Friday Coffee with PJ - Special New Year's Edition

Here we are with just a little more than a day left in the year 2016! So as you pour yourself a cup of coffee ... allow me to wax eloquent ... well at least ramble on as I reflect on 2016 and look ahead to the new year of 2017. 

1. For starters ... a look back at the year that is ending: 

- I began the year loving coffee ... and have finished the year still loving coffee! 

- As the year began ... Sharon was still unable to bear weight on her left leg (due to a broken femur she suffered on November 10th of 2015). During the year, she has made much progress ... but not enough. More on that later.

- We enjoyed getting to know our two newest grandsons, both born in the waning months of 2015 (Logan on November 1st and Lucas on December 31st). What joy they have brought us! 

- My favorite college football team, the Penn State Nittany Lions, exceeded all expectations by winning the Big Ten Championship! Go Nits! 

- I underwent an ulnar shortening osteotomy in August. Still not where I hope to be, but making progress! 

- Our family was shaken by the news that one of our sons-in-law's father was diagnosed with cancer, as was a member of our life group (among others in our church family). We are so grateful for gifted doctors who are able to treat even this dreaded disease, giving hope to us all. Of course, we realize that all who suffer physical ailments are in the hands of our Great Physician. We draw much comfort from that! 

- Our church was blessed in so many ways ... one of which was the birthing of our baby - One City Church in Lancaster city on September 11th!

- Our family will long remember our annual beach vacation in August. Ten of the sixteen of us came down with the stomach bug. We don't know if the bug was awaiting our arrival or if one of us brought it to the beach. Here's to hoping next year's will be "bug free!" 

- God again (no surprise here!) showed us his faithfulness ... through both the good times and the trying times. No matter how turbulent life becomes, the God of the Bible is still on HIS throne! Every single promise he has ever made, he will fulfill! Morning by morning new mercies we saw ... Great was (and is!) HIS faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-24). 

I could easily go on and on and on ... but I will stop with the reflections so I can move on to ... 

2. A look ahead at the year of 2017: 

- Of course, none of us are guaranteed the next day, let alone the next year (James 4:13-15). So as I look ahead, I do so knowing that it is God who will determine what lies ahead for all of us! So for all that follows ... I say, "Deo Volente" (Latin for "God willing") to everything I list below. 

- As I mentioned above, Sharon's progress with her knee/leg has not been enough. She will therefore undergo a knee revision surgery (removal of plate and screws used to repair femur and replacement of original prosthetic knee joint with another). The surgery is scheduled for Monday, January 9th. Thanks in advance for your prayers! 

- It will be fun watching our eight grandkids continue to grow (especially the two youngest who are moving from babyhood to toddlerhood)!

- I believe that as our world grows darker in so many ways, that the light of the gospel has all the more opportunity to enlighten many! I am excited to see the impact the gospel of Jesus Christ will make upon our world in 2017!

- As I look at my calendar for the upcoming year, I am praying that God's favor will be upon me and both of my families (Smith family and Grace Church family) and that God would establish the work of our hands (Psalm 90:17). 

3. FINALLY ... a few questions to ask yourself as we move from this year to the next: 

- Do I know God better today than I did a year ago? What one thing will I do differently in the upcoming year to get to know God better? 

- Am I glorifying God in my day-to-day routine more than I was a year ago? What is one thing that I could do that will help me to more consistently honor him in my life?

- How am I doing sharing God and his story (think "gospel") with others? Am I doing better at this than I was a year ago? Again, what is one step I could take that would help me to be a better witness for Him? 

Thanks for stopping by ... and may God bless you in abundance as you say "goodbye" to 2016 and "hello" to 2017!


Friday Coffee with PJ: Special Christmas Edition

Here we are ... just two days away from what is for so many, the biggest day of the year: Christmas Day! So I invite you to pour yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy a few random yuletide thoughts with me. 

1. Scholars have debated for years the actual date of Jesus' birth. Sam Storms (pastor and one of my favorite authors) recently addressed this topic, When was Jesus born?  As he begins his attempt to answer this question, he offers these words: "It’s amazing how often people get caught up in the debate over when Jesus was actually born. Although we should never be dogmatic on this point, the biblical text does provide us with a number of clues."  The whole article (don't sweat it ... it is not all that long!) is definitely worth the read! 

2. Our staff was asked by our communications coordinator to write a brief paragraph for a blog post she was working on for our church website. She told us she was looking for a Christmas reflection from our childhood and a connection to some truth or insight about Christmas. So if you have not read the blog on the church website (which I encourage you to do as several others contributed to the post), here is my contribution: 

As a youngster, our Christmas morning began with stockings that mysteriously appeared in our bedroom overnight. So when we woke up (which tended to be VERY early), we would be occupied (for a time) with the little things we found wrapped in our stockings (so Mom and Dad could get a little bit more shut eye!).  As much as we enjoyed our stocking gifts, we knew the big gifts were still to come (and at that point, Mom's and Dad's sleep was history!). And sure enough, when we ran down the stairs, there, under and around the Christmas tree was a huge pile of gifts begging us to be opened! This reminds me of our experience as Christians. God has given us a foretaste of heaven in the blessings he has given us in this life (think stocking gifts!). But the really big gifts are still waiting for us in our eternal home of heaven. Oh what a day that will be when we climb the stairs that will lead us from this life to the next! It will be like Christmas Day all over again .... and again .... and again! 

