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Monday, February 23, 2015

Old-order Mennonite traffic 2/22/15
Yesterday our journey took us through rural eastern Lancaster County where we encountered many old-order "team" Mennonites driving home from their church service.

"Rejoice Or Complain?"

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"He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes. He casts forth His ice as fragments; who can stand before His cold?" (Psalm 147:16,17). "And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice" (Philippians 1:18). "Do everything without complaining" (Philippians 2:14). "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4).

Giant supermarket before storm 2/22/15
Check-outs were mobbed by long lines that spilled out into the mains aisles at our local Giant Grocery Store on Saturday morning as shoppers prepared for the big snowstorm.*

On Saturday morning we had a big snow storm forecast for our area and we were out to a local shopping area where I got a haircut. My "hair stylist" at Great Clips was a lady named Maria, who had a distinct accent. I asked where she was from and she answered Bethlehem which I assumed to be Bethlehem PA, a city about 100 miles northeast of us. However she informed me she was from BETHLEHEM. I can't recall ever meeting anyone else from the original Bethlehem!

As many readers know the northeast part of the US has had plenty of snow (loads of snow in New England). This winter the plunging temperatures, icy and snow-covered driveways and roads, have left many folks around here grumbling about the hard, long winter. But we are not alone; Israel and other areas in the Middle East just had snow cover (see here for some stunning photos including one of Bethlehem).

However in the collection there is also a photo that presents a sobering perspective, a
Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon. One "home" appears to be made from another's "trash", the cardboard box from a big flat screen TV amidst the frigid and wet snow landscape. Brooksyne and I looked at this photo together and considered how petty much of what we complain about really is, especially the weather.

Let me ask you a candid question. Have you complained about anything thus far today? I'm not only speaking of verbal murmurings expressed to others, but inner complaining within your own heart. (Aren't you glad you don’t have to answer that question, at least where others might hear!)

Life is jam packed with opportunities to complain if we so choose. I suspect this is true wherever we live; regardless of what situations we endure or conditions we live under. However each day, really, each moment we have a major outlook choice; we can rejoice or complain.

Thou shalt not whine

Jim Gambini
Jim Gambini, a longtime friend of ours, made an interesting observation when he pointed out in a sermon, "Essentially, complaining is accusing God of not doing it right." Think about Jim's statement in light of God's providential dealings in your life. Isn't the traffic jam ultimately under God's control? What about that annoying associate? If God is really in control (and I sure believe He is), complaining is essentially accusing God of not doing it right. It's like telling God, "You got it wrong the first time. How about doing it this time the way I want it, so that You can get it right?"

We wouldn't dare say those words, but our attitude often conveys such a disrespectful discourse, when we find ourselves grumbling to God. It's easy to criticize the Israelite's frequent murmurings and thankless hearts as they journeyed to the Promised Land, but we do the same, far more often, as we journey to our promised land.

I encourage you to read this Scripture carefully: "The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks" (Acts 16:22-24).

Paul and Silas in prison
Try to imagine, even empathize with Paul and Silas' ordeal; physically, emotionally and spiritually. Their exterior circumstances in this single experience is a more traumatic trial than I've known in 60 years of life. Look at the key words describing their situation: attacked, stripped, beaten, severely flogged, thrown in prison, guarded carefully, inner cell, feet fastened in stocks. This injustice took place in Philippi.

If anyone ever had uncomfortable and unwarranted conditions to complain about Paul and Silas sure did! Did they appeal to the human rights commission? Did they threaten a personal injury lawsuit if medical staff refused to doctor their potentially infectious wounds? Of course we know they didn't and likely would not if these options had been available in their time period. In fact the very next verse tells us just what they did:
"About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them" (Acts 16:25).

Count Your BlessingsPaul later wrote a letter to the church in Philippi and gives two simple straightforward commands: "Do everything without complaining" (Philippians 2:14) and "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4). He sure had the credibility to make these statements!

