Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Rapture Review (part 1)

Last Sunday at Grace Church we completed a five week study on the rapture of the church. This study was very well received and produced a lot of interest. In fact, our attendance for the first five Sundays following Christmas this year was up 14% over the first five Sundays after Christmas one year ago and up 39% over the first five Sundays after Christmas two years ago. Before we move on to our new February series on Sunday mornings, I thought it would be good to do a little review about the rapture. So in today and tomorrow’s blog entries I have given brief answers to 22 review questions about the rapture. For more details on these simply go to the sermon page at our church website ( and listen to any or all of these five messages under the series title, Back in the Future which took place from December 31st through January 28th.

What is the rapture? It is a coming event in which Jesus will return in the air for His church.

Who made the first promise of the rapture? Jesus did when He said that He would come again to receive His followers unto Himself so that where He was they would be also.

Is the word “rapture” in the Bible? The word “rapture” is not in our English Bibles. It is a transliteration of the Latin word which is translated “caught up” in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.

What main passages in the Bible speak of the rapture? John 14:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; and 1 Corinthians 15:51-58.

Is the rapture the same thing as the second coming of Christ? The second coming of Christ is a different event that happens 7 years after the rapture, at the end of the tribulation, when Jesus returns to the earth with His church to set up His 1,000 year kingdom on earth.

When will the rapture occur? The rapture could happen at any time. Though we cannot set an exact date for the rapture, there is solid Biblical evidence showing that it will occur prior to the 7-year tribulation on earth.

Will the rapture include believers who have already died? At the rapture the bodies of all dead believers in Christ will be resurrected.

What happens to believers today when they die? Their soul goes immediately to be with the Lord but their bodies remain here on earth until the resurrection at the rapture.

Why does the Bible refer to dead believers as being asleep? The Bible refers just to the bodies of dead believers as asleep because the bodies of dead believers are in a temporary state of repose.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Back in the Future...Johnny Be Good (part 2)

Today’s blog is a continuation of yesterday’s blog as we begin to show how the truth of the return of Christ should affect the way we live today. Be sure to read them in order.

It should affect the level of our patience during difficult trials (James 5:8):

You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

It should cause us to live a more separated life (1 John 3:2, 3):

Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

It should cause us to refrain from judging others (1 Corinthians 4:5):

Therefore, do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”

It should compel us to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:1, 2; 1 Peter 5:2, 4):

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction; Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness…and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory.”

It should cause us to be more concerned about heaven (Colossians 3:1-4):

If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”

It should cause us to make communion a priority (1 Corinthians 11:26):

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

Monday, January 29, 2007

Back in the Future...Johnny Be Good (part 1)

The rapture isn’t just about a brilliant and breath-taking event in the future. Yes, Jesus is coming “back in the future” as has been our series title over the past 5 weeks, but the truth about the doctrine of the rapture affects more than just our future. It also affects our today. Because Jesus Christ is returning, we should live differently today. Here’s how:

First, we should live more comforted lives. After Paul writes to the bewildered church at Thessalonica teaching them the truth that their already dead loved ones who had trusted in Jesus would not miss out on this glorious event and assuring them that there would be a coming resurrection, he ends that portion of his letter with the words in 1 Thessalonians 4:18, “Therefore, comfort one another with these words.” Or as Paul says earlier in the chapter, we do not need to mourn as those who have no hope. Because Jesus is returning for His church and because there truly is hope beyond the grave, we can live comforted lives in the midst of sorrow…even when standing next to a freshly dug grave.

Second, we should live more committed lives. In 1 Corinthians 15:58, Paul ends this chapter detailing the rapture of the church by saying that as a result of the truth of the certainty of this coming event, we should be steadfast. This is a word that refers to being seated or the idea of being settled and firmly situated. In other words we are to be settled about our belief in a future resurrection. We are also to be immovable. It is the idea of being totally immobile and motionless. We are not to be moved away from God’s will. We are also to be always abounding in the work of the Lord. The word “abounding” is the idea of exceeding the requirements. It is overflowing or overdoing. It is used of God lavishing on us the riches of His grace as seen in Ephesians 1:7-8. And we are to be knowing that our toil is not in vain in the Lord. The word toil means to labor to the point of exhaustion. “In vain” is the idea of being worthless. Because Jesus is coming again we can know for certain that all of our time, energy effort and resources that we put into the work of Christ is not worthless. It means something. It matters.

The fact of Christ’s return should also affect multiple other areas of our conduct as seen in the Scriptural passages below:

It should affect our church attendance (Hebrews 10:25):

Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

It should affect the way we love believers and all men (1 Thessalonians 3:12, 13):

And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”

Friday, January 26, 2007

Until He Comes

Since Christmas we have been studying the topic of the rapture of the church on Sunday mornings at Grace Church. We have learned many characteristics of this event when Jesus comes back in the future for His church. But how should the coming rapture of the church affect my life now as a follower of Christ? This Sunday at Grace Church we will look at 10 ways the Bible says that knowing about the rapture should change our lives today. One of these ways is our participating in observing the bread and the cup. In First Corinthians 11:26, Paul wrote this to the church at Corinth about this observance:

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

We are to proclaim the Lord’s death through observing the bread (which symbolizes His body broken for us) and the cup (which symbolizes His blood shed for the remission of our sins). And how long are we to participate in this? Until He comes…until the rapture. As a result, that is exactly what we will do this Sunday as part of both of our morning worship services.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ who has put your faith and trust in His death and resurrection alone for the forgiveness of your sin and for your eternal home in heaven, then we invite you to participate. What if you are not a member of Grace Church, can you still take part? Absolutely. Observing the bread and the cup until Jesus comes is not a Grace Church thing it is a Body of Christ thing.

I would encourage you to take some time Saturday evening or early Sunday morning in advance of coming to church to prepare your heart and your spirit for this celebration. Later in First Corinthians 11:27 and 28, Paul speaks to this need when he writes:

“Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”

To help you in this self-examination, here are some questions for you to prayerfully meditate on and honestly answer before the Lord:

1. Am I sure that I am a genuine follower of Christ who has put my faith and trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus alone for the forgiveness of my sin?

2. Is there any unconfessed sin in my life that I need to bring before the Lord to receive His cleansing for according to 1 John 1:9 before observing the bread and the cup?

3. Is there any fellow believer in Jesus Christ that I am at odds with or have ill feelings toward that I need to apologize to before observing the bread and the cup?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Whose Crown Is It Anyways?

