A Very Early Morning Interruption

It happened about 3:15 this morning. I was awakened by a strange chirp like sound. It lasted just a split second (as far as I could discern in my groggy semi-concsious state between sleep and wakefulness). I listened for the sound to repeat ... and not hearing anything, began to drift off to neverland. Suddenly out of the darkness the chirp once again pierced the silence. "Ah ha!" I thought to myself. "I think that was the smoke alarm."  Sure enough about three minutes later my suspicion was confirmed - it was the smoke alarm doing its occasional repetitive chirp, telling us that the battery needed replaced! "Yea! Why did this have to happen in the middle of the night vs. the middle of the day?" I asked myself as I stumbled half awake to locate a new battery and the step ladder. After about 5 minutes or so ... I had the project done and crawled back into bed (it was now pushing 4 AM). Fortunately I fell asleep rather quickly, not to be awakened until the music of the radio called me out of bed.

This little episode is a microcosm of life. Often we are cruising right along enjoying life and the blessings God sends our way when an interruption of some kind arrives. It may be something small (like a smoke alarm that needs a new battery) or it may be something far bigger (like the loss of a job or the loss of one's health). And just as I was not surprised that our bedroom's smoke alarm needed a new battery (I can't recall when I had replaced it ... I guess I had better put "Replace smoke alarm batteries" on my "To Do List."), we should not be surprised when painful interruptions crash into our lives. After all, we live in a world that is "temporarily out of order". The world in which we find ourselves is NOT the world God intended for us. But when our first parents rebelled against the creator, the creation itself was "subjected to frustration" and is now "in bondage to decay" (see Romans 8:20-21).  So what should we do when we encounter the difficulties of life?  God gives us the answer in the following passage from the book of James:

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

Certainly not easy to do ... but necessary to do! And remember, Christ followers "can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens us" (Philippians 4:13).  And "ALL THINGS" includes considering pure joy when we encounter life's painful interruptions - no matter how painful!

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Murmuring on the Word!

Yesterday I began our fall study of ten select Psalms (Ancient Songs for Today's Journey). I decided to be creative and begin with Psalm 1! The whole point of the Psalm is that true happiness (as God defines happiness) comes to the person who is DIFFERENT FROM THE WORLD (world being the evil world system that is under the control of the Evil One - see 1 John 1:9) because he or she is DEVOTED TO THE WORD. This is seen in the first two verses of the Psalm which read:

"Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. 2But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he 
 meditates day and night."

The Hebrew word that is translated "meditates" actually means "to murmur." So to mediate on the Bible means to murmur about the Bible ... or in other words, to talk to ourselves about what it is we are reading (and if you are anything like me, you know what it means to talk to yourself!). Regrettably, however, so few of us when we read our Bibles take the time to do this!  We never mentally "chew over" what we are reading ... we rarely think about how God wants us to apply its truth to our daily lives ... we never pray about doing so! Perhaps this is why a deep settled happiness eludes so many of us ... yes, even us Christ followers!

So my question for you is this: Have you murmured on Scripture today? If not, are you planning to set aside time to do so?

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Random Thoughts on a Friday Morning

In this morning's paper, I saw a photo of a woman and her newborn baby. The baby weighed an amazing 19 pounds, 2 ounces!  Needless to say the baby was delivered by Cesarean. Now that is SOME baby!  I am so glad for my wife's sake that all three of our babies were in the 6 - 8 pound range!

Also in today's paper, I read THREE articles on the same page concerning bombing plots that were in various stages of development. And these plots were not overseas plots ... but plots being hatched right here in the United States. This is a reminder that those who hate our country are still determined to hurt our country. But in the midst of all of this hate and anger in our world, it is a comfort to know that our God reigns!

This is fair week at Lampeter. Our church has a Baby Comfort Station at the fair. Moms (or dads) can come and change their babies. And if Mom needs to nurse her baby, we provide a private area for her to do that. But we also offer fairgoers free popcorn and ice water and, more importantly, information on our church and our faith. Through the first two days of the fair, we have given out over 70 Bibles to those who desired to have one (one woman who received a Bible was observed later on reading the Bible we gave her as she staffed another fair booth!). That excites me ... because as God tells us, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17).

