Friday, April 22, 2011

Scriptures to help you prepare for Good Friday

Is. 53:5-6
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

1 John 2:1-2
But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. 

Romans 6:3-7, 11
Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin…  In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 

We skipped church and did this instead...

Last month our family traveled to Arizona for vacation.  We had never been out west so we took the opportunity to spend most of our time in Sedona with a day trip to the Grand Canyon and sandwiched by a couple of days in Phoenix.  We spent most of our time hiking and climbing which was really fun.  There are some great hiking trails in Sedona that are well marked and have varying degrees of length and difficulty.  Our trip was Tuesday to Tuesday which meant we were in Sedona over a Sunday, and normally we would visit another church when we're out of town.  However, this time we decided to do family church in our room.  Kim quipped that it was one of the advantages of traveling with a Pastor!  Anyway there were three parts to our little liturgy and it was really cool.

1. Discussion of the Bible - We read some scriptures and had a little discussion about how life is like a 'path.'  There is a concentration of scriptures about 'paths' in Psalm 119 and because we had just been hiking so much these were very relevant.  We talked about some of the critical components that made our hikes successful.  Some of the stuff the kids came up with were things like; we had a map, we had a plan, there were some markers along the path, it was light out, we had each other and could talk about which way to go when we got off the path, we had taken the proper supplies with us, etc. We tied these things back into how to be successful as we walk the path of life.  The importance of the Word of God as our map and lamp, the Holy Spirit as our guide, the importance of Christian community to help provide accountability and direction when we lose our way, etc. It was really cool. You should read Psalm 119 sometime and check out how much great advice there is about walking the path of life. 

2. Prayer - I asked Kim to pray as we wrapped up and she offered an amazing prayer that summarized some of the things we had just talked about from the Scriptures. She also prayed individually over each of our kids and over me about specific things that we were each facing. There is something very powerful about a mother's prayer for her family.  It brought me to tears. 

3. Worship - We decided that during the 25 minute drive to the restaurant for breakfast that we would pass the ipod around the car and let each person choose a worship song during the drive. So we blasted With Everything and Your Name and Our God and sang at the top of our lungs driving with the windows down, a warm breeze blowing through the car, with beautiful red mountains on every side and blue skies overhead.  It was a profound time of worship for all of us.   

It was a very special and memorable time for our family. One that we won't soon forget. It also led me to a renewed commitment to having regular family devotional times together.  All our kids are at ages where they can fully participate in an intelligent conversation about spiritual topics. I would never recommend missing church on a regular basis, but on occasion something like this can be really powerful for your family.  

Have you ever had a memorable 'family church' experience?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Where does anger come from?

Christian counselors claim that some 50% of the people who they counsel are dealing with issues related to anger. Anger can shatter communication, tear apart relationships, it can ruin our health.  Some people have left a wake of wounded people in their past because of their anger.  And for some – they’re not the angry outburst type – but they have held on to anger for many years and it’s like a cancer that kills their ability to love people and worship God and it’s rotting away any opportunity that they have at healthy relationships moving forward.  

However, anger is not just damaging, it can also be good; even godly. In fact, Ephesians 4:26 - BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN.  The bible acknowledges that we will be angry and there are things that should fuel a righteous anger in us (when we see cases of injustice for example).  

As best as I can tell there are three major originators of anger (this is not scientific but simply from my experience). 

1. Unmet needs (usually unspoken) – this is prevalent especially in marriages
2.  Feelings of violation/ injustice/ humiliation
3.  Lack of control/ Fear
    What are some other causes of anger?  What did I miss?

    Monday, April 18, 2011

    RECAP: Why is Grace launching a second campus

    I just completed a 6 part blog series about why we at Grace Church have decided to launch another location in Harbor Creek on Easter Sunday, 2011.  I just wanted to get some links all in one place for those who may want to peruse the posts. God is at work and we're excited to see what He has in store for us as our journey continues as a community of faith!

    Part 1: What motivated us to start a new campus?
    Part 2: What are the advantages of starting new campuses?
    Part 3: Why did we choose Harbor Creek?
    Part 4: What unacceptable realities fuel this effort?
    Part 5: What guidelines are we using to help us launch a church from scratch?
    Part 6: Why are we using sermons on video?

    We're 6 days away from launch and I couldn't be more excited.  The team is ready, the word is out, big prayers have been prayed, now we're just waiting for God to show up in power when this new expression of Grace Church convenes for the first time.  


