Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Before Jesus ascended back into heaven He gave some final words to His disciples that also apply to us as followers of Jesus today.  He said in Acts 1:8,

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”

The word “power” in the original language is where we get our English word “dynamite.”  We are talking some serious power here.  Jesus promised that we would receive dynamic power through the gift of the Holy Spirit as He comes to indwell each of us who have put our faith in Christ.  As Jesus’ words go on in Acts 1:8 we learn that there is one primary purpose for this dynamic power.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be My witnesses.”

According to Jesus, the result of this Spirit-given power is so that we could be dynamic witnesses of Jesus.  So tell me, how many Christians do you know of today that are dynamic witnesses for Jesus?  Strange, isn’t it?  We all as believers have the Spirit within us which means we all have within us the power to be a dynamic witness for Christ.  Yet, few of us ever even share our faith.

What is more interesting is this.  The word “witnesses” in the original language comes from a root word where we get our word “martyr.”  So what was Jesus saying?  He seems to be saying that through the Holy Spirit we as followers of Jesus will have the power to be such dynamic witnesses for Jesus that we would even be willing to lay down our lives and die for the message of Jesus Christ.

We have the power within us through the Holy Spirit to die for the message of Jesus but we won’t speak out on His behalf and share His Gospel.

We have the power within us through the Holy Spirit to die for the message of Jesus but we don’t in anyway want to be inconvenienced in order to advance the Gospel.

We have the power within us through the Holy Spirit to die for the message of Jesus but we aren’t even remotely open to considering change if it will advance the Gospel.

We have the power within us through the Holy Spirit to die for the message of Jesus but we won’t go outside of our own personal comfort zones for the sake of the Gospel.

We have the power within us through the Holy Spirit to die for the message of Jesus but we won’t take any risks for the sake of the Gospel.

By the way, those first disciples who heard Jesus speak those words before He ascended into heaven – not only were they dynamic witnesses of Jesus, but most of them also became martyrs for their faith – just like Jesus said the Spirit would give them to power to do.

Talk about an inconvenience!

Monday, July 30, 2012

This past Sunday was just one item short of perfect!

Each and every Sunday is special to me but this past Sunday was about as close to perfect as you can get without being exactly that – perfect.  Let me give some highlights to my Sunday this past weekend:

It all started with church at E-Free here in Gaylord, Michigan.  It is always so spiritually invigorating to worship with my church family.  And I love preaching at E-Free.  We are currently in a series from Galatians 5 as we are learning what it means to “walk by the Spirit.”  This Sunday I gave a whirlwind overview of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer and what it means to follow the Biblical commands to not grieve or quench the Holy Spirit.  These are all things we must have a handle on if we are going to grasp what it means to “walk by the Spirit.”

It was also a delight to spend some time after the service with Jeff Vance, a friend from back in Pennsylvania who is also a fellow Ohio State Buckeye fan.  In fact, one time he and I left on a Saturday morning from Lititz, PA and drove all the way to Columbus, OH for a prime time nationally televised football game when the Buckeyes played the Texas Longhorns.  We then drove back all night long getting home just in time to grab a shower and be at church in time to preach.  It was great to see Jeff again and to give him a tour of our church.

The afternoon was then spent in wonderful fashion at our Worship Arts Ministry picnic.  These are the folks that make our services happen each Sunday.  Most of them work behind the scenes and get very little fanfare.  It was wonderful to spend the afternoon relaxing and enjoying this very special group of people.  It was also very cool to watch the bald eagle flying overhead as we enjoyed the weather and the fellowship.

The afternoon ended with a surprise phone call from Jim and Sue Bitner.  Jim pastors a church back in Pennsylvania and was a very encouraging friend to me during a very hurtful time of ministry.  Sue was the English teacher for both of our kids in High School and also the drama coach for the different plays and productions that they were part of in their High School career.  She made a huge impact on my kids, especially on my son.  They were passing through the area so we met them at the church and were able to catch up a little bit with them and to give them a tour of our facility as well.

The evening was just as good.  Our daughter, Joy, got home safe from the Disaster Relief Trip that she was part of with a group from our church down in Joplin, MO where the heat index was reaching 120 degrees during their week of work and ministry.  I am so glad she was able to have this great experience and even more glad to have her back home.  Now she has one month left to get ready for her first year of teaching at Otsego Christian School.

And then, of course, there was the opportunity to catch different aspects of the Olympics!  I am thoroughly enjoying these games.  Go USA!

