Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Merit in Halloween

I ended my last blog by asking the question, “Is there any spiritual merit in Halloween?” And since today is Halloween, it is a fitting time for me to answer that question. I described in my last blog entry the cultic background of many of our modern day Halloween traditions and how they stemmed from a day in which the Druids of Scotland and Ireland would honor Saman, known as the Lord of the dead.

In 834 AD, In order to combat these occult practices, Pope Gregory IV moved the church festival of “All Saints Day” to November 1st. This was a day to honor all the Saints who had died. The eve of the festival was called, “All Hallows E’en” (E’en is a contraction for evening). This gave us the modern name, “Halloween.” No matter what your feelings and convictions are about participating in Halloween traditions, I do believe that there is an aspect of this holiday that can spiritually benefit all of us.

We can make Halloween a very spiritually motivating day if we understand the true heritage and the benefit that there can be in remembering the life’s testimony and message of Saints who have already gone on to glory. We must first understand that one is not made a “saint” because a church council declares it. A “saint” is anyone who has been made righteous through faith alone in Jesus Christ. It is Biblical and profitable for us to remember saints who have gone on before us. That is what Hebrews chapter eleven is all about…remembering men and women of God who have shown great faith and then allowing their life’s message to still motivate and challenge us even today.

So let’s start a new Halloween tradition. It’s one we can all enjoy without compromise. Let’s take time to reflect on such great saints. We can break it down into 3 categories:

1. Saints of theology: These are individuals from the pages of Scripture whose life message greatly influence us for Jesus still today. For me, this is a man like Joshua from the Old Testament who led Israel in possessing the Promised Land.

2. Saints of history: These would be individuals who lived in history and whose testimony for Christ still impact us today. For me, that includes men like Dr. Jerry Falwell, the great evangelist, D.L. Moody and the singer/songwriter, Keith Green.

3. Saints of family: These would be family members or close friends who are now with Jesus but whose heritage causes us to walk with Jesus today. For me, this is my Grandpa Distler, who was in full-time ministry for some 50 years before he died.

When we take time to reflect on great saints of the past, even Halloween can become spiritually profitable to us today. After all, it was on Halloween in 1517 that a great man of God named Martin Luther climbed some steps in Germany and posted his “95 Thesis” on the doors of the Wittenberg Church setting off what we know today as the “Great Reformation.” Ah, yes, I believe there is most definitely spiritual merit in Halloween.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

BOO! Did I Scare You?

Boo! Did I scare you? I should have. After all, it’s that time of year again…Halloween. Perhaps this is the most controversial day in the Americanized church. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it evil? Is it Satanic? Is there any merit in it at all? My most favorite Halloween memory stems back to when I was working as a Youth Pastor in west Milton, Ohio. Each Halloween we had a big party that we called a “Halloween Turn-About.” We dressed up like everyone else and went “trick-or-treating,” but instead of asking for candy, we asked for canned food for needy families. After a time of food and games at the church, we then took the canned food that we collected and dropped them off on the doorsteps of needy families within our church, ringing the door bell and then running.

I assigned one couple on my youth staff to take a group of our teens in their van and go out to Pleasant Hill and drop off the food at a specific address. It was dark and their van inched up the street trying to read the house numbers. They would often stop and send a teen running up to a door to see what house number it was. Suddenly, without any warning, they were surrounded by police officers and members of the Sheriff’s Department. We didn’t know that a satanic group in the area had threatened to abduct a child in Pleasant Hill that Halloween and the cops were on the alert. When they saw our van creeping up the street and people running back and forth from it, they thought we might be the culprits that had made the threat. Happy Halloween!

Well, there is no doubt that the history of Halloween is founded in occult themes. Nobody I know debates that. It goes way back to Scotland and Ireland where Druid Priests celebrated a special day in honor of Saman, Lord of the Dead. The belief was that on the eve of this celebration, Saman called together all the souls of those who had died the previous year and who currently inhabited the bodies of animals, to return to their homes. Bon-fires were lit to scare off these spirits and children would dress in costumes to confuse these wandering souls.

Jack-o-lanterns also go back to this era, only they started as large rutabagas, carved with gross faces and lit with candles. This is due to a tale about a man named Jack who was a notorious drunkard but who was also smart. As a result, the fable says that when he died, he was turned away from both heaven and hell. As a result of that, he put a glowing coal into a carved turnip and he has been wandering the earth ever since. Poor Jack!

So, should you let your children participate in Halloween? I really do not believe there is one “right” or “wrong” answer to that question for every person. We must each follow our own conscience on this one. Our kids (when they were younger) would participate in trick-or-treating. We found it a great way to meet neighbors and get a lot of good candy to boot (after all…a good dad will go through the candy first and remove for himself anything that looks questionable, like Reeses Peanut Butter Cups). But is there any spiritual merit in Halloween? Be sure to read my blog tomorrow…Halloween…to hear my answer. It might just surprise you!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts

All month long we have been studying spiritual gifts here at Grace Church in our Sunday morning service series, “To You…from God.” Last Sunday we gave the tools you need to now discover and develop the gift or gifts that God selected just for you. They are:

EDUCATION: The first step to discovering your spiritual gift is to study spiritual gifts so you know what they are, which ones are available today, and the definition of each gift. This is what we have done on Sunday mornings all month long.

EXPECTATION: Discovering your spiritual gifts involves diligently asking God to reveal them to you. This isn’t a game of spiritual “hide-n-seek”. God wants you to know your gift so that you can be involved in the church in ministering to others.

ELIMINATION: Take a careful look at the definition of each gift available today. Write a “Y” next to the gift if you feel it could describe you. Write an “N” next to the gift if you know that there is no way on God’s green earth that you have that gift. Write a “U” next to the gift if you are unsure.

