PJ

PJ

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Indiana Wants Me!


Well, Indiana wants me ... more specifically, Grace College/Seminary wants me. I was recently elected to the Board of Trustees for Grace and the fall board meetings start tomorrow in the teeming metropolis of Winona Lake, Indiana. So I will be out of the office through Sunday and more than likely not posting to my blog. Please pray for me and the other board members as we meet to discuss the work of Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary. I know I cannot contribute as a new trustee (or even should I become a long-term trustee for that matter) without God's help. Thanks so much for praying!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Our Spiritual Growth - A Final Word

Before I leave the topic of spiritual growth, I want to leave you with one other thought. This thought flows out of the following text: "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Philippians 2:12-13).

In this text we see two apparently contradictory truths. In v. 12 Paul tells us that we must continue (never stop) to work out our salvation. He isn't telling us to work FOR our salvation. That would contradict what he says elsewhere about salvation being UNEARNED on our part (see Ephesians 2:8-9 for example). What he is saying here is that we need to always be striving to work our salvation OUT into every area of our life - like when you add an ingredient when you are making a cake and you stir the cake batter to make sure the ingredient gets worked throughout the entire batter. OK. Verse 12 tells us we have something to do. But then in v. 13 Paul tells us that it is God who works inside of us to get us to the point where we desire to do his will and then actually purpose to do it! So v. 12 - we do it and in v. 13 God does it. SO is this a contradiction? It may appear to be so - but only in our feeble finite minds. In some mysterious way (that I have yet to figure out ... and if you have, please let me know!) our spiritual growth is BOTH totally dependent upon us AND totally dependent upon God.

So what does this mean for us? It means that if you and I want to grow in our spiritual lives, then we must be BOTH working as if our growth was totally up to us AND praying as if our growth was totally up to God! So - determine today to work and pray! Work and pray! Work and pray . . .

Oh the mystery of godliness is great (see 1 Timothy 3:15)!!!


Thanks for stopping by,

pj

Friday, October 26, 2007

So When Are You Going to Grow Up?

Recently I had a couple of conversations with people (now that is a profound statement - I mean who else do I converse with? The frogs and gold fish in my garden pond? The birds who roost in my back yard birch trees?). Let me start over ... Recently I had a couple of interesting conversations concerning teens growing into adults. These talks basically concluded (based on my observation and the observations of the other PEOPLE in the conversations) that young people are not maturing as fast as once was the case (and by maturing we were not talking about physical maturity - but rather a maturity that results in a degree of responsibility that is able to care for the various demands of life).

Today, as I was doing some Internet research, I stumbled across a book that sets forth this very same premise. The book, titled The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization (published in August 2007) contains some very interesting and sobering insights. Here are a few:


"More adults, ages eighteen to forty-nine, watch the Cartoon Network than watch CNN. Readers as old as twenty-five are buying "young adult" fiction written expressly for teens. The average video gamester was eighteen in 1990; now he's going on thirty."


"The National Academy of Sciences has, in 2002, redefined adolescence as the period extending from the onset of puberty, around twelve, to age thirty. The MacArthur Foundation has gone farther still, funding a major research project that argues that the "transition to adulthood" doesn't end until age thirty-four." (Now think about this - a 34 year old adolescent? That concept does explain quite a bit!)


Now I am not a sociologist. But this trend of people taking longer to grow up (if they ever do) has some very scary implications for our society. Whereas children need parents who are responsible and mature to help them transition from childhood to adulthood - we now have parents who are still in need of parents themselves! Gulp. Help!

What is true in society is true also in the spiritual arena. Far too many Christ-followers are still in diapers (at worst) or wading through their adolescence (at best). We need to stop messing around and GROW UP! I hope you take some time to reflect on the keys to spiritual growth that I have offered. This is not meant as an exhaustive list by any means ... just some thoughts to help you grow.


Thanks for listening,
pj

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Growing Up! Key #4

Across the course of the past dozen years, both of my parents and my father-in law have died of cancer. Not all that suprising, considering that cancer trails only heart disease as the leading cause of death among American adults. It is no wonder that the last word any patient wants to hear from his or her doctor is the dreaded "C" word!

In the spiritual realm, there is something that is just as devastating as cancer is in the physical arena. It is sin. However, sin is not something that is talked about at all in our culture any more. In fact, New Testament scholar D. A. Carson commented that the most frustrating aspect of doing evangelism on university campuses is that most students have no idea of sin. According to Carson, "They know how to sin well enough, but they have no idea of what constitutes sin." And the sad reality is that the idea of sin is also disappearing from many churches as well. In the church's drive to be "seeker sensitive," many have eliminated the S word from their vocabulary. This is tragic for if Christians fail to see sin for what it is (and then deal with it biblically), it is a malignancy just waiting to spread and snuff out life! This brings me to a fourth key to spiritual growth: we must cultivate a CLEAR VIEW OF SIN! By this I mean we must learn to see sin as God does. We must resist the tendency to sugar coat our sin and seek to justify it or rationalize it in any way. When we fail to see sin for what it is - a rebellion against the authority of our Creator and therefore something that deeply offends Him - we will never deal with it biblically. As a result, it will spread its poison throughout our soul and we will never experience healthy spiritual growth.
So ... pray and ask that God would help you to see sin clearly. Do not adopt the attitude of our culture which tends to minimize sin on one hand or even glamorize it on the other. See sin as the offense to God that it really is. Spend a moment reflecting on these words penned by Isaiah the prophet: "For this is what the high and lofty One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: 'I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite'" (57:15). It is only when we have a clear view of sin that we will ever be contrite and lowly in spirit. And when we are contrite and lowly in spirit - we will experience the very presence of God!

