Friday, September 30, 2011

Two Minutes Can Make a Mark

In June 1863, Confederate forces under Robert E. Lee moved north in an effort to win a dramatic victory that would reverse the South's declining fortunes. On July 1-3, Lee's forces fought the Union army under the command of George C. Meade, and before the fighting ended, the two sides suffered more than 45,000 casualties at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Pennsylvania governor, Andrew Curtin, charged David Wills, a successful local citizen and judge, with cleaning up the horrible aftermath of the battle. Wills acquired seventeen acres for the national cemetery and burial began not long after. On September 23, Wills invited the venerable Edward Everett, the nation's foremost orator, to give a speech at the dedication ceremony planned for October 23. Everett accepted, but, needing more time to prepare, persuaded Wills to postpone the ceremony to November 19.

On November 2, 1863, Wills invited President Lincoln to also make a "few appropriate remarks." Lincoln's carefully crafted address has ultimately become regarded as one of the greatest speeches in American history. In fewer than 300 words delivered in just over two minutes, Lincoln described the Civil War as a struggle not merely for the Union, but as "a new birth of freedom" that would bring true equality to all of its citizens. Our nation will never forget his remarks:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

A two minute speech has left an indelible mark on our nation for nearly 150 years. This speech is learned by students every year in American schools. I wonder what kind of mark would be left on our country over the next 150 years if every born-again follower of Jesus Christ in America would pray for just 2 minutes every day?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Welcome to the Mansion of Prayer

The Christian life is like swimming upstream and all you have are two strokes. Think about that. If you were having to swim upstream against a very strong current, how well would you do? What if we tied one of your hands behind your back? Now, how well would you do? At best, you might maintain but you certainly would make no progress. What if we tied both of your hands behind your back? You would do nothing but get carried backward by the current.

The same is true about living the Christian life. It’s tough. The current of the world system and our own depravity and sinful desires is strong. The only way to make any progress is to use our two spiritual strokes…prayer and Bible study. Take away one of these strokes and at best we will only maintain without making any progress. Take away both of these strokes, and we will drift backwards into a horrible spiritual pit. Why is the stroke of prayer so important? Here are just a few reasons:

· It is a channel of forgiveness (I John 1:9)

· It is a weapon against temptation (Matthew 26:41)

· It is a means to fullness of joy (John 16:24)

· It is a reliever of worry (Philippians 4:6-7)

· It is a means to help in times of need (Hebrews 4:16)

· It is a securer of wisdom in times of trouble (James 1:5)

· It is a weapon against the snares of the end times (Luke 21:34-36)

· It is a foundation for spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:18)

· It is a securer of laborers (Luke 10:2)

· It is a preparation for witness (Colossians 4:2-3)

· It is a means to pleasing God (Revelation 5:8; Proverbs 27:9)

Imagine prayer as a huge and wonderful mansion that you and I have the privilege to explore anytime we desire and as often as we need to. That really is what prayer is. People see prayer as “asking and receiving.” But the truth is that “asking and receiving” is just a small part of prayer. I like to define prayer as ‘the act of being with God’! This Sunday we will start a new 5-week series here at the Gaylord E-Free Church as together we now explore the 5 rooms of the mansion of prayer. With each room we will be identifying a key to unlock that room to greater effectiveness. The rooms include:

· The Foyer: Place of Confession

· The Throne Room: Place of Adoration

· The Trophy Room: Place of Thanksgiving

· The Guest Room: Place of Intercession

· The Living Room: Place of Petition

This Sunday we would like to welcome you to the Mansion of Prayer! Come on in and stay awhile!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Worth the Trip

Each Sunday I am amazed at how God works in and through our ministry here at E-Free. We have seen in our “I Love My Church” study the last 3 weeks that the early believers were filled with a “sense of awe” at the evident work of God in their midst. I am feeling that sense of awe here as well! What a great Lord’s Day God gave to us last Sunday. I could share with you many stories that I have heard but let me just share 3 of them with you that I hope will be as encouraging to you as they were to me :

One lady in the church actually sent flowers to our Worship Arts team at the church on Monday to express her appreciation for all that they do and the way God is using them each Sunday. That is so cool! I have never heard of that being done before.

I met a pastor Sunday who was vacationing up this way from his home in Ohio. He came up to me after the service and expressed to me how amazing the service was and how he could sense that God is doing something special in our church.

I also talked with a couple who drove over 100 miles one way just to attend our church last Sunday. She had attended the Woman to Woman Conference the weekend before and had stayed over that Sunday for the service and loved it. She and her husband are looking for a new church in their area but are not being able to find one where Scripture is being taught in a true yet applicable way. She told her husband that coming to Gaylord E-Free would be worth the trip so they made the drive. After the service, he agreed that it was “worth the trip”. In fact, they told me that we would probably see them somewhat often on Sundays until the snow starts flying. Imagine that! Over 100 miles away and they see worshipping at E-Free as “worth the trip!”

The number of adults who have signed up for a Life Group is amazing. Every group we have is filled. People aren’t just attending – they are connecting which is also seen in the number of adults who are participating in 2nd hour Classes as well. I spent some time talking with folks in the Suncatchers Class Sunday and it was literally jammed pack. I’m not sure you could get another body in that room if you had to. And the energy was amazing. That’s what drew me down to their room – the noise! One of the men told me the reason their class is so loud is because they’re all deaf!

