Monday, October 31, 2011

The Merit in Halloween


I ended my last blog by asking the question, “Is there any spiritual merit in Halloween?” And since today is Halloween, it is a fitting time for me to answer that question. I described in my last blog entry the cultic background of many of our modern day Halloween traditions and how they stemmed from a day in which the Druids of Scotland and Ireland would honor Saman, known as the Lord of the dead.

In 834 AD, In order to combat these occult practices, Pope Gregory IV moved the church festival of “All Saints Day” to November 1st. This was a day to honor all the Saints who had died. The eve of the festival was called, “All Hallows E’en” (E’en is a contraction for evening). This gave us the modern name, “Halloween.” No matter what your feelings and convictions are about participating in Halloween traditions, I do believe that there is an aspect of this holiday that can spiritually benefit all of us.

We can make Halloween a very spiritually motivating day if we understand the true heritage and the benefit that there can be in remembering the life’s testimony and message of Saints who have already gone on to glory. We must first understand that one is not made a “saint” because a church council declares it. A “saint” is anyone who has been made righteous through faith alone in Jesus Christ. It is Biblical and profitable for us to remember saints who have gone on before us. That is what Hebrews chapter eleven is all about…remembering men and women of God who have shown great faith and then allowing their life’s message to still motivate and challenge us even today.

So let’s start a new Halloween tradition. It’s one we can all enjoy without compromise. Let’s take time to reflect on such great saints. We can break it down into 3 categories:

1. Saints of theology: These are individuals from the pages of Scripture whose life message greatly influence us for Jesus still today. For me, this is a man like Joshua from the pages of the Old Testament who led Israel in possessing the Promised Land.

2. Saints of history: These would be individuals who lived in history and whose testimony for Christ still impact us today. For me, that includes men like Dr Jerry Falwell and singer/songwriter, Keith Green.

3. Saints of family: These would be family members or close friends who are now with Jesus but whose heritage causes us to walk with Jesus today. For me, this is my Grandpa Distler, who was in full-time ministry for some 50 years before he died.

When we take time to reflect on great saints of the past, even Halloween can become spiritually profitable to us today. After all, it was on Halloween in 1517 that a great man of God named Martin Luther climbed some steps in Germany and posted his “95 Thesis” on the doors of the Wittenberg Church setting off what we know today as the “Great Reformation.” Ah, yes, I believe there is most definitely spiritual merit in Halloween.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Don't Miss the Final Key


This Sunday will be our final week here at Gaylord E-Free in our Mansion of Prayer message series. Over the month of October we have been imagining prayer as if it were a Mansion with 5 huge and wonderful rooms. Each room represents an aspect of prayer and we have been taking time to explore one room each Sunday making sure we understand exactly what that room and that aspect of prayer entails. Below are the rooms we have explored so far:

The Foyer: Place of Confession - this is where we wipe our spiritual feet!

The Throne Room: Place of Adoration - this is where we praise God for who He is!

The Trophy Room: Place of Thanksgiving - this is where we thank God for what He has done!

The Guest Room: Place of Intercession - this is where we pray for the needs of others!

We also have given a key to each room that will open up that aspect of prayer in a very practical and powerful way. Below are the keys to the rooms we have explored so far:

The Foyer: Place of Confession - KEY = Be honest!

The Throne Room: Place of Adoration - KEY = Be creative!

The Trophy Room: Place of Thanksgiving - KEY = Keep a spiritual journal!

The Guest Room: Place of Intercession - KEY = Identify with the person you are praying for!

This Sunday we will wrap the whole service up by looking at "The Living Room: Place of Petition." You don't want to miss this Sunday as we explore this final room in the Mansion of Prayer and see our final KEY to opening up this room in our daily prayer lives!

See you Sunday!

Friday, October 28, 2011

BOO! Did I Scare You?


Boo! Did I scare you? I should have. After all, it’s that time of year again…Halloween. Perhaps this is the most controversial day in the Americanized church. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it evil? Is it Satanic? Is there any merit in it at all? My most favorite Halloween memory stems back to when I was working as a Youth Pastor. Each Halloween we had a big party that we called a “Halloween Turn-About.” We dressed up like everyone else and went “trick-or-treating,” but instead of asking for candy, we asked for canned food for needy families. After a time of food and games at the church, we then took the canned food that we collected and dropped them off on the doorsteps of needy families within our church, ringing the door bell and then running.

I assigned one couple on my youth staff to take a group of our teens in their van and go out to a specific area to drop off the food at a specific address. It was dark and their van inched up the street trying to read the house numbers. They would often stop and send a teen running up to a door to see what house number it was. Suddenly, without any warning, they were surrounded by police officers. We didn’t know that a credible threat had been made concerning an abduction in that area and Law Enforcement was on high alert. When they saw our van creeping up the street and people running back and forth from it, they thought we might be the culprits that had made the threat. Happy Halloween!

Well, there is no doubt that the history of parts of Halloween is founded in occult themes. Nobody I know debates that. It goes way back to Scotland and Ireland where Druid Priests celebrated a special day in honor of Saman, Lord of the Dead. The belief was that on the eve of this celebration, Saman called together all the souls of those who had died the previous year and who currently inhabited the bodies of animals, to return to their homes. Bon-fires were lit to scare off these spirits and children would dress in costumes to confuse these wandering souls.

Jack-o-lanterns also go back to this era, only they started as large rutabagas, carved with gross faces and lit with candles. This is due to a tale about a man named Jack who was a notorious drunkard but who was also smart. As a result, the fable says that when he died, he was turned away from both heaven and hell. As a result, he put a glowing coal into a carved turnip and he has been wandering the earth ever since. Poor Jack!

But the question I want to focus on isn't, "Is Halloween bad?" I want to focus on just the reverse, "Is there any spiritual merit in Halloween?" Be sure to read my blog posting on Monday to hear my answer.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

SILOS or SYNERGY


Here at the Gaylord E-Free Church we have over 20 Ministry Teams that really are the backbone of our ministry. Each of these teams reports to a Leadership Team made up of lay people in our church of men and women who are genuinely committed to seeing our church reach its redemptive potential. Last Monday night all of the leaders of these Ministry Teams met together with our Leadership Team and each took several minutes to share answers to the following 3 questions:

What is the most exciting thing going on in your area of ministry?

What about your area of ministry would it be good for all of us to know?

What is the greatest challenge your team is facing?

It was so very exciting and encouraging to hear these leaders share with great enthusiasm what God was doing in and through their area of ministry. This exercise was a first step in taking us forward in seeing more communication and teamwork occur among our Ministry Teams. You see, with 20+ Ministry Teams, each zealously doing their own thing, it would be easy and natural for us to become 20+ SILOS who are only focused on our own individual areas of ministry. But for us to really excel as a ministry we can't have a SILO mentality. We aren't 20+ individual Ministry Teams - we are 1 Church!

It is our goal and prayer as a Leadership Team to see our Ministry Teams continue to stoke the fire of SYNERGY through communication and teamwork with each other. The more we develop SYNERGY among our Ministry Teams, the more effective ministry we will see taking place. Instead of being 20+ Ministry Teams each going our own separate ways, we need to be 1 church all going the same direction. So as you pray for our church and our Ministry Teams, pray that we will not settle for the norm. Pray that instead of building SILOS, our Ministry Teams will continue to build SYNERGY!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Praying with Agony


Yesterday we talked about praying for others with muscle. Today let me "stretch" that thought to the idea of praying for others with "agony." That's what Paul asked for when he asked the church at Rome to pray for him. He didn't just say, "Hey, if you think about it would you throw up a prayer for me?" No! He said, "I urge you to 'strive together' with me in prayer to God for me!"

The word translated "strive together" is one word in the original language which comes from the root word, "agonizomai." What English word do you see in the Greek word "agonizomai?" It is where we get our word "to agonize." So what was Paul asking the church at Rome to do for him? He was asking them to "agonize" in prayer on his behalf.

Jesus used the same word in John 18:36 translated "fighting." Paul also used it in 1 Corinthians 9:25 speaking of athletes who "compete" in a one-on-one setting like wrestling. Just as with the word "fervently" that we saw yesterday, this word also is used in Luke 22:44 to describe the way Jesus prayed in the garden the night before His death. He was in "agony" praying.

So how do we do this? How do we agonize in prayer for others? I think the best way is to take the time to identify with the person you are praying for. In other words, pray for their needs as it it were really your need. Hebrews 13:3 tells us to remember in prayer those who are in prison for their faith as if we were in prison with them. In other words, identify with the needs of the person you are praying for. Pray for them as if their need were your need.

You see, if a husband called me on the phone today and said, "Please pray for my wife. She was just diagnosed with breast cancer." I would pray for that wife. But if my wife went to the doctor today and was told she has breast cancer, I would pray far more intensely. If it were my wife, I would "agonize" in prayer for her. You see, my prayers for the other husband's wife will become far more intense if I pray for her as if it were my wife that had the cancer. Make sense?

So as you pray for others this week, pray with muscle (as we saw yesterday). And pray with agony, praying for their situation as if it were yours!

Let's pray!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Praying with Muscle


Will you pray for me? WAIT! Before you answer, let me share with you a description of how I would like you to pray for me.

Let me take you back to Acts 12. As the chapter opens, we learn that Herod Agrippa (the grandson of Herod the Great who had all of the babies slaughtered shortly after the birth of Christ) has arrested and murdered James, the brother of John. Both of these brothers had been disciples of Jesus. James was the first Apostle to be martyred and his would be the only martyrdom of an Apostle recorded in Scripture (though many of the others would face a similar fate).

The result of this persecution against the church is that the Jewish people liked it. Herod, like most politicians even today, was looking at his popularity among his subjects and thought, "If they like me for murdering James, they'll love me for taking out Peter!" So he had Peter arrested as well and put him in prison with a date with the executioner waiting for right after the Passover Holiday. According to verse five, while Peter was being kept in prison under a more than usual quantity of Roman Guards (after all, he had miraculously escaped from prison before), the church had met in a home in order to combat this heinous intent of Herod Agrippa the only way they knew how - PRAYER!

But they did not just "pray"! The Bible says that they prayed "fervently"! This is a medical term (which shouldn't surprise us because the author of Acts was a medical doctor by the name of Luke). The word means to stretch one's muscle to its limit! Have you ever stretched, pulled or strained a muscle? Chances are good that you were engaged in some type of intense physical activity when you did. You see, the church, knowing that Peter was about to be executed, didn't just pray for him, they "stretched their spiritual muscles to their limit" praying for him. They didn't just pray, they prayed "fervently"!

This is the same word used to describe how Jesus prayed when He was in the garden the night before His death. Luke 22:44 tells us that, "being in agony, He was praying 'very fervently.'" He wasn't just praying. He wasn't just praying fervently. He was praying "very fervently." So fervent were His prayers that His sweat became like drops of blood according to the same verse.

So when was the last time you prayed for someone "fervently?" Imagine what would happen if when we prayed for each other we did so "fervently," stretching our spiritual muscles to the limit! In fact, imagine what would happen if we also "agonized" in prayer for each other! I'll talk about that in my blog posting tomorrow

Monday, October 24, 2011

An Open Message to Community Church in West Milton, Ohio


Hello, Community Church! My name is Scott Distler and let me just say, “I love your church!” I really do. No local church in the entire world has meant more to me over my life than yours. Back during the summers of 1985 and 1986 I worked right there at Community Church in West Milton, Ohio as a Summer Intern Youth Pastor. Then, after graduating from college and getting married in May of 1987, my wife, Laura, and I started our lives together in West Milton where I spent the next several years serving on the pastoral staff in a youth and associate role.

To this day those early years of local church ministry at Community Church remain some of the best memories of my life. I remember Youthquake Rallies that saw literally hundreds of students come to Christ. I remember putting out that big chicken in the church yard each summer to officially announce to the community that Bible School was coming (even if it meant me wearing green panty hose…but we won’t talk about that). I remember Friend Days, Sowing Sundays, and Saturday Night Alternatives. In fact, I could literally walk through every room of your church and have a flood of amazing memories race through my mind.

It was at your church that I cut my teeth in ministry. It was at your church that I developed my philosophy of ministry. It was at your church that I found my mentor and my pastor for life – Pastor Steve Peters. It was during our ministry years at Community Church in West Milton, Ohio that both of our kids were born. Amazingly, Joy is now a senior in college studying Education and Jonathan is a sophomore in college studying Worship Arts.

But without question, I remember the most exciting time of the year at Community Church was always Mission’s Conference. I can remember dressing up one year as the Pope when our Sunday School class was assigned the country of Italy. I remember dressing up as a European fisherman from Portugal one year and even as a native from the jungles of New Guinea another year for Missions Conference. Missions Conference was always an awesome week.

Laura and I are looking forward to being back at Community Church for this year’s Missions Conference in November. We are really excited to see and catch-up with old friends. And we are equally as excited to make new friends.

I have been praying that God would use our time together at Missions Conference in amazing ways – literally that He would accomplish abundantly more than anything that we could ever ask or imagine. I believe He’ll do just that.

We are looking forward to being back at Community this November and I hope that each of you will make it a point to be at each service for this year’s Missions Conference!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sunday - It's Worth Imagining!


I told you in my posting yesterday how excited I am about all that our Worship Design Group and Creative Ideas Group has in the plans for Sundays in November and December here at Gaylord E-Free. Below are just a few teasers of what is to come as we worship the Lord together:

Imagine a giant Scrabble game to help us learn about baptism!

Imagine a service so packed with worship, testimonies, baptisms and more that there is no time for a traditional sermon!

Imagine all of us enjoying a thanksgiving meal together as part of our Sunday worship!

Imagine a 7-week Christmas series that just could lead you to the most peaceful Christmas you have ever experienced in your life!

Imagine a Christmas stage design that will help your eyes to grasp the goal of our Christmas series just as powerfully as your ears will grasp the messages!

Imagine a modern day Martha (you know, from Mary and Martha in the Bible) helping us to understand in a humorous way what often keeps us from experiencing a peaceful Christmas!

Imagine a contemporary twist on using "advent candles" to help us prepare for the celebration of the birth of Christ!

Imagine our kids having a special part of a Sunday morning to add to our Christmas preparation!

Imagine two Christmas Eve services packed with people celebrating the birth of Christ through music, drama, preaching, video and candle-lighting!

Imagine something taking place on Christmas Sunday, December 25, that has never before occurred in a worship service here at E-Free!

And that's just a sample of what we are working on for Sundays here at the Gaylord E-Free Church! But November is still two weeks away! There is still a lot to experience and learn over the next 2 Sundays here at E-Free as we conclude our "Mansion of Prayer" message series by looking at "The Guest Room: Place of Intercession!" The key I give you this Sunday has the potential to revolutionize your prayer life more than any other key I have shared!

So don't miss any Sunday here at Gaylord E-Free! And be sure to invite someone else to join you!

Friday, October 21, 2011

It's Church Time...Sleep Tight!


I laughed this morning when here at the church I went to make myself a cup of hot tea and saw that one of the tea options people can chose on Sundays here at Gaylord E-Free is the "Sweet Dreams" tea bag - you know, the one that relaxes you and helps you to sleep better! I couldn't help but laugh at the apparent irony I saw in that.

Seriously, I am so thankful to the Lord for bringing my family to a church here in Northern Michigan in which Sunday mornings are a highlight and not simply an afterthought.

I love coming into the church each Sunday morning and, whether it is outside of the chapel where the traditional service takes place or outside of the Gospel Center where the contemporary service occurs, there is an obvious sense of excitement and anticipation.

I love being part of the service and watching the joy on the musicians' faces and hear the people filling our auditorium entering into worship with genuine enthusiasm and praise to our great God.

I love to preach here at Gaylord E-Free. This is such an amazing congregation to preach to because you can sense and see their desire for the Word.

I love to stand in the foyer after the service each Sunday and hear the "buzz" in the air and watch the people as they share, laugh and connect.

I love to talk to our guests and the new people God is bringing to our church and to hear them verbalize their excitement about their experience worshipping with us.

I wake up every morning and the first question that comes to my mind is, "Is it Sunday yet?" And as I look ahead at what our Worship Design Group and Creative Ideas Group are working on for the rest of the calendar year, my excitement becomes even harder to contain. In my blog posting for tomorrow I will share just a glimpse of what is coming to E-Free on Sundays in November and December.

But for now, I'm having trouble sleeping so I am going to go make myself another cup of tea! Good-night! Sleep tight!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hell and the Love of God


In my blog yesterday I shared that I tend to interpret the Bible literally. As a result, on my radio program here in Gaylord, Michigan yesterday, I answered the controversial question, “Is hell real?” with an emphatic “YES!” But how can a loving God send people to such a horrible and eternal place of punishment? The truth is that in reality, few doctrines in the Bible reveal the love of God more than the teaching of a literal hell. How so?

Let me start with this question…"If hell is real, who do you think deserves to spend eternity in it?"

-Does Satan deserve to spend eternity in hell?

-Do the demons deserve to spend eternity in hell?

-Does someone like Adolph Hitler deserve hell?

-What about child molesters? Do they deserve hell?

Now let me ask you two more questions along the same line:

-Do I, Scott Distler, deserve eternity in hell?

-Do you deserve eternity in hell?

Again, if you are going to take the Bible literally, the answer to all of the questions above is “YES”! Yes, Satan deserves hell! Yes, the demons deserve hell! Yes, Adolph Hitler deserves hell! Yes, Child molesters deserve hell! Yes, I deserve hell! And, yes, you deserve hell too! Why? Because everyone on that list is a sinner. Everyone on that list, including you and including me, have sinned against a holy God (Romans 3:23). And according to the Bible, what we each deserve because of our sin is death – eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23). You see, sinning against an eternal God is deserving of eternal punishment. That is the fact – cut and dry!

This is where God’s love comes in! Even though we all, me included, deserve eternal separation from God and eternal punishment in the hell that was created for Satan and the demons, God loved us so much, He made a way of escape! Remember the most popular verse in the Bible?

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life!” (John 3:16)

God loved you and me so much that He sent His only Son, Jesus into this world to live a perfect life and die on the cross in our place. And while He was on the cross God put our sin on Jesus and God poured out His wrath on Jesus as a punishment for our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). As a result, everything that had to be done to appease the wrath of a holy God due to our sin was accomplished by Christ on that day when He died for you and for me, paying the penalty for our sin! Against the backdrop of the horror of a literal and eternal hell, we see the love of God.

You see, hell is real. And yes, you deserve to go there…you really do! But God loves you so much that He made a way for you to escape. He sent Jesus to die for you. If you will believe that and put your trust fully and solely in the death and resurrection of Jesus for your sins, you can have eternal life. That’s why God loved you enough to send His son to die for you, so that instead of perishing (spending eternity in a literal and eternal hell), you will have eternal of life (forgiveness of sin that brings about eternity in heaven).

Yes, hell is real! That does not contradict the love of God - it heightens it!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Is Hell Real?


This morning on my radio program on the only secular radio station in Gaylord, Michigan, I answered the question, “Is there really a hell?” I know that this is a controversial topic, even in the church. It seems that more and more pastors and theologians are diminishing the Biblical account of a literal hell or an eternal hell. Some will teach what we might call “A Second Chance View” which says that after death there will still remain a way to escape hell. Others teach “Universalism” that teaches that at the end of the day everyone will go to heaven. And still others teach what we would call “Annihilationism” which teaches hell simply means that we cease to exist. This view says that this life is all there is so “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die!”

However, I am more of a literalist when it comes to the Bible. I believe that the best way to interpret the Bible is to do so literally unless it obviously is meant to be symbolic. In other words, I literally believe things in the Bible like that God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in it in a 6-day period. I believe that there really was a universal flood that destroyed all life except for Noah, his family and the animals on the ark. I believe that a guy named Jonah was actually swallowed by a great fish and survived in the stomach of that fish for 3 days and 3 nights. So, as someone who takes the Bible literally, I also believe that there is a literal and eternal hell. So below I have listed some literal facts seen in Scripture that I really do believe is true about hell:

-I believe that everyone will exist eternally in either heaven or hell (Daniel 12:2, 3; Matthew 25:46; John 5:28; Revelation 20:14, 15).

-I believe that everyone has only one life here on earth in which to determine their eternal destiny (Hebrews 9:27).

-I believe that your eternity in heaven or hell will be determined by whether you put your trust in Christ alone for your forgiveness of sins (John 3:16, 26).

-I believe that hell was originally designed for Satan and his demons (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10).

-I believe that hell will also be a place of eternal punishment of sin of those who reject Christ (Matthew 13:41, 50; Revelation 20:11-15).

-I believe that hell is a conscious torment (Matthew 13:50; Mark 9:48; Revelation 14:10).

-I believe that hell is eternal and irreversible (Revelation 14:11; Revelation 20:14, 15).

Perhaps one of the greatest arguments against a literal and eternal hell is the age old question, “How can a loving God send people to a horrible hell?” Actually, nothing shows the love of God more than the reality of hell. I will explain how in my blog posting tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Welcome Winter...I'm Serious!






Yesterday at staff lunch one of the guys mentioned that summer weather days are now gone which means that my first winter as a resident of Gaylord, Michigan is just about upon me. I may not be saying the same thing this time next year but as of right now, I am looking forward to the first real snowfall of winter.

When we lived in in northwest Indiana we would average around 80 inches of snow each year (about half of what I am told Gaylord averages). But over the last 6 years living in southcentral Pennsylvania we were lucky to see 20 inches of snow most winters. To be honest, we really missed the snow. I love having a white Christmas and I love watching it snow. And again, I may not be saying the same thing at this time next year after living through my first winter in northern Michigan, but as of now I am looking forward to spending the next 5 months (give or take) living in a winter wonderland.

Above are some picture of my family when we visited Gaylord last December. Just looking at these pics gets me excited for winter.

Monday, October 17, 2011

3-Day Stories


Last Thursday, I sat down with our Director of Counseling here at Gaylord E-Free, Jack Dutton, and we watched a video of one of the sessions of the recent World Conference he attended. The speaker was John Ortberg (one of my favorite authors/speakers) and he talked on the topic of "Saturday." When we think of the death and resurrection of Jesus there were 3-days involved. We know all about Friday when Jesus died on the cross. And we certainly celebrate Sunday when He arose from the dead. But what about Saturday?

I learned something that I did not know. Jack tells me that there are forty-one 3-day stories in the Bible. Along with Jesus dying and rising on the third day, you have 40 other stories like Jonah being in the belly of the fish for 3 days. 41 stories like this! And each of them follow the same pattern:

Day 1 is a day of TROUBLE

Day 2 is a day of SILENCE

Day 3 is a day of DELIVERANCE

On day 1 Jonah gets swallowed by the fish. On day 3 he gets spit out. But day 2 was a day of silence. On day 1 Jesus is crucified. On day 3 He comes out of the grave. But for the disciples, day 2 was a day of silence. So what do you do on the "Saturdays" in your life. What do you do during that time when trouble has reared its ugly head but deliverance has not yet come? Ortberg shared 3 options:

Option #1: You could despair and give up!

Option #2: You could just deny the whole thing!

Option #3: You could wait on the Lord!

It is during the "Saturday" times of our lives that we need to depend on God for all that we do. You can be with God on "Saturday" in a way you can't any other day because you know on "Saturday" that He is your only hope.

This message resonated with me. January through September of 2010 was a "Friday" period in my life when I faced a trouble that caused great hurt. "Sunday" didn't come until March of 2011 when God brought a sense of deliverance and victory. But those 5 months in between were very much a "Saturday" time - a time of silence - a time of waiting. But just like John Ortberg shared, I experienced being with God during those 5 months in a way that was far greater than the time before or even the time after.

So if you have recently faced a "Friday" in your life - a time of trouble and are waiting for God to bring about "Sunday" - a time of deliverance, don't overlook the importance of that "Saturday" - that time period in between the trouble and the deliverance. It is during those times of silence and those times of waiting that you can experience God in an even greater way. And as you do, remember - Sunday is coming because for the Christian, the best is always yet to come!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

My Favorite Trophy



Some people have major amounts of trophies. You can go into an athlete’s house and find dozens upon dozens of trophies and game balls. And that athlete can tell you a specific story behind each one of them. You can go into the home or trophy room of a hunter and see all kinds of animals and heads mounted in all sorts of forms and positions. That hunter can walk you through that room and tell you amazing stories behind each and every animal trophy and mounted head. That is the purpose of trophies. That’s why we keep them. They are physical reminders of great victories and accomplishments in our past.

To be honest, I was never a person who acquired a lot of trophies. I did get a trophy once for the “Most Original Car” in a pine wood derby. The only problem was that the award for “Most Original Car” was given to the only car that never made it to the end of the track. It was their way of making sure that nobody felt like a loser (I’m not real sure that philosophy actually worked but oh, well!). I also have a few trophies from my stint in Little League Baseball. Again, don’t get too excited. Every kid who played Little League got a trophy. The truth is that I was only ever to achieve a .032 lifetime batting average.

But there is one trophy that I received back when I was in the “Webelos” portion of the Cub Scouts. When I tell you what it was for it will blow you away. This Sunday I will be bringing that special trophy of mine to church with me and telling you its story. You will find out how I achieved it and why it is the most special trophy I own. Hopefully, it will help you to understand the next room we will be exploring in our “Mansion of Prayer” message series.

We have already seen “The Foyer: Place of Confession” and “The Throne Room: Place of Adoration.” This Sunday we move on to “The Trophy Room: Place of Thanksgiving.” Together as we explore this room we will see the components of Thanksgiving. And from Psalm 100 we will identify 6 ways that we can give thanks to God for what He has done in our lives. And, as we are doing with each room of the Mansion, I will end the message this Sunday by giving you a key to help you better open up this room in a practical way that I believe God can and will use to add energy to your prayer life!

See you this Sunday at the Gaylord E-Free Church!

Friday, October 14, 2011

I Ain't Afraid On No Ghost! Are You?


We saw in my blog posting this past Wednesday that the spirit world is teeming with life. God is a spirit and the third person of the Trinity is called the Holy Spirit. We also know that God created countless numbers of spirit beings called angels, of which one-third of them were deceived by Satan, followed him instead of God, and became what we know to be demons today.

We saw in my blog posting for yesterday that it is highly unlikely that the spirits of dead people are able to come back to this present life from the after life to communicate to us or, worse yet, to haunt us. But in this final posting on this topic, let's answer the question, "If there are ghosts, and they are not the spirits of dead people, what are they?

Obviously, if they are not the spirits of the dead, then the only other two options are that they are angels or demons. There is no question in Scripture that angels appeared to humans in the Bible often, but never did they appear in a haunting sort of way. They did appear at times taking on a human form while bringing a message from God or being on a mission from God. So I do not see it as consistent with Scripture to say that if ghosts exist today, they are angels.

I think it is safe to say that many "ghostly" encounters have a natural explanation, but I do believe that some are of a supernatural category. And if these supernatural encounters are not the spirits of dead humans and they are not angels, that only leaves one explanation. They most likely have a demonic origin.

In fact, instances of demonic involvement in Scripture far outnumber instances of interaction with dead people (which we only see in the story of Saul speaking with the spirit of Samuel, which many would say was demonic as well; and Moses and Elijah appearing with Jesus at His transfiguration). Remember that Satan and his demons have two main goals regarding people today - to deceive us and to frighten us. Certainly, ghostly encounters and experiences involving so-called spirits of the dead would go a long ways to accomplish these goals.

I won't go into detail here, but for years (as a child through my early adult years) I had a regular ghostly encounter that caused me to live in fear. However, I learned that this encounter was no doubt of a demonic origin and that through my position in Christ and through His authority, I could resist that demon and he had to flee form me, just as we learn about in the book of James..."Resist the devil and he will flee from you." That authority is not based on who I am but rather who I am in Christ. It's His authority - not mine!

I started this 3-part series by talking about the theme song to the old movie, "Ghostbusters." One of the lines in that theme song is "I ain't afraid of no ghost!" That line may be part of a silly song from an even sillier movie, but I can say the same thing today - "I ain't afraid of no ghost!" And if you have put your faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sin and have become a child of God as a result, you don't have to be afraid of ghosts either! Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Can Dead Relatives Come Back?


Yesterday in my blog posting I introduced the topic of "ghosts." Are they real? We saw that the spirit world is teeming with life and that in Jesus day people, even His own disciples, believed at least somewhat in the existence of ghosts.

There is no denying that ghostly experiences occur. But what are they? Are they the spirits of the dead who have come back to guide us, warn us or even haunt us? What does the Bible say?

We learn from 2 Corinthians 5:8 that for the believer, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. The writer of Hebrews said that is is appointed unto man once to die and after this comes the judgement (Hebrews 9:27). Jesus told the repentant thief on the cross that "this day" he would be with him in paradise. So we know there is an after life. But do the spirits of the dead come back from the after life?

In Luke 16, Jesus told the story of a rich man who died and immediately opened up his eyes in hell, and a beggar named Lazarus who died and the angels carried him to paradise. We learn from this story that there is a gulf that separated the two compartments of the after life prohibiting the spirits of the dead to go back and forth between hell and paradise. In the story the rich man begs Abraham to send someone back to warn his family members so that they would not come to that same place of torment.

It would seem from this story that the spirits of the dead do not have the freedom to go back and forth from the after life. Abraham did not grant the request of the rich man saying that even if someone returned from the dead it would not help. This would lead me to believe that the idea of the spirits of the dead going back and forth from the after life to this present life is not consistent with Biblical teaching.

I think the same can be said about many of the "near death" experiences we read about today as well. These make great stories - and no question something happened - but is it really the spirits of dead (or near dead people) going back and forth from the after life to this present life? To me , that is highly unlikely.

So how do we explain these experiences? That will be my topic in my blog posting tomorrow. I'll warn you in advance, you may not like my answer.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Are There Really Such a Thing as Ghosts?


Remember that old Dan Akroyd and Bill Murray movie, "Ghostbusters"? In a haunting way, the theme song to that movie remains stuck in my head to this day..."Who you gonna call? GHOSTBUSTERS!" This morning on my live program here in Gaylord, Michigan, I talked about the topic, "Are there such a thing as ghosts?" After all, it is October and Halloween is right around the corner.

So, are ghosts real? Two weekends ago my wife I visited one of the Lighthouses on Lake Huron just north of Alpena that they call "The Ghost Light." Why do they call it that? They say that there is no bulb in the lighthouse and that all of the wires have been cut, yet, in the evenings at dusk the light in the lighthouse can be seen. Supposedly it has been seen by the US Coast Guard and the Air National Guard.

So, what does the Bible say? Are there really ghosts? Keep in mind that the spirit world is teeming with life. God Himself is a spirit. The third person of the Trinity is called the "Holy Spirit." God created countless numbers of spirit beings called angels. One of these angels, Lucifer (Satan), rebelled and one-third of the angels followed him and are what we call demons today.

People in Jesus' day, even the disciples, believed in ghosts. When Jesus came to the disciples walking on the water they became afraid because they thought it was a ghost (Matthew 14:25-27; Mark 6:48-50). When Jesus appeared to the disciples after His resurrection they were afraid thinking He was a ghost. Jesus told them to touch Him and He ate in front of them to show them He was not a ghost (Luke 24:36-40).

So, we know that the spirit world is teeming with life. But if ghosts really do exist, are they the spirits of humans who have died? Can past relatives who have long since been dead come back and talk to us, or worse, can they come back and haunt us like Jacob Marley coming back to haunt and warn old Ebeneezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens' tale, "A Christmas Carol"?

I'll answer that question in tomorrow's blog posting.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

From Goodyear Heights to Heaven






I was surfing the web via Facebook over the weekend and found some pictures of my old stomping grounds. They sure brought back a flood of memories. I grew up in a neighborhood on the east side of Akron, Ohio called Goodyear Heights. Above are some pics that will mean absolutely nothing to you but which sent me on a serious trip down nostalgia lane.

LINDA THEATER - This was the movie theater in Goodyear Heights where I watched many a movies.

ISALY'S - This was a great ice cream stop in Goodyear Heights.

WATER TOWER - This is the water tower at Reservoir Park in Goodyear Heights. I played a lot of Little League Baseball games on the ball field in front of it in the picture.

SEIBERLING ELEMENTARY SCHOOL - This is where I went to school for Kindergarten through Sixth Grade. Not long ago, the school was torn down. How sad.

It seems like just yesterday that my friends and I were racing bikes and playing ball in Goodyear Heights. I guess it doesn't matter where you grew up, that place will always be special. Since then I have lived in Lynchburg, Virginia; Williamsport, Maryland; West Milton, Ohio; Potsdam, Ohio; Mishawaka, Indiana; Elkhart, Indiana; Lititz, Pennsylvania; and now the wonderful town of Gaylord, Michigan.

But the best is yet to come as some day I will live for eternity in heaven because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. I guess the old song is true, "This world is not my home, I'm only passing through!"

Monday, October 10, 2011

What did you say when you left church yesterday?


I read an article on the internet Saturday that has really stuck with me. The whole gist was asking what people say when they leave your church on a Sunday. So tell me, what was the first thing you said when you left church yesterday?

Sometimes, the first thing out of our mouth as we drive out of the church parking lot centers around our preferences - what we liked or what we didn't like about the service. In this case our first words out of the parking lot usually begins with the words, "I liked..." or "I didn't like..." If that's the first words our of your mouth after church on Sunday, you probably missed the main point because worship isn't about us and our likes and our dislikes.

Other times we leave the church service after an amazing morning and with great excitement we proclaim, "What great music" or "What a great sermon." To be honest, sometimes we who are in full-time local church ministry put all of our efforts into getting these responses. If we are the worship leader on Sunday we like it when people leave church on Sunday saying, "What great music!" And if we are the pastor who pours ourselves into the sermon, we like it when people leave church on Sunday saying, "What a great sermon!"

But the truth is that if you leave church on Sunday and the first words out of your month is "What great music" or "What a great sermon." then you again probably missed the main point. And if as a worship leader or as a pastor you desire people to leave your church saying "What great music" or "What a great sermon," then you probably missed the point in preparing for the morning.

So what should we say when we leave church on Sunday? If it isn't, "What great music" or "What a great sermon," what else can it be? How about this? Imagine if after every time we gathered together as a local body we all left the church saying, "What a great God!" How awesome would that be?

So, what did you say when you left church yesterday?

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Welcome to the Throne Room


This Sunday here at Gaylord E-Free we continue our message series entitled, "The Mansion of Prayer." Last week we explored the foyer - place of confession. This Sunday we move on to the throne room which we will identify as the place of adoration. In this message we will answer the following questions:

What are the three main words used in Scripture for "worship"?

What are five of the biggest hang-ups today that keep people from worship?

What are the two elements that make up the heart of worship?

What is the key to unlocking this room in our prayer lives?

What are the many ways that we see worship happening in the book of Psalms?

If you live in northern Michigan, be sure to join us this Sunday morning at 9:30am as together we explore the Throne Room here at Gaylord E-Free. If you don't live in northern Michigan, be sure to go to our church website later in the week and listen to the audio of the message. the church website is:

www.gaylordefree.org

We invite you to enter the Throne Room this Sunday at Gaylord E-Free!

Friday, October 07, 2011

Friendly First Five


Most church growth experts agree that the first 5 minutes of every visitor’s experience makes the biggest determination as to if that visitor will return to that local church. One seminar that I went to said that there are 9 “must haves” to connect visitors so that they will return. These 9 “must haves” include:

1. Clear signage on the street

2. Designated parking for visitors

3. Trained, friendly greeters

4. Direction signs in the church

5. Information center

6. Children’s classroom greeters

7. Clean bathrooms

8. Knowledgeable, helpful hosts

9. Professional bulletin (the average attender refers to the bulletin 7 times a service)

The worship service alone cannot effectively connect visitors. Why? Because people do not connect with programs, they connect with people. Starting new ministries are not the key to connecting visitors. People are the key to connecting visitors. Why is this so important? Because if a visitor returns a second and third time, they are far more likely to become regulars. For example:

10% of first time visitors become regulars

25% of second time visitors become regulars

45% of third time visitors become regulars

Visitors will ultimately ask themselves two very crucial questions. It is the answers to these two questions that will play a huge factor in if they will return. These include:

“Am I welcomed here?”

“Am I accepted here?”

So, as we move toward another Sunday, which will undoubtedly bring us many more visitors, what role will you play in people’s first five minutes here at E-Free? Will you…

1. Ask God to use you to connect a visitor to our church?

2. Purposefully seek out those who appear to be alone or look hesitant?

3. Smile and greet people you do not recognize?

4. Ask the name of someone you have never met?

5. Sit next to someone in the service that you do not know?

6. Invite someone to your Sunday School class or Life Group who doesn’t attend one?

7. Find a common interest with someone you know nothing about?

8. Invite someone out or over to lunch that you need to get to know better?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Top 10 Things My Staff Want Me To Know As Their Lead Pastor!


Yesterday I shared in my blog posting the top ten things I as the Lead Pastor want my staff here at the Gaylord E-Free Church. I then left the room and gave them 40 minutes as a team to come up with their top ten things they as a staff want me to know as their Lead Pastor. Here is their list to me:

Prayer - We are committed to pray for you regularly and ask that you let us know specifically how.

Teamwork - We have things to contribute because of our past experience and knowledge. It's not only about you as a lead pastor, it's about us as a pastoral team.

Encouragement/Vision/Direction - Help us stay energized by focusing on the future. Keep reminding us about our strengths and what we do well/best.

Change Issues - We need your support when we are proposing change. Talk to us before proposing changes in our ministry to others.

Office work - We know that a good portion of work is done outside the office. You don't have to be at everything we plan or promote. You bless us tremendously with the creative ways you lead staff meetings and prayer times.

Three Legged Stool: Representing us to the Elders and Leadership Team - We expect you to look out for our best interest and represent us on the Elder Board and Leadership Team level. We function best when you are the glue in communication, team building and mutuality.

Mutual Accountability - Hold us personally accountable for our lives and ministry practices. You can tell us the truth, even when it hurts. Lead by example.

Job Performance - We don't expect you to be perfect. Please don't expect perfection from us all the time. It's okay to fail, learn and move on.

Relational - Know how to interact with staff members, their ministries, people's likes, and dislikes.

Support/Shepherding - We have your back. We desire that you would pastor and shepherd us and it gives security and love when you do (and brunch at your house at least once a month)

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Top 10 Things I Want My Staff To Know


Yesterday in our staff meeting here at Gaylord E-Free, I shared with my staff 10 things I want them to know as their Lead Pastor. Here is what I shared with them:

The most important aspect of your job description is to pray for our overall ministry. Nothing of eternal importance happens apart from prayer.

It’s not just about your area of ministry…it’s about the ministry of the church as a whole. Sometimes one area has to sacrifice for the betterment of the organization as a whole.

Even if we disagree in private, you must be a sold-out cheerleader in public. You should take personal responsibility to be sure that those under your ministry and under your influence are fired up, not just about their area of ministry, but about all areas of ministry within the church.

Never do “just enough.” Always go the “extra mile.” As my High School band director use to say, “Just because it is Christian does not mean we have to settle for being mediocre. Shoot for excellence in everything you do.”

If you don’t keep me informed, I can’t protect you. I don’t expect nor do I want you to do everything the way I would do it but be sure you are communicating with me so that if someone shares a concern about what you are doing, I am not blind-sided.

To be effective in your ministry inside the church, you must be building bridges outside of the church to people who do not know the Lord. Evangelism must be the engine that drives the church

One bad attitude can bring down the whole team. Paul tells us in the book of Philippians to do all things without grumbling and complaining. Paul tells the Colossians to do all that they do heartily as to the Lord.

You can’t rely on written announcements to fill needs…you must be creative in recruiting workers and filling holes. Please don’t come to me telling me how no one in our church cares enough to be involved when all you have done to get people involved is put a note in the bulletin. Never underestimate the power of “the ask.”

Though ministry is often tough, I need you to have fun. If you don’t enjoy your job and ministry, you will hurt the ministry as a whole.

Don’t let any ministry go unchanged for long periods of time. No ministry is meant to be done the same way permanently. Be willing to reinvent long-term ministries or even end some ministries to make way for even more effective ministries.

After I shared these 10 things with my staff I left the room for 30 minutes and had them use that time to corporately come up with 10 things they want me to know as their Lead Pastor. I will share with you their list of 10 in my blog tomorrow. You won't want to miss it!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Why Husbands Don't See Answers to Prayer


There are two primary reasons why I believe that most Christian husbands do not see any specific answers to their prayers. Sadly, the first reason is that most Christian husbands do not pray. James writes that we have not because we ask not. The second greatest reason why most Christian husbands do not see any answers to their prayers is because of the way they treat their wives. This is the principle taught in 1 Peter 3:7. It just may be the most frightening verse in the entire Bible for husbands.

Peter begins by telling the husband that they must treat their wives in two ways. First, they are to live with them in an understanding way. Second, they are to honor their wives. To do this we must view our wives properly. This involves they way we view our wives physically and the way we view them spiritually.

Physically, Peter tells us that we are to view our wives as a “weaker vessel.” The word vessel refers to our physical body. Though there are certainly exceptions, on the whole women are physically more fragile than men. I would imagine that if married couples were to have a best two-out-of-three arm wrestling competition with each other, my money is on more husbands to win 2 out 3 then wives. As a result, we must protect our wives and treat them with gentleness. We must view them as a fragile and cherished treasure that we handle gently and carefully. In reality, most husbands are simply way too harsh in how they speak to, speak about and treat their wives. Let me remind all of us husbands that outside of our salvation, our wives are the greatest treasure that we will ever have on this earth. We need to treat her in that way.

Though the wife is a bit weaker physically, it is important for us to realize that spiritually, she is our equal. Peter describes her as a “fellow heir in the grace of life.” Yes, God has made the husband the functional head of the home but this does not mean that he is spiritually superior to the wife. It simply means that he is the one responsible. Listen, my wife is as much a child of God as I am. The same Holy Spirit that indwells me also lives inside of her. The same is true of your wife if she knows Jesus. Men, this means that we can learn from our wives when it comes to spiritual things. They can help us become more like Jesus. This also means that we ought to be very hesitant to insist on a course of action for our marriage or family if our wives do not have the same peace about it as I do. Maybe it is we who are reading things wrong. The best decisions are the ones where both the Christian husband and the Christian wife both have the same peace.

So how seriously does God want us to take this? Peter is very clear that the man who fails to treat his wife properly must answer to God. It is as if God is saying, “I have given you a valuable treasure…treat her right or you will have to answer to me.” And what is the consequence for those of us husbands who fail to take this task seriously? Verse 7 teaches clearly that failing to treat our wife properly will definitely hinder our prayer life. So why don’t husbands see more answers to their prayers. My guess is that they either aren’t praying or they aren’t treating their wife properly…maybe it’s both!

Monday, October 03, 2011

Confession and Coconuts


Several years ago, a young girl wrote in to the Ann Landers advice column that was in her local newspaper with the following question:

“Dear Ann, I am a 13 year old girl who is tired of getting yelled at by my parents all of the time. All I hear from morning until night is, ‘Clean up your room! Pick up your clothes! Do your homework! Finish your chores!’ How can I get them off my back? Signed, Sick of Parents.”

Ann Landers wisely responded in this way:

“Dear Sick, You want to get your parents off of your back? It’s easy…clean up your room; pick up your clothes, do your homework and finish your chores!”

Why is it that so many of us, even as Christians, struggle with being obedient and hating sin in our lives? I think that one of the main reasons is due to the fact that we do not understand how they catch monkeys in some parts of South America. In this region, monkeys are considered a delicacy and hunting for monkeys is an art. Here is what they do. The take a coconut and cut a whole in the end of it that is just big enough for a monkey to get its finger and thumb into it, but if he grabs a piece of the coconut inside, he can not get his finger and thumb back out again. They then tie the coconut to a stake, pound the stake into the ground, and then they go wait in the bushes.

Sure enough, a monkey ultimately comes along. He picks up the coconut and puts his finger and thumb inside the hole, grabbing a piece of the fruit inside. Try as he might, the monkey can not get his finger and thumb back out. He shakes the coconut trying to free it from the stake. Meanwhile, out of the bushes come the hunters with their knives, spears, tanks and bazookas. The monkey sees them coming. He knows he is in danger. The monkey knows that all that he has to do is let go of the piece of coconut inside and scram. But instead, the monkey becomes monkey stew.

Such is the case with many Christians. We have coconuts in our lives. These are sins that we know are displeasing to God. We know that they are causing us harm. Yet, we won’t give up the coconuts. What does it mean to confess sin, hate sin and forsake sin in our lives? It means to take the coconuts that we are hanging on to and to throw them as far away from us as we possibly can.

So tell me, is it true in your life? Are there any coconuts in your life that it’s time to get rid of? Are there any secret sins that you have been holding on to for far too long? How true are the words of the Psalmist when he writes, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit” (Psalm 32:1-2). Maybe it’s time to clean up the room, pick up the clothes, do the homework, and finish the chores.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Church Prayers


Nothing of eternal importance happens apart from prayer!” If I heard Dr. Jerry Falwell say that once in the four years I spent attending Liberty University, then I heard him say it at least a million times. He drilled it into us. It wasn’t just a nice quote to him. It was tested and true. While Dr. Falwell was in Bible College, he got the key to an empty room in his dorm and spent several hours every day in that room alone with God reading his Bible and praying. Every day of his ministry, he started his activity with Bible reading and prayer. Dr. Falwell was a man of faith and a man of prayer that God blessed greatly.

But why is it that so many Christians today have anything but an effective and exciting prayer life? May I suggest a reason? You’re not going to like it. Oh, well, here it goes. I believe that most adults struggle with their prayer lives today because they grew up listening to thousands of prayers offered up in church services. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we should throw out church prayers. In fact, we probably need to pray more in church. But let’s be honest. Most prayers that are made in church services are not stated for the ears of God but rather for the ears of those who are sitting in the pews.

As a result, our prayer lives have become filled with religious clich├ęs that are quoted regularly but without much thought or meaning. I wonder if we even know what we are asking for when we pray things like:

“Bless the missionaries!”

“Bless the gift and the giver alike!”

“Bless the food to our bodies and the hands that prepared it!”

And then there’s the one that bothers me the most. It’s when some well-meaning Christian prays, “God, we know You are with us because the Bible says that where two or three our gathered, You are there in their midst.” Now, come on! Yes, that quote is in the Bible but it is found in Matthew 18 dealing with the issue of confrontation as part of church discipline. Are we to take it that when we are by ourselves, God isn’t there? Of course not. Folks, we need to think when we pray. Sometimes our prayers are like:

“Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my soul to keep

And if he hollers, ‘let me go’

Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe!”

Beginning this Sunday here at the Gaylord E-Free Church we are going to take all five Sundays during the month of October to revisit the topic of prayer! After all, "Nothing of eternal importance happens apart from prayer!"