A New Year's Coming!

The new year of 2013 is fast approaching! Wow! I can still remember writing 1986 on my checks! Another year down ... and humanity is no closer to utopia. In fact, one could easily argue we are moving in the opposite direction. Of course, for anyone who knows the Bible, this is not surprising. For evil will continue until that time when God says, "Enough is enough!" Just read the book of Revelation (especially the last four chapters and you will see how everything ends).

The ending of one year and the beginning of a new one is always a good time to spend some time reflecting on where you are and where you are headed in your life. To help you do so, allow me to suggest you check out Don Whitney's excellent resource, Ten Questions to ask at the start of a new year or your birthday (look under "Bulletin Inserts: Ten Questions Series). His list will help guide you through this process. I would encourage you to set aside some time to do this. You will be better for it!

Thanks for stopping by . . . and may God shower HIS grace upon you in 2013 as you strive to live for HIS glory!


Saying "Good-bye" to a Friend

Today I will join with a number of others in saying "good-bye" to a friend. This particular friend passed away just before Christmas. Her memorial service takes place this afternoon. It will be time of remembrance and celebration of a life well-lived. And this friend would be the first to admit (if she were still among us) that she lived her life well due to the grace God gave her in Christ!

And so ... as we gather to say "good-bye," (for those of us who have also chosen to follow Jesus) we would say it better with the words, "see you later!" For all who follow Jesus and embrace him as savior and Lord will one day be united to live forever together in the Father's House (see John 14:1-6; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Thanks, Mary, for living such a life to the glory of God. May we who follow do as well!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Crisis in the Central African Republic

It was September of 2007. That's the month when I first met Dr. Augustin Hibaile. Born in the Central African Republic, he is a leader among his people. In fact, his leadership expands well beyond the borders of his desperately impoverished country.

I write these words with a heavy heart. My brother and his family (as well as the rest of his people) are facing a growing crisis. Rebel groups are advancing on the capital. The government appears unable to stop them. At this point, it is hard to say who will win this battle. Regardless of the outcome, the lives and properties of Augustin and his family are very much at risk. They have no place to run .... no where to flee for safety. Please take a moment and read the following email I just received (early morning hours of today, Friday, December 28th). And then, get on your knees and pray for him, his family, the church in the midst of this violence that is unfolding.

Greetings in a difficult situation,

The USA Embassy in Bangui was closed and the Ambassador and staff were evacuated according to RFI broadcasting this morning. France said that their military is here in Bangui only for the French people and the interests of France in CAR. That means there is no concern about us. In such circumstance we are wondering what to do, where to go? With a big family, I don't really know what to do. We are staying at home in the main entrance to Bangui lifting our eyes to God and waiting the salvation that comes from him.

We are encouraged by your motivation in prayer on our behalf. We need such support and God's intervention in a way above our understanding. We will keep in touch with you when it is possible.

With love in Christ
Augustin and Marie Helene Hibaile

Thanks for praying for my dear friend! 

And thanks for stopping by . . .

The Word Became Flesh!

J.I. Packer writes the following insightful and compelling words about the incarnation of God the Son . . .

"The true Christian claim here is that incarnation made direct entry into human frustration and pain possible for the Son of God, who then out of love actually entered in person into the agony of crucifixion and the greater agony of God-forsakenness (Mark 15:34) in order to bear our sins and so redeem us. Never let this claim be played down" 
(From the J.I. Packer Classic Collection). 

Wow! And to think Jesus did this "while we were yet sinners" (Romans 5:8). Thanks be to God for this ... HIS indescribable gift!


Thanks for stopping by . . .

Thursday A La Carte

Here are this week's offerings ... MERRY CHRISTMAS! 

1. Christmas is the season to be jolly ... right? Yet this is not always the case. Here's an interesting read for this holiday season.

2. Take a few minutes and enjoy this Christmas flash mob video!

3. Here is an NBC video about the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings. If you go to 6:40 mark, you will hear the remarks of two evangelical pastors. Praise God the gospel is going forth!

4. Al Mohler weighs in on the need to embrace the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ.

5. What should be behind our gift-giving?  Here's a good read! 

Thanks for stopping by ... and again, MERRY CHRISTMAS!

A Great Debt! Who Can Pay?

Harry Ironside (1876-1951) was an American Bible teacher and author of over 60 books. Ironside was known as a great story teller and used illustrations liberally throughout his sermons. One of these that I ran across a number of years ago has stuck with me. It concerns a young soldier in the Russian army. Because this young man's father was a personal friend of the Russian Czar, Nicholas I, the soldier was given the responsible position of pay master of one of the barracks. Unfortunately, the young man developed a gambling habit. As a result, he ended up gambling away much of the government's money (in addition to his own). One day, the pay master received notice that a representative of the Czar was planning a visit to check the books. In a state of panic, the soldier totaled up the funds owed. Then he went to the safe and pulled out the available money (along with his own money). As he compared the two, he was overwhelmed by the astronomical debt versus the meager amount on hand. He was ruined. Unable to face his future disgrace, he pulled out his revolver and laid it on the table. He then took out a sheet of paper and detailed his misdeeds. At the bottom of the ledger where he had totaled up his debt, he wrote the words, "A great debt! Who can pay?" He then put down his pen and looked at the clock. The hour was approaching midnight. He decided at the stroke of the hour, he would end his life.

As the minutes ticked away, the pay master grew drowsy and fell asleep. That night, as was often his custom, Czar Nicholas was making the rounds of this particular barracks. Seeing the light on, the czar entered the pay master's office. Immediately he recognized the young man as the son of his friend. Looking over the pay master's shoulder, he saw the ledger, and after reading it, was about to the awaken the man and place him under arrest. But then he saw the words, "A great debt! Who can pay?" At that moment, a wave of compassion came upon him. He picked up the man's pen and wrote one word ... and then quietly slipped out.

