Friday, September 28, 2007

Target Three Reinstituted

Three years ago as a church we implemented an evangelism emphasis that we called “The Road to Grace.” As part of this, we challenged every person at Grace to identify three unbelievers for what we called a “Target Three” list. Over 2,000 names were identified as people from our church committed to pray for these people daily, build bridges to them regularly, and to partner with the ministries of the church to see them come to know Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. That one year was the biggest year of numerical increase that our church has ever seen.

This Sunday as we complete our study on Jonah we will be once again reinstituting our “Target Three” emphasis. As we close our Jonah series we will see in very dramatic fashion the theme of the entire book which is God’s love for the world. And if God loves lost people (even thsoe who lived in the evil cityof Nineveh), then so should we. So as you prepare for worship this Sunday, be thinking and praying about what three names you will want to put on your “Target Three” list. To help you formulate this list, think of the following groups of people:

· Family Members

· Friends

· Classmates

· Co-workers

· Neighbors

· Coaches

· Teachers

· Delivery Persons like your mailperson, UPS driver, etc.

· Service Persons such as waitresses, store clerks, etc.

· Bosses

· Mechanics

· Customers

· Acquaintances

· Parents of your children’s friends

Thursday, September 27, 2007

How's Your Shape?

So, how's your shape? I’m not talking your physical shape but rather your ministry S.H.A.P.E. Each letter in the word “SHAPE” stands for a part of who you are which reveals how God has designed you and your life so that you can have a ministry to others within the local church.

S – Spiritual Gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7) – What are you gifted to do? The Bible teaches us that each and every Christian has at least one spiritual gift. What’s yours? Is it leading? Is it teaching? Is it evangelism? Is it giving? Is it distinguishing of spirits? Is it mercy? Is it wisdom? Is it pastoring? Is it exhortation? Is it helps? Is it faith? Over the month of October we will learn on Sundays how to discover your spiritual gifts. Each gift is selected for you by God and given to you through the Holy Spirit so that you play a vital role in the church of Jesus Christ.

H – Heart (Philippians 2:13) – What do you love to do? What are you passionate about? What motivates you the most? Who do you love to work with the most (age/type of people)? If you knew you could not fail, what would you attempt for God? Whatever your answers are to these questions are areas in which God wants to use you to impact others through the local church.

A – Abilities (Exodus 31:3) – What natural talents and skills do you have? What is your current vocation? What other jobs or skills do you have experience in? What could you teach another person? These are all areas where God has given you skills so that you can use these very abilities to minister to others in the local church

P – Personality (Psalm 139:13-16) – Where does your personality best suit you? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Are you analytical? Are you a take charge person? Are you a class clown, life of the party type of person? Are you emotional? Are you easy-going? However God made you is how He wants to use you to have a ministry in the church.

E – Experience - What spiritual experiences have you had (Hebrews 5:12-13)? What painful experiences have you had (2 Corinthians 1:4)? What educational experiences have you had (Hebrews 4:13)? What ministry experiences have you had (2 Corinthians 9:13)? Again, the answers to these questions are all experiences that God has allowed you to go through so that you can be even more effective to minister to others.

Why not take time to answer all of the questions given above. Be sure to take it seriously. Knowing your ministry S.H.A.P.E. will easily show you how you can be involved here at Grace Church. We don’t just want a church where hundreds of people simply come and sit through a church service each week. We want to see each and every follower of Christ who God brings to Grace Church use their gifts, desires, talents, personalities and experiences to help make us more effective at meeting people where they are and moving people to where God wants them to go.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Go Tribe...Then and Now

Growing up in Northeast Ohio, I am a dedicated and loyal fan of all professional sports teams from Cleveland. But my passion when it comes to sports is baseball. That makes me the #1 fan of the Cleveland Indians in the entire state of Pennsylvania. As a kid, growing up an Indians fan was a true test in perseverance. To be as honest as can be, the Tribe just stunk back in those days. It was pretty awful. In fact, it was such a known fact of how bad the Indians were that Hollywood made the Major League movies as a spoof on what would happen if the Tribe ever started to actually win.

I remember as a kid going each year to a twi-night double header at the old Municipal Stadium on the shore of Lake Erie. The stadium seats over 80,000 as that was where the Cleveland Browns played football as well. I can remember times when I was one of only about 500 fans total in this 80,000 seat monstrosity. In fact, the only time they ever sold out a game was the infamous “nickel beer” night which produced such pandemonium that they had to stop such ludicrous special events. Yet, I followed the Tribe religiously all season long. Each season started with an optimistic attitude of “maybe this year” and then consistently ended by watching the Indians finish in the cellar of the old American League East Division year after year after year.

There were a precious few highlights. I remember when Frank Robinson became the first black manger in the Majors and was one of the very few player/managers in the history of the game. In fact, as memory serves, he hit a home run his first time to the plate as the Indians player/manager. I remember watching on TV as Lenny Barker pitched a perfect game. I remember when rookie sensation Super Joe Charbonneau won the American League Rookie of the Year award. And then there was the night that Gaylord Perry got caught throwing the “spit ball.” And frankly, I will never forgive Pete Rose for running over my favorite Indian, catcher Ray Fosse, in the All Star Game ending Ray’s career. I was actually part of Fosse’s fan club until then. After that I became a member of the Oscar Gamble fan club. I also admired players on the team like second baseman Duane Kuiper, center fielder Rick Manning and first baseman, Andre “Thunder” Thornton.

Then there were those special years about a decade ago when the Indians built through their farm team a quality ball club which landed them into the World Series twice. Once they lost to the Atlanta Braves and then they fell in seven games a couple of years later to the Florida Marlins. But those years brought us exciting players like Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, Kenny Loften and Sandy Alomar, Jr, all led by manager Mike Hargrove.

