Friday, November 30, 2007

A.I.M.: Angelic Instant Messengers

This Sunday is the first Sunday of December which propels us right into the heart of the Christmas season here at Grace Church. Throughout the five Sundays of December we will be studying the topic of angels in a series we are calling A.I.M.: Angelic Instant Messengers. Angels are very popular in our culture, but not near as much as they are during the holiday season. The truth is that most Americans get their facts about angels from Clarence in Christmas shows like, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” than they do from the Bible. So how much do you know about angels? How would you answer the following questions?

What is the meaning of the word “angel”?

How many books of the Bible mention angels?

How many New testament authors mention angels?

How many times are angels mentioned in the Bible?

Where did angels come from?

When did the creation of angels take place?

What are angels like?

Do angels have physical bodies?

Do angels have wings and halos?

How many angels are there?

Are there more angels today than when they were first created?

What do angels do?

What different types of angels are there?

How many angels are mentioned by name in Scripture?

Are demons also angels?

The first two Sundays of the month we will take aim at angels in general and answer all of the questions above plus more. The next two Sundays we will look specifically at the involvement of angels in the Christmas story. On the final Sunday of the month we will examine twelve ways that angels were involved in the earthly life of Christ. Join us at Grace for Sundays in December.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Are they doomed to hell?

Last Sunday we talked about a website called which amazingly encourages people to video tape themselves denying the existence and power of the Holy Spirit and downloading that video on “You Tube” for the world to see. This website is taken from verses in Mark 3 and Matthew 12 which teach that whoever commits the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit can never be forgiven. On this website there are literally hundreds and hundreds of videos, predominantly of young people, making such horrifying testimonials. We even showed a few of them in church last Sunday morning.

Several of you have asked me since then if this means that all of these hundreds of people are now damned and doomed for hell because they have made such statements. Many of you have wondered if these people could ever change and be converted. It is important to keep in mind that just as the simple saying of words in a prayer does not save a person, neither does the simple saying of words forever damn someone to hell.

In the passages in Mark 3 and Matthew 12, the religious leaders of the day had claimed that the power that Jesus had demonstrated was not from heaven but rather that it found its source in Satan. Though these individuals had seen the evidence of God’s deity in Christ up close and personal, they had once and for all determined to reject its truth and to deny the reality of who Christ was. This was a permanent and absolute refusal to believe. They would not change. They had seen the truth and knowingly rejected it.

Now what about these individuals who have posted these statements on “You Tube” through the Are they going to hell? There is no question that if they do not repent and receive Christ, yes, they will definitely spend eternity in the Lake of Fire. But are they doomed already with no chance to change? I’m not sure we can answer that question. I know people who once believed statements like are being posted on this website but who ultimately came to faith in Christ and for all intents and purposes appear to be true children of God, born again through the Spirit of God. Have these individuals on “You Tube” made this final verdict of rejection or is there still room in their heart for repentance? Only God really knows the answer to that question.

One thing is for sure. It is websites like this one and videos like the over 1,400 that you can find there that should motivate us like never before to pray for lost people and share our faith with them. That’s why I would encourage you to remember the wall in our auditorium where we have written then names of some 3,000 people that we know who need to know Christ. Pray for them daily. Build bridges to them regularly. Partner with the ministries of Grace Church to see them come under the sound of the Gospel of Christ. Christmas is fast approaching. Have you invited your “Target Three” to church? Sunday morning, December 23, will be our special Christmas worship followed by two Christmas Eve services (5:30 and 7:00) on December 24 that will be no more than an hour in length and which will be geared to the entire family. These are great opportunities for each of us to meet people where they are and help move them to where God wants them to be.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Spiritual VOCAB

Remember the vocabulary tests you use to have to take when you were in school? Each week you were given 20 words to learn the definitions and spelling of each. Well, let me give you a vocabulary list of key words that deals with your salvation. Because it’s been a long time since many of you have been in school, I’ll be kind and just give you 12 words instead of 20. Your job is to learn the definitions and spelling of each of them. And for extra credit take time to read each Scripture verse listed as well. Here we go:

DEPRAVITY = All sinners are capable of all wicked things and no sinner has the power to please God on his own (Rom 8:7, 8; 3:10-12)

SUBSTITUTION = Christ died in our place paying the debt of sin that we owed (I Peter 3:18; Heb 10:4; Jn 10:11)

PROPITIATION = Through Christ’s death, He satisfied the holy wrath of a just God due to our sin (I John 2:2; 4:10)

CONVERSION = The turning on the part of an individual from sin and to God (Psalm 19:7; 51:13) involving both repentance (turning from sin) and faith (turning to God)

REPENTENCE = A voluntary and sincere change in the mind of the sinner causing him to turn from his sin (Matthew 3:2, 8; Acts 2:38; 3:19)

FAITH = A confident assurance (Heb 11:1) based on the Word of God (Romans 10:17) that produces a change in my life (James 2:17)

RECONCILIATION = A relational change of standing from a position of enmity before God to a position of friendship (Eph 2:16; Col 1:20-22)

REGENERATION = God imparting to the believing sinner a new nature (Titus 3:5; John 1:12, 13; 3:3; Ephesians 2:1-3)

ADOPTION = The believer receiving the position as a child of God (Galatians 4:4-5; I Peter 1:1-9; John 1:42; Revelation 2:17)

JUSTIFICATION = The legal act whereby man’s status before God is changed forever (Romans 5:1; Titus 3:7)

SANCTIFICATION = The process by which the believer is being set apart from sin and set apart to God (Romans 6:1-23)

GLORIFICATION = Our future bodies and existence where sin is no longer present (Romans 8:30; Colossians 3:4; I Peter 5:1)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Razor on Strike?

