Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Nazirite Vow

The key to understanding the story of Samson is to understand what the Biblical practice of the Nazirite vow was all about. You can read about its description in Numbers 6. This practice came directly from God to Moses. The word “Nazirite” comes from a Hebrew word meaning to “separate” or “consecrate” and was a special vow taken by men or women to show their dedication to God. Though Samson is the first person mentioned by name in Scripture who took a Nazirite vow, there were definitely many people back to the time of Moses who took this vow as well. It would be similar to us today choosing to fast or even making a commitment like the Grace Church Bible Reading Challenge.

When a person took this vow, there were three criteria they had to follow. First, they could not eat or drink anything from the grapevine. Second, they could not have their hair cut during the time of their vow. And finally, they could not come near a dead body even if one of their closest family members died during the time-period of their vow. If you accidentally came in contact with a dead body during the time of your vow, you had to wait 7 days then shave your head and start your time-period over from the beginning.

Usually a Nazirite vow was determined by the participant and lasted anywhere between 30-100 days. At the end of the vow’s time-period the participant would shave their head and then offer three different sacrifices…a male lamb as a burnt offering; a female lamb as a sin offering; and a ram as a peace offering.

We learn in Judges 13 that Samson was unique in that he was to be a Nazirite from the womb until his death. Only two other people in Scripture were Nazirites for life. These included Samuel and John the Baptist. We do learn from the book of Acts that on at least two occasions Paul took a temporary Nazirite vow.

This is the key to understanding the story of Samson. So many people think that the source of Samson’s strength was his hair. The truth is that the source of his strength was his commitment to the Lord. His hair was just a symbol of that commitment. If you don’t think that’s true, read Judges 13-16 and mark every time you see the phrase that “the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson.” This was the source of his strength. As you read the story of Samson you see that this famous Old Testament character broke all three aspects of his Nazirite vow. The part which he broke last was having his hair cut by the infamous Deliliah. At this point the Spirit of the Lord left him as he had departed from every aspect of his lifelong commitment.

So what do we learn from this? What is the point we take home with us? The key to our spiritual strength isn’t our appearance or our abilities. The key to our strength is our being faithful to our commitment to the Lord. When we stay faithful to our commitment to God, we can be amazed at what spiritual strength God gives us to do things we never expected that we could do. But when we slide away from our spiritual commitment, like Samson, we will ultimately fail to see the power of the Spirit of the Lord in our lives.

If you are participating in our "Grace Church Bible Reading Challenge," today's reading is John 13-15. Be sure to go to our special website (http://blog.lgbc.org/) and share how God uses this passage in your life, read what others have written, or ask a question you have about the passage!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Breaking the Cycle

What do you think of when you think of the Old Testament character, Samson? For most people, all they really can remember is that he had great strength and long hair. But in Judges 13-16 we discover that there is far more to be learned from this great story. To understand the significance of Samson, we must first realize the history behind the man. The book of Judges reveals one of the darkest time in the Biblical history of Israel. Seven different times Israel goes through the same cycle. They rebel. God punishes them by allowing them to be oppressed by a heathen nation. Israel repents. God restores them. Judges 13:1 marks the seventh and final descent into this cycle. This time God uses the Philistines to punish Israel. This oppression lasted for 40 years.

In verse 2 we are introduced to Manoah, the father of Samson. The name of Manoah’s wife is not given but we do know that she is unable to bear children. Verse 3 says that “the Angel of the Lord” appeared to her with the message that she would give birth to a son. She is given instructions for this pregnancy. She could not drink any wine or strong drink or eat anything unclean. This was due to Samson taking a lifelong Nazarite vow.

A Nazarite Vow was usually temporary showing one’s commitment to God. According to Numbers 6:2-6 it involved 3 things. You could not drink wine or eat grapes. You could not cut your hair. You could not touch a dead body. Samson is to be a Nazarite for life. This is the key to his strength. Samson’s long hair was simply a symbol of his commitment to the Lord. His strength was due to the Spirit of God on him. Ultimately Samson will break all of the criteria of this vow. The last violation will be his hair being cut. As a result, the Spirit of the Lord will leave him and so will his strength. It is also interesting to note that most scholars agree that Samson did not look like a strong man. Why? Because his strength came from his spiritual life not his physical life.

Verse 5 gives us the sad one line description of Samson’s life. Scripture states that Samson would “begin” to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines. Samson would not finish…he would just begin. And such is the sad case of so many even today. The truth is that many Christians just don’t finish well. Once they hit their late 50’s and on, they bail out of ministry and rarely are involved in attempting anything big for the Lord.

In verses 6-23, Manoah’s wife tells him of the message and he asks for a second heavenly visitation. The messenger does return. Manoah, thinking the messenger to be human, desires to fix food for him but is instead told to offer a sacrifice to the Lord. He asks the messenger’s name and is told that it is “Wonderful.” This same word is used to describe the Messiah in Isaiah 9:6. Folks, listen, this heavenly messenger is none other than a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus. Remember, Jesus did not begin in Bethlehem. He is the eternal God. This divine messenger then enters the sacrifice’s flame and disappears.

