Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Bonus Day!

Today is that one day that we only see every 4 years. Most people call it "Leap Day!" I like to call it "BONUS DAY!" Most years we get 365 days and each of them are a gift from God. That is why Scripture teaches us to "redeem the time!" But today is a BONUS DAY - February 29.

So let me encourage you to make this day count in a way that can impact eternity. Here are some ideas. Choose one of them (or come up with your own) but don't let this BONUS DAY pass you by without making it count spiritually:

Spend an extra hour in prayer!

Read the entire Gospel of John!

Memorize Matthew 5:13-16!

Fast today!

Share your testimony with a lost person!

Reach out in a practical way to a person you know who is hurting!

Spend 30 minutes somewhere quiet singing praises to God!

My prayer for you is that somehow, some way, when your head hits its pillow tonight you will know that today was a day that had an eternal impact!


Tuesday, February 28, 2012


As we introduced VISION MONTH here at Gaylord E-Free last Sunday, I gave a formula that comes from the book "Becoming a Contagious Christian." The formula is HP + CP + CC = MI! It stands for High Potency + Close Proximity + Clear Communication = Maximum Impact. In other words, to have a maximum impact in reaching people for Jesus we need to be "Highly Potent" Christians who come in "Close Proximity" with those who need Jesus and then "Clearly Communicate" to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Later Sunday afternoon someone from the church messaged me and told me that she and her husband would like to add an element to the formula. Their formula is HP + CP + CC = MI + GP! GP stands for "Great Pain." She went on to share with me the great pain they have endured as God has given them opportunity to minister in the lives of hurting people. How true that is! You really can't love people and invest in their lives in a "real" way without experiencing some level of pain.

It reminds me of the conversation the new toy rabbit had with the old skin horse in the classic kid's tale, "The Velveteen Rabbit."

"What is real?" the rabbit asked the old skin horse..."Does it mean having things that buzz inside of you and a stick out handle?"

"Real isn't how you're made," said the skin horse. "It's a thing that happens to you when someone loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the skin horse.

"Does it happen all at once," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the skin horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have rough edges, or have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

I love that story! I love the "realness" of it. You see, when you make lost people a priority; when you truly live a highly potent Christian live and are willing to come in close proximity to those who are hurting and devastated by sin so that you can clearly communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them, chances are really good that you will experience great pain and there will be some, even in the church, who won't be able to understand why you do it.

But never forget this one's worth it! People are worth it! The Gospel is worth it!

HP + CP + CC = MI + GP

Sunday, February 26, 2012


This morning we introduced VISION MONTH which begins next Sunday here at E-Free Church! Over the next 4 weeks every picture seen above will take on a very real and specific meaning! Don't miss one Sunday of VISION MONTH here at Gaylord E-Free!

Saturday, February 25, 2012


In his book,
Axiom, Bill Hybels writes this about vision:

"Some leaders believe that if they fill people's vision buckets all the way to the top one time, those buckets will stay full forever. But the truth is, people's vision buckets have holes of varying sizes in their bottoms. As a result, vision leaks out."

In his book, Making Vision Stick, Andy Stanley says this about vision:

"One of the greatest challenges of leadership is making vision stick. Vision doesn't have much adhesive...When speaking to leaders on the subject of vision, I like to joke that the three primary obstacles to making vision stick are success, failure and everything in between."

This Sunday will be the introduction week to prepare us for March which is VISION MONTH here at Gaylord E-Free. We will spend the entire month of March revisiting what the purpose of our church is, and it can be remembered by simply remember the letters "M&M"!

Bring your vision buckets with you this Sunday as we seek to fill them back up!!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Everyone Needs an Onesiphorus!

This week I spent a lot of time studying for an upcoming message series that will take place this June on "Unsung Men of Courage in Scripture." The series will identify three men in particular - Onesimus, Obededom and Onesiphorus!

Onesiphorus! What a great name! He's actually mentioned in the Bible in 2 Timothy 1:16-18 and what an amazing man he was. Paul describes him as an individual who often brought refreshment to Paul during his ministry. But the refreshment of Onesiphorus goes much deeper than that. He stayed in Paul's court even when most others deserted him. He was "not ashamed of Paul's chains."

As Paul writes 2 Timothy he is in a Roman dungeon awaiting execution at the hands of Nero, arguably one of the greatest persecutors of Christians recorded in history. Nero had set Rome on fire and then blamed the Christians. The result was that Christians were very hated and to be associated with a leader of the Christian movement in that day, like Paul, would have definitely put your own life in danger. Even with this as a backdrop, Onesiphorus stayed a loyal friend and ministry partner of Paul. He even went from Ephesus, where he lived, to Rome in order to search dungeon by dungeon and jail by jail until he found the Apostle in chains.

Add to this the fact that Onesiphorus was seemingly one of the only individuals to stick with Paul. Verse 15 of the same chapter tells us that all who were in Asia deserted Paul. He even specifically names two individuals by name, Phygelus and Hermogenes, as two men who he never would have dreamed would betray him, but they did. This makes Onesiphorus' being a loyal and faithful friend and ministry partner of Paul's that much more impressive.

If you are reading this and you have spent your life in ministry, you probably have experienced a similar hurt where people who you never dreamed would desert you, left you in the dust. You have probably had experiences where people you poured into and invested into ultimately turned their back on you. But my guess is that you have also experienced the refreshment of an Onesiphorus as well - someone who stayed by your side and went out of their way to encourage you in the middle of your hurt.

I am so thankful for the men who have been an Onesiphorus in my life and ministry, who have brought me refreshment in the most difficult times I have faced. As a result, I have a desire like never before to be an Onesiphorus to others who are hurting, especially those who are in ministry.

