Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lost & Found

So...you know that feeling that you get...way, way down deep in the pit of your stomach...that emotional wave which is a mixture of sheer panic, fear, and adrenaline...it's the feeling that you get at the moment that you first realize that you've lost something very precious to you...I hate that feeling!

I've been looking forward to something for several months. My BRILLIANT and BEAUTIFUL mother-in-law, Jaye Norquist, bought me an early Christmas present: tickets to last Sunday's Eagles vs. Colts football game here in Philadelphia. Back in September I received two tickets in the mail via Stub Hub...tickets which would give me my first and no doubt last chance to see my gridiron hero, Peyton Manning, live and in person. After cuddling with the tickets for several days, they were delicately stowed away in a safe place to await their appointed day.

Sunday morning came and the Williams house was a fury of activity. My former church, Grace Bible Fellowship Church of Wallingford, PA, had invited me to come and share an update about the ministry of New Beginnings. So, you can imagine the scene of getting ready for church, packing all the necessary items for a presentation, diapers, baby food, and a warm change of clothes for the football game, and the tickets.

We arrived at Grace in plenty of time to usher our kids to their classrooms and nursery and for me to get a DVD presentation up to the sound booth. Making my way through the halls of Grace church has always been challenging due to the warmth and friendliness of folks there, but it is especially hard when people want to hear about how we've been doing over the past two years of being away in church planting. Moments before the service began I made my way back to my seat. For security purposes and peace of mind, I had placed the tickets in the middle of my Bible...actually, in Ecclesiastes 3 where it talks about a "time and place for everything under the sun"...appropriate, so I thought. When I sat down I grabbed my Bible and opened it to glance at the tickets before we started to worship...and...(get ready for that feeling...)...the tickets were gone!

Believe it or not, I kept my composure quite well throughout the service. My update went seemingly well and I didn't burst out into tears or anything like that. I had whispered to Laurie halfway through the service (figuring that she couldn't really yell at me or punch me during church for losing such expensive tickets) that they were not in the Bible. I could see the panic on her face too.

After the service ended, the search began. I retraced literally every step that I had taken since getting the kids out of the van in the parking lot of Grace. I turned the van upside-down. I looked under nearly every car in the parking lot...and absolutely nothing! Fortunately, a few friends from New Beginnings were with us at the service and were heading back to New Jersey. So, I gave them a key to our house and pleaded with them to look around the driveway and, if necessary, to go into the house and look where the tickets had been just before we packed up for Grace.

About thirty minutes later I got the call from my friend, Tim. "Danny," he said. "They are here. They must have fallen off your Bible and were resting on the couch." The tickets never even made it out of the house!

To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction...(I forget who said that)...So, if you know the feeling of despair and paralysis which comes from losing something so precious, then maybe you also know the feeling of having found that which was so precious? The flood of panic gives way to a fountain of praise.

So, after all this...a couple of observations and thoughts...

#1 - I can be such a boneheaded person. (Maybe you already knew that...)

#2 - I learned a lot about my heart and trust in God through this experience. (A special word of thanks to my friend, Warren Spence, who prompted us to prayer before the search began.)

#3 - This whole story reminds me of The Gospel of Luke, chapter fifteen...check that out sometime today to see just how passionate God is to find lost things and to see the joy of heaven when we are found.

#4 - Sitting in the 200 level at an Eagles game is really quite an experience in and of itself!

Have you ever lost something that was very valuable? How did it make you feel to lose it...and to find it?

A few snapshots of the fun:







Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Pardon & Public Prayer

Okay, so I first need to begin by asking your pardon. You're probably thinking that this blog should be titled "The Not-So-Daily Difference" after nearly a month's sabbatical from writing. No excuses will be given. I am, however, in the process of writing a fairly lengthy post that will highlight much of the month's events which contributed to my detour from satisfying the thirst of all four readers of my blog. All kidding aside, I am sorry and will endeavor to be more faithful in writing as I've come to enjoy this time as 1) an offering of worship to God; 2) an opportunity to encourage/challenge others; and 3) a helpful discipline for myself.

Today's post hits close to home...my old home in Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee. (Yes, I spelled the name of my hometown right!) Believe it or not, sleepy Soddy-Daisy is at the center of a national controversy concerning the matter of public prayer before a sporting event. You can read more by following this link: Fox News.

I have vivid memories of prayer before our football games each Friday night during my high school career. Depending what area of the country you're from this concept might sound anything from appalling to strange to expected. For many of us who grew up in the "Bible belt" it was as normal as singing the National Anthem.

Our culture (and it might be more accurate to say "cultures") has changed drastically even over the 15 years since I graduated from high school. It seems as if everywhere you turn you are hearing about things like the banning of prayer before a high school football game. One old friend on Facebook said last night, "If you don't believe in prayer or football, then you probably don't belong in Soddy-Daisy." That's not far from how most people back home feel.

But how should we really respond to circumstances like these? There are constitutional laws granting religious freedom to all people and restricting the public expression of it for some good reasons. The Scriptures clearly teach us that we are to submit to every civil authority established over us (Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:13). At the same time, the Bible also calls us to "let our light shine before men, so that they may see your good work and give glory to your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

What do you think about this topic? How should Christians respond to something like this? What might be some creative and appropriate responses from people who want to take a stand for their faith?

Friday, September 24, 2010

You Are Not

It's been quite a week! So, I'm going to dig into my little bag of goodies to give you something for encouragement today. Laurie sent this to me earlier in the week. I thought it was pretty powerful and refreshing. You can read other posts from the author here.

You are not your past.
You are not your failures.
You are not your parents.
You are not your sister.
You are not your regrets.
You are not your sin.
You are not your weight.
You are not your divorce.
You are not your unemployment.
You are not the choices someone else made for you.
You are not your brokenness.
You are not your bitterness.
You are not your abuse.
You are not your loneliness.
You are not your marital status.
You are not your tax bracket.
You are not your crisis.


This is who YOU are:

You are loved.
You are forgiven.
You are redeemed.
You are destined.
You are a new creation.
You are valued.
You are gifted.
You are chosen.
You are prized.
You are reconciled.
You are called.
You are noticed.
You are pursued.
You are a child of The King.
You are a co-heir with Christ.
You are a royal priesthood.
You are adored, cherished, and treasured by the God of this universe.


When you choose to stop living out who you are not and you start to live in who you are...
It changes everything.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wednesday Wisdom - 22

I'm not sure who the genius was who first figured out that the book of Proverbs has as many chapters as some months have days. I know a lot of Christians who have the practice of reading the chapter of Proverbs which corresponds to the date of the month (i.e. reading Proverbs 1 on the first day of the month, etc.) Proverbs is what you call "Wisdom Literature" (along with Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, and Job). It is a book which lends itself to helpful devotional meditation due to the fact that you can read a verse or cluster of verses and have so much to mentally chew on for the entire day! When you repeat this practice month after month, then it really helps you call to mind God's practical wisdom for everyday living. I've done this from time to time in my Christian walk and it really is powerful!

Today is September 22nd...yeah, I know, it's hard to believe. So, I wanted to share a few verses from Proverbs 22 with you today...

22:1 - A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than gold or silver. Which is more valuable: your reputation or your material assets?

22:6 - Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Do you think this is a promise to claim or a principle to live by?

22:9 - A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor. How is it a blessing to give your stuff away to others?

