Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween

Boo! Did I scare you? After all, today is Halloween. There is little doubt that the history of this holiday is founded in occult themes. It goes way back to Scotland and Ireland where Druid Priests celebrated a special day in honor of Saman, Lord of the Dead. The belief was that on the eve of this celebration, Saman called together all the souls of those who had died the previous year and who currently inhabited the bodies of animals, to return to their homes. Bon-fires were lit to scare off these spirits and children would dress in costumes to confuse these wandering souls.

Jack-o-lanterns also go back to this era, only they started as large rutabagas, carved with gross faces and lit with candles. This is due to a tale about a man named Jack who was a notorious drunkard but who was also smart. As a result, the fable says that when he died, he was turned away from both heaven and hell. As a result, he put a glowing coal into a carved turnip and he has been wandering the earth ever since. In 834 AD, Pope Gregory IV moved the festival of “All Saints Day” to November 1st. This was a day to honor all the Saints who had died. The eve of the festival was called, “All Hallows E’en” (E’en is a contraction for evening). This gave us the modern name, “Halloween.”

We can make Halloween a spiritually motivating day if we understand the heritage and the benefit that there is in remembering the life’s testimony and message of Saints who have already gone on to glory. We must first understand that one is not a “saint” because a church council declares it. A “saint” is anyone who has been made righteous through faith alone in Jesus Christ. It is Biblical and profitable for us to remember saints who have gone on before us. That is what Hebrews chapter eleven is all about…remembering men and women of God who have shown great faith and then allowing their life’s message to still motivate and challenge us even today. This Halloween this can include:

1. Saints of theology: These are individuals from the pages of Scripture whose life message greatly influence us for Jesus still today. For me, this is a man like Joshua from the pages of the Old Testament who led Israel in possessing the Promised Land.

2. Saints of history: These would be individuals who lived in history and whose testimony for Christ still impact us today. For me, that includes men like the great evangelist, D.L. Moody and the singer/songwriter, Keith Green.

3. Saints of family: These would be family members or close friends who are now with Jesus but whose heritage causes us to walk with Jesus today. For me, this is my Grandpa Distler, who was in full-time ministry for some 50 years before he died.

When we take time to reflect on great saints of the past, even Halloween can become spiritually profitable. After all, it was on Halloween in 1517 that a man named Martin Luther climbed some steps in Germany and posted his “95 Thesis” on the doors of the Wittenberg Church setting off what we know today as the “Great Reformation.”

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Need for Community

Last Sunday we stated that “connection” is one of the biggest needs we have as a church. The process of connection begins the very first moment a guest drives or walks onto our campus. First impressions are far more than “consumerism” or “marketing.” First impressions communicate to our guests that they matter to us and once they know that we then have the platform to tell them how much they matter to God. But connection doesn’t end with first impressions. Connection occurs when every person:

· Makes a personal commitment to Christ and is baptized
· Is grounded in their faith
· Is part of a caring small group
· Is involved in a ministry
· Regularly gives financially to the church and shares their faith

But along with “connection” we also need “community.” This is described in Romans 12:9-13. Community that genuinely shows a love that builds up one another must be:

· PURE (Romans 12:9). We are to love in a way that is not hypocritical. When it comes to showing love to each other in the church we are not to wear a “mask” of love. Our love must be genuine. We can’t pretend to care…we must care. We can’t pretend to be interested in each other…we must be interested in each other. When it comes to each other, we must abhor all that is evil.

· A PRIORITY (Romans 12:10). We are to be devoted and full of tenderness to each other. We are not just to be kind, we are to show tender loving kindness. One day a Sunday School teacher asked her class what the difference was between kindness and tender loving kindness. One child’s answer was priceless. She said that if she was hungry and you gave her a piece of bread, that would be kindness. But, if you spread a little jam on that bread, that would be tender loving kindness. We are to consider others more highly than ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)

· PASSIONATE (Romans 12:11). When it comes to being loving and devoted to each other we are not to lag behind in diligence. In other words we are not to shrink away from making it a priority. We are to be fervent in Spirit meaning that we are to boil over with enthusiasm. And most importantly, we are to serve the Lord. When we are devoted to each other we are also devoted to the Lord

· PERMANENT (Romans 12:12). When it comes to community we must rejoice in hope, looking beyond the temporal to the eternal. We are to persevere in tribulation by building each other up in the midst of trials. We are to be devoted to prayer with and for one another.

· PRACTICAL (Romans 12:13). Community involves practically meeting the needs of others. Community equals hospitality.

Friday, October 27, 2006

More Than Appreciated

Everyone longs to feel appreciated, don’t they? Wives want to know that their husbands appreciate them. Moms want to know that their children appreciate them. Workers want to know that their employers appreciate them. And yes, so do pastors. Ever since I came to Grace Church back on August 1, 2004, this church has made my family feel welcomed and have made me feel appreciated.

During the month of October you as a church outdid yourselves in expressing appreciation. The most encouraging part was that this was not something organized and facilitated by anyone in leadership. This was just individuals, families and groups of people who took it upon themselves to express appreciation. Someone remembered my sermon from James called, “Just Do It” where I used the example of Nike and made mention of the fact that I had never owned a pair of Nikes because I grew up in a home where our tennis shoes were always Kmart “blue light specials.” As a result the month of October begin with the best pair of tennis shoes I have ever owned being put outside my office…and my size to boot. There a cool blue color and, may I add, I look good in them!!

The month ended with a group of people from one of our ABF classes who spent a full Saturday morning accomplishing a lengthy and needed “to do list” that they had asked my wife to put together. This included washing all of our windows, cleaning out all of our gutters, doing some painting in the basement, weeding, cutting wood, tilling, minor repairs and much, much more. How cool that a group of people would give up one of their last beautiful Saturday mornings before winter to spend it doing my “honey do list” as a way of saying, “we appreciate you!”

In between the shoes and the work crew there were also many wonderful notes, cards and e-mails along with a lightouse ornament, BBQ pork, lunch put on by the office staff for all of our pastors, and even a gift card to one of the restaurants I visit regularly. These notes were precious. Did you know that I keep every note of encouragement and thanks that I get? I have notebooks (several of them) where I keep all of these notes so that whenever I get discouraged or just am feeling a little low, I can pull one of these notebooks out and let these cards and notes encourage me all over again.

