Friday, May 29, 2009


As most of you are aware, Grace Church has as part of its ministries, Lititz Christian School and MorningStar Daycare and Academics. Each year our leadership in the school and daycare present a budget that has to be approved by the Board of Education, myself as Senior Pastor, and the full Elder Board. This has already been accomplished for the upcoming 2009/2010 fiscal year. This budget was not without its challenges especially in light of the negative effects of our economy. These challenges were complicated by the following areas:

Enrollment: Two years ago we saw numbers dropping when it came to Christian education at a national level, as well as in our own community. As a matter of fact, two of the areas largest Christian Schools recently announced a merger in hopes of maintaining quality Christian education and financial stability. The good news is that while enrollment in Christian schools has declined, funding through the EITC program has sky rocketed, giving families who qualify, the opportunity to receive tuition assistance. We are hopeful that these funds will help to increase enrollment.

Healthcare: Nationally, employers are cutting back or eliminating health benefits, forcing more and more people into the ranks of the uninsured. It is our desire to continue to offer quality healthcare to our employees at a price that does not heavily impact the ministry nor the employee. Unfortunately, next year our healthcare will increase over 17%.

ACSI: The Association of Christian Schools International has made some changes in the Early Childhood department. Teacher to student ratio has dropped from 10-1 to 7-1. To meet these standards we will need to hire more staffing.

I think our Senior Administrator, Rick Bernhardt, said it best when he wrote, “The danger with financial challenges is that we often allow Satan to take a foothold and distract us from our vision. Allow me to remind you that we serve a much bigger God than the challenges that we are facing. It is with great confidence that we move forward and pursue the quality care and education that God has in store for the ministries of Grace Church. We will continually access the budget in the next fiscal year and continue to pursue the academic initiatives needed to continue improving the quality of our programs and fulfill our purpose.”

Thursday, May 28, 2009


The mission’s portion of our projected budget for the upcoming fiscal year was one of the few areas where a minimal overall increase occurred. While most areas in the church budget saw a decrease, the overall mission’s budget saw a minimal $2,000 increase.

Here at Grace, it is our goal to support in larger ways those that God calls out of our church rather than supporting dozens upon dozens of people in minimal amounts that our people hardly know. It is our ultimate goal to support those who God calls out of our church into full-time service internationally at 50% of their overall support team.

The only area that was added to the budget this year was supporting Sue Weaver who use to be one of our missioanries in France with her husband, Marlin. She now has a part-time roll with Grace Brethren International Missions. Below is a list of all of the missionaries and ministries supported by the missions portion of our budget which this year totals $223,200.00.

Jay and Deb Hocking (France)
Christian and Bonnie Beuggert (Thailand)
Scott and Rebekah Becker (Ireland)
Mike and Joan McCracken (short-term trip)
Cambodian National Foundation Layers (Cambodia)
Sue Weaver (Grace Brethren International Missions)
Grace American Indian Missions
Jim Brown (Philadelphia)
Bob Soto (Texas)
Carlos Peralta (Florida)
Coatesville Spanish Ministry (Pennsylvania)
Tom and Janis Kemp (Washington State)
Grace College (Winona Lake, Indiana)
Lancaster Bible College (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
CE National (Winona Lake, Indiana)
Timothy Kurtanek (CE National)
GO2 Church Planting Ministries
Jim Snavely (GO2 Church Planting)
North Atlantic Missions (Pennsylvania)
Camp Conquest (Pennsylvania)
Ken Keener (Camp Conquest)

Along with supporting these missionaries and ministries, we also budget for leadership costs to provide short term mission’s trips under the direction of our Mission Team here at Grace Church. We also provide some monies in the budget to help support teenagers from Grace Church who apply for and are accepted to Operation Barnabas which is a summer teen leadership training program sponsored by CE National. This does not include our support of the Christian Schools for orphans in the Central Africna Republic. Those monies are raised through our Birthday Gift for Jesus project each December.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

No TARP Problems Here

In recent months, the news has been filled with all kinds of stunning stories of large companies that took bail-out monies from the government, paid by our taxes, in order to avoid bankruptcy, only to discover that some of these monies were used to give unbelievable sized bonuses to their CEO’s and top officials who walked away with millions upon millions of dollars. Because of this, though we don’t divulge details of individual employee’s salaries publicly, I thought it was appropriate to be a little more transparent than usual regarding compensation, especially as it relates to me as the Senior Pastor of our ministry.

Without question, compensation and benefits are the largest part of our budgets expenses totaling $1,349,960 which involves the salaries of all full-time and part-time church staff including health insurance, FICA/Medicare taxes, retirement and worker’s compensation insurance. Keep in mind, that the backbone of our ministry is our staff who do such a great job in each of their respective positions and roles.

This figure is an increase of $172,134 over last year’s budget. Why the increase? One major reason is healthcare costs which continue to rise yearly at staggering rates.

A second reason for the increase is the addition of some key staff positions that we are hiring in order to help us keep pace with our growing ministry needs. This is allowing us to add key management roles that are greatly needed.

Is any of this increase due to staff raises? Let me say that I personally have declined any raise this year. Why? Let me give you several reasons. First, I am treated more than fair and am blessed to be your pastor.
Second, in a day when CEO’s are abusing their positions of power, I want to go the extra mile this year in being above reproach in this area.

