Friday Coffee with PJ

Friday morning means COFFEE! (frankly, every morning means coffee for me)! So why not pour yourself a cup of your favorite brew and join me for a couple of random thoughts?

1. The dictionary defines empty nester as a parent whose children have grown and moved away from home. My wife and I have been empty nesters for the past ten years. But that doesn't mean that we have been alone in the house during that time. We have enjoyed having a couple of college students live with us (one I had the privilege of marrying in our back yard!) and another stayed with us for all four years of her college career. In addition we have hosted several missionary friends, family members ... and of course, our grandkids. This past week our house has been hopping with friends from France who are here in the States on their "home ministries" tour and our one daughter and family sleeping over (as they are showing their house - and it's a lot easier to do that when you are not living in the house!) 

We enjoy hosting people. My wife and I believe this is why God gave us the house he did. Hospitality is a way for us to share with others what God has given to us. And in giving we receive far more in return! How about you? What are you sharing with others?

2. As part of my devotional reading this year, I have been going through Tim Keller's book on Proverbs, God's Wisdom for Navigating Life. Recently I read the following which really got me thinking about my own talk: 

You must ask yourself why you are telling the truth. Is it to win an argument? To punish or pay back by embarrassing the other person? To undermine something true that the person is saying but you don’t want to hear? To defend your pride? To complain? To make yourself look good to others? St. Paul says every word must pass this test—“that it may benefit those who listen . . . according to their needs” (Ephesians 4:29). When you tell the truth, you should always have a “ministry motive.”

I must admit when I speak I don't always have a "ministry motive" behind what I am saying. How about you? 

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Friday Coffee with PJ

It's Friday! So pour yourself a cup of your favorite java and join me of a couple of random thoughts. 

1. This past week, my wife and I traveled to Pittsburgh, Shanksville, and Bedford (all in Pennsylvania for those unfamiliar with the geography of the keystone state). We had a wonderful 6 days and 5 nights away. We reconnected with friends in Pittsburgh, with the events of September 11, 2001 in Shanksville, and with God and one another in Bedford (at the Bedford Springs Resort). 

Upon our arrival home, feeling refreshed and glad to be home, we walked into the house and greeted our missionary friends who are staying with us for much of the month of July. Then in the process of unpacking our car, we discovered that our toilet in the bathroom adjacent to our bedroom had leaked, leaving our bathroom floor and the carpet just outside the bathroom covered with water. The water also found its way to our lower level, causing a couple of saturated ceiling tiles to collapse onto our basement floor. Thankfully, I was able to care for the leak. And thankfully I own a wet vac. So with not all that much work, we are well on the way to drying everything out! 

This problem was relatively easy to fix. Not all problems are. In fact, many are not. Since we are a broken people living in a broken world, difficulties far more than we like crash into our lives, uninvited and unwelcome. But there is coming a day when, according to the Bible, God will wipe away every tear and make everything new (Revelation 21:4-5). But the Scripture is clear. Only those who thirst and come to Christ who offers living water (John 4:14) will experience the glories and grace of heaven as described in the Bible's two closing chapters. So my question to all who might read this post ... are you ready to meet God? If you are uncertain or have any questions about this, please check out Two Ways to Live: The Choice We All Face. 

2. I never played soccer as a kid. Certainly don't play it now. I don't even watch a lot ... that is until the World Cup rolls around as it does every four years. One game I watched while on vacation was Japan vs. Belgium. The Japanese team gave Belgium all they could handle (surprising because Belgium is the 3rd ranked team in the world and Japan is the 62nd ranked team!). Belgium fell behind 2-0 with only 25 minutes left in the game (akin to an NFL team behind its opponent by three touchdowns going into the fourth quarter). Belgium went on to score three goals in those final 25 minutes (the last coming on what proved to be the last play of regulation!). Talk about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat! As the victorious Belgians celebrated both on the field and in the stands, the losing Japanese hung their heads, many in the
Japanese locker room after the team departed!
stands openly weeping. Yet, in spite of a loss which will no doubt sting for years to come, the Japanese soccer team showed real class as they departed. They left behind a spotless locker room with a note written in Russian which simply read, "Thank you!" (see adjacent picture). 

