Friday, December 18, 2009

Spurgeon on the need for prayer

Here is the beginning of a sermon which was delivered 100 years and 1 week before I was born. Charles Haddon Spurgeon delivered this sermon in 1873. Here is how it begins:

"I thought of addressing you this morning upon the importance of prayer, and I designed earnestly to stir you up to pray for me and for the Lord's work in this place. Truly, I do not think I could have had a more weighty subject, or one which weighs more upon my soul. If I were only allowed to offer one request to you it would be this- "Brethren, pray for us:" do not restrain prayer: on the contrary, be abundant in intercession, for so, and so only, can our prosperity as a church be increased, or even continued."

I greatly desire that "our prosperity as a church be increased" and so I also urge you to pray in that direction.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

One Point Six Percent (1.6%)

A friend recently shared a DVD with me that contained a number of statistics regarding the church in America. It is interesting to see that 9% of Americans attended an evangelical church this past Sunday. According to this study, only 5% of Americans attend a Catholic church service in a given week. Throw in mainline denominations, orthodox, and any other type of religion and you get up to about 17% or 18% of the population attending a religious service during any given week. This information is challenging in that it shows the great need in our country to reach people for Christ.

An old saying declares that "figures don't lie, but liars figure." With that pithy wisdom in mind, I still decided to research my community more specifically. I was not surprised to learn that we are vastly different from the national averages. What did absolutely shock me is the lack of evangelicals.

I discovered was that 45% of the residents in Middlesex County, NJ are in some way associated with the Catholic Church. That does not mean that they attended mass last week, but only that they are on the membership role. After Catholic, the most statistically significant religious group in Middlesex County is "unclaimed." 40% of our population falls into this group, which includes people who don't go anywhere to church, but also some people who do. The 6% Jewish presence somehow falls into this "unclaimed" category, along with any adherents of Islam, Hinduism, cults, etc. That six percent of the population that is Jewish is equal to the combined number of evangelical protestants and mainline protestants. But unlike the majority of the country, mainline adherents are three times more common here than evangelicals. The evangelical presence comes in at just 1.6% of the population of our county (total population around 750,000, but only 12,000 people are claimed by evangelical churches). As a side note, neighboring Monmouth County, NJ has an almost identical breakdown of the percentages of people in each religious group.

What do these numbers mean to Christians in central New Jersey? First, it means that God has placed us in proximity to many people who need to hear the great news of salvation through Jesus Christ alone. The Catholic church does a good job of letting people know that they are sinners in need of salvation. Many people that we talk to grew up in the Catholic church and have not been back since. They already have an understanding and a respect for Jesus. They just need to hear that Jesus is all they need. Please don't misunderstand what I am saying. I absolutely believe that Catholics can be Christians, but I am concerned that too often the message of salvation is unclear in the Catholic church, or it is combined with works.

Second, these number reinforce the truth that most people you talk to about God are approaching the subject from a completely different point of view. They have no idea how to classify you since they run into so few people who believe like you do.

Third, we as evangelical Christians in central New Jersey have been placed into a position where we need to share the gospel. We need to grow in our own faith. We need to develop healthy churches where we can bring our friends and neighbors. We need to help more churches get started who will reach additional people with the life-changing message of Jesus.

The numbers are grim. But they are challenging as well. The numbers mean that you don't have to work very hard to find someone who needs to hear about Jesus. Let's ask God for His power to share His gospel to people that He will call into His family.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Ideas

So what do you get for the person who already has the "right" Study Bible? What about the person who needs to have their self-esteem lifted? Or that friend who believes in the prosperity gospel? The answer: A board game of Joel Osteen. Check it out:

It's sad to me that it is true. The article goes on to mention another "Christian" board game called "Big Daddy God." At least that one plays like Monopoly and has a lot of funny mis-translations from Chinese.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Rock Band

I went to a coffee house this afternoon in order to attend a get-together about effective blogging. After I had been there over an hour, a guy across the table asked what I did for a living. I told him that I am a pastor of a church in Old Bridge. His face immediately turned to stone. I was a little afraid that I had killed him. I wasn't sure if he was thinking about the swear words that had already been uttered during the meeting or if something else had paralyzed his facial muscles. I joked to another guy (who is involved with acting) about trying to read that facial expression. Just then, the stone face returned to flesh and blood. He explained that he was just shocked that I was a pastor- because I don't look like he expects a pastor to look. He had assumed that I was probably a manager of a rock group. How cool is that?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Small Churches Should Merge

I scrolled down through my Facebook updates this morning and noticed the statement: "Small Churches Should Merge." I checked it out to see what it said. It was posted by someone in my denomination. He apparently started a
Facebook Group, so I joined it. He was the first member. By adding me, there are now two members.

When I pastored a church in rural Pennsylvania I noticed that the very small community had a lot of similar churches. Back then I thought about the advantages of putting two or three of those churches togehter into a stronger church of 100-200 people. There would be a financial savings on the buildings. More workers would be available. The church could probably have a staff of two pastors instead of the one pastor that each church already had. I can see some benefits.

I recognize thaqt there are drawbacks to the ideas of churches merging. But I propose that the advantages probably outweigh the drawbacks. I'm interested in seeing this topic as a discussion. Please post your thoughts.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Outreach Ideas

For the past several months our church has subscribed to a list which reports the homes which have been sold in our area. After receiving these addresses, we then sent a letter describing our church and inviting people to come visit. After several months we have spent hundreds of dollars with no visible results. Consequently, we are ready to try a different approach.

Today I drove to several of the addresses on the new list. At each home I knocked on the door and was prepared to talk to the residents. Although our nation has an employment crisis, apparently that crisis is not affecting the people who have recently bought houses. None of the people I visited were home. Apparently they were working so they could afford their new mortgage payment. But when each of those people comes home tonight, they will be greeted with a nice coffee mug with our church name on it. Inside the coffee mug is a church flyer, a letter to them, and a business card.

Will this new approach work? I have no idea. But I appreciate that we are willing to try different things, and then if they don't work, we can move on to something else. Please share with me your ideas for inviting people in the community to church.

Only God can change a life. Only God can grow a church. Please pray that God will be pleased to work through our efforts and draw people to church.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Another Building Update- Again

Plans for the new church building continue to move forward. The Building Committee met last night. Some of the things to report are as follows:

The builder is about to send us a contract with the exact dollar amount for the building.

The lawyer wants us to get the paperwork finished to ensure that there are no wetlands on the property. The site engineer assures us that there are no wetlands, and they are in the process of doing the appropriate paperwork.

Once the paperwork for the wetlands is complete, the lawyer should have enough information from the engineer and architect to submit our permit application.

Various parking options from the engineer have been considered. The best option seems to be one which allows for a constant flow of traffic with no "logjams." For financial reasons, we might have to use a gravel parking lot at first, and plan for the pavement as a second phase.

The bank has been provided with our financial information and will be giving us an idea of how much they would loan us.

We are still very interested in solar panels. For financial reasons, they might have to be included in the second phase, but we want to plan for them from the beginning.

As can be seen, a lot of progress has been made and even more is expected in the near future. Please pray for the continued success of the planning, the submission and approval of the permits, and that the finances would be acquired to pay for the "Building To Serve."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Great Big Faith

I preached this past Sunday from the beginning of Hebrews 11. We looked at three characters from the beginning of the Bible who pleased God through their faith.

Abel had the faith to believe that God wanted to be approached a certain way. Abel not only believed mentally that God wanted him to worship with a sacrifice, Abel also acted on that belief. He demonstrated faith by offering the sacrifice that he rightly knew God wanted Him to offer. Abel's faith was one of simple obedience. We demonstrate similar faith when we recognize that God wants us to approach Him through the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Receiving Jesus as our sacrifice for sin is a similar type of faith to that of Abel.