Third, during a time in our nation when many people’s salaries are being frozen and people are losing jobs, I was not at peace with taking a raise this year, especially when we were having to cut our own church budget.

Fourth, we have several staff members whose salaries are below the national average for their positions and I desire to see any raises that are given this year go towards their packages.

This decision for me to bypass a raise this year was made in consultation with a compensation committee that is led by the chairman of our Elder Board which makes recommendations regarding my salary.

So as you can see, though the compensation/benefits portion of our budget is the largest area of expenses, we are going the extra mile to make sure that these funds are fair and above reproach. We are blessed to have the staff we have here at Grace and we want to be sure that they are treated fairly while being accountable for every dollar of the budget.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

This Year's Budget Challenge

Each year putting together the church budget has its own unique challenges. But this year the challenges were highlighted for two reasons:

First, we are projecting that we will miss our budget income goal for our current year by $238,000. That makes it sound like we had a bad giving year, doesn’t it? The truth is that we are on track to have the best giving year we have ever had. In fact, we are projecting at this point that are actual giving this fiscal year will be up 5% over last.

So then how did we miss the projected giving goal so drastically? The answer is twofold. We took the actual giving from the previous year and added 10% to it to get our project giving goal for this year. Unfortunately, that figure included two things it should not have included because they would not be repeated this year. First, it included the Super-Size giving offering which was part of our McWorship message series which resulted in the one time largest offering in the history of our church. Second, the previous fiscal year was a rarity of having 53 Sundays rather than the normal 52. When you take into account these two factors which would not be repeated in our current fiscal year and add 10% to them, you have the reason why we missed our projection by so much. The problem wasn’t a giving problem at all. Where we blew it was in our projections.

The good news, however, is that once we realized our error about halfway through the fiscal year, Pastor Tim did a masterful job of leading our ministry staff in cutting out of their remaining budgets anything that was not mission critical. Due to this and the increase in offerings, our expenses for this fiscal year should come in under our income.

The bad news, however, is that to have a workable budget for this fiscal year, it meant that we were going to have to make sizable cuts from our current fiscal year budget to have more reasonable giving projections. We also felt that this was important due to the uncertain economic times of our nation. So here is the bottom-line:

We have lowered projected expenses in our proposed budget by $126,420 from our current budget. We have also lowered our projected giving to the General Fund in our proposed budget by $114,300. The amount of our giving goal in our proposed budget does, however, include a 5% increase in giving to the general fund over the projected actual giving from this year. Though this amount is equal to the increase we have seen in giving this year, it is still a step of faith because though we are up 5% in giving, we are also up 15% in attedance over last year. This means that though giving is up, the amount of giving per giver has decreased. This is somthing we will be watching ovewr the course of the next fiscal year.

The proposed budget still includes paying a significant portion to ourselves as we have been doing since the mortgage was retired. However, it does lower that amount from $300,000 to $150,000. Because we had to cut well over $250,000 out of the budget due to the faulty figures we used last year, we did not want to take all of this out of ministry and programming. This budget allows us to cut our weekly General Fund giving need back from $52,154 to $49,956 while still accomplishing our entire ministry plan and still paying ourselves a significant amount for future growth and expansion.

Monday, May 25, 2009

2009/2010 Fiscal Year Budget

Here at Grace Church we take very seriously our need to be good stewards of every penny that is given toward the work of our ministry. As a result, we take putting our yearly fiscal year budget together very seriously. The Executive Staff, Executive Committee of the Elder Board, and the full Elder Board have all approved our 2009/2010 fiscal year budget for Grace Church which beings on July 1, 2009. We are now ready to present this budget to our church family for approval. Below is the process we will take for this approval to happen.

During this week I will be writing a series of blog posts highlighting the major elements of our proposed budget and giving some of my own personal thoughts regarding our budget and our plans for the upcoming fiscal year of ministry.

Beginning this Sunday, May 31, copies of the proposed budget with an explanation page will be available for you to take and read through. We do ask that only one copy is taken per family so that there is enough for everyone who is interested to have a copy.

Pastor Tim Auld, our Executive Pastor who oversaw this budget process, will hold two informational meetings to give further explanation regarding the budget and to answer any questions that anyone might have regarding its content. The first of these two opportunities will take place on Sunday, June 7th from 8:30-9:30am in room 203 which is located at the end of the hallway directly behind the auditorium stage. The second opportunity will take place on June 14th from 10:00-11:00am also in Room 203.

Then, on June 28th, we will be taking a ballot vote in all three of our Sunday morning services giving our church family the opportunity to approve this budget. Any member or regular attendee of Grace Church who is at least 15 years of age or older may participate in this vote. Only those who are in the worship services that morning will be able to participate in the vote.

So be sure to be part of the process by taking the following steps:

Read my blog each day this week to learn more details and to read my personal thoughts about the budget.

Pick up a copy of the proposed budget on Sunday, May 31 and read it through.

Attend one of the informational meetings (either June 7 or June 14) to ask any questions you might have regarding the budget.

Attend one of the worship services on June 28 to be part of approving the budget.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Weekend Highlights: Battle of the Bands - Happy Anniversary - Chick Flicks of the Bible

This will be a memorable weekend for me. Here's why:

Friday - I will be attending the Battle of the Bands from 6-9pm at the Manheim Brethren in Christ Church to watch my son's band perform. Jonathan's band's name is Eternal Mindset (pictured above). I love watching him play his guitar and sing. Jonathan wrote some of their songs. Should be a great night!

