Monday, December 31, 2007

Taking Final AIM



Over the month of December we have used our Sunday mornings here at Grace Church to study the exciting topic of angels in a series we have called, “AIM: Angelic Instant Messengers.” The first two Sundays we answered many questions about angels in general. The two Sundays before Christmas we saw the role that the angels played in the Christmas story. Last Sunday we ended our study by seeing how angels were involved in the earthly life and ministry of Jesus Christ. For example:

They worshipped Him (Hebrews 1:6)

They were made by Him and for Him (Colossians 1:17)

They predicted His birth (Matthew 1:20, 21; Luke 1:31)

They announced His birth (Luke 2:9-13

They helped protect Him (Psalm 91:11; Matthew 2:13)

They ministered to Him in the wilderness (Matthew 4:11)

They ministered to Him in the garden (Luke 22:43)

They rolled away the tombstone (Matthew 28:2)

They announced His resurrection (Matthew 28:6)

They predicted His Second Coming (Acts 1:10, 11)

They will accompany Him at the Second Coming (2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8)

They are in total subjection to Him (1 Peter 3:22)

Over the months of January and February we will be taking eight weeks to study through the book of Malachi which is the last Old Testament book in your Bible. Throughout this book, God speaks through the prophet Malachi, rebuking the priests and people of Israel for their half-hearted worship of Him. The same elements that kept Israel from authentic worship back then often keep us from authentic worship today. In fact, we may even have a greater problem with these issues because we live in such a fast food culture that our “get it done quick” approach to life has also transferred over to our worship. That is why we will be calling this new series, “McWorship: Authentic Worship in a Fast-Food Culture.” So stop by the Golden Arches this Sunday morning and grab an Egg McMuffin to prepare yourself as we kick off this new and exciting series this Sunday morning, January 6, with a message from Malachi 1:1-5 that will be entitled, “I’m Lovin’ It!”

Friday, December 28, 2007

WELCOME 2008




As we enter 2008, here are some important winter ministry dates for you to keep in mind:

Jan 6 – New 8-week series, “McWorship: Authentic Worship in a Fast Food Culture,” begins which will take us verse by verse through the Old Testament book of Malachi.

Jan 13 – A new Digging Deeper Elective called “Soul Fitness” will begin during the ABF hour on Sunday mornings as a supplement to our Malachi series.

Jan 14 – This week our church takes the REVEAL Spiritual Growth Survey.

Jan 20 – Our Next “Ten Minute Party” after each of the Sunday morning services where new guests to our church can personally meet myself, Pastor Tim and Matt McElravy.

Jan 23Foundations in Marriage 4-week class begins for those who are already married.

Jan 27 – Our next Core Class Sunday offering Class 101 and Class 301.

Feb 2 – Saturday Night of Worship at Grace

Feb 15-17Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference held in Hershey

Feb 19-23 – Most of our full-time Ministry Staff will be visiting Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, TX and attending the Creative Conference at Fellowship Church.

Feb 22-24 – Winter Youth Retreat

Feb 24Super Size Sunday…Based on our study in Malachi we will be challenging our entire church family on this one Sunday to all give Biblically to the Lord.

Mar 2 – New 3-week series, “Helping Those Who Hurt” begins from 2 Corinthians 1 showing one reason God allows us to go through trials is so we can minister to others.

Mar 9 Core Class Sunday offering Class 101, Class 201 and Class 401.

Mar 14 – Women’s outreach…A Night on the Town – 50’s Style.

Mar 15 - Children’s Easter Egg and Candy Hunt.

Mar 21Good Friday Night of Worship.

Mar 23 – Three Easter Services and continental breakfast which will begin a new 3-week series on the topic of heaven as described in Revelation 21-22.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bye-Bye C-A-R-B-S Again



Back about mid-June I realized that in the three years since I had moved to Lancaster County I had put on some 40 pounds. It was pretty evident. In fact, more than one person in the church expressed their concern to me about my health due to my weight gain. I guess that profile view on the screens while I preach on Sunday mornings gave me no way to hide that I had gotten up to the 235 pound range, which for a guy my height (5’8”) is more than just being a bit on the heavy side.



I knew it was time to take action when I got down to just one pair of dress pants that fit and that was just barely. My blood pressure was up. My energy level was down. I wasn’t sleeping well and my snoring was even waking myself up several times a night. So, I welcomed the Atkins Diet back into my life. I had gone on the Atkins Diet before I came to Lititz and had lost about 30 pounds but Lancaster County eating along with stress eating from the move and starting a new ministry took its toll. So last June I went back on the Atkins Diet and in the past 6 months I have lost nearly 40 pounds, putting me right about back where I was when I first moved to Lititz three years ago.

I really don’t mind the Atkins Diet because it’s one of those eating plans where you can really eat as much as you want as long as you only eat the no carb or low carb foods. So that means that I can basically have all the meat and eggs that I want as well as most cheeses. Moderate amounts of salad and low carb vegetable also are permitted. And in today’s world there is also low carb pasta, low carb tortillas and low carb ice cream which tastes just as good as those with all the carbs in it. There is also a myriad of low carb recipes on the internet as well as on televisions shows such as Blaine’s Low Carb Kitchen seen on Fit TV.

So now I am slimming down and most all my pants fit again and the ones that don’t are due to their being too big, not too small. Even most of my shirts and sweaters look baggy on me now. My blood pressure is back down. My energy level is up and I am sleeping better than ever with very few incidents of snoring. I just feel better. But the key to the Atkins Diet is to stay with it and not just use it as a temporary weight loss plan. To go off of this diet results in putting back on the recently lost pounds in short order.

But every once in a while, a break from any diet can be good, don’t you think? So the week before Christmas I went off the Atkins wagon, and though I am not gorging, I am eating some foods that I have not had in six months such as pizza, chocolate chip cookies and potatoes. But this was just a break for the holidays. As soon as New Year's Day is over, I will be officially back on the “Atkins Plan.” I will be very strict for a week or two to get my body back into fat burning mode (known as “ketosis”) and then I will keep dining with the low carb plan. My ultimate goal is to get down to 185. Before going off the diet the week before Christmas, I had made it down to 196…just 11 pounds away. Hopefully by Spring I will have reached my goal…we’ll see! But for now, Bye-Bye again Pizza! Bye-Bye again Potatoes! Bye-Bye again Chocolate Chip Cookies! Bye-Bye agaon C-A-R-B-O-H-Y-D-R-A-T-E-S!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Those Wise Men are stiil travelling




Three guys that get a lot of press each December are those three familiar wise men that followed the star to see the infant Jesus over two thousand years ago. I have written before about how our culture has read more into these characters than the Bible teaches. For example, the Bible nowhere states that there were three of them. Tradition gives this number because of the three gifts they brought. That is not to say that there weren’t just two ancient travelers or perhaps even more than three.

Also, they weren’t really kings. I know the song says that…“We three kings of orient are…” In actuality they were more likely astronomers who studied the stars. This is why they took great interest in the star that ultimately led them (not the shepherds, they were pointed to the manger by the angels) to the Christ child.

And then there is the biggest misnomer of all. This is the one that brings these “three kings” to the manger where the baby Jesus laid while the shepherds worshipped. The Bible’s chronology would tell us that these men never came to the manger. They visited the Christ child when He was more of an infant and living in a house with Mary and Joseph. That is why I can’t stand seeing manger scenes, especially associated with a church, that have the wise men standing at the manger. They just shouldn’t be there!

As a result of making such a big deal about the “misinformation” surrounding the wise men, a bit of a Christmas tradition has begun in the church office. Last year, when the porcelain nativity was set up in the church office, each piece ended up finding its way all throughout the church. One of the wise men ended up in the fish tank in the Secondary Principal’s office (pictured). The wise men were found under wiper blades of staff member’s cars. The wise men were even found inside each stall in the women’s restroom in the church office. But it wasn’t just the wise men that were making the rounds. The Baby Jesus was even found hanging from the ceiling by masking tape dangling over the desk of the School Administrator. In fact, at the bottom of my stocking as I rummaged through its priceless goodies on Christmas morning all the way out in Pueblo, Colorado, I found the baby Jesus wrapped up in tissue paper (I wonder if He got frequent flier miles?).

This year I thought we were going to have a break from the nativity oddities of the previous Holiday Season. Due to the offices being scheduled for repainting in between Christmas and New Year’s, no one set up any of the Christmas decorations that usually adorn the office wing of the church. But to my surprise, when Laura and I returned from our traditional 2-night getaway where we always finish our shopping and do all of our wrapping, we noticed some visitors throughout the front of our house. Guess who? They were the wise men from the church office nativity scene but this time there wasn’t just three of them, there were six of them (after all, I said the Bible doesn’t limit the number of these travelers to just three). They were sitting in the flower pots, sticking out of bushes, and hanging from light posts. In fact, as I looked up there was even one of them staring down at me from the from the drain gutter. Those wise men really get around.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas, Joseph



In Luke 1, the angels visited Zacharias and Mary. But these were not the only roles the angels played that first Christmas. In Matthew 1:18-23, the angels also said “Merry Christmas” to Joseph. Joseph was betrothed to Mary (v18). This was as binding as marriage and usually lasted for one year. During this time period there was no sexual contact permitted and privacy was frowned upon. However, during their betrothal, Mary is found to be pregnant. I can guarantee you that Joseph’s first thought was not anything to do with some kind of virgin conception. The only human conclusion was adultery.

