Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Nascar evangelism

You have heard me say many times that evangelism must be the engine that drives the church. Well one church has given a whole new meaning to the phrase, “start your engines.” The following is from ESPN The Magazine (May 22, 2006).

On Easter Sunday a crow-black 1997 Goodwrench stock car sat in the parking lot at Bayside Community Church in Brandenton, Fla., as nearly 1000 people braved a long line to get their picture taken standing next to it. This was quite a gathering: the three-year old church drew twice as many worshipers as for a typical Sunday service.

Easter is the most popular day to go to church in America, so perhaps all the extra people were called by a higher power, or a guilty conscience. Or maybe some of them worship NASCAR (this is Florida, after all). Whatever the reasons, Bayside achieved its goal: more people in the pews. The show car, of course, was made famous by Dale Earnhardt Sr., who drove this particular whip at Richmond, Martinsville, Phoenix and Loudon.

Bayside rented the ride from RCR Racing for upward of $3,000. Lead pastor Randy Bezet even wrote a sermon inspired by the car. After listening to The Race of Life ("Sometimes in life we need a pit stop, we need to get our wheels changed, to get refueled, and when you're going around the track, you can't do it alone"), each congregant received a ticket for the once-in-a-lifetime photo op. They were also encouraged to return the next Sunday to pick up their pics. "On Sundays, any church competes against going to the beach or football games or watching NASCAR," says Gregg Ellery, a church volunteer who handed out NASCAR memorabilia to the folks in line. "I think churches today are more aware of this competition. We just want to stay relevant...."

You know I love sports, but honestly, I do not consider NASCAR a real sport (or golf for that matter). I just have never been able to get into watching these cars go in circles for hours. However, I realize that there are many who follow NASCAR religiously. On our own church staff we have at least three individuals who are “NASCAR junkies.” I won’t give their names so as not to embarrass them but their initials are Andrew Norton, Elaine Bendinsky and Bryan Nelson.

I applaud this church for their creativity in using our culture today as a tool to get people under the sound of the Gospel. The Apostle Paul was willing to become all things to all men so that some could be saved. In other words, he had “A MAP” for evangelism which was to win “As Many As Possible.” My mentor, Steve Peters, who was my Senior Pastor for my first 10 years in ministry, used to say, “We are free to do anything but sin to reach people for Jesus.” Yes, I completely understand that salvation is 100% a work of God. He is the one who draws people to Himself and He is the one who saves them. But He has given us a role…“How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how can they hear unless someone tells them?” (Romans 10:14)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Living Room: Place of Petition

As we have overviewed the Mansion of prayer we have seen 4 of the rooms, what they each mean, and a key to unlock each of them to greater effectiveness. They have been:

The Foyer…Place of Confession: Key = Be honest
The Throne Room…Place of Adoration: Key = Be creative
The Trophy Room…Place of Thanksgiving: Key = Keep a spiritual journal
The Guest Room…Place of Intercession: Key = Identify with who you are praying for

Now we reach the final room which is the Living Room. This is what we call the place of petition. This is where we seek God for our own needs. The common word used for this in the New Testament is “supplication.” It literally means “to beg” or “to lack.” It is the idea of a beggar sitting at the side of the road begging the help of not just anyone, but the king himself as he passes by. It expressed destitution and inadequacy. It is in fact the inability to meet one’s own needs and having a total dependence on another. J. Oswald Sanders described it as a need expressed in a cry.

In Hebrews 4:14-16, we are taught that because Christ is our great High Priest, we can boldly make petitions to the Father. In Philippians 4:6-7, we are told to not be anxious about our life. This is a command meaning to allow ourselves to be distracted or feel pulled in diverse directions. Instead, we are to pray about everything. This is another command telling us to transfer the time and energy we put into worrying into praying instead. In other words, turn your “worry list” into your “prayer list.”

When we do this, the result is that the peace of God guards our heart and mind. This isn’t just any peace. This is a peace that transcends all of our mental ability to grasp and appreciate, even in the worst of circumstances. It acts as a guard. This word was used to describe a garrison of soldiers on duty (see Second Corinthians 11:32). What does it guard? It guards our heart…how we feel about things; and it guards our mind…how we think about things. Why is this crucial? Because it is wrong feelings and wrong thoughts that will create wrong behavior in our lives.

So what is the key to this room? The key here is to be specific. We are to pray with prayers (general requests) and supplications. This word speaks of personal details. One of the greatest lessons I have learned when it comes to my prayer life is to pray more specifically so that I can see and measure God’s answers to my requests. The more specifically I pray, the more I see answers to my prayers which build my faith and motivate me to spend even more time in every room of the Mansion of Prayer. I have heard two statements about prayer that have stuck with me over the years. They are:

Nothing of eternal importance happens apart from prayer!

Prayer is striking the winning blow while service is gathering up the results!”

Friday, May 26, 2006

Time to take a step

When was the last time that you took a step in your Christian Life? Imagine what would happen here at Grace Church if all of us would determine to take another step! Let me give some possibilities. Which will you commit to do that you are not currently doing?
  • Spend 15 minutes every day reading your Bible
  • Memorize the books of the Bible in order
  • Spend 15 minutes every day in prayer
  • Memorize a new verse of Scripture every week
  • Follow the Lord in water baptism
  • Take the pastor’s class and become a member of the church
  • Read a good book that will enhance your Christian Life…start with Rick Warren’s best seller, The Purpose Driven Life
  • Find a Christian friend of your own gender to keep you accountable
  • Discover your spiritual gift
  • Start attending one of our Sunday morning Adult Bible Fellowship Classes
  • Get involved in an area of ministry within our church
  • Target three unbelievers that you will pray for daily; connect with regularly; and partner with the ministries of Grace Church to get under the sound of the Gospel
  • Write out your personal testimony. Ask an unbeliever that you know to read it and give you their opinion on it
  • Invite someone to church
  • Keep a spiritual journal with 3 entries a week concerning what you are learning about God and how God is working in your life
  • Fast one day a month and spend in prayer the time you would normally spend eating
  • Tithe regularly, systematically and cheerfully through the local church

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Keeping your guard up

In First Thessalonians 4:3, Paul exhorts the church at Thessalonica to “abstain from all sexual immorality.” The word “abstain” gives the idea of staying as far away from something as possible. In other words, we must always keep our guard up when it comes to sexual purity. For me, that means taking this battle seriously. As a result, I have several personal policies that I will make no exceptions regarding.