These are just a few of the pearls of wisdom from God's Word in Proverbs 22. Let me encourage you to get into God's Word today. Don't try to live without it!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"All-Faith" Fantasy Team


Okay, so I am one of those "geeks" who plays Fantasy Football. (If you are a fellow Fantasy player, please accept my apology for calling you a "geek". I don't really mean it; I'm merely trying to be a little self-deprecating so as deflect any real attention from the fact that I love football enough to spend about twenty minutes out of my week adjusting my roster, pulling off radical trades, and feeling some of those old competitive juices flow. By the way, I PICKED UP MY FIRST FANTASY WIN OF THE YEAR LAST NIGHT...DREW BREES IS DA MAN...BOO YAA!!!!)

So, now that I have that out of my system...

...I was just thinking about how cool it would be to draft an "All-Faith" Fantasy team. In some ways, the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews serves such a purpose for our great heritage of faith. Who could argue the merits of including the likes of Moses, Abraham, Enoch, and Noah, just to name a few, in such a notable list? The Bible is incredible in the way in which is includes so many different and relevant stories of people who walked the walk of faith. Hebrews 11:1-2 says, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for." The concept of faith is so important that verse six of this great chapter says that it is impossible to please God without having faith.

So, who would you draft from God's Word for your "All-Faith" Fantasy Team?

Here would be my starting nine:
1. Jesus (...umm, duh...)
2. Enoch (...he must have been a faith stud!)
3. David (...man after God's own heart...)
4. Barnabas (...every team needs encouragement...)
5. Paul (...he would definitely be a playmaker...)
6. Joseph (...had good patience and a great perspective...)
7. Solomon (...not a perfect guy but he had a ton of wisdom...)
8. Daniel (...besides the great name, he had major courage...)
9. Moses (...pretty good leader, had to get past the excuses...)


Reserves:
1. Abraham (...big on faith, he was a sneaky guy though...)
2. Peter (...impetuous, but came up big when it mattered...)
3. Joshua (...solid leader...)
4. Nehemiah (...good vision and enthusiasm...)
5. Timothy (...got to have some youth for the future...
)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday Morning Preacher


So, you've heard of the "Monday Morning Quarterback", right? The MMQ is the person who likes to play the "expert" in his analysis over the previous day's games. Sometimes the breakdown of the action is spot-on. Other times, you really have to wonder if the MMQ was even watching the same game. We all like to be the MMQ; we have our opinions and key thoughts about who did what wrong and what the only possible solution is to correct the problem.

Well, I wonder how many "Monday Morning Preachers" there are out there? You know what I mean. We sit in church Sunday after Sunday and hear the pastor preach his heart out from God's Word. Sometimes we walk away really sensing the Holy Spirit's presence and clearly gaining supernatural insight into the Bible and our faith. And other times, if we are honest, we can't even remember what the sermon was about. But, I would venture to say that most people have at least some opinion or something to say about the Sunday's sermon. I'm not saying this this is necessarily a bad thing. I think it is imperative for God's people to weigh the words of a particular messenger according to the primary source of revelation: the Word of God. The people of Berea, in the Book of Acts in the New Testament, serve as a great example of this (cf. Acts 17:11).

I believe that God has been working on me as a servant to His church--the body of His Son--and one who seeks to "rightly handle the Word of God" (2 Tim. 2:15). I certainly haven't "arrived", but I feel like I am growing as a preacher. The weekly time of meditation in the Scriptures and the discipline that it takes to shape an effective sermon for the church is immensely significant. I'm sure that there are scores of people who could prepare and deliver a sermon for more effectively than I can. Maybe it really is as "easy" as you think it is. Maybe we all need to be reminded that there is something deeply sacred which is happening when God's Word is opened and expounded before His people. Preachers are certainly not immune to criticism; myself least of all. Let's just keep things in their proper, Biblical perspective whenever we are evaluating what we hear on a Sunday morning.

Do you look forward to the sermon time each Sunday at church? Why, or why not? What is one bit of advice that you would give to a young preacher (like me) who is seeking to become a more effective communicator?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Coach Dad


"Children, this is a soccer ball." If you know your real football history, then you recognize the above quotation as a slight twist on the legendary saying of the great coaching icon Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers. Coach Lombardi challenged men who were considered professionals with this simple, "back-to-the-basics" statement.

Today, my sweet four-year-old daughter, Gabbie, begins what is sure to be her stellar athletic career at the Woodbury Heights Athletic Association 4-5 year old soccer clinic. She's been excited for some time now, even kicking assorted balls around our living room. To add to the fun, yours truly has volunteered to help coach the school of thirty or so shin-kickers each Saturday morning. The lone drawback is that I've never played a down...umm, I mean a quarter...urr, umm, I mean ANY soccer in my entire life. Needless to say, this should be very interesting.

Sometimes it's necessary to get back to "the basics". The stars of today's professional sports teams all started, with probably very few exceptions, as aimless dreamers simply learning the basics of their respective sport. The fundamentals of any skill, sport, or ideology are essential to long-term success and accomplishment. They are the critical building blocks upon which more complicated intricacies can be stacked.

As followers of Jesus Christ, sometimes we need to return to the basics of our faith such as the cross...the Scriptures...or, the glory of God. It's easy to be fascinated with dribbling behind one's back in basketball or performing a bicycle kick in soccer. However, without a solid mastery of the basics of controlled dribbling of either a basketball or soccer ball, such flashy skills will never be attained.

Does anyone know how many players can be on the field at the same time in soccer...(just kidding...sort of...)?

Friday, September 17, 2010

No Reserve. No Retreat. No Regrets.


Do you know the name Bill Borden? What about the name William Whiting Borden? Don't be too hard on yourself if the name stumped you. You can read a pretty good account of his story here.

I was recently reminded of Borden's amazing story while reading "Israel My Glory", a periodical of The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. In the September/October 2010 issue, Richard Emmons writes a moving article on the life of William "Bill" Borden.

Borden was born into a wealthy, Chicago-area family in 1887. He was also clearly an intelligent and motivated young man as he attended Yale University. Emmons relates in his article that Borden began a prayer meeting with one fellow student during his first semester at Yale. By the end of his first year, Borden had gathered 150 classmates on a regular basis for prayer and Bible study. In his senior year, Borden saw approximately 1,000 out of the 1,300 students at Yale in such prayer groups. Talk about making a difference for God's glory. Borden held his family wealth loosely and, instead, he choose to follow the path that God's Spirit had directed him to. This, he believed, would end up with his ministry to the Muslim Kansu people in China.

Borden's life ended abruptly at the age of twenty-five in Cairo, Egypt, after he had contracted spinal meningitis. Bill Borden never saw the mission field that he believed God had called him to. Yet, all along his journey, Borden labored faithfully in the field that God had placed him. He is famous for six short words which were penned, two-by-two-by-two, in the flyleaf of his Bible. The words were simply: No Reserve. No Retreat. No Regret.

Richard Emmons concludes his article with these words:
If God calls you to be a missionary, don't stoop to be a king. If your life were to end tomorrow, what would mark your legacy? Your grave or your gratuity?
Bill Borden was called by a classmate, the one who first began praying with Borden at Yale, "A missionary, first, last, and all the time". What about your life? What about my life? Do we have...No Reserve...No Retreat...No Regrets...when it comes to working for God's kingdom? Are we holding loosely the things of the world so that God can use us to the utmost for His highest praise and glory?

What does reading Bill Borden's story mean to you?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Words of Encouragement


Sometimes in life you have an experience which reminds you of a simple but wonderfully profound truth. Last night I had such an experience. I was reminded about the power of a word.

The Book of James, in the New Testament, instructs us about the power of words. James 1:26 states, "If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless." Later in James we read, "...the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell...no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so" (3:6-10). What is James' point? It is simply this: words have great importance and immense potential--for both good and evil.

