Saturday, December 31, 2011

The world did not end in 2011...will it in 2012?

The predictions were made. Many thought it would happen but the world didn't end this past year. We are now just hours away from 2012 and I for one am very excited.

The one thing I am looking forward to the most in 2012 is the opportunity to see many more people come to faith in Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. That, my friends, is the biggest reason why the world didn’t end in 2011. The truth is that Jesus is going to return someday (the Bible is clear that we cannot predict exactly the time). But why hasn’t He done so yet? Why didn’t He do so last year? The Bible gives the answer to that question:

“The Lord is not slow about His promise (to return), as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

Why hasn’t Jesus come back yet? Why hasn’t the world ended yet? It’s not because God is late. He’s never late. It is because He is patient. It is because He is loving. You see, God loves you so much that He doesn’t want you to perish apart from Him. Instead, He wants you to enter into a relationship with Him through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ for your sins. That’s the message of the most popular verse in the entire Bible:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

That is why I am so excited about 2012. God in His patience and in His love is giving more time to communicate the greatest message in the world to the entire world…the message that says you can know for sure that you are going to heaven through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Here is to doing LESS in 2012

I have never really been into New Year's Resolution, but if I were going to make serious New Year's resolution it would be this:

"I resolve in 2012 to spill less coffee on the church carpet so that our custodians can spend less time cleaning up the messes made by their Lead Pastor!"

OK - I guess I set the bar a little high on that resolution. There is just no way that I can follow through on that level of a resolution. But here are some things I would like to do "LESS OF" in 2012:

(James 1:19)

(1 Peter 1:15-16)

(1 Corinthians 9:25-27)

Waste LESS
(Ephesians 5:15-17)

Worry LESS
(Philippians 4:6-7)

Spend LESS
(Proverbs 6:6-8)


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Teaching Truth in 2012

My greatest passion in life is teaching and preaching the Bible. Seriously, I would preach every day if only someone would come and listen! It is perhaps my greatest joy in being a pastor. So as we enter 2012, here are some truths I am looking to preach and teach to our SHEPHERDS (Elders); our STAFF and on SUNDAYS here at the Gaylord E-Free Church.

SHEPHERDS - I will be taking time once a month over the course of 2012 to walk our Elder Board through the book of Titus. This is a wonderful New Testament book written by Paul that deals with the importance of Elders in the church; the qualifications of Elders in the church; and the elements that Elders are to ensure are "set in order" in the church. My focus is to see our Elder Board become better equipped to be shepherds to our congregation here at E-Free and the book of Titus is a wonderful starting point. We will begin as early as Monday, January 2, by looking at Titus 1:1-5.

STAFF - We have a great staff here at E-Free, but as Paul so eloquently said in the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 13, even if have great talent and accomplish great ministry feats, if we don't have genuine, godly love, all of our labors are worthless. We will be using staff meetings over the first part of 2012 to allow me to lead our staff through key passages that teach us the finer elements of what love is. We will start with our full staff by discussing the 16 descriptions of true Biblical love as defined in 1 Corinthians 13 by Paul. At the same time, our ministry staff will be taking a detailed study of the Great Commandment given by Jesus in Matthew 22:34-40. We will take time over the coming months to learn what it really looks like to love God, love our neighbor, and even to love our enemies.

SUNDAYS - Sunday mornings over the opening months of 2012 will begin with a 7-week verse by verse study through Genesis 5-9 and the life of Noah. We will be calling the series, "The Noah Factor: All Are Welcome!" Following that series and leading up to Easter will be a very important Vision Series entitled, "Meeting & Moving: A Vision That Melts In Your Mouth!" Then, following Easter, we will have a 3-week series leading up to Mother's Day that we are simply calling "Word!" This will be a detailed look at 2 Timothy 3:15-17 as we see what the character of the Bible is all about.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Boar in God's Vineyard

One of my all-time favorite speakers and authors has always been the delightful and insightful Chuck Swindol. He is about the best I have ever seen at taking spiritual truth and putting it out there in a way that anyone can understand it and apply it. And his humor is infectious. In fact, one of my most favorite books I have ever read is Swindol's "Laugh Again" which is a true masterpiece on the topic of Joy as seen in the New Testament book of Philippians.

Yesterday I watched a talk on You Tube that Chuck Swindol gave to a conference of pastors, ministry leaders and their spouses. He tackled a topic that most people don't want to admit is a reality. It deals with the ugly side of the church. In this penetrating talk, Swindol tackles the topic of difficult people in the church who cause division and destruction. If you would like to watch the video simply go to You Tube and type "Swindol - A Boar in God's Vineyard" into the search engine.

If you are a pastor, ministry leader, or the spouse of a pastor or ministry leader, you really need to watch this message. In fact, if you are a pastor or ministry leader, I can guarantee that you fall into one of three categories:

You have gone through an altercation with someone like this in your church!

You are currently dealing with someone like this in your church!

You will someday soon have to deal with someone like this in your church!