Some time later the soldier woke up. Realizing it was well past the midnight hour, he picked up his revolver. As he did, his eyes spotted the words he had written, "A great debt! Who can pay?" AND the one word the Czar had written, "Nicholas!" The young man was dumbfounded! How could this be? Was this a cruel joke of one of his comrades. He quickly went to the safe and pulled out a document that contained the czar's signature. He compared the two. It was a perfect match! He did not know how .. but he knew the czar had been there and that the czar knew it all. Yet, the czar was willing to forgive him the debt! Why, he could not explain. But he rested in the czar's promise. Sure enough, shortly after dawn, a messenger came from the czar carrying the necessary funds to pay the debt.

In the same way, God does for us what only the czar could do for the young pay master. The debt of our sin is of such magnitude that all of our meager efforts to pile up enough righteous deeds to pay the debt will fall woefully short! At this point, Jesus Christ steps forward and pays the debt that we owe God. A debt that only HE could ever pay! Oh ... a great debt! Who can pay?  Jesus Christ ... God's Son and our Savior!

This my friend is something to truly celebrate this Christmas season!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

What a God! What a Savior!

Christmas is only one week away! I am glad my Christmas shopping and wrapping is done (I got away with wrapping only one gift this year. That's good because if you see my wrapping job, you would think a first-grader did it!). Now I can focus on getting my heart ready to lead our church family in the celebration of Jesus Christ during our upcoming Christmas services!

To help you get focused, here is an excerpt from Max Lucado's book, In the Grip of Grace. Enjoy!

"Ponder the achievement of God. He doesn't condone our sin, nor does he compromise his standard. He doesn't ignore our rebellion, nor does he relax his demands. Rather than dismiss our sin, he assumes our sin and, incredibly, sentences himself. God's holiness is honored. our sin is punished . . . and we are redeemed. God does what we cannot do so we can be what we dare not dream: perfect before God!" 

Thanks, Max! Well said!

And thanks for stopping by . . .

Now That's Honesty!

Back in late November, an Austrian bus driver with the Vienna Transport Authority, checked a bag on his empty bus that a passenger had left behind. When he looked inside, he was stunned. There, in neatly stacked 500 Euro bills was the equivalent of a half million dollars! The driver handed the money over to police who tracked down the owner (an unidentified elderly woman) and returned the money. As of  yet, the driver has heard nothing from the woman ... no word of thanks, no "Hey here's a Euro for your trouble!" Nothing!

Now ... I would guess that if I had left that amount of money on a bus and had it returned to me through the honesty of a bus driver, I would think I would do something to show my deep appreciation (of course, it's quite hard for me to imagine having that much money to "lose" in the first place!). However, I have been given something far more valuable than a half a million dollars ... and that is the eternal life I enjoy in Christ. Yet how often do I fail to show my appreciation to the Giver of this gift? Far too often, I am afraid!

Join me in spending some time THANKING GOD for the gift of His Son! And if you have never embraced the Son (John 3:36; 1 John 5:12), you may want to read about Two Ways to Live: The Choice We All Face. 

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Thursday A La Carte

Back this week with this Thursday's a la carte offerings in hopes you might find something that will spur you on in your faith journey!

1. Here's an interesting read on why God loves us! 

2. You've heard about the fiscal cliff. The Gospel Coalition gives insight into this issue and the implications for you and non-profits.  And here is a video that visualizes the size of the U.S. debt.

3. John Piper reads his poem, The Innkeeper. 

4. What Do You Long For? Here is a very brief, but very powerful post!

5. Whenever you see the word "Christmas" spelled as "Xmas" - do you really know what that is all about? R.C. Sproul offers insight in his post, What Does the X in Xmas Mean? 

6. On a lighter note . . .  (which if you are a Tolkien fan, you will really enjoy!)

Thanks for stopping by . . .


Today's date is a milestone of sorts. A date in which the month, day, and year align (as in 9-9-09, 10-10-10 and 11-11-11, and of course, today's date of 12-12-12) will not occur again until January 1, 3001 (1-1-1). Because of today's unusual date, many people are undertaking certain special activities. One of the biggest is that of getting married. Las Vegas wedding chapels have been offering special wedding packages for this date at three times the normal rate. And in Los Angeles, the county clerk of courts has expanded hours to accommodate all those applying for marriage licences. Hmm ... as if getting married on a date in which the numbers all agree will help the marriage be an agreeable one to both parties! 

So if the "luck" for a solid marriage is not in the numbers, where does it lay? For starters ... there is nothing "lucky" about a good marriage. It takes a lot of good old fashioned hard work! Husbands must work at cherishing their wives (Ephesians 5:25, 33). Wives need to focus on submitting to* and respecting their husbands (Ephesians 5:23, 33). If you are struggling in your marriage ... I would suggest you start asking yourselves these questions: For husbands - Am I truly cherishing my wife above all else? Does she feel my love and adoration for her? Is my leadership of our home marked by service? For wives - Do I respect my husband? Am I ever guilty of cutting him down either in private or in public? What can he point to that manifests my esteem for him?  If you want some solid instruction and help in doing so, you might want to check out the two books by Tony Evans (For Married Men Only: Three Principles for Loving Your Wife and For Married Women Only: Three Principles for Honoring your Husband). 

These are not easy questions (if we seek to answer them honestly ... which we must if we want to make progress toward a better marriage). But they are questions that we must ask of ourselves on a regular basis. I hope you take some time to do so. Your marriage will be better for it! 

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

* I realize that this word "submit" might be considered "out of date" in today's world. None-the-less it is part of the biblical blueprint for a God-honoring, life-enriching marriage. To submit is simply to acknowledge the leadership role of another ... in the case of a marriage, it is the wife recognizing her husband's God-given role as head of  the home. But men, NOWHERE in Scripture are we commanded to MAKE our wives submit. Our responsibility before God is to LOVE THEM AS CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH AND GAVE HIMSELF UP FOR HER. My guess ... if more of us loved our wives with that kind of unconditional, sacrificial love, submission would not even be an issue! 