If you were here Sunday you may have noticed that I did not shave this week. You had to look real close, mind you, but it was in fact noticeable. You see, I have never been one who has been able to grow a full mustache or beard. It’s really bummed me out. Some guys can shave in the morning and have a full beard by 5pm that afternoon. That’s not me. I use a razor but a warm hot dog would probably accomplish the same thing.

Actually, I hate shaving. Boy, am I glad I’m not a woman!! At least all I have to shave is my face. My hate for shaving probably stems back from when I first started. I had horrible acne as a teenager, thus all the scars on my face. Unfortunately no one had yet invented the 4-wheel drive razor so every time I shaved it was a new adventure in blood and pain. And, of course, the after shaving splash of cooling cologne definitely added insult to injury. So, I have never really enjoyed the daily grind of shaving.

I tried once to grow a beard about 6 or 7 years ago. I made it three weeks. Although it was nice to not have to get the Edge Gel out every day, it didn’t take time for me to get tired of this substance on my face that didn’t even come close to resembling anything near a mustache or a beard…so I shaved. It actually disappointed my wife. She was growing accustomed to it. Imagine that! What a woman!

So over the Thanksgiving holiday, I never pulled out my razor. I had every intention to break out the cream and blade last Saturday night so that my handsome face was again smooth and presentable last Sunday, but I decided not to. Why? I’m not really sure. Maybe it was pure laziness. Maybe it is some form of pent up rebellion in my life stemming back to my childhood. Maybe it’s a new seeker-friendly ministry philosophy which will allow me to write a best selling book I'll call, The Razor Driven Church. Is age 42 ripe for a mid-life crisis? I really can’t explain it. I just didn’t shave. Maybe you noticed. In fact, it may have just been part of some of your dinner conversations last Sunday after church.

So now what? Now it’s decision time. Do I dare try again? Do I dare let my Fusion Razor and Edge Gel sit in my bathroom drawer and not pull it out or do I return to the daily grind of shaving? I’m not sure of the answer yet but I have decided this one thing. If I go back to shaving it will happen by this Sunday and you will know by my smooth acne-scarred face when you come to church. However, if I don’t shave this week then I have decided that I am in it for the long haul. That’s right. If I don’t shave this week it won’t be just a passing fancy or horrid experimentation. If my face isn’t completely smooth come this Sunday than you will not see it smooth again until….are your ready for this? (drum roll, please)…until Easter Sunday morning, March 23, 2008.

That’s right! If I do not shave this week then I am committed to trying to grow a beard for four full months…from Thanksgiving to Easter. There will be no retreats! There will be no reserves! There just might be a few regrets but, oh well, sometimes you just got to live dangerously. So what will the verdict be? You won’t know before Sunday morning because I won’t know until then either.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Hating the Enemies of God

When someone is very valuable to you and another person attacks them in a vile and hateful manner, how does it make you feel? If someone verbally abused your mate or your child in a hateful, open and blatant manner, how would you respond? David has just spent the first 18 verses of Psalm 139 meditating on the greatness of God. Now he focuses on those who hate the God that He loves. Who is David speaking of? Note the descriptions. He calls them the wicked (v19); Men of bloodshed (v19); God’s enemies (v20); Those who hate God (v21); and Those who rise up against God (v21). Based on these descriptions, these were not moderate, passive foes of God. They were unashamed, hateful, open and blatant despisers of God and God’s people. These individuals are mainly identified by their tongue seen in their verbal irreverence and their profanity.

What does David ask God to do? David asks God to slay the wicked. This may seem extreme but go back to the questions I raised earlier. David was not taking matters into his own hands. This is not a verse justifying blowing up abortion clinics or other atrocities committed under the banner of righteousness. David is simply stating that an enemy of God is an enemy of his as well. He longs for the day when all the enemies of God will be punished. He is also depending on God to protect him from these enemies.

Why does David make such a request? David wanted to be removed from every enemy of God. A close companionship with haters of God will take a damaging toll on our spiritual life. Spurgeon said, “Godless men are not the stuff out of which true friends can ever be made.” Paul wrote similar words in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals.” David hated these enemies of God meaning that he rejected them and wanted no association with them.

But David does not end the chapter with a decree for revenge on God’s enemies. The greatest hatred that we should have as followers of Christ is a hatred for sin in our own lives. Psalm 139 can be divided by direction. In verses 1-18, David looks up. In verses 19-22, David looks around. And in verses 23-24, David looks within. David asks God to search him and know his heart. The word “search” means “to explore, dig or probe.” David asks God to penetrate down to where his unspoken words dwell and where unstated motives hide in secret. He also asks God to try him and know his anxious thoughts. David is asking God to test him for secret sins. He is asking God to find anything that could distract him from his fellowship with his Creator. David desires to know anything in his life that can hurt his relationship with God. He desires to be led in “the everlasting way.” In other words, he wanted to be a man of God.

It’s easy to want God to slay His enemies in our culture today. But if we really understand how great our God is we will have even more of a hatred for sin in our own lives. We will be asking God to slay the enemies of lust, gossip, hatred, bitterness and selfishness that are found in our own hearts. When was the last time you asked God to slay the enemies of sin in your own life? How great is our God!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Jonathan Swift on Thanksgiving

In the classic book, Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift gives us his opinion of ingratitude to friends and benefactors when he describes the laws of the “Lilliputians” in this way:

Ingratitude is reckoned among them a capital crime; for they reason this, that whoever makes ill return to his friends and benefactors must needs be the enemy to the rest of mankind, from whom he hath received no obligation. And, therefore, such a man is not fit to live.”