EXAMINATION: Along with the self-evaluation that you did under the previous step, you could also take a spiritual gifts test. One of the best tests I have seen is conducted by Dr Elmer Towns ( It is free of charge and gets you an answer immediately. Be careful. Sometimes we tend to answer these questions according to how we wish we were rather than how we really are. I took one of these tests onced and it showed that my main gifts was “mercy.” If you know me, you know that mercy is not one of my gifts. The best way to examine is by giving two or three other people the list and definitions of the gifts and asking them which gifts they see in your life. These people must be strong, Spirit-filled Christians who have a proper understanding of the gifts and who know you very well. Now look at these lists and see what gifts are on multiple lists. These are your potential gifts.

EXPERIMENTATION: Now take your list of potential gifts and try using them. As you do, look for three things. First, look for desire…do you enjoy using the gift? Second, look for ability…are you capable of using the gift? Finally, look for blessing…did you see God bless your using the gift?

EVALUATION: Now evaluate. Ask yourself the following questions. Is this gift a Biblical gift for today? Can others see this gift in my life? Do I have a desire to use this gift? Do I have ability in using this gift? Have I seen God bless my using this gift? Have I prayed resulting in a confidence that this is one of my spiritual gifts (Colossians 3:15)? If the answer is “yes” to all of these questions, you can be pretty sure that this is at least one of your spiritual gifts. If the answer to any of these question is “no,” you may need to continue experimenting and praying about that gift. If several answers are “no,” you can pretty much bank on the fact that this is not one of your spiritual gifts

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Rivalry that almost Resumed

I am originally from northeast Ohio. I was born and raised in Akron, OH where I lived until I went to college in Lynchburg, VA where I met my beautiful wife. She, on the other hand, was born and raised in southern Colorado, living in the city of Pueblo until she went to college. As a result, I grew up a very staunch fan of Cleveland professional sports. My wife grew up a very loyal fan of Denver professional sports. Surely this could never be a problem in marriage, could it?

The year of our engagement and the first year of our marriage were the years that the Cleveland Brown faced off with the Denver Broncos in the American Football Conference Championship games. Both years brought joy to my wife and severe heartbreak to me. In each of those games my beloved Browns had the Broncos beat until the infamous “drive” the first year followed by the Ernest Byner “fumble” the second year propelled my wife’s Broncos into the Super Bowl (where, I might add, both years they were soundly defeated by the NFC champions) and my Browns home to watch on television.

As you might imagine, this created quite the rivalry. If you are a Broncos fan, you don’t have much love for the Cleveland Brown and if you are a Browns fan you literally detest the Denver Broncos almost as much as you do the Pittsburg Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. How serious did we take this “minor” difference in our marriage? Well, let’s just say that our children grew up without a football team until they were old enough to swear allegiance by themselves (and both have done so to the Indianapolis Colts).

The rivalry has really lost its steam over the last decade or more. Once the Browns moved to Baltimore leaving Cleveland without a football team for several years followed by the resurgence of the Browns into the NFL, but with very slow progress toward being the dominant team they once were, there has been very little conflict in our marriage over professional sports…but that almost changed when the World Series started last night.

The Cleveland Indians at one point had a 3 games to 1 led over the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. One more victory would have placed them in a best of seven series against the National League champions, the Colorado Rockies from the Mile High City of Denver. At the beginning of the season, nobody gave either of these teams a prayer. And frankly, even after they surprised so many by making post-season play, no one expected them to move out of the league divisional series.

Unfortunately for me, my Indians choked down the stretch and missed the world series. Oh, well, maybe it's for the better. Had they won, the Cleveland-Denver rivalry would have resumed in our marriage. My wife and I would have rooted for two different teams. In fact, we would have probably ended up watching the games in two different rooms on two different televisions. The last two times our teams squared off, I came out on the short end of the stick. Once again I will fail to taste the sweet nectar of victory. So who do I root for now? No matter the outcome I can guarantee this, when it’s over I’ll still detest the Broncos with every fiber of my being but I’ll still love my wife with all of my heart.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

One Special evening in November

In Scripture there are two ordinances that are given to the local church that have great beauty and great meaning. One of these ordinances is baptism. This is a step of faith for those who have trusted Jesus through which they publicly identify with the God of the Bible and express their commitment to follow Christ. Baptism is for any and every person who has trusted the death and resurrection of Jesus alone for their forgiveness of sin and their eternity in heaven. Baptism is not what a person does to try to get to heaven. This is a work and the Bible is clear that we are saved by grace through faith, not through works. Baptism is for those who already know they are going to heaven because of their faith in Christ. Have you ever been baptized since you received the Lord as your Savior?

The second ordinance is that of communion through which we celebrate the ministry of Christ in our lives as believers. Here at Grace Church, our communion service involves three elements. First, is the washing of feet which is a celebration of the present ministry of Christ in our lives as He daily cleanses us from our sins. Second is the love feast which is a small meal that celebrates the future ministry of Christ where at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb Jesus Himself will come forth and serve us. The final element of communion is the bread and the cup which is a celebration of the past ministry of Christ as He died on the cross to pay our sin debt.

On one special night in November we will have the opportunity to worship the Lord through both of these wonderful ordinances. On Sunday night, November 4, beginning at 6pm, we will have a special night of worship that will include a baptismal service and a celebration of communion. The evening will begin with some worship followed by a very informal opportunity to wash each others feet symbolizing the daily cleansing of Christ in our lives. Following this we will have the opportunity to witness several people following the Lord in water baptism and sharing their testimonies of how they came to know Jesus.