Back in the Office with a Yuletide Thought!

Got back to the office early this morning after a delightful week off in which I got to spend a lot of time with my wife and other family members (think grandkids!). Even though I am still working on the dozens of emails and other work that piled up in my absence, I must say it is good to get back at what I believe God has called me to do.

One of the books I read last week was a special edition of Charles Dickens', A Christmas Carol, which contained interesting Christian insights into this Christmas classic. In the story's beginning, Dickens refers to Ebeneezer Scrooge as a "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scarping, clutching, covetous old sinner." Certainly a "spot on" description of Scrooge. However, by the story's end, Scrooge has experienced a remarkable transformation. As he concludes the book, Dickens writes of Ebeneezer, "He became as good a friend, as good a master, as good a man, as the good old city knew . . . Ever afterwards . . . it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge." 

Friend, this is what the Christmas holiday is really all about. God became one of us so that we could become one "like" him! To be transformed from sinner to saint - that's the glory of Christmas!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Taking Some R & R

I will be out of the office this week, enjoying some "down time."  Please be sure to check out this week's Essential Jesus minute devotionals (prepared ahead of time!).

Have a blessed week as you walk with the King!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

PS - Boy how I would LOVE to be in the place where this pic was taken! Perhaps another time!  :)

Jesus Removed from Christmas?

A number of years ago, I heard a story that went something like this. A married couple decided to go out for dinner. So they climbed into their (or better said, "his") pick up and pulled out of the driveway, he behind the wheel, she by the passenger door. After several minutes of silence, hubby looked over at his very quiet wife (which was unusual for her) and said, "OK. What's wrong?"  His wife, with tears streaming down her face launched into this gloom and doom story of how their marriage was going south ... that the closeness that was once there was gone. She then pointed out that when they were first married they would snuggle up close together as they traveled together in the pickup. When she was done, her husband looked at the steering wheel, then looked at her and said, "Well, it wasn't me who moved!"

During this advent season ... I always hear people bemoaning that Christ has been removed from Christmas. That might be so. But keep in mind that it is not Christ who has removed himself from Christmas. It is we who have done so. Therefore, let's each one of us do all we can to make sure our focus is on Jesus Christ this coming holiday season. If you are serious about doing so, I encourage you to get involved in our Essential Jesus Challenge. For more information, check our our Essential Jesus blog. 

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Thursday A La Carte

Here are this week's offerings . . . enjoy!

1. The Enemy loves to destroy marriages. Take a moment and read the following article on 10 Ways that Satan Loves to Watch Marriages Fall Apart.

2.  Here's a read that I found compelling, You Don't Have to Like What's Happening to You, As Long As You Rejoice! 

3. Here are five questions from Tim Keller ... questions to ask any text of the Bible that you are reading to help you to apply the text to your life.

4. Here's a great prayer from Scotty Smith on Loving others in light of the promised return of Christ.

5. On a lighter note . . . 

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Finding Joy on a Terrible Day

"I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there's gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day." This is the first sentence of a book I used to read to my kids (quite some time ago now!) and you have probably read to yours (and one I am sure to be reading soon to my grandkids!). The book is titled, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It was first published forty years ago and its sales are still going strong.Why? Because all of us can relate to Alexander’s plight. We all have those days when we wished we could crawl back into bed and restart the day. Yesterday was one of those days for me. Any day you have to call a tow truck to get your car back on the driveway would classify as one of those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days (check out my post from yesterday for the details).

Yet in the midst of my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, I was reminded of a very precious and powerful truth. No matter how much life seems to unravel around me, God is with me. He is ordering my steps. He is directing my path.  Nothing – absolutely NO-THING comes into my life that has not first passed through His hands (see Ephesians 1:11). Knowing this, I can rejoice even in the midst of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. My heavenly Father is allowing me to walk this hard path because He loves me and he wants to grow me in my faith. Therefore, I can “count it all joy” when I encounter various trials, knowing that my Abba is at work through these trials to do His work in me (James 1:2-4)! When I got a hold of that perspective yesterday – all of a sudden my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day didn’t seem so terrible, horrible, no good, very bad any more. 

Thank you, Father, for helping me to see life from your perspective. 

And thank YOU for stopping by . . . 

Snow, A Slide and Two Happy Grandsons (with a lesson thrown in)!

This morning, as our weekly staff meeting was wrapping up, I got a call from my wife. She had been backing out the driveway (ours is on an incline) when the car slid and the two tires on the driver's side both slid off the macadam. Since there is an embankment on that side of the driveway, when my wife tried to pull the car back up, the rear axle of the car got hung up on the driveway's edge. This prevented the car from moving.

Once I got home and evaluated the situation, I pulled out my AAA card and called the number for roadside assistance (hmm ... I was hoping "drivewayside" qualified!). The agent I talked with was quite helpful and passed my request onto the dispatcher. Within a few minutes the dispatcher called to inform me that a tow truck would arrive within the hour (well, due to slow traffic conditions caused by the weather, the hour turned into an hour and 45 minutes). But the tow truck finally arrived ... to my relief and the the outright joy and happiness of my 26 month old and 18 month old grandsons. In fact from the moment they heard that a tow truck was coming ... they were ecstatic. Sure enough ... once the tow truck arrived, they were glued to the window watching every move (hmm .... maybe for future birthday parties I should just hire a tow truck to come for a half an hour ... better than getting a clown, I would guess!).

Now that the car is safely back in it's place (with no apparent damage done), I can look back and chuckle. But I must confess that I was not chuckling initially. In fact, I was a bit upset with my wife (even though the slide was really more the result of the slush on the driveway than anything my wife did). And as I stewed on her role in what happened, the Lord brought to my mind an incident in which I ran our mini-van into a concrete post in a Pizza Hut parking lot. That incident cost me a lot more than a few hours of my time (as this one did). This was God's way of saying to me, "John, lighten up! Everyone makes mistakes and that mistake you made was a real lulu compared to this mistake of your wife!"  I had to pause right then and there to confess my sin and move on!

