Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"For Better, For Worse"

In a few weeks Laurie and I will celebrate ten years of marriage. It's pretty hard to believe that a decade has already passed since we stood before the Lord and exchanged pledges and symbols of our undying love for one another. At the same time, I can't remember life without Laurie. The Lord has done a lot in our lives over the past decade. We have lived in four homes in three states. We've had three incredible children. I've finished graduate school and have now been working in pastoral ministry for over five years. We would like to think that the future promises only to bring more stability. But, we'll have to wait and see.

A few days ago we had the privilege of celebrating with Dick and Joan Rindfleisch as they reached a major milestone in their life's journey--50 years of marriage. Dick and Joan have been a part of the core group of NBBFC since its inception nearly seven years ago back in "the garage". They are the kind of people who you can just count on at any time. Joan is the "Queen" of hospitality here at New Beginnings. She is our own (better) version of Martha Stewart. It has been a joy getting to know them and serving as their pastor for the past three years.

During the vow renewal ceremony, I shared the following words with Dick and Joan:
Marriage wasn't meant to be perfect. Why do perfect marriages not exist? Because perfect people do not exist. Prince Charming shows up only in fairy tales; and if we are honest, the Stepford Wives were a little creepy. Marriage teaches us how to love an imperfect person perfectly...(From Rick and Bubba's Guide to the Almost Nearly Perfect Marriage)
The Scripture says, "Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends..." (1 Cor. 13:4-8a).

When young people get married it's hard for them to accurately envision all that "for better, for worse" entails. Some people naively think that getting married will solve all their problems. In reality, marriage is, at times, very difficult. The life you think you're going to have--a life full of adventure and romance--can be turned upside-down by financial stress, relational stress, or health issues, just to name a few.

As I shared with those at Dick and Joan's party, "It is uniquely a Christian idea to suggest that any flawed human being--which, by the way, we all are--can learn to love selflessly, sacrificially, and completely, another flawed human being out of a motivation to please and glorify God, Who Himself is our great example and source of love...In a culture where approximately half of all marriages are ending in divorce, we need to honor and celebrate these great examples--not of perfection, but of perseverance." I know that Laurie and I have been so blessed and encouraged to see such amazing examples of marriage here at New Beginnings.

Congratulations, Dick and Joan, on this awesome accomplishment! May God bless you for many years to come.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

New Series

Beginning this Sunday at New Beginnings I will be preaching about the radical life of following Jesus Christ. The video above is from a promotion for David Platt's book Radical. The Lord has been teaching me so many things over the past few months from His Word and from sources like Platt's book. 1 John 2:6 states, "Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked." My hope is that the Lord will be glorified and pleased to use the next couple of months teaching in a special way to call the hearts of those who listen to His word to a genuine and radical life of discipleship. Please keep me in your prayers.

What are some examples of radical faith-walking that stand out to you from the history of the church or the contemporary landscape of Christianity?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Batman Returns

(Warning: The account you are about to read may contain details unsuitable for some readers and mental images about me that will shock and appal you. Please do not report me to the National Association of Advocates for the Protection of Bats. If you love bats, you do not want to read any further. I am sorry; you just don't. The story you are about to read is true...)

Last night was awful.

It started about 12:30 AM when Laurie detected something rustling about in our bedroom. In my usual fashion, I tried to dismiss the noise as something reasonable--the ceiling fan, one of the kids on the monitors, or aliens landing outside. My own ears seized upon the same noise and the adrenaline began to flow. I knew that something was in the room and that it was going to require me to....get out of bed!

We moved to Woodbury Heights in September 2008. We instantly fell in love with the town, our neighbors, and our quaint, little home. However, we soon learned that we had moved into the one house in our town that has a warp zone-like connection to Disney's Animal Kingdom. I've continually been defeated by the most determined squirrels ever made by God. I regularly have to pick trash up out of the yard. I've tried new trash cans; these varmints just eat right through the lids. I'm also pretty sure that about 200 fluffy bunnies live on our property.

