Thursday, November 30, 2006

In the Boat with Jesus (Holy Land #3 of 14)

While in the Holy Land we visited Capernaum. This is the town where Jesus gave many of His teachings and performed many of His miracles. We saw the ruins and remains of Peter’s mother-in-law’s house. Here, Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Here He healed the paralytic man that was lowered through the roof. Here a father came to Jesus requesting that He heal his daughter. Before Jesus got to his home the young girl had died. Jesus went to her house and raised her from the dead. Here Jesus was touched on the hem of His garment by the woman with the blood disorder and she was healed as well. His list of miracles in this town is staggering.

We went into the remains of a 4th century synagogue. Though it was not the actual synagogue at the time of Jesus, it would have looked very similar and it was on the same exact site as the synagogue in Jesus’ day. It was in this synagogue that Jesus healed the demon possessed man. This demon, speaking through the man, called Jesus the Son of God. Not long after would have been the time of Peter’s confession of Christ at Caesarea Philipi. Right after that would have been the transfiguration of Jesus when God the Father proclaimed in an audible voice that this was His Son. Jesus was proclaimed as God by a demon, by a man and by God. Truly, He is the Son of God. It was also at the gate of this city that Jesus would have called a despised tax collector named Matthew (Levi at the time) to follow Him and be His disciple.

At that point we loaded a Jesus replica boat that would have been very similar to the boat that Jesus and His disciples would have used (minus the engines, of course). As we prepared to set sail on the Sea of Galilee we never could have imagined how the Spirit of God was about to move in all of our hearts. We stood on the front of the boat and watched the sun setting behind the mountains. As we did, they began to play the song, “Shout to the Lord” over the speakers. As we sang the words to that song, watching the sun set and realizing that we were on the very water where Jesus calmed the sea and walked upon the waves, a wave of emotion hit me…one of pure worship…unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life. As we all stood and sang I just wept as I worshipped my Lord. I looked around me and every person stood singing with tears streaming down their faces. This was not manipulated nor was it orchestrated. This was the Holy Spirit. I don’t think that this could ever be replicated exactly as it happened.

I have never experienced such worship in all of my life. Dan Travis, our group leader, asked me if I would like to say a few words of devotion to the group. All I could say to him was, “I don’t think I can!” I was so filled with emotion and with awe of who my Lord was that I could not speak. I could not even continue singing. I could just stand and cry. It was here that I can honestly say that the Spirit of the Lord was bearing witness with my spirit that I am a child of God.

We then left the Sea of Galilee. I love that place. Jesus loved that place. I wonder if I will ever see it again. I hope with all of my heart that I do.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Sitting by the Sea (Holy Land #2 of 14)

As I sit by the Sea of Galilee in the morning for a few minutes before we load the bus for another day of sight seeing in the Holy Land, I am overcome with emotion. So much of Jesus’ earthly ministry centered around this sea. I can look out across this body of water and my inagination kicks in gear.

I can picture Jesus walking by the shore, calling some fishermen with the words, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men!”

I can see Him in a boat just off shore teaching the parable of the sower to the crowds back on shore who are straining to hear His every word !

I can see him instructing the disciples to cast their nets out on the other side of the boat resulting in the greatest catch of fish they have ever experienced!

I can picture the disciples waking Jesus in the midst of a horrible storm with the words, “Master, don’t you care that we perish?” And Jesus standing and commanding “Peace be still” as the winds and the waves immediately calm!

I can picture the disciples again in the midst of a storm on the sea fearing for their lives in the middle of the night and Jesus walking out on the water to them and Peter stepping out of the boat and walking on the water toward Jesus, at least for a few steps!

I can picture Jesus talking to Peter around the fire as he cooks breakfast and asks Peter the question, “Do you love me?”

But most of all, I can picture Jesus getting up a great while before day, while it was still dark, and sitting by the edge of the Sea of Galilee and talking to His Father in heaven!

The beauty of the Sea of Galilee is astounding. But it is more than its spiritual beauty that moves my spirit. It is the beauty of initmacy with the Father that draws me to take a few minutes in the morning to sit by the Sea and imagine and pray.

I have been able to spend a few minutes on three consecutive monrings sitting by the Sea of Galilee. I can think of no better way to start any day. I have spent a few minutes there those evenings as well. It’s beauty at sunset and even after dark is breathtaking. I wish I could come here every morning. I wish I could end each of my days by this sea. I hope that I will be able to return to this sacred and beautiful spot again in my lifetime.

In reality I can daily. It may not be sitting in the quiet by the literal Sea of Galilee, but each morning I can spend a few intimate minutes talking to my Father in heaven as Jesus did by the Sea so many years ago. In my spirit, the Sea of Galilee will be wherever I am because there, at any time of the day, I can steal moments of initmacy with God.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Battle of Good Versus Evil (Holy Land #1 of 14)

While in Israel, I was able to stand on Mt Carmel. This is where the story of Elijah occurred as recorded in 1 Kings 18. After Joshua, Elijah is my favorite Bible character. I have preached and taught on this passage many times. But to stand there in the very vicinity and hear that passage read again from Scripture was staggering.

It was here that Elijah gathered Israel and challenged the prophets of Baal to a showdown by fire. Both would prepare an ox for sacrifice but would light no fire. Whichever God sent down fire from heaven would be the God that Israel would serve. The prohets of Baal went first and they danced and yelled and cut themselves but nothing happened. Elijah taunted them sarcastically and they cried out further but still nothing happened.

Finally it came Elijah’s turn. He had a trench dug around the altar and had water poured over the alar until the trench was filled. He then prayed and immediately God sent down such fire that it consumed not only the sacrifice but also the altar and all the water that was in the trench around it. The people responded to this miracle by falling to their knees and yelling, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!” As a result, Elijash ordered all the false prophets of Baal killed. On Mt Carmel there is a statue of Elijah with his knife raised in the air as he steps on the neck of one of the false prophets.

