No Greater Honor

NO GREATER HONOR

Over the years I have had the privilege of preaching all over the world in countless venues. I have preached in churches, at conferences, and at youth rallies. I have preached in jails, in nursing homes, and even on street corners! But this past Friday, I was given the greatest honor in my years of ministry when I preached my Grandpop’s funeral.

A week and a half ago I learned that my Grandpop had been admitted to the hospital. On Sunday, we were heading back from North / Central Pennsylvania and arrived at my parents’ house where we learned later that evening that Grandpop had taken a turn for the worse. I was able to go to the hospital early Monday morning, and while there, the doctors informed our family that Grandpop had passed away.

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Monday was a long day. My parents, aunts, and uncles began making the necessary final arrangements for Grandpop. After meeting with the funeral director that afternoon, they asked if I would conduct the funeral service to be held on Friday. I was honored by the request and grateful for the opportunity to preach my Grandfather’s funeral.

I met with my family on Monday night to discuss the details of the service. This was a sweet time to reflect on my Grandfather’s life. We crafted a service that we felt would glorify God as we honored the life and legacy of Anthony Valiante. During our time that evening, we talked about what made Grandpop special. First, he had a deep love and devotion to his family. He loved to be a dad, grandfather and great-grandfather. He also had a love for God. My Grandpop came to faith in Christ in the late ‘70s, and over the years developed a deep love for God’s Word. He read his Bible through 22+ times, and even made his own hand-written copy of the Scriptures.

Grandpop was also an amazing story-teller with a fun-loving personality. After I got home from a long day Monday night, I was pretty tired and went straight to bed. Even though I was still exhausted, I found myself awake early Tuesday morning. At 5AM I began thinking about the countless stories we rehearsed the night before from Grandpop’s life. Thinking about these stories I could not help but laugh. The more I thought the more I laughed. I found myself laughing uncontrollably for 15 minutes. I am certain Sarah thought I had lost it, but I could not stop laughing as I thought about those stories. Grandpop brought so much joy into our lives. Even in spite of the all of the hardships Grandpop faced through life, he maintained a joyful spirit.

Over the next few days I began working on the service for my Grandfather. This was a wonderful time to remember a man that I love and respect. Then, on Friday, I conducted my Grandpop’s home-going service. I did my best to honor his life, while making sure to preach the simple message of the Gospel. In the service we turned our attention to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. In this text we have the simplest explanation of what lies at the heart of the Gospel. You can sum up the Gospel with these simple words: “Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, He was buried, and He rose again according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). Each component of this message is vitally important. First, we find “Christ,” the Chosen One, the Savior and Son of God—God in flesh. Christ “died for our sins.” Jesus laid down His life as the payment for our sins. Jesus died in our place. He was “buried,” but as evidence that He overcame sin and death, He “rose again on the third day.” It is simple faith in this message that brings life. I am grateful for the impact this message made on Grandpop, and I am grateful for the impact this same message has made in my life. Death has a completely different meaning for those who have placed their faith in Christ. Because Jesus is alive, my Grandpop is alive today. Because Jesus is alive, I will live forever with Him. And as an added bonus, I will get to see my Grandpop (and all those who have placed their faith in Christ) again as well!

New Partners – Calvary Baptist Church

Our family is thrilled to learn that Calvary Baptist Church (Bloomsburg, PA), voted on Sunday to welcome us into their Missions Family.

This ministry has made a huge impact in our family over the past 8 years. While I was pastoring Emmanuel Baptist Church in Millville, we lived just 15 minutes away from Calvary, and our children attended their Christian School. In fact, we were up there this past week, staying in the home of dear friends, Dr. Scott and Lydia Greene (faithful members of Calvary Baptist), while we had meetings in the area, and our children took standardized tests at their former school. The kids loved getting to see their friends and teachers!

We are very grateful for the support and encouragement of Pastor Tim Smith, along with our many friends within this ministry. With Calvary’s support we have now surpassed the 60% mark! We are so grateful to the Lord for His continued guidance and provisions.

Calvary Baptist - Bloomsburg, PA

 

Hitting Your Sweet Spot

HITTING YOUR SWEET SPOT

Earlier this week I wrote a post titled, “Finding Your Sweet Spot.” In today’s post I wanted to share a bit of our ministry from this past weekend–a ministry that got me thinking about what it means to serve in your “sweet spot.” On Sunday we had the joy of being at Twin City Bible Church in Nitro, WV.img_2543img_2544While at Twin City, we got to reconnect with some wonderful friends, Pastor Scott and LeAnn Bandy, along with Pastor Ray and Rhonda Witmer. We first got to know the Bandys at Lighthouse as they came for a Missions Conference while raising support for their ministry in Ireland. After serving in missions for a number of years, Scott returned to the States in 2008 to begin pastoring Twin City.

