Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Sacred Cow of Grace Church

Okay, I am going to warn you in advance…this is going to be the most transparent blog I have ever written. If you get uncomfortable when I get transparent…if you get offended when I share my personal stuff (yes, some people really do get offended when I do this) then to save you from some certain frustration…STOP READING NOW!

So last week I am using the men’s restroom in the office area (Okay, here is a second warning for those who get offended when I get transparentSTOP READING NOW). As I flush, I realize that the water level rises to the very edge of the toilet bowl and stays there. It then begins to go down at a snail’s crawl. Fortunately, no flooding occurred. I realize, however, that the next male staff member who uses that same stall may end up getting their “feet washed” and it isn’t even communion day here at Grace (in case you don’t get that joke, we wash feet as part of our communion services here at Grace Church).

I could just page our maintenance guy, Jay. However, what is everyone going to conclude if my voice goes out over the whole building saying, “Hi, Jay! It’s your illustrious leader! I need a plunger brought down to the men’s restroom in the office!”

That is like the fear that every man has of going into the grocery store to get certain items for their wife only to have the cashier not be able to find the price and do an “all call” storewide on the intercom for a price check on the specific brand for the customer at register three while you are standing there feeling very uncomfortable.

So I decide that it might just be worth my while to take matters into my own hands. Now, one question…where do we keep the plunger around here? Ask me where we keep just about any other item in this entire 96,000 square foot facility and I can probably take you right to it. But, a plunger? I looked everywhere! I looked in every men's restroom (even a few of the women’s rooms after knocking)! I looked in every maintenance closet! I even looked in Jay’s office himself (after all, he’s a Red Sox fan, so nothing would surprise me!)! But I could not find a plunger to save me!

This led me to ask some perplexing questions. Am I the only one in a church that runs over 1400 on Sundays and has some 500 people in it every day that ever needs a plunger? Whew…maybe I need to recheck my eating habits. What is so special about a plunger that we keep it under such tight security? Hey, every church has their “sacred cow”. For some churches it’s the ‘sanctuary” which means no drinks, food, gum or candy is allowed inside it’s doors…in fact in some churches you may want to take your shoes off before finding your pew on a Sunday morning. The church I youth pastored in had a 10-feet tall fiberglass chicken as their “sacred cow.” What do we have as our sacred cow here at Grace? A “plunger”! I think this week I am going to withhold $10.00 of my tithe (let’ see, that would cut my tithe by two-thirds…just kidding) and buy a plunger for the men’s restroom in the offices (I’m kidding about that too). I may even have my name engraved on it. Now if your offended by all this, remember, I warned you earlier to quit reading so it’s your fault…not mine!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Jumping to Conclusions

I committed an act of horrible hypocrisy lately. I absolutely hate it when people jump to conclusions regarding me or our ministry here at Grace without all of the information needed to formulate their conclusions (and it happens all the time). But recently, I did the same thing in a very extreme way. Here at Grace Church we have a very effective filtering system on all of our computers and each student and staff member has their own personal accounts. Realizing that those of us who have laptops often surf the net away from the office, we have added a system on all of our laptops that not only filters but it also sends a report to each employee’s supervisor weekly that lists the websites they have gone to or even attempted to log on to. One of these laptops is used in the Youth Room.

Last week I received a report that on a certain day and time someone attempted to log on to some objectionable sites on the laptop in the youth room. The report gave the key words that were used in search engines which quickly caused my heart to sink. Because you must have an account here at the church to get on the internet, I knew it would be easy to identify the individual out of the hundreds of students and staff members by simply looking into the logs and seeing whose account was using that laptop at that specific time. However, I do not have access to these logs and since I received this e-mail alert on a Saturday morning, I had to wait until Monday morning to have our Business office look up the logs and get me this piece of information.

So what did I do in the meantime? I spent 48 hours playing a kind of “Live Clue” game to try to determine “who done it!” I printed off a detailed report of the internet usage surrounding that time period in the youth room. As I scanned down the pages of websites gone to, I tried to determine the guilty party. By the time Monday morning rolled around, I was pretty sure of my conclusion. I got to the office Monday before the business office opened and wrote an e-mail to the supervisor of the person I was more than certain was guilty with my recommendations of action steps to take. I didn’t send the e-mail (thank goodness!) because I needed the business office to tell me who was on the computer at that time so that I had my “smoking gun”!

Ends up, it was all a false alarm. We had been having trouble with the filtering system on that one computer and on that particular day one of the ladies on our support team had been on the phone with the company trying to get the matter resolved. When the provider felt they had the filtering system working they had this lady support staff member type in a couple of those “key words” to make sure it was being blocked. It was! On one hand I was relieved because you never want to deal with a staff member or student who has fallen to those kinds of temptations. But on the other hand, I was sick to my stomach. I had jumped to conclusions and was ready to initiate a confrontation before I had all of the pertinent information. The very thing I hate when it is done to me I had done to someone else. There are times when Biblical judging is needed (unfortuantely today this is very nuch abused, especially in the blogosphere) but all too often we jump to conclusions based on insufficient information and cast a shadow over a person or a ministry that is completely unfair and untrue. Boy, did I learn a lesson.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Another Blogging Milestone

Today is another blogging milestone for me. Believe it or not this is my 800th blog entry. When I posted my very first blog entry a little more than three years ago on March 31, 2005, I gave the following reasons as to why I was starting to blog:

The main purpose of my blog will be to share more personal stuff about me, my family, and my thoughts with you about current events, spiritual truths, and just plain “stuff” that pops into my mind and that you may or may not find interesting. Hopefully, it will accomplish several things:

1. It will be yet another tool of communication to keep you connected

2. It will allow you to learn more about your pastor and what makes him tick

3. It will allow you to know more specifically how you can pray for our church, myself, and my family

4. It will be a source of both inspiration and entertainment to add a spark to your day

Now, 3 years and 800 entries later, hopefully I have accomplished all of the above. Hopefully you have felt more connected to Grace Church. Hopefully you have learned more about me as an individual. Hopefully you have learned better how you can pray more specifically for me, my family and our church. And hopefully you have been inspired as well as perhaps entertained throughout the process.

Tomorrow I will post blog entry 801 on my way to 900 and the reasons why I blog really haven’t changed much at all. The 4 reasons above are still very valid. I guess I could add a few additional reasons why I continue blogging. One is that I really do enjoy it. I enjoy putting my thoughts down in writing and sharing them with those who care to read them. It has become somewhat of a hobby. It makes me wish I had (or would take) the time to write a book. Maybe when I retire (at the age of 45) I will start on that project.

