Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Reminder of what is PRICELESS

The weekend before Christmas was a busy ministry weekend here at Grace Church. We had four identical worship services that weekend, the first one being on Saturday night. I had gone into my office for a few minutes to gather my thoughts after our early service that Sunday morning. The middle Sunday morning service had already begun and I was walking out the office door to head that way when I got stopped by a couple who informed me that my son and daughter had just been in an accident.

As you might recall, it was a wintry morning with snow, sleet and ice. Fortunately, the kids were driving our Buick Rendezvous and not our small Ford Escort, which is what they would normally drive. After seeing the damage done to the driver’s side of the Rendezvous, there was no doubt that had they been in the Escort, they would have most likely been seriously injured.

Once I got the news I immediately went back to my office and called my wife on her cell. She had already made it to the accident scene and was consoling Joy. I talked to Joy on the phone for just a moment and then had to high tail it into the auditorium, arriving just in time to preach that middle service. As soon as I was done preaching, I skipped the Ten Minute Party for guests after that service and went home to check to be sure that the kids were fine. Joy was there and I held her for a few minutes and then went back to church. Jonathan had already arrived back at church so I looked him up in the youth room to make sure he was fine and gave him a hug as well.

By this time, the third Sunday morning service had begun. I had just enough to time to go back to my office. There, with the lights out and no one around, I got on my knees and wept as I thanked God for His protection over my children that morning. Sensing massive release and the peace of God, I made my way back into the auditorium to preach our third Sunday morning service and fourth and final service of the weekend.

Joy and Jonathan are both good…still sore but good. The Buick is being fixed. We have a rental car. I realize that all the money I pay in insurance premiums are worth it. But most of all, I am reminded as we enter this New Year of 2009 of what is priceless…my salvation and my family. Nothing else matters.

A special thanks to the many caring church folk who were driving by and ministered to my kids. A special thanks to Mrs Hoffman who was the first one there and called the police and guided my kids in what to do. A special thanks to Rich and Cindy Wilson and Craig and Sherry Peters for stopping and caring. And a very special thanks to Rick Bernhardt for picking up my wife and taking her to the scene of the accident, helping to get our vehicle back home, and for using his humor to help my kids through the trauma.

But most of all, special thanks to my Heavenly Father who was in control of the whole situation and who loves my kids far more than their mom or I ever could!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

If our BIBLES were our CELL PHONES

Dan O’ Deens pastors a growing church in the Coatesville area. I enjoy reading his blog. Recently he wrote something that I thought was very intriguing:

Cell Phones and Bibles

Have you ever wondered: “what would happen if we treated our Bibles like we treat our cell phones?”

What if we carried it around in our purses or pockets?

What if we flipped through it several time a day?

What if we turned back to go get it if we forgot it?

What if we used it to receive messages from the text?

What if we treated it like we couldn’t live without it?

What if we gave it to kids as gifts?

What if we used it when we traveled?

What if we used it in case of emergency?

Where is your Bible?

Oh, and one more thing. Unlike our cell phones, we don’t have to worry about our Bible being disconnected because Jesus already paid the bill.

And no dropped calls!

How about that? It made me wonder. How would Grace Church be different if every single person who attends would read their Bible for at least 15 minutes every single day in the year 2009. I’m not even saying we must all read our Bibles through in a year. I’m just saying what would happened if every single person who attends our church would read their Bible for 15 minutes every day in 2009?

I think the result would be indescribable. How much more would God be able to meet us right where we are and help move us closer to where He wants us to be? How much more effective could we be as a church in meeting as many people as possible right where they are and helping move them to where God wants them to be? So, what do you say? Can you give up 91.25 hours in 2009 (15 minutes multiplied by 365 days)?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Does Grace Church Have IT?

Craig Groeschel gave a great talk at last year’s Leadership Summit called, “How Leaders Can Get IT And Keep IT!” Our Elder Board watched the DVD at our last meeting. Our staff will be watching it at our next meeting. We are being challenged to answer this question, “Does Grace Church have IT? If NO, how do we get IT? If YES, how do we keep IT?” Groeschel gives four qualities of ministries that have IT.

Ministries that have IT have a laser focus!

In order to reach people that no one is reaching, we have to do things that no one is doing. But to do things that no one is doing, we can’t do things that everyone else is doing.

What is Grace Church doing that we need to stop doing?

Ministries that have IT see opportunities where others see obstacles!

We have everything we need to do everything that God wants us to do.

God often guides us by what He doesn’t provide.

What is God trying to show Grace Church through our greatest limitation?

Ministries that have IT are willing to fail!

Ministries that don’t have it tend to play it safe.

Failure is a necessity.

Failure is often the first step into seeing God.

What has God called Grace Church to do that we are afraid to do? When are we going to do it?

Ministries that have IT are led by people who have IT!

I need to have IT for my ministry to get IT.

I can’t be a full-time pastor and a part-time follower of Christ!

If I don’t have IT, what am I going to do to get?

Does Grace Church have IT? If NO, how do we get IT? If YES, how do we keep IT?

Friday, December 26, 2008

JESUS...A Gift For The AGING

Christmas at age 2. Christmas at age 5. Christmas at age 10. Christmas at age 20. Christmas at age 30. Christmas this year at age 43. It is amazing how Christmas takes on a whole new mindset depending on my age. And I am sure that as I grow older, it will continue to do the same. But for many who are aging, Christmas joy is but a distant memory more than it is a present reality. But in the story of two aging saints in Luke 2:21-28, we see that Jesus is a Christmas gift for the aging.

In this passage, Mary and Joseph are presenting Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem. While at the temple, they meet an aging man and an aging woman. The aging man is named Simeon. Simeon was a righteous and devout man, meaning that he obeyed the Law. He longed for the Messiah and was filled with the Holy Spirit. It is obvious in the passage that he is ready to die which suggests that he was an aged man. But Simeon had been made a promise by God. Simeon had been promised that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. This promise came from the Holy Spirit and was no doubt granted due to Simeon’s intense longing for the Messiah.

Can you see where this story is going? Simeon was led by the Spirit into the temple at the exact same time that Mary and Joseph entered with Jesus to present him and offer a sacrifice. The Holy Spirit let Simeon know that this child was his long awaited Messiah. Simeon took Jesus in his arms and blessed God. He praised God for keeping his promises and acknowledged that by seeing Jesus he had seen God’s salvation. Simeon communicated that he could now die in peace. He uses the word “depart” to speak of his death. This word was used to describe the release of a prisoner; the untying of a ship to set it sail; or the taking down of a tent. What a beautiful picture. For the Christian, death frees us from the burdens of this life. For the Christian, the best is yet to come. Simeon communicates that Jesus would not just be the glory of Israel but also a light showing God’s path to the world. What a gift Jesus was to the aged Simeon.

But the passage also speaks of an aging woman named Anna. Anna was a godly woman who was a prophetess. She was the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. Her name meant "grace." Depending on how you take the passage, she was either 84 years old or had been a widow for 84 years making her much older. Anna’s husband had died 7 years after their marriage and she remained a widow. Widows were often neglected and exploited in that day. But Anna devoted herself to serving God in the temple through fasting and prayer.

