PJ

PJ

Friday, January 29, 2010

State of the Union? State of Your Soul?


On Wednesday evening, President Obama did want U.S. Presidents do every year in the middle of January. He delivered a "State of the Union" address to both houses of Congress and to the American people at large. In this address, the President gives his assessment of just where he believes our nation is ... both its strengths and weaknesses ... and then outlines a strategy to move forward to fix the nation's problems. My purpose in this posting is not to evaluate the President's performance - their are many more capable people who have done that. But what I do want to do is to encourage you (and me) to use this speech to remind ourselves that we need, from time to time, to take "time out" from the busyness of life to assess the state of our souls!

Look. We live in a very busy ... and a very noisy world. And technology is constantly making our world noisier and busier (case in point: Apple's introduction this week of their new I-Pad which is promising a new way to interact with media information that is now available ... just at the tap of a finger!). If we are not careful, our soul will become so hard pressed by all this information and noise - that the spiritual life will get squeezed out (and our souls will look like a grape that has lost all its moisture - and in case you don't know what a "moistureless" grape looks like - think RAISIN).

All this to say that all of us would benefit and benefit much by heeding the counsel that Jesus gave to His disciples as they were in the midst of a very busy ministry. In Mark 6:31 we read, "Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, 'Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.'"

Many of us need to do just that. To find a quiet place. To get some rest. And, with the help of God, to take stock of the state of our souls (to help you do this, go to the following link: http://www.thetransformingcenter.org/pdf/soul09.pdf. Although this is for pastoral/ministry leaders, I believe the questions Ruth Barton gives here would be a help for any believer who desires to assess the state of their soul.).

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Taking a Stand!


There are many things in life that just seem to go together. Things like "peanut butter and jelly," "waking up and coffee in my cup," "Thanksgiving Day and turkey" and "baseball and hotdogs" - just to name a few. Then there are those things that don't seem right together, "Pittsburgh Pirates and a winning season," "mustard and ice cream" and "personal faith and public discourse." Now every time spring training rolls around for Major League Baseball, I harbor hopes that maybe ... just maybe this will the the year the Pirates FINALLY have a winning season (they've only managed to put together a string of SIXTEEN consecutive losing seasons ... a record for any franchise in any professional sport!). But concerning "personal faith and public discourse" - the situation only appears to be getting worse. Our culture states, "you can believe ANYTHING you want about spirituality and faith, just keep it to yourself!"

Tim Tebow, the former Heisman winning quarterback for the University of Florida Gators, is a refreshing exception to how so many of us Christ followers "cow down" to this pressure to keep quiet about our faith. I ran across one example of his desire to stand for Christ in a recent article which cited reports that Tebow will be featured in a pro-life Super Bowl commercial. When asked about appearing in such a controversial commercial, Tebow's response is an inspiration to all of us who claim an allegiance to Christ. He said, "I know some people won't agree with it, but I think they can at least respect that I stand up for what I believe and I'm never shy about that," Tebow said. "I don't feel like I'm very preachy about it but I do stand up for what I believe. Unfortunately in today's society not many athletes seem to do that. "I always stand for something."  And for Tim Tebow, that something is the gospel of Jesus Christ! Let's all purpose to stand with this courageous young man - for Jesus' sake!

Thanks for stopping by ...

pj

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Thank you, Grace Church at Willow Valley!


I want to go on record to say "Thank you!" to my church family here at Grace. This past Sunday the church family surprised me with a celebration of my twenty years of ministry here at Grace. They gave my wife and me a number of things to show their love and appreciation for us. So I want to let any from the Grace family who might happen to read this blog how much we appreciate and love the family here! And they are so easy to love on!!!

One of the anniversary gifts that was given to us was a gift certificate to a Bed and Breakfast in Cape May, NJ. I thought it would be appropriate to use this anniversary gift in conjunction with another anniversary - our 32nd wedding anniversary. So in mid-May, my wife and I will spend a few days in Cape May, celebrating our 20 years of pastoral ministry here at Grace and our 32 years of enjoying one another as husband and wife. Wow! It doesn't get much better than that!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

An Embarassing Fall!


Last Friday a visitor to New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art fell. Typically, when someone fall's, the incident does not find its way to the media. But this fall was different. When the woman fell, she tore a 6 inch gash in a painting by some artist by the name of Pablo Picasso. Oops! Talk about an embarassing fall!

All of us do embarassing things from time to time. We cause accidents that we did not mean to cause. These in turn can be quite costly ... to us or others (as in this case of this torn painting, repairs to the Picasso will be quite expensive). Now you might be wondering where I am going with this ... yes? The next time someone does something unintentional that impacts you in a negative way ... respond to them with GRACE! Learn to FORBEAR! God tells us to do as much through the Apostle Paul when Paul wrote, "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another" (Colossians 3:13). This is the way of grace! And it is THE way to go!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Best Way Out Is Always Through!


There are many things I love about God's Word. Among them is the fact that the Bible does not "sugarcoat" life. When one reads Scripture, he or she will quickly realize (if reading with an attentive eye and an open mind) that what he or she is reading is talking about the world in which they live. The Bible is all about life in the real world .... in OUR world! For example, toward the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus spoke the following to his followers, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Jesus could not have said it any more plainly - we will experience trouble in this life! And after living on this earth for close to 54 years now, I will not argue that point!

