Friday, January 30, 2009

L.O.L. - Love Out Loud

Unless you are texting illiterate, you know that there is a whole texting language and most of it I have yet to figure out. Not long ago I sent a text to one of our staff members and received “BRB” as the response. I spent the next two hours trying to figure out what “BRB” meant. How was I to know that this staff member was in a meeting and “BRB” was texting language for “Be Right Back”? But one texting reference I have figured out is “LOL” which stands for “Laugh Out Loud”. But this Sunday we will begin a brand new study here at Grace Church through First Corinthians 13 in which we have altered the texting message “LOL” to mean “Love Out Loud”!

The essence of love is completely misunderstood today. If you were to look up the word “love” in Webster’s Dictionary and search for the simplest definition you would discover that love is a “strong affection or feeling”. And therein lies the problem. The world’s view of love is based on a feeling. What’s wrong with that? Certainly love involves feelings but it cannot be based completely on feelings because feelings are temporary and are based on circumstances. When circumstances are good I feel like I am in love. But when circumstances are difficult, suddenly the feelings of love go right out the window.

The Bible is very explicit when it comes to talking about love. The majority of the New Testament was written in the Greek language which has four main words for love. Each of them is distinct from the others. First, there is the word “phileo” which describes a tender affection (Matthew 23:6). This would be the word closest to the definition we saw earlier from Daniel Webster. Second, there is the word “philanthropia” which is a compound word made up of the word “phileo” meaning a “tender affection”, and the word “anthropos” which means “man”. Put together this word describes a “love for mankind”. The third word is the word “eros” where we get our English word “erotic”. This word speaks of sexual love. Interestingly enough, this word is never used in the entire New Testament although the Bible does have much to say about sexual intimacy.

Finally, there is the word “agape” which speaks of a self-sacrificial love which is always ready to serve. This was the rarest used word for love in ancient Greek literature but the most common in the New Testament. This type of love exemplifies God (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8-11). This is also the word used in 1 Corinthians 13 which has become known as the “love chapter” and which contains no less than 16 characteristics of real love. The important thing to keep in mind is that this love has nothing to do with feelings. This love is a choice. It is also the word in the Bible used to speak of love in marriage. Often I will have couples tell me that they have “fallen” out of love. This isn’t possible when it comes to the First Corinthians 13 style of love. Love is not some tree that you can fall out of. You don’t fall out of love…you chose to quit loving. There is a big difference. Unfortunately, when people think of First Corinthians 13 they only think in the context of marriage. But First Corinthians 13 is not written in the context of marriage. This chapter is written about life in the church. This new series will be about how we as believers can show real true, Biblical love one to anther so that the word will know that we are followers of Jesus.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Enrichment and the Super Bowl

I so appreciate our Elder Board here at Grace Church. They take very good care of me as the Senior Pastor. Last year, our Elder Board put into my contract 6-weeks a year that are called “Enrichment Weeks.” These are 6 weeks a year where they would like me to have a week free from all meetings, appointments and other regular duties so that I can focus for the full week on doing only those things that enrich me spiritually. This past week was my first Enrichment Week for 2009.

With the exception of Monday, where I still needed to be part of our service planning meting, I have spent most of the week away from the office.

I was able this week to be part of an anointing service based on James 5 for a couple in our church who are dealing with some heavy physical and emotional issues.

I was able to go out to Hershey Medical Center and have prayer with a wonderful couple from our church prior to a cancer related surgery.

I was able to meet a friend of mine, who was my youth pastor when I was pastoring in Indiana, for a long lunch to catch up on what was going in his life and in his current ministry.

I was able to spend many hours in coffee cafes and public libraries from Lancaster to Hershey for uninterrupted times of personal study, reading and internet research.

I was able to run some errands for my wife.

I was able to have lunch with a man in our church who has been helping us on our Worship Design Team and who will be working out of state for the next couple of months, in order to thank him for using his gifts and abilities here at Grace.

I was able to sleep in an extra hour on a couple of mornings.

It’s been a great week. Friday morning Laura, Jonathan and I will be leaving for a quick trip to Lynchburg, VA to celebrate our daughter’s birthday who is a second semester freshman at Liberty University. It is always spiritually enriching for me to be back on the campus where my ministry tools were learned and my ministry philosophy was formed. And to add icing on the cake, I’ll be able to take in one of Liberty’s men’s basketball games as they strive to win the Big South and make it to the Big Dance come March.

My enrichment week will come to an end Sunday with the Super Bowl. So, what is my take on the big football game? I think Pittsburgh is going to dominate the game in such a way that it won’t even be fun to watch unless you happen to bleed black and gold. On paper, I’m not even sure Arizona should bother showing up. But with that said, I will enter the big game Sunday with this as my mantra…“ANYONE BUT THE STEELERS!”

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Last Sunday I preached a sermon here at Grace Church from 1 Timothy 2:1-7 in which we saw that our greatest responsibility toward our new President as followers of Jesus is to pray for him and to do so “with thanksgiving.” Now again, let me be honest, I did not vote for President Obama and I disagree with him on many issues. But I hope in my own spiritual life not to make the same mistakes regarding him as I did years back when the last President I didn’t vote for was in office, former President Bill Clinton. There are just some principles in Scripture that have become very real to me lately.

According to Scripture every leader is established by God (Romans 13:1). Does this include President Obama? Of course it does. Furthermore, the Bible teaches that it is acceptable to God that we pray with thanksgiving for all kings and human authorities (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Does that include President Obama? Most certainly it does.

