It's Moving Day!

Today my son and his family are moving ... again! Back at the end of June, they moved into a rental townhouse to wait for their new house to be constructed. Today is the day they settle on their new home and begin the move. So I will be helping, of course - but will definitely be limiting myself to the smaller stuff!

Now moving is something I am very familiar with. Across the years, my wife and I have lived in 8 different apartments/houses. In addition, when I pastored in the Pittsburgh area, it seemed like someone in our church family was moving every month. At times I felt like I was running a moving company rather than shepherding a flock!

I don't know about you, but as for me I DESPISE moving (especially when it's me and my house that's being moved!). I can think of few other things I like less than packing up my house and moving (perhaps going to the dentist would qualify!). As I think back on my moves, I could not wait to be settled in our new home (with the hope that it would be a long time before moving again!).

For those of us who have chosen to repent of our sin and rebellion against our God and seek forgiveness through Christ and his sacrifice on the cross for us - we have a home waiting for us. Yes, it will involve a move. But the move won't be like the moves we endure here on earth. For starters, we will not be taking anything with us! All the "stuff" we accumulate here on earth will remain behind. Also keep in mind that this move will be PERMANENT! Once at home in heaven - we will be there forever and ever! This concept (of eternity) is hard for me to wrap my mind around. But that's OK ... I am looking forward to it!

I hope you have a home waiting for you in heaven (Jesus refers to heaven as "My Father's house" - see John 14:1-6). If you want to reserve a place, I suggest you go to the following link which explains the biblical teaching concerning how one receives eternal life:

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A Super Hero Role Model

"Hey Pizza Man!" The words caught me by surprise. I had not been called "Pizza Man" since June (when I played the role of Pizza Man in our Vacation Bible School). I turned around and there was a curly haired, smiling 5 year old girl who remembered my crazy ways as the Italian cuisine super hero. I must admit it warmed my heart.

As I reflected on this interaction with my five year old admirer, it reminded me of the important role we as adults must fulfill-- that of being an example to those of the younger generations. The Apostle Paul understood the value of being an example to others. Often he encouraged his "children" in the faith to imitate him as he imitated Christ (see 1 Corinthians 11:1 or Philippians 4:9). Children are always looking for role models to imitate. So ... let me ask you, what kind of role model are you? If children were to imitate your spiritual life ... would that be a good thing? If they were to mimic the way you talk or the way your treat others ... would they be better persons because of it? Always remember that there are little ones who are watching you. And most often sooner rather than later - your values, your mannerisms, your vocabulary, your standards will become theirs. I hope when that happens, Jesus will be pleased (because Jesus loves the little children! - see Mark 10:13-16).

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Stuffy, Boring Theology

I must admit there was a time in my life whenever I heard the words "doctrine" or "theology" I would break out in a case of spiritual hives. I mean the last thing I wanted to do was spend time reading some stuffy, boring theology textbook! But then I learned that my "theology allergy" was actually to my detriment. That in fact, the study of theology (theology simply means "the study of God") was extremely vital to the health and welfare of my soul. And I am not the only one who went through this learning curve.

In his new book, Dug Down Deep: Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters, Joshua Harris describes his journey in regards to the study of doctrine and theology:

"The irony of my story- and I suppose it often works this way - is that the very things I needed, even longed for in my relationship with God, were wrapped up in the very things I was so sure could do me no good. I didn't understand that such seemingly worn-out words like 'theology,' 'doctrine,' and 'orthodoxy' were the pathway to the mysterious, awe-filled experience of truly knowing the living Jesus Christ."

All of us ... if we truly desire to understand and know God (see Jeremiah 9:23-24 and John 17:3) ... need to go deeper into theology! Deeper into our study of the Living God. Starting on Sunday morning, January 2, 2011 - I will be leading our church family at Grace into GOING DEEPER into the fertile soil of rich biblical theology. Stay tuned for more details to come!

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Back in the Saddle!

Now that my vacation is quickly fading in the rear view mirror of life ... I am back in the office. Here are a couple of the thoughts bouncing off the walls of my mind as I start my work week.

