Friday, March 31, 2006

It's a true day to celebrate

As I type this posting, bouquets of balloons adorn my office and confetti is dropping on my head while a band plays celebratory music in the background. Okay, I’m lying but today is March 31, 2006 which is the one year anniversary of my blog. WOHOO!! So, for those of you who were not readers at the inception of my blog, let me answer some historical questions about these daily ramblings.

When did my blog begin? March 31, 2005 with the posting, “To blog or not to blog.”

Why did I start writing a blog? Our Business Manager here at Grace Church, Andrew Norton, came to me with the idea and the encouragement to begin. He thought it would be a great way for people to learn more about me as their Senior Pastor.

How did my blog get the name it has? My blog is called, “Listen, Folks!” Once again, this one goes back to Andrew Norton who has noticed that I use that little 2-word phrase often when I preach so when he set up my blog site, he gave it this unique name.

How often do I post on this blog? A new entry is posted every weekday (Monday through Friday) unless the church office is closed on one of those days. Even when I am away from the office on my day off, vacation, or a ministry trip, I still write blog entries which are posted by Elaine Bendinsky, who is one of our church office workers.

How many postings have I made? Today’s blog is my 261st posting.

What is the purpose of these blogs? If you read these blog postings long enough you will find that they are not always the same. This blog is designed to be far less formal than my “Pastor’s E-Mail Updates” that I send out to the hundreds of people who have subscribed to it (free, of course) every Monday and Thursday mornings. The e-mail updates are purely to keep people who attend Grace Church feeling “in the loop” with all that is happening at Grace. This is important as our church continues to grow as it is easy to feel like you have no ownership in a larger church. The blogs, on the other hand, are aimed to simply allow people at Grace to get to know me as the Senior Pastor better. Some days I just post humorous stories, usually about my own life. Some days I post more serious thoughts about my life or about the issues that face us in our world and in our faith. Some days I write about Biblical principles or areas of Christian living that can motivate, convict or encourage us, depending on the content and the reader. Each Monday I use my blog to recap the sermon that I preached the day before. It is my goal to be very transparent in these blogs. You will learn things about me…my thoughts, my ideas, my likes and dislikes, and more. Sometimes these blogs may make you cringe or even make you a bit uncomfortable. You may not always agree. That’s okay. Many, perhaps most pastors are less transparent than I am. Yet, to me, there is a need to be real. I don’t want to be a pastor that is different on stage than he is in real life. These blogs will help you to learn more about me and what makes me tick. Kind of scary, isn’t it?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Discovering your spiritual gifts

According to the Bible, God has equipped every believer with at least one spiritual gift as listed in Romans 12, First Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4. Spiritual gifts are not natural talents but rather, they are special abilities given by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of service and ministry in the church. Through these gifts, each believer can play a part in the Body. But how do you discover what your spiritual gift is? Here are some helps:

EDUCATION: Take time to study. Read the above listed chapters among others. What is the definition of each gift listed? Which of these gifts are for today? Which are not?

EXPECTATION: Diligently ask God to reveal your spiritual gifts to you (Matthew 7:7). This is not a scavenger hunt meant to frustrate you. God wants you to discover, use and develop the gifts that He has purposefully given to you.

ELIMINATION: Once you have a thorough knowledge of what gifts are available today and once you have spent time praying for God to show you what gifts are yours, scratch off the list of gifts those that you know for sure that you don’t have. Be sure to leave any that you are not 100% sure of.

EXAMINATION: Determine what potential gifts you may have. There are several helps for you on this. The first is your own self-evaluation. You could also take one of the spiritual gifts tests that are readily available. Be careful here though. I have found that most of these tests include items that are not listed as Biblical spiritual gifts. I have also found that many times we answer these questions as we wish were true about ourselves rather than being honest about ourselves. I believe the best way to determine your potential gifts is by asking 2 or 3 others what gifts they see in your life. They must be strong, spirit-filled Christians who have a proper understanding of the gifts and who know you very well.

EXPERIMENTATION: Now take your list of potential gifts and try using them. As you do, look for 3 things. First, look for Desire…do you enjoy using the gift? Second, look for Ability…Are you capable of using the gift? Finally, look for Blessing…Did you see God bless your using the gift?

EVALUATION: Now do a final evaluation about each of your potential gifts by asking yourself the following questions…Is this potential gift a Biblical gift for today?; Can others see this gift evidenced in my life?; Do I have a desire to use this gift?; Do I have at least some ability in using this gift?; Have I seen God bless my using this gift?; Have I spent time in prayer about this gift resulting in an inner confidence that this is at least one of my spiritual gifts (Colossians 3:15)? If the answer is YES to all of these questions, you can be pretty sure that this is at least one of your spiritual gifts. If the answer to any of these questions is NO, you may need to continue experimenting and praying about that gift. If several answers are NO, it is probably not one of your spiritual gifts.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

What is discipleship?

Discipleship is a buzz word that is used often in the church today. But what exactly is Discipleship? And even more importantly, what isn’t discipleship? Let’s make it simple. Below are a few comparisons about what discipleship is and what discipleship is not. These are not theological comparisons but rather practical comparisons for you to use to evaluate where you are when it comes to the process of discipleship:

  • Discipleship is not having a Bible Study but rather discipleship is reproducing in others. What does this involve? It involves reproducing Bible knowledge in others. It involves reproducing godly character in others. And it involves reproducing ministry skills in others.
  • Discipleship is not meeting in co-ed groups but rather discipleship is training girls with girls and guys with guys (Titus 2).
  • Discipleship is not training the masses but rather discipleship is training in small groups or in a one-on-one setting.
  • Discipleship is not persuading the disinterested but rather discipleship is teaching the available and the teachable.
  • Discipleship is not simply teaching but rather discipleship is modeling godly character and ministry skills in front of others.
  • Discipleship is not teaching methods but rather discipleship is teaching principles.
  • Discipleship is not spying on another person but rather discipleship is transparent accountability with others.
  • Discipleship is not winging it as you meet with someone but rather discipleship is planning your work and working your plan as you invest in the lives of others

So, who are you discipling? Who is discipling you? Jesus gave us the command to make disciples which includes teaching others to observe everything that Jesus has commanded of us. Paul exhorted Timothy in the area of discipleship when he said that what he had learned from him, he should now entrust to others who will in turn disciple still others.

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (II Timothy 2:2)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Absurd college courses

So what was the most absurd course you took in college? For me, it would have been Art Appreciation. What a waste of 3 hours of college credit. I have to admit, however, that our professor made it bearable. He was one unique guy. He even brought in and showed us his extensive collection of hangers…you know, like you would hang your clothes on and put in your closet. I felt bad for him as it had to be hard to find people to trade with.