Onesiphorus! What a great name! What a great man of courage! It's probably a good thing that I did not study this man out a couple of decades ago or there might just be a college student at Liberty University today named "Onesiphorus Distler!"

Thursday, February 23, 2012

M&M's and a TRAIN

Here at Gaylord E-Free we use many creative elements on Sunday mornings that have been put together by our Creative Ideas Group and our Worship Design Group. But why do we use creativity in our worship services? We never want be creative on Sunday just to be “cute” or “cool.” Instead, each creative element we use is based on a purpose. We try to use a 3-question grid for all of the creative ideas we consider:

-Does it fit and help to communicate the theme?

-Can we do it with excellence and cost effectively?

-Is it too far out of the box meaning it becomes more of a distraction than an asset?

The primary purpose for using creative elements is to help people connect with the message that we are communicating. We are visual learners and hopefully our recent Noah series was a good example of how effective creative elements can be as a teaching tool in our culture today. With that in mind, here are the main purposes behind the creative elements we have planned for our new series which begins this Sunday. The new series is designed to allow our people to grasp and connect with our purpose here at E-Free which is to “MEET as many people as possible right where they are and help MOVE them to where God wants them to be." As a result, here are the two main visuals we will be using:

M&M’s! Our goal is to engrain the letters “M&M” into each person’s heart and mind over the next 6 weeks. Why? Because for vision to be transferred it has to be easily transferable. It is our goal that all of the M&M elements to this series will cause people to remember the words “Meeting & Moving.” If people can remember those two words, they will have a much better chance of remembering our purpose which is “to MEET as many people as possible right where they are and help MOVE them to where God wants them to be.”

As a result, there will be a lot of visual “M&M’s” with this series from live M&M characters out front of the church to M&M displays in the lobby to many of our greeters, ushers and stage participants wearing M&M shirts. Why so many M&M visuals over the 6-weeks? Because vision is like a bucket with holes in it - “Vision Leaks!” Vision does not stick. You have to keep communicating it over and over again. Hopefully, all of the M&M visuals throughout this series will allow people to remember our vision as a church long after this series is done.

TRAIN! For this series there will also be a large train on the stage (longer than even our ark was). What is the purpose of the train? We want to visually communicate the idea of MEETING & MOVING. We will see that the “moving” aspect of our purpose involves 6 levels (the community, the crowd, the curious, the convinced, the committed and the core). We will have a large sign with the train identifying these 6 levels as 6 train stations. The train includes a passenger car. We want to use the train to visualize our purpose by visualizing us MEETING people at each station and MOVING them to the next station representing their spiritual journey.

Along with the primary reason for creative elements being to help people connect with the message we are communicating, there is also a secondary purpose which is to create anticipation. The more people come to church anticipating what is going to happen, the more they are tuned in to the worship and the message from the start. It also provides what I like to call a positive “buzz” in that it makes talking about church a very easy thing for our people to do and during the week as they interact with people outside of the church.

Creativity is a powerful tool.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

M&M: A Week By Week Preview

In my posting yesterday I introduced our new message series that begins this Sunday that we are calling “Meeting & Moving: A Purpose That Melts In Your Mouth!” Here is how this new M&M series will pan out during each week of this 6-week series here at Gaylord E-Free:

February 26 will be an introduction week before Vision Month begins. We will see this week from Habakkuk 2:1-2 and Acts 1:8 the importance of “vision.” We will also use this week to explain a formula (HP + CP + CC = MI) that will be the serial number on the engine of the train up on the stage. We will end this Sunday by introducing the MEETING & MOVING concept.

March 4 we will examine in detail the account of Jesus and the “Woman at the Well” seen in John 4, seeing Jesus MEETING this woman right where she was. We will see His MEETING her geographically. We will see His MEETING her spiritually. And we will see His MEETING her culturally. We will talk about what it takes for us as individuals and for we as a church to MEET as many people as possible right where they are.

March 11 we will continue in John 4 seeing how Jesus MET this woman but how He MOVES her to where God wants her to be. We will see her go from seeing Jesus as a Jew, to seeing Him as a prophet, to seeing Him as the Messiah. We will then identify “6 levels” in our spiritual journey (the 6 train stations on stage). Every person inside and outside of the church is on one of these levels in their spiritual journey. We will see our need as a church, after MEETING people at whatever level they are, to then help MOVE them to the next level, closer to where God wants them to be.

March 18 and March 25 we will look at two MEETING & MOVING (M&M) stories in the Bible. On March 18 we will look at an Old Testament M&M story involving a woman named Rahab. On March 25 we will look at a New Testament M&M story involving a man named Levi (later called Matthew). In both cases we will see how God MET these individuals right where they were and then MOVED them to where He wanted them to be!

We will then use April 1 as a bridge week between Vision Month and Easter as we look at the topic, “God’s Favorite Type of Candy!” Of course, this is referring to M&M’s and we will see this from the parable of the lost coin and the parable of the lost sheep that is recorded in Luke’s Gospel.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

M&M: A Purpose That Melts In Your Mouth!

On one hand, I am very bummed that our Noah series is over here at Gaylord E-Free! What a great 7-weeks it was and we are still praising the Lord for the work we saw Him do last Sunday with so many people coming forward and walking through the door of the ark making a decision for Christ.

But on the other hand, I could not be more excited about the new series we will start this Sunday. The month of March will actually be our VISION month as we look to get everyone in our church excited about and on the same page when it comes to our purpose as a church which is to “MEET as many people as possible right where they are at and help MOVE them to where God wants them to be!” So our series is entitled “MEETING & MOVING!” In order to get people to connect with and remember those two words, we are centering the theme of the series on “M&M’s” (standing for MEETING & MOVING). That is why we have subtitled this series, “A Purpose That Melts in Your Mouth!”

