Up Up and Away - to the Central African Republic

As I stumbled out of bed this morning it hit me – today is the day we leave for Africa! At that, thoughts began to flood my mine. Thoughts like: “Goodbye nice comfy bed!” “Now what important, vital-to-life item did I forget to pack?” “I’m really going to miss the Fam!” “Do I really want to go to AFRICA?” etc., etc., etc. By the time the fog in my mind cleared and the thoughts began to subside I was standing in front of my bathroom mirror. I looked at my reflection. My reflection looked back at me. Together we smiled – yes the day that had been set for our departure last spring had finally arrived! We (me and my son-in-law, Ryan Aument) are about ready to walk through this open door of ministry placed before us by God! (If you want to read about how this all came about, check out my blog postings from the week of March 9, 2009)

As I think about this trip I am grateful for a number of things. I am grateful for Ryan who will be accompanying me. I am thankful for Dr. Augustin Hibaile. There are very few men who are in such a position to influence his part of the world for Christ as he is. He has a passion for Christ and His kingdom that I am anxious to observe first hand. I am grateful for the opportunities I will have to teach God's Word as we come along side of Dr. Hibaile and his ministry. I am thankful for our church family here at Grace and their generous support for our trip – both in the giving of their finances and the ongoing prayer support! Finally I am thankful to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If He had not extended his grace to me when I was a teenager, I am not sure where I would be today. But I am sure where I would not be – and that is on a plane to travel to the continent of Africa in service for Jesus Christ! Would you do me a favor and pause right now and offer a prayer for our ministry that will be taking place in the Central African Republic, the people whom we will serve there and our families we leave behind here? Thanks for your prayers. James tells us that “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Thanks so much. This will be my last posting until I get “back in the saddle” around September 14th.

Thanks for stopping by . . . and thanks for praying for us!


ps - a detailed itinerary of our trip can be found on our church's web site (www.gracewv.org)

Africa Trip Update

In just three days I will be leaving on our 17 day trip to the Central African Republic. Someone recently asked me if I was anxious about the trip. Initially I took the high spiritual road and said, "No, not really!" But after a few moments, I came back with, "Well, I must admit I have had a few anxious moments." Anytime I leave the borders of the U.S. in travel, I feel some anxiety. After all, I am an American. I was born and raised here. Never lived (except for brief times of travel) outside of the U.S. So whenever I spend time outside the U.S., I am in different culture. That means people think about things differently, relate differently, eat a lot of different things, speak a different language, etc. What is unacceptable here at home may be perfectly acceptable there ... and what is acceptable here in the States, may be taboo in the other culture. SOOO ... to say that when I travel to another land I feel a bit out of my comfort zone would be accurate. And traveling to the Central African Republic may very well push me further out of my comfort zone than I have ever been before!

So as I reflect on that, yes, I feel some anxiety. And I was feeling some this morning - until, that is, I opened my Bible to do my daily reading in the Psalms. And the first psalm I saw was Psalm 121. You talk about an "anxiety busting psalm!" Psalm 121 is indeed that! Read for yourself and if you are feeling anxious about whatever ... allow the truth about God and his care for us to push that anxiety out of your mind and heart!

I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the LORD the Maker of heaven and earth. 3 He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; 4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The LORD watches over you— the LORD is your shade at your right hand; 6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The LORD will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; 8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

Thank you LORD! And thanks for stopping by . . .


Be Sure Your Sin Will Find You Out!

Vincent Paul Riojas, 27 of Grand Prairie (a Dallas, Texas suburb) has been arrested on an intoxication manslaughter charge. Authorities allege that Riojas drifted into the oncoming lane and struck a bicyclist head on. The impact threw the bicyclist onto the roof of the car and then through the car's rear window and onto the back seat. Riojas, drove from the scene to his home where he tried to hide the car in his side yard. However, relatives found the critically injured cyclist and called police. The victim was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

This story stirs a couple of thoughts in my mind. For starters, when will people get it when it comes to the fact that drinking (alcohol) and driving do NOT mix? I am weary of hearing of deaths that occur because someone was driving under the influence. Another thought that bounced around in my head after reading this story was this: Did this guy not know that his victim that he had just hit was lying in his back seat? Perhaps he did ... perhaps he didn't. But the fact that he was there made it certain that Riojas' crime would eventually be discovered. He tried to run ... but he could not hide!

Friends, we sometimes think we can run and hide from our sin. But no way! No how! Remember God knows all. And that means He knows all about you - the good, the bad and the ugly! Keep in mind the words of Numbers 32:23, "But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the LORD; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out." So instead of running and trying to hide your sin ... confess it to God and seek His cleansing. Don't allow unconfessed sin to hinder your relationship with God!

