Friday, June 30, 2006

The elephant in the church

Laura and I believe that worship is a priority, even when we are on vacation. The same was true during our recent trip to Maine. We arrived at our resort Saturday evening and found a list of area churches. We decided on one that we felt safe with in regard to doctrine. For reasons that will soon become apparent, I will not give the name of the church. We arrived just minutes before the service began and the pastor, a young man, was standing at the door. He shook our hands and said “hello,” but that was it. It was obvious that we were visitors. After all, we were two of only 33 people that were in attendance. Yet, all we got from the pastor was a “hello.”

The service was pretty much what we expected. The pastor opened with announcements and then we stood and sang a hymn. The pastor then opened things up for prayer requests and praises. There was plenty of sharing. My favorite prayer request came from a mom who was sitting in between her husband and her two High School age daughters. She said, “Please pray that now that school is out, that my daughters will do something and not just sit around being lazy all day long.” My urge to laugh out loud was tamed as I glanced over and saw the very embarrassed look on these young girl’s faces.

Then came the sermon. The pastor preached from Genesis 49 which is the chapter in which Jacob gives his final words of blessing to his sons prior to his death. This chapter is filled with great truths that affect the entire rest of Israel’s history. From it, the pastor simply had a 3-point sermon. Dads need to communicate. Dads need to correct. Dads need to be compassionate. Now granted, these are 3 vital points, but these 3 needs of fatherhood have very little importance or relevance to this great passage.

But the most awkward time came when the service was completed. Other than one old lady that sat behind us, each of the other 30 people went about their Sunday ritual without ever saying one word to us. Even as I stood in the hallway waiting for my wife to use the restroom, several walked right passed me. Not only did they not say a word, they acted as if I wasn’t even there. We left by walking right by the pastor and this time he didn’t say one word to us. As we got into the car my wife said, “Wow, were we the elephant in the room or what?” She was talking about the saying which describes something very obvious that is ignored, like having an elephant in the room and pretending it’s not there.

That afternoon we went to Graft Notch State Park to sit by the river, relax, and enjoy the beauty of Maine. Guess who we ran into? It was the same pastor who was there with his family. I tried to strike up a conversation and even thanked him for a wonderful service and message (okay, I was stretching the “wonderful” part a bit). Once again I was left being the only participant in what was supposed to be a two-way conversation.

I couldn’t help but wonder, “What do visitors say, feel and think when they leave Grace Church?” Do you realize that on any given Sunday we have 20 or more first-time visitors? I wonder if they ever leave feeling like “the elephant in the church.”

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Whale watching

As you know, I am scared of water. I almost drowned as a kid and ever since I have had a fear of being in water over my head. In fact, I much prefer taking showers over baths because I don’t even want to sit in the stuff. Whenever I fly, as the plane is rolling down the runway, I always ask God for one simple request…if He is going to allow the plane to crash, please let it crash on land because I don’t want to die in the water. My wife would love to take a cruise. I just hope she enjoys the trip by herself.

Yet, in spite of my fear, Laura and I went on a whale watching excursion while we were in Maine recently. We boarded the Harbor Princess in beautiful Boothbay Harbor. The very first thing I noticed was that there were only two small life rafts on top of this boat. I quickly estimated that each of these could sit no more than 6-8 people for a total of 12-16 spaces in case of an emergency. I immediately begin to count heads on the boat. There were easily 40-50 people or more. Suddenly the most haunting words I could imagine hearing were, “women and children first!”

I’ll admit it. I was nervous. If I would have known at the outset that this boat ride would venture 23 miles away from land (I mean you couldn’t see any sign of land) out into the Atlantic Ocean and end up in water that was over 500 feet deep, I don’t think I would have ever went on board. In fact, my heart rate went up when I read at the ticket counter that the trip was a 3-4 hour tour. Wasn’t that the scheduled length of the boat ride on the S.S. Minnow before the weather started getting rough and the tiny ship got tossed right onto Gilligan’s Island?

To my amazement, 30 minutes into the trip I was not feeling at all seasick. In fact, I even went below to the galley to grab a couple of hot dogs for us. I soon discovered that there is a big difference between sitting on the boat and trying to walk up and down steps while carrying hotdogs (one of which I dropped…but ate anyway). Now I had to concentrate on not getting sick. Just as I was feeling better, a girl tossed her cookies all down the steps behind where I was sitting. Now it was time to concentrate once again.

But it was all worth it when along with the seals and porpoises we got to watch two very large humpback whales playing in the wide open of the ocean. They would surface and blow water from their spouts and then start to dive, leaving only their large black and white tales sticking up out of the water. I loved it. In fact, I would do it again. Who knows, maybe there is a cruise in my future?

When we got back to the dock, I felt like kneeling down and kissing the ground but I refrained so as not to embarrass my wife. After all, she was the reason I swallowed my fear and took the excursion. And I have to admit…it was well worth the $70 it cost me for us to have this memory builder together. But I do have one complaint. After being out on the ocean for 4 hours, my body swayed back and forth all night long. But that was okay…by that time I had gotten pretty good at concentrating.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Why I love Maine

There’s just no question about it. I may have been born in Ohio and am a very loyal Buckeye, and though I absolutely love living in Lancaster County, PA and think it is absolutely gorgeous and a wonderful place to live, my favorite state of all has got to be Maine…hands down. I have visited all but 2 or 3 of the 48 continental states and have traveled to several foreign countries including Canada, Mexico, Spain, France, Korea, and Cambodia. But yet, my favorite place to visit is the great state of Maine. Why do I love Maine? Here are a few reasons:
  • Dozens and dozens of majestic lighthouses
  • Whale watching out of Boothbay Harbor
  • Plenty of lobsters
  • Moose sightings
  • Tax free shopping across the border in New Hampshire
  • “Lighthouse Depot”, the world’s largest lighthouse and nautical store
  • Rocky beaches
  • The ocean
  • Coastal towns
  • Finding starfish, sand dollars and sea shells
  • Dunkin Doughnuts at every exit and on every corner
  • More ice cream parlors than you can shake a stick at
  • The famous “Maine Diner”
  • Nobody is a New York Yankee fan
  • Dazzling falls
  • Lots of snow
  • Maine blueberries
  • Acadia National Park
  • Seeing the sunrise on Cadillac Mountai
  • Loons

Laura and I have been able to take two vacations to the great state of Maine. The first time we spent the entire time on the coast going as far as Bar Harbor. The last time we stayed at a resort up in the ski country of Bethel. Both experiences were wonderful and absolutely beautiful.

