Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Grounded in Gratitude

We're doing a great series here at Grace Church that has encouraged us to be grounded in gratitude. Our worship leader has written a wonderful new song that encourages us to give thanks to our God for who He is and what He has done. So here I go... my top five in each of those areas:

Heavenly Father, I thank you that you are...
  • Sovereign and that I can rest and have peace in your Sovereignty no matter what the circumstances are that surround me.
  • Faithful and that I can always count on you to fulfill your promises.
  • Love and that we know how to love because you first loved us.
  • Just and that you rightfully saw the debt of sin paid and declare me righteous through your Son.
  • Holy and that there are none like you. You are set apart from all else!

Heavenly Father, I thank you that you have...
  • Freely given your Son to be my Savior.
  • Blessed me with a wonderful wife and children.
  • Blessed me with a roof over my head and food on my table.
  • Blessed me with a wonderful Church staff and family to do ministry and life with.
  • Given me a heritage that is rich in love for both family and Christ.
I must confess that this simple exercise has made me realize afresh and anew how easily I fall into the trap of discontentment and grumbling at times. I have so much to be thankful for and I need to continue asking the Lord to make me one Grounded in Gratitude. Have a Happy Thanksgiving in our wonderful Lord!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Clean - Dirty - Clean Again

I took some time on Friday to give our dog a bath. Our dog takes baths in the laundry tub and although his body fits comfortably into it, there is never any doubt that I too will get soaked. But, whenever Tucker (the dog) gets washed, it becomes a family event as all we all love to see him wet and then do the shake once he gets out. I love nothing more than to see my dog's white actually white and his fur soft to the touch.

So... on Saturday morning when I opened the door and he decided to take his bi-monthly trip into the corn field, I wasn't to pleased. In fact, I really shouldn't call it a corn field as currently it looks more like a mud field. My first thought was, "stay calm... it's just his feet that are muddy...it won't take long to clean him." But, as I walked towards him and called out his name, he flopped to his back and did a roll in the mud. My dog had remained clean for a total of 18 hours and now needed another bath.

As I was washing him, the following thought did cross my mind. I wondered if the emotions I was feeling were similar to what my Father in heaven feels when I sin. The Bible tells me that my Father is faithful and just to forgive me of my sins when I confess them before Him. (1 John 1:9) On a daily basis I go to my Father in heaven and in essence say "I got dirty again with sin, clean me up." For a few moments, I was lost in the truth that our God is such a patient, faithful and gracious Father. If my dog did what he did every day, I wouldn't have the patience or the desire to clean him every day. He'd be gone! Praise God that He is long suffering and daily cleanses me when I confess my sin after rolling around in the muck and mire of it.

That silly dog once again reminded me of a wonderful truth about my Father in heaven but also challenged me to abide in the vine so as to walk the walk of righteousness. For those of us who have trusted Christ as our Savior, we've been made clean in Christ our Lord (2 Corinthians 5:17, Titus 3:4-7). With that in mind, let's work towards not rolling around in the muddy cornfields of life.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Books, Sex, Outreach Center and 1 Timothy - Thursday AM Musings!

It's Thursday morning and I've taken some time to catch my breath, organize my office and spend some time with God. With that in mind, here are some of my Thursday morning musings that have been rattling around my brain thus far...

I'm looking forward to getting away to visit some family in Niagara Falls next week and I have two books going with me. The first is one the entire elder board of Grace Church is going to read together throughout 2009. It's entitled "Who Stole My Church" by Gordon MacDonald. The second book I hope to get through is "The Case for the Real Jesus" by Lee Strobel.

Ed Young of Fellowship Church is preaching a powerful series entitled "Leaving Lust Vegas". He is approaching the topic of sex and lust from a very Biblical and real perspective encouraging the church and married couples to live and speak the truth about this subject. There is no doubt the world daily hits all of us with the topic of sex with anything but a Biblical perspective, so it is time the church and godly married couples start sharing God's perspective on this wonderful gift He's given to us. His November 16 message stirred a lot of attention from the secular media as he and his wife challenged the congregation to have sex for 7 days in a row... I have nothing else to say but you married couples better watch his message and listen to the preacher!!!

... my friend's new outreach center that the church he pastor's opened in a very dark part of Niagara Falls. Over the past two years, they have been praying and planning to launch a ministry in a part of the city very few other believers ever dare to go. I can't wait to see how God is going to use this center and my pastor friend to impact the lives of those in society that many (including many churches) want nothing to do with.

I'm still reflecting upon the Pastoral Epistles right now and read 1 Timothy 5:4 and came to a complete pause as I reflected upon the truth written. I took a moment to pause because I see this particular verse being lived out in a very real and powerful way through my parents as they care for my grandmother which is pleasing to God. I'm proud of them and the legacy of truth they are living out as an example to me. Hats off to all who live out 1 Timothy 5:4 (I'd encourage you to click on it!!!)

