Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Going, Going, Uganda

This evening a good friend of mine will be leaving to serve the Lord in the nation of Uganda for at least one year. Stephanie Nitschke became a part of our family at New Beginnings about two years ago. She quickly began to make an impact through her involvement in local outreach and as a part of our missions committee. Frankly, I knew from "day one" that Stephanie was only going to be with us for a short time because of her passion for the nations.

Stephanie will be living in the nation's capital city of Kampala. She will be volunteering her time with a national organization which assists women in all sorts of difficult circumstances. Her plan is to live among the people of Uganda and to follow the Spirit's leading in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with those around her. Stephanie will be working to complete her Master's degree in International Development through Eastern University while overseas. Needless to say, she is going to have plenty to do over the next twelve months.

Would you join me today in praying for Stephanie as she continues to follow Christ's leading in her life? The Bible gives us a breath-taking glimpse into future where there is a multitude from every nation, and all tribes and peoples and languages standing before the throne and before the Lamb (Revelation 7:9). I praise God for Stephanie's sensitive heart for the hurting of the world. I am also thankful for the support and open heart of our congregation to stand with Stephanie as she follows the Lord's leading on her life.

If you would like more information about Stephanie's year-long mission, or you would like to know how to support her in Uganda, please let me know.

[All of these photos are from a previous trip that Stephanie took to Uganda.]

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


What is "baccalaureate"? That's a pretty good question. According to one source, the term originated at the University of Oxford in the 1400s when each bachelor (i.e. graduate - from the Latin bacca) had to present a sermon in Latin as part of his academic requirements. Modern baccalaureate services are held within a few days of a school's graduation exercises and, due to government restrictions, are not "official school events". They are student-initiated services of worship where thanks is given to the Lord for bringing the graduating seniors to such an accomplishment in their life's journey.

On Sunday, for the fourth consecutive year, I had the tremendous opportunity and honor to share the gospel of Jesus Christ at our local high school's baccalaureate service. About 40 graduating students from Gateway Regional High School, along with maybe 100 other friends and family, assembled in the school's auditorium on Father's Day for the service. Students led in prayer, Scripture reading, and singing (accompanied by our church pianist Sonja Rentschler!). But the opportunity to address the students and their families was mine.

I shared a message about wisdom--God's way--as the highest and greatest goal of our lives. I cited the Biblical story of Solomon and how he wisely asked God for a discerning mind to govern the people of Israel (1 Kings 3). I also shared about how Solomon lost focus on the glory and honor of God and turned away from the Lord (1 Kings 11:9). I cautioned the students about chasing after the "empty" goods of this world - mentioning some of the themes of the book of Ecclesiastes. Finally, I challenged the students to embrace God's greatest gift and provision of wisdom, the Lord Jesus Christ. I shared 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 which speaks of the power of the cross of Jesus Christ being "foolishness to the world", but to those who trust and believe it is "God's power". I pray God really spoke through me to the students and their families.

I remember back some 14 years ago to my own baccalaureate service as a graduate from Soddy-Daisy High School. The room was packed with people and most of my graduating class (some 350 students) was in attendance. I remembering having the opportunity to share my testimony and some Scripture at that service. I have come to realize clearly that things are a lot different in my setting in the Mid-Atlantic. The "church" is not a central part of cultural life for most people in our area. Still, I am amazed by God's power to provide relationships that lead to such opportunities for the gospel to be brought to these people. I thank God for giving me these chances to point people to their need for Jesus Christ. God's word never returns to Him empty (Isaiah 55:11). So, I am confident that these opportunities are having an impact on my community and, in the end, will be shown to have made a difference in someone's life.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Decade of Love

"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 Corinthians 13:4-8a

Ten years ago--June 17, 2001--I was blessed by God to marry the love of my life. Over the past decade, God has done so much in my life and one significant instrument of His divine work has been my godly and devoted wife. I am astonished at God's favor and amazed by His grace. My life has been filled with good things, not necessarily all pleasant things, which reflect God's amazing faithfulness and goodness.

I am grateful for an excellent wife who is a source of honor and not shame (Proverbs 12:4). I am constantly challenged by Laurie's commitment and dependability. I am proud to be a partner with her in the rearing of our children.

