Thursday, May 31, 2012

My Calling

I've been reading Charles Swindol's book, "Saying It Well," in which he shares what he has learned about effective communication over his ministry.  He begins by talking about the importance of calling.  He shares the story of his calling to ministry.  It made me think a lot about my calling.

I grew up in church - literally.  It was the Goodyear Heights Community Church in Akron, Ohio (pictured above) My dad was not a pastor but he was on just about every board and committee the church had.  Our family lived by the motto, "If the church doors are open, the Distler family will be there (ft hand side looking toward the pulpit).  And because my parents were also the church custodians, we were at church even when the doors were closed.

This really was the beginning of my call to ministry.  I suspect that most kids would have become tired of always being at church.  That was not the case with me.  I loved being at church.  In fact, as I grew older, I would often borrow my dad's church keys and go up to the church to do my homework or practice my trumpet.  I loved being in the church - I still do!

My initial decision moment regarding ministry happened at one of our yearly Mission Conferences.  I always looked forward to that week.  Most often, we housed a missionary couple in our home during that time.  It was at one of those evening meetings that I went forward and committed my life to full-time ministry if that was indeed what the Lord wanted with me.

In Junior High my calling intensified as I developed a spiritual hero.  He name was Dr Jerry Falwell and every Sunday morning while I was getting ready for church I would watch him preach on the Old Time Gospel Hour using the little black and white TV in my bedroom.  I loved his passion and his courage.  It was by watching Dr Falwell weekly on TV that I begin to develop a desire to be a pastor.

That desire grew but was not confirmed until my Junior year of High School.  My pastor, Paul Rohart of the Cuyahoga Falls Baptist Church in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, asked me to preach the Easter Sunrise Service at our church.  I'm not sure why he asked me.  Maybe he saw something in me.  Maybe it was because I was dating his daughter at the time.  I'm really not sure.  I did, however, preach that morning.  I still remember the title of my sermon - "Is It Just Another Day?"  I was so scared that morning but I saw God use me that morning and after that, preaching was all I ever wanted to do - It still is!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


The picture above was taken last Monday night during the storms we had here in northern Michigan.  Isn't it a great pic?  This is one I would love to one day get framed and put in my office.  When I saw it I couldn't help but break out in the worship song recorded by Chris Tomlin though it was written by one of my favorite song-writers, Laura Story, especially the second verse!  Why not stop whatever you are doing right now and sing this one to the Lord - who cares who else hears you!  Let it rip!  After all, it is so true - God is INDESCRIBABLE!

From the highest of heights to the depths of the sea
Creation's revealing Your majesty
From the colors of fall to the fragrance of spring
Every creature unique in the song that it sings
All exclaiming

Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name.
You are amazing God
All powerful, untameable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God

Who has told every lightning bolt where it should go
Or seen heavenly storehouses laden with snow
Who imagined the sun and gives source to its light
Yet conceals it to bring us the coolness of night
None can fathom

Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name
You are amazing God
All powerful, untameable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God
You are amazing God

Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name.
You are amazing God
All powerful, untameable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God
Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name.
You are amazing God
Incomparable, unchangeable
You see the depths of my heart and You love me the same
You are amazing God
You are amazing God

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Heart of an Encourager

Barnabas is the person in the Bible who is most known for his encouragement of others.  His real name was Joseph but his nature as an encourager of others resulted in the Apostles giving him the surname, "Barnabas," because it literally means "Son of Encouragement."

When you study the nature of Barnabas you see the nature of an encourager because encouragement isn't something you do as much as it is something you are.  One of the aspects of Barnabas that made him such an effective encourager is that he was not in it for the glory.  He wasn't seeking any credit.

In Acts 11, Barnabas brings Saul (who would later be renamed Paul) to Antioch to help him in ministering to the growing number of Greek Christians.  As this ministry duo is first mentioned in the book of Acts it is always in a particular order.  Barnabas comes first.  In the Bible, whenever there is a list of people the order in the list is important.  Whichever name is mentioned first is the more prominent person on the list.  So this duo begins as "Barnabas and Saul."  Barnabas is the more prominent person of the two.

But later in Acts 13, Barnabas and Paul have an encounter with Elymas the magician.  From this time forward the order of the names change.  Up until now it has always been "Barnabas and Saul."  But from this point on it is now seen as "Paul and Barnabas."  Paul becomes the more prominent one.  Barnabas moves to the back seat when it comes to the spotlight of ministry.  But no where do we see any hint that this bothered Barnabas at all.  Why?  Because an encourager isn't looking for the glory.  An encourager doesn't need any credit.

Perhaps my favorite poem ever written came from the pen of Ruth Harms Calkin.  I hesitate to even call it a poem because it doesn't rhyme.  Now, I took enough literature classes to know that poetry doesn't always have to rhyme but in my mind, it should.  Yet, this poem is very convicting.  It shows the heart of Barnabas.  It shows the nature of an encourager.  It's simply entitled "I Wonder:"

You know, Lord, how I serve You
With great emotional fervor
in the limelight
You know how eagerly I speak for You
at a women’s club.
You know how I shine when I promote
a fellowship group.
You know my genuine enthusiasm
at a Bible study.
But how would I react, I wonder,
If You pointed to a basin of water
And asked me to wash the calloused feet
Of a bent and wrinkled old woman,
Day after day,
Month after month,
In a room where nobody saw
And nobody knew.

Friday, May 25, 2012

SUNDAY at E-Free - the Highlight of the Holiday Weekend!

Sunday is always a special day here at Gaylord E-Free church and Memorial Day Weekend will be no different.  This Sunday we will continue our 3-week series that we are calling “Lean On Me” which is a study on the life of Barnabas (meaning “Son of Encouragement”).  Through this series we are learning how to become more effective encouragers.

