Sunday, April 29, 2012

When do you make a change in ministry due to feedback?

In ministry, Mondays are sometimes "interesting" mornings.  It is on Monday that you cautiously check your email as a pastor, wondering if you are going to get any "About Yesterday's Service" communications outlining parts of the Sunday worship service that was not appreciated by some.  But when do you know if you should change something about the church service due to such feedback?  I mean, you can't switch gears any time someone offers constructive criticism or you will go nowhere fast.  So how do we know when making a change is appropriate?  Below are some principles that I think are helpful in making this decision.

PREFERENCE OR PRINCIPLE?  One of the things that I have tried to teach my church is the need to put purpose over preference.  In other words, there may be some things I don't necessarily like because it is not my preference.  But if I understand and can get behind the purpose behind it than I should be able to fudge on my preferences.  So when I get feedback about a part of the service that someone didn't appreciate I try to ascertain if the issue was simply that person's preference or if there was a principle behind it that was worthy of our consideration.

SQUEAKY WHEEL OR FAITHFUL FRIEND?  Another thing to take into consideration when deciding if something should be changed due to negative feedback is the source of the criticism.  I'll be honest, sometimes it's hard to take this kind of feedback seriously when it comes from a regular source - the proverbial "squeaky wheel."  If the comment comes from someone who more weeks than not has a "complaint" or "concern" than I personally am not as prone to make a change.  But when the feedback comes form someone who is always supportive and has proven to be someone who can put purpose over preference, my ears perk up and are far more sensitive.  With that said, let me also say that in ministry we have to be careful that we don't just write off the feedback of the "squeaky wheel" because they may at times offer criticism that is genuine and truly requites change.  But when the feedback comes from the "faithful friend" we must take the words communicated very seriously.

MISSION CRITICAL OR EXTRA ADDITIVE?  One of the things that should be considered when deciding if constructive criticism requires change to our ministry or not is the issue of how critical the element is to the mission.  Most of the time the elements involved in our Sunday worship is what we would call "mission critical," meaning that it is necessary to accomplish our goal and purpose of the morning.  But there are also secondary elements that are sometimes involved that are nice extra additives that we have included.  These elements would be helpful but if they did not happen they would not keep us from accomplishing our goals.  If the issue involved is not "mission critical" I am far more open to making a change than if the element is needed to accomplish our goals for the morning.

PROTECTION OR OUT ON A LIMB?  One of the other lessons I have learned in ministry is that there is value in having the protection of a team making critical decisions than my making them completely on my own.  If I am the only person who has thought through and made the decision about an element in question that I am "out on a limb" by myself if there is any question or controversy.  On the other hand, if I am part of a team that discusses and makes the critical decisions than there is far more protection.  If the team is all in agreement on the direction we are going than I am far less likely to make a change.  So when constructive criticism comes it is always good to have the team talk through the validity of the issues involved.

Recently here at Gaylord E-Free we had something planned for the morning service that fit our theme and that we thought would create energy.  Before Sunday came around we had received some feedback expressing concern about one aspect of this particular element.  It was not feedback driven by personal preference but rather by an issue of principle that had not even crossed our minds.  The feedback came from a source that has proven to be able to put purpose over preference.  The aspect in question was not mission critical to accomplishing our goal and that particular element had not been discussed by our entire planning team but had been added more last minute.  As a result, we made the decision to change this particular aspect of the element.  This was a case where constructive criticism was very helpful to us.

The truth is that sometimes we in ministry don't like to hear many of these pieces of constructive criticism but we must always remember that "feedback really is our friend."  We can learn from all feedback but that does not mean that we need to switch gears every time we open our email - especially the Monday morning emails.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Improving Your Communication With Your Teenager (Part 3)

Over the past 2 posts I have given four helpful suggestions to parents in order to improve their communication with their teenagers.  They were:

Remember that mutual respect begins with listening!

Don't treat their problems lightly!

Enter Your Child's World!

Be willing to keep secrets!

Now let me give you 3 final suggestions to help you improve your communication with your teens.

Do things together that they enjoy doing.  When I was in youth ministry I had a dad come in and tell me how distant his relationship with his teenage son had become.  He asked me what he could do to turn things around in this area.  I asked him what was one thing that his teenage son loved to do.  The answer was "skateboarding."  His life revolved around his skateboard.  So I encouraged this dad to find a way to do something regarding skateboarding with his son.  He did.  He and his son built some really cool skateboard ramps together and made an almost mini skateboard park together in their backyard.  This dad came back in a few months later and told me that his relationship with his son was never better as a result.  Do you want to improve communication with your teenager?  Do things with them that they enjoy doing.

Ask their opinions.  I remember being outside with my dad my freshman year of High School.  We were throwing catch with the baseball.  At the time our family was going through a very tough time that dealt with our church.  Dad and I were talking a little about it.  All of a sudden my dad asked me this question, "What do you think we should do?"  I couldn't believe it.  This was a very serious and tough situation for my family.  A lot was at stake and my dad was asking me my opinion about it.  I have no idea what opinion I gave him that afternoon but I will remember until the day I die that my dad asked my opinion.

Ask good questions.  If you only ask your teenage son questions that can be answered with a "grunt," you will only get a "grunt" out of him.  If you only ask your teenager daughter questions that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no," you will likely only get a "yes" or a "no" out of her.  Ask questions that require more than a one-word answer.  This may mean planning ahead.  You know when you are going to have time with your child.  You know when you will be driving them somewhere in the car or sitting around the dinner table together.  Take time in advance to think of 2 or 3 questions that you can ask them at those times that will require more than a "grunt" and more than a "yes" or "not" to answer.


Friday, April 27, 2012

Improving Your Communication With Your Teenager (Part 2)

In yesterday's post I started talking about helpful suggestions for parents in improving communication with their teenagers.  We saw yesterday that we as parents need to remember that mutual respect begins with listening.  Let me me share a couple more suggestions with you to help you improve your communication with your teenagers.