Saturday - It's our anniversary! Laura and I will be celebrating 22 years since May 23, 1987.

Sunday - I live for Sundays!!! And this Sunday here at Grace Church we will continue our Chick Flicks of the Bible series as we close out the story of Rahab. There just may be no greater story in the Bible showing how God met one woman right where she was and moved her to where He wanted her to be. Man, that would make a great purpose statement for a church!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

And the Walls Came Tumbling Down

This Sunday we will finish up our 3-week look at Rahab which is the first of three stories in our Chick Flicks of the Bible message series. We have already seen her encounter with the two Jewish spies and her bravery in saving their lives which resulted in their promising to save her life and the life of her family if she were to tie a red cord from her window in her house which was on the wall of the city. We now pick up the story of Rahab in Joshua chapter six. God has parted the Jordan River, which was at flood stage, allowing all of Israel to cross over and camp in the vicinity of the city of Jericho. As the King of Jericho hears of this amazing miracle, his fear of Israel increases resulting in his shutting up the city so that no one can enter or leave.

God also gives to Joshua the exact plans for taking the city. For six days all the fighting men were to march around the city one time in silence. This march was also to include the Ark of the Covenant, symbolizing the presence of God, accompanied by 7 priests carrying trumpets. These were jubilee trumpets used in feasts to proclaim the presence of God. This was not a military march, but a religious march showing that the God of heaven would fight for Israel (Numbers 10:10). On the 7th day they were to march around the city 7 times. To march around the city 7 times would take 3-4 hours. After the 7 cycles, they were to blow their horns and the people were to shout a loud shout.

Israel did exactly as they were commanded. Each time around the city allowed the fighting men to see the red cord hanging from Rahab’s house, whose story they would have known. As ordered, Israel marches around the city 7 times on the 7th day. At the end of the march, Joshua commands to people to shout and reiterates the promise that God has given them the city. He also reminds them to save Rahab and her family and not to take any items within the city for themselves. The people shouted and the walls fell flat.

Some skeptics speculate that it was an earthquake that caused the walls to fall flat or that the soldiers somehow ndermined the walls. Other skeptics speculate that it was the vibrations of the trumpets along with the marching feet that caused the walls to fall. Those skeptics have more faith than I do. To me it is a whole lot simpler to believe that God did exactly what He promised to do. And as promised, Rahab and her family are saved. It appears that the portion of the wall in which Rahab lived remained intact when the city walls fell.

The next time Rahab is mentioned is in Matthew 1:5-6 where we find that she married a Jewish man named Salmon. Remember that the two spies that Joshua sent into Jericho that were hidden by Rahab were never mentioned by name. Now here is a “chick flick” possibility. What if Salmon was one of the spies? How cool would that be! Either way, Rahab became the great-great-grandmother to King David. Rahab is then mentioned in the great Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11:31). She is one of only two women whose stories are detailed in Hebrews 11.

Imagine that…a prostitute who wasn’t even a Jew being one of only two women mentioned in the great chapter of faith in the book of Hebrews and in the line of the Messiah. Rahab is one amazing story of God meeting one woman right where she was and using two Jewish spies to move her to where He wanted her to be.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wedding Prep

I find myself officiating more and more weddings as our church continues to grow. So what process do I take a couple through in preparation for their wedding? Where should a couple start if they are looking to marry and are interested in my doing their wedding?

The first step is to e-mail or call my assistant, Sheri Sell, at the church (; 626-2155). She will talk through with you the process involved and send you the information packet with a questionnaire for you and your fiancé to complete and return. Once Sheri receives that paperwork, she will set up an appointment for you and your fiancé to meet with me in my office for an initial conversation. It is at this meeting that I determine if I will be available to be part of your wedding. If I am able to be part, I will give you and your fiancé each a notebook at this meeting that we will use for all of our pre-marital counseling and our final wedding planning meeting.

From there, it is on to pre-marriage counseling. This includes 6 sessions. The first session involves me meeting just with you as a couple. We use this time to look at predictors of marital success and talk about positive and negative reasons for getting married. This session allows me to get know you better as individuals and as a couple.

Sessions 2-5 are done in a class setting involving you and your fiancé along with other couples that I am marrying. These take place on four consecutive Wednesday evenings where we go over topics like biblical love; the stages of marriage; the creation of marriage; our roles in marriage; communication in marriage ; handling conflict in marriage; acceptance, temperaments, intimacy, and much more.

The final session is when I meet with you, your fiancé, and your wedding coordinator. In most of the weddings I do, my wife is the one who coordinates. If you get married here at Grace Church, using one of our wedding coordinators is mandatory. We use this final session to plan your wedding ceremony in detail. Before coming to this meeting, you will need to have filled out some paperwork in your notebook asking you many questions about your ceremony. My goal at this wedding is to make sure I know exactly how you want your wedding to happen. That will allow for two benefits. First, it will make the wedding rehearsal go smooth and quickly (usually right at an hour in length).

Second, it allows me to protect your wishes for your wedding. This way, if the very opinionated Aunt Bertha or one of the soon to be mother-in-laws pipe up at the rehearsal with, “That’s not the way it is supposed to be done,” I can be the “bad guy” so you don’t have to have an ugly family confrontation at your wedding rehearsal!