I have heard some say, “I could never give thanks for Barak Obama!” My response to that remark is simple. If you really feel that way, then your problem isn’t really political at all, it is spiritual. God is the one who established our president’s leadership. God is the one who commands us to pray for our human authorities with thanksgiving. So if as a follower of Christ you cannot pray for President Obama with thanksgiving, it is my opinion that your struggle isn’t really with Barak Obama, it is with the Lord.

I have read many blogs and articles of Christians who have attacked Pastor Rick Warren for praying for Barak Obama at his inauguration. Personally, I feel Pastor Warren was right on the money. I remember earlier this year when I prayed at the John McCain campaign rally in Lancaster. There were critics who attacked me because I did not pray at the Obama rally when he was in town. There is a very good reason why I didn’t pray for Barack Obama when he campaigned in Lancaster. I wasn't invited to do so!!

But I am not going to make the same mistake with President Obama that I made with former President Clinton. I am going to pray for him as close to every day as possible and I am going to do so “with thanksgiving.” Some have said, “Sure, I’ll pray for him. I’ll pray every single day that he fails!” Where is that in Scripture?

I am praying for his success as a husband and as a father!

I am praying for his safety!

I am praying that he surrounds himself with men and women of integrity!

I am praying that God would grant him great wisdom!

But most of all, based on 1 Timothy 2:1-7, I am praying that over his tenure in the white house he would grow to know God more intimately and to love Jesus more passionately.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dr Dobson Responds to Controversy

Yesterday I told you about some controversy recently stirred up by one of my mentors, Dr Ed Dobson. Below is his response to the Cornerstone University family where he volunteers as vice president for spiritual formation. Please keep in mind that I am neither endorsing nor condoning everything involved. I believe Dr Dobson is very genuine and I have found his story to be quite thought-provoking. Here is what Dr Dobson wrote:

I know that my comments in the Grand Rapids Press, USA Today and on the Good Morning America Weekend show have created some discussion and controversy. Unfortunately, the main focus of my journey this year was lost - namely, to better understand the teachings of Jesus. I come away from the experience with a deeper appreciation for the life, teachings, sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus. I wanted to take a few moments to react to two of the issues that are causing the most controversy: my vote for President-elect Obama and the issue of alcohol use.

I have always been and will continue to be pro-life. So why in the world did I vote the way I did? I am pro-life before birth and pro-life after birth. I am equally concerned with the violence on our streets, with people who are dying of HIV-AIDS, people who are suffering genocide in various places in the world, children who are growing up without adequate health care, etc. For me, being pro-life includes not only the protection of the unborn but also how we treat people who are already born. I felt that Mr. Obama was closer to the essence of Jesus' teachings - compassion for the poor and the oppressed, being a peacemaker, loving your enemies and other issues. I have also said, though it never was printed, that I have little faith in politicians of either party. The real work of reducing abortions and extending love and compassion to the poor and oppressed should be done by those of us who are devoted followers of Jesus.

Now, to the alcohol issue. Jesus himself was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. Obviously, he was neither! But he did eat food, and he did drink wine. He did frequent parties with tax collectors and sinners. So part of my journey was to try and emulate Jesus in this way. I know that this is not in sync with the Cornerstone lifestyle statement. However, I am not an employee. I do not get paid. I am a volunteer. I was not asked to sign the statement. Had I signed the statement, I would have followed that commitment because I have always strived to be a person of my word.

I regret any controversy that I may have caused our community at Cornerstone University. I love our students, personnel and the mission of the school, and I do not want to distract from the great things that God is doing on our campus. I look forward to sharing with you more of the things that God has taught me during the course of the past year.

Serving alongside you at Cornerstone,

Ed Dobson

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Mentor Stirs Up Controversy

When I was a student at Liberty University I was deeply influenced by two men who I consider heroes of the faith. The one you are familiar with, Dr Jerry Falwell. If you know me you know my great admiration for Dr Falwell and the ministry he had in my life. But the other man you may not be as familiar with. His name is Dr. Ed Dobson.

Dr Dobson was the Vice President of Student Affairs at Liberty. Without question, Dr. Dobson is the very best preacher I have ever heard in all my life. Even after Dr Dobson left Liberty to pastor Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I continued to eagerly listen to his messages from Sunday each and every week on the internet. To this day, I still try to emulate Dr. Dobson in my preaching. As students at Liberty, my wife would baby-sit for the Dobson’s and so I had the privilege of being in his home and even eating around his table. My roommate and I even painted the outside of the log cabin style home they lived in.

Dr Dobson was one of the men who helped Dr Falwell begin the Moral Majority that became such a huge political force in the 1980’s. He later pastored in Michigan but ultimately resigned from his effective ministry at the church he pastored in Grand Rapids after being diagnosed with ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He is currently a volunteer Vice President at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Recently, Dr Dobson stirred up some controversy as he spent a full year trying to live exactly like Jesus. He decided to do this after reading AJ Jacobs book, “The Year of Living Biblically” (a book I have also read and enjoyed). This resulted in Dr Dobson spending a year following the Old Testament laws about eating, clothing and behavior. USA Today wrote that he “observed kosher dietary requirements to not mix meat and dairy products and gave up his beloved chicken-and-cheese burritos.”

USA Today went on to say that, “Dobson celebrated Jewish Holidays such as Yom Kippur and Passover and often prayed at a synagogue. He refrained from work and travel as much as possible on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, but made an exception to watch his grandchildren play soccer.” Due to the Old Testament command not to trim beards, he let his grow long and shaggy as seen in the above picture.