Sometime in that first year I clubbed my first home invader. Laurie called me home from an important meeting screaming that a bat was in the house. I thought she was crazy until the beady-eyed little pest came swooping at me. I did what any normal person would do--I bludgeoned the poor creature with a tennis rack and stomped on it with my shoe, all the while I trash-talked the little sucker in a way that would make today's NBA players blush.

Sometime later, Laurie "claimed" that she saw another bat. This time downstairs when she was putting a load of clothes in the washer. It was a convenient little ploy given that I can count on one hand the number of times that Laurie has done laundry in our marriage. (I love you, babe, but you know it's true.) I never found that bat, even though I went down multiple times a day with two tennis racks and a "Handy Manny" hardhat on...

And, then there was last night. After hearing the noise nearby, I rolled over just in time to see the silhouette of the flying creature zoom past our heads. Reluctantly, but swiftly, I sprang from the bed. I pulled the light string and the deadly dance was on. I grabbed the closest object that--in that split second--my mind identified would give me a fighting chance of successfully terminating the intruder. The object: one of Laurie's bras. The bat circled the room about seven times. Each time I would flail my satin sword in an attempt to simply stun the beast out of the air and onto the ground where the playing field was more even. Finally, on about the eighth pass, I struck the bat and it bounced off the closet door and landed nearby.

I then quickly identified my next weapon. Resourcefulness in crisis has never been a strong suit of mine. I grabbed the box of baby wipes just to my left and lunged at the fallen creature. A relentless series of fresh-scented blows rained upon the helpless bat. Like Mel Gibson in The Patriot, it took me a moment to realize that the fatal blow had been cast.

I would love to be able to tell you that we quickly and confidently drifted off to sleep after I bagged up the bat carcass in a WalMart plastic bag and launched it out the back door. Unfortunately, the truth is that about an hour later we heard another noise in the room. This time it was the familiar sound of some creature pawing from inside the walls. At about 3 AM, we must have drifted off to sleep.

Please Lord, make the scary animals go away!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Come Into My Heart"

Into my heart, into my heart, Come into my heart, Lord Jesus;
Come in today, come in to stay, Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.

In Christ's final week on earth, Jesus quoted from Psalm 8:2 just after driving out the money-changers and healing the blind and lame who came out to him. Jesus said, "Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise" (Matthew 21:16). What is abundantly clear throughout the Gospel narratives is summed up in the words of James 4:6: God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Jesus came on a rescue mission to save sinners, help the hurting, and bind up the broken hearted. He came to reveal the loving heart of a holy God so that the sin-stained hearts of men might be changed.

This morning, after getting the kiddos out of bed and making their breakfast, Gabbie turned to me and said with a huge grin on her face, "Daddy, I asked Jesus to come and live inside my heart last night. I told Jesus that I love him and that I want to live with him forever!" W...O...W...! Needless to say, my heart melted and tears filled up in my eyes, and I gave Gabbie a big hug and told her how much I loved her and how much God loves her. I went over the basics of the gospel message and sure enough she scored a 100%. Just before I had to leave the house she said to me, "Daddy, Luke and I gave Jesus a hug and a kiss last night." How amazing is that?! Gabbie has displayed an understanding of the gospel for some time now, but today, for the first time, I heard in her a budding desire for God.

Apparently last night, Laurie had the wonderful opportunity to talk extendedly with both Luke and Gabbie about God's holiness, man's need, God's provision, and man's responsibility. Gabbie, even at a tender five years-old, recongized God's infinite worth and her own need to be rescued from the penalty of sin. Gabbie wanted to tell me about her encounter with God herself because "she knew it would make me very happy". What a way to start the day!

God is so good, and He is so faithful. He has blessed us with three incredible children and has placed on us a tremendous responsbility to demonstrate the true, faith-walk of a Christian, to teach them about God from His written Word, and to point them to both the reality of their sinfulness and God's provision for their sin. Laurie and I have carefully and intentionally--albeit not perfectly--sought to display and declare God's love to our children.

