Thursday, August 31, 2006

Universal - Disney . . . priceless

As far as Laura and I can remember this summer was the very first time that we took an extended (more than 2 or 3 days) family vacation without visiting our parents. With my parents living in Florida and Laura’s living in Colorado, by necessity our family vacation each year has been to one set of parents or another. We have no regrets about that. Time with our parents is important. But this vacation was special. After both Youth and Adult Conference, we spent an extra week in California with just the four of us.

We spent one full day at Knott’s Soak City in Palm Springs. You know how little I enjoy water, but I have to admit that even I enjoyed this relaxing day of going down water slides and floating on inner tubes. We also took time while in Palm Springs to go see the Pirates of the Caribbean 2 movie and rode the aerial tram to the top of the mountain.

From there we went to the Anaheim/Los Angeles area for 5 days. We spent way too much money, but the memories were, as the commercial says, priceless. Our first day was spent shopping at Downtown Disney followed by a full day at Universal Studios Hollywood. This was a great theme park. The best part was the 45-minute tour to the outdoor sets where some of the greatest movies of all time have been filmed. I can’t even begin to tell how amazing it was to see how Hollywood uses illusion to make movies that look like reality. They took us into one set where you thought you were in a downtown subway. Then, suddenly an earthquake hit. I have never experienced any earthquake, let alone a catastrophic quake. They made it happen why we were there. AMAZING! The tour ended by taking us to a scene that was used in the recent movie War of the Worlds. This was where they filmed the major airliner that crashed into a neighborhood. I have never seen anything that looked so real but in reality was simply a high-priced illusion.

We spent the next day driving up coastal route 1 and ending up at Huntington Beach. This was followed by a full day at Disneyland. Walt Disney called this wonderful park “The Happiest Place on Earth.” He may have just been right. Even as teenagers and adults, we were lost in the wonder of a fantasy world that makes everyone seem like a child again. I couldn’t help but spend the day with my mind going down nostalgia lane to when my kids were little. Joy loved The Little Mermaid. In fact, she still does. Joy also loved Belle from Beauty and the Beast. The first time we went with my parents to Disney World in Florida, Joy was quite young. I’ll never forget the look on her face when at the end of the day she saw Belle come outside the Magic Castle and dance and sing with the Beast. Watching my little Joy stand in amazement as she watched her animated heroine was unforgettable. For Jonathan, it was The Lion King. While Laura gave piano lessons, he and I would act out this cartoon movie over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. Each time he got to be mighty Simba and I had to be the evil Scar.

Our final day we shopped at the Block in Orange and then caught a ballgame at Dodger’s Stadium. With my kids growing older and coming closer and closer to the day when they will both be out on their own, the memories of this vacation were worth more than gold!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Rock Harbor rocks

I wrote in an earlier blog entry that while some our church staff was out in southern California, we were able to visit several different local church ministries. One ministry that we wanted to see but did not get to visit is called Rock Harbor in Costa Mesa. The Sunday our staff was there, they did not have any services. Instead, they called that Sunday “Serve Day” and over 1800 of their congregation joined with over 20 other churches in the county and spent that day out in their community doing service projects. However, since my family spent extra days after conference doing some vacationing out in the California sunshine, we were able to visit Rock Harbor on the following Sunday. We have always tried to make it a priority to go to church when we are on vacation. Why? We want our kids to know that church is what we do because we are Christ-followers, not simply because dad is a preacher and gets paid to go to church.

The lead pastor at Rick Harbor is a tremendous man named Todd Proctor. Ask any of our church teens who Todd Proctor is and they will tell you. Todd has led worship at Brethren National Youth Conference (BNYC) for the last several years. He is one of the most gifted worship leaders I have ever met. I got to spend some time talking with Todd after the BNYC session that I spoke at this summer. I was also able to introduce my family to Todd after the service we attended at Rick Harbor. I don’t usually buy music CD’s but I bought two of Todd’s and the live worship that he leads at Rock Harbor.

Rick Harbor has multiple services each weekend at two different locations. The service we attended began with a whole lot of worship. On that particular Sunday a group of children from Uganda sang several songs. Boy could those kids dance. It was really fun to watch. After this beginning time of worship there was a message followed by more worship and a time to respond to God’s leading in your life. The worship is always live but the speaker may be via video depending on which service you attend.

The service we attended at their main campus that Sunday was packed…literally standing room only in the auditorium. Then, out in the foyer, there were hundreds more people sitting in chairs watching the service on screens. God is truly allowing Todd Proctor and the Rock Harbor ministry to reach many, many people. It was exciting to see.

The thing I found most fascinating was the way they gave opportunity to respond during the ending worship time after the message. As many songs were song, people had many options. They could just stand and participate in the very effective and moving time of worship. Throughout the outside areas of the auditorium there were several crosses. At each cross there were several church elders and staff members. During the ending time of worship, if you desired someone to pray with you, all you had to do was go to one of these crosses as people continued to sing. At each cross there were also elements for the bread and the cup. If you desired to remember the sacrifice of Christ through taking communion, you could also do this at one of the crosses during the ending time of worship. It was a very informal yet effective way of giving people a chance to respond.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Just do it

As believers, we have multiple opportunities to read and hear the Word of God. There are church services, books, tapes, CD’s, television, radio and internet preaching. Our problem comes in responding to it. In James 1:22-25 we receive very clear directives regarding how to respond to the Word properly. The principle is clear in verse 22. We are to be doers of the Word. This is a present imperative and implies a continual action. We are to continually be doers of the Word. This deals with what we are as opposed to simply what we do. Jesus taught the same principle in Luke 11:28. The Old Testament taught the same principle in Deuteronomy 25:58; 29:29. When will we finally realize that simply listening to the Word is not enough? To listen or read the Word but not respond to it is to “delude” ourselves. In other words, we think we are growing spiritually but our faith is actually superficial unless we “do” the Word.

James addresses the problem involved in verses 23 and 24. Hearing the Word without doing the Word is likened to a man who looks at himself in a mirror. Mirrors in that day were made of highly polished brass or bronze and gave a somewhat distorted appearance. After inspecting himself in the mirror, once he leaves the mirror, he no longer can remember what he looks like. As a result, he no longer remembers what areas need attention and subsequently no improvements are made. To listen to the Word but not obey it results in no spiritual improvements being made in one’s life

The profit in being a doer of the Word is seen in verse 25. Here James describes the one who is a doer, not just a hearer of the Word. This person looks intently into the Word. The word “intently” was used of Peter stooping down to get a better look in the empty tomb (Luke 24:12). The same word was used to describe John’s investigation of the empty tomb (John 20:5) as well as that of Mary Magdalene (John 20:11). Peter used this word to describe angels investigating the glories of salvation (I Pet 1:12). James calls this person an effectual doer of the Word. This describes one who remains in the activity and gives full attention to it. This man, James says, will be blessed in all of his ways.

