Saturday, July 30, 2011


This Sunday at E-Free here in Gaylord we will start a 3-week messages series studying through the miracle of Jesus when He fed the multitude with a little boy's lunch. I like to call it the "Fish N Chips" miracle!

Of all the miracles that Jesus performed during his three years of earthly ministry, I think this one is the most significant. I say that because it is the only miracle of Jesus (other than his own resurrection) that is recorded in all four Gospel accounts. That can't be coincidence. For that to be true, this miracle has to be extremely significant.

What do the "fish and bread" symbolize? There were FIVE loaves. To the Jew living in Jesus' day, the number FIVE would make him think of the Pentateuch - the first FIVE books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). The number TWO would cause the Jew in Jesus day to think of the TWO stone tablets that Moses brought down off the mountain with the Ten Commandments written on it that came from God. In either case, the numbers reflect the Word of God.

So to pass out the "fish and bread" today we pass out the Word of God. And in this miracle, Jesus shows us how to pass out the fish and the bread today. Over the next three weeks we will see eight principles from this miracle in which Jesus showed His disciples then, and you and I today, how to do ministry - how to pass out the "fish and bread."

Fish-N-Chips anyone? Join us at the Gaylord E-Free Church this Sunday at 9:30am!

Friday, July 29, 2011

COMPASSION - risky yet addictive!

This Sunday here at E-Free we begin a new message series that we are calling, "A Picnic with a Purpose." It will be a study on the miracle of Jesus feeding the multitude of thousands with a little boy's lunch. Some of the highlights for this Sunday will include:

A picnic set on stage complete with giant ants!

An original skit being performed in the traditional service!

A hilarious video called "Fish Eyes" being shown in the contemporary service!

Through this series on this one miracle that Jesus performed we are going to see 8 principles regarding how to do ministry today (how to pass out the fish and the bread today). We begin this Sunday with the this principle:

"Before we can pass out the fish and the bread we must first develop a heart of compassion!"

I love how Chuck Swindol opens up his little book called "Compassion." He writes:

"The stuff that follows (teaching on compassion) is explosive. Unless you're ready to be jolted from your comfortable and cozy world where the womb of theory protects you from a life of reality, you really don't want to pursue this subject. Compassion may seem safe. It may even have an appealing ring to it. But it has been known to start revolutions. And if you become addicted, nothing else satisfies. You'll be different. You'll be hooked for the rest of your life - like someone else I know...Christ."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Jesus and M&M's

Over the last two months I have taken the time to share a ministry philosophy with our ministry staff; Elder Board and Leadership Team here at Gaylord E-Free that I call "MEETING and MOVING." It is based on the story of the Woman at the Well seen in John chapter 4.

In this story Jesus meets this woman right where she was at. He meets her geographically. He went to Samaria where she was at. He meets her spiritually. She was a very lonely women. This was due to her sin. Jesus doesn't ignore her sin, but he does not begin by condemning here either. Finally, he met her right where she was at culturally. He started with a common interest - water. He then used curiosity to begin the process of moving here to where God wanted her to be.

It is amazing in the story to see how Jesus, after meeting her right where she was at, moved her to where He wanted her to be. As you read the chapter you will see that the woman begins by seeing Jesus as a Jew. Now to a Samaritan, that was not a positive thing. Later in the passage she sees Jesus as a Prophet. That was a move in the right direction. By the end of the chapter she is inviting her whole town to come meet Jesus as she recognizes that He may just be the Messiah.

Meeting and Moving.

Next, I will be presenting this whole ministry philosophy to the leaders of our Ministry Teams here at E-Free. This philosophy answers the "WHY" question (see yesterday's blog posting). Why do we exist? To meet as many people as possible right where they are at and helping to move them to where God wants them to be!

If you can remember the words MEETING and MOVING, you can remember that purpose.

If you can remember the letters "M&M," you can remember that purpose.

I guess that makes it a purpose you can grasp on to but that melts in your mouth and not in your hands!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Proper Order of WHY? WHAT? HOW?




Many people are asking, "What are we going to do as a church?" That's a very good question. After all, we need to have a specific vision if we are really going to reach our redemptive potential as a church. But to be the most effective, there is a question we need to ask and answer before we begin to think about the "WHAT."

First, we must ask ourselves, "WHY." There needs to be a purpose behind the "WHAT." We can sit around and come up with a whole list of exciting "WHAT's." But unless these "WHAT's" stem from a "WHY" we will not reach our maximum effectiveness. Here's why! If all I do is bring forward a list of "WHAT's," some of you will like them and some of you won't. It will be very difficult to get complete buy-in and unity on this list of "WHAT's" because everyone's focus will be only be on the list of "WHAT's."