I don't know about you, but I am SO VERY GLAD that the Spirit of God nudges us (or, in my case, hammers us) when we need to put off wrong thinking and put on right thinking. And today, I needed an attitude check.

Thanks for stopping by . . .

A Prayer of Thanksgiving and Praise

I hope you will have a joy filled Thanksgiving Day. To help you offer up thanks to our generous God, here is a prayer from one of my favorite devotional books, The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. 

O My God,
You fairest, greatest, first of all objects,
My heart admires, adores, loves You,
For my little vessel is as full as it can be,
And I would pour out all that fullness before You in ceaseless flow.
When I think upon and converse with You
Ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up,
Ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed,
Ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart,
Crowding into every moment of happiness.
I bless You for the soul You have created,
For adorning it, for sanctifying it,
Though it is fixed in barren soil;
For the body You have given me,
For preserving its strength and vigor,
For providing senses to enjoy delights,
For the ease and freedom of limbs,
For hands, eyes, ears that do Your bidding;
For Your royal bounty providing my daily support,
For a full table and overflowing cup,
For appetite, taste, sweetness,
For social joys of relatives and friends,
For ability to serve others,
For a heart that feels sorrows and necessities,
For a mind to care for my fellow-men,
For opportunities of spreading happiness around,
For loved ones in the joys of heaven,
For my own expectation of seeing You clearly.
I love You above the powers of language to express,
For what You are to Your creatures.
Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity.


Thanks for stopping by . . . 

When Christmas Excludes Christ

Two months ago, my wife and I purchased a car. We were looking for a smaller car that would give us good gas mileage. So we went with a Nissan Versa sedan which has not disappointed. The car came with a three month free subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio. I have not used it enough to warrant keeping it once I have to pay for it. But my wife and I have enjoyed listening to, among other things, the channels dedicated to playing the hits from the '50's, 60's, and 70's. It has sparked a lot of conversations about our memories from yesteryear!

Recently I found a channel titled "Holiday Traditions." Feeling a bit in the holiday mood, I began to listen to it. Then yesterday it hit me. In the week that I have listened to it, I had not heard one (that's right ... not one!) song about Jesus Christ. The songs were mainly about Santa with a few songs about snow and shopping and general holiday cheer sprinkled in. How sad is that! The holiday on December 25th is CHRISTmas ... not SANTAmas. And this trend away from Jesus seems to increase with each passing  year.

So what does that mean for you and me? It means we have to work harder to keep our focus on Jesus Christ during the holiday season. Parents, be sure you teach your children that Christmas is first and foremost about JESUS ... and all the other cultural trappings are just extra. Believers, grab the opportunities that will surely come your way to talk about Jesus during the holidays. Why should we hold back when the holiday is named for HIM?

Let's all purpose to get intentional about focusing on Jesus this Christmas. And for those of you who call Grace Church at Willow Valley ... I would encourage you to get involved in our Essential Jesus Initiative. 

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Don't Count Twinkies Down for the Count Just Yet!

Yesterday it was announced that Hostess Brands (the maker of the long-time favorite Twinkies) will go into mediation with its second largest union. The mediation was agreed upon after a bankruptcy judge questioned the rationale behind the strike. Twinkie fans are hoping that the sit-down between the company and union will result in an agreement that will end the crippling strike and give new life to this "All American Favorite" (I mean, who hasn't delighted in the experience of eating a Twinkie!). Hmm. Makes me wonder if this was all a marketing ploy by the company to sell more Twinkies (which have been flying off shelves everywhere!).

Well ... whether or not Twinkies will get a second chance will make no difference to me (since I don't eat them .. at least with any regularity!). But I can say I am filled with gratitude that God gave me a second chance (which I in NO WAY deserved). The Bible has a word (and it is MY FAVORITE Bible word) for this ... it is the word "grace." In Ephesians 2:1-10, the apostle Paul talks about this grace and what it means for us who so desperately need a second chance. As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I encourage you to spend a few minutes reflecting on this passage and thanking God for HIS grace and the new life (and new destiny) that it provides you. No cost to you ... but at a great cost to Him! Thank God for HIS grace!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

PS - If you would like to receive this "second chance" from God, please check out Two Ways to Live: A Choice We All Face. 

Destination: The Father’s House

Every time I have to head out of town, my already full schedule gets even fuller. I have to get things done so all my bases are covered while I will be away. I need to pack for the trip. Things around the house often need done, and depending on the nature of the trip there are usually certain items that must be cared for to insure a "successful" trip. If the trip is to an overseas destination, especially one to which I have never gone, I will do research on what it is like there or, even better, talk to someone who lives there. I guess the boy scout comes out in me at these times .... I just want to BE PREPARED!

Speaking of trips, there is a certain trip in my future. The departure date is not on my calendar, nor have I begun to pack (in fact, I won't be able to pack for I will not be taking anything from this world with me!). I am referring to the trip ALL of us will one day take – from earth to eternity.  I often wonder what Heaven will be like.  I can’t talk to someone who has been there.  But I can hear from the One who lives there.  In my opinion one of the most fascinating descriptions of Heaven is found in the early verses of John 14.  There Jesus refers to Heaven as “My Father’s House.”  Given the fact that we are the children of God through our faith in Jesus Christ (John 1:12-131 John 3:1) Heaven, “the Father’s House,” is our true home.  That in and of itself is enough to say to me that Heaven is a wonderful place – a place that is better by far than any place on earth (Philippians 1:23).  Dorothy of Oz fame said it so well when she clicked her ruby slippers and repeated, “There’s no place like home; there’s no place like home!” (And keep in mind - she was talking about Kansas!).  What a glorious day it will be when we get to go HOME!  Let me ask you - are YOU ready for eternity?  Are you PREPARED? If you have any questions, please email me and we can "talk."  Or simply check out Two Ways to Live: the Choice We All Face.  

