Beyond Saying "I Do"

Today on my calendar I have marked the word "wedding." Yep. I get to officiate another wedding ... something I have enjoyed doing a few times across the course of the past thirty years.

Marriage has been in the news a lot in recent months ... especially since our president has come out in support of gay marriage. There has been a lot of discussion about marriage and what it is and who it is for. So ... here are a couple of thoughts on the issue.

- Marriage is a gift ... a gift from the God who made us and who knows what is best for us. He knows that for the vast majority of us, it is in our best interest that we be married (see Genesis 2:18-24). 

- Marriage is to be between a man and a woman. From the beginning, marriage was designed by God be a one man ... one woman relationship (see also Matthew 19:4-9). 

- Marriage is also to be life-long. Jesus makes it clear in the Matthew 19 passage that marriage that from the get-go, God clearly intends that people marry for life.

Now ... I could say more, but based on what I have said above, here are some implications for all of us who claim to follow Jesus! 

1. We must take a stand for traditional marriage. The term "gay marriage" is actually a contradiction in terms. A gay marriage may be a relationship ... even a civil union ... but it is not a marriage (at least not in biblical terms).

2. We must take just as strong (if not stronger) stand on the permanency of marriage. Far too many Christians have adopted our society's view of marriage ... that it is more than a "going steady" relationship ... but not much more. Therefore, when things aren't working out in the marriage ... it's time to be getting out of the marriage.

3. We must treat our spouse as a gift from God to us. When you start thinking about one another in these terms ... it has a way of changing the relationship .... for the better!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

The Power of Encouraging Words

Yesterday I did something that was looooonnnnnggg over due – I cleaned up my office. That meant doing something that I would rather not have to do … file! In the process, I pulled out an old file that I have had for many years. I call it my “encouragement” or “get up” file. In it I have accumulated notes of encouragement I have received across the years. One note in particular, written by a family upon the occasion of our leaving Pittsburgh to move here to Lancaster, brought tears to my eyes. Imagine that. The note was written almost 23 years ago … yet it still retained the power to massage my heart and lift up my soul. There is power in encouraging words! (But beware; there is also power in destructive, discouraging words! But that is a topic for another day’s blog.)

The book of Proverbs tells us that “pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24) and “an anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up” (Proverbs 12:25).  The other day I urged you to keep your “radar” up and be looking to reach out a helping hand to those who are hurting.   Let’s make it part of our day today to offer someone a word (or words) of encouragement (often this is all it takes!). And why stop with just today?  Why not make it part of our every day routine?  In this broken world, there are plenty of people surrounding us who could use an encouraging word!

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

A La Carte Thursday

Here are my a la carte offerings for this week. I hope you can find something of note to help you in your journey of grace!

1. How do you answer someone when they say to you, "You don't REALLY believe in hell, do you?" Tim Callies offers a great response to this question (a question that is being increasingly asked in this day and age).

2. Also today, the biblical concept of marriage is under attack. Here is a great biblical definition of marriage. 

3. Francis Chan in a brief video (3:40) on aging biblically. 

4. Dads .... here's one for you ... stop stealing from your children. 

5. On a lighter note . . . 

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Remember those Who Are Hurting!

The weather yesterday and today has been quite refreshing ... especially consider the calendar reads "June 27th." Someone earlier today said they could take this kind of weather ALL SUMMER LONG. No argument from me on that! With sunshine and low humidity, it has been a delight to be outside (not to mention the delight I am feeling at keeping my air conditioner in the "off" position!).

But as delightful as it has been here, elsewhere it is a very different story. I am thinking of the flooding in north Florida and the wild fires raging in Colorado. Both of these natural disasters are just that ... disasters for those who are losing their homes and for some, their lives.

I think there is a lesson here in this for each of us. When things are going well for us ... and we are feeling quite comfortable with "life" - we must not lose site that for others it may not be so. Therefore, we need to be keeping our "radar" on .... being mindful that for many who surround us ... life may not be easy. In fact, it may be downright gut-wrenching! Let's all be intentional at asking God to help us to be sensitive to those who are hurting .... and let's be willing to offer a helping hand. After all, isn't that what God calls us to do (Galatians 6:2).

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Judging the Proverbial Book by Its Proverbial Cover!