Well, that's about it for now... a brief look into the Thursday morning mind of Pastor Tim!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cruelty, Character and Christ

Yesterday I had a conversation with a fellow pastor about how cruel our society continues to grow towards one another and how that has even moved into the church. We seek to hide our cruelty behind words like "constructive criticism" but yet the number of personal and cruel attacks is growing within our society (in my opinion) as self continues to trump all else.

What's interesting is last evening as the elders of Grace gathered to finish off a study we had been working on together from the book "Who You are When No One's Looking", we worked through a chapter on radical love. The very title of the chapter stated, "Radical Love, Breaking the Cycle of Hostility". I could not help but think back to that earlier conversation in the day about cruelty and the general anger and hostility people live life with. Whenever self is threatened, infringed upon or offended, people get angry, hostile and even cruel. What a call to show radical love like Christ did where a self sacrificing love for God and others trumps our love for self.

I was struck with the truth last evening that we are called to have the character of Christ which includes that call to show radical love. I know I can't do that all by myself! I can try and love others like Christ did, but my old nature fights that and if all I do is try to possess the character and love of Christ, I'm sunk. But, here was the great news from the final chapter of the book we read together as the elders. Once we trust Christ and become His disciples, we have a father in heaven who calls us His children and makes us heirs with Christ as our full identity is no longer wrapped up in self but rather fully in Christ. With this truth in mind, I was reminded that what I really need to concern myself with daily is the call to abide in Christ (the vine). The only way I'm going to possess the character of Christ and show radical love instead of love for self is to rest, live and abide continuously in the vine.

So... my simple prayer today is to petition God to help me ABIDE IN CHRIST (John 15:1-17)which in turn will continue the process of conforming my character (including the way I love others). If we as Christ followers will do this, then we continue to break the cycle of hostility and cruelty which is so prevalent within our world and even the church at times.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Frustrated Dad and the Extra Mile

Yesterday was one of those days as a parent where I was absolutely spent by the end of the day. Nothing dramatic happened, just the normal routines of life and 100's (I'm not exaggerating) of miles in the van left me feeling very frustrated by the time a few items were forgotten at home and yet another trip was needed. In total yesterday, I made six trips from my front door to the Grace Ministries and Lititz. Now I know I only live in Ephrata, but by trip number six which was totally unplanned because of something forgotten by my child, the emotion of frustration only begins to scratch the surface of how I was feeling inside.

But, as always, God has a way of smacking me back into reality. After a late night date at the movies with my daughter (We're huge High School Musical fans), I was driving home absolutely spent because of all the miles and life lived for my children yesterday. As I was driving and listening to my daughter laugh and we talked about our favorite parts of the movie, I was reminded of how blessed a man I really am. Was the frustration that was boiling up inside of me really necessary? With all the blessing in my life, what's a few extra miles once in a while.

The more I thought about this, I could not help but think of my Heavenly Father who has consistently gone the extra mile for me. Imagine how awful our lives would be if our Father in Heaven grew weary and frustrated with us and just walked away. Daily, we as His children do things that would frustrate any human father, yet God's love for us and His willingness to go the extra mile for us never ends. It's true that we grieve Him with our sin, but He never gives up on us or stops loving us. He consistently goes the extra mile with His grace and faithfulness.

As my Heavenly Father continues to transform me and mold me into the image of His glorious Son, I pray that He continues to help me become a father like Him. I have no doubt I'm going to have to go many more extra miles for the kids, but those few extra miles are worth it to continue watching my children grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ their loving Savior.

Thank you Jesus for going the extra mile for me through your death and resurrection that I might have a full and joyous life in you as one whose sins have been forgiven! Thank you Father for a wonderful wife and children. I'm a blessed man who really has nothing to be frustrated about! So bring on the extra miles... I think!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

People vs. Process & Policy

Over the past few weeks, I've once again been wrestling with how we do church in North America. Although many people might not know it, there is a continuous tension I am fighting and I believe many ministry leaders fight. It's the tension of seeking to remain true to Scripture in respects to how Christ desires His body to function together in community and our need to function within culture as a not-for-profit organization that needs to follow law and live by certain processes and policy. With that in mind, I have been really wrestling (part of it is my personality) with seeking to find a balance as God calls us meet and move people yet function as a large organization.

