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 . . .

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...