Don't treat their problems lightly.  When your teenage daughter comes home after her boyfriend has broken up with her, it is easy for you as a dad to kind of chuckle and respond with a lack of compassion by saying, "You'll be fine!  There are other fish in the sea!"  Yes, there really are other "fish in the sea" and yes, she will be fine.  But at that moment her world just came crashing down.  Her problem may seem minimal to you in comparison to the problems you are facing when it comes to employment issues and financial issues but to her, it is HUGE!  If you treat your kid's problems lightly you will not be the person that they will want to go to during the times in their life when they are scared, hurt or confused.  And it is at exactly those times in a teenager's life that they most need to be communicating with their parents.

Enter your child's world.  We are good at this when our kids are real little.  When my daughter was real little we had to watch "The Little Mermaid" daily.  For my son it was "The Lion King."  Back then we eagerly entered our children's world.  But when our kids became teenagers, for some reason we quit doing that.  Enter their world. For example, for many teenagers right now the movie "The Hunger Games" is HUGE!  Your teen has probably seen it.  Have you?  They may have read the book.  Have you?  Do you want to improve communication with your child?  Then enter their world.

Be willing to keep secrets.  This is crucial.  Now I am not talking about dangerous secrets.  For example, if your teenage daughter tells you that her best friend is talking about committing suicide, you can't keep that a secret.  That would be dangerous.  I'm talking about when Jr High Jimmy tells his mom that he has a crush on Susie.  And Jimmy's mom is good friends with Susie's mom so she says to Susie's mom, "My Jimmy has a crush on your Susie."  At that point Jimmy's mom has just broken trust with her son and if Jimmy discovers that (and he most likely will) she has greatly damaged her ability to communicate with her teenage son.

Tomorrow I will share three final suggestions.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Improving Your Communication With Your Teenager (Part 1)


If you are the parent of a teenager that may be the limit to the conversation you have with your child on a daily basis.  Yet, communication is a vital foundation to seeing any relationship grow.  Yesterday on my radio show here in Gaylord, Michigan I shared some helpful suggestions to parents when it comes to increasing their communication with their teenagers.  The first one deals with listening.  As parents we must remember that mutual respect begins with listening.

Ask most teenagers why they don't communicate more with their parents and one of their top responses will be, "Because my parents do not listen to me."  And though that is surely not the only reason involved, it is often the case when it comes to parents.  If you want to increase your communication with your teenager then be sure to hear them out realizing that they may say some things you don't like or don't agree with.  Listen first.

But realize, they may test you.  Teenagers will do that.  They will say things that they don't really believe to see how you will respond.  For example, Johnny comes home from school and the following conversation takes place:

Mom:  "Hi!  How was your day?"

Johnny:  "Fine."

Mom:  "What happened today?"

Johnny:  "Billy got kicked out of school for drinking.  I don't agree with that.  I don't think there is anything wrong with drinking."

Now chances are good that Johnny doesn't really believe that statement.  What is he doing?  He's testing the waters to see how mom will respond.  And how does she respond?  How would most God-fearing, American Red-Blooded moms respond to this statement?  They would say, "What?  How could you say that?  If I every catch you drinking..."

Guess what?  Mom just failed the test.  Mom just communicated to her son that he is only allowed to share his opinion if it agrees with her.  How much will that encourage Johnny's desire to talk with mom?  Not at all.  And guess what Johnny will do?  He will instead go talk to someone else - someone who may not lead him in the right direction.

So how could have mom responded?  She could have said something like this, "That's interesting, Johnny, why don't you think it is wrong for a teenager to drink?"  What did mom do with that statement?  She just said that she wanted to hear more of her son's thoughts, ideas and feelings.  That's called "communication."  This gives mom a chance to listen and direct her son in the right direction.  She can still end the conversation with the age old statement, "As long as you live under my roof you will obey my rules."  That's fine because she listened first.

Mutual respect begins with listening.  By the way, that is true in every relationship you have.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Pre-Chewed Banquet

This Sunday is week #2 of a 3-week series here at E-Free Church on the character of the Bible as seen in 2 Timothy 3:14-17 that we are calling "Word War Won."  My prayer is that our revisiting and nailing down that the Bible is unique, inspired and sufficient, that each of us will desire to read and study it more on our own.

Think of it this way.  Imagine with me that we are going to the greatest buffet imaginable.  Now this is a classy establishment.  A server takes your plate filled with your food and carries it to your table.  Then, before you have a chance to dig in, the server puts each piece of your food into their own mouth and chews it up 36 times and then spits it out on your plate.  Now your plate of delectable food is nothing more than a saliva-covered pile of mush.  Question, would you eat it?  With the exception of a couple of Junior High students that may be reading this, I doubt any of you would.  Why?  Because we would never even consider eating pre-chewed food.

However, for many Christians, that is the only way they ever eat spiritually.  They don’t study the Bible on their own; they just take in the pre-chewed food of their pastor, their favorite TV/radio preacher, or their favorite author.  Isn’t it time you learned to eat for yourself?  Here are some helps for you when it comes to reading your Bible so that you can learn to eat for yourself and not just take in the pre-chewed nourishment of others.

Read it continuously:  Don’t just read a chapter a day.  Pick a book or lengthy passage and read it non-stop from start to finish.

Read it repeatedly:  Don’t just read it once.  Take the same book or passage and read it every day for 7 days, 10 days, or even 30 days in a row.

Read it independently:  Commentaries and devotional guides are great tools, but before you read what others say about the Bible, first just read the Bible.

Read it prayerfully:  As you read, stop periodically and pray.  Describe to God what you just learned and ask Him questions about what you don’t understand.

