Monday, June 30, 2008

Grace Church to Add THIRD Worship Service

We have been so blessed by God and it has been so exciting to see how God is growing Grace Church. Over the 2003-2004 fiscal year, we averaged 711 on Sunday mornings. This average has risen each year to the most recent 2007-2008 fiscal year average of 1,252 , which is a 76% increase or an average of nearly a 20% growth rate each year. During the 2003-2004 fiscal year we only had 3 Sundays all year long over 1,000 in attendance and there were no Sundays over 1,100 or higher. Compare that to the past 2007-2008 fiscal year where we were over 1,000 in attendance every Sunday of the year. On top of that, we were over 1,100 on 47 weeks; over 1,200 on 35 Sundays; over 1,300 on 13 Sundays; over 1,400 on 5 Sundays; and we even topped 2,000 once.

Now why do I share all of these statistics with you? The rule of thumb is that when a church is filling 80% of its seating capacity that its growth rate slows down. That means that to avoid losing momentum, a church needs to add an additional worship service prior to that 80% mark. We have a maximum seating capacity in our auditorium of 800. That means that over two worship services we can seat 1,600 people, 80% of that would be 1,280. As I noted above, we averaged 1,252 on Sunday mornings last fiscal year. That means that on the average we are filling 78% of our seating capacity. Now if you are a regular on Sundays here at Grace you realize that when you walk into the back of the auditorium at the start of the service it looks absolutely packed. If you add to this even the most conservative of increases over the next fiscal year and we will be well over the 80% mark when it comes to auditorium seating capacity.

As a result, we believe that now is the time to act. So beginning in October, we will be adding a third Sunday morning worship service on a weekly basis here at Grace Church. This will give us a total seating capacity of 2,400 and allow us plenty of room to continue to grow. In order to facilitate this growth we will be shortening our worship service by 10 minutes. Currently our Sunday morning services are 75 minutes in length. Beginning in October they will be reduced to 65 minutes and the time in between services will also be shortened from 30 minutes to 25 minutes. Our service times will be 8:30; 10:00; and 11:30. The schedule for the morning would be as follows:

8:30-9:35 First Service
10:00-11:05 Second Service
11:30-12:35 Third Service

All three services will be identical and will have a full nursery and children’s program. During the month of August we will be communicating all of the details to this step of growth as it relates to other areas such as our Youth Group and Adult Bible Fellowship Classes. We will use the month of September to communicate this news outside of our church along with many other exciting elements that are also planned for October. Please be praying for God to use this exciting step to help us become even more effective at meeting people where they are and moving them to where He wants them to be!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Forgiveness and Grace

This Sunday we will complete our SUPER MEN series through the book of Philemon with a final challenge that real Biblical Super Men are men who choose to forgive. In verse 17 of this little New Testament postcard, The Apostle Paul reminds Philemon that they are partners in the faith – they have something in common spiritually. By saying this, Paul is also reminding Philemon that he now has this same partnership with Onesimus, his runaway slave who stole from him but who has since been converted and now is returning. As a result, Paul is communicating that Philemon should accept Onesimus as he would accept Paul, his spiritual father, friend, and partner in ministry.

In verses 18 and 19, Paul encourages Philemon not only to accept Onesimus but to illustrate his forgiveness by not requiring material restitution. According to the Law, Philemon had every legal right to demand this restitution (see Numbers 5:6-8). Paul exhorts Philemon to show grace and give Onesimus what he does not deserve. However, if Philemon were to demand restitution than Paul makes the offer to pay it on behalf of Onesimus. Paul’s own handwriting became his I.O.U. This was unusual as Paul normally dictated his letters due to poor eyesight. Here we see a picture of the Gospel with Philemon being a picture of God; Onesimus a picture of the sinner; and Paul a picture of Christ who willingly paid our debt. No wonder the great reformer, Martin Luther, once said, “We are all the Lord’s Onesimi.” Paul also reminds Philemon that he is also a debtor to Paul for leading him to Christ.

Paul communicates to Philemon in verse 20 that his accepting and forgiving Onesimus would be a spiritual benefit to the Apostle Paul suffering in prison. He uses the word, “refresh,” which describes an intermission from labor or rest as in an army resting after a long march . In verse 21 we find again that Paul has confidence that Philemon will accept and forgive his new brother in Christ. He further asks Philemon to do even more. I would take this to mean that Paul is asking Philemon not only to forgive Onesimus but to give him his freedom so that he could return to Rome and minister to Paul. In verse 22, Paul shares his expectation to be released soon and to visit Philemon. Knowing Paul’s intentions to visit would further encourage Philemon to heed his advice. I think it is safe to assume, based on this letter finding its way into Scripture, that Philemon obeyed Paul’s’ advice. In fact, some feel that this is the same Onesimus mentioned by Ignatius as a later pastor of the Church at Ephesus.

Paul concludes his letter to Philemon in verses 23-25 by sending Greetings to several individuals including Epaphras, a member of the Colossae church who had been with Paul during part of his Roman imprisonment; John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas who deserted Paul in his first journey but later wrote the Gospel of Mark; Aristarchus, a Jewish believer originally from Thessalonica; Demas, a partner of Christ who would later desert Paul during his second Roman imprisonment (see 2 Timothy 4:10); and Luke, a gentile physician and writer of the Gospel of Luke. Paul then ends his by reminding Philemon of the only way he can fulfill these exhortations…through the grace of God

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Whirlwind Wedding Weekend

One of my greatest joys in ministry is being able to be part of weddings. In a church our size it is often a challenge to stay connected with the people. That is why I take the time to blog and send e-mail updates out on a regular basis. That is also why I try to make myself available to officiate the weddings of anyone who attends Grace Church and who would like me to play a part. As a result, I end up officiating many weddings in the course of a year. In fact, in the 4 years I have been the Senior Pastor here at Grace, I have officiated 81% more weddings than I did over the 9 year period that I pastored in Indiana. Actually, I have officiated more weddings in the last 4 years here at Grace than I did in all of my 17 years of pastoral ministry combined prior to our moving to Lititz. Interestingly enough, just the opposite is true when it comes to funerals. Since becoming pastor here at Grace Church I have officiated 83% less funerals than I did in the 9 year span of my pastoring in Indiana. WOW! 81% more weddings and 83% less funerals! There are definitely more people marrying here at Grace than there are people dying.