Again we see God’s perfect timing as Anna appears as Simeon blesses baby Jesus. Upon seeing the Christ-child, she too realizes who He is and immediately gives thanks to God. She then spread the news of the Messiah’s birth to all who were looking for this promised redemption. Jesus was a special gift to this aging woman.

Are you finding the Holidays a struggle due to aging? A senior citizen once told me, “Growing old isn’t for sissies!” She was right. But praise God…Jesus is gift for the aging!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

But as for you, Bethlehem

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. Therefore He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren will return to the sons of Israel.” (Micah 5:2)

O little town of Bethlehem

How still we see thee lie

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep

The silent stars go by

Yet in thy dark streets shineth

The everlasting Light

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary

And gathered all above

While mortals sleep, the angels keep

Their watch of wondering love

O morning stars together

Proclaim the holy birth

And praises sing to God the King

And Peace to men on earth

How silently, how silently

The wondrous gift is given!

So God imparts to human hearts

The blessings of His heaven.

No ear may his His coming,

But in this world of sin,

Where meek souls will receive him still,

The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem

Descend to us, we pray

Cast out our sin and enter in

Be born to us today

We hear the Christmas angels

The great glad tidings tell

O come to us, abide with us

Our Lord Emmanuel

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


It seems that each year there is one particular moment surrounding Christmas when I am struck with worship. It is one of those moments when I am able to lose sight of all of the business of my holiday schedule, the shopping, the gifts, the lights, the tree, and even planning services and messages. It is a moment when the only thing I can think of and the only thing that matters is that miraculous understanding of what the miracle of Christmas is all about.

It happened again this year. This time I was at the Christmas Concert of Lititz Christian School which is a ministry of Grace Church. The High School choir closed out their portion of the program with a Christmas Carol I have heard a hundred…make that a thousand times. But this night it was as if I was hearing its words for the very first time. This was that moment for me when the only aspect of the holiday was worship.

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the wise men from Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our Friend!
He knows our need—to our weakness is no stranger.
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy Name!
Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Christmas Chainsaw Massacre

I use to always say that I would never have an artificial Christmas tree. After all, only Scrooges would fail to have the real evergreen in their home. That philosophy came to a screeching halt one Christmas a few years back. We actually went out that year and cut our own Christmas tree. I had borrowed a chainsaw from a friend but didn’t need it as the hand saw was sufficient to accomplish the task. We got the tree home and stuffed it down the narrow steps into our downstairs family room. However, we soon discovered that the tree was much too tall for the low drop ceiling in our downstairs.

No problem! After all, I had my friend’s chainsaw. So I went up to the garage and got this manly power tool and took it down into my basement. I grabbed the tree and drug it into the utility room where the furnace, oil tank, water heater, washer and dryer all were. Like my friend had instructed me, I primed the pump a few times, put my foot on the saw for leverage and pulled the cord. And I pulled…And I pulled…And I pulled…And I pulled. Over and over I tugged but could not get this thing to fire up. Thinking back, it is probably a good thing. Number one, firing up a chainsaw in the utility room of your basement is not the wisest of moves. Number two, as I tired and tried to start this chainsaw with my foot on the saw for leverage, all I was wearing were my house slippers…not boots…not even tennis shoes…just my flimsy little slippers. Had that puppy started I’d probably have cut off my foot within seconds of ignition.

Frustrated, angry, and thinking cuss words in my mind (hey, I’m just being honest), I decided to take a break so I walked across our family room’s white carpet and up the steps to the kitchen to get a drink and then back down the steps and across our white carpet again and sat down on the couch to watch some television. Guess what show was on? Tim Allen in Home Improvement! I’m not kidding. Oh, and to add insult to injury it didn’t dawn on me that my slippers were now covered with chainsaw oil. When I heard my wife scream, I realized that I had more problems than just a tree that was too tall and a chainsaw that would not start. Now, I had ruined the carpet.

This led to my wife and I having “words.” Now in anger I went back to the chainsaw and tried and tried and tried some more. Once again, I had no luck. Even angrier, I walked back across that white carpet (still wearing oil laden slippers) up to the garage where I got the handsaw. I returned to the utility room the same way I came up, making tracks the entire distance. I grabbed the tree by its scrawny little trunk and sawed it down to size in a matter of minutes. I pulled it back into the family room and stuck it in the tree stand only to discover that I had sawed off way too much of this Holiday symbol and now our live Christmas tree was only about 4 feet tall at best. I stormed up the steps proclaiming to my children that we were not having Christmas this year!!

I told that story in church the next Sunday. One dear couple who felt sorry for us went out and bought us an artificial Christmas tree and we have been without a live tree ever since. Now if only I get could the lights on the tree without a major incident!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

My Favorite Christmas Story

It was Mrs. Johnson’s second graders turn to do the town’s Christmas play. Mrs. Johnson had just one problem. It was Wally. Wally was big for his age and he had been held back twice in school. As a result, he was larger then any other second grader and the clumsiest of them all. Wally had his heart set on being a shepherd in the Christmas play but Mrs. Johnson could not give such an important role to someone like Wally. So instead she came up with a brilliant idea.

Wally,” she said, “I have just the part for you. I would like you to be the innkeeper. All you have to do is open the door when Joseph knocks and respond firmly with the words, ‘no room…go away.’ Can you do that Wally?”

Wally practiced it a few times to Mrs. Johnson’s delight. Her planned seemed to be working perfectly. Wally would be involved but not in a critical role. For the next several weeks, Wally practiced his lines everywhere he went. You could see his lips constantly moving as he uttered his lines, ‘no room…go away.’

Finally the night of the big event came. As in past years, the entire town shut down and everyone piled into the school auditorium to watch the second graders put on their show. Mrs. Johnson was nervous but felt she had everything well under control.

At last, Wally’s big cue came. Joseph and Mary slowly and sadly walked up to the inn and Joseph knocked on the door.

No room…go away,’ Wally said as he answered the knock.

But sir,’ Joseph pleaded.

No room…go away,’ Wally firmly replied.

But my wife,’ Joseph continued, ‘She’s pregnant and going to have a baby any time?’

No room,’ Wally insisted, ‘Go away!’

Right on cue, Joseph and Mary began to walk away from the inn. Mrs. Johnson’s heart skipped a beat. Wally was supposed to close the door and he would be done. But Wally just stood there, watching the homeless couple as they walked away from the inn.

What happened next changed the town’s Christmas play drastically. Some people say it was ruined. Others say it was the best Christmas pageant ever. With tears running down his cheeks, Wally cried out,

Joseph, Mary, wait! Come back! You can have my room!’

Friday, December 19, 2008

JESUS...A Gift For The MESSY

We’ve all seen it at major sporting events. I’m talking about the guy who sits behind the goalposts or behind home plate holding the JOHN 3:16 sign for the world to see. And since Christmas is now just days away, we want to hold the same sign up here at Grace Church this weekend as we see that Jesus is a Christmas gift for the MESSY!

