Thursday, May 31, 2007

Opening a Can of Worms





I know that this entry is going to open a proverbial can of worms and get me in some trouble but sometimes you just got to live on the wild side. A little while ago I talked with a couple who were "church shopping." The wife told me that the church they had been attendeding was now singing praise choruses instead of all hymns, which she had grown up with in church. She went on to very eloquently express her displeasure in churches that sing anything more than hymns. As a result, they were beginning their search for a “hymns only” place to worship.

I really had to bite my tongue as I listened to her. I wanted to ask, “Ma’am, just out of curiosity, when you get to heaven, if they sing anything other than the traditional hymns that you grew up on, are you going to go search for a new “hymns only” place to spend eternity?” As far as I know there will only be one other eternal option and something tells me that she wouldn’t like the music there either.

Now before you get too fired up please know and understand that I am a lover of hymns. I grew up on them too. As a kid we sang every verse of every hymn in the church I attended. I know and love them all. But perhaps you do not realize that although hymns were what many of us grew up on, they have not always been the music of the church. In other words, as wonderful as hymns are, they are not the only forms of lyrics and melodies that people can use to worship the Lord. We went through the same controversy in the church years ago when newer translations of the Bible became popular and so many were hanging on to the King James Version (KJV) as if it were the only version that God could use. The KJV is not the only translation of the Bible that is valuable for the church. In the same way, hymns are not the only style of music that is valuable for the church either.

I think it is time we got a little more honest. For example, I often hear people mock praise choruses by calling them “7/11” songs. This is because it seems that you repeat the same 7 words 11 times. Now I will admit that in many cases there is lots of repetition in the praise choruses. But what makes that wrong? When was the last time you read Psalm 136? I guess we could call this the “5/26” Psalm because the same 5 words, “for His loving-kindness is everlasting” are repeated 26 times. And how about in Revelation where the phrase of worship is repeated, “Holy, Holy, Holy”? Folks, listen, it is just intellectually dishonest to divide the church over “repetition” in singing.

That’s just one example. I am simply pleading for one thing. I have no problem with those who prefer hymns over choruses or those who prefer choruses over hymns. Frankly, I love them both and I am very pleased with how Matt McElravy, our Interim Worship Arts Director here at Grace Church, mixes both hymns and choruses around the theme of the morning’s message. He is doing an outstanding job. I am simply asking that we take away all of these weak arguments for elevating one style over another and call it what it really is…a personal preference. Praise Choruses versus hymns is not a Scriptural absolute. One is not more spiritual than the other. It is a preference. Enjoy the worms!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Umbrellas UP




Perhaps one of the greatest inventions that has ever been born as an idea in the head of some great inventor is that of the umbrella. Imagine going through life without an umbrella! Think about having to walk from your vehicle to your house, a store or the church during a driving rainstorm without an umbrella. Or how about you parents who have had to stand through many downpours while watching your kids run up and down the soccer filed. What if you had to do that without your trusty umbrella to protect you from the inclement weather?

Umbrellas provide us with protection. That is their purpose. For that reason I liken authorities that God has put into our lives to being like an umbrella. Why does God give us authorities? Some believe it is because He is some big “Cosmic Killjoy” who wants to keep us from having any fun as we endure this thing called life. If that is your view of God, you have a very warped thinking and you probably are living your life in rebellion to your authorities.

The truth is that God gives us authorities in our life for one reason…to protect us. When we stay under the umbrella of God’s authorities and guidelines we are protected from the many consequences that come as a result of sin. It is when we snub our authorities and move out from underneath this umbrella in our lives that we also become susceptible to many consequences.

For example, years ago while I was a youth pastor, a very famous professional athlete announced that he had been diagnosed as HIV positive. With this announcement came the admittance that he had been involved in an almost unbelievable amount of sexual escapades with many multiple partners. During his news conference he made a statement that really bothered me. He said that if he could get HIV, anyone could. I don’t think so. At least, not like he did. If I choose to live under the umbrella of God’s authority in my life and be committed to just one sexual partner (my wife), and she likwise to me, then I can’t get HIV like he did. I may get it through another means like a blood transfusion but not through the same means that he did. Why? Because I am protected by the umbrella of God’s authority.

God has given us several authorities. The ultimate authority is the Bible. That is without question God’s guidebook for living and the foundational authority of our lives. The Bible would also tell us of other authorities. There is the authority of parental leaders over children; governmental leaders over citizens; church leaders over parishioners; and yes, even the authority of a husband over a wife. Why did God give us each of these authorities? Did He do so to make us miserable? Absolutely not. He gave them to us because he loves us and He wants us to be protected from the consequences of sin.

We live in a society where many resist authority but the truth is that the very best way that we can be protected from the consequences of sin is to see all of our authorities like an umbrella of God’s protection. It protects us from the rain that comes as a result of sin.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Mission Impossible


Last week saw that marriage is like a beautiful masterpiece in which God, who is the master artist, is painting a picture to the world of the relationship between Jesus and the church. We saw in Ephesians 5 that in this painting the wife is a picture of the church. When people see the way she responds to the loving leadership of her husband they should see a powerful portrayal of the way the church responds to the loving leadership of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the husband fulfilling his role that can make the wife’s role very easy or very challenging. Here is how.

Husbands are commanded to love their wives. This is not as simple as it seems. This word for love is a word that describes a self-sacrificing love that is always ready to serve. This love is action-oriented, not just feeling-oriented. Now if that were all there was to it, we husbands would have it made. I could ask you, “Do you love your wife?” You could answer, “Sure, I love my wife!” But Paul doesn’t end the command there. He adds a descriptive phrase that changes the whole ballgame. We are to love our wives just as Christ also loved the church. Wait! How unfair! That is like mission impossible. Who does God think we husbands are, Tom Cruise? No matter how wonderful I am and how in love I might be, the truth is that I will never be able to love my wife exactly like Christ loves the church. Believe it or not, I am not Jesus. Neither is any other human husband that I know. We are not perfect. We can’t love our wife exactly like Christ loves the church.

That means we have two options. First, since I can never really accomplish this role, then I can decide to simply not even try. After all, if I can’t really live up to the expectation, why bother? That is one option, but there is a better one. Since I can never really accomplish this role, then I should be able to get better at it every single day the rest of my life. In other words, I ought to be able to love my wife more today than I did yesterday. I ought to be able to show her more love tomorrow than I do today. And the same is true about next week over this week; next month over this month; next year over this year; the next decade over this decade; and so on and so on and so on until death does us part. Men, let me make you as close to a guarantee as I can or all your money back. When you love your wife like this…she will have no problem responding to you properly. She’ll want to. She’ll long to. After all, why do we love Jesus? We love Him because He first loved us. It’s like a well oiled machine when we are all doing our roles. The more I love my wife, the more she responds to my leadership. And the more she responds to my leadership the more I want to love her. It works perfectly.

