Friday, September 29, 2006

When a Horse Comes to Church

I have been preaching through the book of James here at Grace and recently, we began chapter 3, dealing with the topic of our tongue and our speech. In verse 3, James likens the tongue to a bit that goes in the mouth of a horse. In verse 4, he likens the tongue to a rudder on a ship. In both cases, these items (the bit and the rudder) are relatively small in comparison to the object it goes with (the horse and the ship), yet it is what determines the direction of the animal and the vessel. So is the case with our tongues.

To illustrate this point that Sunday we decided that if a picture is worth a thousand words, than the real thing must be worth a million words. So as people arrived at church they walked up to the main entrance where a 16-foot Hobie Cat Catamaran sailboat, which has 2 rudders, was on display. Inside the auditorium was a large rudder, big enough to steer a 5-ton ship. And then came the climax. When I got to the verse which talked about the horse’s bit, we brought in a real live horse right down to the front of the auditorium.

The horse’s name was Streamer. First service, Streamer seemed a little bit nervous. Come to find out, this animals’ nervousness had nothing to do with being in front of about 600 people in that service. This horse had other issues. As I explained the teaching from James, this horse turned its rump right to one of the center sections where people were sitting close enough that they could have reached out and touched the animal. He then lifted his tail. You know what’s coming next, right? The folks down front did. One of the men literally bolted from his seat, boldly leaving his family to fend for themselves. Then, before you could say, “Mr. Ed” (For those of you who don’t know it, Mr. Ed was the name of an old TV Show about a talking horse), Streamer unloaded. We had put plastic all over the front where the horse would be, just in case. Streamer is obviously not paper trained. He missed the plastic completely.

It just so happens that our Media Producer (Tim Reedy) picked last Sunday to start experimenting with putting the video of each sermon on the internet (right now it is only audio). If you copy and paste the following link you can see it: mms:// It is the video of that Sunday’s sermon. The horse is introduced at about the 28 minute mark and the “incident” happens at about the 30:40 mark. Don’t worry! The person behind the camera knew when the horse lifted its tail to move the camera away so you won’t get too grossed out.

Please keep in mind that this is the beginning of an experiment so the quality of this video is not what it will ultimately be. And in case you are wondering why I am wearing the Ohio State jersey its because this was the Sunday after the Buckeye victory over Penn State. Fortunately, Tim edited out all the booing that took place when I first walked up on stage.

By the way, second service, Streamer did just fine except when he looked up and saw himself on the screen, he thought it was another horse and started neighing real loud. Streamer is no “Mr. Ed!”

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The 400 Club

When a baseball player hits his 400th home run, it is a big deal…practically guaranteeing him a spot in Cooperstown (note to you non-baseball fans…Cooperstown, NY is where the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame is located). Well, this may not be as big of a deal, and I doubt it will get me into the “Blog Writer’s Hall of Fame,” but today is a milestone because today is my 400th blog posting. I bet you didn’t even realize I was counting. After all, numbers aren’t supposed to be important to a godly pastor, right? Oops, I guess that’s the topic for a whole other blog, isn’t it (Hey, give me a break…I should be allowed some latitude for sarcasm in my 400th blog entry, shouldn’t I?)?

Well, just in case I do get elected to the prestigious “Blog Writer’s Hall of Fame,” let me offer some trivia about my blog in case you need information because you are asked to give my inaugural introduction:

· My first blog entry was posted on March 31, 2005 and was entitled, “To blog or not to blog!”

· My 100th blog entry was posted on July 18, 2005 and was entitled, “Prayer in One Word!”

· My 200th blog was posted on December 29, 2005 and was entitled, “Meatloaf of the Month Club!”

· My 300th blog was posted on May 17, 2006 and was entitled, “The Leadership Summit!”

· My blog received its name from Andrew Norton, the Business Manager here at Grace Church.

· My blog gets an average of just shy of 1100 visits each month.

· The highest month ever for my blog was 1385 visits in March of 2006.

· The highest week ever was 387 visits occurring the week of September 10, 2006.

· The highest day of the week that my blog is read is on Thursdays.

· The highest hour of the day that my blog gets read is 9:00-9:59 in the morning.

· My blog has been ready by people in 22 locations outside of the U.S. including Canada, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, France, Japan, Brazil, Netherlands, Switzerland, Bahamas, Morocco, Korea, New Zealand, Honduras, India, Cote D’lvoire, Chile, Argentina, Philippines, and Belgium

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I am a Friend of God

Who am I that You are mindful of me,
That You hear me when I call?
Is it true that you are thinking of me?
How You love me!
It’s amazing!
I am a friend of God!
I am a friend of God!
I am a friend of God!
He calls me friend!

If you think about it, it really is amazing. Imagine the God of the universe, the God who created the heavens and the earth, the God who is so utterly transcendent above all, looking at you and looking at me and saying the remarkable words, “You are my friend!” What other word could describe it other than “amazing”!

This is what God called Abraham according to James 2:21-23. In this passage, James is using the Patriarch Abraham as an example of true genuine faith. Faith is not just saying words or simply believing facts. James argues that we are saved by faith but that true faith always produces works. Abraham’s faith was seen in his works even to the point of being willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac, in obedience to the Lord. Because Abraham believed God and his faith was evidenced by his obedience, he was called a friend of God. This same title is used of Abraham in 2 Chronicles 20:7 as well as in Isaiah 41:8.