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Thursday A La Carte

After two weeks off ... it's more than time to get back to some a la carte offerings. Here are some things you might want to check out ...

1. So ... how do you respond when someone else receives a blessing from God? Here is a great short read on Why We Should Rejoice When God Blesses Others! 

2. Here is an interesting read on Five Questions Wives Should NOT Ask Their Husbands.  (I am glad that my wife never asks me these!)

3. Wow! Here are some good insights into what it means to be a "gospeled man!"  

4. We are called by God to forgive others when wronged. But ... as Lauren Whitman writes, Forgiveness is Hard. 

5. Here's an insightful article on what's ahead when Jesus returns!

6. And on a lighter note ... 

Thanks for stopping by . . .

And Your Name Is????

Do you ever struggle to remember names? I mean, someone gives you their name and 15 seconds later, you can't recall what it is? Now it is true that there have been certain individuals in history that have not struggled with this the way most of us do. Consider the following:

Napoleon - who knew thousands of his soldiers by name.
Charles Schwab - who knew the names of all 8,000 of his employees.
Charles W. Eliot - who, during his forty years as president of Harvard, earned the reputation of knowing the names of all the students each year.
Harry Lorayne - who would amaze audiences by being introduced to hundreds of people, one after another, then giving the mane of any person who stood and requested it.

Wow! Now that is amazing! People like that are few and far between. I mean ... sometimes I can't even keep the names of my own children straight!

But there is One who is far, far more amazing then these four listed above. Our God knows each and every human being who has ever lived BY NAME! And even more astounding (as far as sheer numbers are concerned), he has given a name to each and every star that litters the universe (Isaiah 40:26)!

I don't know about you ... but it is thrilling and comforting, encouraging and motivating to know that God knows MY name ... and will never, ever forget it (John 10:3)!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

A Prayer for Your Weekend

O God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,
I thank you that you are also my Father,
A Father who so loved the world that
YOU sent your one and only Son,
To this earth, to die and to die in my place.
I praise you that on the cross Jesus willingly faced your wrath
So that
I would not have to ever do so ... ever!

Thank you for loving me when I was,

Thank you for your AMAZING grace that saved me,
And that now keeps me securely in YOUR hand.

Father, help me this day (and everyday)
To live out my life's routine in a way that
Brings honor to you, advances your kingdom
And declares to anyone and everyone who
Happens to be watching
That I belong to YOU!

In the name of your Son, my Savior,

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Thank God ... Jesus Paid It All!

Typically my day off is Monday. But this week, due to some scheduling issues, I took yesterday (Thursday) off instead. One of my "to dos" to get done was to call about a needed update to my heating/cooling system in my house. Since this update is a rather costly one, once I had the rough price quote in hand, I began to work on my plan to finance this need.

With that on my mind, I happened to read through the classic hymn, Jesus Paid It All this morning (this in preparation for our upcoming Sunday evening communion service). And it struck me that unlike my planning to fund this house project (moving funds from this account to that account, figuring out whether a small short-term loan might be needed, etc.), the debt I owe God has been paid for IN FULL! I don't have to worry if I have done enough good ... or avoided enough bad so that heaven's balance sheet weighs in on my favor! Nope. No worries there. Because Jesus paid it all, I am guaranteed entrance into heaven. Nothing to do with me ... EVERYTHING to do with him! All I must do is receive his gift! Do yourself a favor and take a moment and read the lyrics of the last stanza of this wonderful, heart warming, faith strengthening, God honoring hymn. 

Jesus Paid it All 

And when before the throne I stand in him complete, 
'Jesus died my soul to save,' my lips shall still repeat. 

Jesus paid it ALL, ALL to him I owe, 
Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow!

Thanks for stopping by ... and if  you are part of our Grace family, I hope you join us for our communion service on Sunday (6 PM in our Family Life Center) . . . 


In the Aftermath of THE STORM . . .

Superstorm, Hurricane, Frankenstorm ... whatever label you choose to hang on the storm "Sandy" which roared into our area last week ... all would agree that it was quite the monster. Parts of the afflicted area will be digging out for weeks and months ... others will never be the same. Countless people have experienced loss in so many different ways. No doubt, it was a tragic weather event.

This morning in my devotional reading, I ran across something written by J.I. Packer that could not be any more appropriate in the aftermath of the storm. Please take a moment and read what he has to say.

"Of all the evils that infect God's world (moral and spiritual perversity, waste of good, and the physical disorders and disruptions of a spoiled cosmos), it can summarily be said: God permits evil; he punishes evil with evil; he brings good out of evil; he uses evil to test and discipline those he loves; and one day he will redeem his people from the power and presence of evil altogether. 

The doctrine of providence teaches Christians that they are never in the grip of blind forces (fortune, chance, luck, fate); all that happens to them is divinely planned, and each event comes as a new summons to trust, obey, and rejoice, knowing that all is for one's spiritual and eternal good (Romans 8:29)." 

Once again J.I. hits the proverbial nail squarely on the head!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Get Out and VOTE!

Just a brief word of encouragement: If you are registered to vote ... PLEASE exercise your freedom to vote tomorrow at the polls. This election is crucial to the future of our country. Religious freedoms are increasingly being infringed upon. If the people of faith do not take a stand, this erosion will continue.

In yesterday's Lancaster paper .... the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association ran a full page ad. Here is what the Rev. Graham had to say:

"I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me that America will remain one nation under God."

Thanks, Billy, for reminding us of the importance of our vote.

Thanks for stopping by . . .

To Indiana and Back

Well I made it ... to Indiana this past week. With Sandy throwing air travel into major disarray, I had some doubts, but my flight was one of just a handful of flights that did make it out of Harrisburg International Airport on Tuesday morning (flying west vs. east helped, I am quite sure!).

