Friday, July 31, 2009

The Development of a Worship Service

Recently I received an e-mail from a member of Grace Church who was away on a Sunday at another church and wrote me the following message:

“I wanted to tell you that as I sat in the un-named church I kept thinking how great it is to be part of a church that is so forward thinking and willing to try different approaches to worship. It would be good for our entire congregation to sit in a church like I did today and realize how much God has blessed us at Grace. The pastor did a nice job with the sermon but there was no worship experience and really a very stale, old atmosphere. We do have it good at Grace.”

That really encouraged me. We work very hard here at Grace to put together services that are both Biblical and engaging. So what path do our services take in development?

6 Months in Advance: It all begins sometimes up to 6 months in advance as I prayerfully consider the themes for the upcoming Sunday services and start putting together tentative overviews of where I will be going with the message on a particular week.

3 Months in Advance: I send out my tentative sermon overviews to our Worship Design Team, a group of ten people who plan our Sunday services. This gives them a full month to read the notes, look at the passage of Scripture we are focusing on, and prayerfully think of creative ideas to help us communicate the Biblical truth of that morning.

2 Months in Advance: The Worship Design Team meets to brainstorm and plan the creative elements of the service. This meeting ends by assigning tasks for team members to work on over the next two months in order to bring these creative elements to fruition.

2 Weeks in Advance: Two weeks in advance, our Worship Arts Director sends out reminders to the Worship Design Team regarding the elements that we are planning to use for that Sunday morning’s service.

6 Days in Advance: I meet with our Executive Pastor, Worship Arts Director, and our Media and Audio Producers to make sure that everything is set for the upcoming Sunday.

90 Minutes in Advance: On Sunday morning prior to final rehearsals and sound checks, I meet with our Worship Arts Director and our Audio and Media Producers to go over the final service format and order to make sure we are ready for our first morning service.

12 Minutes in Advance: I have a brief 2-minute meeting 12 minutes before our second and before our third service with our Executive Pastor, Worship Arts Director, and our Audio and Media Producers to make sure that no changes are needed to be made.

1 Day After: We have one final meeting to evaluate the previous Sunday’s services.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Woman Condemned

“I’ve known all my life that I am condemned. I’m a sinner. I’m going to hell and there is nothing I can do about it.”

Those were the words shared with me by a lady who just recently started attending Grace Church. She was introduced to our church through a few different people who attend Grace that God had brought into her life. Not every counseling session I have includes a self-portrait like that one. So what was my response? I gently replied,

“You’re exactly right!”

“You are condemned!”

“You are a sinner!”

“You are going to hell!”

“And there is nothing you can do about it!”

I don’t think she realized when she walked into my office that her analysis was exactly where it needed to be in order for her to understand the grace of God. It is true of each of us. We are condemned because we are sinners and as a result we deserve hell. The wages of sin really is death and there is nothing we can do about it. Being good will not change the fact that we are sinners. Going to church…even Grace Church in Lititz, PA…will not change the fact that we are sinners. Getting baptized will simply make us “wet” sinners. On our own we are completely helpless to get one step closer to God.

But then I was able to share with her the Good News of the Gospel, the fact that everything that had to be done for us to be forgiven, for us to have a relationship with God, for us to know for sure that we are going to heaven, happened when Jesus died on the cross. I showed to her and explained to her that, "God made Jesus who knew no sin to become sin for us so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." I told her how God put our sin on Jesus’ account on the cross so that He paid the penalty for our sin even though He was fully perfect. I then explained to her how when we put our faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross as our only way for forgiveness and eternal life, that God puts the righteousness of Christ on our account and declares us righteous “in Him.”

I then had the sweet, sweet privilege of leading her in a prayer of trust, placing her faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As her eyes (and mine) welled up with tears I showed this dear lady who began our time together with the words, “I’m condemned,” this verse from Romans 8:1, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Just another story of what our church is all about…MEETING people where they are and MOVING them to where God wants them to be!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

BAD DAY - Part Three

This posting is the conclusion of three parts. To get the full story, I encourage you to go back and read parts one and two before continuing on with today’s posting.

Chapter six of Esther opens with the words, “During that night.” On the very night that Haman decides to ask the next day for the death of Mordecai and is sleeping the sweet sleep of revenge, the king suffers from a divine case of insomnia. Who do you think caused that? God may be invisible but He is always at work. To help him get sleepy, the king asks for the books recording the history of his kingdom to be read. As dawn gets ready to break, the reader happens to read the account from when Mordecai exposed the assassination plot against the king. Mordecai had saved the king’s life but had never been recognized or rewarded. Even when we are forgotten it is God working behind the scenes. Had Mordecai been rewarded he most likely would have awoken this morning to the end of a sharpened 75 foot pole. The king, however, realizes that no reward was ever given to Mordecai and he seeks his highest official for advice on what to do.

At this exact moment that the king wants to talk to his highest advisor about how to reward Mordecai, Haman arrives at the palace to request permission to kill the very man the king wants to reward. And if this is not ironic enough for you, it gets even better. Without mentioning the name of the person, the king asks Haman what he should do to honor a person he wishes to honor. Haman no doubt thinks the king is talking about wanting to reward him so he suggests that royal treatment be given to this individual. Put a royal robe on him that the king has worn! Put him on the king’s own horse! Put the king’s royal crown on his head! Have one of the king’s noble men lead him through the town square proclaiming that this is what happens to the person the king wishes to honor!

Can’t you just see Haman envisioning himself sitting upon that majestic steed being led through the streets of Susa as people cheer and applaud? Oh what I would not have given to see the look on old Haman’s face when the king says, “Great idea, Haman. Now go do that for Mordecai and you lead the horse! And by the way, Haman, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?” I love how God works. Instead of hanging Mordecai, as Haman thought would happen that morning, he instead finds himself leading Mordecai through the crowded streets of Susa while he sits on the king’s horse, wearing the king’s royal crown and royal robe. I find myself laughing every time I read this story.

When this is finished, Haman returns home where his wife and advisors prophesy that Mordecai would end up destroying Haman rather than Haman destroying Mordecai. They are so right this time. It really goes back to Genesis 12 when God promised Abraham that he would build out of his seed a great nation and those who blessed that nation, God would bless. And those who cursed that nation, God would curse. That promise was true then and may we never forget that that promise is still true today. While they are speaking, Haman is called to the second banquet with the king and queen…the plot thickens. Haman’s bad day is about ready to get a whole lot worse.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

BAD DAY - Part Two

This posting is a continuation of yesterday’s posting. To get the full story, I encourage you to go back and read yesterday’s posting before continuing on with today’s.

God works in the heart of the king and he extends his golden scepter toward Esther, without which she would have been immediately executed. But the Bible teaches is in Ephesians 3:20 that God can do immeasurably more than anything we could ask. Not only does the king accept her in his presence, he also gives her the opportunity for any request. This seems like Esther’s golden opportunity to strike. But it is obvious that God was directing Esther. The queen doesn’t start by accusing Haman of being behind a plot that would involve her. Instead, she simply requests that the King and Haman join her for dinner. If there is one thing we learn from this it is that God’s timing is everything.

