Friday, April 28, 2006

Shoot for Excellence (Part 4)

The final 4 blog entries this week are a transcript of the remarks that I gave at the Inaugural Induction Service of the Lititz Christian School Chapter of the National Honor Society – April 6, 2006. If you have not read parts 1-3 of this series, it would be best for you to go back and read these before continuing with this blog entry.

Second, Joshua had courage. Go back and read Joshua chapter one. As Joshua is given the leadership of Israel, he is told to be strong and courageous. It takes courage to follow God. It takes courage to strive for excellence. Remember when Israel got to the edge of the Jordan River? The river was at flood stage. It was swollen, raging and deadly. What did God tell Joshua to do? He said to have the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant step into the deadly and strong flow of water. Certainly God could have parted that river without that happening, but he wanted to see if Joshua and Israel had enough courage to obey Him. Those priest’s hearts had to be beating a mile a minute as they stepped toward what appeared to be certain death. But as soon as the sole of their sandals hit the top of that water, God miraculously parted the water and all of Israel crossed over on dry ground. Be courageous in the course you have taken in following God. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Having thus chosen our course, without guile and with pure purpose, let us renew our trust in God and go forward without fear and with manly hearts!”

Finally, Joshua had commitment. He was whole-heartedly committed to God. Just prior to the end of his life he gathered Israel together and drew a line in the sand and boldly proclaimed, “Choose you this day whom you will serve but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord!” How committed are you to serving Christ? I mean really serving him…all-out with total abandonment. I will warn you up front…it will not be easy.

When my grandpa was dying with cancer, I flew out to California to see him one last time. As we said “goodbye” my grandpa said his final words to me. I will never forget them. As I laid my head on his chest with tears of sorrow streaming down my face, I heard him say to me, “Son, don’t ever give up on the Lord!” I knew what he was saying. After nearly 50 years of full-time ministry he was saying, “Look…it’s tough…it’s real tough. There will be times that you just want to raise the white flag of surrender and throw in the towel. Those times will come, but whatever happens, don’t ever give up on the Lord!” And that is my cry to you as you receive this honor. Be confident in God. Be courageous for God. Be committed to following Him. As I heard Dr. Jerry Falwell say hundreds of times during my four years at Liberty University, “Feel like quitting, but don’t quit!” Or in the words of my beloved grandpa, “Don’t ever give up on the Lord!”

Again, I congratulate you and honor you on a job well done! May all who come behind you choose to follow Jesus because of the spiritual influence that you have had in your life and because of the spiritual identity that you will always be remembered by. After all, take it from my High School band director. Just because it’s Christian, doesn’t mean it has to be mediocre…short for excellence in everything you do! God bless you!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Shoot For Excellence (Part 3)

The final 4 blog entries this week are a transcript of the remarks that I gave at the Inaugural Induction Service of the Lititz Christian School Chapter of the National Honor Society – April 6, 2006. If you have not read parts 1-2 of this series, it would be best for you to go back and read these before continuing with this blog entry.

In this passage, along with Joshua’s spiritual identity, we also see his spiritual influence. It says in verse 31 that, “Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua and had known all the deeds of the Lord which had been done for Israel.” I marvel at that statement. According to Scripture, not only did Israel serve God as long as Joshua was their leader, but as long as there were people around who remembered Joshua, Israel continued to serve God! That’s the kind of influence I want to have. That’s the influence I pray and wish for each of you. Because of your devotion to excellence and to God, my prayer is that your family, church and school will walk with God. My prayer is that long after you have graduated from this institution, that as long as there are people left around these halls who remember you, that this school will continue to be influenced by you and will follow God with all of their heart.

You will soon discover the inevitable fact that life speeds by quickly. Imagine with me that an average 70 year life was condensed into 16 hours that began at 7am and ended that same day at 11pm. Do you realize what time it would be for you? If you are 16 years old…the time would be 10:38am. If you are 17…the time would be 10:51am. If you are 18, the time is now 11:05am. And for you parents and staff members, if you are age 40…the time is 4:08pm. Remember, life ends at 11pm. If you are age 50…the time is 6:25pm. If you are age 60…it is now 8:42pm…just a little over two hours left to go.

When your life ends and they engrave your tombstone you will be remembered by just two dates…the date of your birth, followed by the date of your death. I want you to know this evening, that the most important marking on your tombstone will not be those dates. The most important marking, the one that really matters, will be the dash in between those dates. That little dash will symbolize your entire life. It is what you do with the dash in the middle that matters the most. Will you influence others to walk with God? If so, you will need to have the same 3 qualities about your life that Joshua had.

First, Joshua had confidence. He had confidence in God. He trusted Him. He did exactly what God told him to do, even if it didn’t make sense. Joshua was a military leader and genius. Do you think it made any sense at all when God told him to have Israel march around the city of Jericho every day for 6 days and then on the 7th day to march around it 7 times and then yell and blow the trumpets? That was absurd. No military general would want to follow those orders. But Joshua did. He had confidence in everything that God said and you know what happened. That’s right! The walls came tumbling down and mighty Jericho fell! Young people, you can trust God! Put your confidence in everything He says.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Shoot For Excellence (Part 2)

The final 4 blog entries this week are a transcript of the remarks that I gave at the Inaugural Induction Service of the Lititz Christian School Chapter of the National Honor Society – April 6, 2006. If you have not read part 1 of this series, it would be best for you to go back and read this before continuing with this blog entry.

Why is excellence so important? The direct answer to that is influence. What is life all about? I believe that for the believer, life is all about bringing honor and glory to our Heavenly Father and influencing others to know, love, honor and serve Jesus Christ. Perhaps there is no greater example of this in the entire Bible then in the closing verses that describe the life of my favorite Bible character, Joshua. In the last chapter of Joshua, chapter 24, we have the final words describing this great leader of Old Testament Israel. In these verses we see two very important aspects of his legacy.