But the controversy came when Dr Dobson admitted to two things. Before I share them let me state that I am not condemning or condoning either step that Dr Dobson decided to take. I’m just sharing what he did. First, he allowed himself to have an occasional alcoholic drink. USA Today quotes Dr Dobson as saying, “If I’m at a party with a bunch of people who don’t know the Lord and they offer me a beer, I’ll take it. People at bars are wide open to talk about anything, including God.” But the greatest controversy came when this once co-architect of the Moral Majority admitted to voting for Barak Obama for president because he believed he was the candidate that best represented the teachings of Jesus (again, I’m not endorsing anything…just sharing something I found very interesting). Tomorrow I will post Dr Dobson’s response to this controversy as posted on the Cornerstone University website.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Our Greatest Responsibility to our Leaders

As we conclude our Hail to the Chief message series this Sunday we move to one of the most important passages of Scripture you will fine regarding how we as followers of Christ our to respond to our new President and our governmental leaders. In 1 Timothy 2:1-7, our response is to deal especially with prayer. Paul begins with the words “first of all” demonstrating that prayer should be a priority. Using the word “urge” instead of the word “command” shows that this topic is a passion of the Apostle Paul’s heart. These involve entreaties, prayers and petitions, which are used synonymously with very little distinctions being seen in the meanings of the words, as well as thanksgiving.

But who are we to pray for? Generally, we are to pray for all men. Specifically, we are to pray for our governmental leaders. Like the command to submit to authorities that we saw in Romans 13, this is to be done in spite of who the leader is or what they are like. Remember that for the Christians Paul wrote to, their leader was Nero.

What will praying for our governmental leaders produce? According to verse 2, it will bring peace. The result of praying for our leaders is an inner peace rather than fear and bitterness that could have easily resulted in the period of upheaval and persecution that his readers lived under. It is very difficult to be bitter and hateful towards someone we are praying for regularly. This peace allows us to live in a godly and dignified way in spite of our circumstances. But praying for our governmental leaders also brings pleasure. Praying for our government authorities brings pleasure to God. This is seen by the fact that such prayers are described as “acceptable before God.”

But why is it so important to pray for our governing authorities? First, because it is the will of God. God desires all men to be saved (2 Peter 3:9 teaches that is not God’s perfect will that anyone perish). This obviously means that when we pray for governmental authorities, we are to pray for their salvation (1 John 5:14). The number one prayer that we should pray regarding all of our governmental leaders is that they would come to have a personal relationship with Christ if they don’t already.

Why else should we pray for the salvation of our authorities? Because it accomplishes the work of Christ. In verses 5-6, we see four facts. Fact #1 is that there is one God. This was the central truth of the Old Testament. If there is only one God then He is God of all men. Fact #2 is that there is one mediator between man and God and that is Jesus. Fact #3 is that Jesus is our way to God because of the ransom he paid through His death on the cross on behalf of all. And fact #4 is that this is the clear testimony of God so it is obvious that we should pray for the salvation of our governmental leaders.

Imagine what would happen if every follower of Christ prayed every day in 2009 for all of our governmental leaders. Imagine what would happen if every day in 2009 Christian students prayed for all of their teachers. Imagine what would happen if every day in 2009 every Christian worker prayed for their boss or supervisor. JUST IMAGINE!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Favorite Prostitute

I have been restudying the life of one of the most intriguing women in all of Scripture. Yes, she is known in the Old Testament as a harlot but her story is one that has all the makings of a modern day James Bond movie. For example, it includes:


It really would make a great modern day movie. I have studied her before because her story begins in my favorite book of the Bible, the book of Joshua. I have preached or taught through the book Joshua on two occasions in my ministry, but as I have spent time again recently to pour over this favorite prostitute of mine, I have been amazed at what I have seen and learned as if I were studying her life for the first time.

Her life is one of extremes. Just check out the following four verses. They all are speaking of the same exact person…Rahab:

Joshua 2:1 – “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.”

Matthew 1:5-6 – “Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David, the King.”

Hebrews 11:31 – “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.”

James 2:25 – “In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?”

In Joshua, she’s a harlot. In Matthew, she’s the mother of the great grandfather of King David, part of the very lineage of the Messiah. In Hebrews she is a picture of faith. In James she is an example that faith without works is dead. Rahab’s story is every bit as exciting as any 007 movie. But what makes it even better is that it includes an element that you won’t find in any James Bond story. Rahab’s story involves grace. I’m studying her story again for a new series about her life as seen in Scripture beginning this coming Mother’s Day. There is a lot the women of our church can learn from this prostitute.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Answering Questions with Questions

I love to see in Scripture how Jesus dealt with those who were trying to trap him. According to Mark 12 and Luke 20, the Sanhedrin had sent some Pharisees and Herodians as spies in order to flatter Jesus falsely and attempt to trap Him in a statement. They pretended to be loyal to Jesus and they set him up with a question on the highly controversial topic of taxes. They really thought that they had a fool-proof plan, but Jesus escapes from it. How? He did so by answering their question with a question. It really is a very smart strategy.

When I was young in ministry I was preparing to go into my ordination exam. This is kind of the minister’s rendition of the inquisition. You go in front of a bunch of seasoned pastors who all have their own passions and hobby horses and you spend the next two to three hours answering dozens upon dozens of questions they fire at you. If you survive, you get ordained. As I went to enter the room, one of the pastors who was not going to be part of the questioning took me aside and gave me what seemed at the time like a strange piece of advice. He said, “Scott, if they ask you a question that you either aren’t sure of the answer or you don’t really want to answer, just answer their question with another question.” I was puzzled and inquired as to how that might help me. He responded, “Just trust me!”

Still not sure what he meant, I went into the room and the “fun” began. At some point, one of the pastors asked me my opinion on social drinking. Because I wasn’t sure what these guys’ thoughts were on this topic and because I really had not worked the topic through as of yet in my own mind and heart, I decided to put the advice I had recently been given to the test. I responded by asking, “Why exactly do you mean when you say ‘social drinking’?” For the next 45 minutes these pastors debated among themselves the definition of social drinking and I never had to answer the original question! It worked!!

