Tuesday, May 31, 2011

2747 Days

Now that I am living up here in Michigan, I am surrounded by many people who are gloating over the resignation yesterday of Jim Tressel as the head football coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes. But when I think about it from the perspective of a Wolverine fan, I can see why they are rejoicing.

When Tressel was first hired in Columbus he promised domination over the University of Michigan -and did he ever deliver. Ohio State only lost to the University of Michigan once during Tressel's tenure at OSU! In fact if my math is right, as of today it has been 2,747 days since the University of Michigan has beat Ohio State in football. No wonder Wolverine fans are so overjoyed to see him leave. 2,747 days - let's see...that's 65,928 hours since the University of Michigan beat Ohio State in football! That's 3,955,680 seconds since Michigan beat Ohio State in football!

As a Buckeye fan I'm disappointed in Tressel. But I realize that he is only human. Unfortunately, most will only remember him for the last 6 months of his career rather than all that he accomplished as a head coach. A national championship? YES! Other national championship game appearances? YES! Multiple Big Ten championships? YES! But most of all, 2,747 consecutive days (and counting!) since Ohio State last lost to the Michigan Wolverines in football.

Thanks, Jim!

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Day to Honor and Remember Heroes!

Today is Memorial Day. Today is a day that many of us will enjoy to the fullest. There will be picnics, BBQ's, ballgames, boating, swimming, fishing, camping and many other recreational activities. And well we should. Today is a day to enjoy our freedom as Americans.

But as we participate in all of these wonderful events, may we never forget the sacrifice that has been made for over 200 years by brave men and women of our armed forces who gave the ultimate sacrifice in giving their very lives on the battlefield so that we could be free today, May we never forget the families who will celebrate today's holiday with a a loved one being absent because they have died in the line of duty or because they are overseas in harm's way still protecting our freedoms and our way of life as Americans. These are all American Heroes.

But today let's also take time to give thanks to the One who is ultimately responsible for our freedom - God Himself! The patriotic hymn is right - as a country, He has shed His grace on us! He is the greatest hero of all. And today, He too deserves our thanks and our honor!

Happy Memorial Day!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Life in the Belly of a Fish

"Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights." (Jonah 1:17)

So what was it like for Jonah to be in the belly of this fish? Let's get an idea of the answer to that question by using our powers of imagination. Ready? Pretend you are in the belly of a giant fish. Based on the five senses, answer the following questions:

What can you hear?
What can you taste?
What can you see?
What can you smell?
What can you feel?

This Sunday we will see from Jonah chapter 2 how Jonah described what life was like in the belly of the fish. We'll also be taking time in our contemporary service to recognize our High School Seniors this Sunday morning and we will be showing a special Memorial Day video that is a "must see!" In our traditional service there will be a special Memorial Day reading, a trumpet solo, and a Jonah monologue.

Both our contemporary and traditional services here at the E-Free Church in Gaylord, MI begin at 9:30. If you can't be here, be sure to listen to the audio of the message through our church website:


Friday, May 27, 2011

But They Don't Deserve My Forgiveness

In my post yesterday we talked about the meaning of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not forgetting. That's impossible. Forgiveness is not keeping a mental record of the wrong done against me to use as a weapon in the future. In other words, forgiveness isn't a feeling - it's a choice. I must choose to forgive even when I don't feel like it.

But what about those times when the person who has wronged me in no way deserves my forgiveness. What about those times when that person won't admit that they did anything wrong and refuse to even acknowledge my hurt? Do I still need to forgive them? To that question I find Ephesians 4:32 to be very helpful. In this verse we are told to be kind to one another, tender-hearted, and to forgive one another just as God has forgiven us.

The word in this verse for "forgive" has as its root the same word where we get our word "grace." What is "grace?" Grace is when we get something we don't deserve. The Bible teaches in Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved by grace. In other words, we don't deserve God's salvation.

The same is true with forgiveness. We should choose to forgive, even when the other person doesn't deserve it. After all, how many of us deserved God's forgiveness? Not a one of us.

Forgiveness is tough but I have heard it said that we are never more like God than when we forgive. I think there is a lot of truth to that statement. Choose forgiveness!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What is Forgiveness?

I was in a discussion recently about the topic of forgiveness. If I were to make a list of the main areas in which followers of Jesus struggle to obey, I think forgiveness would be toward the top of the list (right alongside of "tithing").