I read recently of a report given by the Young America’s Foundation (YAF) which is based out of Herndon, VA. This study identified the nation’s most preposterous college courses being offered today in American institutions of higher education which included:

The Cultural Production of Early Modern Women” which examines prostitutes in 16th and 17th century England, France and Spain (Princeton University)

The Unbearable Whiteness of Barbie: Race and Popular Culture in the U.S.” which explores the way scientific racism has been used in the making of Barbies and an interpretation of the film The Matrix in critiquing capitalism (California Occidental College, which also offers a course in stupidity comparing the American Presidency to Beavis and Butthead).

Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll in Ancient Egypt” (John Hopkins University)

Lesbian Novels since World War II” (Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania)

Nip, Tuck, Perm, Pierce, and Tattoo: Adventures with Embodied Culture” which encourages students to think about the meaning behind teeth whitening, tanning, shaving, and hair dyeing (Alfred University).

Taking Marx Seriously: Should Marx be given another chance?” This course asks students to question if Marxism still has any credibility and encourages students to gain new insights by returning to Marx’s texts (Amherst College in Massachusetts).

There were also many others that dealt primarily with propagating the gay agenda among our college attending Americans. While there are many college courses that are of the “absurd” nature, I can’t help but remember the course that impacted my life the most in my years of higher education at Liberty University. It was called “Inductive Bible Study” and it was taught (and I believe still is being taught) by a wonderful Grace Brethren man named Paul Fink. I find value in that class every day of my life.

Of all the things we could study, nothing is more valuable than studying the Bible. Perhaps former American president William McKinley said it best when he said, “The more profoundly we study the Bible, and the more closely we observe its divine precepts, the better citizens we will become and the higher will be our destiny as a nation.” Amen!

Monday, March 27, 2006

The sentencing of Jesus (part 2)

Pilate is between a rock and a hard place. The Jewish leaders have asked him to carry out the execution of Jesus, a man who Pilate believes to be innocent. Pilate was extremely superstitious. He can only imagine how the gods would ultimately punish him if he so severely punished an innocent man like this. Yet, if he did not give the Jewish leaders what they wanted he was sure that they would stir up the crowd into a riot which would get back to Tiberius. Pilate was already warned by the Emperor that one more upheaval and he would most certainly lose his position and most likely his life.

Pilate comes up with the idea to use the custom of releasing a prisoner at Passover to free him from this plight. He would set Jesus up against Barabbas, the most notorious criminal of that day and let the people choose which he should release. Surely they would choose Jesus over Barabbas. However, Pilate underestimates the ability of the Jewish religious leaders to stir up the crowd. As Pilate asks for their decision, the mob cries for Barabbas to be released. Pilate’s utter dismay at this turn of events is seen by his inquiry to the crowd, “Then what shall I do with Jesus?” The crowd’s answer causes Pilate to shiver in fear. “Crucify Him,” they yell. “Crucify Him!”

Pilate’s problem was that he knew Jesus was innocent. This is seen all throughout the Gospel accounts (Jn 18:38; 19:4-6; Mt 27:24; Lk 23:14-22). But the crowd was nearing riot stage with their insistence that Jesus be crucified. Pilate feared the people more than he feared the gods. He wanted to satisfy the people (Mt 27:24) so that he could keep his position of power. Pilate had no moral courage whatsoever. So he does three things. He releases Barabbas. He has Jesus scourged (probably hoping that this would be enough to satisfy the blood-thirst crowd, but it wasn’t). Finally, he hands Jesus over to be crucified.

If you have seen the movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” then you have some idea how brutal scourging was. It was reserved for male murderers. So cruel was it that Roman citizens were exempt from its punishment. It was conducted by trained soldiers called, “lictors,” who used a whip with a short wooden handle with strips of leather, imbedded with pieces of metal or bone. The criminal was tied to a post with his wrists high over head and his feet dangling so that his body was taunt. Muscles and arteries were lacerated and often the kidneys, spleen and other organs were exposed and even slashed. Some criminals did not even make it to crucifixion as they would die of the scourging.

The soldiers then took Jesus into the Praetorium, the Jerusalem residence of Pilate. They mockingly dressed Him in purple, the color of royalty. They twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head and verbally mocked Him saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They used clubs to beat the crown of thorns deep into His head and they struck Him with their fists. They repeatedly spit on Him and knelt before Him in mock homage. And through this all, Jesus gave an example to His followers of how they should conduct themselves in the face of persecution (see First Peter 2:21-24). When the tired of using Jesus for entertainment, they put His clothes back on Him and led Him out to crucify Him.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Back to Indiana

This coming week I will be traveling back to the Hoosier State where I will have the privilege of speaking for CE National as part of Youth Emphasis Week at Grace College. If you are new to our church, you may not be familiar with CE National which is the educational arm of our Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. It was my privilege to serve on CE National’s Board of Director’s when I pastored in Indiana. CE National, in my opinion, is one of the best things our Fellowship of churches has going. It would be well worth your time to check out their website to see all the ministries which they sponsor ( Some of these ministries include:

Brethren National Youth Conference (BNYC). This is an annual Youth Conference attended by well over 2,000 teenagers from Grace Brethren Churches all across our country. This is actually the largest Grace Brethren event every year and it results in great spiritual impact. This year’s BNYC will be held at BIOLA University in La Mirada, California, July 22-28. There will be a large group of youth and youth staff from our church that will attend BNYC this summer. I will also have the privilege of being one of the main session speakers later in that week.

Operation Barnabas: This is a summer youth ministry training program that consists of several teams that criss-cross America and even travel internationally. These teams are developed to give growing Christian senior high youth such a thirst for ministry, that upon their return, they will have a greater desire to serve Christ in their lives. This summer we will have six teenagers from Grace Church that will be part of this program including my very own daughter, Joy. You may remember that last summer we hosted the Operation Barnabas orientation here at Grace and raised enough money in just one Sunday for them to purchase a new bus for their travels.

The National Institute: The full name is “The National Institute for the Development of Ministries to Youth.” This is a college major through Grace College that is run by CE National. The National Institute teaches students how to run a youth program in a local church, para-church, organization or camp setting. I had the joy of teaching two classes each year in this program while I lived in Indiana. I also taught these classes through module settings when the program was also at Washington Bible College near D.C.

4:12 Commission: CE National has also started a new intensive Bible and ministry training for High School graduates called “The 4:12 Commission.” It is our hope that Grace Church will become one of the 4 campuses for 4:12 as early as this Fall.

I will leave this Sunday after the morning service to fly from Harrisburg to South Bend. I will be teaching a 3-hour youth class on Monday evening and then speaking in chapel at Grace College on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings. I will also be speaking at a large youth rally on Wednesday evening. I will then head back to South Bend after chapel on Thursday in time to catch my flight back to Harrisburg and home to Lititz.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Am I talking too much?

Yesterday I told you about a man named Walt who I had the thrill of leading to Jesus along with his wife, Mary. They are both now in glory enjoying the presence of Jesus. I can’t help but be overwhelmed at the thought that God would use someone like me to help someone else find the truth about heaven. I will never forget the first time that someone that I had a part in seeing come to know Jesus was taken to heaven.