    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    Game Day Thoughts: April 17, 2011

    I'm an old football player, and Sunday is like Game Day.  As a Pastor, it's the day the church convenes for worship.  It's the day many of our staff plan for all week.  It's the day our teams at Grace are on high alert and in full-service mode.  It's game day. Here are a few of my highlights from today:

    1.  Stories. Our theme this morning at Grace was "the gospel still works in 2011."  There was no official sermon, but at each campus we heard 4 different life stories from people who have had their lives radically changed by Jesus.  It was amazing.  We traced some of Jesus' encounters as he was making his way to Jerusalem to die for humanity.  It has always amazed me that on his way to rescue the whole world, He still had time for individuals.  We read about the woman at Bethany, Zacchaeus, and the 10 lepers who were healed by Jesus.  In the same way - God is still at work in the lives of individuals.  I was so inspired to hear from Michael and Christine Yost, Erika Zerkel, Heiden Ratner, Roy Nordin, Eve Wozniak, and Jon Coyne. (I wasn't able to hear the stories of Penny Roose and Michelle Pfeifel in the Commons but heard they were strong). I love to hear about how God is at work in the lives of our people - and these were powerful stories of the strength of the gospel at work today.  Awesome.

    2. Grace Harbor Creek visit - I hosted the service at 9:15 at Grace McKean and then picked up my family and hustled out to Grace Harbor Creek  for the 11:00 service.  It was our last preview service before the official launch on Easter Sunday and it was my first visit since we've been in operation out there.  Wow, was I blown away.  The team was on point - so friendly and energetic at every turn.  The facility was beautiful - totally transformed from a high school into a church. Pastor Mike and Dustin were fantastic - they brought truth and insight into every part of the service.  Melanie and all the support teams were so focused - they were still taking notes throughout the whole experience evaluating and adjusting so that by next weekend all the bugs are worked out.  If you live in Wesleyville, Lawrence Park, North East, or Harbor Creek and you don't have a church home, I want to invite you to join us at Harbor Creek High School next Sunday at 11 AM for Easter Service.  It's going to be awesome.  I was amazed to see years of prayer and planning finally coming into focus at Grace Harbor Creek ... humbling.  

    3. Final Preparations - I just sensed a final mood of preparation for Easter.  As I looked at all the cards hanging around each worship space with names of friends and relatives and neighbors on them - I believe the people of Grace are more serious than ever about inviting folks to join them at church next weekend.  There is a prayerful anticipation about what God is going to do in our midst.  I can't wait! This week...

    Good Friday Service 
    6:30 PM on Friday the 22nd at Grace McKean only

    Easter Services
    9:15 and 11:00 at Grace McKean (please attend at 9:15 for crowd considerations)
    11:00 at Grace Harbor Creek

    Click through for some more details here

    If you attended worship services today - what were your highlights?

    Friday, April 15, 2011

    Why is Grace Launching a Second Campus? Part 6

    Why video preaching??  I have been posting some thoughts on why Grace is launching a second campus in Harborcreek this Easter.  This is the 6th and final post in the series. Today's post has to do with one of the more progressive decisions that we made about this new campus.  We will do the majority of our preaching through the use of video.  Everything else in the service will be live - we have a full band that will lead in musical worship each week, and service hosts who will welcome people, and a designated campus pastor who will provide leadership, counseling, and supplemental teaching to that congregation.  It will be a live (and lively) worship gathering - and when it comes time for the sermon it will be via video on a large screen.  So I want to answer a series of questions today that flow from the larger question:

    Why Use Sermons on Video?  

    Isn't video impersonal?
    Attending church at one of our campuses will be a very personal experience.  Ushers and greeters will greet personally, our campus pastor (Pastor Mike Watson) and worship leaders will personalize every aspect of the service, and the video sermon will just be another resource that they will use to bring the gospel to every person who walks through the doors. But it's true that video can feel impersonal.  We've tried to counteract that by the way we do video.  I think it allows for the most personalized of all video approaches.  We pre-record the sermon video earlier in the week specifically for our campuses.  I much prefer this method over just recording one of our other services where there are people in the room, because it allows us to personalize the message to the people who are watching via video and to look right at the camera the whole time.  The people watching the video don't feel like they're just overhearing us as I talk to somebody else, but we're talking directly to them.   

