Thursday, June 30, 2011

Laura Story Wrote My Story

Laura and I had the thrill of spending a full day at the Big Ticket Festival in Ionia, MI last weekend. The artists, music and worship was absolutely amazing. I especially enjoyed the diversity of music on the many different stages. But for us, the whole trip down top Ionia and back was worth it for the 45 minutes we were able to listen to Laura Story sign and lead in worship in the worship venue. Laura wrote and recorded a song called "Blessings" which I had never heard before last weekend. It came from a storm she and her husband went through when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. But you would have thought that she wrote the song about the storm our family went through in 2010. I can't stop listening to this song. It's as if Laura Story wrote our story from 2010. Below are the lyrics:

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
And we cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
And what if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know the pain reminds this heart
That this is not, this is not our home
It's not our home

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the achings of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Trusting in the Storm

God uses storms in our life to test and solidify our faith. That was one of the principles we saw last Sunday morning here at E-Free in Gaylord, MI as we looked at the story of Jesus calming the storm as part of our message series, "Summer on the Lake." I saw this principle "fleshed out" in my Grandpa's life.

My Grandpa Distler was a pastor for some 50 years, leading churches in New York, Ohio, Illinois and in Fenton, Michigan. He ended his life as a Superintendent of a Rescue Mission in Salinas, CA. Grandpa died of cancer many years back and I had the privilege of preaching his funeral when he was buried in the cemetery behind the church he pastored in Sutter, Illinois.

The last time I had the opportunity to be with my Grandpa was at his home in California just a few weeks before he died (the above picture was taken of my Grandpa just a few days prior to his going to heaven). Grandpa wanted me to have some idea of what he was going through in the storm he was enduring. He took my hand and put it under his pajama top and led my hand from tumor to tumor. I asked him, "Do they hurt, Grandpa?" He replied, "Oh, yes...they hurt."

He then said this to me. I will never forget it. He said, "Scott, for 50 years I have preached Proverbs 3:5-6." He then quoted it:

"Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths."

He then finished, "For 50 years I have preached that passage, but for the first time in my life I know what it really means."

Storms do that. They solidify our faith. They teach us how to trust the Lord. So if you are facing a storm in your life, then set your sights on Proverbs 3:5-6.

"Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Through the Storms of Life

Last Sunday we looked here at E-Free at the story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. From this story in Scripture we saw that Jesus was the one who initiated He and the disciples taking a boat across the lake at that particular time. He, being God, obviously knew that the storm was coming. So then, why would He take the disciples into a storm? The answer is that He wanted to test their faith. They had been listening to Him teach and they had watched Him do many miracles. But would they trust Him in their storm? They didn't. During the storm Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat. The disciples awaken Him with the question, "Don't you care?"

Today there are many that teach that God wants no storms to come into your life. You should be completely healthy physically and financially. That just doesn't measure up to this story. Jesus knew that the storm was on the horizon and He was the one who led the disciples into the storm. Why? Because God knows that sometimes storms are good for us because they test and solidify our faith and cause growth in our life.

When one of my kids was very little, they needed to have a medical procedure done. It was a horrific and painful procedure and there was no way to prepare our child for it or to explain to them why it was needed. But without it, there could have been very serious consequences. I had to literally hold my child down and look into their face during this horrible procedure. The whole time my child was yelling, "Daddy, make them stop! Daddy, make them stop!" They couldn't understand why I would hold them down and allow this pain to take place. But as their daddy, as much as it tore me to pieces, I had to hold my child down through that storm. I knew that this storm was the best thing for my child even though they couldn't understand.

I think that is how it is with God. He knows the big picture and realizes that some storms are needed in our lives. We don't always understand and often we cry out, "God, make it stop! Don't you care?" But the truth is that He loves us enough to take us through the storm!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Come to Israel with Us!

Our current message series here at E-Free is called “Summer on the Lake” as we look at several incidents in the life of Jesus that happened on or by the Sea of Galilee. I have been able to travel fairly extensively in my life, visiting most all of the 48 continental states as well as being in Canada, Mexico, Malaysia, Cambodia, Korea, France, Spain, Egypt, Jordan and Israel. But of all the places I have been and seen there is no place that I love more than the Sea of Galilee.

Laura and I have had the privilege of traveling to the Holy Land twice and we are excited to announce that we are going back again in October of 2012. We would love to have a group from E-Free go with us! Just imagine being able to:

· Take a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee

· Visit the Shepherd’s Fields in Bethlehem

· Walk the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem

· Get Baptized in the Jordan River

· Float in the Dead Sea

· Visit cities like Capernaum and Nazareth

· Stand at the Wailing Wall

· Pray in the Garden of Gethsemane

· Take Communion at the Garden Tomb

· And Much, Much More!

