Friday Coffee with PJ

Well, I have already had my Friday morning coffee (eating breakfast out means more coffee than I probably should drink!) ... and you probably have finished yours. So ... without the coffee ... here are a couple of thoughts for your day.

1. I just LOVE the Old Testament book of wisdom, Proverbs. In fact the title literally means "instead of - pro" and "words - verb") ... so you put them together and a proverb is "instead of words." In essence a proverb offers up much wisdom in few words. And if you have done much reading in this book, you know its true. For example, one of my favorite proverbs is 10:19 which reads, "When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent." Now that is RIGHT ON! Far too often I have gotten myself into trouble by moving my jaws before engaging my brain! More of us could stand to listen more and talk less! Another of my favorite proverbs is 25:17: "Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor's house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you."  Ouch! So often we think that we are God's gift to those around us and when we live life with that mindset, we prove to be nothing like a gift. An annoyance yes! But a gift no! Finally, there's 27:2: "Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips." This is the practice of a truly humble person. For one who is humble does not care if anyone notices his efforts. All that matters to the humble is that God notices!  

2. As a pastor, across the years (and I have been at it over 35 now!) I have received many calls, emails, letters (that's snail mail for some of you who don't remember ever receiving one), etc. from missionary candidates. Many were young. Most were passionate. All were in need .... of prayer and of financial support. In the vast majority of cases, I tried to encourage all of them while at the same time saying, "our church's mission's plate is already full." Certainly a "talk" they had been given often. Now ... I am guessing that one of the main reasons that missionaries struggle so much to raise their needed support is that far too many Christians do not practice "self-denial giving." And just what is that? Click here to find out! After I read the article, I am thinking about the article's implications for the church I am privileged to lead. Hmm....more o that later! Until then . . . 

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

A Couple of Lessons from a Flat Tire

Sunday afternoon, my wife packed up the minivan (I still can't believe I am part of the minivan crowd ... but it's part of the package of grandparenting!). She was heading to see her mom (who resides in the skilled care unit at the Mennonite Home). Along with a box of chocolates, she had a basket that contained a variety of miscellaneous items and a bouquet of flowers picked from our garden. She was gone no more than five minutes when my phone rang. Caller ID told me it was her. "Hmm", I thought to myself, "I wonder what she forgot." Well if she forgot anything it might have been to avoid the nail on the road. Her passenger front tire, she informed me, was about as flat as a tire could be. Grumbling and muttering, I grabbed my keys to go help. Once on site, I decided to call AAA for road service. I figured they could not be too busy given the holiday weekend. After giving my location and problem along with my membership number to the AAA dispatcher, she told me I would receive a phone call shortly from whomever was assigned to assist me.

Knowing how long I have waited in the past for help to arrive, I decided that maybe I could get the spare on quicker. So I grabbed the owner's manual from the glove box to find out just where the little donut spare was kept. After locating it and removing it, I then sought out the jack and lug wrench. Upon finding them, I began the steps to remove them. The lug wrench came out easily, but try as I might I could not remove the jack. At that point, I resigned myself to wait. The wait proved short. After arriving promptly (I was impressed!), the AAA mechanic took less than five minutes to remove the flat and put on the spare. Before I knew it, I was on my way back home (and Sharon drove our other vehicle to visit her mom).

Here are two lessons I learned (or perhaps better said, "was reminded of!"):

1. My heart still is marked by ingratitude. My first reaction to Sharon's call for help was to grumble and complain (see Philippians 2:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:18). Really? Yep! Instead of being thankful that the problem was only a flat tire, that I live in a prosperous nation in which I can easily afford not just one vehicle but two, that I have a membership in AAA that enables me to resolve the problem with a phone call and a little bit of time (and I could go on and on and on counting my blessings) ... instead of thanking God I was griping. Wow! A reminder of just how far I have to do in this area.

2. Help is only a simple phone call away (in this case, when you are a member of AAA). This, of course, is an excellent illustration of prayer. When we call out to God in prayer, we have promises in the Word of God that not only will he hear us, he WILL respond (1 John 5:14-15; Matthew 7:7; Philippians 4:6). And friends, when we issue that "call" to our Father in Heaven, he has FAR MORE RESOURCES, WISDOM, and COMPASSION than AAA ever will!