3. This week, Sharon and I watched a couple of network holiday specials. We heard songs about Santa, Frosty the Snowman, and how Christmas is such a wonderful time of year. One special pointed to the Christmas favorite, Twas the Night Before Christmas, as "THE Christmas Story." Although we did not watch A Charlie Brown Christmas (which was aired this week on ABC), I do know from watching it in the past that it DOES include Linus reciting from the Bible ... giving the account of the birth of Christ. So at least one show this week got it right! I don't know about you, but this saddens me. For many, Christmas has become Xmas as Christ is nowhere to be found! But this fits with something I shared with our church family a few Sundays ago from Wikipedia. Here is what this often consulted website had to say about the true meaning of Christmas: 

The "true meaning of Christmas" is a phrase with a long history in American pop culture. It first appears in the mid-19th century, and is often given vaguely religious overtones, suggesting that the "true meaning of Christmas" is the celebration of the Nativity of Christ. But in pop culture usage, overt religious references are mostly avoided, and the "true meaning" is taken to be a sort of introspective and benevolent attitude as opposed to the commercialization of Christmas which has been lamented since at least the 1850s.

Now, given all of this, we as followers of Jesus who know that the true meaning of Christmas is all about God loving us in such a way
that he sent his one and only Son to become one of us ... live among us ... and eventually to die for us ... have a wonderful opportunity at this time of year to point people to Jesus! One way to start the conversation would be to ask people what Christmas means to them. Then offer to share what Christmas means to you and so many other Christ followers around the world! 

Thanks for stopping by ... Merry Christmas to you all and may God bless us, everyone! 


Friday Coffee with PJ

Well here we are ... just 9 days out from Christmas. I guess that means I will have to break out my special Starbucks Christmas blend. I know some don't care for Starbucks, but I enjoy it! And I am talking about coffee ... not those fancy coffee flavored drinks served up by Starbucks that are so sweet they will rot your teeth. I am talking about plain, unadulterated coffee! Well, no matter the brand you might currently be drinking, pour yourself a cup and join me for a few random thoughts. 

1. I am a city kid at heart (well, at least part of my heart). The first 13 years of my life were spent playing football on vacant lots, wall ball on a macadam playground and sledding down back alleys. Then, just a month after my 13th birthday, my parents moved us out of the city of Harrisburg to a lakeside renovated and expanded cottage in northern rural York County. You talk about a culture shift! Now boating and fishing and hunting and farm work became a huge part of my life. Today, imprints from both of those chapters of my life can be seen in me. I love to fish. I feel at home in the city. And I hold my breath every time I pass by a field that has been freshly fertilized with you know what (yep, those several years of cleaning out horse stables did not render my nose immune to that smell!). Speaking of smells, God calls us to be the fragrance of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14-16). And the only way we will be able to become the fragrance of Christ is to spend time in his presence! When I got home from cleaning out horse stables, my mom would not even let me in the house without first stripping off my clothes (we had an enclosed wrap around porch that allowed me to do this in semi-private conditions!). Why? Because after spending all that time around horse manure, my clothes smelled just like it! And so it is with Jesus Christ. The more time we spend with him (in his word and in prayer) ... the more we will smell like him! And that is a fragrance that we need to spread around! 

2. Back in my Harrisburg days, the group of kids I hung around with made an interesting discovery one Christmas season. That particular year (I am guessing I was in fifth grade), we decided to go Christmas caroling. And as we did so, going from house to house in our neighborhood, most people would come to the door, smile at us as we sang, and then thank us as we left. But a significant number would SHOW their thanks by offering us Christmas cookies, hot chocolate and (here is what brought us the most joy) even money! That's right! After a good night of caroling,
we would divvy up the money and often walk away with a dollar or two in our pockets (this in the day when the average worker made about $2.00 per hour)! Now, I admit that our motivation for singing Christmas carols was definitely all wrong! At that time in my life, I did not know Jesus Christ. I knew Christmas had something to do with a baby named Christ, but rarely did I give that any thought. Christmas for me meant gifts, gifts, and more gifts (and I am talking about receiving gifts and not giving!). I want to go on record to say that I am so VERY GRATEFUL to God that I am a far different person today! I have learned many things since those cold nights of caroling on the streets of Harrisburg. I now know that Christmas is ALL about the Christ child who was none other than God in the flesh, born to be our savior! I also know that it is a far greater blessing to give than to receive. God, of course, modeled this for us when he so loved us he gave to us his one and only son (John 3:16). And when we place our faith in him to forgive us and save us from eternal judgment, he does so! What a GIFT he offers to all! Have you by grace alone (you can't earn it no matter how hard you try!), through faith alone in Christ alone received HIS free gift of eternal life? Questions? Please take a moment to check out: Two Ways to Live: The Choice We All Face. 

A Merry Christmas season to you all ... and make sure you get your shopping done in time! 

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Friday Coffee with PJ

I have been on vacation this week ... so I did not put together a post for this morning. In its place, here is a video giving the back story of one of the most iconic (and terrifying!) photos of the last century. I wonder what OSHA would have to say about these guys sitting 80 stories above the ground with no safety harness to keep them from falling should they slip!

And please be sure to take some time to remember the reason behind this season of Advent (John 1:1 and John 1:14).

And just a reminder ... the script is now done! I invite you to join us at Grace on Sunday morning, December 18th for The Steward's Tale.

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Friday Coffee with PJ

It's Friday (and this week I am REALLY glad that Friday is finally here ... more on this below) and that means it's time for a cup of coffee and a few random thoughts. 