Recently I was able to take a few minutes to share with everyone from our church that is involved in our Worship Arts Ministry. I read to them from Revelation 4 in which John is taken up to heaven in a vision and sees the very throne of God standing in heaven which represents the sovereign reign and rule of God. The fact that His throne is seen as “standing” shows that His rule and reign is fixed and unshakable.

John sees God sitting on this throne and describes his glimpse of the eternal God as being like jasper and sardius stones. These were the first and last stones that were on the breastplate of the High Priest in the Old Testament. A jasper stone was like a crystal clear diamond symbolizing the very glory of God. The sardius stone was a fiery blood red ruby which symbolized the wrath of God. John saw and heard lightning and thunder around the throne representing the majesty and power of God. He also saw a green rainbow above the throne signifying the faithfulness of a God who cannot lie. And to top it all off, John describes a pavement of glass coming out of the throne that was like sparkling crystal. What a sight that was for John. What a sight that will one day be for us!

Around the throne were 24 elders also on thrones. Are they angles or humans? Angels are never seen on thrones in Scripture nor are they ever seen as ruling. The title, “Elder” is never used to refer to angels, nor are crowns ever promised to angels in the Bible. However, humans in Scripture are called Elders and they are promised crowns for faithful service. Why only 24? The number “24” represents a whole in Scripture (see 1 Chronicles 24:4-18). Because at this time in prophecy, Old Testament and Tribulation Saints have yet to be resurrected, these are best taken to be representative of the church.

Along with these 24 Elders, there are also 4 living creatures present. These are special angels associated with God’s holiness. These angels fly around the throne and say, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who as and is and is to come.” As they do, it is amazing to watch the response of the 24 Elders (the church). Remember that worship is a Spirit led response to a truth about God. As the church focuses on this truth about the holiness of God their response is to fall down on their knees before He who sits on the throne, worship Him, cast their crowns at His feet, and join these angelic creatures in the verbal declaration of the worthiness of God.

Here is what sticks with me. I believe that the crowns these 24 elders have are the crowns given to them by God at the Bema Judgment for their faithful service on earth. But when they focus on the holiness of God, they take those very crowns that they earned on earth and cast them at God’s feet realizing that only He is worthy of any recognition. I encouraged all who are part of our Worship Arts Ministry here at Grace to remember that being part of our Sunday worship isn’t about who gets to be on stage or where their placement is on stage. Unfortunately, we in our flesh focus too much on that aspect. The goal of every participant on Sunday morning is simply this…to focus all attention and to give all recognition to the only One who deserves it…the One who sits on the throne.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Back in the Future...The Great Escape (part 3)

Today’s entry is a continuation of the last 2 days entries in which I gave 3 of 8 reasons why I believe that the rapture of the church would occur before the tribulation. If you have not read the blog entries for Monday and Tuesday, you should do so before continuing with today’s entry.

A fourth reason for a pre-tribulational rapture is the description of the Restrainer in 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8. In this passage we see a chronology of events taking place. Paul begins by telling us that the mystery of sin is currently at work in the world. It is obvious that sin is affecting our world and that it is growing worse as time marches on. However, Paul says that things aren’t as bad as they could be or will be. There is a restrainer at work in our world today that is keeping sin from its full force. This restrainer is keeping the mystery of sin in check so that it does not currently act in its fullness. But the day is coming when this restrainer will be removed. At this time sin will have its full force on our planet. At this time the one-world ruler called the Anti-Christ will be revealed and the tribulation period will begin. The big question of this passage is, “Who is the restrainer?” There are many theories but for a variety of reasons that we do not have time to go into in this blog, let me say that I believe that the restrainer is the Holy Spirit working through the church that He indwells. In other words, the Holy Spirit today is restraining evil through the church. According to 1 Thessalonians 5, this restrainer (the Holy Spirit) will be removed prior to the start of the tribulation. Because the Holy Spirit indwells each believer, the rapture is the only plausible way that this can take place. If this is the case, then the rapture must happen prior to the start of the tribulation.

A fifth reason to believe that the church will not go through the tribulation is in the design of the tribulation itself. The church going through the tribulation in no way accomplishes the purpose of the tribulation as seen in Revelation 3:10 and Jeremiah 30:7. Add to this a sixth reason…the disappearance of the church in Revelation. In this book of the Bible the tribulation is described in Revelation chapters 6-18. Though the church is mentioned earlier in the book, there is no mention of the church in these passages that describe the tribulation. In fact, no passage about the tribulation in Scripture ever mentions the church. Another issue of chronology brings about a seventh reason. It is the direction of 1 Thessalonians where chapter 4 speaks of the rapture while chapter 5 speaks of the tribulation. If the order Bible authors wrote is as inspired as the words they wrote then we have another picture of the church being raptured prior to the tribulation.

An eighth and final reason to believe in a pre-tribulational rapture of the church is God’s pattern of dealing with Saints in times of judgment. God’s pattern is to deliver believers from judgment before it happens (2 Peter 2:4-9). We cannot know for sure when the rapture of the church will take place. However, we can be sure that it will occur before the tribulation. This brings about two victorious truths for us as believers. First, we will not go through the tribulation. Hallelujah!! Second, the Lord Jesus really could come for us at any moment…maybe even today…maybe even now! Hallelujah!! Hallelujah!!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Back in the Future...The Great Escape (part 2)

Today’s entry is a continuation of yesterday’s entry. If you have not read the blog entry for yesterday, I would encourage you to do so before continuing with today’s entry.

Yesterday I overviewed some of the main theories as to the timing of the rapture. I also stated that I believe that the rapture of the church will occur before the start of that tribulation period. Here are eight reasons why I believe in a pre-tribulational rapture.

First, there are the details of literal interpretation. I believe that the best way to interpret the Bible is literally. There is much symbolism in Scripture but I do not try to symbolize or allegorize every detail that I read in Scripture. I go by the rule of thumb that states, “if the plain sense makes sense, we should seek no other sense.” A pre-tribulational rapture of the church fits best into a literal interpretation of Scripture. For this reason, I strongly believe that the rapture of the church will occur before the start of the tribulation period.

Second, is the doctrine of imminency, which simply means that the rapture could occur at any moment. This could not be so if part or all of the tribulation had to occur first. In all the verses in Scripture that teach us about the rapture, nothing is seen as needing to happen before this takes place. This is seen in the expression of Christ in John 14:1-3. Jesus gave the promise of the rapture to His disciples who were deeply agitated due to His words that He would be leaving them. This promise was to bring them peace. This peace was in the realization that His return could happen any moment. The expectation of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 shows the same thing. When Paul speaks of those that are alive at the rapture being “caught up,” he uses the pronoun “we.” It is obvious that he expected to be alive at the time of Christ’s return and saw His return as something that could happen at anytime. James also writes in harmony with this thought as he gives his exhortation to believers in James 5:8-9. In this passage we are told that Jesus (called the Judge) is standing at the door. The idea is that He is about ready to walk through the door. His entrance could happen at any time. This could not be the case if there were a 3.5 year or a 7-year wait until after the tribulation. The fact is that there is a noticeable exclusion of signs. Though there are some signs mentioned in the Bible that must happen prior to the Second Coming of Christ (which is a different event than the rapture), there is no passage that gives us any signs that must occur prior to the rapture of the church.