There are still some parts of Maine that we have yet to experience but hopefully will someday. We would love to stay in Maine at a quaint New England Bed and Breakfast during the height of the fall color season. We would also love to take a trip to Maine and enjoy the beauty of the winter snow and a horse drawn sleigh ride. And someday we would love to take a trip all the way up the coast to see the lighthouses which are north of Bar Harbor and then take a boat ride from there over to Nova Scotia in Canada. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll retire and live out the rest on my life in Maine.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A week in Maine

Saturday: We left Lititz early and drove the 550 miles to the Summit Hotel at the Sunday River Resort in Bethel, Maine, stopping off at Cape Neddick’s lighthouse along the way and having dinner at the famous Maine Diner after visiting the Lighthouse Depot in Wells, Maine which just may be the world’s largest lighthouse and nautical store.

Sunday: We attended church; had lunch at the Moose Tales restaurant and spent the afternoon relaxing next to the river in Graft Notch State Park and taking in the other natural sites in the area including a couple of waterfalls and “Moose Cave.”

Monday: We spent the day in the White Mountain region of New Hampshire, riding the ski lift up Wildcat Mountain; having a picnic lunch, and then doing some shopping in North Conway and enjoying one of the many ice cream parlors that are prominent in Maine before catching dinner at Pizza Hut on the way back to Bethel.

Tuesday: We drove to Portland and had a picnic lunch overlooking the majestic Portland Head Lighthouse, one of most photographed lighthouse in the world. We spent a short time in Freeport where we came across a chocolate store that gets all of it chocolate from Wilbur’s in Lititz to make all their candy. That night we had a surf & turf dinner at the Fisherman’s Wharf in Boothbay Harbor and drove around the harbor to what is called Ocean Point. This is where I want to live when I retire. What a view! There we watched a beautiful rainbow appear right next to the Ram’s Head lighthouse. We spent the evening sitting on the dock watching the distant lightning of an approaching storm!

Wednesday: We started the day off with shopping in beautiful Boothbay Harbor. The highlight of the day, however, was a 4-hour whale watching excursion aboard the Princess Bride. That’s right…yours truly, who is very scared of water, got out on a small boat 23 miles away from shore with over 500 feet of water below. I can’t even begin to describe the experience of watching two humpback whales out in the wild of the ocean surface, blow water from their spouts, and then dive into the water leaving their massive tales extended above the water…simply amazing. The drive back to Bethel included dinner at the Restaurant by the River at Snow Falls and another stop for ice cream.

Thursday: We spent the morning hanging out in our room at the resort we stayed for the week. Laura worked on an upcoming planning retreat that she is responsible for and I watched our U.S. Soccer team fall in defeat to Ghana in their final World Cup game. We then spent some time going through the shops in the small town of Bethel. That evening we drove south to the Deertrees Theater to see the local area musical called Renys, a lighthearted satire of one of the Pine Tree State’s favorite retailers.

Friday: Our weeklong and wonderful vacation and late anniversary trip came to an end as we checked out and headed home taking a different route right down through the state of Vermont, into Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and good old Pennsylvania.

Monday, June 26, 2006

When Faith and Life Collide

This past Sunday we began a brand new verse by verse study here at Grace Church through the book of James. This letter may just be the first New Testament book to be written. The theme of the book is “Active Faith” and it is a very practical book dealing with a wide-variety of topics including trials; wisdom; riches; temptation; favoritism; works; worldliness; the tongue; strife; resisting Satan; judging; future planning; hostility; and sickness. As a result, we have entitled this series, When Faith and Life Collide.

Though the introduction of the book states the author simply as “James,” the traditional view is that this is James, the half-brother of Jesus. All other James’ mentioned in Scripture have some identifying title (James, the son of Alpheus, James the son of Zebedee, etc.). One would have to be widely known to simply use the name “James.” Certainly, the half-brother of Jesus would be widely known in the early church.

What do we know about James, the half-brother of Jesus? We know that he was the child of Mary and Joseph (Galatians 1:19). He is mentioned first in the list of their children meaning that after Jesus, he was probably the oldest (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). We know that he remained an unbeliever during Jesus’ earthly life (John 7:3-5). After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to James (First Corinthians 15:7) which was probably when James became a believer. The fact that James became a believer is seen in his being one of those in the upper room waiting for the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised (Acts 1:14).

James also became a leader in the church (Galatians 2:9; Acts 15:13-21). Paul visited him in Jerusalem shortly after his conversion (Galatians 1:18-19). Paul calls James one of the pillars of the early church along with Peter and John (Galatians 2:9). Peter, after his amazing angelic rescue from prison, asks that the news be conveyed specifically to James (Acts 12:17). James was a leader at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:13-21). When Paul visited Jerusalem at the end of his 3rd missionary journey, he made a report to James and the Elders (Acts 21:18) showing him as the leader of the Jerusalem church.

There are several historical references to James as well. Hegesippus depicts James as a Nazarite whose times of prayer for his nation was so frequent and prolonged that his knees became callous like the knees of a camel. The historian Joseph puts his death as one caused by stoning. Hegesippus says that James was asked to give his view of Jesus and when he stated that He was the Son of Man, seated at the right hand of God, he was thrown down from the Temple, stoned, and then killed with a club.

James addresses his letter to the 12 tribes which are scattered abroad. These are Christian Jews that did not live in the region of Palestine but rather among the Greeks. Though he was the half-brother of Jesus, James simply identifies himself as a “bond-servant” (as did Jude, the other half-brother of Jesus in the introduction of his brief Epistle …Jude 1:1). By calling himself the bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, James puts Jesus into the same category as God the Father, a direct attestation to the deity of Christ.