Visiting Israel truly is a Trip of a Lifetime. It will deepen your faith and literally change the way you read your Bible. Why not pray about going with us? All of the information can be found at a special blog I have put together. The address is:

If you are interested in the trip, just send me an email with your mailing address and I will send you an official travel brochure. If you would like to read the personal journal that I kept on my first trip to Israel, simply send me an email requesting it and I will send it to you as an attachment. You can email me at

Come to Israel with us! It will be a trip of a lifetime!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Visit Israel with Laura and I

Visit Israel with my wife and me!

Be sure to read my blog posting tomorrow for all of the information!

It truly will be a trip of a lifetime!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Weatherman You Can Trust

Don't miss this Sunday here at E-Free in Gaylord as we continue our message series called, "Summer by the Lake." This is a 5-week series in which we are looking at the main events that took place in the life of Jesus on or by the Sea of Galilee. Last week we saw the miraculous catch of fish which resulted in Jesus calling 4 of His disciples to follow Him.

This week we see a second event on the Sea of Galilee as Jesus calms a ferocious storm with just His spoken command. We have entitled this Sunday's message, "A Weatherman You Can Trust!" We will learn this Sunday several principles from this story regarding storms in our lives. These principles will include:

Jesus knows about the storms we will be facing before they occur!

Jesus uses storms in our lives to solidify our faith!

Jesus goes with us through our storms!

Jesus has ultimate power over our storms!

Be sure not to miss Sunday as we discover that there is no need to be afraid when we go through life's storms. We truly can praise Jesus during the storms of our lives. Invite someone to come to church with you this Sunday - especially someone you know who is going through a storm. If you can't be here, then be sure to listen to the audio recording of the sermon that will be put on our church website shortly after Sunday's service is done. The church website is:

Friday, June 24, 2011


There were many things that we were excited about when it came to living in Gaylord. One was the Alpenfest which is coming up very quickly. The other was the Big Ticket Festival which started yesterday down in Ionia, MI. We are very excited to spend the entire day today at the Big Ticket! Over 110 bands on 7 different stages! WOW! This is going to be great. Scheduled bands and speakers on the main stage today are:

Photoside Cafe
Kerri Roberts
Chris Sligh
Chris August
The Afters
Rebecca St James
Phillips, Craig & Dean
Marvin Sapp
Nick Vujicuc
Toby Mac

We are really excited to be part of this BIG Christian Music festival. Afterwards, we will be heading over to Flint to pick up my parents who are flying in from Florida on Saturday to see our new home, new church and spend a couple weeks with us.

It's going to be a Great Weekend - The Big Ticket Festival on Friday! Picking up my parents on Saturday! And then the climax of the weekend - church on Sunday right here at Gaylord E-Free! I'm lovin' life in northern Michigan!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

My Sermon Put ME To Sleep!

This Sunday as part of our "Summer by the Lake" message series here at E-Free, we will be looking at the event in the life of Jesus where He calms the storm on the Sea of Galilee. OK - I am a bit worried about how this sermon is going to go over come Sunday. Here's why. I preached from this text over a decade ago when I pastored in Indiana. I have always kept an audio recording of all the messages I have ever preached in a personal library. So, to familiarize myself with the text, I dug out the cassette tape from that message that I preached over a decade ago, put it in the stereo in my office, opened my Bible, and started to listen.

Guess what? I never heard the end of the message! The tape worked fine. The problem is that sitting there at my desk listening, I fell asleep. I'm serious. When I woke up the tape had ended and I had the worst crick in my neck. How bad is it when I fell asleep while listening to a tape of myself preaching the same message I am going to be giving this week here at E-Free? So...don't expect much from the message this Sunday!

Though that really happened, the truth is that I am very excited about this Sunday's service here at E-Free. I love the story we are going to be studying. It's all about storms in our lives. Folks, listen, we are all in one of two camps. We are either right now going through a storm in our life or we have a storm coming on the horizon. So to give you a head start on Sunday (and to help ensure that you don't fall asleep listening like I did), why don't you read Mark 4:35-41 and think through the following questions:

Who initiated the disciples and Jesus going out on the boat? What was the reason? What does this teach you about Jesus and storms that come into your life today?

How do you see in this story the fact that Jesus was 100% man and 100% God all at the same time?

What was the disciples first reaction to Jesus during their storm? Why did they react that way? Have you ever found yourself reacting similarly in a storm of your life? Why did you react this way?

The word "afraid" in verse 40 is a different Greek word than the word "afraid" in verse 41. How are the meanings of these words different? What was the cause of each of them?

From this story what do you learn that will help you to not be afraid during your storms?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Medical Marijuana

I moved to Gaylord, Michigan at the end of last March. I have discovered many differences from where I formerly lived in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. For example:

There we called it “soda” – here we call it “pop”!

There we averaged less than 30 inches a year of snow – here it is over 150 inches!

There we had flies and mosquitoes – here we have really BIG flies and mosquitoes!