I once attended a seminar on Christian Apologetics and heard a similar strategy. The next time you find yourself in a conversation with someone who is a critic or skeptic of the faith, try asking the following questions after the person gives their view.

“What exactly do you mean by that?”

“How do you know that’s true?”

“Where did you get your information?”

“What if you’re wrong?”

You may just find the very same thing that Jesus did when confronted by the religious leaders trying to trap Him and what I discovered when I went through my ordination exam. Often, the best way to respond to a difficult question is to ask a question in reply.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Welcome, Mr. President

Dear President Obama,

Today is your big day, the day you will be sworn in as the President of the United States. Congratulations to you and to your wife, Mrs. Obama, our new first lady.

I’m sure that you will never see, read or even hear of this letter, but I felt compelled to post it publicly anyway. I am not writing this letter as a Republican or an American, though I am proud to be both. I am writing this letter as a follower of Jesus Christ.

The truth is that back in November I did not vote for you and Vice President Biden. This was mainly due to differences that I would share with you in regard to many policies and issues. However, you clearly won the election. In Romans 13:1, the Apostle Paul wrote:

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”

I believe that it is God who ultimately is the one who establishes leaders and authorities. It is for this reason that I in no way see your victory as a mistake. And as a result I want you to know that as you put your left hand on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible today, raise your right hand, and take the oath of office, you will not just become “the” President…you will become “my” president. I make the commitment even today that I will follow your leadership, honor you and respect you. You are my President and I wish you well.

The Apostle Paul also wrote these words to young Timothy in First Timothy 2:1-7:

“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.”

I want you to know, Mr. President, that I am also committed to praying for you, your leadership, your administration, your wife and your children. I pray for wisdom. I pray for courage. I pray for safety. I pray that you will succeed in your administration. I pray that you will succeed as President. I pray that you will succeed as Commander and Chief. I pray that you will succeed as a husband. I pray that you will succeed as a father. Most of all I pray that your years in office will draw you into a closer and more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ than you ever imagined possible.

So, Mr. President, today begins your journey in your new and most important role. The challenges you face going into office with the state of our economy; the war on terror; the unrest in the Middle East, and a hundred other things I don’t even know about our staggering. Please know, that is it my privilege to welcome you today as “my” President.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Thank You, Mr. President

Dear President Bush,

Today is your last full day in office. Where have the last 8 years gone? Though I am quite positive that you will never read, see or ever even hear about this blog post, I still felt compelled to write it in order to publicly express my thanks to you for your last 8 years of leadership to our country.

I will never forget where I was on September 11, 2001 when I first heard word of the events of that horrific day. I was pastoring the Osceola Grace Brethren Church in Osceola, Indiana and had just settled into my office for another day of study and meetings when my wife called me with the news that a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers in New York. The thought of this being a terrorist attack was the furthest thing from my mind at the time. I went into one of the classrooms in the church that had a television and turned it on just in time to see the second plane explode into the other tower. It was at this point that it became obvious that our country was under attack.

Over the next couple of hours I watched the horrors taking place as a third plane crashed into the Pentagon and as both towers in New York fell to the ground killing so many innocent lives. Over the hours, days and weeks that followed that fateful day it was your leadership that kept our nation united and strong. From that day on you took the security of our entire nation upon your shoulders and resolved that no subsequent attack would occur under your watch. It has now been over 7 years since that attack, and there has not been one additional terrorist attack on American soil since that day. There is no question that your leadership is the main reason for that and for that I am truly thankful.

Thank you for standing on principle and not public pressure in taking the war against terror overseas so that we would not have to fight it here at home. I realize that over time this decision became very unpopular and ate away at your approval ratings, but even among all the negative pressure, you stood by your convictions. I admire you for that and I believe that over the course of time, history will prove that your decision to overthrow the regime in Iraq was the right course of action.

Thank you even in the final days of your administration for standing strongly behind Israel as they went on the offensive in the Gaza Strip to protect themselves from the Hamas radicals. But Most of all, thank you for being a man of faith who was never afraid to verbalize your faith in God even as the leader of the free world. For me, that was always very encouraging and very inspiring.

So tomorrow you will leave 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and I’m sure that there will be many demeaning words directed your way as you do. But I wanted you to know that there is one citizen, one pastor in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania that has appreciated your leadership these past 8 years and who wishes you the best in the years to come.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Should We Pay Taxes?

It’s that time of year…income tax time. Between now and April 15 we will all have to face the music and send in our income tax forms. But you might be surprised to discover that the topic of taxes was as controversial in Jesus’ day as it is today. We see this exemplified in Mark 12:13-17. A group of “Sadducees” (who did not believe in miracles or in a future resurrection); “Pharisees” (who were strict traditionalists who held to every letter of the Mosaic Law and of the 615 additional traditional laws) and “Herodians” (who were loyal supporters of the Roman government) try to trap Jesus with a trick question which would cause him to speak ill-advisedly or to make an unguarded statement. There insincerity is clear. They used flattery to try to lure Jesus into their trap by calling Him truthful; One who deferred to no one (even Caesar); One who was not partial to anyone (not even Caesar); and One who taught truthfully the Word of God. Jesus obviously sees through their flattery and recognizes their hypocrisy and evil motives by his question, “Why are you testing Me?” (v15)

The inquiry of this group concerned if it was lawful to pay a poll tax to Caesar? Should they pay it or refuse to pay it? This was a census tax that was imposed by Rome on all Jews that went directly into the Emperor’s treasury. It was a very hostile topic which had led to earlier revolts. Rome also required other taxes including an annual land tax of 1/10 of all grain, wine and oil; a 1% income tax on all wage earners; and a customs tax on all merchandise traveling through ports and other major crossroads. How was this a trap? To say “yes” would result in charging Jesus as being disloyal to Judaism. To say “no” would result in His being denounced to and by the Romans.

