Just Wrapped Up a Great Conference!

Today we hosted the Children's Fellowship of India annual conference. Those who attended heard about the point of light in the heart of India where needy boys are sheltered, fed, clothed, and introduced to Jesus Christ. I came away tired but inspired. Although I cannot do something for every impoverished child in this vast world, I can do something for the 137 boys who call CFI their home - and especially for a boy named Surag (the boy wearing the Penn State cap) whom my wife and I have been supporting for the past 7 years.

Friends, for just $30/month you can support a boy at CFI. In exchange for your $30, that boy will receive all that he needs. Better yet, if you are part of a church community other than Grace Church at Willow Valley, approach your pastor and ask if he would sit down and talk with Philip Dongre, the Executive Director of CFI. With more boys soon to be added to the 137 already on campus, CFI is in need of expanding its ministry support base. You can contact Philip at cfinidia.org.

On behalf of the boys and staff of CFI, thanks for caring! And thanks for stopping by . . .


A Lesson I Learned 21 Years Ago - and Am Still Learning!

This morning I picked up a journal that I was keeping way back in 1987. At that time, I was pastoring in the Pittsburgh area. Sharon and I had been married for 9 years. Our daughter, Emily was 8, our son, Tim was 5 and our youngest, Kate was 3.

As I browsed through the journal, I read the following entry from July 10th:

"Last night - fishing with Tim (now remember, he is five!) I saw how selfish I can be. He got his line caught in a tree, on branches in the water, tangled in his reel -- he needed bait, etc. I was getting frustrated!!! But then the thought struck me - I was there to SERVE him and how is he ever going to learn to fish if I never take the time to teach him? So I learned some hard lessons about myself and I trust I will profit from them." (Written Friday, July 10, 1987)

Hmm. That was a lesson I needed to learn then -- and one I need reminded of again 21 years later! Life is NOT about me -- I am here to serve God and others! (Thanks, God for this timely reminder!)

Thanks for stopping by . . .

PS - And please - No emails asking what happened to all the hair I once had!!

Eighteen and a half years and counting . . .

The other day someone asked me how long I have been pastor here at Grace. When I responded with 18 1/2 years, their eyebrows raised in surprise as they said, "That's a long time!" Yes, it is a long time. According to the Barna Group, the average tenure of a senior pastor is about five years. So as you can see, it is no wonder the person with whom I was talking was surprised. This person then went on to ask me how much longer I was planning to stay. My answer, of course, was to say I will stay as long as God leads me to stay - which I might add, I hope is a number of years longer!

Grace has been a truly wonderful place to serve Christ. The people here are loving and growing in their faith walk. God has blessed us in many ministry endeavors over the years (to cite just one example - we have a unique partnership with Willow Valley Resort and Conference Center which allows us to demonstrate the love of Jesus to many people). The church staff consists of a gifted group of Christ-followers who love what they do. Our elders are godly men who desire to see us as a church fulfill our mission of developing our love for God, nurturing our love for others and addressing our world's need for Jesus Christ.

I could go on and on and on about how the Grace family is a great family. But let me wrap it up by saying this: There is no other place that I can think of where I would rather be serving Jesus Christ than right here! I love the people of Grace!

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Are YOU the Real Deal?

Recently I talked with someone who had visited our church. She told me that everyone she met and talked with was genuine and authentic. I must admit I was encouraged to hear that from an outsider to our church (and I did point out to her that our people are still a work in process). I pray regularly that I and our church family would be genuine in our relationships and authentic in our faith. There is way too much superficiality and phoniness in our society. The world needs to encounter REAL people. People who aren't hiding behind masks or self-built walls. People who care passionately about God and their fellow man.

How about YOU? Are you real? Genuine? Authentic?

Thanks for stopping by . . .


What's for Supper?

The answer to this question may depend on whether you are a man or a woman. According to a recent study of 14,000 men and women, the sexes differ as to their eating habits. Men eat more meat, women eat more fruits and vegetables. Now that surely does not surprise me. But what does is that men are more likely to eat Brussels sprouts and asparagus than women. Well I want you to know that even though I enjoy most veggies, Brussels sprouts and asparagus are not on my list of "must-have" vegetables!