    Why come watch a screen when I could watch church on TV from my couch?
    This question is based on a grossly underdeveloped view of what church is supposed to be.  If someone thinks that the sum total, the sole purpose, of going to church is listening to a 30 minute sermon then Grace is probably not the church for them... we set the bar much higher than that.  The truth is, you can't live in deep community with others on your couch, you can't utilize your God-given spiritual gifts on your couch, you can't participate in life-giving worship on your couch, you can't serve the community with other believers on your couch.  Church is so much more than a sermon!  When we invite people to church we are inviting them into Biblical community and to be part of the great cause of Christ in our generation. The sermon is just one very small component of that experience. If you come to Grace you won't stay a spectator for long - the stakes are too high!

    How can you possibly address specific needs of a congregation via video?
    This will be an ongoing responsibility of our campus pastor.  He will still be a prophetic voice in his congregation. If there are specific needs that must be addressed in his congregation, he will have the freedom to address them in a variety of ways.  
    • There will be mini-teaching moments in each service in which he can address particular topics.  
    • He will have freedom to stand up after each video sermon and help the congregation to process through the application of each message.  
    • Each campus pastor will be part of our preaching planning team and so the needs of each location will be taken into account as we plan series. 
    • He will have regular opportunities to preach live at his location at which time he can craft and nuance the message to the specific needs of his congregation.  
    However, all that being said, truth is truth.  The Word of God is the Word of God.  There is a little nuancing that needs to happen based on congregations - but if I write a sermon based on the Bible I could generally take that message and deliver it in Erie, Warren, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Haiti, etc. And the Word of God remains constant and true. It reminds me of a passage in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that says, "no temptation has seized you except what is common to man."  There is a commonality to our experience in this life that the word of God addresses with amazing accuracy.

    Aren't you just jumping on the bandwagon and trying every new fangled idea?
    We definitely want to utilize all available technology for the advancement of the gospel.  Throughout history, the church has leveraged available technology for this purpose.  The invention of the printing press dramatically affected the Reformation by getting the Bible into the hands of individuals.  The Apostle Paul utilized the latest available technology, letter writing, messengers, and circular letters to advance the gospel.  These circular letters were teachings and admonitions that were intended for multiple different churches (similar to our video teaching).  One church would read the letter and then it would be sent on to the next church in the region. I'm convinced that if Paul had access to video technology he would have used it to the hilt!  If the early church had said, “we’re not going to listen to Paul through his letters, he has to be here in person,” the church would be in a whole different place. 

    Isn't this just about Grace or about Derek trying to build an empire?  
    This gets a little chuckle out of me because I shudder to think of how pathetic and insignificant a 'Grace Church empire' or a 'Derek Sanford empire' would be compared to the actual Kingdom of God being advanced!  This one is a simple 'no.'  Our goal with this initiative is to reach more people with the gospel - and we believe to the bottom of our souls that this is the best way to do it.  It's important to note that we will still be using a team preaching approach.  So some weeks I will be on screen but other weeks it will be Brian, Mike, Al and others. This isn't about building an empire around one personality, but simply using the technology available to us to reach more people. 

    Some benefits of video preaching:

    • Unity –it’s important to us that there be a unified preaching voice at Grace.  Nothing will hold us together like the unified proclamation of the word of God. We will be in the same sermon series most of the time, studying the same scriptures and having conversations around the same truths from God's word. This is one of the ways that our church in multiple locations can stay connected with one another. 
    • Wisest use of the Campus Pastor's time and energies - video preaching allows the campus Pastor to focus more time and energy on pastoring and leading his new congregation. We want to utilize our Pastors to their full ministry capacity.  The average sermon takes 15-20 hours to study, write, and deliver. So, to have 2 different pastors duplicating efforts each week in sermon preparation isn't the best use of our resources.  There is too much ministry to be done for us to be duplicating efforts.
    • Supporting resources - Having all campuses receiving the same sermon content allows us to write excellent materials (small group studies and individual studies) based on that sermon that can then be utilized at all campuses. You can check out some samples of these supporting materials here.  If we had different sermons going on at all of our locations it would be too difficult to keep up with quality support resources.
    • Clarity - We currently use video preaching in our Commons Service at our Grace McKean campus and one of the positive responses we have gotten is the ability to see facial expressions and emotion on the screen that you can't see when it's live and in a larger room.  Studies show that over 63% of communication is non-verbal (hands, eyebrows, facial expressions).  So the larger image allows the person watching to pick up on some of those communication cues that they would miss in the larger room.   
      We are excited about this initiative. We believe with our whole hearts that this is what God is calling us to do.  On Easter Sunday 2011 - the adventure begins.