Now most of us when we experience trouble ... we just want out! Out of the difficulty and back to the more comfortable "smooth sailing" times of life. This is certainly understandable. Trouble brings pain. And the bigger the trouble ... the bigger the pain. None of us wants to hurt ... so we cry out to God, "Get me out of this mess! Deliver me now!" However, when we do this, what we are really doing is asking God to remove us from His divine classroom. Read what God says about life's difficulties and what HE wants to do through them:

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:2-4).

So when we pray, "God get me out of this!" we are, in effect, telling God we would rather feel good than grow in our faith!  Robert Frost was right we he wrote, "The best way out is always through." So instead of asking God to get you OUT of your troubles, ask God to get you THROUGH them, teaching you whatever it is HE wants you to learn in the process.

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Friday, January 22, 2010

I'm Bored!


One of my childhood summertime memories is that of sitting with my friends at the intersection of Kensington Street (where I lived) and 22nd Street in the city of Harrisburg. For what seemed like hours we would ask one another, "What do you want to do?" And we would answer, "I don't know - what do you want to do?" The problem was - we were bored. None of us liked being bored. And I sure do not like being bored today. And I am sure you feel the same.

Now, some Christians have told me that they don't read the Bible because the Bible is boring. But I don't agree! The Bible is anything but boring. Think with me. What is the Bible? It is the written revelation of our Almighty Creator-Redeemer God. In its pages He reveals to us His being and His works. He tells us of his plan - both for us as individuals and utltimately for the world. And that is boring? Please take two minutes and watch the video clip of John Piper. He's right on the mark!



Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Boys Will Be Boys!


I just read a news story about 8 German youth, ages 13 and 14 who decided to drink some hot chili sauce as a test of courage - and it was not your everyday-buy-at-the-grocery-store kind of chili sauce. This sauce was HOT! VERY HOT! On the Scoville scale, which is used to measure the hotness of sauce, the sauce the boys drank earned a rating of 535,000. When you consider that normal Tabasco sauce measures only 2,500, you can understand that when I say this sauce was VERY HOT - it was indeed VERY HOT!  As a result of their test (should we say "foolishness?"), all eight were hospitalized after complaining of feeling sick. And who wouldn't feel sick after drinking such a concoction? I wonder what they mixed together to get the sauce to be so hot!

Now we can dismiss their actions as simply saying, "boys will be boys!" They were simply doing what boys have done since the dawn of human history (I am NOT about to tell you of some stupid things I did on being "dared!" by other boys!). And hopefully they will learn from this experience (I wonder if any of them will ever use a hot chili sauce again!). Experience can be an effective teacher. Of course, that all depends on whether or not one has a teachable spirit. How about you? Do you have a teachable spirit? Are you willing to learn from experience ... and from the experience of others?  I sure hope so. I believe teachability is a vital quality we all need if we are to become more like our Master!

Thanks for stopping by ... and stay away from the hot sauce!

pj

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Are You Just Standing Around When It Comes to Sharing the Gospel?


According to a recent study by the Wall Street Journal, a broadcast of an average NFL football game contains only 11 minutes of game action (game action being defined as from the time the ball is snapped until the official's whistle the play over). This compares with 17 minutes of replays and 67 minutes showing players just standing around. When I read this, I was amazed at how much more time I was spending watching players just milling about (or huddling) .... compared to the amount of time when they were running their plays!

Hmm. Reminds me of the Christian life - especially when it comes to evangelism. We spend so much time huddling together .... so much time just "standing around" -- and so little time actually trying to point people to Jesus! All of us could stand to remember this word when it comes to sharing our faith: "intentional." Let's all get more INTENTIONAL when it comes to proclaiming the gospel! The people in our world need Christ! He is indeed, "the Way and the truth and the life" and "no one comes to the Father" except through HIM! (see John 14:6). So, purpose (get intentional) today to point someone in Jesus' direction!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On Earthquakes and Other Natural Disasters . . .


Each day the news out of Haiti grows more depressing. Just this morning I read in the paper that the estimated death toll has now risen to 200,000. And those who survived are experiencing misery heaped upon misery. There are critical shortages of food, water and medical supplies. All of this means that the death toll will continue to climb as people die of a lack of basic necessities and untreated injuries and illness. One report I viewed on a network newscast made a reference to what medical treatment that was happening as "Civil War medicine." In the Civil War (pre-antibiotics), infections would often develop in soldiers' wounded limbs. To prevent gangrene (which would eventually kill the wounded soldier), army surgeons would have no choice but to amputate. This situation is repeating itself today in Haiti. One television reporter concluded her report last night by saying that Haiti will become a land of amputees - due to the vast number of survivors with crushed limbs who are losing their limbs in order to save their lives.

I don't know about you, but as I watched the report last night, my eyes got a little sweaty ... OK .... a lot sweaty. This is sad. I cannot imagine the pain and suffering of these men, women and children. We must do all we can to help (have YOU given toward Haiti relief yet?  Are you praying daily for the relief effort ... and for the proclamation of the gospel there in the midst of this darkness?). But one thing we must NOT do -- and that is lay the responsibility for this catastrophe at the feet of God. Some will do this. Some will say, "There can be no God, for a loving an all powerful God would not allow this to happen."  But this perspective has lost sight of the fact that God never intended this world with all of its natural disasters as the world for us to live in. Absolutely not! We (humanity) messed this world up when we decided to rebel against our God (see the record of this rebellion that we refer to as "The Fall" in Genesis 3). As a result of our rebellion (a.k.a. "sin"), this world is "in bondage to decay" (Romans 8:21). Therefore, natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. happen and will continue to happen. And when they do - we can only blame ourselves.