But this year has been a special treat. After a disappointing finish last season, the Indians were picked to end this year in 4th place behind Detroit, Chicago and Minnesota. But to my delight and everyone’s surprise, the Indians have now clinched the American League Central Division. Unfortunately, to win the Pennant, they have to get by the likes of the Anaheim Angels, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Can they do it? I’m not sure but I can guarantee you this…nobody in PA will be rooting for them more than I will be.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Jonah...the Sequel

I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching through the book of Jonah here at Grace Church on Sunday mornings. This Sunday will be our last Sunday in this series. But every good book has a sequel, right? After all, aren’t there like 50 Rocky and Star Wars movies?

From the book of Jonah, the sequel can be found two books further right into the Old Testament in another little Minor Prophet book called Nahum. This was another prophet who lived some 150 years after Jonah. He is given the same command as Jonah was. He is to go to the city of Nineveh, which was still the world power at the time, and preach against their wickedness.

In Nahum 1:8, Nahum gives a stunning prediction of Nineveh’s destruction by a flood. To the people of Nineveh, this was ludicrous. Remember, this city was considered to be impregnable with two walls and 1500 towers surrounding it for protection. History records that the Babylonians besieged the city and tried three very unsuccessful attempts to invade. This bolstered the Assyrian’s confidence. Feeling virtually unconquerable, the entire city engaged in a drunken party. In the year 612 BC, the Babylonians damned up the nearby Tigris River causing a flood of water to rush against the walled city. This flood hit the city hard enough that it put a whole into the wall through which the army of the Babylonians entered and conquered the drunken city, just like God had predicted through the prophet Nahum 150 years after Jonah.

Now here is the part that sticks with me. Under Jonah’s ministry, the entire city came to repentance as they believed God and turned from their wicked ways. What a miracle. I have said all along that there are many miracles in the book of Jonah but the greatest miracle of all has nothing to do with a fish. The greatest miracle in the book of Jonah is seen in an entire evil city repenting and getting right with God. That is amazing. Yet, 150 years later, as the generation who experienced this revival were completely passed off the scene, Nineveh returned to such a wicked condition that God destroyed the city.

So what does that mean to you and I who are part of Grace Church? It means this. We have a great church currently. There is no debating that. Our church is exciting. Our church is growing. God is using our church to meet people where they are and to move them to where He wants them to be. But, folks, listen. It’s not enough to be a great church today. That is simply not enough. The greatness of our church will be determined by what our church is like 20 years, 40 years, 50 years, and even 100 years from now. Will we still be a church that teaches and preaches the truth of God’s Word? Will we still be a church that meets people where they are and moves them to where God wants them to be? That is all dependent on one very important thing. How much are we willing today to pour into our children and youth ministries today?

I believe that one reason Grace Church is strong today is because for 33 years Dr Young made reaching children and youth one of his core values. We must do the same!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Spiritual deja vu

Chapter two of Jonah finds Jonah lying in a pool of whale vomit more than likely on the shore of Joppa. Chapter three of Jonah now opens with some of the most amazing words in the Bible. Verse one says that the Word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time! The first time was back in the opening verses of chapter one. Jonah rejected that original command which resulted in God sending a storm and ultimately a fish to get Jonah’s attention. As Jonah fled the presence of the Lord in rebellion, God would have had every right to say, “ENOUGH!” God could have zapped His prodigal prophet once and for all and no one would have thought otherwise. But God didn’t give up on Jonah and his prophet finally repented. Now God gives him a second chance. I guarantee you that the same is true today. If you will repent, God will also give you a second chance.

This is like déjà vu all over again for Jonah. The command is the same. Jonah is to go to Nineveh. The message is still the same. He is to preach against their wickedness. The city is still a great and very wicked city. The first time Jonah responded by trying to flee from the presence of the Lord. This time Jonah responds properly. First, his obedience was immediate. He arose and went. He didn’t waste any time. Second, his obedience was complete. He did according to the word of the Lord. That is Biblical obedience. Biblical obedience is always immediate and it is always complete. Delayed obedience is disobedience. Partial obedience is disobedience. How obedient are you?

The message that God gave Jonah for the city of Nineveh made him a prophet of doom. Nineveh would be overthrown due to its wickedness. This is the same word used to describe God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah in Gen 19:24-25. To add soberness to the message, try to imagine Jonah’s appearance which may have been as unwelcome as his message due to the gastric juices from his three days and three nights in the stomach of the fish which had begun the digestive process. Chances are very good that Jonah’s skin was a revolting yellowish-brown and he would have likely had no hair on his entire body. He must have appeared like a dead man walking as he marched through the city proclaiming God’s message that Nineveh would be destroyed.

Now comes the most amazing miracle in the entire book of Jonah. The prophet’s message results in the entire city repenting from the king all the way down to the peasants. This involved a sincere belief as they believed that what God said was true. It also involved a sorrowful repentance seen in the putting on of sackcloth and in their fasting which were both outward signs of true remorse in Old Testament. They turned from their wicked ways which caused God to relent in His judgment. As a result, national revival and spiritual renewal took place.

In God’s mercy, the city of Nineveh was not given what they deserved...punishment. In God’s grace, they were given what they did not deserve…forgiveness. And all this happens because God gave Jonah a second chance. Imagine what could happen if you responded to God’s second chance in your life!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Grace Connects with African Orphans

Grace Church is part of a fellowship of churches called the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. Five out of six Grace Brethren people live on the continent of Africa. In fact, there are 350,000 people in Africa that attend Grace Brethren Churches.