For me, this study simply illustrates that there are indeed differences between men and women. We communicate and think differently (check out the book, Men Are Like Waffles--Women Are Like Spaghetti: Understanding and Delighting in Your Differences for a pretty fair treatment of the differences between the sexes). We respond emotionally differently. We relate to others of our same sex differently. And I could go on and on and on. These differences make a relationship like marriage both frustrating at times, and fascinating at other times. And it is because of these differences that husbands and wives must learn patience as they seek to understand one another.
I hope if you are married (or engaged to be married) that you will strive to do your best to understand your partner. Ask God for his insights (remember he is the designer and creator of both men and women). Get a book (like the one I mentioned above) and read it with your spouse. But most of all, enjoy the way God had made both you and your spouse - differences and all!

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Easter Sunday: Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?

"He is not here; he has risen. . ." (Matthew 28:6) These powerful words refer to one of the greatest turning points in history. The one who had been so cruelly beaten and violently killed had come back to life a mere three days after his death. And this Jesus lives today, offering the forgiveness of sin and new life that ONLY he can provide.

Now, how can we know that Jesus is alive? I mean, the resurrection of Jesus occurred some 2000 years ago. So how can we know it really happened?

That is a good question ... and a reasonable one! If you want to study this question more in depth, I would suggest you check out http://www.leestrobel.com/ or articles at http://www.leaderu.com/everystudent/easter/articles/josh2.html or http://www.geocities.com/athens/delphi/8449/res.html.

But for now, consider the following lines of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ which show that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was one of the greatest FEATs* of all time:

Fatal torment: There is no doubt that the gospel record clearly indicates that the torment (scourging, beatings, crucifixion) Jesus suffered resulted in his death. For example, when the criminals who were crucified on either side of Jesus had their legs broken (this cruel act was practiced to hasten the death of crucifixion victims), they did not break Jesus' legs. Why? Because it was clear that he was already dead. And just to be sure, a soldier pierced the chest of Jesus. Out of the wound flowed a mixture of blood and water, physiological evidence that he was indeed dead. So since Jesus suffered fatal torment, this rules out the "anti-resurrection" theories that state he did not really die on the cross - and when the disciples saw him later, it was a "revived" Jesus they were seeing and not a resurrected Jesus!

Empty tomb: The gospel record clearly indicates that the tomb of Jesus was empty. Because the tomb was empty, the enemies of Jesus who were behind his crucifixion were forced to come up with an explanation. This led them to concoct the story that the disciples came at night and stole the body (see Matthew 28:11-15). That a group of "running-scared-for-their-lives" disciples would have had the courage to steal a body guarded by a group of battle hardened and well-equipped and trained Roman soldiers is just too much to believe! Not to mention the fact that the disciples would have had little reason to do so in the first place! The evidence is clear - Jesus' tomb was empty because he had risen from the dead!

Appearances of the resurrected Christ: Jesus appeared across the course of many days to scores of followers. Sometimes he appeared to just one. At other times he appeared to groups of disciples (one group numbered 500! - read 1 Corinthians 15:3-8). During his appearances, he gave many convincing proofs that he was indeed alive! This leads then to the final line of evidence.

Transformed lives of the disciples: Consider Peter. The night of Jesus' arrest and trials, Peter denied Jesus three times. Two of these denials were to a servant girl! He was afraid for his life and wanted to be totally disassociated from Jesus. However, a mere fifty days later on the Day of Pentecost, before a crowd numbering in the thousands, Peter stood and boldly proclaimed Jesus and his allegiance to him! In a matter of just a few weeks, Peter was transformed from a wimpy, spineless abandoner of Jesus to a bold, fearless preacher who proclaimed that Jesus Christ was alive and Lord of all. How do you explain that radical change apart from the resurrection? You don't! Peter came to realize that Jesus once crucified was indeed alive forevermore! And it changed his life forever!

I trust you will have a great Easter celebrating one of the greatest moments in human history - the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Thanks for stopping by . . .


*The FEAT acronym is Hank Hanegraaff's (see http://www.equip.org/)

Today - Good Friday!

Jesus Christ loved us so much he was willing to face His Father's wrath for OUR sin! During the six horror-filled hours that he hung on the cross, he spoke seven times (as recorded in the gospels). Today I thought I would survey these "Seven Sayings of the Cross" to help anyone who stops by today to spend some time reflecting on the cross.

Saying #1 - "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)

Saying #2 - "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43) - spoken to the repentant of two thieves crucified with Jesus.

Saying #3 - "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." (John 19:27) - spoken to Mary, Jesus' mother and the disciple whom he loved (most likely John).