But one of the most intriguing differences I have noticed is that back in Lancaster County, selling marijuana is illegal. Here – you can get a card from the state giving you permission to buy marijuana. If I have counted right, there are some six different medical marijuana establishments just right here in Gaylord, alone (Folks, listen, Gaylord isn't that big). That sure seems like overkill to me! So curiosity got the best of me!

Yesterday I went to lunch with two other staff members (I won’t use their names in order to protect them but If you know which staff are addicted to Taco Bell you can figure it out). We made a run for the border (meaning we went to the newly reopened Taco Bell). Part of our conversation, as we solved most all of the world’s problems during our lunch discussion, was on these marijuana establishments. We wondered, “How exactly do they work?”

So – we stopped into one of these stores after lunch to find out for ourselves how it worked. I’m not sure the couple inside realized they were talking to three local pastors, but we simply asked them questions. I’m sure this is going to be overly simplistic of a paraphrase, but here is how I came away understanding it.

Basically if you can prove a chronic pain or illness, you can submit an application to the state to receive a card which allows you to purchase marijuana for medical purposes from a state licensed dealer. If your doctor will not give you written verification of your disease or chronic pain to use to submit your application to the state, these establishments (at least the one we visited) have doctors on staff who will do so if you can verify medical proof of your condition. The store we were in told us that they get their supply from overages of licensed growers and that they too grow their own product (you also have to have a different card issue by the state giving you permission to grow marijuana for your patients).

If you ask me, it sure seems like just about anyone could become a state approved purchaser. After all, who doesn’t have some type of disease or chronic pain that they can verify? It brought up to me several other questions:

Do the doctors at these medical marijuana establishments have the same level of schooling and degrees that a typical medical doctor has?

What kind of safeguards are in place? Do they have to have “malpractice” insurance like other doctors?

What about liability? I believe that if a bartender continues to sell drinks to a customer who is obviously intoxicated, and that customer causes an accident on the way home from the bar and someone is killed, the bartender can possibly be held liable. Is this true with medical marijuana stores?

At the risk of creating controversy, I’ll be honest and say that I am not sold on the “Medical Marijuana” law here in Michigan. So, do any of you have an opinion?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


"If you aren't FISHING, you aren't FOLLOWING!"

That is how we ended last Sunday as we kicked off our new series, "Summer by the Lake." here at the Gaylord E-Free Church. Jesus called us to follow Him, and in doing so, He gave us the purpose - to be fishers of men. That is why I believe with all of my heart that evangelism must be the engine that drives the church.

So last Sunday I challenged everyone who is part of the E-Free family to make a TARGET THREE list. This is a list of 3 people that you know who don't know Jesus, or you are not sure if they know Jesus or not. You can get your three names from any of the following areas:


You might not even know there name. It may be "the lady who works at the bank" or "the waitress at the diner." But come up with three names. If you can't think of three names, than list one or two and ask God to give you another one. Once you have your names - here is what I challenged you to do...three things:

First, pray for each person on your list daily. How? Pray that they would come to faith in Christ. Ask God to use you in the process to be a "fisher of men" to them.

Second, build a bridge to them regularly. How? Take them a cake, pie or loaf of bread. Invite them over for dinner. Go get a cup of coffee with them. Send them a card. Call them. Visit them. Find ways to make touches into their lives.

Third, partner with the church to get them under the sound of the Gospel. How? Invite their Middle School age kids to "Fun in the Son"! Invite their children to "Bible School." Invite their whole family to church."

Here is the truth! If each one of us would take our purpose as followers of Jesus seriously and really do these three things to this TARGET THREE list, the fact is that the 1100 seat auditorium we have that we call The Gospel Center would not be big enough to hold the people who would come to faith in Jesus. The town of Gaylord and Otsego County need Jesus. That's our job!

If not us...Who?

In not now...When?

Come on everybody! TARGET THREE!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Robin Hood

While in college, I worked as the Intern Youth Pastor at a church in Ohio. This church was very well-known for the big Bible School that they put on each summer. That year the Bible School director came up to me and asked me if I would be the main character at Bible School. Without asking who the main character was, I agreed. I came into my office the Monday morning of Bible School and there was my costume. It was a little green pull over dress along with a red hat with a green feather sticking out of it; a bow, quiver, arrows, and above all, a pair of bright, green pantyhose. You see, for the next five days I was to portray the character of Robin Hood. The worst part was that all of the little kids thought that I was Peter Pan.

The Bible School Director then told me that the Bible School main character always doubles as a bus captain. So I spent the next five days, in the city of Dayton, Ohio, wearing green pantyhose, walking little kids from their house to the bus and from the bus to their house. It made the front page of the ‘Dayton Daily News’ in color...a picture of me wearing green pantyhose. On the first stop, there was this dog who decided on this particular day that its favorite color was ‘green’. It jumped up on me and put a run in my pantyhose. Now I was really mad! I had to use finger nail polish remover to stop the run in my stockings.