Whether it is the thoughtfulness and time that goes into organizing a “meatloaf of the month” club; or the person who anonymously made our trip to Israel possible; or the generous Christmas bonus you give each year; to the very encouraging words, calls, notes, cards and e-mails that I receive all throughout the year, you as a church have made me as your pastor feel more than appreciated.

Some pastors spend years in a church and never receive such appreciation. Some pastors never realize how appreciated they were until they announce that they are leaving and suddenly they get lavished with such words and acts of love. Such is not the case with Grace Church. From day 1 you have made me feel appreciated. And now 2 years and 3 months into our partnership together, you still make me feel more than appreciated.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Church Directory Letter

As you know, we are in the midst of putting together a new pictorial church directory. I’d like to give a special “thank you” to everyone who has taken the time (and in some cases even endured the “more than direct” sales pitch) to have your picture taken. I also would like to say “thank you” to Charlene Mummau, our staff member who undertook much of the responsibility. For the directory I was asked to write an introductory letter to go in the front of the booklet. Below is a “pre-screening” of my directory letter:

Dear Grace Church Family,

Why even bother having a church directory? The answer is so simple, yet so profound. People matter to God! That’s the answer to the question! As a result, they need to matter to us as well. That is what this church directory is all about. Its pages are full of families and faces. Each person represented by name and by picture matters to God. As a result, each person involved in these pages needs to matter to each one of us as well.

In a larger church, it becomes more difficult to communicate this principle. It is easy to become just a face in the crowd. It is our hope and it is my fervent prayer that here at Grace Church people will know from their first drive onto our property that they matter to us. It is only then that we can effectively communicate to them how much they also matter to God.

Remember the old television sitcom called, “Cheers”? It was a show about a bunch of losers who regularly visited a Boston bar. The biggest loser of them all was a man named “Norm.” Yet, every time Norm walked into that bar, everyone stopped their conversation and they all yelled in unison the greeting, “N-O-R-M!” Remember the theme song to that show? The chorus of it went like this:

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same;
You want to be where everybody knows your name.

I can’t help but think that this would be a good theme song for our church. My prayer is that Grace Church will be that place in your life where “everybody knows your name” and “they’re always glad you came!” With this end in mind, my prayer is that this directory will help each of us to accomplish this goal. As we use it to place names with faces and even use it as a daily prayer and encouragement tool, may people who the Lord brings to Grace Church realize that they matter to us because they matter to God!

Glad your part of the family!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Engaging the Culture

One of the magazines that someone in our church gave me a subscription to is called “REV!” In this latest issue (Nov/Dec 2006) I especially appreciated the article under the “culture” section by Tony Morgan called, “Yelling at the Television.” In the article he likens today’s Christian to someone who yells at the TV because they don’t like what they see, rather than actively engaging the culture and influencing it like we should. Morgan writes,

“We’re afraid to engage the culture. We prefer to yell at it. Ironically, the louder we yell, the less they listen.”

Isn’t it time we engaged our culture? After all, aren’t we the salt and light of the world? How much are you up on today’s culture? According to the same isse of Rev magazine one study found that:

77% of Americans can name two of the Seven Dwarfs but only 24% can name two of our Supreme Court Justices. How many Justices can you name?

60% of Americans identified Homer as the father of Bart Simpson but only 21% can name one of Homer’s epic Greek poems. Can you name one?

73% of Americans could name all three of the Stooges but only 42% can name all three branches of government. Can you name all three (branches, not Stooges)?

60% of Americans knew Krypton was Superman’s home planet but only 37% knew that Mercury was the closest planet to the sun.

57% of Americans knew Harry Potter was J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard but only 50% knew Tony Blair was England’s Prime Minister.

23% of Americans could name Taylor Hicks as the latest winner of American Idol but only 11% could name Samuel Alito as the latest Supreme Court Justice to be confirmed.

According to 1 Corinthians 9, the Apostle Paul engaged his culture. He became all things to all men so that by all means some could be saved. Now there are always some who will respond to this by saying, “So, does that mean it is OK to become a prostitute to reach prostitutes or to become a drug addict to reach drug addicts?” Come on…of course not! As my mentor, Steve Peters, would often say, "We are free to do anything but sin in order to reach people with the Gospel." Tony Morgan goes on and writes:

Paul engaged his culture to win people to Christ and we must do the same today. We must address their needs and their questions before we can impose our agenda. We need to stop yelling at the television and dare to actually get in the game. Then, and only then, will we have the opportunity to make the kingdom of God real for the world around us.”

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


In yesterday’s blog we saw that connecting people to our church begins with first impressions right from their first drive onto our parking lot. But along with parking and traffic, the area of first impressions also deals with other important areas such as the outside building and grounds; greeters; ushers; information/guest relations; the condition of our restrooms; housekeeping in general; the foyer/lobby; the children/nursery drop off areas; signage; and even the bulletin.

Connecting people to Grace begins with first impressions, but where does it end? What is our ultimate goal of connecting people to Grace Church? Imagine with me a church where every person is connected through trusting Christ to be their personal Savior and obediently following Him in water baptism. Imagine with me a church where every person is connected by being grounded in the basics of the faith. Imagine with me a church were every person is connected by becoming part of a small group. Imagine with me a church where every person is connected by being involved in an area of ministry. Imagine with me a church where every person is connected by being active in giving financially and sharing their faith. That is what we mean when we say that we want to see every person that God brings to Grace Church become connected.

Is this just something that we made up? Absolutely not. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gives us the Great Commission in which we are given the mandate to make disciples. Our goal is not simply to have crowds attending our services. Our ministry is not successful unless these crowds are becoming fully devoted followers of Christ.

In Acts 2:41-42, we learn that when the church began it included people receiving the Word (they were CONVERTED). They were also baptized (they were COMMITTED). And they were added to the church (they were CONNECTED). That is our goal, to see every person God brings us become Converted, Committed and Connected. According to Acts 2:43-47, this connection took place as every person in the early church was regularly involved in learning the Word of God; in partnering together to help meet each other’s needs; in communion and worship; and in prayer. That’s connection!

