Today’s posting is part three in a three part series introducing 2010 as the YEAR OF PRAYER here at Grace Ministries. Be sure to read parts 1 and 2 before reading part 3.
September - This month we will ask everyone in our ministry to gather at a large flagpole out on our soccer field on the same day for 15 minutes at some time between 6-8am for a morning or worship and prayer
October - This month we will ask each person to memorize word for word at least one of four passages in the Bible that deals with prayer (Philippians 4:4-9; Colossians 1:9-14; James 1:2-8; 2 Chronicles 7:12-15)
November - This month we will ask everyone to pray through the book of Psalms by praying five Psalms daily (2 in morning; 1 at noon; 2 in evening)
December - This month we will ask everyone to spend 30 minutes to an hour between 6am and midnight on New Year's Eve at a self-guided prayer event that will take place in the church auditorium
Fourth, we will use the month of July, the halfway point of the year, to have another 4-week message series on prayer in order to keep us focused as we enter the last half of the calendar year. Below is an overview of the message we will be going through during the month of July.
July 4 – Daniel (Daniel 5) - We will see the need for courage in our prayer life, especially as it relates to our nation
July 11 – Enoch (Genesis 5) – We will see the need for intimacy in our prayer life.
July 18 – Solomon (1 Kings 3) - We will see the need for selflessness in our prayer life.
July 25 – Samuel (1 Samuel 3) - We will see the need for listening in our prayer life.
Finally, we will end the year on December 31st with a special “self-guided” prayer event here at the church. This is described more above under the monthly challenge for December.
We have just a matter of hours until the Year of Prayer begins. Please use this time to prepare by being sure that everyone in and under your ministry is ready to take on this challenge starting January 1. In fact, let’s all be PRAYING during the last hours of 2009 that God will use our YEAR OF PRAYER in 2010 to propel us to even greater effectiveness as a total ministry in meeting as many people as possible right where they are at and helping to move them to where God wants them to be!
Today’s posting is part two in a three part series introducing 2010 as the YEAR OF PRAYER here at Grace Ministries. Be sure to read parts 1 and 2 before reading part 3.
Third, we will be doing a monthly prayer challenge 12 times over the year (one each month). The idea here is to develop unity ministry wide as we take steps of faith in having our entire ministry family participating in the same challenge at exactly or about the same time (same day, same week, etc.). Below I have given you a description of the 12 monthly challenges we will be participating in together:
January - This month we will ask each person to use the same 31-day prayer guide with one ministry prayer request per day regarding our ministry.
February - This month we will ask each person to start each day of the month by praying the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and end each day of the month by praying the words of Jesus from Matthew 22:37-39
March - This month we will ask each person to give or mail 10 “I Prayed for You Cards” to 10 people with a note of encouragement. Five of these cards should go to people in our church and the other five to people outside of Grace Church
April - This month we will ask each person to fast on the same day from 6pm to 6pm the next day giving extra time in that 24-hour period to pray specifically for our Easter ministry here at Grace
May - This month we will ask each person to write out a prayer to God in a journal five days a week through the entire month
June - This month, in preparation for our Big Event at Clipper Magazine Stadium, we will have 7 full days of non-stop prayer asking everyone in our church to sign up for three 15-minute increments during that period
July - This month we will ask each person to completely read a book about prayer from a suggested book list
August - This month we will ask everyone to participate in two Prayer Walks. In the same week we will ask everyone to take an hour to go to the public school nearest their ome and walk around the outside of the school praying for that school. In a separate seek we will ask everyone to take an hour to walk around their neighborhoods praying for each home
I will share September through December’s prayer challenges in tomorrow’s posting.
One of my spiritual heroes, the late Dr. Jerry Falwell, would often say, “Nothing of eternal importance happens a part from prayer.” What a true and powerful statement. Yet, as true as that statement is, the sad fact is that we as followers of the God of the Bible still don’t make prayer a priority in our lives. It should be. That is exactly what Paul meant when he said to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
In order to drive our entire ministry (church, daycare and school) toward making prayer more of the priority it should be, we are designating the upcoming year of 2010 as a “Year of Prayer” here at Grace Ministries. The dates for this will run from the first day of the year (January 1, 2010) all the way through the last day of the year (December 31, 2010). The purpose is to have our entire ministry family focused on prayer for one full year. Just think of what God will do as a result. After all, according to Ephesians 3:20 we serve a God who is able to do, “super abundantly in quantity beyond anything we could ever ask.” Or, as James wrote, “We have not because we ask not.”
So what will this Year of Prayer entail? First and foremost, we want to see every scheduled meeting, class, appointment, activity, service, connect group, etc. begin with prayer. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. Beginning January 1, 2010, anytime you are involved in anything connected with Grace Ministries that was scheduled, be it involving two people or two thousand people, it needs to begin with prayer. Sadly, this will be a paradigm shift for much of what we do because we have not been making prayer the priority it should be. This will take some getting used to but it will develop a wonderful habit in our lives and ministries.