I am often asked, “How much do you charge to do a wedding?” The truth is that I have no set fee. My paycheck comes from the church. I do weddings as a way to still have a contact with people from Grace Church on a special day in their lives and the lives of their family. Anything I am given by way of honorarium I consider icing on the cake.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Staying in Touch

As our church continues to grow, I try to work very hard at still being personal with the hundreds and hundreds of people God is bringing to us each and every week. That is why I do all of the following things:

I send out a Pastor’s E-mail Update twice a week via e-mail (if you do not receive that and would like to, just go to our church website,, and sign up for it…it’s free!)! The purpose of these updates is to share with you many of the wonderful stories we hear on a daily basis as to how God is using Grace Church. I also use this to highlight upcoming events and ministries and to share relevant and updated ministry information.

I write and post a blog entry each and every weekday (by the way, thanks for reading)! I have now made over 1,100 posting on my blog. Though my blog receives quite a bit of traffic (over 110,000 unique visitors from over 140 different countries so far) the main purpose of the blog is for me to communicate with our church family. This allows me to share a more transparent look at me and the thoughts that rattle around my mind. It also allows me to share more in-depth on specific ways we see God working in our ministry.

I stand in the lobby after all three of our Sunday morning worship services! My goal in doing so is to greet as many people as possible, shake as many hands as possible, and see as many faces as possible. This allows me to share a few words with many people and to meet many of the guests that we get at Grace Church each and every Sunday.

I personally answer all e-mails that are sent to me by those who are part of Grace Church! Some pastors of larger churches have their assistant respond to their e-mails for them. Believe me, I completely understand why they do this and I am not knocking that. However, this is still a way that I can stay personally in touch with those who attend Grace. Seriously, if you are connected to Grace, I want you to feel free to e-mail me ( I check my e-mail multiple times a day and it is my priority to always attempt to give a brief response within 24 hours.

I make myself available for officiating weddings and funerals! Weddings seem to be the most popular way for me to still be part of a major event in the lives of people who attend Grace. In the 5 years since I came to Grace Church, I have officiated 38 weddings ( for an average of about 8 a year) while only officiating 13 funerals (for an average of 2.5 a year). But I try to make myself available to do both whenever I am asked.

It used to be that all weddings were done a certain way. That is not the case today. Couples today are far more unique and creative in how they do weddings. I love it when couples are creative. We do a lot of outdoor weddings. We even did one outdoor wedding in December in the snow, wind and cold. We’ve seen doves released; bagpipes played; garden stones used; unity sand in lieu of a unity candle and many other elements. Tomorrow I’ll explain the process I take a couple through in preparation for their big day.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What a Year for our Educational Ministries

In case you don’t know, Grace Church has as part of its ministries MorningStar Childcare and Academics and Lititz Christian School. Below is a list of highlights from our Educational Ministries this past school year.

The school year began with 384 students, infant through 12th grade
Grandparents day was celebrated with over 500 grandparents in attendance
Student council ran fund-raiser for cancer awareness in honor of two faculty members

Race for Education fund-raiser raised $67,000
Varsity boy’s soccer team competed in district quarterfinals
20 students were inducted into the National Honor Society
Varsity girl’s volleyball team earned a spot in the CCAC and district playoffs

Lititz Christian raised $4,000 for orphans in the Central African Republic
Coaches for Cancer night raised over $2,000 for the National Cancer Society
Homecoming honored Henry Webber for his donation to our gym renovation

Lititz Christian sends track uniforms and toothbrushes to orphans in Africa
Varsity girl’s basketball team made CCAC and PIAA District III playoffs
Varsity boy’s basketball team earned a spot in the CCAC playoffs
120 parents and students attend Family Math Night

Four new foreign exchange students join Lititz Christian for one year
Students compete in annual Math Olympics
Annual Golf Tournament raises $7,000
Elementary students receive awards at ACSI speech meet
Commencement services graduate 25 students
Varsity girls’ soccer made district and CCAC playoffs and set records for goals scored
Varsity track teams place 2nd and 4th in MACSA championships

And check out these school averages in SAT scores for area public schools:
1649 – Manheim Township
1606 – Lititz Christian
1575 – Warwick
1568 – Hempfield
1521 – Ephrata
1500 Manheim Central

Friday, May 15, 2009


Today’s blog is a continuation of yesterday’s blog as we preview our message for this Sunday from the story of Rahab. We saw yesterday that Rahab the harlot hid the two Jewish spies that Joshua had sent into Jericho and misled the King’s men, sending them on a wild goose chase. She then went up to the roof and had a long dialogue with the two spies. In fact, Joshua 2:9-13 is one of the longest uninterrupted statements by a woman in a Biblical narrative. Rahab expresses two truths. First, she says that she is sure that the God of Israel had given the Jews the land of Canaan. She also informs these men that the terror of Israel had fallen on all the inhabitants of the land.

How did Rahab come to such conclusions? Her faith came from the stories she had heard. She had heard the story of how the Lord parted the Red Sea so that Israel could escape from Pharaoh and the Egyptian Army. She had heard how the Israelites destroyed the mighty two kings of the Amorties (seen in Numbers 21:21-35). It is obvious that God had been working in Rahab’s life, preparing her for this encounter with these spies.