It was shortly after this that Elijah prayed on Mt Carmel for it to rain. 7 times he asked his servant to go look toward the Mediterranean Sea to see if there was any sign of rain. The first 6 times there was nothing. But the 7th time there was a small cloud like the size of a man’s hand. Within minutes, the wind and rain appeared for the first time after 7 years of drought. In Elijah’s day, God had won the battle of good versus evil.

I just can’t explain to you what it was like to be standing there where all this occurred. But it was a different view from this spot that really caught my attention. As you stood on Mt Carnel you looked out over what is called the Jezreel Valley or the Meggido Valley. I believe it was Napolean who saw this valley and declared that the armies of the world could gather here for war. Chalk one up for Napolean. According to the book of Revelation that is exaclty what will happen at the end as the armies of the world gather for one final battle that we call Armageddon. It will happen in the very valley I was loooking down on to. You could all but imagine it…hundreds of thouands of troops from every army in the world gathered toghether for one huge battle (Revelation 16:13-16).

It is here that these armies will ultimately join together to fight a new enemy…Jesus Christ Himself who will return with His chosen ones (that’s us believers) to set up His Kingdom. And what will be the outcome of this final battle of good versus evil?

These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful!” (Revelation 17:14)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Some Blessings May Be a Curse

Each Thanksgiving we in America take time to count our blessings. But how many times do these blessings that we focus on tend to be related to materialism? Perhaps one of the pitfalls to gratitude is only seeing it through the lens of the things or the wealth that we have. James opens his fifth chapter by teaching us that sometimes what we consider to be blessings are really curses. James focuses on the two failures of materialistic living.

First, we see that though we see it as a blessing, materialism cannot produce safety (v1). In Bible times there was really no middle class which made the gulf between the rich and poor very wide. James warns those who are trusting their riches rather than God. James uses the term “Come now” which is a call to attention and is used only twice in the New Testament, both in the book of James. He vividly describes the coming time when these materialistic minded individuals will weep and howl over the miseries that they will face. The word “weep” means to sob out loud or lament as if someone had died (Mark 5:38-39; Luke 7:13; 8:52; Acts 9:39). The word “howl” appears only here in the New Testament and means to shriek or scream. “Miseries” appears only here and in Romans 3:16. It describes overwhelming hardship, trouble and suffering (Luke 6:24-25).

Second, materialism cannot produce security (v2-3). James prophetically looks into the future when the hoarding of materialistic possessions will be meaningless. Their riches (probably a reference to their grain…Luke 12:15-21) will rot. Their garments would become moth-eaten. James also says that their gold and silver would rust and become useless. James uses an intensive form in the Greek language meaning that they would thoroughly and completely corrode. In the final judgment, what man thinks is important (materialism) is actually spiritually worthless. The term “Last Days” speaks of the time between Christ’s first coming and His second coming. Because of their preoccupation with materialism, these people do not even realize that they are living in the last days.

So, if materialism cannot produce safety or security, what does it bring? First, materialism produces an attitude of selfishness (v4). Much of the wealth of these individuals actually came from withholding wages that were honestly earned by the field workers. James tells us that God Almighty will hear and respond to the cries of these who have been robbed due to the selfishness of those who are focused on materialism.

Materialism also produces an attitude of self-indulgence (v5). According to James, these individuals have luxuriously lived a life of self indulgence, using their wealth only for display or for personal whims. The term “wanton pleasure” means to plunge headlong and describes living lavishly. They are completely ignorant of coming judgment. James likens them to cattle being fattened up for the slaughter.

Finally, materialism produces an attitude of superiority (v6). Due to their feeling of superiority, they have persecuted the righteous person and exploited the poor person. You see, sometimes what we consider to be a blessing is really a curse.

Friday, November 24, 2006

To Fleece or Not to Fleece

Remember the Old Testament story of Gideon. He is the the guy that put a piece of sheep’s skin (a fleece) on the ground to confirm God’s will. He asked God to do this by making the ground all wet with dew but the fleece dry. It worked. He then tried again asking just the opposite, for the fleece to be wet with dew and the ground around it to be dry. Again, it worked. Some see Gideon’s actions as a lack of faith. I’m not so sure.

I remember a friend of mine telling of a time in his family's life when his daughter had a large goiter on her neck. It wasn’t harmful but it was most defnitely an eyesore. The surgery to remove it, however, had the possibility of damaging her vocal chords. As a family they prayed and prayed but had no real peace about which route was God’s will so they decided to lay down a fleece, using the method similar to casting lots. He gathered the family together and put two items on a plate, one singifying “surgery” and the other signifying “no surgery.” They then prayed, asking God to show His will. He then held the plate up and shook it until one of the items fell off the plate. It was the one that signified “surgery.” As a result, they had the procedure and everything turned out fine.

Laura and I took a similar step of faith when I was an Associate Pastor in West Milton, Ohio and we were trying to discern if it was God’s will for us to take a Senior Pastorate position in Osceola, Indiana. We had prayed and prayed but wanted to be sure that our taking this ministry was really God’s will. We asked God for two things. First, we asked that we would get a unanimous vote from the church. Second, we asked that the Senior Pastor I had worked for in Ohio for the previous 10 years would see this as a good fit for me. After all, he knew my ministry strengths and weaknesses better than anyone.

On the Sunday morning I candidated in Osceola, after the services were over, Laura and I were getting ready to take the 4 hour drive back to Ohio. Before we left, one of the Elders asked me what kind of vote I was looking for that evening at their church business meeting in order to accept this position. I readily replied, “100%!” This Elder laughed. He told me that this church had not had a unanimous vote on anything in 30 years. He assured me that the people loved me but that someone would vote no just to vote no. He asked me to reconsider my thinking. The whole way back to Ohio we debated if we should change our fleece. We ended up deciding that we had specifically been asking God for this unanimous vote for weeks. We would stick to our request. To our awe, the chairman of the Search Committee called me that night to tell me that I had received a unanimous vote.