While with Pastor Scott this past weekend, I could immediate tell he is ministering in his “sweet spot.” The love he has for the folks in his congregation along with his passion to minister in his community is obvious. I was amazed at how invested he is in the lives of each of the folks there. He wants to be a part of their lives because God has placed them deep within his heart. His preaching is pointed, passionate, and above all biblically grounded. As we sat down to eat lunch after a full morning of ministry, I said, “Scott, you have ‘pastor’ stamped all over you.” It is a great encouragement to see a man exercising his gifts for the glory of God.

One of the richest blessings of our travels over the past 7 months has been getting to see men passionate about ministry serving in their sweet spots. There is no greater joy than for a man to utilize the gifts God has given to make an impact in the lives of others, and the life of a church. May God give great joy in allowing us the privilege to serve Him–the King of Kings–with the gifts He has graciously supplied.

Finding Your Sweet Spot

FINDING YOUR SWEET SPOT

When I was growing up we had a field just down the street from our house. On that field my brother and I, along with our friends, played every sport imaginable. But the two sports we played most often were football and baseball. When we started playing baseball on this field we began hitting from the lower right hand side toward the street (we used a big tree that’s no longer there for our backstop). Eventually we had to move to the left side once we gained more power and started hitting the house just beyond the row of bushes. We then had to move from the left side once we started hitting the church building through the line of trees. The last place we could move to was all the way to the back of the field and hit toward the street. We eventually had to stop hitting that direction when the balls began soaring across the field, over the street, and started hitting the house across the street.

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Even though I enjoyed playing pickup baseball with my friends, I only played two spring seasons of organized ball. I was never a great hitter, but I surprised myself by making the All-Star team in one of those seasons. I assume the reason I was selected was because I was a decent fielder (playing Second Base), and I drew a lot of walks on account of my size (and how small my strike zone must have been). So, my on-base percentage was probably pretty high. Add on top of that I had pretty good speed on the bases. No doubt I was a force to be reckoned with on the diamond 😉 But, as I said, my hitting was very poor. I generally had a hard time getting the ball out of the infield. Practically all of my hits were infield singles where I outran the throw to first. But there is one plate appearance from those two seasons of baseball that still remains etched in my mind. It was the only time I felt like I really connected with the ball. As I came to the plate, and took my stance the pitcher sent the ball my way. I reared back, swung with all my might and smashed the ball. Now, lest you think I hit a home run, it was not even close. But the ball went much further than I had ever hit it before. In fact, it made it all the way to the fence (quite an accomplishment for me). I ended up with a Triple.

But what I will never forget is the feeling of hitting the ball with the sweet spot of the bat. The sweet spot is a place where the bat generates the greatest power when it connects with the ball. It is not on the very end of the barrel, but usually a few inches from the end of the bat. If you have ever played baseball, you know what it feels like to hit the sweet spot. You probably know the feeling when you miss the sweet spot–even if it is just by a fraction of an inch. Other sports have similar sweet spots (whether it is soccer, tennis, volleyball etc.), but there is nothing connecting with a baseball.

In life, we have sweet spots as well. Your sweet spot is where the gifts God has given you and the things you enjoy doing the most intersect. Many times, the things we love to do are the things we are the best at. Frankly, I never loved baseball (even though I enjoyed it), because I really wasn’t all that great at it. But I found that I loved soccer, or in school I loved History because God had given me abilities in those arenas. Some of you are gifted artists and love art. Some of you are gifted musicians and love music. God has uniquely gifted us with talents, along with desires that we can use for His glory.

Just a couple weeks ago I began (in earnest) to work on the course material for some of the classes I will be teaching at Haven of Grace Seminary. I started to work on a course in Hermeneutics, Homiletics and Systematic Theology. Now, for some, working on course materials such as these would be drudgery, but for me, I found it difficult to contain my excitement as I poured over textbooks and began preparing my notes. This is my sweet spot. This is the intersection of where I believe God has gifted me most, and where my greatest desires lie.