The king and Haman attend this dinner at which the king again asks Esther to make any request, even up to half of his kingdom. There you go, Esther! Go for it! But again, Esther is obviously following the leading of the Lord in her heart and life. She doesn’t yet sense the timing of God to reveal her request. Instead, Esther asks that the king and Haman come to a second banquet the next day at which she promises to make her request known. As we will see, God is doing something and his timing is perfect. What happens next sets up the greatest story of irony you will find in the entire Bible.

Haman is a very prideful man and his elation at having a private dining opportunity with the king and queen has his head swollen to ten times its original size. But all of that is quickly stifled by one man…one Jew. Guess who? Mordecai. As Haman leaves the palace he passes by Mordecai who has obviously changed out of his sackcloth and ashes and is back at his post at the king’s gate. And just like the times before, he again refused to bow in worship to Haman as he passes by.

Haman hurries home where he tells his wife and friends of his bittersweet evening. He tells of his joy at being invited to dine with the King and Queen. But he also tells of his despair and anger over Mordecai. Remember last week when I told you that one of the lessons we learn from the story is to be careful who we seek out as advisors? We see that same lesson here again. How does his wife and friends counsel him? They advise him to request of the king permission to execute this rebellious Jew named Mordecai.

Haman likes the advice and has the gallows built. Now remember that gallows in Persia was a long pole. They didn’t hang you on gallows by a rope and noose. Rather, they hung you by impaling you on top of a long pole that was set into the ground. Now to show you Haman’s contempt, notice how high he orders this pole to be made. It is to be raised 75 feet in to the air. That is 7.5 stories. And then Haman goes to bed dreaming of Mordecai writhing in pain on the top of this massive pole. Haman is sleeping the sweet sleep of revenge but little does he know that God is working behind the scenes and, as we will see tomorrow, he is about ready to wake up to the ultimate in having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Monday, July 27, 2009

BAD DAY - Part One

From the moment he wakes up with gum in his hair, things just don’t go Alexander’s way. At breakfast, Alexander’s brothers, Nick and Anthony, reach into their cereal boxes and pull out amazing prizes, while all Alexander ends up with is cereal. His teacher doesn’t like his drawing of an invisible castle, there is no dessert in his lunch, the dentist tells him he has a cavity, there is kissing on TV, and he has to wear his railroad train pajamas (he hates wearing his railroad train pajamas). No wonder Alexander wants to move to Australia. But his mother assures him that everyone has bad days, even people in Australia. That’s the story of Judith Viorst’s children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

That’s not just the topic of a cute little children’s book. It was the theme of a hit pop song written by Canadian singer, Daniel Powter that reached the #1 spot in both the United States and Ireland in 2005. It’s a real catchy tune and the chorus reads like this:

Because you had a bad day

You're taking one down

You sing a sad song just to turn it around

You say you don't know

You tell me don't lie

You work at a smile and you go for a ride

You had a bad day

The camera don't lie

You're coming back down and you really don't mind

You had a bad day

You had a bad day

Have you ever had a really bad day? As we continue in the book of Esther we could call this part, “Haman’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” As chapter five opens (visit previous blog postings to see overviews of chapters 1-4), Esther is ready to break the law and go before King Xerxes to expose herself as a Jew and ask him to save her and her people from Haman’s diabolical plot of Jewish extermination.

Before she goes to the king, she spends three days in fasting and prayer. Remember, she literally is breaking the law of the land by voluntarily interrupting the king. To do so was to literally risk her own life. Before she took this step of courage she prepared herself spiritually. She knew she needed Divine help and guidance to succeed. If anyone could cause the king to look favorably on her it would be God. Proverbs 21:1 tells us that no one is any match for God. The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord…the Lord causes it go whatever direction He desires. Is your spouse being cruel? Fast and pray…no one is any match for God. Is your boss being cruel? Fast and pray…no one is any match for God. Is your pastor being cruel (yeah, it happens)? Fast and pray…for even your pastor is no match for God. More tomorrow!

Friday, July 24, 2009


Notre Dame is one of the most honored traditions in America when in it comes to college football. From Knute Rockne to Rudy, everyone has some appreciation for this storied franchise. One of the traditions deals with “Touchdown Jesus” which is a building that faces one of the ends of the stadium and has a large mosaic looking painting of Jesus with his arms raised high into the air. It used to be (not sue if it still is) that if Notre Dame won the coin toss at the beginning of the game they always deferred so that they could choose which end of the field they would start facing. The idea was to make sure that when the fourth quarter came, the Fighting Irish would be going toward “Touchdown Jesus”!

Touchdown Jesus” is what we are calling one of our upcoming message series here at Grace Church that will take place all four Sundays this coming September. Everything about the morning will give you a “football feel”.

As you approach the main lobby doors each week you will see a large “tailgate party” happening. In fact, we invite you to feel free to come to church early and have your own tailgate party each Sunday out in the parking lot.

Everyone on stage will be wearing football jerseys or shirts. We encourage all of you to do the same. Whether it is a High School team, College team, or Professional team (anything but the Canadian Football League…and remember, this is American football so none of this soccer stuff either!), dress each Sunday like you were headed to the game.

We have some other plans we are going to try to pull off (no promises…just effort) including the main lobby being turned into a football field and the auditorium including a football locker room as well as goal posts.

The countdown video that begins 5 minutes prior to each service will be a pre-game show featuring our own sports commentators from the Sports Desk previewing the service.

And what would a football themed month be without many wonderful video clips of famous football folklore including the best scene ever from The Brady Bunch involving a football and Marsha’s nose (that was a groovy episode, wasn’t it?).

All month long we will be taking a look at the parable of the four soils that Jesus taught in Matthew 13 and Luke 8. We are going to see how the parable would have looked if Jesus would have told it today using a football scenario for the story. Instead of the farmer, we will have the quarterback. Instead of the seed, we will have the football. Instead of the four soils, we will have the four receivers running four pass plays.

This should be a fun series in which we learn together the important meaning of the parable of the four soils. And who knows, the whole series may just “kick-off” (no pun intended) with our own Hank Williams singing, “Are You Ready For Some Football?”

Thursday, July 23, 2009

An Unlikely Disciple

Kevin Roose was a student at Brown University which, by his own admission, is known for being quite the party school. Sex and drugs were as much a part of campus life as classes and term papers. One day Kevin ran across some students who attended Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. In case you don’t know, Liberty is the largest and fastest growing Evangelical University in the world and was founded by the late Dr. Jerry Falwell. Roose could not fathom how students could go to a school where sex and alcohol were prohibited and where a dress code and church attendance was mandated.

So Kevin decided to so something bizarre. He transferred from Brown to Liberty for one semester to see what it was like. He faked it as college evangelical for a full semester and even sang in the Thomas Road Baptist Church Choir (the church founded by Jerry Falwell and now pastored by his son, Joanthan). He then wrote a book about his adventure that he called, “An Unlikely Disciple.” Being a Liberty alumni myself and having a child now attending Liberty, I had to get the book and read it.

To read Roose’s book was like being back in my own college days. In fact, Roose was in my dorm for his semester…Dorm 22. That is where I spent all four of my college years. As he described the sights and sounds of life as a student on the campus of Liberty, I found myself spending a lot of time going down nostalgia lane.