And if that weren’t enough, when I went into the office the next day and shared the details of the weekend and the results of the vote to my Senior Pastor, he replied by saying, “Scott, you know that I have always desired us to minister together forever, but I really believe that this is God’s will for your life!” Now I’m not advocating that all of you start laying down fleeces for every little decision, but Laura and I had no doubts as we drove the moving truck to Indiana, that we were right in the middle of God’s will.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

In His Time

In yesterday’s blog I told you about how God answered our prayer in seeking His will regardinging our coming to Lititz. However, our prayer request concerning our daughter was not the only specific request we had asked for. There were actually two churches that had shown an interest in us at the time. As we visited both of these churches we asked God for this…“Father, as we leave each of these ministries after these visits, please make it absolutely clear to both of us if we should continue to puruse either of them or if we should graciously withdraw our name from all consideration.”

We actually visited a church in Ohio first. This was a wonderful group of people in leadership and the church seemed very exciting and strong. It also was within easy driving distance to Ohio State University…Hey, that was a huge plus for me! However, as we left this church at the end of our visit, before we ever got out of the driveway, Laura and I looked at each other and both agreed, we were 100% sure that this was not where God was leading us. God had answered our prayer.

Next would be our trip to Lititz. Our prayer request was the same. We had a wonderful 4-day visit and were feeling very much like this was the place that God wanted us to puruse. But the final piece of the puzzle to confirm this came at the end of the Sunday morning service. The service ended with the congragtion singing the song, “In His Time.” Frankly, I cannot remember our singing that song once in the nearly 2.5 years since I have been the pastor here at Lititz. Why was this song so special?

Of all the worship songs ever written, none has more meaning to Laura and I than this one. We actually had it sung at our wedding. You see, before Laura and I met, she went through a very difficult broken engagement. It was during this time of hurt and despair that God used a verse in the Bible to promise her in her heart that in His time, she would find true love that leads to marriage. The verse was from Ecclesiastes that says, “He makes all things beautiful in His time.” And that is exactly what He did!

As the Grace Church congregation stood and sang that beautiful song of worship, we stood there and just wept. It was as if God were screaming down to us…“This is my will!” Laura and I will always look back to that moment as the exact time when we realized that we would be moving to Lititz.

In His time
In His time
He makes all things beautiful
In His time
Lord please show me every day
As Your teaching me Your way
That You do just what You say
In Your time

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I Hope it's Closer to the Ocean

As Laura and I were praying about the possibility of moving to Lititz and following Dr. Young as the Senior Pastor here at Grace Church, we had one concern that far exceeded all others. It was our daughter. Joy was in 8th grade and as a Junior High girl, her life was perfect. She loved her friends, her school, her youth group, and her church. In fact, she would often say to me that her greatest fear was that God would call me somehwere else and we would have to move. One of my personal fears as a pastor is that one of my kids will become bitter towards God and/or the church because their dad was in ministry.

Laura and I prayed specifially that if it were God’s will for us to come to Lititz that He would give us confidence that He was working in Joy’s heart. Throughout all of the many initial conversations with the Search Committee from Grace Church, we kept our kids in the dark. We did not want them to have to deal with the anxiety of a possible move until they absolutely had to.

We were scheduled to make a trip to Lititz to meet with the entire Search Committee and to attend the Sunday morning service without anyone knowing that we were there. We decided that this had gotten serious enough that it was time to tell the kids and that they should go with us to see what might be their new home town as well. We were leaving on Thursday morning so we planned to tell our kids after church that Wednesday night. It would be one of those “Good News/Bad News” conversations. Good News…you don’t have to go to school the rest of the week. Bad News…it is due to the fact that we may be moving to Pennsylvania.

On our way in to church that Wednesday night my daughter, who had no clue of what was going on, spoke up and said, “Dad, I’ve been thinking of something.” That will get a dad’s interest. “What have you been thinking about?” I asked. “I’ve been thinking,” she continued, “That if God ever does move you somewhere else, I sure hope it is closer to the ocean.” I was amazed and asked, “What makes you think that?” “I’m not sure,” she said, “I’ve just been thinking a lot about that lately.”

Folks listen, Lititz may not be right on the ocean but it certainly is a whole lot closer to the shore than Osceola, Indiana. At that point we knew that God had answered our prayers. We were confident that we could proceed and that our coming to Lititz was the will of God for our family. And here’s the proverbial “icing on the cake.” Our first day in our new home in Lititz, a family from the church who has a daughter Joy’s age called and invited Joy to come to the shore with them. Imagine that! Her first day in our new home God allowed Joy to not only move closer to the ocean, but to go play in it as well.

Isn’t that just like God? How can we even consider making decisions for our family and our future without consulting His will? There is no chapter and verse in the Bible that said, “Move to Lititz!” But for us, God’s will was clear. And as a result, we have all flourished here in Lancaster County, as individuals and as a family.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Truth about Tomorrow

James has already shown us that loving the world as seen in the previous verses results in our ignoring God’s will. In James 4:13 he commands us to “Come now,” which are words unique to James and used only here and in James 5:1 as an insistent call for attention. This illustration is of one who habitually (“the ones who are saying”) makes detailed plans for their life without any regard to God. This included planning one’s choice of timing (today or tomorrow); planning one’s choice of location (such and such a city); planning one’s choice of duration (spend a year); planning one’s choice of activity (engage in business); and planning one’s choice of goal (make a profit). There is no suggestion that they sought God on any of these issues. James is not condemning wise planning but rather he is condemning planning without any thought of God

What is the problem with planning the details of our future without seeking God (v14)? First, our best laid plans are not guaranteed. There are two aspects of life that are uncertain. This includes the uncertainty of what your life will be like tomorrow. Proverbs 27:1 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” The same mistake is made by the farmer in the parable that Jesus tells of in Luke 12:16-21. Instead, Proverbs 3:5-6 instructs us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”

We also must remember the fact of the brevity of life (Job 7:6-10; Psalm 144:3-4). James describes our life as being like a vapor. This is a word that describes the steam that escapes from a pan cooking over the fire; or a puff of smoke from a fire (Acts 2:19); or the breath that is briefly visible on a cold morning. This was a common theme in the book of Job (7:6, 9; 8:9; 9:25). In light of God’s eternal plan, the length of our lives is very brief.