How do I know this is true? Because times haven't changed much. The Bible speaks of individuals like this that even the Apostle Paul and the Apostle John had to deal with in several different passages in the New Testament. Here are some examples:

"I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, neither does he himself receive the brethren, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church."
(3 John 1:9-10)

"Now I urge you brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ, but of their own appetites, and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting."
(Romans 16:17-18)

"A Boar in God's Vineyard" by Chuck Swindol. This is a video that I will listen to again. If you are a pastor or ministry leader, you will greatly benefit from watching it as well! The topic is very disheartening but the way Chuck ends the message is uplifting and liberating. Invest an hour of your time in finding and watching it. You will be so glad that you did!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gaylord Evangelical Free Church 2011 Annual Report - Lead Pastor's Article

Me? Move to Gaylord, Michigan? I have to be honest…at first glance it didn’t seem like the best fit. I had never golfed or fished. I don’t ski or snowboard. And I had never in my life even owned, let alone used, a snow blower. But after my family and I visited on the weekend before Christmas (2010) God sealed in our hearts that this was exactly where He was leading us and we are thrilled be living here in Gaylord and to be part of the E-Free family. In the 9 months since I came to Gaylord I have seen many strengths that this church has and that we can build upon for the glory of God. Let me highlight just four of them:

First, is the rich history of being an outward focused church. All churches “talk” about being outward-focused, but few churches really are outward focused. Pastor Jim has truly been used of God these past 24 years in leading E-Free to be outward focused and that is a history that is unique and one that we are blessed to have.

Second, E-Free Church has an exceptional reputation in our community. When my family visited for the first time in December 2010, we spent a lot of time in the community asking people what they thought about E-Free church. Every comment, without exception, was positive. One greeter at Meijer (who attends a different church) said, “That church is the best thing this community has going.” The sad truth is that if most churches shut their doors today, the community around them would not even notice. This is not the case with E-Free. If we were to close our doors today our community would feel the impact greatly.

A third strength is the amazing amount of lay people involved in leadership throughout our church. From Elders to Leadership Team members, to Ministry Team leaders and more, so many are involved in leading the different ministries within our church. These lay people really are the backbone of our church. Along with full-time jobs, families, and all the other pressures of life, they still choose to lead within our church!

A final strength I will mention is a team of committed staff members. From our Pastoral Staff to our paid Ministry Leaders, to our Administrative Team that works in the office, to our dedicated Custodial Team, we have a staff that is not only talented, but committed to the Lord and to the ministry of E-Free. What a thrill it is to be able to rub shoulders with them and partner with them daily in this place for the cause of Christ.

2011 has been a successful year of transition for our church. I believe that 2012 will be a successful year of continued ministry effectiveness. You are going to hear a constant theme in 2012. It will be easy to identify and remember. All you have to do is focus on the letters “M&M”! What does that mean? You will find out in the year to come.

Monday, December 26, 2011


It was an amazing weekend at Gaylord E-Free. 1300 people were part of our two Christmas Eve Services which saw many put their faith in Jesus Christ for the very first time. Hallelujah! Then came the "icing on the cake" as we gathered together again on Christmas morning for some more Christmas worship.

Our theme Christmas morning was "MEGA JOY" and we illustrated the JOY of Christmas in a very special way. As each person entered the Gospel Center they were given either a blue or white star-shaped BALLOON filled with helium. As the service started I told everyone that the balloon they were holding represented the JOY that was in their heart. I then instructed them that at any time during the service in which their JOY was overflowing to simply let go of the BALLOON!

I can't tell you how cool and amazing it was throughout the morning as we worshipped to see these blue and white star-shaped BALLOONS floating up to the ceiling of our auditorium - literally hundreds of them. By the end of the service we could look up and see these BALLOONS covering the ceiling as each of us were able in a creative way to visibly and physically demonstrate our JOY on the birthday of Jesus!

Between seeing hundreds of people holding lit candles on Christmas Eve and then watching hundreds of these blue and white star-shaped balloons floating up to the ceiling on Christmas morning, it really was a special weekend at the Gaylord E-Free Church! And over the next several weeks you will be reminded of this special and joyful day every time you enter the church Gospel Center and see those balloons above your head. The way I see it, they should all lose enough helium that they will all float back down by about Easter Sunday!

Today Christmas is over - but the JOY continues!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Birthday, JESUS!

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!"


Saturday, December 24, 2011

It's Christmas Eve...Here's Wishing You a MESSY Christmas!

Personally, I do not think Christmas Day is the bests day of the year. For me, the best day is today - December 24. I love this day. It is a day of non-stop anticipation. For the Distler family, the day will include all of the following:

we will begin with a home made sausage gravy and biscuits breakfast (this is usually our Christmas Day breakfast, but since Christmas Day falls on a Sunday this year and we will all be on stage for an exciting Christmas morning worship service at Gaylord E-Free, we are moving the annual sausage gravy and biscuits breakfast up to today)!

The majority of the day will then be spent in decorating Christmas cookies. This is when we see the real artistic revelations come out of our son. I will have to sneak away to the basement at some point during this time to wrap some gifts. My shopping is done and they are in boxes - all that is left is the wrapping.