What a great day Sunday was – morning, afternoon and evening!  But yet, it was just short of perfect!  The only thing that would have made it perfect is if before the clock struck midnight, the Lord Himself would have returned with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God and the dead in Christ would have been raised first followed by those of us who were alive and remaining being raptured up to meet the Lord in the air to spend eternity always with Him!

Now that would have made it a perfect day!  Oh, well, maybe tomorrow!

Saturday, July 28, 2012


This Sunday we will continue our new series through Galatians 5 that we are calling “WALK THIS WAY” as we learn what it means to walk by the Spirit of God.  We will use this morning to talk about what the Holy Spirit does for us as well as seeing two key commands in Scripture that we are to obey when it comes to the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Once we understand this we can then grasp what it means to “Walk by the Spirit.”

As part of the contemporary service, along with the worship and message we will also be taking time once again to highlight the Facebook contest (speaking of which, if you have not yet “LIKED” our Facebook page, be sure to do so) and overviewing how our 2-service format will work as we look to add an additional Contemporary Service this September.  We will then be ending our service with a special video that will encourage us to leave church this Sunday remembering the wonderful work the Holy Spirit does in our lives as followers of Christ.

The Contemporary Service in the Gospel Center and the Classic Service in the Chapel both begin at 9:30am!  See you Sunday for another wonderful morning at Gaylord E-Free.  Don't forget to bring any old shoes you have to throw on our E-FREE SHOE TREE!  See you Sunday!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Disappointing Dad

Growing up I was part of a family that was at church every time the doors were open.  Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night - we were at church.  When I was a freshman in High School I had struck up a relationship with a girl that was actually 3 years ahead of me in school.  This was really cool except that everyone assumed she was my older sister.

One Sunday afternoon we had the notion to go catch a movie instead of going to church that night.  For this to happen, I needed to get my dad's permission.  I can't remember exactly what my speech was to my dad but I am sure I presented a passionate presentation as to why just this one time he should give me the green light to skip church.  My dad was much wiser than that.  When I finished my words, he simply said this to me:

"Son, you know I think you should go to church tonight but I'm going to let you make that decision.  But if you choose to go to the movies instead, I will be very disappointed in you!"

My response?  HURRAY!!!!  I get to go to the movies with my new girlfriend!  And so we did!  The only problem was that I was miserable the entire evening!  I wasn't miserable because I was at the movies!  I wasn't miserable because I was with my girlfriend.  I wasn't even miserable because I was missing church.  I was miserable because the only thing I could think about was my dad sitting in church filled with disappointment in his son.

I think of that story when I think of Paul's words in the book of Ephesians when he tells us not to "grieve the Holy Spirit."  When I became a Christian by putting my faith in Jesus Christ alone for my forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit came to live inside of me.  He leads me.  He guides me.  He convicts me.  He empowers me. When I am tempted to do something that would not be pleasing to the Lord or not be according to His will for my life, the Holy Spirit makes that known to me.  I'm not talking hearing a literal voice.  I am talking about those internal promptings of the heart that come from the Spirit of God.  And when I do that which I know He has prompted me not to do, I grieve Him - just like I grieved my dad the night I skipped church to go to the movies.

The same can be true in opposite form.  Paul told the church at Thessalonica not to "quench the Spirit."  Grieving the Spirit is when I do what the Spirit of God prompts me not to do.  Quenching the Spirit is when I don't do what the Spirit of God prompts me to do.  When the Spirit of God urges me to to do something and  I choose not to, it is like I throw water on the fire the Spirit is trying to fan into flame in my life.

Walking by the Spirit, as seen in Galatians 5:16, is living my live always in tune to the Spirit of God within me.  It's being sensitive to His promptings.  It's not doing what He prompts me not to do and doing what He prompts me to do.  And when we walk by the Spirit we will not carry out the lust of the flesh.  That is what we will be talking about this Sunday as we continue our new series, "Walk This Way," at the Gaylord E-Free Church!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

350,000 Visitors Later

At 7:15pm unique visitor No. 350,000 visited my blog!  These visitors represent 207 countries around the world!  Technology is truly amazing!

If being a Preacher was like being a Major League Baseball Pitcher!

I love preaching and I love baseball.  So sometimes my mind gets really warped and I can’t help but get lost in imagining a fantasy of what my life would be like if being a preacher was like being a Major League Baseball pitcher.