I have already officiated 5 wedding weekends this year with 7 more already on the schedule. In fact, this weekend will be a whirlwind of wedding activity. Laura and I will return home from one of our Pastor of Connections visits on Friday. Our plane is scheduled to land at Harrisburg @ 3:32pm. We will then grab our luggage, rush home, say “hi” to the kids, change clothes (you know me…I’ll have to shower) and then we will need to head down into Lancaster city for a wedding rehearsal followed by the ever wonderful rehearsal dinner. This wedding will actually be taking place on Sunday evening (Sunday evening weddings are becoming far more normal). But sandwiched in between the Friday rehearsal and Sunday wedding I will also be officiating a wedding renewal here at the church on Saturday and preaching both worship services on Sunday morning.

Now that is a full weekend. But if a weekend is going to be full of activity, unless it is attending baseball games, it might as well be full of weddings. As you know, I am very “pro-weddings” and “pro-marriage.” It is my desire to be a pastor that leads a church that champions marriage. I mean, think about it. The Bible opens and closes with a wedding. In the opening chapters of the book of Genesis, God brings Adam and Eve together and, in an outdoor ceremony in the beautiful Garden of Eden, He Himself officiates the very first wedding. And then in the closing chapters of the final book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, we are invited to a wedding that is yet future. This one will be in the glories of heaven and is called the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. This will include every born-again believer in Christ who has ever lived as the Bride of Christ.

You see, God is also very “pro-weddings” and “pro-marriage.” After all, both are His creation. I obviously was not around for that first wedding in the Garden of Eden but I know for sure that I will definitely be part of that final wedding and Marriage Supper of the Lamb in heaven because I have put my faith and trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. I think that is part of the reason why I enjoy officiating weddings. To me, it is an anticipatory look at that great Marriage Supper of the lamb that is still to come.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Calling all WWII vets!

The fact is that they are some of the most heroic individuals of all time and they are vanishing into eternity at a staggering rate. I am speaking of WWII vets. Before long, there will be no more of these special men and women left. My Grandpa Distler and my wife’s Granddad Grace (who we called “Buddy”) both served our country during this great war. They have both since past into eternity and are enjoying their reward in heaven due to their faith in Christ.

At this year’s Patriotic Celebration, which will take place here at Grace Church on Sunday, July 6, we want to take the time to especially honor all WWII vets in our community who will attend one of these services. In fact, I will be telling the story of two WWII veterans. The first is my Grandpa Distler. I have his Bible that he carried with him during the war. At the time that the war ended and the big announcement was made, my Grandpa was the postal master on board the USS General A.W. Greely (pictured) in the Arabian Sea. In this Bible, my Grandpa used the postal stamp of the ship to stamp the date in his Bible, August 15, 1945.

In this Bible, my Grandpa kept a kind of running diary. Here are some examples.

April 11, 1946 – Left Barrackpore India at 6am in a C-54 with a perfect take-off. What a thrill it is as you look out the window – beautiful God’s country. Landed in Dehli at 10am. Grand place and clean. Took off from Dehli at 11am and arrived in Karrachi at 3pm with perfect landing and clear visibility.

But in the back page of this Bible my Grandpa wrote a full page on the greatest event that he experienced during the war. At our Patriotic Celebration on July 6, I will be sharing that account. I will also be sharing a story about another World War II Veteran. His name is John H. Light who wrote a wonderful little book entitled, “An Infantryman Remembers World War II.” I was given a copy of this book by his daughter, Becky Wingert, who attends Grace Church. I have been reading this book and am thrilled that Mr. Light will be with us for our Patriotic Celebration (I will have my copy of his book there for him to autograph for me).

I am going to be sharing an amazing account from this book that took place to Mr. Light after he was wounded and returned to the States where he underwent surgery and treatment at the Walter Reed hospital. A special visitor came to see Mr. Light and some of the other wounded soldiers. I will reveal at our Patriotic Celebration on Sunday, July 6 who that visitor was.

Are you a WWII Vet? Do you know a WWII Vet? This will be a special morning for them. In order to be able to honor them as we wish, we need to know that they will be in attendance that morning (9:30am or 11:00am). Please call the church office at 626-2155 to let us know the name of any WWII vet that will be part of our Patriotic Celebration.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Many Faces of Pastor Scott - Pic #10

Here I am as a Portugese fisherman!

The Many Faces of Pastor Scott - Pic #9

Here I am as Papa Smurf!

The Many Faces of Pastor Scott - Pic #8

Here I am as a part of a village tribe in New Guinea!

The Many Faces of Pastor Scott - Pic #7

Here I am as a hobo!

The Many Faces of Pastor Scott - Pic #6

Here I am as the Pope!

The Many Faces of Pastor Scott - Pic #5

Here I am as Robin Hood!

The Many Faces of Pastor Scott - Pic #4

Here is what I would look like as a member of the rock band, KISS!

The Many Faces of Pastor Scott - Pic #3

Here is what I would look like with a mohawk!

The Many Faces of Pastor Scott - Pic #2

Earlier this year I was a mild mannered McDonald's manager for our McWorship series.