Dr. David Soper, in his book, God Is Inescapable, suggests that basically the difference between a prison and a monastery is just the difference between griping and gratitude. Undoubtedly, this is true. Imprisoned criminals spend every waking moment griping; self-imprisoned saints spend every waking moment offering thanks. Dr. Soper says,

When a criminal becomes a saint, a prison becomes a monastery; when a saint gives up gratitude, a monastery becomes a prison.”

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving! I trust that is will be a wonderful day for you. I think that of all holidays, I enjoy Thanksgiving more than any other. We use this day as a family to set up our Christmas trees (I have to use the plural there because my wife is a Christmas tree fanatic who desire a Christmas tree in every room within our house). Add to this the turkey and football and then the day after in which Laura and I always spend out fighting the crowds at the stores (we just love that kind of thing) and you have one tremendous Holiday! And after all, it should be. But as we enter this special day tomorrow, here are some quotes to help us focus our thoughts on the need to give thanks in everything:

Thanksgiving unlocks the power of God’s grace. When we take time to count our blessings, suddenly we are overwhelmed by the knowledge of God’s goodness and our own unworthiness. We realize that the God of the universe has chosen to grace our lives with good things in spite of our sinful disobedience. He remains faithful to us even when we do not give Him the praise and thanks He deserves.” (Jerry Falwell)

However, there is at least one other important reason why we should be thankful to God. To acknowledge His goodness is to see Him as He is and to take our rightful places as His wholly dependent subjects.” (George Sweeting)

Thanksgiving thoughts are often sighs of relief that we aren’t like others: living in a politically oppressed society; starving in a famine-wasted land; fighting a debilitating disease; or driving a rusted and battered car. True thanksgiving doesn’t begin with human comparisons, but with God, the giver of life and all that is good.” (Terry Hall)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Perfect Week in the Life of a Senior Pastor

At last summer’s Leadership Summit, Bill Hybels spoke on the topic, “A Vision To Die For.” He opened his talk by jokingly describing the perfect week in the life of a Senior Pastor:

The pastor finishes his sermon on a Sunday morning and the message that he gives is so anointed and powerful that he spikes his Bible on the stage as he walks off. He gets in his car and he does three victory laps around the parking lot just waving to the people. He goes then to the summer home of a wealthy church member for a three day time of solitude and spiritual retreat where he asks God to talk to him about the future of his church. Two days into the retreat, God opens the windows of heaven and dumps a smoking hot vision for the future of this pastor’s church. The vision is so exciting that the pastor’s fingers are trembling as he types it all out on his laptop. He can’t wait to get back home to his family and to his church to talk to them about this vision that God gave him. But he was supposed to be away for three days so on Wednesday he squeezes in a round of golf. He beats his handicap by four strokes. He even gets a hole in one on the 18th.

He pulls into his driveway on Wednesday night. His kids are already in bed but his wife is up and she stays up listening to his vision for the church for two solid hours. She is in awe of the vision that God gave the pastor. As she dozes off to sleep that night she thinks quietly to herself, “I am not worthy to be wed to such an extraordinary man who in three days can single-handedly discern the will of God for the whole church for the next five years. I am just not worthy.” The next two mornings the pastor goes into the church office and he holds up privately to write out his thoughts so he can deliver the vision talk this coming Sunday. Some staff members wander around the office wondering what happened on the pastor’s three day retreat but his trusty assistant keeps them at bay saying it is all top secret stuff. They are going to all have to wait until Sunday.

When Sunday arrives and he finally casts the vision that God gave him on that three day retreat, he really casts this vision. And he knows it is going pretty well when the head Elder stands up and cries out, “These are not the words of a mere mortal.” People are clapping one moment and crying the next. The vision is received so enthusiastically by the congregation that they give him a standing ovation at the end. In fact, board members hoist him up on their shoulders and carry him down the center aisle. Large donors are meeting in the corner and they have got their checkbooks out and they are arguing with each other about who is going to get to underwrite the whole thing. The Executive Pastor and the whole staff of the church line the sidewalk leading to the parking lot. As the pastor walks to his car after the last service, they cheer wildly for him. They can’t believe how exciting the next five years of their lives are going to be and that they get to play on the team that is quarterbacked by such a pastor as this. When the pastor drives home from that Sunday service, he drives up his driveway and his family is out there waiting for him. As he gets out of his car they rise up and they call him “blessed.” He gives them each a little peck on the cheek, throws his jacket over his shoulder, and says, “All in a week’s work, gang. All in a week’s work.”

Monday, November 19, 2007

How Great is our God? He is All-Powerful

In our study in Psalm 139 so far, we have already seen that God knows all things about us and is always with us. Now we see that He is all powerful, seen in the design of our bodies. This passage transports us into the womb. It is remarkable considering that it was written in a day when little was known about human anatomy or embryology.

David begins by describing God as the cause of conception and creator of the human body. It is God who formed our inward parts. The word “formed” carries the idea of originates – God originated our inward parts. “Inward Parts” literally means kidneys and was symbolic in the ancient culture of all our vital organs. God is the one who originated our very organs. David says, “You wove me in my mother’s womb.” The word “wove” suggests the idea of knitting together like an interwoven mass. It is God who has placed all of our organs into a well-knitted fashion and design.

The Psalmist is in such awe at this truth that he responds in thanksgiving and praise to God. Even with his limited knowledge of man’s anatomy, the marvels of the human body led him to be in awe and wonder. He gives thanks to God for fearfully and wonderfully making him. He gives praise to the Lord for His wonderful creative works.