Now that is quite the example, don't you agree? They could have easily trashed the locker room and left without leaving any note of appreciation. Yet they didn't. They showed the world how to win even when losing! This got me to thinking about the example I leave for others. And more often than I would like to admit, my example is not worth a second look, let alone imitating. The Apostle Paul in writing to the church in Corinth urged his readers to "Imitate me as I imitate Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). Hmm. Is my life really worth imitating? It will be only in as far as I am imitating Christ. How about you? What kind of example are you setting for others?

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Friday Coffee with PJ

It's Friday and I am enjoying some vacation time. In fact, as you read this we are on day one of our five night, six day road trip to western Pennsylvania. But we are not leaving an empty house behind! Our precious friends, Paul and Louise Klawitter will be staying with us for the next several weeks (they arrived healthy but exhausted this past Tuesday evening. Close to twenty four hours of navigating long security lines and trying to sleep in an overstuffed economy section on the plane have a way of wringing a person out!). Paul and Louise have been serving as missionaries in France (and now literally around the world) and we are honored to serve them now. 

So in their honor (and since I am on vacation and really don't want to write a new post - just being gut honest with you) I am posting a today something I blogged after returning from a trip to France back at the end of 2006 and the beginning of 2007. Enjoy! 

Merci pour les escargots! (Thursday, January, 2007)

Thanks for the snails? I wasn't so sure. I had never tried to eat a snail before. But I had heard that people did eat them. And our friends assured us that they ate them (and lived) and actually enjoyed them. So much so that they always feasted on snails during the holidays. So when they brought out a plateful of steamed snails, I knew I would have to be brave. I sure did not want to appear cowardly before a sixteen year old girl! 

As I scooped the snail out of its shell, I was hoping it would fall on the floor so that Marcel the dog would gobble it up. When that did not happen, I realized I had to go through with it. But there was something about eating a snail that just would not allow me to place this creature in my mouth. So, sixteen year old Elise came to the rescue. She took my fork, and pretending to be an airplane - she flew that snail right into my mouth (If you are a parent, you can remember those days when you tried that trick to get your kids to eat their creamed carrots or stewed green beans!). As soon as I tasted the snail (dripping with garlic and butter) I thought, "Wow! This is good!" So good that
the second (and third) snail followed quite quickly after that.

Sometimes all it takes is a taste. Les escargots taste good. Maybe that is why they are such a culinary delight to our friends. The book of Psalms urges us to "Taste and see that the LORD is good!"  (Psalm 34:8). 

Indeed the LORD is good - He is very good! I trust that today you will “taste” HIS goodness in a powerful way!

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Friday Coffee with PJ

We are in the midst of our Vacation Bible School this week ... what we like to call "the best week of the year!" It's been quite the week with the facility full of kids and staff. What a privilege it is to introduce these children to Jesus! Today is the final morning (followed by a closing program this evening). I am always ready for the end while at the same time looking ahead to doing it all over again next summer (God willing)! So in the midst of a very busy week ... I managed to put together a post for today. So pour yourself a cup of your favorite brew and join me for a random thought or two. 

1. First as a parent, and now as a grandparent, I am amazed at how different our kids (and their kids) are from one another. For example our first granddaughter was speaking complete sentences well before she turned two. Our youngest grandson, now 2 1/2, is still content to speak one or two words at a time. He would much rather be jumping off furniture or running (and far too quickly for my taste!) down a flight of stairs. My wife likes to sing to him a line from an old rock song, "Wild thing! You make my heart sing!" Ha! But even though all of our grandkids are so very different, we love them all the same! As followers of Jesus, our Master calls us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (in Matthew 22:39 Jesus identifies it as the second "great commandment" preceded only by the command to love God). Bottom line, Jesus is not merely calling us ... but he is commanding us to love those we interact with, no matter the color of their skin or the country of their origin or in any other way they might be different from us. And we are to love them as we love ourselves! That's a high calling and a high privilege. So look around at your "neighbors" today and ask God to show you how you can love them in Jesus' name! You may just make their heart sing! 