The Many Faces of Pastor Scott - Pic #1

A few Sundays ago I dressed up like Super Man to preach on Sunday Morning. But this was not the first disguise of my life

Monday, June 23, 2008

Bible School Starts Today

Throughout my entire pastoral ministry, Bible School always played a key role in church ministry. My first year as an intern youth pastor in the summer of 1985 I had to dress up like Robin Hood to play the main character at the church’s Bible School (pictured). This is the same church that would put a giant chicken out in their front yard a few weeks prior to VBS to signal to the community that the most exciting Bible School in the area was quickly approaching.

Our busses would bring in hundreds of children for Bible School. We had all kinds of contests between bus captains. Each year the losing bus captain had to swallow a live goldfish in front of the whole Bible School. And any bus that came pulling in with 100 riders on it got treated to Dairy Queen after Bible School was over that day (the bus laws were obviously less stringent back in those days). And we would always end Bible School back in those days with a closing program on the Sunday night following Bible School with a greased pig chase.

As I spent my 8 years of youth ministry at this church I served as the main teacher for VBS as well as the Director while my wife organized the Early Childhood end of the program. Interestingly enough, the young man who followed me as youth pastor of that church after I left was one of hundreds of kids who found Christ at Bible School. His parents were led to Christ by the visitation teams that visited in the homes of unchurched kids who attended VBS.

During my 9 years as the Senior Pastor at the Osceola Grace Brethren Church we dubbed Bible School as “the best week of the year.” Everyone participated. It was amazing how many men would take vacation that week to serve at VBS. My wife was the Director of the whole program for those years and we would see well over 500 kids (sometimes all in one day) pack our church for this special week with hundreds making decisions for Christ.

The highlight of the week was always Wednesday which was “fire truck day” at Bible School. One of our church members who was a fireman in the local community would bring the huge water truck with the big ladder and hose and for game time we would take all the kids out into the big open field behind the church and spray them down real good. Each year this fireman vowed to drench me but somehow I got through every single year without getting a drop of water on me!

Today VBS begins here at Grace Church. This week we will see many children reached for Jesus who Himself said in Mark 10:14, “Permit the children to come unto me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” I always get excited about Bible School. I’ve seen it used so many times resulting in kids and whole families coming to know Jesus. Contrary to what some might think, children really can get saved and they really do need Jesus. How do I know? Because I trusted Christ to be my Savior as a young child. I believe in meeting children where they are at and moving them to where God wants them to be.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Reasons to Forgive

This Sunday here at Grace we will continue our study on Biblical SUPER MEN from the book of Philemon and the fact that real Biblical Super Men choose to forgive. As Paul prepares to appeal to Philemon to forgive Onesimus, who broke trust and stole from him, he uses the word “therefore” in verse 8 to link his coming request to the character of Philemon previously mentioned. Based on his apostolic authority, Paul could have insisted on Philemon forgiving Onesimus. However, Paul does not appeal to his authority as the main motive for asking Philemon to forgive but rather appeals to the love for all of the Saints that Philemon has shown as a character of his life.

Paul also uses his own example of obeying God in difficult situations as encouragement for Philemon to heed his request. He calls himself the “aged.” Paul was actually only about 60 years old at the time he wrote this letter. This term refers to his accelerated aging due to his suffering more than it does his numerical age. Paul also reminds Philemon that even as he writes these words he is suffering in prison due to his obedience to Christ. It is a powerful thought to keep in mind that Onesimus is probably standing right next to Philemon as he reads this letter. If you skip down to verse 17, you will see Paul’s appeal for Philemon to accept Onesimus back. Though the very word “forgive” is not used in this letter, it is very much implied through this appeal.

In verses 10-16, Paul gives several reasons as to why Philemon should forgive Onesimus. The first of these reasons deals with Onesimus himself. In verse 10, Paul speaks of Onesimus’ regeneration. Philemon should forgive Onesimus due to his being led to Christ by Paul. Though we should do good to all, we should be even more willing and ready to do good to fellow believers (Galatians 6:10). Onesimus now had the same position with Paul as did Philemon…they were both his spiritual sons. In verse 11, Paul speaks of Onesimus’ resources. Though Onesimus proved at one time to be very unprofitable to Philemon, he now was of profit. Here, Paul uses a play on words due to Onesimus’ name meaning “useful.” He literally is saying, “Useful was formerly useless but now is useful again.” This is evidence of the transforming power of Christ.

In verse 12, Paul speaks of Onesimus’ repentance. The very fact that Onesimus stands before Philemon shows his sincere change of heart and mind. He knew that by law, Philemon could have him severely punished or even killed. And in verses 12-14, Paul speaks of Onesimus’ relationship. Onesimus’ relationship with Paul is reason to forgive him. Paul describes this runaway slave as “my very heart.” Onesimus had ministered to Paul much in the same way that Philemon would have had he been there (v13). Paul shares how he could really use Onesimus back with him in Rome (v14).

Paul also speaks of the purpose of Onesimus in verses 15-16 as reason why Philemon should forgive and accept him. Paul shows God’s providence in using Onesimus’ hurting Philemon to bring him to faith in Christ. As a result, now he has a physical benefit to Philemon as a servant and a spiritual benefit to him as a brother in Christ.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Dealing with Resentment - part 3

In the last two days blog entries we have discussed the need to REJECT personal resentment in our lives. Today we finish our dialogue on Ephesians 4:31-32 by seeing hat rejecting resentment is not enough. We must also REPLACE the void that it leaves behind. According to verse 32, we are to replace resentment with three areas:

Area 1 – Be Kind

The word kind does not simply mean that we say nice things about a person. There is much more to being kind than just this. This is a word that means that we become useful to the person. In other words, it is not enough to simply “put away” resentment towards another person. As followers of Jesus we are to replace that resentment by becoming useful to them, even if they are considered our enemy. In Luke 6:35, Jesus said, “But love your enemies, and do good and lend expecting nothing in return.” You have not completely slain the monster of resentment in your life until you have replaced that resentment by becoming practically useful toward that individual. This is exactly how God Himself is described in Luke 6:35; Romans 2:4; and 1 Peter 2:3.