If you are a child of God, the Holy Spirit has gifted you as well. I would encourage you to consider 1 Corinthians 12 which speaks of the variety of gifts given by the Spirit. But what is most important in that passage is the reason for which these gifts are given. God gives His children spiritual gifts for the benefit of the body of Christ (the Church – you can also find this in Ephesians 4:11-13). Our gifts are not meant to simply benefit ourselves, but are to be put to use for the profit of all (1 Cor 12:7). It is helpful to take inventory of our spiritual gifts and ask ourselves the following questions:

  1. What talents, abilities, and spiritual gifts has God given me?
  2. What talents, abilities, and spiritual gifts do those closest to me see? (It is good to gain an outside perspective of what others see in your life, so maybe ask a spouse, parent, child, friend etc.)
  3. What kind of activities am I most excited about? What types of ministries make me feel most alive?
  4. How am I presently using the talents, abilities, and spiritual gifts God has given me for the benefit of His Body (the Church)?
  5. What are (new) ways I can begin utilizing my talents, abilities, and spiritual gifts for the benefit of His Body (the Church)?

As we ask ourselves these questions, and begin exercising the gifts God has given us, we can narrow in on our “sweet spot” of ministry. There is nothing better than to see the gifts God has given you and the desires of your heart meet together in joyful, fruitful service to the Lord.

Oriented Toward God

ORIENTED TOWARD GOD

While driving back from West Virginia on Sunday, we had the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful hills of that scenic part of the country. As we headed East, I began to notice that the ground to my right was completely snow-covered, while the ground to my left was completely bare. Having plenty of time to think, I began to wonder what made the difference. Of course, it did not take long to figure out that the ground to my right was facing north while the ground to my left was facing south. A north-facing hill (one which is oriented away from the sun) does not receive direct sunlight. Therefore, snow on its slopes takes longer to melt. On the other hand, a south-facing hill (a hill which is oriented toward the sun) enjoys the unbroken attention of the sun and subsequently the snow quickly melts away.

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After coming to this conclusion, I turned to Sarah and said, “There has to be a spiritual application in there somewhere!” Much like the hills of West Virginia and Maryland, there is a vast difference between someone who is oriented toward God, as opposed to one who is oriented away from God. The direction we are facing makes all the difference. I have often said that God is more concerned with our direction than He is with our perfection.

Now, before I emphasize our “direction” or “orientation” I want to make clear that “perfection” is something we should strive after. Matthew 5:48 commands us to be “perfect, even as [our] Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Yes, the term perfect in the Greek language generally refers to that which is complete or mature (i.e. it has come to an end), however the inclusion of the words “even as” means our maturity is to reach to the level of God’s own maturity of completion. However you slice it, we are called to a level of perfection men and women cannot attain on their own.

We all know by experience how far we fall short of perfection. Romans 3:23 reminds us: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” No man can even begin to approach a perfectly pure and righteous God. Beyond that, James 2:10 seals our fate with the chilling assessment: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” The Scripture is plain: even if we could somehow keep every commandment in the Bible, if we stumble at just one point (i.e. break just one of those commandments), we are guilty as if we had broken every single one. Anyone who thinks they can escape God’s judgment for sin by their own goodness has never grappled with God’s hatred for and vengeance toward sin.

So, even though perfection is commanded, no one will ever attain it in this life. Even the Apostle Paul made this clear in Philippians 3:12 when he said, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” If the Apostle Paul said he had not “arrived,” we can rest confidently that we will never “arrive” at perfection either.

But in spite of these realities, this does not mean that we should simple throw our hands up in the air, give up, and live how we please. No, this is where our “direction” comes into play. There is comfort in knowing that God knows we will never be perfect. The times we fall short are frequent reminders (like mile markers in our lives) of our need for God’s grace. But as we travel along the path, we should be able to see steady spiritual growth as we become more and more like Jesus. Whether we see this growth or not is dependent upon the direction we are heading, and whether we are oriented toward God, or oriented away from Him. A person who is oriented toward God is first one who has come to know God personally through His Son, Jesus Christ (Col 1:20-23). A person who is oriented toward God basks in the light of His Word and is slowly changed into the image of Christ (2 Cor 3:15-18). A person who is oriented toward God will live a life marked by prayer, selfless service, and purity (1 Pet 4:7-8; 2 Tim 4:12). So, as you look at the direction (not perfection) of your life, what do you see? Are you oriented toward God, or away from Him?

Just to tell a little about our weekend, we had the privilege to spend time with Pastor Bill and Michele Toothman and their church at Marion Independent Baptist Church. What a blessing to spend time with these dear, faithful servants of the Lord, and the church family in Rivesville, WV. We are once more reminded of the great privilege we have to serve alongside of these wonderful men and women of God.