As a result, we are taking some specific actions to make connecting people to our church a high priority. With the hiring of Doug Kegarise as our part-time Director of Student Ministries, we have freed up some of Andy Brightbill’s responsibilities in order to focus attention on this much needed area. Andy is leading what we have called up until now an “Assimilation Task Force.” We are now calling this our “Connections Task Force.”

This Task Force has been given the assignment of developing a connections strategy and implementing that strategy to fulfill all of the goals listed above. This is a huge task but one that is of great importance to the health and effectiveness of our church. Please be praying for this Task Force and for our church as we seek to connect people from being a visitor in the parking lot to being a fully devoted follower of Christ here at Grace!

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Need for Connection

What is one of the greatest needs of Grace Church as we exist today? I think that it is assimilating new people into our ministry. We have seen dramatic growth in the past 2-3 years but have had no effective strategy to be sure that all of these hundreds of new people are getting plugged into our church so that they will be cared for and so that they will grow spiritually. Without a strategic system to see new people assimilated into our ministry, we will quickly become a large yet weak church.

But perhaps the word “assimilation” is not the best word to use to describe this need. A better word would be “connection.” Why is this a better word? First, the word “connection” is more understandable. The word “assimilation” can conjure up all kinds of impressions and perceptions that can have us all thinking different things. Second, the word “connection” is less threatening. Frankly, the word “assimilation” almost sounds painful. If you were to say to a guest at Grace, “We want to assimilate you,” they may become concerned. However, if you were to say, “We want to help you get connected,” that is a positive direction.

Connecting people to Grace begins with first impressions. It is the first 10 minutes of a guest’s experience at Grace Church that will often determine if we will ever get the chance to see them connected or not. First impressions are important, even at church. Most guests at church decide in the first 10 minutes, before the worship service even begins, if they are likely to return or not. In the mind of a guest, first impressions carry more weight than the worship service itself. That is why Mark Waltz in his book, First Impressions, speaks of the “First Ten Minute” Principle. According to Waltz, if guests to our church can’t say “Wow, I’m impressed,” within their first 10 minutes on our campus, then we’ve failed. Before the music ever starts and the message is ever delivered, guests should know that they matter to us before they hear how much they matter to God. That is what first impressions are all about…letting people know that they matter to us and to God.

It is for this reason that connection and first impressions begins in the parking lot, the very moment that a guest drives onto our campus. What about our parking lot could possibly create a negative first impression? Think through these issues:

• Are parking spaces easy to locate and accessible?
• Are regulars parking away, creating spaces for guests near the entrances?
• Are teams available to direct cars?
• Is snow and ice removed from the parking lot during the winter?
• How do guests stay dry from their car to the building when it is raining?
• Is anyone available to help single parents with young children?
• Is anyone stationed at the drop-off area to assist the elderly?
• Are there greeters at every entry point to our building?
• The big question is, “Does our parking lot impress or irritate our guests?”

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Man of Many Hats

In yesterday’s blog, I told you about our staff meetings as of late and how we have broken down into groups and how these groups have been responsible for our staff meetings. I even went as far as to include a picture of Andrew Norton dressed as if he were the big, bad wolf disguised as Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother. If you did not read yesterday's blog, you really should go back and check it out right now.

However, I realize that it was unfair of me to include only a picture of Andrew Norton in this blog. So why not also show you the other member of our Executive Staff here at Grace Church? Along with Andrew and myself, Rick Bernhardt is also part of our Executive Staff as the Senior Administrator of our daycare and school. In this role, he wears many hats, but none that is more picture perfect as the one he had to wear at our last staff meeting.

Now typically my blogs are much longer than this, but as I look at this picture of Rick that I have uploaded to this entry…well, words just seem to fail me (Actually, many words come to mind but I would probably get into a lot of trouble if I wrote what I’m thinking as I look at this picture of Mr. Bernhardt).

Have a great weekend, everyone! Especially you, Rick!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Wild, Wild Staff Meetings

On the first and third Tuesday of each month, we have our staff meetings here at Grace. This includes all of our church ministry staff and support staff as well as all of our administrators and office personnel of the school and the daycare. There are about 20 of us that meet these two Tuesdays each month.

A typical meeting begins with a time of sharing as we tell stories of really cool things we have seen or heard of God doing in our ministry. To me, this is the highlight of our meetings. The meetings typically then include some business areas that we have to bring everyone up to speed on and some type of devotion or training element.

Lately, though, we have done things different. About a month ago I broke the staff down into 4 groups. I gave each group one of our upcoming staff meetings to do with as they wanted. Here were the rules:

1. The purpose is to build teamwork and to add creativity to staff meetings.

2. Your group will get the final hour of an upcoming staff meeting.

3. You can plan this hour anyway that you decide, but you must all agree

4. No group leader is being assigned because the goal is to work as a team.

5. You must use the entire hour of the staff meeting you are given

6. Every person in your group must take part in that hour.

So far we have seen two groups go. The first group sent us all on a car scavenger hunt that included some “crazy” elements but also included some “ministry” elements such as inviting a stranger to church and visiting someone in a nursing home. This was fun, creative and helped to build team unity while taking us all outside the walls of our church and into the community.

The last group had us play a game that was a cross between the old TV Newlywed Game and Jeopardy. The game was designed, however, to make us brainstorm about a big community outreach we would like to do this summer when we have all of the Operation Barnabas teams with us for their orientation. It was great and it was beneficial.

This group added an additional element. They had a large display of hats. As each staff member had their turn in front, they had to pick one of the hats and wear it. Now, just try to imagine Andrew Norton, our Business Manager, wearing an old grandma’s bonnet style hat like in the story of Little Red Riding Hood; or Jay Hall, our Maintenance Director, in a hat making him look part of the “Red Hat Society.” Mercy! These are wild, wild staff meetings!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Crosswalk Show News Release

Below is the exact news release that was sent out to 16 area newspapers regarding out next Crosswalk Show which will be the last show of the 2006 calendar year:

The Crosswalk Show presents a night of comedy with stand up comedian Carlos Oscar and musical guest Tait along with his band. The Crosswalk Show takes place on Saturday, October 21st, 2006 at 7:00PM.