Area 2 – Be Tenderhearted

This is a word that means to be compassionate or pitiful. It is attempting to understand another person by having empathy for their pain and needs. Sometimes this is called “tender loving kindness.” One Sunday School teacher asked her 5-year old class what the difference was between kindness and tender loving kindness. One child explained it this way, “If I were hungry and you gave me a piece of bread, that would be kindness. But if you spread some jam on that piece of bread, that would be tender loving kindness.” We have not dealt with our personal resentment until we are willing to spread some jam on the bread of those who have hurt us.

Area 3 – Be Forgiving

Remember, forgiveness isn’t forgetting. Forgiveness is choosing not to bring the offense of another back up in order to use it as a weapon against them. Some might say, “But what if they don’t deserve my forgiveness?” Interestingly enough, the word “forgive” comes from the root word where we get our English word “grace.” Grace is undeserved favor. We are to forgive even if they don’t deserve it. After all, isn’t that how God forgave us? Is there one of us that deserved the forgiveness of God? Absolutely not! But even though we were sinners, when we came to Him by faith, trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, He responded with usefulness as He forgave us our sins. He spread some jam on our bread by making us one of His children. And he forgave us even though we in no way deserved it. Now we are called upon to do the same. As we are seeing in our present message series through the book of Philemon here at Grace Church, true Biblical Super Men and Super Women are those who choose to forgive.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Dealing with Resentment - part 2

Yesterday we saw the first stage of resentment that Ephesians 4:31 calls bitterness. Today we see the other five stages. If you did not read yesterday’s entry, I would encourage you to go back and read it before continuing on with today’s writing.

Stage 2 – Wrath

When the smoldering resentment of bitterness is missed or ignored, it grows into wrath. This is a moment of hot, internal anger that comes quickly and often leaves as quickly as it came. It can even surprise yourself as you question where that brief yet intense inward feeling came from. We see this in the response of the Jewish people after hearing some of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 4:28. We also see it in Acts 19:28 as a silversmith named Demetrius riles up the people against Paul resulting in their being filled with wrath.

Stage 3 – Anger

This is an internal smoldering that cannot be extinguished. Unlike wrath which is a passing feeling of anger, this is an abiding condition of the mind. It is the strongest of all inner passions spoken of in Scripture. Anger is almost always bent on getting revenge. If resentment is not dealt with here, it will without question come out in our actions.

Stage 4 – Clamor

This is one of those words that sounds just like it means. When you say it correctly in its original origin it has the sound like the cry of a raven. This is a verbal shout or outcry. It is a public outburst showing a lack of control. Here, you can no longer hold the feelings inside. You can see this word used to describe some of the religious leaders in Acts 23:9

Stage 5 – Slander

This is a compound word in the Greek made up of the words translated “to injure” and “speech.” This describes speech that is meant to injure. It can also be translated “railing.” While Jesus hung on the cross, his enemies hurled railing insults at him. Now folks, listen, once you begin to speak words toward or about someone with the intent to injure their feelings or character, you are just one step away from the final stage…malice.

Stage 6 – Malice

This is simply a general term for viciousness. Once you hit this stage of resentment, you are liable to do just about anything…even that which seems totally unimaginable. So the key is to reject resentment as soon as it rears its ugly head. If we can pluck it out of our lives while it is yet a seed, it is much easier than pulling out its roots after it has matured into a tee of full blown malice. In tomorrow’s entry we will talk about replacing resentment.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dealing with Resentment - part 1

Through our current SUPER MEN series in the book of Philemon we are seeing the need as followers of Christ to be men and women who choose to forgive. Perhaps one of the greatest verses in Scripture that speaks to this is in Ephesians 4:31-32. Like Philemon, Ephesians was also one of Paul’s prison epistles written during his first Roman imprisonment. These verses read as such out of the New American Standard Bible:

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

In these two verses we see two ways that we are to deal with personal resentment in our lives. In verse 31 we are to REJECT personal resentment and in verse 32 we are to REPLACE personal resentment. First, we are told to “put away” resentment. This verb is a word that means to take up or to remove something. This is not the idea of simply controlling a weakness. This is the idea of total abandonment. The same word is used in James 1:21 where we are told to “put aside” filthiness; in Hebrews 12:1 where we are told to “lay aside” every encumbrance; as well as in Colossians 3:8 and 1 Peter 1:1.

This verb in Ephesians 4:31 is written in the imperative mood making it a command, not an option. In other words, this must take place for us to be in the will of God. This is an action that we must do once and for all as individual followers of Jesus. We must put away every element of personal resentment.

Paul goes on in Ephesians 4:31 and describes 6 areas of resentment. These are like building blocks. We start with the first one mentioned (bitterness). But if that one is not dealt with it grows into the second area (wrath) which naturally grows into the third area (anger). But if it still is not put away, the progress continues and here is where it gets highly dangerous. The first three areas of personal resentment are all inward. You can experience these areas and not have anyone else even know that you are struggling. But if resentment is not dealt with in these areas, it moves on to three more areas that are all outward…clamor; slander and malice. Let’s examine these six areas in more detail:

Stage 1 – Bitterness

This is a very deceiving beginning to resentment. This is not a deep feeling of hatred or anger. Rather, this is more of a smoldering resentment. It can be likened to a sense of irritability (see Colossians 3:19). That is why in Hebrews 12:14-15, bitterness is described as a seed. Many times you don’t even realize you have a problem. But like a seed, it can grow into a monster of a tree. And the further it grows the more difficult it is to deal with. That is why in Acts 8:21-23, Luke uses the phrase, “The gall of bitterness.” This little seed of resentment grows into a deep, inner agony seen in the remaining stages of resentment. We will see more of these stages in tomorrow’s blog entry.