Why is it so hard to forgive? I think one of the reasons is because we don't really understand what forgiveness is. All of us grew up being taught that forgiveness is forgiving and forgetting. Now that may sound like a wonderful and noble phrase but there are really two problems with it. First, you can't find that phrase in the Bible. It just isn't there. Second, it's rather impossible. Can you really ever forget the times people have hurt you? Can you really somehow erase those scars from you memory banks? I don't know about you, but I can't.

So if forgiveness is not forgetting, what is it? 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that true love "keeps no record or wrongs." In other words, love does not keep a mental record of what you have done to hurt me in order to use it against you as a weapon. I remember the hurt. In fact, I'm even tempted to use that incident against those who caused me the hurt. But forgiveness says, though I remember and though I am tempted to use it against those who hurt me, I choose not to. That's forgiveness.

You see, forgiveness isn't a feeling. It's a choice. There are many times in my life I do not feel like forgiving. But I must still choose to forgive anyway. And how do I know it I have really done that? Here's one way to know. When I choose to forgive, I quit telling my story to everybody. You see, when you're wronged, you often find yourself telling your side of the story to anyone and everyone who will listen (and believe me, there are many people who will listen). Why do you do that? Because deep inside, if you are really going to be honest, you want people to choose your side of the story. You want people to look down on the person or persons who hurt you. That's one example of using the incident as a weapon against those who caused you the pain. That's not forgiveness.

So, let me ask you. Is there someone in your past who you need to forgive, even though you don't feel like it? Is there a story that you need to stop sharing because all it is doing is causing others to take sides?

But what if that person who wronged you refuses to acknowledge their error? What if they don't deserve your forgiveness? What then? I'll answer those questions in my blog posting tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

When Will Jesus Return?

Last Saturday was supposed to be the day according to some who predicted that Jesus was going to return on May 21, 2011. Obviously, it didn't happen as predicted. This isn't the first time that people have made such predictions that came up empty. Unfortunately, such futile attempts to predict the exact day only serves to cause people to question whether Jesus will come back at all.

Make no mistake. Jesus will come back. In John 14:1-3, Jesus promised His disciples that He would return when He said, "Don't let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God? Believe also in Me. For in my Father's house are many mansions. If it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself that where I am there you may be also."

40 days after Jesus resurrected from the dead, He ascended back into heaven as His followers looked up into the sky watching Him disappear into the clouds. At that point, two angels in white robes appeared and told them that this same Jesus would one day return just as they had seen Him go.

Yes! Jesus will come again. But when? The Bible makes it clear that no man can know the day or the hour. That's why such predictions as took place this past Saturday are foolish. Jesus did teach, however, that we could see the signs as to when this time is coming near. He talked about earthquakes, other phenomenon and wars increasing like a women's labor pains. In other words, these types of events will increase more and more in frequency and in intensity as the time draws near. Are we seeing that? Anyone who watches the evening news has to say we are.

So are we near the return of Jesus? Based on the signs we certainly could be. Can we know the exact day? Not according to Scripture. As a result, the "when" question is really the wrong questions to ask. The important question is not "when" will Jesus come back? The much more important question is, "Are you prepared for Him to come back?"

Is Jesus coming back? Absolutely! When? I'm not sure! Soon? Very well could be! Are you ready? Only you can answer that!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The BIGGEST fish in the sea

As we continued our study in Jonah, we saw last Sunday that God had prepared a "great fish" that was in the right place at the right time to swallow the prodigal prophet. We will see this Sunday what it was like for Jonah to spend 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of this great fish. But is there a fish big enough to swallow a man whole and to have a stomach big enough that the man he swallowed could live inside of it for 3 days? Here are a few facts:

The whale shark (top picture) is the largest fish on the planet. The largest one measures about 66 feet long and weighs 74,957 pounds (that is the same weight as 375 men put together who each weighed 200 pounds). The whale shark got its name because the shark's mouth is shaped like the type of whales that eat the same diet. The whale shark is known as the "gentle giant"for its non-predatory behaviour. Stories exist of whale shark's swallowing a horse, a reindeer minus its antlers, and a sea cow the size of an ox.

The blue whale (bottom picture) is the largest animal on the planet. The largest one measured about 110 feet and weighed 400,000 pounds (that is the same weight as 2,000 men put together who each weighed 200 pounds.). It's mouth measured 12ft wide and its nasal sinus measured up to 7ft high, 7ft wide and 14ft long. The Blue Whale has 4-6 stomach compartments which could easily fit several men. A 15 foot long shark was once actually found in the stomach of a blue whale.