A third reason for my belief that the church will not go through the tribulation is the deliverance from judgment that Scripture promises to the church. In Revelation 3:10, Jesus promises to keep the church from “the hour of testing” which would come upon “the whole world” (a perfect description of the tribulation). In 1 Thessalonians 1:9, 10 and 5:9 we learn that we are saved from the “wrath to come” (the tribulation period). These promises would lead me to believe in a pre-tribulational rapture of the church.

Tomorrow we will see the final 5 reasons as to why I believe that the rapture of the church will take place before the tribulation.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Back in the Future...The Great Escape (part 1)

Whenever you talk about or preach on the subject of the rapture, the event that will see Christ return in the air for His church, the big question on every believer’s mind is, “When?” When will the rapture take place? Many throughout the centuries have tried to predict a date for this great event. But when each of these dates rolled around, it came and went with nothing miraculous taking place.

The prediction that sticks out the most in my mind was the one that gave a specific day of the year back in 1988 in which Jesus was guaranteed to return. I was in my first year of ministry as a youth pastor in Ohio at the time. I was amazed at the number of Biblically grounded pastors that I heard about who fell for this hoax. In fact, the very pastor that married my wife and I was so convinced of the certainty of this 1988 date that I am told that his congregation held funeral services for everyone in advance of this date since they would not be able to have their own funeral due to being raptured rather than dying. That alone intrigued me. I can’t honestly say that the prospect of not have a funeral would disappoint me.

On that predicted day of that year back in 1988, this once vibrant congregation all met at the church so they could get raptured together as a local church. Many even brought their children home from college so they could experience this great hope as a family. But, as you can well imagine, the day and night came and went and when it was all said and done they were all still sitting in the church sanctuary…no trumpet…no rapture…not even a sign in the sky…just very disheartening amounts of dismay and disappointment.

The Bible is clear that it is impossible to set a date for the return of Christ. But there is one aspect about its timing that I believe we can know for sure. We can know the timing of the rapture as it relates to the horrible 7-year tribulation that the book of Revelation teaches is coming to this earth. What are the main views concerning the timing of the rapture? The Partial Rapture Theory says that the rapture of the church happens at many different intervals throughout the tribulation. The Mid-Tribulational Rapture Theory says that the rapture of the church happens at the mid point of the tribulation period (3.5 years into it). The Post-Tribulational Rapture Theory says that the rapture of the church happens at the end of the tribulation period and that the church will go through all 7 years of this time of judgment on earth. Another popular current theory is the Pre-Wrath Rapture Theory which teaches that the rapture of the church happens somewhere between the 6th and 7th seal judgment of the tribulation period.

I personally believe in what is called a Pre-Tribulational Rapture. This simply means that the rapture of the church happens before the tribulation period even begins. In other words, it is my belief that we as Christians will not go through the tribulation because we will be raptured before this 7-year period starts. Why do I believe in a pre-tribulational rapture of the church? There are many reasons, but in the coming two blog entries I will highlight just a few of them (8 to be exact). Be sure to read the next 2 days blogs!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Taking Ministry Risks

When is it proper to take some risks in ministry? In other words, how do we determine when it is appropriate to try something in order to reach people even though there is no guarantee that it will work? This is a question that we discuss regularly here at Grace Church. As a result, there have been times we have taken some risks. For example, two years ago we changed the format of our Christmas program from a regular concert style format to a Walk-Thru venue. This was a risk. Why? First, it cost a lot more money to do it this way and second, it would take a lot more “man power” on our end to pull it off. What if our own people didn’t buy into it? What if no more people showed up to experience it than usually attended the concert style format? To our delight, it worked.

We did the same thing earlier this month when we spent a little extra money and brought in the DeLorean time-car to help us kick-off our new series on the rapture. This was a risk. In fact, we talked long and hard about it before deciding to do it. Here was our thought. So often we have special events like the Christmas Walk Thru and Christmas Eve services and they are very well attended and that is great. We get a lot of first time visitors which is our goal. But our goal is to go beyond that. We also want to see these same visitors come back again after the event is over.

As a result, this year we tried something that we had never done before. We launched a new and exciting series on the topic of the rapture of the church right after our Christmas events. We also wanted to have something that could be an extra “hook” (for lack of better word) that could quite possibly get the many visitors who came on Christmas to come back. We knew it would be a risk, but we thought it was worth trying. That is why we did a lot of promotion on the new series and the “time-car” at these Christmas events?

Did it work? Well, I can tell you this. Last year, the Sunday after Christmas saw an attendance of 757. This year on that same Sunday, which was the morning we had the “time-car” with us and kicked off the new series on the rapture, the attendance was 1,312 with many, many visitors. This equals out to more than a 73% increase in attendance and this does not count those who came just to see the car but did not stay for the service. These too were first contacts which were positive. From that perspective, it seemed to accomplish exactly what our goal was. This is not something we will do every week by any means. But when there is a strategy behind it that makes it a credible risk to help us reach as many people as possible, it is by all means worth considering.

But let’s also keep in mind that all risks will not work. I remember organizing and promoting a special Sunday back at the church I pastored in Indiana. Our goal was to see double the attendance than usual on that morning. We spent extra money and I worked hard on promoting the event and motivating the church. In the end, we had less people on that Sunday morning than we typically have. So was it a failure? From a numbers standpoint, “YES”! But I’m not sure we ever really fail when we are willing to step out on faith and take a risk. After all, remember Peter when he stepped out of the boat?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Grace Staff

Not only do I love what I get to do for a living but I also love being able to do ministry day in and day out with the staff that God has put together here at Grace. When you take into account the entire ministry (church, school and daycare) we have well over 100 tremendous employees (closer to 120). Below is a list of just those who are on the church payroll:


Susan Auld, Director of Children’s Ministry
Elaine Bendinsky, Assistant to the Business Manager
Rick Bernhardt, Senior Administrator of LCS and MorningStar
Andy Brightbill, Pastor of Connections
Joan Dombach, Church Secretary
Scott Distler, Senior Pastor
Karen Gromis, Financial Assistant and Human Resources
Jay Hall, Maintenance Director
Doug Kegarise, Director of Student Ministries
Bryan Nelson, Worship Arts Director
Andrew Norton, Business Manager
Whitie Willard, Care Pastor