Think hard for a minute about the last time that somebody really put some proverbial "wind in your sails" through a timely word of encouragement. Does anything come to mind? Can you remember any positive words of affirmation or encouragement from the past week...month...year?!!! Unfortunately, there seems to be an imbalance of critical speech verses encouraging speech in our relationships. Ephesians 4:30 says, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." This verse is so important to us in our home that my four-year-old daughter, Gabbie, has committed it to memory. Words truly do matter. The old adage "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" sounds really nice, but then how do you feel when someone punches you in the gut with a phrase of rebuke or criticism? It sort of hurts, doesn't it?!

So all of that was a bit of painting a backdrop, or context, for the word of encouragement that I received from a potential member of New Beginnings last night. I asked a small group of folks who were attending the membership class the following question: Why are you interested in committing to New Beginnings BFC? Their responses were all very good. They revealed some things that I hadn't thought much about, and touched on other things that affirmed much of our vision and strategy. But, one of the participants in the group shared the following statement that I wanted to relay to you verbatim. The person said, "I am interested in joining this body of believers in Jesus Christ because I clearly see the presence of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit here." Needless to say, I had to hold back the tears when I heard that statement. Truthfully, I nearly fell out of my chair.

It is one powerful word of encouragement like that which will re-energize the worn out batteries of your life. Listen, there are plenty of things about my ministry as a church planting pastor that need to improve. There are several things that this individual could have pointed out as potential issues or roadblocks to membership. But instead, what proceeded from their mouth was a word of life and encouragement. It was a pretty awesome experience for me.

Someone once said, "The best way to have a friend is to be a friend." Applying that idea to words of encouragement, we might suggest that if you crave encouragement from others, be committed and willing to give encouragement to others. I like to use the principle of sharing at least ten positive words for every one negative, or critical, word with someone.

How about your life? Have you received some great encouragement recently? Are you the sort of person who is quick to encourage others?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Character Matters

On Tuesday, I had the great privilege of meeting with the other church planters, about eight of us in all, from the Bible Fellowship Church at our fall Training Day in Quakertown, PA. These times are always such a blessing. It is so helpful to glean from the experiences of others in church planting ministry. These training contexts are helpful for deepening our understanding of our respective callings, as well as for deepening our relationships with others who are committed to this vital kingdom work. I've really grown to admire and appreciate each of the men who are also serving as church planters in the BFC.

Gary Spangenburg was the morning speaker. Gary is a man who wears many "hats"; he is a state constable in Pennsylvania, works for UPS, and is a lead instructor for Character First. Gary's presentation was an interesting mixture of Biblical instruction, interpersonal communication skills, and insights into the importance of one's personal character. What's really interesting is that Gary's presentation, which is used in arenas like corporate training seminars, translated powerfully into our context of church planting ministry. The "bottom-line" of Gary's talk was that there is a "new normal" in our culture related to wealth, health, and relationships. As a result of these new standards, or cultural codes, the way we engage people with the gospel of Jesus Christ may take on new forms. He said early on that, "[Ministering for Christ in your culture] is all about restoring broken relationships." This notion of "restoring relationships" lead to his presentation of the importance of Christ-like character.

I've been thinking a lot about character lately, even beyond Tuesday's special presentation. Our men's Bible study group has been studying Jerry Bridges' book THE PRACTICE OF GODLINESS where various godly characteristics are defined, described, and illustrated. How important is our character...before God...before the world...to ourselves? Are we allowing ourselves to embrace the dangerous philosophy of our culture that there is an acceptable sliding scale when it comes to character? Have we bought into this idea that we are "okay" so long as we don't cause damage to others around us (and frankly, even a little collateral damage is okay in the eyes of many).

The Bible says in Romans 5:2-5:
Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
The growth of our character matters not because we think so nor because the world thinks so. Our character is important because God says that it's important. Take a look at this list and reflect over the character of your life before God. (You can click on the picture to make it bigger.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

It's All About Grace

We kicked off our highly anticipated (at least highly anticipated by me) fall series this past Sunday called "A Kingdom of Grace". Today, I simply wanted to share a few key thoughts from the first message. May they encourage and inspire you to know and show more of God's grace today! Oh, don't forget to really think about the questions at the end of this post. Please consider sharing a story or experience by leaving a comment on this post!
God's grace is like a beautiful, multi-faceted diamond. You can gaze at God's grace from any number of brilliant perspectives. God's grace--the sparkling diamond of Scripture--never loses its luster or value over time. God's grace is a priceless treasure; yet ironically it is possessed by the poorest of our world rather than by the richest.
Philip Yancey refers to grace as "our last best word" in his book WHAT'S SO AMAZING ABOUT GRACE? He also states in that terrific book that:
[Grace] contains the essence of the gospel as a drop of water can contain the image of the sun. The world thirsts for grace in ways it does not even recognize…
I shared with the congregation that the Christian life is intended to be, in many respects for us, a laboratory for experimenting in and learning deeper truths about the marvelous grace of God. I also shared the following illustration about grace:
What is grace? When a person works an eight-hour day and receives a fair day’s pay for his time, that is a wage. When a person competes with an opponent and receives a trophy for his performance, that is a prize. When a person receives appropriate recognition for his long service or high achievements, that is an award. But when a person is not capable of earning a wage, can win no prize, and deserves no award—yet receives such a gift anyway—that is a good picture of God’s unmerited favor. This is what is meant when we talk about God’s grace.
Finally, I shared that grace is a "reorienting reality for us as followers of Christ". Grace should reorient the way we view God, ourselves, and the rest of the world around us.

You can listen to the audio of Sunday's message by visiting our church's webpage (Please be patient as we are currently working to launch a new website in January 2011). On the left hand column is "sermon from 9/12/10". Just click on that and the audio file should open up.

So, here's your opportunity to possibly be a part of this sermon series on grace. As part of this series, I will be sharing personal stories about God's radical and radically transforming grace. You can either post a thought, a quote, or a story in the comments of this blog. Or, you can email me privately at newbeginningsbfc@gmail.com (if you want some anonymity).

How has God's amazing grace touched your life? Where and how have you seen God's grace in the world...in your church...in your family? What is your favorite verse from God's Word concerning the subject of grace?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Day with Daddy


Yesterday Laurie headed off with a small group of ladies from church to the Women of Faith conference in Philadelphia. She left at 8:30 AM and returned at about 11:00 PM. As if that wasn't enough, Laurie is back for more of the conference today. Even though I joked with her about leaving me all day with the kids, I am really glad that she was able to get away to be refreshed in God's Word and spend quality time with friends. If the truth be told, Laurie doesn't get to do this sort of thing enough. (Though, sweetheart, "enough" doesn't mean that this should become a weekly occurrence!)

I like to try to keep it "light" on Saturdays at "The Daily Difference". So, I thought I'd share with you a little bit about what happened between the hours of 8:30 AM and 11:00 PM. The kids were really awesome...for most of the day. (Seriously, God has given us some incredible children. They have their moments but, for the most part, they are an "A++".) I think I managed to keep within the spirit of the law regarding Jonah's daily ten-bullet-point itinerary. I remembered to change the boys' diapers at least once (just kidding, babe). Meal times were a little rough but I managed to get some food in them while juggling the baby. I now have a renewed appreciation for what is every mother's favorite time of day: nap time. Some of the major blunders included Gabbie's Valdez-like "leak" which covered the majority of the bathroom floor, my first try at making Jonah's bottles (let's hope that was thirteen scoops and not twelve...again, just kidding, dear), and Jonah's refusal to take his early evening nap. On the bright side, we did get out of the house for some errands. I'd say that all things considering it was a pretty successful day!