This is what makes marriage such a masterpiece. God wants through our marriage relationships to paint a picture to the world showing the incredible relationship between Jesus Christ and the church. The wife who properly responds to her husband is to be a picture of the church responding to Christ. The husband who properly loves his wife is to be a picture of Christ loving the church. When we properly fulfill our roles and people see our marriage they should really see the Gospel. That is by far the best part of marriage. That is what I call a masterpiece! That is priceless!

Friday, May 25, 2007

The SIGHTS and SOUNDS of SUMMER



Memorial Day is this weekend and as far as I am concerned, with it summer officially arrives. For me, most summers are usually filled with a lot of travel, trips, vacations and conferences which finds me away from home often. This summer, however, I am only planning to be gone for just one week. I hope to finally actually find out what it is like to enjoy a summer. Though my traveling will be limited, that doesn’t mean that there is not much too look forward to. Here is a ministry and personal preview of “Summer 2007”:

Operation Barnabas, a ministry training program sponsored by CE National, will be spending the better part of the month of June here at Grace Church for their orientation before heading out on their summer tours.

Our daughter Joy will be taking a nearly 3-week trip to Italy as part of a mission’s trip with students from Lititz Christian School with Saints Equipped to Evangelize.

June 17 will be our next baptismal service here at Grace Church. This one will be held outside immediately following the morning worship services.

June 24 will bring our Rodeo and Western Event here at Grace Church as we look forward to making a “first touch” with thousands of people from our community as we believe God to use this to stair-step many of them to Grace Church and to the Lord. And let's not forget Bible School that starts the day after on June 25.

Our family will be taking a week in July to fly down to Florida to spend time with my parents who live in Lakeland as well as seeing my Grandma who is in a nursing home.

In mid-July, I will be starting a new summer sermon series we are calling…“Summer Heat: The Samson Scandal.” This will be a 6-week study in the life of the famous strong man whose story is told for us in the book of Judges.

Both of our kids will be part of about 85 from Grace Church who will be attending the Momentum Conference (formerly Brethren National Youth Conference) sponsored by CE National that will be held down south in the state of Mississippi.

Laura will be flying to Colorado for 5-days in order to be part of her family reunion.

In August, a good-sized group of staff, Elders and ministry leaders from Grace Church will be attending the 3-day Leadership Summit which will be simulcast live locally to LCBC. This is a top-notch conference which focuses on developing leadership.

As of now, I also have three dates at Major League Baseball stadiums including watching the New York Yankees battle the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in Florida as well as attending two games in Philadelphia where I will be soaking in the sun watching the Phillies host the Washington Nationals and then later in the summer, the New York Mets.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

There's a New Sheriff in Town



Recently I preached on the beginning of marriage from Genesis 2. In verse 24, God gives a threefold purpose for marriage. This purpose is so solid that Jesus repeats it in Matthew 19 and the Apostle Paul repeats it as well in Ephesians 5. But the first statement that God makes about marriage in the Garden of Eden is amazing. He says with authority, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother…”

For this cause” refers to the fact that God made man with a need for companionship and that a wife is the perfect and only solution to that need. A man leaving his father and mother (and reciprocally a woman leaving her father and mother) shows us the purpose of severance involved in marriage. Before you were married the most important human relationship in your life was without question your parents. That is why the Bible says so much about our need to honor, love and obey our parents. But once you say “I DO” there is a new sheriff in town. Once you get married your wife must become more important to you than any other human relationship including your parents, your best friend, your boss, your pastor or anyone else. In other words, husbands, if you have to make a choice between your wife or your mom and dad, you should choose you wife. Wives, if you have to choose between your husband and you parents, you should choose your husband.

But think about Jesus saying those words to Adam and Eve who were at that time the only two people on earth. As God performs this initial wedding ceremony and says these words, “a man shall leave his father and mother,” Adam and Eve must have looked at each other with a quizzical expression and asked, “Excuse me, what’s a mother and a father?”

They didn’t have parents. They were the first two humans on earth. They certainly would have no struggle seeing each other as the most important human relationship in their life. After all, their mate was literally the only human relationship in their life. So why would God give these words to Adam and Eve who had no parents? I think the reason is simple. God was speaking to them as future parents. He was preparing them for the day when their kids would say “I DO.” He was teaching them in advance of the crucial need they would have to release their children to a new priority…a new sheriff.

If you are a parent of a married child or a soon to be married child, may I speak honestly and directly to you? It is your responsibility as the parents to ensure that your grown child sees his or her mate as the most important human relationship in their life. Many parents, unfortunately, make it hard for their grown married children to obey God. They use guilt and manipulation tactics to get their way in the lives of their married children. You know what I mean. When your married child and their spouse makes a decision that is not what you want or desire, so you respond with, “Well, go ahead but remember you just don’t know how long I will still be alive…I’m getting old, ya know.”

Maybe what I really ought to do is add a week to the pre-marital counseling that I take every couple through before I marry them but make this added week for their parents.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

TWENTY YEARS AGO TODAY



I DO!” Those were the words I spoke twenty years ago today in the sanctuary of the Temple Baptist Church in Pueblo, Colorado. WOW! It is almost unbelievable to think that it has been two full decades. The last 20 years have been priceless. Laura and I have shared a lot of living. For example:

Just days after getting married we drove across the country and moved into a little one room apartment complex in which every other tenant was a widow lady who was each old enough to be our grandmothers, and in some cases our great-grandmothers.

We spent the first 6 years of our marriage in youth ministry as I served as the Youth Pastor at the Community Grace Brethren Church in West Milton, OH. If you can survive the first 6 years of your marriage being in full-time youth work, you can survive just about anything that life may throw your way.

While in Ohio we experienced the birth of our first child. Joy Laura was born on February 3, 1990 at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. After struggling through infertility issues, it was a true miracle when Joy was born. She was, however, born with a severe club foot and had to have major reconstructive surgery and spent the first many months of her life in a cast.

We also experienced the horror of almost losing Joy one evening when she had a lengthy and severe seizure due to a sudden spike of a fever. We had to call 911 and Laura had to give CPR after we found Joy seizing in her crib, picked her up and she quit breathing. When the paramedics arrived they asked what hospital we wanted Joy taken to. There was our local hospital, but a short distance away there was also a wonderful Children’s Hospital. Our hearts dropped when we told them to take her to Children’s and the paramedic responded, “She won’t make it to Children’s.” I’ll never forget that night.

We also experienced the birth of our son at the same hospital where Joy was born. Jonathan Scott came to us on October 22, 1992. He too had to have surgery as a baby due to a large cyst that was growing rapidly over his eye.