Her name was Karen. Karen was a sweet teenager who started coming to our Youth Group through our bus ministry where I was the youth pastor in West Milton, Ohio. Karen was overweight and a bit backwards. Yet, she immediately won over the hearts of everyone in the youth group and ultimately everyone in the church. At one of our youth activities to King’s Island Amusement Park, Karen gave her heart to Jesus. She was the only believer in her family. Yet, she was so faithful. She never missed Sunday morning. She never missed a Sunday night. She never missed a Wednesday or a youth activity.

Karen loved to talk. She really could talk your ear off. She would get a rambling about 100 miles per minute and then she would suddenly stop, get a silly look on her face, and ask, “Am I talking too much?” Of course she was, but nobody ever told her that. We loved Karen.

I had the joy of baptizing Karen. She had such a soft heart. Every Sunday morning, Pastor Steve, our Senior Pastor at the church, would give an invitation and every Sunday morning Karen would go forward and say, “I just want to love Jesus more!” Some people in the church suggested to Pastor Steve and I that we should tell Karen to not go forward every week as it looked bad to others. I loved Pastor Steve’s response. It was very simple. He said he just wished everyone in the church would have as soft a heart for Jesus as Karen did. As usual, he was exactly right.

After I had left Ohio to take on the Senior Pastorate of the Grace Brethren Church in Osceola, Indiana, we got word that Karen had passed away. She had gone into the hospital for a very simple procedure, but as I remember it, her lung collapsed and she died. That was the first time I had ever had it happen to me. Someone that I had helped to introduce to Jesus so that they could one day go to heaven was now actually there. I can’t describe to you what that day was like.

Somehow I could just picture sweet little Karen getting to heaven and standing next to the throne of Jesus just talking a mile a minute. And I chuckled as I thought of Karen suddenly stopping and getting that silly look on her face and saying to Him, “Jesus, am I talking too much?” Of course she was, but I doubt Jesus would tell her that. He would just listen and love her. After all, her goal every Sunday when she came forward was to just love Jesus more! I can’t wait to get to heaven and see Walt and Mary. I can’t wait to get to heaven and see Karen. And there are many, many more names I could give you. But most of all, I can’t wait to get to heaven and see Jesus! The best is yet to come!!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Would you preach at my dad's funeral?

Years ago while as I was in my office studying, a man from my church named Greg called and asked if I would preach his dad’s funeral. I didn’t realize that Greg’s dad lived local or that he was even sick. Their relationship had been strained for years but now his father, Walt, was in the hospital and was not expected to live much longer. I asked if it would be alright if I went and visited Walt. Greg warned me that his dad did not care much for religion and really had a dislike for preachers.

My first visit with Walt was at the hospital. We were able to talk a little about Greg and a lot about Notre Dame football, but he wouldn’t allow me to get to any kind of spiritual topic. I visited several times with the same outcome. Eventually, they sent Walt home where his dear wife, Mary, would care for him. One morning my schedule took me to the side of Elkhart where Walt lived and so I stopped by to visit. I knocked on the door but there was no answer. I jotted a note on the back of my business card and stuck it in the door and went back to my car. As I was opening my car door, I saw Walt at the front door of his house and he looked very sick. He said, “Reverend (Walt was the only person in my life who has ever called me ‘Reverend’), I don’t feel well today. Could you come back another time?” I graciously agreed and gave Walt a Gospel tract and asked him to read it and suggested that when I did come back that we could talk about it.

The next day Greg called me. The story he told me was awesome. That night his dad called Greg and asked him to come over. As they sat at the kitchen table, Walt told Greg that “the Reverend” had been by and that he had given him a pamphlet to read. Walt then took the tract that I had given him out of his pocket and slid it across the table to Greg. He told Greg to look at the last page. On that page was an opportunity to pray and receive Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior and a blank line where you could sign your name saying that you had accepted Jesus. Greg looked at that page and about fell off of his chair when he saw Walt’s signature.

Walt started to get better physically and began coming to church every Sunday. He was a big man but his legs were weak so he could not stand when we sang, but he would sit there and smile through each song. A few weeks after Walt had received Christ he called me up and said, “Reverend, you need to come over here and talk to my wife about getting saved. She needs it bad.” I did go over and had the privilege of leading Mary to Christ while sitting with them in their living room.

I baptized Walt about a month later. His legs were still very weak. In fact, his son had to get in the baptistery with me as I baptized his dad. The only way for me to get Walt under the water was for Greg to go under right along side of him. What a special moment that was. It wasn’t long afterwards that Walt and Mary went to Arizona to visit their son. While there, Mary had a massive heart attack and died. I preached her funeral. I got a call recently telling me that Walt too had passed away. With tears running down my face I thought about Walt and Mary; and about the great Savior we have in Jesus!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Easter promotion kicks off

The weather is getting nicer and nicer and the start of the Major League Baseball Season is right around the corner. YIPPEE!! This is such a great time of the year. And best of all, Easter is right around the corner as well. For the Christian, this has got to be the best day of the year for two reasons:

  1. We get to celebrate world-wide the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who defeated death for all of us! After all, “Because He lives, we too shall live.” Now would be a good time for you to shout, “Hallelujah”!
  2. This is the easiest day of the year to get lost people under the sound of the Gospel by inviting them to church. If evangelism is the engine that runs the church (and I whole-heartedly believe it is…at least it should be) than this day should be a day of great spiritual fruit and victory that will last for all of eternity.

We are ready to get rolling in the church office. Our prayer goal is to see 2,000 people in attendance this Easter (1,620 attended last year). A letter will soon go out to everyone that we have touched over the past year that does not already attend Grace inviting them to our Easter celebration. This includes those from Bible School, Crosswalk Shows, Fifth Quarter Youth Parties and the like. On Sunday, March 26th, we will have three personal invite cards for each person to take with them to use to invite people you know to attend Grace this Easter. Three weeks prior to Easter, a very attractive direct-mailer will be sent to the 10,000 homes closest to Grace, inviting them to come and experience the passion of Easter with us. There will also be a news release sent to the local newspapers and information on our church website at

This Easter we will have three identical services (7:15; 9:00 and 10:45) with a continental breakfast also taking place in the youth room from 8:30-11:00. There will be no childcare or nursery during the 7:15 service but there will be childcare for nursery through 4th grade during the 9:00 and 10:45 services. So, how about it? What role will you play in allowing God to use all of us to see this be a great day beyond our imagination?

Will you pray daily between now and Easter for God to “bless our socks off”?
Will you choose one day between now and Easter to fast and pray for God’s blessing?
Will you personally invite 3 people to come and celebrate Easter with us at Grace?
Will you be willing to park furthest away so our visitors have the best parking spaces?
Will you take the initiative to be friendly and introduce yourself to new people that day?
Will you get up early and attend the 7:15 service so there is more room for visitors later?