Enoch was an unusal, though rarely mentioned, character in the Bible. He lived for God each day. One day God just took Enoch straight to heaven- no need to bother with death. God just gave Enoch that one-way ticket with no layovers. Enoch's faith doesn't seem particularly amazing to me. All we know about Him is that he lived for God in the way that he want about his routine every day. That doesn't sound special. In fact, it is so ordinary that any of us could do it as well. We imitate the faith of Enoch when we do what God wants us to do each day instead of doing what we want to do.

Noah is the guy who easily received the most press coverage in the Bible. If they had newspapers in Noah's day, he probably also made the front page regularly. Noah's faith required him to do something a lot bigger than Abel and Enoch had to do. In order for Noah to have faith in God he had to believe that God really was going to flood the world. Noah proved that he really believed God by building a boat. The boat took a long time to construct. It was probably expensive (just ask people who own boats today). People no doubt ridiculed Noah for building that monstrous boat in a place where it never rained and where there were no large bodies of water nearby. In addition to building the boat, Noah had to gather a lot of animals together and enough food to feed them all. I guess the cages for the lions had to be pretty strong- especially if there were some nice tender sheep in the next stall. As an aside, we are still wondering what Noah did about the woodpeckers. And I'm not sure why he brought along the mosquitos and spiders. I guess he did it because God told him to and because he really believed that God meant what he said.

Noah is an example to us of someone who proved that he really believed God. We might not ever face a situation that is as tough as the one that Noah faced, but let's make sure that we always believe that God means what He says. The way we believe God is by doing what He has already told us to do. That is true faith.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hold On

I took my family to the Yankees victory parade on Friday. We took the Staten Island Ferry into Manhatten. By the time we got there the parade route had already been blocked off. We couldn't get over to see much of anything. We did manage to make our way over to where the parade started. We could see the ticker-tape up ahead. And we saw the marching bands and even the floats- just not the Yankees.

In order to get to where we could see anything we had to make our way through a crowd. This crowd was composed of a couple million of my closest friends- and I mean closest in proximity. As we walked through the crowd there were people pressing up against us from every direction. There was really no such thing as "personal space" in that moment. One kid tried pushing me out of the way- I looked at him and let him know that while I was polite, I was still a whole lot bigger and stronger than he was.

I felt bad for my 5 and 6 year old daughters who were holding onto my hands. They couldn't see anything except for the backside of the person in front of them. If you've read many of my posts, you probably have figured out that most of the stories about flatulence that I tell involve them. But this time I was afraid that they would be on the receiving end- right at nose level.

The experience of children holding on tight to dad while in a crowd is a good picture of what Christians are told to do in Hebrews 10:23, which says, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful." We are instructed to hold on tightly to the truth that Jesus is the way to God. We must believe this fact and then live our lives based on the truth of Jesus being our way to God. And just as an earthly parent makes sure that the kids hold on tight, we can be sure that God will help us cling to Him appropriately.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Silly Kids

Not long ago my first grade daughter asked, "Dad, remember when we went to New City York?"

Last night my daughter in kindergarten didn't want to be in bed. She tried to tell me that she was scared of the "hell . . . ss" outside her window. She was referring to a neighbor's "house" that she could see since the curtain wasn't quite all the way closed.

This morning my wife and I had trouble waking up one of the children. I was talking to her and pestering her. Eventually we started to tickle her. Did you know that in some children tickling is the trigger to farting? We found that out this morning. We kept tickeling, and she kept excreting gas (loudly).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Another Building Update

God continues to move the building project forward! Some of our Building Committee met with the architect today. The initial plans are exactly what we expected. The architect asked questions and listened to our comments about the plans. Additional details were discussed- things like coat rooms and audio rooms, the size of the kitchen pantry, and places where extra electric outlets will be helpful. All of those changes can be included on the final, more detailed plans. The plans which we currently have are ready to be submitted to the planning board of our township.

The site engineer informed me last week that he will be ready to meet with me by the end of this week. He wants to show us the preliminary site plans. These plans are also necessary when we go to the planning board.

In addition to the architect and site engineer, we also need to have an attorney help us with our submission to the planning board. We recently selected the appropriate attorney and he helped us with another matter. We agreed today to send this attorney a retainer check.

Please continue to pray that God will provide the funds and the approvals that we need in order to make this building a reality. Please also pray that we would indeed use this new building to serve God, His people, and our community.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

God is Good

I still believe in miracles. We saw one last night. Last night John informed me that the lawyer received permission for us to use the parsonage for classrooms. We don't need to rent a trailer. We don't need tents. We don't need to find a different meeting area. I just need to clean my house. Praise God.

Monday, November 2, 2009

picture of building

Here is a basic idea of what the plans are for the new church building. It is a 7,500 square foot building. The santuary is between 2500 and 3000 square feet. The latest plans from the architect have a few small changes, but this is the basic layout that we are currently hoping to build. The latest plans from the architect have 200 seats in the sanctuary.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Building Update

God recently placed an opportunity in front of our congregation. The fire inspector and fire marshall informed us that the classrooms we use for the children are not considered part of the church, but rather part of the residence. Therefore, the classrooms are not zoned correctly and cannot be used. I call this an opportunity because it is a chance that we did not previously have to see how God will work.

The Building Committee met last night and we invited other people from the congregation to join us to consider this issue. While many ideas have been considered, we are looking at a classroom trailer as a very good option. We still have some questions that need to be answered, but we are going to try to get the answers very soon. Some of the other ideas are also being pursued. We would like to have a solution in place for our 15 year celebration on November 8.

Here is a list of things that have happened in the past month regarding the building project:

Conversations with the site engineer and attorney let us know that a gravel parking lot is a possibility, though it is not guaranteed (this is important in the short term because of cost).

We sent money to both the site engineer and the architect to retain their services.

The site engineer and architect are coordinating with each other.

The builder is in contact with the architect. Once the architect does a certain amount of the work he will send those plans to the builder so the builder can do the engineering plans for the interior and also so he can give us a final price.

A topographical survey of the property was completed.

The attorney is sending a proposal for a company to determine that we don't have wetlands- we need to make sure that the site engineer was not already doing this.

One other important development came about this month. Ironically, the bad news from the fire inspector lead us to some ideas that we had never previously considered. With some renovation work we might be able to rent out the chapel and part of the basement as residences. If we are able to rent out these spaces, the rent would probably cover the additional mortgage money that we will need each month to pay for the new building. Now you can see how the fire inspector closing down some classrooms is actually an opportunity from the Lord.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I'm Not Funny Enough

Ok, my wife didn't say it exactly, but after reading my past several posts she pointed out that the blog had not made her laugh and that there weren't any funny stories. Please keep in mind that I am not a comedian, I'm a pastor. And I don't write the blog simply to entertain, but also to inform. But a smart man listens to the advice of his wife. So please enjoy the rest of this entry as I try to provide you with some of the humor that I have selfishly kept from you (or perhaps protected you from).

So, what's funny to you? A lot of people find physical humor to be funny and easy. I was leaving the house today while pulling a large, empty box behind me. Why did I have this box? Because before it was empty it contained a new desk chair. Why did I need a new chair? Because the one that I have used for many years decided that it no longer wanted to hold me! The old chair tried magnificently to dump me to the ground. I got to the point where sitting on that chair required all of my focus, or else I would tumble to the ground. I caught myself several times, but it never succeeded in dumping me all the way to the floor (there were some very close calls). I now realize that I was devoting all of my attention to self-preservation, and therefore I had no creativity available for humor.