After spending 8 years in Ohio, we took on our first Senior Pastorate ministry in Osceola, IN. We spent 9 wonderful years there watching our children grow and grow and grow. Then came our move to Lititz in the summer of 2004. Twenty years ago we knew we were going to Ohio but we never could have guessed that our lives would ultimately take us to Indiana and then on to Lancaster County, PA. Twenty years ago we had no clue that we would be made stewards of two incredible kids. There was very little that we knew twenty years ago except that we were madly in love with each other. The truth is that we have no clue what the next twenty years hold for us. But that’s ok. We are still madly in love with each other. That’s a great foundation for the next two decades. It has been 20 years and here is the best part…“I STILL DO!” Happy Anniversary, Laura!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Drifting Off Mission



It may just be the number one reason why so many churches in America are not reaching people, growing and seeing lives changed. The truth is that churches have drifted off mission. What is the mission? The Bible makes it clear:

Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15)

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8)

The mission of the church is clearly to reach men, women, boys and girls with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Or, as I like to say, “Evangelism must be the engine that drives the church.” That is the main thing I appreciated about Dr Jerry Falwell whose funeral is this afternoon in Lynchburg, VA. No matter what show I saw him on he always brought the conversation back to the Gospel...the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So why isn’t that the case so often? What causes churches to drift off mission? I’m sure there are many reasons, but let me just address what I believe are two of them. Many churches have drifted off mission due to criticism and complaints.

Criticism: Show me a church that is on mission and I will show you a church that is often criticized, especially from inside the walls of Christianity. For some odd reason the thought is that if a church is growing they must be compromising, using man-made tactics or watering down the Gospel. Though this is the case in many instances it is not always the situation. In fact, it’s not the churches that are growing that concern me near as much as the churches that aren’t growing. I beleive the church was meant to grow. Show me a pastor who passionately leads his church in the mission of reaching people and I will show you a pastor who has personal critics. It comes with the territory. Dr Falwell had his critics, many of whom were inside the walls of Christianity. But that never stopped him from doing what he beleived God had called him to do. The Apostle Paul also had critics but that didn’t bother him much or cause him to drift off mission either. In the first chapter of Philippians he goes as far as to say (my loose paraphrase), “Hey, who cares what they are saying about me…as long as Christ is preached, that’s all that matters.”

Complaints: I believe that many churches also drift off mission because instead of being consumed with reaching people they become consumed with “complaint management.” Unfortunately, pastors cannot go more than a day or two at the most without hearing about, reading about, or being confronted with complaints from people in their church about things in the church that they don’t like. And nine times out of ten these are non-Biblical issues that deal solely with people’s preferences and traditions. If a pastor is not careful, he will spend all of his time dealing with the complaints of the already redeemed and give very little time to leading and motivating the church to build bridges to and reach those who are far from God.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Ducking Low Enough



Marriage is very underrated today. In reality, it is a piece of priceless art. Picasso and Van Gough could only dream of creating a masterpiece that rivals that of marriage. Picture the marriage relationship as a blank canvass on which the master artist, God Himself, desires to paint a beautiful painting for the world to see. In Ephesians 5:22-24, we see the role the wife plays in this masterpiece. The Apostle Paul is addressing every Christian wife. There are no exceptions.

Each wife is told to be “subject” to their husband. This Biblical principle causes many women today to grimace. This is due to the fact that most women do not understand what submission really means. Submission is not slavery. It is a military word used to describe lining up for battle under someone’s direction. In essence, submission is choosing to recognize that God put an authority in your life and then to place yourself under that authority. Why would God put the husband as an authority over the wife? God gives us authorities for one reason…our protection. That is why we have parental leaders (Ephesians 6:1-2); governmental leaders (Romans 13:1); and even church leaders (Hebrews 13:7, 17). God loves wives so much that He put someone into their life to be their protector. How cool is that? The idea of submission does not carry any connotation of inferiority. Paul wrote the same thing in Colossians 3:18 as did Peter in 1 Peter 3:1. We shouldn’t be amazed that it is often resisted. The resistance to this divine order goes all the way back to Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden (Genesis 3:16).

But Paul doesn’t just tell wives to be subject to their husbands. He tells her to do so “as to the Lord.” In other words, submission isn’t really a marital thing. It is really a spiritual issue. A wife who properly submits to her husband also submits to the Lord. A wife who does not submit to her husband does not submit to the Lord. But why should the wife submit to her husband? Paul says because “the husband is the head of the wife.” God has made the husband the functional head of the family for the purpose of protecting the family. This does not mean that the husband makes all the decisions and the wife’s opinion doesn’t count (see Genesis 2:24). This means that it is the husband that God will hold responsible for the marriage and the family. If you ask me, ladies, you got the better end of the deal. That is why I like to say that submission is ducking low enough so that when God swings He hits your husband.

But it is the next part of Ephesians 5 that is amazing. The wife is to be subject to her husband “as the church is subject to Christ.” As I stated at the beginning, the wife, through the way she responds to the leadership of her husband, is a picture to the world of how the church is to respond to the leadership of Christ. Ladies, when people look at your marriage (and they will) and they see the way that you respond to your husband’s leadership, they should see more than a beautiful wife. They should see a picture of the way the church responds to the leadership of the Lord Jesus. That’s one part of the masterpiece of marriage. And as we will see next week, the husband doing his role can make the wife’s job very easy or very difficult.

Friday, May 18, 2007

When a Duck QUACKS


Recently on a Saturday I drove into the parking lot at church and was the only person around. As I got out of my car I saw a mother duck. That is not unusual at all. But what was unusual was that as soon as I got out my vehicle, this mamma duck started toward me and she was quacking away a mile a minute. With each step, this duck’s quack got louder and louder. She actually followed me right to the door of the offices. How strange! I felt like I was in the middle of a weird Affleck nightmare.

A little bit later I went outside to catch a ride with one of our church members who was driving a dune buggy through the church lot. That’s when I noticed two couples from our church who were removing the heavy grate off the storm drain. That’s not an every day sight either. Why did these couples want to get down into the storm drain? Were they digging a tunnel from their chairs in the auditorium so they could make a quick escape when the Sunday sermon got too long or too boring?

The real issue was that these couples had discovered ten little ducklings that had fallen down into the storm drain and were stuck with no possible way that they could get out. Now I understood the actions of the mother duck when I arrived. She was trying her best to communicate to me that her babies were in trouble and needed help. Unfortunately, I don’t speak nor do I understand “duckese.”

That explains why this mamma duck was quacking, but let’s ask a more elementary question. Why do ducks quack in general? Why can’t they make some other noise? Why don’t ducks “moo” or “gobble” or at least “bark”? The answer is simple. Ducks quack because…they’re ducks. You can instruct them differently. You can scold them. You can preach at them. You can even yell at them. But in the end, ducks still quack. Why? Because they’re 'stinkin’ ducks! Ducks quack!

