Out with the Old . . . in with the New!

Here we are ... with less than 24 hours remaining in 2013. The new year of 2014 is staring us in the face. As to what it will hold for us, only God knows!  I always find it helpful in my own spiritual journey to take some time in both reflection upon the year that's passing and the new year that lies ahead.

For starters, I take a backward glance. I note the year's ups and downs. I look for God's faithful hand in both. I always discover that God has neither lied to me nor failed in any way in fulfilling his promises. Sure, life does not always go the way I would like. But who am I? I am a finite (read "limited" ... no read "VERY LIMITED") creature. God is the infinite (read "unlimited" or 'unlimitable") Creator. So when HIS providential plan does not unfold as I believe it should, guess what? I need to learn to trust him. He knows far better than I  do as to what is good for me. And I happen to believe that the Bible teaches us that God does ALL things for HIS glory. And that which is for his glory is also for our good!  Proverbs 3:5-6 is a passage we all need to learn to put into practice!

Also as I look in life's rear view mirror, I take time to thank God for his MULTITUDE of blessings with which he has so generously showered me. Everything in my life that has brought me happiness and joy is from his hand (James 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:17). Thanksgiving for 2013's blessings is certainly a God-pleasing and faith-strengthening way to end one year and begin a new one! And remember, nothing is as short lived as gratitude!

Finally, as I look ahead to a new year I find it fruitful to do some self evaluation (see the PowerPoint slides from my message this past Sunday on 7 key questions you can use to do this. You will find them as you scroll down). After evaluating where I am, then I set some goals. I encourage you do the same. Whatever needs done for you to grow in your faith .... make plans to do it! Don't make so many that you lose heart after the second week of January. Keep it simple. Focus on the area(s) of your life that need the most work. And then ... share those goals with someone who can "hold your feet to the fire." Our fallen human nature moves from the disciplined to the undisciplined. Like water, we seek the path of least resistance. And since discipline is required for spiritual growth (1 Timothy 4:7-8), we need help to stay at it! An accountability partner can provide that needed help.

As I close ... I encourage you to never stop preaching the gospel to yourself. We all need that daily reminder that were it not for Christ and his sacrifice for us ... none of us would be interested in pursuing a relationship with the one true and living God. All that we enjoy in life flows from God's grace. And the greatest expression of that grace is the cross! So ... if you want to boast about ... whatever, STOP and do as Paul did and boast only in the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:14).

I pray that God's blessings will move you ever closer to Jesus Christ in the new year of 2014!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Friday Coffee with PJ

For today's edition, I thought I would dunk some humble pie in my coffee, by sharing a couple of "bonehead" moves I made recently.

1. The first occurred back on December 11th. I was taking a vacation day and we were planning to head to King of Prussia Mall. As we backed out of the garage, I failed to look in the rear view mirror and just backed out as usual. The problem was ... things were not "usual!" Our youngest daughter was at the house and her car was parked in a small angled extension off of our main driveway. I forgot her car was there and clipped her car's right front bumper with my car's left rear bumper. So ... instead of heading to the mall, we took a trip to the body shop. So glad I have car insurance (the total repair bill for the two cars combined came to just under $2K. Oh, well .... we all make mistakes, right? My wife and daughter took it all in stride (which I can't say I did ... at least initially!). Moral of this story --- DON'T FORGET TO LOOK IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR! That is also good advice for doing this thing called life. It is always good to look back ... so we can learn from our mistakes. But even more important ... it's very healthy to look in life's rear view mirror and identify those "God moments" when you experienced God clearly at work in your life ... moving you closer to Him. For what God did in the past ... he has promised to continue now and until that great Day when he returns (Philippians 1:6).