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

P.S. - For a more in depth (and excellent) discussion on this tragedy and God's perspective on it, go to Al Mohler's blog at http://www.albertmohler.com/2010/01/14/does-god-hate-haiti/. 

Friday, January 15, 2010

It's the Name!


Eight year old Mickey Hicks is a cub scout from Clifton, NJ.  And he looks like an eight year old cub scout (especially when wearing his cub scout uniform!). But every time Mikey and his family fly anywhere, Mickey gets a full "pat down" as part of the security screening process. Here is what Mickey's mother recently had to say about Mikey's ongoing airport security hassles (he's been "patted down" on a consistent basis since he's been two!): "Up your arms, down your arms, up your crotch — someone is patting your 8-year-old down like he’s a criminal. A terrorist can blow his underwear up and they don’t catch him. But my 8-year-old can’t walk through security without being frisked."

Why does Mickey get all this unwanted attention? It seems that he shares his name with a "Michael Hicks" who is one of 13,500 individuals on the Transportation Security Administration's "Selectees" list, placed there due to being a security risk. This has prompted a security alert every time that Mickey  has shown up for airport screening (I myself got caught up in this same process three years ago on a return trip from overseas. I was pulled from the immigration line and forced to go to a secondary screening area. When I asked the agent the reason, she relied, "It's your name."  Hmm, I wonder how many "John Smiths" are on this list!). So I guess as long as Mickey bears the same name as one of the 13,500 individuals on the T.S.A.'s selectees' list, he will have to put up with all the hassles that come from bearing the same name.

For those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus Christ, we bear His name (as I mentioned in my post of yesterday). And because we bear His name, we can expect to be hassled. Jesus Himself said as much. In John 15:18-19, Jesus said, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you."  The apostle Paul echoed this same truth when he wrote in 1 Timothy 3:12, "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."

So if you bear Jesus' name, you can expect to be hassled. And if you are never hassled, perhaps you aren't living your faith as you should be. Now there's a thought to chew on.

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Safely Crossing the "Great Divide"


Many people know Mark Twain as the author of the American literary classics, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.And many also know Mark Twain as the author of many witty quotes that people like to throw around in their speeches and writings. Consider the following "Mark Twainisms":

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”


"Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow."

"It's not the the parts of the Bible I don't understand that bother me, it's the parts I do understand."  


I could have gone on and on with many more witty quotes from the pen of Mark Twain, or should I better say, the pen of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. That's right, "Mark Twain" was merely the pen name of Samuel Clemens. Clemens chose this particular pen name for himself because of his love of the Mississippi River (his boyhood dream was to become a steamboat pilot). The boatsman on a steamer would measure the river's depth. A depth of 12 feet or two fathoms was considered a safe depth. So when the boatsman measured a depth of 2 fathoms he would shout, "Mark Twain!" Clemens took this expression and used it as his pen name.

We as Christ followers carry a name that is also not our own. It is the name, "Christian." And just as Clemen's pen name "Mark Twain" would indicate to the riverboat's crew that safe passage was ahead --- so the name "Christian" should convey a sense of safety to those of us who are known by that name. For when the time comes for us to cross the river that divides this life from the next - as Christians, we know that we will cross safely to the other side! All, of course, by God's grace!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

If It 'Aint Fun, Forget It!


As I was driving back to the office yesterday, I passed a car that had an advertisement for the Lancaster Sunday News displayed on its roof. Above the title of the newspaper were the words, "Relevant. Informative. Fun to Read." These words, of course, were meant to describe the Sunday paper. "Relevant" - yep, I want any newspaper to be relevant. I sure don't want to be reading about what's happening on Mars. "Informative" - again, right on the mark for any paper worthy of my time. I want it to tell me exactly all about the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of everything going on in my world! "Fun to Read" - well, I sure don't want it to bore me to death as it informs me of all that is relevant around me!

Now what got me thinking was that last descriptive phrase, "Fun to Read." Whether or not you think the Sunday News is "fun to read", I think it is a real statement about our culture that a newspaper includes that quality as one of its main attractions. We are all about having fun. If you doubt me, listen to what people (especially the younger generations) often say to each other when parting (if you listen attentively you will often here, "Have fun!"). NOW please do NOT misunderstand me. I LOVE to have fun! However, life is not always fun. In fact, sometimes it is hard. Downright tough! And when hardness comes (and it will) what should be our response? The Apostle Paul gives us the answer in 2 Timothy 2:3: "Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus." As followers of Christ we are called upon to endure hardness ... not try to skirt around it or escape it by having "fun!"

So all this to say ... yes, make sure you have fun. Life is indeed too hard not to laugh. But beware of living by the credo that "If it 'aint fun, forget it!"

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Growing Up!


I never knew being a grandfather would be so very, very cool! I love it! I thank God for the two grandkids He has brought into our lives. Recently I have been enjoying watching our grandbaby Ella growing up. Just this past week she picked up the concept of waving "bye-bye" and giving a kiss. In addition, she now motors around the house on all fours - something she was not doing even just a week ago. Hmm. What will next week bring, Ella behind the wheel of a car?