Friday, June 23, 2006

What about tongues in First Corinthians 14?

Most who advocate the usage of speaking in tongues today use First Corinthians 14 as one of their main texts of support. But I would encourage you to read this chapter very carefully. What kind of tone is Paul using in writing to the church at Corinth on this subject? This chapter is not a commendation for their practice of tongues. If anything, it is a rebuke for their misuse of this spiritual gift. The church at Corinth had turned tongues into a sought after practice but they were practicing it through ecstatic utterances.

As you read this chapter, it is important to note that sometimes Paul uses the singular word “tongue” and sometimes he uses the plural word “tongues.” He is showing that there is a difference between the true gift of tongues that he practiced and the false gift of tongues that the Corinthians were practicing. When Paul uses the singular word, “tongue,” I believe that he is speaking of the counterfeit gift of tongues or that of ecstatic utterances. When he uses the plural form, “tongues,” I believe that he is speaking of the authentic gift which is the ability to speak in a known language never before learned. The only exception to this is in verse 27 where a singular person is speaking a single genuine language. In order to be grammatically correct, here the singular form of “tongue” is used describing the genuine gift of speaking in tongues.

Notice a couple of things from this chapter. In verse 5, many read in this verse that Paul is advocating that everyone should speak in tongues. This is not the case. In fact, First Corinthians 12:30 makes it clear that even when this gift was operative, not everyone would have the gift. Paul is simply showing that by this written rebuke he is not despising the true gift of speaking in tongues.

In verses 6-12, Paul states that the problem with their ecstatic utterances is that they were unintelligible to those who heard it. He gives several examples to show that noise without understanding has no value. For music to be music, it must be intelligible. If I just sat down at the piano and began to bang on the keys with no rhyme or reason, would you be able to pick out what song I was playing? I don’t think so. Would you in anyway profit from my playing it? Not at all. Any language without meaning is pointless.

In verse 18, Paul does say that he himself had the genuine gift of speaking in tongues. He goes on to say in verse 19 that in the church, five words spoken which can be understood are better than 10,000 words of ecstatic utterances that no one is able to understand.

In verses 26-28, Paul gives the procedure for the usage of the true gift of tongues in the church. It was to be used both systematically and orderly. Four regulations were stated. First, only two or three people should speak in one service. Second, they should each take a turn, speaking one at a time. Third, what they say should be interpreted so that everyone can benefit. And fourth, if no interpreter was present, they should not speak. Even if speaking in tongues is a spiritual gift in operation today, and I don’t think it is, I’m not sure the way I am seeing it used and practiced is really what Paul had in mind.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

What was the purpose for tongues?

If speaking in tongues is the ability to speak in a known language never before learned, what was its purpose? According to First Corinthians 14:21-22, speaking in tongues was a sign gift that was given for the purposes of unbelievers rather than for the edification of believers. What were sign gifts? Sign gifts were supernatural abilities that God gave to some in order to validate to unbelievers that their message was truly from God (see Acts 2:22; Second Corinthians 12:12). Back then the Bible was not yet completed. How did you know if someone claiming to be from God really was from God? God gave them sign gifts as a validation. On the Day of Pentecost, when the people heard these very unlearned Galileans speaking in their languages, and it was obvious that they had never learned that language previously, they knew that their message was from God.

So the real question is this, “Is the gift of tongues still for today?” First Corinthians 13:8 teaches clearly that tongues would one day cease. But did it? Well, after the writing of First Corinthians, tongues is never mentioned again in Scripture. In fact, Paul wrote up to 12 more books but never mentioned tongues again. In two of these books, Romans and Ephesians, Paul teaches on spiritual gifts but still does not mention speaking in tongues. Four other men, who all spoke in tongues on the Day of Pentecost, wrote books after First Corinthians but none of them ever mentioned speaking in tongues. This included John (who wrote 4 books); Peter (who wrote 2 books); as well as James and Jude (who each wrote one book).

The writer of Hebrews makes it clear in Hebrews 2:2-4, that the sign gifts that confirmed the message of the Apostles were past completed actions. The word “confirmed” is written in the aorist tense (past action). If sign gifts were still being used to validate the message of the Apostles, it would have been written in the present tense. So First Corinthians 13:8 teaches that tongues would cease and every bit of evidence says it did.

So what caused tongues to cease? As you keep reading on in First Corinthians 13:8-12, you will discover that tongues would cease when “that which is perfect comes.” Though some believe “that which is perfect” to speak of the second coming of Christ, I think it is better understood as describing the completed Scriptures. For one thing, the adjective is neuter, so we are speaking of a thing, not a person. Second, the word “perfect” is never found in Scripture speaking of the Second Coming, but it is used in James 1:25 to speak of the Bible by calling it the “perfect Law of Liberty.” So if we are to always interpret Scripture with Scripture, it would be best to see this as a reference to Scripture.

This being the case, Paul is teaching that the gift of speaking in tongues would cease with the completion of the New Testament. Back then, it was sign gifts that validated if a messenger and his message was from God. Today, it is Scripture that validates if a message is from God. And even if “that which is perfect” is a reference to the Second Coming, this would not prove that tongues is for today (but that is too detailed and too deep to explain in the confines of a written blog).

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What is speaking in tongues?

So, what is speaking in tongues? First, let me say that this topic, though a very hot topic in Christianity today, was never a major topic in Scripture. In fact, out of the 27 books of the New Testament, speaking in tongues is only mentioned in 3 of them. That’s right, just 3 out of 27 books. Out of the 260 chapters in the New Testament Scriptures, the gift of tongues is only mentioned in 7 of them. Surprising isn’t? As much as you hear it talked about on Christian television, and as many books as there are for and against it on the shelves of Christian bookstores, you would think that the topic of speaking in tongues would be one of the most written about topics in the Bible. But it’s not.