So we need to start with the "WHY!" WHY do we exist as a church? This deals with our purpose. If we can settle on that first, it gives a foundation for a more purposeful and strategic vision plan. If the WHY is something we can all get behind and say, "Yep, that is exactly what our church should be all about! That is something I can give my time, talent and treasure to accomplishing," then it becomes much easier to get unity on the list of "WHAT's," even if that list may look a bit different than my own personal thoughts and preferences. In other words, if I am fully behind the WHY, then I am willing to be ore open to a different WHAT than I personally would like to see myself.

Then comes the "HOW!" First we answer the question, "Why do we exist as a church?" Second, based on the answer to that "WHY," we then must answer the question, "What are we going to do in order to accomplish that purpose?" Once that is settled, we then can ask the "HOW." HOW are we going to accomplish this plan?

We make a mistake when we get the questions out of order. The WHAT is difficult to answer and transfer to others until we first know the WHY. That is the question we in leadership here at E-Free are asking and answering right now. Why do we exist? I'll give you a preview of that answer in my blog tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Burning Bush Moments

Some events are so special that you will only have a few like them in a lifetime. I like to call these "Burning Bush" moments. Last Friday night was one of these special moments. How special was it? Well, in a lifetime you will have so few of these memorable and special moments that you can probably count these unique life events on your hands and still have several fingers left over. It was that kind of a night.

We were celebrating my in-law's 50th wedding anniversary last weekend out in Pueblo, Colorado. Friday night 18 of us gathered at a restaurant for dinner. This included Laura's parents, their 3 kids and their spouses and 10 of their grandchildren. After dinner we sat around for about an hour and the family (primarily Laura's two brothers) shared some very funny stories from their growing up years. I'm not sure it was the actual stories that were so funny as it was the way they told them.

But then things changed in an amazing and Divine way. My son, Jonathan, played a song that he wrote for his grandparents about their 50 years of marriage. It really is an amazing song. I wish all of you could hear it. There wasn't a dry eye of the 36 eyeballs around the table when the song was done. God used that song to open a door of sharing.

Laura's parents each shared with us how their commitment to the Lord as individuals and as a couple was the glue that held their marriage and the entire family together. They lovingly challenged each of their kids and grand-kids to walk with the Lord. Their words were very special and God was using them...that was obvious as you looked at the faces around the table.

This resulted in some sharing from their two sons that were simply outstanding. They shared from their hearts about what the spiritual integrity of their parents have meant to them. You could sense the spirit of God moving in that room in a very special way. Without being there, you just can't begin to imagine it. I can honestly say that I felt like Moses standing at the burning bush on holy ground!

I then had the privilege to close the night out in prayer thanking God for the laughter and the tears; thanking God for the memories of the past as well as the memory that was just made in the private room at that restaurant that night.

Thank you, God, for those times that You move in amazing ways that we never expect! Thanks for those moments like I was able to experience with Laura's family last Friday night!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Drive - FLY - FLY - FLY - Drive

Today we will spend all day travelling back home from Colorado. We have spent the last week out in Pueblo, Colorado where my wife is from and where all of her immediate family still lives. This past week was the 50th wedding anniversary celebration for Laura's parents so we all travelled out west to be part of the festivities.

The return trip home today won't be as festive. We are using airline miles we have earned by paying our kid's college tuition. As a result, we can only fly American Airlines. That means that the itinerary for our trip home looks like this:

We drive from Pueblo, Colorado to Colorado Springs!

We fly from Colorado Springs (COS) to Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW)!

We fly from Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW) to Chicago O'Hare (ORD)!

We fly from Chicago O'Hare (ORD) to Traverse City (TVC)!

We drive from Traverse City, Michigan to Gaylord!

That's a long day!!!!! But the trip is free due to redeeming miles so what's an extra stop or two? We originally were looking to use our miles for a trip to Hawaii for our 25th wedding anniversary in 2012. But this trip west followed by using the remaining miles to get our kids back and forth from college this Thanksgiving will take care of any surplus of miles we have collected. But that's OK! The round-a-bout way it is taking us to get to Colorado and back may have produced 7 lay-overs in 6 countries around the world simply to get us to Hawaii!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

After 70 Years

Today we are celebrating my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary out here in Colorado (No, that is not them in the picture!). It reminded me of the great grandpa and grandma who were celebrating their 70th anniversary. The only problem was that the dear great grandma had become very hard of hearing.