As a result, Rahab comes to a conclusion of faith. It is seen very clearly in Joshua 2:10 when she says, “the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” This prostitute from Jericho now realizes the truth about the God of Israel. I wonder how many people all around us are like Rahab. Even though they seem far from God, God is working in their lives, preparing them. They have heard stories about God. They may even have heard stories about Grace Church. And right now God is orchestrating their lives…and possibly yours…preparing them for a divinely appointed encounter...possibly with you.

In return for her saving their lives, Rahab asks the spies to promise her that they would save her and the lives of her family when Israel attacked Jericho. The spies agree to this promise on three conditions. First, she cannot tell anyone of their intentions. Second, she must tie a red cord in the window. Due to her living on the outer wall of the city, this cord would be easily seen as the soldiers march around the city for 7 days as God will instruct them to do. Due to the red cord, they will know whose house was Rahab’s. But I believe that this cord also serves as a picture of the blood of Christ as was the blood over the doorposts when Israel was enslaved in Egypt. The final condition was that she and her family must stay in her house during the attack.

Because she lived on the wall of the city, Rahab was able to let the spies down the outside of the wall with a rope. She advised them to hide in the hill country for 3 days. Rahab then ties the scarlet cord so that it would hang from her window. James uses Rahab in his New Testament writing to teach that though saving faith is apart form works, true faith always results in works (James 2:25). The spies do exactly what Rahab urges and then they return to Joshua to give him their optimistic report about the mindset of Jericho resulting in Joshua being assured that God would give them the city of Jericho. And, no doubt, they told Joshua all about Rahab and her faith in the God of Israel, her bravery in saving their lives, the promise they made to save her and her family, and about the red cord hanging from her window.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Go Ahead...Tell a Lie

Last Sunday we introduced our Chick Flicks of the Bible message series as we took a look at the Old Testament woman, Rahab, a Canaanite who was an idolater and a prostitute in the city of Jericho. Joshua had sent two spies across the Jordan River from where Israel was encamped to infiltrate the city of Jericho to gather intelligence. These two spies found their way to Rahab’s house.

As Joshua chapter two continues, we discover that somehow these spies are detected by the King of Jericho who sends men to Rahab’s house to arrest the spies. Rahab somehow finds out that the spies had been detected and, taking her very life into her hands, she hides the spies on her roof. Roofs of that day would have been flat (see 2 Samuel 11:2; 16:22). Rahab used stalks of a plant called flax in order to conceal the spies. These stalks (whose fibers were used to make linen) were three to four feet long and would have been previously soaked in water and laid on the roof in order to dry

But not only does Rahab hide the spies, she also lies to the King’s men regarding the spies. She admits that the spies had been there but she tells them that the spies had left before nightfall and the closing of the city gates. This implied that the spies had already left the city. Rahab emphatically states that that she didn’t know where they had gone and she encourages the king’s men to pursue the spies east toward the Jordan River. The men believe Rahab and set out on a wild goose chase.

I have read many views that argue that when you examine Rahab’s motives and the situation involved, her words really weren’t a lie. I disagree. Rahab specifically told these men that the two spies had left her house when she herself had hid them on her roof. Folks, listen, Rahab lied. There is no debating that. But was her lie justified? Rahab’s lie is neither condemned or condoned in Scripture. At the time, Rahab is a pagan living in a pagan society and probably viewed her own action as good and moral based on the situation. But one thing is for sure. The Old and New Testaments both teach that lying is a sin (Exodus 20:16; 23:1; Ephesians 4:25). And who is there among us that would say that God could not have protected the spies without Rahab’s lie?

Lying is wrong…period. We have become so good in our culture today of using our motives and/or circumstances to excuse and justify our wrong behavior. But in the end, it is next to impossible to find evidence in Scripture that would say that there are times that sin is not considered sin because of the circumstances or because of our motives.

I’m sure that this immediately brings up all kinds of “what if” scenarios in your mind. What if this or that were to happen? What about those who hid Jews from the Nazis in World War II and lied to protect them? Well, I’m not going to bat around all the “what if” scenarios. We could do that until we all were blue in the face. I am simply going to say this. I can’t think of one real event time in my life where my circumstances or my motives justified my sin. If only we would become as good at obeying as we are at justifying our misbehavior.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Childhood Friends

A few weeks back I got blown away with one of those “blasts from the past” as I got an e-mail from someone that was a very good friend of mine when I was a kid. Honestly, I have not seen or talked to this guy in over 25 years, though I have often thought about him and wondered how life was treating him today. It was so cool to get an e-mail from him. It caused me to think through some of the friends I have had in my life, most of whom I have lost contact with unfortunately. Friends like:

Kenny who lived on the next street over from me. I lived on Honodle Ave in Akron, Ohio and Kenny’s family lived on Chippewa Ave. Kenny and I shared the same passion for sports. We would spend all of our free time playing baseball, basketball or football. We also collected baseball cards and each had a spinner game that we made for our cards. We spent most of our summers sitting on Kenny’s front porch playing with our baseball cards and spinner games.

Mike lived right across the street from Kenny. When we were not in school it was the three of us (with Kenny’s little brother, Paulie) that spent all of our childhood playing sports or playing with our baseball cards.

Jimmy was what I would definitely call my “best friend” as a kid. Our parents went to the same church and were friends themselves. As a result Jimmy and I became close friends. Though we went to different schools, we were part of all the church activities together. We were friends when we had our first girlfriends. We were friends when we got our first cars. We spent many a nights sleeping over at each other’s houses.

