Earlier this week I read in the Lancaster New Era that a woman whose son was killed in a police shootout back in November of 2005 had filed a wrongful death lawsuit. At one point as I read the article, I had to stop and make sure I was still reading the New Era and not the National Enquirer! I mean, here is a woman whose son was on record of desiring to kill cops and who put that desire into action by actually shooting one cop, leaving him seriously wounded AND shooting at other police officers as they sought to apprehend him. The Lancaster District Attorney's post-shooting investigation AND two other independent investigations came to the same conclusion: the police shooting of the suspect was justifiable. However, the suspect's mother is not satisfied and has therefore filed this suit. The suit names several police departments involved in the manhunt for her son AND the police officer whom her son shot! I feel for this woman's pain. I cannot imagine losing a child in this way. But give me a break! My hope is that this frivolous law suit gets thrown out. Taxpayers should not have to finance the defense of our law enforcement personnel who are doing their job protecting us from those who want to harm others!

Now notice I said, "I HOPE this law suit gets thrown out." There is no guarantee that it will. I'm guessing that it will be up to a judge as to whether the suit moves on or gets the toss. And not every judge does the right thing. Now that might be true in our legal system (and should be expected, for our judges our human - that means they are imperfect and fallible). But there is ONE judge who is perfect, who is infallible. This judge is God. In Genesis 18:25 we read, "Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" The answer is, "Of course!" God as Judge of all the earth will ALWAYS do what is right! Judging justly, wisely and perfectly is something that flows out of his just, wise and perfect being!

So what does this mean for us? For starters, it means that whenever we believe we are wronged by another, we must allow God to deal with the offender. After all, we cannot see into a person's heart. Only God can. And only he can make perfect judgments. This is why we are admonished in Scripture, "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord" (Romans 12:19). God as the Judge of all the earth will do what is right! Justice will prevail - if not in this life, certainly in the life to come.

In addition, knowing that God judges wisely and perfectly means that we had better live carefully in this life. Yes - that's right. Even followers of Jesus will face his judgment. We will not face condemnation (Romans 8:1), but the lives we live as believers will be scrutinized by the Judge of all the earth (please read 2 Corinthians 5:6-11). So my question for you (and ME!) is this: Are we living lives worthy of our calling as HIS people? Hmm. A thought for you to "chew on" this weekend.

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Please Silence Your Cell Phones - Or Else!!!

Niagara Falls City Court Judge Robert Restaino was recently removed from his position on the bench by a New York State Commission. The Commission made their decision due to the actions of the judge in response to a cell phone that rang and interrupted one of his court sessions. The judge angrily ordered the "culprit" who allowed the interruption to come forward with the "guilty" cell phone in hand. When no one moved, he ordered all forty six people in the courtroom to jail. Once there, all were searched and herded into crowded cells. Those unable to post bail were shackled and bused to a separate jail. Restaino confessed to the state panel that he had been under stress in his personal life at the time. The judge is appealing the decision to remove him from his position.

This is just another reminder that stress causes people to do things they would not normally do. And since we live in such a stress filled world, we had better learn how to handle it. I believe one of the best prescriptions for dealing with stress is found in Philippians chapter four. There the apostle Paul writes the following, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (4:4-7). There you have it. Focus on God, rejoicing in him and realizing that he is near (to help!). Stop worrying! Instead give all your needs to God. Thank him (no matter how what you are facing, there is always, always, always something to be thankful for!). You do this and HE will give you a peace that is out of this world (i.e. - a supernatural peace that only HE can give!). Give this a try - I won't guarantee less stress - but I will guarantee more peace!

Thanks for stopping by,


Dual Identities?

People have a lot of fun with my name (at my expense!). When someone asks me my name and I answer with "John Smith" - I often get asked, "What's your real name?" "Who are you hiding from?" "Where is Pocahontas?" (By the way, the Indian princess Pocahontas never did marry John Smith. She married a Virginia tobacco plantation owner by the name of John Rolfe!)