First, we see his spiritual identity. It says in verse 29 that, “Joshua, the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being one hundred and ten years old.” How was Joshua identified? Physically, he was identified as the “son of Nun.” Nun is a proper name, the name of Joshua’s father. That is how people were identified back then. They didn’t have last names as we do today. They were identified with the name of their father. But notice that Joshua also had a spiritual influence. He would forever be remembered as “the servant of the Lord.” This was a very special title. The only other person up until that time who had ever been called by this title was the great leader himself, Moses. Now it has been passed on to Joshua. Other men in the Bible are identified with a spiritual legacy as well. Today we still remember King David as a “man after God’s own heart.” We speak of Abraham as “a man who believed God.” The Apostle John is known as “the disciple that Jesus loved.”

Let me ask you, what do you want your spiritual identity to be? Long after you have lived and died, when people look back to the first inductees in this prestigious chapter of the National Honor Society of Lititz Christian School, how do you want people to remember your spiritual legacy?

My Grandpa had a spiritual identity. He had been a preacher for nearly 50 years and was always very proper. He would only be called, “pastor.” Even my own grandma called him “pastor.” He was very disappointed that I called him “Grandpa” instead of “Grandfather.” But the final few years of his life, he was the superintendent of a rescue mission out in California. There, he dealt daily with alcoholics and addicts. Grandpa was tough with these men but it was the type of toughness that they knew came from a genuine heart of love. These men called my grandpa by a term that he never would have allowed in his years of pastoring. But he knew that these men used it as a term of endearment. They simply called him “Rev.” In fact, when he was buried, he was buried wearing a big brass belt buckle with those three letters on it… “R-E-V.” Those three letters would forever be his spiritual identity.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Shoot For Excellence (Part 1)

The final 4 blog entries this week are a transcript of the remarks that I gave at the Inaugural Induction Service of the Lititz Christian School Chapter of the National Honor Society – April 6, 2006.

Good evening. It is truly my privilege to be able to speak to you this evening.

When I was in High School, I attended a Christian School near Akron, Ohio. During those formative years of my life, the faculty member that had the greatest impact on my life was a devoted band director named Donald Bechtel. I was a trumpet player and had the privilege of being first chair my senior year as well as band president. Band was my life in High School. I loved it. As a result, Mr. Bechtel was a mentor and a hero to me. He taught us far more than just how to play our instruments. Mr. Bechtel taught us about life, especially as it related to being a Christian. There was one statement that he drilled into us. One statement that we heard from his lips over and over and over again. He would say emphatically, “Just because it’s Christian doesn’t mean you have to settle for being mediocre…shoot for excellence in everything you do!”

Tonight we honor you, our first inductees into the Lititz Christian School chapter of the National Honor society, for just that reason…because you have not settled for mediocrity. You have strived for excellence in many vital areas of your life and for that you are to be greatly commended. For that reason, it is our joy to honor you this evening.

The sad truth is that not many people take this approach in life. Even Christians struggle with this. It has been said, and rightly so, that most Christians live such a subnormal Christian life, that when someone lives a normal Christian life, it seems abnormal. Students, striving for excellence in all you do is to be the normal Christian life. Paul wrote in Colossians 3:17, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” I commend you for your attitude and efforts of excellence and I challenge you to maintain that same drive in everything you do the remainder of your life.

I am reminded of the old television commercial when I was younger that was made for a major airline. The setting was a locker room at halftime of the High School game. The coach is obviously bothered and is really giving it his boys. He is yelling and screaming and pounding the lockers. He is demanding to know why the team isn’t blocking and why they missed key plays. Most of all, he is furious that the other team’s defense keeps getting to his quarterback. The team looks dismayed and dazed as the coach rants and raves. Finally, one player hesitantly speaks up and asks, “But coach, aren’t we up by 24 points?” To that the coach points his finger and replies, “That’s exactly the attitude I am talking about. When you’re satisfied as a football player we are through as a football team.” The commercial went on to say that this airline, though rated #1 for on-time arrivals and customer service, isn’t satisfied. They still desire to do even better.

Monday, April 24, 2006

BHAG . . . confidence to step out again

Being debt free! It really is everyone’s dream and goal, isn’t it? What a thrill it was last Sunday to be able to burn our current church mortgage and know that we are officially debt free. This is no small matter. When Dr. Young led Grace Church into this major step of faith of more than doubling the size of the facility, many people could not catch the vision. Several people even left the church during that time. Most every banking institution refused to loan the money feeling that we were too big of a liability.

But here we are today and what has God done? We never missed one payment. Even during the tight financial times of years past, I am told that we never even mailed one payment late. What a testimony to the marvelous work of God through His church. And today, as a result, we are literally reaching more people on a daily basis, than most people ever dreamed possible. But that is just like God, isn’t it? According to Ephesians 3:20, He is a God who does super abundantly beyond anything we could ever ask for and anything we could ever imagine! So let’s ask for more! Let’s dream bigger dreams!

So how do we respond to being debt free as a church? Well, there are some who would respond by saying, “Great! Now let’s never get in debt again.” I can understand that thinking, but to be perfectly honest, I can’t advocate it. God doesn’t give us victories so that we can say, “Great! Now let’s never step out on faith again!” God gives us victories in order to give us even greater confidence that we can take even bigger steps of faith as he leads us. It is when we look at the victories like we had last Sunday in burning this mortgage that we should develop what one writer has called BHAG’s. BHAG stands for


Now is not the time for us to get comfortable and to say we have arrived. I remember the airline commercial years ago on television where the team is in the locker room and the coach is really giving it to them…yelling, pounding his fist against the locker, and overturning tables. Finally, one player asks, “But coach, aren’t we ahead by 24 points?” And to that the coach says, “That’s exactly the attitude I’m talking about…when you become satisfied as a football player we are through as a football team!” That is how I feel about the church. Folks, let me be honest. When we reach the point that we feel we are comfortable enough and no longer need to step out on faith anymore, than it is time to put the “closed” sign on the front doors of the facility and stop all ministries.

