Jimmy Lynn for a Day

Today was the Sunday that I agreed to come early to church to be the first one there to open up and get the church ready for the morning in the absence of Jimmy Lynn.

Now, I readily admit, it is difficult to fill the venerable shoes of TSF’s church sweetheart and beloved caretaker!  Jimmy is also the meister of miscellaneous information. He has a story or an isolated little-known tidbit on almost every topic.

When I was a kid in the 60s, there was a silly TV show called “Queen for a Day.” A sort of early reality show, it featured fairly ordinary women telling their stories, and through some criteria one was chosen to sit on this huge throne. She was crowned “queen for a day” and regaled with roses and a robe. It was ridiculous, but it was very popular. A famous TV critic has said of it, “one of the most ghastly shows ever produced … tasteless, demeaning to women, demeaning to anyone who watched it, cheap, insulting and utterly degrading to the human spirit.”  Wow!

My experience as “Jimmy Lynn for a Day” was a lot better than that. And I have some stories to tell. I often wonder why Jimmy’s stories go on and on and on about various topics. Well, it is because of how interesting his life is!

After checking out the bathrooms and only needing to add one toilet roll, I opened all the doors and turned on the hall lights. I can report that only one door was unlocked! But criminals reading this: don’t dare attempt to steal anything, even if the door is open, because our security system WILL catch you!

I moved on to bug and worm execution and elimination. By my count, we did have actually a more people at church today than we did beetles and inch worms. However, there were likely more of such behind the walls than there were people hiding in the cracks.

Here is what I observed: The worms are more numerous than the beetles out in the hallways, but in the auditorium, there are more bugs. That is clearly because of the distance that needs to be traversed … it would be something of a marathon for the worms to go that far. Also, about 55-60% of beetles were dead – clearly victims of our extermination program (or a Tim Lester sermon).

I was pleased to know that I can still outrun and outmaneuver the worms, but the bugs were more of a challenge (the living ones, I mean). If I brushed them into the pan, there was the possibility that they would run out before I could throw them outside. So, I had to, ah, well, crush them. But here is the problem with that – if I crushed them too hard, they would be smashed into the floor or ground into the tread of my shoe. So, the proper technique I discovered was to sort of pop them on the dome lightly and stun them without smashing their guts all over the floor.

So… all in all, it was an exciting experience. Who knew that the job had so many details to talk about? And what an honor! How many of you have ever been “Jimmy Lynn for a Day?”


Shortstops and 2 Timothy 2:2

Most folks at Tri-State Fellowship know that I am a big fan of baseball and the Baltimore Orioles, and many know that I write occasional articles for a sports network on a site called BirdsWatch­er.com. It has been a great year for the Birds and a lot of fun to follow this team and write about them.

The Orioles have a new young player who is one of the most highly regarded prospects in all of professional base­ball. His name is Manny Machado, and at age 20 he was brought up from the minors to finish the last 50 games or so with the major league team. Though drafted as a shortstop, he has played 3rd base for the Orioles, since that was the greater need.

Many people are comparing Machado to the famous Yankees shortstop turned 3rd base­man – Alex Rodriquez. Both are from Florida, and both are similar body types with similar advanced skills at a young age.

Prior to Rodriquez, the man who changed the shortstop position in baseball forever was a Marylander named Cal Ripken. He broke the prior mold of shortstops being little guys with good hands for defense, but also small skills at bat. Ripken proved that a big and strong power hitter could also fill the position defensively.

When Rodriquez broke into baseball, Cal Ripken mentored him in the off season and in various ways. Now, Rodriquez has done the same for Machado – working out together over the winter in Florida. In fact, Ripken has commented that he has heard Machado talk about things in ways that he remembered teaching Alex years ago.

What does this have to do with anything spiritual, and why did I write this for our church newsletter? I include it as a perfect illustration of the Apostle Paul’s teaching in 2 Timothy 2:2 … “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”

This is the essence of what our teaching is to be about – discipling generations of follow­ers of Christ. This is our motto and purpose as a church. This is why we talk about generations and multi-generational ministry all the time. It is the main idea.