I remember back to my childhood and to all the times I emotionally called out to God. It can be hard for a child who is blessed by God to be in a loving, "Christian" environment and knows the right thing(s) to do, to have a proper foundation and understanding of the basis of their salvation. It took me many years to realize that it wasn't a magic prayer that "saved me". It wasn't my involvement at church or even my behavior that identified me as a child of God. It took me a while to realize that "feelings" are a part of faith but not the primary evidence of faith. Salvation is the result of God's amazing love extended in Christ colliding with the Spirit-induced conviction of sin in man, his repentance, and acceptance of Christ's sufficient work on the cross. Theologians and Bible scholars have written libraries on this most incredible subject, and yet even the smallest little child can come to simply understand that their Creator loves them and wants to be loved by them in return.

Will Laurie and I do anything differently now that Gabbie has said "the prayer"? Nope. We will continue to include God in as much of the "daily happenings" as possible. We will continue to pray, read, and worship together. We will continue to talk about our need to show and declare God's love to others. We will continue to talk about our need to participate in God's family, the church. Now, we will probably begin to talk about baptism and it's meaning and signficance for those who belong to Christ by faith and realize the importance of publicly identifying with Him. And, in time, we will encourage Gabbie to follow Christ in believer's baptism. Essentially, we will continue to speak the gospel to each other--day in and day out--for the glory of God and for our growth as a family.

Thank you, God, for working in my family and especially in the life of Gabbie. May her life be filled with the fruit of true faith for your glory.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A "Witness" in Presence

A few months ago we learned that our local fire department was coming up on a major anniversary and had plans to celebrate. We prayed about ways to get involved in order to continue building a strong relationship with our town. One lady from our church really took the ball and attended a planning meeting with members of the fire department. She attended the meeting with this simple message: We at NBBFC care about you and are willing to do whatever you need to help you celebrate this milestone. She said it caught them pretty much by surprise but they were grateful to have any help they could get.

A couple of weeks ago, on Saturday, May 14th, the Woodbury Heights Fire Department held their parade and block party. Approximately 50 fire companies from South Jersey participated in the parade (man, was it loud!). Well over 300 community residents came out to honor the men and women who volunteer to keep our town safe and to help in times of need. We had a great group of about 25 volunteers from New Beginnings who showed up to help provide security, t-shirt sales, wrap and give out nearly 1,000 hotdogs, and much more! I was privileged to be asked to pray at the awards ceremony, and John Maricle, our worship leader, stepped in to sing the National Anthem! He did an amazing job! Though we got a little wet in the process, it was a great day of serving our neighbors in town and having a witness of presence for the Lord.

Service was a huge part of Christ's incarnational ministry. Mark 10:45 states, "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." We at NBBFC are learning more and more about this important dimension of our vocation as the church--God's redeemed community on earth. We want people to come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We want to see people come into the church and experience the abundant life of following Jesus. However, we also recognize that we are called to "love our neighbors" and to serve them for God's glory. Displaying sacrifice and service is an essential part of our witness as the church. This is why we think it is necessary that we maintain an active ministry of presence at any and all community events. Over the past few years it has been amazing to see how God has opened so many doors for our little church. God is so good!

What event is coming up in your community? Is there some way that you or your church can get involved in order to show others that God's love is worth receiving?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Missing the Point

If you're anything like me then you've already had your fill of all the hype concerning Harold Camping's latest prediction that today--yes, today--at 6 pm the Son of God will return in power to rapture the faithful (but not those of us who worship God in the church) and initiate a terrible period of tribulation. You've also probably read several articles, blog posts (don't you love these know-it-all blogger types, lol), and watched your fill of this craze on the news.

I plan on preaching on this subject tomorrow at our church. But, I felt like I wanted to contribute a little bit to the discussion in this format today. The reason being is because I haven't heard anyone else really focusing on this point...

What IF Jesus does come back today?

Let me be clear: If Jesus comes back today it will not be because Harold Camping predicted it. I don't believe for a second that even the world's best engineer or mathematician--which, by the way, Camping is not--has any greater shot at "cracking the Bible code" than the rest of us. As a matter of fact, I reject any notion that there is a "hidden code" in the Bible that someone might purposefully or accidently crack.