Gail Crouse, Assistant to the Worship Arts Director
Beth Kachel, Early Childhood Director
Matt McElravy, Assistant Music Director
Jodi Miller, Office Assistant
Charlene Mummau, Receptionist
Tim Reedy, Media Director
Sheri Sell, Assistant to the Senior Pastor and Crosswalk
John Snow, Assistant Pastor
Lucy Snow, Receptionist

When you add to these lists the many wonderful men and women that serve daily at Lititz Christian School and MorningStar Daycare, folks, we are very blessed. Below are the names of just those from our educational ministries that make up the administrative team:

Cindy Layton, Finances
Eric Lewis, Secondary Principal
Con Maser, Office Manager
Sherry McConaghay, Elementary Principal
Tammy Wiggins, Daycare Director

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Exciting Staffing Shifts

Andy Brightbill took over leadership of our youth ministry close to four years ago when it was at a very low stage. He has done an absolutely tremendous job of building our church youth ministry into one of the best local church youth ministries that you will find. Since I came to Lititz, I have used Andy as more than just a “youth pastor.” I knew Andy from teaching at Grace College. He was one of my students and also served as my student assistant while in graduate school. I continue to see great potential in Andy. In fact, as I told the Elders, I believe that Andy Brightbill will one day be a very dynamic Senior Pastor. My hope is to keep him around here at Grace Church for as long as possible.

With Pastor Snow moving into retirement I began dialogue with three key men who I was interested in hiring to oversee our Adult Ministries here at Grace, especially as it relates to seeing all of the new people that God is bringing to us become connected to our church. All three of these men agreed to fervently pray about this possibility but each of them was led by the Lord to stay in their current area of ministry. It was after this that Andy talked with me about his interest in this role. My first reaction was to think, “But what about our youth ministry?”

It was right about this time that I went off to California to speak at Brethren National Youth Conference. While I was there I learned that we had a young man right here within our church that was quickly becoming a highly sought after individual to be youth pastor at other churches. I am speaking of our own Doug Kegarise. Doug grew up in our youth ministry and has served on our youth staff. He has been on our church staff here at Grace for the past six months as our part-time Assistant Director of Student Ministries. Doug has experienced the valuable ministry training and equipping program of Operation Barnabas in every capacity from a student to a Senior Leader just this past summer. His passion for youth and he and his wife’s effectiveness in working with teenagers is very evident.

It is then that I realized that the Lord was allowing me to fill all of our needed staffing slots with young, passionate and gifted leaders from right within our own church that I could have the privilege of continuing to mentor in the years to come. As a result, I am very excited to announce that beginning right after our Youth Winter Retreat (February 23-25), I will be officially moving Andy Brightbill to the role of Pastor of Connections here at Grace Church and Doug Kegarise will officially become our full-time Director of Student Ministries. Along with being over all of our Adult Ministry, Andy’s role as Pastor of Connections will also include giving pastoral oversight to our entire children’s and youth ministries. Doug will now become the staff member with the “hands on” responsibility for our Youth program and will start with the title, “Director of Student Ministries.” He will also begin working toward his ministerial licensure. When he has completed this, the church will have the opportunity to vote on Doug’s becoming an official part of our pastoral team as well as an Elder here at Grace Church. Please be praying for him and Renee as well as for Andy and Amber as they transition into these new and exciting roles here at Grace.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Back in the Future...Where's Waldo? (part 2)

Today’s entry is a continuation of the entry from yesterday. If you have not read yesterday’s entry, I would encourage you to do so prior to reading today’s entry.

The first event that takes place at the rapture of the church as taught in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 is the return of Christ. The Lord Himself, and no other, will return for His church. He will do so with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. Next, there will be the resurrection of the dead.

Paul has already spent the verses prior to verse 16 communicating to the believers at Thessalonica that their dead relatives who believed in Jesus would not miss out on this glorious event. He repeats those words here. Again, we see the security of the dead rising. Paul says, “The dead in Christ will rise!” Second, we are reminded of the significance of the dead rising. They won’t just rise, Paul says, “They will rise first!” And who is it that will rise? It is the dead “in Christ.” I believe that being put “in Christ” began on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to baptize and indwell believers (Acts 2). On that day and subsequently every time someone trusts Christ, they are placed into the Body of Christ. As a result, I believe that this resurrection only includes those believers who have died since the Day of Pentecost. The Old Testament Saints, along with those who will become believers and die during the tribulation, I believe will be resurrected at the end of the tribulation. That’s just my opinion.

The third great event will be the rapture of the living. Paul says, “We who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them.” Notice that Paul uses the pronoun, “we.” It is obvious that the Apostle expected to be alive at the time of this rapture. This is yet another indication of the fact that Jesus could come back at any time. The word “caught up” literally means to snatch or to seize (see John 10:12; 28-29). It is the idea of being suddenly taken away like would happen if you got caught up in a tornado (but, hey, we get to go to heaven…not Oz!). 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 would add that this rapture will happen quickly, in the twinkling of an eye (that is roughly about eleven one hundredths of a second) and that it will result in major change (from corruption to incorruption and from mortality to immortality…you have to read 1 John 3:2 and Philippians 3:20, 21).

And finally, it will result in the reunion of all believers. First, we will be reunited Saints! "We will be caught up together with them." That’s right! I get to see my dear Grandpa and Grandma Distler again! I get to see my Grandpa Williams again! I get to meet my Great Grandpa Smith. I get to see Laura’s grandparents that we affectionately called ‘Buddy and G.G.!’ YIPPEE! But even better than that, we will be reunited with the Lord. “We will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air!” Remember, that is the best part of the rapture. The best part won’t be seeing friends and relatives that previously died. The best part won’t even be getting to go to heaven. The best part by far will be seeing Jesus! And according to Paul, it will last for all of eternity (“we shall always be with the Lord!”). No wonder John the Apostle closed the book of Revelation with the words, “Come, quickly Lord Jesus!”

Monday, January 15, 2007

Back in the Future...Where's Waldo? (part 1)

Remember the old “Where’s Waldo?” videos, books and puzzles? For hours you would look at mobs of people and detailed places until your eyes hurt trying to pick out the funny looking dude with the glasses wearing the dorky looking red and white striped shirt and hat. “Where’s Waldo?” was just a game. But one day, when Jesus returns to rapture His church, people are going to be searching for an awful lot of people who are missing!