Laurie, I am so happy to have had you by my side over these past ten years. May God continue to fill our hearts with His grace and our home with His love. I love you! Thanks for the thousands of ways that you communicate your love for me in return.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Heart for Missions

On Sunday we hosted a special missions night at New Beginnings. Over 90 people turned out, including several of those who are supported financially by our church and serve the Lord in area missions. It was great to reconnect with these servants of God who are seeking to make a difference in the lives of others. Tito Pagano, former Director of Word of Life in Chile, brought the message which he titled "A Heart for Missions" from Romans 1:13-16. Tito spoke in his native Spanish language while his son-in-law, Sergio Belloso (who is an elder at NB), translated. It was a powerful challenge for our people to refocus on our personal role in spreading the kingdom of God.

Stephanie Nitschke, a member at New Beginnings, is leaving for a year of service in the country of Uganda. The Lord provided nearly $1,000 through a free-will offering to help Stephanie take the gospel to the needy people of that country. God is so faithful!

Here are a few snapshots from the night's festivities:

May God continue to stretch our vision for missions at New Beginnings.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Answering the Call

A significant theme of Scripture is the astounding interplay between God and specific human personalities. Often we speak of this as God's special "call" upon the life of certain humans. I sometimes think that we take for granted how incredible it is that a supremely holy and eternal God choose to "put His word into the mouths" of the prophets and apostles of Bible times. How amazing is it that God graciously gives the knowledge of His will and character to a race of fallen people?

God created man for His pleasure and to enjoy personal, intimate fellowship and communion with Him. However, mankind choose the path of rebellion and sin, and consequently was expelled from the Garden of Eden forever. Still, throughout history, God has chosen to communicate to man through messengers who were uniquely called to carry God's words to His people. God, in His mercy, has passionately pursued His people by shedding divine light through human vessels upon the path that leads home.

God called Abraham (Genesis 11-24) to leave the familiar land of his fathers and to journey to new land of promise. God told Abraham that he would be the father of a new race of people--people who would be counted righteous by faith, rather than trying to prove their own "goodness" by their deeds. God called Moses to boldly lead His people out of Pharaoh's hand in Egypt (Exodus 3). God spoke with Samuel, David, Solomon, Elijah, and Isaiah. Of Jeremiah, it was said, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you a prophet to the nations" (1:5). And later, God said, "Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant" (1:9-10). Indeed, God choose to "speak to our fathers by the prophets at many times and in various ways" (Hebrews 1:1).

We are probably more familiar with Jesus' call upon an unimpressive group of Galileans to "Come, follow me" (Mark 1:17). Or, perhaps we especially think of Paul as the "Apostle to the Gentiles" and one who was uniquely called of God to preach the gospel to the whole world (Romans 1:1). The sovereign call of God kept Paul focused on his mission despite tremendous hardships and abuse. Paul was so persuaded of God's presence and power in his ministry that he said, "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:16).

The reality for every child of God is that they are called to bear fruit for the glory of their Heavenly Father (John 15:16). We are all called to walk in the good works that God prepared in advance for us (Ephesians 2:10). We are all called to walk wisely and in purity before the world (1 Thess. 4:3, Eph. 5:15ff). God has a common call upon every believer to bear witness before the world of His transforming grace and power.

On another note, I am completely humbled to say that I have just received a special "call" to serve New Beginnings as pastor. Over the past three years I have been employed with Church Extension ministries as a church planting pastor designated to Woodbury Heights, New Jersey. Now that New Beginnings has graduated and is self-supporting, they have graciously decided to extend the invitation for me to stay on as the permanent pastor. Please pray for our church as we move ahead in the grace and for the glory of God!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Being Honest About Being Lost

Have you ever been lost? Chances are that you have been. (Although, thanks to our modern GPS gadgets, "being lost" may be a thing of the past.) How did you feel when you realized you were lost? Did you stop and ask for directions? Or, did you "man up" and just figure it out (...several hours later...) all on your own?

I've been unusually immersed this week in the Scriptures, books, and conversations regarding the reality of man's "lost" condition apart from faith in Jesus Christ. Don't misunderstand me, I recognize this theme as a reality every week, but it has just been especially intense over the past few days. One clear observation from all my prayer and study is this: God repeatedly points out man's condition of "lostness" whereas man continually denies such a reality. God, in his holiness, declares that "...the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth" (Romans 1:18). But man denies that there is any problem at all (Romans 3:10-12).