What do we learn about God from JOHN 3:16? First, we learn that God exists (“For God”). Second, we learn that God has a son (“His only begotten Son”). Jesus is not a created son, He is a begotten son. He is God. CS Lewis said, “Rabbits beget rabbits; horses beget horses; humans beget humans, not statues or portraits; and God begets God – not angels or humans.” The third fact we learn about God from JOHN 3:16 is that God loves the world (“so loved the world”). In fact, He loved the world enough that He gave His Son for the world which involved ultimate rejection and death on a cross.

But why did God give His Son to the world? According to JOHN 3:16 it is because the world is perishing. That’s where the MESSY part comes in. The perishing are under the wrath of God. John 3:36 says, “He who believes in the son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on Him.” The perishing are facing a fiery torment. Revelation 14:10 says, “He also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God , which is mixed in full strength in the cup of his anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb”. The perishing will be separated from the presence and glory of God. 2 Thessalonians 1:9 teaches, “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” And this is all a result of sin and we are all guilty (Romans 3:23; 6:23). WOW, what a MESS!

That was what was behind the first Christmas. The world needed rescued so God sent Jesus to rescue a perishing, messed up world. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Paul also said in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf.” And what is the result of Christ’s rescuing us? According to JOHN 3:16, it is Eternal Life. Eternal life includes life after death. Jesus made this clear in John 11:25 when He said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies.” But eternal life doesn’t wait…it begins now. Jesus said in John 5:24, “He who hears my Word, and believes Him who sent me, has [not will have] eternal life.

JOHN 3:16 says that we receive eternal life through believing in Christ. Jesus said it this way in John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 5:11-12, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.” JOHN 3:16 says that it is available to “whoever” believes. It matches what Paul said in Romans 10:13 when he wrote, “For whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Jesus is a gift for the MESSY!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Who Stole My Church?

At our Elder Board meeting tonight we will be passing out a book to each Elder that we will be reading and discussing as a group. The book is written by Gordon MacDonald and is called Who Stole My Church? Here is how the book jacket describes its contents:

A storm hits a small New England town late one evening, but the pelting rain can't keep a small group of church leaders from gathering to discuss issues that have lately been brewing beneath the surface of their congregation. The men and women assembled are all long time Christians, mature adults, and dedicated church members. They could see their church was changing. The choir had been replaced by a flashy "praise band." The youth no longer dressed in their "Sunday best." The beautiful pipe organ sat unused. Even they felt out of place and uncomfortable in a church that had, until recently, felt like home. How will this group set out to fix what has become a deep rift in their fellowship? How will young and old relate to one another's need? Can the unity of their church survive, or even thrive?

Who Stole My Church is a fictional story that reflects the all-too-real situations of many church communities today, where loyal and long standing members can feel pushed aside by the new demands of evangelism in the twenty-first century. In this book you can walk alongside an imaginary community, led by a real-life pastor Gordon MacDonald and his wife, Gail, and discover how to meet the needs of all believers without abandoining the dreams and desires of any.

One review about the books says…“MacDonald charts new territory in church growth books by turning what could have been a long list of dos and don'ts into a highly readable, even novelistic, approach to the subject. With himself as narrator, MacDonald creates a cast of church members in their 50s, 60s and 70s who meet each week to discuss where their church has been, is now, and should go in the future. ‘All I know is that someone stole my church and I'd like to get it back,’ says one. MacDonald delves into the feelings of the older generation as they watch new leadership take over, see changes in music and use of technology, and begin to wonder how they fit. He challenges their understanding of what the church is, then looks at the early church and the modern church and the many cultural influences that transform Christian spirituality. MacDonald is especially strong when he includes young peoples' perspectives or brings research to bear on how people view and act on change. This is a challenging, innovative approach to a delicate subject. It's sure to benefit church leaders and members of all ages who dream of a ‘re-invented’ church.”

If you have been attending Grace Church for 10 years or longer, I would encourage each of you to put Who Stole My Church on your reading list for 2009. Even if you are new to Grace over the last several years, this is a book that you will not only enjoy, but one that will benefit you as together we seek to meet people where they are and help move them to where God wants them to be!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The 7 Services of Christmas


The weekend before Christmas we will be having four Christmas Worship Services here at Grace Church as we continue our Messy Christmas series seeing from John 3:16 that Jesus is a Christmas gift for the Messy! This 65-minute service will include an instrumental rendition of the song, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and vocal Christmas music from our Worship Choir. Our Worship Band will lead us in Christmas favorites such as Angels We Have Heard On High and O Come All Ye Faithful along with the meaningful worship song, Rescue. Matt McElravy will be closing up the message with the song, Welcome To Our World. There will also be a full nursery and children’s program for all four services. The service times are as follows:

Saturday, December 20th – 6pm

Sunday, December 21st – 8:30am

Sunday, December 21st – 10am

Sunday December 21st – 11:30am


Then, on Christmas Eve we will have three very special Christmas Eve services with special lights lining the parking lot as you arrive. The bell choir will be playing holiday music in the lobby prior to the start of each service. The one hour service will begin with a Christmas Duet by David and Jen Felty; and Many Christmas Songs including Joy to the World; O Come All Ye Faithful; Hark the Herald Angels Sing; Lo How A Rose E’er Blooming; O Little Town of Bethlehem; and Silent Night. The evening will also feature a very humorous yet meaningful 15 minute Christmas Drama entitled, “Little What’s His Face” along with my bringing a very brief message. Each service will end with a time of celebrating the birth of Christ through candlelighting. Christmas Eve is being designed as a family service so there will be no nursery or children’s program that evening. Activity bags will be provided by our Children’s Ministry at each service for small children. The service times for Christmas Eve are as follows:

Wednesday, December 24th – 5pm

Wednesday, December 24th – 6:30pm

Wednesday December 24th – 8pm

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An End of the Year GLIMPSE at GRACE!

Another calendar year is coming to an end and I continue to be humbled and awed by what God is choosing to do through his church here at Grace. Let me just give you a quick glimpse into a few areas that cause me to be more convinced than ever that the local church is the hope of the world because it is the church that has been given the only message that can change someone’s life and eternity. Yes, my friend, it is true…there is nothing like the local church when the local church is working right:

ATTENDANCE: This has been a banner year for our church when it comes to Sunday morning attendance. Our growth was taking us very near that 80% seating capacity mark which caused us to take a step of faith last October and start a third Sunday morning service. Boy, has God blessed that step. Since we started our third service, Sunday morning attendance has jumped nearly 20% as we have averaged right around 1500 each Sunday. In fact, that 11:30 service has now surpassed the 8:30 service as the second largest in attendance and it is the one that is growing the most and seeing the most guests in attendance. I believe we have filled a niche in this later service that just isn’t happening in our area. I have been amazed at the number of people who have told me that they didn’t use to go to church because they couldn’t get out of bed in time on Sunday mornings, but now that there is a later alternative on Sunday, they can sleep in on Sunday and still come to church.