Second, we will start the year off in January with a five week series on prayer to get us focused. Below is the main element of each of these messages:
Jan 3 – Jesus: The Pattern of Prayer (Mark 1:35-39; 1 John 2:6). We will see that the prayer life of Jesus was a PRIORITY; the prayer life of Jesus was PERSONAL; the prayer life of Jesus was PREPARATORY; and the prayer life of Jesus was a PATTERN.
Jan 10 – The Mansion of Prayer (selected Scripture). We will examine prayer as if it were a mansion with 5 rooms. Each room will show us a part of prayer and with each room we will find a key to open up that room in a new and fresh way.
Jan 17 – Doug Kegarise will preach this morning on the topic “Praying for Students”.
Jan 24 – Being Devoted to Prayer (Colossians 4:2-4). We will see our need to be devoted to prayer with an attitude of alertness; an attitude of thanksgiving; and a specific aim.
Jan 31 – The Need for Persistent Prayer (Luke 18:1-8). In this passage we will look at a story that Jesus tells with the purpose of teaching his disciples to make prayer a priority and praying persistently. That is our goal for the year – to be persistent in prayer.
Below is a report from Pastor Tim Auld regarding our 12-member team from Grace Church's current Mission Trip to Spain where they are putting on a Bible School for the children of our Grace Brethren European missionaries. To read the whole report and see all the picture go to Pastor Tim's personal blog at http://www.enrouteontheway.blogspot.com/.
"Today we held our first session with the kids and are having a great time with them already. They are a wonderful group of children who enjoy each other and are enjoying the short time they have already had with us. This afternoon as we were walking down the hallways before our evening session with them, we heard a number of the girls trying to sing the song and do the actions they learned this AM. It's going to be a great week!"
How do you deal with the post-Holiday let down? From the story of “The Flight to Egypt” in Matthew 2:13-23, we learn three principles:
First, REALIZE that even the best of Christmases will have a post-holiday let-down. Mary and Joseph’s Christmas went from GLAD TIDINGS to a GREAT THREAT as Herod sought to kill this “newborn baby king.”
Second, RESPOND to the post-Christmas let down with steadfast obedience to God. Twice the angel told Joseph to, “Get Up!” And twice Joseph, “Got Up!”
Third, REMEMBER that even in the worst of post-holiday circumstances God is still at work fulfilling His plan in your life. Even with the tragic events of Herod’s slaughter of the babies in Bethlehem, God was at work fulfilling His plan.
God didn’t send Jesus to give you a fulfilling HOLIDAY. God sent Jesus to give you a fulfilling LIFE. Yes, the cave Jesus was born in is empty. But so is the tomb in which He was buried. He is alive. He is seated at the right hand of God. He is Lord of all who would believe. He is the Head of His Church.
You have to climb back up on the roof in the cold and take the lights down!
All that trash needs to go out to the curb!
The extended family will all be leaving!
The bills will be coming!
The long winter is just starting!
And all of those things can lead to your annual "Post-Christmas Let-Down" - if you let it! Be sure to join us here at Grace Church this Sunday morning (8:30AM; 10AM; 11:30AM) as we finish our "Avoiding the Christmas Crash" message series by looking at 3 principles from Matthew 2 that will help us to avoid the "Post-Holiday Let-Down" this year!
If you cannot join us live here in Lititz, then be sure to watch the live webcast of our 10am service in its entirety by going to www.gracechurchworship.org.
Pastor Tim has posted a report on our 12-member team from Grace Church who are currently in Europe which includes how they spent Christmas Day in France. It is well worth the read. He also posted some wonderful pictures of our team in England, Switzerland, and France. I especially love the picture of Pastor Tim standing next to John Calvin's chair (Hey, Tim, was the word T.U.L.I.P. carved in that chair anywhere?). Take the time to go to Tim's blog using the post below to read his report and see all the pictures. www.enrouteontheway.blogspot.com
Between all three services we had 1,491 people in attendance! The highest attended of the 3 services was 710 people at the 5:00pm service! There were 471 at the 6:30pm service and 310 at the 8pm service.
I loved watching my kids sing in all three services. Special thanks to all of our musicians, techs, ushers and other staff and volunteers who worked so hard on Christmas Eve. I love doing ministry with all of you!
And how about that piano player on “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree?” And let’s not leave out the 3 ladies who sang the song, those great musicians and Tim Reedy, our Media Producer who put all of the pictures together. Awesome job, everyone!
Boy, did David Felty nail that solo!!!!! I loved it…all three times!!!! I never get tired of hearing him sing.
The Beuggerts, our missionaries in Thailand, watched the 6:30pm service that we broadcast live on the Internet. They are 12 hours ahead of us so they would have been watching our Christmas Eve service at 6:30am Christmas morning! How cool is that?
Rumor has it from a very reliable source that a marriage proposal was made and accepted during the candle-lighting time of our 5:00pm service. Now that is awesome! I won’t give any names until this information has been verified.
Hats off to our Worship Arts team that pulled out all of the stops this month. In 23 years of pastoral ministry, this was by far the best December of ministry that I can ever remember. And it is not done yet. This Sunday we end our “Avoiding the Christmas Crash” series by looking at how to deal with the post-holiday letdown.
Remember, Christmas isn’t just about celebrating the past – it is also about anticipating future because that same Jesus promised that He will come again!