For example, it is my personal policy and practice to never council a female when no one else is in the office area. As a result, any counseling I do with ladies has to occur during the office work hours when other staff are working or on Wednesday nights while other people are working or meeting in the office areas as well. And even during these times when the office area is occupied, if I am meeting with just another woman, then the blinds on both of my office windows must always remain open.

Another example is that I will never make a home visit where a female is home alone or home with just their small children. For me to make a home visit, their must be an older child, or more preferably, another male relative home. In cases where I must make a visit where a woman is home by herself, then I will only drop by if my wife is with me.

A third example is that I will never ride in a vehicle alone with another woman (other than my own family members) or with a group of ladies unless there is at least one other man in the vehicle as well. I don’t make any exceptions here. In other words, if you are a lady from our church and you are walking down the road and it is raining cats and dogs and you are without an umbrella and getting absolutely drenched, and I happen to drive by and I am alone in my car, guess what? You are going to continue getting wet.

Realizing that access to pornography and sexual discussions are rampant through the internet, we have a very good filter on all of our computers at the church and all internet access is monitored regularly and carefully. At home, it is much too easy to be alone with the internet and be tempted. As a result, at my house, only my wife knows the password to get on the internet. That means that I cannot get on the internet at home unless my wife gets me on to the internet. This way, I cannot be on the internet when I am home by myself and I cannot be on the internet without my wife knowing that I am on the web. We also keep the computer in a highly visible area of our house.

Now, are all of these safeguards necessary? Absolutely! Earlier in First Thessalonians 4, Paul told the believers that when it came to sexual purity they were doing well but that they needed to “excel even more.” In other words, I am not just to avoid every form of sexual immorality, but I am also to stay as far away from it as possible. But that is not enough either. I must also be committed to excelling even more and finding even more safeguards to take me even further away from the trap of sexual sin.

So tell me, is your guard up? Can you excel even more?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Somebody's praying me through

Last Sunday as we were studying through the Mansion of Prayer, we got to what we called the Guest Room. This is the place of intercession, the place where we pray for the needs of others. We learned that this involves intensity. In Acts 12:5, the church prayed “fervently” for Peter in prison awaiting execution. The word “fervently” was a medical term describing stretching a muscle to its limit. These believers didn’t just pray; they stretched their spiritual muscles to the limit as they prayed. In Romans 15:30, Paul didn’t just ask the church at Rome to pray for him. He asked them to “strive together” in prayer for him. It comes from the Greek word where we get our English word “agonize.” He asked them to agonize in prayer for him. When was the last time that you agonized in prayer for someone else, stretching your spiritual muscles to the limit?

Can you remember a time in your life when the only thing that got you through was that somebody was praying for you? We closed that Sunday’s service with a song. The lyrics to that song were written by Darrell R. Brown and Ty Lacy and are written out for you below. May God use it today to bring us to our knees on behalf of somebody else.

Somebody's Praying Me Through

Pressing over me like a big blue sky
I know someone has me on their heart tonight
That's why I know it's gonna be alright
'Cause somebody's praying me through
Somebody's praying me through

It may be my Mother, it might be my Dad
Or an old friend I've forgot I had
But whoever it is I'm so glad that
Somebody's praying me through
Somebody's praying me through

Through the tears, through the rain
Through the sorrow, through the pain
It keeps bringing me through
Over and over again
So when you're drowning in a sea of hurt
And it feels like life couldn't get any worse
There's a blessing waiting to push back the curse

'Cause somebody's praying you through
Somebody's praying you through
Someone got down on their knees and prayed for me
Somebody's, somebody's praying you through

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

My marital facts

Today is May 23, 2006. Nineteen years ago today, May 23, 1987, Laura and I were married. What a great 19 years it has been. I wouldn’t trade our relationship for anything. So in honor of our anniversary, here are the historical facts of our relationship:

Where did you meet? At the Fort Flea Market in Lynchburg, VA while we were both students at Liberty University. Laura was a town student and I was an R.A. on campus. That day at the flea market she was looking for a toaster, a garbage can, and a picture frame for her boyfriend who lived in Texas. She ended up with me!

What was your first date? Later on that very day that we met at the flea market, Laura was on campus in the DeMoss building on a pay phone talking to her boyfriend in Texas. I waited a few feet away until she was off the phone and asked her if she wanted to go with me to the movie that night on campus. Her reply was, “I guess I don’t have anything better to do!” For the record, the movie was E.T.

Where and how did you get engaged? In the mall parking lot in Roanoke, VA. I was a dirty mess because I had a side job digging ditches. I left right from work to head out to the mall in Roanoke with Laura to get her ring size taken with the understanding that it would be several days before the ring would be done. Instead, the jeweler said if we could wait an hour, he would have it done. When we got back to the car, she obviously knew I had the ring, so in my best “ditch-digging” clothes, I proposed…she accepted.

Where were you married? At the Temple Baptist Church in Pueblo, CO, at the same altar where Laura’s parents dedicated her to the Lord as a baby.

Where did you spend your honeymoon? In Manitou Springs, Colorado.

Where were your kids born? Both Joy and Jonathan were born at the Good Samaritan hospital in Dayton, OH while I was serving as youth pastor at the Community Grace Brethren Church in West Milton, OH

Where is your favorite place to visit as a couple? Maine! Especially the quaint coastal town of Boothbay Harbor!

What are your favorite things to do as a couple? We love spending my day off together every Friday. It is by far the highlight of our week. Believe it or not…we love going grocery shopping together. Due to how we met, we also love going to flea markets. Back when we lived in Northern, IN, we loved going up to Lake Michigan. One of our most favorite things to do is to visit lighthouses.