Thanks for stopping by . . .


A Visit from Two Mormon Missionaries

This past Saturday, just before I had to leave the house for a commitment, my door bell rang. Since we don't get a lot of people ringing our door bell, I wondered who it could be? The mail carrier perhaps? When I opened the door, one look told me who my visitors were. The two young men standing before me were dressed in white shirts, black pants and ties. They were Mormon missionaries.

So even though I had limited time ... I decided to listen to their "pitch." We talked for a good 15 minutes before I had to call it quits. Here is how a portion of our conversation went:

MM (Mormon Missionary): Are you familiar with the Book of Mormon?

PJ: Yes, I'm familiar with the Book of Mormon and its description of these two advanced civilizations that existed in North America into the fourth century AD. But where is the evidence of these advanced civilizations?*

MM: This is where faith comes in.

PJ: Yes, we do need faith. But we don't check our minds at the door. Our faith is a faith that is faith in an objective reality.

MM: Well, I know that the Bible is God's Word because the Spirit witnessed to my spirit that it is true. And I know the Book of Mormon is God's Word because the Spirit witnessed to my spirit that it is true.

PJ: I agree that the Spirit of God has witnessed to my spirit that the Bible is indeed the Word of God. But I also believe because of all the archaeological and historical evidence that exists that point to the reality that the Bible is true. Even Jesus told the unbelieving Jews of his day that if they could not believe in His words, to believe the miracles he did (John 10:38). What Jesus was saying was, look at the evidence and believe!

MM: Can I ask you to take the Book of Mormon and pray to God, asking him to show you if it is true or not?

PJ: I do not have to do that. I have already looked at the evidence and the evidence is clear that the Book of Mormon is NOT the Word of God. (at which point I elaborated on the evidence - or better said, the LACK of evidence!).

I then closed out the conversation with a testimony of my faith in Christ. I walked away frustrated at just how "blind and brainwashed" these two young men were. But I will add them to my prayer list ... right next to the names of two Jehovah Witness young men who came by my house last spring.

Thanks for stopping by . . .


*Concerning the evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon, consider the following quote:

Citing the lack of specific New World geographic locations to search, Michael D. Coe, a prominent Mesoamerican archaeologist and Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Yale University, writes (in a 1973 volume of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought): "As far as I know there is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing [the historicity of The Book of Mormon], and I would like to state that there are quite a few Mormon archaeologists who join this group."

One Way or Many Ways?

Recently my wife and I were out "running errands" together. We made one stop at a certain store, then we needed to make another stop at a store that was across town. After a few quick turns down some out-of-the-way streets, we soon arrived at the store. My wife made some sort of comment about how I amazed her (she is easily amazed!) with my ability to know short cuts to where ever we are heading. But it's just the American way, right - to find shortcuts?

Now there may be many different ways to get to the various places we must drive to - but there is only ONE way to God. Jesus Christ himself went on record concerning this when he stated (and quite clearly I might add!), "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father EXCEPT through ME" (John 14:6).

This message of "Jesus only" does not go well in our relativistic age. But that does not negate the ABSOLUTE truth of this statement. If you are reading this and have never trusted Christ as your savior, I plead with you to consider Jesus and who he claimed to be and what he claimed to do. Admit your rebellion against the God who made you. Believe that Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for your sin. Call to him - asking him to forgive your sins and give you the new life that only HE can give!

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Sermon Rewind . . .

This summer we are going through a sermon series that I have titled, Jesus Said: What Jesus Said about You and the Important Matters of Life. This past Sunday's topic was, What Jesus Said about Money. Certainly we would all agree that money is an important matter of life. After all, most of us spend forty (or more) hours each week working for it ... and then much of the rest of our week spending it! And given the fundamental connection between what we think about and how we handle money AND our spiritual lives (check out the exchange between John the Baptist and the crowd to whom he was preaching in Luke 3 .... and the conversion experience of Zacchaeus in Luke 19 for evidence of this connection), we had BETTER know (and then obey) what Jesus had to say about money and possessions! I was challenged through my study of Jesus' teaching and I pray our church family was as well.

Below is a powerful quote (which I used on Sunday) from Randy Alcorn's book, The Treasure Principle. Please read it carefully and then evaluate your use of God's money (I say "God's money" because every penny you have is actually God's! He has simply loaned it to you!):

"The act of giving is a vivid reminder that it's all about God, not about us. It's saying I am not the point, HE is the point. HE does not exist for me. I exist for Him. God's money has a higher purpose than my affluence. Giving is a joyful surrender to a greater person and a greater agenda. Giving affirms Christ's lordship. It dethrones me and exalts Him. It breaks the chains of money that would enslave me."