Mid-afternoon our family will head out for our annual Christmas Eve dinner. Typically this takes place at Olive Garden. But since there is no Olive Garden in Gaylord, MI, we will have to experiment with a different Italian restaurant for this family tradition.

After dinner we head to church to get ready for our Christmas Eve services. We will have two identical services - one at 5pm and the other at 7pm. The theme is "MESSY Christmas!" Why? Because the very first Christmas was very MESSY! Jesus was born in a MESSY cave and lain in a MESSY manger. And it was fitting because He came into a MESSY world to follow a MESSY plan that would include a very MESSY cross. Even today, Christmas can get MESSY! That's what makes Christmas as meaningful now as it was way back then. It is going to be a great service. Laura, Joy and Jonathan will all be singing and I will be sharing a message which will include telling my favorite Christmas story of all-time about a boy named Wally. It's called "No Room! Go Away!"

Following our Christmas Eve services we will head home to continue our family Christmas Eve traditions. We open any gifts we have received from non-family. Then we open the stockings from my parents. We call them "Nana's Stockings!" This is always a time of great fun and laughter.

After Nana's stockings are emptied we will give Joy and Jonathan their first gift of Christmas from us. we will then sit down and watch a Christmas movie together.

Finally, it will be bed time but before we turn out the light, Laura gets to go through an extra stocking I do just for her. It's a purple stocking because purple is her favorite color!

After that, the best part of Christmas Eve takes place - SANTA ARRIVES!!!!!!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happiness at Christmas is not the Goal!

I love Christmas! I love everything about it! And here we are just 2 days before Christmas and I am loving it! I am happy! There are many things that bring me "happiness" this Christmas:

The decorations make me happy. I just love our house at Christmas! I love all the lights around town (though I'm not a big fan of all the inflatable elements in people's yards)!

Watching all the Christmas specials on TV makes me happy (especially Ernest Saves Christmas)!

The fact that my stocking will be full come Christmas morning (and I'm not talking coal here) makes me happy!

Knowing there are beautifully wrapped presents under our Christmas tree with my name on it that makes me happy!

The food that will be on our dining room table this Christmas - that will make me happy!

Having both of my kids home from college for Christmas indeed makes me happy!

But it isn't the "happiness" of Christmas that I'm loving. That's not what I am most excited about! It's the joy! There is a big difference. Happiness is a temporary feeling that comes and goes based on circumstances. Joy is different. It's better - much better.

Think about it. The very first Christmas was filled with JOY! Everyone involved seemed to experience it. The angels told the shepherds of "Great" joy and the wise men rejoiced "Exceedingly." This wasn't happiness.

There were no decorations!

The wise men were not checking out the light displays in people's yards on the way to Bethlehem!

There were no stockings hung by the chimney with care!

There were no holiday specials to watch on TV!

There were no gingerbread cookies to eat or egg nog to drink!

There were no beautifully wrapped presents under fancifully decorated trees!

But there was joy! What makes the difference? It's Jesus! Joy has nothing to do with circumstances (that's happiness) but everything to do with Jesus (that's joy)! The Bible says it this way:

"And though you have not seen Him (Jesus), you love Him (Jesus), and though you do not see Him (Jesus) now, but believe in Him (Jesus), you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory!" (1 Peter 1:8)

So my Christmas wish for each of you over the coming weekend has nothing to do with "happiness!" My wish for you is much greater than a temporary feeling that comes and goes with circumstances. My wish for you is JOY - a deep, inner, abiding contentment in the fact that you know and are eternally secure in Jesus, no matter if your holiday circumstances are favorable or frustrating.

As Christians we owe it to the world to be supernaturally joyful! And there is no day like Christmas to let that joy shine! May your Christmas be one in which, because you love and believe in Jesus, you "greatly" rejoice with joy that is "inexpressible" and which is "full" of glory!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Adjectives and Adverbs of Joy

It's not just any JOY that the birth of Jesus brings. Check out the adverbs and adjectives that described this JOY experienced by the shepherds and by the magi on that very first Christmas:

"But the angel said to them (the shepherds), 'Do not be afraid; for behold I bring you good news of GREAT joy which will be for all the people.'" (Matthew 2:10)

"When they (the Magi) saw the star, they rejoiced EXCEEDINGLY with GREAT joy." (Matthew 2:10).

Did you catch that? The Christmas message to the shepherds was not just one of joy - it was one of GREAT joy! The Christmas star didn't just cause the Magi to rejoice - they rejoiced EXCEEDINGLY! The shepherds and magi didn't just experience joy, they experienced MEGA joy!

Join us this Sunday morning here at the Gaylord E-Free Church as we celebrate Christmas with MEGA JOY! We will have one combined service at 10am. There will be no kid's programs but there will be child-care for those 2 years of age and under. There will also be a special gift for every child in attendance this Sunday.

And to actively show our MEGA JOY on Sunday morning, we will be doing something as part of our worship that morning that has never been done in a Sunday morning worship service here at E-Free (and is likely to never be done again!)!