2. The second occurred just last night. Sharon and I, after 12 years, made the difficult decision to trade in our PT Cruiser. The time had come for us to buy a minivan. That's right! A MINIVAN!  I can recall across the years passing many an older person or couple driving a minivan. I always wondered why they would need a minivan. I now know the answer: GRANDKIDS! So we have now joined the grandparents-with-a-minivan club! So after doing some research on used minivans ... and keeping our eyes opened, we found what appeared to be a good deal on a 2004 Honda Odyssey. We finalized the deal last evening. After saying goodbye to the PT, we drove home. Once inside the house, I sat in my favorite Lazy Boy recliner and began to read the owner's manual. After familiarizing myself with it, I decided to go do some hands on things with the van while it was all fresh in my mind. After unlocking the door with the keyless remote, I climbed in and shut the door. I then began to check out where everything was (I took a flashlight along to give me better light). After a few minutes, I decided to head back in the house. When I opened the door, the car alarm went off ... and boy did it go off! The headlights flashed and the horn BLARED! I did everything I could think of to turn the thing off. I even started up the car thinking that would do it. Nope! So I am sitting there ... totally embarrassed (and glad that it was only 8:30 and not 10:30!). Finally after what seemed like 20 minutes, the horn stopped blaring and the lights ceased their flashing. Ahhh. The silence never sounded so sweet! I sat in the van ... a bit rattled I must admit ... well, a lot rattled! Then I reached for the door and opened it. Guess what? The horn began to pierce that beautiful silence as the headlights did their dance! Thankfully, I managed to turn off the alarm in just a few seconds. Moral of this story --- MAKE SURE YOU KNOW HOW YOUR CAR'S ALARM SYSTEM WORKS! This is also good advice on how to do life. God has given us an alarm system for our soul. It is called a conscience. The New Testament often speaks of a "clear conscience" (2 Timothy 1:3; Hebrews 13:18). The conscience is God's built in alarm system. When it is configured properly, it will warn us when we are heading off in the wrong direction! But if we are not careful, we can "sear" the conscience (1 Timothy 4:2 - click the link above for more info on this). So ... all this to say, ask God to help you keep your conscience clean and clear. Only then will it serve its God given purpose.

Thanks for stopping by . . .


I hope you have a very merry ... very Christ-honoring ... very relationship enriching Christmas! Here is some Christmas music from Keith and Karen Getty. Enjoy!

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


I hope you will have a wonderful Christmas celebration!  Here is the acappella group, Pentatonix singing an incredible arrangement of Little Drummer Boy! Enjoy!

 Thanks for stopping by . . . pj

Friday Coffee with PJ

Here we are a mere five days away from Christmas 2013. So ... grab a cup of your favorite holiday coffee (or tea) ... and join me for a few random thoughts that are floating around my head (and there are no "visions of sugar plums" dancing around my mind!).

1. Do you realize that there were a lot of people who missed the first Christmas? If I had more time, I would discuss a number of them ... but let me just focus on one: the innkeeper in Bethlehem. Now the nativity account in Luke 2 does not mention an innkeeper, but it does mention an inn. Therefore, there was an innkeeper. Since the Bible says nothing about this individual, we have no idea if he was hostile or sympathetic to the needs of Mary and Joseph. We don't know if the stable they found for shelter was offered by the innkeeper. But the fact that the Bible is silent about any innkeeper, makes me think that he missed that first Christmas. And just why would have have missed it? Simply because he was preoccupied with running a very busy inn. It was maxed out due to all the out-of -towners who had arrived for the Roman census (that is why, humanly speaking, Mary and Joseph were in town). I wonder how many of us are in danger of missing Christmas simply because we are preoccupied with the stuff of life?  Hmm. Something to think about.

2. This morning I was reminded of a quote of William Carey, a man many consider the father of the modern missionary movement. He said, "Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God." Now there's some good advice. I think for most of us (notice I said "us" - that includes me) our view of God is way too small. We (now I am speaking of the church of today) have lost the lofty view once held of God. J.I. Packer back in the early seventies put it this way in the preface of his classic book, Knowing God: "Christian minds have been conformed to the modern spirit: the spirit, that is, that spawns great thoughts of man and leaves room for only small thoughts of God."  Hmm. What Packer wrote about Christian minds in 1973 is probably even more true today. So ... when you think about God ... how big is he?  My guess ... not nearly big enough!

3. Finally ... let me invite those of you who will be around home (and if your home is in Lancaster, PA) to
join us this coming Sunday when I will take us back in time via The Camel Driver's Tale. Our services are held at 9:00 and 10:30. Then on Christmas Eve ... we will focus on the real meaning of the season: Jesus the Christ!  Our two services will be held at 6 and 8 pm.

MERRY CHRISTMAS ... and thanks for stopping by . . .

A Prayer for Your Thursday

From the pen of an unnamed Puritan comes a simple yet powerful prayer . . . take a moment and make his prayer yours!

"May I always be among those who not only hear but know you, 
who walk with and rejoice in you, 
who take you at your word and find life there." 

Have a great day and a great advent season as we celebrate the moment in history that God Himself became one of us!  Wow! 

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

The Great Mystery of Christmas!