So what exactly is it? There are two primary views. The most prominent view today, at least as it is seen on Christian television, is that the gift of speaking in tongues is some type of supernatural ecstatic utterances or angel talk. The more conservative view is that speaking in tongues is the supernatural ability to speak in a known language that one never before has learned. So which is it? If we examine Acts chapter two, when the Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost, the believers that were present spoke in tongues. Now look specifically at verses 6, 8 and 11. In each of these cases those who were in Jerusalem, who were pilgrims from all over the region, heard these disciples speaking the marvelous works of God each in their own language. So on that day, tongues was not ecstatic utterances. These followers of Jesus spoke in known languages that they had never before learned. In Scripture, angels are always heard speaking in a known human language. There may be a special angelic language used in heaven, but there is no specific evidence of that in Scripture.

But didn’t Paul claim to have spoken in the tongues of angels in First Corinthians 13:1? This is the verse that advocates of tongues being a form of angel talk use to prove their case. However, look at the entire first 3 verses. What is the main theme that Paul is teaching? It is the supremacy of love. Any spiritual service is useless if it is not done in love. To prove this point, Paul uses a form of hyperbole (exaggeration for emphasis). He not only says, “If I could speak with the tongues of angels,” he also writes of “knowing all mysteries”; “Moving mountains”; and “being burned to death.” Are these true of Paul? Did Paul know all mysteries? Certainly not. Did Paul ever move a mountain? Not literally. Was Paul ever burned at the stake? Not that we see in Scripture.

What are all of these statements? They are hyperbole. Paul is saying, “Look, even if I could speak in a heavenly language…if I did not have love it would be useless. Even if I knew all mysteries, but didn’t have love…it would be useless. Even if I could move mountains, but didn’t have love, it would be useless. Even if I could give my life to be burned at the stake but did not have love…so what?” To say that Paul is claiming to have spoken in an angelic language based on this one verse is a pretty big leap. In fact, all of these statements are written in the Greek subjunctive mood which is the mood of possibility. If Paul were stating that he had in fact done these things, he would have written them in the indicative mood which is the Greek mood of reality.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The experience of speaking in tongues

Yes, sometimes I even take requests. An individual approached me in church a few weeks back and asked me to write a blog on the controversial topic of speaking in tongues. I would be glad to weigh in on my viewpoint from Scripture on this topic. But let me start by reminding us that the clearest teaching in Scripture on the topic of speaking in tongues comes from First Corinthians 12-14. I find it no coincidence that right smack dab in the middle of this passage is a treatise on the need for us to love each other in the church. So as I give my opinion, let me start with the preface that we may not all agree on this issue, but we sure must still all agree to love each other anyway.

The basis of all of our beliefs on the topic of tongues, as well as any other topic, must be Scripture. All too often I hear people say, “Well, I understand what you are telling me about what the Bible says, but I had this incredible experience.” Experiences are great but experience does not provide a basis for our faith. It is faith which must provide a basis for our experiences.

I remember going over to the house of a woman who had just lost her husband. This tragic death happened on the day prior to their 25th wedding anniversary. You would think that she and her daughter would be distraught, but instead they were giddy, almost like what you would expect at a Junior High girl’s slumber party (not that I know what that is like). Here is why the mood was so light and jubilant. That morning, the wife’s sister had been at the grocery store getting oranges when she said her sister’s dead husband appeared to her. He told her to go to the floral section and get a dozen roses to take to his wife for their anniversary and to tell her not to worry because he was in heaven. The wife was elated. Now she knew that her husband was in heaven. But wait. Is an experience that someone had at the produce section of the local grocery store really what we would want to base our theology on? Wouldn’t it be better to base our hope of this man being in heaven on the promises of salvation as seen in the Word of God?

Peter had incredible experiences including witnessing the transfiguration of Christ where he saw Jesus transfigured with his own eyes and heard the voice of God with his own ears, but he still said that we have an even “more sure” thing to base our faith on and that is Scripture (First Peter 1:19-21). Paul had even greater experiences but the heart of his message always came from Scripture (Acts 17:2-3). God Himself tells us through Paul’s letter to Timothy that only Scripture is sufficient for everything we need to know and do (Second Timothy 3:15-17). It is the Word, not experience, that must be our final say and authority (John 17:17). We are to judge all teachings, even that of speaking in tongues, by one thing…the Word (Acts 17:11).

So as you read on in the next few blogs, I would ask you to set your experiences on this issue aside. I would ask you to set aside your preconceived ideas and notions. I would ask you to set aside stories you have heard about other people regarding this topic. I would ask you to look only at Scripture as your basis of belief.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Raising G-Rated Kids in an R-Rated World (Part 6)

We are continuing our look at 10 principles for effective parenting. Below are the last two to discover!

Encourage your children often…“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing”(I Thessalonians 5:11).

This involves giving meaningful touch (Mk 10:13-16; Mk 1:40-42). I love the story when Jesus is talking to the man who had leprosy. This man had not felt a loving human touch in years. Yet, the Bible says that Jesus, moved with compassion, reached out and touched him. The power of proper touching is awesome. This obviously also involves sharing spoken words of encouragement as well (Proverbs 18:21; 3:27-28).

Celebrate your children’s achievements…“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).

Sydney Harris has said, “The best things you can give children, next to good habits, are good memories.” The story is told of a family in the East that was planning a vacation out on the West Coast. Unfortunately, an emergency came up at the father’s work and he had to send the family on the trip without him. The dad got out the maps and planned their exact route and where they would stop each night and the family left, saddened that dad could not come along. The dad was able to get done with his crisis at work early, and since he knew exactly where his family would be traveling that day, he flew out to the nearest city and took a taxi out ahead of them on the route that they would be driving on. The dad waited there until he saw the family coming, then he stuck out his thumb, acting as a hitchhiker. The mom and kids did a double-take as they drove by the weary hitchhiker and recognized him as part of their family. What a reunion they had. Later, when a newspaper reporter asked the dad why he did such a stunt, he simply responded, “After I die, I want my kids to be able to say, ‘Dad sure was fun, wasn’t he?’”

Be flexible with your children…“With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).

The truth is that sometimes we forget that our kids are just that…kids. Sometimes we force them to grow up so fast that they never have time to just be kids.