Thanks for listening,

pj




Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Growing up! Key #3

Back in August, my wife and I enjoyed several days hiking through Acadia National Park in Maine. On one of those days, standing on the summit of Cadillac Mountain, I pulled out our binoculars to view the various boats out in the harbor. As I peered into the binocs, instead of seeing the boats "up close and personal" - they appeared even smaller and further away than they appeared to the naked eye. Duh! I was looking through the wrong end of the binocs!

Hmm. I think when it comes to our view of God, we often look at him through the wrong end of the binocs. Instead of seeing God as the almighty King of the Universe, we see a god of pygmy proportions. This brings me to this third key to spiritual growth: A HIGH VIEW OF GOD. Far too many Christians have a view of God that is way too small! And as J. I. Packer writes, if our view of God is that of pygmy proportions, then we "cannot hope to end up as more than pygmy Christians." We live in a world in which man is exalted and God is devalued. Sure, people talk a lot about "god" - but their concept of "god" is far removed from the gloriously majestic portrait of the God of the Bible. And if we are not careful, our view of God becomes far less than it should be! And the result is that we fail to "grow up!"

Let me encourage you to spend a few moments reflecting on this verse from the pen of the prophet Isaiah: "For this is what the high and lofty One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: 'I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.'" (57:15) Do you possess a high view of God? When you think of him, do you think of him in these terms described by Isaiah? If you really want to grow up - then begin today to cultivate a HIGH VIEW OF GOD!

Thanks for listening,

pj

P.S. - If you want to develop your view of God, I recommend that you read J. I. Packer's book, Knowing God. It is a classic and has really stretched my view of God in the right direction.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Growing Up! Key #2

Yesterday I discussed what I see as the #1 key to spiritual growth: interaction with God's Word (and by interaction I mean gaining knowledge that translates into action). If we are not in the Bible on a regular (read regular as DAILY) basis and then applying what we learn to our lives, we are in effect starving our souls as we keep from them the spiritual nourishment that they need to grow. Just remember this "rule of thumb": little interaction with the Bible, little spiritual growth; much interaction with the Bible, much spiritual growth.

Enough for key #1. Here is key #2: DISCIPLINE. In 1 Timothy 4:7b-8 the Apostle Paul urges Timothy (and by extension, us) to "train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." The Greek word translated "train" is the word from which we get our English words "gymnasium" and "gymnastics." The word carries the idea of strict physical training, such as what athletes go through in order to prepare for an upcoming competition - whatever that might be. So in effect, Paul is urging us to work up a "spiritual sweat" in order to be godly. I think what he is telling us is that if we want to be godly (i.e. grow in our spiritual walk) - then we are going to have to discipline ourselves - because it is only through discipline that godliness is achieved.

Now this is not something we like to hear. We live in a very undisciplined age. We would much rather obtain something the short and easy way. But the problem is that spiritual growth doesn't just happen the short and easy way. It requires a lot of effort (just check out 1 Corinthians 9:19-27 or 2 Peter 1:5-11). So if you really want to grow, then you are going to have to discipline yourself to do those things (like interact with the Bible and the other keys that I have yet to mention). And in case you need a good definition of discipline, here is one I stumbled across: "Discipline is doing what you don't necessarily want to do in order to become what you really want to become." I hope you really want to become like Jesus!

Thanks for stopping by,

pj


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Growing Up! Key #1

When I was born over 52 years ago as the second of twin boys, I tipped the scales at just over 5 pounds. This morning I got on my scales at home and saw the numbers .... well that is too personal to share - sorry! But I will say the number staring back at me was a LOT HIGHER a number than the number five! But that's OK - because we are expected to put on weight as we grow (but alas, I've had the tendency to put on a little bit too many pounds!).


This week I am talking about growing in our spiritual lives. I want to share with you several keys to spiritual growth. Here is Key #1: If we are really serious about growing in our faith - then we will get really serious about our Bibles. Neither you nor I nor any follower of Christ can grow very much if we spend little time in God's Word. This is why Peter urges his readers to "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation" (1 Peter 2:2). The Scripture is what God will use to equip us for our spiritual journey through this life (pick up your Bible and read Psalm 119 sometime soon - you will see what knowing your Bible will do for you!). Now, even though most of us would agree with what I just said, far too many of us fail to act on this belief. According to several pollsters (e.g. George Gallup and George Barna) it is only a minority of Christians who actually read their Bibles on a regular basis. And when Christians are tested on their basic Bible knowledge, the results are not just sobering - they are frightening!


