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Friday, December 6, 2013

Brooksyne with the John Deere Christmas tree at Darrenkamps
Darrenkamps, our local supermarket, had this colorful John Deere Christmas Tree on display a few years ago.

"Keeping Grace"

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"Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it" (Genesis 28:16). But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life" (Jude 1:20-21).

Keeping cakeDuring the holiday season Brooksyne prepares small loaves of "Keeping Cake". It's a combination of cranberries, brown sugar, glazed pecans, etc. She tries to make it early since the fruit mellows and blends over time (it will keep up to 3 months in a dry, cool place).  However in our home it doesn't improve over time since we tend to eat it too quickly. We don't always practice the "keeping" but rather apply the "eating" aspect of this cake! But the recipe name does prompt a spiritual thought we'd like to consider today, keeping grace.

I have several friends on my heart as I prepare this message. Ken is remembering a significant loss that happened at this very time one year ago. David has had a very challenging year regarding his health. Several other young men are battling off the temptations their age group is especially prone to. This morning Mike called and shared concerning the difficulty he and his wife face as their elder parents are requiring a greater degree of care. And we just read from our email church prayer chain of John who is undergoing surgery today for new leads to his pacemaker (one that we can currently relate to through Ester's recent surgery.)

One of the great joys in ministry is encouraging others based primarily upon the Scriptures, God's most certain Word. But we can also draw from our own experiences in life where we are personal witnesses to God's provision and faithfulness.

I recall a very specific time of deep discouragement after stepping out in obedience to God's call way back in 1977. We had just moved 1,000 miles from the little home we had lived in our first year of marriage near Springfield MO to northern Pennsylvania where we felt God's leading to plant a church. But initially all doors seemed to close and I wondered if I had missed God's voice.*

Stephen and Brooksyne with pets and Datsun pickup (1977)We were sitting in our little blue Datsun pickup and discussing our dilemma (we had no house at the time so the Datsun felt like "home"). Brooksyne saw my despair and shared a simple spiritual truth that gave me a powerful uplift and has many times since. She leaned toward me as she took my hand, her voice broken at the time, and said these words, "God will never lead us, where His grace cannot keep us."

Although we had dated for over two years and had been married for over a year at this point, it was the first time I had ever heard this reassuring expression. In the providence of God He had stored that timeless message in Brooksyne's heart for such a time as this. We joined hands in prayer and again committed ourselves to God's leading and a wonderful sense of God's awesome presence filled our hearts in that little Datsun pickup.

As I look back over my life it seems that God's voice tends to be clearest in the tough times. Likely that's because I am most sensitive to the Spirit's leading in these situations. Although we want to avoid the tough times, I believe God providentially allows us to go through them so that He can instruct us and guide our lives. That's why I so often pray for myself and others that God would give us grace and maturity to actually rejoice during hard time and when the doors seem closed. 

The first daily text is from a story involving Jacob, who had just fled from his parent's home. He had deceived his father, Isaac, in obtaining the blessing that should have gone to his firstborn son, Esau. Jacob was surely not seeking any spiritual encounter that night.  He was fleeing in fear from his angry brother Esau, who had vowed to kill him. Traveling till the sun had set he laid down to sleep using a cold, hard, stone as a pillow. Ouch! These are not normally the conditions conducive to hearing from God.

But at this very time God spoke to Jacob in a vision, essentially assuring him of His plan for his life and the fulfillment of His promises to his grandfather, Abraham.  When Jacob awoke Scripture declares that he made the observation in our daily text, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it."  The part of the passage that particularly intrigues me is the phrase, "I was not aware of it."  May we always be aware of the Lord's presence!

Keeping grace plaqueGod is still speaking and meeting with His people today; not only in churches but wherever, whenever, and however He wants to get our attention. We have a much fuller revelation of God's promises than Jacob had and know His Word declares some great assurances.  David spoke of God's presence in his most famous Psalm, "Thou art with me." Jesus assured His disciples before returning to heaven, "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."  The writer of Hebrews reminds us that God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."

Finally consider the simple word from Jude in our second daily text, "keep yourselves in the love of God." God is always faithful to do His part.

Today, receive these great promises with joy, fellow believer! Whatever your circumstances, however difficult or even hopeless they may seem; remember, the LORD is always with us. May we always be aware of His presence and keeping grace!

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Praying manDaily Prayer: Father, I am very grateful for Your continual guidance in my life and for Your steadying hand when the foundations are shaken. Lead me to the towering rock of safety, for You are my safe refuge. In Your presence I find renewed hope, resurging strength and safety beneath the shelter of Your wings! Your unfailing love will uphold me and Your sovereign presence will never leave me nor forsake me. What joyous blessings these promises unfold in my life day by day as You will never lead me where Your grace cannot keep me. Thank You for Jesus in whose name we pray! Amen.

* Our church planting experience: Now much planning usually goes into church plants, often years of preparation, budget raising and developing a core group. We didn't know anything about that. In our early twenties we moved to Pennsylvania with $500.00, which at that time seemed like a lot of money and no financial support from others to a community where we knew absolutely no one and certainly didn't have a core group. We rented an apartment and had the first service several weeks after we moved. We just sort of plodded along steadily and slowly saw the church grow from a handful of people to a thriving congregation (not large by many of today's churches but a good size for a small town). The congregation purchased a large piece of land right off the main highway coming into town and constructed a church building. We stayed there nearly 16 years moving on in 1993. The congregation is still meeting. Most of those people stay in touch with us through Daily Encouragement and Facebook.