I like to call these "Meeting and Moving” stories because they show how God is using our church to meet people where they are and help move them to where He wants them to be. I hope they encourage you and cause you to stop and give glory to God!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Yesterday morning was a great start to our ministry work week here at Gaylord E-Free as Laura and I hosted our entire church staff over to our house for breakfast. Along with Laura and myself, we had, Jim, Joshua, Matt, Joe, Julie, Debbie, Donna, Mary Ellen, Newell, Robin and Bill. We were only missing Jack who was out of town (poor Jack!).

My wife put out a great spread including a breakfast casserole, cantaloupe, grapes, strawberries, blueberry muffins, lemon poppy-seed muffins, banana bread, chocolate chip banana bread, coffee, tea, orange juice and apple juice.

As we sat around the table at the beginning of the meal, I gave to each staff member a piece of paper that had written inside of it the name of another staff member around the table. At some point during the breakfast each staff member had to interrupt the eating and talking and give a toast in appreciation and honor of that particular person. It was great to listen to these spontaneous toasts as they took place.

Following the breakfast and "toasts," we had a great sharing time as staff members shared what excited them most about what God is doing in and through the Gaylord E-Free Church. We then had a wonderful time of prayer as we lifted up our church to the Lord and prayed for Him to continue the work He is doing in this local body of believers.

I then gave each staff member a hand-written thank you note as they left, letting them know how much I appreciate each of them and the vital role they each play here at Gaylord E-Free.

So, if you are drinking your favorite beverage as you read this posting, would you join me in raising your cup of coffee, water, tea, pop ("soda" for those of you reading back in PA) or whatever in honor of the great team of staff that we have here at the Gaylord E-Free Church! I sure appreciate each one of them!

Monday, September 26, 2011

One Mind about NASCAR, Meatloaf and Camping!

Yesterday at the E-Free Church in Gaylord, MI we concluded our "I LOVE MY CHURCH" message series through Acts 2:41-47. We saw in verse 42 that the early believers had an attitude of community that involved continually being in "one mind." Why can't the local church be like that today? Why is there so much disunity in the Americanized Church?

I think the problem is that we have taken our "consumer driven culture" and brought it into the church. We live in a culture that is all about our preferences. It's all about getting things our way, kind of like Burger King:

Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce;
Special orders don't upset us;
All we ask is that you let us;
Serve it your way!

So when we come to church we want it to be like our trip to Burger King. As a result, as we are driving home after church or sitting around the Sunday lunch table our conversation immediately and naturally goes to, "Here is what I liked about church today and here is what I didn't like about church today." Folks, listen, we will never be of one mind in whatever church we attend unless we are willing to check our personal preferences at the door. Unity of mind in the church does not center around preferences but rather around purpose.

For example, I don't like NASCAR. It just doesn't make sense to me...turn left...turn left...turn left...turn left. But if the leadership of our church decided to have a NASCAR themed activity in order to point people to Jesus...I'M IN! Why? Because our unity of mind shouldn't focus on our preferences but rather on our purpose!

Here is another example. I don't like meatloaf! I think it is a horrible thing to do to hamburger. But if the leadership of our church decided to have a Meatloaf Festival in order to point people to Jesus...I'M IN! Why? Because unity of mind shouldn't focus on our preferences but rather on our purpose!

One more example. I hate camping. In fact, I'm pretty sure it just might be one of the levels of hell. But if the leadership of our church decided to have a big camping event in order to point people to Jesus...I'M IN! Why? Because unity of mind shouldn't focus on our preferences but rather on our purpose!

I'll say it again, the local church will never be able to be unified in mind until we each check our preferences at the door. Unity doesn't center around NASCAR, meatloaf or camping, it centers around Jesus! Unity of mind doesn't center around preferences but rather around purpose!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

This Sunday at Gaylord E-Free

It's almost here - SUNDAY! I love Sundays, especially here at the Gaylord Evangelical Free Church. This Sunday we will conclude our 3 week series through Acts 2:41-47 that we have been calling "I Love My Church." This Sunday we will see the attitude of community among the early believers. Remember, they didn't just "do church" together, they "did life together." This Sunday we will wrap-up this series seeing the following aspects of their community from Acts 2:46:

It involved a REGULARITY (day by day)

It involved a RAPPORT (continuing with one mind)

It involved a REVERENCE (breaking bread)

It involved a RELATIONSHIP (taking their meals together)

It involved a REJOICING (with gladness)

It involved a REALNESS (sincerity of heart)

It involved a RESULT (praising God)

Then, in Acts 2:47 we will see the advancement of the church that included experiencing favor from the people and fruit from the Lord. WOW! What a church! And there is no reason that Gaylord E-Free can't be just like them. In fact, we are well on our way! So join us this morning for worship; another "Why I love my church" testimony; and this final message in our "I Love My Church" message series!