Both of these creatures eat much in the same way. They don't chew. They feed by opening their mouths, submerging their lower jaw, and rushing speedily through the water. After straining out the water, they swallow whatever is left.

Either of these creatures, or several others, could have done the job with Jonah. There are stories you can Google and read about in which men since Jonah have supposedly been swallowed by a great fish, like those described above, and survived. Are they true? I'll leave that to "Myth-busters" to decide. But I know the Jonah of story is true! Why? Because I believe that the Bible is God's Word. And the more I learn about God from the Bible the more I can easily believe that He could speak to a great fish and have it in the right place at the right time to swallow Jonah, preserve Jonah, and then deposit Jonah on dry land 3 days later.

But what was it like for Jonah to be in the belly of the fish? Let's play an imagination game. Pretend you are Jonah in the belly of the whale. Ready? Answer these questions as if you were inside the belly of the fish:

What do you see?
What can you smell?
What can you taste?
What can you hear?
What can you touch?

This Sunday from Jonah 2 we will see what it was like for Jonah over those 3 days and how being in the belly of the fish impact him.

Monday, May 23, 2011

"I DO" times 24

May 23, 1987 - 24 years ago today at the Temple Baptist Church in Pueblo, Colorado - I said "I DO!" Today is mine and Laura's 24th wedding anniversary and what a ride it has been. We have experienced many of the ups and downs that come with 24 years of life and find ourselves, as a result, even more in love today than we were 24 years ago. Some have likened marriage to a 3-ring circus:

First, comes the engagement ring!
Second, comes the wedding ring!
Third, comes the suffer-ring!

I really feel for those whose experience in marriage has followed that path. I loved the idea of marriage 24 years ago when I first said, "I DO ' and I love it even more today.

To me, one of the best parts of marriage is that we get to do life and then grow old...together! In fact, Sunday morning I talked with a couple at church who are in their 65th year of marriage...to each other. How cool is that? Let's see, for Laura and I, we will reach that milestone on May 23, 2052 (mark the date...you are all invited to the party!).

I once heard marriage defined as, "the art of two incompatible people living together compatibly." There is a lot of truth to that. That's why a good marriage takes hard work. But every effort you put into it is worth it.

A successful marriage starts by understanding that love is far more than a feeling - it's a choice. I often talk to couples who tell me that they have "fallen out of love". Folks, listen, love isn't a tree that you fall out of. It's a choice! I can honestly say that in 24 years of marriage we haven't always "felt" like loving each other. But do you know why our marriage has been successful? Because even during those rare times that we didn't feel like loving each other we chose to love each other anyway.

May 23, 1987 - we chose to love each other!

May 23, 2011 - we continue to choose to love each other!

May 23, 2052 - we will still be choosing to love each other!

Happy Anniversary, Sweetheart!
I love you!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Man on the Run

This Sunday here at the Gaylord Evangelical Free Church (GEFC) we will be continuing our study through the book of Jonah as we finish chapter one. We will see Jonah as a man on the run from God and we will notice several principles about what life is like when we are on the run from God, be it one area of our lives or every area of our life. One of the main principles we will see is that when we run from God, He will relentlessly pursue us. That's how much He loves us.

Our contemporary service will start with an introduction of a new missionary couple to GEFC. Along with some great worship music, we will also have some original aspects to our service including our Worship Director, Joshua Rupp's, own rendition of the "Do-Run-Run" song and a special video made by two of our college students called, "Great Rap Wars in Biblical History" featuring Jonah versus God. On a side not, the lyrics to this original rap style video was actually written by a grandma in our church! The message will end with a special song entitled, "You Won't Relent." It is going to be a great service.

Our traditional service will include, hymns, a prayer time, a responsive reading, Scripture reading and a missionary report. Those attending the traditional service will them move down to the Gospel Center for the message and closing part of our contemporary service.

We look forward to seeing you at GEFC this Sunday. Both the contemporary and traditional services will begin at 9:30am. If you can't be with us, be sure to listen to the audio of the message on-line next week through our church website or through iTunes. The church website is www.gaylordefree.org.

Friday, May 20, 2011

New Location this Weekend?

This Sunday, the Gaylord Evangelical Free Church (GEFC) will hold its services just inside the Pearly Gates in Heaven, at least if the "experts" are right who are predicting that Jesus is coming back this Saturday, May 21st. Could they be right? Are we out of here come tomorrow?

