Monday, September 29, 2008

Weekend Highlights (Part Two)

Highlight # 5: Water, Water Everywhere! As I mentioned in my previous blog, we finished off the month of September with baptisms. The normal excitement that goes with baptisms was also accompanied by a sense of panic about half way through our first round of baptisms. As the pastor in the hot tub (we don't have a built in baptism tank) I get rather wrapped up in what I'm doing, so the fact that the people in the front row were starting to lift their feet because of the water seeping out escaped me. I knew it was bad though when I got to the final person I was baptizing and I sensed the water was a little lower than normal. I just wrote it off to us splashing around. But... when that final song hit and I saw those helping me starting donning the life jackets, I knew it wasn't good. The highlight though revolves around the great people of Grace. How cool it was to watch so many of our people roll up their sleeves and help mop up the water, empty the tank with a bucket brigade and help us punt to option B which is my next highlight of the weekend. The church family is awesome here at Grace!!!

Highlight # 6: Outdoor Baptisms! We have half an hour between our two services on a Sunday morning. With six individuals slated to be baptized during our second hour, we decided that the dunking must go on. So once again, the great volunteers of Grace rolled that hot tub outside onto a large grassy area, dried up the auditorium floor and filled the hot tub with water (warm water no less) and had us up and ready to go before the second service got rolling into full swing. It was wonderful to have these six individuals share their testimony in the auditorium and then move outside to be baptized (in a hot tub that was still leaking like a sieve) to the cheers and applause of hundreds of people who came out to watch. I'm not opposed to doing baptisms indoors (especially during the winter months) but there is something really special about doing them outdoors.

Final Highlight: Club 56 Event! Last evening finished off with a Club 56 Purity event that my son was a part of. Club 56 is our pre-teen program for fifth and sixth graders at Grace. Last evening was a night when fathers and sons were invited to an evening of sports in our gym, followed by pizza and a talk on purity. (Mothers and daughters were at the opposite end of the building) The highlight for me was to spend an evening with a bunch of other guys and their sons playing sports. I have never really seen any of these guys in a setting other than a Sunday morning, so it was really cool to hang out together as guys and get competitive for a few hours with our boys. I must confess that I still feel like I got it when it comes to staying competitive with sports... but I must also confess that my failing to stretch and warm up is costing me dearly today. The moans and groans as I sit into my sofa are a little louder than normal as the evening wears on. All in all, it was a great night with my boy on so many levels.


As I have sought to show, it was a very busy weekend, but one full of great highlights.

Weekend Hightlights (Part One)

Highlight # 1: My sun roof was closed! A few days ago I was driving home and a bird flew right into the path of my car. It bounced off the hood up to the roof where it hit my closed sun roof. I'm pretty sure that if the sun roof had been open, I would have had a dead bird sitting in the passenger seat. I never thought having a sun roof would provide that much excitement. I was reminded of the truth that God's eye is even upon the little birds of the air which is used to teach us that His eye is even more so upon us.

Highlight # 2: The Ephrata Fair! I enjoyed a wonderful evening with my family on Friday night at the Fair. Each of my kids had a friend to hang out with which always provides me the opportunity to hold my wife's hand and hang out with my best friend. We had supper before we went, but enjoyed funnel cakes, candied apples with sprinkles and waffles with ice cream. The rain held off and we all left with smile's on our faces. It's always fun to people watch, but I always come away with an awareness of how many people need Jesus. There is much work to be done before His return.

Highlight # 3: Night of Worship! Saturday night was yet another powerful evening of worship under the leadership of Matt, our Director of Worship at Grace Church. It is an evening that always refreshes me in the Lord as we focused upon so great a salvation. Thanks for a great job Matt and worship team.

Highlight # 4: Baptism Sunday! Yesterday, I had the privilege of baptizing 14 individuals. As we wrapped up our series on the Antichrist, how powerful it was to finish the month of September with these individuals publicly identifying themselves as nothing less then devoted Christ followers who celebrate what God has done and is doing in their lives. To hear their stories always moves me as it is amazing the lengths God will go to rescue people from their sin to set individuals and families off on a path of life, hope, love and joy in Christ.

