Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Valentine's idea

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Do you men know yet what you’re getting your special someone this year? Here’s an idea for you!

This past Sunday I preached on Mary from Mark 14 who lavished her love on Jesus by anointing Him with perfume. The perfume was nard which was a very costly perfume made from a rare plant root in India. According the Bible, the pound of nard that Mary used was estimated at 300 denarii which would have been the equivalent of years’ wages for a common worker of that day and culture. That’s pretty expensive perfume, huh?

That made me wonder…what is the most expensive perfume that can be bought today? Here is what I discovered:

The most expensive perfume that can be bought over the counter today is Clive Christian No. 1. Recognized as the world's most expensive perfume, this sophisticated scent is created from the rarest, finest ingredients including:

· An oriental-ambery fragrance
· Top notes of bergamot, lime, Sicilian mandarin, cardamom, nutmeg, and thyme
· Heart notes of lily of the valley, rose, jasmine, ylang ylang, and heliotrope
· Base notes of cedarwood, sandalwood, vetiver, ambery woods, and vanilla.

You can purchase this fragrance at Saks Fifth Avenue for $2,150.00 for a 1 oz. bottle. That means to purchase a pound of this fragrance (remember that Mary used a full pound of Nard to lavish love on Jesus) you would pay out a measly $34,400.00.

But wait . . .

You could really make this special. For a small up charge you can contact the company directly and they will customize the bottle that the perfume comes in to suit your own whim. This is exactly what Sir Elton John did (gee.., I can’t believe I just mentioned Elton John in my blog!). He paid $250,000.00 in American money for a bottle of Clive Christian No. 1 in the shape of a piano.

Wait again . . .

For those of you men who really want to make some points this Valentine’s Day, let me recommend an even different twist. Go out and buy your wife a fragrance that was created by renowned British perfumer Arthur Burnham. It is held in a 4 inch bottle that is made with platinum, 24 carat gold, rubies and diamonds. Encasing the bottle is a very special box constructed by Rolls-Royce coach builders. It is locked with a gold and jewel studded key. Inspired by the Rolls-Royce Phantom Six, it is called Parfum VI. The price? It’s just $83,170.00. But you better hurry…only 173 bottles have been made.

Monday, January 30, 2006

One who anoints and one who betrays

Here is an easy assignment. Take time to compare and contrast the following two people. How are they similar? In what ways are they different? The two people are Mother Theresa and Osama Bin Laden. Ready, set, go! Pretty striking contrast isn’t it?

In the first 11 verses of Mark 14 we see two individuals to compare and contrast. The first is a woman named Mary (see John 12:3). She is the sister of Lazarus whom Jesus earlier had resurrected from the dead. While Jesus was eating at the home of Simon the leper in Bethany, Mary came in to where Jesus was reclining at the table. She held an alabaster jar which contained a very costly perfume. This was pure nard which was a very expensive aromatic oil from a rare plant root native to India. The perfume’s worth was estimated at the equivalent of a full year’s wages for a common worker.

Mary walked up to Jesus, broke the jar, and poured the perfume over His head. According to John’s account, she also anointed his feet and wiped them dry with her hair. It is amazing, because Mary is seen 3 times in the Gospels and all 3 times she can be found at the feet of Jesus (Lk 10:38-42; Jn 11:31-32; Jn 12:1-8). The Bible teaches us that the result was that the whole house was filled with this strong fragrance. Jesus called what Mary did, “good.” She was spiritually perceptive. What she was doing was to symbolically anoint the Lord’s body before His death in preparation for His burial. Jesus promised Mary that her deed of love toward Him would be told to the world and it has.

When Mary did this act of extravagant love, the disciples protested. They felt the money could have been better used to help the poor. They were insensitive to the need to lavish love on Jesus. Judas Iscariot was the one who spear-headed this disapproval. To Judas, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He knew that the religious leaders had already decided that Jesus should die. He knew that they were seeking a way to arrest Him. Due to the fact that it was time for the feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread, they were going to wait. They feared that arresting Jesus during the feast would create an uprising from the crowd.

In contrast to Mary, who used a perfume worth a year’s wages to lavish extravagant love on Jesus, Judas approached the Chief Priests with a plan to betray Jesus if the price was right. He would help them find a time and a place to arrest Jesus when no crowds were present. The religious leaders welcomed this unexpected offer and agreed to pay Judas 30 lousy pieces of silver, the price of a common slave.

Take time to contrast these two individuals. How easy it is for us to betray our Lord. We do it every time we sin. We do it every time we fail to spend time with Him. We do it every time we fail to speak about Him to others He brings us in contact with. Yet, when was the last time you or I lavished extravagant love on Jesus. When was the last time we did something that cost us something significant (time, money, popularity, etc.) because we were so overwhelmed at who He was and the great love that He has shown to us?

Friday, January 27, 2006

I'd like to meet Mark

Beginning this Sunday, we will start a new 12-week series that will take us verse by verse through Mark chapters 14-16 as we see the passion of Christ from the perspective of the Gospel of Mark. We will be calling this series, “Experience the Passion.” In order to fully appreciate what we will study, it would be good for you to know a little more about the author of this second Gospel in the New Testament.

Mark was probably the youngest of all the Gospel writers at the time of his writing this account. Nothing is known about his father, but his mother was named Mary who was a resident of Jerusalem and a sister to Barnabas (Acts 12:12; Colossians 4:10).

Mark is not mentioned by name in the Gospels but it seems fairly apparent that he knew the Apostles and Jesus. Some have speculated that it was his house in which the last supper took place (Mark 14:12-16). Some believe that Mark was the young man spoken of in his account (Mark 14:51-52) who followed Jesus after his arrest but who later fled naked when the arresting crowd spotted him. This speculation is primarily due to the uniqueness of the Gospel of Mark being the only Gospel to record this event.