1. Our plans don't always work out. My wife and I had planned to spend about four days in New Jersey last week. However, she came down with a fever last Tuesday evening and was sick the rest of the week (turns out she has pneumonia). She is now on antibiotics and finally "on the mend." We were disappointed - but this is how life works at times. We plan ... but "stuff" happens. It's good to know even in these times that God is still in control.

2. I ran across an interesting question and answer that Randy Alcorn, author of the book Heaven, posted on his website. Here's the question: "How would you respond and minister to unsaved friends or family (or even strangers) who have lost a loved one and assume that their lost loved one is in heaven, even thought that person clearly did not have a relationship with Jesus Christ?" That's a great question. For his answer, check out the following link:

3. Due to my wife's illness last week ... I did get to enjoy some special bonding time with my 18 month old granddaughter. I watched her for parts of two different days since Grammy was down for the count. I came away reminded of just how important a role grandparents can and should have in the lives of their grand kids. So if you are a grandparent, let me encourage you to pray for your grandchildren and seek to be a godly example to them (see 2 Timothy 1:5 and 2 Timothy 3:15).

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On Vacation!!!

The dictionary defines "vacation" as a "a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel." Ahhh. Now that sounds like a plan to me!

This week I will be out of the office trying to catch up on sleep, rest and some real quality time with my wife (who is also my best friend). So ... I won't be posting again until next Tuesday (the 26th). Until then ... here is a question for you to ponder this week: If it is so vital that we as Christians have deep roots in the soil of biblical teachings, then why are we not purposeful about GOING DEEPER?

More on that next week. I hope you all have a great week as you seek to live out your lives in a manner worthy of the gospel! (see Philippians 1:27 and Colossians 1:10)

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Lost Your Appetite?

According to one web site I checked, every 3.6 seconds someone somewhere in the world dies of starvation, with 3/4 of these victims being children under the age of 5. That is sad! I could not imagine as a parent not having the food to feed my children and, as a result, watch them slowly starve to death. Reaching out to the world's poor and suffering is something God calls us to do ... so I hope you are involved in someway, giving toward this great world need (see Proverbs 14:31 and Proverbs 19:17).

But it is not my purpose this morning to talk about world starvation ... rather I want to highlight another form of starvation that is ravaging the Kingdom of God. Consider for a moment the following two quotes:

"Americans revere the Bible but, by and large, they don't read it." (Pollster George Gallup)

"We own more Bibles than we will ever use, but we are slowly starving to death because we have lost our appetite for Scripture." (Krish Kandiah, director of Churches in Mission for the Evangelical Alliance UK)

How about you? Revere the Bible but don't read it? Got more than one copy but have lost your appetite for it? This is a sad situation, my friend. You may not know this, but in parts of Asia there are groups of believers who meet in secret house churches (secret due to the very real threat of persecution). Often these believers will sit for as long as 12 hours, studying the Bible together! Yet we are hard pressed to find 5 minutes to open God's Word and read a couple of verses!

If you have lost your appetite for God's Word, I encourage you to pray and ask God to restore it! Then make it a priority to get into the Scripture! You cannot grow in your faith ... you will not become more like Jesus Christ apart from a deepening "relationship" with the Bible! (see John 17:17)

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The Beauty of Heaven!

Yesterday as I was touring the state Capitol in Harrisburg, I was struck by the beauty of the place. In fact, it is so beautiful that the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, ranked Pennsylvania's Capitol as the most beautiful of the fifty state capitols. Based on what I saw, I can most definitely believe it! The gold leaf that is everywhere must be worth millions of dollars! And that is only a part of the Capitol's beauty. It is indeed a striking structure.

At one point on our tour, Dr. Hibaile, my friend from the Central African Republic (one of the poorest nations on earth) commented, "Ahh . . . the New Jerusalem!" As I reflected on his words, it hit me that if I thought the place was beautiful - he, coming from his world of abject poverty, must have been quite overwhelmed by the opulence he was seeing! And so for him, all the ornate beauty spoke to him of the glory that awaits us in heaven!