Highlight # 5 will pick up with the excitement that accompanied our baptisms which forced us to make a quick change.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Ephrata Parade Experience

Last evening I spent 4 1/2 hours navigating my way to and from the Ephrata Parade and learned a whole lot about life in Ephrata and myself. My primary reason for being there was to watch my daughter participate in the parade with her Irish Dance Group.

1) The Ephrata parade is a huge deal!!! My whole neighborhood was buzzing about this yearly event weeks ago.

2) I saw a driver block an entire line of oncoming traffic with her SUV to let a long line of people who wanted to go left make the turn. I heard more honking and foul language in those 30 seconds then I have heard since moving to Lancaster County. Nothing like Fall Fair Fun!

3) I must confess that the reason I know number 2 is that I was one of those left turn drivers that took advantage of this drivers gutsy move. Thanks whoever you are.

4) I really don't know my way around Ephrata that well yet.

5) I learned a big lesson regarding the need to stake your claim at least 5-7 days in advance if you want prime front row seating for the parade. Thankfully, us parade rookies found a few families from Grace that were kind enough to let us sit with them for our viewing pleasure.

6) I felt immense pride as a father watching my daughter dance her way up the street to a wonderful Irish jig with a huge smile on her face enjoying every moment of life. Those few minutes in that 4 1/2 hour trek made it all worth while. What a blessing it is to be a dad of two great kids!

7) I thought Halloween had come early with the amount of candy my son and his friend took in from the parade. The kids actually come with bags and make out like bandits as many of the parade participants throw candy to the cheering crowd. I'm not convinced throwing candy into the middle of the street is wise when the next parade participant is a transport truck, but it works.

8) Apart from my daughter, my favorite part of any parade is still the Pipes. There is nothing like the sound of the bagpipes filling the air on a beautiful fall night. It brought back some great memories of the Pipe parades we would watch every Saturday evening throughout the summer when the little town of Kincardine (where we lived) would shut down main street so a 100 pipers or so could walk down the street and play. It's the Scottish in me!

9) At the risk of raising controversy, I can appreciate a church's desire to participate in a parade, but I'm not convinced the outdated tracts they throw into the crowd are going to draw the multitudes of people we saw last night into church. It would be an interesting thing to measure how effective that method of outreach really is.

10) It was fun to be reminded that my little girl has a special place in this daddy's heart. There was a brief moment when I wasn't sure where I would meet up with my little girl after the parade and my long legs had me moving at a pace throughout that crowd to find her that was impressive for a man my age. To finally see her at a distance with that big smile on her face and to have her run up to me and give me a hug made that whole evening all worth it. I'm pretty sure what I was feeling at that point is what my heavenly father feels every time I come running into His loving and secure arms with a smile on my face because I love living life in and through Him.

It was a fun family night!

Monday, September 22, 2008

User Friendly Christian Language

Recently I took on a new pastoral role a Grace Church. Since beginning this new phase of pastoral ministry, I have come across a number of new languages in my meetings with experts in a wide array of fields. I have met with marketing, insurance, accounting and technology individuals and each field has a "language" all to its own. As I've sat listening, I must confess that there have been statements and phrases used that have me nodding my head on the outside with the hamster on the wheel of my brain running like a mad critter trying to process what I'm hearing. I've been amazed at how easily these various concepts flow from the lips of these experts but I've been equally grateful for their kindness in putting some of their terminology into language and concepts that I can understand without compromising the integrity of their message.

As I came away from one such meeting recently, I could not help but think about how easy it is for me to use Biblical language that is very familiar to me with people that don't necessarily have that same level of understanding. I wonder how the seeker/unbeliever feels when they get around a group of Christ followers using terms, concepts and theological frameworks that are foreign to them.

I'm in no way suggesting we dumb down the gospel message of Jesus, but rather creatively think about how we can present the important truths of Scripture (in no particular order) like redemption, salvation, justification, repentance, reconciliation (and the list could go on) in terminology that communicates powerfully the truth of God's Word in language the average Joe can understand. I believe we as Christ followers need to get serious about how we communicate truth in a relevant way so as to not leave those seeking for spiritual answers feeling like I did when I left some of the meetings mentioned above. I don't want seekers leaving a conversation with me feeling like the waters have only been muddied because I didn't clearly communicate their need for a Savior in terminology that resonates deep within their hearts.