Mark is first mentioned in the Bible at the time of James’ martyrdom and Peter’s being put in prison (Acts 12:12-17). He accompanied Paul and Barnabas during parts of their first missionary journey (acts 12:25; 13:3-13). Mark later left them abruptly and returned to Jerusalem. This caused a rift that separated Paul and Barnabas later on due to Barnabas wanting to take Mark again but Paul not feeling that was a good idea (Acts 15).

For about the next 10 years of his life the Bible is silent on the life of Mark. He is later associated with Paul during his first Roman imprisonment (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24). Mark also worked with Peter (I Peter 5:13). During Paul’s second Roman imprisonment, he asked Timothy to come and see him and to bring Mark with him (II Timothy 4:11). Obviously, Mark had grown deeply in his faith and service of the Lord. Tradition has it that Mark ended up going to Egypt and establishing churches in Alexandria. Many believe he died as a martyr during the reign and persecution of Nero.

Mark probably got much of his information from Peter while working with him. This would explain the many pointed references to Peter in the writing such as seen in Mark 16:7 when it speaks of the words of the angels after Christ’s resurrection.

The Gospel of Mark is very distinctive in nature. It is a book of action seen by the often repeated word, “immediately.” Mark very much has a “say it and move on” style of writing that doesn’t allow for a lot of editorial. This is much different than the writing of Luke who was a historian and medical doctor and who would use much additional explanations and facts. Over 90% of the content of Mark can be found in the other 3 Gospels as well. Mark does have some controversy in its final verses (Mark 16:9-20) which many believe were not part of his original manuscript but were added later.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

My philosophy of preaching

I am a preacher. That is my job. It is what I love to do. I would preach every day of the week if only there were those who would come and listen. I live for Sundays. I love being able to preach twice each Sunday morning. But what is my goal when I preach? What am I really trying to accomplish? There are as many philosophies of preaching as there are preachers and I’m sure that many, perhaps even most, would not agree with my personal goals. That is fine. I do not think my philosophy of preaching is more spiritual or more effective than anyone else’s. It is, however, me. It is the style that I have developed over the nearly 20 years that I have been a pastor, especially these past 11 years that I have had the thrill of being a Senior Pastor, able to preach weekly. So what are my personal goals each Sunday when I preach? There are many, but here are three:

  1. To balance depth with practicality. I have found that many pastors tend to lean heavily one way or the other. Either their preaching is very weighty on the side of depth or it is very weighty on the side of practicality. I want to avoid both extremes. If my main philosophy is to present depth then I find that the result is that a few learn, some may be awed by my knowledge, but most leave wondering what in the world I was talking about. Yet, if my target is to be 100% practical than I find that some people may act upon the principles and ideas but most remain pretty shallow in their faith. My attempt is to preach in such a way that everyone can learn something they did not already know while at the same time finding at least one very practical element of Scripture that connects with them. I definitely wan to teach the Bible accurately and though I teach the meanings behind the Greek Grammar and word studies, I usually refrain from quoting the actual Greek words. I could rely heavily on this as Greek was my minor in my undergraduate work, but I am looking for balance.
  2. To balance entertainment with seriousness. I do not believe that preaching needs to be boring. I like using humor and creativity in my messages. I find it keeps my audience awake and helps them to stay with me as I walk them through the elements of the passage. It is my goal that my congregation be able to experience different emotions. In the course of a 35 minute message you will hopefully find moments that you laugh; moments that you think; moments that unsettle you; moments that move you; moments that convict you; and perhaps even moments that make you cry.
  3. To emphasize and motivate toward life-change. It is my philosophy that the purpose of preaching and the purpose of the Word is to bring about life change in people. Learning is great and we want that to happen. But if there is never any decision to change, what have we really accomplished? Can we really study the Word of God without finding at least one area in which we need to repent? One area in which we need to change? One area in which to take a step of faith? One area in which we should never be the same again? My goal is that my preaching results in life change as the Spirit of God uses His word in the lives of people. To me, this means making the passage personal and being transparent about my own life.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Burn, baby, burn

Next month (February 2006) Grace Church will make its final mortgage payment. This is truly amazing when you consider the size and make-up of the church when this 2.8 million dollar loan was taken. Here is what Business Manager, Andrew Norton, wrote about this step of faith in his blog (http://admingrace.blogspot.com/) recently:

Funding is a key component of any project, but Grace’s dream was so large that most financial institutions considered it too great a liability for them to absorb for the church. Even the Grace Brethren Fellowship’s financial organization, designed to assist churches expand, wasn’t willing to absorb the total cost of the project. Only one financial institution had confidence to offer Grace the full $2.8 million loan.”

But when it was all said and done, God will have allowed our church to complete this task without ever missing one payment. Praise His name! As a result, we have set aside Sunday morning, April 23rd (the Sunday following Easter) to celebrate this momentous occasion of God’s faithfulness with a mortgage burning as part of our morning services. I have personally invited Dr. Young and Loreen to join us on that special morning. Dr. Young is the one who led the church into this step of faith and I think it would only be fitting and honoring to have him say a few words as part of that morning’s celebration and to be the one who actually burns the mortgage on that morning. Dr. Young and Loreen have graciously agreed to make the time to be here at Grace Church that Sunday.

This special morning will not be about an ending. This accomplishment is not an end. Why does God prove Himself faithful to us? So that we will have even greater faith and confidence to trust Him in the future and step out in greater ways of faith as He leads us through His Word and through His Spirit. This special mortgage burning will not be focusing on the past…it will be focusing on the future.

What is the next step of faith God wants us to take? That is still being determined. As you know, we have been able to purchase the 12.5 acres of land across the street. In the very near future I will be putting together a “Concept Development Team.” Their job will be to take all of the information we have already gathered from surveys of the staff; vision meetings with ministry leaders; the findings of our diligence committee; and the findings of our research committee and to look 20 years into the future and give us an idea of the facility we are going to need to meet the ministries of not only today but also the ministries that God will bring us in the future. At that point we will be able to take a step back into reality and put together the steps that we must take together.