There's nothing like the local church when the local church is working right!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Gaylord E-Free...The Next Seven Months

Spent some time this week prayerfully and strategically putting together my preaching schedule for the next 7 months. Obviously, it is all tentative and open to God redirecting the direction. But for now, here it is:

Mansion of Prayer: A 5 weeks series that overviews prayer as if it were a mansion to be explored in which we find a key to unlock each room in our prayer lives

Oct 2 - Foyer: Place of Confession
Oct 9 - Throne Room: Place of Adoration
Oct 16 - Trophy Room: Place of Thanksgiving
Oct 23 - Guest Room: Place of Intercession
Oct 30 - Living Room: Place of Petition

Just Add Water: A 3 week series on baptism which will challenge everyone who has not followed the Lord in water baptism since placing their faith in Jesus, to go public and take this step of faith and obedience (Nov 6, 13 & 20)

Avoiding the Christmas Crash: A 7-part series (including Christmas Eve) designed to show you how you can experience the most peaceful Christmas this Holiday Season

Nov 27 - Worker or Worshipper?
Dec 4 - The Best Christmas Wish of All
Dec 11 - Keeping Christmas Red and Green
Dec 18 - The Perfect Family Christmas
Dec 24 - A Messy Christmas
Dec 25 - Mega Joy
Jan 1 - It Ain't Over So Keep Celebrating

Noah (series title still to be determined): A 7-week series through the life of Noah in a verse by verse study of Genesis 5-9.

Jan 8 - A Breath of Fresh Air
Jan 15 -Build, Baby, Build!
Jan 22 - Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty
Jan 29 - What Day is It?
Feb 5 - I'm Seeing Rainbows
Feb 12 - The Final 350 Years
Feb 19 - Noah Lives On

Meeting & Moving: A 5-week series to show us our vision as a church to meet as many people as possible right where they are at and help move them to where God wants them to be

Feb 26 - Meeting People
Mar 4 - Moving People
Mar 11 - From Harlot to Heroine
Mar 18 - Throwing a Matthew Party
Mar 25 - Go Climb a Tree

Celebrating Jesus Decade by Decade: A 5-week "retro" style series that will showcase four important truths about Jesus

Apr 1 - 1960's: Jesus Died For Our Sins
Apr 8 - 1970's: Jesus Rose From The Dead
Apr 11 - 1980's: Jesus Is God
Apr 18 - 1990's: Jesus Is The Only Way To Heaven
Apr 25 - 2000's: Jesus Never Changes

Thursday, September 22, 2011

How well do you know the story of Noah?

This past week for me was what I call a "study week." I study every week for sermons, but one week a month I am reserving for study only so that I am taking the time needed to "accurately divide" the Word of God in preparation for teaching the Bible here at Gaylord E-Free. This week I have been spending all of my study time pouring into Genesis 5-10 and the story and life of Noah. I am amazed at all that I have learned. I thought I knew the story of Noah - boy, was I wrong. So, you think you know the story of Noah? Try answering these questions (without looking in Scripture) and see how much you still have to learn about the life of this Bible character:

What was special about Noah's Great-Grandfather?

What was special about Noah's Grandfather?

How was Noah literally "a breath of fresh air"?

How old was Noah when he had his 3 sons?

What other Bible story uses the same word for "ark" in describing a floating object?

Noah covered the ark with "pitch". What does the word "pitch" mean?

How many modern day basketball courts could have fit into the ark?

How many train box cars worth of animals could have fit in the ark?

How long did it take Noah to build the ark?

How old was Noah when he entered the ark?

Does the Bible teach that Noah gathered the animals?

How long was Noah in the ark before God closed the door? Why?

What was the exact day that the rain started?

Exactly how high did the water rise during the flood?

How many days total was Noah in the ark?

Besides the rainbow, how else did God show His promise never to destroy the earth again through a flood?

We will answer all of these questions and more as we look at the life of Noah in our verse by verse study through Genesis 5-10 this coming January and February here at the Gaylord E-Free Church in Gaylord, MI! This series may just be worth you spending your winter in Northern Michigan!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Treasure Map for the Church

Who doesn’t daydream of finding a treasure map that leads you to a buried treasure more valuable than anything you could ever imagine? I know I do. Well, let me introduce you to a “A MAP” that leads to the most valuable treasure of all…the souls of men, women, boys and girls. The Apostle Paul had “A MAP” for evangelism. It is very evident what it was as you read First Corinthians 9:19-23. Paul’s map was to win:

A = As

M = Many

A = As

P = Possible

Notice the repeated phrases:

That I may win more” (v19)

That I may win Jews” (v20)

That I might win those who are under the Law” (v20)

That I might win those who are without the Law” (v21)

That I might win the weak” (v22)

And then in verse 22, he gives us the code to the map. It’s plain and it’s simple…“I have become all things to all men so that I may by all means save some.”

It reminds me a lot of what one of my spiritual heroes, Dr Jerry Falwell, called "Saturation Evangelism." He defined "Saturation Evangelism" as "Reaching every available person by every available means at every available time."

That's my prayer for Gaylord E-Free Church! I pray every day that we will be a local body that sees lost souls as a high priority, as a treasure, and that we will always be willing to "become all things to all men" in order to reach "as many as possible."

After all, just read the map!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

When Creativity "Backfires"

One of the teaching tools we use here at Gaylord E-Free church is that of creativity. In the short time I have been the Lead Pastor here in northern Michigan I have tried to use creative elements to help the church better grasp the principles we are looking at from Scripture. I have hit golf balls out into the crowd. I have fished for live fish in the baptistery. I have passed doughnuts out in the balcony. And I have given away cold, hard cash. But sometimes creativity can "backfire" in the church.