To wrap this all up - here is a question for you. How much do you want to grow in your relationship with God? If you want to get to know the God of the Word better - then make an intentional effort to get to know the Word of God better! Begin today. Make a plan to get into the Bible DAILY and with God's help, work your plan. Remember that God's Word is a lamp to our feet and a light for our path (Psalm 119:105). If you need some help on getting this done please feel free to contact me.


Thanks for stopping by,


pj

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Babies and Guns (And I Am not Talking "Play!")

Bubba Ludwig can't walk or talk, but he can legally own a gun in the state of Illinois. The 10-month-old baby was issued a firearm owner's identification card after his father paid the required $5 fee and filled out the application, not expecting to actually get one. The application lists Bubba's height at 2 feet 3 inches and displays a scribble on the signature line. All this occurred because Bubba's grandfather had purchased him a 12 gauge shotgun for Bubba to use once he reaches hunting age. Crazy, huh? Yet all perfectly legit as there are no age restrictions on gun ownership in Illinois.

What makes this story so bizarre is that we usually do not associate a 12 gauge shotgun with a ten month-old baby! When we think of babies, we usually think of diapers and pacifiers, car seats and rattles! Real guns (of any gauge or type) are not the usual components of "babyhood!"

Yesterday, I got to hold a baby who is less than a week old. Wow! How small, how fragile. Yet, God willing, this child will grow up to be a strong healthy adult. How do I know this - because that is how life usually works. We don't stay babies forever! What is true in the physical arena, should (note I said should) be true also in the spiritual arena. After trusting Christ (and being born into the family of God - see John 1:12 and John 3) we should experience growth as Christians. HOWEVER, far too often we do not, and the words of Hebrews 5:12-14 apply: "In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil."

Are you doing what needs to be done to grow in your faith? This week, I am going to discuss a number of keys to spiritual growth. I hope you check back.

Thanks for stopping by,
pj


Friday, October 12, 2007

A Thought for Your Weekend


"God is more concerned about our character than our comfort. His goal is not to pamper us physically but to perfect us spiritually." (Paul. W. Powell as quoted by Charles Swindoll, The Strength of Character).
Wow! This is a powerful quote - and especially needed for us Christ-followers here in our culture which places such a high value on personal comfort and convenience!
Thanks for stopping by,
pj

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Another "Blog Flashback"

I posted the following post back in July 2005. I thought it was worth repeating.



A Surprise Visitor

It had been 16 years since we had last seen her. She was a fellow home schooler in the days we lived in the Pittsburgh area. Her kids and our kids sometimes played together. Out of the blue, she called yesterday. She had dropped off a son at a camp in Reading, then drove to Willow Street. She called us from the Weis Market. Of course, we invited her over. She could only stay a short time - and we made the most of it. We (mainly Sharon) caught up on her family - she on ours. Sharon and I were saddened to hear that her husband had died two years ago from cancer (at the age of 53). With two of her kids still in high school, things have not been easy for her.

After she left, I was struck at the effort she made to come see us - knowing that the visit would be brief. Obviously, she felt a need to see us, even though I would not have called us the best of friends. But people need people. It's what the New Testament is always talking about in its "one another" passages. How about you? Are you making people a priority in your life? Seeking to reach out to family, yes, but also to co-workers, neighbors, classmates? I am glad Nancy, hurting as she is, made the effort to stop and look us up. I am hoping to learn from her example! After all, Jesus calls us to love people, right? You will find Jesus' call in Matthew 22 - it is the second great commandment!

Thanks for listening,

Pastor John

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Talk About Amazing!

This past weekend, the Rubik's Cube championship was held in Budapest Hungary. For many of us this multi-colored cube puzzle has been just that - a real puzzle. I don't know how many times I have tried to line up all the colors - but I do know how many times I was successful (would you believe a big fat zero?). I guess that is why I am amazed at the weekend's results, among which include the following: the fastest time to solve the puzzle: 9.86 seconds. The fastest one handed time: 21.13 seconds (average of five tries). The fastest time to solve the cube using only one's feet: 49.33. And for me the most amazing figure was the best time turned in by a BLINDFOLDED competitor: 1 minute, 7 seconds! And I can't even solve the cube with both eyes open, both hands working, and taking my good old time! In my book, these guys are amazing!


There is no doubt, as I said earlier - for most of us, the Rubik's Cube is a complex puzzle. But so is life. In our fast paced, ever changing, always challenging world - we are hard pressed to make the right call, the right decision. Life can be even more confusing than the Rubik's Cube. That's why I am glad that God gives us HIS wisdom. And the best way to access this wisdom is to reverentially read and apply His Word to our daily life. This won't eliminate the challenges before you - but it will give you much needed help to meet them head on. Life can be confusing - but you don't have to get mired into hopeless attempts to solve its puzzle.

Thanks for listening,

pj

Friday, October 5, 2007

Think about This!