Last Sunday we saw three aspects of what encouragement looks like.  We also saw last Sunday the first characteristic of the nature of an encourager with is GOODNESS.  According to Acts 11, Barnabas was a "good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith."  This Sunday we will see the GRACE of an encourager; the GOAL of an encourager; and the GLORY of an encourager.

In each bulletin Sunday there will be a “Lean on Me” note card in which we will encourage each person to prayerfully ask God to lay someone on their heart who needs encouragement and to use this note card to write them a note of encouragement and mail it or give it this week to the person that God laid on their heart.  Imagine how powerful it could be to have hundreds of E-Free people writing and sending an encouragement card this week.

Along with the message, in the Contemporary service this Sunday we will be led in worship by Samantha Dunn and our Worship Team with songs of worship and encouragement such as Nothing Is Impossible; Waiting Here For You; Just To Be With You; Our God and Give Me Faith.

In our Classic service I will be leading the singing (which I always enjoy!) and which will include wonderful patriotic and other more traditional songs like America the Beautiful; Battle Hymn of the Republic; Great Is Thy Faithfulness; Great Is The Lord; and Spirit of the Living God.  The Classic service will also include special music; Scripture reading; and a praise and prayer time.

We will be showing a very moving video regarding Memorial Day in both services as well.  After the message there will also be a video promo from the Courageous movie to promote the Resolution Sunday that is scheduled for Father’s Day, June 17.

As you can see, Sunday at E-Free will in fact be the best part of Memorial Day Weekend here in Gaylord, Michigan. Both the Classic and Contemporary services begin at 9:30am.  Be sure to make worship at Gaylord E-Free a part of your holiday weekend!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Courageous 6-Week Event

This Sunday is the middle week of a 3-part series that we are calling “Lean on Me” in which we are learning from the life of Barnabas how we can become more effective encouragers.  Following our "Lean on Me" series, beginning on Sunday, June 10, we will move right into a very special 6-week "Courageous Event" that will focus primarily on men.  As of now, here is what these 6-weeks will include:

* Our Sunday messages will focus on “Unsung Men of Courage” from the Bible.  These are men who have great stories but who most Christians are very unfamiliar with.  We will also be highlighting over this time-frame some of our own “Unsung Men of Courage” here at E-Free Church.

* On Saturday, June 16, we will be showing the movie “Courageous.”  Actually, we will be showing it twice that day – once at 2pm and again at 6pm.  The showings will include popcorn, cotton candy, and some great family giveaways.  Best of all, everything will be free.

* On Sunday, June 17, we will celebrate Father’s Day with a Resolution Sunday giving opportunity for men to make the same resolution publicly on that Sunday that is portrayed in this powerful movie.

* During this time-frame there will also be an 8-week class that will be starting for married couples during the Second Hour to help couples work together to strengthen their marriages and their family.

* On Sunday, July 15, we will end our "Courageous Event" with a Hero’s Day!  This will be a service in which we honor all past and present military, police, fire, and other first responders.  We may even be taking this Sunday’s worship service off-campus!  More details will soon be announced.

As you can see, the next couple months are going to be real exciting here at E-Free as we MEET people right where they are at and help MOVE them to where God wants them to be!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

25 Years is Not Enough

25 years ago today, on May 23, 1987, at the Temple Baptist Church in Pueblo, Colorado, my wife and I said "I Do!"  Today is our 25th Wedding Anniversary!  That's not bad for a relationship that began at a Flea Market in Lynchburg, Virginia.  It's especially not bad when you consider that at that Flea Market, more than a quarter century ago, when we first met, my wife was there looking for a toaster, a garbage can, and a picture frame for her boyfriend that lived hundreds of miles away in Texas.  It makes me so thankful for what I used to hear Dr Jerry Falwell say many times, "All is fair in love and romance until the wedding ring is on the finger."  Dr Falwell could say that because when he met his wife, she was dating his best friend.

When we said "I Do" 25 years ago in Pueblo Colorado, we had no idea what the next 25 years would hold.  We had no idea that we would be part of 4 different ministries.  We had no idea that we would live in 4 different states.  We had no idea that when our 25th anniversary rolled around that we would be living in rural northern Michigan, in a town called "Gaylord."

Over the last 25 years we had some incredible joys like the birth of our two children; their High School graduations; and our daughter's college graduation.  But back then we did not know that we would face some pain and adversity as well like the night we almost lost one of our children when they were very little.  25 years ago we had no idea the hundreds of lives that God would give us the thrill of impacting for Jesus.  But neither did we realize the ministry hurt that we would walk through as well.  But the best part of the past 25 years was the fact that we were able to live through those joys and those sorrows - those peaks and those valleys - TOGETHER!  That's the best part of the past 25 years.  No matter what life threw my way - Laura was there!  We were TOGETHER!

Today, there won't really be any fanfare to the celebration.  Paying for two kids in college and the recent trip to Virginia for graduation pretty much was our anniversary celebration (though I believe 25 years ago we thought this day would be celebrated in Hawaii!  Oh, well).  But today we will look back over the past 25 years with gladness - gladness that we lived these past 25 years TOGETHER.

And when today comes to an end, we will start our next 25 years.  Like the last 25 years, those years ahead will also have many joys.  Lord willing, we will see our son graduate from college; We'll watch our kids get married; We'll become grandparents - maybe even great-grandparents.  But I am also realistic and honest enough to realize that the next 25 years will include some heartache as well.  We may end up living far away from our grown kids and not be able to experience our grand-kids in person on a regular basis.  And in all likelihood, the next 25 years will also include saying "good-bye" to our own parents as they go on to heaven ahead of us.  But with all the joys and sorrows that will accompany the next 25 years, the best part is that we will live those experiences TOGETHER!

Over the next 25 years we will grow old (Laura will actually get there before me since I am so much younger than she is).  To be honest, I don't look forward to getting old.  From what I see, it seems like a tough road.  One dear Senior Saint once told me, "Getting old isn't for sissies!"  I think she may be right.  The worst part of the next 25 years is that we will grow old.  The best part of the next 25 years is that we will grow old TOGETHER!

