Monday, July 31, 2006

The bar is open (originally posted April 20, 2005)

Television sitcoms just aren’t what they used to be, are they? When I was a kid, it was ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Laverne and Shirley’ that topped the ratings. But during my Youth Pastor years, the number one sitcom on the tube was called ‘Cheers’. Remember that one? I watched a special a few years back that told the ‘behind the scenes’ stories to some of the great sitcoms of the past. I was surprised to discover that ‘Cheers’ was never intended to be more than a one season fill in for an open slot in the network. But to the amazement of everyone, it soared in popularity and became one of the greatest sitcoms in the history of television.

The cast of ‘Cheers’ included “Sam”, the washed-up ballplayer; “Woody”, the male airhead; “Frazier”, the psychotic psychiatrist; and “Karla”, the bitter barmaid. Then there was the mailman…“Cliff”. He was the nerd of all nerds. His real name is John Ratzenberger. I used this illustration once back in Indiana and a couple weeks later one of the ladies in the church gave me an autographed black and white glossy of “Cliff”. Her best friend out in California was John Ratzenberger’s personal secretary. She sent him a tape of the sermon. Mr. Ratzenberger listened to it and sent me an autographed picture back that said, “To Pastor Scott, Cheers and best wishes!

But the star of the show was a man named “Norm”. Norm was an overweight, lazy alcoholic who couldn’t keep a job and whose family thought very little of him. He was the loser of all losers by anyone’s definition. But what happened every time Norm came into the bar? The whole place stopped what they were doing and yelled, “NORM”!

Why did this show connect so easily, quickly and deeply with the average American? I think it’s because it was a show about a bunch of ‘losers’, and if we are going to be honest, we are all losers in some way, shape or form. We all have something about us that is weird or quirky. And for 30 minutes a week we could watch this lovable group of losers and find someone that we could relate to and for that brief time-frame we felt like we were somebody…like we had a reason to get out of bed every morning. In fact, do you remember the theme song for the show? The lyrics went something like this:

Wouldn’t you like to have a place where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came? Wouldn’t you like to be where you can see our troubles are all the same? Wouldn’t you like to go where everybody knows your name?"

And where was that place? A bar! Now I ask you, why can’t that place be the church? Why can’t the church be the place where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came? Why can’t the church be the place where you can see that our troubles are all the same? You see, I think the church needs to become more like a bar! It’s time to light the neon sign in the window, “The Bar is Open”. After all, we serve the best drink in town…the living water of Jesus Christ! And once you’ve tasted this drink, you’ll never be thirsty again!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Why country music ain't Christian (originally posted April 14, 2005)

Maybe it was my being forced as a kid to watch episode after episode of Hee Haw every Saturday night with my family that did it. Maybe it’s just the “twang” that irritates the snot out of me. I’m not sure, but whatever caused it, country music just doesn’t float my boat in any way, shape or form. Now, I understand that there are many “heathens” (oops…I mean “good folks”) who are part of Grace Church who enjoy this style of music. That’s fine. I mean, I don’t understand it, but that’s still just fine. I understand that when it comes to “styles” of music, there is no one “godly” style and there is no one “ungodly” style. When it comes right down to it, I believe that music itself is amoral. It is the lyrics of the music that makes it sway towards godliness or ungodliness. So I can accept the fact that many Christians (who haven’t matured spiritually as fast as some of the rest of us) like Country music. Really, I’m fine with that. But, let’s be reasonable. How can music with song titles like the ones listed below be a style of music you like? These are actual song titles from actual country-western songs:
  • “Drop Kick Me, Jesus, Through The Goalposts Of Life”
  • “Her Teeth Were Stained, But Her Heart Was Pure”
  • “How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?”
  • “I Don’t Know Whether To Kill Myself Or Go Bowling”
  • “I Flushed You From The Toilet Of My Heart”
  • “I Wouldn’t Take Her To A Do Fight, Cause I’m Afraid She’d Win”
  • “I’m Just A Bug On The Windshield Of Life”
  • “If My Nose Were Full Of Nickels, I’d Blow It All On You”
  • “My Every Day Silver Is Plastic”
  • “She Made Toothpicks Out Of The Timber Of My Heart”
  • “Thank God And Greyhound She’s Gone”
  • “You’re The Reason Our Kids Are So Ugly”

So, there you have it . . . factual proof why I don’t think Country Music is Christian. Now, don’t get too offended. I’m not sure CATS are Christians either. No, I’m serious! You know how I can tell? When you pet a cat what does it do? It sticks its rear end way up into the air. Ever noticed that? That’s not a Christian thing to do!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Robin Hood (originally posted April 9, 2005)

While in college, I worked as the Intern Youth Pastor at a church in Ohio. This church was very well-known for the big Bible School that they put on each summer. That year the Bible School director came up to me and asked me if I would be the main character at Bible School. Without asking who the main character was, I agreed. I came into my office the Monday morning of Bible School and there was my costume. It was a little green pull over dress along with a red hat with a green feather sticking out of it; a bow, quiver, arrows, and above all, a pair of bright, green panty hose. You see, for the next five days I was to portray the character of Robin Hood. The worst part was that all of the little kids thought that I was Peter Pan.