But how often do we take this approach with unbelievers? We look at the unbelievers around us and say to them, “Now if you are going to come to our church you have to quit doing this, change this, and get this out of your life.” Folks, listen, sinners sin. We can instruct them, guilt them, manipulate then and even threaten them, but in the end they still sin. Why? Because they’re unbelievers. How foolish it is to insist that unbelievers clean up their lives before they start attending church when in reality, they can’t truly change until they find Christ and receive a new nature through the regeneration of the Spirit.

Ducks quack. Why? Because they’re ducks. Sinners sin. Why? Because they’re sinners. That’s why here at Grace Church our purpose is to meet people “where they are” as opposed to “where we think they ought to be.” When we start by meeting people where they are we will be able to help move them to where God wants them to be. And for the record, all ten baby ducklings were rescued and reunited with their mother. When we are willing to meet people where they are, we too can be part of rescuing them and seeing them reunited with their Father and Creator. Now that’s a happy ending for a duck and a sinner.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Battling the Devil


Earlier this month, the 4-year old class here at MorningStar Daycare and Preschool was doing a project where they were using the outline of a hand in order to identify different people that they were going to pray for. As you can see from the posted picture, one of the fingers of the hand was to represent a preacher or teacher. The child was to draw a picture on the palm of the hand of the preacher or teacher that they were going to pray for and show why they needed prayer.

One child drew the picture you see. The teacher asked the child which preacher or teacher this was a picture of. The child responded by saying that this was a picture of “Pastor Scott” (surely you can see the resemblance). The teacher then asked what Pastor Scott was doing in the picture which showed why we needed to pray for him. The student answered, “He’s running fast because he’s battling the devil.”

Talk about “out of the mouth of babes.” I’ll be honest. There are many days in which I feel like running as fast as I can because the battle is tough. I’m really not sure that the average person understands what a pastor feels and what he goes through. Recently, I was directed to a blog entry written by Steven Furtick who is the lead pastor of Elevation Church of Charlotte, North Carolina. He wrote an entry about pastors entitled, “Some times we’re scared.” When I saw that title I had to read it and I found myself nodding affirmatively all the way through it. Truth is there are many times I really feel scared as I lead Grace Church. Below is an exert from this blog which makes me glad that even a 4-year old realizes that this pastor needs prayed for because he’s in a battle with the devil:

“Your pastor won’t appreciate me telling you this, because we preachers like to look cool and confident. But if he’s a good pastor, here’s the deal: Every single day he seriously doubts whether…he has any…clue what he’s doing. That’s because if he’s a good leader, he’s always stretching. He’s always living in the discomfort zone…the place between what God has said to do and the understanding of how to do it. He wonders all the time if he has what it takes to do what God said to do. Daily he asks God under his breath: ‘Did I get this right? Are we headed in the right direction here?’ Every Saturday night he wonders if all the people will show up again and every Sunday afternoon he’s amazed and humbled that they did. Oh yeah, you should also know that he feels like his sermon stunk a lot of Sundays and he wishes he wouldn’t have said some of the things he said well into Monday afternoon. I have been around some guys with very well known ministries lately, and it turns out they’re scared a lot of the time too. One of them said he often feels like ‘a kid on a bike riding downhill on gravel.’ Another one said he stands up and tells the people ‘Let’s go!’ and then gets in his car and asks God, ‘Where are we going?’ But mark this: Your pastor wouldn’t have it any other way. A vision that didn’t make him feel schizophrenic sometimes wouldn’t be worth sacrificing for. A ministry that didn’t require uncertainty wouldn’t be worth getting out of bed for. Here’s to being a leader who’s terrified a lot of the time. And here’s to the corresponding peace and courage that only God can provide.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Still a Romantic


Twenty years ago this month, Laura and I married in Pueblo, CO. Now, two decades later, I can still pour on the romantic juices. This morning my wife and I left town for a romantic getaway. Laura knows nothing of the details in advance, but to show you what a romantic I can be at heart, let me give you a glimpse of my delectable planning.

We will leave this morning and slowly make our way down to the Baltimore area, stopping for Laura's favorite breakfast at Cracker Barrel and taking time to piddle at some of her favorite stores along the way before arriving at the Gramercy Mansion Bed and Breakfast (pictured) at 1pm.

Built in 1902 by Alexander J. Cassatt, owner of the Pennsylvania Railroad and brother of the American Impressionist painter, Mary Cassatt, Gramercy Mansion was presented as a wedding gift to his daughter, Eliza. Later owners included the prominent Brewster family, descendants of Benjamin Franklin, from whom a grandson became a Senator from Maryland. In the 1950's the estate became home to the Koinonia Foundation, a predecessor of the Peace Corps, before being bought and restored by Dr. & Mrs. Pomykala in 1985. Gramercy Mansion is now a quiet bed and breakfast with eleven guest rooms, two of which were recently constructed along with a spacious addition to the home, and an elegant event site hosting numerous weddings, private parties and corporate retreats throughout the year.

As we enter the mansion, elegance and warmth will greet us accented by a stunning grand staircase and an exquisite chandelier. Our reservation is for the finest of the 11 rooms in the mansion…the Camelot Room. In this room we will be able to sample the pleasures of this magical suite fit for royalty which is elegantly appointed with a king-size bed, private sitting room, rain shower and lavish double whirlpool tub, marble fireplace and Juliet balcony overlooking the valley.

We will be dining at the historic Milton Inn in Sparks, MD. The historic Milton Inn has played host to ladies and gentlemen of the Baltimore area since 1947. Weddings, anniversaries and birthdays fill the 1740s mansion’s six dining rooms with family and friends as they celebrate their milestones. The Milton Inn is the only restaurant in Baltimore County to receive the prestigious DiRoNA award — North America’s highest restaurant award based on cuisine, service and atmosphere. Chef/Partner Brian Boston’s kitchen produces food that has been described by the Zagat Survey as “top ranked Traditional American Cuisine” restaurant in the Baltimore area every year since 2002.

While we are at dinner, I have made arrangements with the competent staff at the Gramercy Mansion (bribing them with Lancaster County scrapple) so that we return to a candlelit room romantically decorated with rose petals scattered throughout, gourmet chocolates and a dozen red roses! The following morning we will be able to sleep in and then indulge in a gourmet breakfast in the mansion’s candlelit dining room or, if Laura prefers, on the balcony of our suite! We will then spend the day together Thursday participating in one of four options that Laura will be able to choose from before heading home that evening.

Actually our trip to the Holy Land last fall was our big anniversary celebration, but this 1-night getaway should be a little more romantic than 2-weeks on a tour bus in the Middle East.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

When a Hero Finishes the Race


Today the announcement was made that Dr Jerry Falwell has passed away in Lynchburg, VA. As I heard the news of Dr Falwell’s death while at a staff lunch today, I was faced with a flood of emotion. Dr Falwell was without question one of my spiritual heroes. From the time I was in Junior High School, I wanted to be like him. I would watch Dr Falwell on the Old Time Gospel Hour every Sunday morning as I got ready for church. By the time I was a senior in High School, there was no question that I wanted to go to his school, Liberty University (Liberty Baptist College back then) for college and to prepare to be a pastor.