The book was also enjoyable in the sense that Roose has a very talented writing style. He captured my attention. He actually did the last student interview of Dr Falwell before his death. I read that interview before I knew anything about Kevin Roose or his book. I remember thinking that out of all the literally hundreds of written interviews I have read about one of my spiritual heroes, Dr, Falwell, his interview was refreshingly different.

His humor was also enjoyable. For example, Roose talks about the fact that the only thing he knew about Liberty before attending was that Playboy magazine had ranked it the #2 school in the nation for the best looking girls (true story…I believe UCLA was #1). When he got to Liberty he realized that Playboy was right (of course it was…that’s where I found my wife!). But when he thought about the fact that you were not allowed to kiss, let alone have sex as a Liberty student, he described it like, "Visiting Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory with your mouth wired shut."

But the best part of the book was seeing how a non-Christian, non-conservative person views the Christian faith and conservative culture when saturated with it 24 hours a day – seven days a week. To see Roose’s view of Christian roommates; chapel services; Bible classes; and of course, Dr. Falwell, was very fascinating. To read what part of Christianity intrigued him and what part repelled him was, in and of itself, worth the read. It made me wonder how Dr. Falwell would have reacted if news about Roose’s espionage and the publishing of his book afterwards would have occurred before he passed away in May of 2007. Frankly, I think he would have read and enjoyed the book. I know I did.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

ONE Person CAN Make a Difference

Yesterday we saw the “turning point” speech of Mordecai. This message hit the bulls-eye of Esther’s heart. As a result of his words, she requests of her own people a 3-day commitment to fasting on her behalf as she prepares to go before the king and make her request to him (v15). Though prayer is not mentioned directly in this book, I think it is safe to assume that this time of fasting was mainly for the purpose of praying for Esther as she prepared to put her very life on the line by going into the King unannounced to reveal her heritage in an attempt to save her people.

Now if there are any words in this story that exceed the valor of Mordecai’s “for such a time as this” speech, it comes with the final words of the queen in 4:16. Esther’s confidence in God is seen as she boldly states…“If I perish, I perish.” Esther is willing to trust God and do what was right, what He had directed her life for, in spite of the consequences. Boy, do we need the confidence of this woman in the lives of Christians in the church today.

We need people who will say, “I am going to take a stand for God and if I lose my job, I lose my job.”

We need people who will say, “I am going to take a stand for God and if I lose my friend, I lose my friend.”

We need people who will say, “I am going to take a stand for God and if lose my raise, I lose my raise."

We need people who will say, “I am going to take a stand for God and if I lose the promotion, I lose the promotion.”

We need people who will say, “I am going to take a stand for God and if I lose the starting position on the team, I lose the starting position on the team.”

We need people who will say, “I am going to take a stand for God and if I lose my popularity, I lose my popularity."

We need people who will say, “I am going to take a stand for God and if I lose the election, I lose the election.”

But the truth is that we will never take a stand like Esther did until we truly believe that one person can make a difference. We will never take this stand until we understand that God has been at work behind the scenes in my life and maybe, just maybe, He has put me in the right place under the right circumstances for such a time as this! And in the weeks ahead we will see in the story of Esther the truth of Proverbs 21:1, “The kings heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.”

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Best "Turning Point" Speech in Scripture

Before we move on in the story of Esther, I think we should take time to learn two very important lessons from yesterday's blog posting. The first is this…be very careful who you seek as advisors. Advisors who are prejudiced or who will only tell you part of the story are advisors who will cause you to make horrific decisions. The second lesson is equally valuable. Be careful who you hold a grudge against. It is easy to see Haman as such a vile person that we don’t realize that there can be a little bit of Haman in each of us seen every time we hold a grudge. So take a mental and spiritual evaluation. Are you holding a grudge against anyone? A former spouse? A pastor? A roommate? A church? A boss? A coach? A neighbor? A friend? Is there some part of Haman inside of you that needs to be dealt with?

As we open chapter four of Esther, we see the response of Mordecai to the announcement of this death penalty for him and all his people. Mordecai was very upset realizing that it was his refusal to bow before Haman that was the source of this plan. As a result, he put on sackcloth and ashes which was a public sign of mourning (v1). Esther, due to living in the palace, was unknowing of the plan but she hears of Mordecai’s mourning (v4).

Esther sends a messenger to find out the situation (v5-6). Mordecai tells the messenger of Haman’s plot. He gives the messenger a copy of the decree to show Esther. And he asks the messenger to tell the queen that she must go to the king and expose herself as a Jew and plea for her people. At first, Esther sends word back to Mordecai that she is troubled by his request (v9-11). It was widely known that for a person, even the queen, to come before the king without being summoned, usually ended in death. To make matters worse, it had been 30 days since the king had sent for Esther. To go before him now unannounced would most likely be a fatal decision.

This leads us to one of the greatest speeches in all of the Bible and in all of history. This is one of those “turning point” speeches. This is like Patrick Henry declaring, “Give me liberty or give me death!” This ranks right up there with the slogan, “Remember the Alamo.” This is the Biblical version of Knute Rockne’s halftime locker room speech at Notre Dame when he challenged the team with the words, “Win one for the Gipper.”

Through the messenger, Mordecai reminds Esther that based on the decree, she too should be killed. Mordecai goes on to say that if she doesn’t attempt to save her people that God would deliver His people through another source. This is an amazing truth. Yes, God wants to use each of us but folks, listen, He doesn’t really need us. If we refuse to carry out His plan, His plan won’t be thwarted. He will go through another source to carry out His purpose. I wonder how many times God wanted to use me but ultimately used someone else because I refused to follow His leading. Mordecai then ends with the key phrase of the book. “Perhaps,” he says, “This was the very reason that God allowed you to go from orphan to queen.” Or in the words of Scripture, “And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” That is why we have called this series, “Once Upon A Time…For Such A Time As This.” But how will Esther respond? Find out tomorrow.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Plot Thickens

And the plot thickens. That is what takes place in Esther chapter three. Queen Vashti has been deposed of her royal position. King Xerxes has held a beauty pageant. Esther has gone from Jewish orphan to queen of Persia. Mordecai has saved the king’s life without any recognition or reward. And Haman, evil Haman, has risen to 2nd highest position in all the land. This position brought with it an edict from the king that all who passed by him must bow before him. Mordecai, who will bow to no one but the God of Israel, refuses. Haman has become so angry that he desires not just to kill Mordecai but to exterminate every Jew on the face of the earth. And now, as we continue in chapter three of this book that never even mentions the name of God, we see Haman’s diabolical plot set in motion.

In verse seven, Haman appeals to the superstition of his time to pick through the process of lots his “lucky day” to set for his Anti-Semitic plan to exterminate all Jews in the land. He then goes before the king and deceives him into thinking that there is a group of people who aren’t just refusing to obey him but who have become a threat to his kingdom (v8). He doesn’t even mention who the group of people are and the king is either apathetic enough, or trusts Haman enough, that he doesn’t bother to ask their identity either.

Haman’s advice to the king is to hire out the job of killing all the Jews (v9). Haman himself offers to pay a reward of silver out of his very own pocket. The amount of this reward is staggering…10,000 talents of silver. Persia used silver as their monetary standard. 10,000 talents would be the equivalent of 375 tons of silver. Now let me give you a dollar amount so that you could put it into perspective. One ton of silver today is worth $37,704.84. This would put the value of 375 tons of silver at roughly $14,139,315 by today's standards. Now Haman was very rich but I’m not sure even he could afford that sum. I think it is safe to assume that his plan was to use all the loot confiscated from the Jews after they were killed to pay these assassins.