CHILDREN AND YOUTH: Do you realize that on a typical Sunday morning we have around 600 in our nursery through 12th grade programs? 600! In fact, 22% of our Sunday morning attendance is 6th grade or under! The future is bright here at Grace!

GIVING: The economy in our country has taken a hit and continues to digress which has resulted in many churches struggling to make ends meet financially. Yet, the faithfulness of God’s people here at Grace continues to astonish me. Through the first 22 weeks of our new fiscal year (July through November) our general fund giving is up 14% over the same time period one year ago. Thank you for being faithful in your support of Grace!

SMALL GROUPS: Our goal and vision of seeing Grace Church become a church of small groups is well under way. This past year God brought Pastor Steve and his family to us and he is doing a magnificent job in taking us in this critical direction. Over 20 pilot groups are currently taking place which is allowing Steve to fine tune a strategy that will set us up for a big push this fall towards small groups. The stories I am hearing of the church being the church and ministering to each other through groups is one of the most exciting things I have ever experienced as a Senior Pastor.

MINISTRY STAFF: The strength of our church is in the ministry staff God has assembled here to serve Him. My dream and goal when I started here as Senior Pastor four years ago was to build a dream team of ministry staff. With the team we have in place, the sky is the limit in how we can be used by God as a church to MEET as may people as possible where they are and help MOVE them to where He wants them to be.

Monday, December 15, 2008

REBUKED...And Deservedly So!

I received the following comment on my blog back on my December 12th post:

Oh, Pastor Scott, I know your dislike for critics, grumbling and complaining, but this doesn't benefit me at all, unless you consider that I would not find such errors distracting when reading your blogs seriously. I.e., ...."there were people..." (There - beginning sentence - cap T); "Among this crowd was a women..." (woman); "...that her bleeding had stooped..." (stopped).

In your previous two blogs - Hmmm, the word "stupidest" - acceptable, true, (the rule is - two syllable words, add er and est, or more and most, but not together. My opinion is that "most stupid" sounds less like a teenager speaking. "Thee are even some..." (There); "... more true..." (truer - single syllable, add er or est). We see such errors through your writings repeatedly, many of which are not "spell or grammar checker" proof. Consider waiting a few minutes before you proof read, because the flow of your words are still fresh in your mind, and so your brain doesn't pick up on the errors as your re-read. Maybe consider to have your office staff proof read it.

You are intelligent and educated, and many of such errors occur when in a hurry, and sometimes they portray a different image. Since the world is reading a lot of good things here, I just would like you to be the best you can be and convey your accuracy of your messages and thoughts without looking ridiculous with misspelled words and the like.

I know this is a no post comment, but that's OK, and I want you to know that I don't read your blog to scrutinize; the errors just pop up and are a distraction that generates scrutiny of the rest of what is being read, rather than focusing on the depth and content of what is being said. Frankly, my hurrying generates the most common "your and you're" and "their and there" errors that my mom still corrects me on, and I'm a writer. Hang in - surely you have quite a few thousands of blog hits to go.

A Nony Mous

P.S.: I'm so paranoid I have an error in here somewhere that I have read it at least a dozen times before sending. We all can do better, can't we?

I knew I should have blocked my blog from being read by anyone that is or ever has been a school teacher anywhere in the world!! Back when I was in high school we had the dreaded "5-grammar mistake rule!" If any paper or project we did in any class had at least 5 grammar mistakes then it was an automatic "F"! As a result, back then I got pretty good at grammar. Today, however, it is not my best suit (I'm Sorry, Miss Haslet…my high school English teacher) so I humbly accept this comment/rebuke knowing that it came from a heart of love…perhaps the heart of a teacher! By the way, the only way I passed typing class in high school was by cheating! I think I’m still suffering the consequences of that sin today (I apologize, Mrs. Nauman…my high school typing teacher)!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Happy Birthday, MATT Haggard!

Sunday is our Worship Arts Director's birthday here at Grace Church!

Since on his birthday I am allowing the country style song to be song....If We Make It Through Merle Haggard, I thought it fitting to use my blog to shout out a HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Matt with this remake of Merle's album cover sent to me this week by a member of Grace Church in honor of Matt!


Friday, December 12, 2008

Messy Christmas...A Gift for the Desperate

A Merry Christmas can sure seem like a Messy Christmas for those who find themselves in a desperate situation. In Mark 5, Jesus has encounters with two very desperate people. One was a man, the other a woman. One was an important synagogue official, the other was a nobody. One had a 12 year old child, the other had a 12 year old affliction. And one was very wealthy while the other was completely bankrupt. The only thing these two people shared in common was that only Jesus could help them. They were desperate.

This Sunday we will look specifically at this woman. We find in verse 24 that a large crowd was pressing in on Jesus. there were people everywhere trying to touch this miracle working Rabbi. Among this crowd was a women who had suffered for 12 years with an incurable hemorrhage producing constant bleeding. She had received all of the available treatments, some of which were very painful. According to the Jewish Talmud, there were 11 treatments for this physical affliction including carrying the ashes of an ostrich egg in a linen bag and carrying a barley corn kernel found in the dung of a white female donkey. In the end, this woman had spent all she owned, yet her condition grew worse. But her desperateness wasn’t just physical. She had also lost all religious and social contact as well (Leviticus 15:25-27). This stigma of bleeding was 2nd in severity only to that of leprosy and required 7 days without bleeding to be considered ceremonially clean. This women’s life was messed up. She was desperate.

This dear lady had heard about Jesus’ power to heal which had aroused her faith. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus could help her desperate situation. She did not directly approach Jesus because of her uncleanness, but rather, came up behind Him and touched the hem of His garment. She believed that if she could touch His robe she would be healed. The present tense would give the idea that she kept thinking to herself, “If only I can touch His garment! If only I can touch His garment!” And when she finally was able to touch His robe she could instantly feel that her bleeding had stooped and she was healed. Once again we see the powerful principle that Jesus was touchable even by the untouchable.

Jesus immediately realized that power had gone out of Him. The power went out of Him, not His clothes…many were touching Him but only she was healed. He stops and asks who touched Him. Obviously, Jesus already knew the answer but He wanted to give her more than a physical healing…He wanted to establish a relationship with her. Jesus’ question seemed absurd to the disciples. After all, the crowds were all around Him and many were touching Him. How could He ask, “Who touched Me?” Jesus continued to look for this woman until their eyes met.

As Jesus speaks with her, He attributes her healing with her faith in Him that went far beyond physical healing. The Greek word for “healed” is the same term used for salvation in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Jesus called her “daughter” showing a new relationship. This is the only time Jesus ever called a woman by this title. He then tells her to go in peace. Experiencing God’s power is not nearly as vital as knowing Him.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Christmas Song I Hate To Hear

This month I have been listening to those radio stations that play nothing but Christmas music this time of year. As a result I have developed a pretty lengthy list of holiday songs I hate to hear. On this list includes such holiday favorites such as “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" (that has got to be the stupidest Christmas song ever written); “The Twelve Days of Christmas" (personally I would rather sing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”); “The Little Drummer Boy”; and “O Christmas Tree.” Thee are even some serious songs on my list of Christmas songs I hate to hear such as “What Child is This” and “Christmas Shoes” (I didn’t mind this song the first couple times I heard it but when radio stations began to play it about every 10 minutes, I got tied of it real quick).