We were preaching through the book of James at one of my former churches and were studying chapter 3 dealing with the topic of our tongue and our speech. In verse 3, James likens the tongue to a bit that goes in the mouth of a horse. In verse 4, he likens the tongue to a rudder on a ship. In both cases, these items (the bit and the rudder) are relatively small in comparison to the object it goes with (the horse and the ship), yet it is what determines the direction of the animal and the vessel. So is the case with our tongues.

To illustrate this point that Sunday we decided that if a picture is worth a thousand words, than the real thing must be worth a million words. So as people arrived at church they walked up to the main entrance where a 16-foot Hobie Cat Catamaran sailboat, which has 2 rudders, was on display. Inside the auditorium was a large rudder, big enough to steer a 5-ton ship. And then came the climax. When I got to the verse which talked about the horse’s bit, we brought in a real live horse right down to the front of the auditorium.

The horse’s name was Streamer. Streamer seemed a little bit nervous. Come to find out, this animal's nervousness had nothing to do with being in front of a crowd of people. This horse had other issues. As I explained the teaching from James, this horse turned its rump right to one of the center sections where people were sitting close enough that they could have reached out and touched the animal. He then lifted his tail. You know what’s coming next, right? The folks down front did. One of the men literally bolted from his seat, boldly leaving his family to fend for themselves. Then, before you could say, “Mr. Ed” (For those of you who don’t know it, Mr. Ed was the name of an old TV Show about a talking horse), Streamer unloaded. We had put plastic all over the front where the horse would be, just in case. Streamer was obviously not paper trained. He missed the plastic completely.

I can guarantee you this. Every person who attended that Sunday remembers that sermon!

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Modern Day Caleb!

Remember Caleb in the Bible? He was 85 years old in Joshua 13 when Joshua was giving out the land and He asked for the portion that had been promised to him by Moses 45 years earlier. Here is what he said to Joshua in Joshua 13:11-12,

"I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; as my strength was then, so my strength is now...Now then, give me this hill country about which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day that the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; perhaps the Lord will be with me, and I will drive them out as the Lord has spoken."

I love that guy! 85 years old and he's ready to step up for the Lord and accept another challenge with full faith in God! The church needs more Caleb's today! This past weekend I got to talk on the phone to a modern day Caleb. His name is Henry Weber and he is pictured above.

I met Henry 7 years ago in Pennsylvania and he is a modern day Caleb. After his morning push-ups, Henry spends much time in prayer for many, many people. And he is still active with Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA and with Grace College and Seminary in Winona Lake, IN. To this day, he is still "stepping up for the Lord" with his life and his resources.

One day, Henry came into my office at my previous church and in tears told me how concerned he was for my health because I had put on some weight. You can bet I took off the weight! That's the kind of respect I have for Henry!

It was great to talk to my dear friend, Henry, on the phone this weekend. It's not every day you meet a modern day Caleb. I hope someday (when I'm old...not that Henry is old) I will be a Caleb! I hope someday I will be a Henry!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The difference a year makes!

September 17 one year ago was a day in my life that brought to a head over 8 months of adversity. I never would have guessed on that day that I would be where I am today. But as important and wonderful as our destination has been, the blessings really have come more in the journey. I think we often focus on the destination while God is just as interested in the journey that gets us to that point. Looking back today at the journey over the past year, I find myself very thankful for the following blessings from the journey:

I am thankful for my wife and kids - the journey brought us even closer as a family!

I am thankful for friends who walked with us day by day through the journey!

I am thankful for ministry mentors who gave me great encouragement and counsel through the journey!

I am thankful for individuals who showered love on us in tangible ways through the journey!

I am thankful for individuals that we were able to minister to that we never would have met had it not been for the journey of the past year!

I am thankful for the burden God has put in my heart to come along side of other pastors who are facing adversity in their journey and for the opportunities God has brought for me to do just that!

I am thankful for God's Word, especially the verse in Isaiah that says "In quietness and trust is my strength," which was the verse my wife and I clung to during the journey!

I am thankful for the lessons God allowed me to learn about life, ministry and myself through the journey!

I am thankful for the destination God has led me to here in Gaylord, MI as a result of the journey!

I am thankful for the journey itself - though I am not sure I could have said that one year ago today!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Get a Life...Group!

This week here at the E-Free Church in Gaylord, Michigan, it is the middle week of our current 3-week series through Acts 2:41-47 that we are calling “I Love My Church!” We are seeing that the believers in the early church didn’t just “DO CHURCH” together. They “DID LIFE” together. Church for them was not simply a “Sunday to Sunday” experience, as it is with so many people today, it was a “Day by Day” lifestyle. As a result, we don’t want to simply see you “ATTEND” E-Free Church. We want to see you “CONNECT” with E-Free Church. And one of the best way we have for you to do just that is through what we call “LIFE GROUPS.”

A Life Group is a small group of people who are part of the E-Free family that get together once a week outside of the worship service with the main goal of “CONNECTION.” Through Life Groups we are able to offer to you an opportunity to connect with and to build friendships with others who also attend our church. This is a way for you to get to know each other and to encourage each other in your faith. The Christian life was never intended to be done alone. The Bible calls the church “The Body of Christ.” We are to do this thing called “following Jesus” as a community. We are to do it together.