He continues by saying that his frame was not hidden from God when he was made in secret. The original Hebrew term for “frame” means bony substance and speaks of our skeleton. It was God who formed our skeleton structure while we were “in secret.” The term “in secret” and “in the depths of the earth” is an idiomatic expression for a protected, safe place as one may hide his treasure by burying it. God knew him intimately even in the womb. It was God who “skillfully wrought” him in the womb. “Skillfully wrought” literally means variegated, like a carefully embroidered multi-colored cloth and speaks of our veins and arteries

God was just as much a part of our life before birth as he was after birth. He knew are “unformed substance” which is a word in its verb form that means to fold together or wrap up. In Scripture, it appears in its noun form only here and means embryo. From the moment of my conception God wrapped me up in my embryonic form. While we were still in the womb, He marked out our days and “ordained” them even before we were born. The word “ordain” was used in the Old Testament to describe a potter who forms clay on his wheel until it takes the shape He has in His mind. While we were still in the womb, God marvelously planned out the details of our lives.

According to Psalm 139:17, God’s thoughts are precious to us. In other words, His thoughts for us are amazing. But even more than that, His thought for us are also abundant in quantity. David calls them “vast.” If we were to count the number of thoughts that God has for us, they would outnumber the grains of sand in the world. They always occur. When I am sleeping, God is thinking about me. When I am awake, God is thinking about me. The truth is that He can’t get you out of His mind.

Friday, November 16, 2007


In yesterday’s blog entry I reviewed many of the advertising slogans from our culture’s fast food restaurant industry. But what does that have to do with Grace Church?

The Worship Design Team met last Tuesday night. This is a group of very dedicated and committed people under the leadership of Matt McElravy, who is our Worship Arts Director here at Grace Church, that plan all of the elements of our Sunday morning worship services. Last Tuesday we set our sights on the upcoming January Sunday mornings. Over the months of January and February we will be taking eight weeks to study through the book of Malachi which is the last Old Testament book in your Bible.

Throughout this book, God speaks through the prophet Malachi, rebuking the priests and people of Israel for their half-hearted worship of Him. The same elements that kept Israel from authentic worship back then often keep us from authentic worship today. In fact, we may even have a greater problem with these issues because we live in such a fast food culture that our “get it done quick” approach to life has also transferred over to our worship. That is why we will be calling this new series, “McWorship: Authentic Worship in a Fast-Food Culture.” Here is an overview of the first half of this series:

Week #1 – “I’m Lovin’ It” (Malachi 1:1-5) – The key word we will look at is “love.” Authentic worship involves a proper response to the love of God.

Week #2 – “Premium Beef” (Malachi 1:6-14) – The key word we will look at is “service.” Authentic worship involves serving God with my very best.

Week #3 – “Make Every Time A Good Time” (Malachi 2:1-9) – The key word we will look at is “discipline.” Authentic worship involves obeying God without compromise.

Week #4 – “It’s Mac Tonight” (Malachi 2:10-17) – Authentic worship involves reflecting God in my marriage and my family.

So as we enter this series right after the first of the year we are hoping to see our stage transformed into a “McDonald’s Land” complete with golden arches and cardboard cutouts of the McDonald’s Land characters. We are hoping to show old McDonald’s commercials each week that will lead into the theme of the morning. We are hoping to show a video of what it would look like if a husband took a wife out for a formal dinner at McDonalds. We are hoping to show our culture’s lackadaisical approach to worship through a clip from “Mr. Bean Goes to Church.” We are hoping to introduce a song that shows the American culture today of “cutting every corner.” We are hoping to use some secular love songs to show us how Malachi teaches that marriage is a husband placing a garment of protection over his wife. One Sunday we will be so completely different in every way that I can’t even give you any hints as to what will take place. Through it all we are asking God to use teach us what it means today to be authentic worshippers.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fast Food and Grace Church

We certainly live in a fast food culture, don’t we? And what is one of the keys to the success of the fast food industry? It is their advertising slogans. Do they really work? Well, let’s find out. Below are several slogans from over the past years. I bet you can guess the restaurant chain for just about every one of them. Give it a try:

Eat fresh
Where’s the beef?
All American Food
Have it your way
Finger Lickin’ Good
Better Ingredients. Better Pizza
Make a run for the border
We do chicken right

On May 15, 1940 in San Bernardino, CA, Ray Kroc founded a restaurant that now has over 31,000 locations and nearly half a million employees worldwide. Their slogans?

McDonalds is your king of place (1967)
You deserve a break today (1971)
We do it all for you (1975)
You, you’re the one (1976)
Nobody can do it like McDonalds can (1979)
You deserve a break today (1980)
Nobody makes your day like McDonalds can (1981)
McDonalds and you (1983)
It’s a good time for the great taste of McDonalds (1984)
It’s Mac Tonight (1985)
Good time, great taste (1988)
There’s nothing quite like McDonalds (1980s)
Food, folks and fun (1990)
McDonalds today (1991)
What you want is what you get (1992)
Do you believe in magic? (1993)
Have you had your break today? (1995)
Did somebody say McDonalds? (1997)
McDonalds – It can happen (1990)
Eddie the Echo – How ya doin’? How ya doin’? (1990’s)
We love to see/make you smile (2000)
Make every time a good time (2002)
I’m lovin’ it (2003)

Now what does all this have to do with Grace Church? Find out tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

And The New President Is...

Recently I found a survey tool at the USA Today website which shows you which of the 17 presidential candidates match up best with your own personal views on the current issues. The website is ( It’s very quick and simple. The survey asks 11 multiple choice questions. You select the answer that best describes your view and then the survey shows you which three of the 17 Republican and Democratic presidential candidates best match up with your view in the order that they best match up.