One of these same "experts" made a similar claim back in October of 1988 with the publishing of a booklet entitled "88 Reasons Why Jesus Will Come Back In 1988." A lot of evangelical Christians bought into it. I remember walking out of the mall and finding a copy of the booklet on my car window and on the windows of all the cars around me. In fact, I know of one church that took it so seriously that they held funerals for each other since they would not have their own funerals. They even brought home their college students on the predicted day so they could all be together when Jesus returned. But when the day came and passed, nothing had changed.

So is this Saturday the day? Let me give just a few thoughts:

First, I believe that Jesus is coming back and that the church will be raptured and the bodies of the dead in Christ will be raised.

Second, I believe that this event is imminent, meaning that it could happen at any time.

Third, I believe that the reason Jesus hasn't come back yet is because God, who is patient, is giving more time for people to change their minds about Jesus and put their faith alone in His death and resurrection for their sins.

So will it happen Saturday? It could, but not because the experts have predicted it. If it happens Saturday it will be because it has been the plan of God since before the foundations of the world. I still plan to see you at the Gaylord Evangelical Free Church come 9:30 Sunday morning. But if the "experts" guessed right - then will meet just inside the Pearly Gate. Either way, it is going to a great service!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Umbrella of Mercy

In my blog post yesterday I mentioned "The Umbrella of Mercy." This a literal umbrella (which happens to be yellow) that sits in the middle of the conference table in the conference room of the church office here at the Gaylord E-Free Church (GEFC).

This umbrella is important because I believe that no idea is a bad idea. When it comes to staff meetings, and especially our Worship Design Group meetings in which we plan our upcoming worship services, ideas are golden. But have you ever sat in a meeting and had an idea pop into your head but you never shared it because you were afraid people would say, "That's a really stupid idea!"?

Well, there is no such thing as a "stupid idea." In fact, often it is the wackiest idea which can become the stepping stone that leads to the next great idea. That's how the best ideas are usually born. People give a "far out" idea that seems wacky in every way, shape and form, but it prompts a creative burst in someone else and before you know it, a great idea appears.

So, how does all of this fit into the "umbrella of mercy"? When we are in a meeting and someone has an idea they are hesitant to share, they simply ask for the "umbrella of mercy." The yellow umbrella is then past down to them and they hold it (open or closed doesn't matter) as they present their idea. This is the visible reminder to everyone in the room that no idea is a bad idea, and even though the idea being presented may seem wacky, it still has great value in being shared.

So, the next time you have an idea but you think it might be somewhat "stupid," just ask for the "umbrella of mercy." Who knows, your holding the umbrella may result in the next great idea coming to light!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Worship Design Group

We have a Worship Design Group here at the Gaylord E-Free Church (GEFC) that is the creative and logistical brainpower behind our worship services as a church. This group is headed by Joshua Rupp, our Worship Arts Director.

The goal of the team is to plan and execute worship services here at GEFC that are compelling, meaningful, and even unexpected, so that those who attend grasp the truths of God's Word presented while having an enthusiastic desire to talk about their experience at church with those they engage with during the week. Here is how the group works:

Yesterday I sent out to the team my overviews for my messages for August. This gives the team several weeks on their own to read this information and the related Scripture passages and to prayerfully began brainstorming about creative ways that we can present these themes and principles in our Sunday morning worship services.

We will then meet as a group on a Saturday morning in June for a 2.5 hour brainstorming and creativity session. At this meeting we will list any and all ideas that have popped into our heads. Sometimes we have to ask for the "umbrella of mercy," which I will talk about in my post tomorrow. We then narrow down the ideas we would like to attempt for our sermon series using the following three questions as a filter:

Does the idea fit the theme of the morning naturally? If it doesn't really fit the theme, or if we have to force the fit, than it ill not be as effective as we desire it to be, no matter how good the idea is.

Is the idea too far outside of the box? Here at GEFC we have both a traditional service and a contemporary service. Though we desire variety and even the element of the unexpected to be part of our contemporary service, we realize that if an idea is too extreme in nature, it can be more of a distraction to the service than a tool to reinforce the theme of the morning.

Can the idea be done with excellence (especially on a limited budget)? My old band director in High School at the Christian School I attended would say, "If it's Christian, it ought to be better so shoot for excellence in everything you do?"