As a result, look for M&M items all over through this series. Look for blow-up and stand-up M&M displays. Look for those on stage to be wearing different colored M&M T-Shirts. Even look for individuals in M&M costumes to be outside by the road so that people start connecting with “M&M” from the moment that they pull into the church driveway (while making people passing by wonder, “What in the world is going on at that church?” This is good! It produces curiosity about our church. As we will see in this series, Jesus used curiosity when MEETING & MOVING the Samaritan Woman at the Well).

Along with all of that, as you enter the Gospel Center Sunday the ARK will be gone, but a 40-ft long TRAIN will be on stage in its place. The train will have a passenger car. Why? Because we want to visualize the need to MEET people at whatever “RAILROAD STATION” they are at (we will use this series to identify 6 stations) and then get them “on board” to MOVE them to the next station in their spiritual journey.

We will also be looking through the month of March to work in synergy with our Outreach Team to promote all of our missionaries and global partnerships in which we are MEETING & MOVING people literally all over the world. We will use this series to look toward an upcoming Saturday outreach day in which we as a church body will go out and MEET & MOVE people right here in our own community. There will also be an emphasis all through the series on MEETING & MOVING people by encouraging everyone in our church to be inviting people to Easter here at E-Free in which we will be having two identical morning services with a prayer goal of 1500 people in attendance.

So treat yourself to a bag of M&M's in preparation for this Sunday as we begin our new M&M series! In my posting tomorrow I will break down the next 6 weeks and show you where we will be going each week of this new and very important series for our church!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

WOW Moment at E-Free Sunday

Sundays are always great! But there are those Sundays that God does something so amazing that the only way you can respond is to say, "WOW! Way to go, God!" That is what happened this Sunday at the Gaylord E-Free Church.

We concluded our 7-week series on the life of Noah by looking at four passages of Scripture in the New Testament where we see that the story of Noah lives on and still impacts our life today. Our Creative Ideas Group did an amazing job with this series and actually built the framework of an ARK up on the stage for the entire series. Each week this set changed a bit in relation to where we were in the Biblical account of Noah's life.

We ended this Sunday by showing how the ark is a picture of today. In Noah's day the world was full of sin and God was going to judge the world with a flood. But before He did so, He first made a way of salvation...the ark. He put just one door in the ark. If anyone would believe the words of God and enter the ark through that door, they would be saved from the coming judgement.

The same is true today. Our world is full of sin and God will one day judge all mankind. Because of our sin we deserve in the end to be separated from God forever in hell. But God has made a way of salvation and He has created a door into that salvation. In John 10:9, Jesus said, "I am the door, by Me if anyone enters in he will be saved." If we will believe the words of God and walk through the door of Jesus Christ by putting our faith in His death and resurrection, we will be saved from that eternal judgement that we so deserve. What a story!

In preparation for this Sunday our Creative Ideas Group added a big white cross in the middle of the door in the ark on our stage. It was very impressive and gave a visual picture that because of His death on the cross for our sins, Jesus is the only door into God's salvation. At the end of the message I gave those who had never trusted Christ as their Savior or who needed to recommit their life to knowing, loving and serving Jesus, to come forward and walk through the door of the ark on our stage symbolizing that they were ready to make things right with the Lord.

How awesome it was as we sang "Amazing Grace! My Chains Are Gone" to see many, many people from all over the auditorium, the lower level as well as the balcony, come forward. I met each one of them at the door of the ark and gave to each of them a hug of support and congratulations. They then walked through the door of the ark with the cross right in the middle of it where on the other side there were counselors ready to talk and pray with them. It was truly a "WOW" moment!

Even after the service was over, as people were leaving the Gospel Center, I watched as other people on their own took time to walk up on to the stage and walk through the door of the ark where many of them paused to pray. What an amazing morning it was! All I could say in response was:

"WOW! Way to go, God!!"

Saturday, February 18, 2012

No More Mr Noah

I can honestly say that I have never enjoyed preaching a series more in 24 years of being a pastor than I have this current series on Noah here at the Gaylord E-Free Church. This is true for two reasons. First, it is true because I have never seen a congregation connect with a message series like our church family has with this Noah series. This series generated a real “buzz” in our church and even in our community that has been exciting to watch. I did not expect this at all. I planned this "winter series" to be merely an educational series in which we as a church dig a little deeper into a part of Scripture. To my amazement, God turned this merely education series into something very special - a true "God thing!"

Second, this is true because of the work of our Creative Ideas Group under the direction of Joshua Rupp who is our Worship Arts Director. They have absolutely gone above and beyond in planning and executing creative elements that brought this series to life and allowed our congregation to really wrap their heads around every aspect of the story of Noah and how it affects our lives today! From our Ark which changed weekly with the theme, to the animals, to the video clips, to making it rain, to our rainbow, to our very own live Noah, this group of creative people hit the proverbial "home run" with this series (with the possible one lone exception of that pesky and very loud rooster!)!

This Sunday we will conclude our series on Noah here at Gaylord E-Free. After this Sunday the ark will be disassembled and sadly, it will be “No More Mr Noah!” Last Sunday we saw that sin and death survived the flood as we saw Noah’s disobedience in Genesis chapter nine and the fact that he, like all mankind, died. But though dead, Noah’s life story lives on today. This Sunday we will take the time to look at four different passages of Scripture in the New Testament where Noah is mentioned and where we see that the story we have studied the past six weeks is still making a difference in people's lives hundreds of years later.