Joseph had several options according to the law. He could have had her stoned (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). He could have disgraced her with a public divorce. Or he could have chosen a private divorce where only 2 witnesses were needed, no judge was involved and no reason had to be stated. Joseph chose the private divorce (v19). Before this was carried out, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and called him by name showing how much God cares for us intimately (v20). The angel told Joseph not to be afraid showing that it takes courage to obey God (v20). The angel commands Joseph to take Mary as his wife and to call the baby’s name “Jesus.” The angel informs him that this baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit (v20) and would save people from their sin (v21). This baby was a fulfillment of prophecy (v22-23). Joseph obeys immediately (v24) and completely (v25).

The final angelic visitation leading up to the birth of Christ happened the very night He was born to a group of Shepherds in Luke 2:8-14. In that day shepherds had bad reputations due to their jobs not allowing them to keep all of the ceremonial law. When the angels appeared they literally “feared a great fear” due to the radiant glory of the Lord that accompanied the angels. The purpose of the angel’s appearance was not to cause fear. The words, “Fear not,” are a repeated theme throughout the Christmas story (Zacharias, Luke 1:13; Mary, Luke 1:30; and Joseph, Matthew 1:20). The purpose of the angel was to bring a message of good news which would result in great joy for all people

The Time = Today

The Place = Bethlehem (the city of David)

The Event = A Savior’s birth

The Title = Christ (Anointed One) the Lord (God)

The Sign = A baby wrapped in cloths lying in a manger

This angelic visit ends with singing. What was their song? Glory to God in the highest. Christmas’ purpose was to bring glory to God. What else did they sing? On earth peace among men with whom He is pleased. Christmas’ purpose was to bring to us peace with God

Friday, December 21, 2007

You Can Have My Room




It was Mrs. Johnson’s second graders turn to do the town’s Christmas play. Mrs. Johnson had just one problem. It was Wally. Wally was big for his age as he had been held back twice in school. As a result, he was larger then any other second grader and the clumsiest of them all. Wally had his heart set on being a shepherd in the Christmas play but Mrs. Johnson could not give such an important role to someone like Wally. So instead she came up with a brilliant idea.

Wally,” she said, “I have just the part for you. I would like you to be the innkeeper. All you have to do is open the door when Joseph knocks and respond firmly with the words, ‘no room…go away.’ Can you do that Wally?”

Wally practiced it a few times to Mrs. Johnson’s delight. Her planned seemed to be working perfectly. Wally would be involved but not in a critical role. For the next several weeks, Wally practiced his lines everywhere he went. You could see his lips constantly moving as he uttered his lines, ‘no room…go away.’

Finally the night of the big event came. As in past years, the entire town shut down and everyone piled into the school auditorium to watch the second graders put on their show. Mrs. Johnson was nervous but felt she had everything well under control.

At last, Wally’s big cue came. Joseph and Mary slowly and sadly walked up to the inn and Joseph knocked on the door.

No room…go away,’ Wally said as he answered the knock.

But sir,’ Joseph pleaded.

No room…go away,’ Wally firmly replied.

But my wife,’ Joseph continued, ‘She’s pregnant and going to have a baby any time?’

No room,’ Wally insisted, ‘Go away!’

Right on cue, Joseph and Mary began to walk away from the inn. Mrs. Johnson’s heart skipped a beat. Wally was supposed to close the door and he would be done. But Wally just stood there, watching the homeless couple as they walked away from the inn.

What happened next changed the town’s Christmas play drastically. Some people say it was ruined. Others say it was the best Christmas pageant ever. With tears running down his cheeks, Wally cried out,

Joseph, Mary, wait! Come back! You can have my room!’

Thursday, December 20, 2007

When No One's Looking



Tonight is our next Elder Meeting here at Grace Church. As we enter the 2008 year of ministry, we as an Elder Board will be doing more than the important task of handling church business. We will also be using our times together for deepening relationships with each other and for providing further accountability.

Our Elder Chairman, John Kegarise, will be leading our board through Bill Hybel’s book, Who You Are When No One’s Looking. This is a book that focuses on choosing consistency and resisting compromise. I will be passing out a copy of this 113 page book to each of the Elders tonight and we will begin digging into it starting in January.

We are all at our best when it counts. But what are we like when no one else is looking? That’s where character comes in – being consistent even when it doesn’t seem to matter. Through this book we will focus on ten key concepts:

Character: Preserving endangered qualities

Courage: Overcoming crippling fears

Discipline: Achieving success through delaying gratification

Vision: Looking beyond the obvious

Endurance: Crashing through quitting points

Tender Love: Walking in someone else’s moccasins

Tough Love: Insisting on truth in relationships

Sacrificial Love: Giving without giving out

Radical Love: Breaking the hostility cycle

The Character of Christ

These character qualities are quickly becoming endangered. All too often we hear of marriages falling apart, governments lying, businesses cheating and scandals rocking the church. But with God’s guidance and strength we can maintain character that lasts despite temptations and troubles. So if you want, why not go out and get yourself a copy of Hybel’s book and study it on your own this year as well. If nothing else, please take time throughout the New Year to pray for our Elder Board here at Grace Church that we would be men of character, not only when we are in front of our church and community, but that we would have just as much character even when no one else if looking.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Christmas Scrooge



I use to always say that I would never have an artificial Christmas tree. After all, only Scrooges would fail to have the real evergreen in their home. That philosophy came to a screeching halt one Christmas many years back. We actually went out that year and cut our own Christmas tree. I had borrowed a chainsaw from a friend but didn’t need it as the hand saw was sufficient to accomplish the task. We got the tree home and stuffed it down the narrow steps into our downstairs family room. However, we soon discovered that the tree was much too tall for the low drop ceiling in our downstairs.

No problem! After all, I had my friend’s chainsaw. So I went up to the garage and got this manly power tool and took it down into my basement. I grabbed the tree and drug it into the utility room where the furnace, oil tank, water heater, washer and dryer all were. Like my friend had instructed me, I primed the pump a few times, put my foot on the saw for leverage and pulled the cord. And I pulled…And I pulled…And I pulled…And I pulled. Over and over I tugged but could not get this thing to fire up. Thinking back, it is probably a good thing. Number one, firing up a chainsaw in the utility room of your basement is not the wisest of moves. Number two, as I tired and tried to start this chainsaw with my foot on the saw for leverage, all I was wearing were my house slippers…not boots…not even tennis shoes…just my flimsy little slippers. Had that puppy started I’d probably have cut off my foot within seconds of ignition.

Frustrated, angry, and thinking cuss words in my mind (hey, I’m just being honest), I decided to take a break so I walked across our family room’s white carpet and up the steps to the kitchen to get a drink and then back down the steps and across our white carpet again and sat down on the couch to watch some television. Guess what show was on? Tim Allen in Home Improvement! I’m not kidding. Oh, and to add insult to injury it didn’t dawn on me that my slippers were now covered with chainsaw oil. When I heard my wife scream, I realized that I had more problems than just a tree that was too tall and a chainsaw that would not start. Now, I had ruined the carpet.

This led to my wife and I having “words.” Now in complete anger I went back to the chainsaw and tried and tried and tried some more. Once again, I had no luck. Even angrier, I walked back across that white carpet (still wearing oil laden slippers) up to the garage where I got the handsaw. I returned to the utility room the same way I came up, making tracks the entire distance. I grabbed the tree by its scrawny little trunk and sawed it down to size in a matter of minutes. I pulled it back into the family room and stuck it in the tree stand only to discover that I had sawed off way too much of this Holiday symbol and now our live Christmas tree was only about 4 feet tall at best. I stormed up the steps proclaiming to my children that we were not having Christmas this year!!

I told that story in church the next Sunday. One dear couple who felt sorry for us went out and bought us an artificial Christmas tree and we have been without a live tree ever since. Now if only I get could the lights on the tree each year without a major incident!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Bethlehem Star




Last year I had the thrill of visiting Bethlehem (Israel, not Pennsylvania) and seeing the very spot where Jesus was born, now marked by a Bethlehem Star (pictured). But what do we know about this wonderful city that we read about in Micah 5:2-3 and sing about this wonderful time of the year?

What does “Bethlehem” mean and where was it located?

The word literally means “House of Bread.” How fitting this is since Jesus is called the “Bread of Life” in John 6:35. Bethlehem was located 5 miles southwest of Jerusalem; 2550 feet above sea level, in the hill country of Judea

When was it called “Ephrathah” and what does it mean?