So I was dragging this large box out from the new chair out the door and down the front steps. In my other hand I was holding an open drink. I had just locked the door behind me, so my keys were in my other hand. And in my other hand I was carrying some papers. Since I am not a monster or an action figure, I really only have two hands. But as I attempted to carry too many items I fell victim to the clumsiness inherent in my heredity. It wasn't so much a lack of coordination- I think it had more to do with the fact that my ankle rolled right out from underneath me. Once again, my tremendous instinct for self-preservation kicked in and I managed to avoid falling to the ground. But the cost of staying upright was two-fold- first, I have continuing pain in my ankle which rolled; second, I seem to have lost some of my ability for humor as all of my attention was focused on my ankle.

Of course my children provide lots of material for comic relief. Again, physical humor gets the easy laughs. I'll avoid telling you which of the kids did these things in order to protect the guilty, but one of them recently had a booger on the top of their head- not absolutely certain about how that happened. At dinner tonight one child was not feeling well. Then came a long and pronounced experience with flatulence which brought a big smile to her face. All of her stomach problems farted away and she became a happy camper. Meanwhile, the rest of us were trying to eat. Okay, so the rest of us laughed as well and all was right with the world for that moment.

To my wife, I apologize for not being funny enough. To everyone else, watch out for office chairs and ground that attacks. And remember that being there when someone else passes gas can bring a smile to your face- or it might just choke you and finish off the job that the ground and the chair started.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Louisiana Judge

A judge in Louisiana has made news for his refusal to marry an inter-racial couple. He referred the black man and white woman to another judge. He said that he always refuses to marry inter-racial couples because of his concern for the possible children the marriage could produce.

I have conflicting thoughts regarding parts of this story. First, I consider the judge to be wrong to refuse to marry a couple based on race.

Second, a married couple raising children in our society is a good thing. Children have a much better chance of growing into well-adjusted, functioning adults when they have the parental love and care and supervision that God provided through a two-parent family. It shouldn't make any difference if the parents are both white, both black, one each, or anything else. The commitment to each other, the children, and God are what will make that family succeed.

Third, the racial component of raising be-racial kids varies based on the location where the family chooses to live. My wife and I have five children. Four are mixed black and white. The other one has black, Spanish, and Asian in her heritage. When we lived in an all-white area we did not have issues of the children not being accepted. We did have issues with the children themselves feeling out of place because they looked different from everyone else. Now that we again live in a diverse area it doesn't seem to make any difference to anyone what the racial component is. My kids attend school with kids that are white, black, Spanish, Indian, and Asian. And the white kids and black kids are not all from America. The judge should realize that America has changed in the last forty years and that diversity is better accepted in many places now than it was then.

Fourth, as someone who performs marriages, I don't want to be forced to perform a marriage if that marriage violates my beliefs. If the judge could not in good conscience perform the marriage, then he should not be obligated to perform it. I appreciate that the judge at least recommended a different judge to the couple so that they could still get married. But if he doesn't want to perform the ceremony, then I am not sure that he should be required to do it. I see this as an issue in a couple of other situations. For example, as a pastor I have standards to be met by any couple that I will marry. One of those standards is that I want them to be in the same place spiritually. My requirement for them is that they should either both be professing Christians or they should both be up front about the fact that they are not professing Christians. Another of my requirements is that the couple be composed of a man and a woman. I would be greatly disturbed if I was required to perform marriages that violated my own conscience. While the situation with the judge is different in that he works for the government, I would like to think that our government would not force employees to violate their consciences either (in this situation it seems to me that the judge's conscience ought to be informed by something other than his limited observations, but those are still his convictions).

Finally, the fact that this story garnered so much attention is significant. The "newsworthiness" of this story makes me hopeful that as a nation there has been progress (slow though it may have been) in our race relations. The story shows us that there is still progress to be made, but the reaction of many people against the beliefs of the judge is encouraging.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

2 or 3 percent

My mom picked up a bunch of books at a library sale and passed some on to me. One of them is titled, 44 Ways to Increase Church Attendance. Lyle Schaller wrote this little book, so I figured I'd glance through it. It is a bit surprising that only one of the 44 ways to increase church attendance seems to have much to do with God. That way is to, "place greater weight on intercessory prayer." Apart from prayer, the rest of the ways all seem to assume that (a) the Sunday morning attendance is all that matters, and (b) an active church is responsible to get more people into the building. It would have been nice to have seen more dependence on the power of God.

One piece of advice was particularly relevant for our congregation- Cottrell Corners Community Church in Old Bridge, NJ. Included in the section dealing with the physical property and building of the church was this piece of advice:

"Perhaps 2 to 3 percent of all American Protestant congregations have the mixed blessing of an obsolete building on a desirable parcel of land of adequate size at a prize location. For them the most effective path to increasing worship attendance may be to raze that obsolete structure and replace it with a more attractive and functional meeting place."

I don't know where the 2 or 3 percent figure comes from, and it appears to be more of a guess than based on a detailed study. But the description of the property describes our church property quite well. We have four acres of ground in a nice community. We have great road frontage, on a road that runs past all of the main community buildings (library, police, etc.). But our actual building sits too far off of the road to be seen. The building does not have plumbing or classrooms. It does not have a kitchen or a fellowship hall. The building is quite small, and even when visitors park right next to it they are still not sure if they have arrived at a church. The building is certainly functional. We use it each week when we gather to worship. I don't know if a new building will increase attendance (again, I see that as a work of God who works through people), but I know that a new building certainly would be appreciated by everyone who currently meets in the old one.

Here is one other quote from the "real estate" section of this book:

". . . while a new building may not attract people, an unattractive or functionally obsolete structure often does repel people."

I am not willing to call our building "unattractive," but "functionally obsolete" is probably a good description for any modern building that lacks bathrooms and plumbing.

Let's remember that it is Christ who builds His church. And on a local level, let's remember to rely on Him and to use the resources that He provides in the best way that we are able to do so.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Who Stole My Church?

I recently finished reading the book by Gordon MacDonald titled, "Who Stole My Church?" MacDonald is a fairly well known writer and pastor who tends to comment on things that are current in ministry. This book is written as a story where MacDonald himself is the new pastor of an old church in New England. In the story the "old guard" have just shot down some proposed changes to the church that would have helped the church position itself better for ministry in a contemporary world.

MacDonald gathers a group of people together who are opposed to change in the church and listens to what they have to say. They then agree to meet regularly and continue to discuss church life, specifically change in the church. Over the course of the meetings they talk about the name of the church, music in the church, and outreach and evangelism among other things. Over a period of time the "crusty old-timers" experience renewal as they see that the church really does need to change in order for it to accomplish what they had always dreamed it would accomplish. One of the highlights for the older group is when a group of teenagers came and met with them and they both got to ask questions of the other group.

I was a bit hesitant at first when I began reading this book. In the early chapters I heard a lot of "anti-change" rhetoric that reminded me of things that I've heard in other churches and I would not want to become accepted anywhere. But this turned out to be MacDonald setting up the story. As someone who loves the church, this book was encouraging as "they all lived happily ever after." Since the book is a story rather than a non-fiction work, MacDonald was able to impact his audience without the need to prove a specific point. But along the way he ended up sharing many points.

I drew a couple of specific lessons for my own church situation from this book. First, I should always remember not to marginalize the opinions of the older generation. Our congregation is only fifteen years old and so we don't have generations of tradition influencing us. But we have some elderly people who have been part of other churches most of their lives and they sometimes like to see some things continue. I should remember to hear what they have to say and also to appreciate their heart attitude. For example, some of our older people wish that we had a mid-week prayer meeting. I'm all for having prayer meeting, but it would be impractical for me to be away from my family one more night each week. A while ago one of the retirees in the congregation called me and asked if it would be okay if they had a prayer meeting in the home of an older lady whose health prevents her from getting out as frequently as she would like. The person who called is a retired pastor and he volunteered to lead the weekly prayer gathering. Obviously I was thrilled. They meet faithfully. And I attend when I am able- which is about once a month. When I am there I am impressed to see their love for the Lord and their desire for the church to grow. I don't always like all of the suggestions that they give me, but many of them have been productive.