Read it meditatively:  Don’t just read it…think about it throughout the day.  One of the best ways to do this is to memorize parts of the Bible on a regular basis.

Now that’s good eating!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Good Problems

What do you call it when the parking lot at church is reaching capacity on Sunday morning?  You call that a GOOD PROBLEM!

What do you call it when the appearance in the auditorium on Sunday has the impression of being full, especially if you come in after the service has started and aren't sure where to find a seat?  You call that a GOOD PROBLEM!

What do you call it when every room (and even areas that aren't rooms) are being used during Sunday morning's second hour with children, teens and adults digging deeper into the Word of God?  You call that a GOOD PROBLEM!

What do you call it when the number of people in the lobby after the church service makes it very difficult to really connect with people?  You call that a GOOD PROBLEM!

What do you call it when you have 100 men who made decisions over the weekend that now need a follow-up contact?  You call that a GOOD PROBLEM!

GOOD PROBLEMS?  What does that mean?

On one hand these are all GOOD!  It is exciting to be part of a growing church.  It is exciting to see people excited about God.  It is exciting to see lives being transformed through the power of God's Word and the working of God's Spirit.  These things are good.  But let us never forget that all of these things are a result of the work of God.  He is the only one who deserves glory, praise and credit.  He alone causes the increase.  That's why these things are GOOD.

On the other hand these are also all PROBLEMS!  When people have to struggle to find a parking space on Sunday morning they will quit coming.  When people perceive that the auditorium is too full on Sunday they will quit coming.  When people feel like sardines in the foyer on Sunday morning they will never connect with others.  When rooms are unavailable on Sunday morning new classes cannot be added.  These things are PROBLEMS.  

So if you are part of the Gaylord E-Free Church, what should we do about these GOOD PROBLEMS?

First, there must be PRAISE!  Spend time giving God praise for all that He is doing here at Gaylord E-Free.

Second, there must be PRAYER!  Pray for the leadership in our church that is working on these GOOD PROBLEMS!  Pray that God would lead us in exactly the rights steps to take.  Pray that God will provide the funds necessary to allow for greater growth for God's Kingdom.  And pray that God will protect us as a church and keep us tied together in unity as we seek to accomplish our purpose as a church which is to meet as many people as possible right where they are and help move them to where God wants them to be.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

I STILL Pledge Allegiance To The Bible

I had the privilege of growing up in church. My Grandpa was a pastor. My dad was not clergy, but he was always the most active lay person in the church. In fact, my parents were also the church janitors so I think it is quite possible that I spent more time in the church as a kid than I did outside of the church. As a result, I have grown to love the Bible. And that love started as a kind in the church. Remember the songs we sang about the Bible as kids?

The B-I-B-L-E!
Yes, that's the book for me!
I stand alone on the Word of God!
The B-I-B-L-E!

At the end of the that song we would all yell out "BIBLE!" Remember? Mostly, I remember the pledges. Children's Church would start each week with our saying the pledge to the American flag and the pledge to the Christian flag. Then, one child was picked to come up front and hold his or her Bible high into the air and we would then say the pledge to the Bible together. I still remember those words:

I pledge allegiance to the Bible
God's Holy Word
I will make it a lamp unto my feet
And a light unto my path
I will hide it's words in my heart
That I might not sin against God

Today, the Bible is under attack, even in the church. We live in a day and time when many Christians are basing their theology more on experiences than they are the Word of God. As a pastor, it makes me want to take my church and return it to the time of our childhood. In fact, that is exactly what we did last Sunday here at E-Free Church. We ended our morning by having everyone stand. We all held our Bibles high into the air. And together, we said the following words - words that are every bit as crucial for us as adults in the church today as it was for us when we were kids back in Children's Church:

I pledge allegiance to the Bible
God's Holy Word
I will make it a lamp unto my feet
And a light unto my path
I will hide it's words in my heart
That I might not sin against God

Friday, April 20, 2012


This Sunday we start a new 3-week series here at E-Free that I am very excited about. It will actually be a word-by-word study of 2 Timothy 3:14-17 in which we will see clearly and in detail the character of the Bible. The main thrust of week #1 will be that the Bible is UNIQUE! The main thrust of week #2 will be that the Bible is INSPIRED! The main thrust of week #3 will be that the Bible is SUFFICIENT!

The stage will be set with a “military” flare as seen pictured above! The reason for the military angle is due to the fact that we are viewing the next 3-weeks like Bible Boot Camp in which we encourage all of our recruits to return to the basics of understanding our training manual which is Scripture. For this reason we are calling the series “Word War Won.” Word – because it is a series about the Word of God; War – because the character and authority of the Bible are under attack today, even in the church; Won – because in the end Scripture will win and we will as well as we put our faith in its teachings.

Look this Sunday for a military style welcome to our service along with some great worship led by our worship team. There will also be several people who will following the Lord in water baptism as well. The sermon this Sunday will be introduced by a special video that will invite you to “Rediscover the Bible.” And the service will end with a special music number by Samantha Dunn and our Worship Team.

We will also be back to having our Classic Service this week as well. I am really looking forward to this because this is the week that I get to lead the worship singing in the Chapel this Sunday which I always enjoy. There will also be a prayer time and a flute solo by Heather House as part of our Classic Service this Sunday.

It is going to be a great Lord’s Day here at E-Free! Why not invite someone to attend with you?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Pass the Brussel Sprouts, Please!

Today begins a 21-day stretch for my wife and I that should be…let’s say, interesting. We are just a little over three weeks away from our daughter’s college graduation and after that comes summer. Now that we have survived our first winter up here in northern Michigan (be it mild by “up north” standards – only about 100 inches of snow) we are ready to get serious about getting back on an eating regiment that will allow us to keep our weight down, feel better and sleep better.