Now is the time for us to dream bigger dreams than ever before. Now is the time for us to take even bigger steps of faith. Why? Because we have developed confidence in our God! My dream remains intact. I want Grace to be a place that reaches 10,000 people. D.L. Moody said, “If God be your partner, make your plans large!” Amen and BHAG!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Courage . . . the fourth "C"

As the 3 characters made their way along side of Dorothy and Toto on their way to Emerald City, they each had a request. The Tin Man wanted a heart. The Scarecrow wanted a brain. And the Lion wanted some courage. If you can get a good dose of courage from visiting Emerald City, then maybe we should all make a quick visit.

Where are the courageous Christians in the church today? It is, after all, an essential ingredient in effective ministry. God told Moses and later Joshua that they needed to be strong and courageous. So, on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being no courage at all and 10 being the most courage possible) how courageous are you? What number would you give yourself when it comes to standing up for truth? What number would you give yourself when it comes to sharing your faith with others? What number would you give yourself when it comes to taking risks for God?

Recently, I was able to have lunch with David Ashcraft, who is the Senior Pastor at the Lancaster County Bible Church (LCBC), and Andrew Martin, who is his Worship Arts Director. Bryan Nelson, the Worship Arts Director here at Grace Church, also joined us. LCBC is a seeker-oriented church that is designed after the Willow Creek model with Pastor Bill Hybels near Chicago. They are currently running around 5,700 in attendance for their weekend services. These are two wonderful men have a genuine heart for God and a burning passion to reach lost people for Christ. I greatly admire that.

As we ate together, we talked about all different aspects of ministry. One of the areas we discussed was staffing and how we went about hiring new staff members. We discussed the three “C’s” that Bill Hybels gives in his book, Courageous Leadership (a must read book that I highly recommend). Hybels says that when it comes to hiring new staff, he looks for the three “C’s”:
COMPETENCE = Can they do the job?
CHARACTER = Are they a person of God?
CHEMISTRY = Will they mix and work well with the current team?
David Ashcraft then told me that he has added a 4th “C” which is COURAGE. He said that he will only hire someone if they have the courage to attempt great things for God. I think he is exactly right. We need courageous Christians! I have asked God to make me a courageous leader. I would encourage you to make this a part of your prayer life as well, no matter what aspect of life or area of ministry you find yourself in at the moment.
“Only be strong and courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:7, 9

Thursday, April 20, 2006

How to lead a child to Christ (Part 2)

Yesterday, I wrote about sharing the Gospel with children and giving an invitation to see if the Holy Spirit was truly drawing a child to Christ. Once this has happened, it is time to use 9 questions to see if the child is truly ready to make this decision.

Why did you come back to talk with me? The answer you are looking for is that they want to receive Christ (they may use some other terminology). The child does not always respond to an invitation because they want to receive Christ. Sometimes they are just following another child that responded or they have a completely different need. If a child does not respond with the proper answer, chances are good that they are not yet being drawn by the Holy Spirit and are not yet ready to make a salvation decision.

Have you done this before? Children often respond more than once to receive Christ. If the child has already made this decision than they may have a different need. Ask them why they want to do it again. It could be that they need assurance (I Jn 5:11-13) or that they have unconfessed sin in their life (I Jn 1:9). It could also be that they simply are wanting some attention.

Why do you need Jesus? The answer you are looking for is that they know that they have sinned. Have Romans 3:23 ready if the child is not sure of the answer. This question deals with the child’s need.

What did Jesus do for you? The answer you are looking for is that they know that Jesus died for their sin. Again, have Scripture ready to show them (Romans 5:8; II Corinthians 15:3-4). This question deals with the way of salvation.

How does God say that you can have your sins forgiven and go to heaven? It is again important to use Scripture (John 3:16; Revelation 3:20; John 1:12; Romans 10:9-10). This question deals with God’s invitation and the way of acceptance through faith

Would you like to pray right now and receive Jesus as your Savior? Help the child think through what he wants to say before praying. Encourage the child to pray in their own words. If the child struggles to find the words, have them repeat one after you.

Where is Jesus now? Never tell a child that they are saved. Let the Holy Spirit reveal this truth by taking them back to the Scripture that you used earlier. The child’s decision should be based on the Word of God and not on something you told them as a counselor

How long will Jesus stay? Have Hebrews 13:5b ready…“I will never leave you!”

Will you ever sin again? Be sure the child knows that they will still sin. Explain I John 1:9 to them. Be sure they know what it means to confess their sin as a Christian. End your counseling time by praying for the child you have just led to Christ by name.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

How to lead a child to Christ (Part 1)

It is true. Children really can make a genuine decision to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior? The Bible is clear in Matthew 18 that children can be saved. I am evidence of this. It was at the age of 5 that I gave my heart to Jesus. Now we need to be careful. It is easy to manipulate children to make a decision that they don’t understand and are not ready to make. However, if done correctly, we can be sure that a child does understand the Gospel and that they are truly being drawn to salvation by the Holy Spirit. It begins by being sure that children understand the Gospel. While spending 3 summers working for Child Evangelism Fellowship, I was taught the G-O-S-P-E-L approach. In every Bible story we told, we made sure the following 6 facts were always included:

G = God Loves You (John 3:16)
O = Only Perfect Son (II Corinthians 5:21
S = Sin Of Us All (Romans 3:23; 6:23)
P = Precious Blood (Romans 5:8; Hebrews 9:22)
E = Ever-Living Savior (I Corinthians 15:3-4)
L = Let Jesus In (Revelation 3:20; John 1:12)

At the end of each story we would then give an invitation. For this we would use what we called the S-P-L-V—R-D approach. This stood for the following:

S = Sin…Remind them that they have a need
P = Precious Blood…Remind them that Jesus paid for their sin
L = Let Jesus In…Remind them of God’s way of salvation
V = Verse…Use a verse to show them salvation in God’s own words
-- = Close Eyes…Reduce any distractions by having them close their eyes
R = Response…Guide the child to an affirmative response
D = Direction…Direct those who respond to a place to be counseled

After the child has heard the Gospel and responded affirmatively to the invitation, we would then carefully counsel the child using 9 strategically constructed questions which I will give in tomorrow’s blog.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Easter is over but special events continue

Easter is over but we have several programs scheduled that are designed to give you an opportunity to get lost people that you know connected to Grace Church and to the Lord. Be sure that the following events are on your calendar and that you are praying regularly about how you can use these events to see people come to know Jesus:

May 20 - Crosswalk Show: Comedy Night (7:00pm, Grace Church)
Dana Daniels has been called one of the funniest Comedy Illusionists working today. Dana’s quick wit, sleight of hand, and ability to adapt to any situation while making it funny make him a hit. Dana is teamed with his “psychic” parrot, Luigi. Bob Nelson is known for his hysterical standup and impressions act. Bob is a “skitster”, creating his own characters, developing routines for them. He has appeared many times with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show and opened for Rodney Dangerfield for 6 years.

June 11 - Founder's Day Community Church Service (6:00pm, Lititz Springs Park)
A community-wide church service celebrating 250 years. This service will include a community Choir & Orchestra, which the Worship Arts Ministry of Grace Church will be a part of.

July 2 - Patriotic Event "To Honor Our Heroes" (10:00am, Lititz Springs Park)
An annual celebration honoring our Military and Community Servants. This event will include a Military Color Guard, the Men’s Ensemble and involvement from the Choir, Orchestra and Rhythm & Vocal Bands.

August 5 - Crosswalk Show @ Summerfest Youth Event (8:00pm, Lititz Springs Park)
Tim Hawkins has become one of the most in-demand comedy headliners across the US. Tim blends an arsenal of clean stand up, live music, physical comedy, and rock star impersonations. Monday Morning is what melodic modern rock and roll is all about. These energetic young musicians grew up in North Carolina and started playing together in 2002. They are fresh, energetic, and perform with energy and emotion. They have appeared with Sonic Flood, Newsboys, Tait and Stryper.

October 21 - Crosswalk Show: Tait & Comedy (7:00pm, Grace Church)
Tait began almost 5 years ago and has quickly evolved into one of the most potent and relevant bands on the contemporary scene today. Michael Tait, the bands lead singer and founder says the momentum is growing faster than they can keep track of due to the chemistry and sincerity of this band. Michael Tait is no stranger to the music industry, being an original member of the group dc talk. Carlos Oscar is known for his charming, witty, and energetic stage persona. He fully acts out his jokes by telling stories about the humorous side of family, society, and everyday mishaps by morphing into various characters and voices. His television credits include The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, NBC’s The Single Guy, Fox’s Living Single, late night talk show Vibe and performances on HBO and Showtime.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The resurrection of Christ

According to Mark, a group of ladies went to the tomb of Jesus. Mark names them as Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of James; and Salome. Luke also speaks of a fourth woman named Joanna. This is the same group that was at the cross (Mark 15:40) and who witnessed the burial of Jesus as well (Mark 15:47). These women would now be rewarded with being the first witnesses of the greatest and most victorious event in all of history…the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is obvious that God rewards faithfulness.

The women had left for the tomb very early in the morning. John tells us that they left while it was still dark (Jn 20:1) and arrived just after the sun had risen. They had brought with them spices to anoint the body of Jesus. These spices were used to counteract the smell of decay while at the same time showing love and devotion. Their biggest concern was how they would get into the tomb due to the large stone that had been placed in front of the opening. They seemed unaware that a Roman Guard had been posted at the tomb to prevent anyone from stealing the body.

Upon arriving, they noticed that the stone had been rolled away. Matthew and Luke’s accounts both tell us that it was the angel that had rolled the stone away. They entered the outer portion of the tomb that led to the inner burial chamber and saw a young man wearing a white robe. Luke identified him as an angel and John as well as Luke record that there were actually two of them. Mark only records the presence of the angel that spoke to the women. Upon seeing this messenger, the women are in overwhelming distress. This was the same word used to describe Jesus’ prayer of agony in the garden prior to His arrest. Believe me, you would react the same way if you saw an angel.

The angel now speaks. This is the first message of the Good News of the Resurrection. What incredible grace it was that these women would be the first witnesses. The angel tells them to not be amazed. He goes on to say that they were looking for Jesus who was crucified but now He was no longer in the tomb. The empty tomb was now evidence that He had indeed risen from the dead. To prove it, the angel invites the women to examine the place where He had been laid which now only contained the empty grave clothes.

With the knowledge of the resurrection also comes responsibility. The angel tells the women to go and tell His disciples. Mark then records the added words “and be sure to tell Peter!” Remember, Peter had just hours prior to the crucifixion claimed that He would die for Jesus and then he had single-handedly tried to protect Jesus when the guards came to arrest Him in the garden. However, that very night Peter had denied Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times. Peter looked like and felt like a complete failure. But listen, folks. That is the powerful message of Easter. The resurrection allows God to turn failures into successes. A few weeks later Peter would preach a powerful sermon on the Day of Pentecost and 3,000 people would come to faith in Christ. The angel then added that Jesus, who was now alive, was going ahead of them to Galilee where they would see Him! The resurrection of Jesus is all about hope (First Peter 1:3).

Friday, April 14, 2006

They're all gone

One of the most prominent theories to explain away the resurrection of Jesus is the claim that the women, who were the first witnesses of the resurrection, actually went to the wrong tomb. This theory would suggest that these women were very unstable and were in deep sorrow. It was early in the morning when they went to the tomb, probably still dark outside. With all of these adverse circumstances going against their accuracy, they simply went to the wrong tomb, an empty tomb which had never been used. When they saw that the tomb was empty, they mistakenly concluded that Jesus had resurrected.