Note the common thread in these three "sayings." In each, the focus of Jesus is on others: those who crucified him, the repentant thief, his mother. Amazing how in the midst of great personal pain and trauma, Jesus is still thinking of others! What a savior!!

Saying #4 - "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46)

Saying #5 - "I am thirsty." (John 19:28)

In these two "sayings," Jesus' pain is very evident. In the first, it is the pain of his soul as he experiences for the first time in all of eternity a "separation" of some sort from the Father. In the latter, it is his physical pain that he references as he cries out "I am thirsty!" The thirst he experienced was far more than what we experience after cutting the lawn on a hot sultry day. His state of dehydration would have been extreme at this point considering the huge volume of blood he had lost. He was willing to go through all this suffering for us undeserving sinners! What a savior!

Saying #6 - "It is finished." (John 19:30)

Saying #7 - "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." (Luke 23:46)

In these final two "sayings" we can see that Jesus was in control right up to the very end. It was HE and HE alone who determined when the end had come. And when he knew that the debt of our sin had been paid for, that God's wrath had been satisfied, it was then that He said "It (his mission to give his life a ransom for many) is finished." And with his mission accomplished, he gave up his spirit to the Father and died. What a savior!

On today, this Good Friday, rejoice with me in the One who loved us rebels enough to die for us! Please take a moment to reflect on the following words written over 100 years ago by Philip Bliss:

“Man of Sorrows!” what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
“Full atonement!” can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die;
“It is finished!” was His cry;
Now in Heav’n exalted high.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew His song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Savior! "

Thanks for stopping by . . .



According to the book of Genesis, when God had finished his work of creation, "he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done" (Genesis 2:2b-3). God made this seventh day of the creation week "holy." This means that he set it apart from all other days. The other days were characterized by work. This seventh day, the Sabbath day was characterized by rest.

When God gave to Israel the Ten Commandments, the fourth on the list concerned this seventh day. Listen to what he mandated for the Israelites: "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy" (Exodus 20:8-11).

Now in our workaholic, always-on-the-go society, this commandment seems to be more of a burden than a blessing. After all, time is money and even when I am not working on the job, I got "stuff" to do on the home front or at church or at school! But Jesus said this concerning the Sabbath: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). God made the Sabbath and built it into the weekly rhythm of life for our sake. A Sabbath rest is something we all need. As I said in yesterday's post we all must "come apart lest we come apart!"

All this to say - be sure you are "sabbathizing" on a regular basis. Set apart time for physical rest, spiritual renewal and emotional recharging. God's pattern is one day per week. For many Christians this could and should be Sunday. (Now let me add that I don't think God wants us to get legalistic about "keeping the Sabbath." But I do believe he wants the vast majority to do more with this gift of a day of rest than we do!). Let's get intentional about seeking the body and soul rest that we all so desperately need! Let's Sabbathize!

Thanks for stopping by . . .


The Rat Race?

The expression, "rat race" is one that is often thrown around in the midst of the busyness of life today. According to Wikipedia, it is a term used "for an endless, self-defeating or pointless pursuit. It conjures up the image of the futile efforts of a lab rat trying to escape while running around a maze or in a wheel. In an analogy to the modern city, many rats in a single maze run around making a lot of noise bumping into each other, but ultimately achieve nothing (meaningful) either collectively or individually."

In some ways, I feel like I have been in a race this past month. Prep for our India trip. Then the trip itself. Then back home trying to catch up on what piled up while I was gone. Then off again to Grace Board meetings. Now I'm back and again catching up on what piled up -- and all this with Easter Sunday just around the corner! Yes it has been a race. But NO it has not been a "rat race!" What I am doing is achieving meaningful results (at least I am hoping and praying this is so!). And though I have been busy, I have been busy serving the King of the Universe! And that makes all the travel, the long hours, the short nights worth it! Now, having said this, I know I must soon "come apart lest I fall apart" (please see Mark 6:31). That's a blog posting for another day (check back tomorrow)!

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Grace Board Meetings Completed

The past few days has been a real whirlwind of activity. I arrived at Oakwood Conference Center (located in Syracuse, Indiana) on Thursday morning. Grace College and Seminary board meetings were already underway, having begun with lunch on Wednesday. I was arriving late because of an unavoidable schedule conflict. For the rest of the day Thursday, all day Friday, and through noon today - we met and discussed and prayed and met and discussed and prayed. Oh, and we managed to find some time to chow down some good food as well.