So what is the prescription for planning our future? James tells us that we should say “if the Lord wills” (v15). These are not magical words to repeat over and over but rather an attitude of including God into our planning and be submitting to His will for our life. Jesus gave us this very example when He was on earth. He said that His food was to do the will of the Father (John 4:34). James is not condemning careful planning, but rather careful planning without thought of God. We need God’s direction in all of our planning (Acts 18:21; 1 Corinthians 4:19; 1 Corinthians 16:7; Philippians 2:9; 2:24; Hebrews 6:3). We are dependent on God for our activities and for our life itself.

According to verses 16-17, to plan without thought of God or to know God’s will but intentionally choose to ignore it is to boast in our arrogance. The word arrogance is plural, showing repeated acts of self-confidence. It describes making more of oneself than the facts warrant. It is bragging about something one does not have and cannot attain. To boast in anything but the Lord is evil. To ignore God and his will for our lives in our self-confident planning is not just an unfortunate oversight. It is sin. That’s the truth about tomorrow.

Friday, November 17, 2006

You Know You're Getting Old If...

 You remember the Saturday night line-up from 9-11pm on television as The Love Boat followed by Fantasy Island

 You thought it was “bad” to have an 8-track player that let you fast forward and rewind

 You were afraid of the Sleestaks on Land of the Lost

 In your 5th grade picture you’re wearing an Izod shirt with the collar up

 The Brady Bunch movie brought back cool memories

 You rode in the back of the station wagon facing the cards behind you

 You watched HR Puffenstuff as a child

 The phrase, “Where’s the beef?” still doubles you over with laughter

 You ever wanted to be “gagged with a spoon

 You owned a Jordache pocket book or thought Jordache jeans were cool

 You remember the phrase, “Hey, let’s be careful out there

 You know who shot JR

 You ever learned to play “Stairway to Heaven” on the guitar

 You were unsure if Diet Coke would ever catch on…after all, look at Tab

 You ever had a Dorothy Hammill haircut

 You owned a pair of rainbow suspenders like Mork used to wear

 You remember when the only movie ratings were G, PG and R

 You learned to swim about the same horrifying time that JAWS came out

 You ever tried to hit on a jukebox twice while saying, “Heeey!!”

 You remember rotary phones

 There was nothing strange about Bert N Ernie Living together

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The World I've Seen

I am very fortunate to have seen a lot of the world. I have been in 42 of the 50 states. But my travel has also taken me to several countries outside of the USA. Counting America, I have had the thrill of being in 12 different countries so far. Along with America these countries include:

Mexico: While at our Grace Brethren Adult Conference in San Diego, we went over the border into Mexico for a big evangelsitic rally.

Canada: Laura and I made it into Canada when we drove to Toronto for our Grace Brethren Conferecne that was being held there.

Spain: Laura and I took a group of our teens on a Missions Trip to Spain while I was a youth pastor at our Grace Brethren Church in West Milton, Ohio.

France: Three years after our Spain trip, Laura and I took an even bigger group of our teenagers from Ohio on a Missions trip to France.

South Korea: I had the privilige of speaking for a full week for a spiritual emphasis week for an English speaking Christian International School in Uijongbu. Laura went with me on this trip as did our son, Jonathan, who was just a baby at the time.

Cambodia: I was part of an installation team that took over and set up the first FM Christian Radio Station in the land of the Killing Fields.

Malaysia: On our trip to Cambodia, we had a one night layover in Malaysia. For the most part, all I saw was the inside of the airport and the inside of a hotel.

Japan: Also on our trip to Cambodia, I had about an hour in an airport in Japan.

Israel: Our most recent trip allowed us to spend 2 weeks in the Holy Land.

Jordan: While in Israel, we also spent 3 days in the country of Jordan.

England: On the way to and from Israel, we had a layover in London.

Of all the trips I have taken, none can even come close to comparing with the two weeks that I just returned from in Israel. I wrote 14 sepcial blogs during this trip detailing the highlights and my thoughts about these experiences. I will post these at times in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I also kept a journal of all that we saw and my thoughts on each experience and how it impacted me. It is 19 pages long. I can’t vouch for it being 100% accurate in all the facts as so much was thrown at us in such a very short time. But if you are that bored and would like to read it I would gladly send it to you in an e-mail attachment. Simply send me an e-mail requesting it at

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Let's Play The Label Game

When is the last time you played the label game? Many of us play it practically everyday of our lives. This is when we label an entire segment of people with one description even though everyone who is part of that group doesn’t share the same characteristic. For example, contrary to cultural thinking,

· Not all blondes are dizzy!
· Not all jocks are stupid!
· Not all democrats are liberal heathens!
· Not all republicans are Christian good guys!
· Not all people with tattoos are rebellious!
· Not all overweight people are lazy!