I also have enjoyed getting to know many people I otherwise would have never met who have made e-mail contact with me due to their being one of the over 56,000 people from well over 100 countries who have visited my blog over the past three years. Technology really is a wonderful thing. To think that I can post my blog sitting in my office at Grace Church in Lititz PA and within minutes those same words are being read literally all over the country and even more amazingly, all over the world. WOW!

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Progressive Friday

I have been looking forward to this weekend for literally months now. This Friday night as the first pitch is thrown between the Cleveland Indians and the visiting New York Yankees at Progressive Field (formally known as Jacob’s Field…right down the street from the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio), my family will be seated in the club level seats at the stadium enjoying a night of Major League Baseball. For a baseball fanatic like me who also happens to be the biggest Cleveland Indians fan in all of Lancaster County and probably the biggest Indians fan in all of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, this is going to be one special evening.

So how did we score such wonderful tickets? Actually, they were a gift from the mother of a lady in our church. This mom lives in Ohio and is also a lover of the Tribe and has a ticket package at Progressive Field. When she found out that her daughter’s pastor also loves the Cleveland Indians, we made an instant connection even though at that point we had never even met. Last season as the Indians were nearing what appeared to be a certain birth in the World Series, she graciously offered to give me a ticket to Game 7 if the World Series were to go that far. My bags were packed and ready. Unfortunately, the Indians barley missed wining the American League pennant and my ticket vanished as the Red Sox made their way to the series instead. However, last Christmas when this mom was in town visiting, she allowed me to pick a season game for my family to attend.

Ever since December I have been counting down the days until this game and finally it has arrived. We will leave town Friday morning and head west across the PA border back into the glorious Buckeye State. For those of you who may not know, I was born and raised in Northeast Ohio and I am and always be a buckeye at heart. Go Ohio State! Go Cleveland Browns! Go Cleveland Cavaliers! Go Cleveland Indians!

I have been in literally dozens of baseball stadiums and there is only one that I have experienced that tops what was once called Jacob’s Field and that is the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field in Chicago, home of the Cubs. That is just the best place ever to watch a ballgame. You just can’t beat the ivy covered home run fence and the fans seated on top of roofs across the street. You can just picture Babe Ruth calling his shot before driving the ball over the wall. But I’ll still take an Indians game over Wrigley!

My boys have gotten off to a slow start so far this season. With the MLB extra innings that my family got me for my birthday, I’ve been able to watch every game in the comfort of my family room. Win or lose, I am as loyal as can be to my team. This is a very good team and I’m certain that by the time September rolls around they will be right in the thick of it. After all, it is a very long season. But for now, the only victory that matters to me is this Friday night’s contest against those dreadful New York Yankees. Honestly, I hate the Yankees. This could just wind up being the perfect night. I will be with my family. I will be back in Ohio. I will be at the ballpark. I will be watching my Indians. And it's fireworks night to boot! Now that is what I call a progressive Friday.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


It is amazing how Sundays roll around with such regularity, isn’t it? I am so glad they do. I love Sundays! In fact, it is safe to say that I live for Sundays…especially Sundays here at Grace Church. This is such a great place to worship the Lord week after week. The level of excitement and anticipation is amazing as the auditorium fills up for each of our Sunday morning services. So what is in store for Sundays over the next 6 months?

May 11 – June 1: Super Heroes: Wonder Women (a study in Proverbs 31): Mother’s Day will begin this four week study in which we take a close examination of the ideal woman as seen in the last chapter of Proverbs.

June 8 – June 29: Super Heroes: Super Men (a study in the book of Philemon): The week before Father’s Fay we will switch gears toward the men with a 4-week study through the book of Philemon in which we will see the need for men who will forgive.

July 6: Patriotic Celebration: This Sunday will be a special Sunday in which we honor America and the men and women who protect her at home and abroad. The Worship Design Team will be planning this event at their next meeting and more details will be coming shortly after that. in May.

July 13: Dr. Jerry Young Preaching: Dr Young pastored Grace Church for 33 years before retiring in 2004. He will be back in the pulpit on this Sunday preaching for me while I am away on vacation.

July 20: What’s That Smell? (a stand alone sermon from 2 Corinthians 2:14-17): This Sunday we will see how we as believers in Jesus are a penetrating fragrance. To those who will believe it is the aroma of life. To those who are perishing, we are the smell of death.

July 27: To Be Announced! Our pastors will be away attending our Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches Adult Conference in Tampa, FL. A special guest speaker for this morning will be announced soon.

August 3 – August 31: Temptation! This will be a 5-week series as we study five different instances where individuals were tempted to sin including Eve, Jesus, Joseph, David and Daniel. We will learn valuable lessons about temptation from seeing how some of these succeeded in resisting and why some of them succumbed to the lure of sin.

September 7 – October 26: Anti-Christ! This will be an 8-week prophetic series as we move into the general election in which we will learn all that the Bible teaches about the coming one-world ruler, empowered by Satan himself, that we call “The Anti-Christ.”

November 2 – November 16! Israel: Pastor Tim Auld will be preaching a mini-series of his own on November 2 and 9 while I am in Israel. On November 16 I will share the highlights from my trip to Egypt, Jordan and Israel.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Strategic Planning - Part Three

Note: This is the third of a three part overview of the strategic planning day that our ministry staff had last week. Be sure to read parts one and two prior to reading today’s.

Rich then led us in identifying the key areas where strategic planning is needed for the next 5 years. We identified these areas as Weekend Services; Assimilation; Culture of Evangelism; Personnel; Facilities; First Impressions; Marketing; Finance; Technology; Education; Organizational Structure; and Strategic Alliances. From there we begin taking these areas one at a time and talking through a long list under each of them of dreams and goals. We then picked 4 or 5 of these dreams and goals as the priority.

Weekend Services: We want to add a third service; Make the Elevate program the children’s ministry focus for all of our worship services so all children experience it; Develop a youth program that fits but doesn’t compete with our worship services; Provide an effective fellowship time/area where people can connect with each other when they come to worship.

Assimilation: We want to develop a small group ministry where people can connect intimately; Evaluate and develop our Core Classes to better help people take steps of baptism, church membership, serving, giving, and sharing their faith; Develop a computerized check-in system for children through adults so we can better track who is attending and who is missing from week to week; Begin researching how we can be on the cutting edge of cultural diversity as our community becomes more diversified; Become more strategic in assimilating people from our school and daycare into the ministry of Grace Church.