I am sure many are glad they do not bear my name - but I must admit I, too, have experienced a lot of fun with my name over the years! So would I trade it for another? Hmm...Let me think on that.

Donald L. LaRose, however, apparently did not like his name. Twenty seven years ago he disappeared from his Indiana home and has not been seen since. The story spread that he was kidnapped by some Satanic cult that had been harassing him (he was pastoring a Baptist church at the time of his disappearance). Finally, after an intensive manhunt failed to find LaRose, an Indiana court declared him dead in 1986. But unknown to the court, his family and everyone who knew him - he was very much alive and living in a small Arkansas town under the assumed name of Ken Williams. And life went right along for Ken ... or is it Don...until just this past week when a newspaper reporter confronted him with evidence that he was not Ken Williams but Don LaRose. Ken ... I mean, Don admitted to his true identity - much to the shock of all of Ken's admirers (he was the town mayor) and Don's family! (Are you confused yet?).

As the authorities and Don's (and Ken's) friends and family sort all of this out (he remarried - is he guilty of bigamy?) I just have to shake my head. What motivated this guy to go into hiding for almost three decades, leaving his family, friends, and ministry behind? I have no clue (by the way, he had done this once before back in 1976 - that lasted a mere three months before he was discovered). But this whole concept of "dual identities" (Don/Ken) reminds me of the dual identities with which we struggle. That's right. If you are a follower of Christ, you struggle, I struggle, we all struggle with wavering between our true, real and God-given identity of being "in Christ" AND our old and stubbornly hanging on (with no authority to do so, by the way) identity of what we once WERE (past tense) before Christ (the Apostle Paul talks about this struggle in Romans 7).

All of us have a choice to make. It is a choice we must make moment by moment. Am I going to live according to my new identity as a child of God? Or am I going to choose to live according to my old identity as a rebellious sinner, hopelessly enslaved to sin and all of its heartbreak and pain? I hope all of us become more consistent in choosing to live our identity "in Christ!"

Oh and by the way, would I trade my name for another? Nah! Why should I trade in my name? It is the most popular name in America!

Thanks for listening,


Thanksgiving Day 2007

Last week the automobile club, AAA predicted that a record 38.7 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home over the five days beginning today. That is a 1.6% increase over last year. Most of these trips will be by car (approximately 80%), in spite of the fact that the cost of a gallon of gasoline is up about 90 cents over last year's Thanksgiving holiday.

Why do so many people travel at Thanksgiving? I think I can answer this question, and answer it accurately with one word: "Family." Tomorrow will be my fifty-second Thanksgiving Day. All of them (at least as far back as I can remember) have been spent with family (and I am thankful for that privilege for not everyone has family). Tomorrow will be no different.

I want to go on record that this Thanksgiving Day ... and EVERY day ... I am very thankful for my family. My wife, my children, their spouses and spouses-to-be are among my life's greatest blessings. In addition, I thank God regularly for my extended family and my church family as well.

My Thanksgiving wish for you is that you will enjoy the time with your family - rejoicing in the One who in His providence places us in our particular families.

Thanks for stopping by . . .


So Just How Does God View Sin? (Part 2)

A number of years ago when I was pastoring my first church in suburban Philadelphia, I recruited some teens to help me with some clean up of the church property. The facility sat on a 12 acre tract of land of which 1/3 was wooded. Meandering through this wooded section was a small stream. One summer day I had noticed a lot of debris in the stream and thus the need for a "clean up" day. In the process of cleaning out the stream, a middle school student and I stumbled across a dead cat. It was very apparent that this cat had been dead for a quite some time. So fighting waves of nausea, we removed the body of the cat and bagged it as quickly as we could. It was down right disgusting (in fact, I am getting a little queasy just thinking about it now!).

As disgusting as that cat was in our sight back then -- our sin is so much more disgusting in God's sight. As I mentioned in my last posting, God sees sin as a breaking of his law and a missing of the mark he has established for us. Now that would be bad enough ... but there is more!