Carlos Oscar is known for his charming, witty, and energetic stage persona. He fully acts out his jokes by telling stories about the humorous side of family, society, and everyday mishaps by morphing into various characters and voices. As a Puerto Rican born in New York City, but raised in Los Angeles, he considers himself a proud “MexiRican”. His one-two jab delivery hits audience members hard and you can’t help but roll with the punches. His television credits include The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, NBC’s The Single Guy, Fox’s Living Single, late night talk show Vibe and performances on HBO and Showtime.

Tait began almost 5 years ago and has quickly evolved into one of the most potent and relevant bands on the contemporary scene today. Michael Tait, the bands lead singer and founder says the momentum is growing faster than they can keep track of due to the chemistry and sincerity of this band. Their latest release Lose This Life combines hip sensibilities, emotional integrity, social consciences and melodic hooks all the while connecting with fans and culture tackling song topics birthed out of the struggles in their lives. Michael Tait is no stranger to the music industry since his notoriety started back as a member of dc talk.

Michael is also preparing for his starring role in the return of “Hero” for a 2006-2007 tour. Hero became an award winning, critically acclaimed rock opera musical since its initial launch in 2003. This modern day musical was created to reach the MTV generation with a hip, culturally relevant, visually in-your-face presentation of the the gospel, told in a language of music, video and drama. Michael’s talents also include songwriting and producing several projects for other musicians as well as currently working on a new “Tait” album slated for release in 2007.

The Crosswalk Show hosted by Rick Bernhardt will also feature the Crosswalk Band performing popular rhythms from mainstream artists. The band consists of: Curt Morris, drums; Mark Sell, bass; Matt McElravy, keyboards; Andy Sell, electric guitar. The band also features a brass section which includes Bryan Nelson, trombone; Andy Brightbill, alto sax; and Kurt Schnader, trumpet.

Admission is free; however a free-will offering will be taken. Seating is on a first come basis with doors opening at 6:30 PM. The concert will be held at Grace Church located at 501 West Lincoln Ave., in Lititz. For more info call 717-626-2155 or www.lgbc.org.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Amish Forgiveness

With the recent Amish School shootings in Lancaster County, we have seen a rise in the value of forgiveness, especially as demonstrated by the family members of these victims. As horrible as this tragedy was, what better value could we focus on in our world, in our lives, and in our churches today other than forgiveness? It has been said that we are never more like God than when we forgive. But what exactly is forgiveness?

From the time we were little kids we were taught that forgiveness means to “forgive and forget.” But is that really possible? Do we really expect these precious Amish parents to forget what happened in that school house? Folks, listen, forgiveness is not forgetting. That is just plain impossible. Forgiveness is choosing to not use the offense as a weapon to continually punish the offender. Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 13 when he said that “love keeps no records of right and wrong.” Love doesn’t keep a mental record of what you have done to hurt me in order to use it against you in the future.

By the way, that is exactly how God forgives those who put their faith in Jesus. I have heard some people say that as Christians, God doesn’t even remember our sin. Well, of course He does. He’s God. He’s omniscient. He knows everything. If God didn’t remember our sin, He wouldn’t be God. The Bible does teach us that once we are forgiven by God that our sin is buried in the deepest sea. Question…does God know what is at the bottom of the deepest sea? Of course He does. But even though He knows what’s there, if we have truly given our hearts to Jesus, He will never bring those sins back up to use against us. Why? Because He forgave us. How beautiful is that?

How often do we continue to bring up mistakes people have made against us in the past as a verbal and emotional bully club to beat them over the head with? Forgiveness does not forget. Forgiveness chooses to not bring up the offense to use it as a weapon. But what if the person doesn’t deserve my forgiveness? Good question. Now, let me answer it by asking a different question? Did you deserve God’s forgiveness? I didn’t think so. Neither did I. But guess what? He made His forgiveness available to us even though we did not deserve it. That is why the Bible says we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).

In Ephesians 4:32, we are told to be kind and tenderhearted toward one another and to forgive one another just as God has forgiven us in Christ. That word “forgive” has as its root word the same word translated “grace” in the Bible. What is grace? Grace is receiving something that I did not deserve. We are saved by grace. God forgave we who put our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, even though we did not deserve it. Now, Scripture exhorts us to do the same.

So tell me, what family member have you been holding a grudge toward? What church member have you struggled with? What neighbor have you been feuding with? If the Amish can forgive the shooter and his family…If God can forgive us…why can’t you forgive them? Why can’t we forgive each other? We can learn from the Amish.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Controlling Your Desires

In James 4:1-6, James deals with 2 problems that Christians face. One is the problem of fighting (v1-3). According to James, this fighting is what happens between believers (“among you”). It involves “quarrels,” which speaks of a prolonged and serious dispute and is sometimes translated “war.” These internal fighting’s also include more specific battles that James calls “conflicts.”

The source of these disputes is our own pleasures. This is the Greek word where we get our English word “hedonism.” This is the uncontrolled passion to satisfy every sensual desire. It is the gratification of our flesh. The root of hedonism is selfishness and these pleasures cause conflicts among believers and conflict between our soul and our body.

The result of such fighting’s involves two main areas (v2). One is lust, which is a strong desire (contextually a desire for that which is sinful). When our lust is not satisfied, the result is murder (hatred; extremely destructive behavior). Another result is that of being envious. This is a synonym for lust but with a more intense feeling. It is from this English word that we get our word “zealous.” The noun form is translated “jealousy” in James 3:14, 16. When we strongly and selfishly desire something but can not have it, the result is fighting and quarreling.

This type of activity is also a result of our own attitude of independence (v3). James says that these believers do not have because they have not asked. The immense attitude of selfishness is seen by the many usages of the words “you” and “your” in verses 2-3. They did not ask God for help because they were self-sufficient, feeling that they could meet their needs through human means. Some did ask God for help but they did not have because they asked with wrong motives. Many who do ask do not receive help because they ask with wrong the motive of satisfying their fleshly pleasure. The word “spend” described the Prodigal’s squandering of his inheritance on riotous living (Luke 15:13).