If this were the case, I would have a preaching coach who would continually work with me on honing my communication skills!

If this were the case, I would only preach every 5th Sunday!

If this were the case, half of my sermons would be given away from the home field of E-Free Church!

If this were the case, I would not start preaching until one of the Board Members yelled, “Play Church!”

If this were the case, the Elders would hold me to a strict “word count” for each sermon much like pitchers are held to a strict “pitch count!”

If this were the case I could “call out” people who were leaving the service early much like a pitcher can pick off a runner off of first base!

If this were the case, the head usher would stand in the back of the auditorium and give me signals as to what kind of sermon to preach or illustration to use!

If this were the case, ushers would walk up and down the aisles selling peanuts and hot dogs while I was preaching!

If this were the case, about ¾ of the way through my message the congregation would stand sing, “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” following which I would then finish my sermon!

If this were the case, the church would publish a box score of sorts after the service showing my preaching stats.  Instead of an E.R.A. (Earned Run Average showing the average number of runs a pitcher gives up every 9 innings) it would show my F.J.T. (Funny Jokes Told showing the percentage of jokes I tell in a sermon that are actually funny!)!

If this were the case, the Elder Chairman could walk up to the pulpit (or lack thereof) if he felt I was struggling in my sermon and bring in one of the other pastoral staff as a relief preacher to finish the sermon!

If this were the case my staff would pour Gatorade over my head after a really good preaching performance!

If this were the case, I could become a free agent at the end of my contract (Hey, maybe there is something to this fantasy)!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How to pray for those who have suffered a tragedy!

All of us are still grappling with the story we have all been following of the horrific tragedy that has played out in Aurora, Colorado resulting in so many innocent people being shot in a cinema.  We have all been encouraged by our political leaders to pray for those who have been wounded as well as their families and loved ones.  But how exactly do you pray for someone who has fell victim to such hurt?  Let me offer three ways to pray for them, or anyone for that matter who is facing a hurt in their life.

First, ask God to help them find COMFORT!  Comfort can come in many ways but the greatest comfort of all can only come from God.  In the book of Second Corinthians we discover that God the Father is called “The God of all comfort who can comfort us in all of our trials.”  Did you get that?  God is the God of ALL comfort who can comfort us in ALL of our trials.  There is no hurt that we face in which God cannot bring us true comfort.  This is also true of those who are reeling right now from the recent events in Colorado.  Ask God to help them find the comfort that only He can bring to them.

Second, ask God to help them find COURAGE!  Here is what I mean.  I believe that every hurt that comes into our lives, no matter how small or how large, will have one of two results in our lives.  It can either ultimately make us BITTER or it can make us BETTER.  And for the most part, that choice is really up to us.  Depending on how we respond to our hurt, we will either become very bitter or we will allow our pain to make us better.  The Bible says that for the one who loves God and is called according to His purpose, that all things (even the hurts and pains in our lives) work together for good.  Tragedy does not have to make you bitter.  It can make you a better person.  Ask God to help them find the courage to become a better person, not a bitter person.

Third, ask God to help them find CHRIST!  Loneliness, hurt and pain can become your best friend if it draws you closer to God.  The greatest gift that any person can find is the free gift of eternal salvation that only comes with a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  That is my greatest prayer for anyone who is going through any hurt.  That is my greatest prayer for those whose lives have been savagely ravaged in Colorado.  That is my prayer for you who might be reading this and are going through a hurt of your own right now.  Ask God to lead them into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Colonel Sanders would be proud!

I always appreciate great customer service.  I especially appreciate it when things may not go as smooth as you hoped.  I experienced that over the weekend.  I stopped by the KFC in town to get a 10-piece bucket of chicken (I needed one piece to use as a sermon illustration last Sunday, which then left me 9 simply just to enjoy!)!

I was a little taken back when I placed my order at the counter only to hear, “I’m sorry we’re currently out of chicken!”  WAIT!  How can that be?  You’re a chicken place!  KFC – you know, the “C” stands for chicken!  That would be like going to Dairy Queen and being told they are currently out of ice cream or going to McDonalds and being told that they are currently out of hamburgers.

Actually, they weren’t out of chicken, they were simply cooking more.  She told me it would be about a 5-minute wait.  No problem.  But then the 5-minutes quickly turned into 20-minutes.  Another customer who was waiting for her hot wings (which they were also out of) was clearly expressing her dissatisfaction to the gal behind the counter.  I just smiled.  Getting bent out of shape was not going to make the chicken cook any faster.  To my delight, the gal behind the counter offered me a free drink since I had to wait (it must pay to be polite because the same grace was not extended to the grumpy customer waiting for her wings).