Monday, June 16, 2008

POC Visits

Grace Church is without question a dynamic ministry! I am just in awe at what I see God doing in this place on a regular basis. Each year attendance and offerings continue to grow and many lives are changed through the power of Christ. Each and every day I hear another story of how God is using our ministry to literally meet people where they are and help move them to where He wants them to be.

However, as is the case with all churches, Grace also has some weaknesses and some vulnerability. We certainly do not have our heads in the ground regarding these issues. The Staff and Elder leadership of our church realizes that our main weakness is in the fact that though our numbers continue to grow month by month in regards to our Sunday morning attendance, the vast majority of those who attend Grace Church are not connected outside of our worship services. Only 20% of our adults are involved in one of Adult Bible Fellowship Classes that we call ABF’s. Though these ABF classes are very good, they simply aren’t effective in getting these hundreds of new people coming to our church each year connected into intimate and transparent relationships and friendships where real growth and care takes place.

As a result, our ministry and lay leadership has set our direction as a church into developing an effective small group ministry where people can effectively connect with God, with Grace Church, and with one another. We see this as the most pressing need of our church in the immediate future. We don’t just want to start some small groups and be a church with small groups. We want to see small groups become the backbone of our ministry as we become a church of small groups. If we succeed in this, we will become a much stronger church that is ready to go to the next level of effectiveness in meeting people and moving people. If we do not succeed, we will most likely become a large yet weak church that ultimately implodes.

As you know, we have already begun training small group leaders with the goal and aim to launch our first phase of small groups this fall. At the same time we are seeking to hire the right person to be our Pastor of Connections here at Grace Church who will oversee as well as administrate our small group ministry and emphasis. Our Search and Interview committees in this process have currently narrowed down the field of prospective candidates for this position to two men. Beginning this week, my wife and I will be flying out to visit with each of these men and their wives. We will be gone June 18-21 making the first visit, and then after being back home for just 2 days in order to preach on Sunday, June 22, we will head back out for a second visit on June 24-27.

These visits are not interviews, but rather a chance for me to get to know these potential candidates and likewise for them to get to know me as their possible new boss. After these visits, I will discuss each person with the steering committee that is helping me in this search and decide if it is time to bring one or maybe both of these men to Lititz for a formal interview. Please be praying for these visits, these men, and the future of Grace!

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Character of Forgiveness

Last Sunday we introduced the book of Philemon which we are studying as the second half of our Super Heroes series here at Grace Church. In this study, we are zoning in on one major characteristic of a Biblical Super Man. Biblical Super Men are men who chose to forgive. Paul writes this little postcard of a letter to Philemon asking him to forgive Onesimus who had ran away from Philemon after stealing money from him. His escape route led him to Rome where he met up with the Apostle Paul in prison who led him to faith in Christ. Now he is sending Onesimus back to Philemon with this letter.

In verse 4 of this one chapter book, Paul expresses his confidence in Philemon that he would do the right thing. Paul describes the character that Philemon displays which is needed to show forgiveness. In doing so, Paul shows the value of offering thanks to God for the godly virtue and conduct of other believers (every letter of Paul’s except Galatians has a similar opening of thanksgiving). Beginning in verse 5, Paul gives the reasons he has such a confidence in Philemon. This verse is a literary technique where the first part of the verse goes with the last verse while the middle stands alone. The phrase, “I hear of your love” is connected to the phrase, “toward all the saints." The middle part of the verse stands alone as he also mentions the faith he has in the Lord Jesus.

Philemon was a man who showed love toward all the saints. This is written in the present tense showing that it is a continual action of Philemon. The character to forgive includes continually displaying a self-sacrificial love to all believers. Philemon was also a man who showed faith toward the Lord Jesus. He believed and acted upon the words of Christ. This is also written in the present tense showing continual action. The character to forgive includes a continual desire to please the Lord.

This confidence in Philemon’s character produced several results. First, it resulted in a fellowship of faith. The word “fellowship” speaks of a mutual sharing or belonging. Paul describes this mutual sharing as “effective.” This is the Greek word where get our word “energy” and speaks of something being powerful. Philemon’s love for the saints and faith in Christ produced a powerful sharing of life with all believers. It also produced a knowledge of “every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake.” The word “knowledge” speaks of a deep, rich experiential knowledge. This knowledge occurs as Philemon continues to know the truth of Scripture through experiencing and obeying it. The character to forgive includes a powerful sharing of life with all believers that develops through experiencing the truths of Scripture.

According to verse 7, this type of character that produces forgiveness also brings joy, comfort and refreshment in the lives of other believers. The word “refreshed” is a military term describing an army resting after a long march. Jesus used this same word in Matthew 11:28 when he said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Be sure to join us this Sunday at Grace Church as we learn more about the character that brings about forgiveness.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Staff at Phillies Game - Pic #9

This final picture is proof that going to a major league baseball game is indeed a family friendly event. This is the family of Elaine Bendinsky, who works in our church office. Now that is a good-looking family...yes, even her husband, Jim!

Staff at Phillies Game - Pic #8

Here is Renee with a friend of hers. So what single male staff member do you think she may have been at the game with? And more importantly, after seeing him devour that hot dog (see pic #5), will this very attractive girl even consider going out with him again?