But Jesus was no match for this trap. He asked to see a denarius to use as an object lesson. This was the only coin that could be used to pay the poll-tax. Jesus asked whose likeness and inscription was on the coin to which the answer was given that it was Caesar’s. By asking and receiving this answer, Jesus was showing the legitimacy of Caesar and Rome as their governmental authority. Based on this, Jesus’ first instruction was for them to “render to Caesar the things which were Caesar’s.” To “render” means to pay back, showing that taxes are a legitimate way for the government to receive back for services provided the people. Now if the government that crucified Christ was worthy of receiving taxes, how much more is our government worthy of the same today?

Jesus’ second instruction was that we are also to “render to God the things which are God’s” Every believer is also obligated to perform his spiritual duties, after all, consider the benefits of being under the authority of God. Paying taxes is not a violation of one’s spiritual obedience, but Jesus did make a decisive distinction between Caesar and God. Christians ought to be known as those who are quickest to honor, obey and pray for all authorities in their life, in spite of the individual who may hold that position of authority over us! By the way, what is the image of God upon? Us! We were made in the image of God. So we should give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s (our taxes) but we should give to God that which is His (our lives)!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What's In A Man's Pockets?

They say you can learn a lot about a man by what he keeps in his pockets. On the night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated while attending Ford’s Theater, the contents of his pockets were interesting:

2 pairs of spectacles

2 pocket knives

1 watch fob

1 handkerchief
Confederate Money

Several newspaper clippings

Many of the newspaper clippings were those that spoke positive about his leadership. So why would a president that most today would call one of the greatest presidents in American history have to carry newspaper clippings in his pocket that were favorable toward his leadership? The answer may be because most leaders only hear from their critics and, as a result, are often filled with insecurity and doubt about their own leadership.

So if you can learn a lot about a man from what’s in his pockets, I have decided to stop typing and empty my pockets and wallet and see what I’m carrying...Here is what I have in my pockets as I type. What do you think it says about me?

A pill case filled with Tic Tacs
An empty money clip
A master key and key fob to Grace Church
Driver’s license
Bank debit card
Several credit cards
A gas receipt from Sheetz
Grace Brethren Ministers ID card
Several of my business cards
AAA Membership Card
Health Insurance ID Card
$15 JC Penney Gift Card
Sheet Coffee Club Card
Inter League Athletic Pass
ACE Rewards Card
Brickerville House Breakfast Club Card

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

That Darn Foot!

A couple of you have noticed me limping a little bit at times lately and have asked what my problem is. Actually, I have a foot problem dealing with my left foot which I have been dealing with for about the past year or so and which has grown progressively worse.

What happens is this. When I am on my feet for a long period of time I feel fairly good. It’s later that gets me. For example, over the past year my foot has been fine on Sunday mornings, even with adding a third service back in October. But later, once I get home and off of it for a while, it goes nuts. I can sit down and watch an hour of a football game on a Sunday afternoon and then get up to use the restroom (which I do about once an hour anyway) and the pain in my left foot be so bad that I almost have to crawl to the restroom (“almost” being the operative word).

It feels as if I have a gigantic bruise on the whole bottom portion of my foot. You know, the kind of bruise that hurts to have clothing or air even touching it. If I will put up with the pain and walk for a bit it seems to work itself out. But then when I sit down for a little while again and then get back up an hour later (for the same reason as before), it flairs up again.

I tried getting a pair of expensive dress shoes, the kind with the springs in the heel that make you feel like you are walking on air. That hasn’t helped a bit. In fact, it has gotten worse. It’s now becoming more of a daily, ongoing problem.

Why haven’t I gone to the doctor yet? Because I’m tough, that’s why! I’m not like some of you whimps that have to go to the doctor because you get a hangnail! Okay, I’m not tough, but the honest truth is that I am the type of person who doesn’t go to the doctor, even if I were half dead. When I hit ¾ dead, I make an appointment. Well, my foot really hurts but I’m not ¾ dead yet so I haven’t as of yet called the doc.

But the pain is getting bad enough that I’m sure the doctor is in my near future. I’d like to hold out until my bi-annual trip to the doctor to have the massive amounts of wax build up cleaned out of my ears. That’s no joke!!

You know, with the exception of the wax problem, I didn’t notice these things like a painful foot and an active bladder before I turned 40 a few years back. Is this what getting old is all about? So what is going to happen to me in the year 2015 when I turn 50! And I dread the year 2025 when I turn 60! And then there is 2035 when I turn 70 and 2045 when I turn 80 and 2055 when I turn 90 and even 2065 when I turn triple digits!

One Senior Citizen once told me that getting old is not for sissies! I think she is right. If she was, I may be in trouble. Even though I like to think I’m tough, in reality, the truth is that I’m just one big sissy! By the way…the picture with this posting is not of my foot. My foot is a whole lot better looking than that!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Notice to Karl and George...I'M IN

In my posting yesterday I told you about the reading contest that has taken place the last three years between Karl Rove and President Bush. Well, guys, you have motivated me. I see no way in the world I can compete with you in 2009, especially now that one of you have a little more free time on your hands, but I am resolved to be a better reader this year so that I can be a better leader this year. So below are a list of books that I’m shooting to complete this year:

Who Stole My Church by Gordon MacDonald
We’re reading this one as an Elder Board. I wish everyone in our church would take the time to read this one in 2009.

The Shack by Wm. Paul Young
I started this one on the plane ride to Israel last fall and couldn’t get beyond God being personified as a woman. I need to finish it but I'm not really sure if I reccomend it.

Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs by Bill Hybels
Bill gave a talk on this at last year’s Leadership Summit that was powerful. Every book I have read of his has been used by God to make me a better leader and Christ follower.

IT: How Churches and Leaders Get It and Keep It by Craig Croeschel
Craig gave this talk at last year’s Leadership Summit as well. I have already showed the DVD of his talk to our Elder Board and our Staff here at Grace Church.

Choosing Your Faith in a World of Spiritual Options by Mark Mittelberg
Mark co-authored Becoming a Contagious Christian with Bill Hybels. I used that book when I taught evangelism at Grace College so I’m sure his new one will be just as good.

What In The World Is Going On? By David Jeremiah
Dr. Jeremiah talked about this book at a breakfast I attended last year. It deals with 10 prophetic clues we can’t afford to ignore. I need to read it before it becomes outdated.

The Winner’s Manual for the Game of Life by Jim Tressel
Tressel is the head football coach at Ohio State (Go Buckeyes!). This book was given to me over the summer by a couple whose wedding I officiated (He’s a Buckeye fan too!).

The 5000 Year Leap – A Miracle That Changed the World by W. Cleon Skousen
This was recommended to me by one of our church members who admitted it is dry reading regarding 28 principles of freedom put into practice by our Founding Fathers.

When The Game Is Over It All Goes Back In the Box by John Ortberg
John Ortberg is one of my favorite authors. I started this book last year but it was another one that got abandoned two chapters in because of my lack of reading discipline.

Monday, January 12, 2009

If You Want To Be A Leader...

One of my college profs use to say, “If you want to be a leader, you have to be a reader.” In my heart, I know this is true. But in reality, I struggle to apply this principle to my life. I do so much studying as part of my week in preparing messages that the last thing I really want to do when I get home at night or for relaxation is to read.

Recently one of our Elders gave me a copy of an article that was in the December 28, 2008 edition of the Wall Street Journal. The article was about a reading contest that has happened the last three years between a man named Karl and a man named George. In each of the three years, Karl came out as the winner…a true three-peat. I was amazed at the final score of the first year’s contest. Karl read 110 books that year to George’s puny 95 books. 110 books? That’s more than 2 books a week.

Surely these two guys have nothing else to do with their time or life. Their probably both retired or independently wealthy so they have nothing else to do with their time, right? Well actually, Karl’s full name is Karl Rove and George’s name is George W. Bush, or perhaps more respectfully, President George W. Bush. Rove, of course, was the former Senior Adviser and Deputy Chief of Staff to President Bush.

The contest started on New Year’s Eve 2005 when President Bush asked Karl Rove what his New Year’s Resolutions were and Karl answered that it was to read one book a week in 2006. Three days later the President said to Karl, “I’m on my second. Where are you?” And the contest had officially begun.

For winning, Karl Rove received a trophy that he said looked suspiciously like those given out at a junior bowling finals. He also said that the President insisted he lost because he’d been, “busy as Leader of the Free World.” Excuses…excuses.

The article went on to say that President Bush reads instead of watching television. There is my problem. I watch television instead of reading.

The article also said that President Bush reads on Air Force One. That is my second problem. I don’t have a private jet or else I’m sure I would read more.

The article also said that President Bush reads to relax. That is my third problem. I eat in order to relax. It helps me to sleep.

The article also said that President Bush reads because he is curious. That’s my final problem. In most cases, I’d rather not know.

But along with reading 95 books in one year, the article said that each year, the President also reads the Bible from cover to cover along with a daily devotional. I may never succeed in reading 2 books a week, but surely I can read my Bible every day, can’t you?

Friday, January 09, 2009

Speed Limits and Taxes

Last Sunday we saw the command in Romans 13 regarding how we as Christ followers are to be in subjection to the governing authorities because there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. But why should we take this command so seriously? After all, it is so much easier to criticize and show disrespect. The first reason involves an issue of rebellion. In verse 2, we learn that government is an institution of God. To put it simply, to rebel against government is to rebel against the God who established it. Is there a need for any other reason?

There is also the issue of retribution. To rebel against government is to suffer the condemnation of that government. Government has the right to punish evil doers and the rebellious (v4). Even in choosing to obey God over government, we must be willing to suffer the consequences of disobedience to that government. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego chose to obey God over their government but as a result they were thrown into the fiery furnace (Daniel 3). Daniel continued to pray when the King ordered it illegal and as a result he was thrown into the lions’ den (Daniel 6). Peter and John would not cease to speak about Jesus even though the authorities commanded them to and as a result they were thrown in jail (Acts 5). The same was true with Paul and Silas who were beaten and placed in stocks (Acts 16:22-25).

God established government as a means of restraining evil (v3). Generally speaking, law-abiding citizens have been favorably treated by their governments and have no need to fear government (v4). One purpose of government is to deter evil by punishing evil (v4). Peter gives the same reasoning in 1 Peter 2:13-14. Let’s illustrate it with an example right where we live and drive. When you pass a police office sitting on the side of the road with a radar gun, what is your response? It depends on your speed. If you are speeding, then passing this authority produces fear of being ticketed. But if you are not speeding, there is no anxiety at all when passing the same officer. It is my opinion that the usage of “sword” gives validity to government’s right to exercise capitol punishment (not for speeding, of course). The main reason we should obey government is not fear, but our conscience, because we know it is the right thing to do (v5). Peter teaches that we should submit to authorities “for the Lord’s sake” (1 Peter 2:13). Peter also teaches that submitting to our authorities is the “will of God” (1 Peter 2:14-15).