Danny was another friend of mine as a kid. I remember spending the night at his house. Our favorite thing to do was to make prank phone calls.

Carl was another friend from my childhood. He was a red-haired kid. The one thing I remember about Carl is that his family was universalists (I didn’t know that word back then). They believed that in the end, God would forgive everyone and let everyone into heaven. I wonder what Carl believes today.

College brought some good friends into my life. Randy was my roommate my freshman year at Liberty. He was quite a cut-up who was always the center of attention. I really enjoyed him. He got in trouble for taking a ride in one of the dryers in the laundromat on campus. He use to wear a shirt that said, “I rode the dryer at LBC" (Liberty Baptist College). Then there was Bruce. I don’t think I’ve ever shared more good times with a friend as I did with Bruce. Man, were we opposites but we grew close during our college years ands ended up being “best man” in each other’s weddings.

Getting this e-mail from a childhood friend sure took me down nostalgia lane. I’m thankful for the friends of my past. I’m even more thankful for the friends I have today.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Guy Cry Movies

We are currently in a message series here at Grace Church that we are calling “Chick Flicks of the Bible.” But what exactly is a “chick flick?” My definition would be “a sappy move designed to make women cry.” I will isten to my daughter talk to my wife about a movie she saw. She’ll say, “Mom, you have to see it. It’s great. It will make you cry!” I just don’t get that! Why would anyone want to watch a movie that makes you cry? I spend my life trying to avoid things that make me cry! My definition is not far from the one given on-line at Wikipedia which describes a chick flick as “a film designed to appeal to a female targeted audience.” The term was first used in the 1980’s. So I did a Google search for “famous chick flicks.” I took the list and compiled them and here were the top ten Chick Flick movies. The first 8 are in no real order:

Legally Blonde
How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days
Dirty Dancing
Thelma and Louise
The Holiday
The Notebook
Pride and Prejudice

But the top two were on just about every list. They include:

Pretty Woman
When Harry Met Salary

But then I discovered that there are also movies called “Guy-Cry” movies. Wikipedia defines them as “the masculine version of a chick flick…a film that addresses a male audience but has strong emotional material.” The top “guy cry” movies are as follows:

#12 - Hotel Rwanda
#11 -
Saving Private Ryan
#10 -
#9 - Backdraft
#8 - Big Fish
#7 - Brian’s Song
#6 - Good Will Hunting
#5 - (4-way tie…all about dogs) My Dog Skip, Snoopy Come Home, Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows
#4 - Field of Dreams
#3 – (3-way tie…all chick flick types) Terms of Endearment, Love Story, Steel Magnolias
#2 - Armageddon
#1 - The Shawshank Redemption

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Best Little What in Jericho?

Many years ago Hollywood put out a movie starring country music legend, Dolly Parton. The movie was called “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” I guess if we wanted to put a Hollywood subtitle to the message we looked at Sunday to open our Chick Flicks of the Bible message series, we could easily call it, “The Best Little Whorehouse in Jericho.” Joshua 2:1 says, “Then Joshua the son of Nun sent two men as spies secretly from Shittim, saying, ‘Go view the land, especially Jericho.’ So they went and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lodged there.”

Let’s break the content down piece by piece. First, let’s look at the main PERSON in the story which is a woman named Rahab. There are three things you need to note about Rahab that would make her “most likely never to become a hero of the faith”. First, she was a Canaanite, a very wicked group of people God promised to send judgment on. Second, you could bet the farm that she was an idolater as the Canaanites worshipped many gods other than the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Finally, she was a prostitute. Now some theologians will say that this is not the same thing as when we think of a prostitute today. They will tell you that she was an innkeeper who ran a place of lodging (like the Motel 6 in jericho). I have no doubt that travelers spent the night in Rahab’s establishment, but you can be sure that there were incidentals offered beyond a wake up call and a continental breakfast. She was a harlot. That is what she is called in Joshua 2:1 and what the writers of Hebrews (Hebrew 11:31) and James (James 2:25) called her.

Now let’s look at the main PLACE mentioned in Joshua 2:1 which is the city of Jericho. This city was the gateway to land of Canaan. It was a beautiful cultured city, an oasis surrounded by desert and rocky ravines. The city covered about 8 acres, surrounded by both inner (12 ft thick) and outer walls (6 ft thick). Both walls stood approximately 30 feet high and the top of the walls were wide enough to build houses on top of them.

Joshua 2:1 also tells us of a PLAN which involved two spies. As the story unfolds, Israel is camped at Shittim which was east of Jericho, on the other side of the Jordan River. Joshua secretly sends out two spies to scout out the city for intelligence. Once entering the city the spies found shelter in the house of guess who? Rahab. Some have wrongly implied immoral behavior on the part of the spies by going to “the best little whorehouse in Jericho.” I see no reason in the text to come to that conclusion.

There were, however, three very good benefits to their going to Rahabs. First, two foreigners entering a brothel would raise very little suspicion. Second, her house was located on one of the city walls which would have been ideal for the intelligence report they were sent into the city to get (Joshua 2:15). But it is the final benefit that it is the most amazing. This was a Divine Appointment. While Joshua sent the spies into the land to gather intelligence, God sent them there to meet one woman who was far from God but whom He wanted to draw to Himself. And as we will see, God does just that.