Years ago I bought Laura a D.Morgan print.  These prints include words on them as part of the picture. This one hangs in our bedroom.  It's words have special meaning today on our 25th wedding anniversary.  Here is what it says:

One hundred years together
Would surely be too few
For every day, all over again
I fall in love with you!

Today is our 25th Wedding Anniversary!  To be honest, 25 years just isn't enough!

Happy Anniversary, Laura!  I love you!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gaylord E-Free - Meeting & Moving!

Last night here at the Gaylord E-Free Church we had our "All Ministry Team Leader's Meeting" in which the leads of all of our Ministry Teams met together with our Leadership Team to give updates and to see how we can work in synergy together rather than doing ministry as silos.  As I listened to the report from the leader of our Outreach Team I was so very thankful to be able to be the Lead Pastor of a church that doesn't just say we are about reaching out to the community and to our world - but a church that is actually doing it.

We have stated that our purpose is to "MEET as many people as possible right where they are at in order to help MOVE them to where God wants them to be."  As a church, one way we do this it by partnering financially with many missionaries around the world as well as local organizations.  But we don't just "write checks."  Below are just some of the things that our Outreach Team is orchestrating to help mobilize our church to reach lost people and to help those in need:

Once a month we have a Food Truck in which a full semi-truck full of food is brought in and then given out free to people in our community who are struggling in these tough economic times.  650 people each month in our county here in northern Michigan are ministered to physically and spiritually through our Food Truck.

Each fall on Halloween we have a Harvest Festival for kids and families.  Last year over 600 attended.  In our recent "Get Acquainted Class" for newer folks to our church, one of the families in the class shared that their first contact with our church was last year's Harvest Festival.

Each Thanksgiving we join ranks with other churches in our community to pay for and hand deliver full Thanksgiving meals to hundreds of homes in our area.  Last year over 400 volunteers, many from E-Free Church, delivered enough Thanksgiving meals to feed 2500 people in our community.

This Spring we had our first CIA (Church In Action) Day where over 100 people from our church gave up their Saturday to go out into our community doing service projects.  The next CIA Day is scheduled for August 18 and we are looking for twice the participants this time.

This summer a Disaster Relief Team from E-Free will travel to Joplin, MO with Samaritan's Purse to help rebuild homes and lives from people who are are still misplaced after the devastating tornadoes that occurred one year ago.

Last year a team From E-Free travelled to Nicaragua to minister at a Child Development Center connected to a local church in this very poor village in South America.  Another team will be going back to Nicaragua again this coming February.

And this is simply a glimpse of E-Free's "MEETING & MOVING" through just our Outreach Team's efforts.  Add to this all of the other "M&M" type ministry happening in all of our other teams and you have quite an impact taking place.  E-Free Church is right on mission and is it ever exciting to be a part!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Truth About Average

We saw Sunday morning that a Jewish man who was born on the island of Cyprus was given the name "Joseph" by his parents.  But in the book of Acts the Apostles changed his name to "Barnabas" which means "Son of Encouragement."  This surname was awarded to Joseph because he was such an encourager to the early church.  So we began Sunday morning to look at the nature of Barnabas to see what it was that made him tick so that we could see what kind of person can be such an effective encourager.

We saw Sunday that Barnabas' nature included the fact that he was a "good man."  In other words, he lived a life of moral and spiritual excellence.  He excelled in his relationship with God and in his relationship with others.  That is why we have so few "Barnabas'" in the church today.  The apparent truth today is that few followers of Jesus are excelling in their walk of faith.  At best, most Christians are just average followers of Jesus.  But what's worse is that they seem to be satisfied with being "average" spiritually.

A friend shared with me a great definition of average.  When you are average you are either the worst of the best or the best of the worst.  Think about it!  Whether you are the worst of the best or the best of the worst, neither category is a great place to be.  That's the truth about being average.

But truthfully we could go one step further.  One of my professors over 25 years ago when I was studying at Liberty University would say, "Most Christians live such a subnormal Christian life that when someone lives a normal Christian life it seems abnormal!"  So as we start this new work week out, let me ask you who are followers of Jesus that are reading this post a few questions:

Are you a "good man" or a "good woman"?

Are you excelling in your walk of faith?

Or are you an average Christian?

And if you are an average Christian, does that mean you are the worst of the best when it comes to being a follower of Jesus or the best of the worst?

Have you settled for average in your spiritual life?

What can you do this week to excel even more in your walk with Jesus Christ?

Saturday, May 19, 2012


This Sunday we start a brand new 3-week series here at E-Free that we are calling “Lean On Me.”  It will be a study on the life of Barnabas (meaning “Son of Encouragement”) who is mentioned 30 times in the New Testament.

This Sunday we will see that encouragement is not “fixing someone’s problem” or “taking away someone’s hurt.”  In most cases, we cannot do that.  As we follow the word “encouragement” in Scripture we will see three aspects to it:

First, encouragement is coming along side of someone so that they have a person to lean on during their trial and hurt.  For example, when I went through my greatest time of hurt there was a Barnabas in my life named Rick who prayed for me, made contact with me regularly, and took me to breakfast once a week so I had time to share, vent, cry or whatever.  Rick encouraged me by coming alongside of me.

Second, encouragement is reminding someone of the promises and principles of God’s Word as they go through their time of trial and hurt.  For example, when I went through my time of hurt there was a Barnabas in my life named Steve who gave me godly wisdom and reminded me of Biblical promises.  Steve encouraged me with the Word of God.

Third, encouragement is bringing joy and refreshment into someone’s life as they go through their time of trial and hurt.  For example, when I went through my greatest time of hurt there was a Barnabas in my life named Randy who I spent a lot of time with.  Spending time with Randy did not fix my problem or change my situation, but after spending time with him I always felt lighter.  Randy encouraged me by bringing joy and refreshment into my life.