Of all the theories suggesting that Jesus never rose from the dead, this is the only one that I can give any possible credence to at all. Why? Because I have seen something very similar take place. Back when I was a youth pastor, I would direct our summer youth camp. One night I was awakened about 3am when one of our lady counselors named Kelly was knocking on my cabin door in a serious panic. As I answered the door, she yelled, “They’re gone! They’re all gone!” I asked who was gone. She continued, “The girls in my tent! They’re all gone! Their suitcases are gone! Their sleeping bags are gone! They’re all gone!” She then said, “Come look!”

Kelly took off toward the woods and I followed closely behind wandering what tragedy I was facing. We ran to the tent area and I followed Kelly into the tent. She was right. There were no girls! There were no suitcases! There were no sleeping bags! Everything was gone! I was quickly able to put together what happened. I took Kelly outside of the tent and pointed to another tent. I said, “Kelly, do you see that tent?” She nodded, still in some form of shock. I continued, “Kelly, that tent over there is your tent. This one is not your tent. This is an empty tent that we are not using this week. I think if you go over to that tent you will find your girls all snuggled up and sleeping soundly in their very own sleeping bags with their suitcases stowed neatly under the bunks!”

You see, Kelly had gotten up in the middle of the night to use the restroom which was a little bit of walk from the tent area. She was extremely tired as all of our counselors were by that time in the week. She also was not feeling well. Due to all of these adverse circumstances, Kelly had returned to the tent area and accidentally stepped into a tent that she thought was hers but was actually one that we were not using that week. She had mistakenly concluded that all of her girls had been kidnapped by a band of kidnappers who were also going to hold their sleeping bags and suitcases for ransom as well.

Now, if it could happen to Kelly at summer camp, why couldn’t it happen to Mary and the other women on that early morning so many years ago? Sure it could have. But let’s be reasonable. Just like I had done with Kelly, don’t you think someone would have shown Mary and the other women the right tomb that still had the body of Jesus lying in it? Listen, folks, if the women went to the wrong tomb, then so did the men. In fact, we would have to conclude that the wrong angels went to the wrong tomb and told the wrong women that the wrong Savior had been wrongly resurrected! He is alive! Jesus is alive!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Theories that require faith

There are skeptics of the resurrection who will agree that the tomb of Jesus was indeed found empty. Yet, many false theories still exist that try to explain this by natural causes.

The Stolen Body theory = The disciples stole the body of Jesus and went on to die a martyr’s death for a lie. It is hard to believe that this group of men who were so scared that they were hiding out in the upper room would now muster enough courage to take on a group of Roman Soldiers guarding the tomb whose very lives depended on the success of their mission. And then all but one of them would go on to be murdered for a lie?

The Moved Body theory = The authorities moved the body of Jesus. Again, if this were the case all they had to do to prove it was show everyone the dead body of Jesus.

The Passover Plot = Christ staged His death with the plan to return later claiming to have been crucified and resurrected. Unfortunately, He didn’t count on the guards sticking Him with the spear that killed Him. This is too ridiculous to even comment on.

The Swoon theory = Christ never really died. He just passed out and the cool tomb revived Him. This is not the case. He didn’t just pass out…He died. The soldiers did not break His legs because He was already dead (Jn 19:32-33). Christ “gave up the ghost” or breathed His last (Mt 27:50; Lk 23:46). When the spear punctured the sack around His heart, a mixture of blood and water poured out proving He was in fact dead (Jn 19:34). For this theory to be true, Jesus, so badly beaten that He could not even be recognized (Is 52:14) and couldn’t even carry His own cross (Mk 15:21) had to:
  • Fool the expert guards into thinking He was dead
  • Survive the burial process including 100-200 pounds of spices
  • Recover from the great amount of blood loss
  • Keep the dampness of the tomb from causing pneumonia
  • Shed the grave clothes
  • Roll away a 2,000-4,000 pound stone
  • Fight off Roman guards whose lives depended on their success
  • Convince others that His mutilated body was a “new spiritual body”

The truth is obvious. It takes more faith to believe one of these theories than it does to believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and that He did in fact rise from the dead.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Is it just another day?

Sunday is Easter. But what makes it more important than any other day of the year? Did Jesus really rise from the dead and if He did, so what? When Paul wrote in First Corinthians 15, he gave six specific consequences if Jesus never rose from the dead:
  • Our preaching is useless (v14)
  • Our faith is useless (v14)
  • We are false witnesses of God (v15)
  • We are still in our sins (v17)
  • All of our loved ones who have already died have perished (v18)
  • We are of all men most to be pitied or to be seen as fools (v19)

Each of the four Gospels records an account of the resurrection (Matthew 27:57-28:15; Mark 15:42-16:14; Luke 23:52-24:12; and John 19:38-20:31). It really should not have been a surprise to anyone that had listened to Jesus’ teaching. He claimed on numerous occasions that he would die and rise again. Read these words for yourselves in Matthew 16:21; 17:9, 22, 23; 20:18, 19; 26:32; Mark 9:10; Luke 9:22-27; and John 2:18-22.

Even secular history records the fact that the tomb of Jesus was found empty. Outside of a resurrection, how could this be explained? Many skeptics have tried. Some have claimed that the tomb was not really empty. These theories include:

The Unknown Tomb theory = The executioners cast the body into an unknown burial plot. This theory does not match the teachings of Scripture or the writings of history.

The Wrong Tomb theory = The women and the disciples mistook the wrong tomb, an empty tomb, to be Christ’s tomb. This could not be true because the women had seen the burial and knew the right location (Mt 27:61). The mistaken claim could have easily been proven false by the Jewish leaders simply taking everyone to the right tomb and showing them the body

The Legend theory = The accounts of the resurrection of Jesus did not crop up until many years later. Obviously this is not true as immediately the religious leaders bribed the guards at Jesus’ tomb to lie saying that His disciples stole His body.