All of Samson’s childhood is seen in Judges 13:24-25. In these verses we see that the secret to his strength was really not his hair. It was the Spirit of God being upon him.

If you are participating in the “Grace Church Bible Reading Challenge,” today’s reading is John 10-12. Be sure to go to our special website (http://blog.lgbc.org) and share how God uses this passage in your life, read what others have written, or ask a question about the passage!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Grace Church Demographics

On the Sunday after Mother’s Day (May 20, 2007) we conducted a survey in both of our Sunday morning services. 75% of those in the auditorium that Sunday participated in the survey. Below are some results and lessons we can learn from them:

4.3% of those completing surveys were first-time guests! Over the past fiscal year (July 1, 2006 through June 30, 2007) we averaged just shy of 1,200 in the auditorium each Sunday (1,191 to be exact). This does not count our kids…just auditorium attendance. That means that on any given Sunday here at Grace, we have over 50 people sitting in the auditorium who are first time guests to our church! Now if that does not get us to see the vital important of “first impressions,” I’m not sure what will. Every Sunday is over 50 people’s first Sunday at Grace Church!

How long have people been attending Grace Church? 46.5% of those in the auditorium on Sunday mornings have attended Grace Church for three years or less. 36.9% have attended Grace Church ten years or longer. The smallest percentage (16.6%) have attended our church for somewhere between four and ten years. This tells us that one of our greatest challenges as a church is to connect those who have been part of our church for ten years or more with those who are new to our church in the past three years.

I have often used the demographic that our mission is to reach every unchurched person that lives within 10 miles of our church. According to demographic studies I looked at prior to my coming to Lititz three years ago, there are approximately 250,000 people that live within a 10 mile radius of our church. But did you realize that 15.2% of our Sunday morning auditorium attendance drives more than 10 miles one way to attend Grace? Folks, listen, our target is way more than 250,000 people! In fact, the survey showed that 2.7% of the 1,200 people in the auditorium on a given Sunday have traveled more than 25 miles one way to attend Grace Church that morning.

Now here is a huge statistic. We asked in the survey what it was that first brought people to visit Grace Church. The results are fascinating but in no way surprising. 1.2% came for the first time as a result of our church website. 4.6% came to our church for the first time due to a special service that we had. 7.8% came to our church for the first time because of the ministries of MorningStar Daycare and Lititz Christian School. But a whopping 46.9% first entered the doors of Grace Church because they received a personal invitation from someone. Folks, listen, we can put on the greatest programs and have the most phenomenal ministries the world has ever seen, but the greatest way we are going to see Grace Church reach our community is for each one of us to regularly be inviting people to come check us out! Never underestimate the power of “the ask”!

In the movie, Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner was told, “If you build it, they will come!” I know that I am no Kevin Costner, but I would like to adjust that famous movie phrase as such, “If you ask them, they will come!”

If you are participating in the “Grace Church Bible Reading Challenge,” Friday's reading is John 1-3. Saturday's reading is John 4-6. Sunday's reading is John 7-9. Be sure to go to our special website (http://blog.lgbc.org) and share how God uses this passage in your life, read what others have written, or ask a question about the passage!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

You've Got Mail

Our daughter Joy was recently on a mission’s trip to Italy along with several students from Lititz Christian School. Their trip home was scheduled on July 3 to go from Rome to Heathrow Airport in London and then on to Philadelphia. As you know, the days leading up to July 3 included several terrorist attacks in the U.K. The day that they were arriving for their layover in England, Heathrow Airport had a bomb scare due to a suspicious package that was found in the airport. As a result, they evacuated the terminal that Joy’s team was to fly out of and cancelled all their international flights. The team found themselves in a 2.5 mile long line waiting to get to a counter to get booked on another flight. The verdict was that they would have to spend the next 2 nights in the airport before they could get on a flight home.

As a result of this news I sent out an e-mail update to the between 600-700 addresses that are on my Pastor’s E-mail Update list explaining the situation and asking for their prayers for our team. That e-mail was sent at about 3:30 in the afternoon. Later that evening at a little after 9 pm I received a call from one of our church members. He told me a very remarkable story. He said that he and his wife had another couple over and they were sharing and talking about some spiritual things. Neither he nor his wife had been on their computer for several hours and the computer, though on, had gone into sleep mode. As the couples shared they suddenly heard the computer printer kick on. They thought that strange since they had not been near the computer. They went into the other room where the computer was and saw that it had printed out not one, but two copies of my e-mail about our team stranded in England. They took that as the need to stop right then and pray for the team.