Yesterday being a Monday was a day off for me ... well sort of. As I usually do on Mondays,  I slept in (which I did ... got up around 7:00 - AM that is, not PM!), got some projects done around the house (yep, cut the lawn, treated my trees (they needed some iron supplements) and balanced the check book), and ran some errands (did this too!). One of our errands was to head to the mall to pick up a suit I had altered (only to get there and find out that the suit had not come in yet! Such is life! And it helps not to sweat the small stuff, yes?).

On our way into the mall, I noticed a younger man sporting a beard and wearing clothes that I would not be caught dead in! In addition, he was carrying an aluminum brief case (of the likes I had not seen in some time). Oh ... and before I forget, he was wearing TWO wrist watches on each wrist. When I noticed that, I suggested to my wife that he wore a watch for each time zone in the U.S.

Now ...I know everyone has a story. And I do not know what this guy's story is ... but I do know we can make a lot of wrong judgments about people's stories by just looking at them. For all I know this guy is an undercover anti-terrorist agent working for the FBI. OK, probably not ... but the reality is I DO NOT KNOW.

So you are probably wondering what's my point with all of this? Here is the moral of my story. We need to get to know someone before sticking a label on their forehead. Perhaps someone you know appears standoffish and unfriendly. So you judge them to be cold and indifferent when maybe they are quite sensitive and caring but have been hurt by others in the past and are therefore very cautious in their relationships.

Don't judge a book by its cover. Open it. Read it. Then you will be in a better place to understand it ... and (since I am really talking about people) minister to the individual's needs. That, by the way, is what we are called to do (Galatians 5:13).

Thanks for stopping by . . .

A Video Worth Watching!

A friend sent me a link to a CBS news video about a WW2 widow. Her husband was a fighter pilot during the war ... a war from which he never returned. I encourage you to take a minute or two (actually the video is about six minutes in length) to watch this moving video ... that has some lessons about marital commitment (Matthew 19:3-9) and giving honor to whom honor is due (Romans 13:7). Click here to enjoy this video.

Thanks for stopping by . . .

A La Carte Thursday

Hoping you find something here that will assist you in your spiritual journey!

1. Steve Saint (author of The End of the Spear and son of Nate Saint, missionary who, in 1956 lost his life in an attack by the Waodani Indians in Ecuador) was seriously injured last week during a test of a new device his ministry was developing. Here is a an update ... and make sure you scroll down the page and watch the video titled, "The Next Chapter." 

2. If you like rap ... here is one with great words about the sufficiency of Christ ... by Timothy Brindle.

3. How does one honor God in an unequally yoked marriage? Sarah Flashing offers some solid insights from Scripture. 

4. Nate Shurden shares 8 Simple Instructions to Share Christ. 

5. Here is a great article on laying hold of God's willingness in prayer. 

6. Here is a great list from Nancy DeMoss on 31 biblical virtues to pray for your kids!  

6. On a lighter note ... It's the Dad Life! (thanks Scott!)

Thanks for stopping by . . .

It's Vacation Bible School Week!!!

Yesterday was our second of five days of Vacation Bible School here at Grace. And what a day it was! 211 kids showed up! We were thrilled (and a bit apprehensive). But all went well and we are looking forward to Day #3 today!

Given the busyness of this week (I am playing the role of Kam, the guide of Promise Island. We do a skit at each opening and closing), I may not be able to blog quite so much as usual. But I am going to make an effort to give it my best shot!

What excites me most about our VBS is that during the week, we have a great opportunity to introduce these little ones to Jesus Christ. We know that children have a very special place in the heart of Jesus. When parents were bringing their children to Jesus, seeking a blessing from him, the disciples tried to send them away. In their minds, the Master had far more important things to do than to bless a bunch of kids. But when Jesus saw what his disciples were doing, he grew angry with them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15). He then took the children in his arms and blessed them. 

That incident occurred some 200 years ago. And that same Jesus who rose from the dead and ascended to heaven - still desires to take the little children in his arms and bless them. It is up to us to share the gospel with these children so they can experience his blessing. 

When I was 11 years old, I attended a VBS in the city of Harrisburg. This was my first and only VBS experience as a child. But what an experience it was! There, for the first time in my life, I heard the good news of John 3:16. Even though I did not come to faith at that time, it did prove to be an important step toward my conversion at age 16. And so ... I guess you can see why I am a HUGE fan of VBS! 