What will it look like? What will it include? What will be new? How will the present facility be changed? These are all questions that cannot be answered right now but we will have the thrill together of answering them in the future. Let us stay as committed as ever as a church to being unified as a Body of Christ and in bathing our church ministry, the present and the future, in consistent, regular, fervent prayer before our Lord.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Seen one cow . . . seen them all

One of the things that I often do in my blogs and even in my preaching is to allow you to see inside the real “Scott Distler.” Unfortunately, one of my strengths, which is the ability to be transparent, can also at times be one of my weaknesses. During these times that I get transparent and tell or write of personal stories in my life, opinions I have, and the experiences I have encountered, I also take a risk.

Human nature is one that can easily cause people to bristle whenever they hear an opinion they don’t agree with or learn of something about someone they don’t like. As a result, most pastors refrain from being so transparent. They already feel as if they live in a glass house and don’t want to offer any unnecessary information that may allow others to struggle in accepting them. Well, this is one of those blogs. It is not meant to in any way to demean what others enjoy or see as important. It’s just my opinion.

One of the things that Laura and I have heard so much about from people and on television is the annual Pennsylvania State Farm Show in Harrisburg. Not knowing what we would discover, we decided we needed to go see what all of the excitement was all about. On the next to last day of the show we traveled to the State Capitol to experience a true Pennsylvania spectacle.

My first impression was to be amazed at the number of people that were there. Literally thousands upon thousands of people were piling into the facilities for this event. I wasn’t expecting it to be near as big as it was. We walked through each large exhibition hall. One hall was full of tractors. One hall was full of chickens. One hall was full of cows. One hall was full of goats. And, of course, there were many other halls with additional friends of the animal world and exhibits.

So, was I impressed? I was impressed with the size of the facility and the number of people that were there, but in my humble opinion as someone that grew up as a “city boy”, if you’ve seen one cow, you’ve seen them all. If you’ve seen on goat, you’ve seen them all. If you’ve see one chicken, you’ve seen them all. Will I ever go back to the Farm Show in Harrisburg? Well, never is a long, long time but I’d be much more interested if it were a big baseball card show instead. In the meantime, I think I would rather check out some of these other attractions that I have not had the chance to visit yet:
  • Wheatland
  • Ephrata Cloister
  • National Civil War Museum
  • State Capitol
  • Valley Forge
  • Shea Stadium
  • Yankee Stadium
  • Fenway Park

Monday, January 23, 2006

The 8 principles of stewardship

First is the “Who’s In Charge” Principle. This principle says that God’s the owner and I’m just the manager. The question is, If God owns it all, then what am I doing with it? “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world and those who dwell in it.” (Psalm 24:1)

Second is the “Give and Grow” Principle. This principle says that practicing stewardship produces spiritual growth. Stewardship is God’s way of raising Christians. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

Third is the “Do it Now” Principle. This principle says that stewardship deals with our present resources. The person who waits to do a great deal of good at once will never do anything. “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” (Luke 16:10)

Fourth is the “Fountain Of Youth” Principle. This principle says that we live forever through our giving. Stewardship is how we invest into eternity. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20)

Fifth is the “Who’s #1” Principle. This principle says that God deserves the first of everything. “Honor the Lord from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine.” (Proverbs 3:9-10)

Sixth is the “Cheerful Attitude” Principle. This principle says that stewardship begins with loving, not giving. We can give without loving, but we can not love without giving. “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (Second Corinthians 9:6-7)

Seventh is the “Big Shovel” Principle. This principle says that you cannot out-give God. “Give and it will be given to you. They will pout into your lap a good measure; pressed down, shaken together and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6:38)

Eighth is the “Who Has Who” Principle. This principle says that until God has control of my life, I’m out of control. Stewardship deal with the person, not just the purse. "Therefore, I urge you by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)

Friday, January 20, 2006

The most beautiful women I have met

In yesterday’s blog I wrote about beauty. Let me review a couple of my main thoughts:
  • There is nothing wrong with outward beauty
  • Inward beauty, however, is more important
  • After a certain point, outward beauty begins to deteriorates

Inward beauty can progress every day of your life. It’s true! If you know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, you can become more beautiful every single day the rest of your life. When it comes to inward beauty some of the most beautiful women I have ever known are elderly. Let me tell you about them.

Mrs. Cain was a dear elderly lady that attended the church I grew up in back in Akron, Ohio. She was a very close friend of our family. My grandparents did not live near us for most of my childhood and as a result, Mrs. Cain became my surrogate grandmother. When I was little, she would baby sit me on a regular basis. I loved going to Mrs. Cain’s house. We would play the game Cootie together for hours. Usually, it was a Saturday night and her favorite television show was on that evening. It was the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Mrs. Cain’s favorite part was the introduction. As the theme music echoed, “You’re going to make it after all,” Mary Tyler Moore would throw her hat up into the air and it would freeze into a still shot. Mrs. Cain loved that. She would laugh every time. Though she could not read music, Mrs. Cain played the piano by ear. She would always sit down and play and sing her favorite hymn, “He the pearly gates will open so that I may enter in, for He purchased my redemption and forgave me all my sin.” It was a very sad day for my family when Mrs. Cain died. Whenever Mrs. Cain would greet you she would do so by saying, “Well, Scott" (or whatever your name was). I could just picture Mrs. Cain taking her last breath on earth, opening her eyes in heaven and looking into the face of her precious Savior and with her huge smile declaring, “Well, Jesus!”

Another beautiful woman I know is named Agnes Bracker. Agnes’ husband served as the pastor of the Osceola Grace Brethren Church in Indiana where she still attends. He has long since gone home to heaven. Agnes is just the dearest, sweetest lady I know (next to my wife, of course). She is a lover of everyone and was my most enthusiastic cheerleader during the nine years that I served as the Senior Pastor of the Osceola Church. No one could possibly have been a bigger encourager to me than Agnes was over those years. We would include her in all of our birthday celebrations and she would join in just like she had always been part of the family (paper fights and all). We still get to visit with Agnes once or twice a year since her daughter lives in Myerstown. We just adore Agnes. The thing I will always appreciate most about this dear woman of God is that she is without a doubt the greatest prayer warrior I have ever met. She would walk every day and pray every step of the way. If there was ever an issue where I needed fervent prayer from a true prayer warrior, Agnes is who I went to with the issue. She and Mrs. Cain are two of the most beautiful women I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Pretty woman

Much of our culture today is centered around beauty. Though this can be taken to an extreme, it’s not all bad. In First Peter 3:3-4, Peter wrote these words about beauty:

Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit which is precious in the sight of God.”