When we become doers of the Word and not just hearers, verses 26-27 tells us how the Word then changes our lives. It changes our conversation with others. The word “religious” speaks of the external acts of one’s religious faith. To do external acts of religion but not be able to bridle one’s tongue is self-deception. Though this person may congratulate himself on his piety, this in reality is worthless religion. The Word also changes our concern for others. There are proper externals which includes sensitivity to the needs of orphans and widows. This was a common theme of the Old Testament (Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 10:18; Ps 68:5) as well as the New Testament (Acts 6:1-6). Finally, The Word changes our conduct before others. Another external showing of real faith is the pursuit of personal holiness and avoidance of spiritual contamination. When James speaks of the “world,” he is writing of our present world system with its values and practices which are currently under the power of the Evil One (John 14:30; I John 5:19). This week you will hear the Word. The question is, “Will you do what you hear?”

Monday, August 28, 2006

Welcome back Mr. Dentist

I never thought the day would ever come that I would want to throw a “welcome home” party for my dentist. However, as he gets back to his office today after a late summer vacation, I will be the person who will be happiest to see him.

A week ago Saturday morning, I was awakened about 5am with a horrible toothache. I really had no advance notice that it was coming. My tooth had felt a little uncomfortable earlier that evening. I brushed and flossed and headed to bed. All day long Saturday the pain continued. It would come in waves…about every 5-7 minutes and the pain would last about 30 seconds. As the day passed on, the waves of pain came sooner, lasted longer and grew in intensity. If I didn’t know any better I would have told you that my mouth was in labor and that I was about ready to give birth to a molar or bicuspid.

By Saturday evening, the pain continued and I noticed that the tooth was turning a grayish color. I was now beginning to realize that this was not going to be a normal toothache. I got very little sleep due to the waves of pain that kept coming and found myself in at the office even earlier than usual on Sunday. Preaching during the first service that Sunday was literally excruciating. Every few minutes I would get hit with severe, throbbing pain and I would have to try to not show it while at the same time attempting to focus on what I was saying. By the way, what was I saying that Sunday?

After I got done preaching first service I went straight to my office to call my dentist and see if there was a way I could track him down. The answering machine at his office told me that he was out of town and would not return for over a week. Just my luck! He did leave the name of another dentist who was on call for emergencies. I was now officially calling this an emergency. I was able to call this dentist at home, catching him right before he was leaving for his church. I told him of my symptoms and he informed me that it sounded to him as if the nerve in my tooth had died. He went on to say that the treatment would probably be a root canal, and if that didn’t work, an extraction of the tooth and a bridge replacing it. He went on to tell me that the greater problem was the obvious infection that could spread to my other teeth and into my jawbone.

The dentist was kind enough to call in a prescription for me for an antibiotic and gave me verbal instructions on the doses to take immediately. I was appreciative of the time he spent with me on the phone. He told me that it would take a good three days before I would notice a difference and that the pain would get worse during those three days. He sure was right about the pain getting worse. He then told me that he would be praying for me during the second service that God would honor me as I preached the Word in spite of the pain. He then said that I should get into my dentist as soon as he got back so that he could decide if he would deal with my tooth or send me to a specialist. This Monday my dentist returns. Believe me, I can’t wait to see him. The only pain that may be worse than what I have been feeling may be the one I will feel all the way down to my wallet and credit cards when I see the final dental bill! Welcome back, Doc!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Mosaic masterpiece

The final ministry our staff was able to experience while out in the Los Angeles area was called Mosaic. The lead pastor is named Erwin McManus. They meet in three different locations…one in Pasadena, one in the Beverly Hills High School and one in downtown L.A. The service we attended was the one in downtown Los Angeles held at the Mayan, which is one of the most popular nightclubs in the city. In fact, I was told that the large disco ball inside was the second largest in the entire world. Even though the Mosaic staff began early that morning to clean, air out and set up this nightclub for their service, by the end of the service your eyes were still burning from all the cigarette smoke left from the previous evening. I’ve never experienced church in such an unusual setting.

This service targeted primarily college age individuals. The service began with some very upbeat and loud music which resulted in some very wonderful and energetic worship. Throughout the entire service, 4 young people painted on canvasses off to the side that all seemed to be individualistic with no rhyme or reason. By the end of the service, however, they switched the order of the canvasses around and slid them together which resulted in the spelling out of the word “God” in a very unique style of writing.

Prior to the message, a young man came out and recited a dramatic poetry piece which set up the theme of the evening. Erwin McManus and another of his teaching pastors started the message time by interviewing two men…one was a wrestling official at two different Olympics and the other was one of America’s best swimmers who won many gold and silver medals in the 1976 games. After these interviews, Erwin and his teaching partner discussed together the importance of being part of a team and doing everything that we do in life and ministry with excellence.

Mosaic is a community of followers of Jesus Christ, committed to live by faith, to be known by love, and to be a voice of hope. The name Mosaic comes both from the diversity of their members and from the symbolism of a broken and fragmented humanity which can become a work of beauty under the artful hands of God. If there were ever any doubt to the Biblical integrity of this ministry, their core convictions makes it clear:
  • The Bible is God’s authoritative word to us.
  • Jesus is the only hope for a lost and broken world.
  • The local church is God’s agent for redemptive change.
  • Every Christian is called and gifted by God to serve the Body and seek the lost.
  • The church is called to whole earth evangelism.

There was another ministry we had hoped to experience in the L.A. area called Rock Harbor. However, on the weekend we were there, Rock Harbor did not meet. Instead, their entire church family went out into their community doing service projects. Imagine how many lost people we would make contacts with in our community here in Lititz if in place of services one weekend, we went out into our community? Now there’s a thought!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Saddleback impressions

I have read both of Rick Warren’s books (Purpose Drive Church and Purpose Driven Life) and have been very challenged and enriched by both of them. I also have read and heard much about Saddleback Church where Warren is Senior Pastor. What a thrill it was to visit his ministry on a Sunday morning this summer and to see first-hand what this amazing church is like. Here is a quick overview:

The auditorium hosts the main service in which the music is a contemporary worship feel. At the same time, there are several other services taking place in other tents and buildings. The music in each is live but with a different style. I was able to pop my head into most of them and by far the Gospel tent was the most happening of all of them. The speaker, which that week was Doug Fields, not Rick Warren, speaks live in the main auditorium. The sermon is than broadcast via video to the other tents. So, though the music is live and a different style in each location, the speaker and message is the same. I counted 21 weekend services that were offered, broken down into the following styles:
  • Worship Center: This is the contemporary service held in the main auditorium where the teaching is live and is videocast to the other venues.
  • Praise: This is the Gospel music experience with a big choir.
  • Traditions: This is the lower volume experience with classic hymns and old favorites.
  • OverDrive: This is the guitar-driven rock band worship feel.
  • Passion: This is a warm community atmosphere with music and worship.
  • Elevation: This is for single adults who like current Christian radio hits.
  • Ohana: This is an island style worship experience complete with hula.
  • Terrace Café: This is church in a casual outdoor café atmosphere.
  • The Encounter: This is the Spanish speaking service.