I read a quote this morning that really got me thinking. It is from the pen of C.S. Lewis (God in the Dock). Lewis writes, "Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important."

He is absolutely right on with this. Christianity is either true or it isn't. It can't be both. There is no - "If this works for you ... OK then, for you it's true. I just can't buy into it." The truth (or falsehood) of Christianity exists no matter if I or you or anyone else "buys into it" (or doesn't buy into it). Given this (and I realize that many 'postmoderns' out there will not give this to be true - but that is a posting for another day), then what C.S. Lewis says here is of the utmost significance. Many people would say if asked, that God and their Christian faith is fairly (i.e. "moderately") important to them. But as Lewis points out, this is not an option. Christianity is either totally irrelevant and meaningless (if false) or absolutely the most relevant and significant reality about our existence (if true). There is no "middle ground."

So, as you watch your kids play soccer this weekend or cheer on your favorite football team or spend some time shopping at the mall - think on this question: Does the way I live my life demonstrate my belief that my faith in Jesus Christ is "of infinite importance?"

Thanks for listening,
PJ

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Words of Comfort in the Midst of Days of Difficulty

Recently I ran across a surgeon whose name was Dr. Payne (pronounced, "PAIN!"). Now how would you feel if you were going into surgery and the surgeon introduced himself to you, "Hello. I am Dr. Payne and I can assure you, that you have nothing to worry about?" Somehow, coming from Dr. Payne - I don't know if I would find much comfort in his words!

We followers of Jesus Christ, however, can find much comfort in the words of the One who has the name that is above all other names (see Philippians 2:10-11). Jesus as Lord of lord and King of kings speaks to us in the midst of our difficulties when he says, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). If you are going through some tough times, I trust you will find hope in HIS words!

Thanks for listening,

pj

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Staff Day Away

Usually on a Wednesday morning, our Grace Staff gets together for our weekly staff meeting. We meet from about 9:00 to 10:45. The meeting involves a brief devotional thought, lots of discussion on what's happening (or not happening and should be!) and prayer. Today, however, will not be a routine Wednesday. Our staff is going to experience a "Staff Day Away." This is something that we aim to do about twice a year. We select a site that is away from Willow Street where our church facility is located (but not too far away that it takes forever and a day to get there!). Today we are heading to Black Rock Retreat Center. Black Rock is located about 25 minutes south of here. Once there we will spend the day in the Word, in prayer, and in discussion and goal setting. Our schedule calls for us to depart Black Rock about 3 PM to return to the offices (and then prep for our first Family Night of our fall season!).

Now we get away so we can unplug from all those things that can tend to interrupt and distract us from what we want to accomplish - seeking God, bonding together and getting on the same page as we seek to move forward in fulfilling the church's mission. I wish we could do this more than just twice a year. And I wish I would make more of an effort on the personal level to do this for myself. In fact, all of us would benefit greatly by intentionally building into our lives an occasional "Day Away." A day to unplug from the world and get quiet before God. Jesus did this (Matthew 14:23) and he encouraged his disciples to do the same (Mark 6:31). Let me encourage you to look at your calendar and select a day between now and the year's end to take a "Day Away with God." And if you are serious about doing so and would like some direction on how to go about doing this, please get in touch with me. I have some pointers I think might help!

Thanks for listening,

pj

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Dead Sea Is Dying!

The Dead Sea, (a.k.a. the "Sea of Salt"), is a body of water 42 miles long and 11 miles wide and is bounded by Israel to the west and Jordan to the east. It is the lowest point on earth, sitting at 1,378 feet below sea level. With a salinity of 30%, it is 8.6 times saltier than the ocean. As such, it is unable to sustain life and therefore the name, "Dead Sea."

Well the Dead Sea is dying. The sea is shrinking at a rate of 3 feet per year. At its current rate of disappearance, it appears that it will be history as early as the year 2050. The primary reason given for this crisis is the diversion of water supplies from the Jordan River, the main source of the Dead Sea's water. Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli authorities are looking at solutions to try to save the Dead Sea (such as piping ocean water in from the Mediterranean Sea to the west - the "Med-Dead" plan - or doing the same from the Red Sea to the south - the "Red-Dead" plan.) Whether either of these plans are implemented or some other plan is devised, action must be taken to avert a major ecological disaster.

All these efforts to keep the Dead Sea from dying, remind me of all the efforts people in our culture undertake to put off the affects of aging and the advance of the inevitable end of our days on this earth. But no matter what we do, unlike what might be successful efforts to save the Dead Sea from dying, our efforts are destined to fail. For all of us are destined to die. But as I mentioned in a blog posting last week, as followers of Jesus - we do not have to fear death! Death is only the door to a paradise of unimaginable dimensions! Do you know Jesus Christ? Have you ever reached out and by faith accepted the free gift of salvation he offers to all who come to Him? If you have any questions about where you might be heading for eternity, please contact me (jsmith@gracewv.org). I'd love to "chat" with you!

Thanks for listening,

pj

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Indiana Wants Me!