Parenting is tough…especially in the day and age in which we live. But remember, even though you can’t do much about your ancestors, you can still influence your descendants enormously. I read recently of a lady who was viewing the autumn colors with her elderly mother. “Isn’t it wonderful of God to take something just before it dies and make it so beautiful?” the daughter commented as she gazed at some falling leaves. “Wouldn’t it be nice if he did that with people?” the mother mused. The daughter looked at the stooped, white-haired figure beside her. “Sometimes he does,” she answered.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Raising G-Rated Kids in an R-Rated World (Part 5)

We are continuing our look at 10 principles for effective parenting. Below is one that deals with communicating with our kids and teens:

Take time to listen to your children…“A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel” (Proverbs 1:5).

Now let’s be honest. It is difficult to communicate with our children, especially when they become teenagers. Sometimes you’re lucky to get a grunt out of them let alone a word. Often times our biggest failure as parents is that we don’t take the time to listen to our kids. I think we underestimate how important this principle really is.

Charles Swindoll, one of my favorite preachers and authors, tells of the time that he was in way over his head when it came to multiple commitments. He was snapping at his wife and kids; choking down food at mealtime; and generally feeling irritated at all of the interruptions to his day. During that time, his youngest daughter came to him and wanted to tell him something important that had happened to her at school that day. She started by saying, “Daddy, I wanna tell you something and I’ll tell you really, really fast.” Realizing that she was frustrated at the lack of her daddy’s attention, Chuck Swindoll told her that she did not have to speak fast but that she could speak slowly. She replied by saying, “OK, Daddy. Then listen slowly!”

What great advice. We need to slow down and listen to our kids. This takes hard work and the need to prepare for proper and real communication. Below are several practical helps for communicating with your kids:
  • Mutual respect begins with listening
  • Don’t treat their problems lightly
  • Hear them out
  • Remember that listening is often better than giving advice
  • Realize they may test yo
  • Concentrate on what they are saying
  • Enter your child’s world
  • Do things together that they enjoy doing
  • Be able to keep secrets
  • Be willing to admit your own faults
  • Remember, criticism gets you a reaction; praise gets you a response
  • Ask good questions (not “yes” or “no” questions)
  • Ask their opinion
  • Plan ahead for discussions
  • Communicate with them on their turf

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Raising G-Rated Kids in an R-Rated World (Part 4)

We have now seen 3 of the 10 principles of effective parenting. The next two are:

Pray with and for your children regularly…“To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power” (II Thessalonians 1:11).

Dr. Tony Evans has said, “The most effective thing we can do for our children and families is pray for them.” I was at a retreat one time where the speaker gave 15 specific requests to pray for your children. They are very good. They include praying for:
  • Their salvation
  • Their mate
  • That they would fall in love with God’s Word
  • That God would keep them from the evil one
  • That there character would be more valuable to them than their credentials
  • That they would stand up for what is right even if it means standing alone
  • That they would be kept from the love of money
  • That they would be kept morally pure
  • That they would have the heart of a servant
  • That eternity would burn in their hearts
  • That they would be broken easily over sin
  • That they would love each other
  • That they would trust God with their parents and not allow rebellion to set in
  • Regardless the hardship, that they may never become bitter against God
  • That our boys would be glad to be boys and our girls glad to be girls

Always be honest with your children…“He who speaks truth tells what is right, but a false witness, deceit” (Proverbs 12:17).

When it comes to any relationship, honesty is always the best policy. We as parents would never put up with our children lying to us. So why is it that we feel that we can lie to them and that’s okay? There is no quicker way to destroy a relationship than to lose trust and respect due to not being honest.

Love your children’s mother…“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

I love the statement made by Josh McDowell when he wrote, “The greatest thing that a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” Do you realize that most people get their first view of God from how they view their dad? However you view you father is often how you will view God. And guess where kids get their first view of their fathers from? That’s right…from listening to what their moms say about them.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Raising G-Rated Kids in an R-Rated World (Part 3)

We are continuing to look at 10 principles of effective parenting:

Let your kids know often that you love them just as they are…“Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (Romans 15:7).

Remember the story of the Prodigal Son in the Bible? The real focus of the story should not be on the son but rather on the father who waited daily for his rebellious son to return to him, and when he did return, the father accepted him with open arms of forgiveness. This father is a picture of God. It is also a beautiful example for all of us parents. I think that this is especially needed with our daughters. One of their biggest needs is to find security in a relationship. In this search for security, they will often compromise their values. Pastor David Jeremiah says that “For many little girls, life with father is a dress rehearsal for love and marriage.” Would to God that our daughters would find acceptance and security with we who they call, “Daddy.”

Discipline your children when they need it…“He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Proverbs 13:24)

This involves several principles. First, start early! Our daughter was a very strong willed child. One of the greatest pieces of advice that we were given through Dr. James Dobson’s excellent book, Parenting Isn’t for Cowards, was to win the battles of will early. The longer we allow a strong and rebellious will to continue unchecked, the more difficult it will become to break that will later. Second, stay balanced! Spanking is needed, but must be done correctly. Abuse is not Biblical discipline. As the child grows older, there should be less physical punishment and more verbal correction (this is not a tongue-lashing). By teen years, you are getting close to that fragile self-will where a paddle will do more harm than good.

I love the story Dr. Dobson tells in his book on parenting about a boy named Robert whose mother was scared to discipline him. One day he ended up at the dentist office. In his usual defiant way, he refused to get up in the chair. When the dentist insisted, the boy threatened to take off all of his clothes. The dentist simply said, “Son, take them off!” The boy stripped down to his underpants. The dentist again insisted that he get into the chair. The boy again threatened to take off all of his clothes if he were made to. The dentist again said, “Son, take them off!” The boy did and then climbed into the chair. When the dentist finished, the boy asked for his clothes. The dentist refused the request. Imagine the look on this boy’s mother’s face when her son came out into the full waiting area as naked as the day he was born. The mother and very embarrassed son walked down the hall, to the elevator and then to their car. The next day the mom came back to thank the dentist. She told him that anytime Robert did not get his way in public, he would hold her hostage by threatening to take off his clothes. The dentist was the first person to call his bluff and the impact on Robert was incredible.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Raising G-Rated Kids in an R-Rated World (Part 2)

We saw in the last blog that rules without relationships results in rebellion. Now let’s take a look at 10 principles of effective parenting that will help us find the balance between the rules and the relationship.