Staff at Phillies Game - Pic #7

Here is a much better picture of Doug with his wife, Renee...boy, did he marry up!!!

Staff at Phillies Game - Pic #6

Here is Matt with our Director of Student Ministries, Doug Kegarise. Now this would make a good caption contest. With that look on Matt's face, what might he be thinking?

Staff at Phillies Game - Pic #5

Here is our Worship Arts Director, Matt McElravy. By looking at these pictures you would think that our staff were starving to death by the time they got to this game!

Staff at Phillies Game - Pic #4

This is Tim Reedy's lovely wife, Tina. Something tells me that she has been watching Tim Auld a little too much...his eating habits seem to be rubbing off on her (see pic #1)!

Staff at Phillies Game - Pic #3

Here is Tim Reedy, our Media Producer here at Grace. So, Tim, did you watch any of the game or did you spend the whole night babysitting and passing drinks down the aisle?

Staff at Phillies Game - Pic #2

This is Pastor Tim's better half...Susan and their kids. Susan is our Children's Director here at Grace Church. Good thing their kids got their mom's looks, huh?

Staff at Phillies Game - Pic #1

Earlier this month our church staff and their families took a trip to see the Phillies play down at Citizen's Bank Park. Due to family being in town for my daughter's graduation, I was not able to particiapte. However, here are some pics of some of the crowd!

This, of course, is our Pastor of Spiritual Formation, Tim Auld. Do you think it is possible for anyone to get their mouth open any wider? Small bites, Tim, small bites!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


So last Sunday I dressed up as Super Man to preach our opening message in the SUPER MEN half of our current SUPER HEROES series here at Grace Church. Our Media Producer, Tim Reedy, took some photos and then made the attached portrait. I guess that about says it all!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Jerry Falwell, Larry Flynt and Ted Kennedy

I just finished reading Macel Falwell’s book on the life and legacy of her husband, Jerry Falwell. As most of you are aware, Dr Falwell has been, is and always will be one of my greatest spiritual heroes. So much of my life today was impacted by him.

When I was in Junior High School I would watch Dr Falwell and the Old Time Gospel Hour every Sunday morning on a little 6-inch black and white TV in my bedroom in Akron, Ohio as I got dressed for church. God used those mornings to begin a stir in my heart to become a pastor. When God confirmed that calling in my life during my junior year of High School, there was only one college that I knew I wanted to attend…Liberty! I arrived on campus for my freshman year in 1983 and was amazed that I was being able to sit under Dr Falwell’s teaching and vision…live and in person.

My four years at Liberty were exciting ones. That was the time of the Reagan reelection, Senator Kennedy’s address to the student body, and the whole PTL scandal among other things. I literally soaked up everything Liberty had to offer as I prepared for ministry. One of the two highlights of my college years was being chosen as preacher of the year in 1987 and being able to speak in chapel in front of all the faculty, staff and students. I still have a picture of me preaching with Dr Falwell sitting behind me listening (fortunately, he wasn’t sleeping). But the greatest thrill came my junior year when I met my wife (also a Liberty student).

As I read this outstanding book, my mind was filled with many wonderful memories and I realized how much of my life today came as a direct result of Dr Falwell’s vision and faith. This August, my wife and I will be taking our daughter down to Liberty where she will be an Education Major this fall. As Laura and I struggle with the bittersweet reality of sending our daughter to college, the fact that we are sending her to Liberty is like a healing balm on our hearts because it is very much like sending her home. We loved that campus. There is something special about that mountain. In the book, Macel tells of how Dr Falwell as a teenager, before he even became a Christian, said that one day he would own Candler’s Mountain. I’m so glad God brought that to reality.

I’m not sure what your perceptions of Dr Falwell were while he was alive. I have found that most people have misperceptions. Whether you respected him or maybe even found yourself appalled by him, this book will give you a real view of what he was really like from the person who knew him best…his faithful wife. You will read about some amazing behind the scenes looks at pivotal points in his life like when a kidnapping plot threatened his daughter or when he twice went on a forty day fast asking God for a financial miracle. You will read about his friendships with some of the most unlikely people such as porn king, Larry Flynt and liberal United States Senator, Ted Kennedy.

So no matter what your perceptions of Dr Falwell have been, I highly recommend this book to you to read this summer. I greatly appreciated the fresh look it gave at the life of a man who I will always view as one of my greatest spiritual heroes.

Monday, June 09, 2008

"SuperMAN" or "SuperMATT"?

Yes, it’s true. This past Sunday as we kicked off the 4-week Super Men part of our Super Heroes series, I preached dressed in full Man of Steel wardrobe, red cape and all (see for yourself by watching the message video later this week at I also showed you pictures provided to me by an accomplice of our Worship Arts Director also donning his “SuperMatt” outfit (seen in photo). Cute, huh? I can get away with this since Matt is away on vacation.

As we introduced the book of Philemon we saw many traits of Biblical Super Men:

Biblical Super Men have put their faith in Jesus Christ – Paul had led Philemon to faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus!

Biblical Super Men are committed to the local church – The church at Colossae met in Philemon’s home!

Biblical Super Men are actively involved in serving the Lord – Paul calls Philemon a “fellow worker”!

Biblical Super Men share their faith – Paul shared his faith with Onesimus while in a Roman prison resulting in the conversion of this runaway thief!

Biblical Super Men are willing to own up to their mistakes – Paul and Onesimus both realized that Onesimus had to go back and make things right with Philemon after stealing money from him and running away to Rome!

But the biggest characteristic of a Biblical Super Man that we will be looking at over the course of the next three weeks is seen in the fact that Biblical Super Men choose to forgive those who have caused them hurt. That is what the little postcard of Philemon is all about. It is the great Apostle Paul writing a personal plea to his friend and child in the faith, Philemon, encouraging him to extend forgiveness to Onesimus for his offenses.