But a new song has risen to the top of my list. It is not new in time but it is new to me as I had never heard it before a few weeks ago. How did I get introduced to this song? It came to my attention when our Worship Arts Director here at Grace Church, Mr. Matt McElravy, made the decision to use it in all three of our worship services this coming Sunday morning. Why is it now #1 on my list of Christmas songs I hate to hear? Because it’s one of those “twangy” country music songs (you know, the style of music the devil listens to!). It is written by Merle Haggard and entitled, “If We Make It through December.”

Honestly, if this song comes on the radio this week I will quickly change the station. But as much as I hate this song, I can honestly say that I can’t wait to hear it sung by our own Jason “Chobe” Dearborn this Sunday because it fits our theme perfectly. This Sunday, as part of our “Messy Christmas” series, we will see that Jesus is a Christmas gift for the desperate. Below are the words to the song. This Sunday I’ll get to hear it (three times)!!

I got laid off down at the factory
And there timings not the greatest in the world
Heaven knows I been workin' hard
I wanted Christmas to be right for daddy's girl
Now I don't mean to hate December
It's meant to be the happy time of year
And why my little girl don't understand
Why daddy can't afford no Christmas here

If we make it through December
Everything’s gonna be alright I know
It's the coldest time of winter
And I shiver when I see the fallin' snow
If we make it through December
I got plans of bein' in a warmer town come summer time
Maybe even California
If we make it through December we'll be fine

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Winning the Waitress

According to Philippians 2:14-16, we are to be followers of Jesus who refuse to grumble so that we can have a good reputation and be a positive reflection of Christ in our world that is permanently distorted. In other words, when we develop the reputation of being grumblers it harms our reflection of Jesus. In fact, it often turns people off to Jesus.

Think about it. If you have the reputation at work of being a grumbler and complainer, chances are that you have probably turned a co-worker or two off to Jesus. If you have the reputation at school of being a grumbler and complainer, chances are that you have probably turned a fellow student or teacher off to Jesus. If you have the reputation of being a grumbler and complainer at home and in your neighborhood, chances are good that you have probably turned off a family member or neighbor to Jesus.

And perhaps there is no area where this is more true than in the restaurants surrounding your church. Surveys have shown that the time of the week that waitresses and waiters dread the most is Sunday afternoons when the church crowd comes in to eat after worship. Below are actual quotes from restaurant employees:

“I hate working Sundays because people who come in after church are the worst to serve. They are really difficult and terrible tippers!”

“I am a server at Olive Garden and it is well known that if you see them praying before the meal, it’s bad news. Not only will you get a bad tip, but you will most likely be treated with disrespect!”

“As a waitress for many years, I always hated working the Sunday lunch crowd because they were the worst. Nothing like cranky folks who left a sucky tip!”

“In the community I’m at, waiters do not look forward to working Sundays because the church people come in all dressed up, are very picky about every little thing, and then leave a crappy tip!”

“I waited tables in college and the Sunday crowd was AWFUL. The servers would actually pay each other to work the Sunday shift just to get out of it. It wasn’t so much the bad tips as it was the picky, hateful, ‘let me treat you like dirt because you didn’t go to church’ attitudes that were infuriating!”

I wonder how many waiters, waitresses and servers in America have been turned off to Jesus because of serving grumbling Christians following church. So if you attend Grace Church here in Lititz, will you do me a huge favor? When you go out to eat after church, if you treat the restaurant staff with anything less than grace and kindness, and if you tipe anything less than 15%-20%, would you please tell the waitress or waiter that you attend the church across the street or on the other side of town and not Grace Church?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

More M&M Stories

Yesterday I shared with you the satisfaction that I get from Personal M&M Stories. If you are not sure what that means, be sure to go back and ready my posting from yesterday. Today, allow me to share two more sweet stories with you.

I met last week with a man and two of his four sons. I was supposed to meet with the whole family but two of the kids were sick so mom was home with them. The family moved to Pennsylvania about a year ago. The dad was able to find a job where he met another man who attended Grace and who invited he and his family to attend. About a month ago they visited and were so captivated by the service that though it is a 35-40 minute drive to church for them one way, they kept coming every Sunday. He came in to talk to me about some questions he had about the Bible.

I took this gentleman through the plan of salvation. When I finished I asked him if there had been a time in his life when he sincerely put his faith in the fact that Jesus was God, died for his sins, rose from the dead and was the only way to heaven. He quickly said, “YES”! I asked him when he did that. His answer was, “About 10 seconds ago as you explained it to me and my heart was crying out, ‘I believe that’!” I then led him in a prayer verbalizing his faith to the Lord. One of his sons also trusted Christ that night.

The next day a man from the church asked to meet with myself, Pastor Tim, Pastor Steve and Matt McElravy. He wanted to share with us in detail how God has used Grace Church in his life over the past 4 years and the life of his wife and kids. He took us through the different message series and the different emphasis (like the Bible Reading Challenge) and described for us in detail how God used each of them to meet he and his wife where they were and help move them to where God wanted them to be. He wanted us to know the difference that Grace Church was making in his life and the life of his family.

One of our senior citizens contact me through a very sweet note last week to let me know that she is learning more about the Bible now than every before in her life. How precious is that! Another person wrote the following note to me:

This note comes with heartfelt gratitude. Friends invited me to come worship here at Grace last summer and I have been attending on a regular basis ever since. I have never felt the love I feel here at any other church. My life feels different even though there are many things not complete or whole in my life. I feel Grace Church is helping to complete me personally and spiritually. I praise God every day for my new found life. I thank Him often for my friends and my new church home.

MEETING people where they are and MOVING them to where God wants them to be. What else is there? It’s really true. The local church is the hope of the world and there is nothing like the local church when the local church is working right!

Monday, December 08, 2008

M&M Stories

Whenever I need a quick snack to satisfy a sweet craving, I can always count on a bag of Peanut M&M candies to hit the spot. The same is true of Personal M&M stories. M&M stands for the two key words in the purpose statement of Grace Church. We exist as a ministry to MEET people where they are and help MOVE them to where God wants them to be. As I like to say, that makes us the only church I know of whose purpose melts in your mouth and not in your hands!

Nothing is more satisfying to my ministry cravings then to hear personal M&M stories of how God has used Grace Church to help meet people where they are and move them to where He wanted them to be. The last two weeks have been full of them! In today and tomorrow’s posting, let me give you a quick glance at just a few of these M&M stories that have so encouraged and energized me.