It's isn't often that we get to include gathering together as a church family as part of our Christmas Day celebrations. Join us for a service of GREAT joy!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas JOY in People

In yesterday's posting we looked at the concept of JOY seen all throughout the Christmas carols we sing each year during the holiday season. Today let's notice how we see JOY throughout the people in the Christmas story!

Zacharias - In Luke 1:14, when the angel tells Zacharias that his wife, Elizabeth, was going to give birth in her old age to John the Baptist who would be the forerunner of the Messiah, the angel said, "You will have JOY and GLADNESS, and many will REJOICE at his birth."

Mary - In Luke 1:47, after the angel had announced to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus, the Messiah, she said, "My soul exults the Lord, and my spirit has REJOICED in God my Savior."

Mary's Neighbors and Relatives- Speaking of Mary's neighbors and relatives, Luke 1:58 says, "Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were REJOICING with her."

The Angel - In Luke 2:10, the Angel announced to the shepherds, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great JOY which shall be for all people."

The Shepherds - In Luke 2:20, after finding and worshipping the Christ Child, the Bible says, "The shepherds went back GLORIFYING and PRAISING God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them."

The Magi - When the Magi left Herod's palace and started toward Bethlehem, the star they had seen signifying the birth of a King reappeared. Matthew 2:10 says, "When they saw the star, they REJOICED exceedingly with great JOY!"

Like Zacharias, like Mary, like Mary's neighbors and relatives, like the angel, like the shepherds, and like the Magi, may you experience His JOY this Christmas! Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Singing Christmas JOY!

JOY!!!! It is a key word at Christmastime, isn't it? You see it everywhere! Just think through the Christmas carols. You see JOY all through the lyrics. Sing through the following lines of these great Christmas hymns. May your Christmas this year be filled with JOY!:

REJOICE! REJOICE! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!

Dear desire of every nation, JOY of every longing heart!

JOY to the world! The Lord is come! JOY to the earth! The Savior reigns!

And the mountains in reply echo back their JOYOUS strains!

JOYFUL all ye nations rise, join the triumphs of the skies!

How great our JOY! JOY, JOY, JOY!

Come all ye faithful, JOYFUL and triumphant!

A thrill of hope, the weary world REJOICES!

Good Christian men REJOICE with heart and soul and voice!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Pre-Service Stretching

I love to follow sports and one of the things I know is that most athletes have a structured routine that they go through on "game day" in order to be ready in all aspects to perform. As much as I love sports, God never gifted me with the talent to play them (Although my dream still remains to be able to use my God-given talent in communication to announce a game some day).

Yet, for me as a pastor, Sunday is kind of like "game day" in the fact that it is my big day of the week (that is not meant to mean that I see preaching as a performance). I have found that much in the same way that athletes have "pre-game routines," I have developed some as well on Sunday mornings. This routine helps me to prepare myself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It's kind of like stretching before you run. For me, a typical Sunday morning goes like this.

6:30-7:10 - Wake up, shower, dress and grab a cup of coffee to go

7:10-7:15 - Drive to church

7:15-7:30 - Check email and eat a breakfast bar

7:30-8:00 - Read over my sermon notes and read a few additional commentaries on the passage I am preaching on just to refresh my mind on the content and context of the passage

8:00-8:45 - Go to a back classroom and practice my sermon out loud. This typically is my 3rd run through. My goal each week is to practice my sermon on Thursday afternoon, Saturday morning, and then again on Sunday morning.

8:45-9:00 - Go up to the sound booth and grab my microphone. Then check in with the video room and with the Worship Arts Director to be sure everything is "all systems go" and nothing has changed from the most recent plan for the service.

9:00-9:15 - Go back to my office and prepare my heart to preach by singing out loud several of the worship songs we are using in the service that morning. Typically, I plug the song titles into YouTube, crank up the volume on my computer speakers, and sing to the Lord from the bottom of my heart and the top of my lungs.

9:15-9:25 - Head upstairs and mingle with folks as they arrive at church.

9:25-9:30 - Prayer with the service participants backstage

9:30 - The service begins!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas and Family

How's the song go again?

"Faithful friends who are dear to us, travel near to us once more!"

After all, isn't that one of the best parts of Christmas? In most cases we are able to spend this special day with family and friends that we don't always get to spend time with throughout the year. But then again, sometimes it's the family dynamics of family being there that can cause the most stress at the Holidays. If you don't think that's true, take some time between now and Christmas and watch a couple Holiday movies like "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" or "Home Alone!"

The truth is that for many, it is the absence of family that has put a cloud over their anticipation of December 25.

For some, this will be their first Christmas away from home.

For some this will be the first Christmas that the kids and/or grand-kids don't make it home.

For some this will be the first Christmas since losing a loved one to death.

For some this will be the first Christmas since a broken marriage took place.

This Sunday here at Gaylord E-Free we will continue our "Avoiding the Christmas Crash" message series and learn from Galatians 4:1-7, how we can avoid the Christmas Crash related to family. No matter what your family dynamic will be this Christmas, I think you will be greatly blessed and encouraged at what we will see this Sunday from this amazing passage in the Bible!

