Archive | December, 2014

Blog Year in Review – Best of 2014?

31 Dec

best-of-2014I think I’m going to have to “grade on the curve”.  You know how a teacher removes the highest and lowest student grades, and then regrades a test best on the remaining results?  One post was the most popular for the second year in a row.  In fact, this post received more than twice as many views as the second place post.  Here are the top three from 2014.

Reflections on a month of free coffee from Starbucks – 520 views

Why I dislike church worship surveys very, very much – 218 views

How and why we surprised our congregation – 184 views

This is a blog about Faith Church sermons, but the first two posts were not originally written about any sermons, nor were they written in 2014!  That’s why I might have to grade on the curve…

But once we get to third place, we start to see what was a major focus for us in 2014 at Faith Church, our sermon series teaching through 1st Corinthians.  Third through eleventh place were all posts about the 1st Corinthians series.

The third place post up there was a fun morning for us at Faith Church.  Aren’t surprises always fun???  Check it out and see what you think!

The fourth place post had 167 views and was also the top single day post with 105 views on April 16th.  Does it surprise you that it was this post: Is 1st Corinthians 6:9-11 really about homosexuality?

The sermon on 1st Corinthians 11:2-16 referring to the role of women in the church was also quite popular, with the intro post (7th place) and follow-up post (5th place) combining for 242 views.

Here’s looking forward to 2015!  We’ve started studying the Gospel of Luke, as we really want to spend time getting to know Jesus better.


Angel wings, Candle lighter, Blocks of Wood – Monday Messy Office Report – 12/29/2014

29 Dec

My office is tidy Friday, mysteriously messy on Monday.  Here’s what I found today.

angel's wings1. Angel wings.  For real. The kind of angel wings that a child might wear in a Nativity play.  Except that this set of angel wings wasn’t worn by a child!  At our Christmas Eve service, one of our young men put them on as he gave a mini-talk about the angel Gabriel!  I found them in the sanctuary after the service was over and brought them to my office.  (Just in case I needed some material for this blog!)  For years Faith Church has invited a variety of people from our congregation to give mini-talks during Good Friday Worship.  Since we started participating, a few years ago, in the local ministerium’s community Good Friday service, we weren’t able to do that. So this year we brought it back on Christmas Eve, and it was great.  We also had a bunch of people using their musical gifts to celebrate Christ’s birth.  They each gave their take on one of the famous characters of the Nativity story.  It was a wonderful night!

candle lighter2. Candle Lighter.  There has to be a more official name for this.  But I looked on Google, and I think they’re just called candle lighters.  We use it primarily during the Advent season to light and extinguish candles on the Advent wreath.  As you can see in the picture, it has a small mechanism that enables you to move waxed wicks up and down as you’re lighting the candles.  Ours has been sticking, perhaps due to wax build-up, and just before Christmas Eve worship began, the mechanism broke!  We have a lot of candles to light before the service starts!  Thankfully, a bunch of people stepped up and used those little plastic candle-holders/candles that we finish our service with (everyone in the congregation lights one as we sing Silent Night), and we got the job done!  I brought the the candle-lighter to my office to remind myself we need to purchase a new one!

3. Wood Blocks.  I also brought these to my office.  They have been sitting on out mailslot ledge in our Fellowship Hall for a long, long time. I have no idea why.  Maybe our martial arts ministry uses them for wood-breaking tests?  But today as I was walking through the Fellowship Hall, I decided to grab them and write about them here.  If they don’t get claimed soon, they will serve as wonderful kindling for my wood stove!

Now it’s time to clean up this mess!

If God guaranteed one thing on your bucket list would happen before you die, what would you choose?

26 Dec

Did you cross anything off your bucket list in 2014?

bucketListGet married? Travel somewhere? Perform physical feat?

This year my family drove from Lancaster, PA, to Austin, TX, to visit my wife’s cousin and his family.  Though it was not coast-to-coast, it was the longest we had ever driven, and the first time for most of us through Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas.

Last week I got to experience my first NFL regular season game, as my son and I went with friends to see the Redskins host the Eagles.  The tailgating atmosphere, the raucous cheering fans, and the three people we saw escorted off the premises by police, I will never forget, but I don’t know that I’ll go again.

My oldest son got his driver’s license, and his first car.

My second son got his first job, as well as played on the varsity soccer team.