Wouldn’t you like to have that same title? Well, you can! In John 15, Jesus is speaking to His disciples and beginning in verse 12, He gives them (and us) the command to love one another. He goes on to say in verse 13 that no greater love has any man than this, that he lay down his life for a friend. Then in verse 14, He expands on the concept of the qualifications to being a friend of God.

You are my friends,” Jesus said, “If you do what I command you!”

What qualifies me to be called a friend of God? The answer is one word…obedience. Just as Abraham put his faith in God which was evidenced in his life of obedience to God, and was called a friend of God as a result, the same can be true of us. If we truly put our faith in God and our obedience to God subsequently gives evidence that our faith was genuine, we too are friends of God.

It’s amazing!
I am a friend of God!
I am a friend of God!
I am a friend of God!
He calls me friend!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Obedience School for the Tongue

The topic of the tongue is of great importance to James and can be seen in every chapter of his Epistle (1:19, 26; 2:12; 3:5, 6, 8; 4:11; and 5:12). His most direct comments about our speech are seen as he opens the third chapter with the command, “Let not many of you become teachers.” This was a word used speaking of Rabbis and those with official teaching roles. It may also have in mind the relative ease it was in that day for a Jewish man to speak in the assembly. Because Rabbis were held in such high esteem (as seen in Matthew 23:2-7), the opportunity for men to speak in the assembly may have begun to be abused resulting in inaccurate teaching occurring. In some circles, ones devotion to his Rabbi superceded their devotion to their own parents and family suggesting that if a man’s parents and his rabbi were taken hostage, the rabbi was to be ransomed first.

The description, “my brethren” is an indication that he is speaking of the teaching role in the church. This is not saying that we should avoid the role of being a pastor/teacher. Paul described this calling as a very good thing (1Timothy 3:1). James is teaching that we must take this role seriously. As James has already taught, the more we speak the more potential we have for error (James 1:19)

What is the cause of such a strong admonition? James gives dual reasons. First, it is because of our accountability (v1b-2). According to James, the role of the teacher will be held to a greater degree of accountability due to its position of influence. The word “judgment” is usually used in Scripture negatively as a warning against improper living. It is important to note that James includes himself (“we”) in the realization of this greater degree of accountability. Paul told young Timothy that the goal of Bible Study is to “rightly divide the Word of Truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). This takes time and careful study. We who teach and preach the Word of God can not afford to take shortcuts when it comes to preparing our sermons and our lessons. If God will hold us accountable for every idle word, as taught in Matthew 12:36-37, then we as teachers of the Word need to be extra careful in what we say, especially as we teach and preach.

The other reason for this strong warning is because of our fallibility (v2). James makes it clear that no teacher is faultless. We all stumble in many ways, especially when it comes to our words. No wonder David asked God to put a guard over his mouth (Psalm 39:1). No one is exempt from the dangers of the limitless misuses of the tongue. According to James, our words are the hardest part of our life to master. If you can control your tongue, you show great maturity (“perfect”) and can control every part of your being.

Why do we need to send our tongue to obedience school? Because though small, our tongue is very dynamic (v3-4). James likens it to a horse’s bridle. We use small bits in the mouth of a horse to control the direction and movement of the horse. So the tongue, though small, can control the direction and movement of our lives. James also likens the tongue to a ship’s rudder. We use small rudders to control the direction a ship moves. In the same way, our small tongue can direct our very lives. Enroll your tongue in obedience school today!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Sweet Victory

September 25, 2006

I will be the first to admit it. The score didn’t do justice to the game. 28-6 is seen as a runaway victory if you look just at the scoreboard when the final gun sounds. Such was not the case in Columbus on Saturday. The game was much closer than the final score makes it appear. After all, at half-time the #1 team in the nation had been shutout and Penn State held a surprising 3-0 lead. And the Buckeyes were not out of danger until the final 5 minutes of the contest.

Praise God for second halfs! But even when it was over, the Penn State defense had nothing to hang their heads about. With all the offensive firepower and speedy weapons that Ohio State has, to hold them to 14 points for 60 minutes of football is more than respectable and on most days will provide you with a victory.

When it comes right down to it, the difference in the game from my vantage point was in the play of the quarterbacks. The Penn State quarterback is going to be a good one, but last Saturday in Columbus, it was Heisman hopeful, Troy Smith, that won the day. That is where Ohio State had the edge that resulted in a big win for the scarlet and grey. But let’s not be too hard on the young Penn State QB. This was really his first true test on the road against a #1 team who happens to be a Big Ten rival in a driving rainstorm. Add to this the fact that the location of the game was in Ohio Stadium where the Buckeyes are extremely hard to beat. All in all, Smith was just the better athlete on this day.

I also have to give the edge defensively to my Buckeyes as well. Yes, holding the Ohio State offense to just 14 points is respectable, but keeping the Penn State offense out of the end zone, even when there were several opportunities inside the 10 yard line, is nothing short of outstanding. That was the question for Ohio State going into the season. They only had two starters from last year returning on defense. But after great defensive showings against nationally ranked Texas and now Penn State, I think we can say that the Buckeye defense is for real. And without question, two interceptions returned more than 50 yards for touchdowns in the fourth quarter was the exclamation point to a pretty good day on the defensive side of the football.

There seems to be little doubt that Ohio State is currently the best college football team in the nation. Do they have a chance to win another national championship? You bet! But as much as I love my Buckeyes, I also realize that this is Big Ten Football. This, in my opinion, is the hardest conference there is to play in and end the season undefeated. The next 2 weeks won’t get any easier. Next Saturday night we have to go to Iowa to play the undefeated Hawkeyes. After that, we have to go to Michigan State to face the Spartans. These are two hard wins, especially on the road. And if we do survive these and all other Big Ten contests, the season ends against archrival Michigan. At least that one is in the Horseshoe. Will we be playing in Arizona come January for a National Championship? I think we can as long as we don’t beat ourselves. But even if we don’t, for the next 12 months I will have the satisfaction of knowing we beat Penn State! O-H…I-O!

Friday, September 22, 2006

A typical day off

Yesterday, I gave you a glimpse into a typical week in my ministry schedule. In it I noted that I take Friday as my day off. Why Friday? Don’t most pastors take Monday as their day off? Probably, but I have found that I get hit with so much stuff on Sunday morning that I need to deal with, that if I tried to take Monday off I would spend all day thinking about these issues and never really relax and enjoy my day off. My philosophy is that if I can be mostly ready for Sunday morning by the time Friday rolls around, I can set my mind at ease and think less about church on my day off. It seems to work for me.

So what do I do on my day off? Well, it depends. However, the day usually begins the same way. My wife usually takes the kids to school on Friday so that I can catch an extra hour of sleep. Typically, I take the kids to school since they attend Lititz Christian and I have to come to work anyway. But Friday is typically my day to sleep in just a tad bit longer. Once I am up and showered, Laura and I head out to breakfast and then we go do our grocery shopping. That’s right! I go grocery shopping with my wife each and every week on my day off. Frankly, I enjoy it. Now before you ladies use my example to throw a guilt trip on your hubbies, please realize that though I go grocery shopping, I don’t dust, iron or vacuum. After all, why did we have kids?

We then come home and unload. We have a ritual and routine with this that involves our dog, Sandi, which is a Jack Russell. We always buy her a special treat at the grocery store and hide it in one of the bags. She knows when we come home and have grocery bags that there is something in one of them for her. She goes wild. As we bring each bag in she rummages through each of them until she finds her treat. It’s a hoot to watch!

After that, it kind of depends. Sometimes the late afternoon is spent mowing the lawn. Sometimes it’s spent napping. Sometimes it’s spent watching the television. Recently, it has usually been spent going to watch our kids play in their sports programs at school.

There are times that Laura will go do the grocery shopping earlier in the week so that we can have the full day to go do something else. But the idea of the day is simple. This is a day for the two of us. We do our best to protect that time. We need it. Friday is our day to spend together. It is our day to focus on each other.

Actually, along with my full day off, which I take on Fridays, I am also allotted two half days off. I always take Saturday afternoon for one of them. I spend Saturday morning in the office from 8-12. These are the most productive 4 hours of my week and they are used almost exclusively for final sermon preparation. The afternoon, though, is my time to watch college football, unless of course, there is something else on the event calendar. As far as my other half day, well to be honest, I don’t really use it often. Every once in a while I might. But what I do is to make my kid’s sporting events a priority. If Jonathan or Joy has a game, whether it is home or away, I will go watch the game. After grocery shopping with my wife, watching my kids play sports is my idea of rest and recreation.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A week in my life

Have you ever wondered what a typical week is like in the life of your Senior Pastor? Below is an overview of my schedule from this week. Typically I get into the office just after 7:30 am and try to leave to head back home around 5:00 pm.

7:30-9:30 – Personal Time for devotions, returning e-mails and administration
9:30-11:00 – Office Planning Meeting
11:00-12:00 – Service Planning Meeting
12:00-1:30 – Lunch with Bryan Nelson, Andy Brightbill and Matt McElravy
1:30-5:00 – Study and office work
5:00-6:00 – Home
6:00-9:00 – CE National Celebration Banquet

7:30-8:30 – Personal time for devotions, returning e-mails and administration
9:30-11:00 – Ministerial Cluster Meeting
11:00-12:30 – Full Staff Meeting
12:30-2:00 – Lunch
2:00-4:00 – Study
4:00-6:00 – LCS Volleyball Match
6:00-7:00 – Dinner
7:00-9:00 – Elder Executive Meeting

7:30-8:00 – Personal time for devotions, returning e-mails and administration
8:00-10:00 – Speak in LCS Elementary and Secondary Chapels
10:00-12:00 – Executive Staff Meeting
12:00-1:30 – Accountability Lunch with Staff Member
1:30-5:00 – Study
5:00-6:00 – Home for Dinner
6:00-7:00 – Counseling
7:00-8:30 – Pastor’s Class

7:30-9:00 – Mentoring Breakfast with Church Lay Person
9:00-12:00 – Counseling and Misc. Meetings
12:00-1:30 – Accountability Lunch with a District Pastor
1:30-5:00 – Study

Day Off

8:00-12:00 – Study and Final Sermon Preparation

Worship Services (7 am-1 pm)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The chicken church

I like to spend time each week reading through some different blogs written by those in local church ministry. One that I read on a regular basis is that of Pastor Brian Orme ( who is the Assistant Pastor at Community Grace Brethren Church in West Milton, OH. This is the church where I spent my first 10 years of ministry (two summers as intern youth pastor from 1985-1986; six years as youth pastor from 1987-1993; and two years as Assistant Pastor from 1994-1995).

I sat in my office and laughed as I strolled down memory lane when in Brian’s blog entry for September 12, 2006, he mentioned and gave a picture link of a giant fiberglass chicken used by the church to promote their Bible School. As I looked at the picture my mind went back to the many times that I was the one in charge of lugging that stupid chicken out of the church garage and hauling it to the front yard of the church so that everyone driving by on State Route 48 would know it was time for Bible School.