It was called this during Jacob’s lifetime. The word means “Fruitful.” Again, how fitting since Jesus is the “first fruits” of resurrection meaning that He we was the first to be resurrected never to die again. His resurrection guarantees that more will follow.

By what other names was this city known?

It was sometimes called “Bethlehem-Judah” to distinguish it from Bethlehem Zebulun which was located 7 miles northwest of Nazareth. It is also called the “City of David” due to it being the birthplace of King David

What Old Testament individuals were associated with this city?

Rachel (Genesis 35:16, 19; 48:7) who was the wife of Jacob and mother of Joseph and Benjamin who was buried by her husband Jacob in Bethlehem; Ibzan (Judges 12:8-10) who was the 10th judge of Israel with 30 sons and 30 daughters who was born in Bethlehem; Elimelech, Boaz and Naomi (Ruth 1:1, 2; 2:1, 4) who were all born in Bethlehem. Elimelech and his two sons died in Moab. His wife, Naomi, and her daughter in law, Ruth, returned to Bethlehem where Boaz became Ruth’s Kinsmen Redeemer. How fitting is this since Jesus has become our Kinsmen Redeemer?

But notice how insignificant this city was. Micah calls it “little.” In fact, it is not even mentioned among the cities of Judah when mentioned in Joshua 15 and Nehemiah 17. In John 7:42 it is described as simply a village or a hamlet. Yet out of this insignificant city came a very significant child. The “One” that Micah speaks of is the Christ, the Messiah. It is obvious from Matthew 2:4-6 that the Rabbi’s understood Bethlehem to be the birthplace of the Messiah. Luke specifically declared Christ as the Messiah (Luke 2:1-11). This Messiah came to carry out the purposes of God. The Messiah came in the will of the Father to accomplish the plan of the Father (John 5:30). And though His humble birth was in a cave in the insignificant city of Bethlehem, This Messiah existed long before Bethlehem. “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see the lie!”

Monday, December 17, 2007

Merry Christmas, Zacharias




In the first chapter of Luke we are introduced to Zacharias who was a priest married to a woman named Elizabeth. They were both righteous and blameless in their obedience of God (v5-6). They were also both advanced in years and had no children due to Elizabeth being unable to conceive (v7). When Zacharias’ division of priests was on duty in the temple, he was chosen by lots to be the priest who would offer the incense on the altar (v8-10). Each division of priests were on duty at the temple twice a year for one week at a time. Due to the enormous number of priests (some estiuamte 18,000), this would be the only time in his life that Zacharias would be able to fulfill this sacred task. The incense he offered symbolized the prayers of the entire nation so Zacharias became the focal point of Israel that day.

As Zacharias fulfilled his duty, the angel, Gabriel, appeared to him and he was filled with fear. This was the first revelation of God given to man in over 400 years (v11-12). The angel announced that the prayers of he and his wife had been heard and that she would have a son and his name was to be John (v13). The angel revealed six descriptions of this son to be born (v14-17). He would bring joy; He would be great in the sight of the Lord; He would drink no wine or liquor; He would be filled with the Holy Spirit; And he would turn many Israelites back to the Lord. John was the forerunner of Christ announcing that He was the Messiah coming in the Spirit and power of Elijah. Luke quotes two passages from Malachi (Malachi 3:1; 4:5-6) and affirms that John (the Baptist) was the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy. Zacharias expressed doubt due to being beyond child-bearing years (v18). The angel reminds him of “Who” it was that sent him and struck him with muteness until the prophecy was fulfilled (v19-20). When Zacharias came out of the temple he could not speak and the people realized he had seen a vision (v21-23). Elizabeth became pregnant just as the angel had said and stayed in seclusion for five months (v24-25)

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Gabriel is sent to Nazareth to a virgin named Mary who was engaged to a man named Joseph (v26-27). The angel tells Mary not to be afraid but that she had found favor with God and would give birth to a son and she is to call Him Jesus (v28-33). The angel states that He would be great (v32). He would be called the Son of the Most High (v32). He would be given the throne of His father David (v32). And He would reign over the house of Jacob forever. The angel communicates that this child would be conceived through the Holy Spirit, not through an earthly father (v34-35). The angel also tells Mary about the pregnancy of her cousin, Elizabeth, to show that nothing is impossible with God (v36-38). Mary, pregnant with Jesus, visits Elizabeth and spends the final 3 months of her pregnancy until John is born (Luke 1:26-56).

After John was born, they took him to be circumcised when he was 8 days old and the people were calling him Zacharias, after his father (v57-59). Elizabeth insisted that he be called John which made the people question because there was no one named John in their ancestry (v60-61). John took a tablet and wrote the name “John” and that very moment he was able to speak and he began praising God with a prayer filled with Old Testament quotations and allusions (v64-66). John grew up and became strong in spirit (v67-80).

Friday, December 14, 2007

99 Days Until Easter





There may only be 12 days left until Christmas, but did you realize that there are now just 99 days left until Easter? That’s right. Resurrection Sunday is early this year…March 23, 2008…less than 100 days from now. The church staff has already been hard at work in our strategic planning. Easter is our biggest Sunday of the year, and here at Grace it is growing rapidly. In fact, our Easter attendance has grown 112% since 2001. Last year we had 1,970 people join us Easter Sunday to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. This coming Easter looks to be the first time in the history of our church that we will surpass the 2,000 mark for a Sunday morning service held here on our campus.

Below are the tentative highlights for our Easter celebration:

On Friday night, March 14, our Girlfriend’s at Grace will be having a large outreach event for ladies. Last year nearly 1,000 ladies attended. Laura Distler and the Girlfriend’s at Grace task force are planning this event.

We will have our annual Easter Egg and Candy Hunt again the weekend prior to Easter (March 15). Last year some 3,000 parents and kids came to this event. Susan Auld (Director of Children’s Ministry) and Brenda Miller (Early Childhood Coordinator) will be planning this outreach event that allows us to make a positive touch with hundreds of area families while inviting them to worship at Grace on Easter Morning.

On Good Friday, March 21, we will have a special Night of Worship beginning @ 7pm that will focus completely on the cross and the sacrifice of Christ for our sins. Tim Auld (Pastor of Spiritual Formation) and Matt McElravy (Worship Arts Director) will be planning and leading this special evening of worship.

On Easter Sunday, Lititz Christian School and Morningstar Daycare will be providing a free Continental Breakfast from 8:30-10:30. Rick Bernhardt (School Administrator) and his staff will be organizing this special time of food and fellowship.

We will have three identical Easter Worship Services on the morning of March 23 starting at 7:15; 9:00 and 10:45. Our Worship Design Team, under the direction of Matt McElravy (Worship Arts Director), will be planning these exciting worship services.

There will be no nursery or children’s ministries during the 7:15 service, but there will be regular Nursery and Children’s Program taking place during the 9:00 and the 10:45 worship services under the leadership of Susan Auld and Brenda Miller.

It is also our hope to produce a new Worship CD featuring our worship band performing three of the original songs that we use here at Grace Church that have been written by Matt McElravy, our Worship Arts Director. It is our hope to have this available to give one per family as a gift to all who attend on Easter Sunday.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Over 700 and Counting

Yesterday was my 700th blog entry (that makes today’s entry #701, but who’s counting). So what is the history of http://www.folkslisten.blogspot.com/?

My blog was born on March 31, 2005

On a weekly basis, an average of 406 individuals visit my blog

The highest week I ever had was 903 individual people

On a monthly basis, an average of 1,673 individuals visit my blog

The highest month I ever had in readership was last month (November) with 2,976 individuals visiting my blog

The hour of the day when my blog is read the most is between 9:00 and 10:00 in the morning (9.71% of all hits to my blog occur during that hour on the average). The second highest hour of the day for readership is between 8am and 9am.

The highest day of the week for my blog is Thursdays (19.82% of all hits to my blog happen on Thursdays). The second highest day for readership is on Monday

Since the inception of my blog, I have had 41,847 different individuals come to my blog at least once

Counting the good old USA, I have had visitors to my blog from 89 different countries around the world. After the United States, the highest readership comes from France, Canada, The United Kingdom and then Australia

When using a search engine, the top words that bring people to my website are God; Friend; Listen; Church; Treasure; Map; Tongue; Jesus; Bible; and Pastor

The last ten phrases put into a search engine that brought someone to my blog were:
“how to know your spiritual gifts”
“pastor of spiritual formation”
“christmas cryptic carols”
“3A”
“scott distler”
“Samson strength”
“how great is our god psalms”
“david felty”
“renee willard Lititz Christian school”
“I’m sending my resume”

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dealing with Demons - Part 2




Yesterday day we asked and answered several questions regarding the story in Mark 5:1-20 where Jesus deals with demons. Before reading the conclusion in today’s blog, be sure to first take time to read Mark 5:1-20 and to read yesterday’s blog entry.