So I want to encourage each of you not just to “ATTEND” E-Free Church! Instead, take the step and “CONNECT” with E-Free Church as well. Sign up this Sunday to be part of one of our LIFE GROUPS which will start back up again the first week of October. This next session of Life Groups will last for just 9 weeks through the end of November. Give it a try! What do you really have to lose?

ATTEND” church this Sunday! But don’t stop there! Take a step to “CONNECT” as well.

Get a Life…Group!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

W2W - Celebrating Women in Christ

Each Fall here at the Gaylord, Michigan E-Free Church we put on a conference for Women that we call Woman to Woman or (W2W for short). This weekend will be our 10th W2W conference, celebrating women in Christ. Speakers and Worship Leaders for this weekend's conference include:

Lynda Randle

Jackie Kendall

Katie Kniss

Debi Ackerman

Along with all the main sessions, there are also 9 different break-out sessions including the following topics:

Insidious Joy Robbers

Bridge Building 101

Trusting God with our kids SOUNDS so easy

The Blessings of being a grandparent

Normal is the dial in my freezer

Celebrating with creative cards

Celebrate the life of a ministry wife

Celebrate the "Salt of the Earth"

Celebrate your prayer life

It all starts this Friday night at 6:15 and runs through Saturday afternoon at 4pm. Even if you have not signed up in advance - still come! We love walk-ins and would love to have you join our women here at Gaylord E-Free for a weekend designed just for you and one that is sure to provide inspiration and encouragement. For more info on W2W, go to:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Have you ever felt like Snow White?

As my kids were growing up, Disney movies were a part of our family's lives. For my daughter, the two movies of choice were Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. For my son, it was Lion King. In fact, when Jonathan was real little and Laura was giving Piano Lessons, we would play in the next room and act out that entire Disney feature presentation. I always had to be "Scar" and he always got to be "Simba."

But there was one Disney movie I just couldn't tolerate...Snow White. Don't get me wrong, I really like the story, especially the Dwarfs. It was watching the movie that rubbed me wrong. Looking back I'm pretty sure the reason I couldn't sit through Snow White was due to her voice, especially when she sang. To me, the voice of Snow White in the cartoon movie was kin to fingernails on a chalkboard.

But I do remember the very beginning of the movie (the little bit I could bare to watch) when Snow White is singing and all of the animals of the forest, especially the birds, are landing on her fingers and playing around her feet. Well, yesterday, I felt like Snow White. Here's why.

My wife and I love the many birds and chipmunks in our yard (OK...I'm the only one that likes the chipmunks). We have 5 bird-feeders and a birdbath and love to sit on the back porch or watch out the window and identify the beautiful birds of northern Michigan.

Yesterday, I stood at the large picture window in our bedroom looking at the suet feeder right out the window, so close you could reach out and touch it. On the feeder was a beautiful male Downy Wood-pecker. And right next to it was its female counterpart. Just beyond the feeder three stunning Blue Jays were playing in the birdbath while two chipmunks chased each other around the tree holding the suet feeder. It was so surreal. I felt like I was in a fairy tale. I kind of felt like Snow White. I almost even started singing in a high, squeaky, irritating voice.

I love God's creation! It's better than any fairy tale!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lean On Me

In my blog post for yesterday I introduced you to the 10 times that the word "comfort" (or a form of that same word) is used in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. We saw that God is the "God of all comfort." We defined "comfort" as "coming alongside of". God "comforts" us in all of our afflictions. He "comes alongside" of us and gives us Someone to lean on through the pain.

Before we look at why He does this, notice one thing about the word "affliction." He comforts us in all of our "affliction." The word literally speaks of "pressure" and speaks of any stress, persecution or trial that comes into our lives. If you are feeling the "pressure" of life, God promises to "come alongside" of you. But He does so for a reason!

According to verse 4, God "comes alongside" of us in our time of "pressure" so that we can "come alongside" of others who are going through the same type of "pressure." If you have experienced the comfort of God, one of the reasons is so that you can now be used of God to "come alongside" of someone else who is currently walking through the same type of pressure that you experienced.

My wife and I have had the wonderful privilege of doing just that this past weekend. In our recent past, God allowed us to experience some serious "pressure." It was hard and it hurt, but all through the journey it was evident that God had "come alongside" of us. We saw His fingerprints daily. He didn't take the pain away or fix the problem, but He did "come alongside" of us and allow us to lean on Him. As a result we made it through our "pressure" time and are better because of it.

This past weekend God allowed us to "come alongside" of another couple who is currently going through the same type of "pressure" that we experienced. We couldn't take their pain away, nor could we fix their problem. But we could "come alongside" of them as a couple who understands what they are feeling and experiencing and allow them to "lean on us." What joy that brought to us, and hopefully, what comfort it brought to this other dear couple that we have quickly come to respect and love.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The God of All Comfort

For me, 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 has become a very valuable passage of Scripture. It is all about affliction and comfort. I'd like to spend a couple of days blogging on this passage. To begin with, why don't you pull out your copy of the Bible and read 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. Have a pen ready and as you read, underline or circle every time you see the word "comfort," or a form of the same word. Here is what you will find:

Verse 3 = 1 usage
Verse 4 = 4 usages
Verse 5 = 1 usage
Verse 6 = 3 usages
Verse 7 = 1 usage

Did you get them all? In 5 verses of Scripture this word, or a form of the word, is used no less than 10 times! Do you need some comfort? Than this passage is for you! But before we get to the 10 usages of the word "comfort," notice that the passage starts with a focus on who God is. True comfort comes from God. The better we understand who God is the more we will experience the comfort that He offers to us.