My wife and I turned 40, and good friends surprised the heck out of us with an amazing party.  I ran my second half-marathon with some of those same friends on my birthday, a brutally hot and humid day.  Times were slow, but we made it.

As I look back on 2014, these are all things I would have definitely wanted to do before I die.  That is what a bucket list is all about: things you would like to do before you die.  Though I don’t have a physical paper Bucket List, I’ve had one on my mind for a long time.  And the first item on the list is writing a book.  I would also love to travel more, though I’ve been abundantly blessed to travel frequently in my 40 years. Before I die, I hope to visit Wales, where my grandmother was born.  I would love to visit the Holy Land, to see the Bible come alive.  I would love to travel with my wife to Cambodia to see firsthand what Imagine Goods is up to!

Next year, if things come together, a group from Faith Church will travel to Kenya, to visit our Faith Church family members, the Stoltzfuses, that serve at Rift Valley Academy.  I’m super excited about that trip!

Looking further to the future, I hope to see my kids graduate high school, maybe college, start families and have kids.  My grandkids.  I look forward to meeting them!

I’ve thought about going back to school to get a doctorate.  I think I would still like to do that some day.

In recent years, and especially as my third son and I have read the Hatchet series, I’d like to do some kind of extended stay in the wilderness.  Or maybe do an long hike on the Appalachian Trail.

What’s on your bucket list?  Do you have any goals you’d like to accomplish before you do? No one has to have a bucket list, but planning for the future is a wise idea.

What should be on a bucket list?  I found a site that boasts 10,000 ideas.  But what if you put items on your list that aren’t worth your time, and you only find that out after you complete them?  How do we know what we should put on a bucket list?

On Sunday we meet a guy in the Bible who had a bucket list.  I don’t know how long the list was, but it had one item God guaranteed would happen.  It was a very important item.  And God promised that before this guy died, he would be able to cross it off the list.  Imagine that!  As you think about your bucket lists, what if you could choose one thing on it that God guarantees will happen.  Which item would you choose for the God “lock”?  If God guaranteed this guy’s bucket list item, that’s a pretty strong indicator that it should be worth our consideration too.

Join us Sunday at Faith Church as we look at Luke 2:21-40, where one person has a Bucket List “God Lock” item, and it happens!

On shouting a Christmas message that can get you killed – Luke 2:1-20

24 Dec

2014-12-24 Advent Art Panels - close

It’s Christmas Eve!  My younger kids (age 9 and 11) are charged with excitement, begging to open just one gift, or at least put them under the tree.  They cannot contain themselves.  At Faith Church we’re looking forward to a wonderful time of worship tonight.  We’ve had artists from our congregation creating art to illustrate the four weeks of Advent, and tonight we celebrate as more people from the congregation will add artistry through voice and the spoken word.  Like my kids, ours will be a church like so many others today, filled with joy and light and excitement!

On that first Christmas there was another group that couldn’t contain themselves.

The Shepherds.

After hearing glorious news of the birth of the king, they rush into town to verify the message.  Finding it true, they cannot keep their mouths shut, as they start telling everyone what just happened.  The shepherds are positively beaming. It might be the middle of the night when they finally return to their sheep, still shaking their heads at the once in a life-time experience they’ve just had. And they are praising God!

Joy to the World the Lord has come.

I imagine their joy eventually wore off. That was a big night. But things get back to normal pretty quick. Sheep to watch, sheep to feed, sheep to shear, sheep to sell. Real life. What pays the bills. And that baby isn’t heard from again. I wonder if any of them were still alive 30 years later, when his time had come?  Did they remember?  Hearing stories of an up-and-coming teacher and miracle-worker and how some people were speculating that he was the Messiah, might one of them added up the years and realized this was the baby, now a young man?

I wonder how long they told the story of that one glorious night?

I wonder if life got in the way. I wonder if they started to doubt. I wonder if people started to make fun of them, say they were hallucinating, dreaming, and that babies are a dime a dozen. “Where is this king now?” people might say. “The Romans are quite solidly in power. Shut-up, shepherds. We don’t want to hear about the angels anymore.”

And maybe they did shut-up.

Have you?

We make a big deal out of Christmas every year because it is a big deal.

