Tuesday, March 29, 2005


It was a busy Easter weekend. The usual--extra planning, more bulletins, bigger crowds, special events, an extra service, extravagant refreshments--and the list goes on.

It was moving to watch the Passion for the second time and then take Communion. It was spectacular standing on the crest of our twenty-three acres, lush green tinted by the rising sun, and singing, "He Lives!" at 6:00 a.m. It was fulfilling sharing the message, "Embracing the Resurrection" in our crowded temporary worship center, and examining the evidence that Christ rose from the dead. It was heart-warming welcoming visitors we don't usually see in church.

But the climax for me was a young man who came to me after the second service and said, "When you led us in prayer I prayed to receive Christ and I wanted you to know!" What made it especially meaningful to me was my distant relationship with him over the last few years and his emergence from a life of struggle.

As I wrote him a follow-up note this morning--he lives several hours away--and sent him a book and encouraged him to find a church home, I couldn't help but think to myself, "He is risen indeed!"

Monday, March 28, 2005

The Monday after

Easter is always a big day--three services, a brunch squeezed in-between, a wonderful evening with close friends--from 5:00 a.m.-until 11:00 p.m.--when we finally collapsed into an unmade bed (there was a two hour nap in the afternoon, a regular Sunday afternoon appointment).

Reflecting upon the day I want to be sure I didn't miss the point, obscure the focus, with all the seeming church "pomp and circumstance" that surround the holiday. Did I feel pressured to "perform"? Did I direct people to Jesus, as opposed to the temptation to enlist them at Grace Fellowship? Did I exhaust myself with liturgical organization as opposed to scriptural preparation?

I feel pretty good about my answers to those questions but it is hard to ignore the subliminal pressures of the holiday that would seek to drain my energy for the real task to which God has called me. John Piper's BROTHERS, WE ARE NOT PROFESSIONALS, is a healthy--sometimes uncomfortable--reminder of what God has called us as pastors to spend our lives doing.

It's the Monday after, and as I get ready to play racquetball with some friends--I hope they will take it easy on me--I feel energized by the message of the resurrection that still resonates within me.

Sunday, March 27, 2005


About 1:00 p.m. Saturday Anthony Owen Vlach arrived. By all reports, he is healthy and mom and dad are doing fine.

And I am resting well and taking nourishment, for those of you were concerned.

Grandpa Dale

Saturday, March 26, 2005


We were awakened at 4:00 a.m. this morning by my son-in-law reporting that they were at the hospital and the baby would be "arriving" any moment. Bev and I prayed after he hung up--two thousand miles away in Dallas--that they baby would "arrive" whole and healthy.

I have been largely non-functional since, waiting for the news of the baby's birth. At 7:30 a.m.--three hours later--TJ, the expectant father--called and then handed the phone to my daughter so she could soothe the frazzled nerves of an anxious father (she know me well). The baby, as I write, has not arrived yet but mother reports she is in little pain and the moment will come soon enough. "So don't worry, dad".

Waiting--not my strong suit. But it is an unavoidable component of life. The familiar encouragement of Isaiah 40:31 resonates in my mind. "They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength" (KJV) or "Those that hope in the Lord will renew their strength" (NIV). "Waiting" and "hoping" are linked together in the Hebrew. We can wait because we have this hope that God will deliver what He has promised in His time. And the process is one that strengthens us...as we wait.

So I am waiting...and I will give you the report of what we hoped for when he arrives (yes, we know he is a boy, our ninth grandchild!)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


I was disgruntled to hear the rented facility we use had been innundated with water from our nearly torrential rains. That mean the roof--which has been "repaired" numerous times, has failed again. And we just did major cleanup two weeks ago--cleaning carpet, replacing ceiling tile, etc. Now the bathrooms are flooded, the serving areas pummelled by drippy ceilings, ceiling tiles on the floor, storage areas drenched--and we have services Thursday, Friday and Sunday!

I have these fleshy moments where I am preoccupied with my plans and programs and flooded with waves of pride--how will things look for our guests? will they be impressed with our surroundings? And the superficial list goes on...

