Friday, February 27, 2009

A Purpose That Melts In Your Mouth

If you can remember the letters “M&M,” like in the colored covered chocolate candies, than you can remember the two key words of our purpose statement…“meeting and moving.” If you remember “M&M” you can always remember the idea of our purpose. That makes ours the only church purpose statement I know of that melts in your mouth and not in your hands.

The purpose statement of Grace Church begins by saying that we exists to meet people where they are. This has two very important implications. The first implication is a spiritual one. Every person is somewhere on their spiritual journey. Some people are far from knowing Christ while others are very near committing to a personal relationship with Jesus. Some are new believers while others are growing deeper in their faith.

The second implication of meeting people where they are is geographical. We desire to be more proactive in taking our ministries off of our campus and into our community so that we can meet people where they are at both spiritually as well as geographically. Most all of what we do here at Grace occurs inside our walls and property lines. This is good, but let’s be honest. The vast majority of the people who live in and around our community will never come on to our property as their first contact with us. As a result, if all we do is reach those who come on to our property, we will reach very few people in comparison to the number of men, women, boys and girls that God has put all around us.

We must make it our mission and our purpose as a church to penetrate our community. We must take the ministries of Grace Church outside of our building and off of our campus and out into our community. We must meet people where they are, not just spiritually, but also geographically. This is very much the directive and pattern of Jesus Himself. In Mark 16:15 we find the disciples, after the crucifixion of Jesus, hiding in an upper room fearing for their very lives. They are scared and unsure of their future as individuals and as a group of Christ-followers. The resurrected Christ appears to them and gives them a directive. We see it in Mark 16:15. He tells them to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.”

Now let’s break this down to the smallest of steps. Remember, they are locked in an upper room. Now, if they are going to go into all the world, what is the first step they have to take? They have to take the first step to move outside of their upper room. They will never make it into all the world until they first move outside of their upper room. Now what is our upper room today as followers of Christ? I would like to suggest to you that it is our church building. We spend all of our time putting together programs inside our building and on our campus and hope that a few seekers find their way inside our facility. But if we are going to accomplish our task of reaching as many as possible and making it hard for the 250,000 people of our community to go to hell, then we must take some steps outside of our building and outside of our property lines and begin to meet people right where they are, spiritually and geographically.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Vision Month Begins Sunday


This Sunday begins vision month here at Grace Church and over the course of the 5 Sundays of the month we are going to be sharing the 5-year vision plan of our church.

What is it that limits our vision? In the beginning verses of John 6 a great multitude of people (Luke says 5,000 men which could mean up to 25,000 in total counting women and children) were on a mountain in a very desolate place listening to Jesus teach. It was getting late and they were all hungry. Testing one of His disciples named Philip, Jesus asked him where they could get enough food to feed such a crowd. I’m sure the answer that Jesus wanted to hear from Philip was, “Why, you can do that Jesus…You’re God!” After all, Philip had seen enough of Jesus’ miracles to know His power. But instead, Philip replied that six months worth of wages would not buy enough food for such a crowd. Philip had sight but he had no vision. Why? Because he could not look past the reality of his situation. Neither can many churches today resulting in sight but no vision.

Jesus than asked another of His disciples, Andrew, to go through the crowd and see if there was any food available. Maybe there was more food out there than they thought. However, all Andrew could find was one boy’s lunch consisting of five small loaves of bread and two pieces of fish that his mom had the insightfulness to pack for him that morning before he left home. This was hardly enough food to feed such a large crowd of people. Andrew brings this little lunch to Jesus and pessimistically asks, “What are these among so many?” Like Philip, Andrew had sight but he had no vision. Philip could not look past his reality and Andrew could not look past his resources. Sadly, neither can many churches today, and as a result, vision is often squelched.

Two years ago I put together a Purpose Task Force, made up of our full-time ministry staff here at Grace, in order to revisit and reevaluate the purpose statement of our church. Now understand that our goal as a task force was not to change our purpose as a church. Our purpose is good and it is very Bible-centered. Rather, our goal was to take the overall purpose and mission of our church and to be able to state it in one brief, specific and transferable phrase in easy to understand terminology. For example, here are some one phrase purpose statements of companies that we are all familiar with:

Disney – “To make people happy.”
Boeing – “To push the leading edge of aviation.”
3M – “To solve unsolved problems innovatively.”
Mary Kay – “To give unlimited opportunity to women.”
Pepsi – “Beat Coke.”

This Purpose Task Force came up with the one line statement that has become very familiar to all who call Grace Church home. Grace Church is all about:

Meeting people where they are and moving people to where God wants them to be!”

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Watch Out Empty Nest - Here We Come


Yesterday I turned 44. Time marches on. It seemed like just yesterday that I was far from 30 (on the other side of 30 that is); our kids were tiny; and I was much thinner. In the words of a dear old saint from my previous church named Kay Bella (who is now with the Lord), “Time changes everything.” Yes, Kay, it most certainly does.

My first born is now a second semester freshman at Liberty University (my Alma Matter) where she is studying education and desires some day in the near future to teach middle school to underprivileged students. Wow, she has more guts than I do. At the start of this school year I stepped in and taught 7th grade Bible here at Lititz Christian School for one week. Believe me, one week was all I could take!

My son is now in the final months of his junior year of High School here at Lititz Christian School. That means it is time for him to search out colleges. I think that search is all but over. We took Jonathan down to Liberty when we visited Joy earlier this month and he absolutely fell in love with the place. I can’t blame him. I loved it when I went to school there and it is even better today. I know I’m biased, but in my humble opinion it is the best university anywhere.

Jonathan is looking to enter their Worship Major. God has put a real passion in his life in the area of worship. That is what he believes is God’s calling on his life and I can most definitely see evidence of that as well. I was very impressed with the philosophy and program of the worship major at Liberty. Along with the core worship classes that all worship majors must take, you also pick a specialization. It can be any of the following:

Worship Leading
Theatre Ministries
Inter-Cultural Studies
Business Studies
Women’s Studies
Pastoral Leadership
Biblical Studies
Worship Technology
Youth Ministry

This summer Jonathan will be going on Operation Barnabas, a summer long ministry training experience. So this summer we will have Joy home from college but Jonathan will be away on OB. Then next school year we will have Jonathan home for his senior year of High School while Joy is back at college. Next summer we just might have them both home. But then comes the fall of 2010 – just 17 months from now – when they both head to Liberty and we officially enter the period of life known as “The Empty Nest!”

Yes, Kay, you are most certainly correct…“TIME CHANGES EVERYTHING!”

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

CHANGE in the CHURCH


Our Elder Board is reading and discussing together Gordon MacDonald’s book, Who Stole My Church. Below are some quotes from the book seen in chapters 4-6 which we discussed at our last Elder meeting. To truly understand the context of these quotes you have to read the book. These are the parts of the chapters that I highlighted as I read.

“Do most people have any awareness of how they either build or tear down another’s spirit by the way they say things? This is why leaders long for thicker skin.”

“Every time I passed by a church that seems to be dying, I wondered when Jesus might have walked out.”

“Christians have frequently been forced to reinvent the ways they do church life. Note I said, ‘Do church life,’ not reinforce their core values.”

“Down through two thousand years, you have only one unchanging thing in the church: the gospel of Jesus that calls people to forgiveness of sins and to participating in a community of people who want to serve each other and go forward to make a statement about God’s love in their worlds. But the ways in which people organize themselves to actualize this one unchanging thing is changing all the time.”

“Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, wrote somewhere, ‘When the rate of change inside an organization is slower than the rate of change outside an organization, the end [of that organization] is in sight.’”

“I’ve often wondered if radio and television haven’t contributed to a lot of the dissatisfaction that you see in church life. It’s hard for small churches to match the stuff people hear and see during the week on radio and TV.”