I had the thrill of spending four years in Lynchburg, VA, studying at Liberty and attending the Thomas Road Baptist Church, both of which were founded by Jerry Falwell. Those four years shaped me. It was during those four years that I caught a vision to do something big for God. It was during those four years that I received theological training that is second to none. There was never a dull moment on campus. During my four years at Liberty I was able to experience the Reagan election and the entire episode surrounding the PTL scandal.

Two of my greatest memories in life happened while I was at Liberty. The first occurred my senior year as I was selected as Preacher of the Year and had the thrill of speaking in chapel in front of a crowd of 6,000 students, faculty and staff including Dr. Falwell. In fact, my Grandpa Distler, who himself was a preacher for over 40 years, bumped into Dr Falwell during my graduation weekend and after telling Dr Falwell who his grandson was that just graduated, Dr Falwell replied, “That boy can preach!”

My greatest thrill in Lynchburg, however, was meeting my wife while we were both students at Liberty. Actually, we met at the flea market in town, but that is a whole different story. The truth is, though, that my ministry and my marriage have roots that go straight back to Lynchburg, Virginia and the ministries that were started by one of my spiritual heroes, Dr. Jerry Falwell.

I ended up in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches in part due to Dr Falwell. When I left for college, my parents moved from Akron, Ohio to Hagerstown, Maryland and started attending a Grace Brethren Church. I knew nothing about Grace Brethren and hesitated to attend church with them. The Youth Pastor at the church they were attending was a man named Steve Peters who was a Liberty graduate and who had worked on staff for Dr Falwell leading one of his traveling musical teams. Steve contacted me and we begin a relationship that ultimately took me to be his youth pastor at the Grace Brethren church in West Milton, Ohio when he became the Senior Pastor there.

I am so thankful for the faith and vision of Dr Falwell. It is hard to believe that he is gone. My daughter, who is finishing her junior year of high school, is considering going to Liberty. It is sad to think that if she does, she will not have the same opportunity that her mom and I did to sit under the ministry of such a man of faith. He won’t be the one to shake her hand when she receives her diploma if she ends up at Liberty.

Dr Falwell just seemed kind of invincible to me. In fact, back when I attended Liberty there were multiple death threats on Dr Falwell’s life daily due to his involvement in the Moral Majority. He used to always say, “I am indestructible until God is finished with me.” I guess God is now finished with him. He has finished the race. I can only hope that I will finish my race with the same faith and commitment that he did.

The Secret Service is Watching


When I was a freshman in college I attended a conference in Washington D.C. The highlight of the event would be hearing then President Ronal Reagan speak. I was pumped. I had never seen a president live and in person and Ronald Reagan, to me, is the greatest president America has ever seen. As I went through the Secret Service security checks on the way into the auditorium, the metal detector went off. I emptied everything out of my pockets and tried again only to have the alarm sound again. They then used the wand on me and sent me through the detector again. BEEP! They tried the wand again but once again the detector went off as I passed through it.

They then took me off to the side and had me spread my legs and lift my arms. They hand frisked me. I was getting nervous. Was I going to have to endure a strip search just to see and hear my political hero speak? Finally satisfied that I had no weapon or anything that even resembled a weapon, they let me into the auditorium. But before they dismissed me they told me that somebody was going to be watching me. I bet that was indeed the case. I can only imagine that some suit-wearing guy wearing dark glasses, an ear piece and with a microphone up his sleeve was assigned to watch lowly me throughout the entire speech. I had an impulse to deliberately slide my hand into my suit coat to see how long it would take before I was jumped on and wrestled to the ground. At least I had enough sense to not follow that impulse.

I think I enjoyed watching the Secret Service agents that night more than the President. That kind of thing has always fascinated me. They each obviously had their areas of watch and they were focused. In fact, at one point in the President’s speech, a group of protestors stood up with signs and begin to yell “bread not bombs.” Everyone in the building, including the President, turned toward the distraction to see what was taking place…everyone that is except for the Secret Service Agents whose assignments were in other areas away from the distraction. These guys were so well trained and so disciplined that they never even flinched. They kept their focus on their assigned areas. For them to be distracted could mean the death of the President. They had their eyes fixed on their assignments and no distraction caused them to lose their focus even for a second.

That is how we need to be as followers of Christ. The writer of Hebrews tells us to “fix our gaze on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” The Evil One, along with our evil world’s system and our own sin nature, is constantly calling out to us to look at different things which can be very appealing to us. But like the President’s Secret Service, we must be disciplined. We must keep our gaze exactly where it is supposed to be…on Jesus. If we get distracted, the results can be devastating.

Just ask Peter. He was actually walking on water as he looked right at the Lord. But when he got distracted by the large waves and took his eyes off Jesus, he sank. As children of God we have been given the assignment of focusing on Jesus only. No matter how loud the distractions may become, we must keep our eyes fixed on Him!

Monday, May 14, 2007

MARRIAGE...a 2-headed monster


The institution of marriage is in trouble today. But come to think of it, the whole creation of marriage, as seen in Genesis 2:18-24, started with a problem. In verse 18, for the first time in creation God says that something is “not good.” What was not good? It was not good for Adam to be alone. Now this did not take God by surprise…it was part of His plan. It is obvious that God’s plan was to make man with a need for companionship and God had a solution already in mind. He was going to make Adam a helper suitable for him and it is obvious that this perfect helper suitable for Adam would be a wife...Eve!

Now you would think that the next verse would tell us that God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep and took one of his ribs and from the rib made woman. But that is not the next verse. Before God makes Eve, He gives Adam a task that seems very out of place. He tells Adam to name all of the animals. He is to name every beast of the field and every bird of the sky. But why? I think the answer is found in what Adam concludes when he is finished. While naming the animals, Adam got to see God’s creative work in ways we have never seen. He got to come up close and personal with all of the animals, including dinosaurs and other extinct animals that we have never seen. But when he was finished, he concluded that there was no helper suitable for him.

Adam realizes that whatever God would make to meet his need for a companion would have to be God’s greatest act of creation. Why did God have Adam name the animals first? I believe it is because before God would give Adam a wife, he first needed for him to learn what a valuable and cherished treasure a wife really is. I am convinced that the #1 problem with marriages today is that we as husbands have forgotten what a valuable and cherished treasure our wife is. We are all guilty of this as married men, aren’t we?