On my recent trip to India, I was struck at how much easier it had grown to be in touch with my wife. On my first trip in 2006, my only way to communicate with her was to go into the nearby village of Naya Akola and use a public phone. This past trip, not only could I talk with her via a cell phone, I could also easily text her from my own smart phone. Technology had come to central India making communication almost instantaneous. Even though home was almost half a world away ... it seemed like it was right next door!

As we approach the Christmas holiday (only one week and counting!), we must be careful not to lose sight of what the Christmas holiday is all about: that some 2000 years ago, the Living God became a living man in the person of the baby born to Mary in Bethlehem. Think about that (and I guarantee you that no matter how long and how hard you think about the incarnation, you will NEVER get your mind wrapped around it!). The Apostle Paul, in referencing the incarnation of Jesus Christ, used the words "great indeed is the mystery of godliness" (1 Timothy 3:14-16). In the person of Jesus Christ, God himself came to live "right next door!"

So ... take a moment ... today, tomorrow, next week on Christmas Day itself, and wonder in worship as you reflect upon the reality that in time space history .... the Almighty God became one of us! And he did so to ultimately die for us! Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Nuisance Snow . . . Nuisance Sin?

Last evening after seeing the weather forecast calling for one or two inches of snow today, I turned to my wife and said, "I feel like I'm back in Pittsburgh!" I spent five winters in the Steel City in the mid to late eighties. Rarely in Pittsburgh did we see the monster east coast sort of storms that dump snow measured in feet vs. inches. Instead, we saw an awful lot of these so called "nuisance" snows. Snowfalls that did not keep you from your regular routine but yet required some sweeping or scraping or sometimes shoveling the driveway and sidewalk. Well ... in just a little over a week, we have seen four nuisance type snows here in Lancaster (a couple were a bit more than a nuisance ... but they still were not big snowstorms). That's why I feel like I am experiencing a typical Pittsburgh winter.

Sometimes I think we look at sin in the same way we look at these recent snowfalls. A nuisance. And just as this morning I took a few minutes and brushed the snow off of my porch and driveway and then moved on with my day, so we deal with sin in much the same way. When we become aware of sin in our lives (and for many of us that "when" is much too big!), we simply offer up a quick prayer, brush ourselves off, and get on with life. Now don't get me wrong. The Bible is clear that when we confess our sin, God is quick to forgive and to cleanse (1 John 1:9). But my question is .... when we "confess" are we really confessing?

The Greek word translated "confess" in 1 John 1:9 is a word that literally means "to say the same thing about." Therefore, confession of sin is to say the same thing about sin as God does. And just what does God say about sin? For starters, God hates sin (Proverbs 6:16-19; Jeremiah 6:18). God is of such holiness (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8) that he cannot tolerate sin and evil. In the divine economy sin must be punished and done so decisively. Secondly, sin is always first and foremost an offense against God. This can be seen in King David's sin of adultery with Bathsheba. Not only did David sin against this woman, but also her husband, Urriah. David not only took Urriah's wife, he eventually was guilty of taking Urriah's life. Yet the first words out of David's mouth were "I have sinned against the Lord" (2 Samuel 12:13; compare with Psalm 51:4 which David wrote after  his sin with Bathsheba). Finally, to understand just how grievous sin is to God, all one has to do is to look at the cross. If Jesus had to endure the horrific suffering he experienced at Calvary in order to satisfy God's wrath against our sin, there can be no doubt. Sin is far more than a nuisance. And we had better stop treating it as such! Only seeing sin as God does will help us to do just that!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Returning to God-Centered Praying!

As you heard me say before, one of my regular devotional books is The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.  Much has been written and said about the Puritans. Some deserved, much not. But one thing I know about the Puritans - they knew their God!

The other day, as I was praying a prayer in the book, it really struck me that we, as the Church, have become very man-centered in our praying. Our prayers are filled with "me" and "I" ... and often, very little "God." Take a moment and read through this prayer and I think you will get my drift (no pun intended with the snow swirling outside!).

The All-Good

Thou has helped me to see, that whatever good be in honor and rejoicing, how good is He who gives them and can withdraw them; that blessedness does not lie so much in receiving good from You and in You, but in holding forth Your glory and virtue; that it is an amazing thing to see Deity in a creature, speaking, acting, filling, shining through it; that nothing is good but You, that I am near good when I am near You, that to be like You is a glorious thing: This is my magnet, my attraction.

You are all my good in times of peace, my only support in days of trouble, my one sufficiency when life shall end. Help me to see how good Your will is in all, and even when it crosses mine teach me to be pleased with it. Grant me to feel You in fire, and food and every providence, and to see that Your many gifts and creatures are but Your hands and fingers taking hold of me.