At the big bash, all eyes were on the great grandpa as he rose to make a toast to his bride of many, many years. Children's and grandchildren's eyess grew wet as he genuinely and lovingly looked at great grandma and romantically proclaimed,

"After 70 years I've found you tried and true!"

Unfortunately, great grandma's hearing kept her from understanding what her husband said. People giggled as she replied,


So he said it again,

"After 70 years I've found you tried and true!"

Again, people smiled with delight until great grandma looked at someone next to her and asked,

"What did he say?"

So as loud as he could, he bellowed it out once again,

"After 70 years I've found you tried and true!"

The party took a turn for the worse when with a look of disdain on great grandma's face she forcefully countered,

"Well, after 70 years I'm tired of you too!"

Friday, July 22, 2011

Stress Eating is no longer an Excuse

Over the past 6 months every good habit I had worked hard to practice when it came to good eating went out the window. That was fine. There was a lot of stress in my life and we were going through a major change in moving from one state to another and from pastoring one church to another. That produced stress, and the way I often deal with stress is by EATING!

So for the past 6-8 months I've had an excuse and I have taken full advantage of it which has resulted in gaining about 25-30 pounds. But now that I have been here in Michigan for 4 full months, I think it is time to rid myself of the "stress eating" excuse. That doesn't mean that there is no more stress in my life. In fact, the stress just never seems to really subside all that much. If it's not one thing producing stress, it's another. That's why I can't use the "stress eating" excuse any longer because if I wait until the stress is all gone, I will be waiting a long, long time. After all, winter is coming and I have a feeling that my first experience of trying to keep up with falling leaves followed by falling snow and falling temperatures isn't going to lessen my stress level any.

So beginning next week, Laura and I are returning to the only diet that has really worked for the both of us. It's the EAT LESS...MORE OFTEN diet. In other words, I will eat every 2 hours throughout the day but it will be something small and mostly healthy. Then we will include a small dinner which still leaves room for a couple of snacks at night. It is amazing how many good 100 calorie snacks that are out there like the mini microwave popcorn packets and 100 calorie ice cream bars. When we go to a restaurant, we'll order one meal and an extra salad and then split the meal. This allows us to lose weight and save money all at the same time.

We did this diet a few years back and it really worked for us. We felt better. We slept better and I looked better (I say "I" instead of "WE" because Laura always looks good!!!). The first two weeks of getting back on this diet will be a little tough because I'll be hungry all the time. But after about 2 weeks, I guess my stomach will shrink or something because little snacks throughout the day will tend to satisfy me just fine.

So starting next week, no more "stress eating" excuses. And hopefully, over time, you will be seeing less and less of me!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sea of Galilee - Journal Entry #4

Over the last 5 Sundays we have looked here at the Gaylord E-Free church at the main events that took place in the life of Jesus on or by the Sea of Galilee in a message series we called "Summer by the Lake." I love the Sea of Galilee. Of all the places I have ever visited, the Sea of Galilee is my favorite. Below is one of the journal entries I wrote after my first visit to Israel and the Sea of Galilee:

November 6, 2006

Realizing that it would be my last morning at the Sea of Galilee, a place that I have absolutely fallen in love with, I set the alarm for 5:20am so that I could get up, shower, get dressed, and then have one final hour alone sitting by the sea. I only wish it could have been longer.

My wife and I will be returning to Israel and the Sea of Galilee in October 2012. If you would like more information regarding going with us to Israel email me at or visit the following website:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sea of Galilee - Journal Entry #3

Over the last 5 Sundays we have looked here at the Gaylord E-Free church at the main events that took place in the life of Jesus on or by the Sea of Galilee in a message series we called "Summer by the Lake." I love the Sea of Galilee. Of all the places I have ever visited, the Sea of Galilee is my favorite. Below is one of the journal entries I wrote after my first visit to Israel and the Sea of Galilee:

November 5, 2006

From here came the most emotional part of the trip so far. We loaded a Jesus replica boat that would have been very similar to the boat that Jesus and His disciples would have used (minus the engines, of course). As we prepared to set sail on the Sea of Galilee toward Tiberius, the workers hoisted the American flag and played the Star Spangled Banner as we all stood and sang.