I'm thankful for an accountant who speaks "user friendly" accountant talk that helps me understand the main points without me feeling lost, confused and stupid. It was a good reminder to put myself in the listener's shoes when sharing the truth of God's Word with them. I want them to be drawn to Christ through my words and His Word, not turned off because they feel stupid for not understanding.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Punch Buggy, Mustang Flicks and Family Time

I was recently driving with no one else in the car and found myself feeling rather lonely. I must confess that I usually enjoy my times of solitude with the music loud and the sun roof open to the heavens. But a small little VW known as a punch buggy in my home went by.

Now the reason I got feeling a little lonely was because in our home, we can spend quite a bit of time flicking and tapping whenever we see a VW Bug or a Mustang. (The flick is for the Mustang). There are days it gets a little long when the kids can't quite figure out who saw the car first with a brief disagreement to follow, but the noise and buzz of a family in the car is quite fun. In fact, Susan (my wife) and I love this game too. When it's just the two of us in the car, we play Kiss Buggy instead of punch. It's a win win when it's just the two of us for it doesn't really matter who sees the car first. I guess my loneliness was due to the fact that I just feel so blessed to have a fantastic wife and two great kids who love to hang out with me. I know I don't deserve this, so I just sit back and say THANKS GOD - You are the giver of all great gifts!

The great news is that I will forever view these two cars in very unique ways. Long after the kids have left home, I have no doubt that many wonderful family memories will come flooding back as Susan and I cruise down the road in our twilight years. What a great reminder to once again cherish every moment I have together with my kids even if its a short car ride to school or some extracurricular event.

The solitude is nice at times, but I'm growing to appreciate the buzz of a car full of family. The bad news is, my son is getting very quick at this punch buggy game leaving me with a sore shoulder at times!

Friday, September 19, 2008

It is not in Vain!

I had a conversation yesterday with a fellow pastor on staff regarding how our faith and call to follow Christ is not in vain because of the resurrection of Christ Jesus. We thought back to 1 Corinthians 15 and this powerful chapter of Scripture that speaks so emphatically to the truth of the gospel. The simple reminder of this particular chapter is that without the death, burial and victorious resurrection of Christ, our pursuit of Him and a life in Him is useless and we are to be pitied more than any other people on the planet earth.

BUT... I sit here this morning with a smile on my face writing this because with great confidence, I by faith hold on to the truth of the gospel which means my life in Him and with Him is not in vain. As I thought about this truth, here are some of the very practical aspects of my life that are not in vain as I live in the power of 1 Corinthians 15.

Pursuing a life of holiness through spiritual disciplines is not in vain as God wants to transform and conform me to be like Christ my Savior. All the spiritual training is worth it because of the resurrection.

Loving my wife as Christ has loved the church is not in vain as it is a picture of the church's relationship with Christ here on earth. All the hard work that goes into marriage is worth it because it's a beautiful picture of the love Christ has for His church and a reminder that our risen Bridegroom will soon return.

Raising my children in the fear and admonition of the Lord is not in vain because I want them to grow up to love and follow Jesus because He is truth and He is the only way to God. All the hard work that goes into raising my kids for Jesus is worth it because they need to know the freedom that comes from sins forgiven and a life lived in Him.

Serving Christ on a daily basis is not in vain as it is nothing short of an immense privilege to be engaged in the work of my risen King. It is worth it all as there is nothing more exciting than to be a part of Christ's powerful and victorious work here on earth.

Loving people in a fallen world is not in vain even though it is tough and can lead to hurt, betrayal and heartache. It is worth taking the risk to love because there are so many people living without hope because they haven't yet experienced the love of Christ. The world needs to know and see my Savior through my desire to take a risk and love others with the love of my gracious, faithful and loving Savior.

Standing at the grave of a loved one with hope is not in vain. To stand at the grave of one who knew Christ as their Savior with a smile on my face amongst the tears may seem foolish and even sac religious to some, but it is done in the confidence that the grave is really a place of hope where one day all the dead in Christ shall rise to be with their Savior in the sky. Without the resurrection of Christ, this is indeed foolishness.