In the past, the only diet that has really worked for us is the “eat less more often” approach of eating small amounts every two hours and sensible size meals (sensible meaning you leave the table still a bit hungry and counting down the minutes until the next 2-hour snack time). Over the winter we got away from this system. Once we get set on this plan we do well. It’s the getting started back on it that is tough. For us, the best approach is a strict beginning.

So, beginning today we are embarking on a 21-day “boot camp” of sorts to get us back on our diet lifestyle. We have decided to try something neither of us has ever done. For the next 3-weeks we are going to walk in the sandals of Daniel, the Old Testament prophet. In Daniel 1 the Prophet ate only vegetables (that would have included fruits) and drank only water. Then in Daniel 10 we read that the Prophet ate no meat nor any precious breads or foods and he drank no wine for 21 days. So for the next 21-days we are going to follow the following three guidelines.

1. Only fruits and vegetables
2. Only water for a beverage
3. No sweeteners and no breads

Because Jewish fasting principles also restricted leaven, we are going to avoid yeast, baking powder and the likes as well as keeping away from all artificial or processed foods for the next 21-days. It’s often called “The Daniel Fast” and many people do the “Daniel Fast” for spiritual purposes. That is not really our motive (gee, I hope that doesn’t sound bad). If we were doing this for primarily spiritual reasons I would not blog about it as fasting for spiritual purposes is a private issue, not a public one.

While we are doing it mainly to “jumpstart” our healthy eating lifestyle that we desire to get back to doing, I do believe it will have a spiritual impact on our lives as well. I think it is always spiritually beneficial for us to take mastery over our bodies and appetites. I remember hearing one pastor say that he always had a bowl of ice cream each evening. But once in a while he said that he would fix his bowl of ice cream and put it on the end table next to his living room chair but refuse to eat it just to remind his body and his physical appetites that he controlled them and not the other way around.

For the next 21-days that will be the case for me as I completely avoid food I love. Foods like meat, pizza, and coffee.

Pass the brussel sprouts, please!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

To be more VISIONARY hang around VISIONARIES

Few things get me fried up more than being around people who have great vision to do great things for our great God. This has been a week where my "Vision Tank" has been filled and is overflowing because I have been able to spend time with some visionaries. It's true, vision is contagious!

I had lunch this week with a friend of mine from Columbus, Ohio. There are few men that I have more respect for in ministry than him. His name is Sean Patrick (pictured above). When I first met Sean he was a wall-flower (I am not joking). I was the summer intern youth pastor at the church he and his family attended and I spent that summer living with his family in West Milton, Ohio. In fact, I recently sent Sean a video of an old Isaac Air Freight skit called, "Bible Junkie." Somehow we got Sean to do that monologue that skit that summer. It was his first time doing something like that in front of people. Ultimately, Sean went on to intern under me as he finished his schooling at Liberty University and then he took my position as youth pastor at the church and took that youth ministry to heights I could have only imagined.

Years ago Sean went on staff at Finish Line Ministries out of Columbus, Ohio. He has more recently become the President and Executive Director of this effective ministry. As we enjoyed an open-faced hot turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy and Gobbler's restaurant here in Gaylord, Sean shared his vision with me for what he would like to see God do through Finish Line Ministries. He reminded me of a quote I like to use a lot by D.L. Moody who said, "If God be your partner, make your plans large!" Sean's goal is to see what God has done in and through Finish Line Ministry over the last 20 years doubled within the next 8 years (by 2020!)! Now that's vision! As I listened to him share that vision I remembered how shy Sean was when I first met him back in the summer of 1985. Now, he is a man of great vision and spending time with him this week filled my vision tank. Thanks, Sean! I love you, brother!

I also have had time over the past week to spend with our lay leadership here at E-Free Church in Gaylord. Our Leadership Team and our Elder Board are individuals who have lots of vision. They are dreaming big dreams for God. Frankly, I only hope and pray that I am not in any way holding them back. I have never seen lay leaders who are so visionary and who are so excited about seeing their church reach its redemptive potential. Spending time with our Leadership Team two Mondays ago, praying with our Elders this past Monday night, and meeting with our Vision Task Force yesterday put me shoulder to shoulder with men and women of vision. As a result, my personal vision tank is at an overflowing point.

You need a vision infusion? Take time and find a way to spend some time with a visionary! It will fill your vision tank back up to overflowing!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


This Saturday is the annual “A Higher Call Men’s Conference here at the E-Free Church in Gaylord, Michigan. It is a one-day event that no man should miss. The mission of the event is to reach out to men, for the purpose of, strengthening their walk with Jesus Christ, fellowship with one another, and to confront struggles that men alone face. This is done by bringing in speakers that relate to the audience through their own experiences. This Saturday’s conference features the following guests:

Fred Stoeker (top picture above) is well aware of the battle men face with sexual sin. Despite entering a committed relationship with Jesus Christ at age 23, Fred battled with pornography and found that the negative effects of his sexual sin compromised his intimacy with God and with his wife.

STAND Strength Team is an international non-profit organization standing before thousands of people yearly. The Stand Strength Team goes into public and private schools. They have now become the #1 school assembly program in the nation; promoting anti- bullying/violence, anti-peer pressure, anti-drugs, anti-alcohol, respecting others and academic excellence. The Stand athletes use feats of strength to demonstrate a positive, motivating message on making the right choices. The team also goes into youth camps, juvenile homes, prisons, youth organizations, and businesses.

David Dean (bottom picture above) has been making people laugh full-time for 22 years at churches, fund-raisers, men's & women's conferences, camps and youth events all across the country. There are very few venues that David has not worked…only a few he regrets. Fellow clean comedians Ken Davis and Chonda Pierce call on him regularly to perform at some of their shows.