You bottomless fountain of all good, I give myself to You out of love, for all I have or own is Yours, my goods, family, church, self, to do with as You will, to honor Yourself by me, and by all mine. If it be consistent with Your eternal counsels, the purpose of Your grace, and the great ends of Your glory, then bestow upon me the blessings of Your comforts; If not, let me resign myself to Your wiser determinations.


Wow! Now that is God-centered, Man-humbled praying! May we learn to pray this way!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Back After a Few Days Off . . . with a Special Edition of Friday Coffee with PJ

The past few days I took some needed time off to get some things done around the house, to spend some time with my wife and to simply get some rest. November sped by (primarily due to my short term mission trip to India, followed by the Thanksgiving holiday less than a week after my return). With vacation days still remaining ... I decided to take a few. I am now ready to move forward (I hope) with a renewed passion and joy in Christ (and a lot less coughing!).  So ... pour your cup of favorite hot brew (which is especially good on a frigid day like this!) and enjoy some random thoughts I want to put before you.

1. During our "staycation" this week, we did some shopping, ran other errands, and took one day trip up to the Hershey area. So we spent a lot of time in the car. During this time, we had the car radio on, listening to so called Christmas music. At one point, when the strains of a familiar carol began to fill the car, I said to my wife, "Well, it only took six songs to get to one that mentions Jesus Christ!" Yep. Six songs. The first five dealt with Santa, Rudolph, Frosty, snow, Santa, and a white Christmas ... or something along that line. Increasingly Jesus Christ is being systematically removed from HIS holiday! That means those of us who claim allegiance to him must be even more intentional about keeping Christ in CHRISTmas! So ... let me ask you, what are YOU doing to do so? What steps is your family taking to be sure Christ is at the center of your Christmas celebration? 

2. There's been a lot of talk about the decline in church attendance in the United States in the past decade or two. Thom Rainer, a Christian researcher and author suggests that one of the primary factors is that people who do attend church, do so with a lot less consistency. Kevin DeYoung has some thoughts on this on an insightful posting on his blog, The Scandal of the Semi-Churched. It's a good read! 

3. PLEASE CONTINUE TO PRAY FOR THE SITUATION IN THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC. I got word yesterday that all of our Grace Brethren (Encompass World Partners) were evacuated safely out of the country. But many dear brothers and sisters in Christ remain behind. This impoverished country, made even more so by months of violence, is in the midst of a huge humanitarian crisis. Please pray for the church ... and for my friend, Augustin Hibaile and his family.

4. Snow! Looks like more is coming tomorrow. I believe with tomorrow's snow we will easily surpass the total amount of snow we received ALL of last winter. And as I look at the calendar, winter has not even officially begun! I sure hope this is not a sign of things to come!!! In the midst of all this snow and cold, I am so thankful to my God to have a warm house for shelter. How about YOU? 

5. Stop by tomorrow for a special prayer that spoke to me . . . it will give you something to do while you are stuck at home as the snow falls outside! 

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Carpe Diem ... Seize the Day 2024!

Here is the PowerPoint from Sunday, December 8th's sermon. Life Journals will be available for the next several Sundays.

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Pray for the Church in the Central African Republic!

The conditions continue to deteriorate in the Central African Republic. Renewed fighting has caused Encompass World Partners to evacuate the remaining missionaries within the capital city of Bangui. Please pray that they can safely leave. In addition, Cami Robbins reports that a long term Central African Rebpublic Bible translator that they have worked with for years (the Robbins serve with Wycliffe) was killed in the recent fighting.

Here is a link to a Times article about the situation. Be sure to watch the video. It will show you just how desperate the situation has grown. Even the UN is evacuating personnel!

Again, I ask you to pray especially for my friend, Augustin Hibaile and his family.

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Friday Coffee with PJ

Sorry for the late posting. I am just finishing up my last (and fourth) cup of coffee for the day. But if you are still drinking ... please pour yourself a fresh cup and join me for a couple of random thoughts.

1. Yesterday as I stood in front of my bathroom mirror (to comb my beautiful head of hair ----- well I can dream, can't I?), I head the ticking of a small clock. It struck me that with each tick, one second was here and gone ... never to return. What is true of a second, is also true of a minute, an hour, a day, a week. Time spent ... is gone forever. Because life is so brief and passes so quickly (James 4:14), we need to strive not to waste our time. Let's make the most of every opportunity (Ephesians 5:15-17)... seeking to live each minute, hour, day for Jesus Christ!