“Pastors and church leaders have to think harder about how things get done and not be afraid to try new things if we really want to reach new generations.”

“I know I’m speculating when I say this, but I firmly believe that the church of fifteen years from now, at least the church that works, will look totally different from the church we attend today.”

“None of us have any conception of how the Internet is going to impact the church.”

“We resist change in the church because it seems like the only safe place in this world where a ‘yesterday’ still exists when things seemed simpler and more manageable.”

“I think I’m beginning to understand why the younger guys prefer to start churches. I sometimes think that changing one is impossible.

Monday, February 23, 2009

a BLAST from the PAST


Easter is approaching fast. This year at Grace Church, Easter will be part of a 5-week message series that we are calling, “Celebrate Jesus Decade by Decade.” Each week we will re-live a different decade starting with the 1960’s on Palm Sunday; the 1970’s on Easter Sunday; and then the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s in the three Sundays which follow Easter. Each week our services will look and feel like that decade.

Each week during this series we will also be focusing our attention on a fact about Jesus including the fact that He died for our sins; that He arose from the dead; that He is the only way to heaven; that He is God; and then we will wrap up the series with the fact that Jesus never changes. Other things change decade by decade, but according to the book of Hebrews, Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.

All of this has made me wander down nostalgia lane into my teenage years. So let me risk the scrutiny I know that will come by sharing with you some of my personal favorites from my teenage years. Take a look and then leave your comments with your answers to the same questions as you think back on your teenage years.

What were my favorite albums when I was a teenager?

Boston’s, More Than A Feeling

Meatloaf’s, Bat Out of Hell

What were my favorite fast food restaurants when I was a teenager?

Burger Chef

The Red Barn

What were my favorite television shows as a teenager?

The Dukes of Hazzard

Welcome Back Kotter

Who were my favorite sports heroes as a teenager?

Brian Sipe, quarterback of the Cleveland Browns

Andre Thornton, first baseman for the Cleveland Indians

Bingo Smith, guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers

Friday, February 20, 2009

Love Out Loud - The Final Chapter


All month long here at Grace Church we have been learning how to “Love Out Loud” from First Corinthians 13. We have already seen these 11 characteristics of real, Biblical love:

Love is patient (v4)
Love is kind (v4)
Love is not jealous (v4)
Love does not brag (v4)
Love is not arrogant (v4)
Love does not act unbecomingly (v5)
Love does not seek its own (v5)
Love is not provoked (v5)
Love does not take into account a wrong suffered (v5)
Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness (v6)
Love rejoices with the truth (v6)

As we continue this Sunday we will see that love bears all things (v7). The Greek word means to cover, support or protect. Love never drags another’s faults in front of others (Proverbs 10:12). We also see that love believes all things (v7). Love is not suspicious or cynical. If there is a doubt, love chooses to believe that which is positive

The last three characteristics all say the same thing but they build in intensity. Love hopes all things (v7). This describes a person who does not bail out at the first mistake or misfortune. Love endures all things (v7). This was a military term describing an army holding a vital position at all costs. This describes a person who is willing to endure great opposition and still love you. This was demonstrated by Stephen in Acts 7:60 and Paul in 2 Timothy 2:10. Finally, love never fails (v8). This Greek word speaks of final failure. This describes a person whose love will never fall to ruin or destruction. This is the type of love that God demonstrates to us (Romans 8:35-39).

Real love also is described in the book of First John through the following six principles:

Real love is produced by God and demands a personal knowledge of God (4:7, 8)
Real love does not need a response in order to function (4:10)
Real love is best seen by what it does (3:17, 18)
Real love is defined by its ability to give (3:16)
Real love is developed by obedience to God (2:5)
Real love is hidden by sin in our lives (3:11, 12)

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another.” (John 13:33-35)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

If Church Were Like Baseball


This is a wonderful time of year. Major League Baseball’s Spring Training has now started in Florida and Arizona and in just a few short weeks, another season will be underway. I get to visit Fenway Park this year. I am so excited. That is one of the stadiums I have not yet been to. The Red Sox will be playing my beloved Cleveland Indians and I am told that my seat is 3 rows behind the visitor’s dugout.

But that got me to thinking this week…what if the church was run like baseball? Can you just imagine it?

As the service opens, each stage participant is announced by the Public Address Announcer…“And now your starting line-ups for this morning’s service. In the drum cage…Josh Hamer. On the keyboards…Laura Distler. Playing bass…Mark Sell. On the sax...Andy Brightbill. Our vocalists…Christi Dearborn, Amy Hoffman and Lori Fleckenstein. Leading worship…Matthew McElravy. Doing theme set-up…Tim Auld. And behind the pulpit preaching this morning…Scott Distler.” How cool would that be?

And then prior to the official start of the worship service, everyone is asked to rise and remove their hats in honor of America for the playing of our National Anthem. Now of course when Pastor Tim is preaching, we would also have to sing, “O Canada” as well.

Throughout the morning our ushers could double as vendors going up and down each aisle selling soda, hot dogs, cotton candy and cracker jacks (by the way, if church were like baseball it would also cost you $20 to park in our parking lot).

Now there could be some drawbacks for me personally. What if my sermon wasn’t going real good one morning? Can you imagine our Elder Chairman, John Kegarise, calling a time out two-thirds of the way through my message, walking down the middle aisle and up on to the stage? Then after a few seconds of dialogue he points to the mezzanine and calls in for a relief pastor to continue the sermon.

But yet there could be an upside for me as well! What if at the end of my three year contract I was able to test the free agent market and see what other churches would be willing to pay me many millions of dollars more if I would sign on with them? The again, we could do some wheeling and dealing with other churches. Can you imagine this announcement in my Pastor’s E-mail Update:

“Grace Church announces today that it has worked out a trade with LCBC. We will be sending Doug Kegarise, our Director of Student Ministries, to LCBC for a first round draft pick; a player to be named later; and an undisclosed amount of cash.”

But it could also bring some darkness to the church. What if it came out that our Pastor of Connections tested positive for a spiritual performance enhancing substance? Come to think of it, maybe it’s better that we opt for the separation of church and baseball.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Camp Conquest Giving Opportunity








Camp Conquest is one of the organizations supported by our church's mission's program. They are currently in the process of completing the new Lutz Lodge which is about half way built. The total cost of the Lutz Lodge project is $320,000. We have made a $40,000 donation out of our church reserves toward this project. The total amount still needed is $128,500. Over the next 2 Sundays (Feb 22 and March 1) our church Elder Board has approved a special giving fund for this opportunity. If you would like to help complete the cost of this project you can do so through our church offering by marking your gift LUTZ LODGE. We do ask that all giving to this project be above and beyond your regular giving to the church.

Randy Myers, who is the Chairman of the Board for Camp Conquest and who also attends Grace Church, wrote me the following note:

Hello Pastor Scott,

On behalf of the Camp Conquest Board of Directors I want to thank you for the generosity of allowing special offerings to be taken for the new lodge. We are trying to stay debt free in addition to meeting the needs of the guests by making it the desirable place for a special time to get with the LORD. The LORD has been very good to the Camp over the years and we, as a Board, are trying to be good stewards of His facility. Above are some photos that I took on of the Lutz Lodge project.

Thanks again,
Randy

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Interested in sponsoring a child?

If you are interested in learning more about sponsoring one of these orphans from the Central African Republic, e-mail Mike McCracken at:

mikemccracken@dejazzd.com

Africa Team...Final Report


Here is the final report from our team from Grace Church that was currently in the Central African Repoublic regarding their final days of the trip in France:

Sunday, 02/15/09

We arrived in Paris early Friday morning, picked up our luggage, transferred by train and metro to the main train station, secured our luggage in lockers, had lunch with Rob Plaster(GBIM missionary serving in Paris), and visited some sites such as the Eifel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Louver. After our whirlwind tour we returned to the main train station, picked up the luggage, and took the 7:00pm train to Macon. Our team was met at the train station by Jay and Debbie Hocking (Grace Church supported missionaries), who took us to the Chateau De Saint Albain, where they are serving.