The conference this Saturday goes from 9:00am-3:45pm (registration begins at 8am). The cost is just $35.00 and tickets available at the door. Don’t miss “A Higher Call Men’s Conference” this Saturday. For more information go to the website below:

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Gaylord E-Free Church is on a mission to reach out and be in service in our community and we need you to join forces with us! Become a member of the E-Free CIA - "Church in Action" on Saturday, May 5!

"Missions" have been developed for adults, young adults, teens and families, and with varying levels of ability in mind. There are even opportunities to serve on Friday, to send baked goods, and to even take your family to camp!

Please read the list of opportunities below and then go to our church website at and click on "outreach" and then "Join the E-Free CIA" to see our complete list of opportunities and to submit your registration form. Spots are limited for each assignment, so sign up today!










Friday, April 13, 2012

The Florida Beach Comes to Northern Michigan

This Sunday will be a very special Sunday here at E-Free. God worked in some wonderful ways here in our church last Sunday on Easter but He also worked in just as wonderful of a way among our High Students down in Florida over Spring Break. This Sunday our High School students will be taking a full hour of our service, not just to share with us what happened, but to allow us to experience what it is like to be on this amazing trip.

The stage will be set up like their campsite in Florida complete with a tent, laundry line and campfire. Our teens who went on the trip will all be sitting on picnic tables from the start of the service just as they did each morning for devotions.

Prior to the service starting we will be showing a promotional video for a new Saturday morning class starting soon here at E-Free called, “Run For God.” I will then start the service by welcoming everyone and introducing a promotional video for the upcoming Men’s Conference. Following this I will welcome two new members into our church and introduce the youth portion of our morning by introducing Jonathon Tubbs who led singing on the Florida Trip. He will then lead all of us in a song of worship.

Pastor Newell will then dismiss the children to Kid’s Church and say a few words about the trip. This will lead into a “Count Up” that the teens do down in Florida and a fun song the teens like to sing each year on their Spring Break trip.

A few teens will then share about some of the experiences they had in Florida including the morning devotional times and the storms (literal) they endured. The teens will then sing two songs, “Prince of Peace” and “Amazing Love.” Following this there will be testimonies from our teens as they share how God worked in their hearts personally. They will then end their portion of the morning singing the song “Sanctuary” as a video is shown of the teens who were baptized on the trip.

I will then wrap up the morning and we will then have our offering as Jonathon Tubbs and the teens will lead the congregation in a closing song of worship and celebration. It is going to be a great Sunday! Few things are more exciting than seeing teens excited about Jesus and willing to talk about it! That's what will happen this Sunday at Gaylord E-Free!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Thank You, Shirley!

Yesterday I had to be up early in order to take my wife out to the Traverse City Airport. Our daughter has her spring break this week from student teaching down in Virginia so my wife used an airline voucher she has had since she was bumped off of a flight last summer to go down and spend a few days with Joy and see our son, Jonathan, who is a college student down in Virginia as well.

On the way back from the airport I decided to stop at a restaurant in Mancelona that was having its Grand Opening. However, so many people were checking out this new eating establishment that I could not find a parking place, so I went to Shirley's Cafe just a couple of buildings down the street and I was treated not just to breakfast, but to a wonderful and enjoyable experience in first impressions and customer service.

A new waitress took my order which was quite simple. I asked for 2 eggs over easy with hash browns, wheat toast, and coffee. The waitress politely asked me if I wanted onions mixed in with my potatoes. After gagging at the thought (after all, who would want to ruin potatoes by mixing in onions - that would be like ruining hamburger by making it into meatloaf) I replied back with a polite yet firm, "NOT ON YOUR LIFE!"

Guess what happened when my breakfast came out from the kitchen? I bet you hit the nail right on the head with your answer. My hash browns were filled with onions. The waitress (remember, she was brand new) nervously said, "Oh, I thought you said you wanted onions." I loved what happened next. Another waitress saw the newbie's distress and came over and said, "No problem, we can easily correct this."

I was surprised how long it took to do this. After all, how long does it take to scrape off the infected hash browns and slap on some new ones that were minus the onions. When the waitress came out with my plate the second time she said, "Here you go, sir. Instead of just replacing the hash browns we went ahead and remade your whole meal so that everything was hot and satisfactory." NICE!

As I ate my breakfast while perusing the latest issue of USA Today, I couldn't help but be intrigued as Shirley herself (the cafe's owner) tool the new waitress around and explained to her how important first impressions and customer service is. Here are some of the things I heard her share with her newest employee:

-Each time you clean a table you start by moving everything out of the middle and cleaning their first. Then you clean the rest of the table. Most restaurants never clean the middle of the table where all the condiments sit. Here at Shirley's Cafe we clean the whole table every single time.

-When we do our regular cleaning we clean everything including the tops of our picture frames on the walls and even behind the jukebox.

-We stay observant. If we notice that the sun is shining in a customer's eyes we do not wait for them to say something. We go to them and ask if they would like us to lower the shades. When we see people huddled together at tables for body warmth we don't wait for them to say, "could you turn up some heat?" We go and ask them, "Would you like us to turn up the heat?"

-When customer's come to Shirley's they deserve a great dining experience and that is what we are committed to providing them.

I smiled. Shirley has it right! So right, that I even laid down a 28% tip in spite of the onion incident (don't think that was too much of a splurge as my bill was only $7.19).

Eating breakfast at Shirley's Cafe was a great reminder to me of how important first impressions are - even in the church. Every Sunday here at Gaylord E-Free Church is someone's first experience with us. From the moment they drive into the parking lot we want them to have a WOW experience. That takes all of us who are part of E-Free being focused and committed every Sunday to providing a friendly environment where we can meet people - all kinds of people - exactly where they are at so that we can move them to closer and closer to where God wants them to be!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Eyeglasses on the Table

One of our Elders here at Gaylord E-Free Church emailed me Monday and suggested we call an impromptu prayer meeting for any of our Elders and Ministry Staff that could make it for Tuesday (yesterday) at 5pm in order to pray for the well over 100 children, teens and adults who made decisions between last week's High School Spring Break trip to Florida and last Sunday's Easter services here at the church.