The Bible actually uses another term for this idea of "lostness"; the term is death. It says, "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). The Apostle Paul says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). And again, he says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (6:23). This is what it means to be spiritual lost--we are relationally seperated from God and "dead" due to sin.

The depth of man's lostness is such that "no one seeks God" (Romans 3:11). The Bible, and frankly our own personal experience in the world, testifies to our continually craving for everything but God. Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" Not only is man lost apart from God, he is sickeningly satisfied to remain that way.

So, how does anyone ever come to the understanding that they are lost and in real danger? This is the great story of the Bible. In response to man's sinfulness, the Lord sends Jesus to be the sin-bearer. In light of our rebellion, God provides a righteous Redeemer. The Bible says, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). When we like wandering sheep had lost our way, God sent the Good Shepherd to find us and bring us back into His heavenly pen (John 10).

It is actually the work of God's Spirit which brings personal conviction of sin and prompts the child of God to repentance unto life (John 6:44; 16:5-15). God, in His mercy, touches our eyes to see the reality of our lost condition (Acts 9). In His grace, God tenderly brings fresh life into formerly dead hearts. That's the sort of God who has revealed Himself through Christ and the Word.

The Bible says, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). If you aren't walking with Jesus, my friend, then you really are lost. Isn't it about time that you come clean about this? Isn't time to be honest about being lost?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hide & Seek

I've been thinking a lot about the following verse: "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3).

Here are a few questions that I'm being challenged by in my own life as a disciple of Jesus Christ:
+ Am I actively and progressively seeking the face of God?
+ Just how "dead" am I to sin and the world?
+ Do I genuinely desire for ALL of my life to be "hidden with Christ in God"?
+ Do I love God more today than I did yesterday?

I am constantly reminded, through both my own walk and through interaction with others, of the reality and power of sin. Sin...wickedness...rebellion against God...selfishness...pride...materialism...(and a hundred other horrible things) all remain a practical problem for the sincerest follower of Jesus Christ even though one's position has been secured in the family of God.

In one place, Paul could write, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 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" (Romans 5:1-2). And then just one chapter later, he writes, "Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?" (6:1-2).

Lately I have been really meditating upon the glorious reality that Jesus is more than the righteous substitute for our sinfulness, He is the very source from which we live and seek the glory and pleasure of God. Instead of hiding from God and seeking the cares of the world, we are to hide ourselves in the person of Jesus Christ through humble, child-like faith and seek after the things of God.

"If you have been united with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God," Paul says in Colossians 3:1. A lot of our issues with sin will be dramatically cleared away if we will "hide-and-seek" in Christ.

Who/What are you seeking after these days?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"Deeper" Preaching

The responsibility that I have each week to stand before God's people and preach is deeply humbling. The Bible says in James 3:1, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." It isn't just the message of a man that is judged carefully, but rather, in the context of James, it is also his moral character which comes under great scrutiny. Believe me when I tell you that I do not take my calling as a messenger of the gospel of Jesus Christ lightly. I understand that what I do is not a result of who I am, rather it is all because of Who I belong to and the amazing grace that flows from him.

Still, I can tell you that each week I have the joyful opportunity to labor in the Word of God to prepare what I genuinely hope to be is a God-honoring, Christ-focused, and church-building message. At the same time, I've been around the church long enough to know that there are many out there who think that the preacher just rolls out of bed on Sunday and climbs into the pulpit. There are some who think we work just one day a week! "How hard could it be?" they say. Others are homiletics experts in their own minds, and they aren't afraid to say so. I remember boldly (foolishly?) asking for feedback on a survey after one of my first sermons at a former church. Sure, there were some encouraging comments. But there were also some brutally honest remarks as well. (FYI, if you don't want somebody's opinion, don't ask them for it.) The longer that I am in the ministry of the church of Jesus Christ the more I realize that it takes deep humility and deep faith in God to do the work of a pastor. At times you sort of feel that, as a pastor, you are viewed by some as a "Customer Service Representative" for the Almighty God Himself! I'm sure that Moses felt that way from time to time.