My curiosity got the best of me and I took the survey. What did I find? One thing that didn’t surprise me was that all 3 of the candidates that best matched my views were from the same political party. I could have easily guessed that. But here is what really amazed me. The one candidate that I am leaning toward supporting was not in the top 3 that best matched my answers. In fact, 2 of the 3 candidates that did best match my answers to the 11 questions were individuals I would never consider voting for.

What’s that mean? I’m not sure but I thought it would be interesting to see what the tabulated results would be if a segment of our staff took the same survey. 52% of those who attend our bi-weekly staff meetings here at Grace took the survey. 58% of those taking the survey were male staff members (not that it matters much). Below are the tabulated results. Please realize that this is in no way any endorsement of any certain candidate. It simply shows which candidates the survey revealed best matched up to the views of our staff overall:

Of the 17 presidential candidates, 8 of them did not make anyone’s match list. Of these 8 the names include Clinton and Giuliani, who are the current front-runners in the national polls, along with Obama, Biden, Brownback, Edwards, Gravel, nor Kucinich.

Of the 9 candidates who have made at least one person’s match list, 7 of them were Republicans. The only 2 democrats to make anyone’s list were Richardson and Dodd.

If you go solely by the #1 match choice, the winner was Romney. Thompson came in second followed by Trancredo. Huckabee and Hunter tied for fourth.

Romney also made the most lists (75%), followed by McCain (58%); Huckabee (50%); Thompson (42%); Trancredo (25%); and Hunter (16%). Paul, Richardson and Dodd were each on 8% of the lists.

If you were to give 3 points for each time a candidate made #1 on a list; 2 points for each time a candidate made #2 on a list; and 1 point for each time a candidate made #3 on a list, the results would be as follows: Romney (21); Thompson (14); Huckabee (12); McCain and Trancredo (both with 8); Hunter (5); and Richardson (2). Paul and Dodd each had 1 point.

Hang on to your hats, folks…we still have a ways to go until next November!!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Birthday Surprises

I told you several weeks ago in one of my messages on spiritual gifts that one of the things I enjoy doing the most is buying birthday and Christmas gifts for my wife. Last Sunday was my wife’s birthday, and since it fell on a Sunday, I was excited to plan a special day for her, especially in light of the fact that this is her last birthday before our daughter Joy heads off to college (she is going to Liberty University…without any doubt in my mind the best university anywhere, but that is a topic for a different blog entry on a different day!)!

So how did her special day play out?

I always leave for church well before anyone else in my family on Sunday mornings so on my way out I placed a very special card on the steering wheel of the Buick that she would find when she got in to drive to church that morning. It was one of those musical birthday cards that played “You Take My Breath Away” when you opened it. I would tell you what the card said inside but then I would have to put a “parental guidance” rating on this blog entry. And because I know that little things mean so much to a woman, I attached a cute little snowman shaped like a bell to the outside of the envelope (Laura loves snowmen).

But that was just the beginning. At church I had dozens of vases prepared in which I put a single rose in each of them. I had as many roses as my wife is old. I lined the stage of the auditorium with these roses which allowed me to recognize my wife’s special day in front of both morning worship services. If anyone wanted to know how old she was, all they had to do was to count all of the roses correctly. Many counted incorrectly because they missed the rose on the piano. The only hint I will give you is that I ordered four dozen roses but didn’t need to use them all.

I had made reservations for our family for dinner so as soon as I finished preaching second service we jumped into our Rendezvous and headed east to Boiling Springs, PA. There we enjoyed a wonderful buffet dinner at the Allenberry Resort Inn and Playhouse before seeing their family holiday musical, “Santa’s Favorite Gift” (2nd row seats, mind you)!

We then headed back to the house where several more surprises awaited her. After she had left for church that morning I had snuck back home and taken a new set of dishes (8 place settings) that I had bought for her birthday and spread them out around the dining table with bows on each piece. There on the table were some other surprises including two of her favorite Yankee Candles (the large ones of course) and an additional piece for her to add to her Christmas village along with several other related accessories.

The night then capped off with some friends coming over to enjoy some cake that Joy had baked for her mom. And to add the final cherry on top of the day for my lovely wife, I was able to track down some of her favorite ice cream of all time – peppermint (which, I might add, is very difficult to find prior to the Holiday season officially beginning).

So there you have it…another successful birthday celebration filled with many special surprises and wonderful memories. Now I get to start all over again because there are only 41 days left until Christmas!

Monday, November 12, 2007

How Great is our God? He is Present Everywhere

Where is God? Have you ever really thought much about that question? In Psalm 139:7-12, David mediates on the answer to this question as he focuses on the greatness of God. He begins by asking two questions. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? In asking these questions, David is not desiring to flee from God’s presence but rather he is declaring an awesome fact about God. God is omnipresent. In other words, God is not limited to anyone place. The Assyrians in the Old Testament made the mistake of thinking that God was limited to just one location. In 1 Kings 20:23 they wrongly conclude that the God of Israel was a God of the mountains so if they could lure the army of Israel out into the valley they would be able to defeat them because their God would not be present. Oh, how wrong they were.

Some today mistakenly believe that God only lives in heaven. But the truth is that God is bigger than that. 1 Kings 8:27 teaches, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven of heavens cannot contain you, how much les this house which I have build!” Isaiah 66:1 declares, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool’” (Isaiah 66:1). God is not limited to one location. He is present everywhere all at the same time. Through the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23:24) God asks, “Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I do not see him? Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” In giving the great commission in Matthew 28:20 Jesus promised, “And lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20). This is not speaking of a part of God but rather the whole of God in every place.