As much as we are enjoying watching Ella develop into toddler hood, we are not surprised at what we are seeing (and hearing). We expect it. This is what babies do. They grow up! They mature! And what is true for babies in the physical realm ... should also be true of babies in the spiritual realm. Notice I said SHOULD. When we make a faith commitment to Christ we are "born again" (this is the terminology Jesus used in John 3). We are spiritual infants. But we are NOT to remain infants. God expects us to grow. Yet far too many Christians remain mired in spiritual babyhood! A major reason for this, I believe, is the average Christian's level of biblical literacy. Too many Christians are biblically illiterate. And if one does not KNOW the Bible, he or she cannot OBEY the Bible. And why is that important? Allow me to answer this question with a question. What is the bottom line of the "making disciples" mandate of the Great Commission?  Let me show you . . .

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20a).

So .... how are YOU doing? Are you GROWING in your faith walk with Jesus Christ? If not - it just may be because you aren't getting enough of the meat of the Word!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Friday, January 8, 2010

Let's Take Responsibility!


The other night, Mariah Carey (most known for her singing talent) accepted an award for her acting. The International Film Festival Awards gave her the award for Breakthrough Actress for her performance in the film, "Precious." According to news reports, Carey gave a loony, rambling, speech slurred acceptance speech that went on far too long. After being hammered on the Internet for her actions, Carey when asked about her speech told reporter that her loopy speech was the fault of the presenter, director Lee Daniels. This is what she said, "The thing is me and Lee hadn't seen each other in a long time, and then he was presenting my award, so he starts off immediately with inside jokes."  OK ... so he started off with some insider jokes ... that explains her actions?  Oh...she then admitted to enjoying some "splashes of champagne" before hand. Hmmm...quite a few splashes if you ask me.

But before we are too harsh on Carey ... let's admit it. All of us from time to time don't want to take responsibility for our words or our actions. When we find ourselves in trouble - we look for someone else to blame. This has been a tendency for us humans ever since our first parents did this in the Garden of Eden when confronted by God about their sin (see Genesis 3). Friends, as long as we fail to take responsibility for our sin, our failures, our mistakes - we will NEVER move beyond them to a better place. So let's agree --- if the shoe fits - let's wear it!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Redemption and Forgiveness in Christ and Christ Alone!

Jesus Christ was quite clear that if people want to connect with the God who made them, the only option to do so is through Himself, specifically through his work on the cross. All of us have earned the wage of death (see Romans 6:23a and Romans 3:23). When Jesus died, He paid the wage for sin. But since He had no sin (He was perfect, never once rebelling against His Father) we must ask - for whose wage was He paying? The answer? Anyone who would ever place their faith in Him to save them from God's penalty for sin. That is the message of the gospel. And it is a good news message. In fact, only Christianity offers this hope of redemption and forgiveness for sin. Please take a few minutes to watch the intriguing video below concerning comments made recently by Brit Hume, a senior political analyst for Fox News as he spoke about Tiger Wood's need for redemption and forgiveness.



Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Tall Celebration!


Yesterday, the world's tallest building was officially opened. It is the Burj Khalifa building located in the Persian Gulf United Arab Emirate of Dubai. The new skyscraper reaches to a height of 2,717 feet, which makes it more than 1,000 feet taller than the world's previous tallest building located in Taiwan (the tallest skyscaper in the U.S. is Chicago's Willis Tower which stands at 1,451 feet). So as you can see, this new Dubai tower is indeed a SKYscraper!

As I read the newspaper account of the tower's grand opening, I was struck by the following lines: "Its (the tower's) backers wanted the skyscraper to be a monument to the boundless, can-do spirit of Dubai."  Those words struck me because they sounded eerily familiar. So I opened my Bible to Genesis 11:4 and read the following about the inhabitants of the world following the flood of Noah's day: "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves."  Hmm ... the date on the calendar might have changed - but it seems that the heart of man has not. Humanity continues to seek to live life independent of God .... seeking to rule versus submitting to His rule. Seeking self glory vs. God's glory.

Even those of us who follow Jesus must battle this tendency of our sinful nature. We are NOT independent and self sufficient beings. We are totally dependent upon our God. The Apostle Paul stated this clearly when he told the Athenians on Mars Hill, "He (the God who made everything) himself gives all men life and breath and everything else . . . For in him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:25, 28).

During these recent days of heart ache, God has reminded me once again of my great need for Him. May it be a long lasting lesson for me!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Monday, January 4, 2010

When Sadness Threatens to Overwhelm Our Joy


The past five days have been days of deep sadness for our family. Sadness is something all of us are acquainted with as sadness is a part of this broken world in which we live. But as followers of Christ, we do have a "life-line" to cling to in the midst of our difficulties. God is our rock, our refuge, our hope. Yes, we can have hope even in the darkest of days. Yes, there is coming a day when God will wipe every tear from our eyes. Then "there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:4). But until that time comes, there will be days when sadness will threaten to overwhelm our joy. When that happens, we must cling to God. He alone knows exactly what we are going through, the pain we are enduring. And He will give us strength, comfort, hope and a peace that only He can give!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Blessed New Year . . .


For all of you who stop by my blog throughout the year, I pray that you will experience the reality of the Apostle Paul's expressed desire for the church in Rome:

"Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13)

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Friday, January 29, 2010

State of the Union? State of Your Soul?