After they finished praying he called me to share this story with me. 9pm our time on July 3 would have been 2am London time on July 4. We both marveled as to why God would literally print off this e-mail at just that time so that these two couples would pray. Not many minutes after I got off of the phone with this gentleman from our church, I received a call from the dad of one of the other team members stranded in Italy. He asked if our phones were working. He said that all of the team members had been able to call home expect for Joy. She had tried our house phone and both of our cell phones multiple times but could not get through. A few minutes later this father called me back. He had Joy on their phone and was able to call us on another phone and put Joy on speaker phone so that we could talk to her for a few minutes. She sounded very tired but in good spirits and, most importantly, she was safe. We were all very relieved.

So what is my conclusion to all this? I believe that God knew that Joy needed to talk to us…or maybe that we needed to talk to her. I’m sure that in her frustration and also in her disappointment for not being able to get through to us, she prayed. It is just like God to respond to people’s prayers by getting others to pray. He cared that she could not get through to us and so He printed out my e-mail so that these two couples would pray. Within minutes He had worked and we were able to talk with our daughter in England. Cindy Wilson, the team leader, wrote this after the trip about this occurence,

"We expected to be home for July 4, we certainly did not expect to be stranded in London. It really didn't sink in at first that it may be difficult for us to find a way home. The lines were long, it was crowded and cold, we were down to our last pennies with no food and water, after 12 hours we still didn't have any idea how we were getting home! I felt the burden of caring for my 6 young teens. As I wandered the airport at 2 in the morning, crying out to God, I couldn't see how He was going to provide! I felt so helpless! Do you know that it was 9 pm in the evening your time? Just when God sent an e-mail to a couple who were led to pray!!!"

If you are participating in the “Grace Church Bible Reading Challenge,” today’s reading is Judges 13-16. Be sure to go to our special website (http://blog.lgbc.org) and share how God uses this passage in your life, read what others have written, or ask a question about the passage!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Don't DIE Until God Calls You Home!

Grace Church of Lititz, Pennsylvania has been privileged over the years to have Dr Bill Randolph as part of its family. Dr Randolph was the second president of Lancaster Bible College. Back in June, Dr Randolph went home to be with His Lord. My wife and I had the privilege of knowing Dr. Randolph for the past three years. I can tell you that it always meant a lot to me to have Dr Randolph hug me with one of his huge bear hugs after the Sunday morning service and tell me what my sermon meant to him.

Laura and I were also very privileged to attend Dr Randolph’s memorial service. I was moved listening to all of the wonderful tributes that were given about the impact of such a faithful servant of the Lord. But there was one statement that was made that to me stood “head and shoulders” above all others. Tim Weaver is another gentleman in our church who was to Dr Randolph what Timothy was to the Apostle Paul. Tim gave a tremendous eulogy which included some special pictures of Dr Randolph. One of these pictures was Dr Randolph, who was legally blind, sitting on a Harley Davidson motorcycle with his blind cane in hand. Tim talked of the way Dr Randolph lived his life to the fullest, in spite of his age and his physical disability. He then quoted a statement that Dr Randolph had told him. I loved it. He said (my paraphrase), “Tim, don’t die until God calls you home!

Now I am only 42 years old and I am in fairly good health. But one day I will join the ranks of the Senior Citizens and find my body and my health beginning to deteriorate more quickly. I have spent twenty years of ministry watching people who have already reached that golden stage of life. And to my despair, most seem to reach a point where either their age or their health causes them to simply quit living even though they are very much still alive. They stop challenging their mind. They stop all hobbies. They back out of all ministry involvement. It is as if they decide to spend the last decade or more of their life simply existing instead of living.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I fully understand that there are challenges with aging that are extremely difficult. One of the most vibrant and sweetest Senior Citizens I have ever met lives in Osceola, Indiana. Her name is Agnes Bracker. Agnes is well up there in age and has had many physical adversities. She would always say, “Getting old isn’t for sissies!” I’m sure she is right. Yet, like Dr Randolph did, she continues to get as much out of life as she possibly can.

My hope and prayer is that as the next several decades pass by and the challenges of aging become a daily reality for me, whatever the pain, whatever the age, whatever the disability, may I remember at that time the two phrases from two role models when it comes to growing old. May I never forget their powerful words:

Getting old isn’t for sissies!”

Don’t die until God calls you home!”

If you are participating in the “Grace Church Bible Reading Challenge,” today’s reading is Psalm 119:129-176. Be sure to go to our special website (http://blog.lgbc.org) and share how God uses this passage in your life, read what others have written, or ask a question about the passage!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

My Unstable Dog

In James 3:8, James tells us that our tongues are defiant. Most every creature known to man has been tamed by man. Yet, man is unable to tame his own tongue. Why? James says that it is because our tongue is “restless.” This is a word that means “unstable.” It was a word used to describe a wild animal resisting temptation. That is our tongue. It does not want to be controlled. It does not want to be mastered.