At this point we never would have imagined that the Spirit of God was about to move in all of our hearts. We stood on the front of the boat and watched the sun setting behind the mountains. As we did, they began to play the song, “Shout to the Lord” over the speakers. As we sang the words to that song, watching the sun set and realizing that we were on the very water where Jesus calmed the sea and walked upon the waves, a wave of emotion hit me…one of pure worship…unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life. As we all stood and sang I just wept as I worshipped my Lord. I looked around me and every person stood singing with tears streaming down their faces. This was not manipulated nor was it orchestrated. This was the Holy Spirit. I don’t think that this could ever be replicated. I’m sure that is what heaven must be like.

I have never experienced such worship in all of my life. Dan Travis (tour leader) asked me if I would like to say a few words. All I could say to him was, “I don’t think I can!” I was so filled with emotion and with awe of who my Lord was that I could not speak. I could not even continue singing. It was here the Spirit of the Lord was bearing witness with my spirit that I am a child of God.

My wife and I will be returning to Israel and the Sea of Galilee in October 2012. If you would like more information regarding going with us to Israel email me at or visit the following website:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sea of Galilee - Journal Entry #2

Over the last 5 Sundays we have looked here at the Gaylord E-Free church at the main events that took place in the life of Jesus on or by the Sea of Galilee in a message series we called, "Summer by the Lake." I love the Sea of Galilee. Of all the places I have ever visited, the Sea of Galilee is my favorite. Below is one of the journal entries I wrote after my first visit to Israel and the Sea of Galilee:

November 5, 2006

From here we went to the place of Peter’s Primacy. This was the shore where after the resurrection Jesus was on land when Peter saw him from the boat about 100 yards out. Peter, realizing it was Jesus, jumped out of the boat and ran to the Lord on land. Jesus had a fire going and fish ready for breakfast. It was here that Jesus asked Peter the question, “Do you love Me?” As Peter answered, Jesus responded by saying, “Feed My Sheep.” This was the first wave of real emotion that hit me as Dan Travis (team leader), in tears, challenged us that even though we, like Peter, have failed Jesus many times, we can still let go of our past guilt and shame and because of Christ’s forgiveness, we can focus and recommit ourselves to doing the work that God has called us to do…reaching and teaching people. That is my calling! To think that I was standing on that very shore where the power of Christ’s forgiveness gave Peter a new start after denying Jesus three times was overwhelming. The tears flowed as I looked out onto the Sea and picked up a pebble from the beach to keep as a reminder of the power of Christ’s forgiveness.

My wife and I will be returning to Israel and the Sea of Galilee in October 2012. If you would like more information regarding going with us to Israel email me at or visit the following website:

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sea of Galilee - Journal Entry #1

Over the last 5 Sundays we have looked here at the Gaylord E-Free church at the main events that took place in the life of Jesus on or by the Sea of Galilee in a message series we called, "Summer by the Lake." I love the Sea of Galilee. Of all the places I have ever visited, the Sea of Galilee is my favorite. Below is one of the journal entries I wrote after my first visit to Israel and the Sea of Galilee:

November 4, 2006

After breakfast this morning, while Laura was finishing getting ready, I walked down to the shore of the Sea of Galilee and spent about 15 minutes just looking. Jesus would have spent much of His time at this sea. I could almost picture Him and the disciples out in a boat; or Him in a boat off shore teaching the crowds; or Him calming a storm or walking on the water; or maybe Him just sitting by the shore around a fire talking to Peter. I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe at one time He sat in the same spot I was sitting in looking out over the water.

My wife and I will be returning to Israel and the Sea of Galilee in October 2012. If you would like more information regarding going with us to Israel email me at or visit the following website:

Sunday, July 17, 2011


I DID IT! After resisting the fad for all of these years, I have finally opened a Facebook account. The main reason I did was so that I can comment on our new Gaylord E-Free Facebook page. So, be sure to go to our church Facebook page (Gaylord E-Free) and hit LIKE. And if you would like, you can also send me a FRIEND request. For the most part I will still be using my blog here at "Folks Listen" for most of my thoughts and communication.

Don't forget to check out my other blog if you would like more information on going to Israel with Laura and I in October of 2012. The address is:

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Dialogue on the Shoreline of Forgiveness

Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you truly love Me more than these?”

Peter (tentatively): “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You!

Jesus (compassionately): “Feed My lambs.”

Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you truly love Me?”

Peter (ashamed): “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You!”

Jesus: “Take care of My sheep.”

Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”

Peter (angered): “Lord, You know all things. You know that I love You!”

Jesus: “Feed My sheep.”

Jesus: “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (Pause) “Follow Me.”

Peter (pointing to another disciple): “Lord, what about him?”

Jesus: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” (Pause) “You, follow Me!”