If you have to miss a Sunday in this series, whatever you do, don’t miss this Sunday as we conclude our series, “The Noah Factor: All Are Welcome!”

Friday, February 17, 2012

Random Thought Friday

It's Friday which is my day off. So instead of one theme in my posting today, here are some random thoughts bouncing around in my mind as another work week ends and another weekend begins:

One of my favorite parts of Life Group is listening to people pray for each other (although the chicken enchiladas that Pam brought to group last night was a very close second!)!

Looking forward to spending my day off today with my wife!

Been thinking a lot this past week about the need we each have to "finish well" spiritually and praying for someone who is currently not on the road to "finishing well!"

Can't wait for Sunday at Gaylord E-Free. I believe God is going to do something very special!

Next week is my "study week!" I spend time each week studying for sermons and classes but I set aside one week a month for nothing but study. It is always a wonderful week of learning and inspiration!

My heart is very soft toward pastors who are hurting. I'm praying today for several of them by name that God would encourage, protect and lead them!

I love it when God surprises me - when I am expecting something "bad" but it ends up being really, really good! That happened to me on Thursday!

This weekend I should be able to check off a couple of really big items from my "to do" list!

Looking forward to BBQ ribs on Saturday!

Our staff here at Gaylord E-Free will be spending all morning this coming Monday participating together in a team building experience! Should be fun!

One year ago last weekend I candidated here at the Gaylord E-Free Church. One year ago this coming weekend I received an official call asking me to become their new Lead Pastor!

I have a very strong feeling that during the month of March I am going to be craving Peanut M&M's on a regular basis!

I'm excited to be able to vote in Michigan's presidential primary later this month while the race is still up for grabs. In past states where I have lived, by the time our primaries rolled around the primary races were already decided. I'm pretty sure who I will be voting for on that day but I still could be persuaded otherwise!

Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training next week! I love baseball!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Can't Beat This Ministry Dream Team!

Here at the Gaylord E-Free Church in Gaylord, Michigan, we have quite the "Dream Team" on our Ministry Staff as seen above in our new bulletin shells! In all seriousness, I wish everyone in local church ministry had such a great staff to work with day in and day out for the cause of Christ. Jim, Joe, Newell, Jack, Joshua and Matt...these guys are simply the best. I get to spend a lot of time with these guys on a regular basis in different meetings. I also schedule one hour each week with each of these men one-on-one. If you are part of the Gaylord E-Free family, I hope you realize how fortunate we are as a church to have such a dedicated ministry staff.

So let me take this time to encourage each of you who attend Gaylord E-Free to pray for our ministry staff on a regular basis. And if you do not attend Gaylord E-Free, let me encourage you to pray regularly for the pastors and ministry staff at the church where you do attend. They deserve your prayer support, and even more importantly, they need it. On one hand, there is nothing more fulfilling and exciting than serving the Lord through leading in the local church. But on the other hand, there are few occupations more difficult. Ministry includes highs and lows. It includes celebrations and frustrations. It includes cheerleaders and critics.

Full-time ministry in the local church isn't easy. But for those who are called to full-time ministry like Jim, Joe, Newell, Jack, Joshua and Matt, it's worth it. That's why they deserve and need your prayers. They also need your encouragement. An encouraging email; a kind note; a word of appreciation in the lobby on Sunday morning...these things can go along ways in bringing great refreshment to our ministry staff.

Jim, Joe, Newell, Jack, Joshua and Matt...thanks for all you do! I appreciate you! I really do!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Gift of Disappointment

We all have faced disappointments, right? In fact, you can accurately say that disappointments are an unavoidable part of life. In fact, I once heard someone define leadership as this, "Leadership is disappointing people at a rate they can stand!" That is a humorous definition but one with a lot of truth! But how are we to respond when God is the one who disappoints us? We've all experienced that.

Before I started having dialogue with the Search Team here at the Gaylord E-Free Church I was being considered to be the Sr Pastor at a very large and very contemporary church in Southern Indiana. In fact, this church was so big that they had hired an outside organization to conduct their search for them. This organization did a nation-wide search and presented 6 semi-finalists to this church, of which I was one. The church then narrowed it down to two people of which I was still one.

I was sure that this was the right place for me. I was confident that this was God's will for me. I was ready to pack my bags and head to the Hoosier state. How deflated I was when I got the call letting me know that they had decided to pursue the other candidate. I had asked God for this over and over and was sure it was the right path, but in the end, God disappointed me.

So how should we view it when God disappoints us? First, we should see it as evidence that God loves us! Here is what I mean. When my kids were young there were times when they would ask permission to do something or to go somewhere. In their limited minds it was the perfect opportunity. To them, there was no reason why they should not be allowed. But as a parent, I knew things that they didn't know. I could see things that they couldn't see. I knew that this was not the best thing for them and I loved them enough to disappoint them even though I knew that they would not be able to understand and that they might possibly could get mad at me.

It is the same with God. I wanted to pastor that church in Indiana but God knew things and saw things that I could not know nor see. He knew it was not the best thing for me and He loved me enough to disappoint me even though He knew that I would not understand His decision and that I may even get angry at Him. When God disappoints us it is a gift. It is clear evidence of how much He loves us!

Second, we should see the times in our lives in which God disappoints us as golden opportunities to trust Him. I remember many times disappointing my kids when I did not give them what they asked for and hearing them cry out, "That's not fair!" I remember responding to them with the words, "You just need to trust me as your father!"

So it is with God. Each time He disappoints us it is a golden opportunity for us to trust Him as our Heavenly Father. God didn't give me that church in Indiana. He gave me something far better for me and my family. He gave me the blessing of being able to live in Gaylord, Michigan and see the amazing things He is doing here at the Gaylord E-Free Church! God saying "No" to Indiana was His way of saying to me, "You just need to trust Me as your Father!"

Disappointment is never fun but it is a gift! Through God disappointing us we get to see clear evidence of His love for us and we get the golden opportunity to trust our Heavenly Father!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Vision Task Force Commences

I have heard vision defined as "A picture of the future that produces passion today." Well, get ready for some passion here at Gaylord E-Free Church because the Elder Board has officially launched a Vision Task Force that begins meeting today in order to put together a clear 3-year vision for Gaylord E-Free for the years 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Earlier our Elder Board, Leadership Team and Ministry Staff (who together I like to refer to as the "Three Legged Stool of Leadership" here at Gaylord E-Free) enthusiastically adopted a ministry purpose that we call "Meeting & Moving." Our purpose as a church is to MEET as many people as possible right where they are at and to help MOVE them to where God wants them to be. We will be taking 6 full weeks beginning Sunday, February 26 to present this "Meeting & Moving" concept to our entire church family. I'm sure that our church will be just as excited about this direction as our Elders, Leadership Team and Ministry Staff are about it.

The Vision Task Force is charged with answering this question, "What are we as a church going to do over the next three years to MEET and MOVE as many people as possible?" In making this charge to the Vision Task Force the Elder Board has said that there are no parameters. We have been given the freedom to dream big. They have also told the Vision Task Force not to let money limit the vision. We believe that whatever God calls us to do He will provide us with the funds to do it. They have also said that the Vision Task Force is not to simply look at our church as a community church or even as a county church, but rather we are to look at how our church can reach all of northern Michigan for Jesus (How amazing it is to have an Elder Board with this kind of passion and vision for the church!)!

The Vision Task Force is made up of 9 people. This includes the 3 leaders of the "Three Legged Stool" (The Elder Chairman, The Church Chairman, and myself as the Lead Pastor). Along with the three of us there are two additional Elders on the Vision Task Force, two additional Leadership Team members, and two additional ministry staff members. Each month the members of the Vision Task Force will give an update to our Elders, Leadership Team and Ministry Staff so that we are always getting their feedback and input.

This Vision Task Force begins meeting TODAY and will meet every other Tuesday until our job is complete. The goal is to be able to bring our finalized vision plan to the Elder Board for approval on August 5 so that we can then present it to our entire church family. Please pray for this Task Force. Pray that each person on this team will be able to "check their preferences" at the door. Our goal as individual Vision Task Force members is not to get "our agenda" for the next 3 years of our church adopted. Our goal is to come together as a Vision Task Force and discover together what we believe God wants Gaylord E-Free to accomplish!


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Learning from Noah's Nakedness

This past Sunday at Gaylord E-Free we looked at a pretty interesting passage of Scripture from Genesis 9. We found Noah after the flood, in his tent drunk, naked and passed out (I joked saying that it sounded to me like Noah was a NASCAR fan). The story goes on to say that his son, Ham, comes in and sees him naked and goes out and tells his other two brothers. When Noah awakes and realized what Ham had done, he utters a prophetic curse, not on Ham, but on one of Ham's sons named Canaan.

At first glance it is easy to read the story and wonder why Noah responded the way he did. What did Ham do that was so horrible. For this reason many speculate that Ham did something very immoral in Noah's tent. The theories are plentiful and some of them would make this blog posting R-rated if I shared them. But I don't think we need to take the passage anywhere that the text does not go.

To me the nature of Ham's disobedience is spotlighted by the contrasting response of his other two brothers. When Shem and Japheth hear of their father's condition, they take a covering between them and, walking backwards so as not to see their father's nakedness, they cover Noah. They showed their father honor and respect - Ham did not.

But is Ham not honoring his father really that bad of a sin? Folks, sin is sin. There are no minor sins and major sins. Let me remind you that in the sixth chapter of Ephesians Paul reminds us that honoring our parents is the first commandment God gave that had a promise attached to it. God promised to bless those who honored their parents. I think that would make this a very important command and one that Ham did not follow. Instead of showing his dad honor and doing what his brothers did, Ham went out and told others of his father's drunken and disgraced condition.

Today we struggle seeing Ham's sin as "major" because we live in a culture that rarely shows honor to their authorities. And I am not talking only to today's children and teenagers. I find it amazing that parents wonder why their kids do not show honor and respect to them when our kids constantly see we as parents showing dishonor to our authorities. They hear us speak derogatory words about government leaders we don't like or don't agree with. They hear us speak derogatory of our bosses that we don't like or don't agree with. They even listen to us speak derogatory of our church leaders that we don't like or don't agree with. And then we wonder why they speak derogatory about us as parents?

We all have authorities that we do not necessarily like and that we do not agree with. I doubt that Shem and Japheth agreed with the drunken disgrace of their father. But they still responded to him with honor and respect and covered him. I am simply advocating this - it is possible to disagree with our authorities without being disrespectful. Not only is it possible, it's godly.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

How Great Are You?

Over the last three posts we have been talking about the story in Mark 10 when two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, come to Him with their mother asking if He would guarantee that they could have the two greatest positions of honor at the time in which He would establish His kingdom.

Ultimately, Jesus denied their request because it was not His to give. He tells them that God the father would one day assign those positions for those that it has been prepared for (not based on favoritism or on a “first come first serve” request).