There are many people in our church who need someone to encourage them right now - someone to lean on.  As we start this series Sunday I will be passing out a card to everyone in which if someone is going through a time of hurt right now and needs someone to encourage them they can fill out the card which will give their name, contact information, gender and age, and then turn it in.  I will then give these cards to individuals in our church (of the same gender) who have already expressed a willingness to make a personal contact with them and be a “Barnabas” to them by giving them someone to lean on, by offering reminders of godly wisdom and promises, and by bringing joy and refreshment into their lives.

We will be putting the Easter set back up for this series but instead of the word “BELIEVE” being spelled out it will say “LEAN ON ME” on the panels.  

In line with the theme we will also be using the song “Lean On Me” as a theme song during this series.  This is not necessarily a worship song and it was not written distinctively as a “Christian” song, but the words to the song hit the bulls-eye as far as encompassing the Biblical meaning of encouragement (and it’s also a lot of fun to sing as well):

Lean on me when you’re not strong
I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For, it won’t be log 
Till I’m gonna need 
Somebody to lean on

This Sunday will also include something we have never done before.  As part of our worship package several vignettes will be taking place on the stage while we sing.  These will introduce the topic of encouragement to us as we see, much like some of the modern "pay it forward" commercials, one person encouraging another person who then encourages another person who then encouragers another person.

The service will also include a special promotional video from the Outreach Team regarding a relief trip being planned for this summer.  This is to go down to help with the rebuilding of the areas of our country that were devastated this past year by tornadoes.  This is a great opportunity for us as a church to encourage people we don't even know (yet)!

So join us this Sunday (9:30am) here at the E-Free Church in Gaylord, Michigan as we start our new LEAN ON ME series in which we all learn how to become more effective encouragers!  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Rare and Amazing Week

I apologize to those of you (OK - the one person) who contacted me inquiring about why I have not updated my blog over the last 3 days.  I just got back in the office Wednesday after being gone for a week for my daughter's graduation from Liberty University.  What a rare and amazing week it was.  Here are some of the highlights from my trip:

I was able to visit with several former ministry colleagues of mine.  Sean Patrick (a liberty graduate) interned under me when I was a youth pastor in West Milton, Ohio.  He is now the President of Finish Line Ministries out of Columbus, OH.  Their main ministry is in Malawi, Africa where they have planted over 250 churches and seen thousands come to Christ.  I am so very proud of Sean and how God is using him!
I also got to visit with Brian Penn and Rich Brown (both are also Liberty graduates).  We were all youth pastors together in the same district and worked in partnership on many events including summer camp.  Brian now lives in Columbus, OH and Rich is now “Dr Richard Brown,” a professor in the Youth Ministries Department at Liberty.

I was able to meet and sped some time talking with Doug Gilmore who is from Gaylord and the E-Free Church who now lives in Virginia.  He is an adjunct professor at Liberty.  We have communicated often through email and Facebook but this was the first time we were able to talk face-to-face.

We were able to visit the elementary school in Lynchburg where Joy did her student teaching last semester.  Her cooperating teacher and the principal at the school both communicated to us how uniquely gifted Joy is and what a thrill it was for them to have her in their school.  Please do pray with us that God will make His way very clear to Joy over the summer.

Graduation was amazing.  I am so proud of Joy.  She was one of only five students in the entire Education Department to receive an excellence in teaching award.  The weather was perfect.  Luis Palau’s talk at Baccalaureate was powerful and Mitt Romney’s speech at Commencement was equally as good.

As proud as I was of Joy, I was equally proud to be an alumnus of Liberty University (and now the parent of an alumnus).  Liberty had 14,000 graduates this year and will go over the 80,000 mark in enrolment this fall (most through their distance learning program).  They are the quickest private school ever to go over the one billion dollar mark in net assets.  To think that back in 1971 when Dr Falwell launched the dream that God gave to him, it was just a mountain with a barn sitting on it.  It is amazing what God can do through one person who has enough faith to believe that God can do it!

We also had the opportunity to share this time with my parents and Laura’s parents.  Being that graduation was over Mother's Day weekend, it was the very first time in the 25 years that we have been married that we were all together for Mother’s Day.

On the way home we were able to spend the night with some special friends in Ohio.  This couple is who I stayed with when I was a summer intern youth pastor in Ohio the two summers before my college graduation.

Week's like this do not come along every day!  They are few and far between!  But, Lord willing, we will be able to do it all again in two years when my son is part of Liberty's 2014 graduating class!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Can I as an Evangelical Christian vote for a Mormon?

Today I go out on to the very thin ice of the blogosphere by mixing religion and politics.  I have had several conversations with people recently, even area pastors, who have asked the question, "How can I as an evangelical Christian vote for a Mormon for President?"

Now before I chime in with my "two cents," let me be very clear that I am not endorsing anyone through writing this blog.  I am taking away the names and political affiliations and just answering the general question, "As an evangelical pastor, Could I vote for a Mormon for President?"

My answer is, "Yes, I could" (Oh, boy, I think I hear that thin ice cracking beneath my keyboard as I type)!  Now before you feel led of the Lord to slap the word "Apostate" on me, let me say right up front that I very much disagree with the theology of Mormonism.  In fact, I see Mormonism as a cult.  I'm not sure I can say it any more clearly.  But when it comes to political elections, I am voting for a political leader not for a Pope, Rabbi or preacher.

Would I be more comfortable voting for someone who shared my theological beliefs as an evangelical Christian?  Of course I would.  But I just don't see how being a Mormon proves that someone can not be a good and effective President.  In fact, I know many evangelical Christians who cross their spiritual "t's" and dot their spiritual "i's" exactly as I do who I would never vote for to be President.  Why?  Because they would be lousy leaders of the free world.