I was never so glad to see a Friday come. Yet it was on this day that God decided to teach me a lesson. The first stop on the way home from Bible School was a little boy named Timmy. Timmy was only three years old and so small that he couldn’t even walk off the bus by himself. As I carried him off the bus, he put his arms around my neck and placed his nose right up against mine and said, “Robin Hood...I love you!” As I got back on the bus it hit me. I wondered how many kids would have given anything on those rides home from Bible School to sit on Robin Hood’s lap and listen to him tell them how much Jesus loved them, but Robin Hood was too busy feeling sorry for himself.

But it was the last stop that God really used in my life. This was the home of a girl named Holly. Her mom was a young mom, about my age. When the mom saw me on Monday morning, she literally fell to the ground laughing. On Tuesday she had a neighbor there to see me. On Wednesday she had three neighbors there to see me. Fortunately, on Friday she was all by herself as we dropped little Holly off at her house.

I took Holly up to her mom and very half-heartedly said, “Ma’am, Holly has had a wonderful time at Bible School this week and I think it would be great if you would come to the closing program and see what she has learned.” I will never forget her response. She said to me, “Sir (If you can imagine calling someone wearing green pantyhose, ‘Sir”), if you’re willing to prance around this city dressed like that, just to get little kids to come to your Bible School, then I’m willing to come to your church and see what your church is all about.” That’s when I realized that God could use me, even wearing green pantyhose, as long as I was willing to put the things of the Lord above the things of self.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Following Means Fishing

This Sunday at the E-Free church in Gaylord we begin a new message series that we are calling, "Summer by the Lake." This will be a 5-week series looking at the main events in the life of Christ that took place on or by the Sea of Galilee.

We will begin this Sunday with the miraculous catch of fish that led to Jesus calling Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow Him. When Jesus makes this call, He only gives one purpose. "Follow Me," He said, "And I will make you fishers of men!" In other words,


Friday, June 17, 2011

Church Staff Job Descriptions

How well do you know what our staff is responsible for here at E-Free? Let me specify our job descriptions so you can more easily identify them and pray for them:

Lead Pastor: Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. More powerful than a locomotive. Faster than a speeding bullet. Walks on water. Gives counsel to God.

Associate Pastor: Able to leap sort buildings in a single bound. As powerful as a switch engine. Just as fast as a speeding bullet. Walks on water when the sea is calm. Talks with God.

Worship Director: Leaps short buildings with a running start. Almost as powerful as a switch engine. Faster than a speeding BB. Is occasionally addressed by God.

Youth Pastor: Runs into small buildings. Recognizes locomotive two out of three times. Uses a squirt gun. Knows how to use a water fountain. Mumbles to himself.

Church Secretary: Lifts building to walk under them. Kicks locomotives off the track. Catches speeding bullets in her teeth. Freezes water with a single glance. When God speaks, she says, “May I ask who is calling?”

Well, maybe the job descriptions are a little different than that, but the individuals who make up out staff here at E-Free are amazing people and really do a fantastic job. The best part about my job is that I get to do ministry with the staff here at E-Free day in and day out. So thanks, team, for all you do here at E-Free! I really do appreciate you!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Feedback is your Friend

One of the most important means of self-improvement is "Feedback!" Not all that long ago, I used to be of the mindset that "Feedback" was a bad thing. I simply lumped it into the category of "complaining," and who likea a complainer? But the truth is that "Feedback" is my friend. It is far better for me to know than to not know and live my life with blind spots about myself. But what I have also learned is that most people do not know how to give effective "Feedback." In fact, "Feedback" given the wrong way can create major damage. I've both seen and experienced that fact.

A year ago at a Leadership Development Training Program that I attended out in Colorado, I was taught the SBI method of giving "Feedback." This past week in Staff Meeting here at the E-Free Church in Gaylord, Michigan, I taught this SBI method to our Ministry Staff. SBI stands for "Situation - Behavior - Impact." Whenever you give "Feedback" (positive or negative) it should include these three elements.

S = SITUATION - Describe the situation where the observed behavior occurred. The more specific you can be about the where and when, the better

B = BEHAVIOR - Help the individual understand exactly the behavior you’re talking about. Think of playing a video, only using words to describe what you saw and heard. Avoid interpretations and judgments such as, “You weren’t listening to me.” Instead, simply describe the person’s behavior: When I was talking, you pushed your chair away from the table and gazed out the window.”

I = IMPACT - Share with the individual the impact of the behavior on you and/or on others who were present. Impact is what you or others experienced. The impact statement is about you, not the other person. Most often, a description of the impact will start with, “I felt…” or “I was…” or “It appeared to me others were…” An impact statement is not an interpretation of why the individual showed that behavior.

Here’s an example. Instead of: “Chris, you were really effective in the team meeting today!” Say this: Chris, at the end of the team meeting this morning (SITUATION), you gave a summary of the key action steps we had discussed (BEHAVIOR). I was really glad you did that (IMPACT ON ME), and it seemed to bring a good sense of closure to the meeting (IMPACT ON OTHERS).”