I would be lying if I said there wasn't times when I step back weary and wondering if it is worth it all. But a quick read (or discussion) of 1 Corinthians 15 reinvigorates me to keep on keeping on because I am no fool and I am not to be pitied. I without a doubt believe that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, has ascended to the right hand of His Father and is soon to return as my victorious King. That truth makes it worth it all!!!

Monday, September 15, 2008

9 Down - 9 to Go!

Today is my daughter's 9th birthday and I found myself experiencing a wide range of emotions. She is my youngest and having grown up in a home with all boys and with my first child being a son, this little girl holds a special place in her daddy's heart. She is my princess!

I doubt that 9 will ever be one of those birthdays that holds a significant milestone in this world like sweet 16 or middle age 40, but it has become very significant for me. It's significance lies in the fact that I may be to the 1/2 way point of launching her off onto her own. My desire is to see both of my children graduate from high school and then move on to pursue their Bachelor's degree. If they both fulfill my desire, then by 18 they will be looking to venture out on their own into the wonderful world of higher education which begins a new and significant part of their lives. If my plan actually works, that means in 9 short years, my little princess will be venturing out on her own to explore and become the woman God would have her become.

The part that has my attention today is the fact of how I must once again commit to investing myself into the lives of my kids. For a very brief period of time, God has entrusted them to me to teach, lead and live out my faith in Christ so as to prayerfully see them move down the same path as they launch out on their own. Now that I'm 1/2 way there with my youngest, it was fascinating to take some time to think about how I've been doing. There have been many successes and many failures but I have so much to be thankful for and I'm looking forward to the next 9 years with my little princess.

Just as my relationship with my son is changing as he totters on the ledge of adolescence, so too will my relationship with my little princess soon change. But, the one thing that will never change is my love for them. They are both God's gift and responsibility to Susan and I and we're loving the trip so far.

I know the weight of raising our kids for Christ in a fallen world is heavy at times, but I would encourage everyone to keep at it because I realized once again today just how quickly those first 9 years went by and I know how fast the last 9 will go.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Look what I Found... A Word of Caution...

I was cleaning up my office today (I can only take so much clutter before it drives me nuts) and I came across a great little bit of writing by Chuck Swindoll I had tucked away in a file. It's a blog post that gives some great insight on how a pastor can prevent the accountability breakdown. This brief little article gave me pause as I reflected on how a number of us around the office were talking about yet another well known pastor who fell into an inappropriate relationship with a woman other than his wife recently. Here are a few of the key thoughts that jumped off the page at me:

1) Although we as pastors are surrounded by scores of people, we know the feelings of isolation, loneliness and solitude very well. If we are not careful we can become closed off from the world and leave ourselves very vulnerable to an accountability breakdown.

2) I can avoid accountability breakdown by being vulnerable with other men of integrity.

3) I need to be committed to gut-level honesty as self betrayal is a dangerous path to try and walk.

4) Am I deliberately engaging myself with those who will keep me honest as the backlash of accountability breakdown is huge.

5) I need to regularly answer some of these questions as noted by Swindoll:

"Have I been with a woman anywhere this past week that might be seen as compromising?"

"Have any of my financial dealings lacked integrity?"

"Have I exposed myself to any sexual explicit or other forms of inappropriate sexual material that leads to improper thoughts?"

"Have I spent adequate time in the Word and prayer?"

"Have I invested sufficient priority time to my family?"

"Have I fulfilled the mandates of my pastoral role?"

"Have I just lied about any of these?"

These are not easy things we as guys like to think about, but as Swindoll put it "the pain of real accountability is nothing compared to the pain from a lack of integrity and an accountability breakdown."

I'm thankful that God has helped my guard my heart thus far and for the genuine accountability I have enjoyed with other guys along the way. GREAT REMINDER CHUCK!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It's getting loud around here!!!

This morning I had the privilege of speaking at LCS (Lititz Christian School) for both the elementary and secondary chapels. I always enjoy my time with the kids down at the other end of Grace Ministries as I come away with a sense of great hope. This hope comes as I look out at all the talents, gifts and abilities sitting before me. But, I also learned during the elementary chapel that a room full of these kids can be loud.