But Africa has a crisis. The continent of Africa is a continent of orphans. In the Central African Republic alone, there are nearly 200,000 orphans. This is largely due to the three problems of war, poverty and the growing epidemic of the HIV/AIDS virus. In fact, it is estimated that 16% of the country is infected with HIV/AIDS.

In the country of Africa, the culture does not deal with orphans through orphanages like we do in America and in most European countries. In Africa, orphans are cared for by their extended families. But as you can imagine, being that there are so many orphans, these extended families who already live in such poverty cannot care for their needs.

This is where the Grace Brethren Churches in Africa are partnering with Grace Brethren Churches in America to provide the needs that these thousands of orphans have that include their receiving an education that will allow them to succeed rather than to become another horrifying statistic. This amazing partnership is called, “Hand in Hand!”

In the past here at Grace Church we have used our Birthday Gift for Jesus giving emphasis each December to support three national foundational layers in the country of Cambodia. We have now rolled the support for these men plus a fourth foundational layer into our regular mission budget which is part of the General Fund of Grace Church. Now we want to use this December’s Birthday Gift for Jesus giving emphasis to launch a partnership with three of our Grace Brethren Churches in the Central African Republic as part of our taking the initiative to make a difference in the lives of thousands of orphans in the country of Africa.

Through our giving, we can put a Christian School into each of these three churches that will see dozens upon dozens of these precious African orphans receive an education. Through this education we will also be able to see these many precious African orphans evangelized and discipled as they learn each day in these Grace Brethren Churches.

We can fund a Christian School including a teacher, supplies and clothing for these precious children to wear to school for a full year for just $3,000. How incredible is that! This means that we can put Christian Schools into three Grace Brethren Churches in the Central African Republic for just $9,000 a year. But we don’t want to stop there. We want to go beyond these three Christian Schools this next year and raise enough money in December to make a significant impact and a much needed difference in the lives of hundreds orphans who are struggling and dying each day in Africa. Every penny of the thousands and thousands of dollars that we hope to raise through our special Birthday Gift for Jesus December emphasis will go to orphan ministries in Africa.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Central African Republic

Grace Church is part of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. While there are only about 40,000 Grace Brethren people in North America, there are some 350,000 Grace Brethren people that live on the continent of Africa. That’s right, five out of six people who attend a Grace Brethren Church are in Africa. One of the countries where there are literally many thousands of Grace Brethren people is in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.). What is life like in the C.A.R.? Take a look at the following statistics.

4.2 million population

176 out of every 1,000 children die before the age of 5

The life expectancy of a female is 45 years

The life expectancy of a male is 40 years

In 2006, the Gross Domestic Product per capita was $352

66% of the country’s population lives on less than $1 US dollar per day

C.A.R. has the world’s highest maternal mortality rate (1,355 per 100,000 live births)

Every 5 hours, a woman in the C.A.R. dies during childbirth

Some of the main difficulties in the C.A.R. are poverty, war and disease (HIV/AIDS)

In 2005, 230,000 people in the C.A.R. were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS

In 2005, 24,000 people in the C.A.R. died due to AIDS

It is estimated today that 16% of the population of C.A.R. have HIV/AIDS

There are an estimated 200,000 orphans in the Central African Republic

In 2004, an estimated 44% of the country was undernourished

In tomorrow’s blog I am going to share with you how we as a church are looking to make a significant impact in the lives of precious orphans in the Central African Republic. This is a part of the world that we as a church do not have any connection with. Last Sunday, Barb Wooler, a veteran missionary to the C.A.R. shared with the staff, Elders, Deacons and ABF leaders in our church about a special opportunity called “Hand in Hand” that we would like to use this December’s Birthday Gift for Jesus to launch a partnership that will allow us to make a difference on the continent of Africa. I will describe this "Hand in Hand" ministry in tomorrow's blob. Be sure to come back and read it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Night of Worship

This Saturday night will be a special Night of Worship here at Grace Church beginning @ 6pm and lasting until 7:15. Matt McElravy, our Worship Arts Director here at Grace Church will be leading us in this very special evening.

This evening is being designed to provide an environment in which people can come and spend an extended time in the presence of God, praising and worshiping through multi-sensory means. A worship team will lead congregational singing with prayer times interspersed throughout the evening.

Prayer stations will be located throughout the room where people can go at any time during the evening to pray alone or with others. A communion station will be set up where people can go at any time during the evening to partake of the bread and cup if they choose to do so. It will be a very laid-back, relaxed atmosphere in which people can respond and worship however they choose.

Matt will also be introducing a brand new song entitled, Be Magnified, that he has spent the last two years writing. We at Grace Church have been privileged to enjoy and benefit from some of Matt’s original songs and I am sure that this new work will become one of the favorites for those who attend Grace Church.

We were created to worship and this Saturday is a chance to do just that. Plan to come out and be part of this special evening and invite your family and friends to join you as well. Please note that there will be NO nursery or childcare for this Night of Worship.

Psalm 148

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the skies. Praise him high above the earth. Praise him, all you angels. Praise him, all you armies of heaven. Praise him, sun and moon. Praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him, highest heavens and you waters above the sky. Let them praise the Lord, because they were created by his command.He put them in place forever and ever; he made a law that will never change.

Praise the Lord from the earth, you large sea animals and all the oceans, lightning and hail, snow and mist, and stormy winds that obey him, mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, crawling animals and birds, kings of the earth and all nations, princes and all rulers of the earth, young men and women, old people and children.