Brooksyne's Note: I read this quote "God will never lead you, where His grace cannot keep you" on a plaque in a Christian Bookstore several months before the experience Stephen describes above. I purposely memorized and stored it in my heart since we couldn't afford to buy the plaque at the time. It as though the Spirit was forewarning me that we would question His leading once we left our homeland and this proverb would bring us encouragement and steadfastness in our calling.  Of course this thought-provoking quote is quite famous by now, and has been a source of encouragement to believers for many years. It has been mistakenly thought of as a Scripture. While it's not a Scripture in the Bible it certainly is Biblical in thought.

Our first cat, Coon, on propane tank
In the photo we share of us standing beside our Datsun pickup Brooksyne is holding "Coon" a kitten we received when we first got married. We called him that because he looked like a raccoon! Here he peeks out of a hole in a propane tank cover.

Mollie with reindeer ears!
We have had pets in our home for most of our married life including Mollie, our youngest pet, a very active border collie. The poor dogs have been enduring Ester's recovery time as she dresses them up for silly pictures. Amazingly, Mollie was a good sport for this photo - I especially like the brown ears on the otherwise black and white dog.

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources

"He Leadeth Me"  Video  Marshall Hall

"Surely The Presence Of The Lord"  Video  Daywind Studio Musicians

"Awesome In This Place"  Video   Kent Henry

"God's Keeping Grace"  Video  Redeeming Grace

As many of you know Brooksyne enjoys hymn backgrounds. "He Leadeth Me" was written by Joseph H. Gilmore and I found this interesting background information and testimony:

As a young man who recently had been graduated from Brown University and Newton Theological Institution, I was supplying for a couple of Sundays the pulpit of the First Baptist Church in Philadelphia [Pennsylvania]. At the mid-week service, on the 26th of March, 1862, I set out to give the people an exposition of the Twenty-third Psalm, which I had given before on three or four occasions, but this time I did not get further than the words "He Leadeth Me." Those words took hold of me as they had never done before, and I saw them in a significance and wondrous beauty of which I had never dreamed.

It was the darkest hour of the Civil War. I did not refer to that fact—that is, I don't think I did—but it may subconsciously have led me to realize that God's leadership is the one significant fact in human experience, that it makes no difference how we are led, or whither we are led, so long as we are sure God is leading us.

At the close of the meeting a few of us in the parlor of my host, good Deacon Wattson, kept on talking about the thought which I had emphasized; and then and there, on a blank page of the brief from which I had intended to speak, I penciled the hymn, talking and writing at the same time, then handed it to my wife and thought no more about it. She sent it to The Watchman and Reflector, a paper published in Boston, where it was first printed. I did not know until 1865 that my hymn had been set to music by William B. Bradbury. I went to Rochester [New York] to preach as a candidate before the Second Baptist Church. Going into their chapel on arrival in the city, I picked up a hymnal to see what they were singing, and opened it at my own hymn, "He Leadeth Me."

Finally today:

Here's more about the
"Keeping Cake" I make these small loaves for food gifts at Christmas. One year, after baking and washing the rectangular ceramic dishes, I asked Stephen to put them away in the highest cabinet shelf to save me the extra time it takes to get a stool.  He willingly agreed and as he did so I heard this loud, crashing sound that just seemed to go on and on.  Imagining the worst I turned to see him using his hands as a shield to protect his face as the dishes tumbled forward onto him and then the ceramic tile floor.  The next thing you know Ester races into the kitchen with camera in hand flashing pictures of Stephen and the mess he had just made (she's learned "quick camera action" from her dad.)    It became a very laughable experience. Fortunately only two out of five dishes broke, probably because he became the padded buffer. 

Keeping Cake (Single Recipe)

1 pkg. (12 oz. or 3 ½ C.) cranberries, separated – (6 oz. chopped)
¾ C. Granulated Sugar
½ teaspoon orange peel
½ C. (1 stick) butter or margarine
2 ½ C. All-Purpose flour
2 C. brown Sugar
½ tsp. nutmeg
½  tsp. allspice
½  tsp. cloves
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
¾ C. Sour Cream
1 C. pecans, coarsely chopped
Crystal Like Sugar (optional)

tsp.= teaspoon

Prepare loaf pans by spraying with Pam.  In large saucepan combine 6 oz (1/2 pkg.) of cranberries, ¾ C. sugar and ½ tsp. orange peel.  Bring to boil, stirring constantly until berries pop and mixture thickens.  Remove.  Add  1 stick butter to melt and other 6 oz. of cranberries, chopped.  Cool.

Combine in large bowl 2 ½ C. flour, 2 C. brown sugar, spices, 2 tsp. soda and 1 tsp. salt.  Stir in 2 eggs with ¾ C. sour cream.  Add egg mixture to dry ingredients.  Stir in cranberry mixture and 1 C. pecans (glazed are excellent if you can find them.  (Diamond brand makes them.)

This will make about seven very small loaves or two large loaves.  Bake at 350 for about one hour or till done (less time for small loaves). Cool in pans for ten minutes before removing from pan and inverting on cake rack.  Wrap cakes in foil at least one week to age in cool, dry place.

I sprinkle raw sugar or better yet large sugar crystals inside the sprayed loaf pan before pouring batter in pans and on top of the batter after filling the loaf pans.  Keeps up to three months in cool, dry place.

From Leisure Arts, "Gifts of Good Taste", P. 29.  No Mixer needed for this recipe.  I usually serve this more as a sweet bread with soft cream cheese than I do a cake.  When I give this as gifts at Christmas it comes up a winner!!

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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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