This is the dialogue that we will be looking at this Sunday that occurred around a fire after a morning breakfast of fish on the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. I will actually be preaching from within the story. It is my favorite setting to preach in. Don't miss this Sunday at Gaylord E-Free. In fact, be sure to invite someone to attend with you. This Sunday we will visit the "Shoreline of Forgiveness."

Friday, July 15, 2011

Updates from Nicaragua Plus More

The new Gaylord E-Free Facebook page has updates from our E-Free team in Nicaragua. Pictured above is our own John Rakis (he's the one in the middle!!). Be sure to check out our Facebook page daily for many exciting comments as to what is happening in and through the ministry of Gaylord E-Free!

The B-I-B-L-E

If you grew up in church you'll remember this song:

The B-I-B-L-E!
Yes, that's the book for me!
I stand alone on the Word of God!
The B-I-B-L-E!

I still believe in the words of that song. In fact, my view of Scripture is so high that some have actually accused me of "worshipping" the Bible. That's ridiculous. I don't worship the Bible, I worship the God of the Bible. But I have a very high regard for the Bible. That's why I almost always ask our church to stand each time I read the Scripture. Below is what I firmly believe about the Bible. And on these truths I will never be moved:

I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of the living God! It is in fact, God's Word!

I believe that the Bible is inerrant in its original writings! It is perfect and without mistake!

I believe that the Bible has been supernaturally and accurately preserved for us today!

I believe that the Bible is the final authority for doctrine and life! It must be believed and obeyed!

I believe that the Bible is sufficient! It contains everything God wants us to know to do everything God wants us to do!

I believe that the Bible should be read, studied, memorized, meditated upon, and obeyed!

The B-I-B-L-E!
Yes, that's the book for me!
I stand alone on the Word of God!
The B-I-B-L-E!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Do we have a pet BEAR?

I have heard stories of bears in these parts of rural northern Michigan where we are now living, but I think it might be more than a story for us. I think it is possible that we might just have a pet bear at our house.

We have woke up several mornings recently to find out that some type of animal is visiting us while we sleep. The evidence includes:

The bird feeders being knocked down and in some cases even destroyed!

The bird bath being knocked over!

The humming bird feeder being knocked off its pole and the sugar-water sucked out of it!

A fallen tree trunk in the wooded area outside of our backyard being shredded with claws as if an animal were looking for insects!

Could it be that we have a pet bear?

While some people might freak out over the possibility of a bear in their yard, I personally think it is kind of cool! My main thought is this - I sure would like to see it (from the window that is, not up close and personal).

Ah - life in rural northern Michigan! I'm loving it!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Burning of the BOOGG

Last night officially kicked-off Alpenfest 2011 here in Gaylord, Michigan. What a great week and a great celebration this is going to be. I really am pumped. What a great town to live in!

I was captivated last night with the "Burning of the BOOGG." The legend of the BOOGG is a Swiss legend in which a giant snowman made of cotton wool (called the BOOGG) is used to symbolize winter. Each year they burn the BOOGG with colorful pageantry to celebrate the beginning of spring (as seen pictured above).

In Gaylord, at the beginning of Alpenfest, the burning of the BOOGG takes on a new meaning. Residents of the Alpine Village (the nickname for Gaylord, Michigan) and other visitors at Alpenfest, write down their troubles and problems on a piece of paper and then place them inside the BOOGG. The BOOGG is then lit on fire and everyone watches as their problems and troubles go up in smoke. Now everyone can enjoy a trouble-free Alpenfest filled with fun and festivities.

It really is kind of a cool way to start the festival. But wouldn't it be great if all we had to do in order to rid our lives of all problems and troubles was to write them out, place then on the BOOGG, and light a match? But we all know that the truth is that it just isn't that easy. Lighting the BOOGG on fire may be fun and it may even make us feel better, but after the BOOGG goes up in smoke, the problems and troubles still remain.

Is there a better solution? Absolutely! 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to cast all of our anxiety on Christ because He cares for us! Do your problems and troubles remain even after the lighting of the BOOGG last evening? Then why not take those same problems and troubles and cast them on Jesus. That won't magically make all of your troubles and problems go up in smoke, but you can know that He will walk with you through the very heart of those problems and troubles.

Why? Because unlike the BOOGG - Jesus cares for you!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


I attended the Alpenfest Honors Luncheon today! You know the old saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do"? Well, this is a bit of a look at how the "Gaylordians" dress for Alpenfest. Actually, this is mild - there are also matching shorts and socks. There can't be many towns like Gaylord in America. What a wonderful place to live!