Easter isn't MY day--it is His. It isn't my "parade", but it is His rain. He has everything covered, and whatever happens--even if it rains on Sunday--we will honor Him and proclaim the fact that "HE IS RISEN!" Wet carpet, broken ceiling tiles, damp storage--none of that will stop us. After all, even death could not keep Him in the grave.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A week that can make a difference...

It seemed Monday as if the Easter season was already in full bloom. Bev and I were in Sacramento running errands and we ended up at the Arden Fair Shopping Mall. Mondays are usually quiet there, but not this Monday. It was a wet and blustery day--even cold--but there were people everywhere, most of them shopping for, what I am guessing, were Easter clothes.

On this this Sunday more people will be in church than any Sunday of the year. And, yes, we at Grace Fellowship, like most other churches, will have a weekend full of activities to take advantage of their seasonal interest. Friday evening we will show the film, THE PASSION OF JESUS CHRIST, and share Communion. We will have three worship services on Sunday, including sunrise service early and a brunch later. It will be a busy weekend.

But it is an opportunity to share the gospel. We have provided our church family with materials to minister to their families and in their immediate sphere of influence, encouraging them to intentionally share the "good news". For all of the commercial advertisement, and all the secularization of the season, I remain confident that as we pray this is a week that can make a difference.

Sunday, March 20, 2005


We have been reconciled to God through Christ. This, in and of itself, is an astonishing declaration from II Corinthians 5:18ff. Considering the grace required to bring a holy God and sinful man together, the work of Christ seems beyond description. The key theological idea is expressed in verse 19, "that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them." This is what we what we were desparate for to even entertain the thought of having a relationship with God.

But this part for me is even more mind-boggling. It is the twofold assignment that we have as those who are now "in Christ". (1) God "gave us the ministry of reconciliation" and (2) God has "committed to us the message of reconciliation".

As we enter this season of Christ's passion, I am moved by the idea that God has chosen us to let the others know that Christ's death paid the price for our sins so that God is "not counting" our sins against us, and we are, thus, able to be reconciled to a right relationship with God. I am overhwlemed with the charge that we are "Christ's ambassadors as though God were a making His appeal through us". The message for all to hear? "Be reconciled to God." It is our ministry and our message. May we find grace to do it and to declare it.

Friday, March 18, 2005


We had our monthly regularly-scheduled (we have other kinds) board meeting last night and after four-plus hours I reflected the next day with a board member as we walked together.

"Do the meetings have to be so long?", he asked. I thought about the various things we had discussed--schedule, finances, Easter emphasis, community evangelistic outreach event, our youth internship program, building progress, Leadership, Training and Discipleship ministry, visitation ideas, Benevolence Fund needs, church unity, missions mini-convention, needy families, etc.--and I said, after recaling only a few of these things, "You know, I think we just enjoying being together and dreaming together!"

He wasn't bored or disinterested but I think he was observing--along with me--how the ministry is growing and how much there is to talk about and to pray about.

Pray for your board--they are not "bored"; they are, however, sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of of ministry and responsibility. And they need your prayers for God's guidance as they seek to be good leaders.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

NEWSFLASH: Missionaries are real people!

We had a mini-missions conference at Grace last night and our special guests were Vicki Murphy, an MK (missionary's kid) and Joe and Ellen Kunkle, both second generation missionaries. The recurrent theme of their message to us was "Remember, we are real people, too, and we are desparate for your prayers!"

It is easy to see missionaires as something more than human--divinely-touched, as it were--and a notch above the rest of us. That can lull us into a postion of carelessness in how we pray for them. The missionaries told last night about "angelic protectors" against satanic attack--and it was as if this were an everyday occurrence. Witch doctors and unsympathetic cultural context for their service are daily challenges to their faith--a whole other world, from our point of view.

Not to mention the issues of separation from family, mediocre medical care, unusual living conditions, a foreign language and strange food, isolation from other Christians...and, yes, this makes us believe they are super-human in their commitment to serve God.

But, they would want us to know that they are flawed and fragile, just as we are. And they are wholly human, with the same temptations and trials punctuating their daily lives. And they need us to be fervent and faithful in our prayer for them.