1. World magazine writes on a recent CDC (Center for Disease Control) report that indicates world abortion rates are falling. According to World, "Pro-life leaders see the new data as more proof the pro-life movement has changed public opinion about abortion." This is indeed good news. You can read World's article here. Please continue to pray for the work of the many pro-life ministries that are actively advocating for the unborn in so many ways. And if you want to "put some money where your prayers are" consider a gift to Susquehanna Valley Pregnancy Services

2. If you are looking for an advent devotional that will help you get and stay focused on the true meaning of the Christmas season, I recommend one available from the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, Where the Light Shines Brightest (download the pdf here for free). It is a 25 day devotional with devotional thought, a brief prayer, and the appropriate Scripture text. It is very well done! You might also want to consider Desiring God Ministries' advent devotional, Advent is for Adoring Jesus. This would also be a great choice! 

3. Finally, I mentioned above I am glad it is FRIDAY! Yahoo! Huzzah! YES! Why so? Yesterday I had the joy (not really!) of undergoing my medical screening procedure that I get to do every ten years (now I am NOT complaining ... because it could be a life saver if I would have had colon cancer AND I don't have to have it done every five years (as do those who have a family history of colon cancer) AND because I was able to resume a regular diet right away (unlike some medical procedures!). I am talking about a colonoscopy. And if you have been through one, you will know why I am so glad it is now behind me ... in the rear view mirror of life (puns intended). The procedure itself is not bad at all ... but it is what precedes. I will leave it at that. One of my staffers showed me the following song performed by Christian comedian, Tim Hawkins. It is simply titled, "The Colonoscopy Song." FUNNY! (especially now looking back!). So take a moment and watch and listen and LAUGH! Laughter is a proven stress reliever!

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Friday Coffee with PJ - Special Thanksgiving Day Edition

Here it is ... Thanksgiving Day! So I thought I would post my blog early this week to catch the holiday. So ... pour yourself a cup of your favorite coffee (and just so you know, I am so THANKFUL FOR COFFEE!) and join me for a few thoughts.  

1. Tomorrow is "Black Friday." Many of you will be numbered among the millions flying from store to store looking for the deals that will lighten your Christmas gift-giving budget! Not me. In all the years I have been on this planet ... there was only one year that I went shopping on a Black Friday. That year I was in need of a sports coat. A store at Park City Center advertised a really nice sports coat as a "door buster." The price was one I could not pass up. So at 6 am I walked into the already packed mall. I walked briskly to the men's department of the store ... found my size ... paid for the coat and got out of there as quickly as I could! That has been it. I now prefer to look for the deals online. Doing so is a lot less hectic (not to mention I can sit and sip my coffee while shopping!). So whether you head out the door later tonight or tomorrow ... remember not to spend over your budget - no matter how great the deals might be! 

2. I read the following article a grandson wrote about his atheistic father. You need to read this. My eyes perspired a bit as I read it. It's titled, Evangelism, the Holidays, and My Atheistic Father. The moral of this story is, "Never give up on the power of the gospel to save!" - Romans 1:16.

3. The Thanksgiving holiday weekend is the busiest travel period of the entire year. Millions of cars will choke the nation's highways, while millions of others will be taking advantage of lower air fares (as compared to last year's Thanksgiving holiday) to travel to numerous destinations. According to AAA the top destinations this Thanksgiving include the following: 

  1. Las Vegas, Nevada
  2. San Francisco, California
  3. San Diego, California
  4. Orlando, Florida
  5. New York City, New York
  6. New Orleans, Louisiana
  7. Anaheim, California
  8. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
  9. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  10. Seattle, Washington
Note that several of these are top cities for tourism. This indicates to me that many are using their extra time off to head off on vacation. But AAA missed out on the number one destination of Thanksgiving travelers. I think it's obvious that the #1 destination of those on the move is HOME! Thanksgiving is the holiday when families come together ... perhaps even more so than Christmas. This is what makes Thanksgiving such a special holiday (and yes, the Thanksgiving feast with the Turkey and all the trimmings doesn't hurt either!). If you have a close family ... you know how special it is to gathering together for Thanksgiving dinner! 

For those who have chosen to follow Jesus Christ, the Bible speaks of a feast in heaven that awaits us. It is called "The Marriage Supper of the Lamb" (you can read about it in Revelation 19:6-8). Heaven is our home. And one day ... we will sit down with God's people from all the ages to enjoy the greatest feast of all! Will you be there? If you have questions or just are not sure, I invite you to check out Two Ways to Live: The Choice We All Face. 

4. Even in the midst of trials, one can be thankful. Sharon and I wrote a blog for our church web site on this topic. The title is Giving Thanks in the Tough Seasons of Life. I encourage you to check it out, especially if life has been on the rought side of late. 

Happy Thanksgiving and thanks for stopping by . . . 

Friday Coffee with PJ

It's Friday ... so thanks for joining me for Friday Coffee with PJ! Pour yourself a cup of your favorite coffee (just a reminder, mine is San Francisco Bay Fog Chaser ... and it does indeed chase away that early morning fog that so many of us have when we awaken (and looking at its "Best Seller" status on Amazon, I am guessing a lot of other people have discovered that there's no better way to start your day than with Folgers SF Bay Fog Chaser in your cup!).

1. With Thanksgiving Day now less than a week away, I am sure the big Thanksgiving dinner is on your mind. Hmm, I wonder if there is a recipe for "coffee stuffing?" I think I will check ... so hold on .. I will be right back. I promise I will be so quick you won't even miss me! OK .. I am back. Quick, wasn't I! I struck out looking for a stuffing recipe that included coffee. But I did find a recipe that included coffee in the glaze for the turkey. Check it out here!   Now, if you have not yet purchased your turkey for the big meal, you are probably thinking about doing so soon.  So please beware of buying one too big to handle. Take a look at this poor woman's situation!