On Wednesday evening, President Obama did want U.S. Presidents do every year in the middle of January. He delivered a "State of the Union" address to both houses of Congress and to the American people at large. In this address, the President gives his assessment of just where he believes our nation is ... both its strengths and weaknesses ... and then outlines a strategy to move forward to fix the nation's problems. My purpose in this posting is not to evaluate the President's performance - their are many more capable people who have done that. But what I do want to do is to encourage you (and me) to use this speech to remind ourselves that we need, from time to time, to take "time out" from the busyness of life to assess the state of our souls!

Look. We live in a very busy ... and a very noisy world. And technology is constantly making our world noisier and busier (case in point: Apple's introduction this week of their new I-Pad which is promising a new way to interact with media information that is now available ... just at the tap of a finger!). If we are not careful, our soul will become so hard pressed by all this information and noise - that the spiritual life will get squeezed out (and our souls will look like a grape that has lost all its moisture - and in case you don't know what a "moistureless" grape looks like - think RAISIN).

All this to say that all of us would benefit and benefit much by heeding the counsel that Jesus gave to His disciples as they were in the midst of a very busy ministry. In Mark 6:31 we read, "Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, 'Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.'"

Many of us need to do just that. To find a quiet place. To get some rest. And, with the help of God, to take stock of the state of our souls (to help you do this, go to the following link: http://www.thetransformingcenter.org/pdf/soul09.pdf. Although this is for pastoral/ministry leaders, I believe the questions Ruth Barton gives here would be a help for any believer who desires to assess the state of their soul.).

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Taking a Stand!


There are many things in life that just seem to go together. Things like "peanut butter and jelly," "waking up and coffee in my cup," "Thanksgiving Day and turkey" and "baseball and hotdogs" - just to name a few. Then there are those things that don't seem right together, "Pittsburgh Pirates and a winning season," "mustard and ice cream" and "personal faith and public discourse." Now every time spring training rolls around for Major League Baseball, I harbor hopes that maybe ... just maybe this will the the year the Pirates FINALLY have a winning season (they've only managed to put together a string of SIXTEEN consecutive losing seasons ... a record for any franchise in any professional sport!). But concerning "personal faith and public discourse" - the situation only appears to be getting worse. Our culture states, "you can believe ANYTHING you want about spirituality and faith, just keep it to yourself!"

Tim Tebow, the former Heisman winning quarterback for the University of Florida Gators, is a refreshing exception to how so many of us Christ followers "cow down" to this pressure to keep quiet about our faith. I ran across one example of his desire to stand for Christ in a recent article which cited reports that Tebow will be featured in a pro-life Super Bowl commercial. When asked about appearing in such a controversial commercial, Tebow's response is an inspiration to all of us who claim an allegiance to Christ. He said, "I know some people won't agree with it, but I think they can at least respect that I stand up for what I believe and I'm never shy about that," Tebow said. "I don't feel like I'm very preachy about it but I do stand up for what I believe. Unfortunately in today's society not many athletes seem to do that. "I always stand for something."  And for Tim Tebow, that something is the gospel of Jesus Christ! Let's all purpose to stand with this courageous young man - for Jesus' sake!

Thanks for stopping by ...

pj

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Thank you, Grace Church at Willow Valley!


I want to go on record to say "Thank you!" to my church family here at Grace. This past Sunday the church family surprised me with a celebration of my twenty years of ministry here at Grace. They gave my wife and me a number of things to show their love and appreciation for us. So I want to let any from the Grace family who might happen to read this blog how much we appreciate and love the family here! And they are so easy to love on!!!

One of the anniversary gifts that was given to us was a gift certificate to a Bed and Breakfast in Cape May, NJ. I thought it would be appropriate to use this anniversary gift in conjunction with another anniversary - our 32nd wedding anniversary. So in mid-May, my wife and I will spend a few days in Cape May, celebrating our 20 years of pastoral ministry here at Grace and our 32 years of enjoying one another as husband and wife. Wow! It doesn't get much better than that!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

An Embarassing Fall!


Last Friday a visitor to New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art fell. Typically, when someone fall's, the incident does not find its way to the media. But this fall was different. When the woman fell, she tore a 6 inch gash in a painting by some artist by the name of Pablo Picasso. Oops! Talk about an embarassing fall!

All of us do embarassing things from time to time. We cause accidents that we did not mean to cause. These in turn can be quite costly ... to us or others (as in this case of this torn painting, repairs to the Picasso will be quite expensive). Now you might be wondering where I am going with this ... yes? The next time someone does something unintentional that impacts you in a negative way ... respond to them with GRACE! Learn to FORBEAR! God tells us to do as much through the Apostle Paul when Paul wrote, "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another" (Colossians 3:13). This is the way of grace! And it is THE way to go!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Best Way Out Is Always Through!


There are many things I love about God's Word. Among them is the fact that the Bible does not "sugarcoat" life. When one reads Scripture, he or she will quickly realize (if reading with an attentive eye and an open mind) that what he or she is reading is talking about the world in which they live. The Bible is all about life in the real world .... in OUR world! For example, toward the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus spoke the following to his followers, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Jesus could not have said it any more plainly - we will experience trouble in this life! And after living on this earth for close to 54 years now, I will not argue that point!