I received a letter recently from a young lady who lost her husband to death and who now is raising multiple kids by herself. God led her to Grace Church. Below are parts of her letter (I took editorial privileges to keep the author anonymous):

I am writing to let you know how much you and your church have impacted my life. As an adult I had fallen away from the church and became one of those people who attended services on Christmas and Easter and other times when it was convenient. I believed that because I believed in God and prayed that I didn’t need to go to church. I felt that church was ritual and wasn’t necessary in my life. I struggled through some very rough times including the death of my husband that left me a single mom. I felt very alone. September of 2008 was the worst. I was very depressed, very sad, and very lost.

I have many close friends who are members of Grace Church. They have always encouraged me to attend but I never seemed to find the time. Finally, in October of 2008 I found the time. From the moment I walked in the door I felt a warmth and a positive spirit that filled my heart. I couldn’t believe when the service was over! I not only was wide awake the whole time, I was energized. The next week I brought my parents along. I was a little nervous because the style of the service is different than what they are used to. My parents loved it and came with me the rest of the month of October.

Since coming to Grace I have felt so warm and positive. It is so odd, but I don’t feel alone at all anymore. I feel God and Jesus with me. It is almost quite literally like being lost in the woods for a long period of time and finding my way home. Part of me wonders why it took so darn long, but on the other hand, I don’t care that it took the time. I just feel so great and I want it to continue. Since my husband passed away many, many people have done wonderful things for me and my family but you have given me the greatest gift of all. I love your mission statement about meeting people where they are and bringing them to where God wants them to be. Well, I am one small example of mission accomplished. I want to sincerely thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Messy Christmas...Jesus is a Gift for the Lonely

I would be looking forward to a Merry Christmas if only it was not going to be so lonely. That is the hearts cry from many a people today as we near December 25. In Mark 1:40-45 we see a story of a very lonely leper. This disease of leprosy was common due to the unsanitary conditions of the day and resulted in a very pitiful existence. It ravaged your body causing progressive disfiguration. And ever worse, it resulted in total social exclusions as you were not allowed to be near any non-leper and had to cry out that you were a leper so people would avoid you (Leviticus 13:45-46). The religious leaders blamed the disease on sin in your life, especially that of slander. So not only did you have the burden of the physical disease but you had the emotional scars of everyone thinking that the reason for the leprosy was due to your own sin.

In verse 40 we see that this leper came to Jesus. This was a very bold move on his part. The fact that he came up to Jesus shows that people saw Jesus as more approachable than any other rabbi. The desire of the leper was obvious. He was convinced that Jesus could heal him and there was no presumption in his request as seen in his conditional phrase, “If you are willing.” What a great example this should be to any of us who are struggling with sickness or disease. Our greatest desire ought to be the will of God for our lives and healing is not always God’s will. Yet, this was still a bold request. In Bible times, this disease was seen as incurable. Only twice in the Old Testament did God cleanse a leper (Miriam, Numbers 12:10-15; Namaan, 2 Kings 5:1-14).

So how did the loving Lord respond to this lonely leper? First, He responded with tenderness. Verse 41 tells us that Jesus has compassion on him. And the same is still true today. Even now, Jesus has compassion on lonely, hurting people. Your loneliness can become your best friend when it draws you closer to Jesus. Second, Jesus responded with a touch. Now think about this. Jesus did not have to touch the leper in order to heal him. He could have just spoken the words and it would have happened. So why did Jesus reach out in compassion and touch this man? Chances are good that this leper probably had not been lovingly touched in years. My friend, never underestimate the power of a proper touch. Even if the man had not been healed, this would have been worth it for him. Why? Because knowing the compassion of God is greater than being healed. It is quite probable that the situation that is causing your loneliness this Christmas will not be changed anytime soon. Yet, in the midst of your loneliness you can experience the greatest Christmas gift of all…you can know the compassion of Jesus.

But for this man, a miracle did occur. It was God’s will to heal this leper and so Jesus commanded him to be cleansed. The healing that followed was immediate, complete and visible. Jesus commanded him to tell no one but to go and see the priest. The priest had to verify that you were healed and then you were to offer sacrifices (Leviticus 14). But the leper could not contain himself and started spreading the news to everyone he met. That’s what lonely people do when they come to know the compassion of Jesus. After all, Jesus is a Christmas gift for the lonely.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Please Come Home for Christmas

Bells will be ringing this sad sad New Years
Oh what a Christmas to have the blues
My baby's gone I have no friends
To wish me greetings once again

Choirs will be singing Silent Night
Christmas carols by candlelight
Please come home for Christmas
Please come home for Christmas
If not for Christmas by New Years night

Friends and relations send salutations
Sure as the stars shine above
But this is Christmas yes Christmas my dear
The time of year to be with the ones you love

So won't you tell me you'll never more roam
Christmas and new Years will find you home
There'll be no more sorrow no grief and pain
And I'll be happy, happy once again
Oh there'll be no more sorrow, no grief and pain
And I'll be happy, Christmas once again

We are hearing this song written by Charles Brown all over the radio as we get closer and closer to Christmas. So why not hear it this Sunday at church as well? After all, the words fit exactly what our theme for the morning will be. Though most of us are planning for a MERRY Christmas, for many it will be nothing short of a MESSY Christmas due to the fact that they are facing some very lonely times this holiday season.

Some are lonely because they have lost a loved one since last Christmas!

Some are lonely because they have a loved one overseas in harms way this Christmas!

Some are lonely because they will be separated from their family this Christmas!

Some are lonely because though they are surrounded by people, they have no real friend!

Are you lonely and without much hope of a MERRY Christmas? Then I want to invite you to come home to Grace Church this Sunday as we see that Jesus is a Christmas gift for the lonely. Do you know someone who is lonely this holiday season? Then be sure to give them a personal invitation to join us at Grace Church this Sunday morning for one of our three services with drama, music and message (8:30; 10:00; 11:30)!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

1 WORTH 1,000

Today is a huge milestone as this is my 1,000th blog entry! And since a picture is worth a thousand words, to celebrate I thought I would post one of my favorite recent pictures of my wife and I that was taken while we were dancing at a reception after a wedding i officiated. That's right...this pastor loves to dance with his wife, especially when it results in kisses like this one! After all, that is why we Christians preach so hard against immorality...because it leads to dancing!

Now take a look at our expressions!! What do you think we were thinking at that moment? I know that I am taking a big risk here, but I encourage you to join in the celebration of my 1,000th blog entry by commenting on this picture! What do you think was going through our minds?


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Working in a Church Without Passion

Recently I was in a conversation with a friend who is on staff at a church (obviously, not Grace Church) who posed an interesting question. Though he loves his personal ministry at the church in which he is on staff, he has good reasons to be frustrated at his church overall. He honestly said that if he were not on staff at the church, he is certain that he and his family would not attend that local church. So, should a staff member stay at the church where he works if his lack of passion for the church overall would result in his not being part of the church if he were not on payroll? Pretty interesting question, isn’t it?

I think the general rule in most scenarios would be that if you are on staff at a church but lack the passion for the church overall to the point that you know that you would not attend that church if you were not on staff, the best course of action is to begin to pray about God leading you to a new ministry in a church where you can be passionate about the overall ministry. The more passionate you are about the church in which you serve, the more passionate and effective I believe you will be in the personal ministry God has called you to within that local ministry.