The following report was posted on Jill Lutz' facebook. Jill is one of the 12 team members from Grace Church who left Tuesday for a Mission Trip to Europe. Please be praying that they will all stay healthy as they are pretty tired from the extra travel.
"Finally arrived in France after a night in London and a flight to Switzerland due to a cancelled flight out of London. Quite an adventure!"
One of my favorite nights of the year here at Grace Church in Lititz, PA is Christmas Eve and this year we are having three identical family oriented Christmas Eve Services at 5pm; 6:30pm; and 8pm. Each service will last less than one hour in length.
The 6:30 service will be broadcast live on the Internet by going to www.gracechurchworship.org. We have already heard fromChristian and Bonnie Beuggert, our missionaries in Thailand, who will be watching this live feed from Asia. Chances are good that our team of 12 who arrived in France today will also be watching this live feed from Europe.
So if you cannot be here at Grace, be sure to join those from around the world who will be watching our 6:30pm Christmas Eve service live on the Internet. Blessings to you all and Merry Christmas.
Tonight is Christmas Eve. I love Christmas and I love sharing it with my wife and kids. So here is how our Christmas Celebration will most likely take place in the Distler household:
We will have our big meal of the day in the early afternoon at Olive Garden (my daughter's favorite restaurant)!
I will spend the late afternoon in at the church getting ready for our Christmas Eve services!
Our whole family will be part of all three of our Christmas Eve Services (5pm; 6:30pm; 8pm)!
We will go home and watch a Christmas movie (use to be "Ernest Saves Christmas" but now is "The Santa Clause")!
We will then open any gifts we received from non-family members!
We will then go through Nana's Stockings (my mom sends each of us a Christmas stocking filled with some of the most interesting items)!
We will start with the Santa gifts (I apologize if Santa doesn't come to all of your homes, but he does come to ours. My kids are 19 and 18 and he still comes every Christmas Eve and I suspect he always will)!
We will then go through our stockings from Santa (this takes a while as it is amazing how many little things can fit in a stocking and we go through them in "show and tell" fashion with each person taking a turn pulling one item out of the stocking at a time until they are all empty)!
We will then have our big breakfast (sausage gravy and biscuits with eggs and baked oatmeal - I will be taking this day off of my diet as a Christmas present to myself)!
After breakfast is cleaned up and we all have showered and dressed we will open gifts from relatives on my side of the family and then call each of them to say "thanks"!
After that we will open gifts from Laura's side of the family and call each of them as well!
After that we will relax a bit and then start working on our big dinner of the day (ham and scalloped potatoes...man, I love Christmas)!
After dinner is eaten and cleaned up, we will start opening the gifts from each other. (We focus on quantity more than we do quality so instead of one big and expensive gift we tend to have a lot of less expensive package's wrapped and ready to open and enjoy)!
After that we will be well into the evening and we will most likely enjoy another movie together!
Right before everyone is ready to call it a night, I will bring out what has become known as "The Last Gift of Christmas" (This is a tradition I started several years back. When the last package was opened someone would always say, "I hate it when it's over." So a few years back, without Laura and the kids knowing, I picked out something special for each of them, wrapped it, hid it, and then called them into the family room right before bed on Christmas night and surprised them with a "Last Gift of Christmas." The tradition has stuck and so tomorrow, our Christmas Day will come to an end when I give to each person in my family their "Last Gift of Christmas").
Our team of 12 from Grace Church had no problems at all yesterday with their drive into Philly, their check-in at the Philadelphia airport, or their flight on British Airways to London. But once they landed, problems began to occur. Their connecting flight to France was cancelled due to fog and mist that turned to ice. It took them over 2 hours to find their luggage and it appeared that all hotels were full and they would be spending the night in the airport (kind of sounds like a modern day scene from The Nativity - minus the pregnant virgin of course).
In the end, they got their luggage and were able to get a hotel paid for by the airline...praise the Lord! They are now rebooked tomorrow but on a flight to Geneva which is still a couple of hours from their original destination in France. Unfortunately, they had to split the team up into two groups of 6 people each and their flights from London to Geneva Thursday are almost four hours a part. So please be lifting up the following specific prayer requests up to the Lord on behalf of our team:
That they would have a good night's rest!
That weather would allow them to fly from London to Geneva tomorrow!
That God would work it out for them to all 12 be on the same flight tomorrow!
That God would use this unexpected delay in their lives to His glory!
It was Mrs. Johnson’s second graders turn to do the town’s Christmas play. Mrs. Johnson had just one problem. It was Wally. Wally was big for his age and he had been held back twice in school. As a result, he was larger then any other second grader and the clumsiest of them all. Wally had his heart set on being a shepherd in the Christmas play but Mrs. Johnson could not give such an important role to someone like Wally. So instead she came up with a brilliant idea.
“Wally,” she said, “I have just the part for you. I would like you to be the innkeeper. All you have to do is open the door when Joseph knocks and respond firmly with the words, ‘no room…go away.’ Can you do that Wally?”