What was the demon’s answer to Jesus’ question (v9)? His name was Legion due to many demons being in this man (Legion was the largest Roman army unit numbering between 3,000 and 6,000 soldiers)

What does this teach about demon possession (v9)? Demons often posses in numbers

What request does the demon make of Jesus (v7b)? He did not want Jesus to torture them, probably a reference to sending them to their final punishment (Luke 8:31)

What other request does the demon make of Jesus (v10)? They did not want to be sent into an unpopulated exile

What other request does the demon make of Jesus (v11-12)? The demons ask to enter a nearby heard of 2,000 pigs.

What did Jesus do (v13)? He gave the demons permission to enter the pigs

What happened to the pigs (v13)? The demons caused the pigs to stampede down a deep bank into the lake where they all drowned

What result did this have on the herdsmen (v13)? This was a costly financial loss

What did the herdsmen do (v14)? They reported these events in the city

What was the new condition of the man who had been possessed (v15)? The demoniac was sitting down, clothed, and in his right mind meaning he was rational

How did the people react to all of this (v16-17)? Perhaps fearing more economic loss or simply the unknown, they urge Jesus to leave

What did the former demoniac ask Jesus (v18)? The demoniac asked Jesus to accompany Him (the miracles of Jesus repelled some and attracted others)

How did Jesus answer the former demoniac (v19)? Jesus told him to go to his family and tell them what God had done (effective ministry begins at home)

What did the former demoniac do (v20)? The man told his family and many others in Decapolis (the 10 cities) resulting in those who heard being amazed

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Dealing with Demons - Part 1




We ended last Sundays sermon by seeing that demons are really fallen angels. So what else can we learn about demons? Over the next two days, let me make and answer some questions from one story in the Bible where Jesus deals with demons. Before you read any further in this blog, first grab your Bible and Read Mark 5:1-20.

Where do Jesus and the disciples arrive (v1-2)? Jesus and His disciples arrive on the east side of the Lake in a region mainly inhabited by Gentiles

Who does Jesus immediately encounter (v1-2)? Jesus immediately encounters a demon possessed man

Where did this man live (v1-2)? This man lived in the tombs which were cave like rooms cut out of the rocks of nearby hills

What else does Luke tell us about this man (Luke 8:27)? Luke records that he wore no clothes

What else does Matthew tell us about this man (Matthew 8:28-29)? Matthew records that there was another demoniac with him

How is this man’s strength described (v3-4)? He was uncontrollable and could not be subdued, even with chains (the word “bind” speaks of taming a wild animal)

What do we learn from these failed efforts (v3-4)? You can’t solve spiritual problems with physical solutions

What actions showed the suffering of this man (v5)? He screamed wildly day and night and cut himself with stones

What did the demon recognize about Jesus (v6-7a)? This demon was fully aware of Jesus’ nature and power

How is this recognition seen (v6-7a)? He knelt before Him (showing homage, not worship) and called Him the Son of the Most High God

What is unique about this term (v6-7a)? This term was used in the Old Testament by Gentiles to refer to the superiority of the God of Israel over all man-made gods (Genesis 14:18-24; Numbers 24:16; Isaiah 14:14; Daniel 3:26; 4:2)

What did Jesus ask this demon (v9)? Jesus asked this demon his name showing that Jesus knows the demons by name since they are really fallen angels. Be sure to read my blog tomorrow to find out the rest of the story

Monday, December 10, 2007

Are all Angels alike?



What different types of angels are there?

First, there are Archangels. The prefix “arch” means chief, principal or great. This rank is found only in two places in Scripture (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Jude 9). Michael is the only angel in Scripture called an archangel and is mentioned four times by name in Scripture (Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; Revelation 12:7). Though not recognized in the Bible as an archangel, Gabriel is the only other angel mentioned by name and also possesses great responsibilities and power (Daniel 8:16; 9:21; Luke 1:19, 26; Matthew 1:20; 2:13, 19)

Second, there are Cherubim (Genesis 3:24; Exodus 25:18-20; Ezekiel 1:4-28; 10:1-22). The description of cherubim is quite interesting. Each has four faces (a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle). Each has two pair of wings. They have legs like men but their feet are like a calf. They have four human hands, one under each wing. Satan was at one time the chief cherub angel prior to his fall (Isaiah 14:12; Ezekiel 28:14).

Third, there are Seraphim. These angels are mentioned only in Isaiah 6. They have six wings: two to cover their face; two to cover their feet; and two used to fly. They worship the holiness of God.

Fourth, there are what the Bible calls Living Creatures. These angels are found only in the book of Revelation (Revelation 4:6-8; 6:1-7). Their number is limited to only four. They appear to be similar to cherubim and seraphim with multiple eyes, faces, and wings, and in their worship of the holiness of God.

Finally, there are Ministering Angels. The Bible does not teach whether each believer has a specific guardian angel. These angels are involved in our every day actions (Hebrews 1:14). They inform (Revelation 22:16). They protect (Psalm 34:7; Genesis 19:10; 2 Kings 6:15-17). They comfort (1 Kings 19:5; Acts 27:24). They deliver (Acts 5:19; 12:7). They also minister at the moment of death (Luke 16:22).

Are demons also angels?

It is believed that, like Adam, all angels were originally created without fault. Satan, who was once one of God’s most prominent angels named Lucifer, instigated a great revolt against God (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:11-19). It is suggested that one-third of heaven’s angels sided with Lucifer in this rebellion (Revelation 12:3, 4). This rebellion probably took place sometime between the creation of the earth and the temptation of Eve (Genesis 1:31). From that point on, faithful angels are referred to in Scripture as holy and elect angles while fallen angels are referred to as the devil’s angels or demons (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 12:9). It appears in Scripture that these classifications became unchangeable.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Angels at Play




This Sunday we continue our study on angels here at Grace Church. Angels are mentioned in 34 of the 66 books of the Bible for a total of 273 times in Scripture. In fact, every New Testament author mentions angels. Last Sunday we discovered a lot of very intriguing facts about these angelic beings like where they came from; what they are like; if they have wings and halos; how many of them there are; and what they do.

This week we will see some absolutely amazing stories in the Bible about angels. I guarantee that these accounts in Scripture will fascinate you. We will certainly not have time to look at all of the verses that I would like for us to examine this Sunday but if this interests you and you would like to have a head start, then take time to look up and read the following passages from Scripture and see what each of them teach us about angels.

Genesis 3:23-24
Genesis 19:1-13
Exodus 25:18-20
1 Kings 19:1-8
2 Kings 6:8-17
Psalm 34:7
Isaiah 14:12-14
Ezekiel 1:4-28
Ezekiel 10:1-22
Ezekiel 28:12-19
Daniel 8:16
Daniel 9:21-22
Daniel 10:12, 13, 21
Daniel 12:1
Matthew 1:20-25
Matthew 2:13-23
Matthew 25:41
Luke 1:19, 26, 27
Luke 16:20-22
Acts 5:17-20
Acts 12:5-10
Acts 27:21-25
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
Hebrews 1:14
Jude 9
Revelation 4:6-11
Revelation 6:1-8
Revelation 12:3-4
Revelation 12:7-9
Revelation 22:16

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Ten Minute Party



How many first-time guests are in attendance here at Grace Church on a weekly basis? It’s really hard to gauge exactly but we do have an idea. There have been two times on a regular non-holiday Sunday that we have put a survey on every chair in the auditorium in order to get a feel for who is attending Grace. Both times that we have done this we have discovered that there were between 40-50 people who marked that they were a first time guest to Grace that morning. This would not include those in the auditorium that did not fill out the survey nor would it include any of their children that were not in the main auditorium that Sunday. So I think it is more than safe to say that at the very minimum on any given non-holiday or special event Sunday we have at least 50 first time guests.

We have found that the vast majority of these guests do not fill out a connection card. I have also discovered that my standing in the foyer as the services let out and trying to quickly greet as many of the hundreds of people coming out of the service as possible is simply not very effective (unless I was running for office). So beginning this month we are going to experiment with a concept that we hope will allow us to make individual contact with more of our first-time guests. We are calling it “The Ten Minute Party.”

We saw this concept out at Erwin McManus’ church (Mosaic) in Los Angeles when our ministry staff was out west for conference two summers ago. Immediately following the service, all the first time guests were invited back stage for a “Ten Minute Party” to enjoy some refreshments and to personally meet the pastor and those individuals who were part of the stage ministry that morning.

We are going to try this “Ten Minute Party” concept on December 23 and January 20. On those 2 Sundays we will invite all those who are new to Grace Church that morning or new over the last couple of weeks to Room 203 located right behind the stage immediately following both worship services for refreshments and an opportunity to personally meet myself, Pastor Tim, Matt McElravy and the vocalists who were on stage that morning. It is our hope and prayer that this will allow us to better connect with our guests and to personally invite them to consider taking Core Class 101 which gives an overview of the main beliefs and purpose of our church. If this is successful, we will plan to have a “Ten Minute Party” one Sunday morning each month.