The funny thing to me was that they always use to put a big sign out front by the chicken that said, “Our Bible School is something to crow about!” Folks, chickens don’t crow!!
I’ll be honest. I was not a fan of the chicken. In fact, once I broached the subject of not using the chicken. You have heard the saying that some churches have “golden calves” meaning things that are traditional and that people won’t allow changed. Well, I soon discovered that this church had a “golden chicken.”

I always wanted to kidnap the chicken for ransom as a youth fund-raiser. You know, “give so much money to the youth fund of you’ll never see your chicken again” kind of thing. Maybe we could even have ended the fund-raiser with a chicken BBQ. I think the people of this church would have dished out big bucks to get their chicken back. One year we had a dinosaur theme for Bible School and put a big inflatable dinosaur out behind the chicken. Actually it was Godzilla, but we told everyone in the church it was a dinosaur. I had the urge to each day move Godzilla a little closer to the chicken and then one night remove the chicken and have feathers coming out of Godzilla’s mouth.

It seemed like every year someone would steal the dumb thing. We found it everywhere. We would find the chicken on an island in the middle of the Stillwater River. We would find the chicken in the middle of I-75 in Dayton. We would find the chicken in the front yards of graduating seniors. Then, to make it worse, the local paper would put it in the police blotter as the stealing of a 10-foot fiberglass chicken worth $10,000.00. Give me a break!! That chicken wasn’t worth $10.00 let alone $10,000.00. Or was it?

The funny thing about it is that putting out that chicken resulted every year in literally 500-600 children coming to Bible School and hundreds of them over the years giving their young hearts to Jesus. Come to think of it, that chicken may be worth far more than $10,000.00. I guess it all depends on what you see as the value of a soul.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Daddy, can I have the keys?

It was probably the most exciting day in her life to date, but I have to be honest, though very happy for her, I can’t say that I share the same ecstatic feeling. I’m talking about my daughter, Joy. She took her driving test last week . . . and passed. To be completely honest, I had mixed emotions as she went to take the test. I don’t want her to fail at anything so part of me was really hoping she would pass on her first try. Yet, I’m just not sure I’m ready to hand the car keys over to my little girl and send her out by herself on to the highways and byways of Lancaster County. So, as a result, there was a part of me that would have been, well, let’s use the word ‘relieved’ had she not passed.

After all, I didn’t pass my driver’s test the first time, why should she? My instructor failed me because he said I pulled out in front of a bicyclist. I stopped at a stop sign on the last turn of the test with a perfect score going. I looked both ways. I saw the kid on the bike, but he was at least a half a block down and was crawling along at a snail’s pace. I could have pulled ten semi trucks through that intersection before this little brat even got close to the corner. Yet, in my instructor’s humble (and may I add, erroneous) opinion, “I could have killed that kid!” So he flunked me on the spot.

Now I did pass the parallel parking part of the test on my first try. The funny thing about that is that I couldn’t parallel park today if my life depended on it (especially the way you have to for your test). Whenever I have to parallel park I keep driving around the block over and over until I find two open spots that are together. That makes parallel parking much easier. But even then, it takes me several stops and starts until I am in just right.

But Joy passed the whole thing on her first try. Now she’s an official licensed driver of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Why does that not sit well with me? Don’t get me wrong, I trust my daughter. She is a very good driver and I know that she will be very careful. Yet, I know that there are a lot of drivers our there, like myself, who don’t keep in mind when their whipping through streets of Lititz that someone driving the car ahead of them or beside them or coming toward them may be some over protective daddy’s baby girl who just got her license and who is very green behind the wheel.

So now I know that the time has come. Any moment, I am going to hear my daughter say those words I dread, “Daddy, can I have the keys to the car?” And then right behind that will be the even more sobering words, “Daddy, it’s time to take me to college.” And then just when I start to get use to that there will come the words, “Daddy, will you walk me down the aisle?”

WOW! My little girl can drive. Okay, God, here is the part of my blog where I remind myself again…she’s not mine! She’s yours! Every part of her…even her driver’s license. I’m just the very fortunate steward who You in Your grace gave the wonderful privilege of raising her. You know, I’m not much of a country music fan, but let me close this little blog/prayer with these words . . . “Jesus, take the wheel!”

Monday, September 18, 2006

Two portraits of faith

Many who read the book of James conclude that he is teaching that it is a combination of faith plus works that brings about eternal salvation. Those who believe in the inspiration of Scripture realize that one part of the Bible cannot teach something that another part of the Bible contradicts. The Apostle Paul, in Ephesians 2:8-9 and many other passages, strongly teaches that we are saved by faith alone. James cannot be teaching an opposite theology. James is showing that any faith that does not produce works is useless in bringing about salvation. Many people profess to be followers of Christ and may even have prayed a prayer inviting Jesus into their heart. But if these words never produce any change in their life, is that saving faith? Many people believe that Jesus died for their sins and rose again, but if these facts do not produce any works in one’s life, is it saving faith? James is not teaching that it is faith plus works that brings salvation. James is teaching that any faith that does not produce works is useless in bringing about salvation.