Now most of us when we experience trouble ... we just want out! Out of the difficulty and back to the more comfortable "smooth sailing" times of life. This is certainly understandable. Trouble brings pain. And the bigger the trouble ... the bigger the pain. None of us wants to hurt ... so we cry out to God, "Get me out of this mess! Deliver me now!" However, when we do this, what we are really doing is asking God to remove us from His divine classroom. Read what God says about life's difficulties and what HE wants to do through them:

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:2-4).

So when we pray, "God get me out of this!" we are, in effect, telling God we would rather feel good than grow in our faith!  Robert Frost was right we he wrote, "The best way out is always through." So instead of asking God to get you OUT of your troubles, ask God to get you THROUGH them, teaching you whatever it is HE wants you to learn in the process.

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Friday, January 22, 2010

I'm Bored!


One of my childhood summertime memories is that of sitting with my friends at the intersection of Kensington Street (where I lived) and 22nd Street in the city of Harrisburg. For what seemed like hours we would ask one another, "What do you want to do?" And we would answer, "I don't know - what do you want to do?" The problem was - we were bored. None of us liked being bored. And I sure do not like being bored today. And I am sure you feel the same.

Now, some Christians have told me that they don't read the Bible because the Bible is boring. But I don't agree! The Bible is anything but boring. Think with me. What is the Bible? It is the written revelation of our Almighty Creator-Redeemer God. In its pages He reveals to us His being and His works. He tells us of his plan - both for us as individuals and utltimately for the world. And that is boring? Please take two minutes and watch the video clip of John Piper. He's right on the mark!



Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Boys Will Be Boys!


I just read a news story about 8 German youth, ages 13 and 14 who decided to drink some hot chili sauce as a test of courage - and it was not your everyday-buy-at-the-grocery-store kind of chili sauce. This sauce was HOT! VERY HOT! On the Scoville scale, which is used to measure the hotness of sauce, the sauce the boys drank earned a rating of 535,000. When you consider that normal Tabasco sauce measures only 2,500, you can understand that when I say this sauce was VERY HOT - it was indeed VERY HOT!  As a result of their test (should we say "foolishness?"), all eight were hospitalized after complaining of feeling sick. And who wouldn't feel sick after drinking such a concoction? I wonder what they mixed together to get the sauce to be so hot!

Now we can dismiss their actions as simply saying, "boys will be boys!" They were simply doing what boys have done since the dawn of human history (I am NOT about to tell you of some stupid things I did on being "dared!" by other boys!). And hopefully they will learn from this experience (I wonder if any of them will ever use a hot chili sauce again!). Experience can be an effective teacher. Of course, that all depends on whether or not one has a teachable spirit. How about you? Do you have a teachable spirit? Are you willing to learn from experience ... and from the experience of others?  I sure hope so. I believe teachability is a vital quality we all need if we are to become more like our Master!

Thanks for stopping by ... and stay away from the hot sauce!

pj

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Are You Just Standing Around When It Comes to Sharing the Gospel?


According to a recent study by the Wall Street Journal, a broadcast of an average NFL football game contains only 11 minutes of game action (game action being defined as from the time the ball is snapped until the official's whistle the play over). This compares with 17 minutes of replays and 67 minutes showing players just standing around. When I read this, I was amazed at how much more time I was spending watching players just milling about (or huddling) .... compared to the amount of time when they were running their plays!

Hmm. Reminds me of the Christian life - especially when it comes to evangelism. We spend so much time huddling together .... so much time just "standing around" -- and so little time actually trying to point people to Jesus! All of us could stand to remember this word when it comes to sharing our faith: "intentional." Let's all get more INTENTIONAL when it comes to proclaiming the gospel! The people in our world need Christ! He is indeed, "the Way and the truth and the life" and "no one comes to the Father" except through HIM! (see John 14:6). So, purpose (get intentional) today to point someone in Jesus' direction!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On Earthquakes and Other Natural Disasters . . .


Each day the news out of Haiti grows more depressing. Just this morning I read in the paper that the estimated death toll has now risen to 200,000. And those who survived are experiencing misery heaped upon misery. There are critical shortages of food, water and medical supplies. All of this means that the death toll will continue to climb as people die of a lack of basic necessities and untreated injuries and illness. One report I viewed on a network newscast made a reference to what medical treatment that was happening as "Civil War medicine." In the Civil War (pre-antibiotics), infections would often develop in soldiers' wounded limbs. To prevent gangrene (which would eventually kill the wounded soldier), army surgeons would have no choice but to amputate. This situation is repeating itself today in Haiti. One television reporter concluded her report last night by saying that Haiti will become a land of amputees - due to the vast number of survivors with crushed limbs who are losing their limbs in order to save their lives.

I don't know about you, but as I watched the report last night, my eyes got a little sweaty ... OK .... a lot sweaty. This is sad. I cannot imagine the pain and suffering of these men, women and children. We must do all we can to help (have YOU given toward Haiti relief yet?  Are you praying daily for the relief effort ... and for the proclamation of the gospel there in the midst of this darkness?). But one thing we must NOT do -- and that is lay the responsibility for this catastrophe at the feet of God. Some will do this. Some will say, "There can be no God, for a loving an all powerful God would not allow this to happen."  But this perspective has lost sight of the fact that God never intended this world with all of its natural disasters as the world for us to live in. Absolutely not! We (humanity) messed this world up when we decided to rebel against our God (see the record of this rebellion that we refer to as "The Fall" in Genesis 3). As a result of our rebellion (a.k.a. "sin"), this world is "in bondage to decay" (Romans 8:21). Therefore, natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. happen and will continue to happen. And when they do - we can only blame ourselves.