In addition, God also sees our sin as a defiant rebellion against his authority. A frequent New Testament word (anomia) for sin carries the idea of "lawlessness" (1 John 3:4) or "without law or restraint" (Matt. 24:12). The Hebrew word pesha (often used in the Old Testament for sin) includes the idea of rebellion (Job 34:37; Exodus 23:2; 34:7; Joshua 24:19). The prophet Isaiah captured this idea of sin as rebellion when he wrote, "All we like sheep have gone astray; each of us has turned to his OWN way (vs. God's way)" (53:6). In effect, whenever we sin we are rebelling against God's rightful authority over us.

One final thought about God's view of sin. Sin is a willful twisting or distorting of the law of God. The Hebrew Old Testament word awon which is also used to refer to our sin literally means "to bend, twist, distort" (See Job 33:27; Eccl. 1:15). If you stop to think about this - isn't this what we often do when we sin? We seek to rationalize our sin and so we twist, bend and distort God's law so that we can justify ourselves! Sad, but true!

Bottom line, sin is UGLY! If we are ever going to grow in our faith and become increasingly like Jesus Christ, we MUST learn to see sin as God does! Let me suggest you soon set some time aside to read Psalm 51. These words were written by King David after he was confronted by Nathan the prophet concerning his sin of adultery with Bathsheba. As you read these words, ask God to reveal to you any sin you have not confessed to him. And as you confess any sin, remember the promise of 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." Now that is something to be THANKFUL for!
Thanks for stopping by . . .

So Just How Does GOD View Sin? (Part 1)

Did you ever turn the wrong way onto a one way street? It can prove to be quite exhilarating. I know, because I have done it (and more than just once!). When it comes to our view of sin, many of us are heading the wrong way on a one way street. Yesterday, I discussed a few ways that our culture view sin (which in turn often impacts how we Christians look at it). And it is NOT how God sees it!

So just how does GOD view sin? For starters, he sees sin as a breaking of his law. In Romans 2:23 we read, "You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?" The Greek word translated here as "breaking" carries the idea of stepping over a boundary. So, in God's view we are LAW BREAKERS. And that includes every single one of us! (Romans 3:23 "For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.")

Now you might be thinking, "Wait a minute, John. I have never broken God's law. I am a decent person. I am not a law breaker!" That might be true, but God's Word sets a high (in fact an unattainable) standard. Take the 6th commandment (of the Ten) which states, "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13). Granted, most of us have never actually taken another human being's life. But Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:21-22a, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment." Who among us can claim that we have NEVER been angry with another person. OK, we have all broken the 6th commandment.

Perhaps you remain unconvinced that you are a law breaker from God's vantage point. Take the next commandment (#7) which states, "You shall not commit adultery." Again you might be thinking, "Whew, that's good. I have never cheated on my spouse! I've got this one down!" But Jesus once more confronts our hearts when he says in Matthew 5:27-28, "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Again, who among us can claim that we have never lusted in this way? Now I could go on and on ... but I think (and hope) you get the point. Sin is the breaking of God's law and we are ALL guilty of doing so!

God also sees sin as a failure on our part to conform to HIS standard. In the Romans 3:23 passage I quoted above, the Greek word translated "sin" literally means "a missing of the mark." So bottom line, we sin when we miss the mark God has set for us. And just what is that mark? It is living our lives totally and wholeheartedly for HIM - all for His glory! There is not a soul among us who has lived up to that standard! All of us fall woefully short (read Romans 3:23 again).

So to sum up: sin is a breaking of God's law and a missing of His standard for us. That sure sounds a lot different from the view our culture has on sin. In my next posting, I will continue this discussion on how God views sin.

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Sin According to Humanity

I know I said in my last posting that I would take a look at God's view of sin in my next posting. However, I thought before I go there, I would like to expand just a bit on how people see sin.