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 give us the most detailed description of this moment in time. Instantaneously, four events will take place. The first is the return of Christ. Verse 16 tells us that the Lord Himself will descend from heaven. That shouldn’t be surprising. After all, He promised to do this in John 14:1-3 and the angels promised the day that He ascended back into heaven that He would return as well (Acts 1). The wording in chapter 4 of 1 Thessalonians, however, is in an intensive form. It literally could read, “And the Lord Himself and no other will return…” Jesus isn’t going to send an angel for His church nor is He going to send some type of heavenly taxi service. We mean too much to Him. Jesus Christ is going to return Himself for His church.

The verse goes on to say that when the Lord returns, He will do so with a “shout.” This is a verbal shout…a command that comes from Christ. I believe it is a command to the dead bodies of believers. It would be similar to the command that Jesus gave to the dead body of Lazarus in John 11:43-44 when He cried out, “Lazarus, arise!” And what happened next? Lazarus came hopping out of his grave, bound by his no longer needed grave clothes. When Jesus returns for His church, He will give out a verbal command for the bodies of all believers who have died prior to the rapture to arise…and they will.

The return of Christ also involves the voice of the archangel. There is no definite article in the Greek language. It literally reads “an” archangel rather than “the” archangel. Michael is the only archangel named in Scripture (see Jude 9) but that doesn’t mean that there could not be others who hold this position as well. This return will also include the trumpet of God (see 1 Corinthians 15:52). Some see this as a trumpet of warning due to the judgment of the tribulation that will immediately commence. Others see it as a trumpet call for the purpose of assembling all of God’s people. Perhaps it’s both!

I remember as a kid sitting around the dinner table talking as a family about the “end times.” I remember my dad looking at my sister and I and saying, “If Jesus doesn’t come in my lifetime, I believe that He will most definitely come in yours.” How cool is that!

When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and time shall be no more
And the morning breaks eternal, bright and fair
When the saints of earth shall gather over on the other shore
When the roll is called up yonder,


Friday, January 12, 2007

Even Ugly Women

A few weeks ago as I was preaching through the book of James on Sunday we got to the verse in chaper 5 where the Bible says that Jesus is standing at the door. I was explaining how I saw this as a very powerful statement showing that the return of Jesus for His church (which we call the rapture) could happen at any moment. The wording would give the idea that He is about ready to come though the door at any moment.

I likened it to a wedding. What is the part of the wedding that brings about the most anticipation? Well, if you don’t like going to weddings, the best part is being dismissed by the ushers at the end. But other than that, what part of the wedding brings about the most anticipation? It is just before the Bride enters. The groomsmen have come down front and taken their places. The Bridal party has walked down the middle aisle and up on to the stage. The flower girl in her adorable little dress has caused all kinds of smiles and comments of “Oh, how cute” as she makes her wedding debut.

And then what happens? The music changes distinctly. The air of anticipation increases. The crowd stands and strains their necks as they look toward the back doors. Everyone knows what this means. The bride is at the door. The bride is ready to make her big entrance. Everyone wants to get that first glimpse of this special individual. Why? Because even ugly women look good on their wedding day. Wait! Did I really say that? What was I thinking? First service it was a simple unplanned gaff. However, it got such a huge laugh that I have to admit that I purposely said it second service.

I honestly didn’t mean it to be that way. I was trying to simply use the anticipation of the bride being at the door as an analogy to show us how we should be anticipating the fact that Jesus could return at any time. He is standing at the door. I wondered if maybe I would get some cards, notes or e-mails from people who were offended (but then again, what lady was going to actually communicate to me that I offended her personally by talking about ugly women?). One person in our church (a man) did e-mail me about my comment. At first, he thought the comment was distracting but after meditating on the sermon, he was able to take that statement and make a “beautiful” analogy. Here is the e-mail I received:

“Pastor Scott, I have been meditating on a comment you made during last Sunday's sermon. During the part of the message where you were trying to provide an analogy into what anticipation of Christ's return was like, you made a comment about it being like waiting for a bride to make her entrance during a wedding ceremony. During that, you interjected what I found to be a rather distracting comment about how even ‘ugly women look good on their wedding day’ or something along those lines. However, that comment triggered thought about how we as true Believers in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ are nothing more than ‘ugly’ people that are clothed in the atoning blood of Christ, the bridegroom, and are made beautiful in the eyes of God because of His Saving Grace. We are all ugly; only through true repentance and faith in Christ can we be made ‘beautiful brides.’ I look forward to worshipping with you again this Sunday.”

Thursday, January 11, 2007

When I Die

Okay, I admit it. I’m different…really different, at least when it comes to certain aspects of life. One of these areas is my thoughts regarding my funeral. First of all, I have decided that when it is my time to go I want to go while I am preaching. Now there is a sermon you won’t soon forget. Then, I have two wishes. My wife has not bought into either of these so they will probably not happen. After all, funerals are for the purpose of the living, not the dead. In the end, my funeral needs to be done in a way that will be the best thing for my family. But I do have a couple of suggestions for them to consider.

First, I would like to preach my own funeral. I’m serious. I don’t want someone else making lame jokes at my funeral. I want to be the one telling the funny stories and going over the entertaining anecdotes. The way I see it, this would be simple. I’ll get Tim Reedy, who is our Media Director at Grace Church, to video me preaching my own funeral. He can keep the tape in a safe place and when the time comes that it’s needed, he can pull it out of his archive room and cue it up. I’ll even be sure to update it every 2 to 3 years so it is current. Now come on, don’t you think that’s a good idea?

Here is my second thought. It is a little morbid so for those of you that have a weak stomach or get offended easily, you may want to skip the rest of this paragraph. Instead of embalming me or cremating me, take my body and chop it up into a million or a billion, possibly even a trillion pieces. Then take all of my remains and get on a plane and travel around the word. Every hundred or so miles, toss a little piece out the window. Do this until the entire globe has been covered and all the pieces are gone. Now why do I think this would be good? Because then at the resurrection of the dead in Christ I will have the most remarkable resurrection of everyone. Pretty cool, huh?

I told this story at church last Sunday and one lady told me afterwards that it reminded her of an episode from the TV sitcom, Everyone Loves Raymond where Debra is being extra moody and her husband, Ray, keeps bearing the brunt of it. He tells his family about it and they think he’s exaggerating. Ray responds and says, “Okay, but if you find me in the freezer chopped up into a million pieces, don’t believe the suicide note!” That’s funny!

Paul told the church at Thessalonica that because Jesus died and rose again we can be sure that those who are dead in Christ will be part of the coming rapture. They will be resurrected. Not only will they have part, they will have priority. We who are alive at the time of the rapture will by no means precede those who have died as believers in Jesus. You can bank on this. It comes from the very word of a God who cannot lie. Check it out for yourself in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians in chapter 4 and verses 13-15.