The Spiritual Resurrection theory = Christ’s resurrection was spiritual. His body still lay in the grave. Again, to prove this all one needed to do was to show the body of Jesus.

The Hallucination theory = All Christ’s post-resurrection appearances were hallucinatory hoaxes. This is impossible. Many saw the resurrected Christ including a group of 500 at one time. It is simply not possible for more than one person to see the same hallucination at the same time. Why? Because hallucinations occur inside of a person’s mind. This was not a hallucination. Jesus really did rise from the dead.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Easter logistics

This coming Sunday, April 16th, is Easter Sunday 2006. Below are answers to the important logistical questions to be sure that we are all ready for a great celebration:

How many are we expecting to attend Easter services at Grace?
Last year we had an Easter attendance of 1,620 people. However, we have grown significantly since then and so we are making it a prayer goal to see 2,000 people celebrating the resurrection of Jesus with us this Easter. Last year we went up 421 people from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. This year we are expecting well over 500 more people on Easter than we will have had on Palm Sunday. We have mailed out 1,300 personal letters to people our ministry has touched over the past year that do not attend Grace Church. We have also mailed out an attractive direct mailer to the nearest 10,000 homes inviting them to Experience the Passion with us this Easter at Grace.

How many Easter worship services will we have?
We will have three worship services that will all be identical. These will take place at 7:15; 9:00 and 10:45 in the morning.

Will there be child-care for all 3 Easter worship services?
There will be no nursery or childcare for the early 7:15 service. There will be full nursery and childcare through 4th grade for the 9:00 and 10:45 services.

Will there be any Youth or Adult Bible Fellowship classes on Easter Sunday?
No! There will be no Youth or ABF classes on Easter. Instead, there will be a continental breakfast in the youth room (Room 201) from 8:30 until 11:00 that morning.

What Easter service should I plan on attending?
If you do not have small children, we would encourage you to attend the 7:15 service if at all possible. This actually was our largest of the three services last Easter. This will free up seats for our visitors who will most likely attend the 9:00 and 10:45 services. No matter what service you attend, we would also encourage you to sit as close to the front as you can as these are not the seats that most visitors will want to choose

Is there anything else I can do that morning to be of help to our visitors?
You could be a huge service to our visitors by parking in the most remote areas of our parking lot. This will allow our visitors to park closer to the building giving them a good first impression of their visit with us.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The death of Jesus

Jesus had been on the cross for about 3 hours when at noon, darkness fell over all the land of Palestine. This darkness lasted for 3 hours until 3pm. Some skeptics have suggested that this was nothing more than a normal solar eclipse. However, because Passover occurred at the full moon every year, the idea of a solar eclipse is simply impossible. This supernatural phenomenon showed God’s judgment on sin and visualized physically what Jesus was experiencing spiritually.

At 3pm, Jesus cries out in Aramaic, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” For the first time in all of eternity Jesus experienced spiritual separation from God the Father as He carried the sin of the world. Because the beginning of this cry sounds similar to the name, “Elijah,” people thought that He was crying out for the prophet Elijah to come and rescue Him. A bystander lifted a sponge dipped in a wine vinegar that had been diluted with a mixture of eggs and water for Him to drink.

Jesus now makes a loud cry prior to breathing His last. Jesus’ death was not typical for crucifixion which usually lasted for several days and ended with a person lapsing into a coma before dying. At the time of His death, the veil in the temple that separated the Hoy of Holies was torn from the top to the bottom. The passive voice and direction of the action show that this was an action of God. This visualized that Christ’s death ended the need for sacrifices and provided an open and free access to God through faith.

The centurion in charge of this crucifixion, when he saw how Jesus had died, declared, “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” A group of devoted women who had followed Jesus were witnesses of His crucifixion. These would be the same women that would become the first witnesses of His resurrection.

Because it was the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea asks permission of Pilate to bury Jesus before sunset. Joseph was a wealthy member of the Sanhedrin who had not consented to the death of Jesus (Luke 23:51). He was a Pharisee who secretly believed that Jesus was the Messiah (John 19:38) showing why it took such courage to make this request for the body of Christ. Pilate was amazed to hear that Jesus was already dead and summoned the centurion in charge to affirm that this death was indeed factual. Only the Gospel of Mark records this encounter showing his Roman readers that the death of Jesus was confirmed by a Roman military officer.

With the help of Nicodemus, Joseph buries Jesus after washing His body and wrapping it in linen strips (John 19:39-40). The body was placed in an unused tomb which had been hewn out of a rock and a large stone was rolled in front of the entrance. This stone was rolled down a sloping groove to keep out intruders and would have taken several men to move it uphill. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (the mother of James the Son of Alpheaus) were careful to note the exact place where Jesus was buried. They obviously planned to return and what a sight they would discover when they did.

Friday, April 07, 2006

What creates communication?

So what creates communication? Let me suggest five items.

1. Honesty (Prov 19:5; 26:28)! Willard Harley, in his book, His Needs Her Needs, says that honesty is the best marriage insurance policy. One of the quickest ways to send your communication on a downward spiral in milliseconds is to tell a lie. Lying to your spouse or child, even if to protect them, is never good. Even when our wife asks us if the dress she is wearing makes her look fat…and it does? Even when our wife gets a horrible haircut and asks us our honest opinion on her new “hair-do”? Listen, false security is really no security at all. Always tell the truth.

2. Trust (Prov 25:9-10)! According to this passage, if you develop the reputation of being a gossip, even if you change, the report that you are a gossip will stick with you the rest of your life. My wife and kids will not communicate with me on a level four/level five basis if they think I am going to tell their secrets to others. In my case, this is even more important because I like to use a lot of personal illustrations and stories when I preach. How often do you think my family will really communicate with me if they fear their words will become illustration fodder in the next Sunday morning sermon?