Thanks for stopping by ... and may you have a "flat tire free day!"

Remembering on Memorial Day

I trust you are enjoying today's holiday. But let's not forget to remember! Memorial Day is a holiday that was established to remember those who gave their lives in service to our country. Our freedom is not free. It came with a price. Take a moment today (3 PM is the "official: time to do so) and give thanks for the men and women of our armed services who shed their blood to keep us free! And while you are at it, thank the ONE who shed HIS blood to set us free from the penalty of sin and our bondage to it!

Check out the Denison Forum commentary on today's holiday ... right here!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

God's Will Be Done ... Is That What We Really Desire?

This morning as I was reading from the excellent devotional, Voices from the Past, I came across these

 "One way or another, God works his children into a sweet obedient frame. At length, God brings his children to subscribe: 'What God wills, when God wills, how God wills; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.'"  (Thomas Case)

As those words in bold print began to register in my still somewhat foggy morning brain, I slowly began to realize that all-too-often ... that is NOT me! When circumstances and situations begin to erode my comfort and convenience, instead of humbly submitting to God's providential plan for me and my life, I grumble. I complain. I look to God and ask, "Why this?" "Why now?" "Why me? "Why at all?"

The Bible makes it clear that God uses the difficulties of life to do HIS work in us (Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-4). My friends, if we realize the breath and depth of his love for us (Romans 5:8), and the vastness of his wisdom (Isaiah 40:28; Romans 11:33) , then we will find it so much easier to sincerely and humbly pray, "God, your will be done ... even if it hurts!"

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Friday Coffee with PJ

It's that time of the week again ... so pour your favorite cup of morning brew and join me for a few random thoughts.

1. A commentary by syndicated columnist Cal Thomas caught my eye this week. He started his piece with these words, "Once, Social Security was the 'third rail' of politics. Touch it and face political death. Now it is homosexuality. Criticize anything gay people do and you risk ostracism, fines, suspension or loss of your livelihood." I could not help but to think of Cal's remarks as I watched the media coverage this week of a judge's striking down Pennsylvania's gay marriage ban. And should anyone speak up to ask... "Hey, is it right to allow one judge to redefine an institution that has been around a very long time?" - that person will be immediately branded as a bigot and hater. Well, I for one and asking that question. And I don't consider myself either a bigot or hater. But I do consider myself one who believes in the institution of marriage as designed and established by the Creator himself. Jesus makes it clear just what this design is in Matthew 19:3-6. Here he states that God's design for marriage is ONE MAN ... ONE WOMAN ... ONE FLESH ... FOR LIFE! So .. we who follow Jesus must stand for this biblical definition of marriage. Since the Creator established marriage, only he has the right to define it. But even as we take this stand, we should not dishonor Jesus by failing to respond to those who differ from us with the love of Jesus Christ.

2. I liked what pastor-author Kevin DeYoung had to say on his blog about his desire that his church not be a "lopsided" church. By that he meant that he doesn't want his church to get so focused on a few virtues that other important ones get neglected. Then he wrote the following (and I really liked what he had to say ... and what he desires for his own church, I desire for our church):

"Obviously, we won’t be able to do all things equally well as a church, just like you cannot do all things equally well as an individual. But my hope is that University Reformed Church Grace Church at Willow Valley could be marked by diverse excellencies: grace and truth, logical precision and warmhearted passion, careful thinking and compassionate feeling, strong theology and tender love, Christian liberty and spiritual discipline, congregational care and committed outreach, appreciation for businessmen and entrepreneurs and advocacy for social justice, interest in local evangelism and interest in world missions, excellence without elitism, unity without uniformity, diversity without doctrinal infidelity, ambition without arrogance, and contentment without complacency." 

Well said, Kevin. Please pray for me that we would grow toward becoming this kind of church! 

3. Finally, a quote to inspire you to pray ... and to pray more! 

"God has commanded us to pray that we might be prepared to receive from him what he is always ready and willing to confer upon us." (Puritan Ezekiel Hopkins)

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

A Day with Ella!