There was also a separate tent for the Junior High Program and Senior High Program. A large Children’s Building was where all of the kid’s activities took place including 3 separate auditoriums for 3 separate age groups of kids. Each area was pleasantly decorated and included play station games as well as a wide variety of video games.

The message was very Bible-centered and solid. It was obvious to me that God is using this unique ministry to reach literally thousands for Jesus. Best of all, in the midst of all of the music styles they offered, there was no country music or blue-grass tent! AMEN!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Go Southwest

While out in the Palm Springs area for Adult Conference, some of our church staff and their spouses were able to take some ministry excursions to visit three different local church services. Because we are always involved here at Grace Church on Sundays, it is a very rare time that we get to check out another local church ministry in order to be refreshed, motivated and to learn how we can be even more effective in doing what God has called us to do right here at our own local church in Lititz, PA. Southern California has many effective and innovative ministries that God is using in great ways.

On the Saturday night of conference we headed just a few miles away from the hotel to Southwest Community Church in Indian Wells, CA. This is a church that runs between 4000 and 4500 people each weekend through 8 worship services. Their main worship services are held in their auditorium that can seat up to 1900 people. These take place on Saturday nights @ 5pm and Sunday mornings @ 9:15 and 11:00. These three services are blended in style with the Saturday night program being a bit more contemporary than those on Sunday mornings. On the weekend we were there, the Senior Pastor was away and the Pastor of Celebration Arts spoke in his place.

They also have 3 additional services on Sunday mornings upstairs in their facility which they call their “Video Café.” This is a very intimate setting where everyone sits at round tables and eats and drinks during the service. The worship is done live and is more rock oriented, interactive and participatory. With the exception of the earliest service at the Video Café, which involves a live speaker, the message part of the Video Café is done via video from the service happening simultaneously in their auditorium. They also have a Spanish service on Sunday mornings in a separate room of their facility and a service on Sunday evenings that is geared for 18-29 year olds.

We had a great time afterwards at the Elephant Bar restaurant in town discussing the things that we were most impressed with about their service. We were most impressed with their emphasis on “first impressions.” Southwest has a full-time staff member that focuses primarily on this area and you can tell. They had 5 different welcome centers at key intersections in their facility. All of their greeters were very friendly and helpful. The signage on the inside of the building made finding your way easy and inviting. As our staff ran into their staff and explained what we were doing, they all went out of their way to make us feel welcomed and to answer any questions that we had for them.

We were also very impressed with their children’s registration process. Each child has a picture taken of them and their parents with all of the pertinent information about that child entered into their computer program. The parent is then given a key ring card like you would have for the local grocery store. This card is scanned when you drop your kid off and when you pick them up so that the worker can see the picture on the computer and know that the right child is always going to the right parent. Go Southwest! May God continue to bless your efforts to see people come to know and grow in the Lord.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Baptism at the beach

We spent the day in between Brethren National Youth Conference (BNYC) and Adult Conference at the beach with our youth group. Laura and I said good-bye to many of the teens and youth sponsors who were at conference from our former church in Osceola, Indiana. It was so wonderful to see them again and very meaningful to us to see how excited they were to see us again. We then headed off with our group for a great and relaxing day after a very impacting BNYC. The weather and the water temperature of the Pacific Ocean at Huntington Beach in Southern California were absolutely perfect. It was spiritually uplifting for me to simply watch as our youth group started their day at the beach by getting in groups of 2 or 3, holding hands, and praying for God’s safety for the day and for ministry opportunities as they spent the day at the beach.

But the real highlight came right after that time of prayer. We had some 12-15 teenagers from our group who had never followed the Lord in water baptism since they had accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. One of the High School guys came up to Andy Brightbill, our Pastor of Student Ministries, and asked if it would be possible to be baptized in the ocean that day. Before long, there were all of the others who wanted to do the same thing. How can you say “No” or “You probably ought to wait” to young people who are so eager to take a step of faith? You can’t say “no.” You have to encourage and accommodate their passion and their zeal.

What a thrill it was to watch as the whole Youth Group waded out waist deep into the pacific and witnessed these steps of obedience as Andy had the privilege of baptizing each one of them. As each teen came up out of the water the rest of the group applauded and cheered as we all shared in the excitement of their steps of obedience. Realizing that the parents of these teens would most certainly want to be able to witness their child’s baptism, Andy baptized many of them again at our recent youth led communion service. I also have pictures of each one of them being baptized in the ocean that I will be sure to get to them and/or their parents. Hallelujah!! What a great morning it was.

The rest of the day was very enjoyable and relaxing, including lunch at Ruby’s on the Pier capped off by one of their famous Peanut Butter Cup Milkshakes. Our family then left the beach about 2:30 pm to start our 2.5 hour trek over toward the Palm Springs Desert area for Adult Conference. The traffic in Southern California is unlike anything I have ever experienced. It took us 5 hours to make that trip as we crawled at 10 mph along California Highway 91 east for what seemed like an eternity. The only saving grace was being able to listen to our daughter, Joy, tell us all about her very exciting and life-changing summer touring with Operation Barnabas.

There were just two casualties of the day . . . my two feet. I never go barefoot. My little tootsies are as wimpy as I am. Spending the day walking on the hot sandy beach took the top layer of skin right off my feet. I had to have my wife put some of her vanilla scented foot cream on them that night. Boy, that’s the best my feet have smelled in a long time!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Caution! Slow down!

How do you approach the Bible? When you have your own personal devotions, how do you approach your Bible reading? When you go to church on Sunday, how do you approach the message? Beginning in verse 19 of James chapter 1, James gives us four steps to take when we approach the Word of God.

First, we are to be quick to hear. Remember, the context here is dealing with the Word of God. We are to be “quick” to hear the Word. The fact that James speaks of “hearing” the Word rather than “reading” the Word shows that the usual way that the early church received the word was by hearing it. The Bible was not yet complete and mass production was not yet normal. The wise man agrees. We learn by listening more than by speaking (Proverbs 17:28; 29:20).

Secondly we are to be slow to speak. In the context of the Word of God, the admonition is a caution against argumentation with the Scripture. We are not to interpret Scripture in light of our own ideas.

Third, we are to be slow to anger. The word “anger” does not refer to an explosive outburst but rather a deep, inner, abiding resentment. This is anger at the truth of God’s Word as it convicts us of sin (Galatians 4:16). When we are more eager to expound on our own ideas rather than accepting the Word for what it is and what it says, the result can be bitter arguments. The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. In other words, defenders of God’s truth do not further their cause by resorting to wrath. Wrath is usually mixed with human motives like ambition, revenge, jealousy or egotism.