After the baptisms are completed, we will have our love feast as we have an informal time to enjoy some refreshments (each family is asked to bring one plate of finger foods) while we take the time to move around and get to know each other better as brothers and sisters in Christ. This will then lead into our final aspect of the evening as we focus our hearts and minds through music on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and partake of the bread and the cup which symbolizes the body and blood of Christ which was sacrificed as payment for our sin.

This is going to be a very special evening of worship through participating in these wonderful celebrations. If you have trusted Christ to be your personal Lord and Savior, you are invited to join us on Sunday evening, November 4, beginning at 6pm, as we celebrate together everything we are and everything we have because of Jesus Christ. Child-care will be available for nursery through preschool age children. Don’t miss this special night of a combined baptism and communion service in worship of our Lord.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Gripped by the Greatness of God

Dissatisfied with your dusty, diluted version of God? Is a vibrant faith only a distant memory? When did God last take you to the mat with the reality of His holiness? In the book, Gripped by the Greatness of God, Dr. James MacDonald tackles powerful passages from the Old Testament book of Isaiah and inspires you to blow the dust off your picture of God and worship Him with passion and intensity.

In the Greatness of God, MacDonald says, “God is not safe, and He will not be squeezed into some neat, respectable Sunday discussion. God in a box – with a little package of hot sauce and a toy surprise. NO. To know God at all is to watch Him explode any box we put Him in with His terror, majesty and indescribable wonder.”

Beginning November 4, we will be offering a 6-week “Digging Deeper Elective” on Sunday mornings that will be through this powerful book and which will coincide with the Sunday morning message series, “How Great Is Our God!” This “Digging Deeper Elective” will be held in the church Fellowship Hall during the second worship service (10:45). You can attend the 9:00 Worship Service and then stay around and be part of this exciting group study on the greatness of God. A very exciting and effective children’s ministry is available all morning long as well for your children.

This special elective will be taught and facilitated by Mr. Bryan Burkholder. Bryan and his wife Barb have been attending Grace Church for over a year and have previously completed the pastor’s class. They have three grown children with their youngest in his junior year at Philadelphia Biblical University. Shortly after their marriage, Bryan entered into an equal partnership with his father on the dairy farm on which he grew up. In 1989, the Lord led them to Michigan where they spent two years at Bible school with New Tribes Mission. Following the two years of studying the Bible, they then attended the New Tribes Mission Institute which gave potential missionary families the practical teaching needed to survive in a tribe on the foreign mission field. During this experience, the Lord opened the door for them to be a part of the leadership and training staff at the New Tribes Mission in Jersey Shore PA.

In the year 2000, Bryan and Barb left New Tribes Mission and settled in the area where Bryan works at Zeager Bros. Inc. and Barb works part time at Lebanon Valley College. Bryan has had extensive opportunities to teach throughout his time with New Tribes and in his involvement in other local church ministries. They have found themselves on a number of short term mission trips to Bolivia and have a heart and a passion to see God grow people as they dig deeper into the Bible. Bryan is an excellent teacher and we are privileged to have him as part of our church.

I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity this November to be awed by a new appreciation of the greatness of God. There is room for up to 100 people to be part of this special elective so plan now to learn how great your God is!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Spiritual Gifts

Below are brief definitions of the spiritual gifts that we have studied on Sunday morning in our October series, “To You…From God” here at Grace Church:

Administration/Leading… The word means “to guide or steer,” as in a ship. This is the ability to organize and promote people or projects with such spirituality that a satisfactory conclusion is reached and a blessing received. (Romans 12:8; 1 Corinthians 12:28)

Distinguishing of spirits…ability to distinguish between demonic, human and divine works (1 Corinthians 12:10).

Evangelist/Evangelism…ability to present the Gospel with exceptional clarity and great burden resulting in a harvest of souls (Ephesians 4:11).

Exhortation/Encouragement…ability to challenge others to pursue godly conduct (Acts 11:22-23) or to effectively encourage or comfort another in view of past tragedy or trial (Romans 12:8; Acts 9:27; 15:39).

Faith…ability to believe and expect great things from God. This person sees something needing done and believes God will do it even if it looks impossible (1 Corinthians 12:9)

Giving…ability to give of your substance to the work of the Lord or to the people of God consistently, liberally, sacrificially, and with such wisdom and cheerfulness that others are encouraged and blessed (Romans 12:8).

Helps/Serving…ability to render practical help or service in both physical and spiritual matters (Romans 12:7; 1 Corinthians 12:28). The person with this gift has a unique sensitivity and abundant capacity to meet the practical needs of others.

Mercy…ability to give undeserved aid or compassion to the sick or afflicted. This gift will be evident in sympathy, understanding, compassion, patience and sensitivity toward the underprivileged and distressed (Romans 12:8)

Pastoring/Shepherding…ability to teach and preach the Word of God and to shepherd (led and protect) the flock of God (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Acts 20:28-31; 1 Peter 5:1-4).

Teaching…ability to clarify, apply, and communicate the details of the Word of God (Romans 12:7).

Wisdom…ability to apply human and divine knowledge. This involves the ability to choose the best and most worthy goals and to select and implement the best means to reach the goal (1 Corinthians 12:8).

Friday, October 19, 2007

Joy Distler - 12th Grade

The following article was published in the Shopping News and was written by Alicia Miklas. The subject of the article is my daughter, Joy (a.k.a. Joybells; a.k.a. Joyful):

Whether joking with a fellow classmate or encouraging an underclassman, Joy Distler is fully immersed in the lives of students at Lititz Christian School.

What she likes most about school are the people. And the people love her!

As Joy enters her fourth year at LCS, she continues to bring an atmosphere of warmth to the halls of LCS. Another favorite is AP English, "because we can eat and drink coffee everyday," says Joy.