2. Speaking of grandkids, we are hoping to take our oldest granddaughter to the Maryland zoo (in Baltimore) next week as her birthday gift. She LOOOOVVVEESSS animals! This will be our second trip to this particular zoo. My wife and I love zoos as well. One of the highlights of my sabbatical last summer was a day spent at the Cleveland zoo. We enjoy learning about the great variety of animals which show just how imaginative our Creator is! To think that even before God created this vast universe and its vast array of animals, he first designed each and every one of them. And he did so without any PHD's in microbiology, physics, biochemistry, anatomy, etc! Wow! What a God! He is indeed worthy of our adoration and praise! 

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Friday Coffee with PJ

I just love my coffee. And for the past two months I have been drinking it black and enjoying it more than ever! And apparently my liver has been enjoying it too! So pour yourself a cup of your favorite java and read on, my friends. 

1. The past four Tuesday evenings I have been teaching a class at Lancaster Bible College in their AUD program. This particular class (which ends next Tuesday - that's why it's called "accelerated") is an exploration of the Bible's first five books known as the Pentateuch. I was struck again in the reading of the book of Numbers at how God instructed the various 12 tribes of Israel to encamp in a prescribed order with the Tabernacle (in which God's glory dwelt) in the very center of their camp. What a beautiful reminder for us! This is how God desires us (in fact commands us) to arrange our lives - with God himself at the very center. Yet all too often we have other things at our life's core. It could be self, it could be family, it could be money and the stuff money buys, or a host of other things. But doing so is like replacing the world's most brilliant diamond on display in our living room with a barrel of manure from farmer Jones' barn (and even this comparison is woefully lacking). King David, who wrote half of the book of Psalms, in Psalm 27:4 wrote, 

I have asked one thing from the Lord;
it is what I desire:
to dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
gazing on the beauty of the Lord
and seeking him in his temple.

Oh that we would have that same desire ... to become so enamored with the beauty of God that we would strive to keep him where he belongs ... at the very center of our lives! 

2. With all the rain that has been falling the past 2 months, my grass is growing at an incredible rate. Cutting it once a week is not enough! So to keep ahead of the growth, I have found myself mowing my lawn about every 4-5 days! Now this doesn't surprise me. That is what  a lot of rain will do. It waters the soil which allows the grass to get more than enough H2O to grow ... no, to REALLY grow! Thinking about this brought the following Scripture from Isaiah the prophet to mind: 

For just as rain and snow fall from heaven
and do not return there
without saturating the earth
and making it germinate and sprout,
and providing seed to sow
and food to eat,
so my word that comes from my mouth
will not return to me empty,
but it will accomplish what I please
and will prosper in what I send it to do.
(Isaiah 55:10-11)

Are you allowing God's Word to water the soil of your soul? If not, then don't expect to grow in your faith. But if you really want to grow . . . then commit to getting into the Bible every day (Psalm 1:1-3). If you are feeling spiritually dry, then the water of the Word is just what you need! 

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Friday Coffee with PJ

Friday. Coffee. Thanks for joining me for a some random thoughts that I hope will help you in your walk with Jesus (in addition, I have included a brief health update as well). 

With hurricane season upon us, I was reminded of a news report I saw during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Wildlife experts had rescued several bottlenose dolphins which had been swept from their aquarium home into the Gulf of Mexico by the storm. Rescuers had diligently searched for these dolphins as they were unable to forage for themselves in the open sea. What I found amazing about the recovery of these dolphins is that they were found TOGETHER. Experts believed this is how they were able to survive their time in the waters of the Gulf. I guess you could say these dolphins “porpoised” to stay together!