As I see things, the concept of sin is down right offensive to most people. Therefore man has taken sin and sought to minimize it to the point that it is such a small and insignificant entity that it does not even show up on the average person's daily radar screen. And our culture has minimized sin (and done so very effectively) in two very pronounced ways:

- We (I am using the pronoun because yes, even we Christ-followers are guilty of handling sin in this manner!) have psychologized sin. By this I mean much of what was once considered sin has now been redefined as a psychological disorder. One example of this is what is labeled "Oppositional Defiance Disorder" (ODD). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV - published in 1994) describes this disorder as "an ongoing pattern of disobedient, hostile, and defiant behavior toward authority figures which supposedly goes beyond the bounds of normal childhood behavior." Hmm. I don't know about you, but to me that sounds like a pretty good description of sinful behavior! Now, I could give you many more examples of how we have moved down this path of psychologizing our sin. And in so doing, we no longer need to repent of our sin - rather with sin redefined as a psychological disorder, the cure for sin is now therapy. (Now so you don't misunderstand me, there are some very legitimate psychological disorders. The human mind is a very complex. And these legitimate disorders must be handled with care.)

- In addition to psychologizing sin, we have also glamorized sin. We have in effect taken sin and said, "Sin is not to be avoided. Rather it is to be experienced and enjoyed, for after all, most thoughts of sin are puritan and old-fashioned." Don't agree? Think back with me to the year 1939. That was the year that Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) scandalized movie going audiences when he told Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh), "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a d____!" Now come back to the present. The language (and situations) that are tolerated on the screen and on our televisions today make Rhett's remark seem downright silly. And as we have increasingly moved down this path, we again find that we do not need to repent of sin ... I mean, why? Sin is something to be enjoyed and experienced, not repented of ... and there is indeed something very tantalizing about the forbidden!

Sadly, this cultural view of sin has had a negative impact on the Church's view of sin. That is why we must remind ourselves regularly of how God views sin. Stop by for my next posting in which I will take a look at the Bible's view of sin. But until then, consider these words, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).

Thanks for stopping by...


Whatever Happened to Sin?

Over thirty years ago, psychiatrist Karl Menninger penned the following words in his book Whatever Became of Sin?: "The very word, 'sin,' which seems to have disappeared, was once a proud word. It was once a strong word, an ominous and serious word. But the word went away. It has almost disappeared - the word, along with the notion. Why? Doesn't anyone sin anymore? Doesn't anyone believe in sin?" What was true then ... is even more the case today. D.A. Carson, a widely recognized N.T. scholar commented a few years ago that the most frustrating part of doing evangelism on university campuses is that most students have no idea of sin. "They know how to sin well enough, but they have no idea of what constitutes sin."

Carson is right. Sin is rampant today. Couples live together prior to marriage and think nothing of it. People spread gossip with out any remorse. Employees call of sick and then head to the beach for the day. I could go on, citing more examples, but I think you see my point. People know how to sin, but they do not know what sin is all about.

Unfortunately, this lack of understanding about sin is having an impact upon the church. Christians today tolerate sin much more than a generation ago. In fact, there are a number of sins that we seem to gloss right over. Sure we know homosexuality is a sin and abortion is a sin - but what about envy? Gossip? Impatience? Aren't these sins as well?

Christian author Jerry Bridges recently came out with a new book which is titled, Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We tolerate. In one of his opening chapters, he states: "We see that the entire concept of sin has virtually disappeared from our American culture at large and has been softened, even within many of our churches, to accommodate modern sensibilities. Indeed, strong biblical words for sin have been excised from our vocabulary. People no longer commit adultery; they have an affair. Corporate executives do not steal; they commit fraud."

Right on, Jerry! The Church must get back to some clear teaching on sin - what it is, how it impacts our lives and how to deal with it. God's grace is not a license to sin as some see it (they may say they do not see grace in this way, but their lives say otherwise).