Where all have you lived since you have been married? We have lived in West Milton, OH; Potsdam, OH; Mishawaka, IN; Elkhart, IN; and now in Lititz, PA.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Guest Room: Place of Intercession

The Guest Room in the Mansion of Prayer is where we spend time hanging out with God as we pray for the needs of other people. Paul exhorted Timothy to offer prayers on behalf of all men (Second Timothy 2:1). The idea of intercession describes one that goes to his father on behalf of another or a person who entered a king’s presence to submit a request for another person. You can see Abraham interceding for Sodom (Genesis 18:23-33) and the example of Moses who interceded for Israel as God prepared to punish them for making and worshipping the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:1-14). In Ephesians 6:18, Paul commands us to pray “at all times for all of the Saints.”

But just how do we do this effectively? It really involves two things. First, there must be intensity. Praying for others in a lackadaisical way has no effect. In Acts 12:5, when Luke describes the church praying for Peter who was in prison awaiting execution, he says that they prayed “fervently.” This is a medical term that describes stretching a muscle to its limit. That takes energy. In Romans 15:30, Paul asks the church at Rome not just to pray for him but to “agonize” in prayer for him. That takes intensity.

A great example of someone who prayed for others like this is a hero of the New Testament named Epaphras who is talked about in Colossians 4. He was a member of the church of Colosee and according to verse 7, he was involved in evangelism and discipleship and was very quick to serve others. According to verse 12, he was also submissive and had suffered for sharing his faith in Christ (see Philemon 23).

But take a careful look at Colossians 4:12. Notice how he prayed for the church. First, his intercession was frequent. He prayed “always.” This is an adverb of time showing persistence and frequency (the same idea as in First Thessalonians 5:17). In other words, he saw praying for others as a priority. Do you?

His intercession was also intense. He “labored earnestly.” Like in Romans 15:30, this is where we get our word “to agonize.” It was used to speak of wrestling or hand to hand combat. Tell me, do you pray for others with that kind of intensity?

Finally, his prayers for others were specific. He prayed specifically that they would stand perfect and that they would be fully assured in the will of God for their lives. He didn’t just pray a casual, “God, bless the church.”

So what is the key to open this room to greater effectiveness? I believe the key is to identify with the person you are praying for. In Hebrews 13:3, Paul speaks of remembering in prayer those who were in prison for their faith as if you were in prison with them. If I heard that your child was diagnosed with leukemia, I would pray for them. But if it were my child, I would pray much more intensely. Imagine how our prayers for others would change if we would pray for the as if their need were really our need? That’s the type of intercessor I want when needs come into my life, don’t you?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Creating memorable church services

I just finished listening to a wonderful talk by Bill Hybles which he gave at the end of last year’s Leadership Summit at Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Illinois. In this talk, he gave the 4 things that we must do as leaders within our local churches. The first one was the need to keep the vision clear. The second one was the need to get the people in our churches engaged in the ministry of the church.

But it was the third statement that really struck a chord within me. It was the need to make our gatherings memorable. In other words, create great church services that really make a difference. He encouraged the need for creativity and time being put into our planning of each and every weekend’s services.

He quoted Acts 2:43 where it says that everyone in the early church was “feeling a sense of awe.” He asked if a feeling of awe described our services. He didn’t mean, “Aw, I have to sit through this again;” or “Aw, is she still singing?” I wonder…do people really feel a sense of awe as they come to Grace week after week? Is this a place where people sense the presence of God? Is this a place where people wouldn’t think of missing a Sunday and “kick themselves around the block” (that’s Bill Hybel’s term) when they do come because they didn’t invite someone else to come experience it with them?

Bill Hybels went on to say that he believes that what people are saying when they walk through the doors of our auditorium week after week is something like this:

Move Me!
Scare Me!
Inspire Me!
Convict Me!
Stir Me!
Anger Me!
Surprise Me!
Ignite Me!
Thrill Me!

Just don’t leave me the way you found me
when I walked through your doors!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

My dentist . . . the triple-whammy

Recently, I made it back to the dentist for the first time in 2 years. Now you may think that 2 years is a long time in between dental visits. After all, isn’t that supposed to happen every 6 months or so? Actually, two years isn’t bad for me.

After I graduated from High School, I spent 4 years in college and then 10 years in youth ministry without ever going to the dentist. We didn’t have dental insurance and on a youth pastor’s salary, I could not afford it. When I became the Senior Pastor in Osceola, Indiana, dental insurance was part of my package. I went to the dentist for the first time in 14 years. It took them 2 visits and a total of 4 hours to clean my teeth (so, are you grossed out yet?). Now get this. After 14 years of no dental visits and never flossing, my dentist spent 4 hours cleaning my teeth and found no cavities. Not bad, huh? So then I go back to the dentist 6 months later thinking that this ought to be smooth sailing. After all, if 14 years in between dental visits resulted in no cavities, then 6 months in between check-ups ought to be a breeze, right? However, my dentist discovered that I had two cavities. I could only come to one conclusion . . . all that “gunk” that they cleaned off of my teeth after 14 years was actually protecting my teeth. Thanks, Mr. Dentist.

Anyway, back to my recent trip to the dentist. Understand, that I would much rather take a beating than go to the dentist. As a kid, I would get many cavities, but I hated shots so I would not allow my dentist to give me any Novocain. I would just grip the arms of the dental chair and he would drill away as tears of pain flowed down my cute little cheeks. I’m not as tough today. Today, I want double Novocain. So, as I am sitting in the dental chair I discover that I have a tooth that at the very least needs the filling replaced but very well could need to be crowned or I may lose it. Ouch!! I hate the dentist.

If that wasn’t bad enough, as I look out the window from my dental chair, all I can see is the gas price sign from the Sheetz station across the street. Isn’t it bad enough to be sitting in a dental chair to begin with without having to take in the sight of gas prices edging ever so close to $3.00 a gallon for the cheapest octane? And I’m pretty sure that the price per gallon went up at least three times while I was sitting in the chair. So now there is the dentist and the gas prices tag teaming for a double whammy!

But then came the worst part of the ordeal. The dentist finished and I went out to the reception desk to finalize this little trip to purgatory by paying my bill. Do you know how much a filling costs? Now multiply that many times over and your getting close to what it costs for a crown. This isn’t a double-whammy; this is a triple-whammy!