A second problem in the church was believers who were choosing friendship with the world over friendship with God (v4-6). James calls these believers “adulteresses” which is a metaphor speaking of their spiritual infidelity. Friendship with the world is equal to hostility toward God. The word “friendship” is the noun form of phileo and is used only here in the New Testament. It is an emotional love or a tender affection. The word “world” does not refer to the physical world but to the evil man-centered system of the world directed by Satan.

James shows the danger of such activity when he states that whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. The word “wishes” speaks of more than a desire or wish to be fulfilled. It is the idea of choosing one over another. The Spirit of God is jealous for our total allegiance to God (v5). When we choose friendship with the world over God, He must oppose us, a military term depicting an army ready for battle (v6). To avoid these two problems in the church we must control our desires.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

Today is Friday, October 13th. Isn’t that bad luck? After all, this is the month of Halloween. This is the time of year that as we walk through stores and drive through neighborhoods we see many different decorations shaped to look like ghosts. So, do you believe in ghosts? I don’t...at least not as the world would define one.

However, I will make one exception. I may just believe in one “ghost cat.” Let me explain. For a couple of weeks this summer, my son was in charge of caring for some animals of a family in our church while they were gone on vacation. Usually my wife would take him over a few times a day to accomplish his responsibilities. One day, neither he nor my wife could make the visit so I went over by myself. As part of my task, I made sure that all the animals were accounted for and came back and made the report to my wife. The problem is that my report included one too many cats. Now listen. I’m a pastor. I know how to count. Numbers is one of the things we pastors do best. I’m telling you, I know how many cats I saw and there was an extra cat in that house.

This family has yet to let me live this one down. They call this extra cat their “ghost cat.” They even came into the church this week and brought me a Beanie Baby Cat dressed to look like a ghost as a reminder of my mystical experience. I still hold to my story. There was an extra cat in their house that day. One of these days there going to open a drawer, door or closet and there going to find out I was right. It’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

But what about ghosts? According to 2 Corinthians 5:8, when we die and our soul separates from our body, if we know Christ, our soul goes straight to heaven. According to the parable that Jesus told in Luke 16, when the beggar named Lazarus died, his soul went straight to Paradise; and when the unbelieving rich man died, his soul went straight to hell. I do not believe that our departed spirits float around our world as ghosts. Jesus told the repentant thief on the cross that he would be with him that day in Paradise. So what about all the stories we hear of ghosts and hauntings? What about those shows where mediums talk to the dead? What about the stories of many individuals who claim to have seen dead relatives or to have had dead relatives visit them and talk with them?

Let me be honest. I do not think that these experiences are the actual spirits of the dead. Then what are they? Well, they could be human trickery or even our minds making something seem real that isn’t. But they also could be demons. The Bible teaches us that Satan is an “angel of light.” He is very good at the art of deception. He can make things seem to be contrary to what they really are. He is also a liar. He cannot tell the truth. Anything that he says and anything he is behind is always false. You can count on that.

I don’t believe in ghosts. In other words, I don’t believe that the spirits of dead people roam around the earth communicating and haunting people. However, I do believe in a demonic army at Satan’s command who uses the art of deception to create fear and to mislead. If there is an exception to this, I’m pretty sure it’s a cat.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Purpose of Props

Here at Grace Church we have a team that helps to plan all of our Sunday morning worship services. We call them the, “Worship Design Team.” They are led by Bryan Nelson, who is our Worship Arts Director here at Grace. Here is how the process works. The Worship Design Team meets once a month for several hours on a Thursday night. Their job at this meeting is to plan the worship services two months in advance. In other words, at our October meeting we will plan the services for December. This means that in advance of this meeting I have to get out to this team the title, Scripture text, initial outline and direction in which I am looking to go in the messages for that month. We then go through a brainstorming process as the team looks for the best and most effective ways that we can use the whole service to communicate the main principle for each morning.

Part of this process includes asking ourselves, “What image comes to mind?” We don’t just want people to attend our worship service, we want them to learn and to go away challenged to allow the principles of Scripture and the power of the Spirit to change their lives. Life-change is always what we are after. As a result, we often come up with different props that we use as object lessons. Recently we have used a horse, a rudder, a sailboat, a car, fortune cookies and a karate demonstration.

Why use props? Are these just gimmicks that we use to entertain? Well, hopefully they do add some entertainment value to the morning. I see nothing wrong with having fun and I love hearing laughter in church. However, that is not the reason we use props. We use them because we realize that many people are “visual learners.” You can give them verbal instruction all day and it just won’t connect. But show them a picture and it is amazing how the principle comes to life for them. Our electronic culture today has elevated “visual learning.” It seems that this is how most people learn today. But does using a prop as a visual lesson work in church? Below is an e-mail that I received from someone who is new to Grace Church. She had faithfully attended and was actively involved in another church for 25 years before coming to Grace. Here is what she had to say.

At our previous church, we were taught the Bible every Sunday by a wonderful man. Although I walked out of the church every Sunday with a satisfaction that the service was beneficial, in reality I didn't remember what it was about that evening. I was more than a little embarrassed by this. After coming to Grace Church I realized that it wasn't really my fault. I realized that I am a visual learner. One of the first things that I noticed after attending for a few weeks is that I remembered messages not only from that week but I could tell others about the whole series and the messages associated with it. My husband is a back row guy so all of the visual aids are extremely beneficial for me. In addition, your messages not only provide guidance from the Word of God, but show us how to apply it and LIVE it! What a blessing that is for me.”