 Finally, I would ask you to pray for my son-in-law, Ryan Aument and me as together we are exploring the exciting possibility of establishing CIDEL-USA (see posting of Wednesday, September 16 for a description of CIDEL in the C.A.R.). We have mapped out our strategy and our beginning to take our initial steps. One of these is to recruit a prayer team of at least a dozen people who will commit to pray daily for our efforts, remembering that "unless the LORD builds the house, it's builders labor in vain" (Psalm 127:1).  IF you would like to be a part of our prayer team, please let me know by emailing me at jsmith@gracewv.org. Thanks!

And thanks for stopping by . . .


In Defense of "The Church"

The Church is taking a big hit these days. All you have to do is browse the shelves of a Christian bookstore. There you will find titles such as, Life after Church, Quitting Church, So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore, Pagan Christianity and They Like Jesus but Not the Church. All of these (and a number of other recently published books) explore and/or promote the growing mantra among current or former churchgoers, "we want God, not an institution."  

As a pastor of a church, you might not be surprised to hear that this type of thinking bothers me. And it bothers me not because I am a pastor, but it bothers me because I see it as a slam on the "institution" for which Jesus Christ gave His very life (see Acts 20:28). In his thought provoking and biblicaly based (and what I found to be quite refreshing) book, Kevin DeYoung states the following concerning the Church:

"My aim is to present to the body of Christ, and for anyone else who cares to listen, a picture of why we should be in the church. Indeed, being part of a church - and learning to love it - is good for your soul, biblically responsible, and pleasing to God . . . The church we love is as flawed and messed up as we are, but she is Christ's bride nonetheless. And I might as well have a basement without a house or a head without a body as despise the wife my Savior loves."  (Why We Love the Church - co-authored with Ted Kluck).

Amen, Kevin!  I love the church, too - warts and all!!! 

Thanks for stopping by . . .


When Giving Counsel to Others - Stop and Pray First!

One of the books I consulted in my preparation to train the members of CIDEL in the Central African Republic to do biblical counseling is the excellent little book, Transformed in His Presence: The Need for Prayer in Counseling. The book's authors (Roger Peugh, a veteran European missionary and a professor of missions at Grace Seminary and Tammy Schultz, Department chair of the Graduate School in Counseling at Grace College), have done a powerful job arguing for the need of prayer in counseling. Please take a moment and read the following excerpt from the preface to their book:

"Counselors, pastors, teachers, social workers, student development staff, lay helpers, volunteers are deluged daily with overwhelming human need. As the demand has increased, education programs have responded to meet this challenge. Most Christian caregivers have received beneficial training in skills, theories, and practices of counseling. However, exceptional methodology alone doesn't change lives. It is our conviction that so many of us are trying to do naturally what can only be done supernaturally. God never intended for us to help people in our own strength. God designed us to ask, seek, and knock (Matthew 7:7-8) for every breath we take, and especially when we seek to help people when life is hard" (emphasis is that of the authors).

Well said! And a good reminder for all of us.

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Check out this GBIM Video on Hand-in-Hand Schools

Grace Brethren International Missions has produced a video on Hand-in-Hand Orphan schools. Please take a few minutes to view the video. What an opportunity to minister to "one of the least of these" (Matthew 25:40).

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Hand-in-Hand Orphan School

Here is a video from our trip of the Hand-in-Hand orphan school children singing. Enjoy! And thanks for stopping by . . . pj

A Journal Entry from Bangui, Central African Republic

Below is the journal entry that I emailed to my wife on the evening of our first day of training with the pastors. Thought you might enjoy!

Monday, August 31, 2009
Today has been a very wet day here in Bangui. My guesstimate as to amount of rain … I would say in excess of 3 inches. It has rained hard off and on since about 330 AM. It is now 330 PM and it is not raining at the moment. SO there is a LOT of mud around. BUT it is cool! So that is a worthwhile trade off!