And if that isn’t enough, the dentist told me I needed to rinse twice a day with Listerine. He then assured me that just because Pfizer makes Listerine here in Lititz that he did not have any type of deal with them and got no kickbacks by recommending this treatment. Okay, I will believe him for now. But Pfizer also makes Viagra--if he tells me I need that to make my teeth whiter, then I am never going back to the dentist again.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Leadership Summit

A leader sees reality not as it is, but how it might be!”

Romans 12:8 tell those who have the spiritual gift of leadership to “lead with diligence.” Leadership isn’t easy. In fact, it is very tough. Bill Hybels, who pastors the Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, has a passion for helping leaders develop in their God-given spiritual gift. As a result, he puts on an excellent 3-day conference each August that he calls “The Leadership Summit.” This year 70,000 leaders will attend this event which will be simulcast to 160 locations including our own backyard at the Lancaster County Bible Church. Many of our staff are planning to attend, some with key leaders from their areas of ministry.

The line-up of speakers is simply amazing:

Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois and chairman of the board for the Willow Creek Association.

James Meeks, founder and pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Chicago’s Roseland Community, one of the nation’s fastest growing churches.

Andy Stanley, Founder of North Point Ministries and pastor of a 3 campus church in which 15,000 people come to worship each and every weekend.

Peg Neuhasuser, author and speaker who specializes in the area of conflict management, organizational culture, stress, and avoiding burn-out.

Ashish Nanda, Associate professor at Harvard Business School and an expert on the management of service organizations.

Jim Collins, author of the best selling book, “Good to Great!”

Patrick Lenciono,One of today’s most sought after speakers and consultants.

Wayne Cordeiro, founder and Senior Pastor of New Hope Community Church in Honolulu. Since 1985, this church has grown to 11,000 with 8,500 of those being new conversions to Christ.

The dates for The Leadership Summit is August 10-12. The location will be LCBC. The cost is dependent on the size of the group attending and the date of registration. The effect on your life, your occupation, and our church could be eternally staggering. If you would like to be part of The Leadership Summit this August, please contact Bryan Nelson (our Worship Arts Director) at the church office via phone at 626-2155 or by e-mail at Bryan is organizing a group from Grace to go to this special event.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I broke the bar stool

A few Sundays ago, I ended my sermon and went to the back of the auditorium during the closing song so that I could be ready to greet everyone as they exited the service. Since this was a Sunday where we had a good 15 minutes worth of worship music after the sermon, I went up onto the mezzanine with all of the technicians to soak in the sight and sound of hundreds of people at Grace Church worshipping the Lord in spirit and in truth. Because I had been standing all morning, I climbed up on one of the tall, metal bar stools that have been used for past Crosswalk Shows and peered over the ledge.

I was completely engulfed in this beautiful time of worship when in between the last two songs, my trusty bar stool gave way and completely collapsed, sending me tumbling down to the floor…hard (do you realize how far down it is to the ground when you’re sitting on a bar stool?)! The sound of the crash seemed deafening to me. I’m sure that everyone who was in the second service must have heard it. And oh, did it hurt!!

So the next day Tim Reedy, our Media Director at Grace Church, who was standing just steps from me when the unfortunate incident occurred, sent me and a few others on staff the following e-mail threatening to start his own blog that he would call, “Life on the Mezzanine.” He said that this would be his first entry:

May 07, 2006: ". . . the service went well yesterday. Great music, nice sermon, blah-blah-blah...the real action took place just after the conclusion of the song 'Kneel.' Pastor Scott, after giving his sermon for the morning, joined the media techs on the mezzanine for the final couple of songs. As the second to last song ended, the stool that he was sitting on (editor’s note here: Scott likes stools because it enables him to look down on his subjects) gave way. He, along with the stool, came crashing down. The legs of the stool collapsed. Scott-Scott lay on the floor with the debris. Thankfully, he did not break any bones. Only his pride was broken here. However, the stool had seen better days and it was banished to the dumpster. Scott, visibly shaken, mustered enough of energy and pride to get up, shake himself off, and blame the lowly media producer for purchasing inferior products. Yeah, blame the media producer for the breaking of a solid steel stool. It has nothing to do with the multitude of pizzas and ice cream cones that are consumed following Scott, Bryan and Andy's Monday lunch meetings. I suggest a salad with low-cal dressing instead of pizza and fries. So, I will be asking for $500.00 for the purchase of new stools for the mezzanine. I will order extra-strength ones . . . "

Now what Tim failed to tell everyone is that after I fell, he did not even offer any type of help at all. There I was lying on the mezzanine floor…unconscious…maybe even dead, and what does Tim do? He and his lovely wife, who happened to be sitting right behind me, just LAUGHED! No compassion…no sympathy…nothing but LAUGHTER. That does it! I need to do more preaching on the story of the Good Samaritan. But then again, maybe Tim’s lack of Christian aid was a good thing. After all, the thought of Tim performing CPR on me is horrifying! Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!!

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Trophy Room: Place of Thanksgiving

The trophy room in the mansion of prayer is where we thank God for what He has done for us. So why do I call it the trophy room? Well, think about it. What is the purpose of a trophy? It is to remind us of a special event in our lives, right? I never attained many trophies growing up but one that I did get is a very special one to me even to this day. My mother and I won first place in a Mother/Son finger-painting contest when I was a small kid in the lowest level of the Cub Scouts. Now, every time I look at that trophy I am reminded of that special day when my mom and I had so much fun finger-painting in the living room of our house. And the older my mom gets, the more special that trophy becomes to me.

The same is true with this room of the mansion. This is where we take time to remember all the special things that God has done and respond to Him with thanksgiving. This is different than the throne room where we praise God for who He is. Here, we thank Him for what He has done. Psalm 100 shows us many ways we can give thanks to God.

We can thank God by shouting (v1). Our English texts add the word “joyfully,” but this word really is not in the original text. The word “shout” refers to a trumpet blast and has the idea of splitting the ears with sound. It is not referring to singing. It is literally telling us to shout words of joyful approval to God.

We can thank God by serving (v2). This word means to work as a slave. We are to serve the Lord and we are to do it with gladness (Colossians 3:17, 23-24).

We can thank God by singing (v2). This is to be done joyfully. In other words, it has nothing to do with talent, but everything to do with our heart. It is when we see God working in our lives that we want to sing thanksgiving to Him (Psalm 40:1-3).