A second area in which the book challenged me was regarding the impact of a church's name. The name of our church is "Cottrell Corners Community Church." I like many things about the name- it is alliterated, it should appeal to a lot of people since it is a "community church," it is early in the alphabet so people who look for churches in the phone book should get to us before they give up looking. It is a satisfactory name to me- except for the fact that we live in Old Bridge, NJ and very few people here know where Cottrell Corners is. There was supposed to be a development of Cottrell Corners, but it never happened. The book reminded me of the power of a name. I don't really look forward to the work associated with coming up with a better name and then advertising that name, but I learn from this book that I should not get so attached to the name that we have that I would allow it to keep people from hearing about the church.

This book is an illustration of the power of a story to educate an audience. And the education that this book provides relates to changes in churches. I found the book to be entertaining and engaging. The book would probably be most helpful for people who are a part of a long-established church and are either trying to change it or resistant to the changes that are being made.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Where are the Churches?

David Dockery stated, "Most churches are found in rural areas while most people live in urban and suburban areas" (see session 12 of the "Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and teh future of Denominationalism" conference). I have obvserved this statement to be true quite often, though there are exceptions.

The national average in America is that there is one house of worship (church, synogogue, mosque, cult, etc.) for every 1,000 people. But for some reason, churches tend to be more densly clustered in places where the population is quite sparce. For example, I have two friends who pastor churches in northern Minnisota in a town of about 800 people. There are 6 churches in that community- or one church for every 133 people. On the other hand, I live in Old Bridge, NJ. Our township website lists 21 houses of worship (and I could only recommend about 1/3 of them as Christian). But there are over 60,000 people in the township of Old Bridge. That means that we have one church for every 3,000 people. Stated differently, there are 20 times more churches per person in a rural community in MN than there are in a suburban community of NJ.

Before coming home to NJ, I lived in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Chambersburg is the county seat of Franklin county. Franklin county is a rural area. It has over 400 churches serving about 129,000 people. This means that there is one church in Franklin county for every 325 people in that county. This county has approximately three times more churches per person than the national average.

You may be wondering why we should care where the churches in America are as long as we have plenty of good ones. But the sad fact is that there are heavily populated sections of our country that do not have as significant of a gospel witness as they should have. Many people recognize the need for more churches to be started. I would encourage us to be strategic in seeking to start more churches in areas that are "under-churched." I trust that more God will raise up more churches in central NJ and other parts of this country so that He will be glorified as He draws more people in these communitites to Himself.

Friday, October 9, 2009

31 Reasons to Study, Preach, and Teach the Old Testament

I spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday at Pinebrook Bible Conference in the Poconos. I was there with many other pastors in the Bible Fellowship Church. The main speaker was Philip Ryken. In the first session Dr. Ryken provided 31 reasons why it is important to read and study and learn and teach and preach the Old Testament. Here are the 31 reasons that he gave.

1. It is the word of God.
2. The Old Testament is necessary background to understanding the New Testament.
3. The Old Testament gives us a fuller understanding of Christ.
4. The Old Testament gives us a fresher understanding of Christ.
5. The Old Testament helps us understand our world today.
6. The Old Testament gives us more of the promises of God.
7. The Old Testament shows us a fuller range of human experience.
8. The Old Testament teaches us more of the law of God.
9. The Old Testament exposes us to more Biblical poetry.
10. The Old Testament is our Lord's own method for dealing with temptation.
11. The Old Testament is the apostolic method of preaching.
12. Careful use of the Old Testament opens up more than half of the Bible for life and ministry.
13. Studying and teaching the Old Testament honors the Holy Spirit who breathed out these words.
14. The old Testament gives us a clearer picture of our sin.
15. The Old Testament gives us more stories to tell.
16. The Old Testament tells us the story of our people- the people of God.
17. The Old Testament gives us greater confidence in the truth of the gospel because it is rooted in history.
18. The Old Testament presents a fuller revelation of the character of God.
19. The Old Testament gives us something new to learn and new to teach.
20. The Old Testament is useful for equipping.
21. The Old Testament will stretch you to grow.
22. Reading, teaching, and preaching the Old Testament is a task vindicated by the history of the church.
23. The Old Testament will give you a richer appreciation for the grace of God.
24. The Old Testament enables us to follow Paul's example in preaching the whole counsel of God.
25. The Old Testament helps us see the gospel.
26. The Old Testament shows God's one plan of redemption unfolded throughout all of history.
27. The Old Testament will give you a broader perspective on the work of missions.
28. The Old Testament will give you a deeper understanding of the many great doctrines of the Christian faith.
29. The Old Testament will bring people to faith in Christ.
30. The Old Testament introduces us to many great heroes and heroines of the Christian faith.
31. Dwelling on the Old Testament will deepen our understanding of prayer from all the prayers in the Old Testament.

While the Old Teatament might be more difficult for people in the world today, it should still be used. Great benefits are available. So use the whole Bible, not just the New Testament.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Church Building Update

One of the primary reasons that I started a blog and am on Facebook is because it was recommended by the Building Committe of our church. The idea is that I will be able to update the congregation and anyone else who is interested regarding the progress of our new building.

On Thursday night the Building Committee met. Since our last meeting we have discovered that the bank believes that our current property probably does have quite a bit of equity based on location and size- that is good for us. We also discovered that the bank will only loan us what they believe that we can afford. The extra income which has been given to the building fund this year should help the bank believe that we can afford a reasonable sized loan. We also discovered that the bank doesn't think that we need to worry about the loan until we are deep into the permit process.

We have intended to help the congregation track the progress of the money that has been given to the building fund through a "thermometer" type chart. The chart has already been designed. It just needs to be filled in and posted in the church and on the internet. We hope to have that chart posted this month. We also intend to add a page to the church web site. That page will include the plans for the building and current progress, etc.

We received an update on the money given to the building fund. Those numbers will be included in the bulletin soon. I was encouraged that about $21,000 has been given since we began to raise money earlier this year (around March or April). I was also encouraged that we already have $47,000 in the building fund and that we have pledges for more.

Probably the greatest challenge we faced this month was the estimate for the site work. The costs for the parking lot and drainage are considerably more than we had hoped that they would be. The solution that we have proposed is to design the project with two phases. The first phase would include the building itself, but only a gravel driveway. The second phase of the project would include the paving and draining, as well as possibly including some of the other things that we would like (solar panels for example).

The next steps are to investigate the possibility of doing the project in the two proposed phases. While we will not be able to get a definite answer, we should be able to learn how acceptable it is generally in our township. Next, we need to send some money to the architect and site engineer. They will work together to make a proposal that we will take to the township for our permits. Since the permit process might take a while, it is important that we begin the process as soon as possible.

Please pray with us that we would follow God's plans and that our proposals would be favorably received by our township officials.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New And Improved

I generally think that it is ridiculous for a company to advertise a product as "New and Improved." Usually, something must be either one or the other. If a product is new, then it hasn't been around to be improved. And if a product has been improved, then it has already been around for a while and must not be new. But in Hebrews 8, God presents us with a covenant that He says is new. But God also contrasts that covenant with an older covenant and shows that the new is an improvement.