Friday, December 16, 2011

A White Christmas Guarantee

Here we are just 9 days until my first Christmas living in the snow belt of Northern Michigan and there is not a flake of snow to be found. Growing up in a Lake Effect snow area in Akron, Ohio, I can remember many White Christmases as a kid - what can be better? But then God took me to southern Ohio, where White Christmases were very rare. When we lived in northwest Indiana we had a little better chance for a White Christmas. But over the last 6 years living in southcentral PA I can't remember any White Christmases.

That is one of the many reasons our family looked forward to moving to Gaylord, Michigan. When you live were they average 150+ inches of snow a year you are pretty much guaranteed a white Christmas, right? Maybe not! I mean we have just 9 days left until December 25 and there is no snow on the ground and the weathermen don't seem to have much good news that anything significant will happen between now and then. So I guess my first Christmas in northern Michigan just may be a "green" (or more like a "brown") Christmas. BUMMER!

But wait...I have just been handed a special bulletin. It says, "WHITE CHRISTMAS GUARANTEED!" That's right! I have just been guaranteed a white Christmas. By the way, the special bulletin did not come from the Weather Service. It came from much higher up the weather ladder than that! It came from God, the Creator of the Universe. He just guaranteed me a white Christmas. Here is what the bulletin said.

"Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. (Isaiah 1:8)

How cool is that! No matter what the scene may look like outside of my window come Christmas morning, I will be celebrating a white Christmas. I will be celebrating the fact that because of Christmas, when God became flesh to save us from our sins, I am guaranteed a white Christmas. Though my sins (which are many) are as scarlet, through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ they have been washed white as snow! Now that is what I call a "white Christmas!"

Will you be having a white Christmas this year?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Where are the Christmas Wise Men Today?

Based on my last two postings it would be easy to conclude that I am "against" the Christmas "wise men." Such is not the case. In fact, we really need some Christmas-style Wise Men today. Here is what I mean:

In Matthew 2:1-2 the Christmas Wise Men sought out the newborn king to worship Him! We could sure use some Christmas Wise Men today who make worshipping Christ a passion and a priority!

In Matthew 2:10 the Christmas Wise Men "rejoiced exceedingly with great joy" when they saw the star reappear over the skies of Bethlehem. We could sure use some Christmas Wise Men today whose greatest joy in life is following hard after Jesus!

In Matthew 2:11 the Christmas Wise Men fell down and worshipped the Baby Jesus. We could sure use some Christmas Wise Men today who will humble themselves and make the exalting of Christ the greatest priority of their lives.

In Matthew 2:11 the Christmas Wise Men gave Jesus gifts of love and worship. We could sure use some Christmas Wise Men today who are more concerned about giving to Jesus then they are building their own wealth.

In Matthew 2:12 the Christmas Wise Men obeyed the warning of God in spite of the risk it was to them when they avoided King Herod on their way home. we could sure use some Christmas Wise Men today who will obey God at all costs.

Where are the Christmas Wise Men today? We could sure use them!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My Greatest Christmas Pet Peeve

In my blog post yesterday we talked about the many misconceptions there are today about the "wise men" in the Christmas story that we take as fact, though the Bible does not necessarily teach them as fact. This brings about my greatest Christmas Pet Peeve! I can barely look at nativity scenes today because almost always they have the wise men at the manger. Most everyone thinks that is how it happened. Even churches have the wise men at their nativity scenes. Whenever I see the wise men at the manger in front of a house or church I always want to stop and take those gift-bearing fellows and move them to a house across town. Why? Because as I read Scripture it seems apparent to me that they never visited the manger. The shepherds did but not the wise men. Why do I say this?

First, according to Matthew 2:11, the magi (who are more commonly today called "wise men" or "kings") came into the "house" where the mother and Child were. They did not come into the cave or stable. They came into the house. By the time that the wise men showed up, Mary and Joseph were no longer in a "cave" but were now in a "house."

Second, according to Luke 2:21-24, eight days after the birth of Christ, Mary and Joseph took Him to the temple to have Him dedicated and to be circumcised. This would include offering a sacrifice. Luke's account tells us that they offered two turtle doves or pigeons. Now if you compare this with the details of the Law as seen in Leviticus 12:6-8, you will discover that this was the sacrifice of a poor person, which Joseph must have been. Those who were not poor would have offered a lamb.

Now how does this show that the wise men had not come yet? According to Matthew 2:11, what did the wise men bring when they came? They brought expensive gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Had they already visited and given these gifts, wouldn't it be reasonable to assume that Joseph could have afforded a lamb to offer? Why, then, was he only able to offer the sacrifice of a poor man? I believe it is because the wise men had not yet visited.