I have been fortunate in the fact that all three churches that I have had the privilege of serving in were ministries that I was passionate about during my time there. I was able to spend the first 8 years of my ministry as a youth and associate pastor at the Community Grace Brethren Church in West Milton, OH. I was able to serve and mentor under a Senior Pastor (Steve Peters) whose passion for the church was contagious. It was the type of church I would have eagerly attended even had I not been on staff.

From there I went to the Osceola Grace Brethren Church in Osceola, IN where I served for 9 years as Senior Pastor. One thing that I can honestly say is that my passion for that church never waned over those 9 years. I did not leave either of these churches because of a lack of passion for the overall ministry of the church. In fact, not once in my years of ministry have I ever been the one to instigate a conversation with a church that had a staff opening that was appealing to me. In both of my ministry moves, it was God who orchestrated the contact and then made His will very clear.

Now I am the Senior Pastor here at Grace Church in Lititz where I have been since August of 2004. I can dogmatically say that I have never had as much passion for a local church as I do this one. That is a fact. I love this church and I love what God is doing here day in and day out as together we continue to meet people where they are and then help move them to where God wants them to be. Man, I love my job!

Perhaps there are times that God calls a person to a specific ministry inside a local church in which there is a passion for their personal ministry even though there is no passion for the overall ministry of the church. It’s just hard to imagine being in that scenario. It is my hope and prayer to be part of what God is doing here at Grace Church all the way up until the day I retire (at age 45) and move to a little cottage by the sea up in Maine.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Church Complaints

We don’t sing enough hymns!

The music is too loud!

I wish we would get rid of the drums!

I don’t like that person on stage!

We need more preaching and less music!

What happened to all the soloists?

I don’t like the choir swaying when they sing!

The musicians should tuck in their shirts!

The pastor doesn’t wear a suit and tie!

The lights are kept too dark!

The temperature is too cold!

I don’t like the idea of small groups!

Our church is too big!

I have to park too far away from the building!

My teen doesn’t fit into the youth group!

I don’t like the structure of the children’s program!

The nurseries are too crowded!

The times of our services should be different!

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation among whom you appear as lights in the world holding fast the word of life so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain!” (Philippians 2:14-16)

Friday, November 28, 2008


Being grounded in gratitude is far more than just saying the words, “Thank You”! As we saw last Sunday in Philippians 2:12-13, an attitude of gratitude involves remembering our purpose which is to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. But along with remembering our purpose we must also refuse to complain (2:14-16). How difficult is that? We are a complaining culture! The American liberty bringing us freedom of speech has been misinterpreted as freedom to have a critical spirit. And in most cases, a critical spirit is seen in very cruel ways. And this mindset has steered right into the church. The American motto of “the customer is always right” is how many church goers perceive their church life as well. I could fill a book with the weekly e-mails, letters and cards I receive and you would be amazed at how harsh and cruel they are in tone (by the way, the cards in the Sunday bulletin are CONNECTION cards not COMPLAINT cards).

According to Philippians 2:14 we are to do ALL things without grumbling or disputing. ALL…did you catch that? What does ALL means? Just ask our Worship Arts Director, Matt McElravy. He loves it when I use this definition! ALL means ALL and that’s ALL that ALL means. ALL is ALL encompassing. But what exactly are we to avoid? First, we are to do ALL things without grumbling. Grumbling is something we do when we are alone. The word means to mutter; to speak in a low tone; or to complain under one’s breath. It is an expression of secret discontent which had severe consequences in the Old Testament (check out 1 Corinthians 10:10; Numbers 16:41-50). Along with grumbling we are also to do ALL things without disputing. Disputing is something we do with others. It is the term from which we get our English word “dialogue”. It is the idea of an argument. This is the external questioning of submission. An attitude of gratitude is more than just saying “thank you”. It is also refusing to complain.

But along with remembering our purpose and refusing to complain, in order to be grounded in gratitude we must also resolve to rejoice. In verse 17, as Paul writes he was imprisoned in Rome. Paul is stating that his current imprisonment could result in his death seen in his describing himself as being poured out as a drink offering. This was a picture of the pagan practice of pouring out a chalice of wine before or after their meals in honor of the gods they worshipped. It was called a libation and was poured out either to gain favor or soften the anger of the gods. Paul is saying that even if this were to be his fate, he was choosing to rejoice and he exhorted his readers to rejoice with him. Now if Paul can chose to rejoice even in the face of his possible martyrdom, can’t we choose to rejoice even in the things we don’t like?

Thanksgiving has come and gone. The holiday is over. But our need to be grounded in gratitude continues. In Jonathan Swift’s book, Gulliver’s Travels, we are introduced to the tiny people called Lilliputians. These little people had a very big view of gratitude. In fact, they saw ingratitude as cause for capitol punishment. If only we as followers of Jesus would take the need for gratitude half as seriously by remembering our purpose; refusing to complain; and resolving to rejoice, even in the things that don’t exactly “float our boat”!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Five Smooth Stones

On our trip we visited many places in Israel that we saw when we were there two years ago. However, there were several sites that we saw for the first time. Because they were new to me they were very fascinating.

The first was the most staggering of sites on this trip so far. It was the house of Caiaphas the High Priest who Jesus stood trial before the night before His crucifixion. Of course a church is built over that spot today but the dungeon area is the original. Here we saw the area where Caiaphas would have had Jesus scourged and the pit where he would have spent the night as they awaited daybreak to officially sentence Him and take Him to Pilate. I still am reflecting on the fact that I stood in the very room where Jesus took such a horrible beating on my behalf. This would have been the same dungeon where Peter and John also received beatings in Acts 5. There is just no way to describe what it is like to stand in the room where Jesus would have spent the night in utter agony and darkness knowing that the next 24 hours would mean crucifixion for Him.

Outside we saw the courtyard where Peter would have denied Jesus to the little servant girl and where Jesus would have caught his eye after the third denial and the crowing of the roosters. We saw the steps that they would have brought Jesus up after arresting Him in the garden and bringing Him to the house of Caiaphas. I walked those same steps this morning. For me, this was the most hard-hitting moment of our trip so far.From Caiaphas’ house we went to the Jewish Museum. Here we spent much time moving around an exact model of Jerusalem at 66AD. It was on a 1 to 50 scale. It was amazing and really helped us to capture in our minds the geography of the city as it related to the events surrounding the passion of Christ.

We then drove to the Valley of Elah where David the shepherd boy would have fought, killed and decapitated Goliath the Giant. We went down into what would have been the only stream in the area where David would have gathered five smooth stones. The stream was dry this time of year. Why five stones? I think David had confidence that God would allow him to do the job with just one stone. However, David knew that Goliath had four brothers who may seek retaliation on him for killing their taller brother. If this were to occur, David would be ready for them with the remaining four stones.