In verse 3, Paul refers to God with 3 descriptions. Each are powerful in and of themselves. First, he refers to God as "The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Second, he refers to God as "The Father of Mercies." He then refers to Him as "The God of all comfort." Here we have our first of the 10 usages of the word "comfort." God is "The God of all comfort."

The word "comfort" comes from a word which literally means "to call alongside." How does God give us comfort? Does He comfort us by taking away all of our pain? He could, but there is no promise in Scripture that He will (at least not on this earth). Does He comfort us by fixing the problem that is causing our pain? He could, but He does not always do this either. That is not the promise regarding His comfort.

What He does promise is that in the midst of our pain, hurt, trial and affliction, He will "come alongside" of us. Through the tears, through the heartache and through the misery, He will walk with us allowing us to lean on Him so that we make it through and find ourselves better because of it.

Verse 4 tells us the "The God of all comfort comforts in all our affliction." He promises to "come alongside" of us through every step, every pain, every tear and every hurt. He is the God of all comfort! If you need comfort then you need God!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

9/11 - The Last Stanza

There will be a lot of talk this weekend about where people were when they first heard the news that a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, ten years ago. I was in my office at the church where I pastored in Indiana. My wife called me and told the news to me. I relayed the information on to our staff and we all went down to a room that had a television set in it and watched in horror as the rest of the events of that day played out in New York, in Washington DC, and in Pennsylvania.

We were in the middle of our annual mission conference that week and so that night we all gathered together as planned. We sang many patriotic hymns that night including our National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner.

Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

But that night we didn’t stop with just the first verse to that grand old Patriotic Hymn. We sang them all. And when we got to the last verse, the words seemed ever so appropriate on the September evening. I think that last verse to our National Anthem is just as appropriate today, ten years later.

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Friday, September 09, 2011

Make a Joyful Noise

Many people quote from Psalm 100:1, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord,” and say, “See, it doesn’t matter if you can sing or not, just make a joyful noise to the Lord!” Actually, the verse isn’t talking about singing at all. It is talking about lifting up a shout to the Lord. It literally reads, “Shout joyfully to the Lord’”! Singing comes later in the chapter when we are told to, “Come before Him with joyful singing.”

Here at Gaylord E-Free Church we have both a traditional service and a contemporary service. Well, I’m not sure what it will sound like, but I have been asked to lead the worship through singing in our traditional service this Sunday morning down in the Chapel! I loved the responses from some of the staff to this news. Our Director of Worship, when he heard the news in our Worship Design Group meeting, simply responded with the one-word question, “Him?” And then when one of the office ladies heard the shocking news, she looked right at me and said, “What? Were they desperate?

Actually, I’m quite excited and looking forward to it. It’s been years since I led singing in church. I would lead worship every Sunday earlier in my ministry. It really is quite simple. There is just one guideline to remember – “Follow the lady playing the piano…she is really the one in charge!” I’m not sure if it will sound like a song or a shout but I can guarantee you this, we will have a “joyfully” good time down in the traditional service this Sunday morning!

This Sunday we will also kick-off a brand new 3-week series through Acts 2:41-47 that we are calling “I Love My Church!” We will see from this passage that the early church didn’t just “Do Church” together…they “Did Life” together!

See you Sunday here at E-Free

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Where do the good-looking people sit in church?

If you have never been in the auditorium that we call The Gospel Center here at the Gaylord Evangelical Free Church, let me describe it to you (it is also pictured above). The lower level seats around 700+ and is divided into four seating sections...two inside sections and two outside sections. The balcony seats an additional 360+ people.

Now why do I describe that to you? Because a few days ago someone came up to me and told me that when I preach on Sunday I rarely look at the people seated in the inside sections of the lower level. Instead, I learned that I almost always, throughout my entire sermon, only look at the people seated in the outer sections.

I have to admit it! I am guilty as charged. But I have a very good reason for only looking at those who sit in the outside sections of the lower level of the auditorium. Want to know what the reason is?


It's true! How do I know? Because that's where my wife sits and she is by far the best looking person who attends Gaylord E-Free!

To be honest, I really have no clue who I am looking at when I preach. Seriously, I am so focused on what I am saying and what I am about to say that I could be looking right at you on a Sunday morning while I am preaching but I would still have no idea where I am looking. I mean, you could stick out your tongue at me and make all kinds of funny faces while it appears that I am looking you right in the eye, but I would not notice.

But due to the insight that was shared with me, I am going to do my best while preaching to look at those seated in the inside sections of the lower level as much as I look at those seated in the outside section. Who knows, I may even glance up at those sitting in the balcony as well - so behave up there!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Worship Director and the Three Bears

I love the local church and I love being able to drive to the church each day and spend my day serving in what I believe is the hope of the world...the local church! But there is one position in local church work that I wouldn't want for a million dollars. That's kind of funny because my own son is going to school right now studying to give his life to this position in the local church. I am speaking of being the Director of Worship. Now that's a tough job.