Beginning in James 2:21, James uses two illustrations to prove His point. These two portraits could not be any more of a contrast in their appearance. The first example is that of the Patriarch, Abraham (2:21-24). James asks, “Was not Abraham justified by works?” This is a rhetorical question that has “yes” as the answer. Is James talking about the moment of Abraham’s salvation? No. The moment when Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness occurred 30 years earlier to the event that James is speaking of (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:1-25; Galatians 3:6-9). James is speaking of the event when God told Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice and which proved that Abraham’s faith was more than mere intellectual ascent (Genesis 22:1-18). This great act of obedience in Abraham’s life teaches us that it was Abraham’s works which demonstrated the validity of his faith. Faith is not fully matured until it results in works. Abraham being justified through his belief in God was evidenced in his obedience of God. As a result, Abraham was given the title, “Friend of God” (Abraham also is credited with this title in 2 Chronicles 20:7 and Isaiah 41:8). Jesus gave this same name to His disciples and now to us (John 15:15). Is James contradicting Paul in verse 24 when he states, “A man is justified by works and not by faith alone?” No! James is simply saying what he has just illustrated, that intellectual assent that does not result in a changed life is not saving faith at all.

In James 2:25-26, James uses a second illustration which is that of the prostitute named Rahab. Notice how Rahab is such a stark contrast to Abraham? Abraham was a Jew, Rahab was a Gentile. Abraham was a man, Rahab was a woman. Abraham was a patriarch, Rahab was a harlot. What act of obedience in Rahab’s life does James use as an example that true faith results in works? It was when she risked her own life, hiding the spies sent into Jericho by Joshua and helping them to escape (Joshua 2). Whether you’re a patriarch or a prostitute; whether you’re a Jew or a Gentile; whether you’re a man or a woman, true saving faith will be evidenced by works as your life changes. James summarizes his whole argument when he states that just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works has no life.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Two chairs

A few weeks ago our study in the book of James took us to the topic of showing favoritism. If you recall, we said that the word “favoritism” literally meant, “to receive by face” and carried the idea of accepting one person over another based solely on outward characteristics. We know that this happens in the world, but James was straightforward and said it happens in the church as well. He gave the example of two visitors, one visibly rich and one visibly poor, who come into a church resulting in the rich man being given preferential treatment over the poor man.

I know we like to think that we have no hidden pockets of favoritism in our own lives, but in essence we do. To illustrate this on that Sunday I put 2 chairs on the stage and asked you a series of questions. Let me review them. You answer them honestly:

You come into church next Sunday and there are only two chairs remaining. One is next to a great, big bald black man. The other is next to a young white guy dressed like he could be on the cover of GQ magazine. Which chair do you choose to sit in?

You come into church next Sunday and there are only two chairs remaining. One is next to a Hispanic family speaking only in Spanish. The other is next to an average looking white American family speaking English. Which chair do you choose to sit in?

You come into church next Sunday and there are only two chairs remaining. One is next to a very large overweight person. The other is next to a very thin, elegant looking woman. Which chair do you choose to sit in?

You come into church next Sunday and there are only two chairs remaining. One is next to a teenager sporting a purple Mohawk on his head. The other is next to a teenager with what you would consider to be a normal haircut. Which chair do you choose to sit in?

You come into church next Sunday and there are only two chairs remaining. One is next to a person wearing an “I Vote Democrat” button. The other is next to a person wearing an “I Vote Republican” button. Which chair do you choose to sit in?

You come into church next Sunday and there are only two chairs remaining. One is next to someone who is mentally disabled. The other is next someone who is not challenged in this area. Which chair do you choose to sit in?

You come into church next Sunday and there are only two chairs remaining. One is next to a person with tattoos on every showing part of their body. The other is next to a person with no tattoos or blemishes. Which chair do you choose to sit in?

“My Brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus with an attitude of personal favoritism (James 2:1)”

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Assimilation Task Force

Growth is great . . . especially for the church. But with the growth that God brings to us here at Grace Church also comes the responsibility to be sure that we are able to see each of these individuals assimilated into our local church ministry. To be honest, we have never made this a strategic focus. That is not to say that we have not had beneficial ministries that have helped to plug some new people into our fellowship. However, there has been no real strategic plan to take someone from a first visit to Grace Church through a carefully designed and crafted process of growth and involvement. Our leadership staff and our Elder Board realize this need and have made this a high priority for our focus.

Andy Brightbill, who is currently our Pastor of Student Ministries, has put together and is leading an “Assimilation Task Force” with the responsibility of looking at where we are today as a ministry when it comes to getting people assimilated into our ministry; then determining where we need to go in this area; and putting together and implementing a strategy to get us there. The hiring of Doug Kegarise part-time as Assistant Director of Student Ministries, especially with his training and experience as a Senior Leader for Operation Barnabas, has allowed Andy to focus needed time on this new challenge.

What do we mean by “assimilation?” Perhaps for each reader, it conjures up a different idea. By “assimilation” we mean having each person that God brings to Grace Church:

  • Follow the Lord in salvation and water baptism
  • Become grounded in their faith
  • Become involved in a small group
  • Become plugged into an area of ministry
  • Become actively involved in giving to the church and sharing their faith

Now think about it! Wouldn’t it be amazing if those five things were true of every person who comes to Grace Church? WOW! What a thought! This Task Force will discuss the strategy we need to have right from the very first time a visitor drives onto our property. What do they think? What are their first impressions? How will we be sure that they truly know Christ? How will we walk them through the steps of being baptized, becoming grounded in their faith; connecting to a small group; plugging into an area of ministry; and actively being involved as good stewards in giving to the church and sharing their faith? Please be praying for Pastor Andy and this “Assimilation Task Force.” Under Andy’s leadership, This Task Force will consist of:

  • John Kegarise, representing our Adult Bible Fellowship ministry
  • Mike Lutz, representing our evangelism ministry
  • Rick Glass, representing our men’s ministry
  • Laura Distler, representing our women’s ministry
  • Beth Kachel, representing our children’s ministry
  • Pastor Willard, representing our Deacon ministry

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Ear wax theology

I have many physical quirks about me. As I get older, new quirks are being discovered. I no longer make fun of men who have hair that comes out of their nose or ears because I have discovered the same problem in my own mirror. For me, it also involves rebellious eyebrow hairs that go wild as well. But one of my most unique quirks that I must admit to is the large buildup of wax that I get in my ears. It is so bad that at least three times a year I have to go to my doctor and let him clean out my ears. I always know when it is time for this procedure because my ears begin to plug up, and I don’t hear as clearly as I know I should. I think my doctor enjoys it. Even he becomes amazed at the amount and the size of the wax that comes out of these cute little ears of mine.