How does this affect you? On a positive note, it will allow you to encourage guests that you invite to church to come back to Room 203 on the mornings we are having our “Ten Minute Party” so that we can personally meet and connect with them. On the negative side, we would ask that unless you are bringing back a new guest that you do not come back to Room 203 these mornings as the room is limited in size. Pastor Tim and I will still be available at the entrance of the auditorium the 15 minutes prior to the start of each service to be able to greet and mingle with everyone else. Please be praying that God will use these “Ten Minute Parties” that will take place monthly to help us more effective meet people where they are and move them to where God wants them to be.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Change Your Website




The varsity basketball season tipped off last weekend for our boys and girls round ball teams here at Lititz Christian School (LCS). Both teams were involved in a tournament at Mt Calvary Christian School out in Elizabethtown. We opened on Friday nights with our guys and gals each playing the Bobcats of Bible Baptist Christian School. Both of these matches were intense and exciting.

Our girls had only six players dressed for the game. I counted no less than twenty girls who were dressed to play for Bible Baptist. This meant that the Bobcats would be able to sub in and out liberally and keep all of their players fresh while most of our girls would be playing the entire game with no breathers. As I looked at the roster I also noticed that the Bobcats had two players that were 5’11” and one player at 5’10”. The Lady Eagles do not have one player on their team that is taller than 5’5”. Bible Baptist jumped out to an 8-0 lead but our girls never gave up. With just over 2 minutes left in the game, the Lady Eagles took their first lead. Down the stretched they had a chance to put the Bobcats away but missed four key free throws within the last 30 seconds of the game. In the end, Bible Baptist hit a shot at the buzzer to win the game. The Lady Eagles did bounce back on Saturday defeating York Country Day to win third place in the tourney.

The varsity boy’s game was just as entertaining. The Bobcat starters were almost all Seniors and took a 7-point lead over the Eagles into the locker room at halftime. The third period also belonged to Bible Baptist as they built their lead to double-digits. However, the Eagles stepped up the defensive intensity in the final period causing multiple turnovers. They also hit some key shots from the charity stripe and made some huge defensive stands in the final seconds of the game to come away with a 1-point victory. LCS lost in the championship game to Mt Calvary on Saturday but came home with the tournament’s second place trophy and a 1-1 record to start the regular season.

Now comes the good part. I love sports and I love to be intense about my teams. I have often said (to the chagrin of our School Administrator and Athletic Director) that I wish our fans would be even more rowdy. At Liberty, it was always Dr Falwell that would get the students fired up at the games by standing up and banging on the air-condition ducts. I also love rivalries and the mental games that make sports fun on and off the court. As I was perusing the website of the host school for the tournament, I realized that long before the tournament ever started they had already penciled in their team playing Bible Baptist on Saturday. In other words, they were so sure that we would lose to the Bobcats on Friday night that they had already written us off on their schedule. Now, as someone who loves rivalries, I can appreciate this “jab” – yes, even among Christians (I only wish I had thought of it first). But it was my joy as the clock hit 0:00 and we had secured our victory against Bible Baptist, sending us into the tournament championship game against Mt Calvary (in contrast to their website), to start the following chant from the stands:

“CHANGE YOUR WEBSITE…clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!”

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Distler Christmas Traditions




Every family has traditions surrounding their holidays. We do. For example, we always start setting up our Christmas trees (we have one in every room of the house…yes, restrooms included) and decorations on Thanksgiving Day.

Then, somewhere about 7-10 days before Christmas, Laura and I go away for a special and romantic 2-night Holiday getaway. We use this time to finish all of our Christmas shopping, to wrap all of the gifts, and to spend some quality time together, just the two of us, in the midst of the holiday activities. It is amazing what great deals you can find on lodging during this off-season time of year if you will put a little effort into searching the internet. I take this seriously and am usually able to find a very unique and cozy place for us to go.

This year we will be going to the Vandiver Inn located in Historic Havre de Grace, MD. We will be staying in the Vandiver Suite. This is their ultimate honeymoon suite with a luxurious four poster antique style king bed with spacious sitting area, red brick working gas fireplace and antique mantel. It is exquisitely decorated in shades of pale green, beige and yellow (I included the color scheme in case Rick Bernhardt, our Senior Administrator here at Grace, happens to read my blog today. I knew he would appreciate it because everytime he comes over to my house we end up having to repaint a wall). It has a large corner Jacuzzi tub with shower, private entrance, refrigerator, hair dryer, cable television, data ports, voice mail, CD alarm clock and coffee maker. Both mornings will include a full gourmet breakfast with coffee, tea, fresh fruit, scones, muffins, yogurt, granola, and a Chef’s Choice entrĂ©e. If I told you what I was paying for this...you would be so jealous!

Havre de Grace, by the way, is located on the Chesapeake Bay along the pristine Susquehanna River. The downtown area has a quaint shopping district with many historic attractions including the Concord Point Lighthouse. It is about a 90 minute drive straight south from Lancaster.

On Christmas Eve, we always go for an early dinner at Olive Garden (my daughter’s favorite restaurant) before heading to church to enjoy the Christmas Eve worship (which, by the way, is simply going to be amazing this year at Grace). After church, we head home and watch our favorite Holiday movie, “The Santa Clause” with Tim Allen. The night ends with the reading of the classic, “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

But our favorite part of Christmas as a family are the stockings. Opening presents for our family is an all day event. It starts with the stockings. We love our stockings and Santa always packs them full with very fun and unique items. Opening our stockings takes a long while because we each take a turn pulling out one thing at a time. Actually, my wife gets two stockings. Not only does she have the one that hangs by the fireplace, filled by “Santa,” but there is also a second stocking in our bedroom which is purple (her favorite color) filled with extra special items that she gets to open Christmas Eve.

Throughout the day we open a few presents at a time rather than doing them all at once. We started this when the kids were young so we could then call the family member who gave the gifts just opened and the kids could thank them while they still remembered what they gave them. We also take time to read the Christmas story from Scripture. Over the past couple of years I have also started another tradition. I buy a very special gift for Laura, for Joy and for Jonathan. I then pull those gifts out right before bed on Christmas night as the last presents of the day. These are just a few of the Distler Family Christmas tradtions.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Answers on Angels



What is the meaning of the name, “Angel”? The word “angel” means “messenger.” The closest definition of angels that we get in Scripture is that they are all “ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1:14).

How do we know that angels really exist? Angels are mentioned in 34 books of the Bible. They are mentioned by every New Testament author. In fact, angles are mentioned a total of 273 times in Scripture (108 times in the Old Testament and 165 times in the New Testament).

Where did angels come from? Like humans, angels are created beings (Colossians 1:15-17; Psalm 148:2, 5; Ephesians 3:9). The creation of the angels took place prior to the creation of the earth since the angels sang at the creation of the earth (Job 38:1, 4, 7). As a result of their being created beings, angels should never be worshipped (Romans 1:24-25)

What are angels like? Angels are invisible spirit beings (Psalm 104:4; Hebrews 1:14; Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 2:18). They do not ordinarily have physical bodies but they can take on physical form when they need to (Daniel 6:22; 10:6; Matthew 28:3; Genesis 32:1-2; Revelation 10:1). The reason for their invisibility is to keep mankind from worshipping them (Revelation 19:10; 22:9). Whether in physical or spiritual form, angels have superhuman mobility. Angels possess separate and individual personalities meaning that no two of them are alike. Angels are stronger (Psalm 103:20), smarter (Daniel 9:21) and swifter (Revelation 14:6) than men. Yet, they are inferior to God in that they are not omnipresent (Daniel 10:12), omnipotent (Daniel 10:13) or omniscient (Matthew 24:26).

Do angels wear wings and halos? At least some of the angels are described with wings (Isaiah 6:2; Ezekiel 1:5-8) but no place in Scripture are angels seen with halos.

How many angels are there? The Scripture states that angels are innumerable. A hint of their huge number can be seen in Mark 5:9 where Satan could afford to give over 6,000 of his fallen angels to torment one poor lunatic. Thousands of angels are mentioned in Psalm 68:17. Twelve legions (72,000) of angels are mentioned in Matthew 26:53. An innumerable company of angels are mentioned in Hebrews 12:22 and Revelation 5:11. There are the same number of angels today as when first created due to the fact that angels can not reproduce (Matthew 22:30). We never read in Scripture of God creating more angels

What do angels do? Angels praise God (Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 4:11). Angels serve God as His messengers. Angels also serve mankind. They are involved in answering prayers (Acts 12:5-10). They observe the events of mankind (1 Corinthians 4:9; 1 Timothy 5:21). They also encourage mankind (Acts 27:23-24).