When that baby was born, and those angels blazed in the night sky, and the shepherds’ hearts were bursting, it was because it IS a big, big deal. There is hope, there is a savior! God wants to have peace with humanity! That’s incredible news for those of us walking in darkness.

But have we become quiet about this?

Have the years gone by, the job that requires too many hours, the busy family, the house, the lawn…in my case these last few weeks, the wood stove, the fridge, signing up for new health care…


Has life gotten in the way? Has life shut us up?

If we feel the burden of life, then we need these boisterous Christmas celebrations. We need Advent. We need to cry our eyes out because our great God has shown us grace and mercy and peace in Jesus. And we need our hearts to be filled.

And we need our tongues loosed to tell the good news. Those humble shepherds’ tongues were loosed.

60 years after these events, Luke wasn’t afraid to directly challenge Rome by telling the story. He wrote it in a book. It was the kind of story that could get you killed!  A new king’s birth that trumped the current king? Sitting kings don’t always take kindly the news that a contender to the throne has been born.  They like to kill off the competition.  Right after Jesus’ birth, word got to the local king, Herod, and he responded in an infant genocide that caused Joseph and Mary to flee with Jesus to Egypt.  Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth presents a bold message to the world leader in Rome, the Caesar.  Take a look at this thought-provoking article that shows how Luke’s courageous message could have gotten him killed!  Because his heart was filled to overflowing and his tongue (or pen) was loosed, and he told the story of God’s peace for all, there is a Savior for all, and he welcomes everyone to his Kingdom!

When was the last time you were so jacked up about something you just couldn’t keep quiet about it?

When was the last time you experienced something so amazing, so incredible you just wanted to tell everyone about it?

When was the last time you got good news and you started lighting up Facebook about it, thumbing out text messages to your family and friends?

That’s what Christmas is all about. Let’s not just keep the carols in our churches tonight. What could it look like for you to spread Christmas joy, hope, love, grace and mercy to the people in your life?

Computer, Health Insurance, Serve Team papers – Monday Messy Office Report – 12/22/14

22 Dec

My office is tidy Friday, mysteriously messy on Monday.  Here’s what I found today:

inspiron_dt_slim1. An old, but working computer in a cardboard box. This one is not a mystery.  My cousin Eric donated the computer, and I picked it up last week.  It is a 2009 Dell in very good condition.  We don’t have a need for it in the church, so we’re going to pay it forward to Church World Service (CWS) Lancaster where my sister Laura works.  CWS does an amazing job helping refugees from all over the world resettle in Lancaster. The government of the USA generously helps people fleeing religious persecution, ethnic cleansing, political strife and natural disaster by granting them entry to our country.  People have come from places as diverse as Haiti, Iraq, Nepal and Somalia, to name just a few.  CWS will gladly give this computer to a refugee family so they can get connected, do school work, apply for jobs, etc.  If you want to learn more about CWS, just see all they’re doing here.  They have loads of ways to get involved.

2. Health insurance paperwork. Like many of you, I’ve been working on getting new health insurance.  I’m not totally sure how to write about this without sounding fussy.  Here goes.  I’m very, very thankful for health insurance.  I’m very, very thankful for employment with benefits like health insurance.  We have used our health insurance numerous times over the years, and I fully expect we’ll use our new health insurance, whenever that time comes that I get it figured out. I hope and pray that a major health situation is not around the corner, and I am very thankful that over the years God has blessed our family with good health.  I suppose that even if a health event happens, it won’t change the fact that we are blessed, and we will work on being thankful even in the midst of difficulty.  Which is exactly the attitude I need to have about the changeover to new insurance!   Thankfulness isn’t always easy to come by.  So this is a reminder to me too.  It reminds me of the song “Blessed Be Your Name“.  We can praise God even when the world is not all that it should be, such as when signing up for new health insurance is proving to be a lot more difficult than I expected.  “Blessed by you name, Lord!”  This also reminds me of a scene in Notting Hill, one of Michelle and my all-time favorite movies, where the two leads, played by Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, have started an unlikely romance, he a no-name London bookshop owner, and she a world-famous American movie star.  After some twists and turns they get into a big fight.  Just then his wacky roommate, played by Rhys Ifans, pipes up and says “What he’s going to say next is — there are people starving in the Sudan”.  It doesn’t go over well in the movie, and often doesn’t go over well when we try to put things in perspective.  I suppose it is because we are feeling our pain and frustration now, and it still hurts, no matter how small it is in comparison to people across the globe.  But if we let it, remembering that our troubles are light and momentary can really help change our attitude and be thankful.