Spend time with your children…“Making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16).

Dr. Anthony Witham tells us that children spell “l-o-v-e”...”t-i-m-e!” I am told that toymakers watch the divorce rate. Why? Because when the divorce rate rises, so do toy sales. According to analyzers, four parents and eight grandparents (rather than two parents and four grandparents) tend to compete for their children’s affections more so they buy toys. Dr. Witham goes on to say, “Children become spoiled when we substitute ‘presents’ for ‘presence!’” Though it is too long to post here, Howard Mann wrote an insightful story I found in one of Dr, James Dobson’s books whose title says it all. It is called, Dad Coming Home was the Real Treat!

It is said of Boswell, the famous biographer of Samuel Johnson, that he often referred to a special day in his childhood when his father took him fishing. The day was fixed in his mind and he often thought about the wonderful fishing experience he had with his dad and the many things that his father had taught him on that special day together at the lake. After hearing Boswell speak of that excursion so often, it occurred to someone to check the journal that his father had kept to see what he said about this fishing trip from a parental perspective. Turning to the date, the reader found only one sentence entered: “Gone fishing today with my son; a day wasted.”

You may recall from your earlier years the song Cat’s in the Cradle by Henry Chapin. It is a song about a dad who was on the road often due to his job and who had no real time for his son. When the kid grows up and dad grows old, he desires the company of his son. However, he finds that his son is now to busy for this relationship himself. The old man than realizes that, unfortunately, his boy had grown up to be just like him. What most people don’t realize is that this song played out in Chapin’s life like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It was actually written by Chapin’s wife who asked her husband one day when he was going to slow down his pace and give time to his son. He promised that at the end of his busy summer he would take the time. That summer, however, Henry Chapin was killed in an automobile accident. The words to the chorus of this song are more than thought provoking. You remember the chorus, don’t you?

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little Boy Blue and the Man in the Moon,
When you comin’ home, Dad?
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, son
You know we’ll have a good time then

Monday, June 12, 2006

Raising G-Rated Kids in an R-Rated World (Part 1)

I’m really worried,” said one little boy to a friend. “Dad slaves away at his job so I’ll never want for anything, so I’ll be able to go the university if I want to. Mom works hard every day washing and ironing, cleaning up after me, taking care of me when I get sick. They spend every day of their lives working just on my behalf and I’m worried.” His friend asked, “What have you got to worry about?” He replied, “I’m afraid they might try to escape!” So let’s be honest. Did you ever daydream of escaping from the role of being a parent? Did you ever as a mom at least think about crying out those words from the old commercial of my childhood, “Calgon…take me away!?”

Parenting isn’t easy and, like growing old, it’s not for wimps either. Does it get easier the older the kids get? A college sophomore who had spent most of the school year in one kind of trouble or another, received the following postcard from his parents who were vacationing in Greece: “Dear Son, we are now standing high on a cliff from which the ancient Spartan women once hurled their defective children to the rocks below. Wish you were here. Love, Mom and Dad.”

The first rule of effective parenting comes from author and speaker, Josh McDowell who says, “Rules without Relationships lead to Rebellion.” This is where many parental mistakes are made as parents tend to gravitate toward one extreme or the other. Some parents are more dictatorial and surround their kids with hundreds of rules providing an overly strict environment that borders or even enters the realm of legalism. Other parents have as their greatest fear that their kids won’t like them. These parents tend to have few rules and the ones they do have become negotiable if their children resist enough.

The key to parenting is balance. Yes, we must have rules. That is without question. But on the other hand, these rules must be coupled with the building of a relationship with our kids. To move away from balance is to move toward rebellion.

Perhaps this is best seen in the life of a young lady named Lynette Fromme. Does that name ring a bell? Maybe if I used her nickname, “Squeaky,” it would help jog your memory. In 1976, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme exploded on to the front page of every newspaper in America. She had pushed her way through a crowd and had tried to kill President Gerald Ford. She was just 17 years old at the time and was a very proud follower of the notorious serial killer, Charles Manson. Reporters wanted to know why a sweet, Seventeen-year old teenage girl would give her life to such an evil person as Charles Manson. Her explanation is haunting. She said in an interview that she made a choice early in her teenager years that whoever loved her first could have her life.

One study revealed that the percentage of American teenagers who say they want to be like their parents was just 39%. That is a haunting statistic. Rules without relationships lead to rebellion. To help us find this balance, we will be taking a look over many of these upcoming blog postings at 10 principles of effective parenting.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Preaching and communication

I am always looking and praying about how I can be a better communicator as I preach and teach the Word of God. Andy Stanley (son of television pastor, Charles Stanley) has written a new book entitled, Communicating For A Change. Below is a part of a review of this book done by Perry Noble on his blog,

First of all I was so excited when I discovered that Stanley had written a book about communication. In my opinion--he is one of the top five speakers in America, hands down. And so that fact alone gave the book a certain "authority." In this book Stanley is incredibly transparent about several things--one being the struggle that pastors face when they walk off of the platform and the immediate thought of, "What did people think" flooding their mind! Face it--it matters to us what people think--we want people to be captivated by the message; however, for as much as we want people to be captivated, Stanley points out that EFFORT must be put forth in making that happen. Some argue that "preaching the word" is enough--Stanley disagrees! Here is a quote from page 153...

"Simply put, you have to manufacture interest. On the average Sunday morning, or whenever you communicate, your first responsibility is to pose a question your audience wants answered, create a tension they need resolved, or point to a mystery they have been unable to solve. And if you launch into your message before you do one of those things, chances are, you will leave them standing at the station."

Don't take this the wrong way or blow it out of proportion, Stanley consistently affirms the reliability of Scripture and the need for life changing messages--but his point is well made in that unless people know why they should be listening, they probably won't listen...and like it or not, creating an interest is OUR responsibility as a communicator! I also love the fact that Stanley affirms the fact that preachers need to be honest, in fact, he says at one point in his book, "If you preach from your weakness, you will never run out of material!" WOW--if that is true (and I believe it is) then I will always have something to talk stupidity and selfishness sometimes knows no bounds!Face it--if you are a public speaker of any kind--the pressure is on! Everyone in your audience has some sort of expectation--some want verse by verse, others want to feel good, and others want help with their life because it is falling apart. There is NO WAY that any pastor can meet EVERYONE'S expectations...that is why Stanley believes that preaching for life change is the best solution! He sums this up really well when he says...