So I filled up my cup with some diet Pepsi and continued to wait.    I’m not sure how long it takes to deep fry chicken, but the 5-minute wait that had turned into a 20-minute wait now extended to 30 minutes.  Fortunately, I had nothing pressing on my schedule so I just waited patiently while drinking my free diet Pepsi.  The grumpy customer (who in the course of our wait I learned was passing through on vacation from Kentucky) kept offering snide remarks loud enough for the gal behind the counter to hear.

When the chicken was finished cooking, Mrs Grumpy from Kentucky was given exactly what she had paid for and had been waiting for.  When the gal brought me my bucket of chicken she whispered, “We put several extra pieces in your bucket – thanks for being so patient.”

So I left KFC with a heavier than usual bucket of chicken in my hand and a big smile on my face.  It was nice to be made to feel valuable as a customer even when things didn’t go smooth in the transaction.  In fact, I was so thankful and impressed that I wrote an email to KFC headquarters letting them know how much I appreciated the service.

Colonel Sanders would be proud!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fried Chicken Friday

I love fried chicken!  I love it so much I even pulled a drumstick out of a KFC box Sunday morning on stage and ate it in front of my church.  I didn’t do it to make them hungry (though that was a nice side effect) or to get kickbacks from KFC (though that may have been smart) but rather to illustrate a principle.  Let me explain.

There is a difference between a Biblical absolute and a conviction.  A Biblical absolute is a clear command given in Scripture that applies to all of us.  A conviction, however, is a guideline that one conducts their life by that is not an absolute in Scripture.  It may be a conviction due their upbringing and perhaps even due to principles they see within Scripture.  Absolutes are the same for all of us.  Convictions are not.  I may have personal convictions that you don’t share and you most likely have some convictions that I don’t live by.  That’s OK.

In Romans 14, Paul gives us some teaching considering convictions.  One of these teaching is that we are not to judge each other based on differing convictions.  The second teaching is that we should never allow these differences of convictions to be used as a stumbling block to each other.  Let me offer the illustration I used Sunday (you just don’t have to watch me eat chicken as I give it).

Let’s say that there is a family in your church who loves fried chicken.  I mean they love it so much that they have developed a tradition in their home that they call Fried chicken Friday.  Each Friday night they enjoy fried chicken for dinner as a family.  In fact, they live for Fried Chicken Friday.  They count down the days during the week until Friday and then when Friday arrives they count down the hours until dinner.  After all, there is no absolute in Scripture against eating fried chicken.  They are free to eat fried chicken and they love it.

Now let’s say that there is another family in your church who does not eat friend chicken.  They don’t avoid fried chicken because they simply don’t like it; they avoid it because they have a deep conviction against eating fried chicken.  It goes against their conscience.  This is because they grew up in a very health conscience home that did not eat anything that was fried.  Not only that, they look at principles in Scripture that say that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and that we should not harm our bodies.  To them, eating fried food is harmful for the body so, though there is no Biblical absolute against it, they have a conviction against eating fried chicken.

Let me ask you a question.  Which of these two families is more spiritual, the one who eats fried chicken or the one who has a conviction against eating fried chicken?  The answer is neither of them.  Spirituality is not based on our adherence to an outward list of “do’s” and don’ts.”  As a result, we should not judge each other based on these differing convictions.  But neither should we harm each other in regards to them either.  Let me continue the illustration.

Let’s say that the first family (the ones that love fried chicken) have invited the second family (the ones who have a conviction against fried chicken) over for dinner but the only night they can come over is Friday night.  WAIT!  That’s Fried Chicken Friday!  What should the first family do?  They have two basic options.

First, they could say, “Listen, we are free as Christians to eat fried chicken and Friday is Fried Chicken Friday at our home so we are having fried chicken anyway.”  The result of this option is that the second family will be put in a very awkward situation where they must either refuse to eat what is served them or eat it even though it goes against their conscience.

Second, they could say, “Listen, Friday is Fried Chicken Friday and we are free to eat fried chicken.  However, we don’t want our freedom to eat fried chicken to in any way be a stumbling block to this other family who has a conviction against fried chicken so we are going to choose to bypass Friday Fried Chicken this week and eat something far less tasty instead (like meatloaf - YUCK!).”