So Adam gets a wife and in verse 24, God gives His purpose for the creation of marriage. The same purpose is repeated word for word by Jesus in Matthew 19:4-5 and by Paul in Ephesians 5:31. That tells me that this same purpose is still God’s purpose for marriage today. It has not changed. This purpose involves three aspects:

First, is severance. A man is to leave his father and mother. A new priority is formed in our human relationships. A new sheriff is in town. Our mate should be more important to us than any other human relationship including our parents.

Second, is permanence. A man shall cleave to his wife. God’s plan has been and always will be, “one man with one woman for one lifetime” (Matthew 19:6)

The third purpose is interdependence. A man and his wife shall become “one flesh.” Marriage is not a relationship of dependence or independence. It is one of complete interdependence. It is like we become a “two-headed monster.” It’s no longer what do I want, but what do we want? It’s no longer how do I see it, it’s how do we see it? It’s no longer what are my goals, it’s what are our goals?. We now must function as one.

Friday, May 11, 2007

HIS NEEDS


Yesterday we looked at the 5 needs that a husband must recognize and meet in their wife as outlined in Willard Harley’s book, His Needs Her Needs. Below are the 5 needs of most every husband. Ladies, when you acknowledge and learn how to meet these needs in your husbands, you go a long ways in affair-proofing your marriage.

The first thing he can’t do without…SEXUAL FULFILLMENT

The truth is that the typical wife does not understand her husband’s sexual needs. Harley recommends that every wife make a concerted effort to overcome her sexual ignorance and begin meeting their husband’s needs as you would want your husband to meet yours.

He needs her to be his playmate…RECREATIONAL COMPANIONSHIP

A husband’s best friend must be his wife. This is easy before marriage. You may have no desire for bowling whatsoever. But if your boyfriend or fiancĂ© likes to bowl, you have no problem being at the bowling alley 3 nights a week. And your boyfriend loves having your involvement in his recreational passions. But then after marriage, reality begins to set in and that same wife who loved going to watch her husband bowl before they were married, now stays at home while he goes to the lanes on his own. Harley suggests that a wife spend 15 hours a week participating in her husband’s recreational desires.

He needs a good-looking wife…AN ATTRACTIVE SPOUSE

If your husband did not see beauty in you, chances are that you never would have gotten married. An attractive spouse is still important to your husband. May I be honest, if you don’t care what you look like, chances are your husband won’t look at you much. One of my pet peeves is wives who get all decked out to go to the store and shop in front of a bunch of strangers but could care less what they look like when their husband comes home from work. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Who cares how the strangers at Wal-Mart see you…look good for your husband. When you look good, he feels good.

He needs peace and quiet…DOMESTIC SUPPORT

The Bible speaks clearly to the fact that a nagging wife is like a constant dripping on a tin roof. A wife who constantly nags her husband…A wife who frequently preaches at her husband…A wife who is constantly pointing out here husband’s faults and mistakes, is a wife who is failing to meet a very important need in her husband’s life.

He needs her to be proud of him…ADMIRATION

Behind every man should be an admiring wife. Men need to feel significant. They needs to feel important and needed. He needs a wife who shows that she is proud of him.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

HER NEEDS


In Willard Harley’s book, His Needs Her Needs, the author identifies 5 needs of most every wife. When a husband knows these needs, and even more importantly, knows how to meet these needs in his wife, he goes along way to affair-proofing their marriage. Here we go husbands. Here are the 5 basic needs that your wife has.

The first thing your wife can’t do without…AFFECTION

Gentlemen, please understand. Affection is not sex. It can lead to sex but it is not sex. Affection is the way a husband communicates care and protection. Affection occurs when the husband helps cook dinner, empties the dishwasher, gives back rubs and foot rubs without expecting anything in return. Affection is when a husband calls home during the day just to say “hi” or leaves a not reminding his wife how much he loves her. For your wife, there can never be enough affection.

She needs you to talk to her…CONVERSATION

This is conversation that focuses on your wife and how her day went, not conversation that centers around you and your day at the office. Harley recommends that married couples ought to set aside 15 hours a week just for the purpose of communicating. If you doubt that this is important, go back and read yesterday’s blog entry one more time.

She needs to be able to trust you totally…OPENNESS and HONESTY

The need to trust goes hand-in-hand with the need to talk. Lack of conversation will quickly undermine trust and destroy a wife’s security and your wife needs to feel secure. Harley states that honesty is the best marriage insurance policy. The worst thing that you can do to damage your marriage considerably is tell your wife a lie, even if you are trying to protect her. False security is no real security at all.

She needs to live comfortable…FINANCIAL SUPPORT

Happy is the couple who lives on what they need, not what they want. For this to happen, a workable budget and good stewardship and tithing practices are essential. I remember hearing Jerry Falwell say one time that many newly married couples make the mistake of trying to begin with what it took their parents 40 years to acquire.

She needs him to be a good father…FAMILY COMMITMENT

A wife needs a strong family unit. A mother needs family commitment. The truth is that in most cases, the best husband is a good father. Ask any mom and she will confirm that truth. The same is true in reverse. In the words of Josh McDowell, “the best thing that a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Affair-Proofing Your Marriage


As we get set this Mother’s Day to start a new 6-week series on the family that we are calling “Reel Families,” I want to recommend a book to every married person. I think it is one of the most beneficial books on marriage ever written. Its author is Willard Harley and the book is entitled, His Needs Her Needs: Building an Affair Proof Marriage.

The premise of the book is that you can build your marriage by understanding the needs of your mate. When you understand and meet these needs, you have gone a long way to “affair-proofing” your marriage. Here is how. In spite of what you normally see on television, affairs do not normally begin with a physical or sexual attraction. Obviously, they can begin with this but in most cases this is not the origin. Most affairs begin by simply being “just friends.” Under the right circumstances, any of us can fall prey to a simple friendship becoming an affair if our needs are not being met by our spouse.

For example, one of the 5 needs of most every wife is the need for communication. Women don’t just like to talk, they need to communicate. That’s why two men can get together to watch a ballgame, say four words the entire three hours they are together, and leave feeling like true male bonding has taken place. Such is not the case with women. They need to talk while together (the whole time they’re together) in order to feel a friendship blossoming. That’s why as early as Junior High School, you will find girls going to the restroom in herds. You will never see men doing that.

But let’s say that we have a wife whose husband never talks to her outside of, “Hi, honey, I’m home” and “When’s dinner?” Over time this wife is starving for communication to take place with a man and she may not even realize it. Let’s say that this faithful, Christ-honoring wife sings in the choir at her local church and in the choir she is placed next to a man who is a very talkative guy. She has no physical or sexual attraction to him. In fact, he kind of looks like the proverbial geek. However, all through choir, whenever they’re not singing, they talk. He asks her about her life, her work, her dreams and her fears. He even remembers what she shares and follows up on what she communicates week to week.

Over time, this wife begins to look forward to choir practice. Why? Not because she is necessarily attracted physically to this fellow singer but because one of her needs is being met by him in the church choir loft that is not being met by her husband around their dining room table at home. Over time, this friendship develops into a physical attraction and ultimately leads to a full blown affair.