We can thank God by studying (v3). Our worship of God should be an intelligent worship. The more we know about God the more thankful we become.

We can thank God by supplication (v4). In this verse, the “gates” and “courts” describe the temple. Today, prayer is our gates and courts (see Hebrews 4:16).

We can also thank God by submission (v4). We are to bless Him. In the Old Testament this meant “to kneel.” In the New Testament it means “to speak well of.” It is showing honor and homage to his name

What is the Key to this room? I believe it is to keep a spiritual journal. Take time to write down 2 or 3 times a week what God is doing in your life. Down the road as you take the time to read through those journals you are keeping, you will discover that you have forgotten so much of the goodness of God in your life and you will desire to spend more time in the trophy responding to the special moments you have had with your Lord!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Worship is unending

In Revelation 4:1-11, The Apostle John hears a voice instructing him “come up here” to heaven. The Bible says that “in the Spirit,” John was experientially taken to heaven, though his body was actually still on the island of Patmos. John sees the throne of God standing in heaven. John describes the One sitting on the throne (v3-6). He uses the description of jasper, a crystal clear diamond symbolizing God’s glory. He uses the description of sardius, a fiery, blood red ruby, symbolizing God’s wrath. John also sees lightning and thunder, demonstrating God’s majesty and power and that there was a green rainbow present showing God’s faithfulness (Genesis 9). He also says in verse 6 that there was a pavement of glass leading up to the throne, like sparkling crystal (v6).

Next, John describes what is called the Twenty-Four Elders. Are these 24 Elders human or angelic? They are on thrones showing that they reign with Christ (angels are never seen on thrones or ruling). In the Bible, the word “Elders” is never used to refer to an angel, but it is used to speak of men. They are wearing white garments, which commonly is used to describe the dress of believers (showing righteousness). They also are wearing crowns which are never promised to angels but are promised to believers. The number 24 often represents a whole in Scripture (as in First Chronicles 24:4-18). Since saved Israel and the Tribulation Saints have not yet been resurrected, this description best fits the raptured, glorified church of the Lord Jesus Christ…that includes you and me!

John speaks of seven Lamps of Fire. This describes the Holy Spirit in His fullness (Zechariah 4:1-10; Is 11:2). This is not 7 different spirits. It is a 7-fold representation of the Holy Spirit including His wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, reverence and deity. John also speaks of four Living Creatures. These are special angels associated with God’s holiness (seen in Isaiah 6). They are full of eyes showing their watchfulness. Each one possesses 4 facial features (see Ezekiel 1:26-28), that of a Lion, a Calf (ox), a Man, and an Eagle. They have six wings used to constantly worship God.

It is at this point that the heavenly chorus of praise begins. A quartet starts the refrain as the 4 living creatures begin the chorus of praise. This focuses on God’s holiness (the only attribute seen in a threefold proclamation by angels), His power and His eternality. Next, the choir joins in as the 24 Elders fall down before Him; Worship Him; Cast their crowns before Him; and verbally acknowledge His worthiness. The chorus then builds to the grand crescendo as the rest of the angels join and all of creation worships Him as well (Revelation 5:11-13). You see, worship is not simply for usage in a church service. Worship is for every moment and every day throughout this life and into all of eternity. Worship is to be unending as seen in the last verse of the great hymn, Amazing Grace:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Then when we first begun

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Worship is to be unquenchable

The prophet Habakkuk is a guy few Christians really know much about. After all, when was the last time you read the book of the Old Testament that carries his name? The name Habakkuk literally means “love’s embrace.” This guy has been called the doubting Thomas of the Old Testament. J. Vernon McGee said, “He had a question mark for a brain.” It is interesting to note the movement in the book. This writing goes:
  • From FEAR to FAITH
  • From TERROR to TRUST
  • From HANG-UPS to HOPE

The book is like reading e-mail between Habakkuk and God. Habakkuk presents a problem and God responds with an answer:

Problem #1: Why does God allow Judah to practice evil? (1:1-4)
Answer #1: God will send the Babylonians to punish Judah (1:5-11)

Problem #2: Why will God use the wicked to punish Judah? (1:12-2:1)
Answer #2: God will not allow the evil nation of Babylon to go unpunished (2:2-20)

You could rightly say that the answer to Habakkuk’s “WHY?” is “WHO!” This book is all about why we can praise God even when the bottom has dropped out of our lives. This is especially seen in Habakkuk 3:1-19. Why can we praise God? (3:1-16). First, because of His PERSON (v1-3). We can praise Him for His might; His mercy; and His majesty. Second, we can praise Him because of His POWER (v4-7). Finally, we can praise Him because of His PURPOSES (v8-16), which should cause us to trust Him.

But the real question is when can we praise God (3:17-19)? Habakkuk’s reality was quite disheartening (v17). It included the reality of a coming invasion in which the fig tree would not blossom; there would be no fruit on the vines; the yield of the olive would fail; the trees would produce no food; the flock would be cut off from the fold; and there would be no cattle in the stalls. But the key word in verse 18 is the word, “Yet!” Habakkuk declares that in spite of these horrible scenarios, yet he would exalt in the Lord and rejoice in the God of his salvation. Just like Paul and Silas in Acts 16:22-25. Just like Peter in Acts 5:40-42. Just like the three Hebrew men in Daniel 3:16-18. Why could Habakkuk still praise God? Because the Lord would give him STRENGTH (The Lord is my strength); the Lord would give him STABILITY (The Lord has made my feet like hind’s feet...the idea of surefootedness and confidence); and the Lord would give him SUCCESS (The Lord makes me walk on my high places). Worship is unquenchable!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Worship is to be uninhibited

In the New American Standard Bible both Psalm 149 and 150 begin and end with the phrase “Praise the Lord.” In fact, Psalm 150 ends with a double usage of this exclamation. The word “praise” is used 6 times in Psalm 149 and 13 times in Psalm 150. The Hebrew term is actually, “Hallelujah!” It is made up of two words. One word means “to boast” and the other means “Jehovah.” Thus, the words means, “to boast in Jehovah.” It is asserting glory and honor to God.