The Bible School Director then told me that the Bible School main character always doubles as a bus captain. So I spent the next five days, in the city of Dayton, Ohio, wearing green panty hose, walking little kids from their house to the bus and from the bus to their house. It made the front page of the ‘Dayton Daily News’ in color . . . a picture of me wearing green panty hose. On the first stop, there was this dog who decided on this particular day that its favorite color was ‘green’. It jumped up on me and put a run in my panty hose. Now I was really mad! I had to use finger nail polish remover to stop the run in my stockings.

I was never so glad to see a Friday come. Yet it was on this day that God decided to teach me a lesson. The first stop on the way home from Bible School was a little boy named Timmy. Timmy was only three years old and so small that he couldn’t even walk off the bus by himself. As I carried him off the bus, he put his arms around my neck and placed his nose right up against mine and said, “Robin Hood . . . I love you!” As I got back on the bus it hit me. I wondered how many kids would have given anything on those rides home from Bible School to sit on Robin Hood’s lap and listen to him tell them how much Jesus loved them, but Robin Hood was too busy feeling sorry for himself.

But it was the last stop that God really used in my life. This was the home of a girl named Holly. Her mom was a young mom, about my age. When she saw me on Monday morning, she literally fell to the ground laughing. On Tuesday she had a neighbor there to see me. On Wednesday she had three neighbors there to see me. Fortunately, on Friday she was all by herself as we dropped little Holly off at her house.

I took Holly up to her mom and very half-heartedly said, “Ma’am, Holly has had a wonderful time at Bible School this week and I think it would be great if you would come to the closing program and see what she has learned.” I will never forget her response. She said to me, “Sir (If you can imagine calling someone wearing green panty hose, ‘Sir”), if you’re willing to prance around this city dressed like that, just to get little kids to come to your Bible School, then I’m willing to come to your church and see what your church is all about.” That’s when I realized that God could use me, even wearing green panty hose, as long as I was willing to put the things of the Lord above the things of self.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The men in my life (originally posted April 5, 2005)

In the ending verses of the book of Joshua we are told that Israel followed the Lord not only as long as Joshua was alive but even after his death as long as there were those still living in Israel that remembered Joshua. Now that’s what I call a man of great spiritual influence. It causes me to think of the men whose lives have greatly influenced my walk with the Lord. Some of them are still living and some of them are already with the Lord. Some of them I knew and some of them I never had the privilege of meeting. But in every case I can truly say that I am more like Jesus because of these men in my life:

Rev. Charles Distler: My grandpa who was a pastor for over 40 years and spent the last years of his life as a Superintendent at a Rescue Mission. He taught me to love the Bible.

Charles Distler, Jr.: My dad who as a layman always was and still is involved in every area of the local church he possibly can be. He taught me how to love the local church.

Rick Matthew: A Sunday School teacher of mine when I was in High School. He taught me not only how to share my faith but also that sharing my faith could be fun.

Don Bechtel: A High School Band Teacher of mine at Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy when I was in High School. He taught me that just because it was “Christian”, it didn’t have to be second rate, but to strive for excellence in everything I did.

Keith Green: A singer/songwriter of the late 70’s and early 80’s who died in a plane accident while I was still a senior in High School. Though I never met him, his music is largely responsible for keeping me walking with the Lord though my teenager years.

Harry Walls: A college supervisor at Liberty University who taught me how to pray.

Dr. Paul Fink: A college professor at Liberty University whose Inductive Bible Study class greatly impacted my life. He taught me how to study my Bible.

Steve Peters: My mentor who took me under his wing while I was in college and gave me my first job in ministry. He taught me how to be a pastor.

Dr. Jerry Falwell: A noted preacher who I use to get up every Sunday morning early enough to watch on TV and whose college I attended. He taught me to have vision.

Rich Smith: A local church elder in Osceola who I prayed with once a week for 9 years and who I watched endure many trials. He taught me to be faithful through hardships.

Now I have to wonder. Someday down the road when other young men make their lists of the men who have had the most spiritual influence on their lives, I wonder if anyone will write down my name. O God, please make me a man of great spiritual influence!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The best of the archives

Today Laura and I will be traveling to California where I will be speaking at Brethren National Youth Conference and then attending our Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches National Adult Conference. During that time, several of our church staff will join me and we will be visiting four different local churches including that of Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life. Following Adult Conference, my family and I will be spending a few extra vacation days on the West Coast, spending a day at Disneyland and attending a Dodger’s baseball game among other things.

So what will happen to my blog while I am away? When Rush Limbaugh is away he often has a guest host fill in for him behind his golden microphone. Unfortunately, I really don’t have anyone waiting in the wings to be my substitute blog writer. Yet, there are some times that instead of a fill-in host, Rush will instead just delve into the archives and spend a week re-airing some of his best shows of the past. That is what I have decided to do over the next two weeks. Beginning tomorrow and running through Friday, August 11th, I have picked 13 of my favorite postings from the year 2005. So, welcome to the archives. This “best of” series will include the following postings:
  • April 5, 2005 - The men in my life
  • April 9, 2005 - Robin Hood
  • April 14, 2005 - Why country music ain't Christian
  • April 20, 2005 - The bar is open
  • April 28, 2005 - Revenge of the zipper
  • May 3, 2005 - Lavished with gravy
  • June 1, 2005 - Catching monkeys
  • July 21, 2005 - A cure for snoring
  • August 29, 2005 - A real treasure map
  • August 30, 2005 - Six levels of ministry
  • September 15, 2005 - Are numbers bad?
  • October 4, 2005 - HELP! I'm locked in and I can't get out!
  • October 21, 2005 - Critics or calling . . . which do we listen to?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Wealth and wisdom

In James 1, the half-brother of Jesus is writing regarding how to live out our faith in times of trials. In verses 2-4, he commands us to change our perspective on trials and to have an attitude of contentment when we face adversity. We learn that as we stand firm, staying faithful and enduring under trials, it results in greater spiritual maturity and develops us into everything God wants us to become. In verses 5-8, we are promised that if we are lacking the ability to see our trials through a divine perspective that gives us an inner confidence, we can ask God for this perspective and if we ask in faith, He will give it to us without bargaining and without reprimanding us for our need to ask for wisdom.