Ever try keeping up with an excited five year old at a zoo? My wife and I made the attempt on Monday of this week. We took our granddaughter to Lake Tobias (north of Harrisburg) as part of her birthday celebration. We were no sooner out of the car when she spotted a playground by the park entrance. She immediately took off. "Slow down, Ella and wait for Papa and Grammy!" (this was a line repeated over and over again in the course of the day!). Now my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed all the animals we were able to see. And the safari ride was a boatload of fun. But the highlight of our day was to walk run in the wake of our granddaughter's enthusiastic excitement!

Oh that we would get that passionately excited about Jesus Christ! Running hard after HIM ... in all that we do! I believe a key to having a five year old's excitement in our faith journey is simply to get to know God better! And there is no better way to get to know God better than to spend time in HIS Word. For in its pages, he has revealed himself to us! The better we get to know the Word of God ... the better we will know the God of the Word! For some help and encouragement in this arena ... please take a moment to visit our Carpe Diem blog (click the graphic to the right).

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Enriching Words from Yesteryear

Recently I picked up the book, Voices from the Past: Puritan Devotional Readings. It has proven to be a goldmine! Here are some thoughts from the pen of Puritan Richard Baxter:

"Unbelievers seek their happiness in things of the world. Believers find their happiness in God. It is contrary to the nature of faith for a believer to seek peace in his earthly enjoyments. Our present pilgrimage is a prison, yet alas, we too commonly do this. By this we kill our comforts and then complain they are missing. It is folly to expect any stable peace or solid joy that does not come from Christ as the fountain. O that Christians would learn to live with one eye on Christ crucified and the other on his coming in glory! If everlasting joys were more in your thoughts, spiritual joys would abound more in your hearts. No wonder you are comfortless when heaven is forgotten. Alas, when will we learn from Scripture and providence to seek far more from God, and far less from the earth?"

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Friday Coffee with PJ

OK ... just grabbed my cup of San Fransisco Fog Chaser (don't you just love that name!). Here are a couple of thoughts for your morning coffee.

1. My wife and I attended our granddaughter's preschool "graduation" last evening. It was cute watching all the little children receiving their "diplomas" and then posing for pictures. Jesus had some rather strong words for his disciples when they tried to prevent little ones such as these children from coming to him (Mark 10:13-16). If children matter to Jesus, then they had better matter to us! So my question for you this morning is this: what are you doing to invest in the life of a child? And I'm not just referring to your own children but also to the other children around you. They need to see Jesus in us! So let's show them!

2. Wildfires are right now raging through portions of California. Where they have been is unmistakable, as they leave a path of destruction in their wake. Large homes are consumed in a matter of mere minutes. And this morning I heard on the news that someone lost their life overnight as result of these fires. This reminds me of what James has to say about the tongue. He uses the metaphor of a raging fire in reference to it (James 3:5-8). Now from our experience we know how the tongue can sear and burn a person's heart. Our own hearts have scars left by the fire of another person's tongue. All of us need to heed the counsel James gives earlier in his book, where he tells us that we must be quick to listen slow to speak (James 1:19). I suggest you do something that I have done and found helpful over the years: pray Psalm 141:3, "Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!"

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Weeds ... They Don't Just Grow in Our Yards!

I have enjoyed driving of late. Seeing all the green grass and the various shades of pink, white, and red
blooms adorning the trees have been a welcome sight after the long barren winter we just endured. But one sight does irritate me: a lawn covered with golden dandelions. These weedy flower wanna-be's can appear as if by magic. And if left unchecked, what was once a green carpet can be littered with these golden pests.

This reminds me of our hearts. If we are not careful to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23), all sorts of "weeds" can take root and grow. Left alone, they will spread and eventually choke out anything that the Spirit of God might plant in the soil of our hearts.

SO ... if guarding our hearts is something that is of utmost importance (read again Proverbs 4:23) . . . then what is guarding one's heart all about? If you really want a solid answer to that question, check out's answer. It's good stuff!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Thirty Six Years Ago Today!

I posted this last year on my anniversary. I think it's worth a repost. Enjoy!

The day dawned with the sun peeking through the clouds. A warm breeze was blowing. But for all I cared it could have been dark, dismal and damp. For on that particular day I was going to become a husband to the woman who had won my heart! That was thirty five years, three children and 6 grandchildren ago. But is some ways ... it seems like yesterday (note: the adjacent pic was taken on Sharon's college graduation day which was about a week before our first wedding anniversary! And yes, for all you doubters out there ---- I did have hair!!!).