In my next posting, I will talk about God's view of sin. But before I sign off, one more quotation from the Apostle Paul's second letter to the church at Corinth: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor. 5:21) Praise God!

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Coming Next Week . . .

Next week I plan to do a little blogging about a concept that is getting increasingly less exposure in the Church. And this in spite of the fact that this entity is the biggest roadblock in our journey of grace!

So when your life slows down and you are looking for something to do next week, stop by. I will try to be sure it won't be time wasted!

Thanks for stopping by . . .


The Wrong Place at the Wrong Time? Never!

Last night I talked with a couple who collided with a deer last week. Thankfully they were OK. I am not sure about the deer, but I would guess that it did not survive. As for the car, it suffered a fair amount of damage. And it just so happened that it was a brand new car (Murphy's Law 76 - If you hit a deer it will be when your car is less than a year old)!

As they related their story to me, my thoughts went back to my drive last week through the farmlands of north central Indiana. As I started out shortly after 6:00 last Thursday morning, my eyes picked up a deer crossing the road just a few yards in front of me. If I had been just a second or two sooner - I, too would have been able to moan about hitting a deer.

Deer cross roads all the time. And whenever a deer is crossing a road, it does not stop to look both ways for oncoming traffic! As a result, approximately 350,000 deer are killed each year! That is a lot of deer!!! Now is this a case of the deer (or the vehicle) simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time? I guess we could say that ... except for the fact that God is sovereign and has a plan and is working that plan (see Ephesians 1:11). We call this providence. And in God's providence - none of us are EVER in "the wrong place at the wrong time." We can always be assured that God is "working all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Look, Grampy, at What I Found!

Kaleb Kidd was out running around chasing squirrels and having a blast. The three year old is all boy. And like many three year old boys, he likes rocks. So when he found a rather unusual looking rock, he pointed it out to his granddad. The "rock" was actually not a rock at all. Rather, Kaleb had stumbled across a tooth from the long extinct woolly mammoth (just like the woolly mammoth, Manfred (a.k.a. "Manny") from the two Ice Age movies). Wow! Can you believe that! You talk about the "find of a lifetime!" And little Kaleb is only three! He will have a hard time topping that!

But there is a find that is much more exciting than even finding a tooth from a long ago mammoth. It is the finding of eternal life. If you look at the top of my blog page, you will find the following words: Our days are like a passing cloud, a puff of steam, a melting snow flake, a fading dream. Given how quickly our days pass - what would our existence be if we did not have eternal life to anticipate, to look forward to??? As each day fades into the rear view mirror of my life, I am grateful to God that I found eternal life in Jesus Christ! How about YOU? Have you found it? If you want to converse with me on just how you can look forward to an eternal existence in heaven - please email me at jsmith@gracewv.org. I'll be glad to help show the way!

Thanks for stopping by,


Back Home .... Yeah!

Last week I travelled over 1500 miles by car and by plane in order to attend board meetings at Grace College and Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. It was a profitable time away (thanks to all who prayed!). But I was one very glad (and tired) soul when I pulled into my driveway at 106 Providence Place late Sunday night.

There is something about home that soothes the tired heart. I thoroughly enjoyed the "welcome home" hugs from my wife and the good night sleep I enjoyed in my own bed. Home is just plain out comfortable! It is my favorite place on the planet!

But you know, as much as I enjoy my earthly home - my heavenly home will be a gazillion times more comfortable, more enjoyable, more exceedingly wonderful! Jesus has been preparing a place for me there in His Father's house (check out the first few verses of John 14). And if you are one of HIS followers, he is also preparing a place for you! So no matter how tired you might become - no matter how much pain and heartache you are going through here - one day, you will be home! And once there, you will never endure a sleepless night again!
"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!' Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." (Revelation 21:3-5)

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Friday Coffee with PJ

My apologies for missing the past several Fridays. I was off last week, and the previous couple of weeks I got caught up in the Thanksgivi...