But here's my problem: The same verse that everyone is running to to point out why today is not "the Day", is the very same verse which reminds us that today could very well be "the Day"! Matthew 24:36 says, "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only" (ESV). A little later in the passage Jesus says, "Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming" (24:42). Here's what I'm struggling with: Isn't Jesus calling his hearers to prepare themselves? Yet, from all that I'm hearing, people are citing this verse (and the many others like it) in order to prove that Camping is wrong. Again, I believe that Camping is dead wrong about this. But, my problem is that this isn't the bigger point!

I agree with those who feel strongly that what Harold Camping is doing is problematic, misguided, and another damaging incident to the "public perception" of those who go by the name "Christian". It is tragic that hundreds of people are buying this guy's false prediction (again) and are selling their possessions and taking other radical steps to prepare for their upward journey. It is equally tragic though that there millions of people in our world who scoff at the idea that Jesus Christ might actually come back as he said he would.

The Bible says that Jesus is coming again and we aren't to worry about knowing when, rather our focus is to be prepared for His return. 2 Corinthians 6:2 states, "Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation." The Bible tells us that our preparation has less to do with our knowledge about certain events and more to do with our purity, faithfulness, and love for God and others (Titus 2:11-14, 2 Peter 3:11ff).

Here's a crazy perspective on this: Why aren't we as motivated by our belief that Christ could come today (based on Matt. 24:36)? Why are we so comfortable with this "foreign land"? Why are we not out compelling others to receive God's love and salvation through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:11ff)?

Let me put it this way, I do plan on preaching tomorrow but I will be infinitely more happy if I find myself face-to-face with my Lord and Savior. Acts 4:12 says, "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." That name is not Camping, it is Jesus Christ!

The really important point in all this, at least to me, is that not only is Jesus coming back, but he could be coming back today.

Are you ready? If not, look up Romans 10:9-10 in the New Testament and call on the name of the Lord.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

To God Be the Glory

To God be the glory--great things He hath done!
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin
And opened the life-gate that all may go in.
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!
Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father thro' Jesus, the Son,
And give Him the glory--great things He hath done!

On Sunday, May 15, 2011, New Beginnings BFC received an official charter as the newest congregation in our denomination. Over 170 people joined together to worship the Lord. We celebrated God's amazing faithfulness through song, testimony, and the Word. BFC Executive Director David Allen presented the charter and fifty-six individuals signed as "chartering members". Four elders and seven deacons were formally installed to continue providing godly leadership, oversight, and care to the congregation. Afterwards, we enjoyed a delicious meal at Gambi's Catering hall. Here are some snaphots of the day's festivities. To God be ALL the glory!

We are so grateful for the love and support of everyone who has helped reach this major milestone! Thank you so much. Please continue to pray for us as we move forward in our mission to reach others with the good news of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

You Are a "Mist"

Did you know that the Bible calls you a "mist"...(well, among other things...)?

In the Book of James, we read, "Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes" (4:14, ESV). James is full of practical wisdom for "everyday living". In this section, James is reminding his readers of the brevity of life. He encourages us to keep the scope of our lives in a proper perspective. He is really addressing the common arrogance of the human spirit in its assumption that it has any sort of control of or guarantee for "tomorrow".

Today I will be participating in the funeral of my friend and neighbor. The Lord brought our paths together last year during an especially difficult time in her life when she was struggling with her health and just needed the help of others. God laid it on the hearts of many at New Beginnings to come alongside my neighbor to help her get back on her feet and as a result she began to attend our services. Phyllis, my neighbor, loved the Lord Jesus Christ and placed her faith in him for her own salvation and peace with God. Unexpectedly, last week Phyllis left this strange land for her true home in the presence of Almighty God. Paul spoke of the glorious promise that "to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). In this same passage, Paul soberingly reminds us that, "...we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad" (5:10).

It is always difficult and saddening to lose a friend--expected or unexpectedly--in death. However, in Christ, we know that death is not the final word. Because Christ died and was raised to life, we know that everyone who has trusted in him will too be raised (1 Cor. 15; 1 Thess. 4:14). But the reality of death also reminds us that we haven't yet arrived in our final place. There is something beyond this world. We are a "mist" which appears for a short time and then vanishes away. Yet, what we do during that "misty" period is tremendously important.