Welcome Alpenfest

Since the day I realized that God had clearly led me to Gaylord, Michigan, I have been anticipating being part of Alpenfest! Today is the day! Alpenfest begins and I plan to take in as much of it as I possibly can! I love living in Gaylord! What an amazing little town! And for the next few days I get to experience all the attractions and events that come with Alpenfest!

Honor's Luncheon
Sechcelauten Celebration
Official Opening of Alpenfest
Wurst Wagon
Alpensfest's Queen Pageant
Burning of the Boogg
The World's Largest Coffee Break
Pontresina Suppen Mahlzeit
The Concerts
Alpine Country Breakfast
Ice Cream Social
Pancake Breakfast
Yodeling Contest
Sauerkraut and Sausage Supper
Alpenfest Grand Parade
Strudel on the Strasse

Welcome, Alpenfest! I'm glad you're here!

Monday, July 11, 2011

E-Free on Facebook

Gaylord Evangelical Free Church (E-Free) is now on Facebook. If you have a Facebook account, simply type in Gaylord E-Free and you will find us. Just hit "LIKE" and you will be set. This is a great way to stay connected to all that God is doing here at E-Free in meeting people where they are at and helping to move them to where God wants them to be. Pastor Joe Sereno, Joshua Rupp, and Matt Jenkins are our 3 staff members who are serving as administrators for our Facebook page.

Speaking of Facebook, as of now I do not have an active Facebook account under my name. Once, I tried to set one up and couldn't figure out what I was doing. However, I did enough right that I started getting hundreds of "friend requests" that I had no idea what to do with - so I ignored them all. So if you were one of the many who made a "friend request" to me and heard no reply - it isn't because I don't like you. It was simply because I am very ignorant when it comes to electronic technology.

So that brings up the question of the day - Do you think I should officially join Facebook? If yes, WHY? If no, WHY NOT?

Leave me a comment giving me your opinion!

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Are you a Water-Walker?

Last Sunday as part of our "Summer by the Lake" message series here at the E-Free Church in Gaylord, Michigan, we saw part one of a sermon called "Water-Walking." Last week we saw the storm that the disciples were in on the Sea of Galilee and their fear as they saw what appeared to be some sort of phantom approaching them walking on the water. We then saw that this approaching figure was really Jesus who was making their trial His very footpath.

This Sunday we will finish the story as we see Peter becoming a "Water-Walker." Out of the 12 disciples in the boat that day, Peter was the only one to step out of the boat. The rest of those guys were what we could call "Boat Potatoes."

So what is your boat? Your boat is whatever represents safety and security apart from God - whatever you put your trust in when life gets stormy. Your boat can be identified as the thing that causes you the most fear when you think of leaving it behind. So when was the last time you stepped outside of your boat? What does it take to step out of our boat?

Sunday we will see three aspects that were involved in Peter's stepping out of his boat. Join us here at E-Free to learn what it takes to be a "Water-Walker"!

Friday, July 08, 2011

Three Aspects of Faith

This Sunday as we finish the second part of our "Water-Walking" message here at the Gaylord E-Free Church, we will see that "Water-Walking," like Peter did for a few steps on the Sea of Galilee, involves three elements. It involves extreme obedience. It involves extreme faith. And it involves extreme worship.

Let's look at that second aspect for a second - extreme faith. But what is faith? I think faith involves three aspects.

First, according to Hebrews 11:1, faith is a confident assurance. In other words, faith doesn't say, "I think" or "I hope" or "I'm keeping my fingers crossed." Faith says "I KNOW!"

Second, faith is based on the Word of God. Romans 2:17 says that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Faith isn't based on a feeling. Faith isn't based on an experience. Faith isn't based on some word of prophecy or word of knowledge. Faith isn't based on a dream or a vision. Faith is based on the Word of God - THE BIBLE!

Finally, faith always involves an action. James 2:17 says that faith without works is DEAD! If it doesn't result in some step it isn't Biblical faith.

So, if you put it all together, "What is faith?" Faith is a confident assurance based on the Word of God that produces an action in my life.

And faith is what it takes to be a "Water-Walker."

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Welcome Back, Pastor Jim

Pastor Jim Mathis served as the Senior Pastor here at the E-Free Church in Gaylord, Michigan for 24 years. God used Pastor Jim in an amazing way over those years. He wasn't just a very loved pastor of this wonderful congregation, he has also been a beloved pastor to the entire community of Gaylord. I have never seen one pastor have such an impact on an entire community. It has been an absolute privilege to follow Pastor Jim as pastor of this great church.