Culture of Evangelism: We want to have a major “pull out all the stops” church wide outreach event (like the rodeo) every other year with the main goal simply being to connect with thousands of people in our community; Provide training not only in the methods of evangelism but also in understanding our culture today; See personal evangelism taking place in every age group and area of our ministry from our senior citizens to our children and also in our educational ministries of our school and daycare; Focus more on using our level 1 outreach events to lead immediately into effective level 2 events.

Personnel: We want to add positions that would include a Volunteer Coordinator to help us develop, train and appreciate our volunteer base; Pastor of Connections to oversee our small group ministry; Physical Plant Manager to oversee the preparedness and maintenance of our facilities; Executive Pastor who would be the key individual to oversee the staff and ministry on the church side like the Senior Administrator does on the school/daycare side; and a Campus Development Director who would lead us in evaluating our facility needs in light of our goals all the way through a major expansion project.

Our next step is to identify the major objectives in the other key areas that we did not get to and then to formulate a year by year plan as to what needs to happen year by year so that these objectives become reality in the next 5 years. MORE TO COME...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Strategic Planning - Part Two

Note: This is the second of a three part overview of the strategic planning day that our ministry staff had last week. Be sure to read yesterday’s entry prior to reading today’s.

I then took time to once again review our purpose as a church. Grace church is all about meeting people where they are and moving them to where God wants them to be. We want to meet people where they are both geographically and spiritually. We then want to help move people through six levels of ministry. These levels are defined as:

Level 1: The Community: Those who live within driving distance of Grace Church but have had no contact with Christ or our church

Level 2: The Crowd: Those from the community who have had some limited but positive contact with our church but who have no relationship with Christ or our church

Level 3: The Curious: Those from the crowd who have a more regular contact with Grace Church but have yet to make any commitment to Christ

Level 4: The Convinced: Those from the curious who cross the line of faith and commit their lives to Christ, trusting in the death and resurrection of Jesus alone for their forgiveness of sin and their eternal life in heaven

Level 5: The Committed: Those from the convinced who are growing deeper in their faith and in their knowledge of Scripture

Level 6: The Core: Those from the committed who are involved in ministry and spiritually reproducing in the lives of others

I then shared how I believe that the timing is right for our ministry as a whole to go from good to great. I base this on three main marks. First, our team that we have put into place in our ministry and support staff here at Grace is outstanding. I believe that our staff is our greatest asset and we have a dynamic team. Second, we have a unity among our ministries that did not use to exist. At one time our ministry was a church a school and a daycare that shared the same roof but struggled to get along and rarely cooperated with each other. Those days are gone. Today, we function as one team. The school cares about the daycare and the church. The daycare cares about the school and the church. The church cares about the school and the daycare. We are one ministry. And thirdly, the heart of our church is positive and enthusiastic. Though there are some small pockets of complaints in minor areas (which there always will be), overall, our people are excited about Grace Church and come to Grace week in and week out with a sense of anticipation and enthusiasm. We are seeing as never before the reality that there is nothing like the local church when the local church is working right! For these three reasons, I believe we are ripe to become great. I can’t wait to see what God is going to do through Grace Church!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Strategic Planning - Part One

Our ministry staff spent the day at Lancaster Bible College last Wednesday in a full day of strategic planning. We were hosted and led by Rich Wilson. Rich is Vice President at LBC and he and his family also attend Grace Church. Those present at the meeting were:

Myself (Senior Pastor)
Brenda Miller (Early Childhood Coordinator)
Tammy Wiggins (Daycare Director)
Sherry McConaghay (Elementary Principal)
Doug Kegarise (Director of Student Ministries)
Eric Lewis (Secondary Principal)
Rick Bernhardt (Senior Administrator of our School and Daycare)
Matt McElravy (Worship Arts Director)
Andrew Norton (Business Manager)
Susan Auld (Director of Children’s Ministry)
Tim Auld (Pastor of Spiritual Formation)
Whitie Willard (Care Pastor)

John Kegarise, who is the chairman of our Elder Board here at Grace, also joined us for part of the day. Rich began by reminding us that good is often the biggest enemy to greatness as seen in Jim Collins book, Good to Great. If we settle for being good, we will never do what it takes to become great. There is no question that we have a very good ministry. We could, if we desired, just put Grace Church on auto pilot and coast in a maintenance mode mindset and be seen by most everyone as a successful ministry. However, I believe that God desires us to move from being a good ministry to becoming a great ministry, reaching our redemptive potential in Christ.

Rich then shared with us 12 aspects of strategic planning. Strategic planning…

-is mission and vision driven
-is strategic
-is hard work
-is a process
-requires commitment
-requires communication and education
-drives the budget (not the reverse…the budget should not drive vision)
-is most successful when using data
-is results oriented and measurable
-has to be flexible
-has to be participatory
-has to be written

Be sure to read the next 2 days blogs for the rest of the notes from our meeting!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Armor ON!

From a spiritual standpoint, we live every minute of our entire lives on the battle field. This is why Paul commands us in Ephesians 6:10-20 to take up and put on the full armor of God. This is written in the imperative mood indicating that it is a command, not an option. The fact that this command is written in what is known in Greek grammar as the middle voice indicates that it is something you must do to or for yourself. You do not automatically wear the armor of God by being a Christian. You must put it on. The fact that this command is written in what is called the aorist tense shows that it is to be done once and for all. The armor of God is not like clothing or like a uniform that you take off at the end of the day or when the game is done. We must live in our armor. The word “full” indicates that every piece is essential meaning that success depends on putting on “all” the armor so that we do not give Satan any opportunity (Ephesians 4:27). It is by wearing all of our armor all of the time that we are able to resist the Devil (James 4:7). The word “resist” is a military term for holding a position while under attack. It is written in what is known as the subjunctive mood indicating that is it only a potential action which is contingent on putting on the full armor of God.

The first piece of our spiritual armor we can describe as the authority of salvation. We are to have our loins girded with the belt of truth (Eph 6:14). This was an outer garment made of a large piece of square material with holes cut out for the head and arms. Ordinarily it draped loosely over the soldier’s body. Before battle, it was carefully tucked inside a leather belt (known as girding up one’s loins) to give more flexibility of movement in hand to hand combat. The belt that prepares us for spiritual battle is that of spiritual truth. Spiritual warfare is not a power struggle. It is a truth struggle. We don’t out power Satan, we out truth him.

The second piece of armor is what we will describe as the activity of salvation. We are to wear the breastplate of righteousness (Eph 6:14). A breastplate was a sleeveless piece of armor that covered the full torso. The purpose was to protect the heart, lungs and other vital organs. Our heart (the real us…the center of our intellect, emotion and will) must be protected by having it wrapped with the practical righteousness that comes from obeying God’s Word (Daniel 1:8). This is living daily, moment by moment, in obedience to the Father. The more we allow sin into our lives the more vulnerable we become to the schemes and dangers of the Evil One. We must wear the breastplate of righteousness.

The third piece we will call the assertion of salvation. This having our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace (Eph 6:15). With all the marching and traveling that soldiers did, shoes became an extremely important part of their armor providing traction (often nails were put in them for this purpose) and for protection. Preparation is the idea of readiness (Titus 3:1) and the covering is the good news that we are at peace with God. This is our standing in confidence of God’s love for us and commitment to fight for us (Romans 8:31, 37-39). We will talk further of these first 3 pieces of the armor this Sunday here at Grace Church as we strive to be “always ready”.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Temptation Island - Egypt Edition

If there is one thing we can all understand it is sensual temptation. You just can’t live your life free from it. Unfortunately, for far too many the result is unwise decisions and moral failure. This week I was reading Genesis 39 which is the story of Joseph’s temptation by Potiphar’s wife…I think her name was 'Hotiphar'. Anyway, as I read, a few principles stuck out to me.

First, I noticed that the ability to resist sensual temptation begins with making the priority of your life your relationship with Christ rather than the reality of your circumstances. Face it, Joseph’s life’s circumstances took a major nose dive. He went from being the favored son of Jacob with dreams indicating that he would one day have his brothers bowing before him to having those same brothers betray him, throw him in a pit and then sell him into slavery. He ends up in a strange land all by himself and likely to never see his loving father again. Next thing you know, he is being seduced by a beautiful Egyptian woman. Most believers would have said, “Hey, what has God done for me lately? I’ve been betrayed. I’m lonely. And now a beautiful woman has shown interest in me. I deserve this indulgence!” In all honesty, when our circumstances go south we often give into temptation more easily. But not Joseph. Even in slavery in Egypt the Lord was with Joseph and he was not going to sin against his God.

Second, I saw that with success comes greater vulnerability to sensual temptation. Joseph gets bought on the auction block by the captain of Pharaoh’s guards. This heathen man could see that the hand of God was on Joseph’s life. Before you know it, he puts Joseph in charge of all that he owns and God causes it to prosper. Joseph is riding high on his spiritual, vocational and economical success. But more than that, Genesis 39 teaches us clearly that Joseph was also very good-looking and well built. It was all of these successes that caught the eye of Pharaoh’s wife who then seduces him. I’m not saying that poor and unsuccessful people are not tempted. Neither am I saying that if you have fallen out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on your way down that you will never face sensual temptations. But the truth is that the more rich, powerful and physically attractive you are, and the more success you discover, the more sensual temptation you will likely face.

Third, I saw that the only way to deal with sensual temptation is directly and firmly. Read the account in Genesis 39. Joseph didn’t play with fire. He made it clear from the very beginning where he stood and he did everything within his power to avoid the very temptations he faced even to the point of running as fast he could run away from it.

Finally, I saw that we must also realize that when we make the right decision the immediate circumstances are not always to our liking. Joseph did the right thing. He ran. He rejected the sensual temptation when it would have been so to his liking to indulge and so easy to then rationalize. And what did he get for it in the immediate? He got wrongly accused of raping Potipahr's wife and thrown into prison. How fair is that? Yet, as the story continues, this trip to prison would end up taking Joseph to all new heights.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I recently heard a speaker talk about four different ways we have in America to make money. First, we can be employed where we get a set pay for a set job. Second, we can be self-employed…at least then we are our own boss. Third, we can invest. And fourth, we can come up with a business venture that makes money for us while we are doing other things. So that got me thinking…

Outside of the paycheck I get for being the pastor here at Grace Church, my only other means of income happens through honorariums I receive for officiating weddings and funerals. Now, everyone knows that funeral homes and wedding chapels bring in a good amount of cash flow today by offering the opportunity for people to pre-pay some of their expenses in these areas. What if I did the same thing?

What if I offered a 10% discount to those who will pay me in advance to officiate their wedding or funeral? For example, if the going rate is a $150.00 honorarium to do the pre-marital counseling and ceremony for a bride and a groom, people could save $15.00 bucks by paying me now…even if their not engaged or dating anyone (did you hear that Matt McElravy?). Hey, this could really be a great deal for a father with multiple children. If you have 6 kids, you just saved $75.00 by pre-paying (or about 18 gallons of free gasoline)! And if the going rate is a $100.00 honorarium to preach a funeral, then you can save ten bucks by writing me that check today. And I can be like the insurance agent and offer that if you choose to go through me for both these services and pre-pay both honorariums now, I will give you an additional 10% discount. That means that if you pre-pay me to officiate both your wedding and funeral you will be saving $50.00!

Now, let me do the math. $25,000.00 a year for college multiplied by 4 years equals $100,000.00. Multiply this by two kids and my cost to get my kids through college is $200,000.00. We better be safe and add another 25% for inflation over the next 6 years and my total cost for my kids’ higher education is sitting roughly at $250,000.00.

Now, if I can get 1,000 people to pre-pay for a wedding honorarium, I would get $135,000.00. If I can add to that another 1,000 people to pre-pay me today for a funeral honorarium, I would get an additional $90,000.00. And if I can get 500 additional people on top of that to pre pay for both so they can get the additional 10% savings, I would bring in an additional $100,000.00. That would then total $325,000.00. When I pay roughly 25% of that in taxes that leaves me $243,750.00. That leaves me $6,250 short. I guess the kids can take a student loan for that amount or Laura can get a job!

Obviously, this is all in jest. The truth is that I have no set honorarium amounts for officiating weddings, funerals or for speaking engagements outside the church. To me, this is all part of ministry and the fruit that comes from investing in people’s lives is the best pay of all. Any honorarium I get is just “icing on the cake.” But wait…I could also offer house blessings at $75.00 a pop. Pre-pay me today and I’ll only charge $67.50.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Should I Pay Taxes?

It’s tax day! As a Christian do I have a Biblical out from paying Uncle Sam? Yesterday I introduced the day that a group of Pharisees and Herodians were sent to Jesus to try to trap Him using the subject of taxes. Luke 20:20 tells us that they went to him as spies. In other words, they were pretending to be His followers. According to Mark 12:13-17, they started with flattery to try to disarm Him and cause Him to let down His guard. Their hope was that He would say something ill-advised that they could use against Him. According to verse 15, Jesus saw right through their hypocrisy. By the way, He always does. Whatever area of your life you are pretending in, you may be able to fool you mate, your kids, your friends, and even your church, but you can’t fool Jesus. He sees the areas of hypocrisy in your life and in mine and He sees them each and every time.