It appears that somehow the other disciples heard of James and John’s request and according to verse 41 they became “indignant” toward the brothers. “Indignant” is a very strong and emotional word. What made the other 10 respond in such an emotional way? If you back up to Mark 9 you see the reason. Just previous to James and John making this request of Jesus, the disciples had been arguing over which one of them was the greatest. These guys were filled with envy and selfish ambition and according to James 3, where there is envy and selfish ambition there is disorder and every kind of evil

It was time for Jesus to teach them a thing or two about what greatness really means. Jesus wants His disciples (and you and I today) to see that His path to greatness is very different than the world’s view of greatness. Those who are great in the world are those who use their positions of greatness to accomplish one thing – their own personal agendas. And those who hold positions of greatness in the world are those who see others as nothing more than pawns in a giant chess match to use to accomplish their agendas.

In contrast Jesus gives two characteristics of what greatness is in His kingdom. First, greatness involves being a servant. Instead of using our greatness to accomplish our own personal agendas we are to voluntarily render useful service to others. Second, greatness in God’s eyes involves being a slave. Instead of using our positions of greatness to exploit others as pawns to accomplish our goals, we are to be willing to forfeit our own rights in order to serve others.

And to see a picture of greatness we need look no further than Jesus Himself. He was a servant. Though He deserved being served, He came to be served. And He was a slave. He was willing to forfeit His own rights even to the point of giving His life on the cross as a ransom for many.

So, from God’s perspective, how great are you?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ignorance Is Not Always BLISS!

Over the last two posts we have been talking about the story in Mark 10 when two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, come to Him with their mother asking if He would guarantee that they could have the two greatest positions of honor at the time in which He would establish His kingdom.

Jesus’ response shows the major ignorance in their request. He tells them in verse 38 that they did not realize what they were really asking for. Their request was a request of pure ignorance.

I wonder how many times God has said those same words in response to some of my prayers over the years. I wonder how many times I have ignorantly asked God for something, and if it were possible to hear the audible voice of God, I would have heard God say in response, “You have no idea what you are really asking for, do you?”

Jesus tries to enlighten them by asking them if they could drink from the cup that He would drink from or be baptized with the baptism that He would be baptized with? These terms are speaking of His coming suffering. That’s what James and John did not understand. They did not realize that to share in Jesus’ glory you first had to also share in His suffering.

The question is rhetorical in nature. “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” The obvious answer is a resounding, “NO!” That’s why I chuckle out loud every time I read this text because the response of the Sons of Thunder (the nickname of these brothers) was a rather flippant, “Yep! We are able!” They obviously did not understand what Jesus was saying.

Jesus then drives His point home in no uncertain terms. He predicts that James and John would drink of that same cup. They would suffer for Christ. And that is indeed what happened. John faced years of persecution and exile even into his elderly years. And James? He became the first of the apostles to die for Jesus when he was beheaded at the order of Herod. I wonder if Jesus’ words went thorough James’ head right before the sword did?

I wonder how many times I flippantly respond to God out of ignorance. Ignorance is not always bliss.

We will continue with this story from Mark 10 tomorrow.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

My Agenda Is So Loud That I Can't Hear You!

In yesterday’s post we saw how James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, came with their mother to Jesus in Mark 10 asking Him to give them whatever they asked of Him. Their specific request was to have the highest positions of honor when He would establish His kingdom. What makes the timing of their request so amazing is that in the verses right before that Jesus had just told the disciples that He would be handed over to His enemies, mocked, scourged, spit upon and killed. Somehow the dialogue is painstakingly inappropriate.

Jesus: “Guys, I’m going to die!”

James and John: “That’s nice. Hey, by the way, can we have the highest positions of honor when you establish Your kingdom?”

It’s like Jesus’ words passed right over their heads or in one ear and right out the other. Did they not hear what Jesus said? It appears to me that they were so focused on their own agenda that they missed what Jesus was trying to convey to them.

But truth be told, I can often be like James and John. I am an agenda driven guy and sometimes my zeal to accomplish my agenda keeps me from really listening to what people are trying to communicate to me. Let me give you an example.

In the first church I pastored back in Indiana I would meet with two of my Elders every Wednesday over the lunch hour for prayer together. Man, I loved those guys and really grew close to them. I asked them to evaluate my ministry as their pastor. One of the things they told me was that people saw me as somewhat unapproachable. They gave me a “for instance.”

They said that on Sunday mornings I was so focused on my agenda of being sure that all the details were in place and that everyone knew who they were to hand the microphone off to in the service that I would blow right by people with nothing but a passing “Good morning!” They told me that people wanted to share with me and wanted to communicate with me as their pastor, but my focus was on one thing – accomplishing my agenda.

I wonder how many times, like James and John, I have missed something very important someone tried to communicate to me because I was too consumed with my agenda to hear what was being said to me. Agendas can be good… but never as good as listening! More about this story in Mark 10 tomorrow!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Request for a Blank Check

Have you ever had someone ask you for a blank check? Jesus did. In Mark 10:35-45, two of Jesus’ disciples approach him with a request. They are James and John, the two sons of Zebedee also nicknamed, “Sons of Thunder.” Their request is stunning. Here it is:

“Jesus, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you!”

Imagine that! They were asking Jesus for a blank check. But then again, there are many who do the same thing today, seeing Jesus merely as a “Genie in a bottle” who is obligated to give them anything that they ask.

And to make matters even more interesting (and somewhat political), according to Matthew 20:21 their mother came with them to make this request. In fact, it appears that she did most of the talking. I’m not sure who instigated it but I am amazed by their gall. It’s as if they said, “Hey, let’s get mom to ask Jesus. He won’t say no to her.” It almost seems like two children plotting on the best way to play their parents.

Jesus is certainly wise enough not to make such an open-ended promise. Instead He simply asks them what their request was. And what was it? They wanted Jesus to guarantee that they would be given the highest places of honor and authority when He established His Kingdom. They asked to sit on His right and on His left which were the highest positions in a royal court.