Being the Director of Worship in a local church is like living your life week to week as the character, Goldilocks, in the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears...Papa Bear, Mama Bear and little Baby Bear. Remember that story. Goldilocks is going through the woods and comes across the home of the Three Bears. The Three Bears are away and Goldilocks goes in. She is hungry and smells food on the table all ready to be eaten. She tries Papa bear's bowl and it was TOO HOT! She tries Mama Bear's bowl and it was TOO COLD! She then tries Baby Bear's bowl and it was JUST RIGHT! Then, after eating, Goldilocks was ready for a nap. She tried Papa Bear's bad and it was TOO HARD! She then tried Mama Bear's bed and it was TOO SOFT! Then she tried Baby Bear's bed and it was JUST RIGHT!

That's not just a fairy tale. That is the life of a Worship Director. No matter what music the Worship Director plans on any given Sunday, he will find himself in the role of Goldilocks. When the service is done, someone will come up to him and say, the music was TOO HOT! As soon as they walk away, a different person will walk up and say that the music was TOO COLD! And then yet a third person will approach him and say that the music was JUST RIGHT! The same thing happens come Monday when the Director of Worship opens his email. One email will say that the music on Sunday was TOO HARD! Another email will say that the music on Sunday was TOO SOFT! And then a third email will pop into his inbox saying that the music on Sunday was JUST RIGHT!

So what is Goldilocks, the Worship Director, supposed to do? Obviously, he can't please everyone and the bigger the church the more preferences people have when it comes to music and worship. My advice to Goldilocks is simple. Look to God and seek His face daily as to every aspect of the Sunday morning worship service. Because at the end of the day, He is the one you want to hear say, "Well Done!"

By the way, if you attend Gaylord E-Free, isn't it kind of funny to picture in your mind our very own Joshua Rupp looking like Goldilocks?

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

David the Righteous Chipmunk

I have had ringside seats all summer long to a battle taking place in my backyard. It has the appearance of a "David and Goliath" type of a battle. It has been a battle between one little old chipmunk and my wife.

My wife and I love to watch the birds out in our backyard. It has been one of the joys of living where we do here in northern Michigan. As a result, we have several bird-feeders out back. Two of these are on a pole. That has been the arena to the battle taking place. Shortly after my wife put up the bird feeders on the pole a pesky little chipmunk has viewed it as its own personal smorgasbord. Every time the chipmunk raced up the pole and started to feed, my wife would dart out the back door to scare it away. But by the time my wife got back inside the house, the chipmunk was right back up the pole and feeding his face once again (I'm pretty sure with a big grin).

My wife has tried many war tactics. My favorite was when she put Vaseline all up and down the pole. You should have seen that chipmunk hit that pole at full speed and go spinning through the air. But ultimately, the chipmunk found its way back up the pole. My wife than covered the pole from top to bottom with 1-litre plastic poles. That didn't work either. She has tried all kids of innovative contraptions, so far the chipmunk has found a way to beat them all. Now, a new strategy has been put into place. We'll see how "David the Chipmunk" does in his counter attack.

This chipmunk's desire for the food in the bird feeder reminds me of one of the Beatitudes that Jesus gave in the book of Matthew. He said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness." The word "hunger" speaks of a man who is starving. Jesus wasn't just saying, "Blessed is the man who desires righteousness like a man who hasn't eaten since lunch desires dinner." Jesus is saying, "Blessed is the man who desires righteousness with the same intensity that a starving man desires food." So tell me, do you desire the right things of God like that?

Maybe we can learn a valuable lesson from, David, the righteous chipmunk in my backyard!

Monday, September 05, 2011

The Local Church and Me

This Sunday here at E-Free I will start a new week series on Acts 2:41-47 that we are calling, "I Love My Church!" In this series we will see how the early church didn't just "do church" together, they "did life" together. The main emphasis will be a challenge to not just "attend" E-Free but to "connect" with E-Free. I believe strongly in this principle because the local church has meant so much to me over the course of my life. Let me share with you my journey with the local church:

Goodyear Heights Community Church in Akron, Ohio: This is the church that I grew up in as a child. In fact, when I was very little, my Grandpa Distler pastored this church. It was through the ministry of this church that I found Christ, was baptized and surrendered to full-time ministry.

Cuyahoga Fall Baptist Church in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio: This was my church during my High School years. It was at this church that I preached my very first sermon as a Junior in High School at the sunrise service on Easter Sunday. After that morning there was nothing else I wanted to do but preach.

Maranatha Brethren Church in Hagerstown, Maryland: This was the church I attended during my first two summers in college after my parents moved from Ohio to Maryland. It was here that I met my lifetime mentor who was the youth pastor at this church at the time.

Community Church in West Milton, Ohio: This is where I spent the last two summers in college as a Youth Intern. Following graduation this is where I spent my first 7 years of full-time ministry as youth pastor and then assistant pastor. These were some of my most fondest years of ministry where God really developed my ministry skills and philosophy.

Osceola Grace Brethren Church: This is where I had my first Senior Pastorate for 9 years of my ministry. This was a wonderful church where I was really able to continue to develop my ministry skills and passions.