Those are powerful words!

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Are You Truly Treasuring Jesus Christ?

Please take a few moments (OK, 3 minutes and 14 seconds to be exact) and watch the following powerful video from John Piper's ministry, Desiring God Ministries. It is a powerful reminder of our need to treasure Jesus Christ above ALL!

Thanks for stopping by ...


An Idiom or an Idiot?

An idiom is a figure of speech that adds color to language. Some examples of American idioms would be shape up or ship out, to kick the bucket, a Monday morning quarterback, :) and my dogs are barking (I tend to use this one a lot in talking with my wife - because at the end of a busy day my feet are awfully tired!).

Another idiom we tend to use when referring to something that is very easy to do is the idiom, "it's like taking candy from a baby." This idiom came to mind when I read the morning paper the other day. Allegedly, a 23 year old man by the name of Walter Brown (now get ready for this one) stole a purse from a three year old! It all took place in a store in Wilmington, Delaware when the victim was standing in line with her aunt. Walter spotted the toddler with the purse and thought she would be "easy pickings." So he grabbed her purse and ran. Police eventually arrested him after someone identified him from a surveillance video. He has been charged with second degree robbery. Hmm. Certainly stealing a purse from a three year old is going to be easy -- but come on now, how many three year olds do you know that are carrying a wad of cash in their little purses? (I believe Walter got about $2 and change from his theft ... Oh, not to mention a possible prison sentence!).

Now as I thought of this incident, I thought - aren't we all a lot like Walter. We look for the easy way to get by in life. And as a result, the results aren't quite what we were looking for. My friends, if we truly want to experience all that God has in store for us, then we must work hard (or as Paul put it to Timothy, "discipline yourself for godliness" - 1 Timothy 4:7-8, see also 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Don't seek the easy way! Remember, spiritual growth is not easy ... it is not like "taking candy from a baby." So ... determine today and everyday to do what it takes to become more like Jesus!

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Africa Trip Update

In just 14 days, my son-in-law and I will be departing from Philadelphia for the Central African Republic. When I think about going to the C.A.R., I shake my head in amazement at how God has opened this door. This opportunity to minister was not something for which I was looking. All I was doing (all?) was praying and asking God if He had something for me to do overseas this year! Voila - God replied back in February through the invitation of Augustin Hibaile (you can read more about this in my blog postings from the week of March 9, 2009). The more I have gotten to know this man, the more amazed I have grown. He has opportunities to minister at the highest levels in his country (for example, every Monday he meets with the Prime Minister of the country to pray with him!).

Augustin has set up a very busy schedule for us. Of the 14 days we will be in the C.A.R., we will be involved in teaching, training, preaching on 12 of these days. We will be training pastors, chaplains and members of Augustin's CIDEL staff (CIDEL is a French acronym which stands for the International Center for the Development of Ethical Leadership). I will also have the opportunity to preach in two churches and at a Bible Institute.

Please pray for Ryan and me as we put the "finishing touches" on our materials. Our desire is to be instruments of God's blessing. The people in the C.A.R. have so little when it comes to earthly riches. Our prayer is that we will be used by God to add to their spiritual riches!

Thanks for stopping by ... and thanks for your prayers which we so desperately need!


When Confrontation Is Wrong

Confrontation. Most of us don't like it - whether we are the "confronter" or the "cronfrontee." But it is often necessary. Why? Because we are a broken and fallen people. And so, misunderstandings between us do occur and occur far too often. In addition, since we still have our fallen nature within us, we do, from time to time sin against one another. Sometimes this is done intentionally and sometimes we do so without giving much thought to our words or actions. But whatever the case, we do need to confront from time to time - not to "get even" as we "give someone a piece of our mind" - but to seek to bring about the reconciliation and restoration of our fractured relationship (see Matthew 5:23-24 and Matthew 18:15).

Now there is a time when confrontation is wrong. It is when we confront out of a spirit of bitterness and anger. So the very first thing we must do in this process of confrontation is to take a long look into our hearts. We need to ask ourselves why we plan to confront. Our motive must be the edification of the other person (see Ephesians 4:29). And anytime we confront another person without this motivation in our heart - that confrontation is wrong! Sometimes if the pain of our hurt is deep, it may take some time to get to this place. But through prayer and dependence upon God, He will give us the grace we need to proceed in a way that will honor Him!