Within school she is actively involved in many areas including choir, the school play, volleyball, and soccer. Joy has been involved in the ministry team at LCS for three years and became a member of the National Honor Society in her Junior year. In addition to improving her skills in the numerous areas with which she is involved, Joy enjoys running and hanging out with her friends. She is also involved in her church, Grace Church of Lititz, where her father pastors.

As well as being involved in her school and church, Joy has traveled to a variety of countries, including Mexico, England, and Italy. After she graduates Joy plans to go to college as an education major, where she will continue to touch the lives of the people around her with her encouraging words and loving spirit.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

REVEAL Spiritual Life Survey

Grace Church is privileged to one of just 500 churches out of thousands that applied to be selected to participate in the final development phase of REVEAL research (Phase 3) sponsored by the Willow Creek Association. REVEAL’s objective is to develop in-depth understanding of how people progress in their spiritual journey and how the church can more effectively help them grow in their relationship with Christ.

The findings from this research will help us understand the spiritual health of our congregation as a whole, as well as how our church is helping them grow spiritually. We will gain insight on the practices and activities that are most catalytic for spiritual growth in our congregation. We will also learn our church’s best opportunities for greater impact through the post-survey statistical analysis that includes comparison to a wide range of other surveyed churches.

REVEAL will survey 500 congregations from a diverse sample of churches across the U.S., as well as international churches from a handful of English-speaking countries. This research will create a benchmark of the stages of a person’s spiritual journey, and will also provide a way to gauge the most effective strategies for helping people grow spiritually. There is no fee for the Phase 3 churches to participate in this research.

During the month of October, REVEAL is connecting with each church, alerting them to the launch date for their Spiritual Life Survey and providing information about next steps. Our launch date is scheduled for January 14, 2008 here at Grace. Between now and the end of the year REVEAL will send each church a link to the survey prior to their launch date. Sometime then between February-April 2008, REVEAL will share the findings from the research with each participating church.

REVEAL will provide us with promotional guidelines for the survey, including suggested language for print and spoken announcements, along with an email template for distributing the survey link to your congregation. Following our launch date, the survey link will remain open for two weeks, allowing us two weekends to promote the survey through electronic, print, and platform reminders. We will launch the survey to our congregation with an email that includes the survey link. The survey will take approximately 20 minutes to complete and needs to be completed in one sitting. We will send out a follow-up email 3-5 days after we launch the survey as a reminder to our congregation to participate.

When our survey timeframe concludes, our congregation’s responses will be collected anonymously by an independent research organization. After tabulating our results and compiling our church’s report, REVEAL will share their findings with us. This is a wonderful opportunity for our church. The findings will have the potential to surprise us and transform us in more effectively fulfilling our purpose of meeting people where they are and moving them to where God wants them to be.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Speaking in Tongues and my Private Prayer Life

Here at Grace Church we do not believe that sign gifts such as speaking in tongues is a gift of the Spirit that is operational today. We believe that these sign gifts were needed for the Apostles in the early church to validate that their message was really from God. Today it is the Bible that validates if a message is from God, but back in the days of the early church the Bible was not yet complete so sign gifts were needed. Today, because we have the completed canon of Scripture, we no longer need sign gifts.

But what about the usage of speaking in tongues in my private prayer life? Is this a legitimate usage of the gift of tongues? Is that a Biblical concept? There are several Scriptural problems with this that are identified by Dr. Ronald Showers in an article in the March-May 1988 issue of the magazine Israel My Glory.

First, using tongues in our private prayer life would violate the God-intended purpose for spiritual gifts which is to minister to others (1 Peter 4:10). No spiritual gift was for the purpose of self-edification. This also goes against the major teaching of 1 Corinthians 13 that spiritual gifts are meaningless without love. Spiritual gifts in our lives are for the benefit of others not for our own benefit. Private tongues speaking for self-edification would not be a ministry to other people which is the design and purpose of spiritual gifts.

The private usage of tongues also goes against the Biblical purpose of tongues as seen in 1 Corinthians 14:22 where Paul states that tongues are for a sign, not to believers, but to unbelievers. Speaking in tongues was to be a sign to unbelievers that validated the message of the Apostles. This purpose is not fulfilled at all in the private usage of tongues in our prayer lives. The very word “sign” (also translated “miracle”) indicates that it was intended to be a public event not something done in private. Sign gifts were always public (Matthew 24:30; Mark 13:22; John 2:23; 6:2, 14; 12:37; Acts 2:22; 8:6, 13; 15:12; and 2 Corinthians 12:12).

Many would point to Romans 8:26 as Biblical support for using tongues in our private prayer lives. In this verse we learn that in our infirmities, when we don’t know what to pray, that the Spirit of God prays for us and makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. However, it is quite a stretch to interpret this verse as a validation for the usage of tongues in our private prayer lives.

When this verse describes the Spirit’s praying for us as groanings which cannot be “uttered,” this word literally means “wordless.” It is related to the word which speaks of being “mute or dumb.” A literal translation would be that the Spirit prays for us with groanings that involve “no speaking.” Paul is in no way referring to praying in tongues. He is referring to the totally silent praying of the Holy Spirit on behalf of believers. This is not the person praying, it is the Holy Spirit interceding on behalf of the believer. This praying involves no sound that is audible to the human ear. There is no other evidence in Scripture that would encourage the usage of tongues in our private prayer lives.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Spirit Baptism and Speaking in Tongues

Much of the controversy in the church that comes with the topic of sign gifts such as speaking in tongues centers around what I believe to be a misunderstanding of the doctrine of Spirit baptism. This misunderstanding stems from two incidents in Scripture both found in the book of Acts. When Jesus ascended into heaven in Acts 1:5, He promised that His disciples would be baptized by the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2:4, this promise was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost which included these followers of Jesus speaking in tongues. A second incident in the book of Acts occurs when Cornelius and his family speak in tongues when the Spirit comes upon them (Acts 10:44-46) which Peter described as them being baptized with the Spirit (Acts 11:15-16)

As a result of these two incidents, many have concluded that the baptism of the Spirit is something that happens at a point and time after your salvation and that it is always evidenced by speaking in tongues. As a result many will encourage believers to seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Some will go as far as to say that if one has never spoken in tongues, they have never really received the baptism of the Spirit. Is this really what the Bible teaches?