When I used this example in church a few weeks ago, one clever person told me that it sounded like I needed a “waxative.” However, there were many other men in the church with bad ear wax build-up who came out of the closet as a result. I guess I’m not the only one with this waxy quirk. But the good news to such a personal problem of mine is that it is a perfect illustration of a Biblical truth. I know the illustration was gross but at least I did not take my wife’s advice and use pieces of tootsie roll as a visual experience.

In James 1, we are instructed on how we are to approach the Word of God. James tells us to be quick to hear. In other words we are to be eager to receive the Word and we should expect God to use it to do something in our lives. We should also be slow to speak. This involves leaving our own pre-conceived ideas and opinions at the door and seeing the Bible without running it through the filter of our own thoughts. Finally we are to be slow to anger. We can’t get angry at what God’s Word says, even if it goes contrary to our already pre-conceived ideas, thought and opinions. But them James goes on and says,

Therefore, putting aside all filthiness . . .

James uses many words that are unique to the rest of the New Testament. The word “filthiness” is one of them. In this noun form, it is not used anywhere else in Scripture. James does use the same word in its adjective form in chapter two to describe the dirty clothes of the poor man who enters their assembly and is treated differently than the rich man who also visits. This word is very closely related to another term that refers to ear wax that hinders our ability to hear. Now I can relate to this.

James is saying that when we approach the Word we need to first be sure that we have removed all the things of this world that can so easily build up in our lives and hinder our ability to hear God, sometimes without our even realizing it’s effect. I’m not talking about hearing the audible voice of God. I mean the ability to sense the Spirit of God’s prompting in our hearts through the Word of God as we read it, study it, and hear it preached. James finishes his thoughts by saying that we should also put aside the abundance of deliberate and pre-determined sins that are part of our lives and in humility we should then receive the Word. But it all begins with a spiritual “waxative.”

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Faith that gets dirty

True genuine faith is a faith that gets dirty. James shows this by his rhetorical questions in James 2:14. He begins by asking what use it is if someone says that he has faith but he shows no works? The key word “says” shows that this is someone who is claiming to be saved, not necessarily someone who actually is saved. This person claims to have saving faith but there is no evidence via works that show fruit of genuine faith. James asks, “What use is it?” This is a rhetorical question. The expected answer is clearly that this type of faith has no profit in producing salvation. Works do not bring about salvation but rather are the evidence that true faith really exists.

James then asks a second rhetorical question. Can that faith save him? “That faith” describes a claim of faith with no obvious works that follow showing its genuineness. Again, the expected answer to this question is “no.” Confusion has been created by the King James Version translation in leaving out the Greek article “that” and simply translating this verse, “Can faith save him?” This has led many to say that James is contradicting Paul’s teaching of salvation by faith. James is not teaching anything other than salvation by faith. There is no question that we are saved by faith. Paul makes this abundantly clear but he also teaches that works are a result of true faith (Ephesians 2:8-10). We are saved by grace…through faith…for works. James is not advocating two paths to salvation…faith plus works. “That faith” is not talking about saving faith. James is simply saying that faith that is simply a profession and does not result in works is not saving faith. The Apostle Paul would be in full agreement.

In verses 15 and 16, James gives an illustration. He speaks of a fellow Christian who has an evident economic need. This person is lacking clothing. This is a reference to one who is poorly clothed as opposed to being totally naked. This person is also lacking adequate food. This is not starvation but it is speaking of insufficient nourishment for healthy living. Another person claiming to have saving faith, and obviously with the ability to help, responds with supportive words but no action. He tells the one in need to “Go in peace.” This isn’t a sarcastic remark but rather a common Jewish farewell (Mark 15:34; Luke 7:50; 8:48; Acts 16:36). He also admonishes the needy to “be warmed and filled” which is similar to our trite, “just trust God” type of responses when we run into a person who has a real need or who is going through a difficult trial. In the end he does not give them what they need. James repeats his question from verse 14. What use is this kind of “workless” faith? There is no value in it (see First John 3:17-18). Words without works are not evidence of saving faith. Faith gets dirty.

According to James 2:17-18, true faith is not merely words. Faith that has no evidence of works is not alive. It is dead. It has no value. Faith and works cannot be separated. Our faith is evidenced by our works. Based on verse 19, true faith is not simply knowledge. Saving faith is more than intellectual assent to the truth. James reminds his readers that even the demons recognize true deity, yet they do not posses faith that saves (Matthew 8:29; Mark 1:24; 5:7; Luke 8:28) resulting in nothing in them but a fear of doom.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years ago today

Has it really been 5 years since that horrible day in our nation’s history? I’m sure each of us can remember that day vividly in our minds. My grandparents generation would always speak of where they were and what they were doing that fateful Sunday morning in December when Pearl Harbor was bombed. My parent’s generation would tell the same stories about where they were when JKF was assassinated in Dallas on a cool, crisp November morning. My generation will speak the same way of September 11, 2001.