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Monday Morning Quarterback!

With the NFL season fast approaching (YEA!!!!), Monday morning quarterbacks will be getting ready to do their thing. And just what is their thing? If their team loses, they will spend the day picking apart all the poor play calls that caused their team to lose the game. Of course, "Monday morning quarterbacking" is not merely confined to football. We are always "second guessing" decisions made by others ... whether it be our boss, our teachers, our parents, our friends ... and even once-in- awhile, ourselves.

So since today is Monday ... I thought I would do some "Monday morning quarterbacking" on yesterday's sermon. My topic was "What Jesus said about life priorities." As I explained to our church family, I prepared for the message by going through my red-letter New Testament (words of Jesus are printed in red) and read everything Jesus said. As I did, I looked for different things that he seemed to emphasize -- things that we need to make priorities in our lives. I came up with two lists. The first I labeled "Obvious Priorities." The other I labeled "Easily Overlooked Priorities." Here are the two lists:

Obvious Priorities: Love God, Love others, Impact world, Prayer, God's Word, Faith, and Humility.

Easily Overlooked Priorities: The Poor and Needy, Children, Personal Holiness, and Watching for the Return of Christ.

I challenged those present (and I challenge you who were not present) to take a hard look at the four easily overlooked priorities and ask the Spirit of God to reveal which of these four each of us needed to do some work on. My wife this morning asked me which one I thought I needed to work on ... I mentioned the second one - children. Given that so much of my ministry is focused on adults, I would like to reach out more than I am to kids. So that is something I need to pray about. How about YOU? Which of these priorities that Jesus taught are somewhat lacking in your life?

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Are YOU a Servant?

Dictionaries can be frustrating at times. I checked out an online dictionary's definition of the word servant. It listed the definition as "one who serves." So I looked up the word serve and it gave as the meaning of the word, "to be a servant!" OK. Really doesn't help much, does it??!!

So here is my definition. A servant is one who does something (word or deed) for the benefit of another, expecting NOTHING in return.

Now it is of utmost importance that we not only understand the meaning of the word servant, but that we live it out in our day-to-day lives! In Galatians 5:13 we are told, "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love SERVE one another." So as you go about your day today, be intentionally on the lookout for someone you can serve. Then just do it!

Thanks for stopping by . . .


When Brokenness Is a Good Thing. . .

The other night I picked up my phone (my land line phone) to make a call. Instead of hearing a dial tone, all I heard was silence. So I placed the phone back in its cradle, then picked it up again to make the call. This time it was not silence that I heard, but a loud screech! At that point I began to go through the process of resetting our phone line (something Verizon walked me through a couple of years ago). After two futile attempts at doing so, I just gave up - totally frustrated and made a mental note to call the phone company the next day.

The following morning, after pouring my first cup of coffee I picked up the phone. Voila - to my surprise there was a dial tone. Later that morning, I called the house from the office and voila - my wife picked up and we had a pleasant conversation. "Hmm, what is going on here?" I remembered thinking. "Not working last night and OK today? Go figure!" Now I wasn't complaining - just confused but glad to know our land line phones were no longer broken!

Rarely do we rejoice when something is broken. Broken things are never good things ... well almost never. The Bible does talk about a broken something in a very positive light. In Psalm 51:17 we read, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." Spiritual brokenness is a good thing. Please take a moment to read what Nancy DeMoss has to say about this concept of spiritual brokenness:

"Brokenness does not mean, as some think, having a sad, gloomy, downcast countenance--never smiling or laughing. It does not mean always being morbidly introspective. Nor can it be equated with deeply emotional experiences. It is possible to shed buckets full of tears, without ever experiencing a moment of brokenness. Further, brokenness is not the same as being deeply hurt by tragic circumstances. A person may have experienced many deep hurts and tragedies, but never have been broken.

Brokenness is not a feeling; rather, it is a choice, an act of the will. It is not primarily a one-time experience or crisis (though there may be crisis points in the process of brokenness); rather, it is an ongoing, continual lifestyle.

Brokenness is a lifestyle of agreeing with God about the true condition of my heart and life, as He sees it. It is a lifestyle of unconditional, absolute surrender of my will to the will of God--a heart attitude that says, “Yes, Lord!” to whatever God says. Brokenness means the shattering of my self-will, so that the life and Spirit of the Lord Jesus may be released through me. Brokenness is my response of humility and obedience to the conviction of the Word and the Spirit of God. And as the conviction is continuous, so must the brokenness be continuous.