Saturday morning started with breakfast with the Hockings and a team time to reflect and debrief. After reading Matthew 28:16-20, Acts 1:7-9, Acts 17:24-28, and Revelation 5:9-10, I reminded the group that this trip to Africa started with an invitation from Barb Wooler to Joan and me to visit our Hand-in-Hand partnerships; and that I asked Barb if there was any possibility others from Grace Church could travel with us. I shared that they each were asked to be a part of this team because of their connections of influence at Grace. And that even though I have no specific expectations, my hope and prayer is that God is working in their hearts and in turn they will be open to Him as He leads them to encourage others at Grace Church to be mobilized to pray, give, send, and go. God is drawing to Himself from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, to worship Him, for His glory and His honor. Christ has commissioned us (Grace Church) “to make disciples of all nations…”, and there is a task for everyone as we work God’s fields.

As we reviewed our time in Africa, some areas that struck each of us are the ways the orphans are being taught and discipled. The pastors and teachers of our Hand-in-Hand partnerships are passionate about the children, and it shows. They are using the gifts God has given them to serve their local church and community.

Another area we were all impressed with is the American missionary team serving the churches in Africa. They are using their gifts, and working in a spirit of unity and cooperation, to accomplish their purpose. This is not a glamorous or easy place to live and work, but they are here day in and day out meeting people where they are and helping them move to where God wants them to be.

Thanks for being on mission with our team the last two weeks. Please continue to faithfully pray for the children, teachers, and pastors in La Doumie, Cattin, and Bossangoa. They are praying, and praising God, for us.

Mike, for the team.

Ps. Attached is one of my favorite photos.

Cheesiest Christian Pick-Up Lines


I was watching a video this week of a speaker at a Christian College who was starting a series on sex, love and dating. It was very good. He was describing how there is little difference between Christians and Non-Christians when it comes to being desperate for a relationship. We have all heard cheesy pick-up lines in our time. But usually, the Christian world has its own form of whatever the secular world has. So what would be the cheesiest pick-up lines in the Christian world? Here are some options the speaker proposed. None of them are met in any way to be off color so don’t read too much into any of them:

Why yes, I’ve written 4 of the 5 Love Languages!

Is this pew taken?

For you, I would slay 2 Goliaths!

You are so unblemished I would sacrifice you!

Are we on the Mount of Transfiguration, because you’re glowing?

Solomon had 700 wives because he never met you!

You put the “cute” in persecution!

Before I come any closer let me take my sandals off, because you are holy ground!

Yeah, I have a Bible verse tattoo…it’s in Greek!

I would leave 99 sheep to come and find you!

The next two lines work especially well for Calvinists:

Is your name Grace, because you’re irresistible?

I didn’t believe in predestination until tonight!

The final two cheesiest Christian pick up lines are my personal favorites:

I believe you have one of my ribs!

How would like to join my Purpose Driven Live?

So what would you add to the list? Who knows, maybe this blog and your additions will help someone in our own church find their one true love!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Africa Team Report #9



The team arrived safely back from Africa on Sunday. Below is their delayed update from last Thursday. When I saw this picture of these precious African orphans wearing old Lititz Christian School uniforms my heart about jumped out of my chest! This may be the best picture I have ever seen!!!! Thank you Grace Church and Lititz Chrisitan School for loving out loud and meeting people where they are (even all the way across the world) and helping to move them to where God wants them to be!

Thursday, 02/12/09

Sorry this has taken so long but the last days have been full and long.

Our final day in Africa started with worship, checking our luggage with Air France, and a trip out to the Orphan Welcome Center to meet as many sponsored children from Lititz as possible.

Let me take a moment and explain the difference between a Hand-in-Hand partnership and what goes on at the Orphan Welcome Center. Hand-in-Hand is a partnership between a church in North America and a Grace Brethren Church in the Central Africa Republic, outside the capitol of Bangui. It may have up to 50 orphans that are taken care of (shelter, clothing, and food) by people in the African church, overseen by the leadership in the African church. The church in the States provides resources for a Christian education.

The Orphan Welcome Center is not an orphanage but rather a ministry center inside the capitol of Bangui. The property is about an acre in size, surrounded by a wall recently protected with razor wire (also pictured). The razor wire was purchased by Grace Church, using excess Birthday Gift for Jesus funds. During our visit we learned that prior to the razor wire there were several times bad guys climbed over the wall at night. One time the full time guard was severely beaten trying to protect the property. The staff and missionaries are very thankful and relieved Grace Church was able and willing to provide this security and protection. Inside the gated walls is a two story building that contains multiple classrooms, administrative offices, a doctor’s office, and storage. Also on the property are the guard’s house, toilets, and a well. There is plenty of room for the children to run and play. This facility is used by the individually sponsored orphans that live in Bangui with other family members. These children either walk to school or are brought in by vans. Grace Church has purchased a new van with excess Birthday gift for Jesus funds. It should arrive very soon, and the school is more than ready to use it. If any of you would like to sponsor an orphan in Bangui, let me know and Joan and I will help you get connected. On our visit Brenda M. sponsored a boy and a girl, Doug K. a boy, and Matt M. a boy. John K. received disturbing news that his child Fiacre, is not doing well. He is HIV positive and his body is starting to reject the meds he is currently taking. News like this really breaks your heart.

Joan and I were able to meet the child my parents sponsor, and our team was able to sit in on one of her classes. Then we presented soccer uniforms Lititz Christian School gave. Madame Alexandrine handed them out to about boys who ran around the playground area in a line(picture attached). The rest of the students came out of their classrooms onto the balcony and porch and cheered. After some pictures of the boys, a group of girls came out wearing new uniforms that are being made for the students. Those of you who are sponsoring an orphan are making a difference in the life of a special child. The Orphan Welcome Center is an incredible facility, run and staffed by African’s who are teaching, discipling, and caring for these orphans. After some more pictures, we had to say our goodbyes and return to the Missions Complex.

After lunch, Brenda, Doug, and Matt went back out to the Orphan Welcome Center. Joan and I helped out at an advanced English class, participating in conversations with the students.

After dinner and a shower we had a team time with the missionaries and Barb Wooler asked us to share a high and a low from the trip. It is hard to believe a week has gone by already; we were able to see and do so much.

We said our goodbyes to the missionaries and Tim Hock took us to the Bangui airport for the seven hour red eye flight to Paris. Things went well at the airport but I was glad we checked the luggage earlier in the day.

I plan to send one more update wrapping up the trip and some final thoughts.

Mike, for the team.

What is so funny?????


Last week, this picutre was sent to me. It was taken at last summer's Patriotic Celebration. That is Katie Young laughing directly next to me. To the far right is Dr Young (former Senior Pastor here at Grace Church). That is his wife, Loreen (the short one) next to him. She also seems to really be enjoying the conversation. Now, I remember the topic that brought this side-splitting laughter, but obviously, by looking at the picture, you don't know the cause.
So, what do you think caused this animated emotion? Leave your comments!

Friday, February 13, 2009

L.O.L. - Two Sides of the Same Coin


As we continue to learn how to “Love Out Loud” from First Corinthians 13, verse five teaches that love is not provoked . The word describes sudden outbursts (1 Corinthians 6:1-11; exemplified by Jesus in 1 Peter 2:21-24). This describes a person who is not always ready to argue or fight over the drop of a hat. I have found many Christians who seem to love a good fight or argument. In fact, I think we are often more guilty of this infraction than the world is. The Bible teaches just the opposite. We are to seek to live at peace with all men. Why is it that there are so many in the church who are always up for a good controversy?

