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Monday, March 8, 2021

Strasburg Railroad steam train
Yesterday we had lunch in a dining car at the Casey Jones restaurant beside the Strasburg Railroad track and we saw this view from our window. I fought the urge to jump up out of my chair and view the train at its crossing for a close up shot.*
Click on photo to enlarge

"Not Neglecting To Meet Together"

Message summary: According to this Scripture we are not to not neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some, but we are to encourage one another, and all the more as we see the Day drawing near.

Listen to this message on your audio player.

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:23-25).

Were you able to make it out to church this last weekend? All over the world Christians gathered in groups large and small as they have since Resurrection Day. One of the many casualties of this ongoing "pandemic" has been its impact upon the local church gathering.

We attend a larger church and did not gather in person for several months last year (although we could watch those who led from the platform of the church via computer). We resumed literally congregating in June. Because more and more people are attending each week, multiple services have been added to accommodate.

Yesterday it was announced a distancing restriction would be lifted on two sections in the sanctuary and the people clapped enthusiastically! We clapped in part because it was the two sections (near the front) in which we find ourselves sitting week after week, year after year. Sitting in every other row has made it hard to find our seats in a timely fashion before the service starts. (There will still be sections with masks only for those who are more vulnerable to health risks and for those who choose this approach.) Since the re-opening in June parishioners have been asked to wear masks in the foyer area and before sitting down in their pews.

I spoke to a friend who serves a small church in an undisclosed location in New England who told me his congregation has not ceased meeting together through the entire pandemic. They have used common sense and reasonable precautions and of course some of the people have not been comfortable gathering in person. I use "undisclosed location" designation since it seems now there are many government bureaucrats in some places who seem to love to meddle in local church affairs and I would expect his state would be among them.

Some have paid a heavy price for seeking to be obedient to God and specifically our daily text. A pastor in Canada is in jail for leading his congregation in church services and another church is facing heavy fines, probably quite a few for that matter. What's wrong with Canada! But some of our states have been very oppressive as well, such as California. Frankly the inconsistencies infuriate me. Other places can be open such as casinos, pot shops and abortion killing grounds. But according to the "experts" it's dangerous to gather in church.

The same ideological side (progressive) that denies certitudes of science such as gender, claiming a man can be a woman and vice versa, that an unborn baby is not really a human of worth, that marriage can be between anyone you want it to be, tells us to "follow the science" in regard to these dictates which are constantly changing!

But increasingly it is seen that great harm comes from isolating people, not only in regard to the church, but other social structures as well, notably schools. The first "not good" in the Bible is man being alone. God designed marriage between a man and a woman to fundamentally meet this loneliness. But the principle of it not being good to be alone extends to all relationships that enrich life.

Yesterday we saw and visited with friends, both at church and as we dined over lunch. These social interactions are vital to health. Especially harmed are people isolated in nursing homes, those who have severe cognitive and/or physical disabilities who need daily support services, those who live alone, and tragically thousands and thousands who have died, the family being forbidden to remain at their loved one's bedside, due to the fear of spreading covid. Thankfully, the latter situation seems to be improving in many regards.

One of the first verses many Christians memorize is "not neglecting to meet together" often used as a teaching verse as to the importance of attending church. Up until last year the ability to meet together in church was available for most of us although our free wills might create the habit of not participating, "as is the habit of some".

According to this Scripture we are not to neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some, but we are to encourage one another, and all the more as we see the Day drawing near. Though I present some of the harsh realities we face today seen in the extremes of governmental intervention or overreach, I do want to encourage you never to lose sight of what God has designed in His plan for us to be in faithful fellowship with our brothers and sisters so that we spur one another in love and good works through Christ.

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Praying man Daily prayer: Father, this pandemic and those in authority who have responded to it, has presented many long term ramifications that will likely not disappear even when the contagion factor is no longer widespread. Some families have taken positions that have caused division, government officials have wrongly politicized the disease, many churches have splintered, church leadership in some locales has been persecuted, and devastating heartbreak remains for those whose loved ones died without loving and proper good-byes. We need healing in our local settings and we need healing in the nations since this is a global pandemic in need of a global answer to prayer. May we, as Your children, be used as a healing balm to the nations, a healing balm to the people of the earth, till the whole world knows there's salvation in Your name, may Your healing flow through us. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Prayer contains a portion of "Song for the Nations" by Chris Christensen (V. 4, adapted) 

Today's message might rankle a few people. So I (Stephen) might as well express a bit more! People need human touch. Now of course I mean appropriate touch! One of the first casualties of the pandemic was being told to stop touching one another such as a handshake, let alone a hug. Though it was likely a well meaning prohibition we consider the brutally painful  setting of those who are ill and isolated from even the touch of a loved one.