Now chances are good that this thought entered their mind back in Matthew 19 when Jesus had promised that in His Kingdom the 12 disciples would sit on twelve thrones with Jesus. Since that time, there had probably been much discussion among these two brothers as to how they could ensure themselves of the top spots on that day. So they rope dear old mom into helping them strike while the iron was hot and before any of the other 10 disciples thought to do the same.

I can’t help but wonder if Jesus would have granted their request if the two siblings would have then broke out into an argument or maybe even a fistfight over which one got to sit on His right (the highest position) and which one got to sit on His left (the second highest position).

It’s true – the pursuit of greatness can turn even a disciple into a monster. Tune back in tomorrow to see how Jesus responds to this request for greatness.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Somewhere Over the Rainbow!

The rainbow is an amazing phenomenon. Many stories and myths are associated with this colorful sensation. I read of one culture that believes that if you pass under a rainbow you will change genders. In other words, if you are a man, you will become a woman and if you are a woman, you will be come a man. This myth makes me glad that it is impossible to pass under a rainbow.

Of course, there is also the thinking that at the end of the rainbow there are tiny little leprechauns dressed in green and guarding a pot of gold. Dorothy sang to us in the Wizard of Oz that somewhere over the rainbow our dreams really do come true. But none of these examples even come close to the awe and wonder of the real meaning of the rainbow.

The first rainbow can be read about in Genesis 9:8-17, when God makes a covenant with Noah. There are several aspects of this covenant worth noting:

First, this covenant was unilateral, meaning that God initiated it without any negotiation.

Second, it was unconditional. Noah did not have to do anything to get the benefits of the covenant and there was nothing Noah could do to make God break the covenant.

Third, this covenant was universal. It wasn't just for Noah. It was also for his wife, his sons, their wives and all of creation.

Fourth, this covenant was perpetual. It was also for all of Noah's descendants and successive generations. Being that you and I are all descendants of Noah, that means this covenant is also an agreement with us.

Fifth, this covenant was a promise. The promise was that God would never again destroy the entire earth with a flood like he had done in Noah's day.

Sixth, there was a sign that accompanied this covenant. This sign was the rainbow. The rainbow would be a reminder that God had made this covenant and that He would keep it. Now for you and I, seeing a rainbow is cool, but I doubt it is anything close to what Noah felt every time he saw a rainbow in the 350 years that he lived after the flood. Here's why:

When you and I see it raining, how do we respond? Do we panic? Do we "freak out?" Of course not. Why? Because we are use to it raining. We have seen it rain hundreds, if not thousands of times. No big deal, right? But it was a big deal for Noah. Remember, before the flood it had never rained. The only experience Noah ever had with rain resulted in a universal flood, death, destruction and a year on a wooden box with a bunch of smelly animals.

If God had not made this promise to never again destroy the earth with a flood, how do you think Noah would have reacted the first time it rained after he got off the ark? He would most likely have panicked. He would have "freaked out!" He would have thought, "OH, NO! NOT AGAIN!" You see, the rainbow for Noah was a reminder that he served a covenant-making, covenant-keeping God which meant that Noah could be at peace, even when the storms came.

Keep that in mind the next time you see a rainbow. The next time that colorful arch spans the sky above your head, look at it from Noah's sandals. But be careful not to pass under it - Just in case the myth listed above may be true!

Sunday, February 05, 2012

E-Free Impact

I love how I see God growing our church and the evidence of how God is using our church to impact our community. Everywhere I go, I run into E-Free people and thoroughly enjoy listening to them tell me about how God is using the Gaylord E-Free Church in their lives. I'm serious when I say that E-Free people are everywhere in Gaylord. Here are some examples from just the past couple of hours.

After a wonderful service that ended with a very moving celebration of communion, I was enjoying talking with folks out in the lobby before heading down to teach week #3 of our "Get Acquainted" class with many of our new folks. As I stood out in the lobby I met a mom and her two kids, one a teenager and the other elementary age. It was their 3rd Sunday at E-Free and what a thrill it was to hear them share how much they loved the services and how God was using it in their lives. The older girl introduced me to her boyfriend who was in church for the very first time. They asked me to keep praying for two other members of their family including their husband/father, that they would soon start coming to E-Free as well.

As soon as Laura and I were done with our part of the "Get Acquainted" class we headed over to the hospital to see one of our newer church members who had surgery over the weekend. Again, what a thrill to have him share with me how it had been nothing but a string of people from E-Free who had stopped in to visit with him. As we talked, his nurse came in. This patient said to her, "Let me introduce you to my pastor." She replied, "He's my pastor too - I am in the balcony most every Sunday!" She then shared how much her kids love sitting in church with her. How cool!

Laura and I then headed down to the main lobby of the hospital on our way to grab a bite to eat. As we passed through the waiting area there was a lady there sitting alone. She seemed like her heart was very heavy. She caught our eye and spoke to us. Come to find out, she also attends E-Free and was at the hospital for some injections prior to a very serious cancer related procedure scheduled for this weekend. She cried as she shared her story with us and Laura and I had the privilege of praying with her and for her and giving her hugs and encouragement. I like to call these type of encounters, "Divine Appointments."

Then we headed down to a local dive to grab some lunch. There we ran into two more families from E-Free and enjoyed chatting and laughing with each one of them. All of these stories took place in under a 3-hour time-frame. It's true...E-Free people are everywhere and they are making a difference in every part of our community.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

What Survived the Flood?