Friday, November 30, 2007

A.I.M.: Angelic Instant Messengers


This Sunday is the first Sunday of December which propels us right into the heart of the Christmas season here at Grace Church. Throughout the five Sundays of December we will be studying the topic of angels in a series we are calling A.I.M.: Angelic Instant Messengers. Angels are very popular in our culture, but not near as much as they are during the holiday season. The truth is that most Americans get their facts about angels from Clarence in Christmas shows like, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” than they do from the Bible. So how much do you know about angels? How would you answer the following questions?

What is the meaning of the word “angel”?

How many books of the Bible mention angels?

How many New testament authors mention angels?

How many times are angels mentioned in the Bible?

Where did angels come from?

When did the creation of angels take place?

What are angels like?

Do angels have physical bodies?

Do angels have wings and halos?

How many angels are there?

Are there more angels today than when they were first created?

What do angels do?

What different types of angels are there?

How many angels are mentioned by name in Scripture?

Are demons also angels?

The first two Sundays of the month we will take aim at angels in general and answer all of the questions above plus more. The next two Sundays we will look specifically at the involvement of angels in the Christmas story. On the final Sunday of the month we will examine twelve ways that angels were involved in the earthly life of Christ. Join us at Grace for Sundays in December.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Are they doomed to hell?



Last Sunday we talked about a website called blasphemychallenge.com which amazingly encourages people to video tape themselves denying the existence and power of the Holy Spirit and downloading that video on “You Tube” for the world to see. This website is taken from verses in Mark 3 and Matthew 12 which teach that whoever commits the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit can never be forgiven. On this website there are literally hundreds and hundreds of videos, predominantly of young people, making such horrifying testimonials. We even showed a few of them in church last Sunday morning.

Several of you have asked me since then if this means that all of these hundreds of people are now damned and doomed for hell because they have made such statements. Many of you have wondered if these people could ever change and be converted. It is important to keep in mind that just as the simple saying of words in a prayer does not save a person, neither does the simple saying of words forever damn someone to hell.

In the passages in Mark 3 and Matthew 12, the religious leaders of the day had claimed that the power that Jesus had demonstrated was not from heaven but rather that it found its source in Satan. Though these individuals had seen the evidence of God’s deity in Christ up close and personal, they had once and for all determined to reject its truth and to deny the reality of who Christ was. This was a permanent and absolute refusal to believe. They would not change. They had seen the truth and knowingly rejected it.

Now what about these individuals who have posted these statements on “You Tube” through the blasphemychallenge.com? Are they going to hell? There is no question that if they do not repent and receive Christ, yes, they will definitely spend eternity in the Lake of Fire. But are they doomed already with no chance to change? I’m not sure we can answer that question. I know people who once believed statements like are being posted on this website but who ultimately came to faith in Christ and for all intents and purposes appear to be true children of God, born again through the Spirit of God. Have these individuals on “You Tube” made this final verdict of rejection or is there still room in their heart for repentance? Only God really knows the answer to that question.

One thing is for sure. It is websites like this one and videos like the over 1,400 that you can find there that should motivate us like never before to pray for lost people and share our faith with them. That’s why I would encourage you to remember the wall in our auditorium where we have written then names of some 3,000 people that we know who need to know Christ. Pray for them daily. Build bridges to them regularly. Partner with the ministries of Grace Church to see them come under the sound of the Gospel of Christ. Christmas is fast approaching. Have you invited your “Target Three” to church? Sunday morning, December 23, will be our special Christmas worship followed by two Christmas Eve services (5:30 and 7:00) on December 24 that will be no more than an hour in length and which will be geared to the entire family. These are great opportunities for each of us to meet people where they are and help move them to where God wants them to be.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Spiritual VOCAB



Remember the vocabulary tests you use to have to take when you were in school? Each week you were given 20 words to learn the definitions and spelling of each. Well, let me give you a vocabulary list of key words that deals with your salvation. Because it’s been a long time since many of you have been in school, I’ll be kind and just give you 12 words instead of 20. Your job is to learn the definitions and spelling of each of them. And for extra credit take time to read each Scripture verse listed as well. Here we go:

DEPRAVITY = All sinners are capable of all wicked things and no sinner has the power to please God on his own (Rom 8:7, 8; 3:10-12)

SUBSTITUTION = Christ died in our place paying the debt of sin that we owed (I Peter 3:18; Heb 10:4; Jn 10:11)

PROPITIATION = Through Christ’s death, He satisfied the holy wrath of a just God due to our sin (I John 2:2; 4:10)

CONVERSION = The turning on the part of an individual from sin and to God (Psalm 19:7; 51:13) involving both repentance (turning from sin) and faith (turning to God)

REPENTENCE = A voluntary and sincere change in the mind of the sinner causing him to turn from his sin (Matthew 3:2, 8; Acts 2:38; 3:19)

FAITH = A confident assurance (Heb 11:1) based on the Word of God (Romans 10:17) that produces a change in my life (James 2:17)

RECONCILIATION = A relational change of standing from a position of enmity before God to a position of friendship (Eph 2:16; Col 1:20-22)

REGENERATION = God imparting to the believing sinner a new nature (Titus 3:5; John 1:12, 13; 3:3; Ephesians 2:1-3)

ADOPTION = The believer receiving the position as a child of God (Galatians 4:4-5; I Peter 1:1-9; John 1:42; Revelation 2:17)

JUSTIFICATION = The legal act whereby man’s status before God is changed forever (Romans 5:1; Titus 3:7)

SANCTIFICATION = The process by which the believer is being set apart from sin and set apart to God (Romans 6:1-23)

GLORIFICATION = Our future bodies and existence where sin is no longer present (Romans 8:30; Colossians 3:4; I Peter 5:1)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Razor on Strike?



If you were here Sunday you may have noticed that I did not shave this week. You had to look real close, mind you, but it was in fact noticeable. You see, I have never been one who has been able to grow a full mustache or beard. It’s really bummed me out. Some guys can shave in the morning and have a full beard by 5pm that afternoon. That’s not me. I use a razor but a warm hot dog would probably accomplish the same thing.

Actually, I hate shaving. Boy, am I glad I’m not a woman!! At least all I have to shave is my face. My hate for shaving probably stems back from when I first started. I had horrible acne as a teenager, thus all the scars on my face. Unfortunately no one had yet invented the 4-wheel drive razor so every time I shaved it was a new adventure in blood and pain. And, of course, the after shaving splash of cooling cologne definitely added insult to injury. So, I have never really enjoyed the daily grind of shaving.

I tried once to grow a beard about 6 or 7 years ago. I made it three weeks. Although it was nice to not have to get the Edge Gel out every day, it didn’t take time for me to get tired of this substance on my face that didn’t even come close to resembling anything near a mustache or a beard…so I shaved. It actually disappointed my wife. She was growing accustomed to it. Imagine that! What a woman!

So over the Thanksgiving holiday, I never pulled out my razor. I had every intention to break out the cream and blade last Saturday night so that my handsome face was again smooth and presentable last Sunday, but I decided not to. Why? I’m not really sure. Maybe it was pure laziness. Maybe it is some form of pent up rebellion in my life stemming back to my childhood. Maybe it’s a new seeker-friendly ministry philosophy which will allow me to write a best selling book I'll call, The Razor Driven Church. Is age 42 ripe for a mid-life crisis? I really can’t explain it. I just didn’t shave. Maybe you noticed. In fact, it may have just been part of some of your dinner conversations last Sunday after church.

So now what? Now it’s decision time. Do I dare try again? Do I dare let my Fusion Razor and Edge Gel sit in my bathroom drawer and not pull it out or do I return to the daily grind of shaving? I’m not sure of the answer yet but I have decided this one thing. If I go back to shaving it will happen by this Sunday and you will know by my smooth acne-scarred face when you come to church. However, if I don’t shave this week then I have decided that I am in it for the long haul. That’s right. If I don’t shave this week it won’t be just a passing fancy or horrid experimentation. If my face isn’t completely smooth come this Sunday than you will not see it smooth again until….are your ready for this? (drum roll, please)…until Easter Sunday morning, March 23, 2008.

That’s right! If I do not shave this week then I am committed to trying to grow a beard for four full months…from Thanksgiving to Easter. There will be no retreats! There will be no reserves! There just might be a few regrets but, oh well, sometimes you just got to live dangerously. So what will the verdict be? You won’t know before Sunday morning because I won’t know until then either.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Hating the Enemies of God



When someone is very valuable to you and another person attacks them in a vile and hateful manner, how does it make you feel? If someone verbally abused your mate or your child in a hateful, open and blatant manner, how would you respond? David has just spent the first 18 verses of Psalm 139 meditating on the greatness of God. Now he focuses on those who hate the God that He loves. Who is David speaking of? Note the descriptions. He calls them the wicked (v19); Men of bloodshed (v19); God’s enemies (v20); Those who hate God (v21); and Those who rise up against God (v21). Based on these descriptions, these were not moderate, passive foes of God. They were unashamed, hateful, open and blatant despisers of God and God’s people. These individuals are mainly identified by their tongue seen in their verbal irreverence and their profanity.