Finally, we are to receive the Word. To do this we must first, put aside all filthiness. The noun “filthiness” does not appear anywhere else in the New Testament. This word in an adjective form is used in James 2:2 speaking of shabby or filthy clothing. It is closely related to a term used of wax in the ear which impairs hearing. Second, we are to put aside all the remains of wickedness. This speaks of deliberate and determined sin. The word “remains” is better understood as “abundance.” We must allow no impurity in our lives (First Peter 2:1-2). Third, we are to receive the Word in humility. This is a contrast to the attitude of wrath spoken of earlier. We must approach the Word of God with an attitude of humble submission.

James ends this section by giving a description of the Word. It is implanted. This is the idea of planting a seed in the ground. God has already planted His Word in the hearts of believers. The seed of the Gospel implanted in our hearts at the time of regeneration is to bring forth fruit in our lives (Mt 13:8, 23). The Word is also described as being able to save our souls. This is salvation by the Word, not by works. Keep in mind that salvation has past, present and future aspects. In the past, we were saved from the penalty of sin. In the present, we are being saved from the power of sin. In the future, we will be saved from the very presence of sin.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Shhhh . . . the gods are sleeping

At Brethren National Youth Conference this past summer, they offered a very intriguing afternoon option called Rescue Squads sponsored by Grace Brethren International Missions (GBIM). Remember in Acts 17 when the Apostle Paul visited the city of Athens? It was a city full of idols. In verse one of that chapter, Scripture tells us that Paul was greatly distressed to see that the city of Athens was full of idols.

So is the case with Southern California, especially the Los Angeles area. You don’t need to cross the ocean to encounter the religions of the world. You don’t even need a passport to observe these religious practices. All you have to do is spend some time in L.A. like many of our teens did this past summer.

While I was out there I learned that Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in the world in terms of cultures, languages and religious expressions. The teens at BNYC were given the opportunity to visit the largest Buddhist temple in the Western Hemisphere, as well as a Hindu temple, a Sikh temple, and a Muslim mosque. What an experience.

These excursions were led by Dr. George Alexander, Chairman of the Intercultural Studies Program at BIOLA University. At each of these sites, teens were able to encounter the results of spiritual blindness. They were able to see hundreds, and in some cases, even thousands of idols which cannot see, hear, speak or feel. They were also able to interact with religious leaders of these groups.

How amazing it was when the priest at the Hindu temple called Jay Bell from GBIM on Thursday morning to tell him that the group could not come to the temple until 3pm. What was the reason for the delay? The Hindu Priest said that they were going to allow the gods to sleep and would not be waking them up until 3 pm. Talk about spiritual blindness. How thankful I am that the one true God that we serve, the God of the Bible, the creator of heaven and earth, never slumbers nor sleeps. You never have to tip-toe through His temple so as not to wake Him. He doesn’t need rest and He is always available for us to call upon Him anytime, day or night.

It reminded me of the Buddhist temple that I visited while I was in Korea years ago. I stood in amazement as I watched a new huge idol of Buddha being delivered. They carefully took this golden masterpiece off of the truck and laid it on its side. Then, a large group of men carefully tied ropes around their god and begin to methodically and meticulously attempt to pull the idol upright into its place in the center of the temple. Imagine worshipping a god who can’t even stand up on his own! Imagine worshipping a God who has to take afternoon power naps and can’t be disturbed.

On one hand I was filled with gratitude and awe that God had revealed Himself to me and called me to be one of His children. On the other hand, my heart was heavy with the understanding that the god of this world (Satan) has truly blinded the eyes of mankind.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The riptide of media

As I spoke at Brethren National Youth Conference this summer in southern California, I was given the subject of “The Riptide of Media.” Media…it’s not all bad. In fact, I will be the first one to admit that I like watching television. We all have different tastes when it comes to TV entertainment. My wife and I do. For me, I like shows with a lot of action in them. If a gun isn’t being fired, a car isn’t crashing or something large isn’t exploding, then I probably won’t like it. That’s why in my mind, the best television show in the history of TV is Walker, Texas Ranger. Now that’s a show. My wife will say, “He can’t act and he can’t sing.” Yeah, but he can fight . . . what more do you want?

Now, my wife likes the shows that make you cry. She lives for Hallmark commercials. Her favorite show of all time is Little House on the Prairie. Now that’s a boring show. Yet, for vacation one year, I took my wife to Walnut Grove, Minnesota so she could stand on the very plot of ground where Charles Ingles built his little house and put her feet in the same creek where “Half-Pint” used to play as a child. Now, if that doesn’t win me “husband of the century” honors I don’t know what will. Maybe if we could combine those two shows and let Walker fight Charles, I would enjoy the action and she could cry when “Pa” takes the beating. Oh, well, just a thought.

The truth is, however, that today’s media targets teenagers. Youth spend more money on media entertainment than any other age group. The more teens they get to watch, listen and read, the more money they make. So to lure the teens, they use their #1 bait . . . sex!

Jesus gives to us a principle in Matthew 5:27-30 to help us protect ourselves from such a dangerous riptide. Jesus begins by giving us the principle that says we should not just avoid sex outside of marriage. Jesus raises the bar of spirituality. He says that anyone who deliberately puts something before their eyes with the goal of being sexually aroused by a woman other than their wife, they have already committed adultery with her in their heart. And to show us how serious He is, He commands us that when it comes to lust, if our right eye makes us stumble, we should cut it out. And if our right hand makes us stumble, we should cut it off. The word “stumble” speaks of a hunting box held up by a stick. When the animal is lured under the box, the stick is pulled and the animal is trapped. The stick giving way is what the word “stumble” describes.

But what did Jesus mean with the whole eye and hand thing? Many in the early church took this so literally that they had to call a special council banning self-mutilation. I don’t believe that Jesus is speaking literally here. The right eye and right hand was used figuratively to speak of those things most valuable to you . . . your vision and your skill. In other words, Jesus is saying if there is anything you watch, listen to or read that causes the trap of lust to fall on your mind, get rid of it. You see, the early church took this way too seriously and started gouging out eyes and lopping off limbs. But today we don’t take this principle seriously enough. So, when it comes to your taste in entertainment, is there anything that is causing the trap of lust to fall on your mind? Cut it out!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I'm all in

Francis Chan is a pastor who lives in southern California and he is the favorite speaker at Brethren National Youth Conference every year, and for good reason. He is an amazing communicator. This year, I got to hear him speak twice. His message was powerful.

He told the story of a Jewish guy in his church who received Christ and came forward to be baptized. At Chan’s church, they give an opportunity for people to trust Christ and get baptized every service. Many of these individuals give testimonies. As this guy gave his testimony he quoted some things from “Gamblers Anonymous.” Afterwards, Francis followed up with this guy. He wanted to be sure that this fellow understood that he could not just add Jesus to his already established beliefs. This guy responded in “gambler’s terminology” and said, “Francis, I understand. I’m all in!”