As a result we put the word out and 7 of us were able to gather around the table last minute in the church office conference room to give God glory for what He has done and to pray for those dozens of people who made decisions. I love it when Elders step up to the role of what Elders are all about in Scripture. I have often said that one of the main roles of an Elder is to pray for the church. That is what the 7 of us were able to do yesterday as afternoon turned to evening.

I loved listening to these men pray. Their words were so genuine and so passionate, many of them showing sincere emotion. As they prayed I opened my eyes and looked around the table at each man. You could see their fervency as most every one of them sat with the faces cupped in their hands as they lifted up these new believers to the Lord as well as those who recommitted their lives to Christ.

As I looked around the table I saw a sight that really caught my attention. Interestingly enough, each of the 7 men around the conference table entered the room wearing glasses. As I looked around thanking God for each of these men I noticed 7 pairs of eyeglasses sitting on the conference table as they prayed. I was struck by that picture. The key to "sight" for Elders is not in what we say when our eyeglasses are on our face and we are talking to each other. The key to "sight" for church leaders is what we say when our eyeglasses are on the table and we are talking to our Heavenly Father.

If it would not have been inappropriate I would have taken out my phone and taken a picture of those 7 pairs of eyeglasses on that conference table. I firmly believe that the more time that we spend as church leaders with our eyeglasses on the conference table and our head cupped in our hands praying for God's leading, direction and wisdom for our church, the more we will see God continue to bless us and blow us away in allowing us to meet thousands of people right where they are at and helping to move them to where He wants them to be!

Where are your eyeglasses? On your face or on the conference table?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Birds of a Feather

Living in Northern Michigan has so many different and unique beauties to it. But one of these beauties has prompted a new hobby in my life - one that I never would have imagined peaking my interest and one that my wife and I are being able to enthusiastically share together. We have become BIRD LOVERS!

We have seen some great birds driving around northern Michigan. We have seen a huge Sand Crane. These are the largest birds up in these parts that can stand as tall as four feet in height and who have an amazing wing span when they take off. We saw a beautiful white Snow Owl perched on the roof of our church. And I don't think I will ever get tired of being stopped while driving by a flock of wild turkeys crossing the road (by the way, why does the Turkey cross the road?).

Our backyard has become a haven of a wide-variety of birds. We have put out several feeders and have plans to put out more. We have them positioned in just the right locations so that when Laura and I are both sitting in the living room we can see most all of them outside the large windows in the door that goes out to our patio. We have binoculars at hand and a "Birds of Michigan Field Guide" on the end table so we can identify each feathery friend that swoops down on our property. All of them have been fascinating to watch but a few have become my favorites. These include the Baltimore Oriole which brings such a beautiful orange into our view as well as the male House Finch which has has a beautiful red color to it.

But my favorite birds to watch are the many different woodpeckers that feed on our suet cakes. The Downy Woodpecker has been the most common. But last week a Pileated Woodpecker twice visited our suet feeder (top picture above taken my my wife). This is the one that the cartoon character Woody the Woodpecker looks like. But yesterday we saw our first Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker which is a medium-sized woodpecker (bottom pictured above also taken by my wife).

When this woodpecker was at the suet feeder I moved to the picture window in our master bedroom that overlooks our backyard. This is the closest window to the suet feeder. As I was looking, this Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker suddenly flew right for my face. I kid you not. Had there not been a window there for it to bang into I would have a woodpecker's beak embedded into my forehead. I grabbed our "Birds of Michigan Field Guide" and read that this bird will defend its feeding grounds even from larger animals - I think I was that larger animal.

Something tells me that I will be very careful from now on when I refill the suet feeder. Instead of being attacked by a bear I may be the first person in northern Michigan to enter heaven at the hands of a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker Woodpecker! But at least I will go from this life to the next doing something I am really growing to love!

Sunday, April 08, 2012


It is going on 8pm on Easter evening and I am just now being able to sit down and reflect on a great morning of worship, celebration and transformation here at Gaylord E-Free! Below are my thoughts from this morning:

I am still laughing because I actually found myself on an Easter Egg hunt of sorts this morning during our first service. Yesterday when I was going through my sermon I put a 2.5 foot strip of white gauze on the stage in front of one of the monitors to use as a sermon illustration when I talked about the linen wrappings that Peter and John saw when they went to the tomb. However, when the service started I noticed that my "linen wrappings" were not there any more. As one of the videos played I walked over to our Worship Director and asked him if he knew where it went. He laughed and said that he thought it was toilet paper and couldn't figure out why it was on the stage so he had it thrown away. So while the next worship song was taking place I was digging through the closest trash cans finding my "linen wrappings."

I praise the Lord for the 1100 people that were in attendance between our two services!

I praise the Lord for the many, many adults who made decisions and turned in response cards. I am looking forward to praying for each of them by name this week and to personally making a contact with each person who turned in a response card!

I am thankful for Matt Jenkins and our dedicated children's workers who put on a wonderful children's program during both services this morning with great activities, games and snacks. Matt gave the Gospel and 33 kids trusted Jesus as their savior this morning! My hat is really off to Matt as he was pretty sick this morning but still persevered through both services.

I am so thankful for Joshua Rupp and all of our musicians, vocalists and technicians. The music today was fabulous! Everyone loved the I-PAD band that started our service (seen in the 1st picture above). And I am still amazed at the way Paige Wolford played that fiddle and Sherri Irish played her flute (and it was all memorized to boot!)! What a great morning of worship!