I learned this one Sunday night when my son was very young. I had told a story that evening that was extremely funny and everyone howled in laughter. The story mentioned my son but really was not even about him. On the way home, my son and I were in the car by ourselves. I could tell he was mad at someone. I asked him if he was mad at his mom. He said, “No!” I asked him if he was mad at his sister. He said, “No!” I asked him if he was mad at a friend. He again said, “No!” I then asked him who he was mad at it. He folded his arms, scowled, and said, “You!” I said, “Why are you mad at me?” I will never forget his answer. He said, “Because you made all those people laugh at me!” OUCH! That hurt. I made a commitment right then that I would always ask my family’s permission before telling a story that in any way included them.

3. Patience (Prov 14:29)! If every time I hear a thought, idea or judgment that I do not agree with I respond by quickly blasting back, people will never communicate with me effectively. I like what Zig Ziglar says when he writes, “Seek to understand, then to be understood.”

4. Complete acceptance (Rom 15:7)! My wife and kids will never be honest with me unless they are sure that no matter what they communicate, no matter how much I sincerely disagree or am disappointed, I will still accept and love them.

5. Forgiveness (Matt 18:21-22, 1 Pet 4:8; Col 3:13)! Whenever we communicate in complete openness and honesty, there is a chance of being hurt or hurting another. For me to communicate on this level, I must understand forgiveness. What is forgiveness? It is not forgetting as some have suggested. That is simply impossible. Biblical forgiveness is choosing to never bring the situation back up again in order to use it as a weapon. Without forgiveness, there can never be real communication!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Every time I open my mouth I get in trouble

Over the last two days we have seen three of the five levels of communication. It is not until we reach level four that communication actually begins to take place:

Level 4: MY FEELINGS AND EMOTIONS! This is where we share our true feelings about ourselves. At this level I don’t just tell you that I’m glad that Penn State lost. Now I get a bit more honest and transparent. Now I tell you that I’m glad Penn State lost because I do not like Penn State! This leads to the 5th and final level of communication.

Level 5: COMPLETE COMMUNICATION! It is at this level that there is absolute openness and honesty. To communicate at this level involves risk of rejection. This is where you find out the whole story. Not only do I not like Penn State, but Penn State played Ohio State and I am a die hard Ohio State fan. This is the level of communication we must strive for, but it takes a lot of hard work. It doesn’t come naturally. In fact, the only thing harder than getting to level five is staying there.

What makes communication so difficult? There are five possible messages every time we try to communicate. Only one of them is good. This means that every time we open our mouth we have a 4 out of 5 chance of messing up. Hopefully we will communicate what we mean to say. But how many times have we meant to communicate one thing but we actually said something else? I’ll never forget the time my wife and I were giving a purity talk at a church in Tennessee. I went first and spent about 15 minutes setting up the principles. My wife was then to take about 20 minutes to speak to the women in the congregation before I wrapped things up. As she neared the end she wanted to say a few words to the men. She meant to say, “As I close, I would like to address the men.” Instead, after 35 minutes of talk on sexual purity, my wife proclaimed, “As I close, I would like to undress the men!” All of us could tell similar stories, couldn’t we?

Or instead of communicating what we mean to say, we communicate what other people hear us say. I remember my mentor telling me about the time when he was a youth pastor and his Senior Pastor was speaking on a Sunday morning at the district campsite beside the campfire. Because he would be coming straight to the church service, he wore his suit to speak at camp. As a result, he smelled like smoke when he arrived at church. However, church had already begun and Pastor Larry, the Senior Pastor, came in the back entrance and up on to the stage while the youth pastor was giving announcements. Not only did the congregation not realize that he smelled like smoke, but they had no idea that he had been to a campfire that morning. As the Senior Pastor passed behind him, the youth pastor smelled the smoke of the campfire on his suit and blurted out, “Whew, Pastor Larry, you smell like hell!” He meant that he smelled like a campfire but the congregation heard something completely different.

And if that is not bad enough, you could communicate what the other person says about what you have said. Remember that game when you were in youth group? You would sit in a circle and the first person would whisper something in the ear of the person to their right who would in turn pass the information along the same way to the person on their right. By the time the message got all the way around the circle, it was a completely different communication. Why? Because effective communication is difficult.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Testing the waters of communication

Yesterday we introduced the importance and ingredients of communication. We begin to look at the five levels of communication. We saw level one, which we called, CLICHÉ COMMUNICATION. Today we will examine two more levels of communication:

Level 2: REPORTING FACTS! This is just one step up from level one. The key here is that we give just facts, but no personal information is exchanged. No feelings are expressed about the facts. We are taking no chances of being rejected. In level one I may say, “Did you see the game last night?” In level two I will report the facts. I will say, “Penn State lost!” Now I will not tell you if I am glad that Penn State lost or not. I will give no feelings…just the facts. Sadly, most marriages and parent/teen relationships are stuck in the rut of level two communication.

Level 3: MY IDEAS AND JUDGMENTS! This is where I begin to share my ideas and decisions but I am very cautious! I will quickly retreat if rejected. Here I do not just say, “Penn State lost!” Here I say, “I’m glad Penn State lost!” But if you respond negatively to my judgment, I will retreat back to level two and stay there.

I like to call this level, “testing the waters.” For example, a teen will come home from school and tell his mom that Billy got kicked out of school for drinking alcohol. He will then test the waters with his mom and say, “I don’t think that’s fair. I see nothing wrong with drinking alcohol!” Now how does the average Christian mom respond? “YOU, WHAT? IF I EVER CATCH YOU DRINKING…!” What did mom just communicate to her son? She just communicated that he is only allowed to share ideas and judgments if she aggress with them! Do you think that young man will come to talk to mom when he is being pressured in the areas of drugs, sex or whatever? Absolutely not! How could mom have responded? She could have said, “That’s interesting. Tell me, why don’t you think it’s wrong to drink?” Now what has mom done? She just communicated to her son that she wants to hear more of his ideas. She doesn’t have to agree with her son. In fact, she can even end the conversation with the old, “As long as you live under my roof you will abide by rules” speech. The key is to allow your teenager to share their thoughts.