"Preaching is a performance. Preachers are performers. But unlike the comedian, we are expected to more than entertain. We are expected to be educational, inspirational, theological, and engaging all at the same time. So there we stand. All alone. All eyes on us. Waiting. Expecting. Hoping. And did I mention that we have to talk to the same audience week after week? Did I mention that all week long they have been driving around in their cars listening to my dad, Chuck Swindoll, Ed Young, and Sean Hannity. Whose idea was this?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

When ministry gets tough

In the book, Standing Fast…Ministry in an Unfriendly World, co-written by one of my spiritual heroes, Dr. Ed Dobson, the final chapter is entitled, Renewing Your Sense of Call. In this chapter, Dr. Dobson shares several examples of very critical and negative letters he received while pastoring a large church in Grand Rapids, MI. These letters, mostly anonymous, were harsh and defeating. Dr. Dobson goes on to share what he calls The Three Myths of Ministry, which he heard from Dr. Truman Dollar.

It is never as bad as you think it is! Even when things seem darkest, circumstances are usually not as hopeless or awful as they first appear. We should never let church politics or conflicts obscure our vision of the bigger things God may be doing in the church.

It’s never as good as you think it is! There are times in church ministry when everything seems to be going marvelously. That is sure true about ministry here at Grace church in recent months. That’s when you need to be careful. It’s may only be an illusion. As Dr. Jerry Falwell used to say, “I’ve never had two good days back to back.”

It’s never completely fixed! Ministry is a process; it’s people. To say, “I’ve taken care of this problem. It won’t recur,” is to live in a fool’s paradise. Problems can come back to plague you long after you thought they were resolved.

Dr. Dobson then goes on to share three ways to handle criticism in ministry:

Accept it as part of the package! The ministry is sometimes pressure, discouragement, disappointment, heartache, criticism and conflict. In Second Corinthians 4:8-9, Paul says, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed.” This is ministry reality.

Don’t believe everything you hear! A lot of criticism people throw our way is based on ignorance or misconceptions. When it’s appropriate, Dr. Dobson encourages us to educate people. When it’s not, it’s best just to forget the comments.

Ask God about it! Dr. Dobson says that he takes the criticism he receives to the Lord in prayer. “This is what they’ve said about me, Lord. Is it true? Help me to be honest with myself and determine what truth, if any, lies beneath their comment.” Dr. Dobson says that he actually reads to God the letters he receives that are critical of him. Sometimes he finds that God is trying to say something to him. Other times, God simply reassures him that he is on the right track and has no need to become discouraged.

David had the same conflicts. His way of handling it is similar as seen in Psalm 143:4-5. David says, “My spirit grows faith within me. My heart within me is dismayed.” So what does he do? David goes on to write, “I remember the days of long ago. I meditate on all Your works and consider what Your hands have done.”

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Eagle athletics

Another year has come and gone for Lititz Christian School (LCS). There are many facets of having a church-run school that are rewarding, but for a sports buff like me, nothing beats following our athletic teams throughout the year. Below are the athletic highlights for our 2005/2006 High School sports program here at LCS:

Boys Varsity Soccer: The boys were able to bring home the first annual Agape Cup with a 4-0 victory over Dayspring Christian Academy.

Girls Varsity Volleyball: The girls won the CCAC Championship and came within one game of reaching the state tournament.

Girls Junior Varsity Volleyball: The girls finished a spectacular season with a very impressive 10-0 undefeated season.

Girls Varsity Basketball: Our girls beat a public school; a double-A school; and got to the CCAC championship game. They went on to win a PIAA district game, reaching the semi-finals. This was the first team of any sport in school history to qualify for state playoffs. Their final record was 20-9. Angie Rapchinski shattered a multitude of school records including:
  • Lifting her career scoring to 1,373 points (2,000 points is now within sight)
  • Averaged 21.5 points per game
  • Scored 623 points for the season
  • Grabbed 296 rebounds for the season
  • Shot 45% from the field for the season

Varsity Track: They set 3 new school records on the boy’s side and 4 new school records on the girl’s side and brought home hardware from CCAC and MACSA meets.

Boys Varsity Basketball and Girls Soccer: Though both of these team’s records seemed disappointing, these two teams showed great growth over the course of their seasons and should be tough teams to contend with next year.

Each season, the highest athletic award possible at LCS is given to one male athlete and one female athlete. This is called the Eagle Award and is determined by the vote of all coaches over the course of the year and encompasses all three sports seasons. It is given to the outstanding male and female athletes who show the best all around character, ability and accomplishments. This year’s Eagle Award recipients were Eric Rohrbach and Erika Bernheisel, who are both seniors.

And let’s not forget our Junior High girls who went undefeated in the league in basketball and undefeated over the entire season (league and non-league games) in soccer.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

4 Foundational Principles of Parenting (Part II)

It is difficult to raise G-rated kids in an R-rated world. That’s not new news to any of you parents. But the Bible does give us help. In Psalm 127-128 we see four foundational principles of parenting. I wrote about the first principle yesterday which was to READ the instruction manual (127:1-2). If you didn’t read yesterday’s posting, you may want to pause right now and go back and read it before continuing.

The second principle is that we must REALIZE the value of our children (127:3-5). Our children are a “gift” from the Lord. This is a Hebrew word meaning “property” or “possession.” It is the idea of something that is shared or assigned. Children are the Lord’s property and possession which He graciously assigns and shares with us as parents and as stewards of this precious gift. Children are a reward or a pleasure and are proof of God’s love for us and His reward to us. Comedian and television star Bill Cosby has rightfully said, “Nothing I’ve ever done has given me more joys and rewards than being a father to my children.”