So ... have I learned anything about being a husband during these 3 1/2 decades of married life? Probably not as much as I should have .... but I have learned (and am still trying to get these lessons down!) some  things. Here are just a few  ... especially for you husbands out there!

1. I am far from being the "perfect" husband. All of us as fallen people tend to think more highly of self and less highly of others. This is the bent of our sinful nature. And so when it comes to my marriage, my tendency is to think I am doing OK and my wife, well ... she has some work to do! This was driven home to me at a recent marriage conference I attended. Paul Tripp was the speaker ... and his first marriage principle that he gave us was this: "The greatest problem in my marriage is ME!"  So true! So ... before we go and point our finger of blame at our spouse, we should stop by the bathroom and take a long, hard look in the mirror!

2. A good marriage takes work. A great marriage takes a lot of work! A marriage that is solid just doesn't develop on its own. It takes a lot of intentional effort. I must admit, far too often, I forget this. Often it is because life is happening all around me with so many people and things shouting for my attention. And so I lose sight of my marriage ... or I figure it's OK and that's good enough. Or I just get so tired from doing everything else, that my marriage gets what's left over - and that isn't much! Yet when I read God's instructions to me as a husband, that I am to "love my wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:25), I realize that I must give my marriage a high priority in my life. It's what God demands and my wife needs!

3. Marriage is "for better or for worse." When I spoke those words in my marriage vow, that's all they were - words. Now some thirty five years later, those words are filled with meaning. "The worse" would include unwelcome moments of conflict between us; significant health needs, as in 1991 when my wife underwent a serious back surgery that left me sleeping on the living room sofa for three months and my kids eating boatloads of hotdogs, grilled cheese and pizza!; all the challenging issues that tend to arise in the raising of children (and the differences of opinion as to how best to proceed!). By far, however, for us "the better" has outweighed "the worse." The joy of being parents, serving together as houseparents and in the various churches we have served, and seeing God work in our relationship are just the tip of the iceberg of the blessings we have enjoyed in our marriage - for which we say, "Thank you God! Your goodness to us is far more than we deserve!"  Bottom line -  whatever our circumstances... in better times and in worse ... I am committed to my wife (and she to me). This concept of marital commitment to one another no matter what ... is something our society sorely needs to rediscover.

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Friday Coffee with PJ

Pour your favorite cup of morning brew (mine will be San Fransisco Fog Chaser) and join me for a few thoughts to start  your day or end your day ... whatever might be the case.

1. Are you familiar with the expression, "the seven deadly sins?" Nowhere in the Bible are certain sins labeled as "deadly." In reality, all sin is deadly as Romans 6:23 states so clearly. But in the early years of the church, somehow this list came into being. The seven "deadly" sins are: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth. As I look at that list, it strikes me that increasingly these sins are so often seen as being more "acceptable" than "deadly." All of us would greatly benefit by examining our hearts before God, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to us if indeed any of these sins are resident in us. My guess is that if you are anything like me ... the answer will be yes! If so ... confess, repent ... and move on, determined, with God's help, to rid yourself of these sins that are far too prevalent in the church of today! 

2. Wednesday evening we conducted our Awana Awards Night, concluding our fourth year of our Awana ministry. When I think of all the options children can be involved in (music, sports, scouting, etc, etc, etc), I can think of no activity that could top AWANA. Why so? Although it is true that the other activities have their benefits (I learned valuable lessons in playing little league baseball as a youngster), AWANA has
benefits that will provide wisdom for this life and fruit for the next! If we really believe God's Word is our polaris, our north star by which we navigate through life, then what better way to prepare children for life in this world then to teach them the Bible. There are few ministries that can do this as well as AWANA!  

3. Taped to the bottom of my office computer monitor is a prayer I ran across in John Piper's devotional book, Life As a Vapor. It is a prayer that I try to pray often ... here it is: 

Thank you Lord, for the lives of flawed and faith-filled saints!
Thank you for grace, amazing grace, that saves and uses sinners!
Lord, don't let me limit your power by what I see in the mirror. 
Help me to trust you. Help me, as William Carey said, 
to expect great things from God and attempt great things for God. 
I am not great. But you are great. 
Your power is made perfect in weakness. 
I surrender all worldly claims on my life. 
Come. Make me useful for the glory of Christ. 
In his great name I pray. 