What Bible verses might we consider in this regard? When Paul departed Ephesus we read, "And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him" (Acts 20:37). Many of the epistles end with a phrase such as, "Greet one another with a holy kiss" (2 Corinthians 13:12). Now, according to the cultural norms in the circles I have been in, most of us do not kiss but we do embrace (hug). However I know some churches and cultures that still do practice the holy kiss. The principle though is the normalcy and healthfulness of touch.

Today we want to share several of our most meaningful "hug" photos through the years.
We sure hope you have photos and memories like this!

Mom hugging Joey Cullen
Joey was a troubled teenager when this photo was taken. But he loved my Mom and my Mom loved him.

Joey Cullen with Lorna and Brooksyne 6/5/10
This photo is taken from Joey's wedding about ten years later. Lorna led our youth group during a time in Joey's life when he was rebellious but she was determined to show the love of Christ to this troubled young man. Looks like he's showing his deep appreciation!

Joseph Cullen
Joseph, is now an ordained minister and serves at Philadelphia Christian Center, a large church in Philadelphia. He married Lori, the daughter of Phil and Carol Menditto, who pastor the church and Joey and Lori now have two children.

Darrel Martin with Brooksyne
Here's another treasured hug photo. In 2008 Brooksyne broke her ankle. We attended the wedding of Darrel and Kelly Martin, who both grew up in the church we attended for many years. The bridal couple greeted each attendee and dismissed us from the wedding ceremony row by row.  Brooksyne, unable to leave her chair, expected to just wave at Darrel and Kelly, but he kindly sought her out and extended a warm hug. What a joy that 12 years later Darrel and Kelly are doing well along with two children and a faithful walk with the Lord.

Pastor Keefer hugging Connie
Connie getting her pastor's hug from John Keefer at the end of a service.

Freinds bear hugThis photo show Mike and Joe, two friends from Northern PA giving each other a bear hug at a wedding reception. Mike had moved from that area and they had not seen each other for awhile. This is a special photo to me because of what it represents. Mike is a college educated electrical engineer, Joe a millworker from a socially disadvantaged background. Joe got saved in our church and Mike had a longterm mentoring role in his life demonstrating the power of brotherhood in Christ over "class" distinctions.

Are you a hugger? The act of hugging varies in families and in various regions of our country and world. In the South hugging is pretty common. Our church in northern Pennsylvania, which we established as a young married couple, became a hugging church, even though hugging in church wasn't common in that region. In New England which has the reputation of being the "frozen chosen" we assumed an older heritage type church and the congregation wasn't all that accustomed to hugging, but that changed while we were there.

* Brooksyne's note: Funny "Choo Chew" Moment Yesterday: The Strasburg Railroad train usually rolls down the tracks two to three times while we're dining at Casey Jones which is part of why we enjoy eating there. Also, they play many railroad songs as you dine such as "Chattanooga Choo Choo", "Petticoat Junction" theme song, "Workin' on the Railroad" and many others. As we were eating it sounded like the train was approaching during our dining experience. Stephen couldn't resist jumping out of his seat and heading out the nearest exit to get an up close photograph. We who stayed in our seats looked out and saw no sign of a train so we listened more carefully to the train whistle and realized it was coming from the speakers, not from a real train. After several minutes Stephen came back in a bit exasperated and informed us that he never did see the train come through, "I could hear it but I never did see it!" We laughed so hard which mystified him until we had to let him in on the truth, "That wasn't a train whistle, you only heard the train whistle playing on the restaurant soundtrack!"

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources

"This Is The Place"  Video  Gaither Vocal Band Watch this video and see which scenes and words you can identify with.

This is the place where we pray
This is the place where we cry
This is the place where we start
"'Til death do us part"
Where we say "goodbye"
Here we leave all our pain
Find forgiveness and grace
Here we walk down the aisle
Dedicate every child
Here in this sacred place

(We have prayed regarding these matters)

Finally today:

Ammon Graybill
Yesterday after our church service we visited with Ammon Graybill, a Lancaster County realtor, who was seated next to us in church. Ammon is nearing 90 years old. Since 1954 he has held a weekly Bible Study in a restaurant for local businessmen which lasted till last March when the lockdowns started. Stephen spoke at this gathering several times. That is over 65 years of faithful leadership! When the choir starts up again, hopefully in the next couple months, Ammon will surely join in again as he has in the past!

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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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