I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did! 

2. Question: when does a parent stop being a parent? Answer: as long as one has children (no matter their age). Once a parent always a parent! Now, what that parenting happens to look like changes across the years, as it should. As my wife and I have moved into the grandparenting phase of life, our parenting has morphed into the giving of occasional advice to our adult children (and that usually when asked!) and giving ongoing encouragement, AND helping care for the grandchildren (which we LOVE to do ... within limits, of course as we are not getting any younger!). But for those of you who are still very much actively parenting children who still live under your roof, Tim Challies (my favorite Christian blogger) has some advise as he discusses 3 Parenting Myths We Are All Tempted to Believe. I only wish someone had warned me about these when I started on my parenting journey! 

3. This month, our church is on a spiritual journey: 30 Days of Praise and Thanksgiving. For the "praise" aspect of our journey, we are using an excellent tool offered by the Navigators, 30 Days of Praying the Names and Attributes of God. Sixteen days in, and I have benefited greatly by being reminded of God and all that he is! He is indeed worthy of all the praise we can offer him! As for the "thanksgiving" aspect of our journey, we have encouraged people to use a gratitude journal (or simply a list) to record at least five blessings each day for which he or she is thankful. I now have around 100 on my list (which will continue to grow!). WHY this emphasis on praise and thanksgiving? All of us live in a very noisy world. We are bombarded by a lot of voices. Many of these voices are not pointing us toward God and His Son. So ... we need to counteract the messages we are hearing with God's truth. Reminding ourselves of WHO he is (and then praising him) and spending time thanking him for his many blessings is a powerful way to keep us "on track" with God while we continue our journey on this earth. It's not too late to join us. God is indeed GREAT and GOOD ... and that makes him a God who is worthy of our praise and gratitude! 

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Friday Coffee with PJ

Sorry I missed you last Friday. I was away at a Grace College and Seminary Board Retreat and did not have a chance to write a post before I left. So I made up for missing last week with a rather long post. Thanks for joining me today! And a BIG THANKS to all of you who are serving or have served our country in one of the branches of the military. We salute you today! 

1. As I mentioned above, last week I traveled to Rome .... Georgia that is! Our retreat was held at the WinShape Retreat Center, which is run by the WinShape Foundation, a creation of the founder of Chick-fil-A, Truett Cathy. Just prior to our first session of our board retreat, the activities director (a Grace College alumnus) told the story of Berry College (the retreat center sits on the property of Berry). The college is named for Martha Berry. Martha had a vision to start a school for the academically able and economically poor children of the rural south. Her dream was fulfilled and continues to this day as Berry College (and through the ministry of the WinShape Foundation at the Retreat Center). As the activities director was telling Martha's story and the story of the Cathy family, I could not help but think of the Milton Hershey School, where my youngest daughter teaches. This school exists today because a man and his wife had a desire to help orphans. After making a fortune making and selling chocolate, Milton Hershey established a trust fund to pay for the ongoing work of his school (currently the school is educating  approximately 2000 residential students and construction of more group homes designed to house enough students to raise the student population to 2500 has begun). Over the years, thousands of financially needy students have been prepared for life. All this to say .... Two men ... Two incredibly successfully businessmen ... unbelievably wealthy ... and their legacy lives on through their generosity. We all can learn from them. "But wait a minute, John, I don't have that kind of money and never will!" I am sure you don't (just as I am sure that I don't). But friends, we don't need a lot of money to be generous. Yes, generosity can be done by giving away money ... but there are so many other ways to be generous (with your time, your gifts and abilities, your home, and yes, even with the "little" money you do have ---- I used quotations around the word "little" because by world standards, even the poorest of Americans have more than most people on the planet!). This morning, I ran across the following verse in my devotional reading. I encourage you to read it ... and then go and live it! 

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). 

2. During our Board Retreat, we began each morning with a devotional brought to us by a different board member. The individual who led on our last morning, finished his devotional reading with the following list of observations from a man who had been around the block and then some. The wisdom he gained through life experience was ... well, I will allow you to finish that thought. 

Observations from a long-time, retiring Christian school headmaster:

A. People never receive too much encouragement.
B. There is wisdom in many counselors.
C. In the big scheme, our lives and our influence are really very small. There is no room for pride.
D. Prayer is the most under appreciated and underused source of power.
E. God gives us people with immense needs to keep us from the temptation of self-indulgence.
F. Remember, each day you control very little, so depend on God.
G. God produces fruit, we plant seeds. Don’t confuse the two.
H. Have more grace in your life. 

3. Finally, I would be amiss if I did not say anything about the outcome of Tuesday's election. Many people this week are thrilled that Donald Trump won the election. Others are contacting their realtor to help them find a new house in Canada. I also know that if Hillary Clinton had won there would also be many dancing in the streets while others would be making appointments to see their therapist. Listen. This is not a first for this sort of thing. We live in a democracy. We have a political process that works (perhaps some of you question that given the choice we had on Tuesday and/or the result). But come January 20, 2017, we will witness the peaceful (I hope) transfer of power. This is what makes our country (among other things) unique among the countries of the world. With the election now in the rear view mirror, here are a few thoughts, that I hope, are worth something . . . 