As we reach verse 9, we are reminded that trials affect both the wealthy and the poor. James addresses both and their need to rejoice even in the midst of suffering. He deals first with the poor man who he calls the brother of humble circumstances. James is speaking of the Christian who was economically poor which was no doubt most of his Jewish readers due to the persecution they faced. What were they to do in the midst of adversity? They were to glory in their high position. What kind of high position is possessed by the poor? James is looking beyond their economic standing to their spiritual standing. He is speaking of their position as children of God with all of the blessings that position brings (First Peter 1:3-6; First John 3:1-3; Romans 8:16-18).

James tells the rich man to do the same thing in verse 10. The rich man is also to glory but his rejoicing is not in his position but rather in his humiliation. A poor person should rejoice in the midst of trials because of his spiritual position as a child of God. The rich man is to rejoice in the same scenario because trials, to the one who is wealthy, allows him to understand humility, which is something that those with material substance often struggle to understand. This humility occurs when we realize that our wealth cannot protect us from trials.

To prove this point, James looks to nature in verse 11 and points his readers to the flowering grass which was temporary (First Peter 1:24; Isaiah 40:6-7). The flowers and grass of Israel flourished in February and were dried up by May (Isaiah 40:6-8; Ps 102:4, 11; 103:15). Material things are also temporary and knowing this, we should be driven to put our trust in God rather than in material wealth

James now ends this section with the encouraging prospect of reward in verse 12. This reward is given when we are content and consistent trough adversity. This is a reward given to the one who posses an inner contentment and does not relinquish his trust in God in spite of trials. Those who continue to trust in God in spite of trials are approved by God. That’s a hero. It is one who goes through the fire of adversity and remains faithful to God. This person will receive the Crown of Life. This comes from the realm of athletics, not that of royalty, and speaks of a wreath placed on the head of an athletic victor. Some believe this speaks of eternal life itself but it is more likely a specific eternal reward given to those who endure trials with trust.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The return of Joy

Our daughter, Joy, left for Operation Barnabas on June 13th. She has spent all summer in a very extensive ministry training adventure out in Southern California. We sure have missed her and my how quiet our house has been. If you know our Joy than you know that wherever she is and whoever she’s with, she’s talking, usually non stop. I am so thankful that she has had this incredible experience over this summer. Each time I talk to her or read a letter from her I realize that she is just “eating it up!” It will be fun to see how it has impacted her life and to hear the many stories I’m sure that she will have to tell (and tell, and tell, and tell)!

Throughout the summer, the teenagers on Operation Barnabas stay in different host homes from the many churches that they visit. On July 11th, we received a letter from one of the host families that Joy stayed with. It also included pictures of our daughter for us to see. It was a very kind and thoughtful thing for this person to do. The note said:

Dear Distler Family,

My husband, Pete, and I had the privilege of hosting Joy in our home when the southern California Operation Barnabas team was at Grace Church of Orange. We fell in love with your daughter! How well you named her as she is a joy and a delight. She has a joyful spirit and gave us much joy. I know you must miss her but the enclosed pictures will show you that she is happy and healthy and serving the Lord in a mighty way. Thank you for sharing her with the Brethren in California!

In Him,
Elise Roberts

Yep, that’s my joy. She is indeed a very special young lady. Everyone she meets seems to share the same opinion. From kids to teens to adults, Joy is one of those unique people who is loved by everyone.

When the Apostle John wrote his third Epistle, he penned that he had “no greater joy than to see his children walk in truth.” John wasn’t talking about his biological children but rather his spiritual children. The same truth does apply, however, to biological children, maybe even more so. There are many things about Joy that brings me joy…her personality, her smile, her enthusiasm, and more. But nothing brings me more joy than watching my Joy walk in the truth of the Lord. I really do believe that God has something very special in store for Joy. It will be fun to watch how God uses her over the decades to come to influence and impact many people for eternity. What a thrill!

On July 25th, we will leave for Southern California where I will be speaking at the morning main session on the last day of Brethren National Youth Conference. We will get to see Joy there and what a joy that will be for us!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

What makes an effective purpose statement?

As we continue to overview Rick Warren’s writings on the need for the church to be purpose driven, we see 4 characteristics of an effective purpose statement. If you have not read the last 2 blog entries, you should do so before reading this next entry.

1. It is specific - Purpose statements must be simple and clear. The biggest mistake churches make when developing a purpose statement is trying to cram too much into it. A narrow mission is a clear mission. Nothing becomes dynamic until it becomes specific. Ask these questions, “What are the very few things that will make the most difference for Jesus’ sake in our world? What can we do that only the church can do?”