Another reason I love and enjoy using object lessons is because people come to church saying, “So, what’s going to happen today?” Anticipating church…that’s a very cool thing!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals

The magazine, Christianity Today, recently published a list of the top 50 books that have shaped evangelicalism as we see it today. These are books that have altered the way American evangelicals pray, gather, talk, and reach out. As I looked over the list, these were the books that I recommend you read:

Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer (#49)

The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? by F.F. Bruce (#47)

Out of the Saltshaker and into the World by Rebecca Manley Pippert (#46)

The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren (#42)

Born Again by Charles W. Colson (#41)

Desiring God by John Piper (#39)

Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins (#36)

This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti (#34)

Dare to Discipline by James Dobson (#29)

The Act of Marriage by Tim and Beverly LaHaye (#28)

Know Why You Believe by Paul E. Little (#26)

The Genesis Flood by Henry M. Morrison and John C. Whitcomb (#22)

What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey (#17)

Basic Christianity by John Stott (#16)

Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell (#13)

Evangelism Explosion by D. James Kennedy (#10)

Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot (#9)

Knowing God by J.I. Packer (#5)

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (#3)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

When Your Wife Warns You

Much of my time as a pastor is spent in marital counseling of some sort. But recently I had a real test as to if my ability to help other married couples had any merit. My wife called me to say she had an e-mail to send and was going to come into the office here at the church to send it. I thought, “Hmmm, that’s nice to know.” Yet, it still seemed a bit strange simply because typically my wife would just swing by. I have never really known her to give me any kind of advance notice before showing up at the office.

I had good reason to think this out of the ordinary as my wife continued. “I’m letting you know this as a warning.” Now my mind raced in a million different directions…all of them bad. What had I done wrong? Or worse yet, what had I forgotten? Why did I need to be “warned” before my wife came by the office? What could possibly be so bad that it necessitated being warned? Something was awry…but what could it be?

Then the whole story came out as she continued on the phone, “I got my hair cut today!” Now just wait a minute. When your wife gets her hair cut and then has to call you before you see her new dew for the first time to warn you that she got it cut…what does that say about the new look? Obviously, it was going to be a major change. This was not going to be a simple “hair cut.” No, this was drastic. This had all the makings of a major marital tragedy that could disqualify me from ever doing marital counseling ever again.

I hung up the phone and began to picture my beautiful wife with any and every wacko hair style imaginable. How would she look with an afro? What about a mohawk? Did the hair stylist use the old “bowl and cut” method? What color would it be? Purple? After all, that is my wife’s favorite color. I started nervously pacing around the entire church office. Why did she have to warn me? What did this mean?

How would I react when she walked in? More importantly, how should I react? What would I say? More importantly, what should I not say? This wasn’t the proverbial spousal question of, “Does this outfit make my butt look big?” This was far more serious. After all, she called to warn me in advance. How bad could it be if she had to call to prepare me prior to the unveiling? I developed what I thought to be a fool-proof strategy. I decided to picture her bald. That way, no matter what the new style looked like, it would be a “step up” from what I was expecting.

I went back into my office and braced myself for what I thought for sure would be the shock of my life. Finally there was the tap on my office door. This was it. This was the big moment. I tried to sound confident as I said, “Come in.” The door opened and there she was…my beautiful wife with her new hair color and her new hair style and it was stunning. It really looked good! Praise the Lord!! I didn’t have to lie. After we talked and laughed, my wife left relieved that I was impressed. As I sat in reflection I had to wonder why I was even remotely concerned. After all, my wife would look good no matter what the style of her hair…even if it was purple.

Monday, October 09, 2006

You Better Wise Up

I’ve got good news…you have wisdom! I’ve also got bad news…it may not be the type of wisdom you need. In James 3:13-18, the New Testament writer begins with the inquiry, ‘Who among you is wise and understanding?’ The word ‘wise’ describes a careful application of knowledge. But he also asks, ‘Who is understanding?’ The word ‘understanding’ speaks of a specialized knowledge such as a skilled craftsman. So, how can you tell? How do you know if someone is skilled in applying Biblical knowledge?

James, says, ‘Let him show it through good behavior and deeds.’ Being wise and understanding is not intellectual, it’s practical. It is seen in an outward display and it is done in an attitude of ‘gentleness.’ This is the idea of tenderness or graciousness. It speaks of power under control. For example, it is used to describe a wild horse, who when broken, becomes a gentle animal. It also speaks of the wind. In the form of a hurricane or tornado, it has great power, but it can also be a breath of fresh air in the form of a cool breeze on a hot day. This word is used by Jesus to describe Himself in Mathew 11:29 and is also named as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.

But there is a wisdom that does not live this way. James speaks of the motive for unwise living. James describes it first of all as bitter jealousy. This describes a jealousy that is pointed or sharp like bitter water coming out of a fountain (3:11). Another motive is selfish ambition. This is one Greek word meaning strife, contentiousness or extreme selfishness. This is a motive that only focuses on personal gain and getting ahead as an individual. A final motive for a lack of power under control is arrogance or boastfulness. This kind of living is a contradiction to the Gospel

We must understand that we all show wisdom, but it isn’t always good wisdom. Human wisdom is not always favorable. In verse 15, James says that human wisdom is earthly meaning that it is of the world and has no eternal value. This type of wisdom is not from above, it doesn’t come from God. Human wisdom is also natural, which is opposite of being regenerated. This wisdom relates to that which is fallen and depraved. Human wisdom is also demonic. The root of such character is Satan himself working through his fallen angels. Human wisdom produces disorder (v16) which speaks of instability and confusion. It also produces what James calls ‘every evil thing,’ which is the broadest category of bad results. Nothing of any ultimate good results from human wisdom.