I felt a gentle rebuke at that point. I must admit that I had no thoughts of heaven as he did. But I surely can see why he was thinking of heaven! Today as we journey through this life ... compared to what awaits us in heaven ... we are trudging through a world of abject poverty! We cannot begin to imagine what God has prepared for us in the world to come (1 Corinthians 2:9). So let's determine to think and think regularly of heaven, lest we become so earthly minded that we are no heavenly good!

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The Biggest Gainer!

The Biggest Loser has been one of the most popular television shows in recent years. The program features a number of very heavy people who all have one goal - to lose more weight (measured by the % of weight loss vs. their starting body weight) than the other contestants and thus win the title "The Biggest Loser" (not to mention the boat load of cash awarded to the winner). I have seen a few of these programs ... and it is amazing how much weight some of these contestants lose via hard work and a healthy diet.

Donna Simpson of New Jersey has no desire to appear on this show. In fact, her desire is to gain weight. Her goal? 1000 lbs! That's right -- a half ton! Currently Simpson weighs in at a "paltry" 600 lbs and is determined within 2 years of achieving her goal. Why? She simply wants to hold the record of the fattest woman in the world. To get there, she has to eat 12,000 calories a day and consume over $800 of groceries each week (that's over $40,000 per year just for food!).

I don't know about you, but when I think of this woman I feel both anger and pity. Anger that she would abuse her body in such a way and pity that she has such a zany whacky goal to begin with! Yet ... before pointing my finger at her --- I need to look in my own mirror. I am sure I have some zany and whacky goals that are out of sinc with God's goals. So all this to remind me (and if you are reading this ... you, too) that we all need to evaluate ourselves on a regular basis in the mirror of God's Word! (see James 1:22-25).

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Good News!

Yesterday was a day of bad news. The day began when I discovered a colleague and friend of mine died while out biking. Todd was only 48 years old. Then later in the day I learned that another friend died over the weekend. Both reports were unexpected and unwelcome.

So I found myself needing to hear some GOOD NEWS. It was in this state of mind this morning that I picked up John Piper's book, Finally Alive. Under the heading, "The Greatest News in the World," I read the following words:

"Christ, The Son of God, died in our place - became our substitute - to pay the price for all our sins, and to accomplish perfect righteousness, and to endure and remove all of God's wrath, and rise from the dead triumphant over death for our eternal life and joy in his presence - and all of this offered freely through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. That's the good news. To this day, two thousand years later, it remains the greatest news in the world."

I agree with Piper. There is NO greater news than the gospel! Let's believe it ... live it ... and proclaim it today!

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Some Brief Monday Morning Thoughts

As your new work week starts ... here are just a couple of brief thoughts for your consideration:

1. Life is fragile - handle with care. I was stunned this morning to receive an email from the President's office at Grace College and Seminary, informing me that a fellow board member, pastor and a valued friend was killed as a result of a bicycle accident yesterday in Ohio near his home. Todd Scoles leaves behind a wife and three children (I believe high school through college age). He also leaves behind a life lived to the glory of God. I must be honest with you. I look at Todd and his life and ministry and want to ask God "Why? He could have done so much more for your kingdom!" That question I will have to leave with God. All this to say ... Life is fragile. It could end for any of us at any time. So let's live our lives to the full - for HIM!

2. Friendships are precious -make them a priority. I have thoroughly enjoyed renewing fellowship with Dr. Augustin Hibaile of the Central African Republic. He is a precious brother and a good friend. His passion for God runs deep and his love for his people is strong. I trust rubbing shoulders with him will make me a better man!

3. Life's problems are many - take them to God! Recently I have been somewhat overwhelmed with the problems so many people I know and love are facing in their lives, ranging from serious health issues, financial problems, relational difficulties ... etc., etc., etc.! But it is quite the comfort to know that for those who have chosen to follow Jesus - we never have to face these problems alone! He has promised to help us carry the load! (Matthew 11:28-30)

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Coming to Grace This Sunday! (Oct. 10th)

This coming Sunday, October 10th, we will be welcoming a very special guest to our worship services. Dr. Augustine Hibaile will be sharing about the dynamic ministry God has given to him in the Central African Republic (and surrounding countries as well). Several years ago, God led him to leave his teaching ministry (at a leading Bible Institute in the C. A. R.) and launch the Center International for the Development of Ethical Leadership. The Center is located in the capital city of Bangui.