This plan was quite extensive. The massacre would be carried out all the way to Palestine which was part of the Persian Empire under Xerxes. The king believes in Haman and gives him total authority to carry out the plan seen in his giving him his ring (v10-11). Though the edict was signed in the first month of the year, due to the result of the lot, it was not to be carried out until the 12th month. It would seem that the Jews would live in misery for nearly a year knowing what awaited. Why would this be agony for the Jews? Because this execution included all Jews…young and old, women and children.

But though you do not see His name mentioned, don’t overlook God working behind the scenes. Proverbs 16:33 tells us that “The lot is cast in the lap but every decision is from the Lord.” So who really determined when this “D-Day” would take place? It was God. He had a plan. He was working behind the scenes then just as He is now. So Haman has all the royal papers drawn up, sealed, and distributed through the kingdom resulting in even non-Jews being perplexed by the announcement of this plot intent on killing all Jews (v12-15).

Tomorrow we will see two lessons that we should learn from the unveiling of this diabolical plot.

Friday, July 17, 2009

If It Ain't Broke...

I’m sure you have heard the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, that is wonderful if you don’t want your organization to grow. I subscribe to a different adage that says, “If it ain’t broke, break it!” Why? Because change is good.

For those that work here at Grace Church, we are going to be experiencing a lot of change over the next 6 months. Virtually everything in the office as we know it will change. A lot of it won’t affect people who attend Grace Church, but for those that work here, over the next 6 months everything internally is going to be “under construction.” For example, here are just a few of the changes that we’ll be experiencing the next 6 months:

Financial Systems
Facility Systems
Office Systems
H.R. Systems
Management Systems
New Church Website
New Church Logo
New Education Website
Office Construction
Café/Office Expansion
Daycare/School Systems
New Connections Process
Saturday Night Pilot

So to kick off our first full work week in July, I came in the night before and hung up 124 signs all over the office, even in the restrooms. Half of these signs were various signs you would see when entering road construction. The other half of the signs contained one verse from Philippians 4:4…“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” I even put a few dozen orange cones all over the office. I actually watched two people trip over them because they were walking while reading. Isn’t that kind of like driving while texting? We are going to leave all the signs up as long as possible because we all really need the reminder that in these times of change we need to have the right attitude.

We did have some fun with the signs. It was brought to my attention that putting a construction sign that said “Loose Stone” next to the urinal in the men’s room was probably not the wisest of choices. But wait until I find out who changed the sign on the door of the stall in the men’s restroom to read, “Sinkhole Ahead”!!

So let me say it once more time for all of us…“Rejoice (the idea of throwing a party like the prodigal son’s father did when his son returned home) in the Lord (the One who never changes) always (even while under construction…even while experiencing change); again I will say (I will continue to remind you), rejoice!!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Miss America and Grace

The winner of the 1954 Miss America Pageant was Miss Evelyn Ay. Evelyn represented the end of an era being the last Miss America to be crowned before the televised crownings began. She was the daughter of German immigrants and resided in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. Upon her crowning, her father announced, ‘This could happen only in America!’ She went on to marry her pre-pageant fiancĂ©, Carl Sempier, raising two daughters, six Great Dane dogs, and thoroughly enjoying her two grandchildren. Over the years, Evelyn continued to be a great supporter of The Miss America Organization. Of the Program she said, ‘Serving an organization that provides scholastic opportunity to women nationwide validates my long and devoted affiliation.’ She continued to be known through her life as an enchanting and captivating speaker.

As we have been studying Esther here at Grace on Sunday mornings we have seen that Esther was more than just another pretty face. She was a women full of grace who was also very teachable. She had more than outward beauty. She also had inner beauty which is what set her apart and allowed her to find grace in the eyes of all she met, even the king.

Let’s not underestimate the power of inner beauty. It is far superior to outward beauty. Just think of the cycle both run. When it comes to outward beauty, women do not start at their epitome. If you don’t believe that, ladies, just go back and look at your 1st grade, 2nd grade and 3rd grade school pictures. But as time went on, your outward beauty grew. But here is the bad news. At some point you will reach the apex of outward beauty (I’m sure no lady reading this blog is there yet!!!). From that point on you don’t get more and more beautiful outwardly. Each day after that you get less and less beautiful outwardly (in spite of all the wrinkle remover cream you may use).

Now compare that with inner beauty. If you know Jesus and are developing an intimate relationship with Him daily, ladies, you can become more and more beautiful inwardly every day the rest of your life. That is what happened to Esther. And based on the following e-mail I received from a lady who attends Grace Church, that is exactly what happened with Evelyn Ay as well. You see, Evelyn was her husband’s aunt. Here is what she wrote about the former Miss America:

“I really enjoyed the sermon today. I have been so excited about hearing this message series. Esther is absolutely my favorite book in the Bible. I especially enjoyed today the comparison between the pageants and Esther's life. My husband's aunt was Miss America in 1954 --- she passed away last November which was a tremendous loss to our family. She was an amazing woman who when you met her you could tell why she won. Her inner beauty is what I believe won over the judges. I have often had people ask me what she was like and I always said she was such a neat person and you could see why she won. She always made everyone around her feel so special and that she truly cared about you. We miss her so much but it was neat for me to think of her along with Esther and be able to put in a perspective of how Esther got to be queen.”

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Bible's BEAUTY and the BEAST

The end of Esther chapter two takes a twist away from Esther and back to her older cousin, Mordecai. At his position as a gate-keeper, Mordecai hears of a plot to kill the king and he warns Esther, who is now the queen, of what he has learned (v21-22). The plot is found to be true and the culprits are executed. Verse 23 uses the term “gallows”. When we think of gallows today we think of hanging someone with a rope and noose. But in the Persian culture of that day, gallows did not include ropes but long poles on which they would impale the victim and leave him hanging at the top of the pole in the writhing in the air until they died. You can see this mentioned in Ezra 6:11. History tells us that Darius (the father of King Xerxes) impaled over 3,000 men.

Now the end of verse 23 becomes a very important verse. It tells us that the full events of this incident, including Mordecai’s saving of the king’s life, were recorded in the annals of the king. Though that may seem somewhat insignificant, it will come to play a much larger role later in the story. Mordecai’s heroic action that saved the king seemed to him to be totally forgotten. There was no reward. There was no verbal praise. No “Thank you.” Not even an “Atta boy.” It seemed that his good deed had gone unnoticed and unrecognized. How often do we get miffed when our good deed or our action doesn’t get the recognition that we feel we deserved? But remember, even when it seems like we have been forgotten, God remembers. He keeps meticulous records. He is at work behind the scenes. This incident will one day save Mordecai’s own life, Esther's life, and the life of his people. Don’t sweat it when you seem to be forgotten. Sometimes it is the seemingly forgotten events that can turn the entire course of a person’s life.

Once when I preached through Esther years and years ago I called it, “The Bible’s Beauty and the Beast.” In chapter two we were introduced to the beauty of the story. Her name, of course, was Esther. But in chapter three we are now introduced to the Beast in the story. His name is Haman. Many years later a man just like Haman would appear on the scene in our world. His name would be Hitler. The two had much in common.