The Old Covenant was the law of Moses. It was a deal that God made with the people of Israel that was based on them obeying the 613 laws that were given. When a law was broken, a sacrifice had to be made. But the New Covenant (also made with the people of Israel) is much better because the New Covenant is internal and people want to follow it. People are able to follow the New Covenant, but they were unable to follow the Old. The requirement of the New Covenant is faith in Jesus Christ. HIs perfect sacrfice for sin fulfilled all of the sacrifices of the Old Covenant. Therefore, not only is the New Covenant an improvement over the Old Covenant, but Jesus is seen to be the best (and now only) way to approach God.

Since Jesus is the best way to God, we ought to come to God through Jesus. And since Jesus is great, we ought to rely on Him for help in everything that we do. The greatness of Christ can give us a tremendous assurance of God's love. The greatness of Christ can also give us additional reasons to trust Him to guide us through every situation of our lives.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


One of the great things about living in the middle of New Jersey is that all sorts of food is available. The internet phone book for my town of Old Bridge lists around seventy restaurants- and there are pleanty of other towns nearby. We have more types of food available than I even knew existed.

One place to eat that I just recently discovered is called "Harold's Chicken and Grill." Harold's just recently opened their Old Bridge store on Route 516 accross from Wendy's. The owner (Harold maybe? I talked to him, but didn't ask his name) told me that he has had the other Harold's in South River for about five years.

What I like about Harold's is that the menu is extensive and the portions are huge. I fed my family of seven with a cheesesteak and salad. We've tried the place a couple times now and everything has been delicious.

So here is the question for everyone to comment on- What food establishment (restaurant, diner, delivery place, whatever) do you recommend?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Take Advantage of Your Opportunities

I have been preaching through the book of Hebrews. One topic which is prominent in the middle of the book is that Jesus is the greatest High Priest that anyone could ever have. Many evidences are given of the superiority of Jesus' High Priesthood compared to the priests of the law. But what difference should it make in our lives that Jesus is our great high priest?

This past Sunday I suggested four ways that we should take advantage of having Jesus as our great high priest. All of these suggestions are based on the fact that the role of the priest is to represent people before God. The priest goes to God on behalf of the people. And since Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, then He has the greatest opportunity to go to God on our behalf. Here is how I believe we should respond to the priesthood of Christ. First, we should approach God, through Christ for salvation. Second, we should approach God, through Christ, with confession of our sins. Third, we have the privilege of approaching God, through Christ, with our prayers and concerns. Fourth, we should approach God, through Christ, with the worship that He deserves.

Even though our sin disqualifies us from approaching God on our own, the sacrifice which Jesus offered of His own blood gives us the enourmous privilege of talking to God and being heard. Let's take advantage of our opportunities.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Church Assets

We have some accountants in our church. They can easily figure out what our church is worth financially. They would begin by adding up all of our assets, like our bank account balances and the value of our property. Then they would subtract our outstanding bills and the mortgage for our property. They could give us a very good picture of the financial wealth of our particular congregation.

But I was recently thinking of the things of value- the assets- that our congregation possesses. If we are realistic, we will recognize that the financial assets and property assets are actually the least of our wealth.

Our church is enourmously wealthy through the gift of the Triune God. We are children of God the Father. He has made us His heirs and blesses us with every spirtual blessing in Christ.

Through Christ we have forgiveness of sins and a relationship with God the Father. Christ also sent us the Holy Spirit who empowers us for service and illuminates our understanding of yet another gift- the Bible.

In addition, our congregation is rich in love for God and love for each other and love for the outside world. And we have a group of people who are actively serving. We have so many assets that a balance sheet full of numbers simply can't explain our true wealth.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Second Day of School

My daughter Nicole is in seventh grade this year ("grade seven" to you Canadians). On the first day of school she got up at 5:30 a.m. Even though she had just showered the night before, she took another shower to help her wake up. Keep in mind this is my same daughter who hates showers and hates mornings. Throughout the summer she stayed in bed as long as we would let her. One time this summer she complained when I dragged her out of bed at 11:00 a.m. because it was too early. But on the first day of school she was ready bright and early. She came to my bedroom to wake me up. I looked at the clock and told her that she needed to wait at least half an hour before I was going to help her put in her new contacts.

Along with the shower and contacts, preparing for the first day of school involved Nicole getting her hair done by Mom, packing a lunch, eating breakfast, and getting out to the bus very early. The bus driver called the week before to say that she would be picking Nicole up at 7:35. Since it was the same bus driver and the same route as last year, and since Nicole is the last person to be picked up, and since the school is right around corner from our house, and since last year the bus regularly picked her up at 7:50, and since the bus doesn't have to be at the school until 8:05- well, I kind of figured that we would have to wait a while. Of course we got out there at 7:30, but had to wait until 7:55 for the bus to arrive. Nevertheless, Nicole was ready and excited.

When Nicole was going to bed that night, I asked her what time she was going to get up for the second day of school. She said that she was going to get up at 5:30 again. I decided to check on her at 6:30. Guess what? She was still asleep and didn't appreciate having to get up.

Can anyone guess what morning three was like? You might actually be surprised.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Building Update

The Building Committee for Cottrell Corners Community Church in Old Bridge, NJ met last night. Be assured that good progress is being made.

We now know who the architect, site engineer, and builder will be. We have prices for the first two, and a good estimate from the builder. The exact price for the builder will have to wait until the architect does the prelimary drawings. The biggest piece of financial information that we are missing is the price of the site work- things like leveling the ground and paving a parking lot. We should have a very rough estimate for that work sometime next week.

The finances for the building are also progressing. The building fund is approaching $50,000. Another $18,000 has been pleged. And so far, the amounts of un-pledged money that have been given have been more than triple the amount of pledged money that has been given. The finance people on the committee will feel a lot more comfortable if another $50,000 to $100,000 were in the account (anybody have that sitting in their piggy bank or in a mattress?).

Ultimately, this building is a work of God. He must provide the right contractors for the right price. He must give us favor with the township in order to receive the permits. He must provide the finances. And He is the one that we are trying to bring glory to as we attempt this project. Please continue to pray with us that God will indeed be glorified as we pursue our campaign of "Building to Serve."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Playgrounds in Old Bridge, New Jersey

I have five children. They range in age from 5-11. One of the things that they all still enjoy is when I take them to a playground. So far, we have found four playgrounds in our community.

I decided to do the good "dad thing" and take the kids to the playground yesterday. One of the rules before we leave the house to go to a playground is that everyone goes to the bathroom first. (I've included the previous sentence as a piece of literary foreshadowing). The first playground we drove to was Mannino Park. This is a brand new playground in our community. There are new ballfields, a new playground, new dog run areas, and the new YMCA which opens this month is also on the property. We've been to this playground several times over the summer and we have always had the entire place to ourseves. The kids like this park because it is the only one we go to that has enough swings for all five of them to swing at the same time. When we arrived at Mannino Park yesterday it was obvious that our secret park had been revealed to the community. It was overrun with activity. It appeared that the clientele was mothers with 1 and 2 year old toddlers.

My kids didn't like their chances for the swings at Mannino Park, so they asked if we could try another place. Normally I might have encouraged them to make friends and learn to share, but earlier in the afternoon I had seen a park that I had not seen before and I was anxious to check it out. So I drove us over to Veterans Park- just a mile or two away. As we approached it was obvious that there was a shortage of swings and that the slides had a shortage of height. Upon closer inspection, my older children reported to me that there were bad words on the playground equipment. I might have been concerned about the boredom of the older kids; however, it was at this ponit that Charissa, the youngest of the bunch, informed me that she needed to use the restroom. This should not be a problem. We were right next to a building that appeared to be restrooms for the park. I took her over there, but all the doors were locked. But in the opposite direction there was another building. I think that it was on our walk to the second building that I asked Charissa why she had not gone to the bathroom before we left the house. Her response was that she had gone, but now she needed to go again. When we arrived at the second building I was relieved that it was labeled as restrooms. My daughter, however, did not get to be relieved, as this building was also securely locked.