I have recently found myself frustrated with policy/process that gets in the way of meeting and moving people. Now don't misunderstand what I'm saying as I understand we need process/policy to keep us organized and help us manage our finances, facility and ministry with integrity. But, I've been amazed at how comfortable we all can get with certain processes and policies that we allow to trump our vision to meet and move. Now I'm not foolish enough to think that policies and processes aren't needed, but I'm beginning to believe that they must become much more fluid as we are more than just an organization. I would like to suggest that the church is a living organism that is constantly growing and transforming in Christ our Lord.

With this in mind, I'm beginning to understand more deeply that I and those I work with need to be comfortable with change because the church is more than an organization. We are a living, moving and vibrant body alive and free in Christ our Head. There is nothing worse than a stagnant and dying church. God is in the business of change/transformation which means that I can't allow processes/policy to stand in the way of what God wants to do. Jesus doesn't rescue us from sin so that we can remain the same. He rescues us from sin so that we can begin a journey of life transformation that is anything but static.

So, the big question for me then is "why do we allow or expect certain processes and policies to remain static?" I'm convinced that a lot of it has to do with our desire to be comfortable. Change is never easy. Whether we are talking about life change or policy/process change, it doesn't always excite us. It can get uncomfortable, yet, our God who never changes is in the business of changing us.

At the end of the day, people and life change must trump static and comfortable processes and policies. Yes, we will always need certain policies and processes as we function as a not for profit organization here in the state of PA. But, we at Grace are a living and vibrant organism first as we live, function and move forward in our living and vibrant Savior. I'm sure the tension will always remain, but seeing God transform lives must always trump static policies and processes which continues to be a growing experience for me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

People and a great big God!

It's Tuesday night and I'm getting ready to head into my final meeting of the day. Today has been a day of many discussions relating to many different facets of Grace Ministries. Through my many discussions today, I came to realize that every single one of them involved people and real life stories of living life on planet earth.

My day started at Spill the Beans where I enjoyed coffee and some good conversation with a friend. Of course, our conversation revolved around our families, our jobs and life in general.

I then moved into a meeting with our Human Resource Manager and talked about an array of HR related issues. Of course, anything to do with HR relates to people and their lives.

I then moved into a meeting with the two directors that serve our Children's' Ministry. Again, everything we talked about always came back to people, families and the real lives we were ministering to on a weekly basis.

As the morning moved on, I spent a bit of time talking with some staff about a funeral taking place this Saturday at the church. This too involved people and families grieving the loss of a loved one.

From there, I moved into a meeting with my Office Manager to talk about a cell phone need I have. As we discussed options, I came to realize that this too relates to people as I look to stay connected through modern day technology.

Shortly after this, I spent a few hours speaking with our Pastor of Connections about... you guessed it... people. We wrestled with how we can connect people with God and each other as we strive to build Biblical community at Grace.

I then moved into a late afternoon meeting to discuss a contract with an outside company we do business with. As we discussed the future of this contract, I came to realize that our decisions impact not just an organization but real life people who work under this contract. With each employee comes a story and life realities that must not be overlooked.

Well... time to head off to my final meeting of the day.... just returned from my final meeting of the day and once again it was about people.

My final meeting of the day was with our Worship Design Team and we were talking about the January sermon series that addresses our Biblical response to those in authority over us. This meeting was very much a call to honor, respect and pray for the people God calls us to be subject to. This is anything but easy at times as we are not always in agreement with those in authority over us, but it was a good reminder that they are people too who need Christ and have their own stories that have shaped the lives they lead today.

As I prepare to head home, I cannot help but think of all the lives and people that were represented in my many meetings today. Every day I catch glimpses into the complex and sometimes hard lives people live while doing life on planet earth and it could get overwhelming. I'm convinced that I can lay my head and sleep well at night because of a faithful God that loves and watches over us. He is Sovereign and over all people and is more than capable of handling every life and story that comes across my office in a day. I rest in a God who never slumbers nor sleeps as I close out my day with Psalm 121. Thank you Lord for who you are!!!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Monday Morning Ramble

It's Monday morning, I'm on my first cup of coffee and I'm in the mood to ramble on about a few firsts I experienced over the past few days.

Today is the first day (this month) that I really wish I had a Tim Hortons to go to this morning for a coffee and a bagel.

Saturday was the first day I became a father to a 12 year old. Time is marching on!

I ate breakfast at the Lyndon diner for the first time on Friday. Enjoyed the Irish special and the company of my wife and good friends.

Made my first trip to the Apple store at the mall this weekend. I may enjoy going to the mall yet in life.

Penn State lost their first game of the year to Iowa. I guess there will be no trip to Florida this year.

For the first time we are having basketball shoes shipped to our house by FootLocker because they didn't have my son's size in stock. I did not know they could/would do this for free.

I'm not a guy who loves all the technological gadgets of the day, but I may have fallen for the first time for something called the i touch that my son got for his birthday. It is really cool!