Praise the Lord, because he alone is great. He is more wonderful than heaven and earth. God has given his people a king. He should be praised by all who belong to him; he should be praised by the Israelites, the people closest to his heart. Praise the Lord!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


As a result of Jonah finding himself in the stomach of the fish he calls unto God with a prayer of repentance. This prayer involves an attitude of thanksgiving. Imagine that. Jonah is in the belly of a fish and he responds to his circumstances with thanksgiving. Most people would respond to these divinely orchestrated circumstances with anger and bitterness. The truth is that every circumstance in our life will result in our becoming bitter or better. The choice is really ours. Jonah chose to respond with thanksgiving.

Next we see that this prayer of repentance includes an action of obedience. Jonah proclaims that he will now pay his vow. Jonah had made a vow as a prophet of God. That vow was to go wherever God commanded him to go and to preach whatever message God commanded him to preach. But when God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against their wickedness, he refused. Instead, he went the exact opposite direction when he hopped on a boat and headed toward the city of Tarshish. Jonah didn’t just say he was sorry. He didn’t just feel bad about his actions. He was willing to turn and do what he should have done all along. That’s repentance. To repent means “to turn.” Jonah made the decision to quit going to Tarshsih and turn around and head back to Nineveh which was God’s command all along.

The truth is that all of us as followers of Christ have areas in our lives in which we need to repent. We all have areas where we know God’s direction but we have chosen to go the opposite direction. God wants us to forgive but many of us are choosing to hold a grudge. God wants us to share our faith, but many of us are keeping silent. God wants us to be good stewards of our money and our giving to the church but many of us are selfishly squandering our resources. As followers of Christ we must daily have an attitude of repentance. Every time we open our Bibles, each and every time we hear a sermon preached, we must look for areas in our lives in which “a turn” is needed.

Finally, Jonah’s prayer involved an analysis of sovereignty. Jonah acknowledges that, “salvation only comes from God.” We can run from God when we don’t like what He commands but in the end we will discover that it is always better when we do it God’s way from the beginning.

In the closing verse of chapter two, God commanded the fish to vomit up Jonah at an exact location and he does. Now I am the type of person who hates to vomit. Even when I know it must ultimately come, I will fight vomiting as long and as hard as I can. And when it does come, I am one of those “violent vomitters.” When it finally comes, anyone within a 10-mile radius can hear me at work and the haz-met team is needed to clean the room when I am finished. I am only 5’ 8” and weigh right at 200 pounds and yet I am amazed at the volume that comes out when I vomit. I can’t even begin to imagine the volume that would come out of what may have been a 100 foot long whale. What do I learn from this? I learn that the way of repentance isn’t always neat and easy. Sometimes it is hard and messy but it is always the best rout to go,

Monday, September 17, 2007

Wearing Jonah's Sandals

Try to put yourself in Jonah’s sandals. Due to your own acts of disobedience, you have been thrown overboard into a raging storm in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Just before you drowned, a large fish, perhaps a 100 foot long Sulphur Bottom whale has swallowed you up and you are now curled up in the belly of this mammoth mammal. Now, what can you see when you open your eyes? As you put out your arms, what do you feel? As you sit in the stillness and darkness, what can you hear? As you breathe in, what can you smell? Worse yet, what can you taste whenever you open your mouth?
As the second chapter of Jonah opens up, Jonah finds himself in the belly of this large fish. I can’t even begin to really imagine what this would have been like. Some have argued that Jonah actually died in the stomach due to Jonah 2:2 describing his crying out from “sheol”, a word referring to death. However, David used this same description in Psalm 18:5 and 30:3 referring to being near death which would have been true of Jonah. Though the phrases in Jonah chapter two can seem to describe death, they better describe Jonah’s circumstances in the fish. The best argument against seeing Jonah as dying in the fish is in the fact that the very purpose of the whale was to preserve Jonah (1:17).

As Jonah comes to his senses in the stomach of the fish the Bibles say that he finally calls out to God. I find it amazing how long Jonah went before he finally calls on God. There is no indication that he prayed during the storm while on the boat. There is no indication that he prayed as the lot fell on him identifying him as the cause of this supernatural storm. There is no indication that he prays as the sailors pick him up to throw him overboard and there is no indication that he cried out to God as he fought the currents and waves after finding himself in the raging sea. It wasn’t until Jonah winds up in the stomach of the fish that he finally calls out to God. That appears to be a common characteristic of those who are running from God. They wait until their life hits rock bottom before they finally seek out the Lord.

As Jonah prays he recognizes that his predicament is from God. Though it was actually the sailors who threw him overboard, he clearly states that it was God who had cast him into the deep. Jonah finally recognizes that all of the circumstances that he has faced…the storm, the lot, the sea and now the whale…were all a result of a God who loved His prophet so much that He wasn’t about to let him run without a fight. He finally acknowledges that God is trying to get his attention.

Jonah now describes his condition. In verse three we see a description of being in the raging sea. While some see the whole passage as speaking of Jonah’s time in the sea, I think verses four through seven are more a description of being inside the fish. Verse 4 speaks of the hopeless situation he finds himself in. Verse 5 speaks of the salt water, darkness and seaweed inside the fish’s belly. Verse 6 speaks of the constant diving of the fish as well as the claustrophobic conditions and the lack of oxygen. Apart from God’s grace, this situation appeared to be fatal.

Friday, September 14, 2007

A History Making Victory

I had the thrill last week of traveling to Hanover to watch our varsity soccer team of Lititz Christian School play in the Nighthawk Soccer Tournament. Below is a report of the games of that weekend from head coach, Eric Lewis:

What a weekend! I must admit that Saturday tournament at Hanover High School was the most exciting and most rewarding experience of my coaching career thus far! Our boys played at such a high level with such integrity that it drew the attention of opposing fans and the Hanover athletic director. Jesus was represented well by our athletes – To Him be the Praise! Allow me to summarize both games for you.