But if the illustration of speed limits doesn’t test our resolve to submit to and respect our governments, then the topic in verses 6-7 certainly will…TAXES! In verse 6 we see the reason for taxes. According to Scripture we should pay our taxes because the governing authorities are servants of God and, in most cases, are devoted to their service. As a result we are commanded in verse 7 to render to all what is due them. The word “render” simply means to pay back something that is owed. There are four things we owe our government. First, we owe them taxes. Second, we owe them customs (another kind of tax). Third, we owe them fear (the idea of awe or respect). And finally we owe our governmental leaders honor (high esteem that is genuine). Hail to the Chief!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Do I have to be in subjection to a PRO-CHOICE President?

Last Sunday we looked at Romans 13:1 and saw that every believer is to be in subjection to our governing authorities because every authority comes from God. In light of Barak Obama being sworn in as our next President later this month, this was a difficult message for many to hear and receive. Below are some questions or statements that I received after last Sunday’s message and a quick one or two line response to each of them:

How can God expect me to be in subjection to a President who is pro choice? Yes, President Elect Obama is pro choice. But please remember that Nero was an emperor who was one of the fiercest persecutors of Christians in the history of the world. Yet, Paul admonished the believers in Rome to be in subjection to their governing authorities including Nero. In the same way, I believe that we are obligated by Scripture to be in subjection to our new President in spite of the fact that he is pro choice.

So were the Whigs wrong back in the days of the American Revolution? Back in the days of the American Revolution there were two groups…the Whigs who were for the revolution and the Torries who were loyal to the king. Based on my understanding of history and what led to the Revolution, I would have to say that the Whigs were not backed by Scripture. That does not mean that God has not ultimately blessed the birth and progress of our nation, but if I would have been alive in those days, living solely by Scripture, I would have had to have remained loyal to the King.

If God has already chosen who is going to be our leaders, why vote? Hasn’t God already chosen who is going to be saved? Of course He has. Then why share Jesus with anybody? The answer is simple…because it is our responsibility. Has God already determined who will be our next leaders? Sure He has. Then why vote? The answer is the same…because it is our responsibility.

The Romans 13 passage does not apply to us because we live under a different form of government than existed under the Roman Empire. What other parts of Scripture are we going to disregard on the basis that the culture of that day was different than it was today. Folks, listen, the principle of Romans 13 transcends culture. If the Bible only relates to the culture of the day in which it was written, why are we wasting time with it?

It’s not fair that the left disrespected President Bush but we have to respect President Elect Obama. There are a lot of things in life that aren’t fair. But just because others do not live by the principles of Scripture does not mean that we shouldn’t.

Does respecting our leaders mean we can’t disagree with them? There is nothing wrong or unbiblical about disagreeing. It is how we disagree that matters. It is possible to disagree and still show respect. Unfortunately, too many Christians today equate the right to disagree with the right to be cruel. I again draw your attention to Romans 6 when Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den but still showed respect to King Darius.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Remembering My Youth Pastoring Days

Many of you may not realize it but I spent the first 10 years of my ministry as a Youth Pastor in West Milton, OH. The first two years I was the Summer Youth Intern as I finished college. After graduating I became the full-time youth pastor at the same church for the next 6 years. I never intended to go into youth ministry but I absolutely enjoyed it and found it greatly beneficial in preparing me for my years as a Senior Pastor. It has been said that youth pastoring isn’t difficult because you only need to speak on the three topics that interest youth:

The End Times
Sex in the End Times

Seriously, one of my favorite parts of being a youth pastor was our yearly retreats. I found nothing in youth ministry more valuable then our youth staff being able to take our teens away for a full weekend and develop deeper relationships with them away from all distractions. The spiritual progress we made in the lives of these teenagers at our retreats was second to none.

I am glad to see that our Director of Student Ministries, Doug Kegarise, and our Jr High Director, Jeremiah Kleylein, also see the value of youth retreats and have planned two for this winter. If you are a parent of a teenager here at Grace Church, I strongly recommend that you do everything within your power to see to it that your teens attend one of these Grace Student Ministries’ Winter Retreats.

The Jr High retreat (Grades 7-8) will be held Friday, January 30 (8 p.m.) through Saturday, January 31 (5 p.m.) here at the church. It will be a combination retreat & lock-in with swimming, games, activities and sessions with worship and great teaching on what the Bible says about sexual purity! The Guest Speaker will be Bob Karwowski who has worked at the Evangelical Free Church of Hershey as the Coordinator for Worship with Youth and Adults for the past 5 years. He is passionate about serving the Church and leading others in a lifestyle that honors and glorifies our God. Bob is looking forward to challenging our Jr. High students in the area of purity! The cost for this retreat is just $15 and is due by January 18.

The Sr. High Retreat (Grades 9-12) will be Friday, February 20 (5pm) through Sunday, February 22 (1:30pm) and will be held at Camp Joy-El in Greencastle, PA. This will be a high-impact weekend packed with fun activities, loads of memories and spiritual challenges focusing on sexual purity. The guest speaker will be Mark Artrip who is the High School Pastor at Grace Church of Powell, OH. Most of our students will recognize him from Momentum Youth Conference and have heard him teach in break-out sessions there. Mark is passionate about seeing teens walk with Jesus and will be a great addition to our weekend. The cost is $80 and is due February 1.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Looking Back to Christmas

It’s been almost two weeks since Christmas, but I still like looking back on the Holiday with a lot of joy. Below are some of my best Christmas memories from 2008:

O Holy Night by the High School choir at the Lititz Christian School Christmas Concert!

Our Messy Christmas message series that God really used as we communicated that Jesus is a gift to the lonely; to the desperate; to the messy; and to the aging!

An early dinner at Olive Garden before our Christmas Eve services at the church!