Monday, March 20, 2006

The sentencing of Jesus (part 1)

As we have continued our study on Sunday morning’s at Grace on “Experience the Passion” from Mark 14-16, we have seen the arrest and trial of Jesus before the Jewish Sanhedrin. Now, in the first 20 versus of Mark 15, we see the sentencing of Jesus to death through crucifixion.

At the end of chapter 14, the Jewish Sanhedrin, in an evening trial, had concluded that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy and worthy of execution. He had already stood in trial before Annas, the former High priest of Israel and before Caiaphas and the other members of this powerful Jewish council. He now stands before them again in the early hours of the morning for the formal rendering of a verdict. The reason for the delay was due to the fact that it was against Jewish Law to have a trial at night so they waited until dawn to cement their findings. However, this council had no power to execute so they led Jesus to Pilate in order to pressure this Roman leader into doing their dirty work.

Pilate was the 5th Roman Procurator of Judea and had been appointed by the Emperor Tiberius. He was a harsh governor who despised the Jewish people (Luke 13:1-2). His main responsibility was to keep peace in Palestine and to see that Jewish tax money kept flowing into Rome. He was the one who had the power of life and death and who decided all Jewish cases regarding capitol punishment. He lived in Caesarea, but due to the Passover feast, he had come to personally keep the crowds in-line. His main motive was not justice, but rather personal and political self-gain. He feared making the Jews angry because reports had already gotten back to the Emperor of his offending Jewish customs. This included the time that he took money from the temple treasury to erect an aqueduct. Many Jews rioted in protest and Pilate sent in soldiers dressed as civilians to slaughter many of these unarmed protesters. Pilate had been warned that one more offense could not only result in the loss of his position but also the loss of his life.

Pilate questioned Jesus, asking if He was the King of the Jews as had been the claim. The Jewish religious leaders had tried to make this a political issue claiming that He was a threat to Roman interests (Luke 23:2). Jesus responded affirmatively. This didn’t seem to alarm Pilate so the religious leaders began to heap all kinds of false accusations on to the charge. Pilate gave Jesus a chance to respond to these accusations but He remained silent. Pilate was amazed at the innocence and dignity of this prisoner in comparison to the emotional hatred and anger of His accusers. Trying to avoid being the one to sentence this innocent man to death, he sends Jesus to Herod Agrippa but Herod, in turn, sends Him right back to Pilate.

Pilate now has an idea to get himself out of this predicament. It was customary at the great feast of Passover for the Governor to release a prisoner as a gesture of good will. The crowd asks for this activity to take place. Pilate brings forth a notorious prisoner named Barabbas. This prisoner was the leader of a very violent group of insurrectionists and was also known for being a murderer. Surely the crowd would pick Jesus over him!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Meet our new Senior Administrator (part 3)

Over the last two days I have detailed a new position of Senior Administrator for Lititz Christian School and Morningstar Daycare, Preschool and Kindergarten. I am very pleased to announce the hiring of Rick Bernhardt to fill this position. Rick has been married to his wife, Beth, for 18 years. They have three children who all attend Lititz Christian School. Rick accepted Christ as his personal savior in 1972. He has a Bachelors of Science Degree in Education and a Masters Degree in Education, both from Millersville University. He is currently enrolled at Millersville pursuing an Educational Leadership Degree. He has been a teacher in the Warwick School District since 1993 which included the following areas of involvement:
  • Taught Grades 1, 4, and 5
  • Served as a Staff Development member
  • Organized yearly Open House and Veterans Day programs
  • Applied for and received yearly grants
  • Supervised Student Teachers
  • Developed grade 5 Math assessments
  • Developed grade 4 Social Studies curriculum
  • Tutored students during summer months
  • Taught Summer Discovery classes
  • Organized weekly prayer group
  • Formulated upgrade to auditorium/gymnasium

Since 1995, he has also been the Technology Resource Liaison for the Warwick School District. This position has included the following areas of involvement:

  • Developed grade 4 technology integration curriculum
  • Processed Technology software/hardware budget
  • Trained K-12 teachers in the use of new software/hardware
  • Taught Senior Citizens introductory computer skills

Before his tenure in the Warwick School District, Mr. Bernhardt was the Director of Children’s Ministries here at Grace Church in Lititz and also spent 3 years as a Music Director and Instructor here at Lititz Christian School. Along with all of this experience, Rick has also had 190 hours of continuing Education in fields including the integration of technology; curriculum development; and current trends in technology

Rick has been accepted into the Keystone Technology Integrators Organization; Served on the Education Committee of the Board of Education; Served on the Pastoral Search Committee; Has been heavily involved in teamwork and leadership roles in the Music Department; Been a volunteer in public relations for the Lititz Youth Soccer Club; Served as chairman of the Advisory Board of Morningstar Christian Daycare, Preschool and Kindergarten; and has hosted the ‘The Crosswalk Show.’ Rick will begin his ministry with us on July 1st and we are very excited as to how God is going to use him.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Meet our new Senior Administrator (part 2)

In yesterday’s blog, I announced a new administrative position that we are calling our Senior Administrator that will now have oversight over all of our educational ministries. I would summarize the main objectives of this new position to focus on the following:

  • Giving attention to the future vision and development of our entire educational ministry in order to pursue a greater level of excellence in every area of pursuit
  • Leading our educational ministries (Morningstar Daycare and Lititz Christian School) into a more unified partnership so that we function as one committed team in accomplishing our stated purposes from daycare all the way through Grade 12.
  • Working with the Senior Pastor to more effectively connect our educational ministries with the overall ministry of Grace Church.

A more detailed look at what this position would be responsible for includes but is not limited to the following:

  • Being the visionary for our educational ministries
  • Being the motivator for our educational ministries
  • Being a person who maintains a high level of Christian standards
  • Having direct supervision of all administrators and managers
  • Having a knowledge of the school’s scope and sequence
  • Being responsible for initiating staff development
  • Holding employees accountable for lifestyle standards
  • Leading the educational ministries toward goal development in all areas
  • Being the face of our educational ministries to the public
  • Exciting growth
  • Promoting our educational ministries for their excellence
  • Working closely with the Senior Pastor/Business Manager/Board of Education

The way our constitution is set up, the Board of Education recommends and the Senior Pastor hires all administrative staff. It was very evident to me from the time that we began to talk about this new position who the person for the job would be. I had several conversations with this individual and was delighted to find out that God had already been working on his heart in regards to being back in full-time ministry in the church. This position seemed to be a perfect fit for him and he seemed to be a perfect fit for this position. As a result, I asked our Board of Education to interview this person which they did through two stages, the first being an interview with the Education Committee of the Board and the second being a recommendation from the full Board of Education. I then informed our Elder Executive Committee and our full Elder Board here at Grace Church that I would be offering the position to this person to be sure that they saw no “red flags.” In tomorrow’s blog I will give you the background of the person we have hired.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Meet our new Senior Administrator (part 1)

Months ago, I asked the Education Committee of our Board of Education that oversees Lititz Christian School and Morningstar Daycare, Preschool and Kindergarten to look at our current structure; to meet with our current leaders; and to look at how other schools were set up to see if there were any changes that we should consider implementing that would make our School and our Daycare even more effective. This committee, who all are professional educators, came back to me with a recommendation that included adding a Senior Administrator position that would oversee the entire educational ministry of our church including Morningstar Daycare and Lititz Christian School. Currently we are asking our present administration to care for the day-to-day operations of each ministry (which is more than a full-time job in itself) and be responsible for the future vision and development of every area of our programs. This new position will allow us to have someone overseeing both ministries whose main focus and priority can be that of vision and development so that we can pursue further excellence in every area.