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

P.S. - For a more in depth (and excellent) discussion on this tragedy and God's perspective on it, go to Al Mohler's blog at http://www.albertmohler.com/2010/01/14/does-god-hate-haiti/. 

Friday, January 15, 2010

It's the Name!


Eight year old Mickey Hicks is a cub scout from Clifton, NJ.  And he looks like an eight year old cub scout (especially when wearing his cub scout uniform!). But every time Mikey and his family fly anywhere, Mickey gets a full "pat down" as part of the security screening process. Here is what Mickey's mother recently had to say about Mikey's ongoing airport security hassles (he's been "patted down" on a consistent basis since he's been two!): "Up your arms, down your arms, up your crotch — someone is patting your 8-year-old down like he’s a criminal. A terrorist can blow his underwear up and they don’t catch him. But my 8-year-old can’t walk through security without being frisked."

Why does Mickey get all this unwanted attention? It seems that he shares his name with a "Michael Hicks" who is one of 13,500 individuals on the Transportation Security Administration's "Selectees" list, placed there due to being a security risk. This has prompted a security alert every time that Mickey  has shown up for airport screening (I myself got caught up in this same process three years ago on a return trip from overseas. I was pulled from the immigration line and forced to go to a secondary screening area. When I asked the agent the reason, she relied, "It's your name."  Hmm, I wonder how many "John Smiths" are on this list!). So I guess as long as Mickey bears the same name as one of the 13,500 individuals on the T.S.A.'s selectees' list, he will have to put up with all the hassles that come from bearing the same name.

For those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus Christ, we bear His name (as I mentioned in my post of yesterday). And because we bear His name, we can expect to be hassled. Jesus Himself said as much. In John 15:18-19, Jesus said, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you."  The apostle Paul echoed this same truth when he wrote in 1 Timothy 3:12, "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."

So if you bear Jesus' name, you can expect to be hassled. And if you are never hassled, perhaps you aren't living your faith as you should be. Now there's a thought to chew on.

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Safely Crossing the "Great Divide"


Many people know Mark Twain as the author of the American literary classics, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.And many also know Mark Twain as the author of many witty quotes that people like to throw around in their speeches and writings. Consider the following "Mark Twainisms":

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”


"Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow."

"It's not the the parts of the Bible I don't understand that bother me, it's the parts I do understand."  


I could have gone on and on with many more witty quotes from the pen of Mark Twain, or should I better say, the pen of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. That's right, "Mark Twain" was merely the pen name of Samuel Clemens. Clemens chose this particular pen name for himself because of his love of the Mississippi River (his boyhood dream was to become a steamboat pilot). The boatsman on a steamer would measure the river's depth. A depth of 12 feet or two fathoms was considered a safe depth. So when the boatsman measured a depth of 2 fathoms he would shout, "Mark Twain!" Clemens took this expression and used it as his pen name.

We as Christ followers carry a name that is also not our own. It is the name, "Christian." And just as Clemen's pen name "Mark Twain" would indicate to the riverboat's crew that safe passage was ahead --- so the name "Christian" should convey a sense of safety to those of us who are known by that name. For when the time comes for us to cross the river that divides this life from the next - as Christians, we know that we will cross safely to the other side! All, of course, by God's grace!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

If It 'Aint Fun, Forget It!


As I was driving back to the office yesterday, I passed a car that had an advertisement for the Lancaster Sunday News displayed on its roof. Above the title of the newspaper were the words, "Relevant. Informative. Fun to Read." These words, of course, were meant to describe the Sunday paper. "Relevant" - yep, I want any newspaper to be relevant. I sure don't want to be reading about what's happening on Mars. "Informative" - again, right on the mark for any paper worthy of my time. I want it to tell me exactly all about the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of everything going on in my world! "Fun to Read" - well, I sure don't want it to bore me to death as it informs me of all that is relevant around me!

Now what got me thinking was that last descriptive phrase, "Fun to Read." Whether or not you think the Sunday News is "fun to read", I think it is a real statement about our culture that a newspaper includes that quality as one of its main attractions. We are all about having fun. If you doubt me, listen to what people (especially the younger generations) often say to each other when parting (if you listen attentively you will often here, "Have fun!"). NOW please do NOT misunderstand me. I LOVE to have fun! However, life is not always fun. In fact, sometimes it is hard. Downright tough! And when hardness comes (and it will) what should be our response? The Apostle Paul gives us the answer in 2 Timothy 2:3: "Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus." As followers of Christ we are called upon to endure hardness ... not try to skirt around it or escape it by having "fun!"

So all this to say ... yes, make sure you have fun. Life is indeed too hard not to laugh. But beware of living by the credo that "If it 'aint fun, forget it!"

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Growing Up!


I never knew being a grandfather would be so very, very cool! I love it! I thank God for the two grandkids He has brought into our lives. Recently I have been enjoying watching our grandbaby Ella growing up. Just this past week she picked up the concept of waving "bye-bye" and giving a kiss. In addition, she now motors around the house on all fours - something she was not doing even just a week ago. Hmm. What will next week bring, Ella behind the wheel of a car?