I can't give you all the details of the meetings. But I will summarize our time with these words: These are exciting times for Grace College and Seminary. I personally believe the best days for these schools are still ahead of us ... and considering some of the great days of the past and present - that is saying something! Now I do not say this lightly ... or because I happen to be a member of Grace's board. I say this because I truly believe it. This is not to say there are not challenges ahead. But I believe God is going to do a great work through the ministry of Grace. When you think of Grace College and Grace Seminary, would you please pray as these schools strive to educate and train up men and women for Christ!

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Traveling again to India-na!

I leave today for Indiana (I am so glad for the last two letters of my destination - as much as I enjoyed my trip to India, I am not up for the 36 hours of continuous travel it takes to get to Naya Akola! The two hours it will take to get to Indianapolis will seem like NOTHING - at least I hope this is the case!). I am heading to Indiana to take part in Grace College and Seminary board meetings. The Grace Board meets twice each year, once in the spring and once in the fall. When I think of serving on this board, I feel conflicting emotions rising up in my soul. First, I feel excitement about the opportunity to serve our Fellowship of churches in this role. What happens at Grace Schools will impact our Fellowship far into the future. But at the same time I feel inadequate. At my first board meetings last fall I recall looking around the room and asking myself, "John, how did you get asked to serve with this group?"

At these moments when I feel inadequate (which is not really a bad thing), I remind myself of this truth from God's Word: "Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God." (1 Corinthians 3:5). My competence comes from God. He equips me and enables me to rise to whatever task he lays before me. That, my friend is an encouraging reality! Would you please pray for me this week that God would indeed make me competent to accomplish this task of serving on the Grace Board. And please do not stop praying for me when I return. I need God to enable me to be the pastor, husband, father, friend, police chaplain, etc. that he calls me to be!

Thanks for stopping by. . .


P.S. - I will try to post at least one blog while in Indiana. However, I am not sure what my Internet access will be, so if I am unable to post, I will "see" you next week!

THE Rule of the Indian Highway

Driving in India is very different from road travel in the United States. For starters, Indians drive on the wrong side of the road - just like our cousins across the Atlantic (of course, they would say we are the one's on the wrong side!). But even if drivers in India were to switch sides - driving in India would still be VERY different! You see - there is one rule above every other rule (and I am not sure there are any other rules!) and here it is: EQUAL ACCESS. In other words, every one has equal access to the roads. Whether you have two legs or four --- two wheels, three wheels or eighteen wheels - it does not matter. You have the right to be on the road (and that could be walking on the road, lying down in the middle of the road, or driving on the road). So THE rule of the highway in India is - Equal Access.

But there is a second part to this rule. Yes, there is Equal Access - but the BIGGER you are, the MORE EQUAL YOUR ACCESS! So, if you are merely walking, you had better watch out (as we found out trying to cross the street in downtown Bombay!). But if you happen to be a water buffalo, you've got it made. Your great size makes you "Queen of the Highway!"

When it comes to access to God's throne, all of us who are followers of Jesus Christ have EQUAL ACCESS. But this is where the similarity with driving in India stops. When it comes to access to God - all of us share the same access: full and free access, 24/7/365. And this is due to the fact that our access to God is all through HIS GRACE! (Now it is true that undealt with, unconfessed sin in our lives will hinder this access (see Psalm 66:18 and Isaiah 59:1-2) - but if we are practicing 1 John 1:9 - then our access to God is free and clear!)

So knowing you have full access to God - why not spend some time talking with him today?

Thanks for stopping by . . .


At What Price?

At what price? That is the question I have been wrestling with the past month or so. I like to read. And Amazon's new electronic reader is something I would like to get my hands on. However it is priced at $399 which seems to me to be a bit overpriced (and many reviewers of the Kindle agree with me!). So at present I have decided to bide my time and wait to see if Amazon lowers the price.

At what price? What price are we willing to pay to follow Jesus Christ? Here in America, the price required is not all that demanding. Followers of Jesus may face some ridicule here or there. But on average, that is about as far as it goes. Not so in India. While at CFI, I met a young man (still in his 20's) who has paid a high price for following Jesus. He has been jailed three times and beaten twice, all because of his faith. In addition his young wife and baby were also roughed up. At the present time he is recovering from major shoulder surgery - which is the second major surgery he has undergone in the past year. He also needs surgery on his other shoulder. After his second beating, doctors told him he would never walk again - his knee was in that bad of shape. However, God was good and he walks today -- even if it is somewhat with a limp.