I am so thankful for our creative team. What a great job they did on the set. It looked so awesome with all of the colored panels (seen in the first picture above) and spinning paper lanterns (even though 3 of those lanterns "bit the dust" during the first service). I wish you could have been on stage with me and seen the looks on the faces of those in the auditorium as those panels suddenly changed to bright orange and spelled out the word B-E-L-I-E-V-E-! (seen in the 2nd picture above). You could even hear audible gasps of astonishment when it happened! How cool!

I am thankful for our Deaconess Team that provided the refreshments this morning and for those who oversaw the coffee connect area.

I am so thankful for those who were inside and outside looking through things to help establish our theme of "Seeing Easter"!

I am so thankful for our nursery workers who faithfully served our littlest ones both services!

I am so thankful for Pastor Joe and our first impressions teams that worked hard both services to make sure our guests had a great experience.

I am so thankful for our Trustee Team and our custodians that took care of making sure our facility was ready for our big day and who cleaned the restrooms in between our services.

I am so thankful for the ladies who work in our office who did so much behind the scenes to prepare for this celebration.

I am so thankful for our Media and Marketing Team who did an outstanding job on our Easter Invite Cards, bulletins and the newspaper ads.

Most of all, I am thankful to our risen Savior! What a thrill it was to be part of worshipping Him this Easter morning here at Gaylord E-Free! Now let's celebrate with the angels and saints in heaven for the spiritual victories won today because of the empty tomb! I am so thankful that the celebration doesn't end because Easter ends. Remember, Jesus did not come out of the tomb to give us a great day. He conquered death to give us a great life and a great eternity!

Friday, April 06, 2012

Seeing Easter - I can't wait!

He is risen! I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to celebrate this fact come Sunday here at the Gaylord E-Free Church! We are praying for 1500 people to attend between our two services. The two services will be identical starting at 9am and 11am, both in the Gospel Center Auditorium. There will be a full nursery and an exciting children’s program through fourth grade both services as well.

What can you expect this Sunday if you celebrate Easter with us? The theme is “Seeing Easter” as we will be asking the question, “How do you see the empty tomb?” From the moment people drive onto the campus there will be people outside, in the foyer areas, and even on the stage “looking at” or “looking through” a variety of items (telescopes, Viewmasters, I-Pads, etc.) to set the theme of “Seeing!”

The stage has been designed to be more contemporary this year with a lot of lighting and colors. There are eight panels as part of the stage design that will look like really cool colored panels (seen above) until towards the end of the service. At this point, backlighting will be turned on and these panels will spell out a special message! I think it will have a very visual and powerful effect. By the way, for our Community Good Friday Service this Friday from Noon – 1pm. The panels will have a red tint to them.

The Easter service will start with an I-PAD band playing the song “I Can See Clearly Now.” No instruments will be used – just I-Phones and I-Pads. The words of the song introduces the theme of the morning as we want everyone to “see” the story of Easter and the empty tomb “clearly.” The music and worship will be very lively with a celebratory feel to it. We will also be using the Christmas Carol “Angels From The Realms Of Glory” but with Easter lyrics to the tune. There will also be two different videos used. One will introduce people to our church and the other will continue to communicate the idea of “Seeing Easter Clearly.”

I will be preaching from the Easter account seen in the Gospel of John as the word “saw” is used three times but each time with a different meaning. At first, John “saw” the empty tomb (meaning he took a quick glance). Many people will come to church this Easter doing the same. They are simply taking a “quick glance” at the empty tomb because it’s Easter.

Peter then “saw” the empty tomb but this word means “to investigate.” Some will come this Easter with more than a quick glance in mind. They will be checking out the claims of Christ and seeing if there really is something to the empty tomb.

Then John “saw” the empty tomb again. This time the word “saw” means “to see and understand.” He believed that Jesus really did rise from the dead. We are praying that there will be many this Easter who are ready to do the same – to cross that line of faith and believe!

I can't wait to celebrate Easter this Sunday here at Gaylord E-Free! If you are anywhere near northern Michigan, I hope you will join us in "Seeing Easter!"

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Play Ball!

In my mind, today should be a national holiday! I mean it! Banks should be closed today! No mail should be delivered today! Everyone should be off work today! Why? Because today is opening day for Major League Baseball! I know that there has already been a series played over in Japan and last night there was another regular season game played between the Cardinals and the Marlins, but in my mind today is opening day (By the way, whatever happened to Cincinnati always starting the season off?)!

I love most sports. I enjoy basketball (at least at the college level). I enjoy football (at any level). I love hockey (especially during the NHL playoffs); and I even enjoy watching soccer (too bad we won't be able to watch the United States soccer team in the Olympics this summer! BUMMER!). Now I have always resisted golf until recently moving to northern Michigan where I have found myself out on the course for the first time in my life. As a result, if no other sports are on, I will even tune into a few minutes of golf on the television. I'll even stop while flipping the channels for tennis or bowling. Sorry NASCAR fans, I still can't make myself tune in to cars constantly turning left.

So as you can, I love most all sports - but baseball is my passion when it comes to athletics! And the timing could not be more perfect. Typically, I take my day off on Friday but because this Friday is "Good Friday" and I am speaking at the community Good Friday service here in Gaylord that is being held at our church at noon, I am taking today as my day off this week which just so happens to be Opening Day for Major League Baseball! How fortunate is that!

So for me, today is a holiday! In fact, if I had some bunting, I would drape it over the banister of my porch! Baseball - the great American past-time! And it all starts today!

Enjoy your holiday, everyone!


Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Changing Lanes

Quite a few months ago I was in a car accident in Traverse City on my way to the airport to pick up my wife who was returning from helping to get the kids settled back in at college. The accident happened while I was changing lanes. I got hit pretty good. I was only in one other accident (which was my fault) which occurred several years back earlier than that when our family had just arrived in Virginia Beach for some vacation. Guess what I was doing when that accident happened? That's right...changing lanes.