In Psalm 149, there are 3 ways that we are exhorted to “boast in Jehovah.” The first is to sing to the Lord. This is to be a new song showing freshness and spontaneity. It is to be done publicly, obviously showing that God loves our corporate worship. It also involves instrumental music (the timbrel and lyre are mentioned).

Second, we are to be glad. This is the idea of rejoicing or throwing a party. Again, you cannot separate excitement and emotion from worship. Two reasons are given for our celebration. First, God is our Maker and second, God is our King!

Finally, we are to praise His name. This is the idea of “letting it out” or “letting loose.” In other words, don’t hold it in. Dancing is even mentioned. I know that this is a stretch for many, and though I am in no way advocating anyone doing “the jig” in church this Sunday, the truth is that dancing was one of Israel’s most expressive modes of showing joy. King David danced in the street when the ark was brought back into the city (Second Samuel 6:12-15) and Miriam (Moses’ sister) danced in praise of God after Israel crossed the Red Sea (Exodus 15:20-21). An additional way that is seen to praise the Lord is with the Word of God. Israel executed God’s righteousness with a literal sword. The Church is to execute God’s righteousness through His Word, the Sword of the Spirit.

In Psalm 150, the Lord is to be praised both in His sanctuary (His heavenly dwelling place) and in His mighty expanse (In all of His creation…everywhere). Why are we to “boast in Jehovah?” Because of WHAT He does (His mighty deeds) and because of WHO He is (His excellent greatness).

How is the Lord to be praised? Psalm 150:3-5 teaches that we are to praise Him with everything we have. Take time to note the variety of instruments and activities used in praising Him. Take time to note the variety in styles and even levels of sound. There were loud styles like the trumpets, cymbals, and resounding cymbals. There were soft sounds like the harp and lyre. There were very expressive instruments and styles like the timbrels (tambourine) and dancing. And there were the more mild instruments like the stringed instruments and pipes (flute).

Who is to praise the Lord? Psalm 150:6 is clear. Everything that hath breath is to praise the Lord. Everything that is alive is to praise the Lord. Read Revelation 5:8-14. This is not limited to people. Worship is to be uninhibited.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Throne Room: Place of Adoration (Part 2)

Yesterday we looked at the hang-up of worship. But what exactly is worship? To me, the answer is found in the pages of John chapter four as Jesus is talking to the woman at the well. As he does, the topic of worship comes up. Jesus makes this statement. He says that those who worship God must do so “in spirit” and “in truth.” I believe that the definition of worship can be seen in these two prepositional phrases.

Let’s take the last one first. We must worship God “in truth.” What does that tell me? It tells me that worship is not simply singing a song. Worship deals with truth. What kind of truth? It is truth about God. So what is one aspect of worship? Worship begins by recognizing a truth about God. So when you stand in church on Sunday and you sing the songs, do you just sing or do you focus on the lyrics of the song you are singing in order to recognize a specific truth about God? That is worship. Worship is focusing on a Biblical truth about God. In Isaiah 6:1-3, the primary focus of the prophet’s worship was seeing God. The more I learn about God the more I will want to worship Him. True worship begins with a hungry, seeking heart that is dissatisfied with religious substitutes. My friend, the greatest deterrent to worship is losing your awe of who God really is.

But along with worshipping God “in truth” we also must worship him “in spirit.” The first aspect dealt with recognizing a truth about God. This one deals with our responding to the truth that we have recognized. So if you put the two ideas together you could rightfully define worship as “a Spirit-led response to a truth about God.” Worship is all that we are acting rightfully to all that God is. Yes, this even includes our emotion. Unfortunately, in many non-Pentecostal churches, we have so tried to differentiate ourselves from those on the charismatic side of the denominational fence that we have taken our churches to the other extreme side of the pendulum. In many churches, worship is all emotion, making their worship out of balance. But my friend, showing no emotion at all in our worship of God is just as extreme and ineffective. Worship includes a Spirit-led emotion that is acceptable (Matthew 15:8-9).

Isaiah’s seeing God resulted in two responses. First, there was confession as seen in Isaiah 6:4-5. And second, there was commitment in verse 8 as Isaiah proclaims, “Here am I. Send me!” The same was true with Paul and Barnabas in the New Testament (Acts 13:2). It was while they were worshipping that God called these two men to missionary service. The first act of faith mentioned in Hebrews chapter eleven is Abel’s act of worship in verse four. In Romans 12:1-2, we are told to present out bodies a living sacrifice to God which is our “reasonable service of worship.” J.I. Packer, in his book Knowing God, says those who know God have:
  • Great energy for God! (Daniel 11:32)
  • Great thoughts of God! (Daniel 2:20-23)
  • Great boldness for God! (Daniel 2:9-12
  • Great contentment in God! (Daniel 3:16-18)

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Throne Room: Place of Adoration (Part 1)

The Throne Room in the Mansion of Prayer is where we take time in our prayer life to praise God for who He is. This is adoration. This is worship. There are actually three words used in the New Testament that are translated worship. One means “to adore.” Another carries the idea of serving without compulsion. But the most common word for worship is transliterated “proskuneo.” It literally means “to kiss toward” and was the idea of throwing a kiss as a token of homage or respect. This was part of the ancient oriental mode of salutation.

When we enter the Throne Room of adoration, we take the time to show our respect and homage of God as we focus on who He is. Why is it that we have so much trouble with this concept today? The truth is that we have created many hang-ups to the idea of true, genuine worship. A few of these hang-ups include:

SELFISHNESS! The number one hang-up to true, genuine worship is realizing that it’s not about me. It’s all about Him. I will on occasion hear a person say, “Well, I can’t worship if there going to play that kind of music.” Really? Since when does my own personal preferences have anything to do with whether I can worship God or not? I personally do not like country music. But if I can’t worship God when a country style song is being used, the problem isn’t with the style of the song. The problem’s with me.

STYLES! There are many different styles of music that are used today in worship. There are praise choruses and there are the traditional hymns. There are fast songs and there are slow songs. There are songs that repeat a lot and songs that don’t. Now I am sure that all of us have difference preferences when it comes to styles. That’s okay. In fact, that’s good. But may I use this blog entry to remind all of us that one style is not more spiritual than another. It really isn’t. I hear some say that the hymns have deep theology in their lyrics and praise choruses are all fluff. Please! We cannot elevate one style above another. Don’t get me wrong. I love the hymns. I grew up on them. But I also love the praise and worship choruses as well. Both are equally effective.