Here is another example. Instead of: “Pat, you were really rude yesterday!” Say this: Pat, during our conference call yesterday afternoon (SITUATION), I noticed that you interrupted others and me on several occasions (BEHAVIOR). I felt frustrated at times (IMPACT ON ME), and I sensed that others were irritated by it as well (IMPACT ON OTHERS).”

SBI – It really is an effective way to give “Feedback” to others. In fact, we are practicing it as a staff. This week, each Ministry Staff member must use the SBI format to write down one piece of positive “Feedback” for each of the other Ministry Staff members. In our meeting next Monday, we will start by having everyone share their SBI's. We are actually going to do this for 3 weeks straight in order to begin developing the art and habit of giving “Feedback” to others in an effective way.

After all, “Feedback” really is your friend!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

When E-Mail is NOT Good!

Isn't Email a wonderful thing? I think so! In fact, I often wonder how we got along before we had electronic mail. But as wonderful as e-mail is, there are some dangers and drawbacks. I went over this as part of some on-going training that I am doing with our ministry staff here at the E-Free Church in Gaylord where I am the Lead Pastor. Below are just some instances that I covered with our staff where E-mail is not the best way to communicate:

When the communication is of a sensitive or confidential nature. Remember, sending an E-mail is like sending a postcard in the mail. There is nothing confidential about it.

When confronting an individual with a complaint or dissatisfaction. Remember, only 7% of communication are your words. 38% is your tone (your voice) and 55% is your non-verbal (facial expressions and body language). In other words, when you write an E-mail, I cannot hear the tone of your voice (I can guess, but that's about it) and I can't see your non-verbal facial expressions and body language either. This means that at best I am only getting 7% of what you are trying to communicate. In most every instance where I have confronted someone through E-mail, I have always been misunderstood.

When communicating complaints about individuals to third parties. If you have to communicate a dissatisfaction or complaint to an individual via E-mail (which, again, I strongly encouraged our staff not to do) don't copy the email to someone else. Few things are more disheartening than to get a "negative email" (even if the intent was good) and see that others had been copied on it as well.

When communicating highly complex information. If the situation is complex - call a meeting, pick up the phone or go to lunch and talk it over. Communicating complex information via E-mail is rarely effective.

Negotiations usually need back and forth communication. If you find yourself responding more than three times to an E-mail on the same topic, choose an alternate form of communication.

When communicating information that requires immediate action. I know that many people today have their E-mails right on their phones and have 24/7 access to their inbox. However, that is not always the case. There have been times when people have sent me E-mails that required immediate action but, for whatever reason, I did not check and read my emails until it was too late. If it requires immediate attention - call!

E-mail is a wonderful tool! I love it and appreciate it! But, there are certain circumstances where a "face-to-face" dialogue will always be the best and most effective way to communicate.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Potato Canons and Porcupines

Last Friday night we hosted the College and Career Group from E-Free church over to our house for the evening. Few things can make you laugh more than spending an evening with a bunch of folks in this stage of life. Here were the highlights:

There was volleyball and yard golf!

There was plenty of food as we grilled out steak-burgers and hot-dogs, and added pasta salad and assorted varieties of pop to the mix!

The majority of the night was spent talking and laughing around the camp-fire, complete with "Smores" and coffee.

A couple of the guys brought a "Potato Canon" they had made. What a hoot it was to launch potatoes like they were surface to air missiles!!

Then there was an additional guest. One of the guys said "good-bye" and was headed back to his car in the night when he came face-to-face with a HUGE porcupine. I mean this thing was HUGE! I don't know how big porcupines get in the wild but I will say it yet again - this thing was HUGE! This led to the greatest excitement of the night as we all tried to get as close to this HUGE porcupine as we were comfortable getting.

One of the guys (the same guy who made the potato canon incidentally) followed the porcupine into the woods. He was trying to make friends with the porcupine by talking its language. You know, if you were trying to make friends with a cat, you would keep repeating the word, "meow." If you were trying to make friends with a horse, you would continually "whinnie." The problem is that none of us had any idea what sound a porcupine makes (that was never part of the "Old McDonald Had a Farm" song). So, cleverly, this young man followed this HUGE porcupine into the woods, and as he did, he just kept repeating out loud the words, "porcupine noises...porcupine noises!"

Like I said, few things can make you laugh more than spending an evening with a bunch of folks in that stage of life.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Send in the Worms!

Jonah chapter 3 ends with Jonah preaching and the entire city of Nineveh repenting. I am here to tell you that if I as a pastor ever preached a sermon and every single person who heard it actually repented - I would consider that a pretty good day at the office. In fact, I would probably spike my Bible on the stage, do a little dance, and wait for the Elders to come and pick me up on their shoulders and carry me out to the parking lot to the cheers of the staff.