Tournament Semifinal, LCS: 3, Hanover: 2 – The bus arrived late, which only gave us 10 minutes to stretch and be ready for kickoff at 9 a.m. The first half was fast and furious as all five goals were scored in the opening forty minutes. Colin Shenk scored his first career goal in the 6th minute which had tied the score at one. Xander Bernhardt added a 15th minute strike and Tyler Hollinger finished our scoring in the 40th minute, literally three seconds before the halftime whistle. Senior co-captain, Spencer Martin assisted the latter two goals. Our defense tightened up in the 2nd half and held the Hawks scoreless to win our first ever game against a public school opponent.

Tournament Final, LCS: 3, Biglerville: 3 (LCS wins on pk’s 4-2) – Having defeated the hosts in the morning, we were now ready to play our third game in 18 hours, which just happened to be for a championship against a quality Biglerville side. Biglerville has reached the District III quarterfinals in each of the last three years. Again, we started the game firing with three goals in the first half. Andrew Zook netted two and Xander Bernhardt had one to give us a 3-1 halftime lead. Tyler Hollinger assisted on all three of our goals. Fatigue began to set in the 2nd half as the humidity and the number of game played took their toll. Biglerville scored two goals to even up the score and send us into overtime. Zach Strenger had come up huge in the second half to keep the game tied with some acrobatic saves in net. In the OT, recognizing our fatigue and that we had the better keeper, we adjusted the formation and packed it in to play for penalty kicks. That is not usually our philosophy, but all three coaches knew that our boys were out of gas. So, we did pack it in and the penalty kicks, fortunately, fell the way we had hoped. It was almost poetic when Zach Strenger scored the winning PK to seal our championship and earn him Tournament MVP honors. The heart of this team was proven in the heat and humidity on Saturday. As coaches, we hope that they can now draw from that experience to continue to elevate their game to a level that sends us deep into the postseason.

Our boy’s varsity soccer team lost a tough victory last Tuesday night to conference rival, Mt Calvary Christian School from Elizabethtown. This frops the team’s overall record to 4-1 (2-1 in the CCAC Conference). The next two soccer games for LCS are on the road at Berks Christian (Sept 18) and at Lancaster Christian (Sept 20). The next home game for the Eagles is Sept 21 against Carson Long Military Academy.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Meet our Missionaries

This year Grace Church will give $200,000.00 in budgeted giving to missions not including the non budgeted projects or our end of the year Birthday Gift for Jesus mission giving emphasis. By the end of the fiscal year, we will have given more than a quarter of a million dollars to missions. So who are the missionaries that we support as a church?

· Marlin and Sue Weaver (pictured) with Grace Brethren International Missions in France

· Scott and Rebekah Becker with Grace Brethren International Missions in Ireland

· Christian and Bonnie Beuggert, with Grace Brethren International Missions in Thailand

· Ken and Kathy Keener with Camp Conquest in Pennsylvania

· Tom and Janis Kemp with Transport for Christ in Pennsylvania

· Joe and Kim Roche with Crown Financial Services in Pennsylvania

· Bob Soto, a Grace Brethren mission’s pastor in Texas to Native Americans.

· Carlos Peralta, a Grace Brethren Hispanic church planter in Coatesville, PA

· Timothy (TK) Kurtanek with CE National in Indiana.

· Mike and Joan McCracken, short term ministry trip leaders to Cambodia

· Jim Brown, Metro Grace Church Planting in Philadelphia

· Jim Snavely, Grace Brethren North American Missions

· Symean, Samoeun, Heng and Borey who are all national foundation layers with Grace Brethren International Missions in Cambodia

We also support North Atlantic Fellowship District Missions; Grace Brethren International Missions; CE National; Grace American Indian Missions; Grace College; and Lancaster Bible College.

This December Grace Church will add a new partnership with Grace Brethren Churches in the Central African Republic to thousands of orphans. This is a ministry called “Hand in Hand” that you will be hearing more about in the very near future! If missions is something that causes you to get excited and you might like to serve on our Mission Team that oversees our mission’s program, let me know and I will give your name to Mike and Joan McCracken who lead our Mission’s Team at Grace.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

James "Jonah" Bartley

No story in all of the Bible has faced more ridicule than that of Jonah being swallowed by the great fish. So just how possible is it that a man could be swallowed by a large fish and live to tell his story? If the accounts are accurate, Jonah is not the only person in the history of the world to have experienced such an unusual occurrence. Sir Francis Scott relates the following account which was carefully investigated by two scientists. Some have argued that this story was a hoax and it probably is. Hoax or not, however, it is interesting reading. The story was written exactly as such:

In February 1891, the whale ship Star of the East was in the vicinity of the Falkland Islands, and the lookout spotted a large sperm whale three miles away. Two boats were lowered, and in a short time one of the harpooners was enabled to spear the fish. The second boat attacked the whale, but was upset by a lash of its tail, and the men thrown into the seas, one being drowned, and another, James Bartley, having disappeared, could not be found.

The whale was killed, and in a few hours the great body was lying by the ship’s side, and the crew busy with the axes and spades removing the blubber. They worked all day and part of the night. Next day they attached some tackle to the stomach, which was hoisted on deck. The sailors were startled by spasmodic signs of life, and inside was found the missing sailor, doubled up and unconscious. He was laid on the deck and treated to a bath of sea water which soon revived him; but his mind was not clear, and he was placed in the captain’s quarters, where he remained two weeks a raving lunatic.