But our work doesn't end after this creative meeting. A smaller portion of this team also meet every Tuesday morning at 8am for a logistical meeting. We take time at this weekly meeting to evaluate the previous Sunday and to plan out all the logistics and final details of both the contemporary and traditional services for the upcoming Sunday. It is amazing how Sundays roll around with such regularity.

I am looking forward to working closely with this amazing group of people.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Welcome HOME, Joy and Jonathan

Laura and I are very excited because tonight our two kids, Joy and Jonathan, will arrive HOME to Gaylord, Michigan after their year at college (Joy just completed her junior year and Jonathan his freshman year, both at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA). As parents, Laura and I realize that this well could be one of, if not, our final summer together as a family.

But coming HOME for the summer will be different for Joy and Jonathan as they will be coming HOME to a town they have never lived in before; to a house they have never lived in before; and to a church they have never attended before (outside of one visit last December). They will arrive tonight having no friends and no summer job. The same thing happened to me after my freshman year of college (also at Liberty). While I was at school, my parents moved from the only home I knew in Akron, Ohio to a new home in Williamsport, Maryland (near Hagerstown). I came HOME my first summer after starting college to a strange place, with no job and not knowing a single person other than my own parents.

So we appreciate your prayers for Joy and Jonathan. Please pray specifically that they would have a safe trip HOME to Gaylord. They will be driving from Lititz, PA which is about a 13-hour drive. Please pray that they will connect quickly to some folks their age in our church. Please pray that they will find summer jobs quickly. And please also pray that God would give us the best summer ever as a family.

I know you will love our kids! They are very outgoing and love being with people. You will see them actively involved in many areas of ministry this summer. We can't wait for our church family here at the Gaylord Evangelical Free Church to meet them.

Welcome HOME, kids!

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Jonah Streak

Last Sunday we started a new 5-week series here at the Gaylord E-Free Church (GEFC) through the book of Jonah that we are calling "Looking Past the Whale." As we saw on Sunday, God told Jonah to go the city of Nineveh and to proclaim to them the message that in 40 days God would overthrow their city due to their wickedness. And what did Jonah do? He not only said "NO," he attempted to run from the Lord. He headed to a destination that was some 2500 miles away from the destination God was sending him to. As I said Sunday, you will never win a game of "Hide-N-Seek" with God...He's never lost one of those games yet.

But we also learned Sunday that the reason Jonah disobeyed and ran the other way was because he hated the Ninevites. He knew that if he preached to them the message God gave to him, and if as a result they actually repented, that God would forgive them. Jonah didn't want God to forgive them. He wanted Him to ZAP them. We spent some time Sunday looking at the brutal and barbaric way that the Assyrian Empire, of which Nineveh was the capitol, tortured their enemies. Perhaps Jonah knew some folks who had fallen into the Assyrian's evil hands. But whatever the reason, Jonah did not want Nineveh to be saved. He wanted them to be judged - so he ran the other way, playing a foolish game of "Hide-N-Seek" with the Lord.

But the truth is that there is a "Jonah Streak" in most all of us. I think many of us, if we are going to be honest, have developed such a disdain for a group of people that we would rather see them judged than saved. I have met Christians who have a "Jonah Streak" concerning the following:

People of a different race

People who speak a different language

People of a different political party

People of a different social class




It's not an exhaustive list by any means but it is one that has to make us question if we too have some type of a "Jonah Streak" within us. The theme of the book of Jonah is the fact that God loves the world. His desire is to see them all come to repentance. I wonder what would happen if each one of us who are followers of Jesus would start every single day the rest of our lives with this prayer:

"Father, Today please give me Your love for the world and for lost people! Amen"

Back Up and Running

After some computer glitches, first with the blogger website and then with my own computer, I am back up and running! Praise the Lord! Look for a new blog posting yet this afternoon! Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Reality and Resources

I have been taking our ministry staff here at the Gaylord E-Free Church through the only miracle of Jesus that is recorded in all 4 Gospels - the feeding of the multitude with the five loaves and 2 fish. From this miracle we see many principles that apply to doing ministry today. A few weeks back I wrote a blog post on principle #1 - the fact that before we can pass out the fish and the bread (exemplifying doing ministry today) we must first develop a heart of compassion for people. Jesus certainly showed this in Matthew 14:13-15.

But as the hour grew late and the disciples encouraged Jesus to send the crowds away into nearby villages to buy food. Jesus tested Philip in John 6:5 asking him where they could buy food for so many people. He asked Philip because Philip was from the area and knew that no such place existed. Philip responded in verse 7 saying, "even if we had 8 months worth of wages we would not be able to buy enough food for every person to even have a little." Philip could not look past the reality of his problem.