We may not able to go. We may even be happy that we were not "called" to go because we know how "unfortunately" human we are. But we can pray that our missionary friends--human as they are as well--will be sustained and encouraged as they serve God, wherever they may be.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

READING...to be challenged

Stephen Lungu's autobiography, OUT OF THE BLACK SHADOWS, is the incredible story of a young black man growing up amidst adversity in Zimbabwe. His transformation is chronicled in this amazing story of God's grace and love. Stephen is now an evangelsit who travels around the world sharing his testimony. He will be sharing in a county-wide outreach effort on April 24th. Come and hear him at the Italian Picnic grounds in Amador County (more information to follow).

Monday, March 14, 2005


Nehemiah 4 introduces us to the factor of oppposition--an unwelcome visitor. The children of Israel have responded to Nehemiah's call to rbeuild the wall so they will "no longer be in disgrace" and they have responded with a will to do the work (2:17,18).

Their determination to rebuild the walls incenses the enemy and he mocks them by attacking them verbally. The spirit of what he says has the air of ridicule and sarcasm and aims at the heart of the people (see 4:1-3).

The enemy questions their strength, their salvation, their spirit, their stamina, their substance, and their success (sermon notes available through GRACE FELLOWSHIP CHURCH). It is easy to see how he does the same with us for once we have announced our resolve to obey God and to serve Him, the enemy appears on the scene to thwart our progress.

James acknowledges this and challenges us in 1:2-4, "Consider it pure joy...whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

The children of Israel completed the walls, in spite of heightened opposition, as recorded later in chapter 4. What will this week's chapter of your life reveal about your faithfulnes to the task in the face of opposition?


I always have a myriad of emotions when I reflect upon the Lord's Day. I am usually exhausted so I have to filter my thoughts through that inescapable reality. As I sit at my computer this morning some thoughts come to mind...

*There are people missing each Sunday that I know are in the midst of crisis and conflict and I wonder how they are doing and whether or not we are doing enough to support them.

*There are people visiting for the first time and I am curious whether they feel welcomed and if the emphasis we place on the Word of God meets their needs.

*There are people attending whose demeanor and faces tell me that all is not well and I am concerned about how I should respond in providing pastoral care.

*There are people who verbalize their concerns about family members, personal needs and upcoming surgeries, and I am anxious that I not forget these in my prayers when I say, "We will be praying for you".

*There are people who need "on the spot" attention and so we wander from the crowd to an elusive quieter place to share and I trust we minister to them in that moment of expressed need.

*There are people who simply need a hug, or, "I am glad you are feeling better", or "Is your sister's health improving?" or, "Did you find a job?" I try to remember what is important to them but as the congregation grows, it is harder to remember.

That's the thing about the ministry--"there are people"--and it is what makes me want to do it again this week.

Friday, March 11, 2005


Sage, Eden and Ezekiel (we call him "Zeke")--are three of my eight grandchildren, with another one to join them this fall. I just spent a couple of days with them, including an overnighter at the motel we were staying in nearby. They are 8,6 and 3 and beautiful--you'd say the same thing if you saw them. And they were pretty much perfect while they were with us--I know, we are prejudiced, but it is clear to us that they are outstanding!

Here's what I saw--three children who are being raised by godly parents who are teaching them as children how to take care of one another, how to share, how to be grateful and kind, how to listen and obey, how to embrace basic principles we see in God's Word, and the list goes on.

The children are truly "grand"...I am not sure why they call us "grand"-parents. That tile goes to mom and dad because they are GRAND-parents, to be sure!

Lay action and divine intervention

Just checked my messages having been gone for the past week and was haunted by the call of a church family asking for help in dealing with someone who was suicidal. They expressed a desire for some strategic intervention. Naturally, I felt badly that I was not here to give them some support but inwardly I felt confident that this family would have found the help needed.

I just got off the phone and they summarized the potential crisis as a miracle of God's intervention...all the necessary parts of the puzzle "fell into place" at just the right time, and the help needed was secured with a good result. I will get to hear more details later. When we are faithful to act isn't it neat to see how God intervenes?