Let me ask you another question, “With of those two options would show the most love?”  It is obvious, isn’t it?  It would be option #2.  That’s what Paul teaches us in Galatians 5:13.  Yes we are free but are freedom is never a freedom to injure others.  It is a freedom that centers on loving and serving others.

There are a lot of Christians and a lot of churches who “bite and devour” (words found in Galatians 5:15) each other because they put their own freedom above love for others.  Our freedom is a wonderful thing.  But our love for each other is even greater.

With that said, if you are ever having Fried Chicken Friday at your house, feel free to invite me over!  I love being free when it comes to fried chicken.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Some of my old favorites

I get excited about every Sunday but this Sunday has me extra excited.  Not only are we starting a brand new message series but this Sunday I get the thrill of leading the worship in our Classic Service.

 Here at Gaylord E-Free we have two styles of service on Sunday.  Our Contemporary Service which is held in the Gospel Center is just that – contemporary in style, music and atmosphere.  But we also have what we call our Classic Service which is more traditional in flavor.

Once a month I get to lead the worship in the Classic Service.  We have two wonderful and dedicated ladies (Jody and Jana) who work very hard to do all of the scheduling and pick out all of the music for our Classic Service.  Typically they give me the songs that they have selected and those are the ones that we use on the Sunday I lead worship.  But this Sunday will be a tad bit different.

This Sunday Jana and Jody have asked me to pick some of my favorite songs for this week’s Classic Service and to share why each of them are special to me.  So this Sunday we will be singing the following songs in our Classic Service in the Chapel here at Gaylord E-Free.  Come join us!

The Lily of the Valley (my favorite hymn as a child)

All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name (my favorite hymn as an adult)

A medley of some of my favorite older choruses including What a Mighty God we Serve; Praise the Name of Jesus; and We Are Standing on Holy Ground

There is a Redeemer (A song recorded by one my all-time favorite musicians, Keith Green, whose music kept me focused on the Lord during my teenager years)

And we will end with Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus (a song I have sang more than once standing with a family around the bed of a loved one who has just passed on to eternity).

Thursday, July 19, 2012


This Sunday we will begin a brand new 5-week series through Galatians 5 that we are calling “WALK THIS WAY” through which we will learn what it means to walk by the Spirit of God.  Galatians 5:16 is the key verse that tell us to "Walk by the Spirit so that you will not fulfill the lust of the flesh."  As a result, Most of our visual elements will center on shoes.  For example:

The stage will have giant SHOES on them representing all aspects of life from a bare foot, to a slipper, to a dress shoe, to a work shoe and more.  This is to demonstrate that WALKING BY THE SPIRIT is something we need to do all the time – no matter what shoes we are wearing.  There will also be a tightrope hanging high above the seats in the Gospel Center as we will learn this Sunday that "walking by the Spirit" is like walking a tightrope.

There will also be a SHOE TREE placed out by our church sign.  Have you ever seen a SHOE TREE?  A SHOE TREE is just that – a tree that is covered with old shoes.  Actually a SHOE TREE can serve one of many purposes.  It can serve a practical purpose such as hanging shoes to dry.  It can serve a celebratory purpose in honor of an event like a graduation.  I'm told that sometime it is the work of a bully who steals a younger child's shoes and throws them in a tree where they can't be reached.  Sometimes gangs can use a SHOE TREE to mark their turf.  And sometimes it can even have an artistic purpose.

So what is our purpose for putting a SHOE TREE out in front of our church during this 5-week series?  We have two reasons,  First, this will serve to help each person on each Sunday focus on the idea of “WALKING” from the moment they drive into the church parking lot.  Second, it will also provide an element of “curiosity” for people driving by who will be wondering, “Why does that church have a SHOE TREE out front?”  

The tree will be put up this Saturday!  I already have several old pairs of shoes that I need to dispose of that I will be throwing up on to the tree come Sunday morning.  PLEASE DO THE SAME!  We actually encourage it.  Bring any old shoes you do not want any longer and throw them on the tree.  It is our hope that by the end of the series you will not be able to see the tree due to the amount of shoes hanging on it.