These pretenders asked Jesus if it was lawful to pay a poll tax to Caesar. Among the many other taxes Jews had to pay, this one was most grievous because it went right into the emperor’s treasury, as if he needed it. It was paid by a coin called a denarius. This was the equivalent of a full day’s wages and had on it the image of Caesar. The image of Caesar was all over the Roman world because much of their religion centered around the worship of Caesar as God. Interestingly enough, the two groups who came to Jesus with the question would have disagreed themselves on the answer. The Pharisees would have said NO to paying the poll tax while the Herodians would have said YES (be sure to read my blog from yesterday to understand why this is so).

Verse 13 of Mark 12 tells us that their question was a trap. They wanted to get Jesus between the proverbial rock and hard place. If He answered YES to paying taxes, they could say He was being disloyal to God and endorsing Caesar worship. If He said NO to paying taxes, they could turn Him over to Rome as a troublemaker and zealot. Jesus keeps His pattern going by responding to their question with a question. He asks to see a Roman denarius and then asks whose image is on the coin. They respond that it is the image of Caesar. Jesus then says to render to Caesar that which is Caesars. In other words, if Caesar’s image is on the coin and that is what he has asked for, give it to him. By saying this, Jesus was showing the legitimacy of Caesar and Rome as a governmental authority. Folks, listen, as followers of Jesus we are obligated to pay our taxes to Caesar.

But then Jesus adds a final statement. He says, “Render to God that which is God’s.” In other words, if Caesar’s image is on the coin and that is what He asks for, give it to him. In the same way, we should also give God that which we have that has His image on it and which He asks us to give back to Him. What is that? According to Genesis 1:26-27, God created each of us, male and female, in His image. The image of God is on our life and according to Romans 12:1-2, it is our life as His children and followers that He has asked us to give back to Him. So on this tax day in America, write your checks to Uncle Sam and get them in the mail. But don’t forget the greater payment that you owe. Today is also the day that should remind us that we should present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God which is our reasonable service of worship.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Is God a Democrat?

The real title of my blog is, “Should I pay taxes?” But let’s be honest, “Is God a Democrat?” is a much better attention getter, isn’t it? The truth is that we all hate taxes. I haven’t met anyone yet who responds with, “Hot dog! I get to pay taxes!! Yippee!!” The truth is that taxes as a societal and political hot button is not new. It was the battle cry for independence in the Revolutionary days. Remember the motto? No taxation without representation was one of the impetus that led to the colonialists declaring independence from England. But even further back in history than that, taxes was a hot topic in the days of Jesus as well. So controversial was the topic of taxes in the Jewish world of that day that it was used in Mark 12:13-17 by the religious leaders as an attempt to trap Jesus.

We learn in verse 13 that the Sanhedrin sent a group of Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus with a trick question. The Sanhedrin was the Jewish equivalent to our modern day Supreme Court. Though Jerusalem was under Roman rule, the Romans allowed the Jews to settle their own matters that were solely Jewish in nature. These matters were taken up by the Sanalhedrin which had all the power. They were made up primarily of a religious group called the Sadducees who were not the largest religious sect of their day but were the most powerful. They denied most anything supernatural including the existence of angels, miracles and a resurrection. Now you can see why they were at odds with Jesus. Jesus taught the existence of angels. Jesus performed supernatural and amazing miracles. And Jesus was also known to raise people from the dead. Most all that Jesus taught and did struck at the very heart of the beliefs of the Sadducees. The Sadducees had already tried on several fronts to trip Jesus up with difficult questions but each time they failed. So now they send a delegation of Pharisees and Herodians to try the same thing.

Pharisees were the largest religious group of that day. They were traditionalists. They believed that spiritually was based solely on an adherence to a list of rules. This included the Law of Moses. However, to this they also added 615 additional rules including 365 additional prohibitions and 250 additional commands. They raised these man made laws to the same level as the Law of Moses and judged everyone’s spirituality by them. This was the group in the Bible that Jesus called snakes, vipers and blind guides. Not exactly what you would call the best way to win friends and influence people.

The Herodians were a group of Jews who were loyal to the Roman Government. Much in the same way that there were colonialists in the revolutionary war days that were loyal to the King, so there were Jews in Jesus day that were loyal to Caesar. By the way, the opposite of the Herodians in the Jesus time was a group called the Zealots. They were not just against Rome but were violent about it, often committing assassinations and instigating riots. One of the disciples that Jesus called to follow Him was a zealot by the name of Simon. It is interesting that the Sanhedrin would team up these two groups because the Pharisees and Herodians had very little in common when it came to their view of the Roman government. Their attempt to trip up Jesus centered on the issue of taxes. Be sure to read my blog tomorrow (Tuesday) to find out how Jesus responded to their questions about paying taxes.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Semper Paratus

Semper Paratus” is the motto of the United States Coast Guard meaning “Always Ready.” What a great depiction of this incredible group of men and women who are the final line of defense in protecting our homeland. This Sunday we will see from Ephesians 6:10-20 that Paul shares are need to be “Always Ready” for the spiritual battles we will face. This begins with a proper perspective. If we are going to survive our spiritual battles, we must first have an attitude of dependence which begins with a dependence on the power of God. We are commanded to be strong in the Lord and the power of His might. When will we realize that our strength is never sufficient to oppose Satan but the Lord’s strength is more than sufficient for our spiritual battle? There is no spiritual battle that we will face that we can not be victorious in if we depend on the power of God. Through His cross and resurrection. Jesus has already defeated Satan and his power over sin and death (Romans 5:18-21; 1 Corinthians 15:56-57; Hebrews 2:14).

Along with depending on His power, we must also realize our need to depend on God’s protection. To take advantage of the strength of God, believers must put on the whole armor of God that He supplies (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). The words “put on” is the idea of putting on once and for all. This is not something we continually put on and take off. We don’t slip out of our armor when we get home at night. We must understand that our battle never ends and we must live our lives depending on these elements 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. Putting on the armor of God enables us to stand firm against the schemes of the Devil. The words “stand firm” is a military term which was the idea of holding a critical position while under attack. The enemy that we are to stand firm against is the Devil. The Bible describes Satan as a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He is also described as an angel of light with great powers of deception (2 Corinthians 11:14). Finally, Satan is clearly called a liar in Scripture (John 8:44). He cannot tell the truth. The armor of God protects us against Satan’s crafty, cunning and deceiving schemes and methods (Ephesians 4:14).