The final characteristic of love as seen in verse five is a huge one. Love does not take into account a wrong suffered. This was a book-keeping term describing writing in a ledger and describes a person who will not keep a mental record of what you have done wrong to use against you as a weapon. That is such a problem. We tend to store away in the memory banks of our minds every infraction that has happened to us and then we bring it up at the most inappropriate times to use it as a weapon against the guilty party. When will we get past the little phrase we were taught growing up…“forgiveness is to forgive and forget.” Not only is that phrase not seen anywhere in Scripture, it is not even possible. I can remember every time someone wronged me…especially the big hurts. Forgiveness doesn’t mean I forget. Forgiveness means that even when I remember and feel like bringing the situation back up to use it as a weapon, I choose not to do so. That’s forgiveness. That is Biblical love. By the way, this same word describes how God forgives us (Romans 4:7-8).

Verse six brings us the next two characteristics of real, Biblical love. These two aspects are inseparable. These go together like peanut butter and jelly; Like Laurel and Hardy; Like the Lone Ranger and Tonto; Like Batman and Robin; Like Penn State Football and mediocrity (sorry, I know that wasn't very loving but I couldn’t resist). These are like the two sides of the same coin. On one side, love does not rejoice in unrighteousness. Unrighteousness refers to sin. Rejoicing in unrighteousness can happen in several ways. It happens when we enjoy our own sin (2 Thessalonians 2:12). It happens when we brag about our own sin (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). It happens when we laugh at the sin of others (Romans 1:32). True Biblical love does not want to see sin in your life.

Instead, love rejoices with the truth. This is the flip-side of love not rejoicing in unrighteousness. This is not rejoicing in any truth but in “the” truth which is the truth of God’s Word (2 John 6). If I love you, I want to see you obey God’s Word. If I love you, I want to see you become more like Jesus. If I love you, I want to see you grow spiritually. If I love you, your spiritual health is more important to me than any other aspect of your life. These two characteristics together show us that real, Biblical love is a love that cares about your spiritual condition. Answer this question, “Who has touched your life in way that has resulted in your being more like Jesus?” Whatever names you associate with the answer to that question are also people who really love you.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Africa Team Report #8


More from Africa:

Wednesday, 02/11/09

Today we visited the fourth Hand-in-Hand school partnership, which is at Cattin, just outside Bangui. This is where we worshiped and John preached on Sunday. The pastor’s name is Laida, the teacher’s name is Elizabeth. The class is full and Elizabeth is doing a terrific job. The children are very attentive, they love to learn and participate. The African Hand-in-Hand director, Emanuel, said this is a very good school. He does an incredible job overseeing all of the Hand-in-Hand partnerships. The team handed out crayons and toothbrushes before going outside to give soccer balls and jump ropes. The kids really appreciate these gifts. John and I demonstrated how to jump rope two at a time. Before going back inside for lunch, we put the toys away and took some time to interact with the kids. They loved having us take their picture and showing the result. One of my favorite pictures is of Matt surrounded on all sides and above by orphan children, looking at a video playback. It does not get much better than this! Each of us was touched in a special way as we spent time with these kids. Grace Church, you are making a huge difference in the lives of many children in the CAR.

For lunch we went back inside the church and ate as a team with the leadership of the church and the students. We had another very traditional African meal. After lunch we said goodbye and returned to the Mission Complex. We needed to start packing, finish up on any shopping, and rest before dinner at the Zokoe’s. Madame Alexandrine Zokoe is the Director of the Orphan Welcome Center. Some of you may remember her visit to Grace Church earlier this year. She stayed with Joan and I two days and said how much she would like to have us visit her country and have dinner at her house. Well, tonight the team was here and had a wonderful evening of fellowship and hearing their personal testimony’s. It was interesting to hear how God brought them together and protected them during this country’s civil wars.

After going through some pictures (over 1300 so far) It is time to turn in for the night. It’s hard to believe tomorrow is our last day in Africa.

Mike for the team

L.O.L. - Deflating the Windbag


Last Sunday we saw the first three characteristics of real Biblical love as defined in First Corinthians 13 (love is patient; love is kind; love does not envy). As we continue our L.O.L. series which is teaching us how to Love Out Loud, we now see eight additional ways to live out love in the Body of Christ.

Continuing in verse four, we see that Biblical love does not brag. The Greek word literally means “to talk conceitedly” and comes from the root word which literally means “windbag”. Love, according to the Bible is not a windbag. We all know of someone from our past or maybe our present who was or is a windbag. That is all they do is talk about their own accomplishments with most of the facts most likely heavily embellished. No matter what topic comes up, they have a “bigger and better” story. This is the opposite of jealousy. Jealousy wants what you have while this tries to make you jealous of what it has (1 Corinthians 3:21). This describes a person who does not talk about their own accomplishments in order to make them look superior and you look inferior.

We also see in verse four that true, Biblical love, the kind by which all men will know that we are followers of Christ, is not arrogant. Bragging (being a windbag) is the verbal action of pride. Arrogance is the inner attitude of pride (1 Corinthians 4:6-8, 10, 18; 5:1-2). This describes a person who does not think they are better than you are and who would rather focus attention on you rather than them. A great parallel verse to this concept is found in Philippians 2:3 where we find the antithesis of being arrogant:

Do nothing out of selfishness = the desire to get ahead

Do nothing out of empty conceit = the desire to be noticed

But with humility of mind = this word described Nile River at its lowest stage

Regard one another as more important than yourself = this is the essence of a love that is not arrogant.

Moving on to verse five we find that love does not act unbecomingly. This is translated “rude” in the New International Version and deals with a lack of manners and self-discipline (1 Corinthians 11:17-22). This describes a person who treats you with excellent manners and with respect.

Verse five goes on to teach that love does not seek its own. This describes a person who is not just interested in their own things but also that which interests you. The antithesis of this is seen in Philippians 2:4 where Paul tells us not simply to look out for our own personal interests but also for the interests of others. Jesus exemplified this in Matthew 20:28. One of the things that keeps the church from “Loving Out Loud” is the fact that we feel we have a right to fight for our personal preferences.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Africa Team Report #7


Another Update from Mike McCracken in Africa:

Tuesday, 02/10/09 part 2
Well, I was awakened between 4:00-4:30 am by sounds at the campfire. Apparently several Bible Institute students stayed the night, sleeping on benches, and keeping the fire going. I was sitting with them at 5:30. As the sun was rising, by 6:00 most of us were up. Breakfast included your choice of oatmeal, cookies, bread, coffee, and tea. Then we cleaned up, tore down and packed up our gear. Matt began leading us in worship around the fire, but we kept having opportunities to greet students as they arrived for school. At 7:15 AM we were invited to the Bible Institute’s morning chapel, where Matt and Doug provided (impromptu) special music and John shared from Luke 15. Pretty cool!! I am really proud of this team and how they are adjusting to the culture and interacting with the people. After chapel we were met by Pastor Elvis (yes, Elvis is in Bossangoa, and he rides a motorcycle). Elvis would be leading us to the places we needed to visit in Bossangoa. I rode on the back of Elvis’s bike to our first stop, the “Governor’s” office. Elvis wanted our visits official.
Matt rode with Elvis to our next stop, a Hand-in-Hand school connected with another Grace Brethren Church. We were able to observe this class and help Ginger distribute pencil cases.
Doug rode on the back of Elvis’s motorcycle to our partnerships at Senbegan, Bossangoa. There are two levels of classes here, both are at full capacity of 50 kids, and Grace Church supports both of them. Level 1 is taught by Sophia, Level 2 by Jean. The pastor of the church that helps support these schools is Jeorge. We visited Jean’s class first and were able to observe him teach. He is pursuing excellence as he teaches these orphans. The students were very excited to have us visit them. They prepared signs to welcome us which were attached to the mud brick walls inside their classroom. I asked the class if I could have them to take back to the Lititz Church. They are a precious gift. It was a special time watching these kids learn, sing, and pray.
Next we visited Sophia’s Level 1 class, which is next door. This class room was similar to Jean’s. Sophia also pursues excellence, and the children learn and sing with passion. Both teachers and the children are thankful beyond words for what Grace Church has given to provide for these children, and the huge expression of love the Church has shown them by sending this team to visit their schools.