I’m not sure what it will look like when this happens. I’m not sure if the ground will burst open or what but I do know this…it will happen! It’s in the bank. So the next time you are in a cemetery be very careful. As you walk among the tombstones you just may be walking on resurrection ground. After all, for the Christian, dead or alive, the best is yet to come!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Back in the Future...The Grateful Dead (part 2)

If you did not read part 1 of this article, I would encourage you to read yesterday’s posting before continuing on with today’s.

Why did Paul use the word “asleep” in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 to speak of believers who had already died? This was a term used by Paul, Peter and Jesus. The term is used to speak of the body, never the soul. It was used to show the temporary state of the body at death. In fact, it is from this Greek word that we get our English word "cemetery." The souls of those who have died are not literally asleep. They are in a temporary state of separation from their body…if saved, than they are with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:8 clearly teaches that for the believer, to be absent from the body (that is what death is…the separation of the soul from the body) is to be present with the Lord. This is seen in Jesus words to the repentant thief on the cross, “Today” you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

This confusion on the part of the Thessalonican believers regarding their loved ones who had already died resulted in their being in a constant state of mourning seeing no hope for their loved ones who had passed away. Even the promise of Christ’s return lacked complete hope if it could not be shared with those loved ones who had already died. Paul addresses this as he describes the security of the dead in Christ in verse 14 by saying,

“If we believe that that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”

The preposition “if” signifies a conditional clause showing reality, not possibility. It could be translated “if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and we do” or “since we believe…” The guarantee to this fact is the resurrection of Christ. In John 14:19 Jesus said, “Because I live, you will live also.” In 1 Corinthians 15:23, Paul called Christ the “first fruits” of resurrection. 1 Corinthians 6:14 teaches that, “God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.” But Paul not only shows the security of the dead in Christ, He also teaches the significance of the dead in Christ in verse 15 when he writes,

“For this we say to you by the Word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.”

Not only will the dead in Christ be part of a future resurrection, according to Paul they will have priority over those who are still alive at the time of Christ’s return for His church. In fact, this is written in a form of Greek emphatic negation and can be translated that we “will not by any means precede those who have fallen asleep.” And how do we know this to be true? The guarantee of this is the very word of a God who can not lie. I guess you could very easily describe those loved ones who knew Christ who have already died as, “The Grateful Dead!”

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Back in the Future...The Grateful Dead (part 1)

When was the last time you were in a cemetery? What kind of memories or feelings does the idea, thought or sight of a cemetery produce in your heart and mind? I remember as a kid going on vacation to visit my Grandpa Distler who lived in Illinois in the small town of Sutter. He pastored the Sutter Salem Bible Church. Out back of their property this church had its own cemetery. It seemed so big back then. My sister and I loved playing hide and seek in that cemetery. But in all the many hours we spent running and hiding in that graveyard, it never once crossed my mind that years down the road I would be back there to preach my Grandpa’s funeral and then years after that to bury my Grandma. I think about my Grandpa and Grandma often. I miss them dearly.

The church at Thessalonica had been thinking quite a bit about cemeteries and their loved ones who had died as well. However, thought of their loved ones who had already died had created a huge problem within their spirit as seen in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15. The Apostle Paul had earlier spent 3 weeks in Thessalonica on his missionary journey teaching them and grounding these believers in Jesus and their faith but his time with them was cut short due to a plot to kill him.

A while later he sent young Timothy to see how these Thessalonican believers were doing and Timothy returned with a number of questions from them. One of these areas of questioning showed that the believers at Thessalonica were uninformed about those who had already died. They were asking questions like, What was the spiritual welfare of those who already died? Would those who had died miss out on Christ’s return? Or even worse, had they all, dead and alive, missed the rapture completely? These questions brought great dismay to these believers. That is why Paul writes the letter that we know as 1 Thessalonians, to answer these questions. In verse 13 of chapter 4, he writes,

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as those who have no hope.”

As Paul writes this letter to answer their questions, he speaks of those who have died as being “asleep.” Why does Paul and the Bible refer to dead believers in this manner? First, we must understand that there are many incorrect views concerning death. For example, there is reincarnation which teaches that the soul is re-born based on one’s performance in a previous life. There is the belief of restorationism which says that all men will get a second chance to make peace with God after death. Materialism communicates that when man dies he ceases and rots into nothingness. That’s why materialistic people have the philosophy in life that says, “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die.” There are also other incorrect views such as purgatory which is a belief that those who are guilty of lesser sins go through a purifying suffering in a place called purgatory. The Bible using the word “asleep” to describe dead believers has also brought on an incorrect view called soul sleep which teaches that the soul sleeps between death and resurrection. This is not the case. So why did Paul use the word “asleep to describe the dead?” We’ll find out tomorrow.

Monday, January 08, 2007

A Night for Ohio Sports Fans

Growing up in Northeast Ohio I developed a deep love and loyalty for certain Ohio sports teams including anything from the city of Cleveland on the banks of Lake Erie. Whether it was the Indians of Major League Baseball; the Browns of the National Football League or the Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association, I was and still am one of this cities most committed fans.

Being a fan of Cleveland sports teams has brought heart-wrenching moments and eras. I can remember as a kid following my Indians season after season to yet another last place finish. When they finally did put together a team that could compete and even won 2 American League Pennants, I had to endure the agony of watching them lose the World Series each time, once to the Atlanta Braves and the other to the Florida Marlins.

I would follow the Cavaliers through up and down years until finally, with all-star Mark Price on the court, they would put together a great playoff run only to have it come to a screeching halt when who else but Michael Jordan hit a game winning acrobatic three pointer at the buzzer to give the Bulls a pass into the next round.

The best chance for victories any of my sports team would have each year was when the Cleveland Browns took the field. Each year my hopes would rise only to come crashing down time after time. It happened when Brian Sipe through the interception in the end zone in the closing seconds of the AFC championship game against the Oakland Raiders in what has been dubbed the “ice bowl.” It then happened in back to back years against the Denver Broncos as each time it looked like the Browns were finally headed to the promised land of the Super Bowl. The first time John Elway led a 99 yard drive to eliminate the Browns. The second year Ernest Byner fumbled just before going into the end zone for what would have been a championship clinching score. Oh the pain!

And then came the most devastating blow to my heart and soul. Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns, moved the team to Baltimore. I know that this is horrible for a pastor of a church named “Grace” to admit, but I don’t think I can ever forgive the man for doing this to the city of Cleveland…to me. This was by far the worst day of my life.