We returned to the playground where the oldest children were playing on what little equipment was there- and to my older kids it really was "little" equipment. They were learning the hard way about sharing. I'm not sure that they were learning to share as much as displaying the selfish sin nature which they inherited from Adam. We stayed a little while later, at which time it became obvious from the "potty dance" that we needed to leave. It was at this time that I was mildly attacked by a swarm of bees. I just swatted them away, but Nicole (my oldest daughter) was pretty freaked out.

We piled back into the Suburban and headed home. But instead of heading home I decided that we could try a third park- a park where I know they have restrooms because I have taken children to those restrooms before. I drove us over to Geick Park (pronounce it as if it ryhmes with "like"). I parked in the parking lot that was closest to the bathrooms. The kids all got out of the car and they all headed down toward the restrooms. They ran ahead of me and came back to report the ominous news- these bathrooms were also locked. By the way, the "potty dance" was still taking place. I finally acknowledged defeat. I drove the children home. As we were pulling into the driveway my son Matt asked, "Daddy, after Charissa goes to the bathroom, can we go to a playground?"

How would you respond? What do you think I did?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I Didn't Learn This in Seminary- Or Did I?

We have had a busy couple of weeks at Cottrell Corners Community Church. Among other things, the family that rents a home on the property moved out, so we need to find a new renter and get the place ready to be lived in again.

As a result, I've done things that I don't normally do. I've met with carpet people and hardwood floor people. I participated in a workday where we painted just about everything. I've shown the unit to various people who were interested in seeing it. I've fielded phone calls from people who wanted to know all the details (especially the price). And I just accepted a security deposit and wrote a receipt.

Somewhere in the middle of doing all of these things related to the property I had a thought. My thought was that I didn't learn about property management in seminary. But not too long later I had another thought. I realized that my seminary training had indeed equipped me to deal with these events. Even though there were no classes on "Landlord 101" at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD (an excellent place to attend, by the way), the professors there had indeed helped me prepare. The way that they helped me prepare was by giving me lots of work and lots of deadlines to meet. During my time in seminary I took around 18 credits per semester. Plus I had two simultaneous internships. I was also teaching a home Bible study. Did I mention that I was already married and working 30 hours a week? It was a busy time. And my classes forced me to be organized and hard-working.

So even though seminary classes can never prepare anyone for all of the things that they might face, the experience of seminary itself will prepare you for dealing with much of life. And the classes that one does take will hopefully prepare that person to study and communicate the Bible- which is a far more important part of the job of pastor than the landlord stuff is.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Three Pronged Approach

At Cottrell Corners Community Church we summarize our goals with three short words: up, out, and in. We desire to reach up to God through worship. We want to reach in to the church through discipleship. And we want to reach out to our community and our world through evangelism. Our guest speaker reminded us about evangelism on Sunday, and that reminder caused me to consider how we are doing on all three of our goals.

This congregation has advanced significantly in the area of worship. Of course we gather every Sunday morning to worship God as a group. Recently our worship team had the priviledge of attending a conference together. They have been putting some of the things we learned into practice in recent weeks.

I have been pleased with the growth of our church in the area of discipleship. Discipleship is simply teaching people how to live more like Jesus. We do this through a host of Bible studies, sermons, children's programs, and special meetings. We intend to add a Youth Group next month to help our teens grow in their faith as well.

This church was established based on reaching out in evangelism. And our guest speaker on Sunday reminded us that we need to get back to work in that area. He reminded us that we all know people that the rest of us in the church don't know. It is our responsibility to use our relationships in a way that encourages our friends to trust Christ as their Savior from sin. I hope to have more teaching about this topic in the coming year. And I hope on a personal level to do a better job in developing relationships with people outside of the church.

One thing that we all realize will assist us in reaching up, out, and in will be a new building. The Building Committee is still working and praying diligently toward that end. We have made plans. We have toured other buildings. We have begun to raise money. We have contacted builders and engineers and architects. We have investigated financing. But there is still more to do. Please continue to pray that God would provide our congregation with a building that would indeed help us to accomplish our three pronged approach of reaching up, out, and in.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Stinky Trash Cans

My wife and I took our five children to the Bronx Zoo on Wednesday. It was a very hot and humid day. Many of the exhibits were closed because a storm the night before had knocked over many trees. We could hear chain saws working on the trees almost the entire time that we were there. We left right around closing time at 5:00 p.m. As we walked out of the gate I purchased bottles of water for everyone- the price was only one dollar on the outside of the gate, but closer to 3 dollars inside.

After acquiring the water we began to walk about three blocks back to where we had parked. I finished my water in the first half block (did I mention it was hot outside?) and was looking for a trash can to dispose of the bottle. The first trash can I discovered was right by a bus stop where a lot of street vendors had been set up for most of the day. That trash can was piled up beyond overflowing (if that is possible). The trash was heaped at least a foot over the top of the trash can, and then the rest of the trash from the day was all around the area. It was revolting. I decided to carry my trash a bit farther rather than add to that mess. About a block later I discovered a trash can which was usable and depsited my garbage in it.

It occurs to me that our sin makes us appear to God like that trash can appeared to me- disgusting, gross, revolting, and unworthy to be used. And that trash can was not going to do anything to improve itself. It was not going to empty itself. Left to itself that trashcan was only going to get worse. Isn't that a good description of our lives apart from God's grace? We can't clean ourselves up. We can't make ourselves better. Instead, we need Jesus to clean up our sins and present us to God clean and usable. Don't fool yourself into thinking that you are able to clean yourself up. Instead, accept Jesus' generous offer to take the penalty for your sins and to clean you up so that you can be clean in God's sight. Then you won't stink.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hebrews 6:1-8 was tough

Last Thursday night I attended a prayer group from our church that meets in Sylvia's home. The leader of that group is a retired pastor. One of my requests was for clarity regarding Sunday's sermon on Hebrews chapter 6 since I was finding it to be a tough passage. When I gave the reference, immediately Rev. Mitchell and his wife both began to laugh and to affirm that they would pray hard for me since they knew it to be a very tough passage.

When I went back to the study on Friday, I discovered that God was again gracious and gave me clarity in thinking and allowed me to finish the sermon. I trust that the end result was a sermon that was true to the text and relevant to us today.

The first application from this passage is that every single one of us needs to make sure that we examine our lives to make sure that we are truly trusting in Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. Just being in church regularly and doing good things is not enough to save you for eternity or to make you right with God. In fact, doing those good things could be dangerous to you if they make you think that you are okay with God when you aren't. The severe warning of the passage, especiallty verses 4-6 is that people can appear to be Christians when they are not. Someone can play the part of a believer in Jesus, but not really believe in Jesus for salvation. So examine yourself to make sure that you are really in the faith.

The second application of this passage is that we need to continue to grow and mature in our faith. We are not supposed to just focus on the initial truths about Chist. Instead, we are to learn those things well, and then learn more. We are constantly to supposed to be growing in our faith and in our understanding of Christ.

How have you grown lately?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I Have Not Worked Until I Have Prayed

I have the priviledge of working at a local church as a pastor. As with most jobs, there are many things that need to be done when I am at work. There are also many things that I might have to do at times other than "normal business hours." But only a couple items are top priorities.

One of the top priorities is prayer. I recently reminded the elders that I don't ever believe that I have truly worked until I have actually spent time in prayer for the church and for the people of the church. Prayer is a big part of my job.