The two classes combined outside, lined up, and did a special presentation of singing and dancing for our team. After their program our team presented them with our gifts of soccer balls and jump ropes. The excitement level intensified! After a brief time of jump rope instruction, the kids took over. When the soccer balls hit the ground, most of the boys gravitated to that area and were running and laughing all over the place.

After the brief recess, it was back into the class rooms where we gave pencil kits, crayons, and toothbrushes to each student.

Lunch was next. Despite Ginger’s earlier request of our team eating with the children, we went to a different location for lunch while the children ate in the class rooms. We ate at the office of the Association of Evangelical Christian Women, of which Elvis’s wife Clarisse is one of the leaders, and were joined by other pastors in the church, leaders in the church, Jean and Sophia, and the Minister of Social Affairs. It was a very big deal for our team to be hosted by this group. The Women’s Association prepared and served our meal of salad, fish, dried antelope, beef, rice and noodles. It is a big deal when three different meats are served. After dinner Pastor Jeorge, Elvis, and the Minister of Social Affairs spoke and expressed their deepest thanks for what Grace Church has provided for these orphans. I was able to share how God led Grace Church through the process of connecting with the church in Bossangoa. After dinner we made our way back to the schools and said our good- byes.

Four hours later we were pulling into Bangui, after picking up our chicken in Bougoudi, arriving at the Missionary Complex after dark a little tired, hungry and dirty. We unpacked, showered, and enjoyed a meal of taco soup with corn bread and homemade ice cream with hot chocolate sauce.

Before turning in we had a brief team time. Matt lead us in an uninterrupted song, and each of us prayed about something God touched our hearts with during the last two days.

Blessed in Bangui,
Mike for the team.

Africa Team Report #6


Moe from Mike McCracken in Africa:

Monday, 02/09/09, part 1

To sum it up, the last two days were incredible.

We started packing the vehicles with our camping gear Sunday evening, and after a good night’s sleep, quick breakfast, and a time of prayer and worship led by Matt, we were on our way.

Just a quick insert here; I truly believe that taking the time to worship God and pray as a team each morning, along with your prayers back home, has resulted in our team being blessed with a multitude of experiences and opportunities beyond our expectations.

Ok, back to our trip to Bossangoa. Along our way up country we made plans to stop at two other Hand-in-Hand partnerships in a town called Bossombele. We were able to have a brief visit with both of them, encouraging the pastor, teachers, and children. We were able to help Ginger Hock present gifts to the children and teachers also. At the second school the pastor treated us with peanuts, bread, and warm milk. After sitting in on the class we went outside where a local French speaking women’s ministry was preparing lunch over a fire for the children. As our team was connecting with these ladies, before you knew it, John K had Marlin W (speaking in French), explained that Matt M was single and looking for a wife. Oh my, what a commotion. Poor Matt.

At this school we got word that a Grace Brethren Church up the road in Bougoudi had a chicken for us to pick up. Bougoundi is in the process of applying and being approved for a Hand-in-Hand partnership. Well, when we arrived they told us the chicken ran away that morning but will come back to roost that evening and we can pick it up on our way home the next day; but while we are here we should come in for coffee and see what they were already doing for orphans.

When we entered the mud brick building it was full of children and adults. What a coincidence J. Our team introduced ourselves and the children sang loudly with passion for us. I was able to tell the David and Goliath story to them. Our team connected well with this group and it was a blessing to us to encourage them. We said good bye and continued on to Bossangoa, stopping along the way for a lunch consisting of PPJ and cookies. While we were eating lunch, Ginger Hock told us the church in Bougoundi wanted to serve us jungle rat for lunch. Ginger told them she is sorry but we needed to go. Too bad, I don’t think I ever had rat.

We arrived in Bossangoa, fueled the vehicles, and set up camp outside of town at the Bossangoa Bible Institute. We were greeted by the director, some of his staff and several students. We were lead in groups of two or three to a small village one hundred yards down a dirt path to take a bucket bath outdoors in a circular grass outhouse stall. This was a new cross cultural experience for most of us.

After we cleaned up and finished setting up, we sat in a circle with the group at the Bible Institute and introduced ourselves; they in English, we in Sango (Marlin & Doug were permitted to use French). By the way, Brenda and Joan have practiced some Sango before the trip and are pretty impressive.

After this we walked ¼ mile down the road towards Bossangoa to the director’s home for dinner (another awesome cross cultural experience). The sun was setting and by the time we got there it was almost dark. A wooden table and chairs was set outside for our team. We were served a wonderful mixed vegetable salad, rice, beef, and fish. After dinner the director and his wife shared their testimony of how and when they put their trust and faith in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation and how they became involved in ministry. Emanuel, who was traveling with us, shared his testimony too.

We walked back to camp under a full moon to a campfire started by some of the Bible Institute students (about 20 feet from the guy’s tent). John K was elated, asking them to share hunting stories, and he sharing some of his own. About 9:30 our group was ready for bed, 5 ladies in their tent, 6 guys in theirs (Emanuel slept with the guys). Well, the students were not ready for bed yet and we were able to listen to their laughter and fellowship for quite a while.

End of day 1 to Bossangoa.

Mike, for the team.

An Old Testament Story of ROMANCE


Saturday is Valentine’s Day, so what could be more fitting that a story of romance from the pages of the Old Testament? In 1 Samuel 25 we are introduced to a man named Nabal. He was very rich but he was one bad character. He was harsh and evil in his doings. He was selfish, worthless and unteachable. He was also a drunk and it is safe to say that he was an unbeliever. His name literally means “fool” and in Psalm 14:1, the Bible says that a fool (literally = “Nabal”) has said in his heart there is no God.

The only thing Nabal had going for him was his wife. Her name was Abigail and she is described as being very intelligent and very beautiful in appearance. Now you might ask how an intelligent and beautiful woman like Abigail married such a jerk like Nabal. I’m not too surprised. I have seen many intelligent and beautiful young girls marry guys who were nothing short of losers. But in Abigail’s condition, her marriage was probably arranged by her parents and she most likely had no say in her life’s partner.

As the story unfolds, God has promised to take the Kingdom from Saul and give it to another and Samuel, before his death, had anointed David as the next king over Israel. Saul, fuelled by jealousy, sets out to kill his successor, David. To escape the wrath of Saul, David flees with 600 men. For a time, David is staying near Carmel where Nabal has his livestock business. David and his men are good neighbors and often help to defend the shepherds and sheep of Nabal against enemies and wild animals. David and his men are running out of provisions so he sends ten of his men to ask Nabal for provisions since they are protecting his property. Nabal not only rejects the request but he insults David and his father, Jesse, in so doing. This angers David and he readies 400 of his men for battle with the intent to kill all the males in Nabal’s house, young and old.