As much as we are enjoying watching Ella develop into toddler hood, we are not surprised at what we are seeing (and hearing). We expect it. This is what babies do. They grow up! They mature! And what is true for babies in the physical realm ... should also be true of babies in the spiritual realm. Notice I said SHOULD. When we make a faith commitment to Christ we are "born again" (this is the terminology Jesus used in John 3). We are spiritual infants. But we are NOT to remain infants. God expects us to grow. Yet far too many Christians remain mired in spiritual babyhood! A major reason for this, I believe, is the average Christian's level of biblical literacy. Too many Christians are biblically illiterate. And if one does not KNOW the Bible, he or she cannot OBEY the Bible. And why is that important? Allow me to answer this question with a question. What is the bottom line of the "making disciples" mandate of the Great Commission?  Let me show you . . .

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20a).

So .... how are YOU doing? Are you GROWING in your faith walk with Jesus Christ? If not - it just may be because you aren't getting enough of the meat of the Word!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Friday, January 8, 2010

Let's Take Responsibility!


The other night, Mariah Carey (most known for her singing talent) accepted an award for her acting. The International Film Festival Awards gave her the award for Breakthrough Actress for her performance in the film, "Precious." According to news reports, Carey gave a loony, rambling, speech slurred acceptance speech that went on far too long. After being hammered on the Internet for her actions, Carey when asked about her speech told reporter that her loopy speech was the fault of the presenter, director Lee Daniels. This is what she said, "The thing is me and Lee hadn't seen each other in a long time, and then he was presenting my award, so he starts off immediately with inside jokes."  OK ... so he started off with some insider jokes ... that explains her actions?  Oh...she then admitted to enjoying some "splashes of champagne" before hand. Hmmm...quite a few splashes if you ask me.

But before we are too harsh on Carey ... let's admit it. All of us from time to time don't want to take responsibility for our words or our actions. When we find ourselves in trouble - we look for someone else to blame. This has been a tendency for us humans ever since our first parents did this in the Garden of Eden when confronted by God about their sin (see Genesis 3). Friends, as long as we fail to take responsibility for our sin, our failures, our mistakes - we will NEVER move beyond them to a better place. So let's agree --- if the shoe fits - let's wear it!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Redemption and Forgiveness in Christ and Christ Alone!

Jesus Christ was quite clear that if people want to connect with the God who made them, the only option to do so is through Himself, specifically through his work on the cross. All of us have earned the wage of death (see Romans 6:23a and Romans 3:23). When Jesus died, He paid the wage for sin. But since He had no sin (He was perfect, never once rebelling against His Father) we must ask - for whose wage was He paying? The answer? Anyone who would ever place their faith in Him to save them from God's penalty for sin. That is the message of the gospel. And it is a good news message. In fact, only Christianity offers this hope of redemption and forgiveness for sin. Please take a few minutes to watch the intriguing video below concerning comments made recently by Brit Hume, a senior political analyst for Fox News as he spoke about Tiger Wood's need for redemption and forgiveness.



Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Tall Celebration!


Yesterday, the world's tallest building was officially opened. It is the Burj Khalifa building located in the Persian Gulf United Arab Emirate of Dubai. The new skyscraper reaches to a height of 2,717 feet, which makes it more than 1,000 feet taller than the world's previous tallest building located in Taiwan (the tallest skyscaper in the U.S. is Chicago's Willis Tower which stands at 1,451 feet). So as you can see, this new Dubai tower is indeed a SKYscraper!

As I read the newspaper account of the tower's grand opening, I was struck by the following lines: "Its (the tower's) backers wanted the skyscraper to be a monument to the boundless, can-do spirit of Dubai."  Those words struck me because they sounded eerily familiar. So I opened my Bible to Genesis 11:4 and read the following about the inhabitants of the world following the flood of Noah's day: "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves."  Hmm ... the date on the calendar might have changed - but it seems that the heart of man has not. Humanity continues to seek to live life independent of God .... seeking to rule versus submitting to His rule. Seeking self glory vs. God's glory.

Even those of us who follow Jesus must battle this tendency of our sinful nature. We are NOT independent and self sufficient beings. We are totally dependent upon our God. The Apostle Paul stated this clearly when he told the Athenians on Mars Hill, "He (the God who made everything) himself gives all men life and breath and everything else . . . For in him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:25, 28).

During these recent days of heart ache, God has reminded me once again of my great need for Him. May it be a long lasting lesson for me!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Monday, January 4, 2010

When Sadness Threatens to Overwhelm Our Joy


The past five days have been days of deep sadness for our family. Sadness is something all of us are acquainted with as sadness is a part of this broken world in which we live. But as followers of Christ, we do have a "life-line" to cling to in the midst of our difficulties. God is our rock, our refuge, our hope. Yes, we can have hope even in the darkest of days. Yes, there is coming a day when God will wipe every tear from our eyes. Then "there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:4). But until that time comes, there will be days when sadness will threaten to overwhelm our joy. When that happens, we must cling to God. He alone knows exactly what we are going through, the pain we are enduring. And He will give us strength, comfort, hope and a peace that only He can give!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Blessed New Year . . .


For all of you who stop by my blog throughout the year, I pray that you will experience the reality of the Apostle Paul's expressed desire for the church in Rome:

"Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13)

Thanks for stopping by . . .

pj

Are You Preparing for Eternity?

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

Thoughts on how biblical truth impacts all of life.