I have a “restless” and “unstable” dog. She is a Jack Russell Terrier named “Sandi.” She really is a good dog and she is usually very obedient, but she is still “unstable.” She is also very finicky. Sandi loves to lie on the chair with me when I sit down to watch television. Here is where her “unstableness” is seen. When Sandi lies on the chair with me, she does not want to be on my lap. She wants to be on the chair. However, it has to be the part of the chair on my left side. She will not lay on the right side. No way! If I move all the way over to the left in my chair, Sandi will put her paws on my chest and stick her nose right up against mine and hold that position until I scoot over so that she can lay on my left side. What a peculiar dog.

But the characteristic of being “unstable” continues. While Sandi is lying on the chair with me, she does not want to be petted. If I reach down and began to stroke her, Sandi will do one of two things. Sometimes she will get down, wait a few minutes, and then get back up as her way of communicating to me not to touch her. Other times she will just let out a low but firm growl to communicate that she wants me to take my hand off of her. She is “unstable.”

She is like that with people…all people. Sometimes she will show you all kinds of attention and seem like she is your new best friend. Other times she will simply growl at you. One minute you can be petting her and feeling her love and then, before you can notice a change of attitude coming, she will growl and snap at you, possibly even catching your finger. When people come to our hose we have to warn them to be careful with Sandi. “Why? Is she mean?” That’s just it…we don’t know from one minute to the next if she will be mean or not. She’s “unstable.” Whenever Brenda Rutt comes over to our house, Sandi pees. I don’t know what that’s all about. She’s just “unstable” (Sandi that is…not Brenda).

So is the case with our tongues. Just when we think we have it figured it out. Just when we think it is well under our control. Just when we think we have our tongues licked (no pun intended), it snaps. Suddenly words come out of our mouth that are very negative, hateful and destructive. We didn’t mean to say it. We can hardly believe the words came out, but they did. You know why? Your tongue is “restless.” It’s “unstable.” It resists being tamed. It is defiant. James goes on to say it is a “deadly poison.” Its venom is worse than that of a poisonous snake. A snake’s bite can only destroy your body. Your tongue’s ability to harm and kill goes far deeper. It can destroy your marriage. It can destroy your family. It can destroy your church. It can destroy your life.

If you are participating in our "Grace Church Bible Reading Challenge," today's reading is Psalm 119:81-128. Be sure to go to our special website (http://blog.lgbc.org/) and share how God uses this passage in your life, read what others have written, or ask a question you have about the passage!

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Problem with Church Prayers

Nothing of eternal importance happens apart from prayer!” If I heard Dr. Jerry Falwell say that once in the four years I spent attending Liberty University, then I heard him say it at least a million times. He drilled it into us. It wasn’t just a nice quote to him. It was tested and true. While Dr. Falwell was in Bible College, he got the key to an empty room in his dorm and spent several hours every day in that room alone with God reading his Bible and praying. Everyday, he started his activity with Bible reading and prayer. Dr. Falwell was a man of faith and a man of prayer and God blessed his ministry greatly.

But why is it that so many Christians today have anything but an effective and exciting prayer life? May I suggest a reason? You’re not going to like it. Oh, well, here it goes. I believe that most adults struggle with their prayer lives today because they grew up listening to thousands of prayers offered up in church services. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we should throw out church prayers. In fact, we probably need to pray more in church. But let’s be honest. Most prayers that are made in church services are not stated for the ears of God but rather for the ears of those who are sitting in the pews.

As a result, our prayer lives have become filled with religious clichés that are quoted regularly but without much thought or meaning. I wonder if we even know what we are asking for when we pray things like:

“Bless the missionaries!”

“Bless the gift and the giver alike!”

“Bless the food to our bodies and the hands that prepared it!”

And then there’s the one that bothers me the most. It’s when some well-meaning Christian prays, “God, we know You are with us because the Bible says that where two or three our gathered, You are there in their midst.” Now, come on! Yes, that quote is in the Bible but it is found in Matthew 18 dealing with the issue of confrontation as part of church discipline. Are we to take it that when we are by ourselves, God isn’t there? Of course not. Folks, we need to think when we pray. Sometimes our prayers are like:

“Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
And if he hollers, ‘let me go’
Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe!”

Are you ready for a real challenge to your prayer life…one that will stretch you and make you really think and concentrate? Here it is. In every prayer you offer up to the Father this week, do it without using any clichés that you heard in the thousands of prayers you listened to growing up in church. That’s right! Not even one cliché allowed this week!

Thursday, July 12, 2007


I love the local church. That’s why I do what I do. I am in love with the local church because I am in love with He who is the head of the church, Jesus Christ. In a day when many look down on the institution of the church and even believers have seemingly lost their confidence in the glory of the church, I still believe in the church and in its mission.