This will also be a huge benefit to me as the Sr. Pastor. When I was hired back in August of 2004, everyone realized that education was not my strength (which is why you will probably find multiple grammar and spelling mistakes in this correspondence). Though I technically am the one who has oversight over all of the ministries of Grace Church, including the daycare and school, I do not have the knowledge or the expertise to help our current school and daycare leaders in areas of educational matters. And to be honest, even if I did have this strength, I honestly do not have the time to give to helping with the vision and development of the daycare and the school that they deserve. The reason for this is that our church has seen significant growth over the past 18 months. On Sunday mornings we now are running over 1200 people regularly for worship and we now have well over 1600 people who attend our church on a regular basis. As you can imagine, this consumes most all of my time. Adding a qualified person to oversee the entire educational ministry who can give educational help to our present leaders and focus on the future vision and development of this ministry is good for the daycare; it’s good for the school; it’s good for our present school administration; it’s good for me as the Sr. Pastor; it’s good for the church; and it’s good for our ministry as a whole.

This recommendation was then presented to the full Board of Education who were very enthusiastic about what this could mean for our educational ministries. Several months later the Board of Education officially presented me with the recommendation for this change. I also presented the recommendation to our Elder Executive Committee and then to our full Elder Board here at Grace Church to get their input. They too saw these recommendations as good for our daycare; good for our school; and good for our church. I then made the final decision to begin this implementation.

In my upcoming blog postings, I will give you even more information as to how we went about finding a person to take this position and who we have hired to be the new Senior Administrator over all of our educational ministries run by Grace Church.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The people versus Jesus of Nazareth . . . the trial of the ages

Trial #1 (John 18:12-14, 19-24): This trial was before Annas, who was the High Priest Emeritus who had served as High Priest from AD 6 to 15 and was disposed by Pilate’s predecessor. Though disposed, he still had much influence, seen by Jesus being brought first to him instead of Caiaphas. Annas was still the Vice-President of the Sanhedrin and many Jews still saw him as the High Priest. Like a mafia boss, Annas was very wealthy due to operating the entire temple money system that Jesus upset earlier in His ministry. During this trial, an officer strikes Jesus with a fist, or more likely, a rod.

Trial #2 (Matthew 26:57-68): This trial was before Caiaphas, who was the current High Priest of Israel and the son-in-law of Annas. He was extremely corrupt. Josephus describes his as having a reputation for bribery and a love of money. The Sanhedrin was also present for this trial. This group was made up of 70 chief priests, elders and Scribes, led by the High Priest who was the 71st member. An odd number was required to keep from any tie votes and appointments to this court were based on political and religious favoritism and influence. At this trial, this court turned into a riotous mob, spitting in Jesus’ face; Beating Him with their fists; Slapping Him with their open palms; and mocking Him saying, “Prophesy to us...who hit you?”

Trial #3 (Matthew 27:1-2): This trial was also before The Sanhedrin. It was now morning (the other proceedings were illegally held at night). Here they officially decide to have Jesus killed. The Jews were not allowed to administer the death penalty, so they needed to convince the Roman Governor to give permission for crucifixion.

Trial #4 (John 18:28-38): This trial was before Pilate, who was Procurator of Judea from AD26-36. He ruled Judea recklessly. He would be disposed in AD36 and ultimately executed. Pilate finds Jesus innocent (v38) but the people continued to cry out for His execution (Luke 23:6-7). Realizing that Jesus was a Galilean, Pilate sends Him to Herod.

Trial #5 (Luke 23:6-12): This trial was before Herod, the Vice-Tetrarch of Galilee. He was the same Herod who beheaded John the Baptist (Mt 14:1-12). Herod and his soldiers mocked Jesus while dressing Him up like a King. Herod then sent Jesus back to Pilate

Trial #6 (Luke 23:13-19; Matthew 27:15-26; John 9:1-16): This final trial is back in front of Pilate. Pilate announces that Jesus has been found without guilt by both he and Herod. Pilate gives the people a choice between the release of Jesus or the release of Barabbas, a notorious murderer. The Jewish leaders persuade the people to ask for the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus. Trying to appease the people, Pilate has Jesus severely scourged. He again announces His innocence but the people continue to cry out for His execution. The Jews began to cry out that to release Jesus would be an act of treason against Caesar. Pilate feared Caesar more than he feared killing an innocent man. He tries one more attempt to appeal for Jesus’ release but the people are insistent. Fearing the people more than justice, Pilate hands Jesus over to be crucified.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The trial of Jesus

Just the other day I watched an hour-long special reviewing all of the major turning points in the case concerning the people of California versus O.J. Simpson. Remember that one? From the now infamous white bronco chase down the California freeway to the lawyers’ admonition, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” this became known as “the trial of the century.” However, the trial of Jesus could be called “the trial of the ages”!

Over the course of one evening, Jesus endured six trials . . . three before Jewish authorities and three before Roman authorities. In tomorrow’s blog I will overview all six of these trials. In Mark 14:53-65, the Gospel writer is speaking of the second of these six trials which was held before the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the highest court of the Jewish people made up of 70 chief priests, elders and scribes. The group was under the chairmanship of the High Priest, himself being the 71st member. The High Priest at this time was a man named Caiapahs who was the son in law to Annas, the former High Priest. Josephus describes Caiaphas as having a reputation for bribery and a love for money. The Sanhedrin needed a two-thirds quorum to conduct business so it appears that most of its members were present for this trial even though the time was about 3am.

The Sanhedrin was attempting to find testimonial evidence against Jesus that would be worthy of sentencing Him to death. None of the testimony they had, however, was consistent enough to render a verdict. Jewish law required two agreeing witnesses to establish a charge (Deut. 19:15). Two men did testify that Jesus said that He would destroy the Jewish temple and then rebuild it supernaturally. Jesus did speak similar words in John 2:19. However, He said “You” destroy the temple, not “I” will destroy the temple. He was speaking of His own body and predicting his coming death and resurrection. Even on this issue the dual testimonies were not consistent.

The High Priest himself decided to question Jesus asking for a response from Him regarding these many accusations. A defendant could not be forced to testify against himself and so Jesus remained silent. Caiaphas then directly asked Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” To answer such a question affirmatively would be seen as blasphemy and be punishable by death. Jesus acknowledges His deity and then predicts that He would be at God’s right hand and then return as judge (see Daniel 7:13).