We know from our study in Genesis 5-9 that eight humans survived the ark:

· Noah

· Mrs. Noah

· Shem

· Mrs. Shem

· Ham

· Mrs. Ham

· Japheth

· Mrs. Japheth

We also know that all the birds, animals and every other thing that creeps on the earth and has life survived the flood and got off the ark back on to dry ground. Obviously at least some of the fish world survived the flood without even needing to be on the ark. We know that some plant life survived the flood seen by the freshly picked olive leaf that the dove brought back to Noah in the ark. But this Sunday we are going to learn that there were two other things that survived the flood. This is a part of the story of Noah that you may not be real familiar with and may surprise you. In fact, you may want to read ahead in Genesis 9 to see if you can identify these two additional surviving elements.

Because this is the first Sunday of the month, there will be no Classic service. We will all meet together in the Contemporary service in the Gospel Center for our service which will include celebrating communion. See you Sunday!

Friday, February 03, 2012

Wishing I was in Virginia!

I love living in northern Michigan. But today, I would much rather be in Virginia. Why? Because today is my lovely daughter's birthday! Joy is a senior this year at Liberty University where she is currently doing her student teaching and looking forward to graduating in May. I wish I could be there today to give her a hug and take her out to her favorite restaurant, 'Olive Garden.'

But for now, all I can do is think about being with her as I look at the picture of her and me that she gave me in a frame that says, "Daddy, I will always be your little girl!" A few days ago, Joy put the following post on my Facebook page. Here is what it said:

"Just watched the end of the 1950's version of the 'Father of the Bride.' It ended with a quote...'A son is a son until he takes a wife. A daughter is a daughter all of her life.' Love you daddy!"

So today, if I could be anywhere, it would be in Virginia. But since I cannot be there, all I can say is, "Happy Birthday, Joy! I love you and am very, very proud of the beautiful, godly woman you have become!"

Thursday, February 02, 2012

A Trumpet, A Limo Ride, And A Twenty Dollar Bill

So what was your first job? Mine was when I was in 8th grade attending the Goodyear Junior High School on the east side of Akron, OH. My band director, Mr. Hill, set me up with this initial plunge into the work force. Who did I work for? One of the local funeral homes. What did I do? I played taps on my trumpet at all of their military funerals.

That may sound somewhat morbid but, for the age I was then, it was actually kind of cool. On the days there were military funerals, I would show up to school in the only suit I had - a bright blue pin-striped 3-piece that, along with a fake ID, could have gotten me into any local disco hall. At the proper time, a shiny black limousine would pull up to the main entrance of the school and, as all my friends looked out the classroom windows, I would get into the back seat.

The limo would then take me to the cemetery where I would stand back by the military guys who would be giving the gun salute. Once the priest had finished his words and the guns had all been fired, it was time for my 60 seconds of fame as I played taps. I would then load back into the limo who would run me through a McDonald's drive-thru and buy me lunch and then take me back to school with a crisp $20 bill in my hand. WOW! What a job that was!

Actually, my trumpet provided me something even better as I entered High School. I attended a wonderful Christian School (Cuyahoga Valley Christian School in stow, Ohio) where I played in the band. Our band director was named Mr Don Bechtel. He was a kind of mentor to me in many more ways than just music. My senior year I was band president. In fact, band was my life in High School.

During those 3 years in Mr Bechtel's band he taught me one of the greatest lessons I ever learned. Over and over he would say to our band, "Just because it's Christian, doesn't mean you have to settle for mediocrity...shoot for excellence in everything you do!" It is very similar to what I heard Dr Jerry Falwell say many times during my four years at Liberty University. Dr Falwell would say, "If it's Christian it ought to be better!"

My trumpet has been packed away for nearly two decades. I doubt I could even play a note today but the lesson I learned playing my trumpet in Mr Bechtel's band has been far more valuable than a lifetime of limo rides and $20 bills!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The Super Bowl Strengthened My Marriage!


The Patriots vs The Giants

Tom Brady vs Eli Manning

This Sunday is the big day - it is Super Sunday in America as millions of people will gather around their large screen TV's and watch the big game lovingly known as "The Super Bowl." I for one am excited. Who do I want to win? I'm siding with the Giants. Does that mean that I like the Giants? Not necessarily. So why the Giants? That's simple. I am rooting for the Giants because I don't particularly care for the Patriots and I'm not a fan of Bill Belichick or Tom Brady. I would much rather see Eli Manning "one up" his brother from Indianapolis (at least temporarily from Indy) with a second Super Bowl trophy.

I know that the Super Bowl is just a game but it really has helped my marriage...seriously! I have a stronger marriage today because of the Super Bowl. Let me explain. I grew up in Akron, Ohio as an avid Cleveland Browns fan. My wife, on the other hand, grew up in southern Colorado as a Denver Broncos fan. The year before our marriage (while we were dating) and the first year of our marriage out favorite football teams were undoubtedly the best in the AFC and ended up playing both of those years against each other in the AFC Championship Game. Both years the Browns seemingly had the game wrapped up before watching it all unravel due to "The Drive" and "The Fumble" which propelled the Broncos, not the Browns, on to the Super Bowl.

As a result, our marriage faced one of its first obstacles. Most obstacles in marriage come from mere differences that get blown out of proportion. That's what happened to us. Our differences in football perspective created tension, especially when our first-born came along. There are so many adorable NFL outfits for babies. However, I was not about to let my baby girl be seen in public wearing anything associated with the Broncos and my wife dug in the same way in regards to my Browns.

Fortunately, over time our maturity took over and we realized that instead of dividing our home over our difference in sports allegiances, it was better to take the Biblical approach of Romans15:7 which tells us to "accept one another." I am shocked and saddened at how many times I watch marriages struggle and even dissolve over petty differences. So I am excited about the Super Bowl! It taught me an important lesson that has helped to make my marriage strong 25 years after "The Drive" and "The Fumble."