Friday, May 08, 2009

CHICK FLICKS - Coming Soon

Last Sunday we concluded our Celebrate Jesus Decade by decade series. We saw the fact that Jesus died for our sins; Jesus rose from the dead; Jesus is God; and Jesus is the only way to heaven; and the fact that Jesus never changes. We illustrated that everything else changes decade by decade but Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.

But what comes next as far as message series here at Grace Church?

This Sunday is Mother’s Day and we will use this special Sunday to begin a new 5-week series that we are calling Chick Flicks of the Bible in which we will study three stories from the Old Testament that involved women. The first three weeks will take us through the story of Rahab and shows us how a non-Jewish prostitute can end up being the mother of Boaz; Mother-In-Law of Ruth; Great-Great Grandmother of King David, and part of the very line of the Messiah, as well as being one of only two women whose stories are detailed in Hebrews 11’s great Hall of Faith. The final two weeks of the series will detail the Old Testament stories of Abigail and the Wise Woman of Abel. This series will take us through the first week of June.
Starting the second week of June we will begin a 3-week series outlining all the principles regarding money as seen in the wise book of Proverbs. We are calling this series, Dollars for Dummies. In these uncertain economic times we will learn wise foundational principles concerning finances.

The first Sunday of July we will begin a summer series that will take us verse by verse through the amazing Old Testament book of Esther. I like to think of this book as the Bibles’ Beauty and the Beast. The Beauty is Queen Esther while the Beast is wicked Haman. From this study in a book that never even mentions the name of God, we will see how God orchestrates all of our lives from kings right down to orphans, in order to set up Divine Appointments in our lives.
The final two weeks of August we will study thge only miracle of Jesus that is mentioned in all four Gospel accounts. Can you guess what it is? It's the feeding of the multitude with the little boy's lunch. Why is this the only miracle mentioned in all four Gospels? What is so signigicant about it? What was Jesys trying to teach His disciples then and teach us today?

So looking ahead, here are our upcoming message series here at Grace:

-Chick Flicks of the Bible (May 10 through June 7)

-Dollars for Dummies (June 14 through June 28)

-Esther (July 5 through mid August)

-Feeding of the Multitude (final two weeks of August)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Add Boston to the List

I am an avid baseball fan. For my birthday the last 2 years my family has bought me the MLB Extra Innings package giving me up to 14 baseball games every night on TV! My dream is to spend one summer traveling and getting to watch a game at every major league stadium in the same season. Today I get to add the Boston Red Sox to the list below of teams I have been able to watch play in their own stadiums as I travel to Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox play the Indians. This will be my 22nd stadium. I have listed them below.

Toronto Blue Jays (old stadium)

Tampa Bay Devil Rays (current stadium)

New York Yankees (old stadium)

Baltimore Orioles (current stadium)

Minnesota Twins (current stadium)

Kansas City Royals (current stadium)

Detroit Tigers (old and current stadiums)

Chicago White Sox (current stadium)

Cleveland Indians (old and current stadiums)

Seattle Mariners (old stadium)

Atlanta Braves (current stadium)

Philadelphia Phillies (old and current stadiums)

Chicago Cubs (current stadium)

Milwaukee Brewers (current stadium)

Cincinnati Reds (old stadium)

Colorado Rockies (current stadium)

San Francisco Giants (current stadium)

Los Angeles Dodgers (current stadium)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Danger, Grace Staff, Danger (criticism continued)

Danger #4 – CRITICISM Continued

I began yesterday sharing 20 types of negative people that Mark Driscoll identified in a recent message I heard him give. Here are the rest of the 20 types:

Chain of Command Negatives – those who want to be on the top and have access to the top. They don’t obey or respect the chain of commands that are set-up

Little World Negatives – those who are scared of anyone who is outside of their boundaries (i.e., people who aren’t part of their denomination; people who didn’t graduate from the school they did; people who don’t read the books they read; people who don't preach like they preach)

Tradition Negatives – those who are opposed to any change at all

Unforgiving Negatives – those who even if you apologize, they keep old rocks to throw

Plank Speck Negatives – those who preach repentance but don’t practice it. They see everyone else’s sin but not their own. It’s always about someone else’s sin

Diotrephes (3 John 9) Negatives – those who always want to be first. They want to be known, honored and recognized

Distrust Negatives – those whose default is distrust. They see everyone as guilty until proven innocent. You have to work hard to gain their trust and even harder to keep it

Control Negatives – those who don’t understand the difference between control and influence. They do not understand that influence is more powerful than control. These are those who want to intimidate, cause fear, and threaten

Critic Negatives – those who are always nit-picking at something

Warrior Negatives – those who are always looking for a hill to die on

One Handed Negatives – In life and in ministry there are primary issues and secondary issues. These people either see every issue as a “do or die” primary issue or they see every issue as a “who cares” secondary issue

So, did any names come to mind? Don’t reply with a comment giving their name because they just might be reading this posting. Here’s the “take home” point, though, that I want to say to our staff. Don’t let critics consume you. Learn from them if there is something worthy to be taken. But in the end, never forget this…“You need to follow Your calling, not your critics!" If you don’t, your critics will eat you up and steal your joy in serving Jesus!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Daner, Grace Staff, Danger ! (criticism)

In case you’re just tuning into this series of posts, it would be good for you to go back and read at least the introduction to this series back on April 29. These are not posts written to Grace Church as a whole or Christians in general. These posts are written from me as the Senior Pastor to our staff here at Grace. I have asked them to read each of them. I am giving you the opportunity to simply be the “fly-on-the-wall”. I am identifying dangers facing our staff as God continues to move in and through our church. I have already dealt with the dangers of arrogance, negativity and spiritual apathy. Today I go on to danger #4.