In that same stream where David picked up his five smooth stones, I also bent down and picked up five stones of my own (pictured) to take back with me as a reminder that God is bigger than any giant that comes into my life. I know that these were not the stones that were there around 1000 BC when David lived and fought Goliath but the symbolism to me is a very powerful one. I will put these stones somewhere in my office as a constant reminder to me of God’s power and my need to rely more heavily upon Him in all areas of my life. Laura also picked up five stones from this dry stream to put on a shadow box at home for the same symbolic reminder.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Mountain of Fire and Prayer

Mt Carmel is another of my favorite spots in Israel. After Joshua, Elijah is my favorite Bible character. It was on this mountain that Elijah had the contest with the prophets of Baal to see which God would send down fire from heaven. After winning the contest, Elijah had all the prophets of Baal killed. He then told Ahab it was going to rain (it had not rained for 3.5 years) and he went on to the top of Mt Carmel to pray.

I gave the devotional on this very thing at the top of the mount. The picture is of me speaking on this special mountain top. I told how James 5 teaches us that the energetic prayer of a righteous person accomplishes much. Of all the great examples of prayer in the Bible, it then uses this example from the life of Elijah as seen in First Kings 18. I pointed out five aspects of Elijah’s prayer life that made it an energetic prayer life that accomplishes much. They are:

1. He prayed in solitude. There is something powerful about getting alone with God where no one else can see you or hear you!

2. He prayed in faith the promises of God. God had already promised rain. Elijah prayed that the promises of God would be fulfilled. This is a great and energetic way for us to pray today.

3. He prayed in humility. He crouched down on the ground and put his head between his knees. So many today pray prayers of great arrogance as they reduce God to some kind of glorified bellhop who is at their beck and call. Elijah remembered who God was and who he himself was and he assumed a body position that demonstrated humility.

4. He prayed expectantly. As he prayed for rain, he sent his servant to see if storm clouds are gathering. As I heard my Grandpa Distler once say, “If you’re going to pray for rain, carry an umbrella.”

5. He prayed persistently. When the servant came back and reported no sign of rain, Elijah kept praying. Each time he sent his servant to look but the answer of no rain in sight remained the same. This did not stop Elijah. After the 7th time, a sign of rain was seen. I think we often don’t see answers to our prayers today because we have no patience. We ask God for something once or twice but if it doesn’t happen, we give up. The example of energetic prayer from Elijah is to keep on praying. It’s the old P.U.S.H saying…Pray Until Something Happens!

We ended our time on Mount Carmel by giving each person a chance to go off on their own and pray, just like Elijah did. How cool! We then went to lunch by Mount Carmel. This was without question the best falafel sandwich I have had in Israel. When I get home I have to find a place that makes a good falafel sandwich.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Shore of Forgiveness

Another favorite stop of mine in Israel is what is called the place of Peter’s Primacy. This is always one of the most meaningful places on the trip to me. This is where after the resurrection a few of the disciples had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. A man on the shore told them to let there nets down on the other side of the boat and they caught a great catch of fish. At this point John realized it is Jesus on the shore. Peter put on his outer coat and made his way quickly to shore. There Jesus had cooked breakfast for them.

Jesus then had this discussion with Peter, one that would cause Peter to relive his failure. The threefold asking of questions would certainly have caused Peter to remember his denials of Jesus. But the purpose of the discussion was to show Peter that he was forgiven and restored. My paraphrase of the dialogue would be as such:

Jesus: Peter do you love me more than these and yourself (agape)?

Peter: Lord, you know I love you like a brother (phileo).

Jesus: Peter do you love me more than these and yourself (agape)?

Peter: Lord, you know I love you like a brother (phileo).

Jesus: Peter, do you love me like a brother (phileo)?

Peter (weeping): Lord you know all things, you know I love you like a brother (phileo).

Peter could not say he loved Jesus with an agape love due to his three denials of Jesus. Yet, Jesus ends the conversation with the words, “Feed my sheep.” He was telling Peter that even though he had failed him in a horrible way, Jesus was not finished with him. Jesus had died for his sins, rose again and now wanted to use him greatly. And my how he used him as Pentecost rolled around not long afterwards and Peter preached resulting in 3,000 coming to know Christ.

This shoreline where we were today is a shoreline of forgiveness and restoration. It is a place where we can relive in our minds our past failures and then know that we have been forgiven and that God is not yet done with us.

At this place, Dan Travis (out host who is the pastor of the Palmyra Grace Brethren Church and a good friend of mine who I respect greatly) had us each pick up a stone symbolizing our failure and place it in our pocket so that throughout the day we would remember our failure and allow it to sink in. Later that day, while taking a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee we would have time to pray silently and then throw our stone into the very water that Jesus would have walked on so many years ago.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Jesus Boat

One of the absolute highlights of both of my trips to the Holy Land is the boat ride that we take as a group on the Sea of Galilee. This trip, before getting on our boat, we went inside an exhibit to see what is called “The Jesus Boat.” This is the remains of a boat that was found submerged in 1986 during a bad drought along the Sea which dates back over 2,000 years to the time of Christ. It was fascinating to see how they found and salvaged this boat. It was incredible to look at this boat made of 12 different types of wood that would have sailed on the sea sometime around the time of Christ.

They had a wonderful gift shop here where we got a few stocking stuffer items and I bought a book on the religious symbols of Judaism as well as an Israeli flag and a mezuzah which Jews put on the doorpost of their doors with the Shema written on a paper and rolled up inside of it (“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one God…). I plan to put it outside the door to my office at church. Jewish people touch it as they enter and leave their house and then put their hand to their mouth to remind them that the Word of God should be on their lips as they enter and as they leave their homes.

We then took our magnificent boat ride across the Sea back to Tiberius. This is such an awesome experience. This is the one place where we can be 100% sure that Jesus sailed and yes, even walked. To sail on this Sea is such a spiritual and emotional experience. We sailed with the sun setting behind the mountains and worship music being played. I loved watching people from our church as we sailed and sang. It is the epitome of genuine worship. In fact, these two boat rides on the Sea of Galilee (2006 and now) have been the two greatest times of worship in my life.

There were two things that made this boat ride even more special. One was being able to stand next to one of our Grace Brethren pastors from the Central African Republic as we sailed and sang on the Sea of Galilee. How awesome was that…A Grace Brethren Pastor from Pennsylvania and a Grace Brethren Pastor from the Central African Republic standing side by side on the Sea of Galilee.

But the other special part of this trip was being able to watch my parents (pictured). My dad stood just weeping. How special it was for them to be on this very special Sea. I’m sure that they never thought that this trip would have ever been possible. I am so thankful that the Lord delivered a way for us to provide this opportunity for them. As I watched them standing and embracing as they cried and sang, I realized what a special moment this in fact was for them and for me. For those who have never experienced this ride, it is impossible to really put it into words.

I just can’t say enough about the Sea of Galilee. Ask anyone from our church who went on this trip or the one back in 2006 and they will all agree that if they could revisit just one place in all the Land of the Bible it would definitely be the Sea of Galilee. And if the worship wasn’t great enough, we also did some Jewish dancing on the boat as well!