What does David ask God to do? David asks God to slay the wicked. This may seem extreme but go back to the questions I raised earlier. David was not taking matters into his own hands. This is not a verse justifying blowing up abortion clinics or other atrocities committed under the banner of righteousness. David is simply stating that an enemy of God is an enemy of his as well. He longs for the day when all the enemies of God will be punished. He is also depending on God to protect him from these enemies.

Why does David make such a request? David wanted to be removed from every enemy of God. A close companionship with haters of God will take a damaging toll on our spiritual life. Spurgeon said, “Godless men are not the stuff out of which true friends can ever be made.” Paul wrote similar words in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals.” David hated these enemies of God meaning that he rejected them and wanted no association with them.

But David does not end the chapter with a decree for revenge on God’s enemies. The greatest hatred that we should have as followers of Christ is a hatred for sin in our own lives. Psalm 139 can be divided by direction. In verses 1-18, David looks up. In verses 19-22, David looks around. And in verses 23-24, David looks within. David asks God to search him and know his heart. The word “search” means “to explore, dig or probe.” David asks God to penetrate down to where his unspoken words dwell and where unstated motives hide in secret. He also asks God to try him and know his anxious thoughts. David is asking God to test him for secret sins. He is asking God to find anything that could distract him from his fellowship with his Creator. David desires to know anything in his life that can hurt his relationship with God. He desires to be led in “the everlasting way.” In other words, he wanted to be a man of God.

It’s easy to want God to slay His enemies in our culture today. But if we really understand how great our God is we will have even more of a hatred for sin in our own lives. We will be asking God to slay the enemies of lust, gossip, hatred, bitterness and selfishness that are found in our own hearts. When was the last time you asked God to slay the enemies of sin in your own life? How great is our God!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Jonathan Swift on Thanksgiving



In the classic book, Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift gives us his opinion of ingratitude to friends and benefactors when he describes the laws of the “Lilliputians” in this way:

Ingratitude is reckoned among them a capital crime; for they reason this, that whoever makes ill return to his friends and benefactors must needs be the enemy to the rest of mankind, from whom he hath received no obligation. And, therefore, such a man is not fit to live.”

Dr. David Soper, in his book, God Is Inescapable, suggests that basically the difference between a prison and a monastery is just the difference between griping and gratitude. Undoubtedly, this is true. Imprisoned criminals spend every waking moment griping; self-imprisoned saints spend every waking moment offering thanks. Dr. Soper says,

When a criminal becomes a saint, a prison becomes a monastery; when a saint gives up gratitude, a monastery becomes a prison.”

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving! I trust that is will be a wonderful day for you. I think that of all holidays, I enjoy Thanksgiving more than any other. We use this day as a family to set up our Christmas trees (I have to use the plural there because my wife is a Christmas tree fanatic who desire a Christmas tree in every room within our house). Add to this the turkey and football and then the day after in which Laura and I always spend out fighting the crowds at the stores (we just love that kind of thing) and you have one tremendous Holiday! And after all, it should be. But as we enter this special day tomorrow, here are some quotes to help us focus our thoughts on the need to give thanks in everything:

Thanksgiving unlocks the power of God’s grace. When we take time to count our blessings, suddenly we are overwhelmed by the knowledge of God’s goodness and our own unworthiness. We realize that the God of the universe has chosen to grace our lives with good things in spite of our sinful disobedience. He remains faithful to us even when we do not give Him the praise and thanks He deserves.” (Jerry Falwell)

However, there is at least one other important reason why we should be thankful to God. To acknowledge His goodness is to see Him as He is and to take our rightful places as His wholly dependent subjects.” (George Sweeting)

Thanksgiving thoughts are often sighs of relief that we aren’t like others: living in a politically oppressed society; starving in a famine-wasted land; fighting a debilitating disease; or driving a rusted and battered car. True thanksgiving doesn’t begin with human comparisons, but with God, the giver of life and all that is good.” (Terry Hall)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Perfect Week in the Life of a Senior Pastor




At last summer’s Leadership Summit, Bill Hybels spoke on the topic, “A Vision To Die For.” He opened his talk by jokingly describing the perfect week in the life of a Senior Pastor:

The pastor finishes his sermon on a Sunday morning and the message that he gives is so anointed and powerful that he spikes his Bible on the stage as he walks off. He gets in his car and he does three victory laps around the parking lot just waving to the people. He goes then to the summer home of a wealthy church member for a three day time of solitude and spiritual retreat where he asks God to talk to him about the future of his church. Two days into the retreat, God opens the windows of heaven and dumps a smoking hot vision for the future of this pastor’s church. The vision is so exciting that the pastor’s fingers are trembling as he types it all out on his laptop. He can’t wait to get back home to his family and to his church to talk to them about this vision that God gave him. But he was supposed to be away for three days so on Wednesday he squeezes in a round of golf. He beats his handicap by four strokes. He even gets a hole in one on the 18th.

He pulls into his driveway on Wednesday night. His kids are already in bed but his wife is up and she stays up listening to his vision for the church for two solid hours. She is in awe of the vision that God gave the pastor. As she dozes off to sleep that night she thinks quietly to herself, “I am not worthy to be wed to such an extraordinary man who in three days can single-handedly discern the will of God for the whole church for the next five years. I am just not worthy.” The next two mornings the pastor goes into the church office and he holds up privately to write out his thoughts so he can deliver the vision talk this coming Sunday. Some staff members wander around the office wondering what happened on the pastor’s three day retreat but his trusty assistant keeps them at bay saying it is all top secret stuff. They are going to all have to wait until Sunday.

When Sunday arrives and he finally casts the vision that God gave him on that three day retreat, he really casts this vision. And he knows it is going pretty well when the head Elder stands up and cries out, “These are not the words of a mere mortal.” People are clapping one moment and crying the next. The vision is received so enthusiastically by the congregation that they give him a standing ovation at the end. In fact, board members hoist him up on their shoulders and carry him down the center aisle. Large donors are meeting in the corner and they have got their checkbooks out and they are arguing with each other about who is going to get to underwrite the whole thing. The Executive Pastor and the whole staff of the church line the sidewalk leading to the parking lot. As the pastor walks to his car after the last service, they cheer wildly for him. They can’t believe how exciting the next five years of their lives are going to be and that they get to play on the team that is quarterbacked by such a pastor as this. When the pastor drives home from that Sunday service, he drives up his driveway and his family is out there waiting for him. As he gets out of his car they rise up and they call him “blessed.” He gives them each a little peck on the cheek, throws his jacket over his shoulder, and says, “All in a week’s work, gang. All in a week’s work.”

Monday, November 19, 2007

How Great is our God? He is All-Powerful




In our study in Psalm 139 so far, we have already seen that God knows all things about us and is always with us. Now we see that He is all powerful, seen in the design of our bodies. This passage transports us into the womb. It is remarkable considering that it was written in a day when little was known about human anatomy or embryology.

David begins by describing God as the cause of conception and creator of the human body. It is God who formed our inward parts. The word “formed” carries the idea of originates – God originated our inward parts. “Inward Parts” literally means kidneys and was symbolic in the ancient culture of all our vital organs. God is the one who originated our very organs. David says, “You wove me in my mother’s womb.” The word “wove” suggests the idea of knitting together like an interwoven mass. It is God who has placed all of our organs into a well-knitted fashion and design.

The Psalmist is in such awe at this truth that he responds in thanksgiving and praise to God. Even with his limited knowledge of man’s anatomy, the marvels of the human body led him to be in awe and wonder. He gives thanks to God for fearfully and wonderfully making him. He gives praise to the Lord for His wonderful creative works.

He continues by saying that his frame was not hidden from God when he was made in secret. The original Hebrew term for “frame” means bony substance and speaks of our skeleton. It was God who formed our skeleton structure while we were “in secret.” The term “in secret” and “in the depths of the earth” is an idiomatic expression for a protected, safe place as one may hide his treasure by burying it. God knew him intimately even in the womb. It was God who “skillfully wrought” him in the womb. “Skillfully wrought” literally means variegated, like a carefully embroidered multi-colored cloth and speaks of our veins and arteries

God was just as much a part of our life before birth as he was after birth. He knew are “unformed substance” which is a word in its verb form that means to fold together or wrap up. In Scripture, it appears in its noun form only here and means embryo. From the moment of my conception God wrapped me up in my embryonic form. While we were still in the womb, He marked out our days and “ordained” them even before we were born. The word “ordain” was used in the Old Testament to describe a potter who forms clay on his wheel until it takes the shape He has in His mind. While we were still in the womb, God marvelously planned out the details of our lives.

According to Psalm 139:17, God’s thoughts are precious to us. In other words, His thoughts for us are amazing. But even more than that, His thought for us are also abundant in quantity. David calls them “vast.” If we were to count the number of thoughts that God has for us, they would outnumber the grains of sand in the world. They always occur. When I am sleeping, God is thinking about me. When I am awake, God is thinking about me. The truth is that He can’t get you out of His mind.