1,300 people attending one of our 3 Christmas Eve services!

My daughter, Joy, being home from college!

My parents being with us from Florida for the Holiday!

My wife and I wrapping all of our gifts in the Church office the Sunday evening before Christmas!

Giving all of our staff here at church a lottery ticket for Christmas (don’t worry…I reminded them that the tithe on gambling winnings is a 25% minimum)!

Delivering homemade chocolate covered pretzels to our nine closest neighbors!

The chocolate covered red velvet balls brought to us by our neighbor down the street!

Embarrassing my son with the really big book I gave my wife on Christmas morning!

Having my kids buy me really good presents with their own money since they both have jobs! Praise the Lord!

Getting the very expensive olive wood carving of The Good Shepherd that my wife sneakily bought for me behind my back while we were in Bethlehem (Israel)!

Getting an Ohio State cup from my son; Ohio State slippers from my wife; and Ohio State coasters for my car and an Ohio State toothbrush from Santa!

Giving each of my family members “The Last Gift of Christmas” right before bed on Christmas night (a tradition I started when we moved to Lititz)!

Feeling my very first earthquake (3.3 on the Richter scale) at 12:04am on Saturday, December 27! That was so cool!

Monday, January 05, 2009

New Year...New Opportunities to MEET and MOVE

Are you ready? 2009 is already 5 days old…only 360 days to go. It is our desire here at Grace Church to see God use this calendar year to use us to meet as many people as possible and help move them to where God wants them to be. So as we get the first few months rolling, here are a few highlights to look forward to and be praying about:

Hail to the Chief: 2009 kicks off in January with a 4-week series showing from the Bible how Grace Church should respond to our new President. It doesn’t matter who you voted for…this series is for you. Be sure to use it to invite people to church!

L.O.L.: In the month of February we will study verse by verse through First Corinthians 13 in a series we are calling L.O.L.: Love Out Loud. We will discover that this chapter is not about love in marriage, but rather love in the church. Why is this so important? It is crucial because Jesus said that by this one thing all men will know we are His disciples, if we have love one for another.

Africa: In February a team from Grace Church including four of our own staff will be traveling to the Central African Republic where they will get to visit the Christian Schools we have partnered with our African Churches to supply for hundreds of orphans.

Vision Month: There are 5 Sundays in March and we are looking to use each one of them to unveil to our congregation our specific and crystallized 5-year vision plan that will show you exactly what we believe God wants Grace Church to look like by the end of 2013. Each Sunday there will be a special angle in the service to help communicate the details and passion of our vision to meet and move as many people as possible.

Decade by Decade: Easter is in April and will be part of a 5-week series that we are calling Celebrate Jesus Decade by Decade. It will all start on Palm Sunday as all the elements of our morning will have a 60’s feel to it. Easter will be the 70’s. The weeks to follow will be the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s. Each week we will focus on a specific truth about Jesus. The last week will focus on the fact that He never changes. Many other things change from decade to decade, but Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Helicopter Drop: Each year we have our annual Easter Egg and Candy Hunt usually attended by about 3,000. In past years we simply spread thousands of plastic eggs on the soccer field and let the kids have at them. This year will be far different and far more amazing. This year we are planning to use our land across the street for the event, but instead of spreading thousands of eggs on the field by hand, we have made arrangements to drop them all from a helicopter. You read it right! Imagine a helicopter dropping thousands upon thousands of colored plastic eggs filled with toys and candy! I can’t wait to see this as we ask God to bring 5,000 people out to this level one event. Level one means that the purpose of this event is simply to make contacts and build bridges that we believe God will use in the months ahead to help us move many people toward Him.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Hail to the Chief...Grace Church Responds to a New President

No matter whom you voted for last November you have to recognize what a historic event this month will bring for our county as Barak Obama is sworn in as our nation’s first African American president. There were many who thought this day would never come. Now I have to be honest…I did not vote for Senator Obama. It had nothing to do with his race. I disagreed with many of his policies and stands. But, my guy lost. As a Cleveland Browns fan, I am use to seeing my team lose, so I’m okay with it. But how am I supposed to respond to a new President that I didn’t vote for? How am I to respond to a new President who I disagree with on many issues? This month at Grace Church we are going to answer that very question in our new series, “Hail To The Chief!”

We are going to begin this Sunday with a look at Romans 13:1…“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.

This verse is written to every single Christian. “Subjection” is a military term referring to soldiers who line up for battle under the authority of their ranking superior. This isn’t just obedience. This also is the idea of honoring and respecting. And it is important to note that this is a command, not an option. We are to willingly place ourselves under our governing authorities. Paul gives a similar command in Titus 3:1-2. The same command is also given by Peter in 1 Peter 2:13-15. There appears to be no general exception to the admonition of Paul and Peter.

This command applies whether the leader is competent or incompetence!
This command applies whether the leader is moral or immoral!
This command applies whether the leader is cruel or kind!
This command applies whether the leader is godly or ungodly!
This command applies whether the leader is a Democrat or a Republican!
This command applies whether I voted for the leader or against the leader!

The only exception given in Scripture is when a leader’s command or law would require us to disobey God’s Word. For example, take time to read about the Jewish Midwives in Exodus 1; The three Hebrews in Daniel 1 and Daniel 3; Daniel himself in Daniel 6; and Peter and John in Acts 4 and Acts 5

Human government is ordained by God. When Paul wrote this the Roman leader was a man named Nero who was one of the cruelest persecutors of Christians in the history of the world. Nero’s reign was ordained by God. So was the Bush administration. So is the Obama Administration. One person said it this way…

“No human government at any time in history, at any place on earth, among any people on earth, at any level of society, has ever existed or will exist apart from the sovereign authority of God.”