Caiaphas tears his clothes, a gesture of abhorrence, and accuses Jesus of blasphemy asking what more evidence was needed. The Sanhedrin jointly and unanimously found Jesus worthy of death but the council would have to wait and meet again just after dawn for the final vote as it was illegal to make such a decision in the evening hours.

The judicial preceding ended in violence against Jesus. The council blind-folded Him, beat Him with fists and slapped him in the face. They proceeded to mock Him by asking Him to identify who had just hit Him. And this was just one of the six trials He endured on His way to the cross to pay your sin debt and mine.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Early childhood director

I am very happy to announce the addition of a part-time Director of Early Childhood Ministries position here at Grace Church. In the past, this has been just a 5-hour a week position which focused primarily on making sure we had all the teachers and workers that were needed for Sunday mornings. This position has now been expanded to a 16-hour a week staff position that will oversee the nursery through Kindergarten for our entire church ministry including Sunday mornings, Wednesday evenings, Bible School and special occasion ministries. This position will allow us to have an individual whose responsibility is more than just the week to week logistics of our Early Childhood ministry, but who will also be giving attention to developing this area of ministry as well.

I am pleased to announce that we have hired our own Beth Kachel to fill this position. Beth has been part of the Grace Church family since 1994 and has served as a Sunday School teacher for the 2nd grade, Kindergarten and the three year old and four year old classes. She has also worked in Vacation Bible School; been part of the Homebuilders ABF class; been a Bible Study leader; organized a marriage seminar; and served on our Mission Committee. Beth is married to her husband, Ted, and they have three children.

Beth is a graduate of Taylor University in Upland, Indiana where she graduated Cum Laude and received a B.A. double majoring in Christian Education and Bible. She also has a certificate in Youth Ministry under the leadership of Jay Kessler. She also filled a Christian Education Internship at Congregational Bible Church and was part of a Cross Cultural Missions Trip to Singapore. Beth has also served as a Bridge of Hope mentor.

Beth’s experience includes her serving as a human resources secretary for Ephrata Community Hospital which included assisting in the recruitment and hiring of new staff. She was a Released Time teacher for the Warwick Association of Churches where she taught New Testament Bible curriculum for the 5th grade class.

From 1994 to 2000, Beth served as the Interim Dean of Women at Lancaster Bible College where she provided oversight for student activities; counseled female students; led discipleship groups for women; and worked with the female Resident Assistants. She also served at Lancaster Bible College as the Director of Financial Aid, overseeing $5,000,000.00 in financial aid and was honored to receive the student staff person of the year award. During this time she led many workshops on the ABC’s of student scholarships and financial aid and led summer mission trips to Jamaica and Ecuador. In 1993 to 2004, Beth served as a Christian Education Sales Associate for Provident bookstores where she organized the Vacation Bible School curriculum exposition and reviewed Sunday School curriculum.

Our Early Childhood ministry has seen rapid growth over the last two years and we are excited about what Beth will bring to our Early Childhood ministry and ask that you encourage her and pray for her as she takes on this vital ministry position.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Having your church super-sized

Did you see the article in the Lancaster New Era on Friday, February 17th? In the Faith and Values section, they had an excellent article on the growing mega-church movement and how it is seen in Lancaster County. I thought that New Era Staff Writer, Joan Kern, did an excellent job as she interviewed Rob Skacel, Executive Director of ministries at Lancaster County Bible Church which is currently running 5,700 in attendance. If you can get your hands on that section of that day’s paper, it would be worth your reading.

On that same page of the newspaper, Jane Lampman, who is a writer for the Christian Science Monitor, also wrote an article on Mega Churches which are on the rise in our nation. She spoke of Joel Osteen who draws the largest weekly church crowd in America today with 30,000 people in a total of three worship services. She also mentions Rick Warren who pastors in Saddleback, California and is most known for his best selling books as well as Bill Hybels who heads the Willow Creek Association where he mentors over 11,000 churches.

According to the article, Protestant congregations with regular weekly attendance of over 2,000 people have doubled over the past 5 years. One study has identified 1,210 churches in America with a weekly attendance average of 3,612 or more. Most of these are found down south but they are becoming more and more evident all across our country. However, this accounts for only 0.5% of all U.S. churches. There were four churches in Lancaster County that were identified as being mega-churches:
  • Lancaster County Bible Church in Manheim (2005 average attendance of 4,600)
  • The Worship Center in Lancaster (2005 average attendance of 2,260)
  • Calvary Church in Lancaster (2005 average attendance of 2,200)
  • Dove Christian Fellowship in Ephrata (2005 average attendance of 2,000)

Of the mega-churches throughout the country, two-thirds of them are affiliated with a denomination. According to Mark Chaves of the University of Arizona, “Something is happening that is leading more and more people to shift from smaller to bigger congregations within all denominations, liberal and conservative.” His research found that 15% of Southern Baptists attend the largest 1% of their churches.

The study found that there are many varieties of mega-churches in size and emphasis. 54% have between 2,000 and 3,000 members. Only 4% have more than 10,000 people. 27% of mega-churches have satellite locations and 37% of them have started a new congregation in the last 5 years. Four types of mega-churches were identified:

  • Those that focus strongly on teaching as in the Baptist tradition
  • Those that are seeker-sensitive and aim at evangelizing the unchurched
  • Those that preach the prosperity Gospel promising health and wealth
  • Those that are youth oriented churches with leaders that relate to popular culture

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Do we have to be so hateful?

I am often amazed at the heart attitude that comes across as some Christians attack others whom they disagree with. Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with voicing our concern over issues, comments, philosophies, actions and even theologies that we disagree with, but why is it that so many feel that these disagreements give them a right to be hateful when they speak or when they write their concerns? I see it all too often.

When I pastored back in Osceola, IN, our church was located less than 1-mile from a major KKK white supremacy group leader. This individual was the Grand Dragon and his father, who lived one town over, was the International Imperial Wizard. On a fairly regular basis, this group would have rallies, cross burnings and white pride festivals. Now I was in complete disagreement with everything this group stood for and wished they were not part of our community. But what bothered me more was the “christian” group who organized to oppose the KKK. This “anti-group” was as hateful toward the KKK as the KKK was toward minorities. Even a local law enforcement officer confided in me that that this “anti-KKK group” was far more difficult to deal with then the KKK.

One lady, who was part of this anti-KKK group, came into my office to confront me on why as a spiritual leader of the largest church in the community, I had not joined her group. I remember telling her that I did not believe in fighting hatred with hatred and that I was praying daily for this KKK leader and how I longed for the day when he would be a part of my church as a changed man through the saving power of Jesus Christ to change anyone’s life. Her response amazed me. She simply replied, “I dread that day!”