If we are going to always be ready in order to survive our spiritual battles, along with an attitude of dependence, we must also have an awareness of demons. This is very real. Paul talks about our “struggle” which was a word used to describe hand to hand combat like in a wrestling match. Folks, listen, our struggle as Christians is not with man; it is not against flesh and blood. Did you hear that? Yes, abortion is wrong, but our struggle is not against abortionists or pro-choice people. Yes, homosexuality is against God’s commands and we must stand against sin, but our struggle is not against gay people. Neither is our struggle against the people who make up liberal organizations such as the National Organization of Women; the ACLU or the People for the American Way. Though we may strongly disagree with what each of these and other organizations like them stand for, our struggle is not against people. Our struggle is against Satan and his army of demons, an army so highly structured and numerous that Paul categorizes them as Rulers, Powers, World Forces of this Darkness, and Spiritual Forces of Wickedness in Heavenly Places. No wonder we must always be ready…“Semper Paratus”!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Grace Church needs to be more like a BAR!

Television sitcoms just aren’t what they used to be, are they? When I was a kid, it was ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Laverne and Shirley’ that topped the ratings. But during my Youth Pastor years, the number one sitcom on the tube was called ‘Cheers’. Remember that one? I watched a special a few years back that told the ‘behind the scenes’ stories to some of the great sitcoms of the past. I was surprised to discover that ‘Cheers’ was never intended to be more than a one season fill in for an open slot in the network. But to the amazement of everyone, it soared in popularity and became one of the greatest sitcoms in the history of television.

The cast of ‘Cheers’ included “Sam”, the washed-up ballplayer; “Woody”, the male airhead; “Frazier”, the psychotic psychiatrist; and “Karla”, the bitter barmaid. Then there was the mailman…“Cliff”. He was the nerd of all nerds. His real name is John Ratzenberger. I used this illustration once back in Indiana and a couple weeks later one of the ladies in the church gave me an autographed black and white glossy of “Cliff”. Her best friend out in California was John Ratzenberger’s personal secretary. She sent him a tape of the sermon. Mr. Ratzenberger listened to it and sent me an autographed picture back that said, “To Pastor Scott, Cheers and best wishes!”

But the star of the show was a man named “Norm”. Norm was an overweight, lazy alcoholic who couldn’t keep a job and whose family thought very little of him. He was the loser of all losers by anyone’s definition. But what happened every time Norm came into the bar? The whole place stopped what they were doing and yelled, “NORM”!

Why did this show connect so easily, quickly and deeply with the average American? I think it’s because it was a show about a bunch of ‘losers’, and if we are going to be honest, we are all losers in some way, shape or form. We all have something about us that is weird or quirky. And for 30 minutes a week we could watch this lovable group of losers and find someone that we could relate to and for that brief time-frame we felt like we were somebody…like we had a reason to get out of bed every morning. In fact, do you remember the theme song for the show? The lyrics went something like this:

“Wouldn’t you like to have a place where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came? Wouldn’t you like to be where you can see our troubles are all the same? Wouldn’t you like to go where everybody knows your name?"

And where was that place? It was a bar! Now I ask you, why can’t that place be the church? In fact, why can’t it be Grace Church? Why can’t our church be the place where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came? Why can’t our church be the place where you can see that our troubles are all the same? You see, I think Grace Church needs to become more like a bar! It’s time to light the neon sign in the window that says, “The Bar is Open”. After all, we serve the best drink in town…the living water of Jesus Christ! And once you’ve tasted this drink, you’ll never be thirsty again!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

My Love for the Local Church

If you grew up going to church, take a moment to reflect back on what going to church was like when you were a kid. I grew up in the Goodyear Heights area of Akron, OH. Back then, the city of Akron was known as the Rubber Capitol of the World before the major tire companies moved their operations south. But as a kid, I can remember the distinct smell in the air of the rubber being made in the factories in the downtown area as I played outside. That was the down side to growing up in Akron. The upside was the fact that almost on a daily basis the Goodyear Blimp would fly overhead. That was way cool.

We lived on Honodle Avenue which was a dead end street. We were two houses from the end of the street which backed up to Seiberling Elementary school. Our house was pink…honest…but that is the subject for another blog entry. If you walked through the school yard and then through the parking lot of the school you came to a little church called Goodyear Heights Community Church which was part of the IFCA (Independent Fundamental Churches of America). My Grandpa pastored the church when I was really little but I barely remember those years at all. But even after my Grandparents moved to take on a new church in Sutter, Illinois, our family remained an integral part of this church.

The church was small (no more than 100 people) but our life as a family revolved around it. My parents were of the mindset that if the church doors were open, the Distler family was there…four pews back on the left hand side. Not only that, but my parents were in charge of opening and locking up the church so we were not just there, we were the very first ones to arrive and the absolute last ones to leave. On top of that, my dad was on every committee the church had. In fact, he chaired most of them. My mother was the financial secretary as well. And if all of this did not cause us to spend enough time at church, my parents were also the church janitors so even when the doors weren’t open, we were there. I am not exaggerating when I say that I spent more nights at church as a kid than I ever spent at home. But that’s okay…remember, I lived in a pink house.

Most kids would have grown tired of being at church. I didn’t. I loved it. The greatest memories of my childhood center around the church…Vacation Bible Schools; New Year’s Eve Watch Night Services with the scary “Thief in the Night” type of movies; Christmas programs; and Missions Conferences complete with dried snake skins and bizarre slide shows. It didn’t get much better than that. And as a result, I grew up with a love for the local church. In fact, even as a teenager, I would almost daily take my dad’s key to the church after school and spend time there by myself doing my homework, practicing my trumpet or just hanging out.

If there is one gift my parents gave me as a child that I am most thankful for it is that they instilled within me a love for the local church. And I still love it today. In fact, that love affair continues to grow each and every day. I love the local church. It is what I have given my life to do…serving God through the local church. I'm convinced...the local church is the hope of the world and there is nothing like the local church when the local church is working right.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Small Groups at Grace - Part Two

How will an active small group ministry affect our Deacon ministry here at Grace? Over the years, Pastor Willard has done a tremendous job in recruiting and training deacons and deaconesses who have cared for the people who attend our church. However, with the rapid growth our church has seen in recent years, our deacon ministry has not been able to keep up with the pace. A very large percentage of those who attend Grace regularly do not have a deacon assigned to them. An active small group ministry will take a lot of pressure off of our current deacon ministry as these groups take on the responsibility of caring for their own as they develop relationships together.

How big is a small group? Ideally, we would like to see small groups stay in the range of 8-12 people.