When we understand our mate’s 5 basic needs and how we can meet those needs, we go a long way to protecting our mate and affair proofing our marriage. The catch is that husbands and wives have completely different needs. Too often we try to meet our mate’s needs as if their needs were the same as our needs. They’re not the same. Over the next two blog entries we will overview the 5 basic needs of a wife and the 5 basic needs of a husband. Get the book and be sure to read it. Your mate will be glad you did.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Step Off The Path


In yesterday’ blog entry we summarized what it means to “guard our heart.” We ended by looking at Proverbs 4:27 which tells us not to turn to the right or to the left. In other words, guarding our heart is not about making sure we don’t go too far off the path of righteousness, it is making sure that we do not go off of the path at all. For example:

I don’t embezzle money from my workplace, but do I ever put a stamp bought with company money on a personal letter?

I don’t murder people, but is there still an individual that I have animosity towards and who I refuse to forgive?

I don’t publicly refuse to submit to the authority of our government, but do I drive over the maximum speed limit on the roads?

I remember shortly after sharing about “guarding your heart” in the church where I was on staff in Ohio, helping a friend move. They were just going across town. Actually, they hired professional movers and all Joe and I did was sip lemonade and watch them carry out all of the heavy furniture and boxes. However, there was not enough room in their truck for everything. As a result, Joe and I went down and rented a U-Haul. We loaded up what was left and took it to the new house across town.

We then went to return the truck. Joe mentioned that he needed to pull into a gas station to top off the tank as was required. I quickly suggested that the gauge still read full and that Joe could probably get away with taking the truck back and if they ask if he fueled it up he could say, “The gauge reads full” (great pastoral advice huh)? Joe nodded in agreement and started through the intersection where the gas stations were. Suddenly, he abruptly whipped the truck into one of the stations.

What are you doing?” I yelled.

He looked at me with a smile and simply said, “Guarding my heart!”

I wanted to hit him! He was right, but I still wanted to hit him. The truth is that it is not how far off the path we go that should be our concern. Our objective must always be to not go off the path at all.

In Bill Hybels’ classic book, Honest to God, he tells of a town that had a huge oak tree in the middle of its town square. It was the proud symbol of strength for that community. One day a strong wind caused the tree to topple revealing a trunk filled with disease. That which was such an outward symbol of strength on the outside had been very weak and vulnerable on the inside. Such is the case with Christians who do not guard their heart in the little things. We may look strong on the outside, but inside our heart is weak.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Guarding Your Heart


Last Sunday I preached a message here at Grace Church called, “Guarding Your Heart” from Proverbs 4:0-27. I have now preached this sermon in all three of the churches in which I have served on the pastoral staff. This may be one of my favorite sermons because it so speaks to my own heart.

In Proverbs 4:20-27, we see our need to receive these wise instructions with our whole person. We are to receive them with our ears (v20); with our eyes (v21); and with our body (v22). This is vital because they will be life to those that find them and health to the whole body. In other words they produce a total life that is well worth living.

As a result, we must make it a priority to guard our heart (v23). This is not speaking of the blood pumping organ in our chest. This is describing our whole being…the center of the mind, emotion and will. F.F. Bruce says that it is the center of our personality, decision and understanding. The Greek Septuagint (the translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into the Greek language) uses the word for heart meaning “mind” or “judgment.” Your heart is the place where decisions are born, where character is formed, and where actions take root. Scripture has much to say about the heart. It is what comes out of the heart that defiles man (Mark 15:18-20). The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). David asked God to create a new heart within him (Psalm 51:10).

The wise man says that we are to “watch over” our hearts. The King James Version says to “keep” our heart. The New International Version says to “guard” your heart. It literally means to “preserve” something and it is written in the form of a command. And we are to do this “with all diligence.” The New International Version says “above all else.” It is the concept of guarding something in prison. It is the idea of closely observing or protecting something. And we are to do this because it is the source of something that is vital. It is the source of where we receive direction for living. Your heart is the place where God speaks to you through His Word and through His Spirit. As a result, we are to guard our hearts. How do we do this?

First, don’t be DISHONEST (v24). Evil speech is a sure indicator of an evil heart.

Second, don’t be DISTRACTED (v25). The New International Version says, “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.” Temptation often comes via the eyes (1 John 2:15-16; Genesis 3:6). The perceptive person looks straight ahead, keeping their eyes on wisdom and on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Third, don’t be DANGEROUS (v26). Watch the path of your feet. In other words, make level paths for your feet. As a result, all your ways will be established.

Finally, don’t be DECEIVED (v27). Do not turn to the right or to the left. Folks, listen, the issue is not how far off the path you go, but to not go off the path at all. Guards up!

Friday, May 04, 2007

REEL FAMILIES


Leave it to Beaver…The Flintstones…All in the Family…The Cosby Show…Full House…Everyone Loves Raymond…and King of Queens!Reel” (TV) families have made up issues. “Real” families have actual issues. Join us this Mother’s day as we begin a new 6-week series called “Reel Families” in which we will examine what the Bible really says about family relationships. Below is a quick synopsis of each week:

· May 13: In The Beginning Of Marriage (Genesis 2:18-24)

How did the whole concept of marriage start? What was it that made God utter for the first time in recorded eternity the words that something was not good? What role did God having Adam name all of the animals play in the creation of marriage? How can the purpose of marriage be likened to a “two-headed monster”?

· May 20: The Masterpiece Of Marriage…The Wife’s Role (Ephesians 5:22-24)

What is God trying to paint on the canvas of your marriage? What is the wife’s role in this picture? What does it really mean to “be submissive”? How does this involve the ability to “duck”? How is it that the wife got the better end of the deal?

· May 27: The Masterpiece Of Marriage…The Husband’s Role (Ephesians 5:25-33)

What role does the husband play in the canvas of marriage? In what way is the husband given “mission impossible” by God? How does the husband doing his role go a long way to guaranteeing that his wife will do hers?

· June 3: My Husband’s A Jerk (1 Peter 3:1-6)

What do you do if your mate is not fulfilling their role? What is so significant about the response of the wife being “without a word”? What is more important than physical beauty? How did holy women in the Old Testament use to make themselves beautiful?

· June 10: Why Husbands Don’t Get Their Prayers Answered (1 Peter 3:7-9)

In what way is a wife weaker than her husband? How should this affect the way her husband treats her? In what way is a wife equal to her husband? How should this affect the way her husband treats her? How seriously does God take the husband fulfilling his role? What dire consequence takes place when a husband fails to do his job properly?