There are four core values that I have about the local church. These are values that I stand firmly on. These are values that I refuse to be shaken from no matter what or who the opposition might be. The first two actually come from one of my spiritual heroes, Bill Hybels. The third comes from another man that I greatly admire, Lee Strobel, who I heard say this at a conference I attended. The final one is my own, though I am sure it is not original. I just don’t know who else to give the credit. These core values are:

The local church is the hope of the world! I just believe it. The hope of the world is not the political system. The hope of the world is not the judicial system. The hope of the world is not in any certain economic system. The hope of the world is the local church because it is the church that has been given the only message of love, forgiveness, peace and eternal life through faith in a crucified, buried, risen Savior. In Matthew 5, Jesus called His followers the “salt of the earth.” That may not mean much to us today but it did back then. Next to the sun, salt was considered the most important commodity of that day because it was the only source of preservation that they had. Often, Roman soldiers got paid in salt, thus giving us the phrase, “worth one’s weight in salt.” Folks, we as the church are the most important commodity this word has. It’s us or it’s lights out!

There is nothing like the local church when the local church us working right! Acts 2 describes the beauty and effectiveness of this kind of church. I have seen it in action. I know the power and effectiveness it can have. That’s why I believe that if we are going to invest in anything it needs to be the local church.

Evangelism must be the engine that drives the church! I believe this and I will not be moved. That is what the church has been called to do. It is our mission. You want to see discipleship grow in your church…turn on the evangelism. You want to see worship take off in your church…turn on the evangelism. I have been accused by some of taking the churches I pastor off center by being too strong on evangelism. Nonsense! Evangelism is the target. It must be the engine that drives the church.

The best days of the local church are still ahead! Some feel the church is outdated. Some see it as boring and irrelevant. Not me! I am convinced now more than ever that the best days of the local church are still ahead. After all, someday the Lord Himself is going to return with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive remain will be caught up together to meet them in the air and so shall we ever be with the Lord! That’s right! The best days of the local church are still ahead! Let’s hear it! Three cheers for the church!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

They're All Gone

One of the most prominent theories to explain away the resurrection of Jesus is the claim that the women, who were the first witnesses of the resurrection, actually went to the wrong tomb. This theory would suggest that these women were very unstable and were in deep sorrow. It was early in the morning when they went to the tomb, probably still dark outside. With all of these adverse circumstances going against their accuracy, they simply went to the wrong tomb, an empty tomb which had never been used. When they saw that the tomb was empty, they mistakenly concluded that Jesus had resurrected.

Of all the theories suggesting that Jesus never rose from the dead, this is the only one that I can give any possible credence to at all. Why? Because I have seen something very similar take place. Back when I was a youth pastor, I would direct our summer youth camp. One night I was awakened about 3am when one of our lady counselors named Kelly was knocking on my cabin door in a serious panic. As I answered the door, she yelled, “They’re gone! They’re all gone!” I asked who was gone. She continued, “The girls in my tent! They’re all gone! Their suitcases are gone! Their sleeping bags are gone! They’re all gone!” She then said, “Come, look!”

Kelly took off toward the woods and I followed closely behind wandering what tragedy I was facing. We ran to the tent area and I followed Kelly into the tent. She was right. There were no girls! There were no suitcases! There were no sleeping bags! Everything was gone! I was quickly able to put together what happened. I took Kelly outside of the tent and pointed to another tent. I said, “Kelly, do you see that tent?” She nodded, still in some form of shock. I continued, “Kelly, that tent over there is your tent. This one is not your tent. This is an empty tent that we are not using this week. I think if you go over to that tent you will find your girls all snuggled up and sleeping soundly in their very own sleeping bags with their suitcases stowed neatly under the bunks!”

You see, Kelly had gotten up in the middle of the night to use the restroom which was a little bit of walk from the tent area. She was extremely tired as all of our counselors were by that time in the week. She also was not feeling well. Due to all of these adverse circumstances, Kelly had returned to the tent area and accidentally stepped into a tent that she thought was hers but was actually one that we were not using that week. She had mistakenly concluded that all of her girls had been kidnapped by a band of kidnappers who were also going to hold their sleeping bags and suitcases for ransom as well.

Now, if it could happen to Kelly at summer camp, why couldn’t it happen to Mary and the other women on that early morning so many years ago? Sure it could have. But let’s be reasonable. Just like I had done with Kelly, don’t you think someone would have shown Mary and the other women the right tomb that still had the body of Jesus lying in it? Listen, folks, if the women went to the wrong tomb, then so did the men. In fact, we would have to conclude that the wrong angels ultimately went to the wrong tomb and told the wrong women that the wrong Savior had been wrongly resurrected!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Am I talking too much?

Yesterday I told you about a man named Walt who I had the thrill of leading to Jesus along with his wife. Mary. They are both now in glory enjoying the presence of Jesus. I can’t help but be overwhelmed at the thought that God would use someone like me to help someone else find the truth about heaven. I will never forget the first time that someone that I had a part in seeing come to know Jesus was taken to heaven.