If a Mormon candidate was running for President and he was the one who most closely shared my views on social issues, fiscal issues and issues dealing with foreign affairs, yes, I could and would be able to vote for that person in spite of what I see as their theological errors.  My voting for a Mormon for President who shares many of my values is not an endorsement of Mormonism.

And just in case I'm not on thin enough ice, let me also say that I do not believe that  inviting a Presidential Candidate who happens to be a Mormon to speak at the commencement of a Christian University is also not an endorsement of the Mormon faith.

Quick, someone throw me a rope...I'm pretty sure I just fell through the ice.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

My Daughter Graduates From College Today

My wife has a picture of us on her mirror in our bedroom.  The year was 1987.  The place was Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.  The occasion was our college graduation.  As I look at that picture I can't help but notice how skinny I looked back then and be reminded how sexy my wife was.  25 years have passed since then.  I'm no longer skinny but my wife is even more sexy.  I sure got the good end of the deal on that one!

A quarter of a century has passed since that picture was taken but today I am back at Liberty University for another college graduation.  This time it is not me - it's my daughter.  She graduates today from the School of Education.  I could not be more proud of her.  But I also can't help but wonder where the last 25 years went.

25 years ago when I walked across that platform at Liberty's graduation it was Dr Jerry Falwell, one of my spiritual heroes, who shook my hand and gave me my diploma.  When I walked off the stage my Gradnpa Distler, another one of my spiritual heroes, was standing right there with his arms wide open to hug me, congratulate me and tell me how proud he was of me.

Now, 25 years later, as my daughter walks across that platform both of those influential men in my life are already enjoying heaven.  A lot has changed on campus in those 25 years as well.  In fact, the campus is dramatically different from how it was a quarter century ago when I donned my cap and gown. But the day is just as special - even more special.

You could call today a JOYFUL day!  Congratulations, Joy!  I am so very proud of you.  25 years ago your mom and I could have never imagined the gift God would give us in you.  You have given special meaning to the verse in Scripture that says, "I have no grater JOY than to see that my children walk in truth!'  So as you walk across that platform today please know that nobody will be more proud of you on this your special day than I will be!

I love you!

Friday, May 11, 2012

I'm Wearing Make-up!

I have been studying through the book of Titus with our Elders here at the Gaylord E-Free Church.  In chapter two, Paul instructs Timothy as to how the church should live.  He gives specific exhortations to older men, older women, young women, young men, and bondslaves.  We don't have bondslaves in our culture today but I think the instructions directed toward them are very fitting for each of us in the situations in our lives where we are under another another's authority (employer, teacher, parent, board, government).  Bondslaves are told to be subject to their masters.  But then Paul gives four particulars as to what this looks like:

First, we are to be well-pleasing.  In other words, we ought to be committed to excellence in our work.

Second, we are not to be argumentative.  This word is used elsewhere in the New Testament to refer to being obstinate; contradicting; hostility, and rebellion.

Third, we are not to be pilfering.  We are not to be involved in stealing, embezzling or petty theft.  By the way, when was the last time you used a company stamp on a personal envelope without getting permission?

Fourth, we are to show good faith.  We are to be loyal and faithful.  The word "show" is the idea of proving.  Those who are in authority over us should have no doubt that they can trust us.

Why are these principles important?  What does all this have to do with my wearing make-up?  In verse ten of chapter two Paul tells Timothy that when we live in this way we "adorn" the doctrine of God.  The NIV translation of the Bible uses the term "make attractive."  It was used in ancient times to speak of arranging jewels in a way that best displayed the beauty of the gem.  It comes from a word which we get our English word, "cosmetics."

Now think about it.  If you are a woman, do you wear make-up?  If you are a man, does your wife wear make-up?  I imagine the answer to these two questions is a resounding (and costly) "yes."  But why?  Why do women wear make-up?  The answer is simple.  They do so to make themselves more attractive.  There is nothing wrong with that at all.  If the barn needs painted, paint it!!

But now let me zero in on the men reading this whose wives wear make-up with one more question.  Is your wife beautiful before she puts on her make-up (be careful here, guys!)?  Of course she is!  Her wearing make-up does not mean that she is not beautiful without it.  It is simply a way to make herself even more attractive.

According to Paul, when we live by these instructions we "adorn," we "make attractive" the doctrine of God.  Question, "Is the doctrine beautiful in and of itself?"  Absolutely!  But when we live holy and godly lives we make the doctrine of God even more attractive.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to go put on my make-up!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Orioles and Fingerprints

During a time in our lives when my wife and I were going through a very deep trial in ministry, one of the things that got us through was taking time to look for what we called the "fingerprints of God."  By this we are referring to those little things that happened during the day that seemed small but through them we could see evidence that God was in control of our lives even when it seemed like our life was out of control.  Each night we would grab a cup of coffee and sit out on the back porch and list the ways that we had seen the "fingerprints of God" that day in our lives and in our situation.

I'm not sure why we got away from that because most days we can still see His fingerprints.  Just this week I have been able to see the "Fingerprints of God" around me.  For example, my wife and I have grown to love watching the wide variety of birds that come to our backyard here in Northern Michigan.  We actually have 6 different feeders and a birdbath that we have positioned just right so that when we are sitting in our chairs in the living room watching television we can see each and every feeder along with the birdbath.  We have a book of Michigan birds and we get very excited each time we see a bird in our backyard that we have not seen yet.  We fold that page down in the book, thanking the God who is Lord over the birds for His fingerprints.

My favorite bird to see is the Oriole.  I love that bright orange bird.  Just Saturday we put out an oriole feeder in hopes that eventually some orioles would find our backyard rest area.  On Monday I was out mowing the front yard when my wife came racing out the front door with a huge smile on her face.  You guessed it!  Within 48 hours of putting up the bright orange feeder, an oriole had come for a visit.  To us that is simply a reminder that God is in control of our world and our lives.  To us that beautiful orange bird was "God's fingerprints."