Wally practiced it a few times to Mrs. Johnson’s delight. Her planned seemed to be working perfectly. Wally would be involved but not in a critical role. For the next several weeks, Wally practiced his lines everywhere he went. You could see his lips constantly moving as he uttered his lines, ‘no room…go away.’
Finally the night of the big event came. As in past years, the entire town shut down and everyone piled into the school auditorium to watch the second graders put on their show. Mrs. Johnson was nervous but felt she had everything well under control.
At last, Wally’s big cue came. Joseph and Mary slowly and sadly walked up to the inn and Joseph knocked on the door.
‘No room…go away,’ Wally said as he answered the knock.
‘But sir,’ Joseph pleaded.
‘No room…go away,’ Wally firmly replied.
‘But my wife,’ Joseph continued, ‘She’s pregnant and going to have a baby any time?’
‘No room,’ Wally insisted, ‘Go away!’
Right on cue, Joseph and Mary began to walk away from the inn. Mrs. Johnson’s heart skipped a beat. Wally was supposed to close the door and he would be done. But Wally just stood there, watching the homeless couple as they walked away from the inn.
What happened next changed the town’s Christmas play drastically. Some people say it was ruined. Others say it was the best Christmas pageant ever. With tears running down his cheeks, Wally cried out,
‘Joseph, Mary, wait! Come back! You can have my room!’
We are now 50% of the way done with our building expansion that includes a renovation of our foyer; a new office expansion and a brand new cafe. It is so exciting to come into church each and every day and see the progress that is being made. I can't wait to see how God is going to use these new parts of our facility to help us to more effectively meet as many people as possible right where they are and help move them to where God wants them to be.
But we are also praying that the construction process itself will be a time of "meeting and moving" as God brings all of these workers and those delivering supplies right on to our campus during this time of construction. We have tried two things to connect to these workers:
First, each and every Wednesday a different ministry in our church and school provide a tasty snack for all of our construction workers to enjoy. Our prayer is that one of the ways we can meet these workers right where they are is through their stomachs!
Second, we are praying for these workers. We are praying for their safety. But we are also praying that they would come to know Jesus if they haven't trusted Him as their savior already. Just this week we hung a huge banner on the construction fence so that every day when these workers arrive they know that Grace Ministries is praying for them.
In spite of the biggest snow in recent years and most all other churches closing, we still had our 2nd and 3rd morning services here at Grace yesterday. Between the 900+ people that were here on campus and the 350+ that watched the live feed of the 10am service on the internet, we were still able to minister to well over 1,200 people on the Sunday morning before Christmas.
It was without question the best Christmas service I have ever been part of. The set, the music and the special effects were absolutely amazing. And how about that baby Jesus? He was wonderful both services - seemingly cooing and smiling on cue. And I am still laughing at how that sheep "bleated" when I took the baby Jesus from Mary to finish my message. It was as if that sheep was looking at me saying, "Hey, put that kid down."
Missionaries working to plant Grace Brethren churches all over Europe get together every three years to talk over practical issues and to encourage each other. This meeting is held at Christmas because it is a holiday all the European countries have in common. Each time the conference is held the missionaries ask an American church to teach and encourage their kids who come with them to the conference.
Almost a year ago Grace Church was asked if we wanted to help with this year's European Family Conference to be held in Spain at the end of December 2009. After prayer and consultation with the mission team, the Grace Kids ministry asked several members of the Elevate team to consider a trip to Spain to "do" VBS for the missionary children.
Tuesday, December 22nd, the following team from Grace Church leaves for Europe for 10 days of ministry and encouragement to our missionaries in France and Spain (the team is pictured above):
Brad and Laura Lutz Tim and Susan Auld along with their children Emma and Josh Jill and Dean Lutz with their children Montana and Maggie Sue and Marlin Weaver
Some of the highlights will include Christmas at the Chateau de St Albain with the Chateau team; a 10 hour bus ride to the conference center near Barcelona, Spain; and New Years Eve with the Macon Grace Brethren Church.
Please pray that the team from our church will encourage the missionaries in their ministries and that they would encourage the Missionary Kids in their faith and help them connect with each other. Please also pray that our team would become more aware of what God is doing in Europe and that they would have safe travels.
Today has been so beautiful! Praise the Lord! But due to the weather we are going to cancel JUST the 8:30am service for this Sunday, December 20th.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THE 10AM AND 11:30AM SERVICES WILL HAPPEN AS SCHEDULED FOR THIS SUNDAY - DECEMBER 20TH!
You are going to be absolutely blown away when you see the auditorium this Sunday morning. I was when I saw the work that the Worship Arts Ministry did in making it look like an authentic Bethlehem. Hopefully, we will still be able to get all the animals there in the morning - that's right, on the stage! So we encourage you to make it to either the 10am or 11:30am service. And pass the word along to anyone you know whose church is canceling for this Sunday. Invite them to come to Grace for either our 10am or 11:30am service. See you Sunday morning here at Grace Church!