Unfortunately, we do the same thing with religious labels as well. I’m not just talking about denominational labels. There are countless other labels that we use under the umbrella of Christendom. For example, here are just a few labels:

· Fundamentalist
· Evangelical
· Calvinist
· Armenian
· Seeker Friendly
· Purpose Driven
· Emergent
· Charismatic

The problem is that we tend to lump anyone that even comes close to any of these labels with the same characteristics. Unfortunately, labels are not as neat and tidy as many people try to make them out to be. Believe it or not:

· Not all fundamentalists are extremists!
· Not all charismatics roll in the aisles and handle snakes!
· Not all in the emergent movement deny Jesus is the only way to heaven!
· Not all seeker friendly churches preach a watered down Gospel!
· Not all purpose driven churches are motivated solely by numbers!
· Not all Calvinists are against personal evangelism!
· Not all Armenians are theologically unsound!
· Not all evangelicals are sound in doctrine!

I’m not against distinctions. I have chosen to be Grace Brethren (Grace Church is part of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches). I like the distinctives that go with that label. Yet sometimes I think we have become way too good at playing “the label game”!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

How to Be an Effective Evangelist

While I am away in Israel, several guest writers are filling in for me. Today’s entry is written by Mike Lutz, who heads our Share Ministry here at Grace Church:

I enjoy reading about evangelism and talking with folks who regularly share Jesus and His transforming work with others. As a result of my reading, my discussions, and thirty years of learning how to share Jesus with others, I have changed my opinion about evangelism. I used to think that only pastors and those Christians blessed with a special “gift for evangelism” could share Jesus effectively. The rest of us could participate, perhaps, as prayer partners (prayer, by the way, is essential for effective evangelism). I now understand that any Christian who loves God and who loves people can be an effective evangelist. What does it take to be an effective evangelist? Paul identifies three things in Philippians 1:

1. Learn and practice godly living – Phil 1:27: “Let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” That means that we consistently discover from God’s Word how he wants us to live and that we strive to live His way in every area of life. And when we don’t, we should acknowledge our wrongdoing and ask forgiveness not only of God, but of those we’ve wronged and, if appropriate, make restitution. Are you learning and practicing godly living?

2. Care for others just as they are – Phil 1:7-8: “…just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart…”For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul genuinely cared for people. He accepted them as they were, became what was necessary to reach them. In I Thessalonians 2:7-8 Paul’s heart for people is further revealed to us:”…we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So being affectionately desirous of you, we were well-pleased to impart unto you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives because you had become dear unto us.” Are you learning to love and care for others as Jesus loves and cares for you?

3. Tell others about Jesus – who He is and what He’s done for you and others – Phil 1:14-18: “ Most of the brethren of the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: the former preach Christ from selfish ambition not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached, and in this I rejoice…” In I Thessalonians 2:4 Paul says that: “As we’ve been put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak.” If you have been save from your sin and been transformed by the indwelling Christ, then you have a miraculous story to tell. The only hope the inhabitants of this world have, for time and eternity, is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Are you learning how to tell His (and your) story?

Monday, November 13, 2006

It's All In Your Head

I simply believe that many Christians have yet to realize that the number one spiritual battleground that we each face is in our minds. That is why the Apostle Paul exhorts us to take every thought into captivity. Each thought is important. Why? Because our thoughts effect our behavior. That’s the whole gist of counseling. When someone’s behavior is off, we often have to go back and see what their thoughts are. Wrong thinking leads to wrong living. And Satan loves to attack our minds. He does so through 3 avenues and he is good at using each one of them.

1. Temptations! If you follow the pattern in Scripture you will see that most sin begins with a thought.

2. Deceptions! Satan is a lair and the father of all lies. He can’t tell the truth. As a result, he loves to fill our minds with lies. Lies like, “How could a loving God do that?” “That’s not what God meant!” If we buy into them, we behave incorrectly.

3. Accusations! Satan is the great accuser. He often fills our minds with accusatory thoughts like, “You’re no good!” “How would God love you?”

And when are we most susceptible to these kinds of wrong thoughts? I believe it is when we are weakest. When we are physically worn down; when we are mentally exhausted; when we are spiritually low; when we have gone through difficult circumstances. In First Peter 5:8, the Devil is likened to a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Have you ever watched one of those National Geographic shows showing the lion or tiger preying on and attacking the gazelle? Let me ask you something. When the lion is stalking the herd of gazelles, which gazelle does he go after? The one out in front? The strongest and fastest one? No. He waits to see which one lags behind from the herd because it is weak or sick. That’s the one it pounces on and has for dinner. To the lion, that is easy prey. So it is with you and me. When we are weak, we become far more vulnerable. Satan’s attacks are far more effective. We believe his thoughts and our behavior often shows it.

So what it is a believer to do, especially when they are in times when they are weak? I believe the answer is to take large doses of the Word of God into your mind. That is how we as Christians renew our mind. David said that he hid God’s Word in his heart so that he would not sin against God. We don’t out power Satan. We out truth him!

When Jesus was on earth and Satan tempted Him three times in the wilderness. How did He respond? Each time He quoted Scripture. Why? Did Jesus have to quote Scripture to resist Satan? I don’t think so. After all, He was God. He could have turned Satan into a toad if He wanted to. So why did He respond that way? I think it was as an example to us! He wanted to show us that the best way to defend ourselves against Satan is with the Word of God. The more Word I take into my mind, the more I can easily identify the temptations, lies and accusations that come from the Evil One. It’s in your head!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Putting on Your Spiritual Spectacles

Over the last 2 blogs I have written about how to study the Bible (go back and read the previous 2 blogs if you haven’t already). The first step of Bible Study is preparation. The second step is observation. This involves observing the content and the context of the passage. We also need to observe the characters and the culture in the book we are studying. As you read the book of the Bible you are studying over and over, be sure to write down the names of all the individuals and groups of people that you find. Write down any cultural activities in the passage as well. Research each of these so that you have some background to give you some understanding from a historical perspective.