How does this compare with heavenly wisdom that produces good deeds in a spirit of gentleness (v17-18)? James says that heavenly wisdom is free of contamination. Heavenly wisdom does not perpetrate conflict through selfishness. Heavenly wisdom is patient even to the point of mistreatment in order to be forbearing and courteous. Heavenly wisdom is teachable. Heavenly wisdom reaches out to those in need. Heavenly wisdom demonstrates authentic faith through good works. Heavenly wisdom does not vacillate or doubt. Finally, heavenly wisdom never pretends to be what it really is not. Heavenly wisdom is power under control. So, what do you say…let’s wise up!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Israel Awaits

In just a few short weeks (November 1) my wife and I will leave for Israel where we will be able to visit:

Caesarea by the Sea (Acts 9 & 25)
• Mt Carmel where God, thru Elijah, killed the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18)
• Megiddo where the battle of Armageddon will be fought (Rev 16:16)
• Nazareth which was Jesus’ hometown (Luke 1 & 2)
• Cana, where Jesus turned the water into wine (John 2)
• Caesarea Philippi where Peter made his confession of Christ (Mt 16:13-17)
• Road to Damascus where Paul was converted (Acts 9)
• Mt Hermon (Deut 3:8)
• Border of Lebanon (Joshua 11:17)
• Hazor (Joshua 11:10; I Kings 9:15)
• A boat ride in a wooden “Jesus replica boat” in the Sea of Galilee
• Capernaum (Mt 4:13)
• The Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus gave His Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5)
• Tabgha where Jesus fed the 5000 (Mark 6)
• Church of Peter’s of Primacy (John 21)
• Magdala (Matthew 15:39; Luke 8:2)
• Jericho
• Mt Tabor (Judges 4)
• Ein Harod (Judges 7:1)
• Beth Shean (I Samuel 31:10)
• The Rose Red City of Petra, in the mountains of Edom
• Mt Nebo where God took Moses to see into the Promised Land
• The Jordan River where Jesus was baptized by John
• The Dead Sea
• Ein Gedi, the oasis where David hid from King Saul
• Qumran, settlement of the Essenes who authored the Dead Sea Scrolls
• Jerusalem, the holy city of God’s people
• Jericho
• The holiest site in the whole Jewish world…The Western (Wailing) Wall
• The35 acre temple area purchased by King David (2 Samuel 24:18-25)
• The Dome of the Rock (the 3rd holiest shrine in all of Islam)
• The Pool of Bethesda
• Sister of Zion Convent (pavement where Jesus stood on trial before Pilate)
• The Via Dolorosa where Jesus carried His cross
• Church of the Holy Sepulchre
• Rachel’s tomb on the outskirts of Bethlehem
• The Church of the Nativity and the Shepherd’s field in Bethlehem
• The Herodium (the palace where Herod overlooked Bethlehem)
• Ein Karem Village, which is the birthplace of John the Baptist
• The Church of the Visitation and The Church of the Ascension
• Mt Zion
• King David’s tomb
• The Upper Room where Jesus and the disciples had the last supper
• The Mt of Olives
• The Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed in agony
• Communion at the garden tomb

Thursday, October 05, 2006

My Unstable Dog

In James 3:8, James tells us that our tongues are defiant. Most every creature known to man has been tamed by man. Yet, man is unable to tame his own tongue. Why? James says that it is because our tongue is “restless.” This is a word that means “unstable.” It was a word used to describe a wild animal resisting temptation. That is our tongue. It does not want to be controlled. It does not want to be mastered.

I have a “restless” and “unstable” dog. She is a Jack Russell Terrier named “Sandi.” She really is a good dog and she is usually very obedient, but she is still “unstable.” She is also very finicky. Sandi loves to lie on the chair with me when I sit down to watch television. Here is where her “unstableness” is seen. When Sandi lies on the chair with me, she does not want to be on my lap. She wants to be on the chair. However, it has to be the part of the chair on my left side. She will not lay on the right side. No way! If I move all the way over to the left in my chair, Sandi will put her paws on my chest and stick her nose right up against mine and hold that position until I scoot over so that she can lay on my left side. What a peculiar dog.

But the characteristic of being “unstable” continues. While Sandi is lying on the chair with me, she does not want to be petted. If I reach down and began to stroke her, Sandi will do one of two things. Sometimes she will get down, wait a few minutes, and then get back up as her way of communicating to me not to touch her. Other times she will just let out a low but firm growl to communicate that she wants me to take my hand off of her. She is “unstable.”

She is like that with people…all people. Sometimes she will show you all kinds of attention and seem like she is your new best friend. Other times she will simply growl at you. One minute you can be petting her and feeling her love and then, before you can notice a change of attitude coming, she will growl and snap at you, possibly even catching your finger. When people come to our house we have to warn them to be careful with Sandi. “Why? Is she mean?” That’s just it…we don’t know from one minute to the next if she will be mean or not. She’s “unstable.” Whenever Brenda Rutt comes over to our house, Sandi pees. I don’t know what that’s all about. She’s just “unstable” (Sandi that is…not Brenda).

So is the case with our tongues. Just when we think we have it figured it out. Just when we think it is well under our control. Just when we think we have our tongues licked (no pun intended), it snaps. Suddenly words come out of our mouth that are very negative, hateful and destructive. We didn’t mean to say it. We can hardly believe the words came out, but they did. You know why? Your tongue is “restless.” It’s “unstable.” It resists being tamed. It is defiant. James goes on to say it is a “deadly poison.” Its venom is worse than that of a poisonous snake. A snake’s bite can only destroy your body. Your tongue’s ability to harm and kill goes far deeper. It can destroy your marriage. It can destroy your family. It can destroy your church. It can destroy your life.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

300 Million and Counting

A friend sent me an interesting article that was in the Philadelphia Inquirer recently written by Steve Goldstein. It is all about the population trend here in America. According to the article, sometime in mid-October of this year, the population of the United States will reach 300 million inhabitants. Keep in mind that it took 139 years for our country to reach a population of 100 million. After that, it only took 52 years to add another 100 million to the population of the country. However, the third 100 million was attained in just 39 years. Projections are that by the end of the 21st century, we will double our population to 600 million people living in the borders of our nation.

That is amazing! Especially when you consider that the article goes on to say that the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that has significant population growth. According to Goldstein, in Europe, Japan and Russia, there are more deaths each year than there are births. Do you realize that in America a baby is born every seven seconds? Add to this that an international migrant arrives in America every 31 seconds and you see the reasons for this population explosion. Now add to that fact that half of the population growth in the U.S. in any given month or week is Hispanic.

So what does all this say to us as the church? It tells me that our country, like never before, is a Mission Field. I read in a book recently that the United States is now the third largest unreached nation in the world. If that is correct, than there are only two other nations in the world that has more unbelievers living in its borders than America does.