He was kindly and carefully treated by the captain, and by the officers of the ship, and gradually regained possession of his senses. At the end of third week he had entirely recovered from his shock, and resumed his duties.

During his sojourn in the whale’s stomach, Bartley’s skin, where exposed to the action of the gastric juice, underwent a striking change. His face, neck and hands were bleached to a deadly whiteness, and took on the appearance of parchment. Bartley affirms that he would have probably have lived inside his house of flesh until he starved, for he lost his senses through fright and not from lack of air.

Here is another account that is worth noting:

In 1912, Captain Charles Thompson harpooned a large mammal off the coast of Florida which, when it was brought to land, was found to contain another 1,500 pound fish that had been devoured whole. Those who examined Thompson’s catch said that it could have swallowed 20 average size men. A Baptist minister who came upon the scene stood in the creature’s mouth holding his hands above his head and still found he was too short to reach the top of the fish’s palate.

If true, these accounts simply reinforce what we already know by faith…the Bible is true!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Blue Whale

Skeptics who doubt that a large fish could have swallowed Jonah have not done their research properly or thoroughly enough. Let me introduce you to the Blue Whale, also called the Sulphur Bottom Whale. The Blue Whale is the largest animal ever to exist on earth including all of the prehistoric dinosaurs known to man. Yet, their enormous mass and power are coupled with grace while also having good vision and excellent hearing.

The Blue Whale maintains its diet on krill which are small, shrimp-sized animals. The Blue Whale is called a “rorqual” which is a Norwegian name for “furrow” and refers to the pleated grooves running from its chin to its navel. The throat grooves, in addition to streamlining the shape of the whale, allow the throat area to expand tremendously during feeding allowing it to hold 1,000 tons or more of food and water when fully expanded. By taking tons of water into its mouth and filtering out the fish, a Blue Whale can eat four tons of krill a day.

Most Blue Whales live in the Southern Hemisphere while smaller populations inhabit the North Atlantic and North Pacific. They migrate long distance between low latitude winter mating grounds and high latitude summer feeding grounds. Before man’s intervention there were 228,000 Blue Whales swimming the oceans of the world. Between 1904 and 1978, whalers scoured the seas for this huge cetacean. Current figures suggest that a mere 11,700 animals are left resulting in their being on the endangered list.

So just how big is a Blue Whale? The National History Museum has an exhibit of a life-size Blue Whale measuring 92 feet long. This whale can grow to a length of 110 feet and can weigh 190 tons. One Blue Whale was captured that measured 100 feet long with a 12 foot wide mouth. This whale had up to 6 stomach compartments which easily could have fit several men. Its nasal sinus alone measured 7 feet high by 7 feet wide and was 14 feet long. A 15 foot long shark was found in one of the stomach compartments.

But the Blue Whale is not the only fish large enough to swallow a man. Take, as another example, the Rhinodon Typicus, better known as the whale shark. In a museum in Syria, there is a head of a whale shark big enough to swallow the largest man history records. Stories exist of whale sharks swallowing a horse; a reindeer minus its horns; and a sea cow the size of an ox

Both of these animals feed the same way. They have no teeth. Instead of chewing, they feed by opening their mouths, submerging their lower jaw, and rushing speedily through the water. After straining out the water, they swallow what is left.

Now with these oceanic facts in mind, how difficult would it be for the God of the universe, the God of all creation, to speak to a Blue Whale or a Whale Shark and have that fish in the right place at the right time to swallow up Jonah as he was thrown overboard just like the Bible describes?

Monday, September 10, 2007

RUN, Jonah, RUN

Jonah’s deep resentment toward the brutal Assyrians caused him not only to say “no” to God’s command to go to Nineveh but it caused him to go the exact opposite direction. As a result, Jonah bought a ticket and boarded a ship going away from Nineveh. He then went down into the boat and fell fast asleep, feeling he had somehow outwitted a God who knows all things, sees all things and is present everywhere all at the same time. But is it possible for someone to flee the presence of the Lord as Jonah tried to do?

The Bible teaches that the Lord “hurled” a storm unto the sea. The experienced sailors knew this was no ordinary storm and that their lives were in grave danger. They cried out to their gods for help but to no avail. As a last resort they threw all the cargo overboard, forfeiting all profits in a futile attempt to keep the ship from sinking. But where was Jonah during this storm? He was asleep in the bottom of the boat. There is a principle I learn from this. It is possible, at first, for someone to be content even though they are out of the will of God. On multiple occasions as I talk with people who are choosing to disobey God, one of the reasons they give is that they are happier than they have ever been in their lives. But in the end, this temporary satisfaction will come to an abrupt end and the reality of sin’s consequences will become real and painful.

The captain of the ship goes below deck and wakes up the sleeping prophet and begs him to pray to his god for their survival. How amazing is that? A heathen sailor had to ask a prophet of God to please pray. But yet, we shouldn’t be too surprised. When you are trying to flee the presence of the Lord you quickly cut out all communication with God.

The sailors realize that this storm must be the result of an angry God. They cast lots to see which of them were at fault and the lot fell on Jonah. The sailors quickly question Jonah and discover that he is fleeing from the God of Israel. Their fear grows now that they know the reason for the storm. They can’t conceive why Jonah would disobey his God. The intensity of the storm is now increasing and they ask Jonah what could be done to appease his God. Jonah admits his guilt and advices them to throw him overboard.

The sailors first try rowing out of the storm. Now compare these heathen’s compassion for Jonah with Jonah’s compassion for the city of Nineveh. Their attempts to row out of the storm make no progress. It is obvious to them that death is imminent. As a last resort, Jonah is thrown overboard and the sea and storm immediately calms. When the mariners see the miracle of the immediate calming of the sea they are converted.