1). There is no perfect candidate for political office. Yes, I would argue that some are better than others, but if you are looking for the perfect candidate ... you will have to look for the rest of your life. Consider some of our previous presidents ... John F. Kennedy was a known womanizer. Lyndon Johnson bullied people and used profanity like I use deodorant. Richard Nixon was ... well, does Watergate mean anything to you? Both presidential candidates this year brought their baggage to the race. Did one have more baggage than the other? That answer depends on who you talk to. 

2.) I have heard many voice their disgust that millions could cast their vote for such a man as Trump. But I have not heard anyone say the same about those who voted for candidates who support abortion. Of course there are many who see abortion as a woman's right (therefore their position is referred to as pro-choice). And then there are many who are pro-life. But what I find interesting in the whole abortion conversation is that when the unborn is wanted by the mother it is referred to as a baby. But when the mother does not want the unborn it is a "fetus." So is that what makes the unborn a person or a nonperson .... whether or not the mother wants the unborn child? I happen to be pro-life. I believe that human life begins at conception. You can call me old-fashioned or whatever else you choose. But I think it is downright shameful that America leads the world in the number of abortions performed each year (approximately a million). When we discuss protecting the most vulnerable in our society, I can think of none more vulnerable than the unborn. We need to do more as a nation to protect these most vulnerable from the abortionists who would end their lives. The screams of the unborn are silent. We must be their voice! 

3). Now that the votes have been tallied and Trump declared the victor, what should our response as Christians be? For starters we must pray for Trump and all of the candidates, regardless of party affiliation, who were elected to office on Tuesday (1 Timothy 2:1-3). We also need to stop griping and stop gloating. Instead, we must come together and try to solve problems through civil discourse (i.e. conversation that is marked by politeness and courtesy) as we discuss possible solutions - something the presidential candidates had problems doing. :( In addition, we need to give all our fears and anxieties to our sovereign God, who loved us enough to give his own son for us (John 3:16). This sovereign God has a plan and is working that plan. And yes, that plan includes those who "rule" in our world today (Daniel 2:21). Finally, we must keep the main thing the main thing. And just what is the main thing? The gospel of Jesus Christ! This is the good news that has value not only for this life ... but the life to come as well! 

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Friday Coffee with PJ

Friday. Coffee. A few random thoughts. Welcome, my friends, to Friday Coffee with PJ! Oh ... and by the way, here is another article - this time from Consumer Reports - on the benefits of drinking coffee! 

1. What should one of our chief aims as we attend church on Sunday mornings? Obviously the worship of our AWESOME God is at the top of the list (or at least should be). But let me suggest to you another VIP (Very Important Purpose) you should be striving to do every Sunday you walk through the doors of your church facility: ENCOURAGEMENT! And I am not talking about yours ... I am referring to YOU encouraging OTHERS! The New Testament makes it clear that we all need to be on a mission to encourage our brothers and sisters in the faith when we "come together!" Consider: 

Hebrews 3:13  "But exhort (encourage) one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."

Hebrews 10:24-25  "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."

So as you head out the door to attend services at your local church on Sunday, do so ON MISSION to encourage those you encounter. And the funny thing about encouraging others? As you do so, you will be encouraged in the process! 

2. Earlier this week, I drove my 5 year old grandson, Nolan, to our house from preschool ... a whopping distance of about 1/4 mile! In that short time we were in the van together, somehow we got on the topic of how his dad works out. I asked Nolan if he ever worked out ... and he replied, "I don't lift weights, I only do cardio!"  Ha! Even this little guy is picking up how important it is to keep our hearts in shape! Well, not only do we need to pursue things in life that will promote good heart health ... we must be just as concerned (if not more so) with the condition of our spiritual heart! In the Old Testament book of wisdom, we are urged, "above all else, guard
your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" (Proverbs 4:23). Now there are many steps we can take to do this. For starters, saturating our heart and mind with God's Word will do this. Knowing and living the Scriptures will go a long way toward guarding our hearts (Psalm 119:9-11)! In addition, prayer flavored with praise and thanksgiving will also do the same (Philippians 4:4-7). Knowing how vital this latter step is, we are launching an emphasis this coming Sunday at our church that will lead us as a church family into a deeper practice of both praise and thanksgiving. The Thirty Days of Praise and Thanksgiving initiative will be worth every minute put into it. God is worthy to be praised (Psalm 18:3) and we must thank him in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). As we do, we will guard our hearts against such things as pride, bitterness, covetousness, anger and more! 

3. My wife's journey continues. Now that her femur has healed, she is scheduled for a knee replacement revision on Friday, December 16th. The surgery will also involve the removal of the plate and screws used to repair her broken femur. This gives us plenty of time to get "stuff" done prior to the surgery. Your prayers are much appreciated. 

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Friday Coffee with PJ

Once again it's Friday! So pour yourself a cup of your favorite coffee and join me for a few random thoughts. 

1. I have been serving on the Board of Trustees of Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary for about ten years. As a board member, I receive via email each Friday a copy of Equip, the weekly communique that is distributed on campus for students, staff and faculty. In a recent issue of Equip, I read the following about coffee. I found it to be very interesting: 

The 2016 Grace College Organic Chemistry I students under the guidance of Chad Snyder, recently analyzed coffee samples donated from several of faculty and staff. Although not all coffee samples were able to be analyzed it was discovered that some coffees possessed higher caffeine levels than others. This is not surprising nor is it new information, however, the CHM 2620 (Organic Chemistry I) students found trends in caffeine levels that were region or country dependent. Coffee beans analyzed from Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Tanzania presented higher levels of caffeine in their beans. Coffee beans from Costa Rica, Tanzania and Guatemala manifested lower levels of caffeine.