It's days like yesterday that remind you about what truly matters most in life. One day I'm going to look back longingly on days like these. Not everyone gets to roll around on the floor with giggling children. There's actually something quite special about having to change your shirt three times in one day due to baby spit-up. Unfortunately, sometimes we dads live to work rather than working to live. The only way that yesterday could have been any better is if Laurie was right there with me to enjoy it. (Oh, and please pray that Laurie hurries home today...!)

Psalm 127:3 says, "Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him."

Take a moment today to stop and soak in the little glimmers of God's daily grace. What are you grateful for?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Can I Pray For You?


Tomorrow is our town's anniversary celebration. Some of the day's events include a car show, special events and games for children, a variety of vendors hawking their goods, and a special dinner at the fire house. It's usually a great day with tons of fun and wonderful opportunities to meet new folks in town.

Last year, New Beginnings participated by setting up a booth where we provided free, home baked cookies along with pens and literature about our church. We also had prayer cards made up and a little box where folks walking by could submit a prayer request or pray with one of us on the spot.

We'll be doing the same thing tomorrow. Please pray for us as we interact with families and individuals from our community. Our hope is simply to have a "witness and ministry of presence" before our community at events like these. We believe so much in the power of prayer that we want to share this opportunity with our neighbors. One study conducted a few years ago showed that 89% of adults believed that there is a personal God who hears and answers their prayers. I think it is pretty clear that people are searching for answers and looking for security in our culture. As Christians, we have the answer and the channel of communication with our Creator.

Deuteronomy 4:7 says, "What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him?" God hears the prayers of His people.

How is your prayer life going? How effective do you think it is to share the gift of prayer with others?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dealing With Conflict

Is there anyone out there who doesn't have some serious conflict going on in your life? We all have pettiness and bickering--to a greater or lesser degree--in our homes, at our workplaces, and in our churches. Many times, the root of the problem is something that is actually fairly insignificant. Yet, over time, the roots of dischord grow and branch out into something that practically threatens all sense of peace and harmony in our lives. Our conflicts yield the bitter fruits of frustration, jealously, and despair. So, what are we to do? If conflict is so prevalent, then why aren't we getting any better at handling it? What are some sound words of counsel for dealing with everyday conflict?

Listen, trying to avoid conflict is a colossal waste of time. Conflict is an inevitability. Now, I'm not encouraging anyone to go looking for conflict. That's also unnecessary. Trust me, experience shows that conflict rarely gets lost on its way to you. You might say, "But, Dan, doesn't the Bible say 'blessed are the peacemakers'" (Matthew 5:9)? Yes, it does. But what kind of "peacemaking" does God bless? Does God bless peacemaking that does nothing more than blatantly overlooking sinfulness? Does God bless the sort of peacemaking that throws any notion of justice or righteousness out the window for the sake of "mutual compromise"? Listen friends, when Biblical truth intersects with an unholy, unrighteous world, then there is going to be real friction...(a.k.a. conflict). Rather than trying to avoid conflict, perhaps our time would be better spent on honing our skills at moving through conflict in a way that honors God and extends God's passion for truth and real peace in His world.

The Bible says in James 4:1, "What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?" What is James telling us? Isn't he saying that the bottom line of conflict has more to do with what's happening inside of us than with what is happening to us or around us. Someone has said that, "The heart of the problem is a problem in the heart." This is so true. What typically "gets your feathers ruffled"? Usually it is when someone else treads on your pet [__________] (you fill in the blank). Conflict occurs when we feel as if we are treated unfairly or are not being heard. Granted, sometimes we are engaged in conflict because we believe someone else is not being respected or we perceive there to be an injustice outside of us. But, I think this is far rarer than the other kinds of conflict which are usually all about us--our rights, our opinions, our wants.

Jesus taught us so many amazing things about the "good" life (i.e. the life that God approves). One thing that he taught us has come to be known as the "Golden Rule". In Matthew 7:12, Jesus says, "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." In other words, Jesus said, "You know all those things that you really want? Other people want those things too. And, sometimes your wants are going to collide with their wants. So, here's a key to the good life: Treat others people just the way that you want them to treat you." Paul, the apostle, puts it this way in Philippians 2:3-5, "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus." One tremendous key to overcoming conflict has to our with our perspectives of 1) God's desires, 2) Our wants/desires/"rights"/needs, and 3) The significance of others. Keeping things in the proper perspective will help to resolve many conflicts when they are still at the seedling level, before the are fully grown and ugly fights.

There are many more things that could (and probably should) be shared about dealing with conflict. But, that will be all for now. I want to leave you with this: The measure of your "blessing" or "success" does not consist of the absence of conflict. Rather, the one who is approved by God is he who has learned the secret of properly handing conflict for the glory of God, the benefit of others, and the promotion of righteousness and truth.

Do you have anything thoughts about dealing with conflict that you would like to share?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hospice Ministry


Many of you may not realize that I also do a limited amount of per diem work as a local hospice chaplain. I just completed my first year of such ministry to hurting individuals and families in our community. Over the past year, I was privileged to care for more than 15 patients and their families. More than providing a small amount of additional income, my work as a hospice chaplain has helped me build relationships with families in our church's community who find themselves needing spiritual and emotional support in the face of losing a cherished family member.

Dealing with the death of a loved one is something that all of us struggle with. I know that I still struggle significantly with the mystery of death and human emotion. I have seen both serenity and sheer panic in the face of the dying. I've comforted sorrowful family members and have stood silently by others who seem to express little or no emotional at all. While death is an inevitable reality of life in a fallen world, it is still viewed as an unwelcome stranger by most of us.

I'm obviously "limited" in what I can or cannot share about the ultimate solution to death when I have my hospice chaplain badge on. A professional chaplain, in any field, is compelled to respect the traditions and "views" of anyone they serve. However, the Lord has given me several opportunities to clearly point to Jesus as the only hope for sorrowful tears to be wiped away and for someone to find abiding peace and hope. Just last week a family called me late one night to share "last rites" for their family member. I read from God's Word and prayed boldly for all to look to Christ alone for eternal salvation and true healing.

I doubt if I'll ever become "comfortable" with death. (In my line of work as a pastor and chaplain I'll have plenty of opportunities to find out.) But, I am already convinced and persuaded that I know the remedy for death. Death is a defeated foe. Jesus has conquered sin and death. Paul writes, "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:56-58). Because Jesus has faced death and was gloriously vindicated through his own resurrection, all who look to him for salvation and believe can be assured that they too will overcome the sting of death.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Meno


Tomorrow night at New Beginnings, Meno Kalisher, founding pastor of the Jerusalem Assembly House of Redemption, will be speaking at 7:00 PM. If you have never had the opportunity to hear Meno speak, then you definitely don't want to miss out on this chance to hear this man of God. Every two years, we are privileged to host Meno and have him speak due to our "insider" connections at The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry (thanks, Sonja!!!). In addition to hearing from Meno, we will be singing Jewish music and enjoying some delicious honey cakes and other authentic Jewish treats.

Meno has committed his life to making a difference for the glory of God by taking the gospel of Jesus the Messiah to the lost children of Israel. As a result of his stand for Jesus Christ, Meno, and his family, has suffered significant persecution and abuse. As you can imagine, following Jesus, let alone sharing his love with others, isn't an easy road in such a hostile context. However, over the years of passionate and persistent ministry and service, Meno and his congregation have grown supernaturally from nine people meeting in his home to over 200 worshipers gathered on the Lord's Day.