But with these teams from Cleveland there was one other sports team in the state that I developed a deep passion for. This was not any team from the city of Cincinnati. In my opinion, the only sign of sports life in Cincinnati is the big green one on the highway that reads I-71 North to Cleveland. But there is a team from the state capitol of Columbus that I follow religiously. I am speaking of “The Ohio State University Buckeyes.” In January of 2003 they brought me my greatest moment as a sports fan when they upset the Miami Hurricanes for the National Championship in one of the most exciting football games that I have ever watched. Now, tonight, it very well could happen once again. Tonight Heisman Trophy winner, Troy Smith, and coach Jim Tressel, will lead my Buckeyes against the Florida Gators with the winners being crowned National Champions. Go Bucks!!

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Traveling Nativity

A couple of Sundays before Christmas last December, I preached on the subject, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” At one point in the message I chased a proverbial Christmas rabbit trail and reiterated that the wise men would not have been to the manger where Jesus was born. They would have arrived months later. I went on to say that every time I pass a nativity scene in someone’s yard I want to stop and have my kids go move the Magi to the neighbor’s yard to make it a little more Biblical. I even mentioned that those gift-bearing travelers can be seen in nativity scenes around Grace Church and I threatened to fine responsible staff members $500.00 for each wise man I found at a nativity scene.

Well, that did it. In our church office is a very large porcelain nativity set. From then on those wise men started appearing all over the place. Even the baby Jesus came up missing now and again. I’m not exactly sure who started it all, but one afternoon when everyone else was out in the lobby at our employee Christmas luncheon and I was by myself I found those wise men in the middle of the hall going down to the offices. I decided it was time to take this to a whole other level. I checked to make sure no female employee was straggling behind in the office and then I quickly and quietly took the wise men into the ladies restroom in the office area and put one inside each stall, right in front of the commode. Since there are only 2 stalls, I put the third wise man on the sink.

You should have heard the reaction of two of the office ladies (Karen Gromis and Elaine Bendinsky if I remember correctly) when they went into the restroom at the same time and opened the stalls only to find these traveling porcelain pieces. The best part was that they immediately were convinced that it was Andy Brightbill that was responsible so they immediately took these wise men and put them in interesting locations in his office.

Andy and I then took the wise men and set them under the windshield wipers of three different staff member’s cars. From there they ended up on my bookshelves with my many nautical knick knacks. My family found them on the Wednesday evening before Christmas on my front porch at our house. I then enlisted help from Andy Brightbill and Tim Reedy and we took every piece of the nativity down to the school office and placed them in very interesting locations, my favorite being the tallest wise man right in Eric Lewis’ fish tank among his baby sharks. We then took one of the shepherds and placed him on Con Maser’s desk with a note that said, “Help! I’ve lost all of my friends!

I thought that was the end of this year’s traveling nativity until I realized that at least one piece of our now infamous church nativity scene had gotten a few frequent flier miles this Holiday. I was stunned by this realization on Christmas morning while sitting in my in-laws family room in Pueblo, Colorado. As I investigated all of the goodies that were in my Christmas stocking, I pulled out one item wrapped very, very carefully in newspaper. “Hmmm,” I thought, “This must be fragile.” To my amazement, it was the baby Jesus from our office nativity scene that seemed to appear just about everywhere this holiday season! I wonder where those wise men spent Christmas? Certainly not at the manger!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Back in the Future...The Adventure Begins (part 3)

This entry is a continuation of the last two day’s entries. If you did not read the first 2 parts, I would encourage you to go back and read them before proceeding with this entry.

After the rapture and tribulation, as was seen in yesterday’s blog, comes the third major event of the future which is the SAVIOR’S Reign, known as the Millennial Kingdom. When Jesus returns at the end of the tribulation He will chain Satan into a pit and He will then set up a literal Kingdom on earth where He will rule and reign with a rod of iron and we as His church will rule with Him. At the end of that 1,000 years, Satan will be loosed for one final attempt to overthrow Jesus but he will fail miserably.

This will result in the fourth and final aspect of the future, the STATE of Eternity, or what we more commonly call heaven and hell. At this time all who have put their trust in Christ will enter heaven for all of eternity and all who have rejected Christ and His salvation will be cast in a literal lake of fire forever and ever.

As we kick-off this study on the rapture, it is important for us to identify the false views concerning the rapture. This includes the view that the rapture is the same thing as the Second Coming of Christ. A literal interpretation of Scripture would show us just the opposite. The rapture, which could occur at any time, is when Jesus returns in the air for His church. The Second Coming, which occurs seven years after the rapture, is when Jesus returns to the earth with His church to set up His 1,000 year reign on earth.

There are also two other false ideas concerning the rapture. One is called the partial rapture theory which says that only some Christians will be taken at the rapture while sinning believers will endure the tribulation. The second is known as the multiple rapture theory which teaches that Christians are raptured through a series of raptures during the tribulation period based on their spirituality. Neither of these theories is consistent with a literal interpretation of Scripture.

But what do we know about the timing of the rapture? In the Bible, the rapture is always presented as an imminent event. Though there are passages that tell us of specific signs to occur before the second coming at the end of the tribulation, there is not one passage that tells us to look for something to happen before the rapture. The fact is that the rapture could happen at any time. It is that fact that brought comfort to the disciples on that day when Jesus said, “I will come again.”

Jesus went on to say, “I will receive you unto myself that where I am, there you may be also.” Though we learn much about the splendor of heaven later in the New Testament, Jesus did not speak much of the nature of the place when He gave this promise to His disciples in John 14. Why? Because folks, listen, the best part of the rapture is not going to be heaven. The best part will be seeing and being with Jesus. Being with God is sufficient. It is the best part (Philippians 1:23). Heaven is simply the icing on the eternal cake!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Back in the Future...The Adventure Begins (part 2)

This entry is a continuation of yesterday’s entry. If you did not read part 1, I would strongly encourage you to go back read it before proceeding with this blog entry.

In yesterday’s blog we saw the words of Jesus to His troubled disciples in John 14. His words were about a peace and about a place, but that was not it. They are also were about a promise.

Jesus said to His disciples, “I will come again.” This is the first mention in Scripture of the event we call the rapture. The rapture is when Jesus returns to catch away all believers. Some do not believe in the doctrine of the rapture. There main reason is because the word “rapture” cannot be found in the English Bible. That is true. However, the event described by the term “rapture” is most definitely seen in the Bible.