Now remember what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is not forgetting as we have been taught so often inside and outside the church. Not only can you not find that principle in Scripture but it is impossible. I can remember every time someone has wronged me. Then what is forgiveness? Forgiveness is choosing not to bring the offense up to use it as a weapon. That is Biblical forgiveness. Folks, listen, God remembers our sins but because He forgave us when we put our faith and trust in Christ, He will not bring our sins back up to use against us as a weapon. We are forgiven.

So who do you need to ask God to give you a heart of forgiveness for during this series? A mate? An Ex? A boss? A friend? Just like kryptonite draining away the supernatural strength of Superman, when we allow the seed of bitterness to take root in our hearts it paralyzes us spiritually as well. Isn’t it time that we all become spiritual Super Men (and women) and choose to forgive? My prayer is that God would use this series to lead us in that very direction.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Super Men = Men Who Forgive

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Super Man!” Of all the many past and present super heroes, perhaps none stands head and shoulders above them all then does Super Man. Wouldn’t it be great if we could slap a big red letter “S” on our chest and tie a red tablecloth around a neck and become a man of spiritual steel? We could look at many characteristics from Scripture describing a Biblical Super Man, but in the book of Philemon we see that spiritual Super Men are men who forgive.

Several individuals are mentioned by name through the book of Philemon. First, there is the author of this little postcard, the Apostle Paul who wrote this short letter during his first Roman imprisonment. It is the shortest of all of Paul’s writings and it is the only prison epistle written to an individual rather than a church. Throughout the book there is no main doctrinal teaching…it is more personal in nature. The book is also closely related to the book of Colossians. Both were written about the same time and both were delivered by Tychicus to the same location (see Colossians 4:9).

Paul writes to a man named Philemon (v1) who was led to Christ by Paul (v19). He was a prominent member in the church at Colossae which met in his home (see v2). His name means “loving” and he is called a “fellow-worker” showing that he was very active in serving Christ (v1). The letter is written due to another man named Onesimus (v10) who was a slave owned by Philemon and whose name means “useful.” Paul also addresses a woman named Apphia, who was probably Philemon’s wife (v2), and Archippus who was either Philemon’s son or the pastor of the Colossae church (Colossians 4:17)

The background to this letter centers on Onesimus’ running away from Philemon and fleeing to Rome where he was less likely to be noticed and caught in a city with 1.5 million people (v11). Onesimus apparently had stolen money from Philemon (v18-19) before he left. While in Rome, Onesimus meets up with the Apostle Paul through whom he is converted to faith in Christ (v10) and becomes a profitable part of Paul’s ministry (v11, 13). Paul realizes that Onesimus must make things right with Philemon and writes Philemon asking him to forgive Onesimus.

It has been said that God is never more like Himself then when He forgives and we are never more like God than when we forgive. Forgiveness is not easy. It takes a spiritual Super Man to look beyond the kryptonite of bitterness and offer forgiveness. In this letter, Paul gives three reasons why we should be the hero who forgives. First, no matter how much someone hurts you they still could be profitable to you (v11). Paul makes it clear that this slave named “useful” became “useless” when he stole from Philemon and ran away, but now, due to his faith in Christ, he is “useful” once again. Another reason we should forgive is because the hurt someone may have brought upon us could have been part of God’s plan for their spiritual conversion or growth (v15). Had Onesimus not stole from Philemon and fled to Rome, he never would have met Paul and had his life changed. We should also forgive because forgiveness always refreshes the body of Christ (v20) and boy does the church need some refreshment!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Super Man At Grace Church

Look Up In The Sky

It’s A Bird

It’s A Plane

DC Comics

Man of Steel

Clark Kent

Lois Lane

Daily Planet


Faster Than A Speeding Bullet

Able To Leap Tall Buildings In A Single Bound

More Powerful Than A Locomotive

Phone Booth


The Planet Krypton

All of these terms are associated with perhaps the greatest fictional Super Hero of all time. I’m speaking of course of Super Man! Super Man was created by Jerry Siegel and Canadian born artist, Joe Shuster in 1932 while they were both living in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1938, the character first appeared in Action Comics.

This Sunday we will launch into the second half of our Super Heroes series as we study a significant characteristic of what it means to be a Biblical Super Man. These 4 weeks will take us verse by verse through the one chapter New Testament book of Philemon as we discover that real Biblical Supermen know how to forgive. In order to set the mood, everyone on stage will be wearing our Super Man T-Shirts. Word has it that Super Man may make an appearance. It all depends on if we can find a phone booth and if the outfit really fits me (ur...I mean him)!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Bubba's Good-Bye

This afternoon I will take my parents back to the Baltimore airport and Laura and I will begin the recovery phase of graduation weekend. All in all the weekend was absolutely perfect. What a celebration. I am so thankful for the goodness of God. Below are some of the highlights of our big weekend:

Joy received many honors and awards at Baccalaureate Thursday night but a huge blessing to us was that she received the Brossman Scholarship. Up until this year, this was a $500 a year scholarship for four years totaling $2,000. However, this year the scholarship was increased to $2,000 per year for four years for a grand total of $8,000. Then on Friday evening at graduation she received an additional $1,000 scholarship for being Valedictorian of her class and another $200 award for godly character. So over the two evenings she received $9,200 in scholarship money. Praise the Lord!

At graduation, Joy along with the Salutatorian (Jenny Kupstas), gave their addresses together rather than separate. It was very unique and very good. Their speech was well written and dealt with the need to embrace change. I was very impressed.

Joy closed out graduation by singing the song “Whenever You Remember.” She nailed it. Her mom did real good from an “emotions” stand point until Joy sang. Of course, I was a rock!

