections. The Scripture exposition begins about halfway through.

"At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment" (Acts 10:1).

I contend that the variety of people groups that God has created in the ethnic and racial types are purposeful and a pleasure to Him, even as a variety of flower types in a garden is to us (growth habits, color, size, fragrance, etc.). We do well to see a blessing in the variety of people among us. Sadly, due to sin, our differences have at times become a major source of division and conflict. This is seen from the Bible days up to the present time.

But I have been blessed greatly by spending time and forming friendships with people from various ethnic and racial backgrounds, constituents of the many "tribes" that will make up heaven. I have a German heritage so I fit right into our region that is largely populated with Pennsylvania Dutch.  Our daughter, Ester, is of Mayan Indian descent.  Brooksyne has a mixture of ethnic backgrounds including that of Cherokee Indian.  But today I want to consider my many Italian associations, several who are among my very best friends.

Matangelo family

Mike Matangelo attended the very first service we had when we started a church in upstate Pennsylvania in 1977. In fact today is his birthday! We first met Mike and Kathy and their children just about 32 years ago this day. They remain active in service for the Lord holding a weekly mentoring program in a state prison in North Carolina. What a joy that their children who grew up in our church are also walking with the Lord!

Rick Masciantonio

In New England I met Rick Masciantonio, his wife Liz and their three boys. Rick was a Sunday School teacher in our church.  He now has a pastoral role and continues to be a tremendous student of the Scriptures. Several months ago he visited our area and preached in our church.

Philip BongiornoI have also had many Italian pastor friends through the years. My former District Superintendent, Philip Bongiorno, periodically shared a deep-felt testimony regarding his life before turning to Christ. He, along with many Italians I know, was very expressive often whirling his arms about, as he put his whole self into his sermons.  I've heard it said that Italians could not speak if their hands were bound! Interestingly both pastors I have had since moving to Lancaster County, Jim Gambini and Bob Verno, are of Italian descent.

Yes, my many Italian friends have sure added some colorful memories to my life, which brings to mind the first recorded Italian convert, Cornelius the centurion.  The story is told by Luke in the book of Acts. He was a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. A centurion, who was over 80 to 100 soldiers, was chosen for his size, strength and dexterity and for his skill in the use of his sword and shield; in short for his expertness in all the exercises. He was to be vigilant, temperate, active and to execute the orders he received; strict in the exercise regimen of his infantry and keeping up proper discipline among his soldiers.

Today's Scripture records the remarkable account of Cornelius' conversion, the first recorded Gentile convert.  He was obviously a man of position and influence as the commander.  But even more importantly, the Scripture informs us that, "He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly" (Acts 10:2). He sought after God and God answered him in the form of a vision.

He was to have a meeting with Peter so he sent for him as the angel directed. But this Italian had no desire for a private meeting with Peter since Scripture tells us he called together his relatives and close friends (v. 24).* About four days later Peter walked into Cornelius' house "and found a large gathering of people" eager to hear what Peter had to say (every preacher's dream).

Cornelius is a great example to all of us today. God used him to assemble that crowd together and later, after Peter preached the Word, they had a mighty spiritual awakening.  What kind of influence do you have upon your relatives and friends?  Do they know of your stand for Christ?  Is your zeal and commitment evident to all whom you associate with?

Later in his first letter Peter would write to the many he had ministered to (perhaps including Cornelius, his family and friends) with this command: "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15a).  Are you prepared to give the reason for your hope and are you faithfully proclaiming it to others?

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Daily prayer: Father, in our hearts, we want to be fully prepared to give an answer for the hope that is within us. We want to do it prayerfully, Scripturally, and with gentleness and respect, so that You are honored through our words and in our lives.  Help us to live in such a way that our friends and family members will want to know the God we serve.  Amen.

The full story of Cornelius is recorded in Acts 10 

* "He had called together his relatives and close friends" (v. 24). When I read this text I consider the expressiveness I have seen in many of the Italians I have associated with. I wonder what it was like when Peter walked in! One memory comes to mind. I attended a viewing to express condolences to Guy DeLuca, a friend of ours whose mother had passed away. It was at a funeral home near Boston. When I walked in the room it was packed with people, mostly Italian family members and friends. It was about as loud as any party I've ever been to, yet back where the body lay there was a demonstration of dignified and loving respect.

Please note: This Sunday afternoon we are going to a minister's retreat at Sandy Cove (a beautiful conference center on Chesapeake Bay in Maryland) and will be unable to prepare daily encouragement messages on Monday and Tuesday (September 21,22)  We expect to resume Wednesday September 23.

Yesterday we shared a message about God "Holding All Things Together."  A reader suggested this video as a supplement to the message. I have seen it before and the speaker shares an interesting perspective.

No bake cookiesSpeaking of birthdays: Today an elderly friend has a birthday, his 92nd! Raymond is an elderly gentleman who had attended the church we now pastor since 1937 but is now in an area nursing home. We stopped to see him the other night and took him a small tray of no-bake cookies (the kind my Mom used to make and many of you have had as well). Unfamiliar with this type of cookie he thought with the name "no bake" he had to bake them. He looked up at us and earnestly said, "I don't know what I would do with them, I don't have an oven in my room."  He smiled real big when we told him they were ready to eat "No Bakes".  We further explained that they are cooked on the stove top rather than baked in an oven, thus the name, No Bake Oatmeal Cookies!  If you're interested in the recipe email Brooksyne and she will gladly share it.

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources
Click on the link to open and play.
(In some cases you may also need to click again to start the song.)

"He Reigns"  Video  This song by the Newsboys has a powerful message about all of God's children declaring "He Reigns!"  We not only worship in different places but also in different ways. Some are more expressive than others, others prefer to worship in quiet reflection. It's too bad followers of Christ can get contentious about this and some feel their particular expression is superior to others.  I recall passing a church sign along Route 30 near York, PA that declared: "Worship The Way God Intended It"  I suppose if you don't worship the way they do it isn't the way God intended!

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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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