Take a few moments and pray this prayer back to God. You will be better for it! 

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Not Just Another Name!

After this hard winter, it became very clear to me that I would have to get the lower portion of my driveway repaired. The cracks in the macadam had all but disappeared as the macadam itself has crumbled away. So, I bit the proverbial bullet and began calling for estimates. I ended up with three. The difference in price between the lowest and the highest was $700. So ... after considering all three bids, we chose one. In addition to offering us the best price, the estimator who came to the house seemed to be the most knowledgeable of the lot. But what sealed the deal for me was his name. Are you ready? His name is John Smith!  Ha! I knew right then and there that he had to be a good guy!

When it comes to names there is a name that stands out above all other names. It is the name of Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that there is no other name given among men by which anyone can be saved (Acts 4:12). If we truly believe this, then we will do what we can to make his name known. So my question for you to ponder is this: just what are the things you are doing to make Jesus' name known among your friends? neighbors? co-workers? classmates? family? and those who live beyond your reach?

Tough questions, for sure. But relevant and important ones. I hope you take some time to give them some thought!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

YOU Are a Work of Art!

My wife and I recently spent two days in Ocean City, Maryland. I must say that before I met my wife, I was in NO way a beach guy! I mean, until I crossed paths with Sharon during my sophomore year in college, I had been to the beach a grand total of one time in nineteen years!  But, little did I know that when you get involved with a Jersey girl, learning to like love the beach was part of the package. And I have bought in totally! I now love time spend at the shore, even if it is only for a brief respite!

While we were walking the boardwalk, we came across a sand sculptor busy at work. When we saw him initially, he had just started. The sculpture at that point was not much more than a big pile of sand with some pointed towers on top. But later, when we passed by, it was finished. And as you can see, it is a WOW! How anyone can do that is way beyond my understanding! 

This reminds me of God at work in us. When he first saves us, we are not much more than a big pile of tattered, broken, torn baggage! But then he begins his work ... chipping away at this with his chisel (or to change metaphors, cutting away at that with is divine scalpel). The Bible makes it clear that we are his "masterpiece" (Ephesians 2:10) and that he will continue his work on us until the very end (Philippians 1:9). And his purpose is to show the world just how gifted a "sculptor" he is through us! That's a humbling thought! 

SOOO ... the next time you get discouraged because you don't think God is at work in your life, open your Bible to the two passages mentioned above. Thank God that he is continuing his work in you. Ask him to help you respond in a God honoring way! And remember ... it's ALL of HIS grace! 

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Friday Coffee with PJ

Enjoy your coffee (as I am sure enjoying mine!). As you do, here are a few random thoughts rambling through my head.

1. As I sit here at my computer, typing out these thoughts, outside the rain is falling ... probably better said "pouring" ... from the clouds. Of course, it is April and we all know April showers bring May flowers (and as someone told me recently when I had mentioned this ... "Yeah, and May flowers bring pilgrims!" How lame is that!). All this rainfall reminds me of something God says in the Scriptures:

"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:10-11).

The reason God's Word can do this is because it is "living and active" (Hebrews 4:12). Therefore, when we read it, the living and active Word of God will do its work within us. But we have to be IN it for it to work IN us! So ... what's your plan (and I surely encourage you to set up a plan if you don't have one) for daily Bible intake? 

2. This morning at our Pre School, my 3 1/2 year old grandson came up to me and said, "Papa ... tell Gwammy I hope she feels bedder soon!" That warmed my heart as it did my wife's when I gave her Jack's message. Caring like this for one another is one of the traits of a follower of Jesus. But alas, all too often we slip into the default setting of our fallen human nature. That setting is ... "I care for ME first!" Determine today to show some care to someone around you. Do an act of kindness for someone ... and do it in the name of Jesus. It is what He calls us to do. 

3. A closing thought to "chew on" as you go through your day: 

"One of the prime acts of faith is to cast your soul on God as all-sufficient to make you completely happy" (William Gurnall, quoted in Voices from the Past: Puritan Devotional Readings). 

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...