I’m all in!” What a statement. It is actually a term from poker. When a gambler is so sure of his hand of cards, he says, “I’m all in!” In other words, he is betting every chip he has on the cards in his hand. That’s how sure he is. If he’s wrong…He’s done. His game is over. He loses everything. That’s what it means to follow Jesus. You have to be “all in!” You have to be so sure of who Jesus is and what Jesus did and His claims that you’re “all in!” But to be honest, there are a whole lot of professing believers out there today who live lives that are anything but “all in.”

Francis talked about going to visit his grandmother who lives in Hong Kong. Everyone she introduced him to said the same thing…“He’s so big!” Now you have to understand that Francis Chan is only 5 feet and 9 inches tall. He is not big…at least not in American standards. But in Hong Kong, he was tall. Why? Not because Francis Chan is really that tall but rather because all the people in Hong Kong were so small.

That’s how it is in America today when it comes to Christianity. Christians who get up early to read their Bible and pray are seen as spiritual giants. People who share their faith are viewed as great spiritual people. But, folks, these acts aren’t that unusual when compared to the early church. Just read Acts 2 sometime. The reality of it all isn’t that Christians who get up early to pray or Christians who share their faith are that great and unusual. The problem is that they live in a country of spiritual midgets. My professor in college put it this way…“Most Christians live such a subnormal Christian life, that when someone lives a normal Christian life, it seems abnormal!”

Francis Chan went on to say that life is like driving a car and seeing Jesus on the side of the road. Some put Jesus in the trunk so that when they get a flat tire in life, they can pop open the trunk so that Jesus can use the jack and the spare to fix their problem. Other’s see Jesus on the side of the road and invite him to hop in the passenger’s seat so they can have Him tag along as they continue to set their own life’s direction. In truth, however, following Jesus is giving Him the driver’s seat and letting Him steer your life wherever He wants it to go. So tell me, when it comes to the cards of your life, are you “all in”?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Back to BNYC

I honestly had forgotten just how spiritually powerful and impacting Brethren National Youth Conference can be. What a thrill it was to be back this past year. It had been a while since I had attended. For 10 years as a youth pastor, I took my own teens to this summer event that Josh McDowell has called “the best youth convention out there.” I had been back a couple of times since then to speak. So when the invitation came for me to return to BNYC again as a speaker this year, I accepted. In fact, Laura and I came out a day and a half early so we could experience the atmosphere of BNYC once again.

The only drawback to it was the heat in southern California (BNYC was held this year at BIOLA University in La Mirada, CA). The temps were in the triple digits as a heat wave pounded the area. Typically, I’m told that high humidity in the L.A. area is around 15%. The high temperatures we endured were escalated by a 60% humidity reading. Mercy…I don’t think I have sweat that much since my trip to Cambodia. Remember, I’m the guy who typically takes 3 or more showers a day. I actually did pretty well until we took our son’s laundry to wash it the day after we arrived. All of his sweaty (and I do mean sweaty) and dirty clothes had been wadded up wet and thrown into a suitcase. As I piled through his laundry sorting them into the proper washers, I about died. UGHH!

Anyway, back to more spiritual things. What I love best and miss most about BNYC is the worship. I just can’t describe for you what it is like to worship with 2,000 teenagers. When youth are the minority among hundreds of adults in a Sunday Morning Worship Service at church, they are inhibited to a degree. That’s too bad because we could really learn a thing or two about worshipping God from our teens. When they get all together at BNYC, the inhibitions disappear and pure, unadulterated worship becomes paramount. I love to experience it…I love to participate in it…I love to watch it. At BNYC, all of the walls come down. Worship becomes what worship is meant to be…a Spirit led response to truths about God. This isn’t like church. These teens don’t just stand on cue and unemotionally sing along with the worship team up front. This is different.

These teens don’t just sing. They focus. They focus on who God is and who they are in comparison. You look around and you see it on their faces. It’s real. They couldn’t care less about who is around them and what others may be thinking of them. Their mind and their motive are on one thing…God. Many lift their hands. Most clap. Some cry. Still others put their arms around their friends and worship in unity. Some bow to their knees and yes, you might even see a few who dance. Now if that rubs you wrong, you may have a hard time in heaven because I believe we will sing and dance before the Lord.

As a youth pastor, I saw it each and every year at BNYC. Kids break before God. Sin is confessed. Relationships are restored. Abuses are forgiven. Lost friends are prayed for. Spiritual gifts are put into use. I have seen more teens make life and eternity changing spiritual decisions at BNYC then anything else I have ever been part of in my life. It was the same this year too. Josh McDowell is right. It’s the best youth convention out there!

Monday, August 14, 2006

The devil made me do it

Do you remember the famous comedian of years past named Flip Wilson? He had a saying that he made famous. Remember what it was? It got a rip roaring laugh every time. He would say, “The Devil made me do it.” While this was tremendously funny in the context of Flip’s humor, it has become a horrible cop out for many Christians today. It is this very thing that James deals with in James 1:13-18. He begins by talking about the problem of temptation (1:13-16). Temptation is a reality. You can’t avoid temptation completely. Verse 3 says “when” you are tempted, not “if” you are tempted. But where does all of this temptation come from? What is its source?

The main thrust of verse 13 is that man cannot rationalize away their yielding to temptation by claiming that God was behind it. That is what man likes to do and has become very good at doing. We shift the blame to others, to our circumstances, even to Satan. In Genesis 3, Adam tried to shift the blame for his disobedience to Eve who in turn tried to shift the blame to the serpent. I remember meeting with a lady one time who was having an affair and had decided to divorce her husband and marry this new man in her life. As we talked she told me that this move was God’s will for her life. “After all,” she reasoned, “If God didn’t want me to divorce my husband and marry this man He never would have brought him into my life!” Wait! What kind of logic is that? James makes it clear that God is not responsible for our yielding to sin. He does not sin and does not tempt any man to sin. In fact, the wording of this verse speaks of remote involvement. God is in no way and to no degree responsible for our being tempted.

So who is responsible for our being tempted? Verse 14 says that each one of us is tempted when we are carried away by our own lust and enticed. The word translated “carried away” was used to describe a baited trap designed to lure an unsuspecting animal. The word actually occurs only here in the entire New Testament. The word translated “enticed” was a fishing term used to describe bait. This time the preposition in the verse shows direct contact. We are not even indirectly tempted by God but we are directly tempted by our own lusts. These “baits” are aimed to be appealing to our own inner lusts. Though the contemporary usage of this word is almost always regarding sexual passions, the word is much broader speaking of all of our fleshly desires.