2. It is transferable - A purpose statement that is transferable is short enough to be remembered and passed on by everyone in your church. The shorter, the better. Try to say it in a fresh creative way. Try to make it memorable. People remember simple statements such as JFK’s, “Ask not what your country can do for you, and what you can do for your country” and Martin Luther King Jr’s famous speech, “I have a dream.”

3. It is measurable - You must be able to look at your purpose statement and evaluate whether your church is doing it or not. If you can’t evaluate your church by your purpose statement, go back to the drawing board.

4. It is biblical - In Mathew 22:37-40, Jesus gives to us the Great Commandment. In Matthew 28:19-20, He gives us the Great Commandment. From these two passages we see the five purposes of the church as seen in the Bible. However we ultimately decide to state our purpose so that it is specific, transferable and measurable, it must include these elements:

  • Love the Lord your God with all of your heart! (worship)
  • Love your neighbor as yourself! (ministry)
  • Go and make disciples! (evangelism)
  • Baptizing them! (fellowship)
  • Teaching them to obey! (discipleship)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

More on purpose

In yesterday’s blog I overviewed three benefits to the church from having a well defined purpose. These included the fact that:

1. A clear purpose builds morale
2. A clear purpose reduces frustration
3. A clear purpose allows concentration

Today we continue to overview some thoughts from Rick Warren’s book, Purpose Driven Church. It would be helpful for you to read yesterday’s blog first.

4. A clear purpose attracts cooperation - People want to join a church that knows where it is going. When Ezra told the people exactly what God expected them to do, the people responded, “Tell us how to proceed in setting things straight and we will fully cooperate” (Ezra 10:4 LB). If we want to see our church members get excited about our church, actively support it, and generously give to it, we must vividly explain up front exactly where our church is headed. Proverbs 11:27 (TEV) says, “If your goals are good, you will be respected.” We need to tell people up front where our church is headed. People who transfer their membership to our church carry cultural baggage from their previous church, and may have certain expectations that our church has no intention of fulfilling. There are two important lessons for us to keep in mind. First, we cannot let whiners set the agenda for the church. Second, the best time to discover anyone’s conflict with our church’s philosophy of ministry is before they join.

5. A clear purpose assists evaluation - A church does not evaluate itself by comparing itself to other churches but by asking, “Are we doing what God intends for us to do and how well are we doing it?” Our church’s purpose statement must become the standard by which we measure our congregation’s health and growth. There is absolutely no correlation between the size and the strength of a church. A church can be big and strong, or it can be big and flabby. Likewise, a church can be small and strong, or it can be small and wimpy. Big is not necessarily better, nor is being small necessarily better. Better is better. Becoming a purpose driven church takes time. To become a purpose driven church we must:

  • DEFINE our purposes
  • COMMUNICATE those purposes to everyone in our church on a regular basis
  • ORGANIZE our church around our purposes
  • APPLY our purposes to every part of your church.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

What is our purpose?

We are currently taking time to revisit and reassess our church’s purpose statement and vision in order to be the foundation to any direction we take in regards to expanding our facility. Some of the best information I have come across on this comes from Rick Warren’s, Purpose Driven Church. Over the next couple of blog entries I will be giving an overview of two of these chapters. Chapter 4 begins by stating that there is incredible power in having a clearly defined purpose statement. If it is short enough for everyone to remember, the purpose statement of our church will yield five wonderful benefits.

1. A clear purpose builds morale - First Corinthians 1:10 (LB) says, “Let there be real harmony so that there won’t be splits in the church…Be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” The key to harmony in our church is for us to be united in our purpose. If our mission is unclear, then our morale will be low. People who are working together for a great purpose don’t have time to argue over trivial issues. In other words, when you are helping row the boat, you don’t have time to rock it. Proverbs 29:18 (KJV) says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Rick Warren adds that where there is no vision, people leave for another parish.

2. A clear purpose reduces frustration - A clear purpose statement reduces frustration because it allows us to forget about things that don’t really matter. A clear purpose not only defines what we do, it defines what we do not do. The secret of effectiveness is to know what really counts, than do what really counts, and not worry about all the rest. In deciding what the church should be involved in the filter must always be, “Does this activity fulfill one of the purposes for which God established our church?” Isaiah 49:4 says, “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.” Trying to lead a church without a clearly defined purpose is like trying to drive a car in the fog. In a purpose driven church, once your course is set, decision making becomes far easier and much less frustrating.

3. A clear purpose allows concentration - A focused life and a focused church will have far greater impact than unfocused ones. Paul says in Philippians 3:13 (LB), “I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing, forgetting what is behind and looking forward to what lies ahead.” A common trap for the church today is majoring in the minors. Most churches try to do too much. The older a church gets, the truer this becomes. Programs and events continue to be added without ever cutting anything. No program is meant to last forever. It is essential to the health of our church that we periodically “clean house” and abandon programs that have outlived their purpose. Being efficient is not the same as being effective. There is a difference. Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things. A church must not just be well organized but well organized to do the right things.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Calling down wisdom

James begins his Epistle by telling us that trials are a necessary part of life. He also taught us of our need to respond to such trials with all joy knowing that these trials have the purpose of making us more mature and complete in our faith.

To respond with such an attitude requires wisdom. This is the topic that James deals with next in his very practical and powerful book of the New Testament. In verse five of chapter one, James first tells us of the purpose of wisdom. What exactly is the nature of wisdom? Many see wisdom as the acquiring of much knowledge and intellectual facts. We must fully understand that wisdom is more than the knowledge of the facts. Many people are brilliant when it comes to knowing facts but pitiful when it comes to using those facts in their lives, especially in the midst of adverse circumstances. Wisdom is moral discernment that, according to Proverbs 9:10, begins with a knowledge of God or with seeing things with a Divine perspective.