After a well-deserved sabbatical, Pastor Jim returns on staff part-time here at E-Free starting today. I am very excited to have Jim back with us and to be able to partner with him and learn and benefit from his many years of ministry experience and wisdom. In the next week, we will be meeting to fine tune the exact role that Pastor Jim will play in his new position. I look forward to having Pastor Jim as a mentor in the years ahead of us.

Welcome back, Pastor Jim!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

A 7-Star Sermon

I absolutely love to preach. Preaching is my passion. I would preach each and every day if people would actually come and listen. I take preaching seriously with much time spent in prayer, study and preparation. This includes specifically thinking through seven goals for each message I preach. If I can hit the bulls-eye on each of these seven goals than I consider it a 7-star message.

Goal #1 - I strive to preach a message that is BIBLICAL! First and foremost, my goal is to make sure that I am actually preaching the Bible and preaching it correctly. I want people leaving church after hearing the message saying, "I heard the Bible preached today!"

Goal #2 - I strive to preach a message that is DOCTRINAL! My goal with each message is to go beyond just the surface of the Bible and also to include at least one area of a more theological depth. For example, two Sundays ago I included an explanation of "hypostatic union" and last Sunday I included the explanation of a "theophany." I want people leaving church after hearing the message saying, "I learned some theology today!"

Goal #3 - I strive to preach a message that is EDUCATIONAL! My goal with each message is to give a clear explanation of the meaning of the passage as well as the cultural and historical settings to that passage. I want people leaving church after hearing the message saying, "I learned something about the Bible today that I never knew!"

Goal #4 - I strive to preach a message that is PRACTICAL! My goal is to teach the Bible in a way that it can be applied to the every day life of those who hear the message. I want people leaving church after hearing the message saying, "I can use what I learned in my life this week!"

Goal #5 - I strive to preach a message that is GENERATIONAL! My goal is to teach the Bible in such a way that all generations - Senior Citizens, Middle Aged Adults, Young Adults, Teenagers, and Children in the audience can all grasp hold of the truths of Scripture. I want people leaving church after hearing the message saying, "Our whole family benefited from the message!"

Goal #6 - I strive to preach a message that is THEATRICAL! At the risk of being misunderstood for using the word "theatrical" about preaching, I simply mean this. My goal in preaching is not just in "what" I preach but also "how" I preach it. Along with spending a lot of time on the content of my sermon, I also spent significant time prayerfully and carefully working on the presentation of my sermon. I even practice it several times. I believe the Bible is the most exciting book in all of the world and I want to preach it in a way that is equally captivating. I want people leaving church after hearing the message saying, "I enjoyed listening to the message!"

Goal #7 - I strive to preach a message that is MOTIVATIONAL! The Bible tells us to be "doers" of the Word and not simply "hearers" of it. I want people to be motivated to take what they have heard and learned and apply it to their life. To me, the ultimate goal of preaching is "life-change!" I want people leaving church after hearing the message saying, "I am going to change because of what I heard and learned from the Bible!"

I'm sure that very few of my messages actually hit the bulls-eye in all 7 of these goals. But it is something that I strive for each and every Sunday.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Three Legged Stool

Dr Falwell used to often say that, "Everything rises and falls on leadership." I think he's right. Here at the E-Free Church in Gaylord, Michigan, we have a very unique leadership structure. I like to refer to it as the "Three Legged Stool" of leadership. That's because it is made up of three parts.

First, there is the Elder Board led by the Elder Chairman. They are primarily responsible for the spiritual leadership of our ministry.

Second, there is the Leadership Team led by the Church Chairman. They are primarily responsible for the overall management of our ministry.

Third, there is the Staff led by the Lead Pastor. They are responsible for carrying out the day to day aspects of our ministry.

To me, the key to our church continuing to move forward is to see all three of these groups on the same page and unified in our purpose and direction. If this is the case, I honestly believe that the sky is the limit on what we can accomplish as a church in our community and around the world. If this is not the case, then our ministry will become like a three-legged stool with each leg being a different length producing a very unstable stool.

To accomplish this we are working hard on making communication between these three groups a priority. As Lead Pastor, I lead our staff; I am on the Elder Board; and I attend the Leadership Team meetings. This gives a common denominator to make sure that communication between the groups is taking place. As Lead Pastor I also meet with the Elder Chairman and Church Chairman twice a month to ensure that we are all on the same page as we move forward as a ministry.