The next step is that of interpretation. This involves several rules and issues:

Contextual Issue: Know the immediate context of the passage

Normal Usage Issue: Always take literally unless it is impossible to do so

Historic Issue: Study the Bible in its historical context

Grammatical Issue: You cannot understand the Bible theologically unless you first understand it grammatically

Synthetic Issue: One part of the Bible can not teach something that another part of the Bible contradicts

The final step is that of application. Remember, the main goal of Bible Study is life-change. How will we be different based on what we have learned from God’s Word. To help us in this area, we should put on our spiritual spectacles (SPECS).

S = Are there any Sins to avoid?

P = Are there any Promises to claim?

E = Are there any Examples to follow?

C = Are there any Commands to obey?

S = Are they any Specifics that we learn about God?

By answering these questions, you can easily see specific and practical ways that your life can change by applying the Word of God to your life. And let’s not forget what I believe is the best way to learn, study and apply Scripture…Bible Memorization (Psalm 119:11). Serious students of the Bible are those who put the Bible to memory. This just may be the most valuable spiritual discipline that any Christian can practice.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Observing the Bible to Death

In yesterday’s blog, we saw that the first step to Bible Study is preparation. If you did not read that blog, I would encourage you to stop right here and go back and read it before you go any further.

The second step to proper Bible study is observation. In fact, we need to observe the passage we are studying to death. This begins by observing the content. To do this, we must first read whatever book we are studying continuously. In other words, if you are studying the book of Philippians, read the entire book all in one sitting. Next, read it repeatedly. Don’t just read it one time. We learn by repetition. Let me repeat that. We learn by repetition. If you are studying the book of Philippians, read it every day for at least 7 consecutive days. You will be amazed at how much you will observe by doing this. In fact, read the book of Philippians every day for 30 straight days and you will all but master the content of that book. Third, read it independently. Don’t start with tools and commentaries. Start with just the text. Fourth, read it prayerfully. Read a few verses and then take time to talk to the Lord about what you read. Tell Him what you read. Ask Him questions about what you read. Tell Him what you think about what you read. Finally, read it meditatively. The more you read it the easier this becomes. This involves thinking about the content of the book you are studying all throughout your day.

Observation also includes the context of the book. To do this you must discover the theme of the passage. To do this, ask yourself one question…“What is the one thing the whole thing is talking about?” It is crucial that we always interpret the Bible in its context rather than pulling a verse out of its context to develop a theology. The truth is that we can prove just about anything from the Bible by taking phrases of Scripture out of its context. To prove this, try it for yourself. In order to show the need for rightly dividing the Word of God, and how easy it is to get tripped up theologically if we do not, find an isolated verse or phrase in the Bible which, if taken out of context, seemingly proves something that we know is not true.

For Example: In the King James Version of the Bible, Zechariah 2:6 says, “Ho, ho, come forth, and flee from the land of the north saith the Lord: for I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the earth, saith the Lord.” The person talked of in this passage utters the words, “Ho, ho”. This person also lives in the north and somehow supernaturally comes from the north and spreads himself abroad throughout the world like the wind. Who is this? Santa Claus is known for saying, “Ho, ho, ho”. Once a year he flees his home in the north (the North Pole is where he lives) and magically visits all the homes of all the children of the world reaching anywhere and everywhere the wind blows. Thus, it is apparent that the Bible is teaching in Zechariah 2:6 the factual existence of Santa Claus.

Obviously, the Bible does not teach the existence of Santa Claus but this illustration shows us the need to observe the context of what we are studying in Scripture. We need to observe it to death.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Stroke of Bible Study

The Christian life is like swimming upstream and all you have are two strokes. Without one of these strokes, at best you will only maintain. Take away both strokes and you will without doubt go backwards. These two strokes are prayer and Bible study. Perhaps the stroke that is missing the most in the lives of Christians today is that of Bible study. In Second Timothy 2:15, Paul tells Timothy to “be diligent” when it comes to accurately handling the Word of God. This is a Greek word that means to give diligence by exerting oneself. It is the idea of giving great effort and it is a command for each believer.

Why should each individual Christian study the Bible regularly and personally? There are dozens of reasons but let me give you just eight of them. You would do well to take the time to look up each passage.

• II Peter 1:16-21 = It is God’s Word. According to Peter, it is more sure than hearing the very voice of God with our own ears or seeing God with our own eyes.

• Joshua 1:8 = God commanded us to. We are to meditate on it day and night in order to do all that is written in it.

• Romans 10:13-17 = It saves sinners and sanctifies believers. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.

• Matthew 4 = It gives victory over Satan. Jesus responded to each of Satan’s temptations by quoting Scripture. He didn’t do that for Himself as much as He did for we as His followers as an example to show us how to handle temptation.

• II Timothy 4:6-8, 13 = We need it for spiritual growth

• I John 5:11-13 = It answers life’s most important question which is, “Do I know for sure I’m going to heaven?” The whole reason the Bible was written was to answer that question.

• II Timothy 3:16, 17 = It is for our lives today. The Bible contains everything we need to know to do everything that God wants us to do.

• John 20:31 = It is the ultimate proof of our faith

There are four main steps when it comes to Bible study. The first is what we would call preparation. This involves having a proper attitude. This includes an attitude of diligence (Acts 17:10-12); desire (First Peter 2:2); holiness (First Peter 2:1; James 1:21); being Spirit-controlled (First John 2:20, 27); and prayer (Ephesians 1:15-18). When it comes to Bible study we must keep in mind the 5 “P’s”…Proper Preparation Prepares for Powerful Performance.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Girlfriends at Grace

While I am away in Israel, several guest writers are filling in for me. Today’s entry is written by Laura Distler, who heads our Women’s Ministry at Grace Church:

In February 2005, I had lunch with one of the gals at Grace Church. When I shared my heart for women’s ministry, the vision for what we now know as the Girlfriends Task Force was birthed. Over the following two months the two of us diligently prayed that God would bring us a group of gals committed to women’s ministry at Grace. By May 2005, the Task Force had its first official meeting with 7 of us. We spent the entire first year evaluating. What did Grace Church have to offer to women? What did the women of Grace Church want from its women’s ministry? What programs were working in other churches across the country? The overwhelming response from the women at Grace was that they wanted a program that allowed them opportunities to grow spiritually, give them opportunity to get to know one another and make connections with other women with the same interests, and be comfortable inviting unsaved friends to participate with them.