But what happened to Jonah? The Bible teaches that God prepared a great fish (sea monster, Matthew 12:40) to swallow Jonah (Luke 15:15-16). This doesn’t mean that this large fish was created for just that purpose. Rather, it means that God arranged for the fish to be in the right place at the right time. He spoke to the fish and it did exactly what its Creator instructed. Perhaps that is the most staggering principle of all. Though out of God’s will, Jonah was never out of His care.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Link Between Jonah and Nellie

Yesterday I gave a pop quiz from our opening sermon last Sunday on the book of Jonah that we are calling, "From the WHALE to the WORLD!" Here are the answers to the 17 questions:

1. God loves the world

2. Jonah represents Israel; The Sea represents the Gentile nations; The whale represents the Babylonian captivity; and the regurgitation represents the return of Israel out of captivity under Ezra

3. True

4. One

5. False (He is also mentioned in 2 Kings, Matthew and Luke)

6. Iraq, near the city of Mosul

7. Nimrod (Genesis 10:11)

8. The Assyrian Empire

9. Three (Jonah 3:3)
10. True

11. Two walls; 1500 towers

12. 120,000 (Jonah 4:11)

13. Joppa; Tarshish (Jonah 1:3)

14. Flee the presence of the Lord (Jonah 1:3)

15. Jonah hated the Assyrians and did not want them to have the chance to repent (Jonah 4:1-2)

16. He is present everywhere at the same time

17. Nellie Olsen from Little House of the Prairie

This Sunday we continue our study by completing the first chapter of Jonah. What can we learn from the story of Jonah about running from the Lord? Join us this Sunday as we continue our study, From the WHALE to the WORLD!

Thursday, September 06, 2007


Since school is back in session, I thought this might be a good time to give a pop quiz regarding last Sunday’s sermon as we started our study in Jonah called From the WHALE to the WORLD. Take a crack at these questions and see how much you remember. If you get stuck, go to our website and watch the sermon one more time (

1. What is the theme to the book of Jonah?

2. For those who view the book of Jonah as allegorical, what does Jonah symbolize? What does the sea symbolize? What does the whale symbolize? What does the regurgitation of Jonah onto dry land symbolize?

3. True or False: On the average, there are more miracles per verse in the book of Jonah than any other book in the Bible.

4. How many men are mentioned in the Bible with the name of Jonah?

5. True or False: Jonah is only mentioned in the Bible in the book of Jonah.

6. What present day country was the ancient city of Nineveh located? Near what city?

7. Who built the city of Nineveh?

8. What empire was the city of Nineveh the capitol of in the time of Jonah?

9. How many days would it take to walk around the city of Noineveh?

10. True or False: The city of Nineveh was 20 miles larger than present day London.

11. How many walls were around the city of Nineveh for protection? How many towers?

12. How many people lived in the city of Nineveh at the time of Jonah?

13. To what seaport city did Jonah go to in order to buy fare on a boat? To what city was the boat heading towards?

14. By going the opposite direction of Nineveh, what was Jonah trying to accomplish?

15. Why did Jonah refuse to go to Nineveh as God commanded him?

16. What does it mean when we say that God is omnipresent?

17. BONUS…What TV character did my wife dream that Matt McElravy married?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


For the past two and a half months I have been on the “low carb” diet. I did this diet the year prior to my moving to Lititz and lost 35 pounds. I kept that weight off until I moved to Lancaster County. Over the three years since becoming Senior Pastor here at Grace Church, I have gained 40 pounds, going from 185 to 225. Part of it was the extra stress eating that comes with uprooting your family and staring a new ministry. But part of this increase also was the way people eat out here in Lancaster County.

Every time I saw my profile on the screens on Sunday morning I knew that I was enjoying Lancaster County cooking way too much. When I had only one pair of pants that still barely fit (and they were a size 40) I knew I had to do something and that something was not going out and buying size 42 pants. That was simply not an option. So back in mid-June I completely cut out some of the foods I love…mashed potatoes and gravy, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese and one of my staples…PIZZA!

It’s really not a bad diet. I can have all the meat, fish, eggs and cheese I want. Hey, I can even have SPAM. I can’t have bread or most fruits but I was never a big bread or fruit eater anyway. I eat more salad now than I ever use to but I am getting a little tired of ranch and blue cheese dressings. Some nights I’d give anything to have a little Honey Mustard or French dressing on my greens.

I have found a show on FIT TV called Blaine’s Low Carb Kitchen from which I have been able to print off some unique low carb recipes that my wife has made including low carb fried chicken; a low carb Monte Cristo sandwich; and low carb pumpkin torte. I’ve also found that Breyers makes a great low carb vanilla ice cream. It tastes great. At night I pour Diet A&W Root Beer over it and enjoy a tasty float while I lose weight.

Over the past 10 weeks I have lost 24 pounds. I feel great. I’m sleeping better and have more energy. I’m even taking my vitamins (most mornings). In fact, I don’t think I’m snoring much anymore either. Not only do all of my size 38 pants fit again, but the other day I actually wore a pair of my size 36 pants that were in the very back of my closet.

So now I find myself within 2 pounds of once again being under that 200 mark. As soon as I hit 199, I am celebrating with two pieces of pizza from Two Cousins in Manheim. Most of you know that I have standing lunch appointment every Monday afternoon at Two Cousins with several of the guys on our staff. For years that lunch has regularly consisted of pizza and fries. But for the last 10 weeks I have faithfully ordered and eaten salad with Ranch or Blue Cheese dressing while the other guys on staff have tortured me by continuing to eat pizza and fries while I sit and pick the croutons off of my salad.