In verse five, James teaches us the provider of wisdom is none other than God who gives His wisdom to us in two ways. First, He gives wisdom to us generously. The word speaks of singleness of heart or without reluctance. It is doing something unconditionally and without bargaining. When we need wisdom and come to God requesting it, He doesn’t reluctantly bargain with us. He simply gives it. He also gives it without reproach. This is a word that speaks of severely reprimanding. It is used in Matthew 5:11 to speak of casting insults. When we ask for wisdom, God doesn’t reprimand us. He doesn’t insult us because we are in need. Again, He simply gives it.

So how do we attain such heavenly wisdom? First, we must ask. This is an imperative verb. In other words it is a divine command, not a piece of personal advice. But how are we to ask? We are to ask “in faith.” According to verse six, this means that we are to ask “without any doubting.” This is the idea of vacillating. In other words we are to make our request for wisdom backed by a genuine trust in God. According to James, the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea. Perhaps James had in mind, the frightful storms and strong winds that would come across the Sea of Galilee. The constant churning of the water was symbolic of the agitation in the heart of the one who doubts. One who doubts is like a cork riding up and down the waves with no control over its outcome. Paul used a similar illustration to describe those who shifted back and forth due to wrong doctrine (Eph 4:14). Isaiah used the same analogy to describe the wicked (Isaiah 57:20)

What is the result of one who prays with such a lack of faith? Verse seven tells us that the one who simply goes through the motions of prayer but has no real confidence in God should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Why is this so? Verse eight teaches us that a double minded man is unstable in all of his ways. He hesitates between two ways of thinking …having a divided allegiance. According to James 4:8, this divided allegiance isn’t just true of his prayer life but about all of his ways. Trials in our life can make us bitter or can make us better. The difference between the two is wisdom.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Good-bye Grandma

Three years ago, our entire family gathered in Salinas, California in honor of my Grandma Distler’s 85th birthday. Grandma was declining physically and her one wish was to have the entire family together for her birthday celebration. No one thought she would live much longer. We had a wonderful time together as a family and when it was time to head to the airport to return home, we all said our good-byes to Grandma with full confidence that this would be the last time we would see Grandma this side of heaven.

To my surprise, Grandma was still alive and very coherent in Salinas as we made our plans to return to California this summer for me to speak at Brethren National Youth Conference and then attend our Adult Conference both which will be held in southern California. I was thrilled with the prospect of being able to take a couple extra days after conference to head to northern California to see my Grandma Distler one more time. Unfortunately for me, Grandma went home to heaven in her sleep during the morning hours of Saturday, June 24th. Today I am preaching her funeral in Sutter, Illinois.

Though I am very disappointed that I will not be able to see my Grandma one final time this summer, I am very content in knowing that Grandma is in heaven today, along side of my dear Grandpa Distler who was a pastor for over 40 years and who is a very large reason why I am in ministry today. Best of all, I know that she is with Jesus whom she dearly loved and faithfully served as a pastor’s wife for nearly five decades.

As I think back, I am forever grateful for the impact that my Grandma had on my life. When my Grandma met my Grandpa, he was not a believer. It was through my Grandma’s father, my Great-Grandpa Smith, who was also a pastor, that my Grandpa came to know Jesus. In fact, dozens and dozens of the hundreds of books in my library in my office at church were my Grandpa Distler’s. He personally wrote in each of them that he was giving them to me, his grandson. As I look through them, I find that many of them also have a hand written note that they were given to my Grandpa Distler by my Great-Grandpa Smith. By the way, my dad today is the part-time Pastor of Education at Crossroads Baptist Church in Lakeland, Florida. That’s four generations of pastors…my Great Grandpa Smith; my Grandpa Distler; my dad; and me. What a legacy.

By the way, when my dad first met my mom she was not a believer either. It was through the ministry of my Grandpa Distler that my mom came to know Jesus. And it was through my grandparent’s youngest daughter, my Aunt Ruth, that I came to know Jesus. My Aunt led me to Christ at a Child Evangelism Fellowship sponsored Good News Club that she was teaching in Akron, Ohio in 1970 when I was five years old.

So as you can see, my Grandma had quite an impact on my life. And someday when I get to heaven I will get to see and fellowship with my Great Grandpa Smith and my Grandpa and Grandma Distler as well as my Grandpa Williams (my mom’s dad) who accepted the Lord just prior to his death years ago. Good-Bye, Grandma! I love you!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

How to express yourself and be heard

One of the things that I do enjoy doing is checking out many of the blogs and podcasts that are available on the web which deals with local church ministry. As I read these I become more and more dismayed with how some Christ-followers express themselves when they comment on something that someone else has posted that they do not agree with. I have concluded that many Christians feel that they have the spiritual right to be rude, arrogant and disrespectful under the umbrella of “doctrinal integrity” or “righteous indignation.” How sad!

What I don’t think that these individuals realize is that most people who read their comments don’t even consider their opinions seriously due to the attitude in which they are shared. Even if they make a valid point, it is usually disregarded. As a result many such people express themselves but are really never heard.