We had 14 pastors in the training. It went very well. I was asked some good questions (like: What does a pastor do if he is in a church that is not supporting him when the Word of God commands those who receive truth from teachers to share their material goods with him? – Gal 6:6. Another question ran along the line of a pastor was asked to leave his church – he did not, so the congregation split and it became so divisive the government came and locked the building – what should the pastor have done? And what should a pastor do who is working hard and preaching the Word yet NOT seeing any changes among his flock?) So there were some good questions. It was interesting that with many of the questions asked, I either had personal experience to refer to OR I knew of a situation that I could refer to. Just another confirmation in my mind that I am to be here!

We started this morning late (9:30 instead of 8:00) due primarily to the rain (when it rains that hard the roads get quite muddy, greatly hindering travel). We went from 930 to 115 when we broke for lunch … then we went from 145 to 245. Right now I am waiting with Ryan for Hibaile who is planning to take us to see the Minister of Finance. I think Ryan is especially enjoying these VIP visits! (Speaking of Ryan – when I introduced him in church yesterday … he stood up and gave what I call, his politician's wave! But what was interesting was the response of the church people. Heidi Sisson (GBIM missionary in Bangui) told us that few could believe that I had brought my son in law with me. Apparently in the CAR, fathers in law and sons in law don’t always have a good relationship – all due to the tension around paying the dowry for the daughter. In fact, it is highly unusual for a son-in-law to eat at the same table as his father-in-law. (I told Ryan we might make the dowry retroactive to June of 2008!!!)

Today in our sessions we covered 1 Peter 5:1-4 (Peter's instruction to elders). Pastor Joseph interpreted for me (into Sango) for Hibaile had to go pray with the Prime Minister about some important matter. I also took the last half hour to begin our study of Epaphroditus. I got about 1/3 of the way thru it … then tomorrow I will complete that and also cover Living a Life of no regrets (Paul's swan song .. I have fought the fight, run the race, etc.) … and The Keys to the Apostle Paul’s endurance. It should be a full day!!! --- END OF JOURNAL ENTRY

Definitely our time in the C.A.R. was a precious time of ministry with some very precious people. Please pray with us for a lasting impact!

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Our Trip by the Numbers

I thought a good way to summarize our trip to the Central African Republic would be to do so "by the numbers:"

90 - the approximate number of pastors, government workers, professionals, chaplains trained
90 - the number of those trained who showed appreciation for our ministry
17 - the total number of days of our trip
9.5 - the number of hours we were late getting into Bangui due to being diverted due to fog
6.5 - the number of hours we were on the ground in Brazzaville, Congo while waiting to fly to Bangui (the first time I have ever been south of the equator!)
12 - the number of consecutive days of teaching/training
7 - the number of V.I.P. visits we made (including the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance)
10,000 - the number of potholes we had to maneuver around while driving
1 - the number of times I drove while in Africa
100 - the number of meters I drove
3 - the number of shirts we each (Ryan and me) received as gifts from CIDEL
1 - the number of times either one of us got sick (it was Ryan)
100 - the number of kilometers that we traveled to visit the Mbaiki Bible Institute
0 - the number of giraffes sighted
40 - the approximate number of orphan children that we met at the Hand-in-Hand school
2 - the number of times Ryan and I went swimming at the U.S. Ambassador's home

As you can see, some significant numbers! But the most significant numbers are 127:1. That's Psalm 127:1 which reads, "Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain" Please pray with Ryan and me that the LORD will indeed bless our efforts with the result of fruit that will last for eternity!

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Another Point of Light in the Central Afican Republic

Yesterday I wrote about Dr. Augustin Hibaile and his ministry organization, CIDEL. Today I want to tell you about another powerful point of light that is beginning to burn brightly in central Africa. It is the Hand-in-Hand schools. During our last full day in the C.A.R. we visited one of these schools. These schools are for orphans ... and there are many orphans in the country. AIDS is a big problem in Africa ... and the Central African Republic is no exception. As a result, many children are left childless when their parents succumb to AIDS. So the Hand-in-Hand schools are sorely needed!