We get the word “rapture” from the Latin translation of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 where the Bible says that at the rapture, the dead in Christ will be resurrected and believers who are alive at the time will be “caught up” to meet the Lord in the air. It is the word “rapturo” (translated "caught up") which gives us the English transliteration of "rapture." Though you cannot find the actual word “rapture” in our English Bibles, the event is promised by Jesus in John 14 and it is described in great detail by the Apostle Paul in both 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15. By the way, you cannot find the word “Trinity” in the Bible either, but the Bible most certainly teaches the concept.

So where does the rapture fit into the Biblical overview of future events? The Bible would teach us that there are 4 major events that will come in the future. The first is the rapture, or what is also called The SAINT’S Hope.

The next event is what we call the Tribulation. In the book of Daniel it is called the SEVENTIETH Week. This is a 7-year period in which God judges the world for their unbelief. There are many specific details of this time-period that the Bible foretells. For example, the tribulation will include the rise of a one world religion (Revelation 17) and the rule of the Anti-Christ, who will be energized by Satan and become the ruler of the entire world as he sets himself up to be the Messiah. (Revelation 13). The Bible teaches that there will be a world-wide political confederacy that is called the Revived Roman Empire (Revelation 13 and 17).

This Anti-Christ will gain his control by being able to do what no man has ever been able to do before him…bring about the reality of peace in Israel (Daniel 9:27). However, this peace pact that he makes with Israel, he will also break in grand fashion. This 7-year period will include the receiving of multiple judgments (Revelation 6, 8-9, 16) that will occur in three groups of seven (known as 7 seal judgments, 7 trumpet judgments; and 7 bowl judgments), each one being more and more horrific and intense than the other. This 7 year tribulation will end in the ruin of Armageddon as the armies of the world gather to fight Israel, only to be defeated by Jesus Christ as He returns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Back in the Future...The Adventure Begins (part 1)

When I was a kid, I remember the watch night services we would have every New Year’s Eve at the little church our family attended in Akron, Ohio. We would meet at 9pm and watch a Christian Movie followed by some refreshments in the Fellowship Hall downstairs in the basement of the church. Then, just before midnight, we would make a circle around the pews in the sanctuary where we would all join hands and pray in the New Year as we listened to the backdrop of firecrackers and fireworks outside. During that prayer time my dad would be one of those who prayed and he always ended his prayer the same way, by asking God to let this be the year that Jesus came back.

As a kid, I had mixed emotions when my dad would pray that prayer each New Year’s Eve in our church sanctuary. Part of me was very intrigued with the concept of the rapture and the idea of possibly never having to face death if the rapture would occur in my lifetime. But another part of me would always inwardly hope that God didn’t answer my dad’s prayer. After all, I was quite young and had a lot of things in life that I was looking forward to experiencing. Now, as an adult, I find myself praying the same prayer my dad prayed every New Year’s Eve. With each day it becomes more intense. “Lord, please let this be the year that Jesus comes back.”

It was Jesus who gave the first promise of His return in John 14:1-3. In this passage He stressed that His return was all about three things. First, it was all about a peace. He commanded His disciples to not let their hearts be troubled. The word “troubled” speaks of being stirred or agitated. An example of this is seen in the life of Mary, the sister of Lazarus, as she frantically tried to prepare a meal while her sister, Martha, sat at the feet of Jesus in John 11:33. It is also used to describe Jesus as He predicted His own betrayal in John 13:21.

This command to the disciples to not let their hearts be troubled came shortly after Jesus had made some very heavy predictions that left them baffled and dismayed. Jesus had just told them that He was going away and would soon be leaving them (John 7:34; 8:21; 12:8, 35; 13:33). He told them that He would die (John 12:32-33). He predicted that one of His own disciples would betray Him (John 13:21). And Jesus shocked everyone when He said that Peter, the spokesperson of the group, would deny Him, not once, not twice, but three times (13:38). As a result of all of these words, the disciples were shook to their core. It is to this reaction that Jesus commands them twice, in spite of their inner turmoil, to believe. The words literally are translated, “keep on believing.” Jesus is commanding them that as all of these things take place they need to keep on believing in Him.

But not only were these words all about a peace, they were also all about a place. Jesus now speaks of His Father’s house. He is speaking of heaven and He states that there are many dwelling places in heaven. Part of Jesus’ reason for leaving was to prepare dwelling places for us. If Jesus created the beauty of the earth in just 6 days, imagine the beauty of these dwelling places that he has been working on for us for over 2,000 years.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Last 2 Sundays of 2006

I do not believe that I have ever been part of a ministry that has ended a calendar year on such a high and with such momentum entering another year of ministry as we have together here at Grace Church in Lititz, PA. Lord willing, these last 2 Sundays of 2006 are a strong indication of the successful ministry that we will experience together in 2007.

Two Sundays ago was Christmas Eve. We talked a lot, months before Christmas was on most people’s minds, about how we would handle our Christmas services on that day. Would we have our regular morning services and then a separate Christmas Eve service that evening that was different from our morning worship? With so many of our staff and key people in our music and media ministries planning to be out of town for the Holiday (including myself), we knew that it would be very difficult to have the “manpower” to pull off two completely different services in one day. As a result we made the decision to do our morning worship service that Sunday three different times…two in the morning and one in the evening…all 3 identical in content and structure.

Without question, it was an experiment but the Lord truly did bless our efforts and our decision. I have been told by many that Pastor Andy did a wonderful job of preaching all 3 services and presenting the Gospel very clearly. Over the 3 services we had just short of 1500 people (1481 to be exact) in the auditorium. This figure does not account for any of our kids and workers in our children’s ministry that day. Once they are added in than our December 24th Sunday attendance will be somewhere near the 1700 mark.

Then, on the last Sunday of the year, December 31st (New Year’s Eve) we used our two morning services to kick off our brand new series on the rapture that we are calling, “Back in the Future.” To help celebrate the kick-off of this exciting series, we had a replica time-car machine from the Back to the Future movie trilogy sitting just outside our main entrance for everyone to get a glimpse of and take pictures of. I was able to get my pic taken sitting inside of this fabulous DeLorean. I’m sure actual photos will be showing up on our website any day now.

Again, God truly blessed our efforts with an auditorium attendance of 1160 that morning. At the time of this posting I have not yet heard what our kid’s count was but once it is added into the count our total attendance for December 31st will be anywhere between 1350-1400. This would not include any of the many people who heard that the time-car was here and came to see it but did not stay for the service. Even these were contacts that God can use to help stair-step people to Himself.

And now we prepare to take this momentum and excitement into the New Year with a desire to meet as many people as we possibly can right where they are both spiritually and geographically and then be used by God, through His Spirit and through His Word, to help move each of these precious people to where God wants them to be. I can’t wait!