Danger #4 – CRITICISM

It happens in every ministry. It did in Jesus’ ministry. They are inside and outside of every church. At least they were in the church that Timothy pastored. When writing to Timothy, Paul even called them out by name (2 Timothy 2:17)…Hymenaeus and Philetus. John identified one of them named Diotrephes when he was writing to Gaius (3 John 9). We can’t avoid them. Inside and outside of our ministry there will be people who are negative, and often they are cruel. I’d like to say that attacks on me or our ministry don’t bother me but they do. And I know they bother you too. After all, we may be in ministry but we are still very, very human with very real feelings that can get hurt, damaged and even crushed.

I recently listened to a message given my Mark Driscoll who identified 20 types of negative people. As I list them below, I bet each staff member could put a name or two of people inside or outside of our ministry next to each of them:

-Success Jealousy Negatives – those who attack your ministry because they are jealous that it is growing while theirs is not

-False Witness Negatives – those who lie and tell half-truths about you or your ministry

-Misinformed Negatives – those who hear something about you or your ministry that is not true but they act on it as if it were

Personal Dislike Negatives – those who just don’t like you as a person

Take Up Offense For Another Person Negatives – those who are unhappy about you or your ministry simply because someone else is unhappy with you or your ministry

Missiological Negatives – these can be people on the right or on the left. Those on the right see all forms of contextualization as worldliness and attack you because you are using too much culture. Those on the left say you’re not going far enough into culture

Single Issue Voter Negatives – you can identify them because their very first Sunday in your church they ask your opinion on the one issue that is all that matters to them

Monday, May 04, 2009

Danger, Grace Staff, Danger! (spiritual apathy)


We have already seen that arrogance and negativity can cause our ministry harm as we move forward at full throttle in meeting as many people as possible right where they are and helping to move them to where God wants them to be. Now, it is time to talk about one of our greatest dangers…spiritual apathy. So, Grace Staff, it’s time to be honest. Are any of these statements true about you?

I do not read my Bible every day!

I do not spend quality time every day talking with God!

I do not have anyone that keeps me accountable spiritually!

I am doing nothing to strengthen my marriage!

I am not spending quality time with my kids!

I have not shared my faith with someone in months!

I am committing the same sin over and over on a regular basis!

I can’t even remember the last time I memorized a verse of Scripture!

I have access to the internet with no restrictions!

I regularly watch things on TV or rent movies that are questionable!

I am allowing a certain habit to control me!

I have no one individual that I am pouring into spiritually!

The only time I worship is in church on Sunday!

I am more passionate about something earthly than I am Jesus!

I doubt very seriously that any of us on staff got through all 14 statements unscathed. I know I didn’t. But how many of these statements were true about you right now in your life. How can we pour into others spiritually when we are struggling with spiritual apathy ourselves? So here is what I am asking you to do. Share with another staff member which of these 14 statements are true about you right now. Ask them to pray with you and for you. Let’s drive spiritual apathy out of the our office and our team.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Danger, Grace Staff, Danger! (negativity)

Danger #2 – NEGATIVITY

There is a lot to be excited about within our ministry here at Grace. But as a staff member, you also know that for every exciting thing, there are three negative things. Those who are not in the office day in and day out don’t see most of those negatives. We do a good job of not “hanging out our dirty laundry.” But we see it. We see the good (and there is much good). We see the bad (and there is even more bad). And we see the ugly (and the ugly usually consumes us).

I’ll be honest. Of all the dangers I am discussing in this series of blogs, this is the one that I think could harm us the most as a staff. We cannot let negativity begin to creep in to our attitudes. Just the thought of htat causes me to raise my arms up and down and yell, “Danger, Grace Staff, Danger!

In his outstanding book, “The 17 Laws of Teamwork,” John Maxwell gives what he calls ‘The Law of the Bad Apple' which basically says that ‘rotten attitudes ruin a team.’ Good attitudes among players do not guarantee a team’s success, but bad attitudes guarantee its failure. Maxwell gives some truths about attitudes that affect a team

First, attitudes have the power to build up or tear down the team. Take a look at these addition equations:

Great talent + Rotten attitudes = Bad team
Great talent + Bad attitudes = Average team
Great talent + Average attitudes = Good team
Great talent + Good attitudes = Great team

Second, an attitude compounds when exposed to others. In fact, bad attitudes compound faster than good ones. The only thing worse than having one person on the team with a negative attitude would be having two people on the team with negative attitudes. Why? Because they will gravitate to each other and cause each other’s attitudes to grow in the intensity of their negativism.

Third, attitudes are subjective, so identifying a wrong one can be difficult. However, a negative attitude can often be identified by an inability to admit wrongdoing; failing to forgive; petty jealousy; the disease of me; a critical spirit; or a desire to hog all the credit.

The truth is that rotten attitudes, left alone, ruin everything. And lest you think that your carrying a negative attitude isn’t harmful, let me remind you that your attitude determines the team’s attitude. That is true for every single one of us. One negative attitude will ruin our team. My arms are waving up and down as you read this. “Warning, Grace Staff, Warning!” Let's never let a negative attitude ruin our team!