Let this SHOE TREE remind us of our need to WALK BY THE SPIRIT!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Greatest Quality of a Superhero

This past week I went with my kids to see the new Spiderman movie.  Before my son goes back to college we will no doubt go see the new Batman movie as well.  Frankly, these aren't my favorite type of movies but I did actually stay awake through all of Spiderman.  That is quite the accomplishment for me.  Typically, I never make it through any movie I watch at the cinema without falling asleep.  I do real good until the popcorn runs out (to be honest, the popcorn is the main reason I go to the movies) but once the last kernel has been popped into my mouth, I usually am asleep within minutes.

Spiderman - Superman...those are cool superheroes.  Look at what all they can do:

More powerful than a locomotive
Climbs buildings like a spider
Leaps small buildings in a single bound
Shoots webs from their wrists and swings from building to building
Stops speeding bullets with their hands
Has "Spidey senses"

WOW!  No wonder they are superheroes.

But this week I was reminded of real superheroes.  I am speaking of those who defend our country abroad, even putting themselves in harms way, far removed from their families. And then there are those who put on badges and protect us every day here at home or who are willing to rush into burning buildings to save lives.

But I was reminded just recently of another type of a superhero.  That's the person who is willing to admit when they have made a mistake, humble themselves and apologize.  That takes guts!  That takes boldness!  That takes a superhero in my book!

Look up in the air, it's a bird, it's a plane, it's...

Are you a Superhero?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My Grandpa's WWII Bible

WWII was a global military conflict which spurred out of two separate conflicts and involved the mobilization of over 100 million military personnel worldwide.  16 million Americans answered the call to arms in WWII.  My Grandpa was one of these WWII Vets who served his country as a Sergeant in the US Army.

Grandpa Distler passed away back in February of 1994 at the age of 79.  Before my Grandpa went to heaven, I had the opportunity to spend some time with him.  During that visit, Grandpa gave me the Bible that he used during his time in the Army.  Grandpa was the type of person that wrote notes on everything.  As a result, his Bible is full of personal notes.  As I read through these notes I discovered three entries that really caught my attention.

The first item was a poem written in the back of his Bible.  It is obviously about my dad.  The poem shows that, like many soldiers off at war, Grandpa’s heart was with his family back home.  The poem is entitled “My Baby” and goes like this:

A baby’s hand caresses me
His big blue eyes you really should see
He’s chubby and fat and loves to chat
It’s “Da! DA!” and “Ma! Ma!” and this and that
When he grows up to be a man
I’ll see to it he has a chance
He’s only one year as you can see
But I love him and he loves me

Another entry in his Bible that caught my attention was associated with V-J Day when America won the victory in the Pacific Theater over Japan on August 15, 1945.  Grandpa was serving as the postal master on The USS Greely at the time when the commander of the ship announced the news and ordered a 21-gun salute.  Grandpa used the ship’s postal stamp to stamp that date, August 15, 1945, in his Bible.  Under this postal stamp he wrote these words,

“How my heart rejoiced at the news.  No more guns!  No more killing man!  Praise God!”

There was a third entry that really caught my eye and must have meant a great deal to my Grandpa.  On an entire page in the back of his Bible, Grandpa Distler described the account entitled, “The soul I led to Christ while on board the USS Greely.”  That soldiers name was Jesse Halfren.  Here is what Grandpa wrote:

“I had organized a Bible class on the ship and we decided to meet every night for prayer and Bible Study.  This night, August 7, 1945, it was decided that we have three testimonies instead of Bible Study.  Mine was the last.  God convicted this soul who was led to our service.  I took him after the service to the forward part of the ship where he cried his heart out to God.  We were in the Mediterranean Sea and going into the Red Sea.  One could see Mt Sinai in the distance.  What an experience.  God saved this soul.  He couldn’t understand why he was urged to come to this service but he was convicted and my how he cried.

As I thumbed through my Grandpa’s Bible I also saw many verses that he had underlined.  But there was one verse that he had more than underlined.  He had boxed the verse in.  I’m pretty sure Grandpa Distler must have shared this verse with Jesse Halfren on August 7, 1945 (8 days prior to V-J Day) – the day Jesse Halfren discovered the greatest freedom of all.  That verse is Romans 10:9 which says this in my Grandpa’s Bible:

“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”

Sunday, July 15, 2012


I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of our church here at Gaylord E-Free.  What an amazing morning we had today for our HEROES DAY.  It was a very special morning and one that I believe God used and will continue to use for quite some time.