One of the effects that the Bible has upon me when I read it is this: It helps me appropriately understand my smallness--in the grand scheme of time and life--, and my significance--in the loving heart of my Creator. Reading the Bible is deeply humbling, at least for me. I, too, am simply a "mist". But this "mist" wants to make the most out of his time here on earth.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

An Excellent Wife

"An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels." Prov. 31:10

Happy Mother's Day, Laurie! I'm so very grateful to God for His sovereign leading of our lives together. Your devotion, first to Christ and then to me, is inspiring. Your diligence in nuturing our three zany darlings is deeply appreciated. Your sacrifice and support in service to our Lord's church is praiseworthy.

There is no doubt that one day "your children will rise up and call (you) blessed" (Prov. 31:28). I, too, only have reasons to praise you. It's still true, after these nearly ten years of marriage, that "I could not ask for more". I love you!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Graduation Night

"...I will build my church..." Matthew 16:18

Every year around this time we have the joy of celebrating the culmination of many years of prayer (on the part of moms and dads) and hard work in the lives of young people as they graduate from high school or college. Multiple weekends are filled with painfully long ceremonies and packed-out backyard parties as we congratulate those who are "the future" of our families, churches, and communities.

Well, just last week (on Monday, April 25th, to be precise) New Beginnings had its own "Graduation Night". About 45 people from our church traveled to Pinebrook Bible Conference Center in East Stroudsburg, PA, to attend a worship service where New Beginnings was received into the Bible Fellowship Church as one of two brand new self-supporting churches in our denomination. (A special word of congratulations to Tim Zuck and the Saucon Community Bible Fellowship Church for reaching this major milestone too!) It was an exciting and emotional night as Sara, Harvey, and Harry all shared the story of God's providence in leading our fellowship to that night.

The core group of New Beginnings BFC, about 25 persons strong, met for their very first "official" service on Sunday, October 3, 2004, in the home of Carl and Sonja Rentschler. Six-and-a-half years later, by the sovereign guidance and grace of God, New Beginnings is a vibrant community of about 140 people who are learning day-by-day what it means to love God and love others. Our grace-filled curriculum has been a good mixture of moments of healing, helping, hurting, and honoring in Christ. The Lord has been working in us and through us to expand His kingdom and build His church in Woodbury Heights, NJ.

Here a a few snapshots of our "Graduation Night"...

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Heart for Haiti

I'd like for you to meet Tom and Kelly Gambrill. Tom and Kelly have been good friends of ours for several years now. We first met at Grace BFC in Wallingford, PA. The Gambrills still live in PA but faithfully make the thirty-minute drive to New Beginnings each week because they have felt God's leading to help us become an established church in our denomination. They have been such a blessing using their gifts and talents for God's glory and the building up of our local body.

I guess it was about five years ago that Tom responded to the Holy Spirit's tugging at his heart and he surrendered his life to go wherever God wanted him to go and to do just about whatever it is that God wants him to do. Tom has been to India, Indonesia, Ukraine, and, a few times now, Haiti. It's been pretty awesome to hear how God has been working in the life of the Gambrills. However, their story is just as much about perseverance as it is about passion for taking Christ's love to the nations.

Both Tom and Kelly love the Lord immensely and they are diligently teaching their six children to love and follow the leading of God's Spirit. All along their path into full-time missions, the Gambrills have encountered a variety of obstacles and challenges. Some of their challenges have been educational requirements, funding, and major health issues. As Tom puts it, there seems to have been this thick fog hanging over their path ahead and only recently has it begun to clear.

Over the past two years, Tom has been significantly involved in aiding the hurting people of Haiti. The Lord seems to be putting Tom in just the right places to meet the right people and things are beginning to really pick up steam. Tom and Kelly just returned from a whirlwind trip to Haiti where they met with some Christian officials to discuss a potential partnership. It's incredible to see Tom's eyes light up as he retells several amazing examples of God's perfect will developing before him.

Let me ask you to pray for Tom and Kelly Gambrill. Obviously, this could be a huge deal for this family to move to Haiti and begin serving Christ in this need-filled place. Pray that God would continue to open the right doors and supply everything necessary for this amazing couple to do God's work. If you would like more information about how you can personally support the Gambrills, please get in touch with me.

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19