We also saw His fingerprints this week when an encouraging note came in the mail with a special gift inside of it - a gift we were in no way expecting.  That note was anonymous so we don't even know who to thank.  Or do we?  To me, that note was another example of the "Fingerprints of God" in our lives.  He obviously had prompted someone to do this and these individuals had been sensitive to that prompting in their lives.  So that night I could again thank God for His fingerprints in my life.

I saw God's fingerprints this week when my wife and I were able to spend some time talking on the phone with a pastor and his dear wife who have become friends of ours.  They are currently going through a ministry trial much like we faced.  When I got off the phone after praying with this pastor and friend I was reminded of the beauty of God's Word in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 which tells us that God comforts us in our trials so that we can comfort those who are going through the same trial.  Whenever God's Word comes to life, especially when it give meaning to past hurt, I see it as the "fingerprints of God" and I am thankful.

When we were going through our time of hurt we had shared our evening routine with friends of ours.  They had special coffee cups made for us that said "Fingerprints of God" on them.  Every time I drink from that cup I remember those dear friends because faithful friends are often how God shows His fingerprints in our lives.

Thank you, God, for Your fingerprints!

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Coffee and an Egg McMuffin

This morning I am starting my day with a run through the drive-thru to get me a cup of coffee and an Egg McMuffin (one of the lower calorie breakfast sandwiches you can get at a fast-food restaurant) and boy am I excited!  That may not seem like much of an occasion to celebrate but for me it is and here's why.

Yesterday ended my 21-day Daniel Diet.  On the Daniel Diet you eat only fruit, vegetables, brown rice, and whole wheat pastas.  The worst part for me was beverages.  On the Daniel Diet you can only have water.  That's tough for me because I really don't like water.  So first thing this morning I am making a run to McD's.

The last 21 days has really not been that bad (though I am very glad it is over).  Evening meals have been pretty good and have filled me up.  Snacking was tough because outside of fruit there wasn't a lot to snack on and I am not a big fruit eater.  But it was a good experience, one that my wife and I will do once a year.  Here is why:

-My wife and I did the Daniel Diet together.  It is always a good thing to do adventures together as a married couple!

-The last 21-days was good for our bodies.  I can feel the difference.  I am sleeping better.  I have more energy.  And best of all, I lost 10 pounds over the 3 weeks!

-This Daniel Diet adventure allowed me to break some bad eating habits I developed over the winter.  I lose weight when I eat small amounts every two hours along with a sensible dinner.  The last 21 days has prepared me to get back on that routine and lifestyle - in fact, it will seem like a step up!

-Though we did not do this diet necessarily for spiritual purposes, it had a spiritual benefit.  Any time we say no to the craving of our bodies is good for us spiritually.

So the last 21 days has been good!  But I can't wait to get to McD's!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Connecting with People

In our Ministry Staff Meeting here at Gaylord E-Free Church yesterday we watched and discussed a video by John Maxwell entitled "Connecting with People."  In this talk, Maxwell said that Jesus was the great connector and he defined connecting as "The ability to relate to and identify with people in such a way that it increases your influence with them."  he then gave three points about connecting:

First, Connecting is all others!  

Second, Connecting requires energy!

Third, Connectors find common ground!

Below are some statements from the video that I wrote down as I listened.  Do any of these strike a chord with you?

If you will help people first get what they want, they will then help you get everything you want.  

Leaders never cross the finish line first.

Immature people think of themselves, not others.

When you take of the mantle of leadership you give up the right to think of yourself first.

Leadership is servanthood.   It's not about "titles," it's about "towels," which means to be a leader you have to be able to "stoop."

There is nothing worse than an insecure leader that thinks the worlds revolves around them.

Look at the inconvenience of Jesus in connecting with us.

The energy you put into it is worth the price of connecting.

To be effective you have to go where they people are and participate in what the people do.

Great connectors find common ground and then lift others to higher ground.

The key word to find common ground in the Christian community is "relationships."  The key word to find common ground in the business community is "respect."

Sunday, May 06, 2012

At age 47 I'm celebrating my 65th anniversary

Many of the books in my library came from my Grandpa Distler (pictured above) who was a pastor for 47 years before his entrance into heaven on February 15, 1994.  Grandpa was a stickler for detail so as I go through his books I often find notes he had written on pieces of paper - notes in his own handwriting.  Recently I found one such piece of paper in which he had written the different churches he had pastored and the dates he was there:

Grandpa started an an Interim Pastor at Leverich Memorial Church in New York (1947 - 1948)

Woodside Community Baptist Church in New York (October 1948 - September 1956)

Union Baptist Church in New York (September 1956 - March 1957)

Faith Baptist Church in New York (March 1957 - April 1962)

Goodyear Heights Community Church in Ohio (April 1962 - November 1970)

Sutter Salem Bible Church in Illinois (November 1970 - March 1977)

Fenton Bible Church in Michigan (March 1977 - April 1987)

He then finished his life as the Superintendent at the Victory Rescue Mission in California from May 1988 until his death in 1994.  

I could not help but to continue that list with the path God has taken me in ministry because my ministry in many ways is an extension of my Grandpa Distler's Ministry:

Community Church in Ohio (May 1987 - November 1995)

Osceola Grace Brethren Church in Indiana (November 1995 - August 2004)

Grace Church in Pennsylvania (August 2004 - September 2010)

Gaylord Evangelical Free Church in Michigan (March 2011 - Present)

This May my wife and I will celebrate our 25th Wedding Anniversary as well as our 25th year of being in full-time pastoral ministry.  But as I looked through the above list I also realized that this year I am also celebrating the 65th anniversary of the Distler family serving in pastoral ministry.  Between my Grandpa Distler and I we have served as pastors in 12 different ministries and in 7 different states (New York, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, California, Indiana and Pennsylvania).