The forecast is calling for snow this weekend. I have to be honest - that really excites me! I love snow! Let me just remind you that unless the authorities declare a state of emergency in which travel on the roads is prohibited, you can count on Grace Church being open for business this Sunday. We leave it at your discretion as to wether you are comfortable travelling due to the weather conditions. There is the possibility, however, that we may cancel just the 8:30am service if the storm carries over into Sunday morning. Any decision to cancel services will be made by me in conjunction with Pastor Tim and our Facility Manager by 6am that morning and will be communicated on the WGAL website; and on radio stations WJTL (90.3) and WDAC (94.5). We will also post any cancellations on our church website (www.meetgrace.org).
We are gearing up for a very special Sunday this weekend and you will be absolutely blown away when you walk in and see the stage. You will literally feel like you are in Bethlehem. Believe me, this will in no way be "cheesy" - it will be top notch. If at all possible, you don't want to miss this Sunday morning here at Grace.
Be sure to read parts one and two before continuing on with today’s post.
Jesus adds that “the good part,” which is spending time with Him, “shall not be taken away.” Think about the foolishness. Each Christmas we put all of our attention on all of the preparations. But when it’s over, it’s over. The wadded up wrapping paper goes in the trash. The tree goes back in the box. The decorations go back in the attic. The family returns to their homes. And at least half of the gifts that were opened are never used or worn. But when the holidays are over and the after Christmas sales have passed, Jesus is still there. He is the one who said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
So what can we learn from this tale of two sisters to help us avoid a Christmas crash? Let me give you three principles that can help us.
First, loosen up. In order to genuinely have a peaceful Christmas, you must be willing to loosen up your focus on all of the preparations and festivities. Not all of the decorations may get put up. Not all of the baked good may get made. You may not even make it to all of the parties and get-togethers that you’re invited to attend. There may not be 25 side dishes on the table for Christmas dinner. Let me just say it – That’s just fine. Loosen up. Don’t be a Martha this Christmas. Don’t invite Jesus into the celebration only to neglect Him because of all of the preparations you think you need to accomplish.
Second, lighten up. In order to genuinely have a peaceful Christmas you must be willing to lighten up by not allowing your anxiety to steal the joy of others. Martha’s focus on all of the preparations led her down the path of self-pity and before long she was trying to put guilt trips on everyone else. Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t make everyone else miserable because you are so anxious about everything that you think needs done.
And finally, listen up. In order to genuinely have a peaceful Christmas, you must make the time daily to sit at the feet of Jesus, worshipping and listening. Don’t let your busy schedule keep you from sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening. Christmas is such a wonderful time to listen. In fact, why don’t you start right now? Push your “to do” list to the side, sit down, and read these Christmas words. Don’t just read them. Listen to them. I mean, really listen. Listen as if you were hearing them for the very first time:
O holy night. The starts are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining. Till he appeared and the soul felt His worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious day. Fall on your knees. O hear the angel’s voices. O night divine! O night when Christ was born!
As we saw in yesterday’s post, Martha is a worker. But now Martha’s focus shifts from Jesus to herself. Her focus on all of the preparations turns into a state of self-pity. She finally verbalizes her feelings to Jesus saying, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me!” The Greek structure implies that Martha fully expected a positive answer from Jesus to her question. But Jesus’ response is different than what Martha hoped for and expected
Jesus begins by saying, “Martha, Martha.” That would be like a mother calling her child by their first and middle names. Jesus goes on to describe Martha as worried and bothered about so many things. In other words, she was being pulled in many different directions. Yes, she was busy, but let’s be perfectly honest. Martha’s problem was not that she had too much to do. We are all busy. We often joke in the office and say, “When this busy time period is over.” But do you know what happens when that busy period is over? Another busy period begins. We need to quit using “busy” as an excuse.
Being busy is not the problem. The truth is that no matter how busy we are we will still make time for those things that are important to us. Martha’s problem was not that she was busy. Her problem was that she allowed her work and her “to do” list to distract her and pull her apart. As a result, even though she was the one who had invited Jesus into her home, her focus on all of the preparations resulted in her neglecting Him.
Does that describe you at Christmas? When will we learn? Martha didn’t. Fast forward to John 12, after her brother had been resurrected. Jesus is again a house guest? Where is Lazarus? He is sitting with Jesus. Where is Mary? She is so overcome with love for Jesus that she takes a full pound of a very expensive perfume and anoints Jesus feet with it. And where is Martha? Look no further than the kitchen. It seems that every time Jesus came over, Martha was more focused on the preparations than she was on Jesus. And so are we Christmas after Christmas after Christmas.
Jesus next focuses Martha with three statements. First he says that, “Only one thing is necessary.” And what is that one thing? It is spending time with Jesus. How true that is at Christmas time. There are so many wonderful aspects of the Holiday. There are the gifts, the trees, the decorations, the food, the family, and so many other things. But the truth is that there is only one thing necessary for you to really experience Christmas and that is spending time with Jesus.
That is why the Lord goes on to say that, “Mary has chosen the good part.” She was willing to take her focus off of the “to do” list and choose to sit and listen to Jesus. She chose the good thing in the celebration. Will you, like Mary, choose the good thing this Christmas? Tomorrow we will see the third thing Jesus tells Martha.