As I was preparing for the young kids to arrive, I was warned by a teacher to be ready to plug my ears. With that warning fresh in my mind, I put my Bible down in preparation to plug away! Funny thing is, we went through the worship time with these 1st - 5th grade students and I didn't find it really that noisy. As the worship concluded, I stood up and did my little talk for about 15 minutes and then the worship leader got up again. I thought, "he must be the one who gets to dismiss them." Well... he dismissed them with a group scream that I didn't see coming. My first clue should have been the elementary teachers throwing their hands to their ears as the worship leader walked forward, but I'm a little slow before my many cups of AM coffee. All I know is that they hit a pitch that I thought would definitely draw blood from my ears.

As the noise subsided and I got my regular hugs and high fives after a chapel with the kids, I began the long walk back to my office. As I did, I couldn't help but think about the time Joshua and the children of Israel marched around Jericho and let out a loud scream which brought the walls down. Isn't it funny that we so often equate spirituality and the presence of God with silence and quiet. Now, believe me, I'm not opposed to quiet and solitude at all, but... I think I learned today that God doesn't mind loud if it genuinely comes from the hearts of ones who love God.

Come to think of it... I don't think heaven is going to be a real quiet place either! From what I can understand, we're going to hear the angels repeat HOLY, HOLY, HOLY over and over and over and over and over... well you get the idea!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

This is the "Crazy Busy" Day the Lord has made!

Today was one of those days in pastoral ministry that was both crazy busy yet very rewarding. Here are a few of the highlights:
  • I started my day off with an hour of prayer with a number of staff members. You really get to know and appreciate those you serve with when you pray together.
  • I had a great meeting with some of our office staff. The amount of work these ladies get accomplished on behalf of our ministry is incredible. I'm blessed to work with them.
  • I moved into an HR meeting that dealt with Health Care. It was both enlightening and confusing all at the same time. Thank goodness for an HR manager that knows what she is doing!
  • I had a blast at a welcome lunch for our Pastor of Connections. There's nothing like having lunch with 8 of the guys I get to do ministry and life with daily. I came away feeling very blessed to be serving alongside these guys.
  • I then moved into a meeting with our Pastor of Connections where we spent an hour talking about connecting people to Christ and each other. There is not much that is more rewarding than to sit and talk about growing Christ followers in God's Word with a brother in Christ that shares the same passion. Great hour!!!
  • My next move was into a marketing meeting. WOW! It's incredible to think about how marketing can serve the local church to make us more effective in communicating our desire to meet and move. I look forward to more of these discussions.
  • As evening began to roll in, I spent an hour talking with the Sr. Pastor about the future of Grace Church ministries. How incredible it is to sit and think big together about what we believe God is going to accomplish in and through this local church. That's a fun hour!
  • I then moved into my evening that saw me working with an employee who is leaving. It's never easy to say good-bye, but it's easier when the individual feels they are in the will of God.
  • I then had a fun hour with a couple that is getting married on November 1st. What a privilege it is for me as a pastor to marry this sweet couple that loves the Lord and each other. These are the special moments of ministry.
  • My evening then finished by once again talking with my Sr. Pastor who had the privilege of leading a young man to Christ who had been attending our church for 1 year searching. I had met this young man a month ago over lunch and it was so exciting to see him take this step of faith tonight. GOD IS GOOD!

It's been a crazy busy day, but I'm getting ready to head home with a big smile on my face because I get to wake up and do this all over again tomorrow. Call me nuts, but I love being a pastor!!!

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Morbid/Hopeful Tension

At the risk of sounding morbid, I've been thinking recently about my mortality. It has nothing to do with another birthday come and gone but rather a few deaths that occurred within a number of church families last week. The heartache and grief associated with having to say good-bye to a loved one usually brings me to a place of pause to reflect upon the eternal.

Whenever I give pause to think about the reality of one day facing death (unless Jesus returns before I die), I'm faced with that tension Paul speaks about. It's a tension that has me wanting to stay put upon this earth with a longing deep within to leave it and be with Jesus.

The tension that says "I want to stay" is firmly rooted in my desire to watch my kids grow up, be married to my wife for 50+ years and to be as effective for Jesus as is humanly possible.