Joy’s party on Saturday got shifted into the garage due to rain but was absolutely wonderful. We had between 100-150 people who came over to help share in Joy’s milestone. And best of all, almost all of the mounds of food Laura and her mom prepared got eaten.

The highlight of the weekend though actually centered around our son, Jonathan. He and his sister are unusually close. They are literally best of friends who do most everything together. I mean come on, Jonathan is dating one of Joy’s closest friends and Joy is dating one of Jonathan’s closest friends. That’s pretty unusual, wouldn’t you say? Anyway, Joy has always called Jonathan “Bubba” over the years. Jonathan loves music and wrote a special song for Joy as a graduation present that he put with a slide show of the two of them growing up together. The song was called “Bubba’s Good-Bye”. It was amazing. We enjoyed showing it to everyone. Boy, did it bring the tears (except from me, of course…I was a rock)!

Other than that, the big weekend included 10 people sleeping at our house; 15 people showering at our house; 3 round trips to the Harrisburg Airport; 1 round trip to the Philadelphia Airport; and 3 round trips to the Baltimore Airport (all at nearly $4.00 a gallon)! But as I look back and have time to reflect I am staggered by the thought that I have a personal relationship with Jesus; An excellent wife; Two kids who love each other; A daughter who is excelling much; And a talented son who will give us reason to do the weekend all over again in two years. Yep, it’s true, folks! I am, “The Luckiest”!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Luckiest

Last Sunday we ended our study in Proverbs 31 by seeing that a man who has found an excellent wife is a very lucky man. So often when Christmas or my birthday is approaching, family members will ask, “What do you want?” My answer is always the same, “Nothing really.” To be perfectly honest there just isn’t a lot that I really want. Why? Because back in the fall of 1970 I entered into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through faith and then in May of 1987 I said, “I do” to the most wonderful woman in the world. Having those two relationships, there is really nothing more that I need.

Rock star, Ben Folds, wrote a song that Matt McElravy sang beautifully at the close of my message last Sunday. It is a completely different style than is typical for Ben. It was the last song on a rock album that was all about being dissatisfied with life. Yet, at the end he included this song for his wife. Though it is completely opposite his normal style of music, chances are very good that when Ben Fold’s career comes to a close, this will be the song he is most remembered for. Honestly, I am not a Ben Fold’s fan but, like the words of his song, I really do feel that I am “The Luckiest”!

The Luckiest

I don't get many things right the first time

In fact, I am told that a lot

Now I know all the wrong turns, the stumbles and falls

Brought me here

And where was I before the day

That I first saw your lovely face?

Now I see it everyday

And I know

That I am…I am

I am The luckiest

What if I'd been born fifty years before you

In a house on a street where you lived?

Maybe I'd be outside as you passed on your bike

Would I know?

And in a white sea of eyes

I see one pair that I recognize

And I know

That I am…I am

I amThe luckiest

I love you more than I have ever found a way to say to you

Next door there's an old man who lived to his nineties

And one day passed away in his sleep

And his wife; she stayed for a couple of days

And passed away

I'm sorry, I know that's a strange way to tell you that I know we belong

That I know

That I am…I am

I amThe luckiest

Monday, June 02, 2008

Closing the Chapter on Wonder Women

Last Sunday was the final week in the first half of our Super Heroes message series as we closed the chapter on Proverbs 31 which describes to us what a Biblical Wonder Woman is like. Over the past three weeks we had seen the companionship, care-giving and conduct of a spiritual Wonder Woman. Last Sunday we added to our description her compassion (31:20). In this verse we found that the noble wife is selfless and generous. The text literally reads, “she opens her palm to the poor.” We also saw her character in verse 25 in which clothing is used metaphorically to show that her life is characterized by strength and dignity and that she can laugh at the future. Her conversation was noted in verse 26 where her words are described as being those of wisdom and kindness.

This wonderful chapter ended with a reminder of the value of a godly Wonder Women. What kind of legacy does she leave behind? First, she leaves behind the legacy of her family (31:28-29). Her children bless her. It is those who know her best that praise her. How many times have I preached a funeral and had my own heart moved deeply as I listened to children and grandchildren speak well of a loving mother and grandmother who is now with Jesus. But the source of this legacy is not just from her children, it is also from her husband who likewise praises her with his words. One of the things we husbands fail to do enough is to tell our wives how much we appreciate and love them. The wise man reminds us of the importance of verbally praising our wife.

This Wonder Women also blazes a legacy of faith (31:30). The verse reminds us all that charm is deceitful and beauty is vain. I am not saying that beauty is not important. But we must remember that no matter how much we fight it, outward beauty does not last. Ladies, you do not start your life at the apex of your beauty. It takes a few years to formulate (if you do not think that is true, then go back and pull out your elementary school pictures). But as you emerge into adulthood your beauty crystallizes. However, if you haven’t yet, you will one day reach your peak. There will come a time when, well truthfully, it’s all downhill when it comes to outward beauty.

Not only does outward beauty not last, it does not guarantee happiness (21:19). Because outward beauty does not last and because it does not guarantee happiness, our priority should be on our inward beauty. Inward beauty is seen in our obedience to the Lord. How amazing that the book of Proverbs ends where it begins…with the importance of fearing the Lord (Proverbs 1:7)?

Along with the legacy of her family and the legacy of her faith, she also has a legacy of fame (31:31). We (speaking of husbands) are to give her the product of our hands. We are to give her the honor she deserves. And please note where this should occur? This should take place in the gates (a public place). I have tried to present an example to the men of our church in this area. I often speak about the value and praise of Laura while preaching and in my blogs. Why? Two reasons. It is true and it is Scriptural. We are to speak well of her everywhere and to everyone.