Not, Jonah! Chapter 4 tells us that he responded by getting angry at God. Jonah didn't want the people of Nineveh spared. He did not want them forgiven. He wanted them zapped. He basically gives his best "I told yo so" to God and goes out and sits, watching the city, waiting to see what God would do. Jonah becomes the pouting prophet trying to guilt God into doing things his way.

Instead, God teaches Jonah a lesson we all need to learn. He causes a plant to grow up overnight and give Jonah shade. Jonah is very happy about the plant and the personal comfort it brings to him. But the next night God causes a worm to eat the plant and destroy it. He then turns up the heat on Jonah (literally) through a scorching east wind, which again makes the prophet angry.

God then basically says this (my paraphrase) - "Look, Jonah. You have compassion over a stupid plant that you did not plant or cause to grow! Should I not have compassion on the 120,000 people in Nineveh that I created and who are spiritually helpless?"

The truth is that we all fall victim to the "Jonah Syndrome"! We all have a plant in our life, something that is non-eternal, that we are more passionate about than people who don't know Jesus. The truth is that for many followers of Jesus, our plant has something to do with our own personal preferences. We are often more concerned and more passionate about everything at church being done the way we like it then we are about lost people coming to know Jesus.

"Dear God, please send some worms to come and destroy our plants so that we can learn that to have Your heart we must have compassion for lost people and a passion to reach them for You. After all, Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost."

Send in the worms!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

What Is Your Plant?

What is your plant?

Everyone has one!

Jonah sure did!

That's what we will see this Sunday as we close out our series, "Looking Past the Whale," by studying Jonah chapter 4. Why not read that chapter this weekend before Sunday. Both our contemporary and traditional services at the E-Free Church of Gaylord, Michigan will begin at 9:30am. On a personal note, I am excited that my son, Jonathan, will be leading the worship in the contemporary service for Joshua Rupp, our Director of Worship, who is on vacation.


Friday, June 10, 2011

The Flag of Joy

We saw yesterday that Jesus never promised us a life of happiness. If that is all that the Christian life offered - how disappointing that would be. Why? Because happiness is simply a temporary feeling that comes and goes based on our circumstances. It's like a lifelong "roller coaster" ride...up and down - up and down - up and down. That's not much of a fulfilling life if you ask me.

Jesus doesn't promise us a life of happiness. Following Jesus is much better than that. When you are a follower of Jesus you get to experience JOY! How is JOY different than happiness?

JOY is an inner contentment - Happiness is only a feeling!

JOY is permanent - Happiness is only temporary!

JOY is based on Christ - Happiness is based only on my circumstances!

Happiness is a feeling that comes and goes based on our circumstance. JOY is a deep, inner contentment that is real and present, even when the bottom drops out on my life. The bottom line is this...JOY has nothing to do with your CIRCUMSTANCES but everything to do with your relationship with CHRIST!

We see this clearly as Paul writes the book of Philippians. The theme of the book is JOY! But where is Paul when he writes this? He is in a Roman dungeon, chained between Roman guards. His circumstances were not "happy" ones. But, yet, he experienced JOY and even wrote, "REJOICE in the Lord, always! And again I say, REJOICE!"

Back in the days of kings and castles, when the king was in residence on his throne, a special flag was flown. When the residents of the kingdom say the flag they knew that all was well in the kingdom and that the king was on the throne. JOY is the flag that is flown in your life as a Christian which shows that King Jesus is on the throne of your heart.

Why not take the "JOY Infusion" challenge? Philippians is only 4 chapters long. You want to experience a life of JOY? Start by reading the book of Philippians in one sitting every day for 30 straight days! By the end of the 30 days, you will be hoisting up the flag of JOY in your life.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Joy vs. Happiness

"Don't worry...Be happy!"

Remember that little song? It was pretty catchy, wasn't it? Isn't that what everyone is searching and longing for today...happiness? But is happiness really all that it is cracked up to be? Jesus never promised us a life of happiness, and I, for one, am glad of that. Think about happiness for a second. What is it? Happiness is a temporary feeling that comes and goes based on my circumstances. As a result...

When things are going good - I'm happy!
When I get the promotion - I'm happy!
When the kids behave - I'm happy!
When my team wins - I'm happy!

But, sadly, happiness is only temporary. As soon as those circumstances that caused my happiness change for the worse, my "Blue Bird of Happiness" flies right out the window! As a result...

When things go bad - I'm not happy!
When I don't get the promotion - I'm not happy!
When the kids get in trouble - I'm not happy!
When my team loses - I'm not happy!

Jesus never promised us a life of temporary feelings of happiness based on our circumstances. Aren't you glad? I mean, who wants to ride the ups and downs of the emotional rollercoaster of happiness their entire life? Jesus promised something far better. Jesus promised us JOY!

How is JOY different than happiness?
How do we find true JOY?
How can you tell if someone has JOY?
Why is JOY important?

We will talk more about that in my blog posting tomorrow.