We are fortunate to have a small part in God's great work in the precious city of Jerusalem. Meno is one of six missionaries that is supported by our Mission Church. We are committed, as the Lord enables us, to making an even greater contribution to the spread of the gospel through North America and the world.

Missionary Night with Meno Kalisher
Wednesday, September 8, 2010 at 7:00 PM
New Beginnings BFC is located at 335 Glassboro Rd. Bldg A, Unit 101
Woodbury Heights, New Jersey 08097
For more information, call 856-686-0555


Will you commit to praying for Meno and the growth of the church of Jesus Christ in the city of Jerusalem today? If so, please say "yes" in the comment section.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Summer Reflections

Well, we've come to the "official" end of another tremendous summer. Happy Labor Day to each of you. I hope that you have truly enjoyed a terrific summer with family and friends. I am always amazed by how quickly the summer season comes and goes. I also love to think about how creative our God is in that each of the seasons of our year are so vastly different. Can you imagine life without summer sun on your face and sand between your toes? How weird would it be to miss out on the beauty and serenity of a snow-covered winter? Isn't it so cool how even our weather points to the supreme beauty and creative genius of our God?

We are steamrolling straight into a busy fall at New Beginnings. But, before we completely turn the page, I'd like to take a few moments to share with you some of my summer reflections from another incredible season in the life of our church. It has been unbelievable to see God's hand working in our midst. God alone deserves the glory for all that is happening around us. The glory of God and Christ is our purpose and pleasure. It is the Lord Who is enabling us to "make disciples who make a difference for the glory of God".

This summer we lost a huge piece of our heart at New Beginnings when one of our founding elders, Danny Offenbacker, went to be with the Lord after a three-year battle with cancer. Danny was a man of unquenchable passion for God and tremendous zeal for carrying the name of Christ to his community. It hasn't been easy moving forward without Danny. God glorified Himself through Danny's affliction and his eventual homegoing. Danny and his wife Sara held a "Thank You Bash" where an estimated 275 people came to their home in June so that Danny could thank others for their love while also having one last chance to share the gospel with them. Danny passed into the arms of Christ on Sunday, June 27th. The following Saturday, July 3rd, over 550 people came to pay their respects and celebrate the life of this amazing man. Danny is missed, however by no means will he be forgotten.

June and July were really incredible months. As I look back on them all I can do is thank God for giving me the strength and grace to carry on. Here's a quick look at some of the highlights:

- Tim Radcliff, our summer church planting intern, was on the ground for all of June and most of July. He was a HUGE help and a blessing in so many ways.
- Over three consecutive weekends in June and July I had two weddings and a memorial service. For me, that was a such a challenging time (especially when you consider that our "office staff" consists of one person...yours truly...at NBBFC). Yet, God's grace was sufficient and He accomplished great things.
- For the third consecutive year I was invited to give the baccalaureate address to the graduating seniors at the local public high school (Gateway). It has been so neat to establish a new relationship with this important community context and see God open so many doors for ministry over the past few years.
- We hosted a TFE (Teams for Evangelism) group from Bethel BFC (Emmaus, PA) at the end of June. These precious young people helped to make a significant impact in our community through a three-day backyard Bible club and several other local outreaches.
- Our men's group held its first prayer breakfast in July. We hosted nearly 40 men for this great time of fellowship and encouragement in the Word.
- We held our VBS the last week of July. We saw 64 different children and had just a tremendous week of ministry.
- In early August we held our 3rd annual "Friends and Family Picnic". We had a terrific turnout of nealry 140 people. It was a super opportunity to reach out to friends and family building relationships for the glory of God.
- On Sundays this summer we explored the book of Acts. I think it was a good series. It was so incredible to see the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the early church. We considered many immense implications for life in today's church from the book.

The reality for me is that these are just a few of the highlights from one amazing summer. Not mentioned were the numerous opportunities to comfort the hurting in hospitals and nursing homes. The number of counseling and mentoring appointments has boomed for me. Leadership is one of my key responsibilities and there have been plenty of contexts for this as we seek to find additional space for our fellowship. And then there are all the "routine" things that happen each week.

It has been a full summer. Two years ago when Laurie and I came to New Beginnings, we had a core group of about 30 people. Today, by the grace of God, we have a community of about 130 people. I am so excited about the future and the present direction of New Beginnings. I thank God for allowing me to be a part of this amazing church.

What is your best memory from this summer?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Boys of Fall



Football has been a passion of mine for many years. I started playing football at the ripe old age of four. Let me tell you, I was one fierce sub-four-footer! Granted, I only played but a few downs and was literally squished like a tiny insect that first year. Still, I loved the game. I kept coming back each Fall to join all the other young, aspiring Joe Montana's and Walter Payton's who all dreamed of gridiron greatness. By my fourth year (age 8) I was starting at quarterback on offense and middle linebacker on defense.



Over the years, football became more and more important to me. What started out as a simple game eventually turned into an terrible idol in my heart. Through a combination of God's grace and my own desire and hard work, I somehow exceeded my physical limitations and actually excelled, to some small degree, in football. I led my high school football team, the Soddy-Daisy High School Trojans (Tennessee), to its first back-to-back conference titles in decades. Our team was ranked as high as 3rd in the state in the largest classification (5-A). I led the city of Chattanooga in passing efficiency and yards for the first nine weeks of the season my senior year. I was selected to the All-City team and was a runner-up for the Mr. Football award in the state of Tennessee and the national Wendy's High School Heisman award. I was named the Region 3-5A Most Valuable Player and as a result I am now able to proudly display a faux Heisman Trophy as part of the decor in my son's bedroom. In short, even though I was interviewed almost weekly after our Friday night games and "gave praise to God" each time, and even though the Chattanooga Times wrote a full page article on my faith and football success, I succumbed to the terrible sin of pride. Many people considered me a "Golden Boy". Hey, my teammates dubbed me "preacher boy". However, I knew the true reality: I was a fraud. I was living for my own glory, not the glory of God.

Well, as they say back home..."It's Football Time in Soddy-Daisy!" I still love the game of football...just not as much as I used to. I'll have to reserve "the rest of the story", about how God redirected my path, for another day. All I can say today is that I am humbled and grateful for how God has led me to a place of true usefulness for His highest glory. Don't get me wrong, I still feel that twinge in my stomach from time to time when it's Friday night and the lights are bright and the air is crisp. You should all be glad that I haven't yet found a way to post my old highlight videos to this blog...(By the way, today's the first Saturday of the college football season and my Tennessee Volunteers kickoff tonight against UT Martin...not that I'm keeping track or am excited or anything...)

What is your favorite football (or other sport that you may have played) memory? Have you ever struggled with making an idol out of something you enjoyed?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Family Friday

I thought that I would let you a little bit deeper into my heart today.


What is the one word that best describes how you feel about your family?

For me, this is a simple question. I am blessed!

I want to share with you ten reasons why I love my precious family:

1. Each one of them is a unique gift and blessing from God.

2. My wife, Laurie, is a faithful partner and friend. She sacrifices and supports me in ways that few will ever know.

3. My daughter, Gabbie, fills our home with joy and laughter (and plenty of noise, too!).

4. My older son, Luke, is growing to be a loving and tender little man. God is teaching me so many things through him.

5. My youngest, Jonah, is an unbelievably good baby. His little smile is priceless.

6. I love how much I know that I am missed when I have to be away for work and ministry.

7. I have grown and learned so much from Laurie regarding parenting and caring for the body and soul of your children.

8. I love snuggling with all of my precious babies (and, I think they like it too).

9. Though our home is not perfect, we are growing, day-by-day, to be a household that reflects the values of God and brings further glory to Him.