Christmas is now just 10 days away. So, honestly, is all of your shopping done? How about the wrapping? Are all the Christmas cookies and baked goods finished? Have you attended all of the Christmas gatherings you have been invited to? Are all the Christmas cards signed and mailed? Is the house ready for all of the holiday guests you will be having? How much is left on your Christmas “to do” list? Chances are you are about ready to go into a full frenzy as the countdown continues toward December 25th.
That was the same case with Martha in Luke 10:38-42. She and her sister, Mary, lived in the village of Bethany which was just 2 miles east of Jerusalem. Their brother, Lazarus, was far more popular in that four days after he died, Jesus raised him from the dead as seen in John 11. Now these sisters were about ready for a big celebration at their house. Martha had invited Jesus and His disciples into their home for dinner. There was much to do but these two sisters responded to the “to do” list in completely different ways.
Mary can be characterized as a worshipper in her response. With all that there was to do, where was Mary? She was seated at the Lord’s feet. It is interesting to note that Mary is seen two other times in the Gospels and on both occasions she is sitting at the feet of Jesus. In John 11:32, Mary meets Jesus four days after Lazarus was buried, falls at his feet, and says to Him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ Then, in John 12:3, after the resurrection of her brother, Mary took a pound of very costly perfume and anointed the feet of Jesus. In all circumstances of our life we should find ourselves like Mary - at the feet of Jesus.
And what was Mary doing in Luke 10 at the feet of Jesus? She was listening to the Lord’s words. Yes, there was a lot to do but some activities can wait. There is a time to work and there is a time to listen. May I suggest to you that no matter how much of a “to do” list that you have left to accomplish, Christmas is more of a time for listening.
Now let’s compare Mary with Martha. While Mary is characterized as a worshipper, Martha can be characterized as a worker. Even though Jesus was sitting in her house, Martha was distracted with all of the preparations. Martha had invited Jesus into her home then neglected Him. But doesn’t that describe a lot of Christians at Christmas time? We have invited Jesus into our lives. We have received Him as our Savior and our Lord. We have declared Him to be our God and our King. Yet, at the very time of the year when He is the reason for the celebration, we who have invited Him into our lives are often the ones that end up neglecting Him.
Now to Martha’s defense, there would have been much to do. The word “they” in verse 38 is speaking of Jesus and His disciples. That’s 13 men invited over for dinner. Talk about busy! But beware. When things get busy, the first thing to go is often time with the Lord. Christmas is a busy time. That’s why spending time with Jesus is often the first thing to go in the midst of fulfilling our Christmas “to do” list. More tomorrow.
Last night we had a very special Elder Board Meeting for several reasons. First, it was the first time we met as an Elder Board in the new Café Conference Room.
Second, after hearing reports from Rick Bernhardt regarding our Educational Ministries, and Steve Burghart, regarding our Connect Ministry, we took care of a few business items and then enjoyed taking communion together as an Elder Board. This included a time of washing each other’s feet celebrating the fact that we have a Savior who daily cleanses us from our sin. It also included a pizza love feast in celebration of the that day when we will be part of that great Marriage Supper of the Lamb in heaven. It also included the bread and the cup as we remembered and proclaimed that past sacrifice of Jesus for our sins on the cross.
The third item that made our Elder meeting special was that one of the business items we took care of was voting to officially license two of our young staff members to the pastoral ministry. This included Eric Lewis, who is our Spiritual Life Director and High School Bible Teacher at Lititz Christian School, and Doug Kegarise, who is our Director of Student Ministries here at Grace Church. Both of these men have proven themselves to our ministry over the last several years. After filling out a lengthy 12-page application form, they both, individually, went through a very rigorous oral examination in front of our four pastors (myself, Pastor Whitie; Pastor Tim and Pastor Steve). The pastoral staff then recommended to the Elders that we recognize these two men as licensed pastors.
What does this mean? It means that we as a church are putting our stamp of approval on them recognizing their call and ability to conduct pastoral ministry. This will also allow them to have the privilege of legally performing pastoral duties such as officiating weddings. We are very excited about both Doug and Eric.
Eric’s role will continue to be one of shepherding at our school and will not include being an official Elder of our church. As a result, the congregation will not need to vote on Eric’s licensure. These credentials are given to him in his shepherding role at Lititz Christian School among our students, faculty, staff and parents.
Doug’s role, however, will be one of an official pastor/elder here at Grace Church. His pastoral oversight will extend over all of our children’s and youth ministries here at the church. Because Doug will be an official pastor/elder of our church, the church constitution requires that the congregation vote on Doug. This vote will take place on Sunday morning, January 10th.
For all of those reasons, last night’s Elder Meeting was very exciting and fulfilling. Please continue to pray for our Elder Board as we enter 2010 and please be praying for Eric and Doug as they continue their ministry with us here at Grace Church and Lititz Christian School.
If you are a die-hard Cleveland Brown's fan, as I am, your life has been filled with many multiple disapointments in following your favorite football team. As I look back through my lifetime, the aches and pains have been many inlcuding, but not limited to,
Brian Sipe throwing the interception in the endzone against Oakland in the waning seconds of the AFC Championship Game forever known as the "Ice Bowl".
John Elway's 90+ yard drive that ended Cleveland's season in the AFC Championship game.