"Don't Worry...Be Happy!" I think not!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Summer in Gaylord

Summer has finally arrived, at least for now, here in Gaylord, Michigan. The weather is magnificent, though I could use a few less mosquitoes and flies! Anyway, I am looking forward to a busy but exciting summer - my first living here in the Alpine Village! Here are just a few of the highlights:

Attending part of the Big Ticket Festival in Ionia!

Good friends from PA will be spending a few days with us!

My parents will be coming from Florida for a 2-week visit!

Participating in my first ever Alpenfest here in Gaylord!

Travelling to Colorado for my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary!

And then there is every Sunday here at the E-Free Church in Gaylord! I love Sundays and am very excited about the following message series that will cover a majority of the summer:

June 19-July 17: SUMMER BY THE LAKE - Who doesn't like to spend summer by the lake? Jesus did! This will be a 5-week series that looks at the major events in the life of Christ that took place on or by the Sea of Galilee. From fishing to water-walking, we will be challenged in our walk with Christ as together we spend our summer by the lake!

July 31-August 14: PICNIC WITH A PURPOSE - The feeding of the multitude (5,000 men plus women and children) just may be the most significant miracle Jesus performed. After all, it is the only miracle of Jesus that is mentioned in all four Gospel accounts. And from this miracle we will see several principles showing us how we are to do ministry today. And to really put ourselves into the story, on week 2 (August 7) we will have an "All Church Picnic" here on the church grounds following the service.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011


Had a great night last night with the Elder Board here at the E-Free Church in Gaylord, Michigan where I have the privilege to be the Lead Pastor of a wonderful ministry. The main theme of the night was centered around M&M's! I actually gave each of them a fun size package of M&M's (they even got to pick plain or peanut). There was a catch, however - they aren't ever allowed to open the bag!

Curious? Read John 4:1-30! What in the world does this passage have to do with M&M's? Feel free to ask an Elder or even one of our Ministry Staff - I gave then a packet of M&M's yesterday too with the same condition!

Monday, June 06, 2011

The Etch-A-Sketch God

In Jonah chapter 1, the Bible says, "And the Word of the Lord came to Jonah."

In Jonah chapter 3, the Bible says, "And the Word of the Lord came to Jonah A SECOND TIME!"

I love those words - "A SECOND TIME"!

Both times the Word of the Lord came to Jonah, He told the prophet to do the same thing. He was commanded to go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because of its wickedness. The difference in the two chapters was Jonah's response.

In chapter 1, Jonah rose up and fled to try to hide from the presence of the Lord. Instead of going 500 miles east across the desert to Nineveh, he hopped on a boat and headed to the city of Tarshish which was located 2500 miles from the commanded destination. And you know what happened - God relentlessly pursued the prophet who ultimately ended up sitting on the shore in a pool of whale vomit after spending three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish.

But in chapter 3, Jonah obeys. He goes to Nineveh according to the Word of the Lord. His obedience was immediate and it was complete. It is a beautiful picture of Biblical obedience. God isn't impressed by our good intentions. He wants our total obedience. Delayed obedience is disobedience. Partial obedience is also disobedience. Jonah obeyed immediately and completely when the Word of the Lord came to him a second time.

It reminds me of the old toy, "The Etch-A-Sketch." Remember that? You used the two knobs on the front of the toy and turned them to draw pictures. And if you messed up, all you had to do was shake the "Etch-A-Sketch" and you got a clean slate. That's what God did to Jonah. He shook him through a storm and a fish and gave him a clean slate. The Word of the Lord came to Jonah "A SECOND TIME!" And He is still the God of the "second chance" today.

Do you need a clean slate? Do you need the Lord to come to you "A SECOND TIME?" If so, then it is time to obey - IMMEDIATELY and COMPLETELY!

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Sin City Saved

What if I told you that the entire city of Vegas - Sin City itself - had repented? Would you believe me?

What if I told you that every person including the mayor of Vegas, every casino owner and every citizen, right down to the homeless man on the street had put their faith in God? Would you believe me?

What if I told you that every strip club, every casino and each night club on the Vegas Strip had been turned into houses of worship? Would you believe me?

I seriously doubt any of you would believe these reports. I mean, that would be quite the miracle of all miracles for such a happening to take place. But that is exactly what happened to the city of Nineveh as we will see this Sunday here at the Gaylord E-Free Church as we continue our study in Jonah that we are calling, "Looking Past the Whale!"

I bet as news spread about Nineveh back in Jonah's day that nobody believed it either. The great city of Nineveh was the capitol of the Assyrian Empire and they were evil and very brutal. Yet, after Jonah's message to them that in 40 days they would be destroyed, the entire city, including all the people right up to the king, believed God and repented.

We will see this Sunday that as a result, God showed them mercy and grace. We will also celebrate that same mercy and grace that we as followers of Jesus have also received.

Looking forward to seeing you Sunday!

Friday, June 03, 2011

A Dirty Gift That Took My Breath Away!