2. The Christmas holiday appears to be coming at me out of nowhere this year. Is that true of you? I am guessing it is due to a couple of things. First, I spent almost half of my November either preparing to travel to India, traveling to India, serving in India, traveling back home, and then recovering from the trip! Add to this the lateness of the Thanksgiving holiday (Thanksgiving fell on the latest possible date this year), and voila ... Christmas is a coming and it's a coming quick. So ... all that to say, let's make sure in the midst of all the busyness of the season that we don't miss what Christmas is really all about. If you are looking for a good advent devotional ... you might want to check out this free devotional which you can download from Desiring God Ministries.

Thanks for stopping by . . .

God Thinks Differently!

This morning, I spent some time meditating on the following familiar verses from Isaiah chapter fifty-five (vv. 8-9):

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways    and my thoughts than your thoughts."

These two verses are very powerful! They remind us that God's way of thinking is way (and I do mean WAAAAAYYYY above ours)! Of course, this makes all the sense in the world when one considers that God is infinite (without limit) and we are finite (limited). Yet, in spite of what the Scripture so clearly teaches, we in our arrogance are always seeking answers from God, especially when life does not unfold as we think it should! 

As evidence that God's thoughts are not our thoughts nor his ways our ways .... consider the following quote from one of my favorite devotional books, The Valley of Vision. As you read this portion of the opening prayer of the book, take a few moments and consider these "paradoxes" of our faith. They certainly do show that God thinks differently (and, since he is perfect, we can also say that he thinks perfectly!).

"Let me learn by paradox,
   that the way down is up,
   that to be low is to be high,
   that the broken heart is the healed heart,
   that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
   that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
   that to have nothing is to possess all,
   that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
   that to give is to receive,
   that the valley is the place of vision.

Let me find they light in my darkness,
   thy life in my death,
   thy joy in my sorrow,
   thy grace in my sin,
   thy riches in my poverty,
   thy glory in my valley."


Thanks for stopping by . . .

Out of the Mouth of Babes!

Earlier today, I drove two of my grandchildren to my house after their morning preschool was over. During the ride home (all of about 3 minutes), I asked my four year old if she knew which holiday was fast approaching. She replied, "Christmas." I then asked her if she knew why we celebrated Christmas. "It's Jesus' birthday." I then asked, "If it's Jesus' birthday, why do you get presents?" She said, "Because Jesus died." "Because Jesus died?" I asked. "Yes. Jesus died so children could get presents." "Ohhhh," I responded. "Did he die for any other reason?" "Oh yes," she said, "He died for our sins AND so that we could get presents."  Well, she got it half right!

As you give and receive gifts this Christmas season ... keep in mind that we have already been given the greatest gift we could ever hope for: eternal life in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:23). This gift is offered to us out of the love of our Father in heaven, who "so loved the world that he gave his one and only son" (John 3:16). So this gift of eternal life is on the table ... have you reached out by faith and received it? If you have any questions about how to do so, I encourage you to check out Two Ways to Live: The Choice We All Face. 

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Black Friday . . . Cyber Monday

We have just come through what has to be the most hyped shopping extended weekend of the entire year. Every where I looked (newspaper, internet, television, etc.) I was being bombarded with info about sales, sales and more sales. And this year ... the weekend actually got off to an even earlier start with many stores actually opening up Thanksgiving evening.  All this shows just how "consumer-driven" we have become! If you ask me ... I find it all a bit disturbing.

Well ... with that said, I must confess that I did do quite a bit of shopping - I mean, if you can't fight them ... then why not join them? Yes? (I know, some of you are thinking right now, "PJ, you are such a hypocrite!"). Now ... let me say a couple of things in my defense. First off, I did not do any shopping on Thanksgiving Day! In addition, I let my fingers to all the walking as I shopped (i.e. - I did cyber shopping only, not that this is better ... just the way I decided to go). Finally, I did not buy one item for myself or any family members. Every purchase I made I plan to donate to our church's student ministries' auction which will be held on March 1st. I bought them now because I got some really good deals. And you know ... I was really getting excited about some of the great deals I was buying. The Lord Jesus was right on the mark (which he always was and is!) when he said, "It is more blessed to give than receive!" (Acts 20:25).  I cannot tell you how blessed I felt buying in order to give it all away!

In this season of giving and receiving .... look for a ministry to bless with a gift. They will be benefited and YOU will be blessed!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Friday Coffee with PJ

My apologies for missing the past several Fridays. I was off last week, and the previous couple of weeks I got caught up in the Thanksgivi...