The Psalmist gives several hypothetical illustrations to demonstrate his point. He begins by saying, “If I ascend to heaven.” Here he is speaking of the furthest up he could go. He speaks of ascending into the highest heaven of the heavens. Still God’s presence would be there. Second, he states, “If I make my bed in Sheol.” Now he is speaking of the furthest down he could go. He speaks of descending into the lowest depths of the dead. Even if you could go as far down as possible, still God’s presence would be there.

The Psalmist goes on to say, “If I take the wings of the dawn.” Now he is speaking of going the furthest east. Perhaps this is a metaphorical reference to sunbeams or the velocity of light. Light travels at 186,282.397 miles per second. At the speed of light I could get to the moon in less than 2 seconds. But even traveling at that speed I cannot get away from the presence of God. But what if I travel west? David says, “If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea.” This is the furthest west to the Mediterranean Sea. Even when you can see nothing anywhere around you but water, still God’s presence is there. The Old Testament prophet, Jonah, was quick to learn this lesson, wasn’t he (Jonah 1:1-3)?

Finally, the Psalmist declares, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me and the light around me will be night.” He speaks of being hidden from God by darkness. Does that hide me from God? No way! God’s presence penetrates every dark place and makes the deepest darkness radiate as the brightest of lights (Acts 17:24-28). How great is our God!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Where God Ain't

This Sunday morning we will continue our month long study through Psalm 139 that we are calling “How Great is our God” as we focus in on the fact that God is omnipresent. In other words, He is present everywhere all at the same time. As I have spent much time this week studying this amazing attribute of God, I have read some deep and staggering theological concepts. But in all that I have read, it was a very simple writing from what at best could be described as a "near poet" that caught my attention. Here it is:

He was just a little lad, and on a fine Lord’s day,

was wandering home from Sunday school and dawdling on the way.

He scuffed his shoes into the grass; he found a caterpillar;

he found a fluffy milkweed pod and blew out all the filler.

A bird’s nest in the tree o’erhead, so wisely placed and high,

was just another wonder that caught his eager eye.

A neighbor watched his zigzag course and hailed him from the lawn,

asked him where he’d been that day, and what was going on.

"Oh, I’ve been to Sunday school", (he carefully turned the sod,

and found a snail beneath it) "I’ve learned a lot ‘bout God."

"M’m, a very fine way," the neighbor said, "for a boy to spend his time.

If you’ll tell me where God is, I’ll give you a brand-new dime."

Quick as a flash his answer came, nor were his accents faint,

"I’ll give you a dollar, Mister, if you can tell me where God ain’t."

So I wonder how our lives would be drastically different this week if we would take the time to consciously remember that everywhere we go, God’s full presence is there. Do you think it would change what we do? Do you think it would change what we say? Do you think it would change what we watch? Do you think it would change what we listen to? Do you think it would change what we think? Be sure to join us this coming Sunday morning here at Grace Church (9am and 10:45am) as we look deeper into the greatness of our God. He is a God that is present everywhere all at the same time.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Passing the Tissues at Staff Meeting

This past Tuesday we had our bi-weekly staff meeting. At the beginning of our meeting we had our normal sharing time where we each share different aspects of our ministry here at Grace Church where we have seen God working. This was a very special time of sharing.

We shared how God is using one of our Girlfriends at Grace clubs in our Women’s Ministry to see people stair-stepped closer to a relationship with Jesus. One lady who has been part of one of these activities and whose name is one of the 3,000 target three names written on the wall of our auditorium was here last Sunday with her entire family. Hallelujah!

We shared about another couple in our church whose marriage was on the verge of collapsing as they separated months ago but who recently have gotten back together. Hallelujah!

We shared about one of the individuals who was baptized last Sunday night whose life has been radically changed because he has put his faith in Jesus Christ. Hallelujah!

We shared how over the past few weeks God has brought into our church a skeptic, an atheist and even a Muslim that we have had the opportunity to meet right where they are and to begin to move them to where to God wants them to be. Hallelujah!

I then shared an e-mail I received from a man within our church, who a little over a year ago, was far from God, living in serious sin and with no spiritual desire whatsoever. Through some obstacles that came into the life of him and his girlfriend who he was living with, he started coming to Grace Church and seeking out if God could make any difference in his life. He soon after trusted Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. Since then they have married; taken the Pastor’s Class; been baptized, joined our church and found a place to actively serve in our early childhood ministry. His story is an amazing story of transformation through Christ. This man sent me an e-mail that I received the morning of staff meeting in which he shared about the serious condition of his mother who is battling cancer. It was a very transparent e-mail as he shared how much his godly mother, who prayed for his salvation for years, means to him. As I read to the staff the following comments from his e-mail, each of us were moved to tears to think of God’s amazing grace in saving this man. Here is what he wrote:

“This really hurts Scott, but realizing how I would have felt without Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior is a very scary realization to me. I know where my mom is going and that no matter what happens it will be according to God's will. It truly is a wonderful feeling to be a child of God. My mother told me that she is so very grateful that I have found my Savior.”

As I finished reading this e-mail, we grabbed the tissue box and started it around the room. We all needed them. We were all moved deeply to realize that God is using our ministries to meet people where they are and move them to where He wants them to be. Hallelujah!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

What a Winter

The holiday season is just around the corner and with it comes the initial months of the season we call “winter.” Until moving to PA I have always lived in a “snow belt” area. Where we lived in Northern Indiana we would average some 90 inches of snow a year. I love snow. If we are going to have cold wintry days we might as well have snow. That’s what I say. But even without snow, there are many wonderful things for us as a church to look forward to here at Grace. Below is just a sampling of what to expect this winter:

November: During the month of November we will be studying Psalm 139 in a series we are calling, “How Great Is Our God!” During this series we will focus on four attributes of God…the fact that He is all-knowing; everywhere present at the same time; all-powerful and holy. These services will include some very special elements such as an original drama on November 4 called “The Omniscient Waiter”; honoring our veterans on Veterans Day, November 11; a beautiful interpretive dance on November 18 and more than a dozen children being dedicated on November 25.