Early leaders of the church also saw prayer as a priority. In fact, the apostles delegated some very important responsibilities because they needed to spend their time ministering to the church through prayer and through studying and proclaiming God's message. While I am certainly not an apostle, I do want to follow the example that they apostles gave for church leaders. So, by God's grace, I pray for the church.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

God's Grace Driving Outside of New Jersey

One of the things I love about living in New Jersey is that driving is fun. One of the adventures of New Jersey driving is that most traffic lights take about 15 mintues to turn from yellow to red. So if you are in NJ and you see a light turn yellow, you are going to drive right through that intersection. In fact, the person behind you is also going to drive through, and so will the person behind them. I know two people that were rear-ended soon after they moved here because they stopped when the light turned yellow and the people behind them did not.

I am currently in Maryland with a group of people from my church. John is graciously driving us around in his Suburban. Over the course of the day yesterday we had several conversations about what to do at yellow lights in New Jersey and how different that is from Maryland. On our way back to the hotel from the WorshipGod09 Conference last night a traffic light turned yellow while we approached. John stopped accelerating, but then seemed to be considereing whether he should stop (and possibly be rear-ended) or just drive through the light (and possibly run a red light in an area where the lights might be shorter). John opted for the "safer" choice and went right through the light. But of course that yellow light was far shorter than what we are used to, and we didn't even hit the intersection until after that light had clearly turned red. We were still laughing a block later when a police officer turned on his lights and pulled someone else over who had apparently run a light going the other way.

I guess we received grace from God that we were not in an accident and that we didn't have to try and talk our way out of a ticket. So the next time you are in Maryland, remember that the lights are short. And the next time you are in New Jersey, please keep moving when you see that light turn yellow.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Building Update

The Building Committee for Cottrell Corners Community Church met Monday night. We looked at three proposals from site engineers. One proposal stood out because of the references listed and because of the price. We will follow up with that engineering firm by checking those references.

The majority of the meeting time was spent listening to a proposal from a builder. This builder was recommended to us by a Bible Fellowship Church in Pennsylvania. They seem to understand our budget, so they presented a smaller building than we initially proposed. The building has about the same number of rooms that we had planned, but the rooms are smaller. It appears to be a workable building for us. There are some unknown prices are for things like electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and all of the work on the ground prior to the building going up. But the bid was placed low enough to try to compensate for those prices and still meet our budget goal.

We should hear from another builder by next week regarding a price for the exact building that we proposed.

Someone figured out last night that if we can have all of our money and financing secured by Easter, then we should be able to move into the new building by Christmas of 2010.

Please continue to pray that God would provide us with a usable building. And please also pray that we would indeed use that building to worship Him and serve our community.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Different Opinion

I live in New Jersey. People here tend to take environmental issues very seriously. By and large, it is a liberal state (and by and large, we are not as large as people in Pennsylvania where I used to live- but that is a different topic entirely). But not all scientists have bought into the global warming concerns that resonate with people here. For an alternative view by a geologist read this article in the Vancouver Sun:

The geologist in this article has written multiple books to argue that the changes in the earth's climate have always occurred randomly, and have almost nothing to do with the impact of people. He suggests that we should look forward to the earth warming up a bit because historically the times when the earth is warmer have generally been very good for us.

As a Christian, I understand that the God has made us stewards of this planet. We are to care for it. But at the same time, we are supposed to recognize that the earth was made for us to enjoy- not to cause us anxiety. I'm not terribly worried about us destroying the earth, because the Bible talks about Christ one day fixing the earth from all of the bad things that have happened to it- all of which, by the way, came about as a result of sin. So I think that we should care for the planet, but there is no need to worry if someone accidentally puts their plastic water bottle in the trash instead of in the recycling bin.

A Great Example of Humility

One blog that I follow is written by Josh Harris who is a pastor in Maryland. Josh has a large following, in part because he has written some very popular books. Check out his most recent post which is titled, "Kevin DeYoung's Book on the Church is Better Than Mine"

To me, this title and the accompanying article- complete with a cartoon illustration that he drew- are a wonderful example of humility. Josh could have just used his blog to tell people about his own book (which by the way is excellent- it is titled, "Stop Dating the Church"). Instead, Josh chose to highlight the work that someone else has done. He is acknowledging the contribution of other people, rather than focusing on himself.

The greatest example of humility that we have is from Jesus. We learn from Philippians 2 that Jesus had to humble Himself just to come to earth and live among us- let alone die on a cross for our sins. As followers of Christ we imitate Him when we are humble. Let's remember to follow the example of Jesus, and Josh Harris, and put other people ahead of ourselves.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Reading is Fun-damental

A few years back there was a marketing plan to encourage children to read. It was called "Reading is Fun," but also continued by saying, "Reading is Fundamental." The irony, of course, was that they had to use TV commercials to get the message out that children should be reading. I guess they figured that if they put the message in a book, no one would see it.

Reading is also fundamental in the life of a Christian. I know a man who learned to read as an adult after he trusted in Christ. It was at that point that he recognized that he needed to read so that he could listen to what God had said to him in the Bible. God has communicated to us through a book, so we ought to read it.

Don't limit your reading to just the Bible. If you can only read one book, then it should be the Bible. But we live in a time when we have more material available to us than anyone could ever possibly read in one lifetime.

Consider these pieces of advice regarding reading. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, told preachers to "either read or get out of the ministry!" Albert Mohler, a leader of the Southern Baptist denomination says, "This much is certain; we will never preach more than we know and we will never preach above our reading." And John Stott informs us that, "in all this reading, our objective is not so much the accumulation of knowledge as the stimulation to think Christianly."

So please find some time to read good books, and possibly good blogs.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

3 x 7

This morning I encouraged the people at Cottrell Corners Community Church in Old Bridge, NJ to pray for three requests each day for the next seven days.

One request should be for a physical need- whether sickness or finances or provision or job related. This request is based on the part of the Lord's prayer where we are instructed to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread."

The second request should be related to a spiritual need- perhaps for victory over a particular sin or for greater commitment or holiness in life. This request is based on Jesus telling us to pray, "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

And the third request I encouraged them to pray was for something related to the advancement of God's kingdom. This request might be for the salvation of a friend or for the ministry of a missionary or a church. This request is based on Jesus' words, "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

I'm concerned that we often are unbalanced and only pray for the first type of request- our physical needs. But Jesus' example tells us that we should also pray for spiritual needs and for the advancement of God's agenda. So please remember to pray for all three categories of needs.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


I was just alerted to the fact that people could not comment on this blog. I guess that is one explanation for the lack of comments- it was blocked. I just assumed that the reason no one had commented was because no one was reading. And if anyone had read, then nothing they read moved them to write anything. The problem has been fixed (I think). I welcome your comments and interaction.

Friday, July 17, 2009

New People

"Are you new?" I was asked this question when I walked into a church in Hagerstown, Maryland a while ago. What kind of question is that? Think about it. My response to that question went something like this: "I am not new. I've been on this planet for thirty-some years. But today does happen to be the first time I have visited this particualr establishment."

That was probably not the response that the greeter at that church was looking to hear from me. I have this pet-peeve about being asked if I am "new." I find that people in churches often talk about visitors or potential visitors as "new people." But I wonder how "new people" feel about being described this way. It isn't their fault that they haven't been part of an organization as long as someone else. I am concerned that this type of language tends to drive people away rather than welcome them in. So let me urge you to stop talking about anyone as being "new" unless they were just born in the past year.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Were You Asleep?

Last night I went to bed around 2:00 a.m. In the middle of the night my wife had a medical emergency, so I was up again. I basically ignored the alarm when it went off this morning. Around 8:30 I received a call from the company that services the furnace for the church property. A technician was on-site, so I went out to let him in. As soon as I arrived his first question was, "Were you asleep?"