10. I would not be half the man I am today if it weren't for God's grace towards me through my family. My home is a classroom for life in God's kingdom. Some lessons are aced on the first try. Many others have to be repeated time after time in order to be learned.

Can you name ten reasons why your family is important to you?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Jack


Every few weeks I get to visit the local Staples to pick up ink, paper, and a few other odds and ends for the ministry here at New Beginnings. I'm actually really glad that I get the opportunity to shoot out of the office multiple times each week to run errands throughout the community. How else am I supposed to build relationships with folks who need the gospel of Jesus? As Ecclesiastes 3 tells us..."For everything there is a season, a time for every matter under heaven"... a time for study and a time for office supply shopping...

Over the past year I have had the privilege of talking with one of the sales reps whose name is Jack. Jack is probably in his mid-to-early twenties. He is a friendly and helpful chap who is usually there about 80% of the time that I shop at Staples. We've moved from the standard "Hi, how are you?", to more substantive chatter during our semi-regular visits.

Lately, I've even started to get a deeper sense of Jack's life goals and struggles. (I hope no one from Staples is reading my blog, but I get the feeling that Jack isn't necessarily fulfilling his lifelong dreams as a sales associate at Staples.) Jack has started to share more about his hopes of going into either law enforcement or photography (yeah, I know that is an interesting pair of options). He just recently started back to school. Sometimes it even seems like Jack is on the verge of really opening up about some important things in his life.

Jack knows a little bit about who I am and my "work" as a pastor and church planter. I've invited him (unsuccessfully to this point) to several special events and young adult group meetings. Still, I have a clear sense that God is leading me to keep building a relationship with Jack. Only God knows what, if anything, these conversations will lead to in Jack's life.

Following Christ into the world is not an activity, it is a way of life. When we begin to view all the routine things of life as divine opportunities, then the amount of time we have "for evangelism" dramatically increases. Believe it or not, we are called to be Christians even when we aren't at church. We are to be Christ to our children in our homes. We are called to be Christ to our co-workers. We are called to be Christ even to our neighbors. What do people notice when they see us out and about town? Is there anything that sets us apart from the rest of the world?

Is there anyone in your set of "routines" who God is calling you to love and share with them the gospel? Pray for the Lord to give you spiritual eyes to see how and where you can make a practical difference each and every day.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Present Day Miracles


Over the past few weeks I've been following a real life, present day miracle story about a man named Graham Stump. Here are a few lines from a special webpage set up for folks like you and me to follow this amazing story:
On Friday, July 30th, Graham Stump 27, was involved in a horse riding accident in Schroon Lake New York, that resulted in a traumatic brain injury. Currently Graham is in a coma at Albany Medical Hospital and is in the fight of his life. Graham is married to Randi Stump and is the loving father to his two boys, Wyatt (2), and Keith (1).
The latest updates (which you can read in the archives of the webpage) indicate that God is mightily at work in Graham's life and that he is surpassing all expectations related to his recovery. I encourage you to take five minutes out of your day to pray for Graham today.

How did I hear about this amazing story? Amee Schnarrs is a member at New Beginnings. Her brother is Graham's pastor in New York. It has really been neat to see how this story has affected Amee and many others who have prayed so hard for Graham and his family. By the way, Amee will be sharing a testimony this Sunday at New Beginnings about Graham and his incredible story.

All this leads me to ask you this question today: Do you believe that God can still work miracles? No, I mean do you really believe that God is still presently doing the miraculous?

One book title that always jumps off my shelf at the church is "Your God is Too Small". Regrettably, I haven't even read that book. But, it sure does convict me every time I look at it. Maybe in some ways we have limited God to the "safe" and "clean" confines of an ancient book or a stained glass building.

God is still a miracle-working God. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). There are certainly tens of thousands of stories just like Graham's. Maybe even your story points to the reality that God still works miracles.

What do you think? Do you believe that God is still in the miracle-working business? Do you have any stories about His amazing grace?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Changing Times

(I would be the one with the note pad...minus the hair!)

We live in a strange culture. Secular culture changes, it seems, minute by minute. About ten years ago, when I was studying youth ministry at Liberty University, the word was that culture made a complete turn every six months. Today it might be even more rapid. It is astounding how far our culture has advanced technologically. It is disheartening to see the depths of the decay of accepted norms of behavior. But, then again, should we expect anything less? One thing is for certain: Culture is dynamic. It changes very rapidly.

Equally befuddling is the rapidly changing church culture of North America. For some fifteen years now (perhaps even longer according to some) there has been an extensive growth of influence in "Missional Christianity". I was really first exposed to such terminology at Biblical Theological Seminary where I did my postgraduate work. Biblical, I suppose, is somewhat on the leading edge of this movement. They have completely reconfigured their course work along the lines of a missional emphasis. I am really grateful for my studies at Biblical. I think it was a very good complement to all that I learned at Liberty. My thinking about how the gospel engages culture was shaped in significant ways at Biblical.

There are far more intelligent folks writing about the present nuances of "Emergent Christianity" on the one hand, or "Missional Christianity" on the other. Ed Stetzer, Mark Driscoll, Brian McLaren, and Milfred Minatrea are just a few names of folks I've read about these respective Christian "movements". If you are interested, you can check out the Emergent Village for more information about that stream. Or, just type the word "missional" in the Google search bar and tens of thousands of links will instantly pop up for your perusing. (For the record, I am in no way endorsing the Emergent Movement. I simply cite this as an key example of radical change in modern Christianity.)

My real point with today's post was simply to get you thinking about how much of a reality change is in our world. Some people loath it. Other folks are clamoring for it. What are we to make of all this? Let me give you a few of my thoughts. If you have anything to add to the conversation (hey, that's a great postmodern word!), then jump in!

1. "Missional Christianity" is a redundancy. There are Christians who are not the least bit interested in reaching the lost. This is sad and should not be the norm. Maybe you are one of them. However, as I understand my Bible, there is a fundamental emphasis upon the church's mission to be a channel for God's eternal blessing to be communicated to the world (Gen. 12; Matt. 28; Acts). There are clearly some great insights from those who fancy themselves as missional. My point is simply that we, as followers of Christ, are summoned to follow him into the world with love, grace, and truth (John 20:21). It is my conviction (since I believe the Bible teaches) that all true followers of Christ should demonstrate a great concern for carrying the gospel to the world.

2. A changing culture may require a change in our methods but it should never cause us to actually change our message. You don't hear as much today about crusade evangelism or door-to-door campaigns. Some worship services today seem more like rock concerts than church services. Yet, in some instances, these progressive contexts are quite effectively reaching new people with the gospel of Jesus. In other places, the true message has been compromised or blatantly downplayed in order for people to "feel God's presence". Jesus challenged the traditional religious practices of his day (he also respected many of them...like teaching in the synagogue). The point here is that we do need to be culturally sensitive. But even more so, we need to be Biblically obedient. We need to take an uncompromising approach with an unchanging message to an ungodly world.

3. We live in a deceptive age...KEEP WATCH! I fear that many Christians are far too comfortable with judging other Christians. We need to nurture grace and communication with others who disagree with us. At the same time, the Scriptures give us a clear warning that there will be many false teachers and deceivers in the last days. We need to check everything against the Bible. There are methods that clearly violate the word of God. Something isn't necessary better or "beneficial" just because it is new or "cool". But remember, the enemy is subtle and deceptive. Whether it is clinging to stale and outdated traditions, or naively embracing new ones, we need to be watchful in a culture like ours.