Her name was Karen. Karen was a sweet teenager who started coming to our Youth Group through our bus ministry where I was the youth pastor in West Milton, Ohio. Karen was overweight and a bit backwards. Yet, she immediately won over the hearts of everyone in the youth group and ultimately everyone in the church. At one of our youth activities to King’s Island Amusement Park, Karen gave her heart to Jesus. She was the only believer in her family. Yet, she was so faithful. She never missed Sunday morning. She never missed Sunday night. She never missed a Wednesday or a youth activity.

Karen loved to talk. She really could talk your ear off. She would get a rambling about 100 miles per minute and then she would suddenly stop, get a silly look on her face, and ask, “Am I talking too much?” Of course she was, but nobody ever told her that. We loved Karen.

I had the joy of baptizing Karen. She had such a soft heart. Every Sunday morning, Pastor Steve, our Senior Pastor at the church, would give an invitation and every Sunday morning Karen would go forward and say, “I just want to love Jesus more!” Some people in the church suggested to Pastor Steve and I that we should tell Karen to not go forward every week as it looked bad to others. I loved Pastor Steve’s response. It was very simple. He said he just wished everyone in the church would have as soft a heart for Jesus as Karen did. As usual, he was exactly right.

After I had left Ohio to take on the Senior Pastorate of the Grace Brethren church in Osceola, Indiana, we got word that Karen had passed away. She had gone into the hospital for a very simple procedure, but as I remember it, her lung collapsed and she died. That was the first time I had ever had it happen to me. Someone that I had helped to introduce to Jesus so that they could one day go to heaven was now actually there. I can’t describe to you what that day was like for me.

Somehow I could just picture sweet little Karen getting to heaven and standing next to the throne of Jesus just talking a mile a minute. And I chuckled as I thought of Karen suddenly stopping and getting that silly look on her face and saying to Him, “Jesus, am I talking too much?” Of course she was, but I doubt Jesus would tell her that. He would just listen and love her. After all, her goal every Sunday when she came forward was to just love Jesus more! I can’t wait to get to heaven and see Walt and Mary. I can’t wait to get to heaven and see Karen. And there are many, many more names I could give you. But most of all, I can’t wait to get to heaven and see Jesus! The best is yet to come!!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Would you preach my dad's funeral?

Years ago while as I was in my office studying, a man from my church named Greg called and asked if I would preach his dad’s funeral. I didn’t realize that Greg’s dad lived local or that he was even sick. Their relationship had been strained for years but now his father, Walt, was in the hospital and was not expected to live much longer. I asked if it would be alright if I went and visited Walt. Greg warned me that his dad did not care much for religion and really had a dislike for preachers.

My first visit with Walt was at the hospital. We were able to talk a little about Greg and a lot about Notre Dame football, but he wouldn’t allow me to get to any kind of spiritual topic. I visited several times with the same outcome. Eventually, they sent Walt home where his dear wife, Mary, would care for him. One morning my schedule took me to the side of Elkhart where Walt lived and so I stopped by to visit. I knocked on the door but there was no answer. I jotted a note on the back of my business card and stuck it in the door and went back to my car. As I was opening my car door, I saw Walt at the front door of his house and he looked very sick. He said, “Reverend” (Walt was the only person in my life who has ever called ‘Reverend’), “I don’t feel well today. Could you come back another time?” I graciously agreed and gave Walt a Gospel tract and asked him to read it and suggested that when I did come back we could talk about it.

The next day Greg called me. The story he told me was awesome. That night his dad called Greg and asked him to come over. As they sat at the kitchen table, Walt told Greg that “the Reverend” had been by and that he had given him a pamphlet to read. Walt then took the tract I had given him out of his pocket and slid it across the table to Greg. He told Greg to look at the last page. On that page was an opportunity to pray and receive Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior and a blank line where you could sign your name saying that you had accepted Jesus. Greg looked at that page and about fell off of his chair when he saw Walt’s signature.

Walt started to get better physically and began coming to church every Sunday. He was a big man but his legs were weak so he could not stand when we sang, but he would sit there and smile through each song. A few weeks after Walt had received Christ he called me up and said, “Reverend, you need to come over here and talk to my wife about getting saved. She needs it bad.” I did go over and had the privilege of leading Mary to Christ while sitting with them in their living room.

I baptized Walt about a month later. His legs were still very weak. In fact, his son had to get in the baptistery with me as I baptized his dad. The only way for me to get Walt under the water was for Greg to go under right along side of him. What a special moment that was. It wasn’t long afterwards that Walt and Mary went to Arizona to visit their son. While there, Mary had a massive heart attack and died. I preached her funeral. I got a call recently telling me that Walt passed away as well. With tears running down my face I thought about Walt and Mary; and about the great Savior we have in Jesus!

Friday, July 06, 2007

A New Fiscal Year (part 2)

A 10% increase over actual giving is a greater increase in our budget than we typically take. Giving for the last fiscal year was 4.4% over the previous fiscal year. To meet this budget, we will need all of our church family, members and regular attenders alike, to make this a daily matter of prayer and to evaluate their own stewardship and giving. I want to take this opportunity to ask you to pray through the following two questions.