Last week, I saw this blog post on "What is 'Deeper' Preaching?" by Pastor Pete Wilson. Pete is a dynamic pastor of a growing network of churches in the Nashville, TN, area. The post certainly resonated with my heart and I wanted to share it with you as well. Below is the same video that Pete posted of a conversation between John Piper and Rick Warren, two modern-day super-preachers of the church. Take a look at this video clip. Dare I say it...Let me know your thoughts.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Set the Example

The Apostle Paul wrote to his young protege in ministry:
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed...For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity...Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress (1 Timothy 4:6, 10-12, 14-15).
I am really proud of my brother. Tim serves as the minister of music and director of youth ministries at Oak Street Baptist Church in our hometown of Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee. (Now, I know what some of you are thinking...but I better not catch anyone making fun of the name of my hometown!)

Tim has such a heart for the Lord, for teens, and for his church. The past year has been especially difficult for Tim and the Oak Street family as they lost their beloved pastor, Joe Miller, to cancer back in January. Tim and I have had numerous opportunities to talk and pray about the challenges that present themselves to the church when a beloved leader goes to be with the Lord. It will shortly be one year since our own friend and elder, Danny Offenbacker, realized the eternal reward of his faith despite a harsh battle with cancer.

While I certainly haven't been a mentor to Tim, I am so blessed to have watched his growth over the past few years. Tim is pouring his life into young people and into teaching his church about God-exalting worship for the honor of Jesus. I know from personal experience how difficult and challenging ministry can be (and especially ministry to teens!), and so I find myself praying almost daily for my brother to stand strong for the Lord and to set an example for his church.

Tomorrow, Tim will be preaching at his church. He sent me his manuscript to get my thoughts and it was a really powerful message. Would you pray along with me for God to anoint Tim in a special way as he speaks God's Word to God's people tomorrow? May God be glorified in a great way!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

"The Devil Made Me Do It!"

Sin is an awful thing, isn't it? Most of us, who claim to be Spirit-filled followers of Jesus Christ, would say that we long to be pure people of God who overcome sin and walk in sweet fellowship with our Heavenly Father. However, the reality of the condition of our lives suggests that sin is still very much an active part of our existence.

Many of us are walking examples of Paul's words in Romans 7. Here we read, "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Romans 7:15). A little later Paul says, "So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing" (7:17-19). Many of us would say a hearty, "Amen!" Even the most mature follower of Jesus Christ still finds the flesh-spirit battle to be a fierce one.

What is sin? According to 1 John 3:4, sin is "lawlessness". One theologian has defined sin as "any lack of conformity unto, or transgression of, any law of God, given as a rule to the reasonable creature" (R.C. Sproul, Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith, p. 143). The Bible simply states it this way, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Sin--whether it be doing something that is against God's will or not doing something that is a part of God's will--causes us to come up short of God's perfect standard and glory. This is a major problem for us because the Bible reveals that God is perfectly holy and won't allow sin to be in His presence (Psalm 24).

Moreover, the consequences of sin are disastrous for us. Romans also says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (6:23). When our first ancestors (Adam and Eve, Genesis 1-3) sinned, they incurred the penalty of this act of rebellion--physical death and spiritual separation from God. Every human being who has ever lived, except for the sinless Son of God, has sinned and thus been in need of a solution to the sin problem.

I will take up the topic of God's provision for our sin in my next post. For now, I wanted to share one more passage that talks about sin. James 1:13-15 states, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." I'm sure you've heard someone say, "Well, I'm sorry, but the devil made me do it!" Certainly, it is true that we have an adversary, the devil, who is out to trip us up and vainly attempts to rob God of His full glory (1 Peter 5:8). However, the reality is that the sin that we commit is born out of a fleshly, rebellious propensity in our own hearts. We need to appreciate the wiles of the devil, but we need to take ownership of our own responsibility to submit our hearts and actions to the loving control of God's Spirit.

As Paul says in Galatians 5:15, "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh." God is glorified to redeem us through the blood of Jesus, His Son, and to reshape us through the abiding presence and control of His Spirit. In our struggle with sin, we need to remember that we are powerless against the flesh--on our own. However, God is placed within our hearts the source of power to walk in such a way that is approved by Him. 1 John 4:4 states, "...he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." The Word says, "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence" (2 Peter 1:3).

Sin is a problem. It's a problem for me, and it's a problem for you. But, because of Jesus Christ and His perfect loving sacrifice on the cross, the power of sin has received its own death blow (Hebrews 2:14-15). And, because God knows that we struggle and fail to live for Him, He comes to live within us. What a great hope!

Is there an area of your life--or, maybe a specific sin--that you need to give to the Lord?