Ernest Byner's fumble just before going into the end zone against the Broncos that cost us the AFC Championship Game the season after "The Drive" by Elway.
And then came the heart-breaker of all heart-breakers, when Art Modell (who is on my list of possibilities to be the Ant-Christ) moved my beloved Cleveland Browns to Baltimore (I still can't stomach even saying the word "Raven").
And this season appeared to be another bust where you wonder if you should start rooting for your team to keep losing just so you win something...the first pick in the upcoming draft.
But that all changed last Thursday night. I have to be honest - I missed the game. My wife and I were on our annual December getaway where we finish all of our Christmas shopping and do all of our wrapping. We stayed in a log cabin in Leesburg, VA which was originally built in the early 1800's and had been masterfully restored. It was great but there was no TV and I really didn't think anything of it because I doubt you can find a Cleveland fan anywhere that gave the Browns any chance of winning that game.
At about 11:30 Thursday night I was awakened as my cell phone lit up like a Christmas tree with everyone texting me about the game. WOW! How does a Cleveland fan get back to sleep after hearing that good news?
Yes, it was only our 2nd win of the season (we beat Buffalo earlier in the year in a 6-3 showing of two AFC offensive power houses) but this one was against Pittsburgh! Now if you are a Cleveland Browns fan you will completely understand when I say that even if we lose out and end the season with just these two wins it will be well worth it!!! We beat the dreadful (I can think of other adjectives but since I am a pastor I will not type them) Pittsburgh Steelers and pretty much knocked them out of the playoofs to boot. Now that is a great season!!
As this week draws to an end, let me just share a hodgepodge of thoughts that are rolling around in my head. They won’t have any rhyme or reason to their order but here we go:
Today, Laura and I are finishing up our 2-night/3-day holiday getaway that we do each and every December where we finish all of our Christmas shopping and do all of our Christmas wrapping. This year we found a beautiful place in Leesburg, VA. I love spending time away with my wife (cottage pictured above).
Saturday will be an important day as due to our Holiday Getaway I have had a very short week in preparing for Sunday.
Speaking of Sunday, you don’t want to miss this week. The Hershey Big Band will be playing some great secular and sacred Christmas music in the auditorium 25 minutes prior to each of our three morning services. Our Adult Worship Choir as well as our High School Choir and Ministry Team from Lititz Christian School will also be part of the musical celebration as we continue our Avoiding the Christmas Crash message series.
How do you like that new lobby at church? WOW! And it will even have more of a WOW FACTOR when the new lighting arrives and gets installed.
I am really looking forward to two very special Christmas events here at Grace this year including the Lititz Christian School Christmas Concert on Thursday the 17th and then our three Christmas Eve services on the 24th at 5pm; 6:30pm and 8pm.
In case you haven’t noticed, I have lost 23 pounds since Labor Day. I guess all those nights of going to bed hungry have been worth it after all.
My Cleveland Browns have only won one game this season. But that’s OK. As long as the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t make the playoffs after winning the Super Bowl last year I will still count it as a very successful year of football.
I heard we are supposed to get more snow here in Lancaster County this winter than usual. I sure hope that is true. I love to watch it snow. And if you are wondering if this snow will cause us to cancel Sunday services – it won’t. Unless the State Police issue a state of emergency asking all motorists to stay off the road we will worship as usual on Sunday here at Grace.
Only 14 days until Christmas and only 21 days until our Year of Prayer starts here at Grace Church. I can’t wait for either.
It wouldn’t hurt my feelings if every radio station quit playing “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”; "Dominique the Donkey”; and “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
Last February 2009 we unveiled our 5-Year Vision Plan for Grace Church. This plan has as its foundation our purpose as a church which is to meet as many people as possible right where they are at and help move them to where God wants them to be.
As we near the one year mark into this 5-year plan, our ultimate goals remain the same. Five years from now we would like to be a ministry that has five services each weekend on campus as well as two services at satellite campuses with 3,000 people attending these 7 services each week and 1500 adults actively involved in CONNECT Groups. We would like to see at least 10 church sponsored short term mission trips taking place that would result in our church sending out two additional individuals/couples into full-time overseas vocational missions work with 50% of their support coming from our church. We would like to have 40 people on the church payroll and complete two major renovations including our café/foyer expansion and a renovation of our Young wing and chapel into a state of the art facility for children’s/student ministry.
As we continue to move in this direction we continue to focus on five major areas. These five areas are to continue to be our first priorities when it comes to facility, budget, staffing, and scheduling. These five areas include:
Our goal for the calendar year 2009 was threefold. First, we wanted to see the foyer/lobby renovation completed. By the time we reach our one year mark (February 2010) we will be within a couple of months of this being realty. Second, we wanted to see 30 new CONNECT Groups started. During our just completed Fall Campaign we saw over 50 groups taking place. Third, we wanted to see two church sponsored mission trips take place. A trip to Africa took place last winter. Our youth LEAD team went to Ireland this past summer. Mike and Joan McCracken were part of a very important and strategic summit in Cambodia this past fall. And this December another team from Grace Church will be going to Spain.