So what then is the result of these temptations? Verse 15 describes our inner lust as being likened to a mother who conceives and brings forth a child (named sin) whose destiny is death. You see, temptation is not sin, but it leads to sin and to death (Romans 6:23). This involves physical death in which our soul is separated from our body. It also involves spiritual death by which man is separated from a relationship with God. And it ultimately involves eternal death in which man is eternally separated from God. So the bottom line is this . . . James tells us to stop deceiving ourselves. We must quit blaming others for our own spiritual failures. We must take control of our own fleshly desires. God didn’t make me do it. Satan didn’t make me do it. I chose to do it. The only person we have to blame for our falling prey to sin’s temptation is . . . ourselves!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Critics or calling . . . which do we listen to? (originally posted October 21, 2005)

Four times in the Gospel of Luke, religious leaders accuse Jesus of somehow being wrong and ungodly by spending time eating and conversing with sinners and tax collectors. The first occurs in Luke 5 when Jesus attended a big reception that Levi had thrown in His honor. At this reception were all of the friends of Levi. Like him, they were other tax collectors and the riff-raff of society. This was Levi’s best attempt to get his friends to rub shoulders with Jesus, the one who had just revolutionized his life to such an extent that he would forever be known by a new name…Matthew. The religious leaders harshly question the disciples on why Jesus would eat with such people.

The second occurs in Luke 7 when a sexually immoral woman realizes who He is and shows her love for his forgiveness by washing his feet and drying them with her hair. “If he were really from God, he would know who this woman is and he would not let her do such a thing to him!” That was the thinking of the religious leaders.

In Luke 15, it happened again as Jesus was teaching. Tax collectors and sinners were so drawn to Jesus that they were working their way up to the front of the crowd. Again, the Pharisees accuse Jesus of being in the wrong by allowing such people to get close to him.

The final such accusation by the religious leaders happened in Luke 17 when Jesus called the little man named Zacchaeus, who was also a tax collector, down from the tree which he had climbed in order to get a better look at Jesus. The Lord then invited Himself over to his house and again the Pharisees voiced their disapproval and criticism.

Isn’t it interesting that every time Jesus took a step toward rubbing shoulders with lost people that the critics to his actions came from the religious? Not much has changed. Show me a church that really cares and really strives to reach lost people and I will show you a church that will be in the crossfire of critics and these critics will more than likely be from inside the religious ranks. These churches will be accused of only being interested in numbers; in marketing Jesus; or in watering down the Truth in order to fill their auditoriums with crowds.

So what do you do when your passion and desire to see the local church reach lost people results in these kinds of responses and accusations? In my opinion, this brings about a decision time in our lives. We must decide which we will listen to…our critics or our calling. Will we tone down our aim and change our purpose because of the words of our critics or will we fall back on the real reason why we care about lost people and have made it our passion and core value to reach them…because that is exactly what God has called us to do?

The more Jesus made lost people His priority the more criticism swirled around about Him. But His response never wavered because his calling stayed the same…“The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Help, I'm locked in and I can't get out! (originally posted October 4, 2005)

Do you remember the old, “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercials? That’s how I felt this past week as Laura and I spent a few days at the Shore in Ocean City, MD with Kevin and Brenda Rutt from the church. We had many “side-splitting” moments but the climax occurred after a rousing round of miniature golf (which I won by one stroke…that has nothing to do with the story but I felt the need to include it).

We had just completed the 18th hole (did I mention that I won by one stoke?) and had turned in our golf clubs. Our next stop was the seafood buffet at “The Wharf” but first I had to make what I thought would be a “quick stop” in the men’s restroom. It was one of those “one-man jobbies” so I entered, closed the door behind me and turned the deadbolt to secure the door. I accomplished the purpose for which I had entered, washed my hands (something only 50% of men do after using the potty) and returned to the door. I was feeling very good (after all, I had won the golf game) and was very hungry.

To my dismay, the deadbolt was stuck. No matter how hard I tried to move the latch, this thing wasn’t going anywhere. I tried to turn the knob with such might that I broke a blood vessel in the palm of my hand. I knocked and yelled but no one was near enough to hear. I was trapped. I could feel the oxygen quickly evaporating from the tiny little cubicle (Okay, maybe that’s a stretch…but did I mention that I won the golf game?). Finally, I heard Brenda’s voice from outside the door wanting to know what was taking me so long (she wasn’t in as good of mood because she could not add me to the long list of men from Grace Church that she had previously defeated on the golf course).

When I finally convinced her that I was really trapped, within seconds she and Kevin and my wife were standing outside the men’s room door. Unfortunately, they were so busy and preoccupied with laughing at my predicament, they could not help me escape. As soon as one of them had subsided laughing enough to get help, they went and found the only employee of the golf course that afternoon. As fate would have it, his name was “John.” (somehow I find humor in that irony). John grabbed the keys to the deadbolt thinking that he could quickly remedy the situation. Unfortunately, the tumbler was shot and the key had no effect. John began to pound on the lock with a hammer, each glancing blow causing an ear-splitting echo inside what had now become a torture chamber and what I feared would certainly become my tomb.

Every once in a while I would hear my wife tell John, “Go wait on your customers, John, we’re in no hurry.” I’m now yelling at the top of my lungs, “No, John, forget your customers and get me out of this prison!!” John tried, but to no avail. Kevin tried, but to no avail. Brenda took pictures. Laura just laughed. But finally, two heroes came along. These were two men who built houses and had brought their families for a game of putt-putt. Once they ascertained the gravity of the situation, they took control and in minutes had me free. John felt bad. He gave us another round of golf on the house. This time Kevin and I tied (that’s okay…I won the first round)!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Are numbers bad? (originally posted September 15, 2005)

When you are in ministry you are faced with the dilemma of whether or not to share numbers as you look at the effectiveness of your ministry. The truth of the matter is that no matter what direction you choose to go, some will misinterpret your decision. If you never talk about numbers, then people feel you are trying to hide something about your ministry. If you do share numbers, then people automatically jump to judging your motives by saying that all you care about is numbers. So what is a pastor to do? Well, you’ve come to know me enough by now to realize that I have no problem sharing numbers. Why do I do this? Here are several reasons:

  1. I am a “numbers” type guy. In other words, I really enjoy statistics. I could be a statistician for a professional sports team and just love it. I would be thrilled to not just know what the batting average of a particular player is, but to know the difference in his average when he bats left-handed versus when he bats right-handed; when he bats in night games versus when he bats in day games; when he wears a red batting glove versus when he wears a blue batting glove; when he shaves that morning verses when he doesn’t shave that morning. I just love stats!
  2. There is nothing unbiblical about keeping track of numbers. Even Luke recorded specifically in Acts 2:41 the number of people (3,000) that became believers on the Day of Pentecost.
  3. I believe that church growth is a natural result of church health. This is exactly what Rick Warren says in his book, “The Purpose Driven Church.” In Acts 2:42-47 we see that God added growth to the church as the church fulfilled its mission. Warren writes, “In the church’s case, as long as there are lost people in the world we must care about quantity as well as quality…we count people because people count! Those numbers represent people Jesus died for.” Some will say that you can’t measure success by numbers. Warren answers this with these words, “It all depends on what you’re counting. If you’re counting marriages saved, lives transformed, broken people healed, unbelievers becoming worshippers of Jesus, and members being mobilized for ministry and missions, numbers are extremely important. They have eternal significance.” I wholeheartedly agree.
  4. It’s my passion…not numbers….reaching as many people as possible for Jesus! Paul’s words in First Corinthians chapter 9 to, “become all things to all men so that by all means some can be saved,” is more to me than just a verse for a plaque to be hung on a wall. It is the passion that drove Paul and it is the passion that I have asked God to give to me as well as I lead Grace Church. Ever since I was in Junior High School watching Dr. Jerry Falwell on television as I got ready for church, my passion has been to pastor a church and to through that church to reach a whole city for Christ. Numbers aren’t just numbers…they represent people and my desire is for Grace Church to reach as many of them as possible. That is my passion.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Six levels of ministry (originally posted August 30, 2005)