3. Serve Team Covenants.  People placed a number of these sheets in my office.  Faith Church‘s governance transition continues on, and I am super thankful for all the people that are involved.  New this year, we are asking volunteers to make one or two-year commitments to one of our Serve Teams, and then to begin that commitment by signing a covenant form.  In the past we did it all by election.  Of course we don’t know how this will turn out in the future, but I’m excited by how God is working in people’s lives as we see each of the seven Serve Teams shaping up.  We’ve had such a wonderful 2014 in the life and ministry of the family of Faith Church.  I think 2015 is looking like more of the same!

Now it is time to clean up this mess!

Why telling the Nativity Story could get you killed

19 Dec

Nativity SceneThe Nativity.

A familiar story.

Very familiar. Too familiar?

When we think about the Nativity story, about the birth of Jesus, we often play music in our heads to the tune of Silent Night, Holy Night. Where all is calm, and all is bright. Or perhaps for you the song is Away in a Manger where Jesus is not crying, but peaceful and warm and everything is well with the earth. And there are angels, shepherds and wise men, and animals, and they’re happy, smiling and well-behaved.

We used to do a Live Nativity at our church, and we had all the parts you can see in the photo above.  We had the sheep that escaped, trotting across our parking lot, spraying pellets to waylay those trying to catch him, like a 007 supercar.  We had the kids in angel, shepherd and wise men costumes, usually taking shifts because it was cold.  It was always a lot of fun.

But was it anything like that? First of all, myth-busters, you can X out the wise men. They came later on. As we continue our study of the Gospel of Luke, arguably the most famous Nativity account (Luke 2:1-20), we find he doesn’t even record the visit of the Magi. We do read about it in Matthew 2:1-12, where Matthew describes the place the Magi met Jesus, not a stable or cave, but a house, probably a temporary place Joseph and Mary stayed for a short while right after the birth.

We think we are familiar with the Nativity Story, but as with so much in life, familiarity can actually led to distance.  This Sunday at Faith Church, for the 4th Week of Advent, we’ll tell the story of the Nativity, but it might sound very different.  In fact, it really is the kind of story that could put your life in danger.

What we’ll hear is not only Luke’s courageous story, but we’ll also learn about the amazing upside-down nature of Kingdom of God.  (“Are you not talking about the birth of Jesus, then?”)  We sure are talking about the birth of Jesus!  That cute little baby in the manger.  Yup, it was a story, the telling of which could get you killed.  Take a look for yourself at Luke 2:1-20 and see what you think.  Don’t see anything out of the ordinary in those verses?  Nothing that could get you killed?  Join us Sunday at Faith Church, 9:30am…at your own risk!

Mercy and Grace – What we all need – Luke 1:57-80

18 Dec

Last week I asked: What do we all need?

The amazing message of Christmas is that God wants to shower us with his mercy and grace! That is our need!

graceandmercy2Zechariah’s song proclaims the good news of salvation that is found in Christ. That salvation is found nowhere else.

We need God’s grace and mercy.

Jerry Bridges, author of two books about grace, Transforming Grace, and The Discipline of Grace says that “our worst days are never beyond the reach of God’s grace and our best days are never beyond the need of God’s grace.” We always need God’s mercy and grace.

When we think about the message that God communicated through Zechariah’s song, through the birth of John, the forerunner to the Messiah, the entire story is dripping God’s mercy and grace.

It is astounding and beautiful. That God would go to such lengths to express his love to us.

Grace could be understood as unmerited favor. When you do get what you don’t deserve.

Mercy as unmerited pardon. When you don’t get what you do deserve.

They’re quite similar and related, and they are awesome.

In God’s grace Zechariah and Elizabeth were past child-bearing age. They didn’t deserve to have a child in their old age. But God had grace on them. And so John’s name means “God is gracious”.

Think of all the ways that you have been blessed though you haven’t deserved it.

We need to receive grace and mercy.

We need to show grace and mercy.

The ideas of grace and mercy are so wide, that I can only scratch the surface of their meaning and impact in a sermon like this.

As we live in community with one another here, with our families, with our neighbors how do we practically show grace and mercy?