Happy Anniversary, Grandpa!  Thanks for the legacy you left me    

Saturday, May 05, 2012

A CIA Weekend at EFREE

Weekends at E-Free Church here in Gaylord, MI are always exciting.  But this weekend is even more exciting than usual because today is C.I.A. Day here are E-Free.  C.I.A. stands for "Church In Action."  The purpose of our church is to "MEET as many people as possible right where they are at and help MOVE them to where God wants them to be."  To MEET people where they are begins with our MEETING them where they are at geographically.  In other words, we can't be a church that just waits for people to come into our building.  We have to be a church that is willing to go out and MEET them right where they are.

That is what today is all about.  The E-Free Church is going into action today as dozens and dozens of us go out into our community doing service projects in order to MEET and to serve our community.  Our Outreach Team has done a great job putting together these projects.  Few things excite me more as a pastor than seeing our church actively involved in touching our community.  My wife and I are looking forward to going around and visiting each and every project happening today in order to encourage the many people from our church who will be giving up their Saturday to make a difference in our community.

Then comes Sunday - always the best day of the week.  I wake up every morning thinking, "Is it Sunday yet?"  And I know I'm biased but I just can't think of any place where worship is more exciting than here at Gaylord E-Free.  This Sunday is the first Sunday of the month so instead of our normal two service format (Classic and Contemporary) we will all be together as we conclude our "Word War Won" series on 2 Timothy 3:14-17.  We have already seen that the Bible is unique and that it is inspired.  This Sunday we will complete our series by seeing that the Bible is also sufficient.  In other words, the Bible contains everything God wants us to know to do everything God wants us to do.

Along with great worship, the service Sunday morning will also include a special video look at what happened on our C.I.A. Day on Saturday as well as another video that will help us to consider what it would be like if we treated our Bibles like we do our cell phones.  And because it is the first Sunday of the month we will also be celebrating communion together this Sunday.  So if you are anywhere near Gaylord, MI this Sunday morning at 9:30, join us for what's going to be another great service which will be the capstone to a great weekend here at the E-Free Church.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Securing the Church

Over the last few weeks there have been four churches here in our county in rural northern Michigan that have been broken into.  In fact, if you are a Facebook friend of mine you know that last Tuesday night the police arrested two men on the roof of our church.  They claimed to be "star gazing" but they were wearing gloves and bandanas which was somewhat suspicious.

Churches getting broken into are not anything new.  I remember as a kid we lived across the school yard from our church.  My dad had tried to play "Mr Plumber" and messed up our bathroom.  I was about 10 and my sister was about 13 and we needed to use the restroom.  Since my parents were also the church janitors, they gave us the key to the church and sent us up to the church to "do our thing."  They told us to use the restroom and then come right home.  When we were done in the restrooms we were playing in the church office rather than going straight home.  It was pretty late at night.  Suddenly we heard a loud noise in the dark sanctuary - the sound of a hymnal falling on the wooden floor under a pew.  We ran home as fast as we could but we didn't tell our parents (after all, we were playing in the church office rather than coming right home).  The next morning when the pastor went into the church he found it had been robbed - while we were in it!!

Why churches?  I think it is because churches are easy targets.  Churches trust people.  Churches are notorious for keeping cash in the building.  More nights than not you can probably find an exterior door unlocked at a church.  So what can a church do to help become more secure?  The local television station interviewed me recently with that question.  While the truth is that if someone really wants to break in to your church they will find a way, there are some things churches can do to help.  For example:

Don't keep money in the church!  Keeping money in the church is asking for trouble!

Make sure all the outside lights and security lights are on and working!  If a light burns out, change it immediately - even if it is in the middle of winter!

Have a plan to make sure all exterior doors are locked and secure every night.  Without a plan, there will be many nights that a door is left open or unlocked.  You can't just assume that whoever the last person is that leaves the building at the end of the day or night will check all the doors.  You have to have a plan.

If you have a security system post stickers on the doors showing that fact and be sure that it is activated any time the building is empty.  An alarm system that is not activated is no good.

When you see something suspicious, call the police.  If there is a strange car in the church parking lot at night when nothing is going on at the church - call the police.  

Or to make it easy, forget all of the above items and simply buy a couple of rottweiler dogs or mean, saliva drooling junk-yard dogs to freely roam your building at night.  Take the cost out of the Deacon fund!  

Thursday, May 03, 2012

How much can I trust my experiences?

I talked a bit in my posting yesterday about near-death experiences that there is a danger when we take our view of theology from our experiences or other people's experiences rather than from the Bible.  It is the Bible, not our experiences that should be the basis of our faith and practice.  With that said, how much can we trust our experiences?  Obviously, to put any weight on a mystical type of experience it has to be in total agreement with the Word of God.  But do all of our experiences truly come from God?  I don’t think so.

In some case, our experiences may be a result of medication or trauma, which is natural but not necessarily supernatural.  For example, my wife has never done well coming out of anesthesia after a surgery.  I remember the first time I was with her during one of these times.  We weren’t married yet.  When she first awoke after her surgery she asked for me.  I was elated!  She didn’t ask for her mom or her dad – she asked for me!  She then told me that she wrote me a poem during her surgery.  Puzzled, I asked her what the poem was.  She then recited these words of poetic inspiration:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Garbage stinks
And so do you!

I’m telling you, that wasn’t from God!  One time when coming out of surgery she saw two life-sized carrots walking down the hospital hallway holding hands!  Now, based on that experience of hers I am not ready to say that all carrots go to heaven when they die.  Her experience was obviously from the medication she was on – not a message from God.