As we look ahead to 2010 we have four major goals for the coming year to continue to move us toward the completion of or 5-year vision plan. These goals include the following:
· Seeing our foyer/café renovation completed · Seeing 2 additional church sponsored short term mission trips taken · Seeing 30 additional CONNECT Groups added · Seeing a 4th weekend service started on Saturday night
On the Sunday before Thanksgiving we took a survey here at Grace Church that had 12 fears regarding the future on it along with some blank lines. We asked our people that Sunday to mark their greatest fear regarding the future. The top 5 will be used as the topics for our FACE YOUR FEARS series beginning in April. Fear of Death was not on the list because we are starting the series on Easter with that topic. We received 475 surveys accounting for 43% of that morning’s auditorium attendance. The results were:
1 - Fear of Disappointing God – 119 votes 2 - The Fear of Financial Failure – 49 votes 3 - The Fear of Sickness – 48 votes 4 - The Fear of a Broken Marriage/Relationship – 39 votes 5 - The Fear of Being Alone – 36 votes 6 - The Fear of My Kids Rebelling – 34 votes 7 - Fear of Insignificance – 22 votes 8 - The Fear of Change – 20 votes 9 - The Fear of Terrorism – 17 votes 10 - Direction of our country/government – 15 votes 11 - Fear that God/Heaven Not Real – 11 votes 12 - Having a lost family member – 8 votes 13 - The Fear of Aging – 6 votes 14 - Losing a child/death of a family member – 5 votes 15 - Living outside of God’s will tied with Our children’s future – 4 votes each
Below are just a few other fears that were written in on the survey:
What we will have to go through before Christ’s return Christianity being too convenient Wasting my life Having my name blotted out of the book of life Disappointing my wife Fatness Not trusting God completely Someone I love getting hurt Religious persecution Being abused Failing as a Christian Having another miscarriage The failure of our local church Success Infertility My kids being bullied Nuclear attack
Each year in December we open up a special giving fund here at Grace Church that we call "Birthday Gift for Jesus." Every dollar that comes into this fund is used to help precious orphans living in the Central African Republic. We have provided many necessities for these wonderful children but the bulk of the funds are used to fully support three Christian Schools for orphans in the Central African Republic. Our school here at Grace, Lititz Christian School, also supports a Christian School in the CAR which allows our ministry to fully support the total yearly cost of these four schools that are training orphans who will one day be the future leaders of the Central African Republic government and church.
What these kids in the Central African Republic lack in resources they make up for in creativity. The above picture shows a delightful guy walking out to recess with his homemade "ipod" and earbuds! It is your gifts to this project above and beyond your regular giving to our church that helps us to meet orphans right where they are at (the CAR) and help move them to where God wants them to be! Thank you!
A large part of Christmas is “gift-giving.” Now believe me, I love gift-giving at Christmas but sometimes it is a hectic part of the Holiday Season that can steal our joy. We have to find the right gift for each person. Then we have to get them all wrapped and in some cases mailed in time for them to be opened on Christmas morning. So between all of the list-making, shopping, wrapping and mailing, the whole process of “gift-giving” often causes us more stress than it does joy. And in most every case, the gift always focuses on the physical. But what if we were going to do something different this year and instead of a physical gift we were going to give each other a spiritual wish for Christmas. Let me share with you what Christmas wish I would give to you.
My Christmas wish for each of you comes from the little postcard of a letter called Third John found in our New Testament. This letter was written by the Apostle John who also wrote the Gospel of John as well as First and Second John and the book of Revelation. Third John is one of the shortest books in the New Testament. It has only 14 verses in the English text and contains less than 300 words in its original language.
John writes this letter to a man named Gaius which was a very common name in the first century and was one of the most common names in the Roman Empire. There are 4 Gaius’ in the New Testament. There is a Macedonian mentioned in Acts who travelled with Paul on his third missionary journey. There is a man of Derbe mentioned in Acts 20:4 who travelled with Paul from Macedonia to Asia. There is a Corinthian man who Paul baptized (I Corinthians 1:14). And there is the recipient of Third John who was a convert of John (v4) and was at the very least an influential person in the church. Gaius was without question a beloved Christian leader seen by John calling him “Beloved” four different times (v1, 2, 5, 11)
But notice John’s wise for Gaius. It is seen in the phrase in verse two, “I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health just as your soul prospers.” This was a standard greeting and did not imply that Gaius was ill. The word “prosper” is used here and in Romans 1:10 and 1 Corinthians 16:2. It means to succeed; have things go well; or enjoy favorable circumstances. John’s prayer is that Gaius would prosper in two areas seen by the words “health” and “soul.” The word “health” is obviously speaking of physical health. John’s desire for Gaius was that his physical advancement would be equal to his spiritual advancement. The word “soul” speaks of Gaius’ spiritual life which was vibrant and growing, characterized by “walking in the truth.” This is the ultimate goal of every Christian pastor and parent - That we would teach the truth; that our people (children) would understand the truth; and that our people (children) would live out the truth.
So that is my Christmas gift to you. It is a wish that your spiritual life would be so vibrant and your love for Jesus so genuine that I could say that my wish for you this Christmas is that your life as a whole and your physical health would prosper in the same way that your spiritual life is prospering as you walk in the truth of God.