Friday, November 16, 2007

McWORSHIP



In yesterday’s blog entry I reviewed many of the advertising slogans from our culture’s fast food restaurant industry. But what does that have to do with Grace Church?

The Worship Design Team met last Tuesday night. This is a group of very dedicated and committed people under the leadership of Matt McElravy, who is our Worship Arts Director here at Grace Church, that plan all of the elements of our Sunday morning worship services. Last Tuesday we set our sights on the upcoming January Sunday mornings. Over the months of January and February we will be taking eight weeks to study through the book of Malachi which is the last Old Testament book in your Bible.

Throughout this book, God speaks through the prophet Malachi, rebuking the priests and people of Israel for their half-hearted worship of Him. The same elements that kept Israel from authentic worship back then often keep us from authentic worship today. In fact, we may even have a greater problem with these issues because we live in such a fast food culture that our “get it done quick” approach to life has also transferred over to our worship. That is why we will be calling this new series, “McWorship: Authentic Worship in a Fast-Food Culture.” Here is an overview of the first half of this series:

Week #1 – “I’m Lovin’ It” (Malachi 1:1-5) – The key word we will look at is “love.” Authentic worship involves a proper response to the love of God.

Week #2 – “Premium Beef” (Malachi 1:6-14) – The key word we will look at is “service.” Authentic worship involves serving God with my very best.

Week #3 – “Make Every Time A Good Time” (Malachi 2:1-9) – The key word we will look at is “discipline.” Authentic worship involves obeying God without compromise.

Week #4 – “It’s Mac Tonight” (Malachi 2:10-17) – Authentic worship involves reflecting God in my marriage and my family.

So as we enter this series right after the first of the year we are hoping to see our stage transformed into a “McDonald’s Land” complete with golden arches and cardboard cutouts of the McDonald’s Land characters. We are hoping to show old McDonald’s commercials each week that will lead into the theme of the morning. We are hoping to show a video of what it would look like if a husband took a wife out for a formal dinner at McDonalds. We are hoping to show our culture’s lackadaisical approach to worship through a clip from “Mr. Bean Goes to Church.” We are hoping to introduce a song that shows the American culture today of “cutting every corner.” We are hoping to use some secular love songs to show us how Malachi teaches that marriage is a husband placing a garment of protection over his wife. One Sunday we will be so completely different in every way that I can’t even give you any hints as to what will take place. Through it all we are asking God to use teach us what it means today to be authentic worshippers.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fast Food and Grace Church



We certainly live in a fast food culture, don’t we? And what is one of the keys to the success of the fast food industry? It is their advertising slogans. Do they really work? Well, let’s find out. Below are several slogans from over the past years. I bet you can guess the restaurant chain for just about every one of them. Give it a try:

Eat fresh
Where’s the beef?
All American Food
Have it your way
Finger Lickin’ Good
Better Ingredients. Better Pizza
Make a run for the border
We do chicken right


On May 15, 1940 in San Bernardino, CA, Ray Kroc founded a restaurant that now has over 31,000 locations and nearly half a million employees worldwide. Their slogans?

McDonalds is your king of place (1967)
You deserve a break today (1971)
We do it all for you (1975)
You, you’re the one (1976)
Nobody can do it like McDonalds can (1979)
You deserve a break today (1980)
Nobody makes your day like McDonalds can (1981)
McDonalds and you (1983)
It’s a good time for the great taste of McDonalds (1984)
It’s Mac Tonight (1985)
Good time, great taste (1988)
There’s nothing quite like McDonalds (1980s)
Food, folks and fun (1990)
McDonalds today (1991)
What you want is what you get (1992)
Do you believe in magic? (1993)
Have you had your break today? (1995)
Did somebody say McDonalds? (1997)
McDonalds – It can happen (1990)
Eddie the Echo – How ya doin’? How ya doin’? (1990’s)
We love to see/make you smile (2000)
Make every time a good time (2002)
I’m lovin’ it (2003)

Now what does all this have to do with Grace Church? Find out tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

And The New President Is...




Recently I found a survey tool at the USA Today website which shows you which of the 17 presidential candidates match up best with your own personal views on the current issues. The website is (http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics/election2008/candidate-match-game.htm?loc=interstitialskip). It’s very quick and simple. The survey asks 11 multiple choice questions. You select the answer that best describes your view and then the survey shows you which three of the 17 Republican and Democratic presidential candidates best match up with your view in the order that they best match up.

My curiosity got the best of me and I took the survey. What did I find? One thing that didn’t surprise me was that all 3 of the candidates that best matched my views were from the same political party. I could have easily guessed that. But here is what really amazed me. The one candidate that I am leaning toward supporting was not in the top 3 that best matched my answers. In fact, 2 of the 3 candidates that did best match my answers to the 11 questions were individuals I would never consider voting for.

What’s that mean? I’m not sure but I thought it would be interesting to see what the tabulated results would be if a segment of our staff took the same survey. 52% of those who attend our bi-weekly staff meetings here at Grace took the survey. 58% of those taking the survey were male staff members (not that it matters much). Below are the tabulated results. Please realize that this is in no way any endorsement of any certain candidate. It simply shows which candidates the survey revealed best matched up to the views of our staff overall:

Of the 17 presidential candidates, 8 of them did not make anyone’s match list. Of these 8 the names include Clinton and Giuliani, who are the current front-runners in the national polls, along with Obama, Biden, Brownback, Edwards, Gravel, nor Kucinich.

Of the 9 candidates who have made at least one person’s match list, 7 of them were Republicans. The only 2 democrats to make anyone’s list were Richardson and Dodd.

If you go solely by the #1 match choice, the winner was Romney. Thompson came in second followed by Trancredo. Huckabee and Hunter tied for fourth.

Romney also made the most lists (75%), followed by McCain (58%); Huckabee (50%); Thompson (42%); Trancredo (25%); and Hunter (16%). Paul, Richardson and Dodd were each on 8% of the lists.

If you were to give 3 points for each time a candidate made #1 on a list; 2 points for each time a candidate made #2 on a list; and 1 point for each time a candidate made #3 on a list, the results would be as follows: Romney (21); Thompson (14); Huckabee (12); McCain and Trancredo (both with 8); Hunter (5); and Richardson (2). Paul and Dodd each had 1 point.

Hang on to your hats, folks…we still have a ways to go until next November!!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Birthday Surprises




I told you several weeks ago in one of my messages on spiritual gifts that one of the things I enjoy doing the most is buying birthday and Christmas gifts for my wife. Last Sunday was my wife’s birthday, and since it fell on a Sunday, I was excited to plan a special day for her, especially in light of the fact that this is her last birthday before our daughter Joy heads off to college (she is going to Liberty University…without any doubt in my mind the best university anywhere, but that is a topic for a different blog entry on a different day!)!

So how did her special day play out?

I always leave for church well before anyone else in my family on Sunday mornings so on my way out I placed a very special card on the steering wheel of the Buick that she would find when she got in to drive to church that morning. It was one of those musical birthday cards that played “You Take My Breath Away” when you opened it. I would tell you what the card said inside but then I would have to put a “parental guidance” rating on this blog entry. And because I know that little things mean so much to a woman, I attached a cute little snowman shaped like a bell to the outside of the envelope (Laura loves snowmen).

But that was just the beginning. At church I had dozens of vases prepared in which I put a single rose in each of them. I had as many roses as my wife is old. I lined the stage of the auditorium with these roses which allowed me to recognize my wife’s special day in front of both morning worship services. If anyone wanted to know how old she was, all they had to do was to count all of the roses correctly. Many counted incorrectly because they missed the rose on the piano. The only hint I will give you is that I ordered four dozen roses but didn’t need to use them all.

I had made reservations for our family for dinner so as soon as I finished preaching second service we jumped into our Rendezvous and headed east to Boiling Springs, PA. There we enjoyed a wonderful buffet dinner at the Allenberry Resort Inn and Playhouse before seeing their family holiday musical, “Santa’s Favorite Gift” (2nd row seats, mind you)!

We then headed back to the house where several more surprises awaited her. After she had left for church that morning I had snuck back home and taken a new set of dishes (8 place settings) that I had bought for her birthday and spread them out around the dining table with bows on each piece. There on the table were some other surprises including two of her favorite Yankee Candles (the large ones of course) and an additional piece for her to add to her Christmas village along with several other related accessories.

The night then capped off with some friends coming over to enjoy some cake that Joy had baked for her mom. And to add the final cherry on top of the day for my lovely wife, I was able to track down some of her favorite ice cream of all time – peppermint (which, I might add, is very difficult to find prior to the Holiday season officially beginning).

So there you have it…another successful birthday celebration filled with many special surprises and wonderful memories. Now I get to start all over again because there are only 41 days left until Christmas!