If Chris Wiles was to be called away for the next 50 years to be the pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in California, he should be able to come back at age 80 in 2062 and hear the essential teachings that he is presenting now being echoed down the corridors of time to that day.

Are you passing it on? Are you teaching the skills, the craft, the fundamentals of your faith to younger ones around you?


So Close, but So Far …

I recently had the occasion to go to the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore to visit someone from my church. I parked in a nearby deck and walked a couple of blocks to enter the front door of the facility. As I crossed the street to approach the entrance, lying there on the sidewalk was a man who had been rather obviously stricken with some critical medical emergency – so close to the door of the hospital that he was literally in the flower bed about 25 feet from the entrance.

At about the same time as I was walking up to this scene, from blocks away one could hear an emergency vehicle en route for the purpose of assisting this individual. By the time that the medical care arrived, he had been in that position for quite a while; and even then, he was going to be loaded into the vehicle and driven around to another side of the facility.

And so I thought – what an irony … that this man was so close to the care that he needed that he could have almost rolled over through the front door, and yet he was very, very far away from getting the assistance he so desperately required.

And I thought also – that is the spiritual condition of so many people whom I know and love. They are so close, but yet so far. They have some interests in things related to knowing God, but they really do not have a relationship with Him that is evidenced in any way by the patterns of their lives. They always intend to make this issue a matter of priority, but they never seem to bring it front and center and act upon it.

But here’s the point: rolling through the door of the hospital and being inside would do this man no good unless he also met a physician who could help him … but getting inside was a necessary first step. And likewise, getting into church is not going to really cure your disconnection from God unless you meet up with Him there – the Great Physician … but getting inside is a really good first step.

May I invite you my friends – so many of you being local people who read my writings – to come inside the doors at Tri-State Fellowship beginning this Sunday (9:30). We begin a new season of ministry with a new way of worshipping and gathering … and we begin also this Sunday in a new teaching series called “Belong.”

Do you “belong?”  Do you really know God and have a relationship with Him that informs the steps of your lives today and guarantees you an eternal future with Him? If you fear you may not “belong,” we can help you out!  Don’t just remain so close, but so far.

A physician named Luke, who wrote one of the Gospels quoted Jesus saying, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

And Jesus himself said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Talking to and Hearing from God

My 3-year-old granddaughter Bella – who is unusually verbal for her age – was recently asked by someone what she likes to do. Her answer was, “I like to talk to God. You can talk to him anywhere. He can hear you but he doesn’t talk back very loud.”

After a chuckle at the humor of such a little one saying something like this, I’m guessing that a lot of people quietly agree with the entire statement. Yes, it is true that God may be talked to at any place and any time. And I don’t think many folks really doubt that God hears them. It is the final part of it that is difficult – how does God talk back? And yes, it often does not seem to be very loud or clearly definitive.

How do we hear from God? Where do we find his guidance and his will? Of course we need to be praying and seeking his direction.

Certainly God uses our circumstances and life events to speak to us. There are times where even extraordinary events upon the pathways of life may open or close doors and thus provide guidance to us.

As well, there is what we often call “the witness of Spirit” – that inner sense of either peace or discomfort surrounding decisions and opportunities that grant some measure of leading.

But the primary method of God’s guidance is through Christ and his Word – the Scriptures. It says in Hebrews chapter1 that “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”  That would indeed be a way cool thing to hear from God through prophets and miraculous voices. But God’s truth has been revealed in the person of Christ, and of course all that we know of Christ is contained in the perfect written record of the Scriptures.

So to know God’s direction – to hear his voice a bit louder – one has to know the Bible. And that is the focus that we have at TSF – in our sermons and classes and small groups of all sorts. If you are not a part of these opportunities, now is the best time of year to jump in.

Simple Servants


Over the summer at Tri-State Fellowship we have continued our iGrow series (adult learning center classes that meet at 11:00). Tim Lester did a six-week series called “Guardrails.”  I have just begun a second series for four weeks called “Simple Servants.”  I’ve been putting some readings and questions as preparation for the week to come on our church Facebook page … but that means I’ve got to remember to do it each day. I was thinking about how much easier it is with the blogs I write – where postings can be scheduled (which explains why you might see my Orioles or Civil War blogs have articles that go online at 10:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning).