Please offer up a prayer (or two or three) for the ministry of the gospel here at Grace this week.

Thanks for stopping by . . . 


Is God Really Good?

Whenever something "bad" happens to us ... when the unexpected and uninvited difficulty crashes into our lives knocking us over and leaving us breathless ... it is at these times that the Enemy comes along and asks, "Is God really good? Don't you think if he were truly good ... then he certainly would not allow you to have to suffer this sort of pain, yes?"

This strategy of Satan of tempting us to doubt God's goodness is nothing new. It's as old as the Garden of Eden. For in his temptation of Eve, he implicitly suggests that God is holding out on her and Adam in giving them one (imagine that, ONE) restriction.  And so Satan says to Eve, "Listen, Eve. God doesn't want you eating that fruit because he knows that if and when you do, you will become like him. And as far as he is concerned, there is room in this universe for only one God .... and it's not you!" (see Genesis 3:4-5). Eve bought the devil's lie, and we have been paying the price ever since.

But before we come down too hard on Eve, we must look long and hard in the mirror. For we are quick (and at times VERY quick) to do the same! SO ... how can we fight off these temptations from the enemy to doubt the goodness of God? This morning, as I was reading some devotional thoughts by Jerry Bridges, he offered up some solid advice in answer to this question. Here' what he wrote:

"There’s no doubt that the most convincing evidence of God’s love in all of Scripture is His giving His Son to die for our sins. 'This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins   1 John 4:9-10, NIV). 

Our greatest need is not freedom from adversity. No calamity in this life could in any way be compared with the absolute calamity of eternal separation from God. In like manner, Jesus said no earthly joy could compare with the eternal joy of our names written in heaven (see Luke 10:20). God showed His love by meeting our greatest need — a need so great that no other can come close to it in comparison. If we want proof of God’s love for us, then we must look first at the Cross where God offered up His Son as a sacrifice for our sins. Calvary is the one objective, absolute, irrefutable proof of God’s love for us (How Great Is Our God: Timeless Daily Readings on the Nature of God)."

So the next time Satan comes knocking, trying to get you to doubt God's goodness ... just remember the cross! 

Thanks for stopping by . . .

A Prayer of Thanksgiving for God's Mercy!

O gracious almighty God,
How thankful I am that you are indeed
A God who is generous ... and who loves to be merciful.
I realize that I do not grasp just how desperate
I truly am apart from your mercy.

Help me this day ... as I worship you
To humble myself before YOU
As I rejoice and find comfort in your mercy.

Thank you, Father, for the gift of your Son.
Thank you, Father, for giving me life,
Forgiving my sins, for making me whole.

And thank you, Abba, for your never-ending,
Never-failing, always sufficient mercy!

In Christ's name I pray,

It's Time to SLOW DOWN!

The first automobile race in America occurred on Nov. 28, 1895. Six of these new “horseless carriages” traveled from Jackson Park in Chicago to Evanston, Illinois, about 54 miles. J. Frank Duryea won with a time of 7 hrs. 53 minutes. Now if you do the math, you will discover that Duryea averaged about 7 mph across the course of the race (which makes you wonder what the other five drivers averaged!). Today we laugh at that kind of speed (or should I say “lack" of speed!). NASCAR races feature speeds well over 100 mph with the fastest track being the Talladega Superspeedway where the record race average speed is 188 mph (and with a record qualifying lap of 212.809 mph!). Now that is fast! Far faster than Duryea’s then record setting 7 mph! 

Speed is something that we have come to expect. Life here in 21st century America is fast. And with each passing year it seems to accelerate in speed! This is why it is absolutely vital for us to regularly make some time to disengage from the proverbial rat race around us. We must do this so we can engage God in a time of connection with Him. Jesus did this on a regular basis.  He often got up before the sun and went out to a solitary (read QUIET, STILL) place to be with His Father (see Mark 1:35; Luke 4:42). We need to follow the Master’s example. So let me encourage you to take some time TODAY (or at the latest, TOMORROW) to disengage from the noise of the world around you (i.e. – turn off the TV, put down the newspaper and take a walk or even sit in a closet if that is what it is going to take to get you to slow down!). At the end of your day, you will be glad that you did! 