The same is true with a marriage. If every time a wife shares her idea, it gets shot down nastily by her husband, do you think she will continue to share her ideas? No, she will retreat back to level 1 or 2 where she will stay. How is this dangerous? Imagine a wife whose husband makes her feel about two inches tall any time she shares her ideas. As a result, she quits sharing with her spouse. However, communication is a basic need that women have. So this wife goes to choir practice at church where she sits next to a man whose very good at communicating. He talks to her and asks her about her thoughts on many different issues. In fact, this man begins to meet an emotional need in the life of this wife that is not being met at home by her husband. As a result, she begins to really look forward to choir practice. Even though she has never looked at this man as being physically attractive, she begins to develop an attraction through this need being met by him and before you know it, she’s calling him, writing him notes and eventually, having a sexual affair with him. Gentlemen, we must learn how to communicate with our wives if we are truly going to be their greatest source of protection.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Communication is by far and away one of the most important elements of any relationship. Whether it is with a spouse, a child, a parent, a neighbor, a co-worker, or a fellow church-goer, for any relationship to grow, communication must be a priority.

There are really two major keys when it comes to communication. First, we must be sure to keep all lines of communication open. This includes keeping the lines of communication open in between each individual in a relationship as well as each individual keeping their lines of communication open with God. Whenever one or more of these communication lines gets shut down, problems increase in severity. When we stop talking to God, things go wrong. When we quit communicating with each other, things go south as well. Keep all of these lines open and there is truly no problem that cannot be worked through.

The second key is understanding the three components of communication. First, there is our content, or are words. Speechologists tell us that this is really just 7% of our total communication. It is true that our actions really do speak much more loudly than our words. Second, is our tone which is 38% of our communication, followed by our non-verbal actions which communicates the most. 55% of all of our communication is non-verbal. For effective communication to take place, we must be sure that our words, our tone, and our non-verbal actions are all saying the same thing. The same is true in listening. To be an effective listener we must listen to the other person’s words, tone and pay attention to their non-verbal cues.

Experts tell is that there are 5 levels of communication. Every relationship you have is on one of these 5 levels. As we spend today and tomorrow examining these levels, why not evaluate what level you are on when it comes to your marriage; When it comes to your kids; When it comes to your parents; When it comes to your friends; When it comes to your co-workers; and when it comes to those whom you attend church with. Let me overview them briefly:

Level 1: CLICHÉ CONVERSATION! This is the lowest level of communication. In level one there is no personal sharing that takes place. Each person remains behind their own safe defenses. This is where we simply communicate that which is culturally acceptable. “Hi! How are you? Nice weather, huh? Did you see the game last night?” My guess would be that the majority of communication that takes place at church on a Sunday morning is basic level one talk. Most conversation that takes place between parents and teenagers is simply level one communication. Unfortunately, many marriages today, even among Christians, are stuck in a level one rut. The husband comes home from work and asks how his wife is and when dinner will be ready and that is the extent of their conversation for the remainder of the evening.
Tomorrow we will look at the other 4 levels of communication…that of Reporting the Facts; that of sharing my ideas and judgments; that of sharing my feelings and emotions; and that of complete and total openness and honesty.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The crucifixion of Jesus

Customarily, the condemned man carried his crossbeam, which weighed about 100 pounds, through the city streets and to the place of crucifixion. Due to the severity of the punishment that Jesus had already endured, He was too weak to carry this object (Jn 19:17). The soldiers randomly selected a passerby and forced him to carry the crossbeam for Christ. This man’s name was Simon, a native of Cryrene, who was probably a pilgrim who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Mark is the only Gospel writer to mention his sons, Alexander and Rufus, indicating that these two men became known disciples in Rome (see the mention of Rufus in Romans 16:13).

The soldiers led Jesus just outside the city wall to a place called Golgotha, meaning “Place of the skull.” It would seem that Golgotha either vaguely resembled the shape of a human skull or it was where human skulls from executions accumulated. According to Rabbinic tradition, Jewish women prepared a drink using myrrh for the condemned to drink which acted as a mild sedative. The soldiers gave this to Jesus but He refused to drink it. Jesus would endure the pain of the cross with all His human facilities in tact.

In simple terms, Mark records that they crucified Him. Other Gospel writers give more detail but Mark doesn’t as his Roman readers were very well aware of the process involved in this cruel and painful execution. Typically a man was stripped of all of his clothes and his personal belongings became the property of the execution squad. This 4-man squad (see Jn 19:23) cast lots, which was a form of dice, for the clothes of Jesus. By doing so, these men unknowingly fulfilled yet another specific prophecy regarding the Messiah as seen in Psalm 22:18.

Using Jewish time, Mark records the hour that Jesus was crucified as being the third hour (9am). John puts the time of Jesus’ final trial before Pilate at 6 am. This means that the time that Jesus spent being scourged, beaten and humiliated by the Roman Soldiers could have lasted up to 3 full hours of agony. It was a Roman custom to put the name of the condemned man and a description of his crimes above his head on the cross as a warning to other insurrectionists. All four Gospel writers refer to this reading a bit differently. Mark records the official charge as, “The King of the Jews.”

Jesus was crucified between two robbers which fulfilled another specific Messianic prophecy (Is 53:12). All the while He was on the cross He suffered continued verbal abuse at the hands of the bystanders who continually hurled insults at Him and mocked Him. The Jewish religious leaders also mocked Him. They ridiculed Him saying that He helped others but now He could not help Himself. They mocked His Messianic claims, challenging Him to prove that He was the Messiah by coming down off the cross.

The two thieves being crucified with Him also joined in the verbal assaults on Christ. One, however, would later repent and hear those beautiful words, “This day you will be with me in paradise (Lk 23:39-43)!”