I first heard the news when my wife called me at the church office and told me about a plane which had crashed into one of the World Trade Centers. I quickly relayed the news to the rest of the staff at the church and we all moved into one of the classrooms to catch the news break on TV. We hadn’t been watching more than a few minutes when live on national television the second airliner hit the other tower. It was like watching a fictional television show. You almost didn’t think it was for real.

Up until that moment it seemed like just a tragic accident, but now the entire scenario had changed drastically. For the first time in my lifetime America was under attack. Within minutes we heard word of another plane that had crashed into the Pentagon and everyone was wondering where the next attack would occur. In the end there was still one more hijacked plane heading for a target in our nation’s capitol. Fortunately for America, a group of brave passengers took matters into their own hands, sacrificing their lives to save the lives of hundreds and perhaps thousands of others. I will never forget that day.

The last 5 years have been different since that day. We are fighting wars on multiple fronts. Gas prices have skyrocketed. Air travel is constantly interrupted with threats of more attacks. I for one am very glad that we have a President that sees the war on terror as a priority and who realizes that if we do not fight terrorism on the battlefields abroad we will have to fight it again on American soil. But I also have to be honest. No matter how hard we try to protect ourselves it seems as if it is just a matter of time before tragedy strikes America again due to terrorism.

But 5 years later, one thing remains a constant. People need Jesus. As time moves on and our world becomes a more complex and dangerous place to live, now more than ever, people need Jesus. We now live in a post 9/11 world and each day brings us closer to the glorious return of Jesus Christ. You can bank on it. Terrorism will increase. Famines and Earthquakes will increase. Fierce storms such as Hurricanes and Tsunamis will be more frequent. There will be more wars and greater conflicts. And as we see these played out on television we must understand the urgency. People really do need Jesus.

So on this 5 year anniversary of September 11, 2001, as we remember that fateful day and as we honor those whose lives were snatched away at the hands of terrorists, may I remind you of something that you have heard me say often…“Evangelism must be the engine that drives the church!” Why? Because now more than ever, people need Jesus!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Watching church all week long

I’ll admit it. I’m addicted to church services. When I’m channel surfing I can’t help but stop every time I pass a televised church service, preacher or religious show and spend a few minutes checking it out. I love church. That’s all there is to it. So throughout the week I often take the time to watch on-line services and sermons from the previous Sunday. Below I’ve listed the ones that I check out on a pretty regular basis. I am in no way saying that these are the only good ones on the net, there are many other great services that you can catch on line throughout your week. These are just some of my favorites. I have only listed those that have a video of the service or sermon. There are many others that are just an audio of the sermon. It is my hope that one day in the near future we will have video and not just audio of the sermons from Grace on our website.

Ed Young
Fellowship Church in Grapevine, TX

Francis Chan
Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, CA

Jim Brown
Grace Community Church in Goshen, IN

Mark Beeson
Granger Community Church of Mishawaka, IN

Andy Stanley
North Point Community Church in Atlanta, GA

Dr. Jerry Falwell
Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, VA

Erwin McManus
Mosaic Church in Pasadena, CA

Todd Proctor
Rock Harbor Church in Costa Mesa, CA

Thursday, September 07, 2006

"You Pick the Music" Sunday

Music is one of those issues that will often produce great conflict in a church. Why? Because there are so many styles that are either favored or disliked. Some want hymns while others want choruses. Some want fast songs that you can clap too while others want slow songs that are easier to meditate on. Some want their music loud while others prefer their music quiet. Some want more drums while others want more of the organ. So what is a Music Director to do? Well, here’s one idea.

Bryan Nelson (our Worship Arts Director here at Grace Church) and Matt McElravy (who is currently doing a one year Music Assistantship with Bryan here at the church) are giving the entire church body the opportunity to select what songs we use in the morning worship service on October 15th which is what we are calling our first ever Grace Church, “You Pick the Music Sunday!” That’s right . . . you get to pick the music! How cool!

Here is how it works . . . at the website below, there is a list of 120 songs, all of which we have sung before here at Grace Church. In fact, there is even a blank slot where you can write in a song that is not on the list. Anyone who attends Grace Church is welcomed and encouraged to go online and vote for the songs they would like us to sing. The three songs which receive the most votes will be sung in a special “You Pick the Music” set during the Sunday morning service come October 15th.

The rules are simple. You can only vote for one song at a time, but you may vote as many times as you like. So go ahead…vote early and vote often…we’re listening! If you do not attend Grace Church, please refrain from participating. The website is at:

The 3 songs which receive the most votes will be sung in a special “You Pick the Music” set during the Sunday morning service. Hey, I like this idea!!

Now, here is my plan . . . I think I am going to have the entire church staff take a full day and each one of us from 8 am until 4 pm on that day do nothing but vote over and over again for “Joy to the World” and “O Holy Night” (which are both on the list). If we did this, these songs would certainly win and we would have to sing them on October 15th.

No, we won’t do that! And please, don’t any of you decide to try to taint the outcome either. We are all very curious to see what three songs get selected. I have picked my three and have voted one time for each one of them. I then wrote my three songs down and have put them in a sealed envelope. After the final count is tallied and the songs announced, I will open my envelope to see if any of my three songs were selected. And I will even go out on a limb and commit right here and right now that after the three songs that are the winners are announced, I will reveal the three I selected. Remember to vote!!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What every kid needs

Recently I had the privilege of speaking to our volunteer children’s workers here at Grace Church at a Saturday morning breakfast and training time. What a special and important group of men and women these individuals are. They are not simply children’s workers. They are much more crucial than that. They are nothing short of being agents of God. I made this statement to them: “What every kid needs, is a warm welcome and an adult who is crazy about them!”