Jesus had asked Andrew to scurry through the crowd and see what food he could find. Andrew brought back a "good news - bad news" report. The good news was that he had been able to find one boy's lunch consisting of 5 small loaves of bread and a couple of tiny fish. The bad news is seen in Andrew then adding, "But what good is this for so many people!" Andrew could not look past his resources.

Philip and Andrew both missed a striking fact. Yes, the reality of their problem was huge. Yes, their resources were very minimal. But they had Jesus!! And how often do we make the same mistake today? It is easy in church work to constantly focus on the reality of our problems, and we certainly have enough of those, don't we? Gaylord E-free has problems as does every church. But let's not put our focus on the reality of our problems Let's put our focus on Jesus who can turn obstacles into opportunities.

It is also easy in church work to constantly focus on our limited resources, and we do have some limitations here at Gaylord E-Free when it comes to resources, especially in a struggling northern Michigan economy. But let's not put our focus on our limited resources. Let's put our focus on our God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and the wealth in every mine. Let's focus on the God who can take a little and use it to accomplish a lot.

From the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 we learn that our thoughts can't be focused on the reality of our problems or on our limited resources. To effectively do ministry today our focus must be on Jesus. As long as we have Jesus we have everything we need to pass out "the fish and the bread" to our community.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

E-Free Goes iTunes

Have you ever missed church for vacation or for another reason and wanted to hear the message from the Sunday that you missed?

Have you ever sat in church listening to the sermon and you couldn't stop thinking of someone else who wasn't there that you wish could be hearing that same message?

Have you ever had a message on Sunday impact your life so much that you wanted to hear it preached over again?

We'll, we are making it easier for this to take place here at the Gaylord E-Free Church. You can already listen to the audio of past messages through our church website. But now, you can listen to the messages preached here at the E-Free Church via iTunes as well. This involves many of our past messages including last Sunday's message on "Hope for Women who Hurt." All of our future messages will now be available on iTunes as well. Simply log on to iTunes and put Gaylord E-Free into the search engine or use the link below:

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Weekend Wrap-Up

Sunday nights are always a good night to relax and reflect over the weekend. This weekend was busy but it was especially good. I think the fact that we finally got some nice spring weather here in northern Michigan really helped that out a lot.

We became official residents of Michigan this week - at least in the eyes of the Secretary of State. Friday, we spent some time getting our new driver's licenses (or at least applying for them) and our new Michigan license plate. We also were able to transfer our voter registration while there as well. We were pretty impressed with the quality and friendliness of those who worked at the Secretary of State Office. In the other states in which we have lived these tasks were done at the Bureau or Department of Motor Vehicles. We always joked that it seemed that they only hired people with no personalities and no sense of humor. This was not the case at the Secretary of State office here in Gaylord.

Before heading over to get our license plates and drivers licenses taken care of, we first had to get our Michigan no fault auto insurance. PA was not a no-fault state, nor did they have lifetime medical coverages. As a result, we were a bit shocked when we saw the price difference from what we were paying back in the Keystone state...OUCH!

Friday night we had an impromptu dinner date with friends. That is always an enjoyable way to spend an evening. Laura and I then went over to the High School where we had been given tickets to the Gaylord Community Orchestra concert. The theme was "A Night At The Movies." All the music that was played were songs used in movies. When I was in Junior High and High School, band and orchestra was my life (I played trumpet - note the past tense...it has been many years since I last played). As a result, I still enjoy hearing a good concert.

Laura spent the weekend painting. She is trying to get the kid's rooms put together before they get home from college. Joy and Jonathan should be pulling in one week from Tuesday. We are excited to be able to spend the summer together as a family. With Joy entering her final year of college this fall, we realize that this very well could be the last summer we get to spend together as a family. We appreciate your prayers for our kids - they are coming "home" to a place that has never been their "home." That can be tough. They will also need to find summer jobs as soon as they get here.

I spent several hours Saturday afternoon and into the evening working in the yard. I was amazed at the number of limbs and branches that had come down from all the trees on our property due to the winter wind, snow and ice. Our yard is three times as big here in Michigan as it was in PA. At least I will get a lot of exercise in this summer with my push mower. I just hope my allergies even out here soon. I think I watered the entire yard with all the sneezing I did while I was working in the yard (OK, I admit it - that was pretty gross)!