Why is that we think we can fight hatred with hatred? Why is it that we think we can fight anything with hatred? I see Christians doing it all the time as they attack other Christians verbally or in writing when they disagree with them or with their ministry. Again, I have no problem with communicating a concern, but why do those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ have to demonstrate a heart attitude of harshness and hatred as they do so? Why can’t we speak the truth in love and still have our words seasoned with grace even when we are in disagreement? Perhaps the answer to that question is “pride.” Many Christians who disagree with other believers on issues that are more conviction or preference oriented are so filled with spiritual arrogance that they feel that they have every right to be demeaning. How sad!

When will we understand that the way to fight spiritual battles is with spiritual weapons? When will we understand that according to Ephesians 6:1-2, our struggle is not against flesh and blood? Our struggle is not against liberal politicians or against humanistic organizations or against abortionists or against homosexuals. Our struggle is not against other believers who don’t cross their spiritual “t’s” and dot their spiritual “i’s” like we do. Our struggle is against the powers and principalities of wickedness, against Satan and his cohort of demons and the influence of evil that they bring into our world. We must fight our battle with spiritual weapons…the armor of God, the Word of God and with prayer.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Visit the Holy Land with Pastor Scott & Laura

I have always dreamed of going to the Holy Land and walking where Jesus, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, Elijah and John the Baptist walked, haven’t you? Imagine yourself taking a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus calmed the storm; being baptized in the Jordan River where John the Baptist baptized our Savior; walking the Via Dolorosa where Jesus carried his cross to Calvary; visiting a museum where the Dead Sea Scrolls are displayed; or taking communion at the traditional site of the empty tomb where Jesus defeated death for all of us. Laura and I are going and will experience all of these things, and we are looking for 12 people who will go with us on this chance of a lifetime 12-day trip to Israel leaving this November 1st. Along with other places, we will be visiting:

Caesarea by the Sea (Acts 9 & 25)
Mt Carmel where Elijah called down fire from God (I Kings 18)
Megiddo where the battle of Armageddon will be fought (I Kings 9:15; Rev 16:16)
Nazareth which was Jesus’ hometown (Luke 1 & 2)
Cana, where Jesus turned the water into wine (John 2)
Caesarea Philippi where Peter made his great confession of Christ (Mt 16:13-17)
Road to Damascus where Paul was converted (Acts 9)
Mt. Hermon (Deut 3:8)
The Sea of Galilee
Capernaum (Mt 4:13)
The Mount where Jesus gave His Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7)
Tabgha where Jesus fed the 5000 (Mark 6)
Mt. Tabor (Judges 4)
Ein Harod (Judges 7:1)
Beth Shean (I Samuel 31:10)
Petra, in the mountains of Edom
Mt. Nebo where God took Moses before his death to see into the Promised Land
The Jordan River
The Dead Sea
Ein Gedi, the oasis where David hid from King Saul
Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered
Jerusalem, the holy city of God’s people
The Western Wall (known as the wailing wall)
The Via Dolorosa
Rachel’s tomb on the outskirts of Bethlehem
The Church of the Nativity and the Shepherd’s Field
The birthplace of John the Baptist
King David’s tomb
The upper room where Jesus and the disciples had the last supper
The Mt. of Olives including the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed in agony
The garden tomb

Can you imagine such a trip? Dan Travis, a friend of mine who is the pastor of our Palmyra Grace Brethren Church,has much experience leading these trips and will teach us as we make each stop. Dan has asked that I help him with some of these devotionals. Laura and I cannot wait, and we want you to experience this with us. The cost for the entire trip is just $2549 per person and includes wide-bodied Transatlantic jet transportation via British Airways; superior first class hotels throughout the trip; two meals daily consisting of a breakfast buffet and dinner; comprehensive sight-seeing; ground transportation via deluxe air conditioned motor coaches; services of English speaking licensed guides; entrance fees to places visited; porterage of baggage (one piece per person plus carry-on); special Rabbinical Tunnel visit for the group; Masada visit including round-trip cable car; boat ride on the Sea of Galilee; visit to Petra; and a special overnight stay at the Dead Sea.

Why not take this trip of a lifetime with Laura and I? If you are interested, please e-mail me at so that I can get all of the information into your hands.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The arrest of Jesus

Jesus has finished his agonizing time of prayer in the garden. He has proclaimed to Peter, James and John that His appointed time of suffering was at hand and that He has about to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. What happens next is rather extraordinary. As Jesus finishes His words to the disciples, Judas leads a crowd of men into the garden including Roman soldiers (perhaps hundreds of them, John 18:12) armed with swords and temple police armed with clubs (Luke 22:52). The Sanhedrin had issued a warrant for Jesus’ arrest and had secured the help of the Roman soldiers to see that all was accomplished without incident. The large size of this cohort demonstrates that they knew that Jesus had some kind of power and that they were unsure how He would react.

Judas, who had walked with Jesus for three years, had informed the leaders of this mob that he would identify Jesus with a kiss. This was needed because it was dark in the garden and the Roman Soldiers may not have been able to recognize which one was Jesus. Judas immediately goes up to Jesus, calls Him “Rabbi” and kisses him. A kiss in that culture was a common gesture of respect for a teacher; but in this case, Judas used it as a token of betrayal.

Peter, perhaps motivated by Jesus’ earlier words that he would deny Him three times that very night, offered a single-handed resistance to this capture. He whipped out his sword and cut off the right ear of a man named Malchus who has the servant of the High Priest. It is important to remember that Peter was a fisherman, not a soldier. He wasn’t aiming for the ear. He was aiming for the head, but lucky for Malchus, he was a much better fisherman than he was a swordsman. Jesus rebuked Peter and told him to put away his sword. Peter made the same mistake that we often make today. He was using the wrong weapon. This was a spiritual battle and you can’t fight spiritual battles with physical weapons (see Second Corinthians 10:3-5). Jesus then heals Malchus’ ear and without any further resistance, the armed men arrest Jesus and lead him to the home of Caiaphas, the High Priest. Jesus questions the amount of force used to arrest Him and then again shows how even His arrest was part of God’s divine plan and a fulfillment of Scripture.