When we came across Girlfriends Unlimited we were amazed at how this program seemed to fit the needs of the women at Grace. Girlfriends Unlimited is a ministry movement that creates innovative places for women to connect, have fun and find a purpose. Its about giving women permission to relax, unwind, gab, develop new friendships, and find a place where they belong. The Grace Brethren Church in Norton Ohio had adopted Girlfriends Unlimited and were seeing tremendous results from it, so we headed west to catch a glimpse. We were hooked! We witnessed first hand how this women’s ministry was moving their own gals into action in bringing women into situations where they could hear and respond to the Gospel. After this trip, 5 more gals were added to the Task Force. In June 2005, we spent two full days praying and planning for Girlfriends at Grace and the year ahead of us.

Girlfriends at Grace desires to enrich the heart, mind and soul of women in all seasons of life by offering a variety of activities designed to introduce Christ and nurture hope, purpose and satisfaction in Him. By offering large themed events, women from Grace and the community will be invited to come, play games, experience some pampering, enjoy entertainment, create a craft, eat fun food and just have a good time with the purpose of introducing them to Grace Church and ultimately to Jesus Christ. Girlfriends at Grace offers classes for women to to study God’s word together. Clubs bring gals together in a shared interest. Encouragement Groups are established based on a woman’s age, stage or circumstance in life, and Service Groups meet tangible needs in the lives of women.

I recently listed every gal who is in some form of leadership in one of these groups and counted sixty-six who have committed to Girlfriends at Grace leadership this year. I am also excited about new groups. There is a group forming for women ages 20-30, a “new-comers” group for gals who are new to the community, a cookie bake/exchange to provide cookies for a local women’s shelter, a book club, and the list just keeps going! It is with great anticipation that we look ahead to what is in store for Girlfriends at Grace!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Ways to Get Involved at Grace

While I am away in Israel, several guest blog writers are filling in for me. Today’s entry is written by Andrew Norton, Business Manager at Grace Church:

Ways to get involved at Grace…

Bulletins--Friday mornings there's a group that folds the Sunday bulletin.

Maintenance--You could come in at 4:00 and change light bulbs in hallways and classrooms. Help mow the grass, or weed & maintain the flowerbeds

Ushering--usher in the Sunday morning services.

Greeters/Welcome--If you have an outgoing personality you can make people feel welcome by being a greeter on Sunday mornings or helping families find the S.S. classrooms for their kids and directing them around the building. If you want to meet people who are new to Grace Church, you can help hand out cookbooks who have attended Grace for the first time.

Music—There are many ways to get involved in the music ministry. See Bryan Nelson, Matt McElravy or Gail Crouse for more details as to what this entails.

Children--You could teach a Sunday School class, help in the nursery, assist our Wednesday night programs with the children, Girls Alive & Boys Stockade. If you like teaching kids about the outdoors and God's creation, joining our boys Stockade program would be a perfect fit. You could help with our youth program as a youth leader/helper.

PEP Group--Our PEP ministry is to ages 55 and older. You can join the planning committee and work with them in organizing activities for that age group by planning trips, putting together outreach events, and stuff like that.

Evangelism--If evangelism is your thing, there's our SHARE team which trains people in how to share their faith and also goes out visiting once a week to visit the people who've attended the church recently.

School--You can help the school program by serving lunches. You can be a secret reader for daycare, preschool, kindergarten, and even elementary classes. You can help the school program’s athletic department through their booster club by selling snacks at their athletic events or by helping maintain the athletic fields or getting the basketball and volleyball courts set up. You can help our school program by assisting the music department in their productions; or coaching the students as they learn their parts for the school plays. If you are into more technical things, you can help them with audio, video & light support; or simply organizing and assisting in the organization of the productions.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Growing Confident

While I am away in Israel, several guest blog writers are filling in for me. Today’s entry is written by John Kegarise, who is one of our Elders here at Grace Church:

A long time ago, at least it seems that way, I became a follower of Jesus. It was the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college. Recently, while taking spiritual inventory, something was brought to my attention. Most of my journey spiritually seems to have balance and there has been mature growth. But it never seems as though my arrival to complete maturity has taken place.

The one disappointment in my spiritual journey is the sharing of my faith with others and leading them to a relationship with Jesus. It basically comes from not having confidence and the unwillingness to trust in the ability of the Holy Spirit to lead the way. Bluntly, it could be simple disobedience. No matter how it is viewed, the least amount of effort is given to this particular aspect of my journey. Like me, many of you on the same spiritual journey to maturity in Christ tend to put the discipline of sharing your faith on the back recesses of your mind. We just wish this was not necessary. The evidence shows there would be more lives changed by Jesus if we were more attentive in sharing our faith.

This is not my spiritual gift” was my best rationalization to justify my behavior. But that is no excuse at all because most of sharing our faith simply involves talking. Most of you can talk but we fail to talk about the one person who has made all the difference in our lives. What seems more relevant is that there are lives that will not respond to the good news of Jesus unless it is shared by you or me. There are those special relationships that we have with others and they are only going to let us “do the talking” about spiritual things. We are to share our faith. Romans 12:15 says, “How welcome are the feet of those who announce the gospel of good things”! Can you imagine the changed lives that are possible if collectively we would be faithful to what we have been taught?