True brokenness has both a vertical and a horizontal dimension: it is demonstrated in a willingness to live with the “roof off ” in my relationship with God, and the “walls down” in my relationships with others."

Thanks for stopping by . . .


God's Word

Much of my life revolves around the Bible. I read it daily. I strive to obey it consistently (and some days are better than others!). I teach it regularly. Numerous versions of it litter both my church and home offices. Bottom line - I love God's Word (and desire to love it more - see Psalm 119:97, 127). Because I love the Word of God, I found the following quote of John Piper to be a quote that just really got me salivating to get into the Scripture. The quote concerns the phrase "living and active" from Hebrews 4:12 which reads, "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."

"The Word of God is not a dead word or an ineffective word. It has life in it. And because it has life in it, it produces effects. There is something about the Truth, as God has revealed it, that connects it to God as a source of all life and power. God loves His Word. He is partial to His Word. He honors His Word with his presence and His power. If we want our teaching or witness to have power and produce effects, let us stay close to the revealed Word of God" (John Piper in Pierced by the Word).

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Forward or Backwards? Which Way Are You Going in Your Journey of Grace?

The emu is the largest bird native to Australia. It can reach a height of 6 1/2 feet. And like its cousin the better known ostrich, it too does not fly. Imagine ... birds that don't fly! But there is something else odd about this strange looking feathery bird -- the emu cannot walk backwards!

Now I don't know about you ... but when it comes to my spiritual journey of grace - I sure wish I could not walk backwards! But far too often it seems like I am taking a step or two backwards when I should be (and want to be) going forward! As I thought about why this is so, I came up with a short (not meant to be an exhaustive list) as to why this is so.

1. I can be lazy when it comes to my spiritual journey. For example, I know I should be interacting with the Scripture more than I do ... memorizing, reading, studying ... and of course, obeying - but I find excuses not to do so. Often times its just comes down to being lazy.

2. I can be busy ... busy with urgent things but not necessarily the important things. So something like intimate times of prayer with my Savior get crowded out of my schedule.

3. I can become apathetic. For whatever reason these seasons come my way from time to time. Seasons when my relationship with God seems dry and God himself seems distant. Certainly these times have nothing to do with God and everything to do with me.

4. And then there is sin. Sin is always the great divider. Whenever we allow sin in whatever form to fester in our souls, we will find ourselves going backwards in our walk with God.

So .... if you find yourself walking backwards (because unlike the emu - you can walk backwards in your spiritual journey), stop and seek to find the reason. Then do whatever you have to do to change direction (by the way, the biblical word for changing direction from moving backwards to forward is REPENTANCE).

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Some Random Thoughts . . .

Now that I am back in the office after my trip to Columbus, Ohio (which was a great time for the board of Grace College and Seminary) ... here are some random thoughts for you to think about:

1. Saying "good bye" to a departed loved one is never "good bye" in a final sense for believers in Jesus Christ. This morning I will conduct my second funeral in the past nine days. This one, like the last, is for a wonderful woman who loved God and followed Jesus. So when her husband says his final "good bye" today at the cemetery, it will not be "good bye" in a final sense. For his wife is not dead - but alive! In fact, she is more alive than she has ever been! This woman lives because Jesus Christ lives and therefore can deliver on His promises to those who choose to believe and follow Him (see John 11:25-26; 14:1-4).

2. Time continues its relentless and rapid onward march! Friday evening I went to bed and fell asleep very quickly (driving almost 450 miles tends to tire a person out!). When I awoke on Saturday morning, I looked at the morning paper and was reminded that as I slept the month turned over from July to August. Questions flooded my mind. August? This is the final month of the summer? Where has the summer gone? And my trip to the Central African Republic is now only a few weeks away - will I be able to get everything done in time for this trip (PLEASE PRAY FOR ME!)? Friends, this rapid passing of time will continue. So be intentional and DON'T WASTE YOUR LIFE! (see Ephesians 5:15-16).

3. Older saints have a lot to offer those of us who are younger. When I drove out to Columbus, I did not drive alone. I took along with me an 88 year old member of the Grace board who happens to live here in Lancaster County. For much of our 14 hour drive I asked him questions and then I would listen to his stories. He had a lot to say ... and a lot of it was good stuff. Stuff that one learns from the trenches of life. And at 88, this man has been in a lot of trenches. In our fast paced, youth oriented culture, we can miss out on the wealth that exists in the lives of our senior population. If you have not done so lately, plan a visit with an older person. Ask them to tell you their story. You may just find some nuggets of truth that will help you as you live in the trenches today (see Psalm 71:18)!

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...