On Sunday my dog ran into the corn field behind my house for the first time this month. It had been a few weeks and the corn has been cut, so it only made me mildly frustrated.

For the first time ever, I saw monks fighting at a holy site in Jerusalem on the news. It's not something you see every day!

It's now time to move on and get ready for the day. It starts with a first time meeting with one of the Executive Directors from LCBC as we talk about Org charts, Church Finances and Multi-sites at the Brickhouse.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Finish Well your Amazing Race!

There's an old saying that I just don't think means much anymore and that is "when the going gets tough, the tough get going." That all sounds fine and dandy, but how few actually see that played out in life. To be honest, for most of us, when the going gets tough, we get going into the pits of despair, depression and a new med program that seeks to run away from the hardships of life.

So I guess the question is, "is it possible to finish well for Jesus in a tough world?" I would like to suggest that based upon Scripture, it is more than possible, it is expected of us. Why wouldn't those of us who have found freedom from sin in Christ live out our lives in victory right until the finish line?

In preparation for my message this week, here are a few thoughts I've been chewing on.

1) We need to run fully aware that many don't finish well. Anybody who runs the race of life unaware of an enemy looking to knock them out of the race permanently is nuts. It's possible to get way off course if we don't take seriously God's call to die to sin through Christ our Lord.

2) It takes courage and resilience to finish well. Life is going to throw all kinds of challenges our way. Some of them are self inflicted while others hit us out of no where. Whatever the challenge, the call to run with endurance and perseverance through some of the pain is necessary. I'm becoming more and more impressed with those who finish well because I'm learning it takes guts to do so.

3) I need to stay focused on Jesus. He and He alone is my ultimate example of how we can endure incredible pain in this journey by keeping the eternal in focus. It is only when we consider Jesus that we will not grow weary and lose heart. People will let you down, but Jesus will forever be our perfect example on how to run a race and finish it well.

4) Be encouraged by those real life Christ followers who are honest enough to say that they've gutted it out to the finish line in the power and strength of Christ. I believe it is important to look to those individuals standing at the finish line with a smile on their face amidst the battle scars of life that litter their bodies and minds. They are not smiling because life was easy, but because of who they are in Christ their Lord. They've run well for Him and He has faithfully seen them through hell and back.

For any who might be reading my thoughts through this blog, I trust you will never give up on your race for Jesus because Jesus will never give up on you. He rescued and set you free from sin so that you may finish your race with great success not because of who you are, but because of who Jesus is. It doesn't mean it will be easy, but you can finish well with joy in your heart. The best thing you can leave those lives you touch in life after you are gone is a godly legacy that saw you finish your race well for Christ!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Remembering a Friend and Mentor

I found out yesterday that a good friend who I served with in Kincardine ON passed away last week and it took me back to that particular time in my life. Back in 1998, my family and I moved to a little town on the banks of Lake Huron to work with a small church work meeting in a school gym.

It was there in Kincardine I met a man by the name of Jim Lawrence who was the chairman of our Deacon's Board. Jim and his wife Eileen were an elderly couple that had retired from Cambridge ON to this little town to enjoy a quiet and modest lifestyle in a scenic little trailer park on a small lake a few miles away from town. As I think about his passing into glory where he now has seen his Savior, here are a few memories that stick out most to me.
  • Jim had a fire in his belly that protected this young pastor with a passion to see me succeed in the ministry. More than once he dealt with situations on my behalf to save me from some of the battle scars that come with pastoral ministry.
  • When our daughter Emma was born, this tough yet gentle man with a fire in his belly melted into tears as he held her for the first time in the hospital. With our kids not having grandparents in the town with us, he quickly became Grandpa Jim to our children and little Emma always held a special place in his heart as we had him lead us as parents in the dedication of Emma unto the Lord.
  • Jim and I along with others worked hand in hand through our building program and made many last minute trips to various engineers and lawyers to secure papers and permits as we moved into our building campaign which was a great success.
  • Grandpa Jim would have my kids fish off the end of his dock where they ALWAYS caught tiny sunfish as soon as they put their line into the water. They loved it!
  • Because the church was so small and we were in the midst of a building program, the church could not always pay us much, but Jim always made sure the Deacons board worked towards taking great care of this pastor.
  • I always knew Jim prayed faithfully for this pastor and would have defended me to the death because together we were committed to the Word of God. Opinions and preferences didn't matter to this guy because he wanted to see people come to know Christ as their Savior no matter what!

There are many other fond memories I have of Jim and I look forward to the day when I'll see this friend and mentor again in glory. I'm thankful that Jim is one of the men who has forever left an imprint upon my life as a pastor.