The highlight of each and every weekend for me is Sunday. I live for Sundays. Our "Kids Living For Christ" ministry team here at the Gaylord E-Free Church helped us to celebrate Mother's Day by doing a wonderful job in presenting a mini-musical that included their leading our congregation in some fantastic worship. The Cherub Choir also sang and quoted Scripture. You just can't go wrong putting the kids on stage on Mom's Day!

I preached Sunday on the story of Hannah. She is an amazing woman in the Bible that shows hurting women how they can see their hurt turned to hope as their problems turn to prayers. It was very encouraging to hear stories afterwards of how God used His Word. My prayer continues to be for all hurting women (and men for that matter) that as they look to God to be their source of joy and contentment, the worship of God would become greater in their lives; the work of God would become evident in their lives; and that the will of God would become accepted in their lives.

After church Laura and I drove out to Charlevoix to enjoy a Mother's Day Buffet at the Grey Gables restaurant and then take a stroll by Lake Michigan. Northern Michigan is a beautiful place to live and we love driving around and seeing the scenery. It was a relaxing and a very enjoyable way to end a beautiful spring weekend.

Friday, May 06, 2011

HOPE for Women who HURT

It's Mother's Day this Sunday and here at the Gaylord E-Free Church we have a wonderful service on tap. Our children will be presenting a mini-musical that is going to be just fabulous. Afterwards I will be giving a message that is for more than moms. This message is for all women - especially women who are hurting. We will be looking at the story of Hannah from the pages of the Old Testament. This was a woman whose life was characterized by "HURT." Let me give you a quick glimpse of her life:

She was married to a man who had two wives. That hurts!

She was unable to have any children. That hurts!

She had a rival who was constantly insulting her. That hurts!

She had a husband who was totally and completely insensitive. That hurts!

She had a pastor who falsely accused her of a sin that was not true. That hurts!

Maybe, like Hannah, you are a woman reading this blog posting that is going into this Mother's Day weekend with many hurts in your life too. If that is true, my heart goes out to you. In this broken world we live in there are many thousands and thousands of woman who are hurting deeply. It may be a physical hurt. It may be an emotional hurt. It may be a mental hurt. It may be a relational hurt. It may be an occupational hurt. It may be a financial hurt. It may even be a spiritual hurt. But my guess is that there are many women reading this post who can identify with Hannah because your are living a life of hurt.

This Sunday we will look at the amazing story of Hannah and see how her HURT turned to HOPE! And the same thing can happen in your life as well. If you live near Gaylord, Michigan I invite you to join us at the Gaylord E-Free Church for our 9:30am service as we see from the life of Hannah how to turn your HURT into HOPE. If you do not live near the Gaylord E-Free Church then be sure to go to our website next week (www.gaylordefree.org) and listen to the audio recording of this message. To get a head start, spend some time prior to Sunday reading the first chapter of the Old Testament book of First Samuel and see Hannah's story for yourself.

My Mother's Day wish this weekend is for every hurting woman - whether you are a mother or not - that you could see your HURT turned to HOPE! Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

I Love God Stories

I love the Bible because it is filled with "God stories." A "God story" is a story where you see God change the lives of individuals. That's what you see all through the Bible - God changing and using individuals who in no way deserved His touch or His love. But the cool thing about "God stories" is that they didn't end when the Bible was completed. God is still changing and using individuals today who in no way deserve His touch or His love. "God stories" are happening every day all around us. To me, that is the best part of being a pastor - seeing the "God stories" take place. Recently my wife and I got to hear two such stories.

We have been able to get to know a man who is very new to our church. He was at his rope's end when it came to living. To him, the only reasonable way out was suicide. He carefully thought it through and went out and bought a gun. He decided that the bathtub was the best place to end his life on this earth. He even went as far as to climb in the tub, and with the gun being unloaded, practice this final ending. But then God stepped in! He ran into his former wife who gave him the book, "The Purpose Driven Life." God used this book and this man gave his heart to Jesus. He is now a member of our church and is growing like crazy. His zeal to know and serve God is refreshing. That is a "God Story."

My wife and I were able to spend time recently with an amazing young couple who are also in our church. We were captivated as they shared their story of intense and unfair hurt and pain. They had suffered incredible emotional hurt, physical hurt, relational hurt and even spiritual hurt. I am not kidding when I tell you that the vast majority of people who went through what they did would be bitter today. But not this couple. They have allowed their hurtful experiences to make them better and now they are more in love with Jesus than ever and are pouring themselves into the lives of others. You can't help but fall in love with this couple. That is a "God Story."