The tension that says "I'm ready to go Jesus" is firmly rooted in my desire to see my wonderful Savior face to face, live in His presence where I will never again experience sadness, hopelessness, fear, temptation, worry and the million other things that weigh us down as human beings at times.

I loved this past Sunday at Grace (You can access it here ) where we placed a huge focus on the person and work of Christ Jesus. I believe Paul was able to live with the tension described above because of Jesus. While walking on this earth, Paul lived for the person and work of Christ Jesus his Savior. But, as he looked forward past the grave, he also saw very clearly through the eyes of faith a victorious King who has extended an invitation to live with Him forever for all who would believe by faith that He is the promised Messiah of Scripture who has conquered sin and death. (John 14:1-6)

It's a tension that's not always comfortable with, but I press on because I'm really looking at an eternity of immortality because of Jesus my Savior. If you have time, take a look at the following verses which encouraged my heart today; 1 Corinthians 15, 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:5, Philippians 1:20-26, Philippians 3:20-21.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Lessons from 108,000 People

Yesterday was one of those special days a father and son get to enjoy. I had the privilege of attending the Penn State game with my son Joshua, my friend Tim and his son Andrew. It was my son's first experience at a sporting event this large and he soaked it all in. He's somewhat reserved, so I'm not always sure what's going on in his head, but last night as we talked, he remembered and took in details I hadn't even noticed while grinning ear to ear.

As I came away from the game, here are a number of things that crossed my mind as I hit the pillow last evening;

1) I need to cherish each and every moment like that with my son as we need to enjoy our "guy" time together while we have the chance.

2) I hope the pattern of "guy" time is something that will continue far into the future even after he's left home.

3) Tropical storm Hanna could have made life at the football game miserable, but we were far enough west.

4) Tailgating is incredible. We don't do that at hockey games in Canada. I'm sure it has something to do with the subzero temperatures that have you running from your car to the warm arena.

5) 108,000 screaming fans is loud. The only use for a cell phone inside the stadium is for texting. Any phone conversation would be a mute endeavor.

6) The rally in the Bryce Jordan Center was fun. The band sure could get a crowd going.

7) The Nittany Lion is buff - that dude did 50 one arm push-ups during the rally and game. That's the last time I'll make fun of a mascot.

8) Oregon State's mascot is a beaver. That's not a very intimidating creature. Unfortunately, I can't make too much of a scene because that's also Canada's national animal. Not sure who came up with that one!?!?

9) I'm pretty sure there is quite a bit of underage drinking going on during the tailgate. The good news is that most of them sober up during the game as there is no alcohol within the stadium.

10) I always come away from these events wondering why we as Christ follower's get more excited about a football game then we do the worship of Christ. I'm pretty sure heaven's going to be as loud, fun and full of joy as Happy Valley was yesterday.

All in all, it was a great day of making memories with my son!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Another Year - Strong God!

This past Monday I celebrated birthday number 37. I know many would say that's still pretty young, but I must confess that there are nights when 9:00 PM hits and I'm dead to the world on our sofa with CNN or the Food Network still moving through their evening programming.

Between pastoral ministry, two kids in a multitude of activities, a wife committed to her call as the Children's Ministry director and a dog with ADD, the days blow by in rapid succession leaving me feeling weary at best some nights. Yet, I'm feeling stronger than ever these days. I must admit that it has nothing to do with a regimented exercise program or even much sleep (even though these things are very good), but rather a faithful God. I've been listening to a song recently that speaks well to the truth of what God is accomplishing in and through me on a daily basis as I seek to rest and wait upon Him.

The song is Everlasting God and I enjoy the arrangement sung by Chris Tomlin. The lyrics are:
Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord
Our God, You reign forever
Our hope, our Strong Deliverer
You are the everlasting God
The everlasting God
You do not faint
You won't grow weary
Our God, You reign forever
Our hope, our Strong Deliverer
You are the everlasting God
The everlasting God
You do not faint
You won't grow weary
You're the defender of the weak
You comfort those in need
You lift us up on wings like eagles.

I'm still feeling pretty young, but it sure is nice to know that God still renews the strength of young guys like me even though 9:00 PM on the sofa sounds pretty good even now! Isaiah 40:30-31