The C.A.R. is among the most impoverished countries in the world. According to statistics provided by the United Nations, 86% of the people live in poverty, 62% live on just $1.25 per day and 82% are deprived of electricity. Having spent two weeks last September in Bangui, I have no doubt that these stats are correct (and I was in the capital ... certainly far from the most impoverished parts of the country). Dr. Hibaile has a passion to alleviate his people's suffering ... brought on by both their material poverty and their spiritual poverty. This is why he launched CIDEL. He realized that unless the corruption that exists among leaders in his and other impoverished countries was addressed, no long lasting solutions to dire situation could ever be achieved.

Each Monday for about an hour or so, Dr. Hibaile meets with the Prime Minister of the C.A.R. They discuss the problems facing the country. They spend time in Scripture. They pray. The PM desires to fulfill his responsibilities in a God-honoring manner. Dr. Hibaile is helping him achieve that goal.

If you attend Grace (and even if you don't), I urge you to be sure to be hear on Sunday (at either 9:00 or 10:30). This man's story is an incredible one! One that will stretch your faith and challenge your heart! I hope to see you here!

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Take Up Your Cross!

Jesus makes it clear in Luke 9:23, that if we want to follow him we must "pick up our cross DAILY." What does it mean to "pick up our cross?" Often I have heard it said that it means to carry the burdens we have been given to bear. So my occasional neck pain (caused by degenerative disc disease) is a cross I must bear. For others it might be a controlling mother-in-law, an obnoxious boss or a 1991 Chevy. However, if this were the case ... all of humanity would have crosses to bear ... not just those who choose to follow Christ. So just what is Jesus referring to here? Donald Whitney in his book, Simply Your Spiritual Life, gives one of the best answers I have ever read concerning this question. Here's is take:

"As Jesus was willing to go to the cross to do the will of the Father (Philippians 2:8), so we must be willing to follow Jesus to the cross, daily dying to any desires that conflict with His so that we may daily live for Him. While we may truly speak of glory inaugurated by the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, identifying with following Him in this world involves suffering. Indeed, there will be no end to cross-bearing this side of Heaven.

The theology of the cross simplifies the spiritual life by standing as its primary reference point. Everything in Christian spirituality relates to it. Through the cross we begin our spirituality and by the power and example of the cross we live it. Ask God to show Himself afresh to you through the Bible's teaching of the cross and where this theology needs fresh application in your life."

Are you DAILY taking up your cross as you seek to follow Jesus?

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P.S. - To read the full article by Donald Whitney - check it out at

A Vending Machine God

You can get a lot of different things out of vending machines these days. Most often when we think vending machines we think of beverages (sodas, water, hot coffee, etc.) and snack items (candy, gum, lifesavers, peanuts, pretzels, etc.). But vending machines offer a lot more! In Italy, for anywhere between $5 and $8 you can get fresh pizza. At airports in Abu Dhabi, Frankfurt, Bergamo and Moscow you will find "Gold to Go" machines where you can buy a few gold bars! Across the U.S., if you looking for, say leeches at 2 AM for your early morning fishing trip - no problem. Just look for a Live Bait vending machine which you can find in a number of fishing-friendly states. All this to say ... if you are need of something - there is a good chance you can find it in a vending machine somewhere.

Now there's nothing wrong about this retail approach to selling goods that the public wants to buy. I for one have been glad to find a coffee vending machine when I was nowhere near a Starbucks or a McDonalds. But we must be careful that we do not allow our fondness of vending machines impact our view of God. I say this, because far too many do. As they think of God they see him as the "Ultimate Vending Machine." God is there to grant my every request. All I have to do is make a deposit (i.e. - a prayer) and voila ... there's my answer! In his book, The Papa Prayer, Larry Crabb warns against this false view of God:

"The most common image of God that we don't admit to but still hold is akin to Santa Claus or to a smiling buddy, with this difference: you don't have to relate to a vending machine. Just put in the coins and collect your treat. I wonder how much of our worship and declarations of love for God express the same sentiment felt by a satisfied consumer walking away from a vending machine, biting into his Snickers candy bar. We pray right. It works. The parking lot opened up. The lump disappeared. The new job came along. Let's pray more. Let's insert more coins. God is good." (The Papa Prayer, p. 107)

Is this how you view God? (be honest!). Is he merely the Ultimate Vending Machine upstairs? If so ... let me encourage you to get into the Bible and seek the answer to this question: "What is God really like?" You may want to start by reading Isaiah 40:1-31; Revelation 1:10-18; or any one of the four gospels (for to see Jesus is to see the Father - John 14:9).

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Final Exit

On December 7, 2007 Alcides Moreno was doing what he did every work day: washing windows on one of the many Manhattan towering skyscrapers (by the way - you could not pay me enough to do that job!!!). As he and his brother, Edgar Morenes worked on their scaffold that morning on an East 66th Street high rise, the unthinkable happened. The platform collapsed. Alcides and his brother plunged 47 stories to the ground below. Edgar was killed instantly. But somehow Alcides survived. During the first few weeks following his fall, Alcides received 24 units of blood and underwent 14 surgeries. Today, according to his wife, he still struggles quite a bit mentally. He can only manage simple tasks and forgets things easily. In her words "He's only 45% there."

Now that is one incredible story! How did this guy manage to survive a fall from 47 stories up? I don't know. Really, only God knows. He is the one who holds the keys of death in his hands (Revelation 1:18). So bottom line, it is God who determines when each one of us will exit this life and enter the next. And that will occur according to HIS perfect plan! We all can take comfort in that!

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The Social Networking Phenomena

Social networking in cyberspace was almost unheard of just a decade ago. Now it consumes the life of many. The following incident that occurred in Australia illustrates just how much social networking has become part of our lives ... especially for the younger generations:

"When two Australian girls, ages 10 and 12, got stuck in a storm drain, they were lucky to have a cell phone and reception. And they quickly put that technology to work. No, they didn't call 911- they updated their Facebook statuses to "Lost under the streets." The girls were eventually rescued, but only after friends called for help." (Readers Digest, September 2010 issue)

This obsession? dependence? involving social networking causes me to ask some rather important questions. Have we gone too far with such social networking venues as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.? Does involvement in these hurt or help our relationships with others? What appropriate roles should these play in our lives - if any?

This coming Wednesday (October 6 at 6:45) we are launching our Wednesday Night Live ministries at Grace. In addition to ministries for children (Awana - this will be our first year for this exciting children's ministry - and Boys Brigade), we are be conducting a brand new ministry that we are calling Pieces. This ministry, involving teens and adults, will look at a variety of cultural and societal issues through the lens of Scripture. The first issue to be addressed? Social networking. So if you have questions like I have about social networking - I encourage you to join us. For more information on this (and other ministries of Grace Church at Willow Valley), please check out our web site at

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Got Faith?

Martin Luther, the man who unintentionally launched the Protestant Reformation in 1517 when he nailed his 95 theses to a door at the University of Wittenburg, Germany had the following to say about faith:

"Faith is a living and unshakable confidence; a belief in God so assured that a man would die a thousand deaths for its sake." - Martin Luther

Does that describe your faith in God?

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Some Friday Morning Humor with a Point

I ran across this brief commercial and it made me laugh. I thought it would make you laugh, too! Enjoy!

Wow! That mouse sure was strong - and it all had to do with eating the right cheese! We as Christ-followers need to be strong to fight the battle in which we are engaged. Only a steady diet of God's Word will make us strong enough to do so. How's your intake of the Word???

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Friday Coffee with PJ

Friday morning means COFFEE! (frankly, every morning means coffee for me)! So why not pour yourself a cup of your favorite brew and join m...