December: We will spend the 5 Sundays in December studying the topic of angels in a series we are calling, “A.I.M. – Angelic Instant Messaging!” The first two Sundays we will give a very general overview of the doctrine of angels. On December 16 and 23 we will focus specifically on the role of angels in the Christmas story. On the final Sunday of the year, December 30, we will see 12 ways that angels were involved in the earthly life of Jesus Christ. These services will include a wide variety of music along with special dramas which will feature a powerful dialogue between Lucifer (Satan, who himself is a fallen angel) and Michael (the archangel of God). Then on Christmas Eve we will have two identical hour long worship services (5:30 and 7:00) designed with the whole family in mind (there will be no nursery or childcare on Christmas Eve). As part of our worship on the final Sunday of the year, we will be taking time to observe the bread and the cup together as a church as we look to God’s blessings in the New Year.

January: The New Year will kick-off a brand new 8-week series through the book of Malachi which we are calling, “McWorship: Authentic Worship in a Fast Food Culture!” We will be using a McDonald’s theme the whole series as we look at 8 key words that must be part of our worship…Love; Service; Discipline; Marriage; Messiah; Money; Faithfulness; and Hope. Our Worship Design Team will be meeting next week to plan the first four services in this series. During the week of January 17 we will also be participating in the Reveal Spiritual Growth Survey. The findings from this research will help us to better understand the spiritual health of our congregation as a whole, as well as how our church is helping them grow spiritually. We will gain insight on the practices and activities that are most catalytic for spiritual growth in our congregation. We will also learn our church’s best opportunities for greater impact through the post-survey statistical analysis that includes comparison to a wide range of other surveyed churches.

Snow or no snow…it’s going to be a great winter here at Grace!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Best Communion Ever

Last Sunday night was our most recent communion service here at Grace Church. WOW! What a night it was. Over and over I have heard people say that last Sunday evening was the best communion service they have ever attended. I have to agree with those sentiments. It was a very special night of worship and celebrating the past, present and future ministry of Christ in our lives. What made this one so different? I think three words would describe it best. The evening was informalsimplefocused.

The evening began with Lisa Weidman leading us in two very powerful worship songs that allowed us to really focus on Christ. After I spent some time reminding our church that this evening was all about Jesus, we began to focus on His present ministry in our lives, the fact that He daily cleanses us from our sin. This celebration and worship is done through the washing of each other’s feet. As we wash the feet of another believer we remind them that according to John 13 and 1 John 1:9 we have a Savior who is able and willing to wash our spiritual feet each and every day. I read from Psalm 32 which declares, “How blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” During the singing of three beautiful hymns, as the Spirit led, the men went to footwashing areas on the side of the auditorium and the ladies to areas in the back of the auditorium. As we sang these songs we washed each others feet and focused on Christ and His cleansing

Immediately following the time of footwashing we were able to watch several adults follow the Lord in water baptism. What a thrill to hear their testimonies of how they found Jesus Christ and the people God used to lead them to a saving knowledge of the Lord.

When baptism ended, I introduced the time that we call the love feast. This is a celebration of the future ministry of Christ when at the grand Marriage Supper of the Lamb in heaven, Christ Himself will come forth and serve us. The focus of that event will not be the food but the Bridegroom…Jesus. I reminded us that Jesus said that by this one thing all men will know that we are His followers…by our love for one another. I then dismissed us to enjoy a time of food and fellowship. During this time I encouraged everyone to take the time to hug another believer or two and tell them those powerful and Biblical words, “I love you”! I also encouraged us to take a minute sometime during the love feast and to go over to the wall of the auditorium where we have 3,000 names written of people that we are asking God to use us to help bring to Jesus and to pray for some of those names.

We then gathered together to end the evening by celebrating the past ministry of Christ, His death on the cross as the substitutionary atonement for our sin. I had everyone close their eyes and envision as I read the crucifixion account from Mark 15 followed by the glorious account from Revelation 5 as in heaven we will all shout out, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!” We then sang two final worship songs about the cross. During these songs, as the Spirit led us, we invited people to go to one of two stations in the auditorium where elements were located on tables to partake of the bread and the cup, remembering and thanking God for the sacrifice of Christ. What a night of worship! What a Savior He is!

Monday, November 05, 2007

How Great Is Our God? He Knows Everything!

Last Sunday we started a new series through Psalm 139 that we are calling, “How Great is our God!” This study will help us to focus on four attributes about God. The first is the fact that He is omniscient. In other words, He knows all things.

In verse 1 of Psalm 139, David begins with the words, “You have searched me.” The word originally meant to explore or to dig. Because God has scoured every detail of my life, He knows me intimately. Matthew 10:30 teaches that He even knows the number of hairs on our head (which requires more usage of His omniscience for some over others). Think about this. God is omniscient which means He is all-knowing. Grab your Bible and read Romans 11:33-36; Hebrews 4:13; and Proverbs 15:3 and allow that truth to sink in. God has perfect knowledge and has no need to learn. In fact, God has never learned and cannot learn. Charles Spurgeon once said, “There never was a time in which in which we were unknown to God, and there never will be a moment in which we shall be beyond His observation.” How cool is that? How great is our God!