May I suggest a few simple guidelines as to how to express yourself and be heard at the same time? Here we go:
  1. Avoid sweeping generalities (i.e., “All mega-churches preach a watered-down gospel and are an offense to God”).
  2. Avoid personally attacking others in the Body of Christ (i.e., “Rick Warren is all about numbers and doesn’t really care about people.”)
  3. Avoid leaving any written comment anonymously. Anonymous written comments are of no value because open and honest dialogue is impossible.
  4. Avoid name-calling and derogatory titles (i.e., “Jerry Falwell belongs in our ‘Hall of Shame.’”)
  5. Avoid lumping everyone into the same category (“Everyone in our church disagrees with this philosophy of ministry.”)
  6. Avoid cutting and pasting other people’s writings and using them as your comments without giving proper credit and citing your source.
  7. Avoid elevating your own preferences to the point of Biblical absolutes (i.e., “Hymns are spiritual and praise choruses are not because Hymns contain deep theology while modern choruses are simply filled with spiritual fluff.”)
  8. Avoid posting any comment without first praying about it and asking God to give you discernment regarding every word you communicate. After all, in James chapter one, James admonishes us very clearly to be “quick to hear” and “slow to speak.” I think this would also include being “slow to write.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Marriage classes

One of my favorite parts of ministry is working with couples as they prepare for marriage and then officiating their wedding ceremony on their special day. Not only do I greatly enjoy this process, but I take it very seriously. Why? Because having a good marriage isn’t easy and it doesn’t happen naturally. That’s why divorce rates among church-going people are just as high as divorce rates among those who do not attend church. I like to say that marriage is the art of two incompatible people living together compatibly. For that reason, preparing for your wedding is much more than picking out photographers and invitations. It also involves becoming very familiar with the foundational principles from God’s Word that will make a marriage work.

Due to the increased number of weddings that I am being asked to officiate, we are starting a new program that will become effective in 2007. For any couple looking to get married after April 30, 2007, I will be offering marriage classes two times a year to help you prepare for your lives together. In the past, I have met with each couple that I marry six times. Now, I will be teaching 4 of these 6 sessions in a classroom setting and still meeting with each individual couple twice. If you are interested in my officiating your wedding and your wedding date is after April 30, 2007, please call Sheri Sell at the church office for more information and to reserve a spot in these classes (for weddings planned prior to April 30, 2007, I will continue to meet with each couple 6 times). The following is a sample schedule of pre-marital steps for those planning on getting married after April 30, 2007:

Step 1 – Couples desiring me to officiate their wedding should call Sheri Sell at the church office to schedule a preliminary meeting with me. Sheri will at this time send out all of the needed information. This will include an information sheet that each individual will need to fill out and return to Sheri prior to the preliminary session.

Step 2- Couples will then meet with me for a preliminary session to determine my involvement. This does not count as one of the 6 pre-marital sessions,

Step 3- The 1st session will be a private meeting between myself and the couple and deal with the topics, Predictors of Marital Success and Reasons for Marriage.

Step 4- Sessions 2-5 will be in a class setting with other couples who have signed up for the class. The class will run on Wednesday evenings 7:00-8:15 PM. These classes will focus on: Love and the Stages of Marriage; Roles in Marriage; Communication and Conflict; and Temperaments and Intimacy.

The spring class sessions will be 3/21, 3/28, 4/4, and 4/11.
The fall class sessions will be 9/5, 9/12, 9/19, 9/26

Step 5- The 6th session will be a private meeting involving myself, the wedding coordinator, and the couple and will focus on The Marriage Ceremony. This will be scheduled about 2-3 weeks before the actual wedding date.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

10 things Pastors want staff members to know

Recently I was challenged to think about what the top 10 things a Senior Pastor would want their church staff to know and remember. I found it very difficult to limit the list to only 10 things, but here is what I came up with:

1. The most important aspect of your job description is to pray for our overall ministry. Nothing of eternal importance happens apart from prayer.

2. It’s not just about your area of ministry…it’s about the ministry of the church as a whole. Sometimes one area has to sacrifice for the betterment of the organization.

3. Even if we disagree in private, you must be a sold-out cheerleader in public. You should take personal responsibility to be sure that those under your ministry and under your influence are fired up, not just about their area of ministry, but about all areas of ministry within the church.

4. Never do “just enough.” Always go the “extra mile.” As my High School band director use to say, “Just because it is Christian does not mean we have to settle for being mediocre. Shoot for excellence in everything you do.”

5. If you don’t keep me informed, I can’t protect you. I don’t expect nor do I want you to do everything the way I would do it. Be sure you are communicating with me so that if someone shares a concern about what you are doing, I am not blind-sided.

6. To be effective in your ministry inside the church, you must be building bridges outside of the church to people who do not know the Lord. From the janitor to the pastor, evangelism must be the engine that drives the church.

7. One bad attitude can bring down the whole team. Paul tells us in the book of Philippians to do all things without grumbling and complaining. Paul tells the Colossians to do all that they do heartily as to the Lord.

8. You can’t rely on written announcements to fill needs…you must be creative in recruiting workers and filling holes. Please don’t come to me telling me how no one in our church cares enough to be involved when all you have done to get people involved is put a note in the bulletin. Never underestimate the “power of the ask.”