It's kind of funny how the human psyche works. Before those accidents I had probably changed lanes in my driving career well over 10,000 times. In fact, I was to the point where I would switch lanes without even thinking about it (perhaps the reason for the misfortunes). But after those accidents something strange happened. For the next several months, any time I was driving and had to change lanes my body would react. My heart would beat faster. My palms would start sweating. My anxiety level would increase. And I would look over my shoulder a half dozen times before actually steering into the next lane. I became nervous about changing lanes. I became timid when it came to changing lanes.

The same thing happens in any area of our life after a traumatic experience. If your heart gets broken in a relationship, what happens the next time a possible relationship comes up on the horizon? You get nervous and timid. If you have a close call when it comes to using a chain saw (yes, I speak from experience), what happens the next time you need to use that chainsaw? You get nervous and timid. If you go through a betrayal at the hands of a a friend or a colleague, what happens the next time you start to get close to a new friend or a new colleague? You get nervous and timid. That is normal. It's like changing lanes after an accident.

But I have also noticed something else. It has been nearly 8 months since my last accident while changing lanes. I am far enough removed from the occurrence that I don't get near as nervous and I'm not near as timid to change lanes as I was shortly after my accident. My confidence when it comes to changing lanes builds each and every day. The memory of the accident is still there and I guarantee you that if I were to hear someone honk their horn when I was going to change lanes that my heart would drop into my stomach. But all in all my fear of changing lanes is steadily subsiding.

The same is true with most all of the hurtful times of life. The memory still lingers and certain happenings can cause the heart to beat faster, the palms to start sweating, and the anxiety level to rise. But the only way to overcome the nervousness and timidness (even the fear) is to keep moving forward. And as time passes, it does get easier. We can't allow the hurtful experiences of our past to paralyze us in our present or in our future.

So if a hurt from your past is keeping you from changing lanes, do yourself a big favor. Say a prayer, take a deep breath, and flip on your turn signal. It's time for you to change lanes!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Where was God when...?

On a somewhat regular basis I am asked to write a "Pastor's Perspective" in the local "Weekly Choice" newspaper here in northern Michigan. This week's edition is one of those times. The topic given to me was "Where was God when...?" Below is my article:

“Where was God when…?” Right away that question causes people’s minds to go back to 9.11. My generation will always be able to tell exactly where we were on that fateful September morning. But each person can most likely finish that same question with a personal memory as well. Each of us have faced an adversity in our lifetime be it an illness, a death, the loss of a job, a betrayal or some other hurtful experience. The truth is that there is no way to get through life without such an encounter and most likely we each have another “where was God when” story still ahead of us.

So what is the answer? Where was God on 9.11? Where was God when you got that bad report from the doctor? Where was God when you lost your job? Where was God when you were betrayed by a spouse or a friend? Where was God when you stood next to that freshly dug grave? Let me be a bit transparent. For me the question would be, “Where was God when I faced a time of deep betrayal and hurt from individuals I had poured myself into for years?”

The answer may be hard to accept but nonetheless true! In those times, God was where He has always been…on His throne in total and complete control. God is always in control – even when life seems out of control. Nothing ever takes Him by surprise and I guarantee you that He never utters the words, “OOPS! Now what should I do?” It is that fact that kept me going in my greatest “where was God when” moment and it is that fact that can give you hope if you are going through a “where is God when” time in your life right now.

Just think about the greatest tragedy in the course of human history. It happened over 2,000 years ago on a hillside just outside the city walls of Jerusalem when the Son of God was crucified and died. Where was God when Jesus died? He was on His throne in total control! And it was through that crucifixion that God demonstrated His love to those of us who were sinners as Jesus paid the penalty in our place and for our sin. Three days later that event then resulted in an empty tomb and a risen Savior! It’s true! Even when life’s events seem the darkest, God is in control! As a result, you can trust Him during your “where is God when” experience!

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Easter Memories

It is now officially the week before Easter. I love the week before Easter. In ministry, it is a week of great anticipation leading up to the biggest Sunday of the calendar year. But Easter for me always beings back some really great ministry memories as well.

It was 26 years ago on Easter Sunday 1986 that I preached my very first sermon. I was a junior in High School living in Akron, Ohio. We were attending the Cuyahoga Falls Baptist Church in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Our pastor was named Paul Rohart and he asked me to preach the message for that Easter's Sunrise Service. I'm not sure exactly why he asked me (other than the fact that I was dating his daughter at the time which may have had something to do with it).

I do remember being very sacred (actually, I think I was so scared that I had diarrhea, but that's not important to the story). I still remember my sermon (somewhere I actually still have the very note cards I used). It was entitled, "Is It Just Another Day?" I also remember seeing God use that morning resulting in people putting their faith in Jesus. From that moment on there was nothing else I wanted to do with my life than preach. God used that Easter Sunday to confirm my calling to ministry.

It was 20 years ago on Easter Sunday 1992 that I was able to preach the message of the resurrection at a church in Seoul, Korea. What a thrill it was on that Easter to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus in an international setting!

This past weekend we had friends visit us from the church I pastored in Indiana from 1995-2004. It was very fitting to have them with us the weekend before Easter because she accepted the Lord at one of our church services on an Easter Sunday. Her husband followed her in making that decision not long afterwards.

I thought about just two Easters ago (Easter 2010) when a man who had months earlier started attending our church in Pennsylvania, along with his wife, prayed to receive Christ at one of our Easter Sunday services.

I thought about last Easter (Easter 2011) which was my first Easter as the Lead Pastor here at the Gaylord Evangelical Free Church! The church was packed that morning and many people came forward and gave their hearts and lives to Jesus!

Now we are coming up on Easter 2012. The anticipation is killing me! Why? Because I'm sure that this will go down as another Easter memory of lives transformed by the Good News of the Gospel - that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again on the third day!