Once in Winona Lake, I had a great week of meetings as part of the Grace College and Seminary Board. We discussed a lot of tough issues facing the schools (which is true of EVERY educational institution trying to provide students with a quality and affordable education). We also made some difficult decisions. But I walked away from the meetings VERY encouraged about the future of Grace!

That reminds me a bit of life in general. We face tough issues. We make difficult decisions. But at the end of the day we can be optimistic about our future. How so? For those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus Christ, He holds our future in HIS hands. So no matter what the future eventually brings our way, we can rest assured that future first passed through the hands of the one who loved us enough to die for us! And you know ... that's enough for me to say, "It is well with my soul ... today, tomorrow, forever!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Hello Sandy!

Today Lancaster County, along with much of the East Coast is shut down. Even as I type these words, the sounds of rain tapping on my windows and the winds howling as they blow through my back yard remind me that Sandy is no average woman. In fact, she's no woman at all! Hurricane (or is it Frankenstorm?) Sandy is still churning about 150 miles off the coast of Atlantic City, NJ. It is projected to make landfall about 8 PM this evening .... and from there make a bee line for southern PA. Yahoo!  But with all the rain and wind that it is bringing ... it is effectively shutting down life as we know it ... malls, schools, businesses, airports ... and the list goes on and on. And as Sandy continues her march westward, we all hold our breath .... will the power stay on? Will my roof stay on?  Time will tell. Tomorrow I am scheduled to catch a flight out of Harrisburg to head to Indiana for several days. Hmm. Maybe ... maybe not!

All I can say ... is that I am glad that my God is a rock!  No matter what storm blows through - we can anchor ourselves to our God and know that we will never be moved (Psalm 62:6-7).

Thanks for stopping by . . .

PS - If you do not hear from me the rest of the week it is because I was able to make my way to Indiana.

Thursday's Offerings

Here are this week's offerings of a little bit of this and a little of that . . .

1. With the big election less than two weeks away . . . here is a summary of an excellent sermon by Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church on the the Christian's responsibility to government.

2. Ever get to the point where you find yourself mired in the pit of discontentment? You know you should be content ... but you just don't know how to get there. Here is an insightful and helpful post on the topic.

3. We just celebrated children this past Sunday at Grace. Why? Well if children mattered to Jesus, then they had better matter to us (see Mark 10:13-15)! Thinking of children reminded me of this brief devo from Chuck Swindoll, Everybody "Act Medium." 

4. Hmm. Ever wish you had that voice of the soloist who just rocked the room with her song? Or perhaps the skill of the IT guy who knows how to fix every single computer problem this world has ever seen? But if you don't have the voice to be the next American Idol winner or if your computer skills are not really all that skillful ... will that keep you from being all that God wants you to be?  Check out Ray Ortland's thoughts on this right here. 

5. What does it mean to be created in the image of God? Ed Welch has some great insights right here. 

6. With Halloween less than a week away, how should Christians respond to this holiday? Here is a thorough and though provoking article from Grace to You. 

7. On a lighter note . . . 

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Making Wise Decisions

All of us must make decisions every day. Some are small, almost insignificant (hmm .. which pair of socks should I wear today ... how about these hot pink ones?  Nah! Not my color!). Others are much (and sometimes MUCH) larger and significant (uh, which health plan should I choose at work?). So when it comes to making the right call, does the Bible give any insight?

The book of Proverbs (the Old Testament book of wisdom) offers us the following three strategies when it comes to making wise decisions:

1. Fear God. Proverbs 9:10 and Proverbs 15:33 make it clear that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. To fear God means to respect and honor him ... acknowledging the place he has as sovereign ruler over us and our world. This makes a lot of sense. If our relationship with God is out of whack, then how will we ever be able to make consistently "wise" decisions? It just won't happen. After all, it is HIS world in which we live and work and play ... AND make decisions!

2. Consult the Book. Proverbs 2:6 tells us that wisdom comes to us via God's mouth. Since the Scripture is from God's mouth (it is "God-breathed" - see 2 Timothy 3:16-17), it follows that there is much wisdom to be found in the pages of the Bible. Again, nothing surprising about this. After all, there is no wiser being than the God who knows anything and everything there is to know! So to consult the book that he authored is guaranteed to give us the wisdom that we need.

3. Get advice. Proverbs 11:14; 12:15; 15:22 all state the value of seeking advice from others. But the key here is to get your advice from the RIGHT kind of people (I have heard advice given by so called Christians that's been absurd and downright contrary to God's will ... quite scary!). SO ... what kind of person should you seek out for advice?  How about a WISE person?  OK. So what does a wise person look like? For starters, seek out someone who fears God (Proverbs 15:16). If you want godly advice, go to a godly person! Secondly, look for an individual who is humble (Proverbs 11:2) and teachable (13:10). Don't go to Mr. Know It All. Don't seek out Mrs. Been There Done That. Rather, seek out a person whom you know has a humble attitude about himself. Thirdly, get advice from a person who has control of his tongue (Proverbs 10:19). Someone who controls their tongue is wise (it takes a huge amount of wisdom to know when to speak ... and when not to speak). In addition, if you seek out advice from someone who tends to "run at the mouth," be prepared for others to know your business! Finally, if you really want wise advice, seek out those who have a passion for the lost (Proverbs 11:30). This may not seem to make much sense on the surface, but think about it. A person who has passion for the lost understands the reality of eternity and the judgment that waits each and every person. Living in light of that understanding, they don't get caught up in this world, but tend to stay focused on what really matters. Now that's a person from whom I want to get advice.

So the next time you have to make a decision ... keep these three strategies in mind: Fear God, consult the Book and get advice (from a wise person!).

Thanks for stopping by  . . .

Enjoying the Rail Trail

Yesterday was one of those gorgeous late October days that you dream of ... sunny and mild with the trees arrayed in their full autumn wardrobe of reds, oranges and yellows. Since Monday is my day off, my wife and I decided we had to spend at least a portion of the day OUTSIDE. So we chose to check out a rail-trail at the other end of the county. We had heard some real good things about this particular rail trail (the Conewago Recreation Trail). We were NOT disappointed. We spent about 2 hours and walked over four miles and enjoyed every step!