So, please do me a favor! Spare me some Christmas grief. Do what we do at our house. Take the wise men out of your mangers and set them somewhere clear across the room. Hmmmm, in looking around our own church, maybe we need to do some "redecorating" here as well!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas - Dragnet Style

I love Christmas, but as is the case with everything, there are parts of it that get under my skin a bit. If there is one area of the Biblical account of the very first Christmas that tends to get twisted when it comes to "the facts", it's those guys we commonly refer to as "wise men." Now don't get me wrong. I believe that these "magi" were part of the story, but I also think we have taken some liberties with the facts.

I would like to recommend a "Dragnet" (for those who remember that great detective show from TV days gone by) approach in which in Jack Webb style we say "Just the facts, please" when it comes to the Wise Men. I encourage you to read Matthew 2:1-12. The only "facts" we know related to the visit of these "magi" come from this passage. Notice what is missing:

It does not tell us exactly how many there were (I know the song says, "We three kings" but the Bible does not give that number).

It does not tell us the mode of transportation that the wise men used (most people say "camels" as if that were certain, but that fact is not mentioned specifically in the Bible).

It does not tell us what country these men were from.

It does not tell us that they followed the star from their homeland all the way to Bethlehem. Honest, it doesn't. Go back and read it. The sign in the sky informed them of the birth of a king over the Jews. They didn't follow a star across the desert directly to Bethlehem. Their journey took them first to Jerusalem. That made sense. If they were looking for a king, the palace was the most logical place to go. Once at the palace, they hear from the Scribes that the prophecy talked about Bethlehem. So they head toward Bethlehem and "rejoice" when the star that they originally saw now reappears over the place where the Christ-child was.

And most of all, it does not tell us that they visited the manger! That misconception is my greatest Christmas pet peeve. I will talk more about it in tomorrow's posting.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Santa Claus is Feeling Kind of Down

I have it on good authority that even Santa is struggling this year with the Holiday Blues. If you know the song about him you know that this is true. I know you are familiar with the beginning of this great Holiday Classic. But do you know all of it?

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He's making a list
He's checking it twice
He's gonna find out
Who's naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake


There's a rumor this year
He's not coming back
The elves went on strike
And the grinch stole his sack
Santa Claus is feeling kind of down

Dancer and Prancer
They both split the scene
They got all fed up
With that housetop routine
Santa Claus is feeling kind of down


There's a story to tell
Better than tinsel and tree
It's Christmas true meaning
And it's for you and me
Someone greater is coming to town

He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He died upon a rugged cross
And all your sins did Jesus take


You better repent
You better believe
Turn from your sin
And Jesus receive
Jesus Christ is coming...
Jesus Christ is coming....
Jesus Christ is coming to town!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Learn How to Avoid the Post-Holiday-Let-Down

Even the best Christmas can come with a post-holiday-let-down! Just think of the first Christmas! It started with Glad Tidings. There was the birth of a baby! There were angels! There were shepherds. And ultimately there were Wise Men bringing amazing gifts. What a special Christmas.

But then the Glad Tidings of that first Christmas rapidly turned to a Great Threat! There was an evil king. There were murderous plans. There was an angelic warning. And ultimately there was a flight to Egypt in order to save a child's life.

See what I mean - even the best Christmas ever came with a post-holiday-let-down. Chances are very good that your Christmas this year will as well. Join us here at Gaylord E-Free this Sunday at 9:30am as we look at this story in Scripture and learn together learn three principles that we can apply to our lives even now to help us to avoid the Christmas Crash of the post-holiday-let down!

Friday, December 09, 2011

An E-Free Holiday

The 9 days between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day are going to be absolutely awesome here at the Gaylord E-Free Church. Don't miss any of these holiday celebrations:

December 24 - We will have two identical Christmas Eve services at 5pm and 7pm. Each service will include drama, video, music, stories and candle-lighting suitable for the whole family. Child-care will be available for those 2 years of age and under for both services.

December 25 - We will have one combined Christmas morning worship service beginning at 10am suitable for the whole family. In fact, we will be doing something special as part of the service that has never been done in a service here at Gaylord E-Free (and may never be done again). There will also be a special gift for every child in attendance. There will be no Kid's Church or Children's Church and no 2nd hour classes for kids or adults. There will be child-care for those age 2 and under.

December 31 - Before you ring in the New Year, come to Gaylord E-free for a 7pm showing of the new movie, 'Courageous.' The event is free and will be designed as a true theatre experience for all. There will be no child-care available.

January 1 - We will have one combined New Year's Day morning worship service beginning at 10am suitable for the whole family. The theme will be, "Keep on Celebrating!" There will be no Kid's Church or Children's Church and no 2nd hour classes for kids or adults. There will be child-care for those age 2 and under.


Thursday, December 08, 2011

Why Joseph?

Mary gets most of the press in the Christmas story and that is well deserved. But my question is, "Why Joseph?" Why did God pick a poor carpenter from Nazareth to be the greatest human example to Jesus when God became flesh? Why did he pick Joseph out of a choice of thousands to be the human (not biological as Jesus was born of a virgin) father of Jesus. I think I know the answer.

In Matthew 2:13, an angel of God appears to Joseph in a dream. His first two words to Joseph were "Get Up!"