Well, Indiana wants me ... more specifically, Grace College/Seminary wants me. I was recently elected to the Board of Trustees for Grace and the fall board meetings start tomorrow in the teeming metropolis of Winona Lake, Indiana. So I will be out of the office through Sunday and more than likely not posting to my blog. Please pray for me and the other board members as we meet to discuss the work of Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary. I know I cannot contribute as a new trustee (or even should I become a long-term trustee for that matter) without God's help. Thanks so much for praying!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Our Spiritual Growth - A Final Word

Before I leave the topic of spiritual growth, I want to leave you with one other thought. This thought flows out of the following text: "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Philippians 2:12-13).

In this text we see two apparently contradictory truths. In v. 12 Paul tells us that we must continue (never stop) to work out our salvation. He isn't telling us to work FOR our salvation. That would contradict what he says elsewhere about salvation being UNEARNED on our part (see Ephesians 2:8-9 for example). What he is saying here is that we need to always be striving to work our salvation OUT into every area of our life - like when you add an ingredient when you are making a cake and you stir the cake batter to make sure the ingredient gets worked throughout the entire batter. OK. Verse 12 tells us we have something to do. But then in v. 13 Paul tells us that it is God who works inside of us to get us to the point where we desire to do his will and then actually purpose to do it! So v. 12 - we do it and in v. 13 God does it. SO is this a contradiction? It may appear to be so - but only in our feeble finite minds. In some mysterious way (that I have yet to figure out ... and if you have, please let me know!) our spiritual growth is BOTH totally dependent upon us AND totally dependent upon God.

So what does this mean for us? It means that if you and I want to grow in our spiritual lives, then we must be BOTH working as if our growth was totally up to us AND praying as if our growth was totally up to God! So - determine today to work and pray! Work and pray! Work and pray . . .

Oh the mystery of godliness is great (see 1 Timothy 3:15)!!!


Thanks for stopping by,

pj

Friday, October 26, 2007

So When Are You Going to Grow Up?

Recently I had a couple of conversations with people (now that is a profound statement - I mean who else do I converse with? The frogs and gold fish in my garden pond? The birds who roost in my back yard birch trees?). Let me start over ... Recently I had a couple of interesting conversations concerning teens growing into adults. These talks basically concluded (based on my observation and the observations of the other PEOPLE in the conversations) that young people are not maturing as fast as once was the case (and by maturing we were not talking about physical maturity - but rather a maturity that results in a degree of responsibility that is able to care for the various demands of life).

Today, as I was doing some Internet research, I stumbled across a book that sets forth this very same premise. The book, titled The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization (published in August 2007) contains some very interesting and sobering insights. Here are a few:


"More adults, ages eighteen to forty-nine, watch the Cartoon Network than watch CNN. Readers as old as twenty-five are buying "young adult" fiction written expressly for teens. The average video gamester was eighteen in 1990; now he's going on thirty."


"The National Academy of Sciences has, in 2002, redefined adolescence as the period extending from the onset of puberty, around twelve, to age thirty. The MacArthur Foundation has gone farther still, funding a major research project that argues that the "transition to adulthood" doesn't end until age thirty-four." (Now think about this - a 34 year old adolescent? That concept does explain quite a bit!)


Now I am not a sociologist. But this trend of people taking longer to grow up (if they ever do) has some very scary implications for our society. Whereas children need parents who are responsible and mature to help them transition from childhood to adulthood - we now have parents who are still in need of parents themselves! Gulp. Help!

What is true in society is true also in the spiritual arena. Far too many Christ-followers are still in diapers (at worst) or wading through their adolescence (at best). We need to stop messing around and GROW UP! I hope you take some time to reflect on the keys to spiritual growth that I have offered. This is not meant as an exhaustive list by any means ... just some thoughts to help you grow.


Thanks for listening,
pj

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Growing Up! Key #4

Across the course of the past dozen years, both of my parents and my father-in law have died of cancer. Not all that suprising, considering that cancer trails only heart disease as the leading cause of death among American adults. It is no wonder that the last word any patient wants to hear from his or her doctor is the dreaded "C" word!

In the spiritual realm, there is something that is just as devastating as cancer is in the physical arena. It is sin. However, sin is not something that is talked about at all in our culture any more. In fact, New Testament scholar D. A. Carson commented that the most frustrating aspect of doing evangelism on university campuses is that most students have no idea of sin. According to Carson, "They know how to sin well enough, but they have no idea of what constitutes sin." And the sad reality is that the idea of sin is also disappearing from many churches as well. In the church's drive to be "seeker sensitive," many have eliminated the S word from their vocabulary. This is tragic for if Christians fail to see sin for what it is (and then deal with it biblically), it is a malignancy just waiting to spread and snuff out life! This brings me to a fourth key to spiritual growth: we must cultivate a CLEAR VIEW OF SIN! By this I mean we must learn to see sin as God does. We must resist the tendency to sugar coat our sin and seek to justify it or rationalize it in any way. When we fail to see sin for what it is - a rebellion against the authority of our Creator and therefore something that deeply offends Him - we will never deal with it biblically. As a result, it will spread its poison throughout our soul and we will never experience healthy spiritual growth.
So ... pray and ask that God would help you to see sin clearly. Do not adopt the attitude of our culture which tends to minimize sin on one hand or even glamorize it on the other. See sin as the offense to God that it really is. Spend a moment reflecting on these words penned by Isaiah the prophet: "For this is what the high and lofty One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: 'I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite'" (57:15). It is only when we have a clear view of sin that we will ever be contrite and lowly in spirit. And when we are contrite and lowly in spirit - we will experience the very presence of God!