Here is how a Hand-in-Hand school works: A Grace Brethren Church in the C.A.R. (and there are about 2500 in the country) fulfills the requirements to become a Hand-in-Hand school (I am not sure what all the requirements are, but I do know the church has an application and screening process to go through. Every African church must demonstrate that they will be able to do the following: assure that each orphan is in a good home, clothe each of the orphans and provide health care for each child). Once a church in Africa is approved for participation in the program, a partner church from the United States is found for that church. The U.S. church commits to providing the funds ($4000/year) that will pay the teacher, pay for school supplies and provide one good meal each day. Currently there are 36 Hand-in-Hand schools up and running. Here at Grace we are currently in the process of exploring the possibility of becoming a U.S. partner church. Stay tuned for more info!

Thanks for stopping by . . .


P.S. I took the photo above at one of the Hand-in-Hand schools located in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic.

Points of Light in the Central African Republic

Yesterday I mentioned that I would share with you what I consider to be some of the points of light in the C.A.R. One of the brightest ones is CIDEL (the Center International for the Development of Ethical Leadership). This ministry organization was founded by the man who invited us to come to the C.A.R. - the Rev. Dr. Augustin Hibaile (the photo is of Dr. Hibaile, his wife Marie-Helene and me). For many years, Dr. Hibaile was on the faculty of one of the Grace Brethren Bible institutes in the C.A.R. Five years ago, God led Dr. Hibaile out of the classroom and into secular society - and CIDEL was born. The C.A.R. is ripe with corruption. And the pervasiveness of this corruption is one of the many obstacles hindering the fight against the horrendous poverty of the country. Dr. Hibaile, through his ministry with CIDEL, is striving to encourage and equip Christians in leadership to lead with the highest standards of biblical ethics. And God is blessing his work!

During our time in the C.A.R., we met with an prayed with the country's Prime Minister (the second highest ranking government official), the Minister of Finance, the President of Bangui University (the only post secondary institution in the country), a police commissioner, and several other V.I.P.'s. It is truly amazing to see the doors of ministry that God has opened for Dr. Hibaile.

Please pray for Dr. Hibaile, his work and his family. Pray that God would continue to bless his ministry and continue to open doors for him.

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Reflections on Africa

According to the United States Ambassador to the Central African Republic (We actually had lunch with him on the back patio of his home. He and his wife invited a certain number of Americans for a Labor Day picnic. We were among those invited.), the C.A.R. ranks #137 out of 138 countries on the United Nations Misery Index. Bottom line, that means living one's life does not get much worse anywhere on the planet than in the C.A.R. From what I observed, I am not surprised by the U.N.'s ranking.

For starters, the country has no infrastructure to speak of. There are a few paved roads in the capital of Bangui, but many of the streets are dirt. And given that during the present rainy season when it rains it pours, you can only imagine what erosion does to these roads! In addition, the paved roads are littered with cavernous like pot holes. All of this makes travel by car quite a challenge (eg: we traveled about 65 miles outside Bangui to the city of Mbaiki - it took us about three hours to do so). Along with a lack of infrastructure, the country faces other numerous problems such as AIDS, a lack of stability of the government (the government only has firm control on Bangui and vicinity), a 25% literacy rate, poor health care facilities (I asked the missionaries if there were any dentists in the city - they knew of one - and this is a city of 3/4 of a million people!), and rampant unemployment (perhaps as high as 75%!). Electricity went out every day for a number of hours each day (they cannot produce enough electricity to meet demand), and we lost water the day we were preparing to return to the States. To say life is hard in the Central African Republic seems to understate the reality.

Yet, not all is "doom and gloom" in this nation of 4 million people. This week, I will describe some points of light in this poverty stricken part of our globe. Until then, please join me in praying for this country and its people. I left part of my heart there in the C.A.R. and brought a part of the the country (and its people) home with me. More to come . . .

Thanks for stopping by . . .


I Will Return to my Blog Tomorrow (TUESDAY)

The effects of jet lag are still upon me (I think I am about 2/3 of the way across the Atlantic ... so I am making progress!). I hope to give an initial report on my Africa trip tomorrow. Until then . . .

Thanks for stopping by . . .



I arrived home from Africa last evening (Friday). I will resume posting this upcoming week - and will do so with some reports on our trip.

Thanks for stopping by (and praying for us while we were in Africa),


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...