In Matthew 2:14, the Bible says, "So Joseph Got Up!"

In Matthew 2:19-20, the angel reappears to Joseph in a dream and again his first two words to the carpenter were, "Get Up!"

Matthew 2:21 then describes Joseph's reaction with the words, "So Joseph Got Up!"

Both times God said, "Get Up!" Both times Joseph "Got Up!" In fact, back in Matthew 2:14, after the angel appears to Joseph and tells him that the baby conceived in Mary was of the Holy Spirit and to go ahead and take Mary as his wife, the Bible says, "And Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded."

Why did God pick Joseph to be the earthly father of Jesus? I think it was because God wanted a father for Jesus who was committed to obedience. After all, isn't that the greatest quality of a dad? The best dads are the ones who are committed to obeying God!"

It kind of makes me wonder. If I were a Jewish man at the time that God sent His Son into the world, would I have been on His short list to be Jesus' dad? Am I known to God as a man who is committed to obedience?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

My Goal Every Sunday is to LIE

Aren't preachers supposed to tell the truth? They probably are. But the truth is that my goal is to LIE. That's right. Each and every Sunday when I preach here at Gaylord E-Free I intentionally try to LIE! That is how I view a successful sermon. If I didn't LIE, the message probably wasn't effective. Let me explain. I am using the word LIE as an acronym. Each letter in the word stands for a goal in my preaching. Here is what I mean:

L = Learn! My goal each Sunday when I preach is that every person who is present will learn something they never knew about the Bible. This can be a challenge because each Sunday our Gospel Center auditorium is filled with a wide variety of people. Some are brand new believers. Some have been Christians years longer than I have been alive. And many are checking out the truths of Christ and have yet to cross that line of faith and place their trust fully and solely in the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and for their eternal home in heaven. Yet, my goal remains that each person who attends can leave having learned something from Scripture that they did not know when they came to church that morning.

I = Inspire! The first letter ("L") deals with education while the letter "I" deals with application. My goal each Sunday is not just to teach facts about the Bible but to motivate each listener to desire to take steps of faith based on those facts about the Bible that they have learned and apply these principles to their lives. My prayer is that God would use the message to convict and stir the heart of each person who comes to E-Free on Sunday in such a way that they would leave church different in some way, shape or form through the working of Spirit and the power of the Word.

E = Encourage! My goal is that each Sunday every person would walk away, not only having learned something and being motivated to change their life accordingly, but that each person would also leave encouraged in their faith, in large part due to the message they heard preached.

That's what I mean when I say that my goal each Sunday when I preach is to LIE! If at the end of the morning of worship I didn't successfully LIE, how successful was I really? So be sure to invite someone to attend church at E-Free with you this Sunday as we continue our "Avoiding the Christmas Crash" message series. Lord willing, they will leave having LEARNED; having been INSPIRED; and having been ENCOURAGED!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

E-Free Core Values Acronym

At our Leadership Planning Day here at the Gaylord E-Free Church last Saturday, we broke into groups and discussed our core values as a church and how we would word them if we were using the acronym for E-FREE where we had one core value for each letter. Here is what the groups came up with (one of them actually included hand motions):

E = Exalt God and Emulate Christ
F = Faithful to the Scriptures
R = Reach people for Christ
E = Edify and Educate the body
E = Excellence in the Execution of ministry

E = Exalt Jesus Christ
F = Focus on God's Word
R = Reach out
E = Edify one another
E = Engage

E = Evangelism
F = Following God's Word
R = Reaching our to connect people
E = Encourage service to God
E = Excellence in all we do

E = Exalt God in all we do
F = Fellowship in Christ
R = Reach out to the community
E = Edify the body
E = Excellence in everything

E = Exalt Christ
F = Fulfill His commands
R = Reach the lost
E = Emphasize the Bible
E = Encourage one another

E = Evangelism
F = Faith
R = Relationships
E = Experience God's presence
E = Exemplify Christ

Monday, December 05, 2011

How do these pictures represent your church?

I started our day long planning meeting with our "3-legged stool of leadership" (Ministry Staff, Elder Board and Leadership Team) Saturday by having them discuss how the following pictures represent our church here at Gaylord E-Free.

So what are your thoughts? How do the following pictures represent your church?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

My Christmas Gift to Each of You...Early!

A large part of Christmas is “gift-giving.” Now believe me, I love gift-giving at Christmas but sometimes it is a hectic part of the Holiday Season that can steal our joy. We have to find the right gift for each person. Then we have to get them all wrapped and in some cases mailed in time for them to be opened on Christmas morning.

So between all of the list-making, shopping, wrapping and mailing, the whole process of “gift-giving” often causes us more stress than it does joy. And in most every case, the gift always focuses on the physical. But what if we were going to do something different this year and instead of a physical gift we were going to give each other a spiritual wish for Christmas. Let me share with you what Christmas wish I would give to you.

My Christmas wish for each of you comes from the little postcard of a letter called Third John found in our New Testament. This letter was written by the Apostle John and is one of the shortest books in the New Testament. John writes this letter to a man named Gaius who was a convert of John and an influential person in the church.