It's very easy to make super-heroes out of these disciples of Christ, but they were human just like us. The Scriptures do not speak of their complaining or murmuring, but it's possible that they did initially (we really don't know). But we do know that any attitude they might have had led them to conclude that God is worthy of our praise no matter how miserable the circumstance! We are to glorify God in the good and bad, for "no one lives unto himself". Onlookers see our countenance and hear our attitudes which provides for us an opportunity to glorify God and serves as a witness to others of the positive difference Christ makes in our lives.

Today we all have an outlook choice.  "This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!" It's a proclamation every single one of us can make this day and every day!

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Praying manDaily prayer: Father, we're told to do everything without complaining, so that we shine like stars in the universe. We know that people are drawn to light where brightness is present and warmth is extended. Help our conversation to be full of grace, tenderness, light, and truth so that we will positively affect those around us.  May we be as a sweet aroma to You and those whom we meet on our life's journey. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

* The big snowstorm: It indeed started to snow late Saturday morning while we were shopping at Giant but compared to other snow storms in the past and the type they are experiencing in New England it really wasn't much and ended early Sunday morning.

Some scenes from our weekend

Friends 2/20/15
Friday evening we had some friends over for a New England fish dinner, salmon and cod. Don and Kathy Eaton (originally from Massachusetts) to our left; Rick and Rachel Caldwell to our right.

Mennonite meeting house 2/22/15
Driving to Tim and Julie's home from their church we passed through a beautiful section of the county populated with old-order "Team Mennonites". ("Team" describes this group of plainly dressed Mennonites who walk, ride bicycles, or use horse and buggy for their transportation as opposed to Amish who walk, ride country style kick scooters, or horse and buggy in the Lancaster County area.) This group is easily confused with the Amish but is a distinct group. Rather than meeting in homes they meet in plain meeting houses; the women sitting on one side, the men the other. It is one type of church we have never visited but we have a standing invitation from Elvin Martin, a man we work with, who is a member of this type of Mennonite.

Tim and Julie Heitz 2/22/15
In spite of the snow storm and many churches in our area canceling Sunday morning we were able to get out to church. We visited a rural congregation in eastern Lancaster County where Tim Heitz, a friend we see in our chaplaincy ministry, is preaching for several weeks in a fill-in type role. Tim preached a sermon regarding listening for God's voice that will be used as illustrative material in a message later this week. Following the service we had a nice time of fellowship and lunch with Tim and his wife Julie in their lovely home.

We had a cute moment at church yesterday and a good idea for any church. As we departed the sanctuary following the service a little girl was standing at the back holding a basket with little pieces of paper in it. I assumed people were leaving prayer requests and walked by. The little girl boldly informed me that I had to take one and it turns out it was a prayer request for someone else. Today we prayed for who we presume to be an elderly couple who are both dealing with chronic medical conditions.

Following our lunch with Tim and Julie we drove to Longwood Manor in Maytown, PA to lead a service for the residents. We were joined by a Russian youth group.

Russian youth singing at Longwood 2/22/15
The Russian youth from Lititz blessed the folks at Longwood Manor as they sang, played their instruments, recited inspirational poems, and encouraged the residents as they individually visited with them.

Russian youth playing violins 2/22/15
The youngest musicians were about ten years old.

Russian youth playing Dombra 2/22/15
This young lady was playing the Dombra, a Russian folk instrument, similar to the dulcimer.

Russian youth with resident 2/22/15
The young people loved visiting the residents in their rooms including Joe who plays the accordion. The musicians can pick up the key and play by ear just about any song. They're amazing!

Russian child with resident 2/22/15
One young boy made friends with Ella Mae who recently returned after being out a couple months for knee surgery. She is a warm, loving, and godly woman that we missed and were delighted to welcome her return.

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources

"Rejoice, The Lord Is King" Youth version  Video  Traditional version  Video

"The Joy Of The Lord"  Video  Twila Paris

"Rejoice In The Lord Always"  Video 

"Count Your Blessings"  Video  George Beverly Shea vocal

"Count Your Blessings"  Video  Smokey Mountain instrumental

"Count Your Blessings"  Video  Although this teaching is set to a seasonal theme (Christmas) it has a great perspective.

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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 make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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