9. Though ministry is often tough, I need you to have fun. If you don’t enjoy your job and ministry…get out.

10. Don’t let any ministry go unchanged for long periods of time. No ministry is meant to be done the same way permanently. Be willing to reinvent long-term ministries or even end some ministries to make way for even more effective ministries.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Joy that hurts

If there is one thing that we can all relate to it is suffering. We all face it. James speaks about this in the opening verses of his letter. He begins by talking about the reality of suffering (1:2). The first thing that we learn is that suffering is normal. James writes of “when” you encounter trials as opposed to “if” you encounter trials. James writes this in the Greek subjunctive mood which gives us the idea of something that is inevitable, not just possible. Contrary to much of the “health and wealth” preaching we see on Christian television, the truth is that the Christian life is not a guarantee for an easy life.

When we face these trials, James refers to them as “encounters”. It is the idea of falling into something unexpectedly. The same word is used in Luke 10:30 when Jesus tells the story of the man who “fell among robbers” on the road to Jericho. He wasn’t planning on this happening. It took him by surprise. Such is the case with many of the trials that come our way. We don’t expect them. That’s what often makes them so difficult.

Not only is suffering normal, but the truth is that it is also numerous. James refers to “various” trials. It is a word that literally means “many colored.” In other words, the numerous trials that we will face in our lives come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Some are very intense while others are less intense. Some come and go quickly while others last for long periods of time. Some produce little pain and sorrow while others result in great amounts of sorrow and pain.

So what is our response to be to suffering? James gives the answer in verse two. He tells us to consider these trials with joy. This is a command written in an imperative mood. It is not a suggestion. It is a mandate. To handle trials in any other way is to be out of the will of God. And notice that we as Christians are not just to respond to trials with some joy but with all joy. This is the idea of pure joy, unmixed joy, total joy, or sheer joy. In other words we are to show an intelligent appraisal of our situation as opposed to an emotional reaction. This is not the idea of a happy experience but rather the realization that trials are a means of producing something valuable

In verses 3-4, James gives the results of suffering. Why should I respond to suffering with all joy? We can respond this way because we can know that suffering produces patience. “Knowing” is the idea of full understanding. We can be confident that the trials we face will produce “endurance,” a word frequently translated patience. It is the idea of bravely remaining upright and firm under adversity. James also uses this word to describe Job’s faith in suffering (5:11).

Suffering also produces perfection. This is not speaking of moral perfection or sinlessness, as some have suggested, but rather of something that is fully developed (often translated “mature”). Suffering also produces our being complete. This is the idea of being whole, entire or undamaged. Trials result in our becoming mature, lacking nothing. This cannot be reality without our going through trials with “all joy”!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Customer service in the church

While Laura and I were away in Maine recently, we stayed at the Summit Hotel located in the mountain town of Bethel. I was very impressed with the outstanding level of customer service that this resort offered. It made me realize how seriously we each need to take the idea of customer service here at Grace Church as well. For example…

After unloading our luggage cart into our room, I loaded up some empty boxes on it and headed toward the elevator to take it back down to the lobby and to find a place to dispose of the boxes. As I waited for the elevator, one of the hotel security members came around the corner and saw me. He asked if he could save me the trip by taking the cart down to the lobby for me. I was delighted to not have to make another trip down the elevator. I asked him where I could dispose of the empty boxes. He quickly offered to handle that for me as well. I was impressed. He’s a security guard. I doubt that moving luggage carts and throwing away trash is part of his job description. But he cheerfully offered to do it in order to help me, the customer. So, when was the last time you offered to help a visitor or newcomer at our church in order to make their visit more enjoyable?

Here is another example. We went down to the front desk to ask a question about a local attraction. What we did not know is that right around the corner there was an extensive brochure rack with more information than we could possibly use. The gal behind the counter could have easily just pointed us that direction. However, she went the extra mile. She didn’t just point. She came out from behind the front desk and led us around the corner to the rack and helped us locate the very brochures we needed. She then offered very helpful advice and answered all of our questions. It made me wonder if we do that at Grace Church. When a visitor asks you where a certain classroom is or where the restrooms are, do you just point them a direction or do you take the time to lead them to where they need to be and be sure that all of their questions are answered?

Here is one more example. I was walking to the floor above to get some ice to fill our cooler that we were taking that day with our picnic lunch in it. On the way back, I was juggling two containers of ice and my half-filled coffee cup. I passed one of the hotel managers who was walking down the stairs as I was walking up. She noticed my juggling act and asked if she could help me carry something to my room. Imagine that. She was willing to go completely the opposite direction she was headed to help ensure that I didn’t drop what I was carrying. So, when was the last time you saw someone at church that you didn’t know whose hands were filled with Bibles, purses, and baby bags while trying to hold the hand of their small child? Did you just smile at them or did you offer to change the direction you were heading and help carry their load to their car or wherever they were headed at the time?

Customer service is important in the world of resorts. Shouldn’t it be important in the church as well? I think the answer is a definite “YES”! Jesus always noticed people’s need and had compassion on them. Shouldn’t we? Let’s do so this Sunday!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Staffing . . . the next fiscal year's priority

July 1st began our new fiscal year as a ministry. So what are my main objectives as we enter the 2006/2007 fiscal year? There is one that tops the list.

The very first priority is staffing. Over the past 2 years we have seen great growth as a church. However, we have not really added much in the way of ministry staff to help carry the load that this growth has provided. As a result, I have communicated to our present staff and to our Elders that we have made staffing the main priority of this year’s budget increase. Adding more and more ministries without adding strategic areas of staffing could actually make us weaker rather than stronger as a church.