Sooooo .... If you really need a caffeine boost, before ordering your coffee, make sure it is made from coffee beans grown in Africa! 

2. Yesterday I had my 10 week post op appointment with the surgeon who performed my ulnar osteotomy (shortening of the ulna bone - the smaller of the two bones in the forearm) and wrist repair. For the first three weeks following the surgery, my arm and wrist were wrapped in a cast. Then I was fitted for a custom made brace. The brace has been pretty much my constant companion ... until yesterday morning! My doctor made my day by telling me I no longer needed to wear it! Yes. For the first time in two months I felt free! And it felt GOOD! 

Freedom is something we all cherish, especially as Americans. But there is a greater freedom than the liberty we enjoy as citizens of our country. Jesus talked about it as recorded in the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John. He put it this way, 

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free . . . So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:31-32, 36).

The freedom Jesus is referencing here is freedom from sin ... it's penalty, it's bondage, and ultimately, it's presence. Have you ever experienced this freedom? If you have any doubts or questions ... or would like to explore this more ... I invite you to check out Two Ways to Live: The Choice We All Face.

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Friday Coffee with PJ

Today follows 15 days that have revolved around the death of my mother-in-law, Bessie Pietrowski. Yesterday, we laid her body to rest in the Brigadier General William Doyle Memorial Veterans Cemetery located in New Jersey (my wife's dad was a WW II veteran of North Africa, Sicily and Italy). So for those of you who prayed ... thanks! And please continue to pray for my wife as she processes her emotions upon the passing of her mom.

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Friday Coffee with PJ

Seeing that today is Friday ... I invite you to pour a cup of your favorite Joe and join me for a couple of random (but I hope) fruitful thoughts. 

1. The destruction and devastation that hurricane Matthew is leaving in its path is downright heartbreaking. For the people of Haiti who have suffered loss of life ... and for the survivors the loss of what little they had ... is heartbreaking. I am sure in coming days, opportunities will arise to give toward relieving their suffering. Please consider doing so. Every gift, no matter how small, when put together with other gifts, will go a long way toward helping these people who have to put their lives back together after having them ripped apart. Our world-wide Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches has set up a storm relief fund through Encompass World Partners' Crisis Response Network to help assist in the relief effort in Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas and Florida.  

2. Death. It is something we will all one day face (unless, of course, Jesus Christ returns beforehand!). Yet death is something we rarely think about. Death is something we as a society have done our best to "sanitize." So instead of saying "My Uncle Tom died," we say, "My Uncle Tom passed away."  Now I am not against using euphemisms for death. It does soften the reality being expressed (and even the Apostle Paul used an euphemism when referring to the deaths of believers when in 1 Thessalonians chapter four he referred to those who had died as being "asleep"  - 1 Thessalonians 4:13). But try as we might to push the thought of death to the margins of our minds, the day will come when the vast majority of us will have to watch a loved one die. And that is never easy. Certainly when the eternal destination of that loved one is clear due to their firm and solid testimony of faith in the Savior Jesus Christ - there is a "sweetness" in that moment. And why not? What a thought to know one's loved one with their final breath will leave behind all the trials, pain and sorrow of living in a broken world, only to "awaken" in a place where "every tear will be wiped away" (Revelation 21:4-5)! Calling this to mind will already begin the process of healing our breaking hearts. Yet that sweetness is tempered by the bitterness of the moment. Watching a life fade away, knowing that a dreaded separation is about to occur, is not an easy experience. 

These past few days my wife and I and our family have sat by the bedside of my mother-in-law whose death is rapidly approaching. As she is losing her grip on the barest of threads tying her to this life, it is a huge comfort knowing we are not alone. Yes, we have the staff of the Mennonite Home to help. And yes, there is the presence of the Hospice and Community Care staff. But there is also the presence of our God. And as he works through others and through his Spirit, our souls have been comforted, our faith strengthened, and our breaking hearts are even now beginning to mend ... if only a little bit! :)

My friends, as these past few days have reminded us, death will come calling for us all. When he does, will you be ready to leave this life and enter the next? If you have any questions or doubts, please take a moment and check out Two Ways to Live: The Choice We All Face. 

Thanks for stopping by ... and thanks for your prayers! 


P.S. My mother-in-law passed away on Saturday (October 8th) at 3:00 am. 

It's Friday ... so it's time to pour yourself a cup of your favorite brew and join me for a couple of thoughts. 

1. In case you missed it, yesterday was National Coffee Day, and some places were giving away free coffee! Why celebrate coffee? Why not? Is there a better beverage out there? Coffee hot or cold can't be beat. And not only does it taste great ... but it is chock full of great health benefits. So if you missed the fact that yesterday was National Coffee Day you may have missed a free cup. But given the upside of coffee drinking, coffee is worth every dollar you have to spend on it! Oh ... and by the way, today is National Chewing Gum Day. Since people have been chewing gum for several thousand years ... why not celebrate with a chew of your favorite brand? 

2. Long time Los Angeles Dodger baseball fans will no longer enjoy the voice of Vin Scully when they tune in to listen to Dodger games next season. After SIXTY-SEVEN years, Scully, known as "the Voice of the Dodgers," broadcast his last game this week. Scully is one of the most beloved baseball voices of all time. Even non Dodger fans loved listening to him (I know I did!). Among the many tributes that poured in this week was this one: "He makes Los Angeles a better place to live."  That tribute got me thinking. Is Lancaster a better place to live because of me? Is Grace Church a better church in which to worship and fellowship and serve because of me? Is my family a stronger, healthier family because of me? And what about YOU? Are those around you better because of you? For all of us who claim allegiance to Christ, let's be more intentional about being the fragrance of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)! 

