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Friday, January 3, 2014

Lancaster County, PA winter farmview (Photo by Nick Nichols)
Lancaster County, PA Winter Farmview
(Photo by Nick Nichols)
We had a beautiful snow storm which began yesterday afternoon and it snowed through the night. Early this morning our neighbor kindly plowed us out with his tractor. When the snow began to fall yesterday it had an interesting characteristic: it smelled like chocolate! (* see below)

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"The Greatest Family On Earth"

"I kneel before the Father, from whom His whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name" (Ephesians 3:14,15).

I'm so glad I'm a part of the family of God.
I've been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod.
For I'm part of the family, the family of God.

J. Clayton SheridanYesterday I attended the life celebration service for J. Clayton Sheridan. He was our district home missions director for several years when we planted a church in northern Pennsylvania beginning in the late seventies. We warmly recall his personal interest and spiritual encouragement as he visited our church in its infancy stage. When dealing with a difficult situation/person Clayton would refer to it as a "grace grower", delicately pointing out that such trials are our opportunity to learn and grow.

The service, like so many for those who have lived long and served God faithfully, was very moving. We heard tributes from his children and grandchildren who also provided the music. Our former superintendent, Phil Bongiorno, a friend going back to their Bible college days, gave a moving testimony about Clayton.

He was clearly a man well-loved and esteemed by his family and many others. The service was held in a mega type church with many in attendance. At the conclusion,
the ministers lined up each side of the middle aisle, and raised their Bibles toward their fellow worker as the funeral workers rolled his casket up the aisle. His family followed behind and Doris, Clayton's widow, was clearly moved as she softly uttered, "Thank you, Thank you" to the ministers as she passed through.

One of his children made a point I want to expound on today. Their biological family was tight knit yet Clayton instilled in his children the biblical concept that the church was part of their family. He referred to it as "the greatest family on earth".

In our messages we often refer to our immediate family, the three of us who live together under one roof. Certainly our family includes our parents (now with the Lord), siblings and their families, and then extends to aunts and uncles (although many are now deceased) and we have cousins all over the world.

In today's text Paul speaks of the "whole family".  For us this would include those whom we worship and fellowship with in our own church, in previous churches, and in all our ministry associations including our chaplaincy and you, our faithful readers. Year by year our family continues to grow.

Paul uses the phrase "whole family" in our daily verse to describe the entire church. The Greek for family (patria) is derived from the Greek for father (pater). The word family in this context is a collective term for the descendants of the same father. God our Father has only one family.

The "whole family" includes all people of every race, from every country and in every time period who have bowed in submission to Jesus Christ.  This family is composed of people in heaven and on earth. Thus it certainly includes all who have gone to be with the Lord, as well as believers from all around the world. 

What a great joy to have family members all over the world. We enjoy hearing from many of you through email. We recently received this note from India:

"Dear Bro. Stephen, Thanks for your daily encouraging messages. I've been reading them regularly. I am a Muslim background believer from India (not Indian from US) and right now ministering for our Lord in the Middle East. I've been walking with the Lord for 23 years now. Your site has been very encouraging to me especially in the past year. Ministering in this place gets lonelier sometimes and discouraging at others. Your site has been a regular source of His encouragement to me. Thanks."

My family is not limited by any specific denominational affiliation. Too often these affiliations, which may be quite meaningful to us, can also be a hindrance to the richness of the "whole family". Over the last several years David, a professor in a large Baptist seminary has become a good friend and encourager. Yesterday he wrote and we share a portion of his message: "I have read and heard much lately about Joseph, his trials and faithfulness, and how God worked in and through him, but it was good to read again about Esther, Mordechai, and God used their trials as well. We do serve an amazing, loving, and faithful God."

Sabra and I spent New Year's Eve with a couple who are friends from church. He is in the hospital being treated for blood clots that have developed from chemotherapy he is going through for a cancer he discovered he had in July. It was so amazing to see this couple so full of praise and joy because he had the opportunity to lead a nurse to Christ earlier in the day. Their attitude? They never would have had that opportunity if not for the blood clot. God is indeed good."

If you are a follower of Christ you're a part of our family! Although we know a lot of people we only know a tiny, minuscule fraction of our whole family. An important perspective is that actually my kinship with fellow members of God's family is greater than all other associations such as my national identity and in some cases even blood relatives.