So I thought I’d just put the whole series of questions, thoughts, and readings here on this blog for you to get at any time.

This four-week iGrow series of lessons focuses upon some of the lesser known characters of the early church – who served in supportive roles alongside those whom we more often remember. Together with star characters like Paul, Peter, Timothy and Luke, they established God’s program of abounding grace in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Without doubt, these people had gifts and talents. But honestly, they were pretty ordinary – not a lot different than most of us. What made them special was their desire to partner deeply with God’s work. Their consistent attitude was a question of, “What may I do to help?”  The value of such simple servants is timeless and limitless.

We will look at the lives of:

  • Priscilla and Aquila (7/29)
  • Barnabas (8/5)
  • Silas (8/12)
  • Philemon (8/19)

WEEK ONE: Priscilla and Aquila (7/29/12)

Monday:  Read Acts 18:1-17.  Make a list of the types of experiences that Priscilla and Aquila must have had with the Apostle Paul during this time together.

Tuesday:  Read Acts 18:18-28.  What does this passage indicate about the probable skills and capabilities of this husband and wife?

Wednesday:  Read Romans 16:1-5a & 1 Corinthians 16:19.  What additional skills possessed by this couple do we see in this passage? What must this have been like in that time and that place (living in Rome)?

Thursday:  Read 2 Timothy chapter 4.  What does the mention of this couple by Paul in his final written words reveal of his thoughts about them?  (This is back in Ephesus)

Friday:  Read Acts 5:1-10.  What contrasts may be drawn between the husband/wife teams of Priscilla and Aquila, and Ananias and Sapphira?

Week 2: Barnabas (8/5/12)

Monday:  Read Acts 9:17-30.  What list of character traits of Barnabas may be generated from this account?

Tuesday:  Read Acts 11:19-30.  Continue to add character traits of Barnabas to your list. Are you beginning to get a mental picture of what it would be like to meet this man?

Wednesday:  Read Acts 13:1-12, 42-49.  In a word, what is the job Barnabas is called to perform? Where might he have had any idea how to accomplish this?

Thursday:  Read Acts chapter 14.  It is clear now that Paul is the leader of the team. What more does this say about the character of Barnabas and his attitudes?

Friday:  Read Acts 15:1-35, and Galatians 2:12-13.  Note here the bold and passionate interest within Barnabas for theological truth and for the central message of the Gospel.

Week 3: Silas (8/12/12)

Monday:  Read Acts 15:22-35.  Even as you review some of the same material as last week, begin to note the position of Silas in the early church community. See also at the end of the chapter that he is commissioned to missionary service with Paul.

Tuesday:  Read Acts 16:1-15.  What great experiences is Silas a witness of?  Make note of all who are travelling together (hint – one is not listed), and how this trip fits into the spread of the Gospel and western civilization.

Wednesday:  Read Acts 16:16-40.  Try to put yourself into Silas’ sandals and imagine the emotional highs and lows of being in this situation.

Thursday:  Read Acts 17:1-15.  Continue to catalogue what may be learned about Silas from this missionary journey, noting especially what happens in verse 14.

Friday:  Read Acts 18:1-8, 2 Cor. 11:9, Philippians 4:15-16 and tie together these passages. Look also at a final mention of Silas (Silvanus) in 1 Peter 5:12.

Week 4: Philemon (8/19/12)

Monday:  Read Philemon verses 1-7,22-25 & Colossians chapter 4, and note how these writings go together.

Tuesday:  Read Philemon 8-21 – Note how Paul has come across Philemon’s runaway slave named Onesimus in Rome, led him to Christ, and is now sending him back home.

Wednesday:  Read Philemon again. If you were a slave, would you return?  If you were the owner, would you receive him back? Make a mental list of the reasons why Paul is telling Philemon to take back Onesimus. Does Paul’s appeal begin to present a picture to you of the work of Christ? How so?

Thursday:  Read Philemon 15,16 // Col. 3:22-23 // Eph. 6:5-9 // 1 Tim. 6:1-3.  Ponder what it would be like to be in a New Testament church with both masters and slaves in the same family of faith.