In 1 Corinthians 12:13 the Bible teaches us that by one Spirit we have all been baptized into one body. This clearly teaches that every Christian has received the baptism of the Spirit which is the act of God whereby we are placed into the Body of Christ. In fact, there is no evidence in the Bible at all of any follower of Christ seeking the baptism of the Spirit. Why? Because every believer has already been baptized by the Spirit. The only way that it is possible for each and every believer to have received the baptism of the Spirit is if it happened the moment we trusted Christ to be our Savior.

It is also important to note that in 1 Corinthians 12:30 we discover that even when the sign gift of speaking in tongues was operational, not every believer was given this gift. So if every believer has already received the baptism of the Spirit and not every believer was given the gift of speaking in tongues even when it was available, then it cannot be Biblically correct to say that speaking in tongues was evidence of Spirit baptism.

Some distinguish in the Bible between being baptized “by” the Spirit and being baptized “with” the Spirit. They would see being baptized “by” the Spirit as the believer being placed into the Body of Christ which happens to every believer at the moment of salvation. However, they would identify being baptized “with” the Spirit as the giving of supernatural power by the Spirit which occurs at some time after salvation and which is evidenced by speaking in tongues. This thought is propagated by the fact that in some English translations of the Bible the word “with” is used and sometimes the word “by” is used when speaking of Spirit baptism. However, in the Greek text, it is the same preposition used for every occurrence of the topic of Spirit baptism in the Bible. They are not two separate events. Spirit baptism is one event which places a believer into the Body of Christ and which takes place at the moment of one’s salvation.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Dropping the "Interim"

Back in April when God called Bryan Nelson, our former Worship Arts Director here at Grace Church, to Kansas, I appointed Matt McElravy as our Interim Worship Arts Director for the rest of the 2007 calendar year. Previous to that, Matt had interned under Bryan and then served as Bryan’s part-time Music Assistant. Matt is an incredibly talented musician and worship leader and in this interim position, Matt has done a very effective job in more than just leading our worship and overseeing our music ministry. Below is just a sampling of how I have seen Matt’s value to our ministry.

Matt has led our Worship Design Team that plans all of our Sunday morning services. This team meets once a month and plans our Sunday worship services for two months in advance. Matt not only leads the meetings but he orchestrates the implementation of all of the ideas the team decides upon for our upcoming services.

Matt has written some wonderful original songs that have become congregational favorites. It is a thrill to be able to evaluate the lyrics of these songs and to hear the stories behind how God worked in Matt’s life in the writing of the words and music. What a privilege it is for our church to use some of Matt's original music as we worship our God.

Matt was a key participant on the task force that organized our Rodeo and Western Event that allowed us to build bridges to 7,500 people last summer. Matt oversaw all of the logistics to this massive event showing his giftedness in administration.

Matt has been a team player in his flexibility in moving music worship rehearsal nights to allow our children’s ministry more effectiveness in using the gym. Matt has also been of great assistance to the music department at Lititz Christian School. One of the things that I have appreciated most about Matt is his heart for God and his desire to be a team player.

Matt has served on our Concept Development Team that is working on the best strategic way to utilize our land across the street.

Matt has been a wonderful addition to our Ministry Staff. He is a joy to partner with in ministry day in and day out. He has a very teachable spirit and a fun and kind demeanor. Best of all, Matt is still very young which means he will only get better and better and more and more effective as his years of experience continue.

This month Matt will complete 7 months of this 9 month interim position and it was my joy to announce to our church last Sunday that I have officially dropped Matt’s “Interim” title and have officially solidified him as our permanent Worship Arts Director effective November 1, 2007. There is absolutely no question in my mind that Matt is the man to lead our Worship Arts Ministry here at Grace Church for many years to come. I look forward to seeing where Matt takes this area of ministry as he makes it more of his own. Please be sure to encourage Matt often, and more importantly, to hold him up in prayer.

Friday, October 12, 2007

First Quarter Stewardship Letter (part 2)

Note: In my blog yesterday I included the first part of a letter that I wrote to our Grace Church family to update them on our progress in the areas of finances and stewardship through the first quarter of the fiscal year (July-September). Today’s blog is the conclusion of that letter and will highlight the many end of the year giving opportunities that are coming up for our church as we go through this second quarter of the fiscal year (October-December). If you did not read yesterday’s blog, I would encourage you to go back and read it before continuing on with today’s entry.

As we near the end of the year, let me make you aware of some additional giving opportunities that we will have as a church in which we can give above and beyond our regular giving. These will include:

Missionary Christmas Gift: Over the Sundays in November you can give a special financial gift that will go to many of the missionaries we support as a church by marking your giving, “Missionary Christmas Gift.”

Birthday Gift for Jesus: In past years this project has gone to support our national foundation layers in Cambodia which is now part of our regular budget. We will be using this years giving project to launch a new partnership. It is estimated that in the country of the Central African Republic (CAR) alone there are 200,000 orphans due to poverty, war and disease. These orphans are cared for by extended family, but due to extreme poverty, these families cannot properly care for these precious children. One of the greatest needs is that of education. Grace Brethren International Missions has launched a “hand in hand” ministry that will allow churches in America to partner with churches in the CAR to see Christian Schools put into these churches so that these children receive a God-centered education that will allow them to succeed rather than become a statistic. You can be part by marking your gift over the Sundays in December, “Birthday Gift for Jesus.”