4. Biblical, Christ-centered worship...authentic, mind-heart-and-soul discipling...and courageous, truthful, and gracious evangelism should be our focus. Maybe we are spending way too much time on being "hip". Maybe we need to focus more on preaching an unadulterated gospel and less on developing cooler websites. I've always loved the simple statement: Make sure you keep the main thing, the main thing. Our world doesn't need cooler programs; it needs Christ. Our world needs a church which is staunchly committed to the glory of God and making that glory known in word and deed. Actually, I think people are looking for simpler things these days. Our culture is overstimulated. Folks' schedules are overbooked. Maybe it's time for us to stop "doing churchy things" and to start being the true, sacrificial church of Jesus Christ.

Do you have any thoughts on this subject? Do you think the contemporary church is compromising or properly adapting to a changing culture?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Recommended Reading

Happy Monday, everyone!

Typically, I am the last person you will find dabbling in political conversations. Believe me, I have my personal, political opinions and convictions. I used to think that it was possible to be "a-political". I'm learning that is not quite a realistic option. I simply tend to be very cautious about putting any sort of "endorsement" behind the likes of today's political personalities.

My brilliant wife often forwards "good reads" that she finds in her travels around the internet. I wanted to share the latest recommended read from Russell D. Moore. I have enjoyed a few of his articles and books in the past including "The Kingdom of Christ".

Check out this article on the latest political happenings in Washington, D.C., over the past weekend. It is a little lengthy. But, it addresses what we believe is a critical concern in our country and, frankly, in our churches.

What are your thoughts on this subject?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sundays



Here's how The Message paraphrases Hebrews 10:25: "So let's do it—full of belief, confident that we're presentable inside and out. Let's keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let's see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching."

Today is Sunday, "the Lord's Day" as some call it. Were you in church today?

What do you most treasure about your church? How has participating at your church helped you to be different and to make a difference?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Great Mechanic


We all have to come to grips with the reality that, apart from Christ, we are more like a busted up, old clunker than we are to a shiny, new hot rod. The Bible says that we were "dead in transgressions and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). The Bible states that "all have turned aside...no one does good, not even one" (Romans 3:12). The road to true blessing and eternal joy begins with an honest admission of our total brokenness and need for Christ.

Thank God for Jesus, the Great Mechanic, today. Only the Messiah can straighten out the mess of our lives.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Ready and Willing (a.k.a. Obedient)

This Sunday at New Beginnings I will be preaching from Acts 8 and the story of Philip preaching Christ to the Ethiopian eunuch. Did you know that Philip is the only individual in the entire New Testament who is called "an evangelist" (Acts 21:8)? Timothy is exhorted by Paul in 2 Timothy 4:5 to "do the work of an evangelist" and fulfill his ministry as a young pastor serving God's people. God apparently gave the church certain individuals who were especially gifted to share the gospel of Jesus with the lost (Ephesians 4:11). Yet, it is clearly evident from the New Testament that the responsibility for telling others about God's love and salvation in Christ belongs to all believers, not just a select few (Mt. 28:19-20; John 20:21; Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 2:9, 3:15).

I came across some of these alarming statistics that I will be sharing in my message on Sunday:
- One report stated that 72% of Americans don't know their next door neighbors
- 95% of all Christians have never led another person to faith in Christ
- More than 80% of Christians do not consistently witness for Christ
- Less than 2% are actively involved in a ministry of evangelism
- Only about 30% of Christians regularly give financially towards world evangelization
- In 2008, only 34% of American adults identified themselves as "born again" or "evangelical" (76% of adults identified themselves as "Christian")

We all know the most common excuses for why well-intending Christian people are not more engaged in evangelism. 1) Fear of rejection - Nobody likes to be rejected, so why put yourself out there?; 2) Lack of "knowledge" - Even people who've been a part of the church their whole lives fear that they will be "stumped" by hard questions or objections to the faith, so they stay silent.; 3) "I'm not gifted that way" - Some still maintain that it's "the pastor's job" to do all the witnessing...it's not a matter of who's gifted and who's not; it's a matter of who's obedient and who's disobedient; 4) "I let my actions speak for Christ" - True, we are to live the gospel. There's no doubt that many people do a decent job of "lifestyle evangelism". However, if we do not verbally engage people with a) the reality of their sinfulness, b) the reality of a savior, and c) the need for repentance and commitment to Christ, then are we really sharing the gospel?; and 5) Complacency and Carelessness - Sharing your faith takes a great deal of time and sacrifice. Many people lament that they don't have time, etc., to witness. But, they sure have enough time to enjoy their favorite entertainments. A real understanding of God's grace and love will lead to a growing commitment to sharing these precious truths with others.

John Stott in THE LIVING CHURCH states, "...to evangelize is to make known by word and deed the love of the crucified and risen Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that people will repent, believe and receive Christ as their Savior and obediently serve him as their Lord in the fellowship of his church" (p. 47). In his book he also states that the church is the only organization in the world that exists for the benefit of its "non-members". But, is that a true reflection of our practice as the church today? How much of our time, energy, and resources are spent "on ourselves" as opposed to "reaching the lost"? How many Bible studies does one Christian need to attend in a given week (I know that may be a strange statement coming from a pastor)? Seriously though, are we ready and willing (a.k.a. obedient) to be sent into the world with the message of grace and salvation?

When was the last time you shared your faith with an unbeliever? How are you presently involved in the ministry of evangelism (beyond giving your tithe at church)? Is your study of God's Word leading you out of your comfort zone and into the places of need in your family, your workplace, or your community? What are your thoughts on this subject?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cooperation

I am a fan of churches working together. I also realize that not everyone shares the same perspective on this. For a plethora of reasons, many folks maintain the mentality that their church has to do everything and has to do it by themselves.

Now, there is certainly something to be said for churches standing on their own in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is incredible to see church people getting plugged in to ministry and using their unique gifts for the glory of God and the edification of the body. That is what God intends for His church. But, at the same time, we need to also recognize that our respective church is not the totality of the kingdom of God. There are many other family members in the household of faith who attend churches whose name doesn't sound like yours or mine.

If you're like me, then you've had the privilege of meeting many hundreds of fellow believers in Christ who belong to a wide variety of church traditions. Churches come in all shapes and sizes. Over the years I have been involved with small, medium, and even a few large churches. In my opinion they all have their distinctive advantages and disadvantages. There's nothing like the warmth and intimacy of a smaller church family. It's so neat to go to a place where literally everybody knows your name. At the same time, it is also incredible to be a part of a larger body of believers who collectively are able to provide first-class programming and who are committed to reaching around the globe with the gospel of Jesus. If you ask me, God has a sovereign purpose for all types of churches.

We at New Beginnings have been tremendously blessed to be a part of the Bible Fellowship Church denomination. We have received tremendous support and encouragement from many other BFC churches and individuals. One BFC church in Emmaus, PA, has sent a ministry group of teens each summer for the past two years. These groups have enabled us to reach into our community in ways that would be pretty challenging on our own. We are also a part of our smaller region of BFC churches known as the Philly Metro Region. We share prayer requests and do service projects in each others' churches. We have received material blessings from some of these churches, and we have had the blessing of sharing with them.

Jesus had a vision and a prayer for His followers that we might be one just as He is one with the Father (John 17:21). A part of the purpose of our oneness is so that the world might know that Jesus is Lord and Christ. There is something powerfully different about a group of churches working together, setting aside minor differences in doctrine or polity, for the greater good of the kingdom of God.