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Seek to Overkill in the Killing of Sin!

About 6 weeks or so ago, the local utility company, PPL, sent contractors to take down trees in the neighborhood of our church facility. And take down trees they did!  Their reason for doing so was to keep the 75 foot right of way of their high voltage electrical wires clear of trees.

According to PPL spokesman, Paul Wirth, "There has been a change in the way PPL is dealing with high-voltage transmission lines.Those lines are key to the electrical grid. They serve a wide region. If a tree would potentially fall on that line, it would impact potentially thousands of businesses and homes for potentially a long time. So, for the last several years, PPL has been removing more trees from rights of way than in the past (go to Lanacaster online to see more on this story)."

OK. I get that. We don't want to lose power from a tree falling on an electrical wire. But when I saw all the trees which were being removed (some not much taller than me), I just had to scratch my head as I wondered,  "How is that tree now or ever going to be a threat to those wires?"  Many a person used the word, "overkill" in referring to what PPL did in our neighborhood. And I would most definitely have to agree. 

As I thought of this ... I thought of how most of us Christians treat temptation and sin in an entirely different manner. Instead of going the route of overkill in making sure that sin is rooted out ... we have grown casual about sin. When temptation comes knocking, we often give in without giving it a second thought (or much thought). Jesus offered us HIS perspective on how we should treat the "avenues" which lead to sin. In Matthew 5, as Jesus is warning about the sin of lust, he makes this startling statement, "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell." Now Jesus is not mandating plucking out an eye if we give in to the temptation of lust. He is using a figure of speech (hyperbole) to teach us that we need to look at how temptation enters our lives ... and remove those avenues so that we don't give in and sin. So if drunkenness is a sin you easily give in to, don't keep a bottle of rum on hand. If gluttony, don't be eating at a different smorgasboard each night (which would be easy to do here in Lancaster County). If lust, don't be alone with a computer for any length of time. 

So PPL may or may not be guilty of overkill in the clearing of their right aways. But most of us could take a lesson from PPL as we seek to remove sin's avenues in our lives. 

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Some Questions as You Start Your Week

As I got to thinking this morning ... some questions about life and faith popped into my head. Thought I would pass them on to you for you to think about (I chose seven to share as seven is, after all, the number of completion!).

1. If we truly believe that God wants us to pray .... and that He will not only hear our prayers but respond to our prayers, then why do we pray so little?

2. Why are we so quick to focus on what we do not have but want instead of focusing on what we do have (much of which we really don't need and all of which we in no way deserve)?

3. If we truly believe the gospel of Jesus Christ is the best news anyone could ever hear, then why are we so reluctant to share this good news with others?

4. If we embrace the Bible's teaching that everything we have belongs to God, why do we give such a puny amount to Christ's church and other kingdom of God causes?

5. If we really believe that the Bible is God's Word, why do we spend so little time in it?

6. Since the Bible often discusses suffering in a positive way (Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-4), why do we complain about our difficulties? And why are we asking God to "get us out" of them as quickly as possible?

7. If heaven is really our true home, why do we rarely think about it?

Just askin' . . .

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Merci pour les escargots!

Two weeks ago we enjoyed a week-long visit with two very dear missionary friends. Paul and Louise Klawitter have been serving in Dijon, France for somewhere around 25 years. It is always a joy to reconnect with them when they come to the States.

Their visit with us brought back memories of January 2007. It was then that my wife and I had the joy (and I do mean JOY!) to visit Paul, Louise and their son Philip and daughter Elise in Dijon. Among the many unique experiences we had (first trip to France,  first time to eat a crepe on the streets of Paris, first time to use my limited French to ask, "Excuse me, sir, where is the bathroom?", etc.) was the culinary delight of eating snails.

I must admit that when the Klawitters suggested snails for the menu ... I was not so sure. I had never eaten snails before ... never really had the desire!  But I did know that snails (escargot in French) were a popular delicacy in France.  Paul and Louise (along with then 16 year old Elise and 18 year old Philip) assured us that they ate them (and lived) and actually enjoyed them.  So much so that their family always feasted on snails during the holidays. 