When, where and how often will these groups meet? It will be up to each group itself to determine the answers to these questions. Some groups may meet weekly while others meet bi-weekly. Some groups may meet on Sunday evenings while other groups chose a weekday evening. Some groups may meet in a home while other groups choose to meet at the church or at a restaurant. Each group will be unique and different in its structure.

Who will lead these small groups? Each small group will be led by a small group leader. These will be individuals or couples who have been selected by the leadership of the church due to their character and qualities which make for an effective small group leader. These individuals will go through an extensive training in which they will learn the leadership and shepherding skills needed to be able to effectively lead a small group.

Who will be training these small group leaders? We are very pleased that God has brought Bryan Burkholder and his wife, Barb, to Grace Church. Bryan has much experience in ministry and has spent a good portion of his life training ministry leaders. Bryan has enthusiastically accepted this volunteer role of being our Lead Trainer of small group leaders. All of our small group leaders will also be assigned a coach who will be available to answer questions and address problems that small group leaders may encounter. These coaches will mentor a group of 4-6 small group leaders by providing appropriate counsel, helpful resources and encouragement.

When do we hope to launch our small group ministry? The months of April through June will be spent training our first group of small group leaders with the goal of launching at least 30 small groups this October.

Who will be the staff member that has oversight of our small group ministry? Currently, one of our lay leaders, Mike Lutz, is spearheading the launch of our small group ministry under the direction of the Senior Pastor. Ultimately, this role will be taken on by our Pastor of Connection that we are currently searching to fill. Once filled, this person will give oversight to our overall small group ministry reporting to myself.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Small Groups at Grace - Part One

What is the goal of a small group ministry here at Grace Church? To connect people with God, with Grace Church and with each other

Why is a small group ministry needed here at Grace Church? God has certainly blessed us with fruit as we have made it our purpose and priority as a church to be involved in meeting people where they are and moving them to where God wants them to be. The result has been some pretty rapid growth over the past several years which has created the challenge of taking all of these new people that God is bringing to us weekly and seeing them connected to our church family so that they grow spiritually and are cared for properly. Currently, the vast majority of those who attend grace Church on Sunday morning have no other connection besides the Sunday morning worship service.

What does an effective small group look like and do? In a small group, people feel accepted and loved unconditionally which allows them to become transparent in sharing their struggles so that group members can pray for one another and care for one another in practical ways. In a small group, lives are formed and transformed as people meet together to pray, to study, to engage in fellowship, or to work on a specific task. In a small group, people connect in a Biblical way with others who attend Grace Church by providing healthy fellowship in a community marked by Christian love and oneness. In essence, through a small group ministry we can better reflect the early church in the book of Acts which is described with the following words from Acts 2:44-47

“And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

How are small groups different than our Adult Bible Fellowship Classes (ABF’s)? Our ABF ministry has been a very important aspect of our church, however, as our church has grown, it has been difficult to connect our new people into already existing ABF classes. At this point, well less than 30% of adults who attend Grace Church on Sunday mornings attend an ABF class. This means that 7 or 8 out of every 10 adults who attend our church regularly have no real connection. Through small groups we can more easily see our new people become connected and develop relationships that will allow them to grow in their faith and be cared for through the ups and downs of life. In short, small groups provide intimacy.

Does this mean that we will be ending Adult Bible Fellowship Classes? No! We have no plans to formally end our current Adult Bible Fellowship Classes. However, we will be making small groups the main focus as we strive to connect new people to Grace.

Friday, April 04, 2008

A Whole New World - Part Two

This Sunday we will finish our 3-week series from Revelation 21-22 that we are calling “The WOW Factor: World of Wonder.” Yesterday I overviewed the aspects of this heavenly city (that we commonly call ‘heaven’) which we have already studied. If you did not read yesterday’s entry, you may want to do so before reading on today. Here are a few more details of this city that we will see this Sunday morning at Grace:

The City (21:18) – This celestial city will be made of pure gold!

The Wall (21:19-20) – The wall that surrounds this city will be made out of every precious stone imaginable including Jasper; Sapphire; Chalcedony; Emerald; Sardonyx; Sardius; Chrysolyte; Beryl; Topaz; Chrysoprase; Jacinth; and Amethyst!

The Gates (21:21) - Each of the 12 gates around this city are made of one huge pearl reminding us each time we enter the city that it is only through the suffering of Christ that we are there!

The Street (21:21) – There is at least one street in this city that is made of pure gold. It is so pure that it is transparent like glass!

The Temple (21:22) - There is no temple in this city because God Himself is the temple!

The Light (21:23; 22:5) - There is no sun or moon in this city nor will there be lights or lamps. The glory of God is all the light this city will need!

The Inhabitants (21:24, 26) - All the inhabitants of this city will be believers. All glory and honor in this city will be given to God!

The Night (21:25) - It will be continually daylight in this city and the gates will always be open showing perfect security and the fact that there will be no bodily weariness!

The Perfection (21:27) - There will be no sin included in this city!

The River of Life (22:1) – There will be a river in this city that is as clear as crystal which flows right out of the throne of God. This river symbolizes eternal life and satisfaction!

The Tree of Life (22:2-4) – There is a tree in this city that bears a different fruit each month symbolizing eternal life and delight. It will have health giving therapy that produces joy. We will never age in heaven…everything will always be like new!

Just think of stepping on shore…and finding it heaven!
Just think of touching a hand…and finding it God’s!
Just think of breathing new air…and finding it celestial!
Just think of waking up in glory…and finding it home!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Whole New World

In the Disney classic, Aladdin, a magic carpet ride to win the heart of the beautiful princess, Jasmine, results in seeing a whole new world. For those of us who have put our faith in Jesus, we will one day take a similar journey without the need of a 6-cylander carpet. Our journey will also show us a whole new world…a World of Wonder!

Revelation 21 and 22 tell us of a celestial city in which we will live for all of eternity. The Bible calls this city the New Jerusalem. We commonly refer to it as heaven. Looking at this description of this World of Wonder is like looking at one piece of a jigsaw puzzle. As wonderful as it sounds, we really are only seeing a small piece of what this place is going to be like. This city is so beautiful that John used the word picture of a bride to describe it. It came from God showing that He is the designer of this city. It is a place where the physical presence of God dwells and where all tears, pain, sorrow and death are non-existent. It will be located on a new heaven and a new earth that is one of far better quality than the one we live on today. Below are a few more details of this city that we could easily give the tagline, “The Ultimate in Everything!”