Grace Church in Lititz, PA: I spent the next 6 years of my ministry as Senior Pastor of this church in Lancaster County, PA. I still am amazed to this day at the wave of spiritual fruit that God gave during those years as we saw amazing amounts of people impacted for Jesus.

Gaylord Evangelical Free Church: This is the church that God has led me to be Lead Pastor of today. I have only been here for 5 months, yet it is exciting to see what God is putting together as we anticipate another "God wave" to take place here in northern Michigan.

I love the local church!

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Don't Get MAD! Get GLAD!

Remember “The Man from Glad?” He was the company spokesman for the Glad Company who was featured in many of their television advertisements. In the Glad commercials he was always being summoned to various households in order to save families from their flimsy trash bags that would always tear open making a huge mess. Remember the slogan he brought and which made the Glad commercials so famous? "Don't get mad! Get Glad!" That isn’t just a great slogan for a trash bag company. It is also a great motto for followers of Jesus when it comes to the area of stewardship.

As we complete our 2-week mini-series on the topic of stewardship this Sunday here at the Gaylord E-Free Church in Gaylord, Michigan, we will be looking at 8 principles that the Bible teaches. One of those principles we will see is the “Cheerful Attitude” principle. This principle says that stewardship begins with loving, not giving. You can “give” without “loving” but you can’t “love” without “giving.” 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 tells us that we are not to give our money to the Lord “grudgingly” (that would be a SAD giver!). Nor are we to give our money to the Lord “under compulsion” (that would be a MAD giver!). We are to give our money to the Lord “cheerfully.” It is a word where we get our English word, “hilarious.” We are to give to God hilariously. That doesn’t mean that the amount we give is hilarious but rather that our attitude in giving is one of pure joy. This is a GLAD giver.

So what kind of giver are you? Are you a SAD giver? Are you a MAD giver? Are you a GLAD giver? Don’t get Mad (or Sad)! Get Glad!

Friday, September 02, 2011

Pushing the Ball Up the Field

Have you ever got to the end of a day and thought, "WOW! I sure did a lot today but what did I really accomplish?" For a guy wired as I am, that can be very frustrating, especially when a whole week is like that, or worse yet, a whole month.

I have found that there is so much that can be done when it comes to my ministry as Lead Pastor here at the Gaylord E-Free Church, that I am always very busy. The day is simply never long enough to accomplish it all. But I don't want to simply be busy. I want to accomplish something. To use a football analogy, since college football starts tonight, I want to get to the end of a day or a week or a month and be able to see how I have "pushed the ball up the field" toward the goal line. For me, the goal line is leading E-Free in such a way that we as a local church are able to meet as many people as possible right where they are at and help to move them to where God wants them to be.

So at the end of the day I want to be able to see how my efforts have "pushed the ball up the field" when it comes to meeting and moving people.

At the end of the week I want to be able to see how my efforts have "pushed the ball up the field" when it comes to meeting and moving people.

At the end of the month I want to be able to see how my efforts have "pushed the ball up the field" when it comes to meeting and moving people.

In Bil Hybels book, "Axiom," that I read this summer on vacation out in Colorado, he talked about a "6 in 6" approach. At the beginning of each 6-week period he evaluates what the 6 main areas are that he needs to focus on for that 6-week period that will best "push the ball up the field." That doesn't mean that nothing else is worked on, it simply means that the tyranny of the urgent doesn't surpass time on the things that will produce the most results.

As we move into the fall, I am prayerfully evaluating what my 6 focuses need to be. After all, when December 31 rolls around I don't just want to say, "WOW! Was I ever busy these past 4 months!" I want to be able to see how the ball got "pushed up the field!"

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Happy New Year!

I've always felt that fall was the best season of the year. To me, September 1st is more like the start of a new year than January 1st is. September 1st just seems to mark the beginning of so many great things. For example:

SPORTS! Fall is just the best time for sports. We have the stretch run of the Major League Baseball seasons leading right into the post-season and fall classic (O, that it would someday soon return to the city of Cleveland!). You also have the start of the college football season (Go Ohio State Buckeyes and Liberty University Flames) as well as the National Football League (Go Browns!). And if that isn't good enough, the National Hockey League will soon drop the puck as well (Go Philadelphia Flyers!). There is no doubt about it - fall is a great time for sports!

WEATHER! Okay, these thought may change after going through my first winter up here in northern Michigan. Next year at this time I may not be so welcoming of fall, but I have always loved the cooler temps and the turning leaves that would come with the fall season (although I sure have a few bazillion more leaves to rake where I live now than when I lived in Lancaster County, PA).

MINISTRY! But the best part of fall is the start of a new ministry season in the local church and we have some great things lined up here at Gaylord E-Free as we move into fall. For example, over the month of September we will go through a study on Sunday mornings in Acts 2:41-47 that we are calling, "I Love My Church" as we see how the early church didn't just "do church" together...they "did life" together. We will use this series to challenge all who come to E-Free to not just "attend" church but to "connect" here at the church. Then, October will take us into a series on "The Mansion of Prayer" as we explore the 5 rooms of prayer and find a key to open up each one of them in a greater way and with greater energy!

So, today is September 1st! Happy New Year, everyone!