Do you give regularly and systematically to the Lord’s work here at Grace? In Scripture (Proverbs 3:9-10, Malachi 3:10 and 2 Corinthians 9:6) we are taught clearly to give to God “first” of all that He provides for us. So many times we tend to simply give to God what I like to call, “leftover giving.” In other words, we pay our bills and put aside what we feel we will need for ourselves and then we give to God a portion of what we have “left over.” As a result, many Sundays come and go with our giving little or nothing to the Lord.

I want to challenge you to start this fiscal year by taking a step of obedience and faith and deciding in advance to give to God “first.” Take time to prayerfully consider how much God is leading you to give each and every week to His work here at Grace Church and then be faithful to that amount. Contact the church office and request giving envelopes if you don’t already have them. These will help you to give regularly and will allow us to give you a tax receipt at the end of the calendar year that you can use as a deduction on your income tax. The Bible doesn’t promise you riches if you will give to God first, but God does promise that He will bless you and meet your needs. In Malachi 3, He tells us to test Him by putting the Lord first in our giving and see if He does not open up the windows of heaven and bless us. Remember, God always rewards obedience.

If you are already giving regularly and systematically to the work of the Lord here at Grace, let me also ask you to prayerfully think through this second question. Are you giving to God your best? When it comes to our stewardship, God deserves not only our “first” rather than our “leftovers,” He also deserves our “best” rather than just our “norm.” As we entered this new fiscal year I have prayerfully evaluated my giving and have been able, starting this month, to raise my weekly giving 12.5% over last fiscal year. There is nothing magical or spiritual about that number, it simply is what I believe to be my best. I am not asking you to raise your weekly giving by 12.5%. I am simply challenging you to prayerfully consider if you are giving to God your best.

Because this is such an important year, I am planning to send out a letter at the start of each additional quarter of this fiscal year (October 1, January 1, and April 1) to our entire church family giving you an update on where we are financially as a church. This is going to be a great year. I am believing God to do superabundantly more than anything we could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). I hope that you are as well. My prayer is that each of us will be faithful stewards, not just of our finances but more importantly, of our entire lives.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A New Fiscal Year (part 1)

Last Sunday was July 1st, the first day of our new fiscal year here at Grace Church. Over the past 12 months we have seen God do so many wonderful things. It was a record year for Grace Church when it comes to Sunday morning attendances; offerings; and most importantly, people coming to know Christ. I don’t think I will ever forget that day when we baptized 104 people in one Sunday morning. This past fiscal year also included the largest Bible School we have ever had along with effective events like the Christmas Walk-Thru; Youth Fifth Quarters; The Beach Blast; The Easter Egg Hunt; and our Rodeo and Western Event that allowed us to build bridges to literally thousands of people from our own community. The past year also saw another tremendous year of impacting many young lives through the ministries of MorningStar Daycare and Lititz Christian School.

In my 20 years of pastoral ministry, I have never experienced such an amazing ministry year. As a result, I firmly believe, as does our Church Staff and Elder Board, that this coming fiscal year (July 1, 2007 through June 30, 2008) will be a year beyond anything we have ever seen here at Grace…a year of unprecedented growth. In putting together our budget for the coming twelve months, we have planned with this in mind.

We have put together a budget that will allow us to meet more people than ever before right where they are and then help move them to where God wants them to be. At the same time we want to be able to continue to take our former mortgage payment ($297,000 a year) and to put that same amount into our Facility Expansion Fund so that we are primed for future expansion as God directs us. In fact, this summer our Concept Development Team will begin working on plans for our twelve acres of land across the street that will allow us to more effectively fulfill our mission while paving the way for us to be able to expand our present facility.

This fiscal year we will add Tim Auld to our staff as our Pastor of Spiritual Formation. We have also made increases to our children’s ministries. Over the last fiscal year we increased our Children’s Director position from part-time to full-time and we increased our Early Childhood position from just 5 hours a week to a part-time position. We are now ready to see our Children’s Ministry reach levels never before seen here at Grace. We are also giving great emphasis this coming year in seeing all of our new people, and the many more that will be joining us this year, become more connected to our church.

As you can see, this is going to be a very exciting and very important fiscal year for our church in regards to our present and our future ministry. It is this excitement and anticipation that unified our Elder Board in taking a step of faith and presenting a budget that is a 10% increase over the actual giving of the past fiscal year. This budget was unanimously approved by the congregation at our annual business meeting in June. It will allow us to be able to accomplish all of our plans for this upcoming year, including $200,000 going to missions that will allow us to have a greater global impact for Christ while still allowing us to position ourselves for the future.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Pre-Chewed Banquet

Imagine that I was taking you out to the world’s greatest smorgasbord…I mean one that would make Shady Maple here in Blue Ball, Pennsylvania look like the "Romper Room" of buffets. Now imagine that when we got there, this unbelievable spectacle of piggery before you included your most favorite foods and the taste would be far greater than anything you have ever digested. Because I would only take you to a real classy venue, imagine that a waiter carried your plate for you as you loaded it up with all the delectable morsels. Then he carried it to your table so that you didn’t have to.