According to Psalm 139:2, God knows my every movement. David said, “You know when I sit down and when I rise up.” Even our most common and casual movements are completely familiar to the Lord. David’s usage of the opposite extremes (“sit down” and “rise up”) is a literary technique called a “merism” that represents all actions as a whole. In other words, God knows every movement you make. He knows when you sit down and when you rise up and every movement you would make in between.

He also knows my every motivation. David said, “You understand my thought from afar.” The word, “afar,” refers to time not space. In other words, God doesn’t just know our thoughts as they come into our minds, he knows our thoughts even before they are fully formed. He also knows my every minute (Psalm 139:3). David wrote, “You scrutinize my path (going out in the morning) and my lying down (going to sleep) [both my public and private activities]. This is another “merism” speaking of all activities as a whole. To scrutinize means to sift. God sifts our very seconds. He also knows my every meditation (Psalm 139:4). David said, “Before there is a word on my tongue, you know it.” If He knows our thoughts before they are developed in our mind, He also knows our words before they are formed on our tongues

What an amazing God. His knowledge is unceasing (Psalm 139:5). David writes, “You have enclosed me behind and before.” Enclosed is a military term speaking of besieging a city in battle and cutting off all escape routes. It literally means “to be hemmed in.” There is not one remotely insignificant area of our lives that is not thoroughly and completely surrounded by God’s knowledge. He has laid His hand upon us. God is intimately aware and involved in every aspect of my life. He doesn’t just know me, He cares and is involved in my life. God’s knowledge is also unfathomable (Psalm 139:6). It blows my mind and is beyond my ability to fully comprehend. No more than a teacup can hold the ocean, can a finite mind comprehend the infinite! How great is our God!

Friday, November 02, 2007

My Ideal POTUS

One year from this month we will be electing the next President of the United States (POTUS). So what candidate am I endorsing? I’m sure that introduction to this entry already has some readers nervous. After all, aren’t there some ridiculous interpretations of what the founding fathers meant by the term “separation of church and state” that make it illegal for me as a pastor to endorse a certain candidate?

I remember being a student at Liberty University during the second Reagan election. Of course, Dr Falwell had no problems speaking his thoughts on the political scene in America. I remember him saying many times, “I’m not telling you who to vote for. You can vote for the Ronald Reagan of your choice!”

Well, to be honest, as I look over the field of candidates on both the Republican and Democratic side, I honestly feel more of a passion about who I do NOT want to be President than I feel a passion for who I DO want to be the next leader of the free world.

So if I could find the ideal POTUS what would this person look like? The below list is not all-encompassing by any means because there are far more issues to consider than one single blog entry could describe, but here is a start.

To me, the ideal POTUS…

Would be a committed follower of Jesus Christ who spends time daily in prayer and in the Word of God, depending on the Lord for guidance and direction

Would be a person of high moral integrity who is deeply committed to their own marriage and family and who lives blamelessly according to the truths of Scripture

Would be honest in their words…someone who really believes what they say and who is driven by their own convictions rather than by the myriad of opinion polls

Would be uncompromisingly pro-life and pro-family and who would defend the unborn and the sanctity of marriage definign it as a legal union between one man and one woman

Would be committed to revamping the present tax code and lowering taxes

Would be strong on national defense with the courage to confront terrorism around the world so that we are less likely to confront it here at home

Would work in bi-partisan ways to find workable solutions to the many problems in our country including crime, immigration, education, energy, healthcare and social security

Would be pro-Israel, standing firmly as a friend of the state of Israel

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sometimes Ministry Sucks

If the title of today’s blog entry offends you, I apologize. In fact, my critics will probably have a field day with my using the “s” word but that’s okay. I often enjoy writing blogs that I know stir the pot and send the critics tripping over themselves as they run to their keypads to quickly post their rebuttals. But the title of today’s blog is just true.

So many people have such a misconception of what it is like to work full time day in and day out in the church. In fact, most people still can’t figure out what we pastors do all week. After all, how much time can it possibly take to prepare a 30-minute sermon (okay, 35-minutes….alright, 40-minutes most Sunday mornings)? In fact, my guess is that many church goers inwardly see the pastor as having a pretty “cake job.”

But let me share just a few things that pastors face on a regular basis…and the larger the church, the more often these occurrences happen. Now you might be tempted to read this and think, “Whew, Pastor Scott must have took some serious heat this week.” Honest, that’s not the case. I am very blessed to pastor the church I pastor…to work with the staff I get to work with…to lead with the Elders I get to lead with…and to minister to the people I get to minister to. But even in a great church like Grace, ministry still has its challenges. I am amazed at the fact that rarely a week goes by that someone doesn’t communicate with me their desire to be on staff here at Grace. Sometimes I think that if they could just see what those in ministry deal with in a given week, they may think twice about submitting their resume. Things like:

Anonymous notes
Harsh e-mails and letters
Unloving critics
Staff problems
People elevating personal preferences to spiritual absolutes
People blaming the church for their personal failures
Hurt feelings because we didn’t live up to one’s expectations
The consequences of sin in people’s lives
Hard decisions that not everyone will agree with
Influential people with their own personal agendas

And the list could go on and on and on and on. When I first felt God was calling me to be a pastor I shared that with a mentor in my life who told me, “Scott, if there is anything else you would rather do…do it instead.” I think I understand now where he was coming from. The last words my Grandpa, who was a pastor for over nearly 50 years, spoke to me before he died was, “Son, don’t ever give up on the Lord!” He meant that there would be days where the temptation would be to throw in towel. He was saying that when those days come, don’t quit.

Whether it offends you or not it’s true…sometimes ministry really does suck. But even with that being the case, there is absolutely nothing else I would rather do with my life and nowhere else that I would rather do it than right here at Grace Church.