The morning didn’t go off exactly as we had planned due to the weather.  As soon as I heard the thunder about 4:15 this morning I wondered how the day would go.  By 4:45am I received my first text message from Joshua (our Director of Worship) as the rain came down outside.  By 6am the rain had stopped and the radar I looked at on the internet showed just one more small cell coming our way.  We made the decision to go ahead and go for the outdoor venue at the fairgrounds and started unloading all of the equipment from the many trailers we had used to transport them from the church.

By 7am I headed back to the church to change clothes and do my final preparations as final set-up and rehearsals began at the fairgrounds.  Within the next hour the sky grew dark again, the thunder and lightning arrived, and a downpour of rain and even some pea –sized hail fell from the heavens.  Imagine that – we have one of the driest summers on record and it picked this weekend to rain.  But that is OK.  I once read about a 113 year old woman who was asked the secret to her longevity of life.  Her response was, “When it rains, I let it!”

Well, we could not control the rain so we just let it happen.  This led to the decision by Jack Dutton (our Director of Counseling who was the leader and organizer of the entire event) to cancel the outdoor venue, load everything back up in the pouring rain, and then bring it all back to church only to unload it in the rain and re-set the whole thing back up, realizing that we only had 2 hours left before the start of the service at 10am.

To make matters even more challenging, because we were planning on having this Sunday’s special service at the Fairgrounds, we scheduled this 2-week period to install our new digital sound board.  The board was installed this past week but all of the training for our techs was not scheduled until this coming week.  This meant that spur of the moment our sound techs had to make a digital sound board that they had never run before work.  This slowed the process down even more which resulted in us having very little time to go through our final rehearsal for our program.

We ended up starting about 5-minutes late and without practicing all of our elements, but God gave us grace and blessed us in a very obvious way.  I’m sure that we would have had even more people had we been able to stay at the Fairgrounds for the program but the Gospel Center was still packed.  From the worship team, to the 8-man ensemble, to the color guard, to the recognizing of all of our heroes that were present, to the Pledge of Allegiance monologue – it all came off without a hitch and it was a sensational service from start to finish.

I heard so many wonderful and encouraging comments after the service.  Perhaps my favorite comment came from a woman we said that she had been the wife of a military man for over 40 years and had attended many functions where her husband was honored for his service.  But she went on to say that this was the first time she had ever been publicly honored as the spouse which was very special to her.  It was also very moving to see the response that our church gave to the WWII vets that were with us.  As these HEROES stood when I called upon them our church gave them to only standing ovation of the morning as people all around them took time to shake their hands.

By the time the service had ended the rain had stopped.  A crew from our church had stayed at the fairgrounds during the service to prepare our free cook-out.  We invited all those in attendance to drive back over to the fairgrounds to enjoy the picnic.  To be honest, I seriously doubted how many people would actually do this but to my amazement the vast majority (I’d say a good 80%) of all who came to the HEROES DAY service drove over to the fairgrounds afterwards for a wonderful time of food and fun.

Throughout the morning it was obvious that God was working in spite of the fact that our plans had been changed.  We had more pageantry that we were planning to do but which could not be done inside.  But that’s fine.  God certainly knows best.

We had an amazing amount of military, local law enforcement, local fire-fighters and first responders who were present in uniform.  Most of them also came to the cook-out afterwards.  As I walked through the picnic area at the fairgrounds greeting people, I could hardly go one step without one of these HEROES or someone from their family stopping me and thanking me for the service and telling me how very much they appreciated the morning.  In fact, as I was driving into the fairgrounds, one of our EMS HEROES was driving out at the same time.  He recognized me, turned his vehicle around, and came back to thank me for the morning, sharing with me how much it meant to those who serve our community.

I enjoyed meeting at the picnic the man who represented the Coast Guard in our Color Guard.  I thanked him for helping us out in this way only to find out that this was actually his second Sunday at our church.  The Sunday previous was he and his family’s first time at our church.  They had just moved in to Gaylord and he was honored to be part of our Color Guard and shared with me how much they love attending our church.

Let me end by sharing the two things that excited me the most about today.  First, today we had people in our church that would have never come to church under “ordinary” circumstances.  In fact, we had people in our church today for HEROES DAY that we would most likely not even see inside of our church on Easter.  One lady from our church shared with me and introduced me to a couple that came with them because of the type of program we were having.  This is a couple that is pretty “anti-church.”  She shared with me that this couple loved the morning.  Because of the special type of program we put on this morning this couple heard the Gospel.  As is the purpose of our church, we were able to MEET this couple right where they were at and then help to MOVE them one step closer to where God wants them to be.  And I am sure there were many others like them who were with us this morning.