Staff Christmas Gift: Also, on December 2, 9 and 16 you will have the opportunity to give a special financial gift that will be used to give our paid staff here at Grace Church a financial end of the year love gift to show appreciation for all that they do. Simply mark your gift for this purpose, “Staff Christmas Gift.”

And as you prayerfully plan out your end of the year giving patterns, I would also encourage you to remember our Facility Expansion Fund which you can give to at any time throughout the year. The more that this fund grows now, the more we will be in a very good position to move forward in expanding our facility and ministry.

Again, thank you for your faithful support and commitment to Grace Church. The goal of these quarterly letters is in no way to “guilt” you into anything but simply to keep you aware of our financial status as a ministry and of the giving opportunities that lie ahead of us as a church.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

First Quarter Stewardship Letter (part 1)

At the beginning of the fiscal year I promised to send a letter out to the Grace Church family at the end of each quarter to update you on our progress as a church in the areas of giving and stewardship. God has been so good to us and I want to personally thank you for your commitment and your faithfulness in giving as we fulfill our purpose, “meeting people where they are and moving people to where God wants them to be.

Back in July we took a step of faith with our new fiscal year General Fund budget and increased it 10% over actual giving from the previous year. I am very pleased to share with you that through the first quarter of this new fiscal year our weekly giving average including General Find and Facility Expansion Fund giving was up 15% over the same quarter of last year. We praise God for this. This budget is designed for us to accomplish all of our ministry goals and plans while at the same time being able to take what was the amount of our mortgage payment and to put that into our “Facility Expansion Fund.”

I want to take this time while finances are strong and giving is good to encourage and challenge each of us to be faithful stewards of all that God has given to us. If you do not typically give to Grace Church regularly and systematically, then I would encourage you to prayerfully consider a set amount that you will commit before God to give each and every week. If you are giving regularly and systematically, I would challenge you to take a step of faith based on the promise of Malachi 3:10 and raise your giving to 10%. If you are already giving 10% regularly and systematically, than I would encourage you to prayerfully answer this question, “Are you giving God your best?” As you think about this, remember the following principles of stewardship:

· The “Who’s In Charge” Principle: When it comes to all that we have, God’s the owner and were just the managers (Psalm 24:1).

· The “Give and Grow” Principle: Practicing stewardship produces spiritual growth.

· The “Do it Now” Principle: Stewardship deals with present resources (Luke 16:10).

· The “Fountain Of Youth” Principle: We live forever through giving (Mt 6:19-21).

· The “Who’s #1” Principle: God deserves the first of everything (Proverbs 3:9).

· The “Cheerful Attitude” Principle: Stewardship begins with loving, not giving (1 Corinthians 9:7). We can give without loving, but we can not love without giving.

· The “Big Shovel” Principle: You cannot out-give God (Luke 6:38, Malachi 3:10).

· The “Who Has Who” Principle: Until God is in control of my life, I’m out of control (Romans 12:1-2). Stewardship deals with the person not just the purse.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

My Senior Athlete

Last night was the final home volleyball game of the regular season for the Lititz Christian School Lady Eagle’s volleyball team. It was a huge night for several reasons. First, we were playing the Christian School of York which over the last several years has been our biggest rival when it comes to volleyball. We have had some amazingly competitive matches with this school and over the past two seasons we have defeated CSY to win the Conference Championship. Last night’s game became even more special because earlier in the season CSY beat us on their court in three straight games.

Another reason this game was important is because our girls entered the game 4-4 and within striking distance of landing in the conference playoffs which many, including myself, did not think was possible at the beginning of the season. Our team graduated five very good senior athletes last year and had only 3 returning varsity players entering this new season. Along with two seniors, our team is made up of only sophomores and freshmen. To land in the conference playoffs would be quite the impressive accomplishment.

But the main reason that this was such an important evening is because it was our senior recognition game being that it was the final regular season home game of the year. This is special because one of these seniors and co-captains of the team is my wonderful daughter, Joy.

If you were to ask me what my greatest and most enjoyable hobby in my life is at this point I would quickly answer, “Watching my kids play sports.” My son plays on the varsity soccer and basketball teams and has always had a love for playing sports. Joy plays on the varsity volleyball and soccer teams. I love watching them play and cheering them on. I have made being at my kid’s games a major priority in my life.

As a pastor, my family many times gets cheated due to the demands and schedule of leading such an extensive ministry such as we have here at Grace. That is why I have religiously made it a point to be at my kid’s games. In fact, all season long, my wife and I will only have missed one game (this Friday due to a wedding that I am officiating and she is coordinating which was on the calendar before the sports schedules were printed). We don’t just go to the home games, we travel to all of the away games as well, even the all daylong tournaments that happen throughout the year. It isn’t a chore…it’s a joy (no pun intended!)!