After he shared his story with me I asked him what he was now planning to do. He told me he is returning to the area of India where he was persecuted. Once back, he is going to train church planters to plant house churches. He is planning to do this "underground" to avoid any more beatings. Still, the danger to himself and his family remains. Please pray for this courageous young man as he and his wife follow Jesus.

Wow! As I thought about Satish, I thought about myself. Would I be willing to go back as he is going back? I am not so sure. Yet Jesus calls us to follow him - WHEREVER he may lead! And when we leave our "comfort zones" to follow him he is pleased and we are storing up rewards for ourselves in heaven. Listen to these words of Jesus which he spoke to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first" (Matthew 19:28-30).

So are you willing to follow Jesus? At what price?

Thanks for stopping by . . .


So What Did We Do While in India?

Our daily routine while at Children's Fellowship of India was quite busy. Check it out:

6:30 AM - We led morning devotions for the children. Our team was divided into three groups to teach the preschool, early elementary ages, and the older boys (oldest boys are in 7th grade).

7:00 - Breakfast for the boys. Usually we helped serve the food and then "hobnobed" with the boys while they ate.

7:45 - Breakfast for our team and CFI administrative staff (the most "American" meal of the day: cereal, toast, and either eggs, pancakes or french toast with lots of coffee!). This time also included our team's "meeting time" in which we went over the day's schedule, discussed any issues and prayed together.

8:30 - The CFI staff devotional time, which involved singing and the Word. Several of us took a turn at sharing the Word during this very special time.

10:30 - The boys walked to school. Usually four or five of us went along.

Some days we had free time from about 11 AM until lunch. Other days, we had short trips to make. We made several evening trips to other children's ministries (Boys and Girls Christian Home and Girls Christian Institute). We also made a trip to nearby Chadur Bazar for a visit to the tailor. There the women ordered pajami dresses (actually called punjabi dresses) and us men ordered shirts and/or pants (I wore my one shirt this past Sunday morning and several commented on how nice the shirt looked!).

The evenings looked like this:

5:00 - Playing with the boys (frisbee, baseball, cricket, swinging on swings, etc.)

6:30 - Evening devotional time. We took four consecutive nights (Wednesday through Saturday) to teach the boys the fruits of the Spirit using Caraway Street puppets that we brought along. I also introduced them to my friend Jack (a large jack rabbit puppet). It was quite satisfying to hear the boys shout out all nine fruits of the Spirit during our final review!

7:30 - Supper for the boys. Like breakfast we were there to help serve and "hobnob." It was also at supper that we would distribute candy to the boys (they called all candy "chocolate" although the closest candy we had to chocolate were mini-tootsie rolls and tootsie pops!).

8:30 - Supper for the team. I sure was not accustomed to eating so late!

After supper, some of us would sit around the guest house living room and chat - but I was usually heading straight to bed. I had to get my "beauty sleep" so I would not be so scary for the next day!

Hope you got a taste of what a typical day looked like as we served at CFI in central India. Please pray for the boys and the staff of Children's Fellowship of India.

Thanks for stopping by . . .


To India and Back!

I have now been to India twice. I admit that does not make me an expert on traveling to India - not even close! But this second trip was a reminder that India is indeed on the far side of the world! And to get there requires a lot of travel via planes, planes and automobiles (not to mention the hours of waiting in airport terminals!).

Yes, the trip may be a long one - even a brutal one at times. And sure - after 36 hours of continuous travel the only thing I was thinking about was laying my head on a pillow and going to sleep! But all the rigors of travel were quickly forgotten when the vehicle I was in pulled through the front gate of Children's Fellowship of India early on Tuesday afternoon, February 19th. There lined up on either side of the drive were the boys and staff members of CFI.

As I got out of the car and began to walk down the drive, I was mobbed by smiling boys - all reaching for my hands as they called out, "Uncle! Uncle!" Right then and there I knew our team was in for a good time in Naya Akola. The boys were thrilled to see us - just as we were to see them!

More on what God accomplished in us and through us ... tomorrow. But for today ...

Thanks for stopping by,


Back Home!

Our team that departed on February 17th for Naya Akola, India arrived safely back home around 6 PM on Friday evening. Be watching this upcoming week for some exciting reports on the great things God is doing at Children's Fellowship of India!



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...