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The Beginning of My Strength

THE BEGINNING OF MY STRENGTH

A phrase in Genesis 49 has captured my interest for quite some time. In this chapter Jacob calls his twelve sons together to bless them and tell them “that which shall befall [them] in the last days” (Gen 49:1). As his sons gather, Jacob naturally begins with Reuben, declaring: “You are my firstborn.” But the statements that follow this obvious declaration are what arrested my attention. Jacob declares that Reuben, as his firstborn son, is his “might, and the beginning of [his] strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power” (Gen 49:3). For a long time, I tried to wrap my mind around what Jacob meant—specifically his first two observations. Why does Jacob call Reuben his might and the beginning of his strength? Although I have not attained complete clarity on the matter, I feel like I am gaining a better handle on it as my own firstborn son grows.

Just yesterday, I came back from shopping with Kiersten and as I walked into the house I was taken aback by the young man sitting in our living room. The realization that Micah is not a little boy any longer hit me with full force. His face is changing. His pants are getting too short. He wants to enjoy greater freedoms. As I look at him, I can see the spirit and face of a man waiting to emerge. And for all of this change, I am very grateful.

Last week, I had a couple of small projects I needed to tackle at our rental homes. One project was the removal of an old, dilapidated shed at the back edge of one of our properties. I decided this was the perfect project to enlist Micah’s help with. Although it was a cold, blustery day, Micah and I worked hard, first emptying the shed, and then tearing the structure down. We then began the four-hour process of hauling the contents and wood down to the dump trailer located in the driveway below. On that day, Micah was “my might.”

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Over the past couple of years, there have been a couple of projects that I would not have been able to finish without Micah’s help. Now, I try not to give him responsibilities beyond his capabilities, but it is amazing how much help an 11 year old can be. Every year that passes his ability to help and contribute to our family grows. He is the beginning of my strength. I am now, with his help, able to get so much more done.

Of course, in Jacob’s day, having a son was of the greatest importance—even more so than today. Yes, a son carried on the family name, but he also assisted his father in his trade. The firstborn son, within the Jewish society, was also responsible to care for his parents in their twilight years. For a family, the birth of a son was the dawn of stability and progress. It would be impossible to overstate the value placed on a son in a patriarchal society.

Sadly, though, for Jacob, his firstborn son did not possess strong moral character. Jacob—and keep in mind he is speaking in front of all of his sons—gives Reuben the label: “unstable as water” (Gen 49:4). This is not a very flattering assessment. What I am most grateful for in my son is the tender heart he has for the things of the Lord. He is the perfect “firstborn” for our family. He is a natural leader, and helps guide his siblings with a maturity that is well beyond his years. He has an adventurous spirit and joyfully tackles new challenges. Our family is blessed with Micah. He is my might, and the beginning of my strength.

 

Gospel Impact in Accomac

The Gospel changes lives. This past weekend we were privileged to see the impact of the Gospel in Accomac Virginia. While at Baptist Bible Church, we saw a thriving, vibrant congregation that is reaching into its community with the message of hope found in Jesus Christ.

Pastor Rob and Adrianna Fletcher have a deep burden for the folks on the far eastern shores of Virginia. Over the past number of years, the Lord has allowed them to see many come to know Jesus as their Savior. As a result, their congregation is a wonderful blend of seasoned believers, right alongside brand-new ones!img_2247

Right from the start we were welcomed to Baptist Bible with open arms. The congregation made us feel at home, and we enjoyed every moment with them. Pastor Fletcher and Adriana also took time to introduce us to the area on Saturday night. We headed out to Chincoteague Island where we had some delicious pizza, followed by some of the country’s best ice cream at Island Creamery. Our children were begging me to take them back there on our trip home Sunday night, but that is going to have to wait for another time!

We are continually grateful for the friends we are making along the way, and the opportunities to minister in these wonderful places!

Return to Pittsburgh

Over ten years ago, as a youth pastor at Lighthouse, I took a group of teens to Middletown Road Baptist Church (Pittsburgh, PA) for a Missions Trip. This was one of the most memorable experiences for Sarah and me, along with our teens.

Pittsburgh 1During the trip we had the joy of getting to know Pastor Kistler…

Pittsburg 3And we also had the chance to spend time with good friends, Dennis and Valerie Rew (not to mention the opportunity to check out the city of Pittsburgh)…Pittsburg 2This past Sunday, our family came back to Middletown Road Baptist to present the work God has called us to in the Philippines. Although it had been 10 years since we were last there, it was so good to be back and reconnect with them. The moment I went through the tunnels, crossed the bridges, and hammered on the brakes down some pretty steep inclines, I knew we were back!

We had a blast staying with the Rews, and our children loved the time spent with their children. We took some time on a chilly Saturday night to check out the city from a breathtaking overlook.img_2182img_2198While traveling, we have had the opportunity to see and experience so much while ministering to dear folks along the way. We are thankful for God’s many blessings!