It has been so fun to watch Joy play these past four years and to see her improve each and every year and each and every game. It’s hard to believe that her High School volleyball career is soon to an end. I will miss watching her make those string of impressive serves and seeing her aggressively digging out all of those hard smashes. I’ll miss cheering for her on the volleyball court but at least I still have a full season of soccer to watch her play. And even after that, the cheering won’t end. I’ll cheer her on all through her life.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Only One Church in Pennsylvania

One of the magazines that I greatly enjoy reading as soon as it arrives in the mail is called Outreach and each issue is filled with innovating ideas that churches are using all across our country to reach lost people for Christ. The recent issue was dedicated to over viewing the largest 100 churches in American and the 100 fastest growing churches in America. The top 10 largest churches in America were as follows (the name of the pastor and the weekly average attendance follows in parenthesis):

1. Lakewood Church in Houston, TX (Joel Osteen…47,000)
2. Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL (Bill Hybels…23,500)
3. Second Baptist Church in Houston, TX (Ed Young, Sr…23,198)
4. Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA (Rick Warren…22,000)
5. in Edmond, OK (Craig Groeschel…19,907)
6. Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY (Dave Stone…18,013)
7. North Point Church in Atlanta, GA (Andy Stanley…17,700)
8. Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, VA (Jonathan Falwell…17,445)
9. Calvary Chapel in Fort Lauderdale, FL (Bob Coy…17,000)
10. The Potter’s House in Dallas, TX (T.D. Jakes…17,000)

The list of the top 100 fastest growing churches in America was a bit different than the list of the largest churches. The top 10 fastest growing churches included:

1. Iglesia Christiana Segadores de Vida in Hollywood, FL (Ruddy Garcia)
2. Calvary Community Church in Phoenix, AZ (Mark Martin)
3. Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC (Steven Furtick)
4. New Life Church in Conway AK (Rick Bezet)
5. Valley Bible Fellowship in Bakersfield, CA (Ron Vietti)
6. Fellowship Church in Grapevine, TX (Ed Young, Jr.)
7. Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, VA (Jonathan Falwell)
8. The Richmond Outreach Center in Richmond, VA (Geronimo Aguilar)
9. Redemption World Outreach Center in Greenville, SC (Ron Carpenter)
10. Champions Centre in Tacoma, WA (Kevin Gerald)

As I perused both lists I was struck by three observations. First, no church within the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches (of which Grace Church is affiliated) could be found on either list. Second, Thomas Road Baptist Church, which was started by one of my spiritual heroes, Dr. Jerry Falwell, was high up on both lists. It is great to see that Dr. Falwell’s vision and legacy to reach people through the local church is continuing strong. And finally, there was only once church in the entire state of PA that could be found on the lists. That church was the Lancaster County Bible Church (LCBC) in Manheim, PA. LCBC, with Pastor David Ashcraft, came in at #85 on the list of largest churches in America averaging 6,945 each week. LCBC was #54 on the list of the fastest growing churches in America. Congratulations to LCBC and Pastor Ashcraft! Well done!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Spiritual Gifts 101

This past Sunday we started a new message series here at Grace Church on the topic of spiritual gifts. We are calling the series, “To You…From God!” It is our goal through the month of October that we will learn how to DEFINE what spiritual gifts are; how to DISCOVER which spiritual gifts we have; and how to DEVELOP the spiritual gifts that God has chosen for us to use in His church. Below are some foundational facts about spiritual gifts that we covered as we kicked of this new and exciting series.

What do we learn about the diversity of gifts? The are a variety of spiritual gifts and a variety of ministries in which these gifts are used (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

What passages in the Bible list the Spiritual Gifts? Romans 12:3-8 (verses 9-21 deal with general responsibilities); 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28; Ephesians 4:11; and I Peter 4:10-11 (no specific gifts are mentioned, rather two classifications of gifts are given in verses 10-11…serving gifts and speaking gifts)

What are not spiritual gifts? They are not natural talents which are abilities acquired from birth and developed by education and practice such as musical abilities, artistic skill, athleticism, craftsmanship, poetical expression or dramatic acting. Neither are they general responsibilities which are actions that all Christians are supposed to participate in like witnessing (Mark 16:15), loving (1 John 3:11), and encouraging (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Nor are they the Fruit of the Spirit seen in Galatians 5:22, 23 which are character qualities that result from surrendering to the Holy Spirit’s control in our lives

What are spiritual gifts? They are special abilities given by the Holy Spirit at the time of salvation for service and ministry

Who has a spiritual gift? Every Christian has at least one spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Peter 4:10), even young people (1 Timothy 4:12-14)

How do we get spiritual gifts? Believers have no guarantee that they will get the gifts that they desire to have the most nor are there any magic formulas or schemes in order for a believer to obtain the gift he or she desires. God the Father has chosen your gift (1 Corinthians 12:18, 28) and the Holy Spirit gives the gift (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)

Why do we have spiritual gifts? Spiritual gifts are given so that we can minister to others (1 Peter 4:10; 1 Corinthians 14:12, 26, 31). Spiritual gifts are not for the believer’s own edification. The believer benefits only as a by-product through the joy of ministering to others. Spiritual gifts are also given to have every believer involved (1 Corinthians 12:7). God has a place of ministry for every Christian. Every Christian is gifted so that he or she can contribute to the building of God’s kingdom through the church. In the coming weeks on Sundays at Grace church we will look at the which gifts are available today and learn how to discover our gifts so that we can be an active part of God’s work here at Grace.

Friday, October 05, 2007


As you come to church this Sunday, come with a “birthday party” mindset. That is the feel we will be going for the entire month of October as we kick-off a brand new series on Spiritual Gifts.

Everyone loves to get gifts, especially on their birthday. But most Christians have yet to open and some do not even realize that on their spiritual birthday they received special gifts straight from God. That’s right. On the day you received Christ as you Savior, God lovingly chose some gifts especially for you. So as you come into the auditorium Sunday look for the giant birthday cake and balloons because these gifts are worth celebrating.

That is why we are going to do something very different this Sunday to kick off our series as we open it with our Worship Band doing their rendition of the old 1968 hit, “Birthday.” I understand it is not normal for us to begin our service this way, but we want to set an attitude and atmosphere of a birthday celebration. The words to this song are perfect to accomplish this goal:

You say it's your birthday
It's my birthday too--yeah
They say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you.