As you sit down, your mouth watering, and tucked your napkin into your collar, this waiter surprisingly places an empty plate in front of you. He then proceeds to take your plate of food and bite by bite he places it in his mouth, chews it up 36 times, and then spits it out on to your plate. He then continues until every speck of the food you so relished is now laying in a saliva piled mound on the once empty plate in front of you. My guess is, that with the exception of a few Junior High boys I know, you would not put one bite of that pre-chewed food into your mouth. Am I right?

If that is true, then here is my question? How come that is the only way many of you ever eat spiritually? For many of you, the only time you take in any of the Word of God into your heart and mind is listening to the pre-chewed principles that come from me on Sunday morning. Folks, you have got to start feeding yourselves from Scripture!

Every once in a while I will hear someone say, “I sure wish church or youth group or whatever was deeper!” Folks, listen, if you are not getting depth in your spiritual life, quit blaming the church! You have no one to blame but yourself. You want to go deeper? Then open your Bible and have at it! Learn how to feed yourself! Do you realize the price that many men paid so that you could have your Bible today?

William Tyndale (picutred)was a theologian and scholar who translated the Bible into an early form of Modern English. He was the first person to take advantage of Gutenberg’s movable-type press for the purpose of printing the scriptures in the English language. Besides translating the Bible, Tyndale also held and published views which were considered heretical, first by the Catholic Church, and later by the Church of England which was established by Henry VIII. His Bible translation also included notes and commentary promoting these views. Tyndale's translation was banned by the authorities.

Tyndale was betrayed by a friend and was arrested and imprisoned in the castle of Vilvoorden for over 500 days of horrible conditions. He was tried for heresy and treason in a ridiculously unfair trial, and convicted. Tyndale was then strangled and burnt at the stake in the prison yard, Oct. 6, 1536. His last words were, "Lord, open the king of England's eyes." This prayer was answered three years later, in the publication of King Henry VIII’s 1539 English “Great Bible”. Pre-chewed spiritual food may be fine for Sundays, but the real need in the church is for each Christian to feed on the Bible daily!

Monday, July 02, 2007


“Revelation” is the theological word for God revealing Himself to mankind. According to Hebrews 1:1, in Bible times God spoke to mankind in a variety of ways. Sometimes it was through angelic messengers; sometimes through a loud voice; sometimes through a still, small voice; sometimes through dreams; sometimes through visions; and once, He even did so through a 4-legged donkey. Now that should not be too surprising because it seems to me that He still speaks through a few 2-legged donkeys even today.

There are two types of revelation. One is what we call “general revelation” and it includes things like nature (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:18-20); conscience (Romans 2:14-16); and history (I Corinthians 10:1-6). The other type is what we call “specific revelation” which includes the Bible, or Inspired Revelation (Deuteronomy 29:29; 2 Peter 1:20-21) and Christ Himself, or what we call Incarnate Revelation (John 1:1, 14, 18).

Today it is the Bible which is the main way that God reveals Himself to man. But what exactly does it mean when we say that the Bible is “inspired”? 2 Timothy 3:16 teaches us that “all” Scripture is “inspired,” a term literally meaning “God-breathed.” 2 Peter 1:20-21 teaches that no Scripture was thought up by the Prophets but rather was given as the Spirit moved upon men. This was done in such a way that it was given exact in all details and strokes (Matthew 5:18).

There are many false theories about inspiration. Some say that the Bible is inspired like William Shakespeare is inspired. Some believe that God dictated the Bible to the writers word for word. Some believe that only the main thoughts of the Bible are inspired. Some believe that only certain parts of Scripture are inspired. Some believe that the Bible is infallible only in religious matters. Some believe that the Bible becomes inspired as we understand it. Others believe that only certain translations are inspired. The truth about inspiration of Scripture is that all (plenary) the very words (verbal) of the Bible are inspired. Inspiration involves the inspired guidance by the Holy Spirit using the inspired personality of the authors to produce inspired words.

Inspiration does not guarantee the inspiration of translations. Inspiration does not allow for any false teaching but it does on occasion record someone’s lie (Genesis 3:4). Inspiration does not permit historical, scientific, or prophetic error. Inspiration does not exclude the use of symbols or pictorial language (Psalm 91:4). Inspiration does not mean uniformity in all details (Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19).

What inspiration does do, however, is to assure us that God included all the necessary things in Scripture that He wanted us to know and excluded everything else. According to 2 Timothy 3:15-17, inspiration means that in Scripture God gave to us everything we needed to be equipped to do every good work. Some believe that God is giving extra revelation and “words of knowledge” today. If that is true, then 2 Timothy 3:15-17 is wrong and the Bible isn’t enough. The Bible is enough. It is the inspired Word of God!