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Friday, February 5, 2010

Old order Mennonite Meeting House Grounds 2/5/10
In this series we enjoy sharing photos from where we live. Yesterday we passed an old order Mennonite meeting house east of Ephrata PA. This is the same location we took a pump photo several weeks ago. These meeting houses are usually plain white frame buildings. This one is especially interesting due to the abundance of covered sheds for the horses. Directly in the front of the photo are the "comfort" facilities and to the left a  graveyard.

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"Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured" (Colossians 4:12).

Yesterday we wrote of a little-known, but absolutely crucial position on a football team known as the "longsnapper"; the player who snaps the ball for punts and field goals.  Just as every position on a football team is important, so it is in the Body of Christ.

Antonio FigueiredoAntonio Figueiredo was a devout Portuguese believer who faithfully attended our church in New England, who is now with the Lord. Years after we moved here to Lancaster County we paid a visit to the church.  What a joy it was to see our dear brother again. Before the service began he warmly shook Brooksyne's hand, looked at her with tears welling up in his eyes and meekly said, "I still pray for your family." He then softened his voice in a timid, half-apologetic tone and proceeded to say, "I pray for you every day in my Portuguese language." (As if that made any difference to God!  It was heartening to know that God was hearing prayers offered up for our family in a language unknown to us.)

Our brother's words uplifted us and made us thankful for the spiritual "longsnappers" God has placed in our lives.  By no means prominent in the Body of Christ, but truly the spiritual adhesive that keeps the building blocks of any Christian foundation from crumbling.  These prayer warriors make such a valuable, unseen contribution to our personal lives and in the life of a church.

Many of you are familiar with the term "prayer warriors", used to describe those who have a special passion for prayer. I hope we all can identify these types of individuals in our lives who especially uphold us in prayer. I believe they have one of the most important, yet often under-rated ministries.

Al & Thata BookWe recall Al and Thata Book, an elderly missionary couple who died in an accident in Africa. A stirring moment at their Memorial Service came when one of the grandchildren reflected upon the sudden absence of his grandparents.  He, his siblings and cousins were assured daily of their grandparents' faithful prayers on their behalf. Now they would grow up missing that extra spiritual security they felt through those prayers.

Epaphras is mentioned just three times (twice here in Colossians and once in Philemon).  Paul wrote to the Colossians, that he "is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus." It appears that Epaphras initially took the message of Christ to Colossae (Colossians 1:7*), which is located in the southwest corner of modern day Turkey, and there he planted the Colossian church.  The missionary journeys recorded in Acts do not mention Paul ever visiting this city.  In Philemon Epaphras is mentioned as a fellow prisoner with Paul.

The daily passage gives us a glimpse into his prayer life and I want to note two aspects here: its intensity and purpose. 

1) Its Intensity: Paul says "he is always wrestling in prayer for you."  What a powerful description of intercessory prayer!  The word the NIV translates for "wrestling" is "agonizomai" from which we get our English "agony".  The original conveys "to struggle, to compete for a prize", and figuratively "to contend with an adversary."  In using this word Paul is telling the Colossians how earnestly Epaphras is holding them up in prayer.  What an example for us as we pray for those to whom we minister and for those who minister to us.  I believe the wrestling aspect of prayer is often experienced when we personally know of the battle our brothers and sisters are waging.  Or when the Spirit heavily burdens our hearts to pray vigilantly for one who is struggling against temptation, sin, difficulties, or unbelief.  When we want to breeze hurriedly along in our prayer time it is rather easy to pray, "Bless 'em" type of prayers.
2) Its Purpose: But the purpose of Epaphras' prayer is so unlike the typical "bless 'em" prayers we might quickly say for others. Intercessory prayer was a priority in his walk with God.  So much so that his spirit wrestled in prayer as he regularly engaged in a spiritual tug of war with the devil, the believer's combative enemy.  To examine each of the elements of content in this prayer would violate a fundamental premise of this devotional (brevity).  But I want you to take note of the rich spiritual interest that he expressed in his prayer for the Colossian believers, "that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured." 

This is my prayer for each reader today as well!  Will you also pray for me and the many others you know?

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne  Weber

Daily prayer: Father, we do want to stand firm in Your will, maturing in our faith, and in the full assurance that You will lead us in the paths of righteousness for Your name's sake.  Just like Epaphras who had a devoted heart to wrestle in prayer for his brothers and sisters in the faith, help us to wrestle in prayer for our loved ones, and for our brothers and sisters in the faith who wage war against the enemy. Our intercessory prayers are not waging war against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.  And yet we powerfully declare, "Greater is He that is in me, than he that is in the world!"

Brooksyne's Note:  As we drove along yesterday I saw a sign posted that spoke to my heart, "Satan is mighty, but God is almighty!"  Indeed He is and he hears every prayer we offer on behalf of others.  We've had the awesome privilege of godly believers praying for us since we first entered into vocational ministry in 1976.  One dear woman, Hope Winchoba, many times reminded us of her daily prayers (and we knew it.) She went to be with Jesus less than two years ago.  We still have a dear sister in New England who reminds us regularly of her daily prayers on behalf of our daughter, Ester.  Thank you, Veda!  Truly these prayer warriors are of greater worth than gold.  It does sustain and encourage us!  We thank God for those of you who regularly uphold us and our Daily Encouragement ministry in prayer.  You expressions of prayer and words of suppport are of vital encouragement to us!

* Colossians 1:7

A reader from New Jersey adds an interesting follow-up note to yesterday's message:  Interesting that you mention the Long Snapper in today's message.  I am not a football fan but I just finished reading a book by Jeffrey Marx titled "The Long Snapper" which I would recommend.  It's the story of Brian Kinchen, a Christian, whose professional football career has been over for three years when he is called by the New England Patriots who hope to make it to the Super Bowl and they ask him to return as their long snapper.  Brian leaves his job as a Bible teacher and, at the age of 38, spends seven weeks preparing for his ultimate dream. It's the story of his struggles on the field and in his personal life...at times the dream becomes a nightmare.

The Long Snapper: A Second Chance, a Super Bowl, a Lesson for LifeThe Long Snapper: A Second Chance, a Super Bowl, a Lesson for Life  By Jeffrey Marx / HarperOne

Brian Kinchen's professional football career had been over for three years when the New England Patriots called on December 15, 2003. They needed a long-snapper. Was he available? Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marx chronicles Brian's journey from dream-come-true to personal nightmare to the ultimate trophy---and discovering the true measure of a man. 256 pages, hardcover from HarperOne.

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.)

"Somebody's Praying Me Through"  Video 

"Pray On"  Video  Babbie Mason

"Somebody's Praying"  

"Pray For Me"  Video Michael W. Smith

"Grace Alone"  Video  

"I Must Tell Jesus"  Video  An acapella version by the Cedar Springs Amish/Mennonite Youth choir.

Here's a video of a Mennonite choir seeking to provide a witness for Christ at Harvard Square.

Note: Some readers may wonder about the "Plain" people that live in our area we often refer to.  Amish and old-order Mennonite can appear similar in appearance to a tourist, as they both use horse & buggies and dress distinctively. However there are important distinctions. The Amish meet in homes, while the Mennonites use plain meeting houses. In the course of our work as chaplains we meet all varieties of plain people and enjoy our association with them and most are receptive to our chaplaincy ministry.  Yesterday I visited with both an old-order Mennonite and Amish man.  We have a standing invitation to visit their churches.

Winter leaves (photo by Doris High)
Our friend Doris High has a way of taking interesting and pretty pictures of just about anything, including this pile of wet leaves!

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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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