Thanks for listening,

pj




Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Growing up! Key #3

Back in August, my wife and I enjoyed several days hiking through Acadia National Park in Maine. On one of those days, standing on the summit of Cadillac Mountain, I pulled out our binoculars to view the various boats out in the harbor. As I peered into the binocs, instead of seeing the boats "up close and personal" - they appeared even smaller and further away than they appeared to the naked eye. Duh! I was looking through the wrong end of the binocs!

Hmm. I think when it comes to our view of God, we often look at him through the wrong end of the binocs. Instead of seeing God as the almighty King of the Universe, we see a god of pygmy proportions. This brings me to this third key to spiritual growth: A HIGH VIEW OF GOD. Far too many Christians have a view of God that is way too small! And as J. I. Packer writes, if our view of God is that of pygmy proportions, then we "cannot hope to end up as more than pygmy Christians." We live in a world in which man is exalted and God is devalued. Sure, people talk a lot about "god" - but their concept of "god" is far removed from the gloriously majestic portrait of the God of the Bible. And if we are not careful, our view of God becomes far less than it should be! And the result is that we fail to "grow up!"

Let me encourage you to spend a few moments reflecting on this verse from the pen of the prophet Isaiah: "For this is what the high and lofty One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: 'I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.'" (57:15) Do you possess a high view of God? When you think of him, do you think of him in these terms described by Isaiah? If you really want to grow up - then begin today to cultivate a HIGH VIEW OF GOD!

Thanks for listening,

pj

P.S. - If you want to develop your view of God, I recommend that you read J. I. Packer's book, Knowing God. It is a classic and has really stretched my view of God in the right direction.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Growing Up! Key #2

Yesterday I discussed what I see as the #1 key to spiritual growth: interaction with God's Word (and by interaction I mean gaining knowledge that translates into action). If we are not in the Bible on a regular (read regular as DAILY) basis and then applying what we learn to our lives, we are in effect starving our souls as we keep from them the spiritual nourishment that they need to grow. Just remember this "rule of thumb": little interaction with the Bible, little spiritual growth; much interaction with the Bible, much spiritual growth.

Enough for key #1. Here is key #2: DISCIPLINE. In 1 Timothy 4:7b-8 the Apostle Paul urges Timothy (and by extension, us) to "train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." The Greek word translated "train" is the word from which we get our English words "gymnasium" and "gymnastics." The word carries the idea of strict physical training, such as what athletes go through in order to prepare for an upcoming competition - whatever that might be. So in effect, Paul is urging us to work up a "spiritual sweat" in order to be godly. I think what he is telling us is that if we want to be godly (i.e. grow in our spiritual walk) - then we are going to have to discipline ourselves - because it is only through discipline that godliness is achieved.

Now this is not something we like to hear. We live in a very undisciplined age. We would much rather obtain something the short and easy way. But the problem is that spiritual growth doesn't just happen the short and easy way. It requires a lot of effort (just check out 1 Corinthians 9:19-27 or 2 Peter 1:5-11). So if you really want to grow, then you are going to have to discipline yourself to do those things (like interact with the Bible and the other keys that I have yet to mention). And in case you need a good definition of discipline, here is one I stumbled across: "Discipline is doing what you don't necessarily want to do in order to become what you really want to become." I hope you really want to become like Jesus!

Thanks for stopping by,

pj


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Growing Up! Key #1

When I was born over 52 years ago as the second of twin boys, I tipped the scales at just over 5 pounds. This morning I got on my scales at home and saw the numbers .... well that is too personal to share - sorry! But I will say the number staring back at me was a LOT HIGHER a number than the number five! But that's OK - because we are expected to put on weight as we grow (but alas, I've had the tendency to put on a little bit too many pounds!).


This week I am talking about growing in our spiritual lives. I want to share with you several keys to spiritual growth. Here is Key #1: If we are really serious about growing in our faith - then we will get really serious about our Bibles. Neither you nor I nor any follower of Christ can grow very much if we spend little time in God's Word. This is why Peter urges his readers to "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation" (1 Peter 2:2). The Scripture is what God will use to equip us for our spiritual journey through this life (pick up your Bible and read Psalm 119 sometime soon - you will see what knowing your Bible will do for you!). Now, even though most of us would agree with what I just said, far too many of us fail to act on this belief. According to several pollsters (e.g. George Gallup and George Barna) it is only a minority of Christians who actually read their Bibles on a regular basis. And when Christians are tested on their basic Bible knowledge, the results are not just sobering - they are frightening!