3. I recently read an article titled, Are We Seeing the Death of Congregational Singing in "Contemporary" Worship? One of the statements made by the author referenced the volume of the worship band in many churches. He wrote, "Often the congregation can't hear itself sing because of the sound level of the 'professional' singers and instrumentalists. So people don't sing." Now that may be true of other churches, it is not true of the church I am privileged to pastor. On one recent Sunday, during our "contemporary" service (which is led by a worship "band"), I stopped singing. Not because I could not hear myself sing, but because I wanted to hear our congregation sing. In fact, on the last verse of the song, the band stopped playing ... and oh, how beautiful was the music being made by a chorus of human voices! Here at Grace Church, our philosophy of music includes this dictum: If the congregation cannot be heard singing ... then the worship band is too loud. Maybe that won't work for other churches, but it sure works for us! 

Thanks for stopping by . . . 

Friday Coffee with PJ

It's Friday so pour yourself a cup of your favorite brew of coffee and join me for a couple of random, but I hope fruitful, thoughts.

1. Today is the first official Friday of the fall season (autumn officially arrived yesterday at 10:21am). This is somewhat ironic given the fact that the high temperatures for yesterday and today are from the mid to upper 80s. Just shows that the thermometer doesn't always agree with the season. But the forecast for next week is much more fall-like. You see, the seasons come, and the seasons go. And they always come in their proper sequence. So we know that the summer type temperatures won't continue forever… For autumn has now arrived. And the temperatures will progressively trend downward  as we approach the next season of winter. Life is a lot like this. We go through seasons of life. As I look back at my own life I think fondly of the season of childhood. My earliest memories go back to when I was three years of age. Childhood passed and I entered the season of adolescence and then young adulthood.  This was followed by middle-age… And just this year I hit the season of life known as the sixties! I have eight grandchildren! Before I know it, should God grant me more years,  I'll be rocking away (and not to music!), wondering where life went!  But that's OK. I know that this life is merely a preface to the life to come. And with my faith firmly fixed on Jesus Christ, my savior and Lord … I know with the utmost confidence that I will one day cross the great divide from this life into the next. When that happens I will find myself in that glorious place called heaven. How about you?  Do you have this confidence? Or do you have questions about your eternal destination? Courage you to take a few moments and check out Two Ways to Live: The Choice We All Face. You will be glad you did!

2. This week I did a couple of really really stupid things! On  Monday, my wife and I stopped at Walmart. We needed to run in and pick up some miniature pumpkins and some google eyes for a project she was planning for our "little kids." When I got out the car I noticed that it made some sort of strange noise when I went to lock the door. I paused for a moment, and then turned toward the store. About 20 minutes later, shopping mission now accomplished, as I went to unlock the car, I found the door already unlocked. "That's odd!" I said to myself. So I opened the door and slid into the driver's seat. When I went to start the car I discovered it was already running! That's right! I left the car running with doors unlocked the entire time we were in Walmart. Now a little background on this. We bought this car in late June. It has a push button ignition.  I'm not trying to make an excuse for my stupid move… But I guess I am still getting used to this new technology. That was stupid move number one. Stupid move number two occurred the very next day. I was walking back from a lunch our staff  enjoyed together in the café of the nearby supermarket. There were three of us walking abreast along the sidewalk. I was walking near the curb.  As I turned my head from the side to look straight ahead, I did so a split-second before I walked right into a metal rod that was holding a banner on the lamp post. You talk about seeing stars.  I saw a few! But after a couple of minutes I started feeling better and no significant damage was done (to me or the banner, my pride, however, took a huge hit!).  All of us from time to time pull stupid stunts like this. As I look back on these "duh moves," I am glad and thankful that no one hopped into our car and took off with it! I'm also grateful that I didn't knock myself out walking in to that metal rod! But when we do stupid things,  I find it a comfort to know that our God… Who is wise beyond measure . . . has his eye upon us (Matthew 10:29-31) and and his hand firmly gripping our lives (John 10:28-29)!

Thanks for stopping by . . .

Friday coffee with PJ

 It's Friday so pour yourself a cup of coffee and join me for a few random thoughts…

1.  Monday evening of this past week, my son, Tim, invited me over to his house to watch our favorite NFL team play (which is the Pittsburgh Steelers of course!).  Since our granddaughter, Ella, was attending art club at our church facility (which is only a couple of minutes from our home), I offered to pick her up and bring her with me to save my son a trip. When we arrived in the house my son informed Ella  that she needed to do some reading. The conversation went something like this:

T -  OK Ella, before you do anything else you need to do some reading.
E -  How long do I need to read? Ten minutes?
T - No, you need to read longer than that.
E - So  how long?
T - Well why don't we negotiate? How about 40 minutes?
E - Well (with a sigh) ... OK

With that Ella proceeded up the stairs to retrieve her book. After she went upstairs, I looked at my son and said, "I guess she needs to learn what the word negotiate means!" Negotiate. I wonder how often we do this with God. We try to negotiate with him when it comes to the demands he makes upon us. Yet when it comes down to it… Who are we to to negotiate with God?  I think we often forget that he is God and we are not. If you need reminded of this take some time and read the  Old Testament book of Job.  Job tried to negotiate with God. And when God finally showed up, any thoughts of negotiations were over! God reminded Job of this truth: "I am God and you are not."  If we pause to remind ourselves of this truth AND the truth that God's commands are not burdensome (1 John 5:3) and are for our good (Deuteronomy 10:13), this should dampen any desire we have to negotiate with God. And that, my friends, is a good thing!