And you, dear folks, whether or not we've ever seen you face to face are an important part of our family. We are connected not onl
y through modern technology but we are joined together in spirit as through Jesus Christ we serve the same Father and follow Him according to the Scriptures.

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Thankful manDaily prayer:  Father, we kneel before You, in whom all heaven and earth derives its name and pray that out of Your glorious riches we, as the body of Christ, will be strengthened with power through Your Spirit in our inner being. Unite us in spirit and strengthen us in purpose as we walk together upholding, defending, and proclaiming the Gospel message of Jesus Christ who saves to the uttermost. We pray for our brothers and sisters who are undergoing persecution because of their uncompromising belief. Remind us often, since we can't see them, so that we support them in prayer and thought. When we all get to heaven what a time of rejoicing that will be when we see Jesus, when we unite with our brothers and sisters from every generation,  from every tribe and nation, from every color and race, and from every tongue and dialect. It will be an experience beyond description so fill us with anticipation for later and anchor us through Jesus Christ for now as we await that blessed day of eternal hope. We pray in the precious name of Jesus.  Amen.

So many of our readers followup our messages with thoughtful insights. Tommy, a friend from Arkansas shared this prspective in regard to yesterday's message: "In my study on the Esther Fast, I suddenly realized that Mordecai was Hadassah’s kinsman redeemer. Which opens another stream of devotional thought. I’ve never found where Mordecai is called her kinsman redeemer, but him adopting her was the act of redemption. Where is adoption mentioned again in Scripture? Of course, the Apostle Paul uses the term in conjunction with the Gentile wild olive being grafted in to the tree! My favorite verse is Romans 8:15 where the Spirit of Adoption cries Abba Father!!"

Phillip Bongiorno 1/2/14
It was nice to visit for a few minutes with Phillip Bongiorno who was my district superintendent practically the entire time I pastored in Pennsylvania from the late seventies till we moved to New England in 1993. Now in his eighties he is still as sharp as a tack and inquired about my family. When he gave his tribute to Clayton it was clear that he can still preach! He is a wonderful preacher and almost always began his sermon with a brief testimony concerning his salvation, which he would share with tears. As I recall, prior to his conversion to Christ, he had an association with the Mafia!

Jack and Milly Provard 1/2/14
Yesterday I visited with a lot of long-time ministry associates including Jack and Millie Provard
who remain very active in their "retirement" years. They're a continual source of encouragement to us and to many others as they're involved in Teen Challenge ministries and serve in interim roles in churches.

Harold Crosby
I also visited with Harold Crosby whom I consider one of my ministry mentors. He is approaching the century mark and has been in the ministry for over 75 years. (This photo was taken several years ago.)

Backyard snow 1/3/14

Brooksyne's Note:  Mollie turned 3 today and loves the snow. Shortly after we rose this morning she sneaked into our bedroom, pulled my pillow off the bed, and dragged it down the hallway heading downstairs.  When I spotted her I yelled out her name in a scolding tone and she dropped the pillow instantly. I think she had in mind that my big soft pillow would serve as a double cushion on her doggie bed - after all dogs, like humans who have birthdays, should receive special treatment! Her special gift will be "Homemade Doggie Treats".

Today's Suggested Music
and Supplemental Resources

"The Family Of God"  Video 
Homecoming series

"The Bond Of Love"  Video  Jerry Lester with Ebenezer Baptist Church

"Friends (All in the Family of God)"  Video  Petra (We enjoyed Petra when we were young Christians)

"I Love Thy Kingdom Lord"  Video  A great hymn I don't hear much. Consider the lyrics written by Timothy Dwight who was president of Yale in the 1700's.

I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The place of Thine abode,
The church our blest Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood.

I love Thy church, O God;
Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye,
And graven on Thy hand.

For her my tears shall fall;
For her my prayers ascend;
To her my cares and toils be giv’n,
Till toils and cares shall end.

Beyond my highest joy
I prize her heav’nly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows,
Her hymns of love and praise.

Sure as Thy truth shall last,
To Zion shall be giv’n
The brightest glories earth can yield,
And brighter bliss of Heav’n.

Nick Nichols, who took our lead photo today of the Amish farm in the snow, is a longtime local friend and prolific photographer. Here are more of his Lancaster County photos

* Snow that smells like chocolate?  We were downwind from a chocolate factory in Mount Joy and the aroma was wonderful!

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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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