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!

Friendship

You could sum up this past weekend with the word, “Friends.” Since we were back in the North / Central PA area, we took the opportunity to celebrate Lydia’s upcoming birthday with some of her best friends in the whole world! We met up at McDonald’s and the kids enjoyed a couple of hours of fun in the PlayPlace!img_2128On Sunday morning, we had the chance to reconnect with our friends, the Perry’s, at Victory Baptist Church (Bloomsburg, PA).img_2129Victory Baptist was only about 15 minutes away from Emmanuel (the church I pastored), and I have appreciated Pastor Perry’s friendship over the years. The Lord is continuing to do a good work at Victory!img_2134On Sunday night, we connected with more friends at Independent Bible Church (Duryea, PA). I have appreciated Pastor Al Cremard’s friendship over the years through the monthly pastors’ fellowships hosted at his church. Then, over the last couple of years, Sarah started a pastors’ wives fellowship hosted by Emmanuel, and she enjoyed getting to know Mrs. Cremard, along with many other pastors’ wives in the area.img_2135We are also thankful for our friendship with Evangelist Shane and Katie Kollmeyer. They, along with the Hansons are great young couples faithfully serving the Lord.img_1309We are grateful for friends (both old and new) that we get to spend time with during our travels. If the fellowship is this sweet here on earth, just imagine what it will be like when we gather together to worship God in heaven! What a day that will be!

Common Bonds

COMMON BONDS

I am proud of my Italian heritage. Italians have some of the best food, some of the most tight-knit families, and an overabundance of passion (for better or for worse!). I loved growing up in a large Italian family. When we would get together, everything was loud, crazy and fun. I remember the first time I brought Sarah to meet my extended family. She had flown in from Colorado, and we went to my Aunt’s house for Thanksgiving. I don’t think she had ever experienced anything quite like it!

This past weekend while we were at Fairwinds Baptist Church (Bear, DE), I felt like I was back with my family. Pastor DeStefano is not only a faithful servant of the Lord, he is also an Italian… and proud of it! When you pair exuberance for life and a love for the Lord (as is evident in Pastor DeStefano’s life), you have a winning combination. I would encourage you to take time to read his testimony of how the Lord transformed his life and saved his soul.

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Pastor DeStefano is not the only Italian within the congregation, though. There seems to be a healthy population scattered throughout the church body. In fact I think I heard the most “Amens” in the morning message while I was talking about Italian food and making a pot of “gravy” (what others might call spaghetti sauce)!

But what makes this church unique is that there are many other nations represented as well. Fairwinds is a multi-cultural congregation with folks from all over the world. In fact, while there on Wednesday night Lydia became fast friends with a dear lady within the church who was originally from Kenya.

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And of course, as we have found all throughout our travels, we even had the joy of greeting dear believers from the Philippines.

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This brings to light what I shared with the children on Wednesday from 2 Peter 1:1. The Scripture records: “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.”

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Peter is writing to those who have received the same, valuable faith he possessed. There was no hierarchy or division among those who share this faith. Peter, as an apostle, did not set himself on a higher plain above other believers. He says we share the same valuable faith. Something that made the early church unique is something that should make the modern church unique today. All those who place their faith in Jesus Christ are immersed into ONE body. Two thousand years ago this was a revolutionary concept. It did not matter if you were a man or woman; if you were a slave or free; if you were a Jew or Gentile. If your faith rested in Jesus Christ, you were a child of God. So it remains today—it does not matter where a person lives, or what their background might be. Simple faith in Jesus Christ places you into God’s family.

And just to note, the end of the verse makes it very clear that becoming a part of God’s family rests wholly upon what God accomplished through Jesus Christ, and has nothing to do with your own “righteousness.” Jesus did what no other person could do—live a sinless life. When He died, he bore the punishment for your sin. All those who will turn to Jesus and claim Him as their Savior are forgiven of sin and placed into the family of God. If you are not a child of God, you can be born into God’s family today!

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New Partners – Fairwinds Baptist Church

We are excited to announce that Fairwinds Baptist Church (Bear, DE) has taken our family on for support. With these faithful new partners, we are now over 50% of our needed support!

We presented our ministry at Fairwinds this past Sunday (and I will write a post about our time there in the coming days), but for now we would just like to express our gratitude to Pastor Carlo Destefano, and the wonderful folks at Fairwinds. Your partnership with us in the gospel means so much!

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