These three groups are made up of amazing individuals who have a real heart for God and a deep desire to see our church reach our redemptive potential. With these three groups on the same page we become a stable stool with a foundation that will allow us to meet as many people as possible right where they are and help move them to where God wants them to be!

I praise God for our Elder Board; our Leadership Team and our Staff. It is a joy and a privilege to roll up my sleeves together with them for the cause of Christ in this place!

So, E-Free Church, have a seat! The stool is stable!

Monday, July 04, 2011

Happy Birthday, America!

Happy Independence Day!

"If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land!"
2 Chronicles 7:14

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Water-Walking...the STORM

This Sunday we continue our message series here at E-Free that we are calling, "Summer by the Lake." This is a study through the main events of the life of Christ that happened on or by the Sea of Galilee. We started the series looking at the Great Catch of Fish and how Jesus used that to call four of His disciples to follow Him. Last Sunday we looked at the miracle of Jesus in calming the storm.

This week we see Jesus walking on the water. We will look at this story in two parts. This week we will see the STORM that was involved and the following week we will see the STEP of faith that Peter took during this storm. This Sunday will be a continuation of the theme of the previous week as we see five more principles about storms that come into our lives. These will include the following:

Storms are likely to be on the horizon shortly after a great spiritual victory!

God's plan for our spiritual growth includes storms!

No one said that storms would be easy!

The Lord is not always easy to see in the midst of our storms, and often, the storm rages for quite some time before we can notice his presence!

Jesus uses storms to reveal His power and His presence to us in order to prepare us to do something extraordinary for Him!

As a result, when you first enter the Gospel Center on Sunday morning it will have the feel of a storm through sound and lighting effects (don't worry - there will be no rain in the auditorium, so there is no need to bring your umbrella in with you). If you know someone who is going through a storm (and we all probably do), be sure to invite them to E-Free this Sunday.

This Sunday we will all be together in one service (there will be no traditional service this Sunday). Instead of the message being in one block, we will be dividing the message this Sunday up into five parts. In between each part we will be including elements of worship that fit that part of the text including worship, special music and communion. I believe it will be a very special Sunday!

Join us this Sunday here at E-Free. The service begins at 9:30.

Friday, July 01, 2011

The Beauty of Northern Michigan

July in Northern Michigan begins today. I realize that there have been some pretty cold July 4th weekends in the past - but for my first July 4th weekend in Gaylord, I'm not sure the weather and beauty of Independence Day weekend could be any better than it is right now. The last 2 days of June have been absolutely wonderful and the beginning of July is set to be just as amazing.

Wednesday night Laura and I, along with my parents, attended the Community Band Concert down at the Pavilion in downtown Gaylord. I think Laura and I brought the median age way down but what a fun evening it was, except it did get a little chilly by the end of the performance. How cool is it to live in a community whose unofficial anthem is Edelweiss?! Each Community Band concert ends with that song. I have to learn the words before next Wednesday's concert so I can sing along with the others. And the evening was capped off being treated to ice cream by a wonderful couple from the church. What a perfect evening.

Tuesday afternoon we were invited to spend some time at the Promise FM Golf Tournament at the Treetops Resort. No, I didn't golf (I've swung the clubs a few times but am definitely not ready for prime time yet), we just drove around in carts talking with the golfers and enjoying the amazing scenery of the course. Afterwards we were invited to be part of the tournament's incredible dinner.

After leaving Treetops we drove out to Deadman's Hill. Johsua Rupp, our very talented Worship Director here at E-Free had taken me out hiking at Deadman's Hill earlier this week. What a view! I can't to see it in the Fall.

And now we move into the Holiday Weekend. The weather is supposed to be absolutely beautiful. Here is what I'm looking forward to...

I'm looking forward to fireworks on Otsego Lake with some families from the church.

I'm looking forward to hanging out back at Treetops for their weekend festivities (my kids work at Treetops and Joy is in charge of the kids activities for their big July 3rd festival).

I'm looking forward to church on Sunday as we continue our "Summer by the Lake" series. We have a great service planned and it is going to be awesome!

I'm looking forward to hearing the duet my kids will be singing as part of this Sunday's service!

I'm looking to spending time with some old friends from when I pastored back in Indiana years ago. They are passing through and will be at church Sunday! In fact, the next 2 Sundays we have old friends from our time in Indiana coming to visit.

I'm looking forward to taking my parents to Mackinaw Island!

And that's just the first weekend in July! Right after that it's ALPENFEST time! Now that I am really looking forward to experiencing.

Life in Northern Michigan - it's a beautiful thing!