The experience of these dolphins reminds me of a passage from an Old Testament book.  The book was written by one of the wisest men to have ever lived: King Solomon. Solomon was the third king to rule over the ancient kingdom of Israel. In the book of Ecclesiastes (his life journal), Solomon wrote the following concerning the power of community:

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

In the church I have been privileged to pastor almost 29 years now, (Grace Church at Willow Valley) we believe in the power of community. God never intended His people to go solo in their walk with Him (solo might be fine for a guy named Han ... but not for people called Christians). Therefore we provide opportunities for one and all to get into community via home-based small groups (we call them Life Groups as the goal of these groups is to do life together), Adult Bible Fellowships, Bible studies for both men and women, etc. If you are not experiencing biblical community, I invite you to come and get involved. We’ll leave the porch light on for you and the door open!

Health update: I had my ureteral stent removed yesterday afternoon! Yea! I did experience some pain last evening, but by midnight or so it had, for the most part subsided. My urologist told me that he and his colleagues are still discussing my case. He even called a urologist under whom he studied while doing a medical fellowship. I asked him if I might make some medical journal (gotta be some royalties to be had, yes?). He smiled and then outlined where I go from here. At the end of July I will be seeing a nephrologist (kidney specialist). Then in early September I will have an ultrasound of my kidneys with a followup with him. I am thankful for the wonderful medical care I have received from my urologist, my primary care physician, and so many others (including my wife - she's been a great nurse!). But most of all I am grateful to my great God and savior, Jesus Christ! Knowing that I am ultimately in HIS hands brings me the greatest comfort of all!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Friday Coffee with PJ

June 1st? What happened to May? Oh yes, the days might be long at times but the months and years grow shorter all the time! Since it is Friday (and the first day of meteorological spring), it's time to celebrate. And in the spirit of the season, feel free to start your day with a cold coffee beverage! 

This morning, I want to share with you a personal journey that is about to end for me .... 

It all started on a Sunday morning in September of 2014. My church family was graciously celebrating my 25 years of ministry with the church. We had many visitors that morning, friends and family from such places as Virginia and Erie. I was thrilled and touched to see all of them ... that is with one exception. This visitor did not come from out of town. In fact, he came from inside my left kidney. 

It was about 15 minutes into the service that I began to feel a pain in my left flank that I had never felt before. A kidney stone was making its presence felt. That began a several day pain-filled event (that I would not ever want to repeat!). That kidney stone attack kick started my journey. Four months later I found myself in the office of a urologist as he sat staring at the screen of his laptop, reviewing the results of an ultrasound which I had just undergone. Three times he sighed and uttered the word "curious" which proved to be prophetic of the journey, which would prove curious indeed as you will see. 

This journey has involved multiple ultrasounds (more than the average woman of childbearing age I would guess), several CAT scans, nuclear medicine renal scans (a.k.a. "bladder busters"), four surgical procedures (three involved the insertion of an ureteteral stent - and if you have never had the joy of having one pray that you never will!), two trips to the local ER, and the wonderful care of my primary care physician, two urologists, a boatload of nurses, techs, etc., and gratitude for my church for providing health insurance! 

The last "mile" of this journey began on March 8th when I underwent surgery (#3) in which the surgeon used a balloon to dilate my ureter (he said afterwards he could not believe how narrow my ureter (tube from kidney to bladder) was - curious, eh?). He then used a laser to kill off the resident storm troopers (a.k.a. scar tissue) and then left behind that wonderful 😕 device known as a stent. After a few painful days, I was up and about and back in the office. 