We also need to keep in mind that Satan is a deceiver.  How does he do this?  The Bible calls him an “angel of light.”  In other words he masquerades as something good – something from God – when really it isn’t at all.  Think of it this way.  If I were going to make some counterfeit bills in order to buy things here in Gaylord, Michigan, I would not make those bills pink with my picture on the front of them.  Those bills would not have a chance!  I would make them look as close to the original as possible.  That’s what Satan often does.  I know we don’t like to think about this, and I am certainly not saying that this is always the case, but it is possible that some of our experiences could have a Satanic or a demonic origin in order to deceive us.

The bottom line, like I said in my posting yesterday, is that we can’t be 100% sure that our experiences are from God.  But we can always be sure that the Bible is from God – His inspired Word preserved accurately for us today.  That’s why it is the Bible, not simply our experiences, that is to be the basis for our faith and practice.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

What should we make of "near death" and other experiences?

A long tunnel

A bright light

A relative waving at you

Jesus smiling

There are many stories that people have that center around near-death experiences.  Some include some of these types of items.  These stories are amazing to read and often turn into best-selling books.  So what are we to make of these kinds of experiences as well as so many other experiences that people have?  Are they true?  Did they really happen?

The truth is that I can’t explain these types of experiences.  I don’t really know if they actually happened and are true in nature or if they were the result of eating a bad burrito the night prior.  Could they be true?  Sure they could be.  After all, experiences are not bad in and of themselves.  My problem really isn’t with the experiences themselves.  My problem is when people elevate these experiences to the same level as Biblical truth and base their theology on their experiences rather than basing their beliefs on the Bible.

For example, many years ago I went to meet with a woman whose husband had died the day before.  The day he died was actually the day before their 25th wedding anniversary so I was meeting with her to talk about her husband’s funeral on what would have been their milestone anniversary.  When I arrived that afternoon she was overly excited (which I found strange for someone who had just lost her husband unexpectedly).  Her excitement was due to an experience that her sister-in-law had that morning at the produce section of the grocery store.  According to her sister-in-law, this woman’s dead husband appeared to her while she was getting oranges and asked her to go get flowers and take them to his wife for their 25th anniversary and tell her that everything was fine – he was in heaven.

This widow’s response to this experience of her sister-in-law was, “Now I know that my husband is in heaven!”  I’m not real sure exactly what happened in that grocery store.  I really can’t explain it (though I have some theories).  But I would much rather put my assurance on where someone is spending their eternity on the truth of the Word of God over an experience at the orange counter of the grocery store.

Again, my problem is not with people’s experiences per se.  My problem is when people base their theology on their experiences.  I am not going to believe what heaven is like based on someone’s experience.  I am not going to base my hope on who is in heaven on someone’s experience.  I can’t know for sure – 100% - that my experiences or your experiences or someone else’s experiences come from God.  After all, Satan is called in Scripture an “angel of light” who makes things look like they are from God when they really aren’t.  But I can be sure that the Bible comes from God.  So instead of basing my theology on experiences I would rather base my experiences on the Bible.

At the end of the day, it is the Bible is God’s final authority!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

When we don't agree on every theological issue!

When it comes to preachers, I have certain ones that are my favorites to listen to and I do so often.  The other day I was listening to one of these speakers.  I love this man's communication style and the way he presents his messages captivate me.  I was listening to as message he did that had me riveted.  As he spoke, God was really using his message in my life.  But about 80% of the way through the video of his sermon that I was watching on-line, he said something that went against every grain of my theological training and convictions.  He stated that he does not believe that the word translated "day" in the creation story is speaking of a literal 24-hour time period.  I was shocked!  How could one of my favorite speakers embrace something so diametrically opposite what I believe.  Obviously, I am more of a literalist when it comes to the creation account in Genesis.

So what am I supposed to do?  Should I never listen to this speaker again?  Should I have a book burning for any books authored by him that are in my library?  Is all credibility lost?  There was a day in which that is exactly what I would have done.  After all, how could I trust the other views of this individual if his view on whether the 6 days of creation were literal or not was off line?

But this is an area where God has grown me in recent years.  At first, this was one of the things that I was very uncomfortable with when God led me a little over a year ago to pastor a church that is part of the Evangelical Free Churches of America (EFCA).  You see, in my previous 24 years of ministry I have only been part of one group of churches and this group pretty much had decisive views on most areas of theology.  For the most part, we all crossed our theological "t's" and dotted our theological "i's" about the same way.  

But the EFCA is much broader in their scope.  They have a statement of faith that is very specific and in which I am 100% in agreement.  But there are many areas in which their statement of faith is silent.  The more I have read about the history and philosophy of the EFCA the more I have learned why they have done this.  There are certain theological issues that are non-negotiable.  For example, Jesus is God and is the only way to heaven.  That is non-negotiable.  The Bible is the inspired Word of God and should be the final authority for our lives.  That is non-negotiable.  Salvation is by faith alone in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  That is non-negotiable (by the way, those are not the only items in the EFCA statement of faith, just some examples).    

But there are other items in which good men disagree.  Not all EFCA churches believe and teach the same way on these issues.  For example, when it comes to eschatology, I am decisively what is called "pre-trib."  In other words, I believe that the rapture of the church will happen before the tribulation.  I come from a fellowship of churches in which the majority of pastors probably would have believed that way.  Now I pastor a church in which not even everyone on my staff believes that way.

That is where I believe I have grown.  Don't get me wrong.  I have strong convictions about my views on theology and I will teach and preach them clearly in my ministry.  But I have come to realize that a "heretic" is not defined as anyone who believes different than I do an any issue of the Bible or theology.  On the non-negotiables...yes, that's true!  But there are many other issues and I have learned that I can learn from men and be sharpened by men spiritually even if we differ on some of these other areas.  

So, even though I am convinced in my mind and in my spirit that God created the world in 6-literal days, I will keep this one author's books on my shelf (even though we disagree on that point) and I will still watch his messages on the Internet (even though I think he is wrong on this point).  And even though I may at times have to spit out a few bones, I believe I will still be enriched by the meat he serves up through his preaching and through his writings.