Its Lighting (21:11) - The source of light in this city is God’s glory. The glory of God is the sum total of His attributes and is manifested as blazing light. It is described as jasper. This does not refer to the modern stone but rather to a diamond showing its brilliance. It is described as crystal showing that it is deeply penetrating and perfect like a flawless diamond. In the Bible God’s glory is always associated with light (see Rev 21:23; 22:5).

Its Wall (21:12-14) – There is a wall around this city that shows the exclusion of sin. In this wall there are 12 gates…three on each side which is reminiscent of the way the twelve tribes camped around the tabernacle as seen in Numbers 2. This shows us that it is possible to go in and out of the city (see 21:25). 12 is also the number of completeness with an angelic honor guard at each gate. Each of these 12 gates contains the name of one of the 12 tribes of Israel showing the presence of Old Testament Saints in the city. There are also 12 foundations to this wall with each foundation representing one of the 12 Apostles. This shows the presence of New Testament Saints in the city

Its Dimensions (21:15-17) – This city is in the shape of a cube or possibly a pyramid. The city is as wide as it is long as it is high. Each length is 1500 miles (1500 X 1500 X 1500). To give you an idea as to the immense size that is, it would be a city as wide as the distance from about New York to Denver and as long as it is from Canada down to Florida. This equals 2,250,000 square miles. Just the bottom floor of this city could easily accommodate the entire present world population (about 6.8 billion people). The city itself could populate 30 times the present world population. The wall around this city that we mentioned earlier stands at 72 yards (216 feet) high. Now think about it. A 216 feet high wall around a 1500 mile high city would be like a one inch curb around the Empire State Building. It is obvious that this wall is meant for beauty, not protection.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

My Bag of Stories

It has been some 4 years since I have spoken to teenagers or have taught a Youth ministry class at the college level (something I use to do very frequently). But this past weekend I spoke at the Winter Youth Retreat for the Grace Community Church of Frederick, MD. As a result, I had to dig back into my “bag of stories” that I use to tell all the time when speaking to teens. Most of these stories I have not told in years. It was kind of fun to tell them again and to my amazement, the teens still laughed at them and responded well to them. Some of my favorite stories from my “youth speaking days” include:

The Spaghetti Story: This story goes back to the summer after my High School graduation when I worked as a counselor and sailing instructor at a camp in Northeast, Maryland. I became attracted to a girl counselor and finally got up enough never to ask her out on our day off. We went out for an Italian dinner and a movie (something really romantic like Psycho, if I remember right). Anyway to make a long (and I must admit, slightly exaggerated) story short, when we got back to the camp we took a walk down on the dock where I attempted to kiss her. Unfortunately, just as my lips moved toward hers, RALPH showed up. Now, RALPH is not a person…RALPH is what it sounds like when you throw up…R—A—L—P—H!! Get it?

Pea in the Corner: This is a story about a sports announcer who told me about his most embarrassing moment involving a basketball player with the last name of “PEA” who took a shot from the corner of the court. To this day there are probably still people in Lynchburg, Virginia trying to figure out what the young man really did in that corner.

Get off the Tracks: This is a story about a prank that my college roommate and I use to play on the football players on our floor in the middle of the night as they were sound asleep. It included a flashlight, a bell, and the loud shouts of, “Get off the tracks! Get off the tracks!” I never knew 340 pound offensive lineman could move so fast!

Anxiously Waiting: This is a story about a trick that my roommate and I pulled on our other roommate in college who really thought he was God’s gift to women. After two months of sending him daily love letters signed “Anxiously Waiting” we set up a final rendezvous that included a very attractive senior girl who was a drama major and most of the college football players who were hiding in the bushes around the rendezvous point. I doubt very seriously that this roommate has yet to really forgive us for that night.

Robin Hood: This is the story about the time I was an intern youth pastor at a church that had a huge Bible School which resulted in me wearing green panty hose all week long walking little kids from their house to the bus and from the bus to the house. It actually made the front page of the Dayton Daily News in color, me in green panty hose!

Catching Monkeys: This is a story about how hunters in some parts of South America hunt monkeys and what we can learn from it about what it really means for us to hate sin.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Coolest Thing I've Ever Seen

Last Thursday something happened here at Grace Church and Lititz Christian School that I have to say was one of the classiest and coolest things I have ever seen. A very special lady, Betsy Echternach, is the computer teacher here at Lititz Christian School. She and her family also faithfully attend Grace Church where Betsy serves as a volunteer as one of our media techs on Sunday mornings. Recently, Betsy was diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma and she has now started her treatments as she battles this serious disease.

Last Thursday was Betsy’s 42nd birthday. She lives just over the hill from the church on the far end of the soccer field. Friends of Betsy had already put on the miner’s type lighted hats and, under the cover of the night’s darkness, spray painted a special “Happy Birthday” message to her on the hillside facing the back of her house.

Later that morning, as the rain started to move in, the entire ministry, including our entire staff along with all of our students from the daycare through our High School seniors, paraded to the far end of the soccer field and down the hill into Betsy’s backyard. Betsy was brought out on to her back deck (pictured above standing with her mom) where she was greeted with over 400 students and staff singing “Happy Birthday, Mrs. Echternach.” When they had finished, the Senior High choir moved to the front of the crowd where they sang a very beautiful and special blessing to her with the words, “The Lord be gracious to you.”

It was so obvious how special this was for Betsy. They gave Betsy a megaphone where she thanked the group from the bottom of her heart. She told the student body how much she misses being at school each day and how she sits from her house and watches them run during soccer and track practice. She then showed her wonderful spirit and sense of humor by adding, “But you’re not running fast enough.” Yes, it was a very special few moments for Betsy, but as the Senior Pastor over all of our ministries, my heart overflowed all day long as a result. What a joy it is to be part of not only Grace Church, but also Morningstar Daycare and Lititz Christian School. I can only echo the words from, my blog entry last Thursday…I LOVE THIS PLACE! To see a video of everyone singing in Betsy' s back yard on her birthday go to

And speaking of Lititz Christian School, last week they pulled off an amazing feat as we hosted the District V Regional Chorus here at Grace Church and Lititz Christian. Folks, listen, this was not an easy endeavor. We brought in twice as many High School chorus students from all over the region than we have students in our entire High School student body. Yet, we not only pulled it off, we pulled it off with excellence. The dozens and dozens of directors that were here with their students couldn’t stop talking about how organized and wonderful things were and how amazed they were that a school our size could host such a large and prestigious event.

That’s one of the things I love about this place. We dream big. We see the size of our God rather than the size of the Goliath’s that we face. And we should. After all, in the words of D.L. Moody, “If God be your partner, make your plans large!”