· June 17: The Great Relationship (Ephesians 6:1-4)

What is the role of a child as it relates to their parents? Why is this so vital? What is a father to do for his children? What is he not to do? How does this happen practically?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Day to Remember...February 3, 1991


Recently I was wading through a pile of things that were stuffed in the cabinets in my office and I came across the cassette tape of my ordination service which took place on my daughter’s first birthday, February 3, 1991, at the Community Grace Brethren Church located in West Milton, OH. I actually use to have a video of this special service but we accidentally taped Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer over it one Christmas when Joy was little. That still makes me mad to think about it! As a result, I was excited to pop in the tape I found and listen to it. WOW! I had really forgotten all that took place that night. Here were the highlights:

Duane Deal, who was the Music Director at the church, led the congregational singing of The Lily of the Valley, which was my favorite hymn as a child, and All Hail the Power of Jesus Name, which was my favorite hymn at the time of my ordination.

My dad, Charles Distler, Jr. gave a very moving testimony.

A close friend of mine and Laura, Dayna Garrett, sang the songs Ordinary People and Make My Life a Living Sacrifice.

Rev Forrest Jackson, who was the chairman on my ordination examination committee, gave a report of my examination.

Rev Steve Peters, the Senior Pastor at the church and my mentor who groomed me in ministry, gave a charge to the congregation.

My grandpa, the Rev. Charles Distler Sr., who is now with the Lord, gave the charge to the candidate, me…his grandson.

A group of men then laid their hands on Laura and me and prayed for us. These men included the ones I have mentioned…Charles Distler, Jr.; Charles Distler, Sr.; Forrest Jackson and Steve Peters. Along with them, other men included Bill Brown, who was a man on my youth staff that ran our Junior High ministry; Darrell Patrick, a board member of the church whose family I lived with while I interned at the church my last two summers in college; Ed Kuhns, who was the Vice Moderator of the church; and Jack Day, my father-in-law, who closed the service with the benediction.

Below is the note that Laura and I put in the program for that evening:

“Both of our fathers will be participating in the laying on of hands symbolizing our parent’s acknowledgement and support of the call of God on the lives of us, their children! We would like to offer a special thank you to each of our family members who sacrificed so much in order to travel many miles to share in this special day today. We love each of you! Happy birthday to our precious little gift from the Lord, little Joy Laura, who is a year old today!”

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Seduction of a Leader


Yesterday I showed our staff a talk given by John Ortberg (pictured) at the Leadership Summit in 2002 called The Seduction of a Leader. Here is a summary. When in the Bible does God give someone an easy job? He doesn’t. That is why there are certain abilities that make up effective leaders. But each of these abilities also have dangers and leaders are particularly vulnerable to these certain temptations, especially when under pressure.

A great leader is a RISK-TAKER. But the danger is when a leader begins taking risks for the sake of taking risks, because they are bored. Wise leaders have a relentless commitment to building accountability into the structure of their life and work. Risk-takers want accountability the least but need it the most. Someone should always know where you are as a leader. Risk-takes need a fearless truth teller in their life.

A great leader has SUPERB VERBAL SKILLS. The danger is that when the pressure is on, people who are very good with words will experience the temptation to misuse them. They begin to shade the truth and exaggerate things. They start deliberately distorting the truth so they can control the outcome. Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but the wise hold their tongues.” It is so hard to talk without sinning. Silence is one of the most important spiritual disciplines that needs recaptured by leaders today. Leaders need to set aside time on a regular basis to get away from noise and not speak. Where instead they meditate; they listen; and they're still. In Matthew 5:37, Jesus said to let your ‘yes” be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ Just speak simple truth.

A great leader is able to THINK STRATEGICALLY. The danger is that a leader can get so focused on their cause and career that they begin to view and treat other people simply as tools that are valued solely because they can be used. The danger is not that you will become too strategic as a leader but that the person you are strategically serving is really you and other people become spare parts in your machine. One of the most strategic things you can do is to occasionally engage in non-strategic acts of servanthood. Sometimes it is good to do something that will not help your career at all and to not tell anyone about it. The world is hungry for leaders who are genuinely humble servants.

Finally, great leaders have PASSION. The danger is that passion can get misdirected and addictive. If a leader is not experiencing passion in one area of their life, they will seek it somewhere else. One of the easiest ways for passion to get misdirected is into sexual misbehavior. One study found that keeping clear boundaries in the danger zone gets harder, not easier, with age. Misspent passion can also turn into anger or rage resulting in hurtful words scalding people around them. Leaders need to become experts at passion management. Leaders need to do whatever it takes so that the joy factor in their life is high enough that sin and temptation doesn’t begin to look good. No one has an inexhaustible supply of passion so you need to rest and care for your body; have relationships with replenishing people; and participate in interests outside of your work in order to keep your passion for God and His calling on your life as pure as you can.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Making it Hard to Go to Church


I listened to a wonderful message recently by Andy Stanley who pastors a large church in Atlanta. He is also the son of television preacher and author, Charles Stanley. He is a very gifted communicator and church leader. Let me give you a quick synopsis:

In Acts 15 we see the first really big church business meeting. By this time the church in Jerusalem has several thousand Jewish believers. As a result, the common thinking was that before you could be part of the church you first had to be Jewish. Now all Jewish men had something in common. They had all been circumcised. As Gentiles showed a desire to become part of the church this bothered some of the Jewish Brethren. Now there is a formula being proposed. In Acts 15:2 they propose that all Gentiles must be circumcised first before they can become saved and be part of the church. In the words of Andy Stanley, “that’s a pretty high standard for salvation.” Seriously, before you became a church member you had to first have an operation. The new member’s class must have been all women after word of this got out.

In reality, what was happening? The “insiders” were now making it difficult for the “outsiders” to become a part of the church. I find that happening a lot today. In reality we are making it more and more difficult for people to come to church. We are coming up with more and more formulas and requiring more and more change before people can attend our services. In the end, it is the church setting up obstacles making it hard for people to come and attend. It is like climbing a ladder with the bottom half of the rungs all missing. We have made it hard for people to connect with the church and to connect with God. That is what was happening in Acts 15 and it is what is happening today.

In Acts 15:10, Peter asks a question. He asks, “Why do you put God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” In other words, why are you requiring the outsiders to live by the standard of the Law that we were not able to live by ourselves? Why are you making it difficult for people to connect with the church and to connect with God? After all, Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. Why is it that we are spending all of our time trying to protect what has already been found.

In verse 13, James stands up and in verse 19 he concludes, “We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God!” AMEN! What a statement! Go James! That is why we here at Grace Church are all about meeting people where they are, not where we think they should be. Why is it that churches today seem to intentionally make it difficult for people to turn to God? What about people like the woman at the well; the woman caught in adultery; and tax collectors like Zaccheus and Matthew? They don’t need more obstacles put in front of them they need some bridges built to them

Why do we want to make it hard for people to connect with the church and with Christ? Listen folks, what we ought to be doing is making it hard for people to go to hell.