To wrap this all up - here is a question for you. How much do you want to grow in your relationship with God? If you want to get to know the God of the Word better - then make an intentional effort to get to know the Word of God better! Begin today. Make a plan to get into the Bible DAILY and with God's help, work your plan. Remember that God's Word is a lamp to our feet and a light for our path (Psalm 119:105). If you need some help on getting this done please feel free to contact me.


Thanks for stopping by,


pj

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Babies and Guns (And I Am not Talking "Play!")

Bubba Ludwig can't walk or talk, but he can legally own a gun in the state of Illinois. The 10-month-old baby was issued a firearm owner's identification card after his father paid the required $5 fee and filled out the application, not expecting to actually get one. The application lists Bubba's height at 2 feet 3 inches and displays a scribble on the signature line. All this occurred because Bubba's grandfather had purchased him a 12 gauge shotgun for Bubba to use once he reaches hunting age. Crazy, huh? Yet all perfectly legit as there are no age restrictions on gun ownership in Illinois.

What makes this story so bizarre is that we usually do not associate a 12 gauge shotgun with a ten month-old baby! When we think of babies, we usually think of diapers and pacifiers, car seats and rattles! Real guns (of any gauge or type) are not the usual components of "babyhood!"

Yesterday, I got to hold a baby who is less than a week old. Wow! How small, how fragile. Yet, God willing, this child will grow up to be a strong healthy adult. How do I know this - because that is how life usually works. We don't stay babies forever! What is true in the physical arena, should (note I said should) be true also in the spiritual arena. After trusting Christ (and being born into the family of God - see John 1:12 and John 3) we should experience growth as Christians. HOWEVER, far too often we do not, and the words of Hebrews 5:12-14 apply: "In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil."

Are you doing what needs to be done to grow in your faith? This week, I am going to discuss a number of keys to spiritual growth. I hope you check back.

Thanks for stopping by,
pj


Friday, October 12, 2007

A Thought for Your Weekend


"God is more concerned about our character than our comfort. His goal is not to pamper us physically but to perfect us spiritually." (Paul. W. Powell as quoted by Charles Swindoll, The Strength of Character).
Wow! This is a powerful quote - and especially needed for us Christ-followers here in our culture which places such a high value on personal comfort and convenience!
Thanks for stopping by,
pj

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Another "Blog Flashback"

I posted the following post back in July 2005. I thought it was worth repeating.



A Surprise Visitor

It had been 16 years since we had last seen her. She was a fellow home schooler in the days we lived in the Pittsburgh area. Her kids and our kids sometimes played together. Out of the blue, she called yesterday. She had dropped off a son at a camp in Reading, then drove to Willow Street. She called us from the Weis Market. Of course, we invited her over. She could only stay a short time - and we made the most of it. We (mainly Sharon) caught up on her family - she on ours. Sharon and I were saddened to hear that her husband had died two years ago from cancer (at the age of 53). With two of her kids still in high school, things have not been easy for her.

After she left, I was struck at the effort she made to come see us - knowing that the visit would be brief. Obviously, she felt a need to see us, even though I would not have called us the best of friends. But people need people. It's what the New Testament is always talking about in its "one another" passages. How about you? Are you making people a priority in your life? Seeking to reach out to family, yes, but also to co-workers, neighbors, classmates? I am glad Nancy, hurting as she is, made the effort to stop and look us up. I am hoping to learn from her example! After all, Jesus calls us to love people, right? You will find Jesus' call in Matthew 22 - it is the second great commandment!

Thanks for listening,

Pastor John

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Talk About Amazing!

This past weekend, the Rubik's Cube championship was held in Budapest Hungary. For many of us this multi-colored cube puzzle has been just that - a real puzzle. I don't know how many times I have tried to line up all the colors - but I do know how many times I was successful (would you believe a big fat zero?). I guess that is why I am amazed at the weekend's results, among which include the following: the fastest time to solve the puzzle: 9.86 seconds. The fastest one handed time: 21.13 seconds (average of five tries). The fastest time to solve the cube using only one's feet: 49.33. And for me the most amazing figure was the best time turned in by a BLINDFOLDED competitor: 1 minute, 7 seconds! And I can't even solve the cube with both eyes open, both hands working, and taking my good old time! In my book, these guys are amazing!


There is no doubt, as I said earlier - for most of us, the Rubik's Cube is a complex puzzle. But so is life. In our fast paced, ever changing, always challenging world - we are hard pressed to make the right call, the right decision. Life can be even more confusing than the Rubik's Cube. That's why I am glad that God gives us HIS wisdom. And the best way to access this wisdom is to reverentially read and apply His Word to our daily life. This won't eliminate the challenges before you - but it will give you much needed help to meet them head on. Life can be confusing - but you don't have to get mired into hopeless attempts to solve its puzzle.

Thanks for listening,

pj

Friday, October 5, 2007

Think about This!


I read a quote this morning that really got me thinking. It is from the pen of C.S. Lewis (God in the Dock). Lewis writes, "Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important."