Abigail hears how David and his men have been mistreated by Nabal, and takes matters into her own hands. Without her husband’s knowledge, Abigail loads up provisions and sets out to meet David. Abigail pleads with David to accept the provisions and not harm her husband. Though admitting that her husband is a fool, Abigail also takes blame upon herself for her husband’s actions. She appeals to David not to go through with the actions of vengeance and she offers David the provisions she has brought and asks for his forgiveness. She acknowledges that God is going to make a dynasty through David and reminds David that the Lord would be the one to take vengeance for him. She then reminds David that God would keep his promise to him to make him king and that the Lord would not deal kindly with David if he follows through with this act of vengeance. David listens to Abigail and relents on his plan to kill Nabal.

Abigail returns to find Nabal in a drunken feast and waits until morning to tell him of the tragedy caused by his hands that she had averted. The rest of the story is a quite the story of romance. God smites Nabal and he dies. David, after hearing of Nabal’s death, sends for Abigail and proposes marriage to her and Abigail accepts the proposal and becomes David’s wife. Just another amazing story of romance from within the Old Testament.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Old Testament Story of ACTION


Some of the greatest stories one can ever find are in the pages of the Old Testament and sadly, many of them have never been read by Christians today. Take the story of the woman of Abel as described in 2 Samuel 20. As the chapter opens, the rebellion of Absalom, King David’s son, against his own father has been thwarted and Absalom has been killed by Joab, the commander of the army. As a result, David has removed Joab from his position and he is now re-establishing his reign from his throne in Jerusalem. However, there is much tension between Judah and the northern tribes of Israel.

A man called Sheba, who was a Benjamite (the tribe of King Saul) takes advantage of the tension and leads a revolt against David announcing that the ten tribes have no part in David. As a result, David orders his new military commander, a man named Amasa, to assemble soldiers of Judah and to pursue and capture the rebel, Sheba, within 3 days. Amasa fails to complete the task in that timeframe so David orders Abishai to take command of Amasa and to prevent Sheba from getting established in a fortified city.

Joab, who remains loyal to David, sees this as an opportunity to win back the King’s trust and regain his lost position. Joab goes out to meet Amasa and grabs him by the beard to kiss him (which was a customary sign of friendship). While doing so he uses his sword to kill the unsuspecting Amasa (who by the way was his cousin).

As a result, command is again transferred to Joab and he and Abishai take their men to pursue Sheba which leads them to the northern city of Abel-Bethmaachah located 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, a city which had been famous for its people’s wisdom.

Joab’s men besiege the city and began to batter the wall to break it down. As they proceed with their attack, a wise yet unnamed woman from within the city cries out to Joab asking to speak with him. She describes how the city was famous for its wisdom and she appeals to the Mosaic law which said that before besieging a city you had to offer its inhabitants a deal for peace and if an agreement was made, you had to abide by it

She asks Joab why he is seeking to destroy what she calls ‘the mother city in Israel’ (a metaphor for a very important city). Joab explains that he is simply after Sheba who was hiding inside the city and offers that if they hand over Sheba, his men will leave in peace.

This woman agrees to have Sheba killed and to throw his head over the wall as proof of his execution. Within minutes, the woman convinces the people to find Sheba, execute him, and she throws his head over the wall. Joab blows the trumpet and his army retreats. Joab has completed his mission and this unnamed woman of Abel has saved her city.

Is that not a great story? And it’s only one of hundreds in the Old Testament that you most likely have never read. So whether you like stories of espionage, action, romance or tragedy, you can find volumes of short stories in the Bible, God’s door to adventure.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Africa Team Report #5


Mike McCfracken continues to report from the Central African Republic as part of a team of 7 there from Grace Church:

Sunday 02/08/09

This morning started with a thunderstorm, which is very unusual during the dry season. We started our day worshiping as a team before heading out to Cattin for their church service. The rain had stopped by the time we reached the church. By the time church started there were over 300 people inside the mud brick building. This was a unique opportunity for our team to experience worship in another culture; no electricity or instruments (except the drums that were used for part of one song). The singing was beautiful, loud, and harmonious. Doug just walked by and said, with toothbrush in mouth, “It was like heaven”.

Pastor Laida has a heart to disciple the church family and reach out to orphans. He and his wife currently care for eight orphans in their home. The most emotional time for me on this trip so far was when our orphan children walked and sang through the main entrance of the church to the front of the building. They were singing in Sango, “I will never forget all that God has done for me, I will never forget all that He has done. After they were organized up front, they sang in English “Father I Adore You”. This was really special.

When Pastor Laida asked Barb Wooler to introduce our team to the congregation, he shared that our team traveling all the way to Bangui to visit them really shows him how much the church in Lititz cares.

John Kegarise did a great job bringing the message to the Cattin church (with Barb translating). He preached from Luke 15, the parable of the lost coin, and really connected. He stayed focused even through the distraction of a choir member adjusting her top to begin breast feeding. TIA (This Is Africa).

After the service our team greeted many in the church with a greeting and hand shake. The church honored our team with a delicious lunch which included a mixed vegetable salad, rice, fish, beef, and gozo leaf in peanut sauce. The pastor and his wife, Elizabeth the teacher and some of her helpers joined us in a small room in his house. After lunch our team was able to ask questions about the school. We learned that Elizabeth previously taught at a public school. Her response to our question “How do the children at the Cattin school compare to the children in public school” was “The Cattin students are at a higher level of learning”. This was very encouraging to us. We will visit the Cattin Hand-in-Hand partnership school on Wednesday.

The rest of the day was spent preparing for our trip up country to Bossangoa tomorrow (Monday). Tim Hock took John, Marlin, Matt, Joan and I for a brief dugout canoe ride on the Bangui River. We were on our own for dinner tonight, so Doug, Joan, and Miriam Pachico made the team pancakes and bacon. Thankfully they have a gas stove so when the power went out in the middle of cooking, Joan could finish while Doug held a flashlight. On a side note, don’t know if I mentioned this before, the power goes off at least once or twice a day which leaves us in the dark until Tim turns on the generator.

After dinner we had a team time / debrief session with the Hocks, Barb, and Miriam. These times have been beneficial as we share, ask questions, interact with the missionaries, and pray. Our team spirit and unity has been very high and the missionaries have made several positive comments about our team.

Thanks again for praying. I will be in touch when we return from Bossangoa. We will be up there Monday and Tuesday.

Blessed in Bangui, for the team,
Mike

HE DOESN'T ALWAYS SQUINT





Last Thursday, February 5th, on my blog I posted a picture of the team from Grace Church that is currently in the Central Afrian Republic (top picture above). I made the following comment in my blog that day about Matt McElravy, our Worship Arts Director here at Grace:

"Did you notice Matt’s eyes? The boy simply cannot have a picture taken of him without squinting. Is that some kind of psychological thing or what?"
In response, one person in our church (a single female who I have sworn to keep her identity confidential, especially from Matt) sent me two pictures of Matt to prove that he can have his mug photographed without squinting.

The first one is the middle picture above...I don't know...I think I may still qualify this one as "squinting"! Wouldn't you?
The second one is the thrid picture above. Alright, that one I can't argue with. His eyes appear to be wide open. But if any of you have any other pictures of Matt you would like critiqued, just send them my way (skdistler@lgbc.org).
In all seriousness, please continue to pray for Matt and the entire team in Africa!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Africa Team Report #4


The following comes from Mike McCracken and our Grace Church team currently in Africa:


Saturday 02/07/09

The Hand-in-Hand schools and Orphan Welcome Center do not have classes on Saturdays so our team had a much slower paced day; which was probably good for us. The last two days were full and fast paced. Matt lead our team in worship before our breakfast at the Grand CafĂ©’ where the coffee is strong (Bangui sludge) and the pastries are delicious. From there we went to a fabric store and ordered material to have clothing made. Matt and I debated whether or not we should pick out a flowery pattern for Pastor Tim and have a shirt made (with shoulder pads). Next was the local market where we all experienced new sights and smells.

One major disappointment for me is that photography is prohibited in Bangui. According to the missionaries we are staying with, if the military or police catch you taking pictures, you could lose your camera and/or end up in jail. It is OK to take pictures at the villages where our Hand-in-Hand partnerships are located and at the Orphan Welcome Center so I’m getting a lot, just not everything I wanted.

In the market and walking back gave me several opportunities with people to make eye contact, smile, greet, and extend a handshake. While most speak Sango and/or French, a few spoke some English which makes it easier for me to extend conversation.

After lunch at the missionary complex the afternoon was free to catch up on journaling, reading, rest, and preparing for Sunday and our trip up country on Monday.

At 4:00 we went over to the US Ambassador’s residence to swim in their pool. US missionaries have an invitation from the Ambassador’s family to use the pool.

After dinner and clean up we spent some time with several of the missionaries, playing cards and talking.

As I’m typing this it is raining hard which is very unusual during dry season. It caused the neighborhood to quiet except for the sound of frogs croaking.

Sunday morning will take us to our Cattin partnership for worship. John Kegarise will be sharing with the group. And we all will be able to connect with the church family. On Wednesday we will return to Cattin while school is in session.

Monday and Tuesday will take us up country to our two schools in Bossangoa. This is a huge answer to prayer for our team to travel up to this area.

The missionary staff is a huge blessing to our team. They work well together and work hard to take care of us and the logistics of our itinerary.

The internet has been difficult to connect to the last couple of days. I will stay in touch as often as I can.

Thanks so much for praying. The team has been healthy and blessed. The next several days will be long and full (and will include meals in the villages).

Mike, for the team.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Africa Team Report #3


Below is the latest e-mail from Mike McCracken in Africa. The video he speaks of we will get to see in all three monring services on Feb 15.


Friday, February 7, 2009

My day started around 4:30. I’m still adjusting to the time change but we needed an early start today. Last night the power went off so we had no fan. It got a little warm under the mosquito net. After breakfast Matt lead our team in a time of worship. We were on our way to La Doumie at 6:20. (La Doumie is LCS’s Hand-in-Hand partnership.) After driving three or so hours over good roads (the last half hour was a little rough) and going through several check points we arrived at La Doumie. We were greeted by Pastor Lundi Vanguet, his wife Josephine, and several others from the church. There are two levels of school here now and both were in session. The levels are by academic skill, not age. Level 1 meets in a newly constructed mud brick building with a thatch roof. Our team was able to “squeeze” in the back and watch class. The children were excited to have us observe and are enthusiastic learners. They LOVE learning! The teacher’s name for Level 1 is Valerie.

Level 2 has classes in the church building, which is a larger mud brick building with a tin roof. These students are taught by Timothee Vanguet, the pastor’s son. We were able to observe Timothee teach and the children read, write and answer questions. It is amazing how attentive and respectful and orderly these children are during classes. They LOVE learning!
When school finished, our team was introduced to Timothee and the two classes were combined in the church building. I was able to share a Bible story (David and Goliath) with Barb Wooler translating. The rest of the team handed out the gifts we brought; toothbrushes, coloring page of David and Goliath, crayons, and a little school supply packet. Again, during this process the children were very patient, respectful, and thankful.

Then we were able to see the procedure for feeding the children lunch; today was porridge. While the children are in class, women from the church start fires, boil water, and make the porridge. The children come outside with their individual cup to receive their lunch. There is no pushing or shoving; just waiting patiently in line to receive their lunch; then back into the church to eat in the shade. I was very impressed with the behavior and attitude of these kids.

Our team enjoyed an African meal of rice with goat and/or chicken. Everyone appeared to do well with our first meal in a village. After lunch Matt and Doug worked on the video you will see on Sunday (or have already seen depending when this email gets sent out). We also handed out soccer balls and long jump ropes we brought from the States. The kids were familiar with soccer balls, but the jump ropes might have been a little new to them. It was a blast watching them figure this out.

The afternoon was slipping by and we needed to say goodbye and return to Bangui. What a time we had connecting to the church family and orphan students in La Doumie. Those of you who are praying for and giving to, the Hand-in-Hand partnerships Lititz has connected with, are making a difference in God’s Kingdom. Where there was very little or no hope, there now is hope.

After a flat tire change and quick look at a water fall, we returned to the Missionary complex dirty, sweaty, hungry, and tired but impacted in a special way by what we were able see, touch, smell, taste, and most of all feel in our hearts. We were able to take a shower, the missionaries fed us a delicious dinner, and we were able to sleep in a comfortable bed, but my hope and prayer is that we never forget what we felt in our heart today.

Blessed in Bangui,
Mike, for the team.

Africa Team Report #2


The following came to me via an e-mail from Mike McCracken in Africa:

Greetings from Bangui,

The rest of our day, Thursday was special. Before lunch we traveled to the Orphan Welcome Center and were greeted by a multitude of kids enjoying recess. They enjoyed us and we enjoyed them. Madame Alexandrine gave our team an overview of the Center and introduced us to several of the staff which includes a doctor who takes care of the kids. Alexandrine says there are over 700 orphans in the sponsorship program she is responsible for who go to school at the Welcome Center and other Christian schools in Bangui. John Kegarise had a special treat. His sponsored child, Fiacre, happened to be at the Center while we were there. Needless to say this was an emotional time for John and the rest of us.

We returned to the Missionary Station for a lunch of Mexican beef on couscous. Most of the team took an opportunity to rest while Marlin and I went out with Tim Houck to run errands in Bangui. (We were encouraged by the missionary staff to rest in the afternoon but today I could not help myself).

Later in the afternoon we went back to the Orphan Welcome Center to observe an orphan group in a neighborhood Bible Club. At these clubs the orphans participate in singing, scripture memorization, and drama from the Bible stories they have learned. Marlin, Doug, and Brenda were able to share with the group. Matt was able to video much of what went on here.

After a brief tour of Bangui we returned to the Missionary Station for dinner, a team time, and bedtime.

Thanks for praying.
From Bangui,
Mike for the team

Friday, February 06, 2009

L.O.L. - The First Three


According to First Corinthians 13:4, the first characteristic of “agape” love is the fact that love is patient. The Greek word often refers to being patient with people as opposed to circumstances. This word describes someone who has been wronged, has the power to retaliate, and chooses not to do so. This was in direct contrast with the Roman view which saw vengeance as a virtue and non-retaliation as a weakness.

I think the best example of this quality in Scripture is Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. Joseph and Mary are espoused. This was similar to our engagement only far more binding. However, during this timeframe there could be no intimate contact. In all likelihood, Mary and Joseph may have never even been alone together when Mary gets word to Joseph that she is pregnant. I guarantee you that the first thought going through Joseph’s mind was not “I bet this is some type of virgin conception miracle!” Joseph came to one conclusion, that Mary had wronged him in the deepest way. According to the Old Testament law, Joseph had the right and the power to have Mary stoned. He also could have put her through a very public and humiliating divorce. But instead, Matthew 1 teaches us that he chose to end the relationship quietly. This was an option that did not even include having to state the reason. Why did Joseph make such a decision? I believe the answer is because Joseph truly loved Mary. Being a righteous man, he was going to end the relationship. But out of love, he would do so without retaliation.

Along with being patient, verse four also describes love as being kind. The Greek word means to be useful, serving and gracious. This word describes actively sacrificing in order to do useful things to others. In my previous church we lived in an area where we averaged 80-90 inches of snow every winter. The house we lived in had a long double driveway, however, it was not unusual for a man in our church who had a plow on his truck to swing by and quickly plow out my driveway. I tried to thank him and even offer to pay him, but he just shrugged it off. One day I was talking to his wife and told her how much I appreciated what he did. She told me that this was her husband’s way of saying, “Pastor, I love you!” As I thought about what she said I realized how very Biblical that was. It was a perfect example of the Biblical truth that “love is kind.”

The third characteristic of “agape” love as seen in First Corinthians 13:4 is that love is not jealous. In the English language we have two different words with two different meanings…“jealousy” and “envy”. Jealousy desires to have the same thing another person has while envy tries to deprive another of what they have. For example, if you drove into church in a brand new SUV, fully loaded, right off the lot, an $80,000 vehicle, and I wished it were mine, this would be jealousy. But if I went outside why you were not looking and slashed all four tires so that you could not drive it either, this would be envy. In the New Testament, the same word is used to describe both because jealousy, if left unchecked, will always turn into envy. One verse…three characteristics of love. They are all three powerful. They are all three needed in the church. And there are still 13 more to look at in the weeks ahead.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Africa Team Report #1


Mike McCracken writes from Bangui, Africa:

We just finished settling in at the Guest House in Bangui. We are all feeling a little jet lagged, but are doing well. Our schedule will be full and busy.

A couple of "LOL" (Love Out Loud) moments so far. First, Brenda in the terminal at Philadelphia. There was a young girl with her dad. She was extremely upset and crying. Brenda noticed she had blocks in a carry on and asked permission to play blocks. Brenda and the girl got down on the floor of the gate and played and had conversation. The whole gate was blessed. Second, in the airport in Paris, Joan and Brenda noticed a mother frantic with several young children trying to get to her gate for departure. Joan and Brenda quickly helped her gather her carry ons and children and rushed to the gate, where she was the last to board.

I have to go. Team is ready to visit the Orphan Welcome Center.

More On Africa


Our team from Grace Church left on Tuesday and were scheduled to arrive in the city of Bangui in the Central African Republic this morning at 5:30. Today they will rest up and visit the Orphan Welcome Center that we provided some of the dedication and security cost for. They will then begin their tour tomorrow of the schools for orphans that we as a ministry fully support. They will be in Africa through Thursday, Feb 12th and then will be spending Feb 13th and 14th in Paris before flying back home to Lititz on Feb 15th.

The team members pictured above are as follows:

Back row (left to right):

Matt McElravy, who is our worship Arts Director (see my note below)
Doug Kegarise, who is our Director of Student Ministries
Marlin Weaver, former missionary in France now on staff here at Grace
John Kegarise, who is chairman of our Elder Board
Mike McCracken, who is the chairman of our Mission Team

(**MY NOTE – did you notice Matt’s eyes? The boy simply cannot have a picture taken of him without squinting. Is that some kind of psychological thing or what?)

Seated (left to right):

Brenda Miller, who is our Early Childhood Director
Joan McCracken, who is on our Mission Team

Some of the things the team will do with the orphans include:

Balloon animals (they’ve never seen these before)
Playing games
Telling Bible stories through interpreters
Coloring pages with crayons (they’ve never seen crayons!!!)
Giving them gifts including soccer balls and toothbrushes
Sharing photos of their families and lives in America
Providing special meals for them

Specific things to pray for regarding this team include:

Safety and smooth transitions in travel (trains, planes and automobiles)
That they would be an encouragement to the orphans & their teachers
For physical and spiritual protection
For unity with the team through many travels and difficult situations
For their families at home while they are gone

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Educational Ministries of Grace Church


Last week I received a wonderful letter in the mail from Rick Bernhardt, the Senior Administrator of Lititz Christian School (LCS), which was sent to everyone who made a financial donation to the ministry of the school over the past year. LCS and MorningStar Christian Daycare, Preschool and Kindergarten are ministries of Grace Church. Perhaps you are not real familiar with this vital educational aspect of our ministry. Below are a few items of interest that were included in the letter I received:

History:

Lititz Christian School was founded in 1978 by Grace Church. It originally educated students in grades 1-8 before adding grades 9-12 in 1996, and MorningStar Daycare, Preschool and Kindergarten in 1999.

Purpose:

We focus on the student’s spiritual and academic development. We do this by partnering with Christian families to provide a Biblical, academic education that prepares young men and women to honor Jesus Christ in scholarship, vocation and lifestyle. We believe that every child deserves the heritage of a knowledge of God and His Son, and without it, that education is not complete. It is our desire to see each student grow mentally, physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually in a safe and nurturing environment.

Faculty:

Our well-qualified faculty enriches strong curricula and experiential opportunities to maintain a level of excellence that prepares students for a higher education and a life that honors Jesus Christ. Academic classroom teachers hold a 4-year college degree or higher from a recognized college or university.

A Future Goal:

What makes Lititz Christian School and MorningStar different from other schools and childcare centers is the spiritual aspect of the programming and teaching. It is Christ centered, therefore an ongoing goal to meet students where they are and move them to where God wants them to be is imperative. A great asset to our ministry will be a Spiritual Formations leader who will give spiritual direction to the future of LCS and MorningStar.

As part of a new marketing strategy, we will be introducing our exciting new website in just a few weeks (www.lititzchristian.net). Please visit us online or in person to learn more about Lititz Christian School and MorningStar Daycare, Preschool and Kindergarten and the exciting things that are happening in our school and daycare.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Weekend at Liberty


In my Pastor’s E-mail Update that I sent out last Monday (which you can sign up for at http://www.lgbc.org/) I said that today’s blog posting would be about our Educational Ministries here at Grace Church. However, I have decided to delay that posting by one day.

Since today is my daughter’s 19th birthday (Happy Birthday, Joy! I love and miss you!), I thought it would be fitting for me to tell you about our family’s trip this past weekend to Lynchburg, VA to visit Joy who is a freshman at Liberty University. For those of you who do not know it, my wife and I both graduated from Liberty (1987). I spent four years at Liberty and absolutely loved my time there. Just to walk back on that campus, even though now it is so much bigger (over 11,000 campus students), brought a swell of memories and emotions. For me, there is just something special about that mountain.

We left the house at 5:15am on Friday and 6 hours and 15 minutes later (including a stop for breakfast at Cracker Barrel and three restroom breaks along the way…man, am I getting old) we arrived in Lynchburg and grabbed a quick lunch at Taco Bell (Jonathan’s favorite fast food restaurant). Since Jonathan is now a Junior here at Lititz Christian School we took the Liberty campus tour. Man is that an amazing place. There is no doubt in my mind that Liberty is not only the largest evangelical university in the world but it is the most exciting university as well.

We then met with one of the professors in the Worship Arts program. This is the major that Jonathan (pictured far right above with his band) is interested in as he looks toward college. I was so impressed with the philosophy of this program and the way it is set up. It has been exciting to see the passion to lead worship build in my son’s life and it was awesome as a parent to watch him light up as the program was explained to him. We are still going to look at another college or two that has a worship arts program, but I think in Jonathan’s mind, Liberty has the lead right now. In fact, we went ahead and applied because they are capping enrollment for the next couple of years.

We met Joy after her classes were over and took her out to her favorite restaurant (Olive Garden) for dinner and then hit a few stores and the mall and then went back to the hotel to open up her birthday gifts. Saturday we spent more time at stores and on campus and had lunch at one of my favorite fast food restaurants (Chick-Fil-A) and then had several of Joy’s friends over to the hotel for homemade chicken noodle soup (we stayed at the Extended Stay America right by campus that had a kitchen in the room). Then came the highlight of the weekend for me…attending Liberty’s basketball game at the Vine’s Center and watching LU beat The University of North Carolina-Asheville. Go Flames!

Sunday we attended church with Joy. She attends the Old Forest Road Baptist Church. We then had lunch at Shaker’s Restaurant (if you are ever in Lynchburg, my advice is to pick a different restaurant…we weren’t impressed). We then took Joy back to her dorm and headed back home making it back in time for the second half of the Super Bowl. That was our weekend at Liberty!