One of the most striking things about the trail is just how straight and level it is (no surprise, given that the trail follows the raised bed of what once held railroad tracks). It brought to mind these words from the Old Testament book of wisdom: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5-6). So as we go through life we must do so in complete trust and dependence upon God. And as we do, he promises to remove the obstacles in our way that would prevent us from walking with him and fulfilling his purposes for our lives (Proverbs 11:5; Isaiah 45:13).

SO ... are YOU trusting God today? Are you recognizing his role in your life as the God who has a plan for your life and is working that plan?

Thanks for stopping by . . .

The "Nevers" of the Gospel

During a morning time of prayer today, I was using one of my favorite devotional helps, The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.  Praying through one of the prayers, I was struck by the following lines:

O LORD, May I 
    never confine my religion to extraordinary occasions,  
      but acknowledge thee in all my ways; 
   never limit my devotions to particular seasons
       but be in they fear all the day long; 
   never be godly only on the Sabbath or in thy house,
       but on every day abroad and at home; 
   never make piety a dress but a habit, 
       not only a habit but a nature,
       not only a nature but a life. 


Wow! Now there is a prayer I really need to be praying. Not just today -- but everyday! Take a moment and make this prayer your own. I suspect like me ... you need to do so, too! 

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Thursday A La Carte

Here are this week's offerings ... enjoy!

1. Denny Burke makes a strong case on why abortion is the most important issue in the upcoming election.

2. And while on the topic of the upcoming election, John Piper shares why he plans to vote. 

3. Ever wonder what the "blind spots" are for the church in America? Here's a very brief but very insightful response to the question, "What are the some of the blind spots for the American church when it comes to transformation?" 

4. J.C. Ryle writes about Seven Marks of a Right Heart ... good stuff!

5. Here's a practical, relevant and downright convicting post ... Have you ever told God you are all in? 

6. And on a lighter note . . . 

Thanks for stopping by . . .

A Big Time Dive!

If you have paid any attention to the news media in the past couple of days, you may have heard the name, Felix Baumgartner. Baumgartner  set an all-time record this past Sunday for the highest sky dive ever done. The Austrian skydiver's jump from over 128,000 feet (that's just over 24 miles!) broke the old record, set in 1960 by a whopping 25000+ feet (over 4 miles!). His peak speed during his free fall of 833.9 mph broke the sound barrier. In doing so, he became the first human being to do so without the use of any type of craft. Just what was going through his mind as we was falling toward earth?

“The exit was perfect but then I started spinning slowly. I thought I’d just spin a few times and that would be that, but then I started to speed up. It was really brutal at times. I thought for a few seconds that I’d lose consciousness. I didn’t feel a sonic boom because I was so busy just trying to stabilize myself. We’ll have to wait and see if we really broke the sound barrier. It was really a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.”

Many have applauded Barmgartner as an example of courage and faith (talk about a "leap of faith!"). Others have questioned the huge amounts of money (estimated in the multiple millions of dollars) spent on such a stunt. But no matter what camp you might be in .... all must admit that in doing what he did, he caught the world's attention (it is  estimated that over 8 million watched the live stream coverage of his jump - let alone the many more millions of people around the world who tuned in to the voluminous subsequent media coverage given to Baumgartner's feat). 

As I pondered on his world attention grabbing feat ... the thought entered my mind that we who choose to follow Christ should be living lives that do just that ... grab the attention of the world around us! Here is how the apostle Paul put it in his second letter to the church at Corinth: 

"But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ" (2 Corinthians 2:14-17). 

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

PS - If you have yet to see video of Felix's jump ... check this out! 


Life can be somewhat stressful at times ... yes?  YES!!!!!!!!! Encountering stress is not an "if" it is most definitely a "when." For life in this fast-paced, broken world often immerses us in situations and events that cause our hearts to throb and our heads to pound. Anxiety and fear raise their ugly heads within us and get an iron-like grip on our souls.

So ... what should we do when we begin to feel overwhelmed by stress?  We need to follow the example of King David ... who in his lifetime faced much stress. In Psalm 131:2 he writes, "But I have calmed and quieted my soul . . ."

Now that sounds like it's easier said than done! So how can we calm and quiet our souls when our world is churning around us? In the 1700's a woman by the name of Katarina von Schlegel wrote what has become one of the favorite hymns of the Church. We don't know much about this German believer, but we do know from the words of this hymn that she was a woman who knew the value of trusting in God. And that, my friend, is the real key to dealing with stress. Take a moment and read through the lyrics of this hymn. And if you want to experience the beauty of the hymn when set to music, check out this Youtube video. 

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on your side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
leave to your God to order and provide;
in every change God faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: your best, your heavenly friend
through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul: your God will undertake
to guide the future, as in ages past.
Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake;
all now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
the Christ who ruled them while he dwelt below.
Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
when we shall be forever with the Lord,
when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
sorrow for forgot, love's purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Thanks for stopping by . . .

So What's with "Amen?"

I was not raised in a "churched" family. That means we did not attend church (although for a brief time my twin brother and I were sent off to Sunday School at a nearby Lutheran church). God was present in our home but only in a nominal sense. So I was taught a few "stock" prayers as a child. At supper it was "God is great and God is good,  and we thank Him for our food; by His hands we all are fed, Give us Lord our daily bread. Amen." And then there was the bedtime prayer: "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep; if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. God bless Mommy and Daddy, Grandma and Gramps, Inky and Tipsy (my dog and cat) -- although as I reflect back I don't think I ever prayed for my cat!), etc. .... Amen."  Now as a youngster, I really did not understand all that I was praying (especially with that bedtime prayer ... I mean what little kid thinks about dying and having the Lord take his soul? I did not even know what a "soul" was!). I also did not really understand what that "magical" word "amen" was all about. All I knew was if you tacked it on to a prayer ... then somehow God would be more prone to hear and respond.