It’s true. The job of a children’s worker is not just to set up chairs and bring the chips or cookies. They’re job is to impact young lives for Christ. How do you do that? It starts with a warm welcome.

When I was a youth pastor I drilled this into my youth staff. One of my staff took it very seriously. His name was Dave. Dave taught our Senior High Sunday School class. This was the most difficult aspect of our ministry to teens. These teens had already sat through a church service that wasn’t the most exciting adventure for a High School student. Now they had to sit through an hour long class. The enthusiasm wasn’t very high. Dave would spend the first half of the class, sometimes longer, going around to every teen individually, making them shake his hand, and asking them questions about their week. To be honest, the teens kind of joked about this “ritual greeting.” But years later I spent some time with a young man who came to our youth group. He was the only believer in his family. As we talked he told me that the thing he missed the most about our youth group was Dave’s handshake every Sunday morning. He said that some weeks that handshake was like an oasis. No matter how bad his week had gone, he always knew he was going to get a warm welcome on Sunday morning from Dave.

Along with a warm welcome there must also be an adult who is crazy about each kid. Back at our church in Indiana we had an AWANA program in which we ran busses and brought in a couple hundred fringe kids. One evening I stepped out of my office and saw two young first grade age girls running down the hallway the opposite direction from where they were supposed to be. As I instructed them to head back to where they belong, they adamantly insisted that they had to go see their friend. This dialogue went on for a few minutes and just as I was getting ready to raise my voice at their blatant disobedience they pointed down the hall and yelled, “There she is!” Before I could react they took off down the hall and both jumped into the arms of their friend. Guess who this friend was? She was my wife. Do you know why these girls came to AWANA each Wednesday night? Because they had found an adult who was crazy about them! It’s true: “What every kid needs, is a warm welcome and an adult who is crazy about them!”

Why don’t you be that person? Why not consider becoming a volunteer in our children’s ministry. You won’t just be a children’s worker. You will be an agent of God!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Showing favoritism

None of us would like being called a racist or a bigot. Yet, there is another action that is very similar that we all tend to participate in almost unconsciously and even while we are at church. James calls it “showing personal favoritism.” James chapter 2 opens up with a command against favoritism. But what exactly does it mean to show favoritism? The word “favoritism” literally means to receive by face or to accept someone at face value. It is the idea of showing special attention to one person over another based on a particular external characteristic. James commands us to not show favoritism. The wording of this command would refer to stopping an action that was already taking place. The main idea of James teaching is that showing favoritism is a contradiction to following Christ.

James illustrates showing favoritism by giving the example of two visitors who come into church. One of these visitors is visibly rich, wearing a gold ring and fine clothes. The other first time guest is visibly poor, wearing dirty clothes. As a result, the rich man is given special treatment over the poor man. Sad to say, but this scenario is played out in churches each and every Sunday, yes including Grace Church. Favoritism is showing special attention based on outward characteristics. Favoritism does not always include mistreatment. When we show favoritism, James says that we become judges with evil motives. In other words, we become like a judge in a court of law who makes his legal decision based on these types of externals. If we would never stand for this type of favoritism in a court of law, why do we overlook it so easily in the church?

James gives several reasons as to why this type of activity should not happen. First, it was the ones the church was showing favoritism to who were the same ones who were harming them (James 2:6-7). It was mainly the rich who were oppressing Christians (Acts 4:1-17, 5:17-18; 16:19) and blaspheming the name of Christ. Secondly, by showing favoritism you sin, losing fellowship with God (James 2:9-11). This type of action is against the Law of God. Finally, James reminds his readers that their lack of mercy would result in a lack of mercy (James 2:12-13). Christians should live with the coming judgment in mind. James saw this event as possibly happening at anytime. He is speaking of the Judgment Seat of Christ when believers will be held accountable for their obedience and service (2 Corinthians 5:10). Believers are reminded that on that day mercy will be withheld from those who have displayed no mercy (Mt 5:7; 6:14-15; 7:1-2) as their works will be considered unworthy and burn (First Corinthians 3:15).

So what is the cure for favoritism? First, we must see others in view of God’s opinion of them (James 2:5). God did not discriminate against the poor. In fact, God chose the poor and made them rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom (First Corinthians 1:26-29; Matthew 19:23-24, 28-30). Second, we must treat others as we would want to be treated by them (James 2:8). The command to love your neighbor as yourself was a principle of the Old and New Testaments (Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:31). By calling it a “royal” command, James was viewing it as an obligation of those who are heirs of the Kingdom because the command comes from the King Himself.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Can Sports Illustrated be wrong?

This weekend starts the College Football Season. Sports Illustrated magazine has given their preview and predictions for the season. Below is SI’s top 20:

1. Ohio State
2. Notre Dame
3. Texas
4. LSU
5. USC
6. West Virginia
7. Auburn
8. Cal
9. Florida
10. Michigan
11. Georgia
12. Florida State
13. Louisville
14. Oklahoma
15. Clemson
16. Arizona State
17. Miami
18. Nebraska
19. Penn State
20. Oregon

Now here is the quote directly from the August 21, 2006 Sports Illustrated magazine:
“It looks like another January date in the Arizona Desert for Ohio State and Notre Dame. Matched in the Fiesta Bowl last season, they will butt heads again, but this time in new Cardinal’s Stadium and for higher stakes—in the BCS national championship game.”