On March 28th, I began to notice a growing pain in my flank. By noon on the 29th, the pain had grown so much that I thought I was experiencing another unwelcome visit from Mr. Stone. Off to the ER we went. A CAT scan did not reveal any stone, but did show "severe hydronephrosis" (swelling of the kidney). I was sent home smiling (due to the pain medicine I was given) and by nightfall, the pain had greatly diminished. The next day my urologist called to discuss what happened. He was perplexed as to the cause of the sharp pain (curious, eh?). He then scheduled me for a follow up ultrasound which I had on April 20th. It revealed that the swelling  of my kidney had lessened some, but still not back to normal. So he scheduled me for a nuke med renal scan which I underwent on May 3rd. 

The following Wednesday (May 9th), I was in Cleveland for a pastor's conference. Just after breakfast and before the morning session, my urologist called. He had just read the results of my scan of the week before and did not like what he was seeing. He told me he wanted to schedule me for surgery to insert a stent in my left kidney and he wanted to do it "this week!" I told him I would be home that evening and available either Thursday or Friday. So .... the next day at noon I reported to the surgical center. 

After the surgery he told my wife he was amazed to see scar tissue in my ureter from the March 8th surgery (and even showed it to a couple of his associates in the practice and they, too, were surprised) - curious, eh? On May 23rd I endured another "bladder buster" test. On Tuesday of this week, my urologist called me. The conversation went something like this: 

Dr. G - "John, do you have time to talk?" 
Me - "Certainly" (I mean, I was anxious to hear his read on the results of the renal scan).
Dr. G - "I hate to be the bearer of bad news ... especially to a nice person like you, but your kidney is no longer functioning." 
Me - "Uh ... could you repeat please?" 
Dr. G - "Your kidney is no longer working." 
Me - after some silence .... "Oh ... How did that happen? 
Dr. G - "I have been scratching my head to try to figure out how your kidney function went down hill so fast. I have consulted with some of my colleagues and they have no explanation either. It may be somehow connected with the severe pain episode you had that landed you in the ER back in March. But I just don't know!" (curious, eh?) 
Me - "What does this mean long term? Does the kidney need to be removed?" 
Dr. G - "No, the kidney can stay, unless an infection sets in or you have too much pain. And your right kidney is working just fine, so you should be OK going forward. I am so sorry this happened to you." 

Bottom line, I was stunned. I had been bracing myself for more surgery. This was not even on my radar! As I write this post, I am scheduled to have the stent removed next Thursday (I am NOT looking forward to getting it out ... but I AM looking forward to having it out!). 

So this long journey appears now to be coming to an end (just not the end I had envisioned). But then again, as curious has it has been, baffling these well educated and extremely bright medical professionals ... I won't be holding my breath. I may never know exactly what happened to cause my kidney to fail, but I do know this: Although this has not been a pleasant journey for me (and sometimes my wife as I am not always the best patient!), it is a journey that God allowed. One of the speakers at the Cleveland pastor's conference I attended spoke on suffering and how God uses it  for good in our lives and ministries (2 Corinthians chapters 4 and 12). Upon hearing these messages, I prayed and asked God to use this suffering involving my kidney situation to be a platform upon which I could bring him glory. I specifically asked God to help me be a testimony for Christ as I interacted with my urologist. Shortly after praying that prayer, I got the call from him to schedule my surgery for the next day (May 10th)! My situation may be "curious" to my doctors but not to God. He has a plan and he is working that plan. That comforts my troubled heart and gives me hope for the future! 

My apologies for the length of this post. But in sharing my journey, I want to encourage others who are either now or in the future on a similar journey. Remember this ... behind the frown of providence is the smiling face of God. All that he does for us is for our good and his glory (Romans 8:28-29). 

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

PS - With only one working kidney, I share something with my grandson Nolan who had a kidney removed when he was only three weeks old. So he and I are now "solo" kidney buddies! 

Friday Coffee with PJ

Friday morning means COFFEE! (frankly, every morning means coffee for me)! So why not pour yourself a cup of your favorite brew and join m...