This staffing need will become ever greater beginning September 1st as Pastor Snow, who has been our Executive Pastor over Adult Ministries, will be taking a major step toward retirement by moving from full-time to part-time. He will no longer be over Adult Ministries but instead will focus his time on leading our PEP group (our Senior Adult ministry) and our church Missions program. Pastor Snow will also continue to make our initial follow-up phone calls to those who visit Grace Church or who mark a desire on their registration card for more information regarding their spiritual life or a ministry within our church. This part-time position will last for one year.

As a result, one of our staffing priorities for this year will be to fill a position that will work with all of our present adult ministries (Adult Bible Fellowship Classes; Men’s Ministry and Women’s Ministry) to formulate a strategic assimilation program. We have been so blessed with the many people that God is bringing to us. However, at this point we have no real strategic method of assimilating these new people into our ministry so that they are getting connected; getting cared for and getting involved in ministry. This position will make this assimilation program a priority so that people are not just coming and finding Christ, but they are also getting discipled and assimilated into our ministry.

We also want to continue to make children and youth ministry a priority here at Grace Church. As a result, we will be increasing our current youth intern position to a part-time position which will belong to Doug Kegarise and we will be adding an additional part-time co-director of Children’s Ministry (Lauren Pierce) to work with Jodi Miller and Beth Kachel. This now gives us the equivalent of a full-time and a part-time position over each of these crucial areas so that we can continue to reach families for Jesus. Rick Bernhardt will also be officially starting as our full-time Senior Administrator that will be over our daycare and school and whose position will focus on the future development of our educational ministries; the merging of our daycare and school into one unified ministry; and connecting our educational ministry more closely to our church.

We will also be adding some needed support staff positions in order to be able to more effectively meet the needs of those whom God is bringing our way as well as allowing us to continue to reach as many people as possible through the ministries of Grace Church.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I'm breaking the door down

Every preacher has them. They’re awful. I’m speaking of nightmares. I’m not talking about those that include ghosts and goblins. These are far worse. This is the horrible dream that you have forgotten or somehow have been delayed and missed a wedding or funeral which you were officiating. It happened to a pastor friend of mine. He was making a hospital visit on the far other side of town when a man from his church called him on his cell asking where he was at. This man was calling from the funeral home where it was 15 minutes after his dad’s funeral was to begin and this pastor was supposed to be the officiating pastor. He had completely spaced it out. What a nightmare!

It almost happened to me recently as I was scheduled to officiate a wedding. Laura, who was coordinating the wedding, had long since left. I was running behind and had just enough time to shower, dress and make it to the church on time. I jumped in and out of the shower and had everything on except my tie. I quickly walked down the hallway to the guest room where my ties are kept in the closet. To my dismay and even anger, I discovered that the door was locked. Someone had recently gone into the room for something and accidentally (and may I add, carelessly) locked it on their way out.

I was furious. I began banging vehemently on the door hoping it would magically pop open. I pounded and yelled in anger. I finally realized that my only hope of getting my tie and still making it to the wedding on time was to break the door down. I stepped back and prepared to give the door to our guest room my best “kung-fu” style kick. Just as I went to lift my leg to cause major damage to the door (and probably to my foot as well), my daughter, who had heard all of the commotion, came running up the steps.

Dad, what in the world is wrong?” she inquired.

I sternly replied, “Someone locked the door and I can’t get my tie and I’m going to be late to this wedding so step back because I’m going to break the door down!”

To that my daughter, with an “I can’t believe you are that ignorant” look on her face said, “Just calm down, dad. I’ll open the door.”

My 16-year old daughter proceeded to unwind a paperclip and stick it through a small hole in the middle of the doorknob and in less then two seconds popped the lock open.

How’d you know to do that?” I asked.

That door gets locked accidentally all the time,” she said. “This is how we always get it open.” Come to find out, I was the only one in my family who didn’t know that!

Luckily for the door and my foot, my daughter knows more about maintenance than I do. And luckily for me, I had just enough time to put on my tie and make it to the wedding.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Two minutes makes a difference

In June 1863, Confederate forces under Robert E. Lee moved north in an effort to win a dramatic victory that would reverse the South's declining fortunes. On July 1-3, Lee's forces fought the Union army under the command of George C. Meade, and before the fighting ended, the two sides suffered more than 45,000 casualties at Gettysburg.

Pennsylvania governor, Andrew Curtin, charged David Wills, a successful local citizen and judge, with cleaning up the horrible aftermath of the battle. Wills acquired seventeen acres for the national cemetery and burial began not long after. On September 23, Wills invited the venerable Edward Everett, the nation's foremost orator, to give a speech at the dedication ceremony planned for October 23. Everett accepted, but, needing more time to prepare, persuaded Wills to postpone the ceremony to November 19.

On November 2, 1863, Wills invited President Lincoln to also make a "few appropriate remarks." Lincoln's carefully crafted address has ultimately become regarded as one of the greatest speeches in American history. In fewer than 300 words delivered in just over two minutes, Lincoln depicted the Civil War as a struggle not merely for the Union, but as "a new birth of freedom" that would bring true equality to all of its citizens. Our nation will never forget his remarks:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

A two-minute speech has left an indelible mark on our nation for nearly 150 years. This speech is learned by students every year in American schools. I wonder what kind of mark would be left on our country over the next 150 years if every born-again follower of Jesus Christ in America would pray for our country just 2 minutes every day.