"God Stories!" They are happening all around us every single day. But what's even better is that they are happening in our own lives as well.

"Go, God! Keep changing and using individuals who in no way deserve your touch or your love. Keep the stories coming!"

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Reacting to the death of Osama Bin Laden

I'm sure that all of you have been following the amazing story of the capture and death of Osama Bin Laden. I have been watching the reaction to this story with great interest. To be honest, I have mixed feelings. On one hand I am glad to know that one of the enemies to our country and to freedom as we know it is no longer a threat to us (though there are still many threats - Bin Laden's death does not even come close to ending the threat of terrorism).

But on the other hand, it is very difficult for me to rejoice in the death of any human. I rejoice in justice - no question - especially as I remember my reaction on that day the Twin Towers fell in New York and the Pentagon was on fire in D.C. But I heard the story of one pastor who greeted his neighbor with the words, "Happy Dead Bin Laden Day!" Frankly, that just didn't set right.

Sometimes I think we as followers of Jesus forget that though we have physical enemies to our country, our real battle as Christians is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of wickedness at work in this world. Why is that we as followers of Jesus are more known for who and what we are against than we are who and what we are for? Am I glad that Bin Laden was captured and justice served? Absolutely. Am I rejoicing in the fact that today he is eternally separated from a loving God who sent Jesus to die for him? Not at all.

There is really only one finality of an enemy that will bring my heart joy. It is going to happen someday as recorded in Revelation 20:10 - "And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever."

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

A Special Morning!

Here is a photo of the prayer of dedication at my installation service that was held last Sunday here at the Gaylord E-Free Church in Gaylord, Michigan. It was taken by our Director of Worship with his camera phone. Though you can't see them all in the picture, all of the Elders and Ministry Staff laid their hands on us, including two representatives from the Great Lakes District of the Evangelical Free Churches of America along with my mentor, Pastor Steve Peters (holding the mic). At the same time the entire church family stretched out their hands toward us in a sign of unity. It was an amazing service - and probably the only installation service in the history of Christendom that included the word "ovulation" being used from the pulpit!! If that doesn't make you want to go on-line and listen to the service recording, nothing will! You can do so through our church website (link below). A special thank you to all who participated and to this amazing church family who have welcomed Laura and myself with open arms.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

19,000 REASONS

Sunday morning was my official installation as the new Lead Pastor at the Gaylord Evangelical Free Church (GEFC) in Gaylord, Michigan. What a special morning it was. I was honored to have Steve and Sue Peters with us for the weekend. Steve is the Senior Pastor at Community Church in West Milton, OH where I started my ministry back in the summer of 1985. It was also a great surprise when two other friends of ours from years ago, Ed and Erin Robbins, who were on my youth staff back at Community Church when I was a youth pastor, also drove up for the service. We have been blessed at every ministry we have been part of (Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania) to develop friendships that truly last a lifetime.

It was an emotional morning for me as I reflected on how God orchestrated our lives over the past 16 months to get us to this point. As we entered the 2010 calendar year we were very excited about what God was doing in our lives and in our ministry. In fact, 16 months ago we had never heard of Gaylord, Michigan. But God was at work orchestrating our lives and the lives of the GEFC family and we had no clue what He was doing behind the scenes at the time. We learned, however, that sometimes when God orchestrates your life it takes you down a path you would have never anticipated or chosen for yourself and one that can cause hurt and pain. That is exactly what happened to us in 2010. But even through that very difficult year, God was at work behind the scenes to bring about His plan and we are convinced that this plan included bring us to Gaylord and GEFC.

As I talk with friends about the transition and they realize how far north we are and how cold and snowy it can be up here, I often get asked the one word question, "WHY?" Why would I move to Gaylord, Michigan? Why would I chose to live some place where it snows in April...in May...in June!! Besides the fact that I am confident that God has orchestrated my life to lead me here, I can give you 19,000 additional reasons as to why I came to northern Michigan. I am told that there are about 19,000 people who live within easy driving distance of GEFC that do not attend church anywhere. Each one of them is a reason why I believe God has led me to Gaylord. Nothing gets me more pumped than seeing men, women, boys and girls come to faith in Jesus Christ through the local church. After all, the local church is the hope of the world because we have been entrusted with the only message, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that can change the direction of someone's eternity.