Chapter three once again begins with the words, “after these events.” Verse seven would tell us that it is now the 12th year of the king’s reign. Just as 4 years passed in between chapters one and two; another five years pass in between chapters two and three. Esther has now been queen for five years and it has been five years since Mordecai’s saving of the king’s life went unrewarded. Now Haman is promoted to second highest position in the land (v1). The position carried with it a decree from the king that all who passed Haman must bow down before him (an act of worship, v2). Mordecai refuses to bow before Haman because as a Jew, Mordecai only worshipped the God of Israel (v2-4). Haman’s pride comes bursting out as Mordecai’s refusal angers him to the point of wanting to kill not just Mordecai, but every Jew in the land (v6). Haman would now put together a diabolical plot to see the entire race of Jewish people, all the way to Palestine, wiped off the face of the earth. And if he succeeds, it would also destroy the line of the Messiah that would ultimately be used to bring Jesus into this world to die for our sins.

Join us at Grace Church this Sunday (8:30; 10; 11:30) to hear the next chapter in this amazing story. If you can't be with us here in Lititz, watch our live stream on the web at 10am (

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Miss Persia Pageant

Continuing from yesterday, we find that Esther was one selected to appear before the king and was put in the charge of a eunuch named Hegai. The words “was taken” in 2:8 could suggest a reluctance on her part and can be translated “taken by force”. In the end Esther found grace in the eyes of Hegai who was the Eunuch in charge of the contestants. In fact the text literally reads that, “she lifted up grace before his face”. Now there is a total package in a woman…beauty and grace. What a powerful combination. But you know what the real reason was for her finding grace in the eyes of Hegai? Because once again, God, though not mentioned by name, was working behind the scenes.

But along with being a young woman of beauty and grace (outward and inward beauty) there is another quality that Esther possessed that is well worth mentioning. She was teachable. Upon Mordecai’s advice, Esther was teachable and obedient and did not reveal her Jewish heritage (v10). This again was God working behind the scenes. He had a plan and he was putting the pieces into just the right place at just the right time. And He wasn’t just doing this in the case of Esther. Listen, He is dong the same thing behind the scenes in your life today as well.

Now this beauty pageant in Persia involving Esther was quite different than any we have witnessed today. We have seen some controversy surrounding beauty pageants, but not like this one. The last Miss America pageant made all kinds of waves recently when Miss California lost in large part do to her stated belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman. But this pageant was even more stunning. This didn’t include the normal evening gown and swimsuit portion of the judging. This pageant did not include answering softball type questions like, “If you had one wish what would you wish for?” Which the correct answer is always, “world peace!”

This pageant started with a 12-month purification process which included extensive beauty treatments…a full year’s worth. Then, each young woman was given whatever she wanted to wear including all the accompanying accessories, and then each of them spent one night with the king. Now if you think the modern day swimsuit portion of beauty pageants are scandalous, you would have really disapproved of the rules to this pageant. This was not simply a night of dinner and dancing with the king. According to verse 14, each contestant would go visit the king in the evening and not return until the morning. Now with that in mind, it is fairly easy to conclude what these women were being judged upon. And this would not be a quick pageant. The historian, Josephus, says that up to 400 women were involved. Was this moral? Of course not. But to me, that is an amazing part of God that we see in this book. He can even work behind the scenes when holiness and righteousness are not being pursued.

When it came Esther’s turn to be with the king, she requested nothing extra, only what was given to her by Hegai (v15). And it appears that upon their first meeting, the king falls in love with Esther. Learn more in my posting tomorrow.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Once Upon A Time...For Such A Time As This

Here at Grace Church we are currently in a 6-week series through the book of Esther that we are calling “Once Upon A time…For Such A Time As This.” Though this book of the Bible never mentions the name of God, a title for God or even a pronoun referring to God, you can definitely see His fingerprints on every single page. This is a book that reminded the Jews back then who had not yet returned from exile, and followers of Jesus today, that God is always at work behind the scenes. We saw that two Sundays a go as we studied through chapter one (you can read my blogs overviewing that chapter that I posted last Thursday and Friday, July 9 and 10) and we saw it again last Sunday as we moved through chapter two and into the first portion of chapter three which I will overview with my next three postings.

The first verse of chapter two begins with the words “after these things” which suggests a four year period in between the close of chapter one and the beginning of chapter two. Remember, that the way you follow the timeline in the book of Esther is to follow what year it is in the reign of the king, which at that time was King Xerxes. In chapter one we see that the story opens in the third year of his reign (1:3). But in 2:16 we now see that it is the seventh year of his reign. What happened during the 4-year gap in between these opening chapters of the book? History would confirm that during this time Xerxes led Persia in an invasion of Greece but was soundly defeated.

As Xerxes returns to his palace he is most likely wanting and needing the solace of a wife. But as we saw in chapter one, Xerxes had Queen Vashti deposed of her position and so he returns to a palace with no queen. Verse one telling us that the king was "remembering Vashti" shows his having second thoughts about the decision he had made regarding her. But because it was a decision written in the law of the Medes and Persians (as seen in 1:19), it could not be over turned. This wasn’t simply a need for sex. Most likely, this king had a harem full of women that could provide that. This was a need for more than that. This was a need for companionship.

You have heard the saying, “If mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Well in that day the saying could have easily been, “If the king ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” And the king was not happy. He had lost the battle. He had no queen. His advisors realize that something must be done. They can’t change the results of the recent lost battle, but they can do something about the king’s need for a queen. As a result, they plan for all the finest young virgins (unmarried women) to be given extensive beauty treatments and then taken before the king so he could pick one as his queen (v2-4).

Beginning in verse five, we are now introduced to Mordecai, a Jew whose family had been brought into captivity under King Nebuchadnezzar (v5-6). Mordecai had raised his younger orphan cousin (v7). Her Hebrew name was Hadassah and her Persian name was Esther, meaning “star”. The Bible is very specific in telling us that she was extremely beautiful (v7) which would make her a candidate for this upcoming beauty contest to see who would be the next queen. In tomorrow's blog posting we will continue the story.

Friday, July 10, 2009

WHERE"S WALDO - part 2

Today’s posting is a continuation of yesterday. Before you read on today you will want to be sure that you have read yesterday’s posting first.

So Vashti refuses to obey the king! All I can say is, “God bless the queen!” Even though she knew it would have severe consequences, she refuses to do what would be demoralizing and wrong. But as a result, Xerxes is ticked off. The Bible says that he is “burning with anger.” So he consults his advisors as to what his response should be. One advisor, whose name is Memucan, makes the proverbial mountain out of the mole hill with the situation. He convinces the king that if he does not act quickly and harshly that all the women in the land would hear of what the queen did and that they would all revolt against their husbands. It makes me wonder if Memucan was having some trouble at home with a bit of a feisty wife who did not jump at his every beck and call.

So the King, who appears to be easily convinced by others, agrees with Memucan and has Vashti deposed and her royal estate stripped from her. Now, here’s the million dollar question, “Where’s Waldo? Where’s God in this story?” Look close, you can see Him. And how ironic that you see Him in the words of a ridiculous advisor in Esther 1:19 when Memucan says, “And let the king give her royal position to another!” Do you see Him? Do you see His plan? Do you see His attention? Do you see His fingerprints?

You see at that very moment across the city there was a young Jewish woman named Hadassah, or Esther as the Persians would call her. She has had a rough life up to that point, losing her parents when she was young and being raised as an orphan by her older cousin. I’m sure she woke up that morning and it seemed to her like just another “ho-hum” day in Persia. She had no clue what was taking place inside the palace walls that very day. She had no idea that God was working that day behind the scenes in the life of a drunken, prideful king; in the courage of a beautiful queen; and in the idiocy of a presidential advisor in such a way that four years later she would be drawn into the story herself and would ultimately have the opportunity to go from an orphan to queen in order to saver her people from annihilation.

No, His name is not mentioned anywhere in chapter one, but God is there! You see, God knew that four years later a wicked man named Haman would rise to such power in Persia that he would be able to trick the king into ordering the extermination of all Jews all the way to Palestine. Xerxes didn’t know that at the time. Vashti didn’t know that at the time. Memucan didn’t know that at the time. Neither did Hadassah. But God knew it. He was there. And that should encourage us greatly as we go through our “ho-hum” week this week. God knows what’s going to happen four years from today. While you go through your routine, He is at work behind the scenes today preparing for tomorrow in ways you have no clue of right now. And in the dreary routine of your day and your week it may seem like He’s absent, but know that’s not true. Just like in the story of Esther…He’s there, working behind the scenes. What a story! What a God!

Thursday, July 09, 2009


The book of Esther has always been met with much suspicion regarding whether it was truly inspired by God and if it really belongs in the canon of Scripture. Even Luther and Calvin argued against its place in Holy Scripture. Why would they struggle with such a wonderful story? It was mainly due to the fact that it never mentions the name of God, not even once. In fact, it never even uses a title or pronoun referring to God. It does use the name or a word referring to a heathen king 197 times but never once does it refer to God. Neither does it directly mention anything about prayer, worship, faith, heaven or hell. Could a book missing all of these key topics really be from God?

To make matters even more doubtful, the book of Esther is never quoted in the New Testament nor was any parts of it found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. But yet, even without mentioning the name of God, the theme of the book is the providential care of God. No, His name is never mentioned but you can see His actions, His thoughts, His plans, and even His fingerprints on every single page. It’s like looking at a “Where’s Waldo” book. When you glance at those cluttered and brightly colored pictures you are prone at first impulse to say, “I’ll never find Waldo in this mess.” But if you look close enough, there he is. So it is with Esther. If you just take a glance you may go away saying, “What does this have to do with God?” But look close enough and there He is!

In chapter one, King Xerxes, the Persian leader who saw himself as “the king of this great earth” is throwing a 7 day feast and the main activity taking place for these 7 days is drinking. It is an open bar with no last call. Xerxes is using this time to show off all that belongs to him. He wants everyone to see that he has the best of everything. At the end of the 7 days, Xerxes realizes that there is one thing that he has the best of in the land that he has not displayed as of yet and that was that he had the most beautiful wife. Her name is Vashti. It was most-likely a nickname because it meant “the best”. Without doubt, when it came to physical attractiveness, Xerxes would not be outdone by any other man when it came to a wife. It is safe to say that Vashti was “drop-dead gorgeous” and most likely there was no more beautiful young woman in the entire land.

So Xerxes sends for Vashti to come before him and the room full of men and she refuses. OUCH! She refuses to obey the most powerful man in the world at that time. She had to know that this would have dire consequences. Why would she put herself at such risk by disobeying the king? Well, let’s think about this. What was the state of the king and this room full of men? They were flat drunk. Do drunk men tend to be proper with beautiful women or improper? And according to Esther 1:11, what does Xerxes want Esther to wear? The royal crown. What else does he want her to wear? Actually, nothing else is mentioned in particular. I don’t think I am reading too much into the story when I say there is a very good chance that in order to display to these drunken comrades that his queen was more physically beautiful than any other woman in the land, that he wanted her to appear wearing only her royal crown. So what happens to Vashti? What in the world does this have to do with Esther? Where’s Waldo? Where’s God in this? Find out tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Grace Ministries Welcomes Two New Staff Members

Part of the ministry of Grace Church is over 400 students who are part of MorningStar Daycare and Academics and Lititz Christian School. Over the summer we have been praying that God would lead us in filling two very key positions on our educational administrative team. As is the case with God, He answered our prayers far and above anything we were anticipating. We are pleased to announce the hirings of Mrs. Kimberly Taylor as our new Childcare Director and Mr. Gabe Pethel as our new Secondary Principal.

Childcare Director: Mrs. Kimberly Taylor - Kimberly Taylor and her husband, Cleveland, formerly attended Grace Church until 3 years ago, when she was transferred to her current position in Baltimore. Since then she has missed the Lititz fellowship greatly. In addition, their son and daughter-in-law have moved to the Denver, PA area and are expecting a child. Kimberly and Cleveland are eager to embrace the roll of grandparents and long to be nearer to their family. Professionally, Kimberly Taylor is a highly qualified leader who is passionate about service to families needing childcare. A graduate of Virginia University in Criminal Law, along with 18 years of childcare experience, Mrs. Taylor has proven to be a successful, organized individual with excellent team building qualities ready to embrace a challenge. Her skills have allowed her to recruit, manage, and train staff, design curriculum, and oversee multiple million dollar centers, simultaneously. Her love for the Lord, coupled with her confidence in her skills make Mrs. Taylor a wonderful asset to MorningStar and all of Grace Ministries. We look forward to working with Mrs. Taylor starting in August.

Secondary Principal: Mr. Gabe Pethtel - Mr. Gabe Pethtel is married to his wife, Dana, and they have three beautiful children; Logan, Caleb, and Emma (now 13, 9, and 3.) Mr. Pethtel’s desire to serve and administrate as the Secondary Principal at Lititz Christian was evident as he shared his ideas, experiences, and qualifications with the board. We were especially impressed with Mr. Pethtel’s many references. One in particular communicated the following, “Gabe thinks administratively, enjoys looking at the “big picture”, and has displayed unquestionable character. He takes a biblical approach to all he does and is a very effective communicator of both biblical principles and Christian Education.” Transferring from Dayton Christian school system in Ohio, Mr. Pethtel brings 10 years of secondary experience, including 2 years of missionary work in Romania, an English and Secondary degree from Ball State and current graduate work from Cedarville University. Teaching English, writing curriculum, discipling students, and mentoring faculty, Mr. Pethtel has had plenty of experiences that give him the confidence and the desire to join the team at Lititz. We also look forward to Mr. Pethtel’s arrival the first week of July.

The success of any ministry depends much on having the proper team in place. We are thrilled as a ministry at these additions that God has given us to our team. Please be praying for Gabe and Kimberly as they move and transition into their new ministries. Please also be praying for the educational ministries of Grace Church.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Financial Opportunity: Helping the POOR - Part 2

If there was ever a group of people that ought to be using their money to help the poor it is Christians. Why? Because we are the hands and feet of Jesus in our communities and in our world. That’s why I am so excited about how Grace Church is making a difference in the lives of hundreds of orphans in the Central African Republic. These orphans have little food and no education which equals no hope. But because of our giving, hundreds of these orphans are getting a hot meal every day and a Christ-centered education. Because of us, now they have hope. These kids who are orphans today will likely grow up tomorrow to become the leaders of the African church and government.

But are we doing enough? In my opinion we are not doing enough as individuals or as a church until we are sacrificing more than our excess to help those who have nothing. And we have our school, Lititz Christian School, as a great example of that. The leadership of our school felt the urge to fund a school for orphans in Africa as well, but they are doing it out of their need, not their excess. Our school lives penny to penny to make ends meet. In fact, to make budget they have to raise $250,000 each year (a quarter million dollars each year) in donations and fund-raising. To do this they count on many things including special offerings at events like their Christmas Program. But when they found out about the needs of orphans in Africa they wanted to make a difference out of their own need. So, for the last two years the $4,000 that comes in that Christmas program offering has been used to support a sister school in the Central African Republic. Folks, listen, our school could use that money but they have chosen to give it away to meet the physical and spiritual needs of orphans halfway around the world who are far less fortunate than we are. That is what I call giving through sacrifice and I honor and applaud the leadership of our school for that step of faith.

This recession that we are facing as a country has also caused some serious financial adversity right here at home. People in our families are hurting financially. People in our church are hurting financially. People in our neighborhoods are hurting financially. We now have an opportunity to help them and be a blessing to them as well. We have a group of people in our church who have a real heart for this and who have, under the leadership of Pastor Steve and Pastor Whitie, put together a food ministry that we are calling “Taste of Grace.” Isn’t that a great name for a food ministry?

This is a ministry in which anyone can purchase good and nutritional food at lower prices in order to help take the edge off of their financial struggles. This isn’t just for people without a job. This is available to anyone who eats. You can take advantage of this. You can let others in your family and neighborhoods know about this. You can use this as a way to provide some food for a family you know is going through a real tough time right now financially. We at Grace Church want to be a practical help and this is a wonderful way we can do so. One advantage of money is that we can use to help others in need. If you would like more information on this ministry simply e-mail us at

Monday, July 06, 2009

Financial Opportunity: Helping the POOR - Part 1

Every obstacle includes an opportunity. I want you to remember that statement. Yes, our country is facing some economic obstacles. These obstacles have created a ripple effect of obstacles that all of us have felt. Some have lost thousands of dollars in their investments. Some have had their salaries frozen. Some have lost their jobs. And, let’s be honest, we may not have seen the worst of it yet. In spite of an astounding amount of dollars being poured out in bailouts, the unemployment rate continues to rise and could soon reach 10% of our country’s workforce. But remember…every obstacle includes an opportunity. And I believe that there are some opportunities when it comes to our finances that we might be more willing to take advantage of now more than ever.

According to the book of Proverbs, there are certain advantages to money. One such advantage is that Money can allow us to help the poor. Proverbs 19:17 says, “He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed.” Did you see that? God blesses our generosity with His generosity. When I am gracious to someone who is lacking it is equal to being gracious to the Lord.

This was a theme of Jesus. “When we do it to the least of these,” Jesus said, “We are doing it for Him.” In other words, when we give food to the hungry, it is like feeding Jesus. When we give clothes to the naked, it is like clothing Jesus. And according to this verse, our using our money to help the poor is something that God rewards in our lives. He will repay us for our good deeds to the poor. That makes it a “double win”. Not only is my ministering to the poor equal to ministering to the Lord but it results in the Lord blessing me. Talk about an advantage!! That’s a double advantage.

Proverbs 28:27 goes on and says, “He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses.” Wow! Once again, advantage us! When we use our money to help the poor it guarantees that God will meet our needs. But the flip-side is also true. When we shut our eyes to the plight of the poor we bring negative consequences upon us and our families. I’ll be perfectly honest. I think that is exactly what the church in America has done. While we have enjoyed our prosperity we have likewise closed our eyes to the poor and needy in our communities and around our world.

Let’s not cruise past this point too quickly. Folks, listen, unless you have traveled to the other parts of the world, you don’t really understand what poverty is all about. Most Americans have no idea what real poverty looks like. I’ve seen it up close and personal in the streets and villages of Cambodia and in portions of Israel, Jordan and Egypt. If you liquidated everything and were worth over $60,000, you would be in the top 10% of wealth in the world. If your worth is $500,000 or more you would be wealthier than 99% of the world. You would be in the top 1% of wealth globally. To us, poverty is not being able to buy the new i-phone or take the luxurious vacation or eat out more than once a week. In many parts of the world poverty is not knowing if your children will survive another day due to lack of food and clean water.

More tomorrow...

Saturday, July 04, 2009

A Whopper, Fries and a Prayer

Above is another picture of my son, Jonathan, on Operation Barnabas. Here he and another girl on his team are praying with the worker behind the counter at Burger King! Now that is a cool picture! Please keep praying for all five of the students from Grace Church that are currently on Operation Barnabas

Friday, July 03, 2009

A Great Night In Lancaster

My wife and daugher and I spent a wonderful evening last Thursday in downtown Lancaster. We started with dinner at the Prince Street Cafe. From there we walked around the city for about an hour just enjoying the sights. We then hit The Creamery for some wonderful ice cream. Then came the main event. We headed over to the Fulton Opera House to see "Les Mis"! It was absolutely fantastic! It is being held over until July 19th. If you can still get tickets you will thoroughly enjoy it! I was surprised that I could sit through 3 full hours of non-stop singing without knowing anything about the story in advance and never get bored...not even once. I had no trouble following the story line and the three hours flew by. Simply fabulous!

As Close As I'll Ever Get!

If you know me, then you know how much I love baseball. To me, going to a major league baseball stadium is like a little taste of heaven. Recently, I got to go to a fan appreciation night at Citizen's Bank Park with a friend. We had a great buffet dinner (on the Phillies) an were able to tour the field, the bullpens, the dugout, the clubhouse, the media room (which contained the World Series trophy from last year) and the batting cages. How cool! Above are pictures of me in the Phillies clubhouse and in the Phillies dugout! I guess this is as close to the Major Leagues as I'll ever get! By the way, I carfully looked at every Phillie's player's locker to see if I could find any hints of a relationship with Jesus. The only person who had anything in their locker that could remotely point that way was Lidge who had a verse from the book of Ecclesiastes.

Financial Opportunity: Turning Around DEBT - Part 4

In previous postings I told you of how I led my family into the slavery of debt. When we were slaves to our credit card debt, we had to make a decision. If we did not go on the “cash only” basis we would never turn our ship around. You say, “But today we are in a cashless society!” Stop making excuses. Quit increasing your debt. Stop living the American dream. What is the American Dream? The American Dream is buying things I really don’t need with money I really don’t have to impress people I really don’t like!

Stop it! Quit using your credit cards. Do you realize that when you go to the store for something specific, studies show that if you use a credit card you will spend up to 18% more than if you used cash. It’s just too easy. When you can only use the cash in your pocket you will buy less than if you use your credit card. That is a fact. In other words, if you use your credit card over the course of the year to buy a total of $10,000 worth of things you need, you will end up spending nearly $2,000 more than you planned and that is without considering any interest you might end up paying. Stop it! Now, I have credit cards. However, I only use my credit cards if I can pay off the balance when the bill comes in. Unless of course it is an emergency, if I cannot pay it off when the bill comes in, I don’t buy it. I didn’t always used to that. Now I do.

And with this principle comes another point. Don’t fall for the “60 days, 90 days, 12 months or even 24 months same as cash traps.” Bottom line is this. If you don’t have the money now to pay for it, you most likely won’t have it 60 days from now, 90 days from now, 12 months from now, or whenever. Don’t buy it if you can’t afford it. You say, “But it won’t be as cheap later!” There you go again with more excuses. Remember, excuses will keep you a slave to your debt. Buying it now on credit will almost always cost you more than waiting until you have the money to buy it. The problem is that we live in an “I want it now and I can’t wait society.” Even if I can’t afford it, I want it now. We are the only society in the world that stands in front of their microwaves and hollers, “Hurry Up!” Laura and I had to come to a conclusion and that was that there are many things we would like to have that we simply can’t have right now and may not ever be able to possess and that’s OK.

Now once you commit to those two beginning principles and the discipline it takes to accomplish them with no more excuses, you will need to go on to the next step and that is to develop a plan to pay down your debt. There are many people out there who can help you to know how to do that in a smart and godly way. But your plan has no chance if you don’t put these first two principles into place. First, you have to put God first in your finances and second, you must quit acquiring debt. Yes, we are all facing some sort of financial obstacle at this time, but every obstacle includes an opportunity.

So now you must decide? This economic downturn in our country has produced many obstacles but with it comes the opportunity to wake up and begin to change habits and manage our money in a Biblical way. So, what will it be? DISCIPLINE or EXCUSES?

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Financial Opportunity: Turning Around DEBT - Part 3

The Bible teaches is to fear God. This means to take Him seriously. If he says to do it, we do it. Has God said to tithe? Yes. If God promises it we should believe it. Has God promised to bless us if we put him first financially? Yes. Now be careful. Many will tell you that this is a promise of wealth. I don’t see that. He does promise to meet your needs. I believe that He does promise to give us more, but why? So that we can in turn give more. But I want to remind you that some of God’s best blessings are not financial.

Let me just put it right out there. I know this is going to make some of you uncomfortable and a few of you even angry but the very first step in turning around your financial obstacle is to put God first and putting God first means tithing. You say, “Are you saying I have to give 10% of my income to the church?” It doesn’t matter what I say. You have to ask yourself this question, “What does God say?” I can tell you this. My wife and I are tithers. The first 10% of our income goes to the church. By the way, we figure our 10% on what we earn, not what is left after we pay Uncle Sam. We then give above and beyond that to other ministries and to special projects that come up here in our ministry. We have made that a priority. And I can tell you this, God has never let us down. If you could see me you would realize that I haven’t missed one meal. God has met our needs.

I’ve told you this before. Last fall, when my daughter started college, I was very tempted to lower my tithe significantly. My reasoning seemed justified. After all, Joy was going to a Christian College so my paying tuition was like tithing, right? If I used my tithe to pay for her college, it would all but cover it. But I resisted that temptation. Over her freshman year of college I did not lower my tithe one penny. In fact, we have given more to the Lord’s work this year than any other year in our adult lives. And somehow, someway, we were able to pay for Joy’s first year of college without paying one red cent in interest. Now mind you, that tuition payment was not in our budget. We had nothing saved away for her college education. I wish we would have been able to do that but we weren’t. All I can say is God met our needs.

You can make all the excuses in the world. But you can’t expect God to bless your finances until you make Him first when it comes to your money. Again, I know what you’re thinking. Well, when I get out of debt then I’ll start tithing. No, you won’t. When I get that raise or that promotion than I’ll start tithing. No, you won’t. Tithing begins with what you have now. So it’s your call…EXCUSES or DISCIPLINE?

Here is the second principle. Stop acquiring new debt. Just stop it. I’m no rocket scientist when it comes to finances but I do know this. If I have $10,000 in credit card debt and I use my credit card to by the new gadget that I don’t have the money for, I just took a step further into slavery rather than freedom. Quit using your credit cards! Now wait. What excuse is going through your mind right now? Well, my credit card is my safety net. I need my credit card for convenience. I am using my credit card for the cash back bonus. So let me ask you again. What’s it going to be? Excuses or discipline?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Grace Teens Arrive in IRELAND

Our Student Leadership Team from Grace Church along with our Director of Student Ministries, Doug Kegarise, and his wife, Renee, arrived safely in Ireland. We had a very special time of prayer for them as a staff prior to their leaving the church for the airport on Tuesday morning. Above is the fist picture of our team in Ireland. You can follow their progress and see many more pictures at our Grace Student Ministries blog ( Please continue to pray daily for their safety and for God to do a work in each of their hearts. My prayer is that each of them would leave a little piece of their heart in Ireland when they return that will draw them to be a follower of Jesus that cares for the spiritual needs of the world.

Financial Opportunity - Turning Around DEBT - Part 2

Yesterday we saw that the more debt we have the more we lose control of our lives. And with loss of control comes the addition of risk. That’s what proverbs 22:26-27 teaches, “Do not be among those who give pledges, among those who become sureties for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, why should he take your bed from under you?” That’s the final principle. To acquire debt foolishly is to put myself at great risk. That’s why this economic crisis is even worse for many Americans, because they entered it already up to their eyeballs in debt. I am very sure that I am describing many people reading this posting. One thing I know for sure is that none of us can go back and change the past. We got into debt and that’s a fact. The real question is, “When will we finally reach that day when we stop and shout, ‘Enough!?’ It’s time to change my habits. It’s time to become a faithful steward over all 100% of what God gives me!

My prayer is that the obstacle of our current financial crisis in America will wake up the church of Jesus Christ and we will take it as an opportunity to add something to our finances that we have lacked for a long, long, long, long time…DISCIPLINE. Why do we need discipline? Because there really is no quick fix to our debt situation. The only way you can turn around the ship of debt is with DISCIPLINE and unfortunately that is a character trait that is very absent in our culture today.

So where do I start? Let me give you just two beginning steps. These aren’t final steps…these are beginning steps. I can only get you started in the right direction. I can’t take you to the finish line. Once you put into place these beginning steps, you may need to seek out some godly people who can help you go the distance. But here are some beginning steps. Remember, it isn’t a light switch. You can’t just go flip the switch and all the darkness of your financial misery will be gone. That’s why it takes DISCIPLINE.

Your temptation is going to be to respond with EXCUSES. Folks, listen, the more excuses you make the more in debt you become. The more in debt you become the more you lose control of your life. The more you lose control of your life the more at risk you make yourself and your family. In this time of economic upheaval we each have the opportunity to stop offering EXCUSES and start offering DISCIPLINE.

Principle #1, you must put God first in your finances. Now stop! I know what immediately went through your mind…an EXCUSE! Remember, you have the opportunity to quit offering excuses and start offering discipline. No excuses. That is really the key to turning around your ship of debt. Let me just make it clear. How can you expect God to bless your finances when you are not putting Him first with your money? That is where you start. God rewards obedience. He blesses obedience. He responds when we act in faith. Here is what Jesus said. He said not to worry about what you will eat and what you will wear. Instead, he said to seek God first and all these needs will be added to you. In other words, God promises that if we will put Him first with our finances, He will meet our needs.

More tomorrow...