In this book, John makes a wish for Gaius. It is seen in the phrase in verse two, “
I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health just as your soul prospers.” This first part of this phrase was a standard greeting. The word “prosper” simply means to succeed or to have things go well. John refers to two specific areas…Gaius’ “health” and “soul.” The word “health” is obviously speaking of physical health and the word “soul” refers to his spiritual health. John’s desire for Gaius was that his physical advancement (and the advancement of every other area of his life) would be equal to his spiritual advancement.

Gaius’ spiritual life was vibrant and growing, characterized by the description, “walking in the truth.” This is the ultimate goal of every Christian pastor and parent - That we would teach the truth; that our people (children) would understand the truth; and that our people (children) would live out the truth. If you really want to give a gift that brings joy to people this year, give them the gift of being a spouse, a parent, a child, a friend, a neighbor or a coworker that walks in the truth of Jesus Christ.

So that is my Christmas gift to you. You can’t physically open it. You can’t necessarily wear it on your body. And you can’t take it back to the store and exchange it. It is a wish. It is a wish that your spiritual life would be so vibrant and your love for Jesus so genuine that I could say that my wish for you this Christmas is that your life as a whole and your physical health would prosper in the same way that your spiritual life is prospering as you walk in the truth of God.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Tomorrow at E-Free

Tomorrow (Sunday) is going to be one awesome day at Gaylord E-Free Church. Here are all the elements that we will experience in a 75 minutes worship service:

KLFC (Children's Ministry Team) performing a mini Christmas musical entitled, "The Great Christmas Give Away"

Wonderful Worship Music

"Moments with Martha" original video to introduce the message

A message from 3 John 2-4 as we continue our "Avoiding the Christmas Crash" series which will include my giving to each person present their very first gift of Christmas

An original monologue in lighting our Advent Candle

Worshipping Christ through communion with the bread and the cup


Friday, December 02, 2011

The First Gift of Christmas

We have a Christmas tradition at our house that I started several years ago. We call it "the last gift of Christmas."

At our house we have a certain way of doing things on Christmas Day. We start with the Santa Gifts (Yes, even though my kids are now 22 and 20 and are in college, Santa still visits our house and I half suspect that he always will!).

Then comes our most favorite part of Christmas - the stockings. It takes us a while to do stockings because we go slowly with each person one at a time pulling out just one item at a time from their stocking. That takes us to breakfast.

Later in the day we open the gifts from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. After opening each set of gifts we stop and call that family member to say thanks and wish them a "Merry Christmas." That usually takes us right up until dinner time.

After dinner we open the best gifts of all - the gifts from each other. By this time it is well into the evening. And it was at this point every year, when we came to the last gift from each other, that my wife and kids would say, "I hate it when it's over."

So several years back I bought my wife, my daughter and my son one extra gift each without them knowing about it. I waited until it was about 11pm on Christmas and everyone was thinking about turning in for the night. Then I called them into the family room and presented them with "the last gift of Christmas." It has become a tradition that everyone in my family looks forward to. I try to make sure that "the last gift of Christmas," though inexpensive, is special in some way. That is how our Christmas celebration now comes to an end.

While you will not be at my house at 11pm on Christmas this year to receive a "last gift of Christmas," I would still like to do something special for each of you who are part of the Gaylord E-Free family. As a result, this Sunday I am going to give to each of you your "first gift of Christmas." That's right! You don't want to miss Sunday and this special gift. I have put a lot of time and thought into it and I think it is a gift that you just may end up appreciating more than any other gift you receive this holiday season.

So don't miss Sunday here at Gaylord E-free as I give to each of you your "first gift of Christmas!"

Thursday, December 01, 2011

A Meeting of the Three Legs

I like to use the picture of a 3-legged stool to describe the leadership structure here at the Gaylord Evangelical Free Church in Gaylord, Michigan where I am privileged to serve as Lead Pastor. What do the "3 legs" represent? They represent three groups that make up the leadership of our church. We have the Ministry Staff which I lead. We have the Elder Board which is led by our Elder Chairman. And we have the Leadership Team which is led by our Church Chairman.

As is the case with any 3-legged stool, for that stool to be stable and usable, all three legs have to be equal in length and strength. If not, the stool will be wobbly and useful for very little. As a result, this coming Saturday will be a very special and important day in our church as we will be bringing together all the individuals who make up the 3 legs of this stool as the Ministry Staff, Elder Board and Leadership Team all meet together for a Leadership Planning Day.

It is my goal that we all walk away from this day thinking, "What a great day together! I am so excited about our church!" Below are just some of the topics that will consume our day and our thinking:

Unity (as seen in Philippians 2:1-5)

Core Values of E-Free Church

The Path to a Vision Plan

The State of the Church


Saturday will be a very special and very important day in the life and future of our church. If you are part of the Gaylord E-Free family, please be praying that God would use this day in a major way. If you are not part of our church family, we'd love to have you pray for our day together as a a "3-Legged Stool" as well!