When Jesus demonstrated that He would not use His power to resist, all His disciple fled just as He had predicted earlier that night. Mark’s Gospel is the only account to include a young man who was not one of the disciples who tried to secretly follow the arrested Jesus. Because Mark is the only Gospel writer to record this event, many speculate that he was that young man spoken of. All he was wearing was a linen garment that one would sleep with. He had obviously been aroused from sleep and now was watching the events of the evening unfold. Some believe that it was Mark’s family that owned the house where the upper room was located. Perhaps Judas had led the soldiers and temple police to that location first but finding that Jesus and the disciples had already left, he then led them to the garden. When he was detected, he fled naked into the night, leaving the linen garment behind. Now Jesus is left totally abandoned and deserted by man but still right in the middle of the sovereign will of God for His life (John 16:32)

Friday, March 03, 2006

The people in the middle

As our church has grown, we have seen our auditorium filled Sunday after Sunday in both the 9:00 service and 10:45 service. We set up around 750 chairs in a total of six sections with two sections on each side and two sections in the middle. As a result, I have the task of trying to connect with people from all six sections for 35 minutes as I preach Sunday to Sunday. Recently, I have had a few people point out to me that I seem to spend most of my time looking at the sections on the sides and overlooking those sitting in the middle two sections. I’ve even been asked, “What’s wrong with those in the middle?” I thought about some clever, yet fictional answers to that question. You know, things like:

  • The people who sit on the sides are better looking (that can’t be true, however, due to the fact that our Pastor of Student Ministries sits in the sections to my left during our first service and our Worship Arts Director sits in the sections to my right during the second service!)!
  • The people who sit on the sides give more in the offering so I want to give them more “bang for their buck”!
  • The people who sit on the sides are far more in need of spiritual help and need more eye contact in order to be reached!
  • Our teens always sit on the side and I need to make sure my kids are behaving!
  • My wife sits in one of the side sections and she’s just a whole lot more enjoyable to look at than anyone else in the auditorium!
  • My profile is far more attractive and I want that to be the main camera angle up on the big screens so I look my best!

Obviously, I am being facetious (about everything except the part about my wife). So what is the real reason that I spend more time looking at the people on the sides of the auditorium than I do those in the middle? The truth is that I really had no idea that this was what I was doing. If you normally sit in the middle sections of the auditorium on Sunday mornings and are feeling overlooked I can honestly tell you it is not intentional. Some have suggested that maybe it’s the screen in the back that distracts me and causes me to avoid looking in the middle. If anything, it is probably due to the fact that the people on the sides are so much further away from me when I preach that I ultimately overcompensate in trying to keep them connected to what I am saying.

So, if you sit in the middle, please know that it’s nothing personal. I really do appreciate the constructive criticism very much. My desire is to always improve in my ability to communicate and eye contact is a very important part of effective communication. In the weeks to come, I will seriously try to be more conscious of those who sit in the middle.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Billboard controversy

When was the last time you saw a church advertise on a bulletin board as you were cruising around town? A church in Houston used billboards creatively to advertise a new sermon series that they were starting on marriage. They rented several billboards around town and simply put on the billboard the website They then set up a very attractive website at that address that included many funny stories and jokes about marriage and an overview of the upcoming message series with an invitation to attend. Did it work? In the two weeks the billboards were up, their website got more than 1,000,000 hits. As people drove by the billboards every day, curiosity got the best of them. Was this some poor dude who was married to a real loser and was airing it all out or was this the mastermind of a divorce lawyer who was trying to drum up business? Whatever the motive, over a million people surfed their way to their site and as a result they had more visitors for that sermon series than any other they had done previously.

Recently, a church in Mishawaka, IN tried the same thing. This is a church that I am somewhat familiar with as it is very close to where I use to pastor. In fact, Bryan Nelson who is our Worship Arts Director here at Grace Church, and I visited this ministry last summer. Granger Community Church and Pastor Beeson is getting ready to start a new series on what the Bible really teaches about sex. The series is also designed to help unbelievers see their need for a personal relationship with Jesus as well as learning Biblical principles of intimacy. They have rented four billboards around town. The billboards have a picture of two sets of feet sticking out from bed sheets with the only wording being the website that is something like

As you might be able to imagine, these billboards have created some controversy. In fact, just last week, Pastor Beeson was interviewed nationally on the FOX News morning show. I was unable to watch the interview but my wife did and told me that it was terrific. She said the Pastor Beeson did a wonderful job of sharing what the intent of the entire marketing plan was all about – introducing people to Jesus Christ.

So, did Granger Community Church cross the line? Well, we could debate that all night. Personally, I appreciate their attempt to get lost people under the sound of the Gospel. After all, the Bible has much to say about the topic of sex. For some reason we have the mistaken idea that all that the Bible says about sex is “Don’t do it unless it’s with your spouse!” The truth is that the Bible has much more to say about creating fulfilling intimacy in one’s marriage. It’s a study worth communicating. Our world desperately needs to hear it. So does that mean that Grace Church is going to slap up controversial billboards in a marketing attempt to bring more people into our church? We may use billboards. We may use lots of tools. But let’s never forget that the number one reason why people who do not attend church stay home on Sunday isn’t because they missed seeing a billboard or failed to get connected with a creative marketing tool. The number one reason why unchurched people do not go to church is simply this . . . because nobody ever invited them. Folks, like it or not, you are the best billboard Grace Church has!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

It's not just for kids any more

I was reminded this past week of the need for the church, yes even adults, to rediscover the lost art of Scripture Memory. Back at Osceola (the church I pastored prior to coming to Lititz) we had an AWANA program. AWANA stands for Approved Workers Are Not Ashamed. It is a program for kids that centers all around Scripture Memory…lots of it. One year our Awana Commander asked me to speak to all of the Awana workers prior to the start of the ministry year. My devotion was very short. I simply said, “Let me give you my definition of a hypocrite . . . a hypocrite is an Awana worker who never memorizes Scripture!” I then closed in prayer. By the way, I never got invited to speak to the Awana workers again, but that’s not the point. The point is that Scripture memory is like Frosted Flakes . . . it’s not just for kids anymore!

Why is that we somehow have reserved memorizing Scripture as something only for our kids? Why don’t we adults ever hide the Word of God in our hearts? The Psalmist said that when we hide the Word of God in our hearts, it keeps us from sin. Is that true? I remember a speaker in chapel when I was a student at Liberty University share the story of when he was given a ticket to the greatest sports event of the year . . . the Super Bowl. He was only given one ticket, though. His wife, however, knowing how important this was to her husband, insisted that he go by himself. So off he went.

He explained to us how incredible the game was but how utterly immoral the atmosphere around the game could get. After the game was over, he was heading up the hotel elevator very late at night. As the elevator stopped at a floor a few levels below his, a very attractive young lady got on board. She was obviously intoxicated and alone with him on the elevator, she made her intentions to spend the evening with this man very clear. The man couldn’t believe the situation he found himself in. This was a beautiful women, not one who would usually find him attractive (remember, I said she was intoxicated). He realized that he could probably indulge in a night of unbridled passion and chances were more than excellent that not a soul would ever find out.

In that moment when a bad decision could have drastically ruined his life, a thought went through this man’s mind that immediately allowed him the strength to turn down the offer and retire to his room alone to shower, pray and go to sleep. What was that thought? Was it his wife? No. In fact, she never crossed his mind. Was it his children? They were not the thought. Was it his ministry and the thought of losing such an effective position? No. That did not cross his mind either. Than what was it? What was the thought that allowed this man to say “no” to this beautiful women and stay faithful to his wife and to his Lord? It was a Scripture verse that he had memorized just that morning. As the Holy Spirit brought that verse that had been tucked into his heart to the forefront of his mind, he was able to courageously resist the temptation. The Psalmist was right!

So, tell me, when was the last time you committed to memory a verse from the Bible? Be careful, no excuse is valid. Scripture memory . . . it’s not just for kids anymore!