STRUCTURES! Some get hung up not being able to worship because they are not in a church auditorium with pews and stained-glass windows. Again, there is nothing wrong with pews and stained-glass windows, but this is not a necessity to effective worship. Read Matthew 2:11. Worship is not enhanced by a building. In fact, according to Revelation 21:22, there will be no worship building in heaven. Our bodies are the temple in which God dwells (First Corinthians 6:19). This means that I should be able to worship God any place that I am.

SERVICES! Some believers only worship God when they are attending a church service. Worship isn’t as much an activity as it is a lifestyle. I need to make worship a part of each day and a part of my prayer life on a regular basis. When was the last time you entered the throne room of adoration as you hung out in the Mansion of Prayer?

Friday, May 05, 2006

My core beliefs about the local church

I love the local church. That’s why I do what I do. I am in love with the local church because I am in love with He who is the head of the church, Jesus Christ. In a day when many look down on the institution of the church and even believers have seemingly lost their confidence in the glory of the church, I still believe in the church and in its mission.

There are four core values that I have about the local church. These are values that I stand firmly on. These are values that I refuse to be shaken from no matter what or who the opposition might be. The first two actually come from one of my spiritual heroes, Bill Hybels. The third comes from another man that I greatly admire, Lee Strobel, who I heard say this at a conference I attended. The final one is my own though I am sure it is not original. I just don’t know who else to give the credit. These core values are:

The local church is the hope of the world! I just believe it. The hope of the world is not the political system. The hope of the world is not the judicial system. The hope of the world is not in any certain economic system. The hope of the world is the local church because it is the church that has been given the only message of love, forgiveness, peace and eternal life through faith in a crucified, buried, risen Savior. In Matthew 5, Jesus called His followers the “salt of the earth.” That may not mean much to us today but it did back then. Next to the sun, salt was considered the most important commodity of that day because it was the only source of preservation that they had. Often, Roman soldiers got paid in salt, thus giving us the phrase, “worth one’s weight in salt.” Folks, we as the church are the most important commodity this world has. It’s us or it’s lights out!

There is nothing like the local church when the local church us working right! Acts 2 describes the beauty and effectiveness of this kind of church. I have seen it in action. I know the power and effectiveness it can have. That’s why I believe that if we are going to invest in anything it needs to be the local church.

Evangelism must be the engine that drives the church! I believe this and I will not be moved. That is what the church has been called to do. It is our mission. You want to see discipleship grow in your church…turn on the evangelism. You want to see worship take off in your church…turn on the evangelism. I have been accused by some of taking the churches I pastor off center by being too strong on evangelism. Nonsense! Evangelism is the target. It must be the engine that drives the church.

The best days of the local church are still ahead! Some feel the church is outdated. Some see it as boring and irrelevant. Not me! I am convinced now more than ever that the best days of the local church are still ahead. After all, someday the Lord Himself is going to return with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive remain will be caught up together to meet them in the air and so shall we ever be with the Lord! That’s right! The best days of the local church are still ahead! Let’s hear it! Three cheers for the church!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Church prayers

Nothing of eternal importance happens apart from prayer!” If I heard Dr. Jerry Falwell say that once in the four years I spent attending Liberty University, then I heard him say it at least a million times. He drilled it into us. It wasn’t just a nice quote to him. It was tested and true. While Dr. Falwell was in Bible College, he got the key to an empty room in his dorm and spent several hours every day in that room alone with God reading his Bible and praying. Everyday, he starts his activity with Bible reading and prayer. Dr. Falwell is a man of faith and a man of prayer and God has blessed his ministry greatly.

But why is it that so many Christians today have anything but an effective and exciting prayer life? May I suggest a reason? You’re not going to like it. Oh, well, here it goes. I believe that most adults struggle with their prayer lives today because they grew up listening to thousands of prayers offered up in church services. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we should throw out church prayers. In fact, we probably need to pray more in church. But let’s be honest. Most prayers that are made in church services are not stated for the ears of God but rather for the ears of those who are sitting in the pews.

As a result, our prayer lives have become filled with religious clichés that are quoted regularly but without much thought or meaning. I wonder if we even know what we are asking for when we pray things like:
  • “Bless the missionaries!”
  • “Bless the gift and the giver alike!”
  • “Bless the food to our bodies and the hands that prepared it!”

And then there’s the one that bothers me the most. It’s when some well-meaning Christian prays, “God, we know You are with us because the Bible says that where two or three our gathered, You are there in their midst.” Now, come on! Yes, that quote is in the Bible but it is found in Matthew 18 dealing with the issue of confrontation as part of church discipline. Are we to take it that when we are by ourselves, God isn’t there? Of course not. Folks, we need to think when we pray. Sometimes our prayers are like:

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
And if he hollers, ‘let me go’
Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe

Are you ready for a real challenge to your prayer life…one that will stretch you and make you really think and concentrate? Here it is. In every prayer you offer up to the Father this week, do it without using any clichés that you heard in the thousands of prayers you listened to growing up in church. That’s right! Not even one cliché allowed this week!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Free lunch . . . oops!

Each Monday morning at 11:00, I meet in my office with Bryan Nelson (who is our Worship Arts Director here at Grace Church) and Andy Brightbill (who is our Pastor of Student Ministries). The purpose of this weekly meeting is to critique the previous Sunday morning’s services and to be sure that we are all set in our planning for the upcoming Sunday. It is amazing how Sundays roll around with such regularity.

Typically, after our meeting the three of us go catch some lunch together. Over time, we have become regular “Monday lunch customers” at the Two Cousins restaurant in Manheim. We have actually gotten to know the workers there quite well and always have a good time with them. Our status at this restaurant has increased over the months we have been going there. We have gone from having to pay a quarter for a refill of soda to getting free refills on soda. In fact, now they just say, “Hey, you guys are like family round here…get your own refill.”

We have become such staples at this restaurant on Monday afternoons that we no longer even pay for our food when we order like you are supposed to. They just take our order and we go sit down and when our lunch is done (which sometimes can take us awhile) we go up to the counter and pay before we leave.

That brings me to a recent Monday lunch at Two Cousins. After a lengthy lunch of laughing and eating, we realized that we needed to get back to the office before everyone there began to wonder if the rapture had occurred and they had all been left behind. So we got up and headed for the doors. We said good-bye to the workers behind the counter, smiled, waved and said, “See ya next week!” We realized that they looked at us kind of funny but we didn’t think anything of it. We then drove back to the church.

A few minutes later I was sitting in front of my computer and pulled out my wallet to check to see how much cash I had since my daughter had an away soccer game that night and we would probably stop to grab a burger afterwards. That’s when it hit me! We never paid for our lunch!! No wonder they looked at us kind of funny!! Two pastors and a church music guy from Lititz just ripped them off!!

I ran over to Bryan’s office where Andy was heading with the sudden revelation as well. Bryan gave us $20 to pay for his lunch and Andy and I hopped in the car and headed back to Manheim to make things right. The owner just laughed. He said, “You guys didn’t have to come all the way back…we know you. You could have just paid next Monday!” Now personally, I think they should do one of those “buy 10 lunches get 1 free” deals. By now, we should have earned about a months worth of free meals!

To celebrate our genuine confession and repentance and the fact that we are such honest and trustworthy individuals, Andy and I took the change from the $20 Bryan gave us to pay his bill and we went down to Grecos and got ice cream for the two of us!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Foyer: Place of Confession

As we tour our way through the Mansion of Prayer, we are first introduced to the foyer. What is the purpose of the foyer? In our earthly homes today, the foyer is the place where the welcome mat lies. This is where we wipe our feet so as to not drag mud and dirt across our host’s carpet. The same is true in the Mansion of Prayer. The foyer is where we wipe our spiritual feet. It is the place of confession.

Why is this room needed? The answer is quite simple. Because unconfessed sin in our lives hinders our prayers. David wrote in Psalm 66:18 the principle that God doesn’t even hear our prayers if we are knowingly allowing unconfessed sin to remain in our lives. Some say that this means that God hears our prayers but chooses not to answer us. However, the word in this verse means that He literally does not hear. If we willingly let sin remain in our lives without dealing with it, then our prayers may bounce off the ceiling, or maybe even the planets, but they never make it to the ears of the Father.

So what does it mean to confess our sin? Does this mean that we simply say some magical words, “God, I ____________ (fill in the blank)! Please forgive me.” No. Confession is more than the recitation of a few choice words. It first involves acknowledging our sin. The Old Testament word for confession is a word that literally means “to point out with the hand extended” (Psalm 32:5). In the New Testament, the word is a Greek compound word where we get our two English words “to say” and “the same.” Thus, confession is to say the same thing about the action as God does. In other words, we acknowledge that it is sin and that it is an offense against a holy God. Like God, we hate it and desire it to be out of our lives.

It also involves an attitude of godly sorrow. In the Bible, there are many examples of those who had remorse but they were not truly sorry (Pharaoh, Balaam, Achan, and Judas are just a few). Godly sorrow is always evident with true confession (Matthew 5:4; Second Corinthians 7:10-11; James 4:8-10; Romans 7:15; and Psalm 38:4).

In the example of confession in Second Samuel 7:2-3, we also see that this act involves both aspiration and action. Aspiration is an inward turning. This deals with our will. We make the internal decision to turn from that sinful activity. Action is an outward turning. This deals with our walk. We separate ourselves from the sinful practice in our lives.

So what is the key that opens up this room and by opening it, ultimately gains us access into all the other rooms in the prayer mansion? The key to the foyer is this…be honest! Be honest about your sin. Quit rationalizing away your sinful activities. Quit justifying your disobedient practices. Call it what it really is…an offense against a holy God. Hate it. Make the decision to turn from it. Separate yourself as far as you can from it. First John 1:9 is written to Christians. It is a beautiful verse. According to it, if we truly confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us. “Just” means He will forgive every sin. “Faithful” means that he will forgive us every time!

Monday, May 01, 2006

The "Mansion of Prayer"

The Christian life is like swimming upstream and all you have are two strokes. Think about that. If you had to swim upstream against a very strong current, how well would you do? What if we tied one of your hands behind your back? Now, how well would you do? At best, you might maintain but you certainly would make no progress. What if we tied both of your hands behind your back? You would do nothing but get carried backward by the current.

The same is true about living the Christian life. It’s tough. The current of the world system and our own depravity and sinful desires is strong. The only way to make any progress is to use our only two spiritual strokes…prayer and Bible study. Take away one of these strokes and at best we will only maintain without making any progress. Take away both of these strokes, and we will drift backwards into a horrible spiritual pit. Why is the stroke of prayer so important? Here are just a few reasons:

  • It is a channel of forgiveness (I John 1:9)
  • It is a weapon against temptation (Matthew 26:41)
  • It is a means to fullness of joy (John 16:24)
  • It is a reliever of worry (Philippians 4:6-7)
  • It is a means to help in times of need (Hebrews 4:16)
  • It is a securer of wisdom in times of trouble (James 1:5)
  • It is a weapon against the snares of the end times (Luke 21:34-36)
  • It is a foundation for spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:18)
  • It is a securer of laborers (Luke 10:2)
  • It is a preparation for witness (Colossians 4:2-3)
  • It is a means to pleasing God (Revelation 5:8; Proverbs 27:9)

Imagine prayer as a huge and wonderful mansion that you and I have the privilege to explore anytime we desire and as often as we need to. That really is what prayer is. People see prayer as “Asking and Receiving.” But the truth is that “asking and receiving” is just a small part of prayer. I like to define prayer as ‘hanging out with God’! Yesterday we started a new 5-week series at Grace Church as together we now explore the 5 rooms of the mansion of prayer. With each room we will be identifying a key to unlock that room to greater effectiveness. The rooms include:

  • The Foyer: Place of Confession
  • The Throne Room: Place of Adoration
  • The Trophy Room: Place of Thanksgiving
  • The Guest Room: Place of Intercession
  • The Living Room: Place of Petition

Welcome to the Mansion of Prayer! Come on in and stay awhile!