This time, while reflecting on my spiritual journey, I did not cower at the thought of sharing my faith. There was a prayer of asking forgiveness for my unwillingness to share with others and for the confidence to obey the next opportunity given to me. That is where (will call him Martin) came into my life. We met for the very first time with a cup of coffee in each of our hands. We talked about family, employment, our activities and then our spiritual standing. The short version of the story is Martin read from the Bible for the first time ever in his life about how heaven could be a certain reality after death. Martin asked Jesus into his life and is on his way to a glorious future in Christ.

It sounds simple. Imagine if all of you who are hesitant to share your faith would just ask God to give you the confidence to remain faithful to what we were taught. Simply trust that God would go before you in preparing the heart of the one to whom you share. We need to do this! In the process of just doing it, something remarkable may happen not just to others but to you. It did for me! Growing confidence to just doing it!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

What do Jesus and Pete Rose have in common?

While I am away in Israel, several guest blog writers are filling in for me. Today’s entry is written by Rick Glass who heads our men’s ministry here at Grace Church:

Growing up, most kids have heroes. Pete Rose was mine! Yep, Peter Edward Rose, known as “Charlie Hustle”…number 14…was “THE MAN”! I was born in Cincinnati; by default you were a Reds fan. The Big Red Machine was (and still is) the greatest team in all of sports history…in my opinion, anyway. We left Ohio and moved to Lancaster in 1977, and at 5yrs old I was wondering how life would be without Pete and the rest of the Machine! But in December of 1978, Pete signed with the Phillies! My parents told my brother and me that “Pete followed us out here” and I want to still believe that today.

As a kid, I always wore No. 14 on my jerseys; I wanted to play 1st base; I’d run (not jog) to 1st after being walked; I’d “crouch down low” in the batter’s box; I learned to switch hit; and best of all, I loved to slide like Pete – head first after “flipping my head back” to lose my helmet for more drama. Pete Rose has won titles, awards, honors, and records that are too long to list but include World Series titles; Rookie of the Year; MVP and All-Star honors. He holds the record for all time hits with 4,256. But none of this matters. Pete Rose will always be remembered for gambling on baseball and being banned for life from Major League Baseball in 1989. That’s his legacy…Some hero, huh?

Kids will always look to be like somebody or like some sports hero. It’s not Pete Rose today…but guys like Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, Payton Manning, Donovan McNabb, and as it pains me to even write this, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart (although NASCAR is NOT a sport…There is NO BALL so it can’t be)! It’s my want, wish and desire that my kids want to be like Jesus and that they want to be like Jesus because their Dad wants to also be like Jesus and they see Him in me! I love the challenge from the song…

Lord, I want to be just like You
‘Cause he wants to be just like me
I want to be a holy example
For his innocent eyes to see
Help me be a living Bible, Lord
That my little boy can read
I want to be just like You
‘Cause he wants to be just like me

So what do Pete Rose and Jesus have in common? I have “out-grown” my infatuation with Pete Rose. My wife might tell you different but I really have! As a kid, I wanted to be like Pete. Now as a dad, a husband, a neighbor, friend, co-worker…I want to be like Jesus. By the way, if He wanted to, I’ll bet Jesus could have “hit the cover” off a ball in His day…OOPS! I didn’t mean to say “bet”!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Dream Come True

Today is the day that Laura and I will be leaving on what we can only call “a dream come true” trip to the Holy Land. As someone who spends large amounts of time each week studying the Bible and who readily enjoys the history and cultural aspects of the Bible, the prospect of seeing the land of the Bible with my own eyes and walking where the great men and women of Scripture walked is nothing short of amazing.

I am excited about all of the different places we will visit that have such historical value to the Christian faith, but I am most eager to visit the Garden of Gethsemane. I can’t wait to spend some time in the very place that Jesus had so many intimate times of laughter, talking and teaching with His disciples. I long to take the time to pray where Jesus’ agony for the redemption of mankind begin as he prayed with such intensity that He sweat great drops of blood ending with the words, “Not My will, but Yours be done.”

It will also be special to spend Laura’s birthday in the town of Bethlehem, the very small city where the God of eternity; the very one who spoke the world into existence, entered our world as a baby in a manger to become our Savior. What a thrill it will be to stand on the hillside where the Shepherds saw the great host of angels announcing those wonderful words, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” I am looking forward to our time in Bethlehem as I will be preaching on the significance of that place on Sunday, December 17th in both morning worship services.

Our plane leaves from the Dulles Airport on November 1st for Israel (with a layover in London) and returns back to Dulles on November 13th. I am convinced that this will be a life-changing trip for me. As a result of this trip, I am praying that my preaching will be far more passionate after visiting the Holy Land than ever before in my ministry.

As a result of this trip, I will be out of the office from October 30-November 14. While I am gone, there will still be new entries posted on my blog each and every week day for you to read. I have asked several folks, most of who are from Grace Church, to serve as “Guest Writers” for me for some of the days that I am away. I know that you will enjoy reading their thoughts and hope your will continue to visit daily. Below is the tentative schedule:

Nov 1 – A dream come true (written by me)
Nov 2 – What do Pete Rose and Jesus have in common? (by Rick Glass)
Nov 3 – Growing confident (by John Kegarise)
Nov 6 – Ways to get involved at Grace (by Andrew Norton)
Nov 7 – Gilrfriends at Grace (by Laura Distler)
Nov 8 – The stroke of Bible study (written by me)
Nov 9 – Observing the Bible to death (written by me)
Nov 10 – Putting on your spiritual spectacles (written by me)
Nov 13 – It's all in your head (written by me)
Nov 14 - How to be an effective evangelist by Mike Lutz)

Nov 15 - Let's play the label game (written by me)