2. Here's a quick update on my health. Yesterday I went back for another post op follow-up appointment with my surgeon (surgery was four weeks ago). When I went two weeks ago for my first post op, the surgeon was concerned with a  hematoma which had formed.  I am very thankful to say that the hematoma has almost totally dissipated on its own (otherwise a surgical procedure would've been required to remove it).  I'm also grateful that the x-rays taken yesterday showed everything was looking good. I will continue with physical therapy twice a week. I will continue to wear the brace. And I will continue with the weight restriction of 4 to 5 pounds (lifting  with my left arm). Thanks for all of your ongoing prayers! Very much appreciated! To God be the glory!!!

Thanks for stopping by…

Friday coffee with PJ

It's Friday!  Hard to believe that another work week is almost in the books!  Go ahead and pour yourself a couple of your favorite java  and join me for a couple of random thoughts.

1.  On Wednesday of this week I finally got my removable splint made for my arm and wrist. It was a rather fascinating process watching the therapist make the splint for me. But I must  admit I would've rather had the experience watching it made on YouTube! What really struck me most when she took off the cast that had been on my arm was just how much my arm had atrophied in the past three weeks. It is a shadow of its former self. She pointed out that once everything is healed with my wrist and arm I will have to work hard at strengthening the arm back to its pre-surgery state.  Now I was not surprised that my arm had atrophied.  That's what happens to muscles when they are not used. What is true in the physical realm is also true in the spiritual. When we fail to exercise certain spiritual practices… We experience spiritual atrophy. So for example if you're not praying like you should,  when you do pray your prayers will tend to be weak and shallow.  The same is true for our interaction with God's word. If you're not exercising that spiritual practice you will experience atrophy. So the key to saying strong  in the so-called spiritual disciplines that will lead us to grow in our faith is to exercise them. So how are you doing? People spent a lot of time and a lot of money keeping their bodies in shape.  What are you doing to keep  your soul in shape?

2.  This summer is one that is insisting on sticking around.  We are currently standing at 38 days of 90° or above this summer (in a normal summer we would have 22 such days).  And with the forecast containing at least two more days with forecast highs of 90° we should have no problem hitting the
40 mark (which would tie for 7th place on the "Most 90 degree days" list)! This is been one hot long summer!  But it is September. That means with one turn at the calendar, it will be October. Summer will soon begin  to fade in the rear view mirror of life. That's the way life happens. Summers come  and summers go. And the older we get the faster that all occurs! The other day as I looked in the mirror it struck me that a 60-year-old man was staring back at me. Really? I'm now in my 60s? How did that happen? When did it happen? Well sooner or later it happens to all of us. As the Scripture reminds us we are like grass that flourishes in the morning but fades and withers by evening (Psalm 90:5-6).  Given this reality we all need to be praying Psalm 90:12. "So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom."  And we need to be living out the Apostle's Paul's counsel in Ephesians 5:15-15: "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are passing quickly." So let's determine to make the most of our time ... living each day for Christ and Christ alone!

Thanks for stopping by,

Friday Coffee with PJ

Well, it's Friday again. So I invite you to pour a cup of your favorite coffee brew and join me for a few random thoughts. And since I am still in recovery mode and typing comes with some difficulty, I will begin with a quick update on my health followed with a post I wrote a while back.

1. On Wednesday I returned to see my surgeon for my postop  appointment (15 days following my surgery). For the most part he was pleased, although he is concerned about a hematoma which has formed. He is hoping it will dissipate on it's own. If it does not then he will have to care for it in the OR. Normally I would be seeing him in four weeks, but due to this I will be seeing him in two. I did get my cast off and the sutures out. I have a temporary splint on. Next Wednesday I see the hand therapist who will fit me for a splint I can put on and take off myself. Yea! Thanks for your own ongoing prayers!

2.                                You Can Run but You Can’t Hide!

CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) might be the most watched show on television – but it is losing popularity among law enforcement personnel.  It seems that criminals are “wising up” on how to go about covering up their tracks after a crime.  And it appears that they are learning how to do so by watching the popular TV series.  Take for example the case of  Jermaine "Maniac" McKinney. This guy allegedly broke into a home and murdered two women.  He then carefully cleaned up the crime scene (using bleach which destroys DNA evidence) and disposed of the bodies and his bloody clothing.  He did make one mistake, though.  He attempted to get rid of some of the evidence by throwing it into a lake. However the lake was frozen and what he threw remained on top of the ice (apparently the ice was too thin to support his weight, so he was unable to retrieve the incriminating evidence).  Investigators later recovered the evidence and charged McKinney with two counts of murder (the word, “duh” comes to mind!). 

Now as I thought about this, a lot of life lessons come to mind.  But probably the most needful for me (and I think for you, too) comes out of the Old Testament book of Numbers where we read, “But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the LORD; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).  You see, friend, you and I can do all we want to try to “cover up our sin.”  But the God who sees all – He will know.  So when you do sin, come clean with God.  Confess your sin to Him and receive from Him cleansing and forgiveness.  It is the far better route to go! (See 1 John 1:9 and Psalm 32:1-2)

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...