Was I asleep? Of course I was asleep! Why does everyone always want to know if they have gotten you out of bed? Are they going to get off the phone or leave? Of course not. I think that we all feel superior to another person if we know that we were awake when they were not. We think how strange it is that someone would be in bed when we are awake. But does anyone ever think, "Wow, they sound tired, maybe they have been up late every night this week."

I'm sure this issue is especially acute for people who work the night shift. They must be considered complete slackers by people who don't know them simply because they are sleeping during the day.

So the next time you are tempted to ask someone if you woke them up, first consider why you want to know. Second, consider what you are going to do about it if you find out that you did wake them up (and remember, most people will lie to you and say that you didn't get them up since they themselves are embarrassed for having been asleep while other people are up). And third, just move on to what you were really calling to do since there is no productive reason for asking whether you woke them up.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Top 10 Reasons for Living in New Jersey

10. Driving is more interesting
9. The accents are great
8. Yankees fans
7. Health conscious
6. Racial diversity
5. Cultural diversity
4. So many people who need God living nearby
3. Great opinons and conversations
2. Lots of variety in types of food
1. Solid educational system
0. All these people, but still so much open space
-1. People love their flower beds and landscaping
-2. You don't have to pump your own gas- and it's still cheaper than everywhere else
-3. Lots more school holidays (Jewish, Protestant, national, etc.)
-4. Great American history sites
-5. Really interesting politics
-6. Early adaption to technology
-7. Produces lots of famous actors and musians
-8. No one minds if your top 10 list has too many items

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Visiting the Playground With My Children

We live in Old Bridge, NJ. Contrary to popular opinion outside of this great state, New Jersey is not the armpit of the United States. I've lived elsewhere. I've travelled. And I much prefer living in New Jersey than living anywhere else.

One of the nice things about living in our area are the playgrounds for the children. On Sunday night I took the kids to Geick Park. They had a great time running around all the equipment and sliding down the slides. And when some "young adults" (using the term adult very loosely) started climbing on the equipment, someone who knew them came over and made sure that they understood that there were children here and they would have to watch what they said.

The next night I took the kids to a different playground. I don't even know if it has a name. It was great to see people from various parts of the world walk by, and there couldn't have been more than 40 people there- black and white, Indian and Spanish (I think). We have a great mix here and people generally seem to get along. My oldest daughter ran into a friend from school who lived nearby and she got to go over to see her friend's house.

Tonight was the third night in a row that I took the kids to the playground. By the way, my five year old daughter pronounces the word "playground" with four syllables. Tonight there was a man there with two boys. He was wearing a "best dad" t-shirt. I wanted to know if he had taken his kids to playgrounds for three days in a row, but I didn't ask. Plus, he seemed a little overmatched with only two children- so I'll just consider him an ameteur.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Why Worship

I just finished reading a book about worship. I expected it to be really good because of the name- but you just can't judge a book by its cover. My biggest issue with this book was that it seemed to suggest that we worship because of what we get out of it. The book came accross as saying that the reason we should worship God is because our worship frees God up to bless us. Consider this quote from the book: "We need to begin to praise our way up, out of, and into what and where God calls us to be."

But is that really why we worship God- just to have our problems solved? I would contend that it is not! The Bible suggests that the correct reason to worship God is simply because He deserves it and is worthy of our worship. I suggest that when we approach worship selfishly, that we are not really worshiping God at all- we are worshiping ourselves. God is the greatest being in the universe. It is only right for us to praise and honor the One who made us and saved us.

Don't get me wrong. I'll freely acknowledge that we do benefit from our service to God and perhaps even our worship of God. And I have no problem with "selfish" motives to some extent. For example, decades ago C. S. Lewis pointed out that our desires for gain are not big enough. We ought to desire eternal reward, and that should motivate us to serve God and seek joy in Him. More recently, John Piper has become known for clearly demonstrating that the way that we do glorify God is by enjoying Him. Both of these well-respected saints are on to something. God does hold eternal joy and eternal reward out to us as a proper motivating factor in our service to Him. I am almost certain that neither Lewis or Piper would be comfortable, however, with the suggestion that we worship in order to manipulate God into giving us what we need. NO! We worship because God is worthy of our worship. And if we benefit in the present, then that is an extra bonus.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Link to Facebook

Cottrell Corners Community Church now has a Facebook page. Please go check it out:

And don't forget to become a fan!

You can also become my Facebook buddy (or friend as they call it):


Because People Matter

I previously wrote that I have been praying for God to send an additional 25 people to our congregation. Please don't think that I am looking for the people because we want to be a specific size or because I want to brag about how much we have grown. I want God to send us people because I know that people matter to God. That last phrase is not original to me, but it is still very true. My prayer for 25 more people is a recognition that we would like to help those people and also a recognition that as we help people, then they can help us help more people. And ultimately, God is glorified through each life that is touched. It is God's glory that we are seeking.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

25 and 25

I have been praying that God would give us 25 additional people at Cottrell Corners Community Church by the end of 2009. In addition, I've been praying that He would send an extra $25,000 to the building fund that hasn't already been given or pledged. Those people and dollars would make our new building both a greater necessity and also a greater reality.

We have not only been praying that God would send people to us. We have been mailing letters to everyone that has recently moved into our area. And we have a big sign out front. And people in the church are distributing flyers to invite more people to church. And now I am blogging and the church is networking through Facebook and our website:

All of these are great displays of activity. But ultimately, our impact on the community of Old Bridge, NJ and the surrounding area is completely dependant on the grace of God. So please, invite your friends to church (and even your enemies). But also remember to pray that God would actively bless the ministry of this church.

Friday, July 10, 2009

What Have You Got to Lose?

I was at a home prayer meeting last night and one of the people there commented that she was inviting some other people from her building to our church. These people have recently moved to the area and don't yet have a church. She figured that when she invited them she could let them know that they had nothing to lose in trying out a church.

It is true that attending a church anywhere in America is a low risk proposition. You probably won't be ostracized, you certainly won't be persecuted. While the risk is low, the potential reward is great- you can find God, discover meaning for your life, learn how to have your sins forgiven, gain eternal life, and you will probably also make some great friends. It sure seems to me that when you measure the risk versus reward, attending church just makes good sense.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Where's The Church?

The first time I drove onto the property at Cottrell Corners Community Church I tried to figure out which building was the church. There are two buildings, and one is significantly larger than the other. You would think that the larger building was the church building. But it isn't. The larger building is a two family home. The smaller building is used for church gatherings. But the smaller building doesn't really look like a church. In fact, people have visited the house and not even realized that there was a church on the property. One person asked me where the church was, and they had parked their car within ten feet of the building. We are currently planning to build a new building on the property with an entry way that will be very obvious so that people know where to go for the church meetings. Once the new building is up, everyone who drives past should be able to recognize that a church meets here.

Far worse than a church building that doesn't look like a church building is a group of people that meet as a church, but don't act like it. Those situations should really make us ask, "Where is the church?" As followers of Jesus we need to be committed to the things that He says are important. But when we get distracted and don't focus on the essentials, then we should wonder what happened to the church. At Cottrell Corners Community Church we focus on three essentials- worship, discipleship, and evangelism. I believe that a committment to these three items will cause us to live in a way that more people in Old Bridge, Matawan, and the surrounding area will be able to see that we are a church.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Is there any reason to read another blog?

I refuse to promise you that this will be an amazing blog. But I will promise to tell the truth and to try to make you think. And I welcome your interaction. Here are some of the things that I'd like to talk about:

Life in Old Bridge, NJ and the surrounding area
Cottrell Corners Community Church
Raising a family
New York Yankees
New York Giants

So let's get started.