But 199 is not my final goal. When I get back to 185, the weight I was when I moved to Lititz three years ago, I am going to celebrate by eating a piece of chocolate cake with peanut butter icing. Hopefully, each Sunday you’ll continue to see a little bit less of me.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pre-Season Preview

Tuesday opens up regular season play for our varsity sports program here at Lititz Christian School (LCS). This is an exciting time of the year for me as the Senior Pastor of our ministry for two reasons. First, I love sports. Second, my two children play on these teams, Joy in her senior year on the volleyball team and Jonathan as a sophomore on the soccer team. So what does the year have in store for these two squads?

Our varsity volleyball team is going for a very difficult and challenging “three-peat” after winning the conference championship the past two years. To accomplish this, our Lady Eagles have their work cut out for them. Last year’s championship team graduated five seniors and returned only two juniors for the 2007 season. The rest of the team is mostly all first year varsity players who are young and very inexperienced on the varsity level.

The pre-season tune-ups for the Lady Eagles included scrimmages against Fairfield High School and against Highpoint Christian Academy. Following that was last Saturday’s all day tourney at Lancaster Mennonite High School (LMH). The Eagles were definitely in the harder pool play as they started out first thing in the morning against the home team of LMH who entered the tournament as the heavy favorite to win it all. The Lady Eagles were soundly beaten in both games. The second match for LCS was in no way easier as they went up against Cocalico High School who arguably had the best player in the tournament on their team. After losing quickly in game one, the Lady Eagles played what may have been their best volleyball of the day in game two falling by only 5 points. In the end it was LMH and Cocalico that reached the finals of the tourney.

After their lunch break, the Lady Eagles went to work against Elizabethtown High School just barely losing game one and hanging on to win their only victory of the day in game two. The last match of the day was against New Oxford who ran away with both games as the young Lady Eagles ran out of juice. Though their record in the tourney ended up being just 1-7, the young Lady Eagles played some decent volleyball against these three much larger public schools and came away with some much needed experience and some growing confidence that a third straight conference championship was attainable. The Lady Eagles play on the road tonight (Tuesday, September 4) at Conestoga Christian.

The boy’s varsity soccer team returns many solid starters from a team that came within one goal of reaching the conference playoffs last year. The preseason scrimmages were a “best of times worst of times” story for the Eagles as they played well against Lancaster Country Day followed by a dismal showing against Highpoint Christian Academy. Coach Eric Lewis has great optimism that this should be the first season in many years in which LCS reaches post-season play. The LCS soccer team opens their season defending the Agape Cup on the road at Dayspring Christian Academy tonight (Tuesday, September 4). This will be the third year that LCS and Dayspring play each other for the coveted Agape Cup which LCS has won both years previously. It’s going to be an exciting fall for Lititz Christian School Varsity sports. Come on out and root for our LCS Eagles!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Wrong Way, Jonah!

The prophet Jonah is the only man in Scripture by that name. The name means “dove.” All we really know about his family background is that he was the son of Amittai, a name meaning “my true one.” The book of Jonah opens up with the word of the Lord coming to the prophet Jonah and telling him to go to the great city of Nineveh. To understand Jonah’s dilemma, you must understand a little bit about this great city.

Nineveh was built by Nimrod (Genesis 10:11). It was the capitol of the Assyrian empire and was located on the east bank of the Tigris River. It was the world power of that day and was called “great” due to its size. Only Babylon was bigger. The city of Nineveh had in excess of 120,000 people that lived within it (4:11). Back in the days of Jonah, this was very big. It was protected by an outer wall and an inner wall. I have read that these walls were so thick that they would race chariots on top of them. According to Jonah 3:3, it would take 3 days to walk around the city of Nineveh. Jonah’s purpose of going to Nineveh was very clear. He was to preach against its wickedness (see Nahum 3:1, 4, 16). The exact message he was to proclaim is seen in Jonah 3:4

We discover in verse three, however, that Jonah deliberately takes a wrong turn. He refuses to obey. He refuses to go to Nineveh. But why? He is a prophet of God. This is his job. This is what he is supposed to do. Some have erroneously suggested that Jonah refused to go because he was a coward and was scared of the Assyrians. If you know a little bit more about the Assyrians, you may better understand why some suggest this.

The Assyrians were well known for being very brutal and fierce. Their torture of captives left a trail of horrific stories. If I were to take the time to describe to you the grotesque ways that they treated their enemies, you would be repulsed. Whole cities would commit suicide rather than fall into the hands of the Assyrians. So did this cause Jonah to be sacred? I could understand if it did. But that was not the case.

So why did Jonah refuse to go to Nineveh. We learn the answer in chapter four. When we reach that part of our study we will see that Jonah, after his ordeal with the whale, goes to Nineveh and preaches. His preaching is so effective that the entire city repents. Due to their repentance, God forgives them instead of destroying them. That is what Jonah knew would happen. He knew if he preached to them and if they repented, that God would forgive them. That is not what Jonah wanted. Jonah wanted God to unleash his wrath on them. It is obvious…God loved the people of Nineveh, but Jonah did not.

In order to try to avoid any chance of the people of Nineveh repenting, the Bible says that Jonah fled from the presence of the Lord. What a foolish attempt this was (see Job 1:12; 2:7; Ps 139:7-12). Imagine playing a game of “hide and seek” with a God who knows all things, sees all things, and is present everywhere all at the same time. Jonah went down to the seaport in Joppa, got on a boat, and headed to the city of Tarshish. Geographically, the city of Tarshish is located west of Joppa. Nineveh is East of Joppa. Jonah’s rebellion took him in the opposite direction. Wrong way, Jonah!