So when they brought out a plateful of steamed snails, I knew I would have to be brave.  I sure did not want to appear cowardly before a sixteen year old girl!  As I scooped the snail out of its shell, I was hoping it would fall on the floor so that Marcel the dog would gobble it up.  When that did not happen, I realized I had to go through with it.  But there was something about eating a snail that just would not allow me to place this thing ... this creature ...  in my mouth.  So, Elise (seated to my right in the pic) came to the rescue.  She took my fork, and pretending to be an airplane - she flew that snail right into my mouth (If you are a parent, you can remember those days when you used this same routine to get your kids to eat their creamed carrots or stewed green beans!).  As soon as I tasted the snail (smothered in garlic and butter) I thought, "Wow!  This is good!"  So good that the second snail followed quite quickly after that. 

Sometimes all it takes is a taste.  Les escargots taste good.  Maybe that is why they are so popular with our friends.  The book of Psalms urges us to "Taste and see that the LORD is good!" (Psalm 34:8).  Indeed the LORD is good - He is very good!  I trust that today you will “taste” HIS goodness in a powerful way!  

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Thursday A La Carte

Hope you enjoy and can find something you will find beneficial for your journey of grace! 

1. Here's a book review that I found compelling about a vital - yet often neglected - aspect of our Christian walk. I plan to buy (and read the book). 

2. Speaking of books ... for those of you who like to read e-books, check out Amazon's gospelebooks site. You can pick up some really great deals here (and subscribe for their regular email as the deals are constantly changing!). Today I noticed that Gracia Burnham's book, In the Presence of My Enemies is FREE! In this book she recounts her and her husband's year long captivity in the Philippines. It's a great read (I know, I read it!). 

3. My parents are gone ... but perhaps you still have one or both still living. Here we are between Mother's Day and Father's Day ... so I thought it might be a good time to think about the fifth commandment. To help you do so, here's an insightful article by Dennis Raniey, The Best Gift You Can Give Your Parents.

4.  Scotty Smith offers up a prayer about itching ears and and good theology. It's a prayer I plan to pray - often! 

5. On a lighter note ... in this brief clip the woman asks her father, "So Dad, how do you like the iPad we got you?"  It's a hoot! 

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Pray Always!

If you are anything like me (and I suspect you are!), then you struggle to pray as you know you should. It is not my purpose with this post to add guilt to the guilt you may already been feeling. Rather, I want to encourage you with some encouraging words I read from E.M. Bounds this morning.

In Luke 18:1 we read the following, "And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart." Here is what Bounds wrote concerning the need (and privilege) we as followers of Christ have to pray and to pray always:

"The always speaks for itself. Prayer is not a meaningless function or duty to be crowded into the busy or the weary ends of the day, and we arc not obeying our Lord's command when we content ourselves with a few minutes on our knees in the morning rush or late at night when the faculties, tired with the tasks of the day, call out for rest. God is always within call, it is true; his ear is ever attentive to the cry of his child, but we can never get to know him if we use the vehicle of prayer as we use the telephone-or a few words of hurried conversation. Intimacy requires development. We can never know God as it is our privilege to know him, by brief and fragmentary and unconsidered repetitions of intercessions that are requests for personal favors and nothing more. That is not the way in which we can come into communication with heaven's king. "The goal of prayer is the ear of God," a goal that can only be reached by patient and continued and continuous waiting upon him, pouring out our hearts to him and permitting him to speak to us. Only by so doing can we expect to know him, and as we come to know him better we shall spend more time in his presence and find that presence a constant and ever-increasing delight."  (E. M. Bounds. Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer, The: Experience the Wonders of God through Prayer (p. 325). Kindle Edition.)

Of course, praying "always" does not mean to neglect our daily routine (as Bounds goes on to point out). But I suspect there are not many among us who pray in such a way that we are even close to doing that!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

A Simple Prayer for Your Sunday

Gracious and Almighty God,

How thankful I am today for your salvation,
So free to me, yes ... but at a great cost to You.
I am truly amazed when I think how (and why)
You set your love upon me "while I was still a sinner!"

Help me this day to think of You, to reflect on your grace,
To adore Your majesty, to seek your face, to honor your name.
In the words of Israel's shepherd-king David,
"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable to You, O LORD my rock and my redeemer."

This day . . . and every day!

In the name of Jesus, Your son and my savior.


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...