If we as a church are going to be effective in reaching “as many as possible” we must understand that people are at different levels when it comes to their walk with Christ and we must reach out to these different levels in different ways. There are six levels of ministry that show where people are in their spiritual journey. These include:

The COMMUNITY: Those who live within driving distance of Grace Church but have no connection at all with Grace Church or with Jesus Christ. Demographic studies tell us that there are 250,000 people that live within 10 miles of Grace Church. Our goal is to have events and activities which break down all barriers and allow people to have a very enjoyable time and to gain a positive perspective of Grace Church.

The CROWD: Those who have had very limited contact with Grace Church but have no real connection with Grace Church or with Jesus Christ. Perhaps they come to the church to vote or their kids have attended Bible School. They have had some good contact with us but nothing regularly. Our goal is to have events or activities which are fun and exciting but which also present the Gospel in a non-threatening way.

The CURIOUS: Those who have a more regular contact with Grace Church but have made no commitment to Grace Church or to Jesus Christ. Perhaps they attend our special events regularly and maybe even attend our Sunday Worship services occasionally. Our goal is to have events or activities that are not only exciting and present the Gospel, but which also gives the opportunity for individuals to respond to the Gospel invitation.

The CONVINCED: Those who have made a decision to give their life to Jesus and now need to grow in their faith. Our goal is to have events or activities which allow those who have made a decision for Christ to grow in their faith and get grounded in the Word.

The COMMITTED: Those who have learned the basics of the faith and are now ready to dig deeper into the meat of God’s Word. Our goal is to have events or activities which allow those grounded in their faith to learn and apply the deeper truths of God’s Word.

The CORE: Those who are ready to lead ministries within the church and who are spiritually reproducing themselves in others. Our goal is to allow mature believers to take on positions of leadership and invest in the lives of others in the levels below.

The goal of evangelism as a church is to move people from one level to the next. We want to see the Community become part of the Crowd; the Crowd become part of the Curious; the Curious become part of the Convinced; the Convinced become part of the Committed; and the Committed become part of the Core. Imagine how much more effective we would be as a church if every event and activity specifically and strategically targeted one of these six levels and if every ministry within our church strategically planned events over the course of a year that targeted each of these six levels!

Monday, August 07, 2006

A real treasure map (originally posted August 29, 2005)

Who doesn’t daydream of finding a treasure map that leads you to a buried treasure more valuable than anything you could ever imagine? I know I do. Well, let me introduce you to a “A MAP” that leads to the most valuable treasure of all…the souls of men, women, boys and girls. The Apostle Paul had “A MAP” for evangelism. It is very evident what it was as you read First Corinthians 9:19-23. Paul’s map was to win:

A = As
M = Many
A = As
P = Possible

Notice the repeated phrases:

That I may win more” (v19)
That I may win Jews” (v20)
That I might win those who are under the Law” (v20)
That I might win those who are without the Law” (v21)
That I might win the weak” (v22)

And then in verse 22, he gives us the code to the map. It’s plain and it’s simple…“I have become all things to all men so that I may by all means save some.”

Folks, you’ve heard me say it before but let me say it again. Evangelism must be the engine that drives the church! It just must! Look at it like an airport. If you were to go to a major airport during the busiest time of the day, what would you expect to see? You would expect to see planes landing and planes taking off. What if you arrived and no plane was moving? You would think that something was terribly wrong. It’s the same with the church. What should we expect to see when we spend time in a local church? We should expect to see people who are being brought to faith in Christ coming into the church and fully devoted followers of Christ being sent out of the church. If we don’t see this what does that mean? It means that something is terribly wrong in that church.

I think one of the main reasons why more Christians are not involved is that we have a distorted view of what evangelism is all about. For most loyal church attenders, it is the dreaded “E-Word.” On one side we associate evangelism with the spiritual superstar like Billy Graham. On the other extreme we see evangelism as something that is done by the obnoxious zealot who turns more people off to Christ than he helps to find the Lord. We then conclude, “Hey, I’m no Billy Graham and I certainly don’t want to be an obnoxious zealot so I guess evangelism is not for me.” The truth of the matter is that God knew what He was doing when He made you and you can be effective without trying to fit into someone else’s mold. Listen, God doesn’t call us all to spread His truth in the same way. The great thing about this treasure hunt is that you can be yourself! Just read the map!

Friday, August 04, 2006

A cure for snoring (originally posted July 21, 2005)

Does anyone in your household have a snoring problem? I must confess that at 793 Sue Drive in Lititz, PA, there lives a snorer. It’s not my wife! It’s not Joy! Its not Jonathan! It’s not the dog, cat or the fish! It’s me! Most nights my wife sleeps using earplugs. Last year, when I lost 32 pounds on the Atkins diet, my snoring subsided greatly. Now that I’ve put those 32 pounds back on (plus a few extra ones for good measure) the snoring is back. There are many home remedies for a snorer but none that catches my attention more than the one I read once as a faithful reader wrote in to Ann Landers:

Dear Ann:

I happen to be a man whose snoring would wake up the dead. Separate bedrooms didn’t help. My wife said she could hear me snoring half a block away.

I went to a specialist and was told I have sleep apnea. I had surgery on my nose, which did not help. I was advised to wear an air mask. It didn’t do a bit of good and kept me up until dawn. I simply couldn’t get used to it.

When my wife said I didn’t snore when I slept on my side, I decided to try something that would keep me from sleeping on my back. I now wear one of my wife’s bras backward. She has sewn two baseballs inside—one in each cup. This worked for us. Please suggest it for others.

Sleeping peacefully in St. Petersburg, Florida

Now that’s a home remedy! But think of the problematic situations you could find yourself in if you put such a tactic into practice. Ann Landers replied to her reader with these words:

Dear St. Pete:

Thanks for a simple solution to a problem that could have ruined your marriage. And now, if there should be a fire in your home in the middle of the night, I hope you will remember to take the bra off before you flee. Most neighbors would not be able to understand the “lingerie.”


So, am I going to experiment with such a remedy? Well, some things about your pastor are better left unknown. But I can tell you this, as long as Laura is content sleeping with earplugs and as long as I’m not finding my breathing stopping in the middle of the night due to a sleep disorder, I doubt very seriously that I will be going to Wal-Mart anytime soon with a bra and two baseballs on my shopping list.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Catching monkeys (originally posted June 1, 2005)

Several years ago, a young girl wrote in to the Ann Landers advice column that was in her local newspaper with the following question:

“Dear Ann, I am a 13 year old girl who is tired of getting yelled at by my parents all of the time. All I hear from morning until night is, ‘Clean up your room! Pick up your clothes! Do your homework! Finish your chores!’ How can I get them off my back? Signed, Sick of Parents.”