Friday:  Read 1 Timothy 6:6-10,17-19.  What is the biblical admonition to the wealthier people of a church? What makes it difficult for poor people and wealthy people to serve well together in a church in our day? What would make it easier?

Missions Emphasis Sunday

Today’s service (7/1/12) at Tri-State was one of the best I can remember in my (exactly now) 18 years in Hagerstown. It was a Sunday focused on our missions outreach – featuring three of the families with long-term connections to the church.

Marlin and Ruth Brubaker were the first to say they could be with us on this date. They now work in Colorado Springs for HCJB World Radio. This ministry was founded in Quito, Ecuador in 1931 by a guy with a transmitter in a city where only six people had radios … and he named it a “world ministry” because he had a big vision! It has covered ¾ of the world’s surface. Marlin is an engineer who keeps the technology working.

Bill and Michele Nelson met and married while at TSF – where Bill was a staff member for five years in the early 90s. For the past 14-15 years he has directed the InterVarsity ministry at Johns Hopkins University and medical campus. Bill is especially involved in the personal work that goes on with international medical students. It is a relationship building, evangelism, and discipleship ministry with a lot of turnover … as students eventually go back to their home countries where they will be church leaders. These are often Muslim and Hindu countries.

Pete and Carolyn Bitner have now served over a decade in Togo, West Africa. They shared an incredible array of stories of their work in discipleship with two different people groups. Pete has done such things as play in a soccer league of mostly Islamic guys. The team picture makes it very clear which one is Pete!  Let’s just say that he really stands out among all those Africans!

Marlin, Pete, Bill and Me – You’d think we were a bunch of girls who called each other up to wear the same outfit!

It was a great experience for these three families to be together at the same time – and that was some of the plan for today. They estimated that it was about 15 years since they were all in the same place at the same time. Another key player in all their lives is Bill Kesecker and the discipleship class he led years ago for young adults of that time. So many of these folks are now in missions work – including Anna from our Kazakh team.

Much of the talk today was about the idea of being a team / an army – serving together in various roles. Like with any organization, it is not just about the people who are public and on the front lines. It takes a support structure. I estimate that we have given about $2,000,000 to missions projects and people in the years I’ve been here. For a large church, that is not much … but it is a big number for us. It is equal to about all the money spent on our facilities purchases and construction. And in other terms, our mortgage payment is now in the lower 400,000s.

But today surely reminds me that it is worth it all to have a worldwide focus. God does; we should.

A Surprise for the Geigers

I did something in church yesterday that I’ve been planning for some time – to pull a surprise on our friends Lyle and Miget Geiger.

The Geigers moved to our area a couple years ago from the Lehigh Valley, as Lyle works for Volvo. When in Allentown, they attended our denomination’s church there – Faith Evangelical Free in Wescoesville (just west of Allentown). As you may recall, this is the home of my wife Diana, and is not that far from where I grew up. Faith has always been a rather large church, and even when I was a teenager, I’d often go to concerts there – as this church hosted many of the best-known Christian musicians of the time.

The Geigers have three married sons – one of whom serves in the Orlando, Florida area at a very large church (Northland Church – Joel Hunter pastor). He is on the musical/worship staff (yes, lots of people). He is an outstanding keyboard player, songwriter, and singer. At various times, his songs have been a part of their worship services and may be seen in the media section of their web page.

So, for the 11:00 song to gather people for the iGrow session, I had Diana (in the sound room) connect to one of these links and project the song. It was fun for me to watch the Geigers go to their seat and sort of begin to realize that, hey, their son was playing on the projection!  Lyle told me later that Miget said to him, “That sounds like one of the songs Pete has written.”  And then, looking at the screen, he said, “It is Pete; there he is!”  So that was fun for me to watch.

An extra connection of this family to our church is through the Craver family. Fred and Norma’s son and family attended Faith in Allentown, and the Craver’s granddaughter was a very good singer who grew up in the youth group together with the Geiger’s son – doing some music things together as well.

If you want to see the song that we projected, here is the link: