Monday, December 31, 2012

This ain't no Brady Bunch



“Here’s a story of a lovely lady who was bringing up three very lovely girls…”

“Here’s a story of a man named Brady who was busy with three boys of his own…”

“That’s the way we all became the Brady Bunch…”

Who can forget the Brady Bunch?  I bet most of you can still sing the theme song to the show.  If only every family could be so wonderful – especially if it is a family in the Bible.  This Sunday here at Gaylord E-Free we will begin a new 11-week study in the life of the Old Testament character of Joseph.  We will start by looking at Joseph’s family background, which just may have been the most dysfunctional family in the entire Bible.  Believe me, it was certainly no Brady Bunch!

The dysfunction of this family included polygamy, favoritism, rape, murder incest, sibling rivalry, jealousy, hatred, betrayal and deception among many other devastating things.  Yet, from this family came a man who saved many people from starvation and who has become one of the most loved characters of the Bible and one of the best examples anyone can find of the power of forgiveness.  We will see this Sunday the truth of the fact that though there is little we can do about our ancestors, we can influence our descendants greatly.

We are excited about the set that will be used for the start of this new series on Joseph.  The three main venues of the story occur in a PIT, in a PRISON, and in a PALACE.  This Sunday you will see the PIT and the PALACE on stage with the varied colored panels hanging behind them which represent Joseph’s coat of many colors.  As the series continues, a PALACE will also be incorporated into the set.

Because it is the first Sunday of the month (and of the year) this will also be communion Sunday.  This week we will be having communion in both our Classic and our Contemporary services.  Pastor Jim will lead in the celebration of communion in the Classic Service and I will be leading in the taking of the bread and the cup in both of our Contemporary Services.

I look forward to seeing you this Sunday here at Gaylord E-Free as we start 2013 and this new and exciting message series on Joseph!


Thursday, December 27, 2012

God, Please Let This Be The Year!


My memoires about New Year’s Eve as a kid are as vivid to me as the ones I have about Christmas Eve.  My family always attended the New Year’s Eve Service at our little church in Akron, Ohio.  There would be plenty of singing and usually a movie up in the sanctuary followed by games and some great food down in the church basement.  This would all lead up to that climactic moment just before midnight as we would all gather back upstairs in the sanctuary and form a large circle around the pews as we held hands.  Our pastor, along with many of the other men within our church, would then lead us in praying in the New Year.

I remember listening to those prayers every New Year’s Eve with the sound of fireworks taking place in the park across the street from the church echoing as a backdrop.  The highlight of the night would come during that time when my dad would take his turn in praying.  I would wait for his prayer with excited yet nervous anticipation because every year my dad would end his prayer with the same words.  He would pray, “And God, please let this be the year that Jesus returns!  Amen!”

Though we are many years removed from those childhood days, that prayer remains in my heart and on my lips every New Year’s Eve.  On Christmas we celebrated the first coming of Jesus when He was born as a baby in Bethlehem in order to die as a sacrifice and a substitute for our sin.  Forty days after His bodily resurrection from the dead, He ascended back into heaven as two angels appeared to His followers promising that this same Jesus who they watched go up in the clouds would one day return.  That’s not fantasy or mythology; it is the very promise of the Word of God and the great hope of every person who has put their faith in Jesus.

So, how will I celebrate the last moments of 2012 and the first moments of 2013?  When midnight rolls around on New Year’s Eve I will think of my dad and that little church back in Akron, Ohio, and I will whisper a prayer that will end with the words, “And God, please let this be the year that Jesus returns!  Amen!”



Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Truth About Shepherds

Jesus is born!  And who was the first to hear the announcement of His birth and become the first witnesses of Christmas?  Shepherds!  That seems great to us because we see shepherd's as cute little 7-year old boys dressed in the dad's bathrobe and wearing a towel around their head.  But that was not the reality of shepherds back in the day in which Jesus was born.

Back then shepherds were on the lowest rung of the social ladder.  They were uneducated, untrained and unskilled.  They were considered rough characters.  In fact, you would never buy something from a shepherd because it was assumed that whatever they were selling had probably been stolen.  They were considered unclean because their occupation prohibited them from worshipping in the Temple and obeying many of the burdensome laws that the religious leaders had thrown on the Jewish people.  They were considered to be so unreliable that they were not allowed to testify in court.  When the Pharisees spoke of "Tax Collectors and Sinners," shepherds would have fallen into the category of "sinners."  Yet, when Jesus is born, God chooses to make the announcement first to shepherds and they become the first witnesses of the birth of the Son of God.

Jesus is resurrected!  And who was the first to hear the announcement of His being risen and become the first witnesses of Easter?  Women!  Today in our American culture that would not seem out of the ordinary at all.  But if you were living in Israel back in the day of Jesus, it would have been very out of the ordinary.  In the culture of that day women were treated and viewed like property.  Much like the shepherds, women were not allowed to testify in court either and they could only go so far into the Temple area.  Yet, when Jesus is resurrected, God chooses to make the announcement first to women and they become the first witnesses of the resurrection of the Son of God from the dead.

What can we learn about God?  He loves the outcast.  While religious leaders wrote off shepherds as unclean and pagan, God revealed His truth to shepherds.  While society wrote off women, God revealed His truth to women.  What a God!

Shepherds were the first witnesses of Christ's birth even though they were not allowed to testify in court!  That was strange!  Women were the first witnesses of Christ's resurrection even though they were not allowed to testify in court!  That was strange!  But what is even more strange is that today God has made you and I who have put our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus His witnesses to our world.  It's true!  God still loves the outcast!  And you and I who realize how unworthy we are to know Jesus and to be His witnesses ought to be the ones who can best understand and most fully celebrate the message of the Christmas angels to the shepherds,

"Fear not!  I bring you good news of great joy that is for all people.  For unto you (the outcasts) is born today in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!"

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Tradition: No Room Go Away!

One of my personal Christmas traditions is to tell my favorite Christmas story about an Innkeeper named Wally.  At the church I pastored back in Indiana I would tell it each year at our Christmas Dinner Theater performances.  At the church I pastored back in Pennsylvania I would tell it each year at our Christmas Eve services.  Here at the church I currently pastor in Michigan I have decided to keep the tradition going by telling the story in a different venue each year.  Last year I told it on my live radio program and at our Christmas Eve services.  This year I told it at a presentation my wife and I gave to the MOPS group that meets at our church.  I love this story and I love to tell it.  Below you can read an abbreviated account of the story.  Merry Christmas!


It was Mrs. Johnson’s second graders turn to do the town’s Christmas play. Mrs. Johnson had just one problem. It was Wally. Wally was big for his age and he had been held back twice in school. As a result, he was larger then any other second grader and the clumsiest of them all. Wally had his heart set on being a shepherd in the Christmas play but Mrs. Johnson could not give such an important role to Wally. So instead she came up with a brilliant idea.

“Wally,” she said, “I have just the part for you. I would like you to be the innkeeper. All you have to do is open the door when Joseph knocks and respond firmly with the words, ‘no room…go away.’ Can you do that Wally?”

Wally practiced it a few times to Mrs. Johnson’s delight. Her planned seemed to be working perfectly. Wally would be involved but not in a critical role. For the next several weeks, Wally practiced his lines everywhere he went. You could see his lips constantly moving as he uttered his lines, ‘no room…go away.’

Finally the night of the big event came. As in past years, the entire town shut down and everyone piled into the school auditorium to watch the second graders put on their show. Mrs. Johnson was nervous but felt she had everything well under control.

At last, Wally’s big cue came. Joseph and Mary slowly and sadly walked up to the inn and Joseph knocked on the door.

‘No room…go away,’ Wally said as he answered the knock.

‘But sir,’ Joseph pleaded.

‘No room…go away,’ Wally firmly replied.

‘But my wife,’ Joseph continued, ‘She’s pregnant and going to have a baby any time?’

‘No room,’ Wally insisted, ‘Go away!’

Right on cue, Joseph and Mary began to walk away from the inn. Mrs. Johnson’s heart skipped a beat. Wally was supposed to close the door and he would be done. But Wally just stood there, watching the homeless couple as they walked away from the inn.

What happened next changed the town’s Christmas play drastically. Some people say it was ruined. Others say it was the best Christmas pageant ever. With tears running down his cheeks, Wally cried out,

‘Joseph, Mary, wait! Come back! You can have my room!’

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Tradition: The Last Gift of Christmas

The Christmas tradition at our house that I enjoy more than all the others is what I call "The Last Gift of Christmas!"  It started several years back.  Christmas at our home is an "all day event."  But in the evening hours, as the last gift was opened, my wife would always say, "I hate it when it's over!"  She was right.  It was always a "bummer" when our family Christmas celebration ended.  After hearing that phrase from my wife on multiple Christmas evenings, I decided to do something about it.

When the next Christmas rolled around, the day went as it always had in the past, ending with the words, "I hate it when it's over!"  But what my family did not know is that it really wasn't over.  Just when everyone was headed to bed after a long day of festivity, I summoned my wife and kids back down to the living room.  I think they thought either something was terribly wrong or they were in some kind of serious trouble.  What they didn't realize is that without their knowing it, I had bought each of them one final gift - their "Last Gift of Christmas."  When they arrived back downstairs I gave each of them their final gift of the day.  Believe me, it was a quite the hit!

I have continued this tradition every year since that one.  Each year our Christmas celebration ends right before bedtime with the "Last Gift of Christmas."  These are not just any gifts.  I spend a lot of time and give a lot of thought to these gifts.  They have to be special.  I want them to be the most memorable gift of the day.  And the rule is that whoever is in our house on Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus with us, they too get a "Last Gift of Christmas."


Sunday, December 16, 2012

THE GOD TRAP

After both worship services this morning, Laura and I had a "meet & greet" to be able to make a connection with many of our new folks who are now attending our church.  This produced the best story from this morning here at Gaylord E-Free.

We met a mother and her 3 kids.  The boy looked to be about 10 years old.  The mom shared with me that this was their third Sunday at E-Free and she went on yo tell me how much they have enjoyed the services since they started attending.  One of the things that her 10-year old son noticed and pointed out to her about our church was that each Sunday was different.  In other words, the services were not the same thing each week.  She told the son that this was probably our way of making sure that people kept coming back because you just don't know what you might miss if you didn't come.  Her son replied, "That sounds like some kind of a trap to me!"  Their family now refers to our services here at E-Free as "The God Trap!"

I couldn't help but laugh!  "The God Trap!"  I like that!  I'm glad that even a 10-year old can notice the creativity that we use Sunday to Sunday here at E-Free.  Creativity has become an important part of the DNA of our church services, and well it should be.  One of the first things we learn about our God in the Bible is that He is a creative God.  Genesis 1:1 opens with the words, "In the beginning God CREATED..."  God is a creative God and He has made us to be creative beings.  As a result, we prayerfully and strategically make creativity a part of our worship planning.  I am so thankful for the many, many people who are involved in putting our services together:

I am thankful for our Worship Arts Leadership Team who help to oversee all the areas of our Worship Arts Ministry.

I am thankful for our Creative Ideas Group who meet one Saturday morning a month to brainstorm the creative elements we might use.

I am thankful for our Worship Design Group who meets weekly on Tuesday mornings to evaluate past services and finalize the logistics for our upcoming services.

I am thankful for our stage teams who design our sets (speaking of that - I can't wait to see the Egypt set that will be in place for our new message series on the life of Joseph beginning in January).

I am thankful for our Media and Marketing Team that meets weekly on Tuesdays over the lunch hour to plan and design the promotion for our services (speaking of that - wait until you see the promotional trailer for our new Joseph series.  We will be showing it on Christmas Eve).

I am thankful for our performing arts ministry who uses drama and art to help us creatively communicate our messages.

I am thankful for all of our technicians - audio, lights and video, who help to make our services pleasing to the ears and eyes,.

I am thankful for all of our musicians - vocal and instrumental - for the way they use their talents to help us focus on the Lord.

And I am thankful for our Director of Worship Arts, Joshua Rupp, who oversees all of the ministries that I have listed above (and some I probably forgot to mention).  

All of these people are involved in helping us "Set the Trap" each and every Sunday here at Gaylord E-Free. And they do it so effectively that even a 10-year old can notice!

Friday, December 14, 2012

We Need Christmas Now More Than Ever

Like most all Americans, much of my day has been spent focused on the horrible events at an Elementary School in Connecticut with a lump in my throat and while fighting back tears.  How can any of us truly wrap our minds around these events or even begin to imagine the intense grief being felt by so many parents and family members of those who have died?

And what seems to make it even more devastating is that it has all taken place just days before Christmas.  As I try to process all of the news footage and the graphic pictures of such raw emotion and terror, I keep coming back to the thought that in light of the tragedies of today, it is apparent to me that we need Christmas now more than ever.

News analysts and politicians will spend the next few days debating the issues of guns and school security but in so doing they will miss the main problem behind what happened today.  Though proper gun laws and better school security may have a place for discussion, neither were the main factor in today's devastation.

What happened today in Connecticut wasn't a gun issue or a security issue, it was at its very core a heart issue.  And according to the prophet Jeremiah in Scripture the heart is wicked.  That's the real issue - sin.  The governor of the state was right today when he said that, "evil showed up."

You see, the greatest enemy our country faces today; the biggest enemy our schools face today; the biggest enemy our children face today; the  biggest enemy you face today is sin.  It is sin that separates us from God.  That's why we need Christmas now more than ever because it was Christmas that was God's direct answer to the main issue - sin.

Remember when the angel visited Joseph to tell him that the he was to take Mary as his wife because the child that was conceived in her was of the Holy Spirit?  The angel told Joseph that he was to name the baby Jesus (which means "Jehovah saves") because He would save His people from their what?  From their sin!  It was that very fist Christmas when God sent His Son into this world to ultimately die on a cross to pay the penalty for our sins so that we could be forgiven.  And when we put our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we became new creations.

Sin showed up at an elementary school in Connecticut today and the results were horrible and seemingly unimaginable.  That's what sin does.  The wages of sin is death - physical death, spiritual death and eternal death.  But Christmas was God's answer to sin.  That's why right now we need Christmas now more than ever.  Yes, the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So how do we who know Christ respond to the horrific events of today?  Without question we must pray for every person whose heart tonight has been torn in two due to the death of those they love.  We must bow before the God of all comfort and fervently beg Him to, in a way that only He can do, wrap His loving arms around each person who has been personally impacted by these shootings.

But let's not stop there.  We must be bolder than ever before to share with a sinful world the "Good News of Great Joy" that is the message of Christmas - the fact that God has sent us a Savior who is Christ the Lord.  You see, in light of the the misery of the events of today in Connecticut, we need Christmas now more than ever.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Tradition: The Stockings

Laura and I enjoyed sharing this morning with the MOPS group that meets at our church about our family's Christmas traditions.  One of the things we talked about was our Christmas Stockings.  For us as a family, the funnest part of Christmas are the STOCKINGS, and in our home there are three different types of Christmas Stockings.

First, there are Nana's Stockings.  My mom (Nana) sends each of us a Christmas stocking every year.  Each Christmas Eve we go out for an early dinner as a family.  In the past it was at Olive Garden but since there is no Olive Garden in Gaylord, Michigan, we tried a different restaurant last year that we had a gift certificate for.  But to be honest, we weren't real impressed.  This year Laura has to work so we will most likely move our Christmas Eve meal up to breakfast.  Anyway, after our meal we would spend the next several hours at church for our Christmas Eve services.  Afterwards, we would come home and watch a Christmas movie (I always lobby for Ernest Saves Christmas).  We then would go through Nana's stockings which always is a side-splitting Holiday experience.

Second, there is Laura's Purple Stocking.  Laura's favorite color is purple.  Several years ago I bought a purple Christmas stocking and filled it with special and sometimes even romantic items just for her.  After the kids have gone to bed and we have helped Santa in filling his stockings and putting his presents out for the morning, Laura gets to empty her Purple Stocking.

Third, there are the Santa Stockings.  When it comes to emptying stockings, for our family it takes quite some time.  Our motto is "quantity over quality."  In other words, instead of putting 6 or 7 bigger things in the stockings, we opt to stuff it with 40 or more little and inexpensive items.  And when it comes to the these stockings, we don't just dump them out and dive in.  We take turns each taking one item out of his or her stocking at a time so everyone can see - then the next person takes one thing out - then the next person takes one thing out - and so on - and so on - and so on.  A minimum of 40 items per stocking multiplied by 4 stockings (Yes, Santa fills mom and dad's stocking as well) totals a minimum of 160 turns, so stockings take a while to complete and we enjoy each and every turn.

If our family had to chose between all the presents and their stockings, and they could only have one or the other - not both, I am fully confident that our family would all 100% opt for the stockings.  To us, they really are the funnest pat of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

If you had a PERFECT child

This morning before my live radio program here in Gaylord, Michigan on The Eagle, 101.5 FM, Mike (the morning radio announcer) and I were having a good time talking about how tough it must have been to be the parent of the perfect Son of God like Mary and Joseph were.  For example:

Most parents have kids who think they know more than their parents do.  Mary and Joseph had a kid who really did know more than they did!

Jesus would have known every time Mary or Joseph tried to lie to him.  Now that would have taken all the fun out of parenting right there!

Jesus would have known every single time Mary and Joseph were wrong or had made a mistake. OUCH!

Can you imagine being Joseph in the workshop, hitting your thumb with a hammer and cussing, then looking over and seeing Jesus standing there?  That would have been awkward!

I wonder how many times Mary or Joseph made the critical mistake of looking at one of Jesus' half-brothers or sisters and saying to them, "Why can't you be more like Jesus!  He gets all "A's"!

If you were Mary or Joseph, you could never ever really look at Jesus and answer His inquiry with the age old parental words of wisdom, "Because I said so, that's why!"

If Jesus ever did leave the front door open, Mary or Joseph could never look at Him and say, "Close that door!  What do you think you were, born in a barn or something?"

OK, I admit it - those are pretty silly thoughts!  But seriously, as awesome of a privilege that it must have been to be the mother and earthly father of the perfect Son of God, it must have also had some real challenges to it, don't you think?

Remember when Mary and Joseph were returning to Nazareth from Jerusalem and didn't realize that they had left Jesus behind in Jerusalem?  I wonder what feeling goes through your mind when you realize that you accidentally misplaced the Son of God?

I love the part of the motion picture, The Nativity, where Mary and Joseph are on their way to Bethlehem for the census and they are talking about what it will be like to be the parents of the Son of God.  Joseph makes this statement, "I wonder if I will be able to teach Him anything!"

Makes you think, doesn't it?



  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Joe Christmas


He has become one of my favorite characters, not just in the Christmas story, but in the entire Bible.  He doesn’t get a lot of fanfare in the Christmas story – Mary seems to get all of that.  But if I had to model my life after any one man in Scripture (outside of Jesus, of course) I think I would chose Joseph.  The more I read and ponder the Christmas story the more I admire this simple carpenter.  If I had to sum up his walk with God in one word it would be an easy word to pick.  It would be the word, “OBEDIENCE!”

In Matthew 1:19, the angel tells Joseph to take Mary as his wife.  In verse 24, Joseph obeys and takes Mary as his wife.

In Matthew 1:19, the angel tells Joseph to name the baby, Jesus.  In verse 15, Joseph obeys and names the baby Jesus.

In Matthew 2:13, the angel tells Joseph to “Get up” and take Mary and Jesus to Egypt.  In verse 14, Joseph “Got Up” and took Mary and Jesus to Egypt.

In Matthew 2:20, the angel tells Joseph to “Get Up” and take Mary and Jesus back to Israel.  In verse 21, Joseph “Gets Up” and takes Mary and Jesus back to Israel.

In each and every case there are two descriptions of Joseph’s obedience.  It was both immediate and complete.  Delayed obedience is disobedience.  Partial obedience is disobedience.  Perhaps the greatest gift we can give to Jesus this Christmas is our immediate and complete obedience to His words and to His commands.  After all, it was Jesus who said, “If you love Me, you will obey My commands” (John 14:15).

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Sunday is Funday


While Laura and I were in Grand Rapids over the weekend, I saw a t-shirt that simply said “Sunday is Funday.”  I like that phrase.  To me it describes every Sunday morning here at Gaylord E-Free.  But this morning was even more of a “Sunday Funday” and my cup is running over as I watch it snow outside my window tonight (which I also love).

To be honest, the morning started out very stressful.  Since I was out of town Thursday, Friday and Saturday, I did not have my usual prep time.  Typically each week my Thursday afternoon and my Saturday morning is given over to sermon prep for Sunday.  Though my study time was the same, what I was lacking was the amount of time I usually practice a sermon prior to Sunday.  As a result, my plan was to come in extra early on Sunday morning so that I had time to go through my sermon a couple of times and still have time left to sit down with a cup of coffee, put on some worship music, and prepare my own heart for the morning.

That was the plan but that’s not what happened.  We had a major computer glitch and even though I had exported all of my sermon slides from Pro Presenter to our server, none of them came through.  Our video technician for the morning and I spent most all of the morning prior to the service on the phone with another of our techs trying to solve the problem (for me, preaching without the slides would be as difficult as preaching while standing still - a challenge indeed!).

The next thing I knew, it was 5-minutes before the start of the service and I was scheduled to lead singing in the Classic Service and we still had no slides for my sermon.  Without having any time to get my microphone from the sound booth down in the Gospel Center, I moved as quickly as I could down to the Chapel and went over with the video technician in that service what verses of which songs we would be singing.  Still somewhat out of breath, I led the singing and thoroughly enjoyed the passionate worship from the congregation who filled the chapel.  After the last song I once again met one of out techs back down in my office trying to finalize the exporting of all of my slides as the service went on in the Gospel Center.  I made it to the sound booth just in time to put on my microphone and get down front as the advent candle was being lit just prior to the sermon.

Up until this point the morning had been quite hectic.  But what I have found in the past is that the more glitches there are in the morning, the more we are about to see God work.  Such was the case this morning.  As I nervously finished my sermon (without having the confidence of having had gone through it several times in advance) and walked with Laura to the back of the auditorium, we noticed that a couple had gone forward during the final song in an act of praise and worship for the amazing way God has worked in their lives.  With all the zaniness of the morning, I did not even realize that they were even there this morning – their first time back in church since her double lung transplant.  Laura and I immediately went forward to be with them.  Within minutes they were surrounded with many friends who laid their hands on this dear couple as they all sang (one with her new lungs) “Here I am to Worship.”  That right there was a little taste of heaven.

As the song came to an end, my heart was overflowing with joy.  That’s when I saw another couple standing in the back of the auditorium.  The couple that had come forward had received their miracle with her new lungs.  Now this couple who stood in the back needed their miracle regarding the precious baby she is carrying who is experiencing some very serious complications.  Laura and I went back to talk with them, hug them, and let them know how much we loved them and were praying for them.

We then went out in the foyer and greeted as many people as were still mingling there.  At this point I felt spiritually and emotionally drained and decided to spend the first half of the second service with a cup of hot tea in the quietness of my office to reflect and pray before having to preach the second service.  I made my tea and sat down in my chair.  I didn’t even get the first sip to my mouth when someone knocked on my door and said that there was a couple at the welcome center that really wanted to talk with me.  I sat my tea down and headed toward the welcome center where I immediately recognized them.

This morning was their second Sunday at E-Free.  I had met them the Sunday prior when a man from our church introduced them to me.  They are veterans who have recently moved into the area.  They met this man from our church through his job.  She was a believer but he was not.  Part of their discussion with the man from our church when they met was their desire to get involved in the area.  He wisely suggested that the best way for them to start with this would be to attend church.  The husband immediately retorted with, “I am NOT a believer,” and he proceeded to share all of the reasons why he would not be able to come to church.  Yet, last Sunday they showed up at church

As the service was taking place inside the Gospel Center, I sat out in the foyer talking with this couple.  With tears streaming down his face, he shared with me how both Sundays as I was preaching he was torn.  Half of him wanted to sit on the edge of the seat and absorb every word.  The other half of him wanted to get up and run away from the church.  I shared with him that this is what we call “conviction.”  God was convicting him of his need for Jesus and when this happens, people respond in one of two ways – either they run toward God or they run away from him.  I then took him through the plan of salvation and when I was done I had the thrill of leading this husband in prayer in our church foyer as he received God’s free gift of salvation.

When we finished praying I could tell from the sound from inside the Gospel Center that I was soon up for the sermon.  I asked this couple if they had Bibles.  They did not.  I told them I needed to get inside to preach but if they would wait right there I would get the man who had first invited them to church and have him bring them each a Bible.  I then went and got two Study Bibles from the Ushers Room and grabbed this man out of his Equip-U Class.  While I ran (literally) up to the Gospel Center, once again arriving down front as the advent candle was being lit prior to the sermon, this man took the Bibles to this couple still in the foyer.  He then spent the entire second service continuing to share with them.  When the second service was over, They came up to me to give me a hug.  The husband smiled and said, “I will never forget this day!”  WOW!  Just 3 weeks earlier he had proudly stated, “I am not a believer!”  After just 2 Sundays at E-Free he now is saying, “I will never forget this day!”  Folks, listen, it just doesn’t get any "funner" than that!

As I went out to the foyer after the second service I was met by a couple who was visiting this morning from out of town.  They were in the Classic Service where, before I led in one of the songs (How Great Our Joy). I made the statement, “Joy has nothing to do with our circumstances but everything to do with who we are in Christ!”  She pulled out a piece of paper in which she had written down that statement I had made in the Classic Service and told me how much God had used that simple statement in her life that morning.  I again was amazed at how God works and the little things He uses in people’s lives over the course of a Sunday morning.

Laura and I were then able to spend a little time in the foyer with another couple whose high school daughter has a cyst on her brain and will be going to see a neuro-surgeon this Tuesday.  It was a privilege to be able to hug them and to take time to encourage them as well.

As I then grabbed my Bible to head downstairs and finally have that cup of tea, a couple I had never met stopped Laura and me.  They have only been attending a few weeks and wanted to share how much they are enjoying our services and how for the first time in their lives they are really learning the Bible.  She went on to say that the best part is that her husband now wants to come to church since they started attending here at E-Free.

As I sit here tonight and reflect over the morning I am in awe of God for how He used our ministry this morning in such unique ways.  People were praising God for new lungs!  People were finding strength to endure very difficult trials regarding their children.  People were encouraged by simple statements.  New folks were sharing how much they are learning.  And one couple is now “one in Christ.”  And these are only the stories I know of from this morning.  I am sure that there were many others – some of which we may never know until we all get to heaven.

Yes – Sunday is Funday!  And all I can say is “To God be the glory!  Great things He has done!”

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Christmas Tradition: The Wrapping Excursion

Next week Laura and I will be sharing with the young mothers in the MOPS program here at our church on the Christmas traditions that we have developed as a family.  So I thought I would take time to put a few of these traditions down in writing.

Over the past 25 years our family has developed some Christmas traditions that we look forward to every December.  One of my most favorite of these traditions is our "Wrapping Excursion."  Sometimes one of the worst "put off until the last minute" Christmas activities on everyone's "to do" list is the wrapping of the gifts.  Laura and I decided years ago to make this something we would always look forward to.

We set aside 2 nights and 3 days somewhere in the first half of the month of December for what I like to call our "Wrapping Excursion."  Right about Thanksgiving time I will start searching the internet for the perfect location.  We go to a different location each year but it can't just be any place - it has to have all of the right qualities at an affordable rate.  There needs to be a large shopping district nearby.  The hotel, cottage or B&B we select needs to have at very minimum a private first floor entrance to our room; a fireplace, and a sitting area to our room or suite.

When the "Wrapping Excursion" date arrives we pack up all the gifts we have purchased so far, all of our wrapping paper and boxes, a Boom Box with Christmas CD's; a lighted Christmas Tree, and some additional Christmas lights to string around the room.  We then head off on our "Wrapping Excursion" to finish all of our Christmas shopping and to wrap all of the presents.  And with whatever time is left over we find other things to do and see in the area where we are staying.

We just got back from this year's "Wrapping Excursion" in Grand Rapids.  It was a such a wonderful time!  Why do we do this?  This tradition allows us to accomplish two very important things:

First, it allows us to finish all of our Christmas shopping and get all of our wrapping done in a fun and relaxed setting well before December 24.  We have found that the less stress and pressure we have in our lives going into December 24, the more we can enjoy our family and celebrate the beauty of Christmas to its fullest.

Second, this allows Laura and I to set aside time at a very special time of the year to focus our attention on each other, make some holiday memories, and have some Christmas traditions that we can continue to enjoy as a couple year after year, even after the kids are grown and gone.

We believe that one of the greatest mistakes young couples make is to make everything about their Christmas traditions focus on their children.  Don't get me wrong.  Most of our Christmas traditions were because of our children as you will see in subsequent posts.  But how often do you hear stories of couples whose marriage was 100% absorbed with with their kids, and when the kids were grown and gone, the marriage fell apart?

It has been important to Laura and I to be sure that as we raised our children and poured into them as parents that we also set aside time to invest in each other and into our marriage.  This "Wrapping Excursion" tradition allows us to do just that.  Even as the other Christmas traditions that revolved around our children run their course, this is a tradition that we will always have to look forward to and to enjoy.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Forgiveness that is Real and Complete

I've been spending a lot of time pouring into the Old Testament story of Joseph as beginning in January I will be preaching through this amazing life in an 11-week message series we are calling, "Joseph: More Than a Dreamer!"  Over the past 2 years this story has taken on a very special place in my heart and I don't think I have ever had a story in Scripture become so real and vivid to me as this one has as I have been reading and studying it.  I am so looking forward to walking our church here at Gaylord E-Free through this incredible journey that took Joseph from the pit - to the prison - to the palace.

As I was working my way through the final chapters in the story last week I was once again introduced to the beauty and power of forgiveness.  I'm sure you know the story.  Joseph is betrayed and hurt deeply by his own brothers resulting in unbelievable pain, hurt and hardship in his life.  Yet, through all of it, Joseph knew that God was with him.  Due to this he follows an amazing path that ultimately puts him in a position of great wealth and power which allows him to save many, many people from a severe famine.

But the story climaxes when his journey leads Joseph back into a face-to-face encounter with the very brothers who had harmed him.  Only this time, it was Joseph that had the upper hand.  He now had the power, and what most people would see as the right, to take revenge for the decades of pain he had endured due to his brothers mistreatment of him.  Yet, in the end, he chooses to forgive them.  But this forgiveness was not just words, it was full of action.  This forgiveness was not just a gesture, it was complete in every way.  In Genesis 50:19-21, we see the elements of this very real forgiveness:


First, Joseph acknowledged that it was God who was the judge, not him (50:19)

Second, Joseph reminded his brothers that God had a purpose for all that happened (50:20)

Third, Joseph promised to care for his brothers and their families (50:21)

Fourth, Joseph comforted his brothers who were riddled with guilt and fear (50:21)

Fifth, Joseph spoke kindly to his brothers, the very ones who had so brutally betrayed and deeply hurt him (50:21)

What a powerful picture of forgiveness.  It's almost unreal.  And this is just the end of the story.  For the first 11 weeks of the New Year we will see many life-changing aspects of this great life from beginning to end.  And when we bring it all to a close as we near Easter we will be reminded of the greatest lesson of all that we see - the lesson that shows us the power of forgiveness.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Christmas Stillness


We are now down to just three weeks until Christmas.  Let me share with you a verse that I shared with our entire church staff this past Monday at the opening of our weekly staff prayer time.  It’s not a “Christmas” verse per say, but maybe it should be.  It actually fits Christmas just as perfectly as the verse in Luke 2:10 where the angels made that great Christmas announcement to the shepherds saying, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”  This verse comes from the pages of the Old Testament, from Psalm 46:10 and it simply says this,

“Be still and know that I am God!”

What a great Christmas verse!  With only three weeks left until Christmas, that verse sums up my Christmas wish for each of you.  My prayer for you is that with all of the hustle and bustle of the next two weeks, and in the midst of that ever-growing Christmas “to do list” that you each have to get completed by December 25, that you would take some time to “be still and know that He is God!”  After all, that’s what started this whole thing we call Christmas to begin with – God became flesh and dwelt among us!

Hopefully, the coming weeks here at Gaylord E-Free will help you do just that – to “Be still and know that He is God!”  This Sunday we continue our “Angels Revealed” message series as we follow the role that the angels played in that very first Christmas.  Last Sunday we saw the angel’s announcement to Zacharias in Jerusalem.  This week we will see that same angels’ announcement to Mary in Nazareth!

And be planning now to set aside some time on Christmas Eve and join us here at E-Free for one of two very special and very worshipful Candlelight Christmas Eve services (5pm & 7pm).

Here's wishing you some Christmas STILLNESS!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Really, Really, Really Really, Really Astounding Message!

This Sunday, as we continue our "Angels Revealed" message series here at Gaylord E-Free, we will begin a special journey as we follow the role of the angels through the Christmas story.  The first angelic appearance of Christmas was not the one to Mary in Nazareth, but rather to an old man named Zacharias 6-months earlier in the temple in Jerusalem as Zacharias went in to complete his priestly duty of lighting the incense on the altar.  There, at the right of the altar, appeared Gabriel with the amazing news that Zacharias' wife, Elizabeth, would become pregnant.  This message was astounding for at least four reasons:

First, Zacharias and Elizabeth were advanced in years and beyond the normal physical age of being able to bear-children.  That makes this message really astounding!

Second, Zacharias and Elizabeth had no children due to her being barren.  That makes this message really, really astounding!

Third, this was not going to be just any baby.  This baby would be John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah.  That makes this message really, really, really astounding!

Fourth, this was the first revelation from God to any human in 400 years.  That's right, once the pages of Malachi were closed, 400 years passed before the New Testament time-period began.  We call these 400 years the "Silent Years" because during this time man received no new information from God.  That makes this message really, really, really, really astounding!

Now with all of that in mind, take time to put yourself in Zacharias' sandals.  This is the greatest day of your priestly ministry.  It was such a huge honor to be selected from the 18,000 priests in Israel back in that day to light the incense in the temple which symbolized the prayers of the nations.  It is doubtful that Zacharias would ever get this opportunity again.  This was a once in a lifetime privilege for a priest.  His adrenalin must have already been pumping as he went alone into the temple with the incense.  And then, once inside, for the first time in 400 years, God chooses to speak to mankind and He does so by sending the angel, Gabriel, to communicate to this aged priest some really, really, really really, really astounding news!

Don't miss Sunday at Gaylord E-Free as we follow the angels through the Christmas story by examining all of the details to that angelic encounter that happened in the great temple in Jerusalem that special day.  It was this event that ushered in Christmas and so will we this Sunday at Gaylord E-Free!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Do You Have a Guardian Angel?

George Bailey had one!  His name was Clarence - Angel Second Class (2nd Class because he had not earned his wings).  Of course I am speaking of the Holiday movie, It's A Wonderful Life.  Though it is a wonderful movie that I enjoy watching every year, there are some Biblical inaccuracies when it comes to angels.

First, in the movie Clarence was a human who died back in the 1800's and became an angel.  Sorry!  That's not where angels come from.  Angels are created beings, not humans who died (Colossians 1:15-17; Psalm 148:2, 5).

Second, Clarence is trying to earn his wings.  Sorry once again!  There is no question that at least some angels have wings (Cherubim are described in Ezekiel as having four wings each and Seraphim in Isaiah are described as having six wings each) but nowhere in Scripture are we taught that angels have to earn their wings.  This would also shoot holes in the movie idea that "Every time a bell rings an angel gets it wings."    

Third, Clarence was George Bailey's guardian angel.  Sorry one more time, folks!  Though the Bible teaches that angels are ministering spirits sent by God to be involved in the loves of believers and those who would become believers in Jesus (Hebrews 1:14), no place in Scripture do we see clear teaching that each of us have a guardian angel.

Many would point to Acts 12 as proof.  In this chapter Peter is on death row in prison and the church is praying for him in a home.  In response to these prayers, God sends an angel to deliver Peter from prison (I love the fact that when we pray prayers that are in the will of God, the Lord dispatches angels in response!  How awesome!).  Peter goes to the home where these believers are praying and knocks on the door.  A servant girl answers the door and is so excited she closes the door, leaving Peter in the street, and goes back in and tells everyone it is Peter at the door.  They do not believe her and say, "It is his angel!"  Many have taken that to be a reference to Peter's guardian angel.  Is it?

I don't think this is the case.  Jewish tradition (seen in the story of Tobit) taught that each person had an angel and that when you died that angel took on your human form and appeared to the people who loved you to tell them you had died.  The believers would have interpreted this servant girl seeing Peter's angel as evidence that Peter had been killed.  Of course, they found out different when they went to the door and saw that it was actually Peter.

Like the Jewish people back in Peter's day, we must be careful that we do not base our belief system regarding angels (or anything else for that matter) on tradition, superstition, experiences or even Hollywood.  We must base our beliefs on one thing - the Word of God.  Does the Bible clearly teach that we each have a specific guardian angel?  Not that I can see.  Does the Bible teach that angels collectively are involved in our lives including protecting us?  Absolutely.

Monday, November 26, 2012

6 Months Before the First Christmas

If someone asked you to tell them the story of the very first Christmas, where would you start?  Most would start in the city of Nazareth when the angel, Gabriel, visited the young Mary to give her the amazing news that, though she was a virgin, she would give birth to a son who she was to name, Jesus.  But this Sunday as we begin our journey at Gaylord E-Free Church in following the angels through the Christmas story, we will start our story 6-months prior to that angelic visitation in Nazareth.  That's really where the story of the first Christmas begins as seen in the first chapter of Luke.

It was 6-months earlier when that same angel, Gabriel, visited a priest by the name of Zacharias while he was fulfilling his honored duty of lighting the incense in the temple in Jerusalem.  This angelic visit communicated the message to Zacharias that his wife, Elizabeth, would give birth to a son that there were to name "John."  This child would be "John the Baptist."  I can't wait to walk our church through this story as I have learned so much in studying it and meditating on it.  Between now and Sunday let me share with you just a few of the many insights you will see.  Let me start with this one:


According to the first chapter of Luke, Zacharias and Elizabeth had no children because she was barren.  And not only that, they were both well advanced in years - certainly beyond the years of child-bearing.  Yet, God chose them.  He could have picked a younger couple but He didn't.  What a great example of the fact that God is not done with those in the church who we might consider "advanced in years."  If you are reading this and you are in the "advanced in years" category (and willing to admit it), let me remind you that you can still be used by God.  And even though you might be "advanced in years" does not mean that you are done seeing God's blessing in your life!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

November 25 - the New Christmas?



For any sports fan, there is nothing more exhilarating than watching your favorite team beat your arch-rival.  Sports is funny that way.  It is almost more enjoyable to watch your arch rival lose a game than it is to watch your team win one.  But when your team beats that arch rival - it's just sweet.  But when it happens twice in the same weekend - that's simply the best!

So this past weekend was one in a million for this sports fan.  On Saturday, November 24, my Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the Michigan Wolverines to complete a perfect season under first year coach Urban Meyer.  And if that wasn't sweet enough, today, Sunday, November 25, my Cleveland Browns defeated their arch rivals - the Pittsburgh Steelers.  

To be able to watch both my teams beat their arch rivals in the same weekend makes me feel like Christmas may just have come a full month early this year!

Friday, November 23, 2012

What do angels look like?

Is this what angels really look like?







Join us at Gaylord E-Free Church this Sunday (9:00am and 10:30am) to find out more about what angels look like and exactly what they do as we start a new 6-week message series we are calling "Angels Revealed."  

www.angelsrevealed.com 


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Angels Revealed



There is a lot of interest in angels, especially this time of the year.  Angels are a very popular Christmas symbol.  You see them in many of the Christmas decorations and in some of the most beloved Holiday movies and television shows.  In fact, take some time to hum through the Christmas Carols - angels are seen all through them:

"Hark the the herald ANGELS sing glory to the newborn King"

"ANGELS from the realms of glory wing your flights o'er all the earth"

"Come and adore Him, born the King of ANGELS, O come let us adore Him"

"While shepherds watch their flocks by night all seated on the ground, an ANGEL of the Lord came down and glory shown around"  

"The first Noel, the ANGEL did say was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay"

It is our hope with this series to capitalize on this popular aspect as we star a new holiday message series this week entitled, "Angels Revealed."  In order to draw people's attention to this new series we have a very attractive billboard up on M-32 in Gaylord (pictured above) and we have passed out hundreds of auto window clings all of which are promoting a special website that has been designed to tell people all about this special Christmas series (www.angelsrevealed.com).



This Sunday will be week #1 of this series and I am very excited about what we will be sharing.  We will use this first message to give an overview of what the Bible really teaches about angels.  So much of what we know about angels we have received from culture (like "Clarence" in the holiday movie, "It's a Wonderful Life").  But how do these concepts of angels match up to what Scripture teaches?  As we start this new series this Sunday, November 25, we will answer the following questions about angels from the Bible"


How do we know that angels really exist?  
Where did angels come from?  
What are angels like?  
Do angels wear wings and halos?  
How many angels are there?  
Do angels reproduce?  
Do angels die?  
Do we have guardian angels?  
What do angels actually do?  
How do angels serve mankind?  

We will then use each Sunday during the month of December to follow the angels through the Christmas story.  This is going to be a great series.  Invite everyone you know to come and be part of "Angels Revealed" at Gaylord E-Free Church every Sunday from November 25 through December 30.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Vision Fingerprints

 



I will post a full update tomorrow, but here are a few pictures of this morning at Gaylord E-Free as hundreds of people of all ages came forward and put their literal fingerprints on our 3-year vision plan as a church.  As I said this morning, this vision plan is not so northern Michigan will go, "WOW!  What a Church!"  The purpose of this vision plan is so that people in northern Michigan will see something so amazing that they will go, "WOW!  What an amazing God they must worship at E-Free!"  Jesus said it this way, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they will see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven!"  It was an amazing thing this morning to see a church get so excited about taking some serious steps of faith to meet as many people as possible right where they are at so that we can move them to where God wants them to be!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ingathering Sunday at Gaylord E-Free



This Sunday just may be the most exciting Lord’s Day of the year here at the Gaylord Evangelical Free Church in Gaylord, Michigan.  Being that it is the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving Day, it is Ingathering Sunday here at E-Free.  Instead of our three morning worship services, this Sunday we will have one combined service at 10:30 in the Gospel Center along with our KidzChurch and Nursery ministries.  It is going to be one special sermon including all of the following elements:

-There will be plenty of exciting worship led by Joshua Rupp and our Worship Team.

-We will be welcoming two new couples into our church membership.

-Seven of our students will be following the Lord in being baptized.

-We will be dedicating the hundreds of Operation Christmas Child boxes put together by our church family that will be going to children all over the world this Christmas.

-We will be watching another “E-Free Story” video testimony featuring Pearl Lake.

-We will be highlighting the promotional elements for our new message series which starts November 25 and runs through the end of the year that we are calling “Angels Revealed” in which we will overview what the Bible teaches about angels and follow the role of the angels through the Christmas story.  We are using a special website to promote this series and will be drawing attention to this website through two main means.  There is already a billboard on M-32 as you head west on the right side of the road just before you get to Little Caesars.  This Sunday we also will be passing out 1,000 window clings with this website on it that we are asking every person in our church to put on each of their vehicles.

-I will be preaching the final message in our “Greater Things” series as we focus on John 14:13-14.

-We will take our special Ingathering Offering with a goal of $75,000 that will all go toward our 3-Vision Plan’s Technology Update.

-We will be dedicating our Vision Plan by allowing people to literally put their fingerprints on it.  Up on the stage there will be two large banners that say “Meeting and Moving” on it and have the tree which is the logo of our church.  We will be asking people to personally be part of dedicating our 3-year vision plan by coming up on stage during the ending worship package and using ink pads to put their thumb prints as leaves on the tree and writing their initials below their print.

As you can see, it is going to be a special service this Sunday and afterwards our entire church family will be enjoying our Ingathering Dinner together with Thanksgiving turkey and all the trimmings.  If you live near Gaylord, Michigan, join us this Sunday here at E-Free.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Moving from the 9 to the 1!

How serious do you see an attitude of ingratitude as being?  Jonathan Swift made his feelings on this known in his great literary work, Gulliver's Travels.  In that classic work we learn that in the land of the Lilliputians, ingratitude was considered a capitol offence.  Now that is serious - maybe too serious.  But, on the other hand, perhaps we should take ingratitude a whole lot more seriously than we do today in America.

In the Bible we read a story of Jesus meeting 10 lepers.  Leprosy was considered an incurable disease in Jesus' day and resulted in a life isolated from society.  Jesus told the 10 lepers to go show themselves to the priest at the Temple.  Back then, if you felt you had been healed of leprosy you had to go to the priest at the Temple to have your healing verified.  On their way to the Temple all 10 lepers were healed.  But here is where the story takes a drastic turn.  Only 1 of those 10 lepers returned to Jesus to say "Thank You!"  When he came to Jesus, the Savior asked, "Were there not 10 lepers who were healed?  Where are the other 9?"  You can almost hear the disappointment in Jesus' words as you read the story.

Now I have no data to prove this but I seriously doubt if the percentage has changed much in our day and age.  Chances are very good that 90% of us fail to show an attitude of gratitude to God.  Why is this so?  For one thing, we are all busy which, unfortunately, causes us to not take the time to be thankful.  Second, we tend to focus more on what we don't have rather than what we do have.  We wish we had a better job so we don't take time to thank God for the job we do have.  We wish we had a nicer car or house so we don't thank God for the car and house we do have.  We wish we had more money so we don't thank God for the money we do have.  But the main reason for our ingratitude I believe is that we are born ungrateful.  Gratitude does not come naturally to us.  Think about it.  After "Dada" and "Mama" what is one of the first words children learn to say?  "MINE!"  We are born selfish.  For these reasons we tend to be part of the 90% who show an attitude of ingratitude rather than the 10% who pause to say "thanks."  

One week from tomorrow (Thursday) is Thanksgiving Day.  It's earlier this year than usual.  As a result, chances are really good that most of us will breeze through the next week and, before you know it, Thanksgiving will be over.  And when that happens, chances are real good that 90% of us will have not stopped once to pray and say "Thank You" to God for any of His many blessings.  And Jesus will be as disappointed with us as He was those 9 lepers so long ago.

So let me issue a challenge that, if you will take to heart, could make Thanksgiving 2012 the most memorable and meaningful Thanksgiving you have ever had.  There are 9 days beginning today (Wednesday) through Thanksgiving Day.  I challenge you to allow those 9 days to remind you of the 9 lepers who had an attitude of ingratitude and motivate you to not be like them.  In order to move from the 90% this Thanksgiving to the 10%, I challenge you to, starting today, take 2 minutes every day for the next 9 days (the ninth day will be Thanksgiving Day) to pause and pray, thanking God for one of His man blessings in your life.  That's 2 minutes each day for the next 9 days or a total of just 18 minutes between now and Thanksgiving Day.  How hard can that be?  Do it and I am convinced that this Thanksgiving will be the best you have ever had.

This Thanksgiving move from an attitude of ingratitude to an attitude of gratitude.  This Thanksgiving move from the 90% to the 10%.  This Thanksgiving be that one person in your family, that one person in your school; that one person where you work, that one person among your group of friends, that takes the time to come to Jesus like that leper did so long ago and say, "THANKS!"

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The 3-Year Vision Plan of Gaylord E-Free - It's BIG!


D.L. Moody once said, "If God is your partner, make your plans large!"  I love that quote and I believe it should be the attitude of every church.  After all, we serve a God who can do immeasurably more than anything we could ever ask for or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

It is with this thought in mind that our church here in Gaylord, Michigan is embarking on a very aggressive 3-year Vision Plan.  It's big and it's all based on one foundational question - "How can we as a church meet as many people as possible right where they are over the next 3 years and help move them to where God wants them to be?"  Here are the main aspects of our 3-year vision plan:

We want to see our Classic Service enhanced by providing the technology to broadcast a video feed of the weekly sermon from our Gospel Center down to the Chapel.  Currently we have two Contemporary Worship Services each Sunday (9am and 10:30am) in our Gospel Center.  At 9am, we also have a Classic Service taking place down in the Chapel.  Currently, the Classic service has their time of worship and then they all walk down to the Gospel Center for the message.  We feel it would greatly enhance our Classic Service if they did not have this planned "intermission" and instead could watch a video of the sermon while they remain in the chapel.

We also feel it would greatly enhance our Classic Service if we hired a quality and talented worship leader who can lead this service each and every Sunday.  Currently we have a different volunteer leading the worship each week (I even do this once a month).  Having the right personality who is gifted in this area and who could lead the worship each and every Sunday would greatly enhance the quality and effectiveness of our Classic Service.

We also desire to saturate our community, our county, and all of Northern Michigan by using technology to expand our impact by taking our Contemporary Service to the airwaves through the internet, through radio, through television and through multi-site campuses.  It is our prayer and goal that in the next three years we will see all of these avenues being used here at Gaylord E-Free to effectively reach all of Northern Michigan.

For us to be able to properly produce the technology for these ministries, our 3-year vision plan also includes the hiring of a technology director.  This would be a person who is in charge of utilizing all of our equipment and editing video and putting together quality programs of our services that we can use in broadcast.

We also desire to enhance our children's ministry through the hiring of a qualified Children's Director who can oversee all of our Nursery through grade 4 ministries.  Our children's program is on the move and we are seeing record attendances both on Sunday mornings and in our Wednesday Night Kids' Ministries.  With a staff member dedicated fully to this age group, we feel we can see even a greater impact take place.

We also desire to expand our nurseries.  The majority of our growth as a church is in the area of young families.  Right now our 3-year old and under ministry takes place in two separate areas of our facility.  This expansion would allow us to bring these areas all into the same part of our facility and allow for continued growth.

We also desire to build a state of the art Youth Center on our campus that would be open evenings, weekends and during the summer.  This would give students all throughout our county a place to come, hang-out and find Jesus.  It would also allow us to take our current youth wing of our facility and change it into a more effective area for children's ministry.

We are also serious about seeing people connect.  We don't just want to draw a crowd, we want to see all who attend E-Free also become connected where they will experience spiritual growth.  It is our goal within 3 years to see 80% of the adults who attend E-Free connected through one of our Equip-U Classes or one of our Life Groups.

Speaking of connection, our 3-year vision plan also includes installing a cafe into our facility.  This will allow a place right within our facility where people can gather to connect.  With multiple styles and times of services each Sunday we often just pass each other in the hallway.  A Connection Cafe would allow people to do more than just routinely say "hello" while passing each other in the foyer.  This would produce a place designed for personal connection to take place.

At E-Free we believe that evangelism must be the engine that drives the church.  We have a very strong outreach and mission program that touches our community and our world in amazing and numerous ways.  We want to see that grow in intensity.  It is our goal within 3 years to see 20% of our annual church budget go to outreach and missions.  In 2012, 12% of our budget went to outreach and missions.  In 2013 we are upping that to 14.5% on our way to 20% within 3 years.

We are blessed at E-Free to have an effective counseling ministry with a full-time licensed counselor on staff.  We desire to see this ministry expanded with the hiring of a female counselor as well to help with counseling women and children.

We have a large and wonderful facility here at E-Free that is always in use.  Our Vision Plan also calls for us to hire a full-time facility director who can oversee the custodial and maintenance of our church as well as overseeing the security and scheduling of our facility.

Over the years there have been many areas of our facility that have needed repaired or updated that have been delayed over and over again.  It is our desire within the next three years to see our facility brought completely up to date.  In order to accomplish this and the other areas of our 3-year vision plan, we are looking to have a 3-year Capitol Campaign in order to finance these exciting and needed areas.

This is an aggressive plan for a 3-year time period but I believe that D.L. Moody was correct!  God is our partner!  So let's make our plans BIG!  I can't wait to see what God does!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

HUNT! VOTE! PRAY!

Today is the first day of November.  To me, November is all about freedom!  Find out why by reading the article I wrote below that was published in the "Pastor's Perspective" section of today's "Weekly Choice Newspaper":


HUNT!  VOTE!  PRAY!  


Typically it is during the month of July that we celebrate our freedom here in America.  But living in Northern Michigan, I actually think that November is the perfect picture of freedom.  November here in Northern Michigan is all about three very significant freedoms.

First, November in Northern Michigan is hunting season.  This is all about the freedom we have to bear arms as seen in the 2nd amendment of our Constitution.  I have to admit that as a transplant to this area, I did not grow up a hunter.  In fact, I have never officially hunted a day in my life.  I did, however, shoot a groundhog once at a friend’s house who was a farmer.  I wanted to get that groundhog stuffed for our mantle but my wife wouldn’t let me.  But now that I live here in northern Michigan, I actually own a gun for the first time in my life.  

Second, November in Northern Michigan is Election Day.  This is about the freedom we have to vote and to be part of electing our leaders as seen in the 15th, 19th and 26th amendments of the Constitution.  The Bible is clear that it is God who sets up and removes leaders (Romans 13:1), but He often does this through the election process.  That’s why it is so important for everyone to vote.  It’s not just a right we have – it’s a responsibility.  Whether you are a Democrat, a Republican, an Independent, or part of any other political persuasion, I want to strongly encourage you to celebrate your freedom this month by making voting in this year’s election a priority.

Third, along with the freedom to bear arms and the freedom to vote, we also have the freedom to pray.  This is all about the freedom of religion as seen in the 1st amendment of the Constitution.  In my mind, this just may be the greatest freedom of them all.  Jesus said it this way in John 8:36, “So if the Son (Jesus) makes you free, you will be free indeed!”  

It’s November!  And here in Northern Michigan November is a month to celebrate our freedoms.  This is the month to hunt!  This is the month to vote!  And most importantly, this is the month pray!  

Sunday, October 28, 2012

"Up, Up and Away" this Halloween at Gaylord E-Free


There have been a couple of times in which I donned a SUPERMAN costume for the sake of ministry.  Once I even preached while wearing it.  I even had an artist that I did not know, nor whom I had ever met, find a picture of me dressed as Superman and make the below caricature:


This Wednesday, Halloween 2012, I will be entering my proverbial phone booth and coming out again as SUPERMAN for our Harvest Festival here at the Gaylord E-Free Church!  On this one night, hundreds of children with their families will be coming through our church for a great night of fun, food, games, candy and prizes.  It is a fabulous way for us to leverage our culture to build bridges to people in the name of Jesus!


So, Happy Halloween everyone!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Greater Things - WHY?


This Sunday begins a new 4-week series here at Gaylord E-Free Church that just may be the 4 most important Sundays in the history of our church.  Back in February our Elder Board formed a Vision Task Force and charged them with answering the questions, "How can E-Free Church meet as many people as possible over the next 3 years and move them to where God wants them to be?"  This Vision Plan for 2013-2015 was then presented to our church Elder Board back in August where it was unanimously approved.

Beginning this Sunday we will betaking the next four Sundays to present this 3-Year Vision Plan to our entire church family in a message series that we are calling "Greater Things" based on John 14:1-14.  It all begins this Sunday as we answer the question, "WHY do we have a 3-year Vision Plan?"  This Sunday we will see from the opening verses of John 14 that this Vision Plan for the next three years is all about a PEACE, a PLACE, a PROMISE, and a PERSON!

Both of our Contemporary Services this Sunday morning (9:00 and 10:30) will begin in a very unique way.  We are going to create the sights, sounds and smells of a big football game.  You will hear the sound of the marching band drum corp!  You will smell the aroma of freshly popped popcorn!  You will even get to enter the locker room where you will see the head coach as he introduces the game plan to the team in his pre-game pep talk!


But that's just the beginning of things.  The morning will also include great worship led by Samantha Dunn; a motivating video encouraging all of us to be part of this year's Bountiful Harvest as we partner with many other local church to feed thousands of people this Thanksgiving; and a special "Greater Things" video testimony of a life that has been changed through the ministry of our church.

Our Classic Serviced will also be taking place this Sunday at 9am.  I will be leading the worship through singing this Sunday morning and we will be showing both of the above mentioned videos as well.  As a special treat, there will also be a special instrumental group playing special music which will also include a "Dixie Land" feel to it.

It is going to a great day this Sunday at Gaylord E-Free as we "kick-off" our 4-week "Greater Things" vision series.  Join us as we believe God to do GREATER THINGS over the next 3-years!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Greater Things and Ingathering Sunday


Dear Gaylord E-Free Church Family,

October is fast coming to an end and the final two months of the calendar year are about here.  As we enter November we do so realizing what an important month it is going to be for our church.  Back in February, the Elder Board formed a Vision Task Force made up of 3 Elders, 3 Leadership team members, and 3 individuals from our Ministry Staff, charging them to answer the question, “How can we meet as many people as possible over the next 3 years and move them to where God wants them to be?”  This 3-year vision plan was then presented to our Elder Board back in August who unanimously approved it.

Beginning this Sunday, October 28, we will be taking four consecutive Sunday mornings to share with our congregation this 3-year vision plan for 2013-2015.  This will be done using a message series through John 14:1-14 that we are calling, “Greater Things.”  In John 14:12, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to the Father.”


This series will culminate on Sunday, November 18, which is Ingathering Sunday here at E-Free.  On this morning, instead of having our 2 Contemporary Services and our Classic Service, we will all meet together for one big service in the Gospel Center at 10:30 for a great morning of thankful celebration.  Nursery and Kidz Church will be taking place during the service but there will be no Adult Equip-U Classes and no ministries or services will be taking place at 9:00.  We are planning a very exciting service including the opportunity to watch as people follow the Lord in water baptism (if you have never been baptized since trusting Jesus as your Savior, what better Sunday to do so than this one?).  We will also be having a special time of dedication for the hundreds of Operation Christmas Child shoe-boxes put together by people from our church.

On that Sunday we will end our “Greater Things” message series by giving each person who calls Gaylord E-Free their church home the opportunity to literally put their “fingerprints of approval” on this aggressive, yet exciting vision plan for our church.  This is something you don’t want to miss.  Please start praying now that God would open our eyes and our hearts to the “Greater Things” that He wants to do in and through us here at E-Free.  Then, following the service we will enjoy a full-blown Thanksgiving meal together down in the gymnasium.  I hope you will plan to stay on that Sunday for this special time that we will have as a church family.

It is also our tradition here at E-Free to take a second offering on Ingathering Sunday which is a special offering that allows us to show in a tangible way our thankfulness to God for His many blessings in our life.  This year 100% of this special Ingathering offering will be used to prepare and equip our church through technology to be able to reach more people for Jesus than ever before (our Elder Fund will continue to be funded through our communion Sunday offerings).  Over the past 75 years, God has used E-Free Church to reach hundreds upon hundreds of people for Jesus.  But as you will soon see when we share our 3-year vision plan, we believe that God is now ready to do even “Greater Things!”  We believe that in the years ahead He can and will use us to reach thousands upon thousands, and with the proper technology, our church will be in a position to expand our ministry as never before with the sky literally being the limit.

Through this technology upgrade, not only will we be able to broadcast our worship service to other venues in our building (such as the Classic Service in the Chapel), but it will also begin to equip us with the potential of reaching literally thousands of people through many avenues including a live internet stream, a radio broadcast, a television broadcast, and even satellite campuses.  This upgrade will equip us to be able to saturate northern Michigan with the Gospel.

Last year we received nearly $50,000 in our Ingathering offering.  Because of the opportunities that God is placing before us, and realizing that people so desperately need Jesus, we are stretching that goal this year by 50%.  Our goal for this year’s Ingathering offering is $75,000.  Just imagine!  In one day we could receive enough funds to take a giant step in equipping our church to reach twice as many people in Northern Michigan in the years ahead than God has so graciously allowed us to reach in the past 75 years!  That’s why our theme is “Greater Things!”


I am asking each of you to take time between now and November 18 to prayerfully consider what God would place on your hearts to sacrificially give to this special Ingathering offering.  I am confident that we can reach our $75,000 goal and ask you to join me in praying that God would provide that and even more.  It is very important, however, to understand that on this Sunday we will first take our regular offering and then later in the service take our special Ingathering offering.  We would ask that you not take away from your regular giving for this special offering so that we can also continue to meet the weekly financial needs of our ministry.

Let me also take a moment to make you aware of some exciting happenings here at E-Free that are planned for the month of December.  Our Annual Business Meeting will take place Sunday night, December 2, at 6pm in the Gospel Center (refreshments and fellowship will start at 5:30).  This is an important meeting for our church family as we hear exciting updates and have the opportunity to approve our 2013 faith budget.  Although only members can vote, we encourage all regular attenders of our church to be part of this meeting.

And don’t forget Christmas at E-Free!  On the last Sunday of November we will begin a message series on the topic of “Angels” as we look to see what the Bible really teaches about angels and explore together the role that angels played in the Christmas story.  On December 24, we will have two very special family Christmas Eve Services, one at 5pm and another at 7pm, including great Christmas worship through music, candle-lighting and much more.  Childcare will be available during both Christmas Eve services for children 2 years of age and under.

I can’t wait to see what God does!  I am believing Him for “Greater Things!”  I hope you are too!  Thank you in advance for the role you will play as we worship the Lord together!

Blessings!

Pastor Scott

Monday, October 22, 2012

Why no blogs recently? Here is a camel of an reason!

I have received many contacts asking if I am no longer blogging.  As you may have noticed, I have needed to take a break from blogging recently.  One reason is that the busyness of my schedule has resulted in my needing to temporarily lay aside a few things that did not rank up as high on the priority scale - regular blogging and facebook posts fell into this category.

The second reason is because I have been out of the office the last two weeks due to being in Israel.  For my wife and I, this was our third trip to the Holy Land.  This time we took 23 others from our church with us.  The trip was absolutely incredible!  And what made it even greater was sharing it with this special group!  Though it was my third trip to Israel, it was my first time riding a camel.  Below is a picture of Laura and me on top of this amazing animal on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.


BTW - I hope to be back to more regular blogging again in the near future!