Yes we're going to a party party
Yes we're going to a party party
Yes we're going to a party party.

I would like you to dance--Birthday
Take a cha-cha-cha-chance-Birthday
I would like you to dance--Birthday
You say it's your birthday
Well it's my birthday too--yeah
You say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you

This is going to be an exciting month at Grace Church as we celebrate the fact that on our spiritual birthday, God gave each of us special gifts to use for His service as we minister to one another in the local church. I hope you are anticipating a great month as together we define, discover and learn how to develop our spiritual gifts! Happy Birthday!!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Writing on the Wall

If you were here at Grace Church last Sunday you witnessed and hopefully participated in something that you probably have never seen or done before in church. We wrote on the wall of the auditorium. I don’t mean that we wrote on a paper hanging on the wall. We wrote on the actual wall. We didn’t use washable crayons. We wrote on the wall with permanent marker. That’s right. Go take a look at the wall of our auditorium and in black, permanent marker you will see somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 names written on the wall.

As we ended our series on Jonah we saw how deeply God loves the world. He loved the Ninevites and He loves lost people. The application of the book is that we must also love the lost people around us. As a result, we ended the morning by having everyone identify three people that they know who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus. We call this a “Target Three” list. This is a list that we each are committing to pray for daily, build bridges to regularly, and to partner with the ministries of Grace Church to see these people come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.

In the past we would encourage each person to come forward and turn in their “Target Three” card. But this time we wanted to do something that would cement this commitment in a far deeper way. So instead of coming forward and turning in their card, we asked people to take their card to the far wall of the auditorium where we had a hundred permanent black Sharpie markers and to write their “Target Three” names on the wall with the markers.

I first saw this at the church Perry Noble pastors in South Carolina. The walls of their auditorium were white and everywhere you looked, as high as people could reach, there were names of lost people on the walls that their church was praying for. Each day, Perry would walk into that auditorium, see those thousands of names, and be reminded why he does what he does each and every day.

It was an amazing and powerful sight on Sunday to watch our church write their “Target Three” names on the wall of the auditorium. Now, every time we walk into that auditorium on a Sunday morning or any other time we will see those names and be reminded of our need to love lost people and to reach them for the Lord. Imagine how cool it will be someday when someone on your “Target Three” list comes to know Christ and you can take them over to that wall and show them their name so that they can see that you have been praying for their salvation daily.

Now if it bothers people more that we wrote on the wall of the auditorium than it does that your friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers who don’t know Jesus are going to hell, then we have a whole different problem. Folks, listen, when we get to heaven and stand before God I doubt very seriously that He is going to say, “You really didn’t reach many people for Me, but that’s okay because you sure had nice clean walls in your church!” In fact, even God wrote on a palace wall once (read the book of Daniel). The truth is very simple. If God loves lost people, and He does, than so should we! May we be reminded of this every time we come to church and see the names on the wall.

Monday, October 01, 2007

God Loves the World!

Imagine a preacher preaching one message and seeing an entire city repent and believe in God. That is every preacher’s dream. But for Jonah it wasn’t a dream or a vision, it was reality. At the end of chapter three of Jonah, the entire city of Nineveh, from the king to the peasants, all repent. But how does Jonah respond to this? The Bible says in the opening verse of chapter four that he was greatly displeased and became angry at God. The literal translation is that Jonah was “hot at” God. He expresses his displeasure by basically saying to God, “I told you so!” Jonah knew the character of God. He knew that God was gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abundant in loving-kindness and One who relents concerning calamity. This is why Jonah fled to Tarshish earlier in the book. He hated the Ninevites and did not want to see Nineveh spared. He knew that if he went and preached they might repent. He also knew that if they repented, God would forgive them. Jonah did not want these enemies of Israel who were so known for their brutal torture techniques to have this chance.

Jonah’s anger led to self-pity as he asks God to take his life. This is a cycle I see often. Man’s displeasure in God turns to anger toward God which turns to self-pity. God responds to Jonah’s anger by asking him if he has good reason to be angry? Jonah refuses to answer God. Instead he goes outside the city, builds a shelter and waits to see what would happen. It’s as if Jonah is trying to guilt God into changing His mind. But just as God earlier used a huge storm and a great fish to teach Jonah a lesson, he now uses a plant and a worm to teach an even more powerful lesson.

God causes a plant to grow rapidly and cover the hut Jonah is sitting under providing a relieving shade. The text implies that the plant grew overnight. Jonah was “extremely happy” over the personal comfort provided by this plant. But early the next day God appointed a worm that quickly destroyed the plant by the time the sun rose. God then appointed a scorching wind that, along with the heat of the sun, left Jonah feeling faint. The loss of his comfort combined with his self-pity resulted in his again begging to die.

God now returns to the same question he asked Jonah earlier, “Do you have reason to be angry over the plant?” Jonah replies that his anger was justified and that he had a right to desire death over these circumstances. God now details Jonah’s compassion for the vine. Jonah did not create the plant or cause it to grow. The plant was temporal, not eternal. Jonah did not have anything to do with the creation of the plant, yet he felt compassion for it and was angry that it was destroyed.

On the other hand, Nineveh was filled with 120,000 people whom God created. Each one of them was formed by God in their mother’s womb. Each one of them was greatly loved by God. If Jonah could have compassion on a stupid plant that he had nothing to do with, how much more should God have compassion on 120,000 people in Nineveh who spiritually did not know their right hand from their left? That’s the theme of the book of Jonah. It’s not about a fish. To understand Jonah you have to look past the whale. It’s about God’s love for the world. And if God loves lost people that much, so should we.