My friend, there has never been a more needed time in our country for the people of God to share their faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. There has never been a more critical need for churches in America to make evangelism the engine that runs their ministry. There has never been a more needed emphasis on the church taking their ministries outside the walls and boundaries of their own sanctuaries and auditoriums and taking them into the neighborhoods and streets of American cities and suburbs. The local church is the hope of the world because we have the only message that can change a life for eternity.

Missions in the church is no longer simply sending monthly support checks to those who are faithful and courageous enough to leave their homes and go overseas to reach the unreached. Missions in the church is no longer simply a yearly conference with slide shows of children of the world and tables with snake skins and alligator heads on them. All of this is good and we must keep our commitment to reach those all over the world.

But let’s not forget that Jesus' words in Acts 1:8 calls us to reach our own “Jerusalem” first. Our first commitment is to reach the very neighborhoods and communities where God has ordained that we would live and worship. It seems to me that the most effective way for the church to do missions today and to effectively reach the world today is to make our first emphasis the men, women, boys and girls that are right here in our own country…in our own communities…all 300 million of them…and counting!!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

More than a Garbage Dump

As we have been studying through the book of James here at Grace Church, we came to a term in verse six of chapter three where we see that the tongue is a fire and is, “set on fire by hell.” This word, “hell,” is from the Greek word “Gehenna” which was an actual place in the Valley of Hinnom located on the southwest side of Jerusalem (pictured above). Gehenna was a deep gorge where trash, garbage and the bodies of dead animals and executed criminals were continually dumped and burned.

James is the only other New Testament writer to use this term other than Jesus Himself who used this term in Mark 9:43-44 and Matthew 5:22. In the Old Testament, this same place was a location where the idolatrous religions that worshipped the false gods of Baal and Molech resulted in Jews sacrificing their children by fire as seen in 2 Chronicles 28:3 and 33:6. Josiah, King of Judah, bravely put an end to this horrific act (2 Kings 23:10).

Why would James and Jesus use this word to describe “hell”? Does this mean that hell is not a real place? Did Jesus mean that when we die we simply rot like the garbage and bodies in the local Jerusalem garbage dump? No! Jesus was using a metaphor that all of Israel could understand to illustrate the reality of a literal place that we often call “hell.”

How did this term fit? Due to the amounts of garbage, refuse and dead bodies that were dumped in Gehenna on a regular basis, there was always a fire burning and maggots were always present. As a result, it became a perfect illustration of hell which is a literal place of eternal torment. According to Jesus, as seen in the verses listed earlier, it is a place where the fire is never quenched and the worm never dies…just like Gehenna.

James associates hell with Satan and his demons. When he says that our tongues are, “set on fire by hell,” he means that our tongues can easily become a tool used by Satan to cause great destruction. This association between hell and Satan is not because Satan lives in hell or is in same way in charge there. That is how hell and Satan are falsely viewed in our culture today. Satan is not in hell today nor is he in charge there. However, one day Satan will be in hell. But he will not be there as the CEO of the place, but rather to endure the worst kind of eternal torment and punishment.

Jesus is clear in Mathew 25:41 that hell is a place that was prepared for Satan and his demons. Unfortunately, they will not be the only ones who spend eternity where the fire is never quenched and where the worm never dies. Revelation 20:15 teaches clearly that if anyone’s name is not found written in the book of life, they will also be thrown into a “lake of fire.” Why? Because of their sin. Hell is not a politically correct topic and it’s not one that people want to hear about, but it is true according to the Bible.

No wonder God calls the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus that leads to forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven, “Good News!” The bad news is clear…there is a literal hell. The Good News is even clearer…you don’t have to go there!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Sticks and Stones are Better

Remember that old adage that we use to say as kids when someone made fun of us? "Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never harm me." We liked to think that this had some type of invisible force field that would allow insults to simply bounce right off of us. The truth is that there has never been a more inaccurate saying in the history of American childhood. Let’s be honest. Words hurt and the hurt goes deep. In most every case, I would prefer sticks and stones over negative words any day.

In James 3:5-12, we learn several truths about the tongue and our speech. We first learn that the tongue is very dangerous. James commands us to understand that in the same way that one small spark can ignite a forest fire, so the tongue, though small, is capable of creating havoc. Like a fire, the tongue is capable of catastrophic destruction. To speak of the tongue as a fire was a well known Old Testament concept (Psalm 120:3-4; Proverbs 16:27; 26:21; Isaiah 30:27). The tongue is capable of great evil and can defile the entire body and our reputations. Fallen man shows himself to be part of this evil world’s system by the usage of his tongue (Matthew 15:10-20; Mark 7:15-23)

James goes as far as teaching that the tongue can easily become Satan’s tool used for Satan’s purposes. It is set on fire by hell. The word translated “hell” is the word “Gehenna.” All other usages of this in the New Testament were used by Jesus in the synoptic Gospels (Mark 9:43-44; Matthew 5:22). It literally means “valley of Hinnom” which was a deep gorge on the southwest side of Jerusalem where garbage and the dead bodies of animals and executed criminals were dumped and continually burned. In the Old Testament it is where the worship of Baal and Molech caused Israelites to sacrifice their children by fire (2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6). Because the fire burned all the time and maggots were present, Jesus used this word to represent eternal hell. I will write more about Gehenna in tomorrow's blog.

The tongue is also defiant (v7-8). James says that virtually every creature known today can be tamed by man. However, the tongue cannot be tamed by human means alone. This is why David asks God to set a guard over his mouth and to keep watch over the door of his lips (Psalm 141:3). The tongue is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. The word “restless” means “unstable” and described a wild animal fighting against captivity. Its venom is worse than a snake because it can destroy more than the body

Finally, the tongue is deceitful (v9-12). With the same tongue we bless the Lord and we curse men (v9-10). How can we use our tongue to bless God and then turn right around with the same tongue and curse man who is made in the image of the God we just blessed? There is no place in the Christian’s life for this type of verbal hypocrisy. The words “ought not” (v10) is a strong negative in the Greek language used only here in the entire New Testament. This goes against every form of logic and example of reason (v11-12). Does a fountain send out both fresh and bitter water from the same opening? Does a fig tree produce both figs and olives or an olive branch produce both olives and figs? Does salt water produce fresh water and salt water? In my opinion, sticks and stones are better.