He is absolutely right on with this. Christianity is either true or it isn't. It can't be both. There is no - "If this works for you ... OK then, for you it's true. I just can't buy into it." The truth (or falsehood) of Christianity exists no matter if I or you or anyone else "buys into it" (or doesn't buy into it). Given this (and I realize that many 'postmoderns' out there will not give this to be true - but that is a posting for another day), then what C.S. Lewis says here is of the utmost significance. Many people would say if asked, that God and their Christian faith is fairly (i.e. "moderately") important to them. But as Lewis points out, this is not an option. Christianity is either totally irrelevant and meaningless (if false) or absolutely the most relevant and significant reality about our existence (if true). There is no "middle ground."

So, as you watch your kids play soccer this weekend or cheer on your favorite football team or spend some time shopping at the mall - think on this question: Does the way I live my life demonstrate my belief that my faith in Jesus Christ is "of infinite importance?"

Thanks for listening,
PJ

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Words of Comfort in the Midst of Days of Difficulty

Recently I ran across a surgeon whose name was Dr. Payne (pronounced, "PAIN!"). Now how would you feel if you were going into surgery and the surgeon introduced himself to you, "Hello. I am Dr. Payne and I can assure you, that you have nothing to worry about?" Somehow, coming from Dr. Payne - I don't know if I would find much comfort in his words!

We followers of Jesus Christ, however, can find much comfort in the words of the One who has the name that is above all other names (see Philippians 2:10-11). Jesus as Lord of lord and King of kings speaks to us in the midst of our difficulties when he says, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). If you are going through some tough times, I trust you will find hope in HIS words!

Thanks for listening,

pj

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Staff Day Away

Usually on a Wednesday morning, our Grace Staff gets together for our weekly staff meeting. We meet from about 9:00 to 10:45. The meeting involves a brief devotional thought, lots of discussion on what's happening (or not happening and should be!) and prayer. Today, however, will not be a routine Wednesday. Our staff is going to experience a "Staff Day Away." This is something that we aim to do about twice a year. We select a site that is away from Willow Street where our church facility is located (but not too far away that it takes forever and a day to get there!). Today we are heading to Black Rock Retreat Center. Black Rock is located about 25 minutes south of here. Once there we will spend the day in the Word, in prayer, and in discussion and goal setting. Our schedule calls for us to depart Black Rock about 3 PM to return to the offices (and then prep for our first Family Night of our fall season!).

Now we get away so we can unplug from all those things that can tend to interrupt and distract us from what we want to accomplish - seeking God, bonding together and getting on the same page as we seek to move forward in fulfilling the church's mission. I wish we could do this more than just twice a year. And I wish I would make more of an effort on the personal level to do this for myself. In fact, all of us would benefit greatly by intentionally building into our lives an occasional "Day Away." A day to unplug from the world and get quiet before God. Jesus did this (Matthew 14:23) and he encouraged his disciples to do the same (Mark 6:31). Let me encourage you to look at your calendar and select a day between now and the year's end to take a "Day Away with God." And if you are serious about doing so and would like some direction on how to go about doing this, please get in touch with me. I have some pointers I think might help!

Thanks for listening,

pj

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Dead Sea Is Dying!

The Dead Sea, (a.k.a. the "Sea of Salt"), is a body of water 42 miles long and 11 miles wide and is bounded by Israel to the west and Jordan to the east. It is the lowest point on earth, sitting at 1,378 feet below sea level. With a salinity of 30%, it is 8.6 times saltier than the ocean. As such, it is unable to sustain life and therefore the name, "Dead Sea."

Well the Dead Sea is dying. The sea is shrinking at a rate of 3 feet per year. At its current rate of disappearance, it appears that it will be history as early as the year 2050. The primary reason given for this crisis is the diversion of water supplies from the Jordan River, the main source of the Dead Sea's water. Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli authorities are looking at solutions to try to save the Dead Sea (such as piping ocean water in from the Mediterranean Sea to the west - the "Med-Dead" plan - or doing the same from the Red Sea to the south - the "Red-Dead" plan.) Whether either of these plans are implemented or some other plan is devised, action must be taken to avert a major ecological disaster.

All these efforts to keep the Dead Sea from dying, remind me of all the efforts people in our culture undertake to put off the affects of aging and the advance of the inevitable end of our days on this earth. But no matter what we do, unlike what might be successful efforts to save the Dead Sea from dying, our efforts are destined to fail. For all of us are destined to die. But as I mentioned in a blog posting last week, as followers of Jesus - we do not have to fear death! Death is only the door to a paradise of unimaginable dimensions! Do you know Jesus Christ? Have you ever reached out and by faith accepted the free gift of salvation he offers to all who come to Him? If you have any questions about where you might be heading for eternity, please contact me (jsmith@gracewv.org). I'd love to "chat" with you!

Thanks for listening,

pj

Are You Preparing for Eternity?

Our journey on earth is but a breath ... a heart beat when compared to the expanse of Eternity. We all must remember that how we live live in the here and now will impact our experience in the then and there.

Thoughts on how biblical truth impacts all of life.