Ann Landers wisely responded in this way:

“Dear Sick, You want to get your parents off of your back? It’s easy…clean up your room; pick up your clothes, do your homework and finish your chores!”

Why is it that so many of us, even as Christians, struggle with being obedient and hating sin in our lives? I think that one of the main reasons is due to the fact that we do not understand how they catch monkeys in some parts of South America. In this region, monkeys are considered a delicacy and hunting for monkeys is an art. Here is what they do. The take a coconut and cut a whole in the end of it that is just big enough for a monkey to get its finger and thumb into it, but if he grabs a piece of the coconut inside, he can not get his finger and thumb back out again. They then tie a coconut to a stake, pound the stake into the ground, and then they go wait in the bushes.

Sure enough, a monkey ultimately comes along. He picks up the coconut and puts his finger and thumb inside the hole, grabbing a piece of the fruit inside. Try as he might, the monkey can not get his finger and thumb back out. He shakes the coconut trying to free it from the stake. Meanwhile, out of the bushes come the hunters with their knives, spears, tanks and bazookas. The monkey sees them coming. He knows he is in danger. The monkey knows that all that he has to do is let go of the piece of coconut inside and scram. But instead, the monkey becomes monkey stew.

Such is the case with many Christians. We have coconuts in our lives. These are sins that we know are displeasing to God. We know that they are causing us harm. Yet, we won’t give up the coconuts. What does it mean to hate and forsake sin in our lives? It means to take the coconuts that we are hanging on to and to throw them as far away from us as we possible can.

So tell me, is it true in your life? Are there any coconuts in your life that it’s time to get rid of? Are there any secret sins that you have been holding on to for far too long? How true are the words of the Psalmist when he writes, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit” (Psalm 32:1-2). Maybe it’s time to clean up the room, pick up the clothes, do the homework, and finish the chores.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Lavished with gravy (originally posted May 3, 2005)

In I John 3:1, the Bible says that God “bestowed” or “lavished” His love on us. I like to think of it in terms of food. One of my favorite places to eat is “Cracker Barrel”. When I go to Cracker Barrel, I almost always order the same fried steak and mashed potatoes (with a side order of okra and fried apples).

As the waitress takes my order I will ask for gravy on my steak and potatoes. I will emphasize that I would like extra gravy. I want to make sure that she realizes that I want lots and lots of gravy. I will implore her to use so much gravy that she will have to struggle to keep the food from swimming right off the plate. You see, I don’t just want some gravy. I don’t just want extra gravy. I want my food “lavished” with gravy.

In the very same way, that is what God did. He didn’t just love us. He didn’t just give us some extra loving. He lavished His love on us. But God demonstrated His love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died in our place. I John 3:1 goes on and says that He loves us so much that He made us children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

During the JKF administration, the story is told that one day JFK was in a high level meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This was a very tense time in American history. The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs were very real threats to world peace. As JFK was in this very tense and very important meeting, his young son “John-John” came bounding down the hall of the West Wing. He ran right past cabinet members; right past secretaries; right past marine guards and even secret service agents with bazookas hidden under their coats. He burst into the Oval Office and leaped into the lap of the President of the United States. JFK immediately turned his attention away from the most powerful military minds in the world and focused his attention completely on this little boy.

Now why could “John-John” do that? Why couldn’t “Scott-Scott” do that? The answer is simple. “John-John” had significance. “John-John” was the son of the President.

In a very real way that is exactly what we can do with God. Anytime we wish we can run down the celestial halls of heaven through prayer. We can run past Old Testament heroes and past angelic honor guards. We can run right into God’s throne room and leap into the lap of our Heavenly Daddy and the God of all creation will focus His attention directly on us. When was the last time you crawled up into your Heavenly Daddy’s lap and talked with Him? When was the last time you crawled up into your Heavenly Daddy’s lap and laughed with Him? When was the last time you crawled up into your Heavenly Daddy’s lap and sang to Him? When was the last time you crawled up into your Heavenly Daddy’s lap and cried with Him? When was the last time you crawled up into your Heavenly Daddy’s lap and just sat there, being still and knowing that He is indeed God.

See how great a love the Father has lavished on us, that we would be called children of God and such we are!” (I John 3:1)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Revenge of the zipper (originally posted April 28, 2005)

I Corinthians 13:4-8, gives us 16 characteristics of love. This is not a list of feelings but rather of choices. The list begins with the admonition, “love is patient.” The word “patient” is actually a word that means to be wronged, have the power to retaliate, but choose not to. How do I know if someone really loves me? Because even when I wrong them and they have the power to strike back, they choose not to. Imagine how vastly improved our relationships at home and at church would be if we just practiced that one principle. The problem is that this kind of love goes against our nature. When we’re wronged we want to retaliate and in so doing we usually make matters even worse.

A husband and wife were both late for work one morning and were frantically hurrying to get dressed when the zipper on the back of the wife’s dress got stuck. She struggled to free it, but the dress was one of those slim, fitted styles, and try as she might, she just couldn’t get a good enough grip on the zipper to work it loose. She asked her husband to help, and with an exasperated sigh, he hurried over to her, gave it a mighty yank, and broke the tab off. The woman was livid. “You broke it?” she cried, squirming around to see her back in the mirror. “This is my favorite dress and you’ve broken the zipper!”

As the man tried to help with the zipper, his wife squirmed and turned trying to get out of the dress and the poor man got tickled. That didn’t help matters one bit. Finally, the wife gave up, jerked open a dresser drawer, pulled out a pair of scissors, and pointed them at him with a glacier-forming stare. The husband at first thought she might be planning to attack him with the weapon, but instead she barked at him, “You’ll have to cut me out of it.” He quickly snipped away the dress and the wife rushed to find something else to wear. The two of them then headed off to work, both in a state of frustration.

The wife was still fuming when she later returned home and found his car parked in the garage with a pair of familiar-looking, denim-clad legs sticking out from beneath it. She thought of her ruined dress and momentarily considered kicking those long legs that protruded from under the car. Then a better idea came to her. She bent down, grabbed the tab of his trousers zipper, and roughly zipped it up and down half a dozen times. She secretly enjoyed hearing him bang his head on the car’s axle and cry out in alarm as he reacted in shocked terror. Smiling with satisfaction, she went on into the house . . . and was ASTONISHED to see her husband standing in the kitchen.

What are you doing in HERE?” she croaked.

I’m cooking your favorite dinner. I thought it would be a good way to apologize,” he said sweetly.

Wh-wh-who is that out there in the garage under your car?” she managed to stutter.

Oh, that’s our new neighbor. He came over to help me work on the transmission.”