What examples of church cooperation have you seen? Do you have any thoughts on this topic?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Prayer, Pain, and Purpose

Pastor David Jeremiah quotes Alan Redpath in his book WHEN YOUR WORLD FALLS APART: SEEING PAST THE PAIN OF THE PRESENT:
"There is nothing, no circumstance, no trouble, no testing that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has come past God and past Christ, right through to me. If has come that far, it has come with a great purpose."
My brother, Tim, is a worship and youth minister in a Baptist church in my home state of Tennessee. Tim's senior pastor and colleague at Oak Street Baptist in Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee, Joe Miller, has just recently been diagnosed with cancer. The situation doesn't sound very good as I understand it from Tim.

First, let me call upon you to pray for Brother Joe. I had the privilege of meeting Brother Joe last fall when we visited my family in Tennessee. Joe is everything you might expect a Southern Baptist pastor to be. He is charismatic in the pulpit and calm under pressure. He has a clear love for his flock and a tender spirit for those of his community that need to receive Christ as savior. Pray for Tim as well. I spoke with him today by phone and, as you may expect, there is a lot of pain and pressure coming his way now.

We believe that God is sovereign over the affairs of life. We know that God deserves the glory for the salvation of even one lost soul. But, do we believe that God is still sovereign over pain, sickness, and affliction? Is God sovereign or asleep at the wheel when tragedy strikes our church family? Where is God when you lose a relative to a sudden or untimely death? How can God be sovereign when a young couple is faced with the possibility of having to bury their small child who is dying with a brain tumor? Does God really have a plan, a purpose, for the pain we encounter in life?

Warren Wiersbe wrote, "When God permits His children to go through the furnace, He keeps His eye on the clock and His hand on the thermostat. His loving heart knows how much and how long." This summer we at New Beginnings lost a piece of our heart when Danny Offenbacker, one of our founding elders, passed into the arms of Jesus from cancer. Danny fought cancer for three years and all along the way personified, even if imperfectly, what true faith in Christ is all about. His famous line was that he was constantly comforted by the knowledge that his Creator God held him in "the palm of His hand". God knew all along when it was time for Danny to go home.

Death and disease are an unfortunately reality of life in a fallen world. However, God is greater than any disease, or any affliction, or any unforeseen tragedy that may come our way. Brother Joe knows this. He told Tim this week that either Jesus will bring him home to glory through this cancer, or God will bring glory to earth through his miraculous healing. We shouldn't despair simply because the temporal outcome is in doubt. As Paul the Apostle said, "If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's" (Romans 14:8).

It is never easy to face the fierce winds of suffering or to be tested in the flames of affliction. But, "being easy" isn't the point. The point is God's purpose, His plan, for all that He sends our way. Romans 8:28 still rings true today: "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."

The cross of Jesus Christ endures as an abiding testament to God's purpose to reverse the curse of rebellion. The emblem of suffering and shame has become for us a symbol of salvation, hope, and peace. Rather than running from God or blaming Him for our trials, may we run unto Him. "The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe" (Proverbs 18:10).

I'll close today with this; Paul writes in Philippians 4:10-13 -
"I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me."
That's my prayer for Joe Miller today.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Great Secret

"I WANT MORE!"

Have you ever heard these words from a child? (Have you ever caught yourself saying these words to yourself!) There seems to be something innate in us that craves more than what we currently possess. Do you find that to be true?

In actuality, there seems to be a fine line between being a malcontent and having a healthy dose of initiative. When is enough truly enough? How do we properly control our ambitions and drive for "success"?

Contentment. This is a strange word in our culture. For many, contentment is misunderstood as being "complacent". Isn't it a good thing to be content with one's home, a car, a job? Let's get this straight: contentment is a good thing, being complacent may be a problem.

I read these lines this morning:
"As a rule, man's a fool. When it's hot, he wants it cool. And when it's cool, he wants it hot. Always wanting what is not." - unknown

The Bible gives a great answer to man's problem with contentment. In Philippians 4:11-13, the Apostle Paul writes, "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me." That is one terrific secret! CHRIST is the answer for CONTENTMENT in every CIRCUMSTANCE!

How are you in this area? Are you struggling with contentment in your home life...work life...church life? Check your motives. Why do you want more? Is it to glorify God, or is to keep up with the next guy? Remember, Jesus Christ is the source of finding true freedom to peace and contentment.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Great Quote

I'm currently reading CAPTURED BY GRACE by David Jeremiah. Consider this amazing quote from noted British pastor Charles Spurgeon:

"Faith is believing Christ is who He said He is and that He'll do what He promised to do--and then living accordingly." (pp. 36, CAPTURED BY GRACE, Jeremiah)

What do you think about this quote?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hiatus

No, I didn't fall off the blogging wagon. The family and I enjoyed a week long vacation in sunny Cape May, New Jersey. It was a nice, relaxing time with family "down the shore". It was wonderful to get away and enjoy some quality time with Laurie and the children. Unfortunately, I caught some sort of virus that had me feeling pretty lousy for about four days. I feel much better now. Today is my first day back in the office.

Here's a nice verse to ponder for the day:
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." - Matthew 11:28

Jesus is the greatest destination for true, spiritual rest and peace.

Friday, August 6, 2010

"Good" Problems

"Good" problems...isn't that an oxymoron?

I've been reading Acts 6:1-7 over and over again this week as I prepare to preach from this text on Sunday at New Beginnings. Here we see that the early church has exploded numerically as literally thousands of people have confessed their sins and believed in Jesus of Nazareth as the crucified and risen Messiah. In 6:1 we read, "Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews not from around Jerusalem) arose against the Hebrews (Aramaic speaking Jews from the Jerusalem area) because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution" (ESV). What we see here is a conflict and its cause. The number of disciples in Jerusalem at this point, just a few months after Jesus' resurrection and ascension, had risen to perhaps as many as 20,000. With so many people coming to faith, and with so many needs due to harsh conditions and a lack of means, the apostles faced what could have amounted to the first church split. A certain group's widows were being neglected and something had to be done.

Clearly this was a problem. But, how was it a "good" problem? [If you want a verse-by-verse exegesis of this passage, feel free to join us this Sunday at New Beginnings. We meet at 10:30 AM...ha!] Rather than looking at this conflict from a merely a human perspective, try to think about what God intended for His precious community of children.

Romans 8:28, a familiar verse to many people, reads, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." Here's the deal: Sometimes God purposefully allows trials and problems to come our way so that we will learn valuable lessons which in time will bring God more glory. Simply because something is "hard" or "a problem", does that necessarily mean that it is bad? Not at all!

Part of what we see in the early chapters of Acts are the different ways that God was moving the early church towards the fulfillment of their mission. Whether it was internal strife or sin, or external pressure, God was moving His people out with a marvelous new message: Jesus is the resurrected Messiah.

Do you have any "good" problems in your life? Has God been trying to teach you something through seemingly difficult circumstances? Feel free to share...if you want...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Church Life



It is true that sometimes the life of a pastor can be pretty challenging. (Hey, isn't it true that everybody's life has its "highs and lows"?) While I have certainly had more than a few opportunities to see the "ugly side" of life in the visible church over my 31 years, I continue to be totally in love with and totally amazed by all the beautiful aspects of the body of Christ. Listen, I don't know of any institutions or organizations that are completely problem-free. When fallen human beings (even those who are in the process of being conformed into Jesus' image) are involved, there is always the possibility of fireworks. However, there is no place I'd rather be than in a community of people who are learning to trust God and love others.

What is your favorite aspect of being a part of a local church? How has being a part of God's family helped you?