I wonder how many Christians really get the meaning and the importance of that four letter word? This morning, I was reading some comments on prayer written by Martin Luther, the "father" of the Protestant Reformation. Luther understood the meaning and reason for using the word, "Amen" to end a prayer ... any prayer. Take a moment and read what he had to say.

"Finally, mark this, that you must always speak the Amen firmly. Never doubt that God in his mercy will surely hear you and say “yes” to your prayers. Never think that you are kneeling or standing alone, rather think that the whole of Christendom, all devout Christians, are standing there beside you and you are standing among them in a common, united petition which God cannot disdain. Do not leave your prayer without having said or thought, “Very well, God has heard my prayer; this I know as a certainty and a truth.” That is what Amen means" (from the book, Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer). 

So for Luther, closing prayer with an "amen" is important because it demonstrates that the one praying really believes his prayer has been heard and that God will respond in accord with his perfect will (see 2 Corinthians 1:18-20).

SO ... the next time you pray ... say that "AMEN" with a heartfelt confidence that the God of the universe HEARD you and will RESPOND!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Thursday A La Carte

Here are this week's offerings with a hope that you will be inspired, encouraged, stretched in your journey of faith!

1. Did you ever wonder what the teaching known as "The Prosperity Gospel" does to the true biblical gospel? Here's a short but insightful answer. 

2. Here's a thought provoking article from the gospel coalition site on why we should still sing hymns in our worship services today.

3. Here is a video that reveals what an astronaut sees at night while orbiting the earth. I found this fascinating!

4.  All of us have friends who are struggling in their marriages. So ... what can you do? Here is a helpful article from Focus on the Family listing ten ways to help such a couple.

5.  Are you a "radical," "passionate," "edgy" Christian? Hmm. Here's an interesting article from David Powlison discussing the need for a moderate makeover (vs. an extreme one).

6.  And on a lighter note . . . 

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Pursuing Holiness

Personal holiness. Now there are two words that we don't hear all that much about in the Church of today. And that is unfortunate .... VERY unfortunate. Perhaps it is why the Church today in America is miles and miles wide and inches (at best) deep! 

You see, personal holiness should be an urgent priority of Christians. The Apostle Paul urged the Corinthian believers to bring holiness in their lives to completion (2 Corinthians 7:1) and the writer of the book of Hebrews encouraged his readers to strive for holiness for without it they would not see God (Hebrews 12:14). 

Given the importance of personal holiness, here is an excerpt for Kevin DeYoung's excellent new book, The Hole in our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness. But a word of caution ... what he says here might be convicting to your soul!

"Christians often equate holiness with activism and spiritual disciplines. And while it’s true that activism is often the outgrowth of holiness and spiritual disciplines are necessary for the cultivation of holiness, the pattern of piety in the Scripture is more explicitly about our character. We put off sin and put on righteousness. We put to death the deeds of the flesh and put on Christ. To use the older language, we pursue the mortification of the old man and the vivification of the new. 

You can think of holiness, to employ a metaphor, as the sanctification of your body. The mind is filled with the knowledge of God and fixed on what is good. The eyes turn away from sensuality and shudder at the sight of evil. The mouth tells the truth and refuses to gossip, slander, or speak what is coarse or obscene. The spirit is earnest, steadfast, and gentle. The heart is full of joy instead of hopelessness, patience instead of irritability, kindness instead of anger, humility instead of pride, and thankfulness instead of envy. The sexual organs are pure, being reserved for the privacy of marriage between one man and one woman. The feet move toward the lowly and away from senseless conflict, divisions, and wild parties. The hands are quick to help those in need and ready to fold in prayer. This is the anatomy of holiness."

Oh that we would pursue personal holiness in this unholy world with a passion!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Back with a Thought from Vacation

Hard to believe that last week during our Ocean City, MD vacation I was swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. Had never done that at OCMD in October before! Had not planned on going into the water. Did not even bother to pack my swim trunks. Yet as we sat there on the beach, basking (or was it baking?) in the warm early autumn sun, the ocean was calling my name! So I just had to jump in! And since I wanted to towel off afterwards so that I was not soaking wet when we climbed into the car, I ran up to the boardwalk to buy the cheapest towel I could find. I came back with a yellow and pink flowered rag of some sort (which normally I would never have thought of buying!) - but for my purposes it filled the bill! And since the air was warm and the water temps comfortable - I immensely enjoyed my time of being tossed by the waves.

But there are other times in life (many, in fact) that I do NOT enjoy being tossed by the waves of life. If you are anything like me, I am sure you would much prefer that the waters upon which we sail through life would always be peacefully calm (picture the surface of a lake that looks like a sheet of glass). But as we both know, that is not life (at least not THIS life). Our journey here on earth has lots of waves (or to switch metaphors), many speed bumps and pot holes (and at times, much worse).

So how should we respond to the waves that our generated by the storms of life? Run and hide (which many do by immersing themselves in video games, movies, and other forms of entertainment)? Escape the pain (which others do via drug and alcohol consumption OR by spending lots of money on stuff they really do not need and can ill afford)? Nope! Rather God tells us that when we face the trials of life we must take courage (John 16:33) and by faith trust God to do HIS work IN us THRU these painful times of life (Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-4).

This, my friend is easier said than done. But with God's help it must (and can) be done!

Thanks for stopping by . . .


This morning I am starting a week's vacation ... which means I will not be posting to my blog this week. In fact, I am going to attempt the unthinkable in this digital age ... and that is to do my best to unplug (for the most part) from all my TDDs (Technology Driven Devices). Therefore, no posts until I "get back in the saddle" next week.

Until then ... ."The Lord bless you and keep you (and yours), the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give your peace" (Numbers 6:23-24).

26 Thanks for stopping by . . . 

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...