Sometimes you receive a gift that takes your breath away. That happened to me this week. If you read "Folks Listen" regularly then you know that I am an Ohio State Buckeye fan - NOW, DON'T QUIT READING!!!! I have made the commitment not to use my blog any longer to advocate my allegiance to the scarlet and grey. From now on, I will use restraint and wisdom when it comes to mentioning college football. But I received a related gift this week that I must tell you about.

A man from our church came into my office this past Wednesday. His brother is in the military and is stationed in Afghanistan. He and his military room mate are on opposite sides of the college football divide - one is a University of Michigan fan while the other is an Ohio State University fan. As a result, they have flown a "House Divided" flag outside of their quarters in Afghanistan. One side is the flag of the University of Michigan while the other is the Ohio State University flag. His brother wanted me to have the flag. What is so cool is that the flag on both sides is covered with dirt and sand from the Afghanistan desert region.

To say I was greatly humbled to receive this gift is an understatement. The flag is a great reminder to me that though there are passions in life we all have - like following our favorite college football team - it must always be kept in perspective. Football is just a game - even when it is between Michigan and Ohio State. But there are other things in life - like men and women who put their life on the line every day around the world for our freedom - that are the much greater priority. As is the souls of men, women, boys and girls who desperately need Jesus.

So if you are reading this blog from Afghanistan! Thanks so much for the flag! It means a great deal to me. But more than that, thank you for your brave service to me, my family and our country. This flag will serve as a constant reminder to me to pray for you and all who service in our military.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Church as a Bar?

On my radio show yesterday on 101.5 here in Gaylord, Michigan, I talked about how the church could be more like a bar. Remember the old sitcom, Cheers? I believe it was actually meant to be a one season fill-in but it took off like wildfire. Why did it become so famous? I think the answer is because it was a show about a lot of what we might classify today as "losers." Remember the cast?

Sam - a washed up athlete
Woody - a mail airhead
Karla - a bitter barmaid
Frasier - a psychotic psychiatrist
Cliff - a nerdy mailman

And then there was Norm. He was the loser of all losers. He was an alcoholic. He was overweight. He could not hold down a job. His own family had no respect for him. Yet, everyday when he walked into the Cheers bar, what did everyone do? They all yelled, "NORM!"

I think the show took off because so many people in our world today feel like losers and for 30-minutes each week, by identifying with one of these interesting characters, people could find what they are searching for - ACCEPTANCE! Remember the theme song to the show?

Wouldn't you like to have a place where everybody knows your name and they're always glad you came. Wouldn't you like to be where you can see our troubles are all the same. Wouldn't you like to go where everyone knows your name!

And where was that place? It was a bar! I say, "Why can't that place be the church?" Why can't E-Free Church be that place in Gaylord where all people, even those who feel like losers, can come and find acceptance, love and friendship. Ministry doesn't begin by asking people to change. Ministry begins by meeting people right where they are at and then helping to move them step by step to where God wants them to be.

Don't take me wrong, but maybe we should put a big neon sign out in front of our church that says, "The Bar is Open!" After all, we serve the best drink in town - the living water of Jesus Christ. And once you drink from that tap, you'll never thirst again!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Whale Vomit

The are two types of people when it comes to "throwing up." First, there is the "Get it over with" type of person. This is the person who, once they begin to feel sick to their stomach, will just go throw up and get it over with. I am not one of those kind of people. I am the other type of person - the "fight it to the death" type of person. When it comes to feeling sick to my stomach, I will fight "throwing up" as long as I possibly can in hopes that the bug will get tired of the fight and just leave me alone.

As a result, when the bug finally wins, it's violent. Seriously, you almost need to bring in the "hazardous materials" crew to clean up when I am gone. And you know what really amazes me when I'm sick? I can't believe how much liquid can finally come out of a 5-foot, 8-inch tall, 120 pound (OK, 220 pound...OK, 230 pound) man! Yikes!

Now why do I blog on such a gross topic? I do so because, as we saw last Sunday morning as we continued through the book of Jonah here at the E-Free Church in Gaylord, Michigan, after Jonah repents, God commands this really big fish that had swallowed Jonah to vomit him up on dry ground. Now if this fish were something like a Sulphur Bottom Blue Whale, it would have been some 100 feet long with a 12 foot wide mouth and it would have had 4 to 6 stomach compartments. Now if I am amazed at how much vomit comes out of me when I get sick, just imagine how much whale vomit would have come out of that giant fish!! Tsunami!!!!! So what's my point? My point is simply this:

Repentance, though always necessary, isn't always neat and easy. In fact, sometimes it's downright messy. But even so, it's still the best thing for us!

By the way, the picture above is an actual picture of one "chunk" that comes out in "whale vomit." Believe it or not, it is very valuable because some companies use it in the manufacturing of guess what? PERFUME! I'm not kidding!! Hey, what's that scent you're wearing?