Psalm 127:4 describes children as “arrows” meaning that they are meant to fly and need to be directed. Proverbs 22:6 tells us to “train up” our children. This is a word that literally means “palate” or “gums.” Midwives would put juice on the palate or gums of a newborn to cause the baby to suck. The idea is that training involves creating a thirst in our children for the Lord. This word was also used to describe placing a rope in the mouth of a wild horse until it became broken. Training also involves breaking the stubborn self-will of a child into a gentle, submissive spirit. No wonder the Psalmist would say that a blessed man sees the value of all the “arrows” that God designed for his quiver.

A third principle is to RESOLVE to strengthen your family unit (128:1-3). This involves a commitment to God (v1-2). Families are strengthened by fearing the Lord and walking in His ways. It also involves a consideration of each other (v3). A wife is spoken of as a fruitful vine (notice ladies, no mention of thorns) which produces pleasure in life. Kids are referred to as olive plants (not branches because they are each unique).

The final foundational principle is to REFUSE to ever give up (128:4-6). Why? First, because there is a pleasure that is involved (v4). A family should produce personal satisfaction. John writes that he had no greater joy than to see his children walk in truth (Third John 4). Second, there is the issue of prosperity (v5). A nation remains only as strong as her families. Finally, there is a need for perseverance (v6). As parents and even grandparents we must determine to never give up.

After all, you can’t do much about your ancestors but you can influence your descendants enormously.

Monday, June 05, 2006

4 Foundational Principles of Parenting (Part I)

There is no debate that we live today in what could be called an R-rated world. I could write volumes showing the reality of this. But the question at hand is not in regard to how bad the world is that we are trying to raise our kids in. The real question is, “How do we raise G-rated kids in the R-rated world that we live in?” Psalm 127 and 128 give us a good head start by allowing us to learn four foundational steps for successful parenting. These four principles will give us just the foundation that we need.

The first principle is to READ the instruction manual (127:1-2). In verse one we learn the foundation of any family is making the Lord the very center of our life, home and work. This includes seeing the Bible as our final authority and our instruction manual for living. Human effort alone, apart from God, results in emptiness. Let’s face it, left to ourselves, we as parents will make many mistakes. Verse two goes on to emphasize that hard work apart from the Lord breeds no real success. We need the Lord who gives to us even when we are asleep.

Many years ago, Jay Kessler once wrote a book called Ten Mistakes Parents Make and How to Avoid Them. In it he outlined these 10 parental failures:
  • Failure to be a consistent model
  • Failure to admit when wrong
  • Failure to give honest answers to honest questions
  • Failure to let your child develop their own identity
  • Failure to major on majors and minor on minors
  • Failure to communicate approval and acceptance
  • Failure to give them the right to fail
  • Failure to discuss the uncomfortable
  • Failure to take time
  • Failure to point them to Jesus

So, let’s be honest parents. How many of these mistakes have you made? Yeah, me too! So let’s resolve to return to the instruction manual. Let’s once again make the Bible the key part to our life and to our home. Tomorrow we will see the other 3 principles. Take time today to read all of Psalm 127 and 128.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Hymns . . . saving the best for last

As a kid, I grew up on the old hymns of the faith. We would sing through the Hymn book each and every year on Sunday evenings. My favorite was Hymn #447 in the song book we used at Goodyear Heights Community Church in Akron, Ohio. It was the song, The Lily of the Valley. Remember that one? On those Sunday nights when the pastor would ask for requests, I would always shout out . . . “Number 447" . . . and we would sing:

I have found a friend in Jesus, He’s everything to me
He’s the fairest of ten thousand to my soul
The Lilly of the Valley, in Him alone I see
All I need to cleanse and make me fully whole
In sorrow He’s my comfort, in trouble He’s my stay
He tells me every care on Him to roll
He’s the Lilly of the Valley, the Bright and Morning Star
He’s the fairest of ten thousand to my soul

But what I have discovered is that the best part of hymns is usually their final stanzas. These verses contain some of the greatest words of hope and inspiration ever written in the hymnal. Below are just a few examples:

And Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend
Even so it is well with my soul.

And that with yonder sacred throng we at His feet may fall
We’ll join the everlasting throng and Crown Him Lord of all
We’ll join the everlasting throng and crown Him Lord of all

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were a present far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my life, my soul, my all

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim my God how great Thou Art

Rejoice, rejoice O Christian, lift up your voice and sing
Eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ the King
The hope of all who seek Him, the help of all who find
None other is so loving, so good and kind

Thursday, June 01, 2006

What wears a Pastor down

I don’t think that the average lay person really understands the stress and pressure that is involved in being a pastor. I mean, how could they if they have never experienced it? Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing in this world that I would rather do than to fulfill my calling to pastor a local church. I love it, especially here at Grace Church. Most of the time, pastoring is extremely enjoyable and eternally rewarding. But over the nearly 20 years that I have been a pastor, I must admit that I have discovered some things that can tend to steal the joy of being a pastor. Below are just a few examples:

  1. Hearing through the grapevine that someone in your church is in disagreement with or offended by something that you have said or done but instead of coming to you about it, they have shared their opinions with others.
  2. The lack of positive feedback. So often in our culture today we are quick to communicate when we don’t like something in the church but often we fail to take the time to share when we do like something or when God uses something about the ministry of the local church in our lives.
  3. When people never tell you about a need or upcoming trauma in their life and then communicate their hurt that you never contacted them or showed any concern.
  4. When you “take it on the chin” because you choose to protect others by not airing out someone else’s “dirty laundry,” even if they were at fault.
  5. When people in the church expect your kids to be perfect because they are “the pastor’s kids.”
  6. When people in the church have their own self-made expectation of what the pastor should be like and then become disappointed because you don’t exactly measure up to their pre-conceived standard.
  7. When people feel you should be more available to them and their needs, even if it means neglecting your own family.
  8. When people send you written letters of criticism anonymously.
  9. When people judge your motives regarding a decision or comment that you made.
  10. When people confront you on a Sunday morning, right before or right after the church service, with something about the ministry that they are unhappy with.
  11. When people hear a negative or a criticism from another person in the church and believe it without ever coming and talking with you as the pastor about it personally.