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The REST of the story

Jesus' invitation to come unto Him and find rest is an inviting one. In our fast-paced society it is easy to be swept up in an almost frenetic lifestyle. Even under the guise of "I am doing the Lord's work", I can find myself driven to the point of mental and physical exhaustion. You probably know what i am talking about, just from the ordinary stresses and challenges of your family and your job.

This week, following Sunday's servcies, Beverly and I will head for the coast. We are going to take a break, but we are equally-excited about seeing some of our grandchildren who will be nearby where we will be staying. There is something about the ocean that is very soothing to me and I know it will energize me and prepare me for a return to work with rekindled purpose and resolve.

Here's what I have learned about myself. If I don't take time for myself--even though I have long labored under a sense of "guilt" for relaxing--I am no good to anyone--my family and work environment included. I want the rest of the story of my life to read better than it has--that I was a man who learned the importance of stepping aside to renew myself for more effective service to those I love.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

YARD WORK...and God's work

Friends are coming tomorrow for lunch so that means the yard must be perfect--no stray blades of grass, no untended weeds, no unnecessary dirt on the driveway, no lack of attention to details. What makes it even more labor intensive is the knowledge that my brother has bragged on my yard so his friends are coming to take a look.

My theology tells me that Jesus is coming,looking for a "glorious church without spot or wrinkle". I am a part of that body and I often wonder how well I am preparing for His return. Am I concerned about the weeds and the dirt? Have I paid attention to the details of my relationship with Him? Oh, I know, I hear you saying "But what about grace?"

I love my brother and so I am motivated to pay attention to the things that matter to him. He likes my yard--so having it in order, even though it may require special effort on my part, is a pleasure. Besides, I love yard work.

I love Jesus and I want to be ready for His return. Besides, I love doing His work... So John's words regarding Christ's return ring in my ears, "Everyone who has this hope in him, purifies himself just as He is pure." I John 3:3.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Reading . . . to be Challenged

I was given a book in November that got buried underneath a bunch of other books (most were not as good as this one!) K.P. Yohannan, founder and director of Gospel for Asia, made me uncomfortable, and caused me to re-think some ideas I have about the philosophy of missions. At the core of his heart's concern is the need for American churches to support native missionaries. He writes, "Hungry, hurting native missionaries are waiting to go to the next village with the Gospel, but they need your prayer and financial support." He observes it can cost $50,000 annually for an American missionary to go overseas whereas a native missionary can be supported for as little as $1500 a year!

Our small church gave over $73,000 to missions last year, with the primary portion of it supporting American workers--a worthwhile accomplishment. I wonder, though, as I reflect on Yohannan's passionate cry for help, if we should think about the idea of investing more in native workers--who already know the language, already live there, and already have connective links. Yes, they will need to be guided and trained, but an evaluation of this alternative merits our prayerful attention.

Notes on Nehemiah

We just finished a look at Nehemiah 2:11-20 in our fourth installment of a series on Nehemiah. Since we are in the process of building our own facilities, it seems appropriate timing. We have also observed that there are applications ona personal level to be made as we face the challenge of rebuilding broken lives--our own, and those God allows us to influence and encourage.

Nehemiah's vision to rebuild the walls of Jjerusalem was "put in his heart" by God. In doing so, God touched his emotions--he wept when he knew of the city's plight and his people's disgrace; his intellect--he reasoned what the need was and thought about what he could do to respond to its urgency; his will--he decided to act, even though the task was formidable, because "God's gracious hand was upon him".

How often has God touched your heart with something you saw or heard. Perhaps it was a missionary's appeal, or a family in your neighborhood in crisis, or a church responsibility begging to be filled? And did you reason away how you could/should be involved? Did you intellectually grapple with the opportunity and God's purpose for you in meeting it? Many of us can respond affirmatively to these first two parts of the process. The ultimate question, however, is, did we act upon what we saw and felt, evaluated and examined...or did we walk away, ignoring the vision God sought to put in our hearts.

"God put the vision in Nehemiah's heart..." How are you acting upon what God has put in yours?