Now notice that this is not a blanket statement against outward beauty. There is nothing wrong with trying to look good. There is nothing wrong with doing your hair or putting on make-up. In fact, how’s the old adage go, “If the barn needs painted…paint it.” This verse is not speaking against beauty. In fact, according to Willard Harley in his best selling book, His Needs Her Needs, one of the needs that every husband has is an attractive spouse. Now at the risk of being labeled a ‘male chauvinist pig’ (that’s okay, I’ve been called worse) let me share with you one of my pet peeves. It’s when a wife gets all decked out to go to the grocery store and shop in front of a bunch of strangers but could care less what she looks like when her husband comes home from work. Listen, who cares how the grocer sees you . . . look good for your husband! Harley says, “When a wife looks good, a husband feels good.” There is nothing wrong with outward beauty.

This passage is teaching us that there is something more important than outward beauty and that of course is inward beauty, or as Peter calls it, “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit.” Outward beauty is important but it is not near as important as inward beauty, and ladies, inward beauty can only be developed by spending time alone with your Heavenly Father . . . time in His Word and time in prayer. Think about it. How much time do you spend each day on your outward beauty? Be sure to include your usage of the 24 bottles of shampoos, conditioners and whatever else that you have in the shower. Now, how much time do you spend each day on your inward beauty? I’m not advocating spending less time on your outward beauty. I’m simply asking you to re-evaluate how much time you spend on your inward beauty.

You see, there is bad news and good news. The bad news is that when it comes to physical beauty, you will (if you haven’t yet) reach your peak. From there it’s all down hill. After a certain age, you don’t get more physically beautiful, you begin to deteriorate in that area. I can prove it. How many Senior Citizens do you know that have won the Miss America Pageant? But here is the good news. Inward beauty can increase every single day for the rest of your life. That’s right. If you know Jesus you can become more and more beautiful the rest of your days on earth. After all, some of the most beautiful people I know are grandmas (I will introduce a few of those to you in tomorrow’s blog).

Here is another amazing fact about beauty. Peter goes on to say in verse 5 that the way holy women in the past used to make themselves beautiful was by being submissive to their own husband. That’s not “male chauvinism”…that’s the teaching of Scripture.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Love is in the air

There are many aspects of being the pastor of Grace Church that I thoroughly love and enjoy (there are also some things I do not love nor enjoy but we will save that for a different blog posting). One of my favorite aspects of my ministry here is helping to prepare young couples for marriage and then being a part of that special day in which they “tie the knot.” I don’t take this part of my ministry for granted. It isn’t easy! Current statistics tell us that the divorce rate inside the church has reached near the same levels as those outside the church. Marriage is tough. David Hocking wrote a book entitled, Bad Marriages Take Time; Good Marriage Take More Time. He’s right. I like to define marriage as this: “The art of two incompatible people living together compatibly"!

Currently I have the joy of working with several couples to help prepare them for marriage. These include:
  • Kelly Early and Shawn Kroeck (getting married in April)
  • Danna McClain and Khyle Keener (getting married in June)
  • Abigail Krantz and Matthew Lauris (getting married in June)
  • Megan Weber and Phil Wilkerson (getting married in July
  • Teresa Fisher and Steve Detz (getting married in September)

For each of these couples, I will have had a pre-meeting which is followed by 6 sessions together. During these sessions we look at many aspects of marriage including:

  • Predictors of marital success
  • Reasons for marriage
  • Biblical love
  • Three stages of marriage
  • God’s purpose in marriage
  • The role of a godly husband
  • The role of a godly wife
  • Temperaments and acceptance
  • Communication
  • Handling conflict
  • Insights into intimacy
  • Affair-proofing your marriage

Our final session together is set aside solely for discussing their wedding ceremony. In most all of the weddings that I officiate, my wife, Laura, is the coordinator. Though she has been working with the bride to be for many weeks prior to the wedding, she also joins us for this final session together. It is a wonderful feeling to lead a couple in saying their vows after spending all of this time getting to know them better and showing them from the Bible what marriage is all about and how wonderful of a treasure it really is.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

I hate tithing

All my life I grew up being taught that I had to give 10% of every dollar I earned into the church offering. Every dime I received as a kid saw a penny plunked down into the plate as it went by me in Children’s Church. That practice carried on through college and all the way through my 10 years as a Youth Pastor in Ohio. Even as I began my first Senior Pastorate ministry in Indiana, I faithfully gave 10% of all of my income every Sunday in the offering. Now before you bestow upon me the “life-time achievement in tithing” award, let me make a confession. I hated it! I mean it. I hated it! I couldn’t stand giving 10% of my money every week in the offering. It grinded me to have to do this week in and week out. The longer I practiced this principle the more I hated it. To me, tithing was a huge “chain and ball” wrapped around my spiritual ankle.

Then our church in Indiana began to hit some had times financially and the Elder Board suggested I preach a series on giving. To me, this couldn’t be too hard. I would do to my church what had always been done to me. I will laden them with a guilt-filled message on why they must give 10% of all of their income in the church offering in order to be considered spiritual. So, off I went to search the Bible and find that all-inclusive New Testament verse that clearly and neatly outlined the 10% principle of tithing. The only problem was that I couldn’t find it.

The more I searched the New Testament, the more intrigued I became. When my study was done, I had come to a new conclusion than I had never known. The pattern of giving in the New Testament wasn’t a 10% “chain and ball” like I had thought it was all those years, even ministry years. The New Testament pattern of giving seemed to simply be this . . . give your best. Suddenly I felt a freedom in giving that I never knew existed. The 10% “chain and ball” was taken off my spiritual ankle and I felt like I could spiritually run for the first time in my life when it came to stewardship. So I had to ask myself a question. I knew I was giving 10%, but was I giving my best?

My wife and I talked about this principle. I couldn’t believe what our conclusion was. Yes, we were faithfully (yet reluctantly) giving 10% every Sunday but we could not honestly say that were giving our best. We could give more. Oh, it would mean some sacrifice, but can we really say that we are giving our best if there is no sacrifice involved? From that time forward we have always given more than 10%. Not because we have to . . . but because we want to. The amazing thing is this. When I gave 10% I hated it, but when I started giving my best which was more than 10%, I loved it. It became my favorite check to write each week. I found myself looking for other ways to give. Suddenly the very thing that had felt like a “chain and ball” in the past now had become one of my spiritual joys. And with this joy came spiritual growth in many other areas of my life as well.

Paul was right when he wrote in II Cor 9:7, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Monday, January 16, 2006

Is tithing Biblical?

When the offering is taken in church, you often hear it called our “tithes and offerings.” Where do we get that concept? A tithe is actually an Old Testament word that meant “a tenth.” So is it really Biblical to “tithe” today or is that just the church’s way of putting their members on a guilt trip so that they give more money? Are we really commanded in the Bible to give 10% of all of our income in the offering?

To answer these questions we must start in the Old Testament. How was giving done way back then? It is obvious that the concept of tithing can be seen. Abraham paid tithes to the priest, Melchizedek, who was a type of Christ (Genesis 28:20-22). This was done 400 years prior to the Law, so obviously the whole concept of tithing is not just a matter of the Law. In Genesis 28:20-22, Jacob promised a tithe to God (again before the Law was put into place). The Law certainly included tithing (Leviticus 27:30-33), but do you realize that it required much more than 10%? Under the Law, the Jews were required to pay 3 tithes. The first 10% was paid yearly to support the priests. The second 10% was also paid yearly to pay for national feasts and holidays. However, a third tithe was also required every 3 years to help support orphans and widows (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). If you put these 3 tithes together, it meant that the Jews under the Law gave an average of 23% of their income yearly. Gee, 10% is not sounding too bad right now, is it?

In Proverbs 3:9-10, the basic principle for Old Testament giving was stated as something that was to be done generously and as a priority. You were to give to God first. In fact, according to Malachi 3:10, not tithing was seen as robbing God.

Did tithing carry over to the New Testament? It was obviously taking place in Jesus’ day (see Matthew 6:1-4 and Luke 11:42). In fact, Jesus Himself endorsed the tithe in Matthew 23:23. Tithing was also taught by Paul as a means by which Gospel ministers were to be supported in the New Testament church (First Corinthians 9:7-14). However, nowhere in the New Testament is a specific percentage ever required. Paul does give us some specific instructions for giving, however, in First Corinthians 16:1-2.

First, our giving is to be a priority. It is to be done on the first day of every week. In other words, it is to be systematic and regular. We are to give to the Lord first, not simply a portion of whatever is left over. Second, giving is to include each one of us. It is a command for every believer in order to be obedient (even the poor as seen in Mark 12:41-44). Finally, we are to give as we have prospered. In other words, it isn’t about a specific percentage. It is all about giving my best. That is the New Testament standard of giving. That’s what the widow gave when she put in the two small copper coins in Mark 12:41-44. That’s what the little boy gave in John 6:1-13 when he gave his entire lunch to Jesus. And most certainly that is what God gave when He gave His only begotten Son to be the sacrifice for our sin. So rest easy...it’s not about giving 10%. The question that you must honestly answer is, “Are your giving your best?” Now that is a soul-searching type of question. Are you really giving God your best in the offering?

Friday, January 13, 2006

6 picked from Grace

How exciting it is for 6 of our teenagers from Grace Church to be selected to be part of this summer’s Operation Barnabas team. These young people include Adriane Crouse, Joy Distler, Cory Getz, Zach Hartmann, Jordan Vance and Andrew Wingert. A young person is chosen for Operation Barnabas primarily on character and attitude, not talent. Each applicant has been highly recommended by our church to participate in this life-changing experience

Operation Barnabas teams are developed to give growing Christian senior high youth such a thirst for ministry, that upon their return, they will have a greater desire to serve Christ in their lives and in their local church. You might remember that we as a church hosted Operation Barnabas orientation last summer. This summer will be the 33rd year for Operation Barnabas which is sponsored by CE National. They have traveled throughout the entire United States as well as the Philippines and Brazil. This summer the domestic teams will be traveling on the West Coast, including Mexico.

The name “Barnabas” means “encouragement” and that will be their goal this summer. These 6 teens will be part of a team of 33 teenagers and six adults traveling to churches to do evangelism, manual labor, singing, children’s ministries, puppets, sign language, drama and many other things. This summer will be one of great spiritual challenge in which they will get first-hand experience in ministry and in leadership training.

Would you begin now to be praying for these teenagers as they prepare for this summer and also as they experience this ministry first-hand? Here are some specific things that you can pray for each of them regarding:

  • Safety for traveling while on this trip
  • Wisdom in making decisions that will effect this upcoming ministry experience
  • An open heart and mind to what God will teach them
  • That God would provide the entire sum of money that is required for this trip
  • That they will have opportunities that will stretch them out of their comfort zone
  • An optimistic attitude and willingness to be flexible in whatever ways are needed
  • A fun and enjoyable summer with endless possibilities

Each team member is responsible to raise their own support for their training, food, and transportation as well as for equipment and other related expenses. The finances due to CE National are $2,380 per teenager (a total of $14,280 for the group of 6 teens). Would you also pray about the part that you might be able to play financially to help our six teenagers accomplish this goal? If you might be able to help financially, please send donations directly to CE National (PO Box 365, Winona Lake, IN 46590). When you do send a gift to help, please be sure to designate the name(s) of the teens that the gift is to be applied toward. Please also understand that these donations are not tax deductible. Thank you for investing in the lives of our teenagers!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Hoops review

By now you should know that I am a big sports fan. There are so many aspects of being the pastor of Grace Church that I love and one of them is being able to get caught up in the excitement of following our athletic programs here at Lititz Christian School. Right now we are smack dab in the middle of basketball season. If you have not yet been out to see our varsity squads play, I would certainly encourage you to do so.

Our girl’s varsity squad is simply outstanding. At the time of my writing this blog (keep in mind that blogs are usually written well in advance of the date they are posted on the web) our girls stand 9-2 on the season and 5-0 in the CCAC (Commonwealth Christian Athletic Conference), giving them sole possession of first place in the east bracket of the conference. Coach Rohrer’s squad is building to have a very good chance to join the girl’s volleyball team of LCS in winning the league championship this school year.

This squad is very solid with Joanna Bitner, a very fast and steady ball-handler, running the point. The big offensive weapon of the team is junior center, Angie Rapchinski, who is skilled both inside the lane and outside the perimeter. Angie was the quickest athlete to reach 1,000 points in the history of Lititz Christian School and the all-time school scoring record is well within reach in her upcoming senior year. The team has two solid seniors in Erika Bernheisel and Ashley Fox. Both are forwards who can play a very aggressive style of defense and still add to the point total on offense. Sophomore Jenny Kupstas is one of the most exciting players to watch on the court. There are few things I find more entertaining to watch in basketball than intensity and Jenny definitely shows that. The team also has some young talent in sophomore Tanya Enk and a trio of freshmen in Karlee Carper, Nina Gundrum, and Monica Plush. This provides a solid bench for coach Mike Rohrer and his assistant, Tracy Reffeor. After this successful season, the squad will only be losing their two seniors and should be a competitive force in the CCAC for several years to come.

The varsity boy’s squad is currently in a rebuilding mode under coach Andy Brightbill and is still looking for their first varsity win since the 2003-2004 season. Through the losses, this team is improving each game and is making their opponents work for the win. Rebuilding is a difficult time-period but this team has not let down in their positive attitudes and their commitment to work hard in practice and in games. The boy’s varsity team will only lose one senior next year in forward Eric Rohrbach. They will also be picking up six or more current 8th graders who will be freshmen next year. This will allow the program to have what most winning high school programs must have which are a junior varsity and a varsity squad. A couple of next year’s freshmen can also shoot from the outside which will fill a big need in the high school program next year.

Speaking of basketball, did you catch these recent scores? The Ohio State Women’s team beat Penn State 74-53 and the Ohio State Men’s basketball team demolished Penn State 104-69!! Combine the two scores and it’s Buckeyes 178, Nittany Lions 122!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Hi! Welcome to Wal-mart!

If you attended one of our three Christmas weekend services, then you know that our theme for the morning centered all around the Charlie Brown Christmas Movie. As a result, I “humbled myself” and dressed up like the blockhead himself, Charlie Brown. The feedback I have received after dressing up as this cartoon character for all three of our Christmas weekend services has been . . . well, let’s just say . . . interesting. Here are a couple of related stories:

About a week after Christmas, I was talking with one couple who attend our church very regularly. The wife commented on how much she enjoyed the Christmas service and how she thought it was neat that I dressed up like Charlie Brown. At this point I was feeling pretty good. However, I noticed that the husband had a real quizzical look on his face due to her comment. He tilted his head as if he were trying to solve a very deep and intellectual problem and said, “So that’s why you were dressed like that!” Come to find out he never put it together that I was dressing like Charlie Brown. I asked him what he thought I was trying to do. He said, “I just thought you were being goofy.”

How do you like that? Now, I don’t want to say that it was obvious, but I did say for several weeks prior to Christmas that Charlie Brown would be at all of our Christmas services. And let’s not forget that there was a giant blow-up Snoopy on top of his doghouse sitting up on the stage. We showed a total of 7 minutes of clips from the Charlie Brown Christmas video and I even spent the first 5-7 minutes of my message talking about none other than Charlie Brown.

Yet, I had another church member tell me that one of his relatives was visiting and didn’t put together that I was Charlie Brown either until later that day at the family dinner when everyone was talking about the service. Now, come on. Who else wears a yellow shirt with a black zigzag around the bottom of it? That’s as bad as when I dressed up like Robin Hood when I was a youth pastor and all the little kids thought I was Peter Pan.

But here’s the best story that was told to me recently. In fact, it was told to my wife first and I knew it was good when I saw her nearly hyper-ventilating due to laughing so hysterically. One family had their son in town visiting for the Holidays who had never been to our church. He came into the auditorium and I greeted him as I did everyone that weekend while dressed in my yellow Charlie Brown shirt, black shorts, yellow knee socks and brown shoes. Though I realize that this is not a politically-correct term, he later told his parents that as he sat down he thought, “How nice. This church allows that little retarded man to stand at the door and greet people.” Imagine his shock and horror when a little bit later that same “little man” was now preaching on stage!!

Well, as is the case with every event in life, there is a silver lining to this whole issue. At least I know that if I ever decide to get out of the ministry I could always get a job as a greeter at the local Wal-Mart. “Hi! Welcome to Wal-Mart!”

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

What is the pastor's class?

What is the Pastor’s Class?
This is a class designed to help new people to Grace Church get better acquainted with me while learning more about how Grace Church operates and what our church believes.

What is the format of this class?
It is a very informal time-period. Each class runs about 75 minutes in length. The first 30 minutes is a Q&A time where you can ask me any question you would like about myself, about our church, about the Bible or about current events. The final 45 minutes is spent going over a lesson about what Grace Church believes.

What topics are gone over at this class?
Over these classes we cover what Grace Church believes about the Bible; about Jesus; about sin and salvation; about building intimacy with God; about baptism, communion and church membership; and what Grace Church believes about stewardship. Each person is also provided with a notebook that has all of the class notes in it as well as complete notes on what Grace Church believes on God, the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts. This notebook also contains a copy of the church constitution and a copy of a church membership application.

If I take this class am I committed to becoming a member of the church?
No. Although taking the Pastor’s Class is required to become a member of Grace Church, you are not in any way obligated to become a member by taking the class.

When will the next Pastor’s class be held?
The pastor’s class is usually held 3 times a year. The next class will be held on 7 consecutive Wednesday evenings from 7:00 to 8:15 beginning January 25th in the school Art Room.

Is child-care available if I take the class?
Yes. Our full Wednesday night children’s and youth programs happen at the exact same time as the pastor’s class so there is something for everyone in the whole family.

What do I have to do to attend?
Simply call the church office and let them know that you would like to sign-up for the Pastor’s class. There is no cost to take this class. Please consider registering today!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Your money or your life?

My best guess would be that it is the least favorite sermon topic to the average church attender. What am I talking about? Money, of course. But why it is the least favorite topic of those who sit in the pew, do you realize that money was one of the most favorite topics of Jesus when He walked one earth? Jesus talked about money in 16 out of his 38 parables. That means that 42% of his parables included teaching on money. Imagine what would happen if four out of every ten sermons I preached was on the topic of money. The truth is that the Bible has much to say about money. On the average, one out of every ten verses in the Gospels deals with money. Overall, there are over 2,000 verses in the Bible that deals with money or possessions while there are only 500 verses that deal with prayer. Why did Jesus talk about money so much? Why must we be sure to teach accurately on this subject as well today? Because without question, money is one of the hardest things there is to give over to the Lordship of Christ in our lives.

In First Corinthians 4:1-4, Paul states that we are both servants and stewards. The word servant here speaks of an under-rower. This was the lowest level of oarsmen on the big ships of that day. These were usually manned by slaves and it was by far the worst position on the ship. Stewardship doesn’t begin with our money. Stewardship begins by recognizing that, like under-rowers of old, we are to be completely subordinate in every area of our life to Christ as our Master.

The word steward speaks of a “house manager.” Like Joseph was to Potiphar in the Old Testament (Genesis 39), a house manager owns nothing but is put in charge of all of his master’s possessions. The house manager’s job is to care for all of these items in such a way that his master prospers. The same is true for us as Christians. We own nothing. All that we have comes from God and belongs to God. Our job is to use all which God gives us in such a way that His Kingdom prospers. That’s stewardship. It is the proper management of my life in order to enhance the Kingdom of God. Stewardship must first recognize that God owns everything (Psalm 24:1). Stewardship must then see our position as a sacred trust (First Timothy 6:20). Finally, stewardship must also realize that I have a personal responsibility to be a good steward (notice how we move from the plural in verse 1 to the singular in verse two of First Corinthians 4).

And what is the greatest quality of a steward? According to First Corinthians 4:2, it is that we are found to be faithful. The greatest quality of a steward is not brilliance, cleverness, creativity or popularity. It’s faithfulness. Faithfulness is essential. You can see it in the life of Timothy (First Corinthians 4:17). You can see it in the life of Epaphras (Colossians 1:17). You can see it in the life of Paul (First Corinthians 7:25). And you can see it in the life of Tychicus (Colossians 4:7). The big question today my friend is, can it be seen in you? Can it be seen in me?

Stewardship isn’t about your money. That’s way too simple. Anyone can write a check. Stewardship goes much deeper. It costs far more. Stewardship is about your very life.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Middle of the road church

I often get asked, “What style of worship do you use at Grace Church?” Is it traditional? Is it contemporary? Is it progressive? Is it blended? Is it seeker-sensitive? That’s a difficult question to answer because different people have different ideas of the multiple styles of worship and services that exist today. Some people view a “progressive” style differently than others do and some people define “seeker sensitive” differently too. In other words, these words have different meanings and connotations for different people.

So what is our style of worship here at Grace Church? Well, I’ll use the term “Middle of the Road” to answer that question. Here is what I mean. Let’s compare our style of worship and services to two other larger area churches. First, there is Calvary Church out by Lancaster Bible College. This is a very fundamental church that is solid in doctrine and committed to reaching lost people and discipling them in the faith. How do we compare to Calvary Church? I think it would be safe to say that Calvary is a bit more traditional in their style of worship and services than we are here at Grace.

Then there’s Lancaster County Bible Church, known in short as LCBC. This is a much larger church that is seeker oriented. Again, this is a good church with a solid doctrinal standing and one that is fully committed to seeing people who are far from God become fully devoted followers of Christ. How does Grace Church compare with their style of services and worship? It would be safe to say that LCBC is much more progressive than we are on our weekend services.

So on one hand you have Calvary Church that is more traditional than we are here at Grace Church and on the other hand you have LCBC that is much more progressive than we are here at Grace Church. That’s why I say, in comparison we are a “middle of the road church” when it comes to area styles of worship. I think this is a very good thing for the church as a whole in our area. I would imagine that between our three churches (Grace, Calvary and LCBC) there are close to 10,000 people that attend services each weekend. To me, that is a very exciting statistic. It also allows those in our community to find a good church in which to be involved for the cause of Christ that fits with their personal style of worship. If someone visits Grace and says, “I really liked it but your church is just a bit too progressive for me,” then I can genuinely recommend that they check out Calvary Church. If someone visits on a Sunday and says, “I really liked it but your church is just a bit too traditional for me,” then I can genuinely recommend that they check out LCBC.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am in no way saying that these are the only good churches in our area. There are many good churches of all sizes and styles. I just use these two churches as examples because they are more known in our area. After all, there is no competition between lighthouses! In fact, one of my goals in 2006 is to get to know the Sr. Pastors of Calvary Church and LCBC personally and to develop a friendship with them and to be able to rejoice with them as to what God is doing in their ministries.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

If they write it . . . I read it

So what’s on your list of books to read in 2006? I have to admit that I am not an avid reader. I obviously do a lot of reading during the day to prepare for sermons and what have you, but when it comes to pleasure, reading is not my cup of tea. My brain gets used so much during the course of the day, that when I get home, the last thing I want to do is use my brain some more. So instead, I watch TV (usually ESPN and FOX News). This way I don’t have to use my brain. I can just relax. But when I do get the urge to read, it is usually a book from one of my favorite authors. I’ve listed them below:

Charles Swindol: I love this guy’s books because he is able to teach you deep truths but in a way that you not only understand it, but you also know how to apply it. I have read just about everything he has written, but my favorite book of his is entitled, Laugh Again, which is wonderful study on the book of Philippians. I also have really enjoyed his series on the great characters of the Bible. Elijah has been my favorite of these so far.

Bill Hybels: Most people know him as the pastor of the mega church near Chicago. He is also a very talented writer. His books always push me out of my comfort zone when it comes to leadership in ministry. Outside of the Bible, the book that has influenced me more than any other is his book entitled, Honest to God? Becoming an Authentic Christian. I also was deeply challenged by his book, Courageous Leadership.

Lee Strobel: This former atheist has become one of the best known Christian Apologists in the country. He is best known for his thorough three volume works, The Case for Christ; The Case for Faith; and The Case for the Creator. In my opinion, all three of these are “must reads” for every believer.

John Ortberg: John is the former teaching pastor with Bill Hybels at Willow Creek. Now he is the Sr. Pastor of his own church in San Fran Cisco. My favorite work of Johns is entitled, If You Want to Walk on Water You Have to Get Out of the Boat. God used this book tremendously in my life when I was praying through if I should come to Lititz or remain pastoring in Osceola, Indiana.

John Maxwell: This guy is the leadership guru. I love everything he puts out. My favorite works include his writings on the Laws of Leadership and Laws of Teamwork.

Rick Warren: His world-wide best seller, The Purpose Driven Life, is an amazing book, but the writing of his I have appreciated the most is similarly titled, The Purpose Driven Church. It’s an outstanding book to remind us to be purpose driven as a local church.

Ed Dobson: Dr. Dobson was the Sr. Pastor of Calvary Church in Grand Rapids until his recent retirement due to a physical disease. He is the best preacher I have ever heard in my life. His books are few in number but they have greatly challenged me including his work co-authored with Cal Thomas entitled, Blinded by Might.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Outreach 2006

Recently the ministry staff of the church got together to brainstorm about possible outreach events and strategies for 2006. Below are some of the ideas we talked about. Now don’t blow a gasket. This doesn’t mean that we are doing all of the things listed below in the next calendar year. It was just a very exciting brainstorming session.

Handing out bottles of water at Lititz Specialty Shows
We could make connections with people by offering free bottles of water at the shows down at the Lititz Springs Park including the craft show; art show and antique show.

We could make one very nice parade float that would be general enough for many different ministries to use. We could pick 5 area parades and have 5 different ministries enter the float in one of the parades, handing out fliers promoting their ministries.

Harvest Weekend
We could have a harvest weekend fair including the possibility of a Car show; Bounces; Pumpkin carving contests; Baking contests; Candy scrambles; and outdoor music.

High’s Day
We could rent out all of the activities at High’s on 501 in Lititz including the driving range, batting cages, miniature golf, go karts, and car wash. We could make all of these available to the community on a Saturday afternoon free of charge, compliments of Grace Church. We could even give free fountain drinks at Sheetz during that same time-frame, compliments of Grace Church.

Appreciation Days
We could have a special appreciation morning on a Sunday morning to honor a specific area of the community. This could be a Little League, Soccer or Football Appreciation Day; or a special Teacher Appreciation Banquet for all Public School faculty and staff

Expanding Patriotic Celebration
We could expand the Patriotic Celebration by including an afternoon picnic or hog roast along with doing the VBS fun fair on that day rather than on the night before VBS.

Rodeo and Country Western Worship Service
We could bring in a rodeo on the land across the street that we have recently purchased and include with it a special country-western Sunday morning worship service.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The exaltation of Christ

Since early December we have been studying Christmas on Sunday mornings at Grace Church from the vantage point of Christ as seen in Philippians 2:1-11. This wonderful passage about having the attitude that brings unity in the church as illustrated by Christ in His incarnation ends in grand fashion. Philippians 2:9-11 triumphantly reads:

“Therefore also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

How can you read that and not just want to stand to your feet and shout, “Hallelujah! Even so come Lord Jesus! Bring it on!” Because of the incarnation and death of Christ, God has highly exalted Christ. Hebrews 4:14 teaches that He passed into the heavens. But that’s not it. Hebrews 7:26 teaches that He passed higher than the heavens. But that’s still not it. Ephesians 4:9 teaches that He passed far above all of the heavens. As a result, He has been given a name that is above every name. This isn’t just a title. This speaks of the total person including the office, rank, and dignity attached to it. It is above every name. In other words, it is more important and greater in position and authority than any other name. Acts 4:12 teaches the following about the name of Jesus:

And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

We as His followers already know this. But one day, it will be a universal knowledge. Every knee will one day bow in submission to the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord. The big question of eternity is not, “Will you bow before Christ?” The big question is, “When will you bow before Christ?” This will also include a universal proclamation as every tongue confesses that He is Lord…that He is God. This will not be uttered just by humans (those on the earth). It will include those in heaven (the angels) as well as those under the earth (Satan himself and his cohort of demons).

This isn’t teaching a universal salvation of everyone. This is saying that even if you reject Christ now, you will one day bow before Him and acknowledge Him as Lord. This will probably happen at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 19) that results in all who rejected Christ on earth being cast into a lake of fire for all of eternity. Oh, my friend, don’t wait for that day. Call on Him now according to Romans 10:9 which says:

That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

And the result of it all will be the glory of God. God is glorified when Jesus is exalted. As we enter this New Year, may that be the purpose of each day we live…to glorify God!