Second, I loved watching our church work together to pull off this event.  It is true, there is nothing like the local church when the local church is working right.  This weekend, I got to sit back and watch Gaylord E-Free Church come together with one mind for the cause of Christ and it was absolutely beautiful.  That’s what true fellowship is – it is partnering together for the cause of Christ.  If we were to send out a thank you note to every person from our church that was involved it would take a few hundred stamps.  This weekend was great evidence that if we as a church will always put the purpose of our church over our personal preferences we can accomplish great things for God!

Thank you, E-Free!  And most of all, thank you, Lord (even for the rain)!

Saturday, July 14, 2012













Friday, July 13, 2012

Meeting and Moving at its finest!

Here at Gaylord E-Free Church we have stated the purpose for our church which is to MEET as many people as possible right where they are at so that we can then MOVE them to where God wants them to be.  This Sunday through our HEROES DAY we will be MEETING & MOVING in its purest form - just like Jesus did it.  In John 4 we read about the amazing encounter that Jesus had with a Samaritan woman at a well.  Through this encounter Jesus was able to MEET this woman right where she was at and then MOVE her to where God wanted her to be.  MEETING this woman right where she was at involved 3 things.

First, Jesus met her where she was geographically.  He was a Jew but He did not MEET this woman in Jerusalem or Galilee.  He met her in the town of Sychar in Samaritan territory.  If you know the culture of that day you know that a Jew travelling in Samaria was not a widely acceptable thing to do but Jesus met her there - right where she was at.  Chances are good that this woman would have never entered the confines of Galilee or Jerusalem.  For her to be reached, Jesus had to go to her.

This Sunday we will be MEETING people where they are geographically.  This Sunday we are leaving the safe confines of our beautiful church building and moving our entire service down to the Otsego County Fairgrounds for HEROES DAY as we honor our military and first responders.  This isn't easy,  Frankly, it's a logistical nightmare.  And much risk is also involved.  What if it rains?  What if the electric doesn't work?  So much could go wrong.  It would be a whole lot easier, less risky and less expensive to stay at the church.  So why are we going to the Fairgrounds?  The answer is easy.  So we can MEET & MOVE as many people as possible.  If Jesus can go into Samaria we can go to the Fairgrounds.  And as a result, we will be able to make contact with people who would never step foot into our church.  I've already heard such stories.

Second, Jesus met this Samaritan right where she was culturally.  He met her at a well.  They had a cultural foundation.  They both needed water.  This Sunday we will leverage our culture to MEET & MOVE as many people as possible.  In the post 9/11 world that we live in, patriotism and honoring of military and first responders is popular (as it should be!).  It is appealing to Christians and non-Christians alike.  It is especially appealing to veterans.  Most veterans are very proud individuals when it comes to their sacrifice and service for our country.  Even though we are a "church," the fact that we are MEETING people on the even footing of this cultural aspect will allow us to make contact with many more people.  I've already heard about a father who will not come to church, but as a veteran, he is coming to the Fairgrounds this Sunday.  I've heard about a committed atheist who is a veteran, and even knowing that we are a church that is behind the whole program, he is coming to the fairgrounds this Sunday.

Finally, Jesus met this woman right where she was spiritually.  She was a sinner.  She needed a Savior.  He didn't give her a list of things she had to change or clean-up before she could talk to Him.  He met her right where she was at.  And so will we this Sunday.  This Sunday we will MEET as many people as possible right where they are at geographically, culturally and spiritually, so that we can see hundreds and hundreds of them MOVE at least one step closer to where God wants them to be.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

There's Nothing Like the Local Church when...

I love one of the sayings of Bill Hybels when he says, "There is nothing like the local church when the local church is working right!"  I know that many have had bad experiences with the church.  I have as well.  But it doesn't change the saying.  There really is nothing like the local church when the local church is working right!  I am so excited to be part of such a place here at the E-Free Church in Gaylord, Michigan.  Let me just share a few things about our church from just this week that have me so convinced that Hybel's statement is right on the money.

Throughout the week I have heard great feedback from our Ministry Teams that are working on all of the plans and logistics to add an additional service this September to the two services we are already doing on Sunday mornings.  Since announcing this direction we have heard nothing but encouraging feedback from our church family!

Tuesday afternoon our Vision Task Force made great strides in fine-tuning our 3-year Vision Plan for 2013-2015 that we will be presenting to the Elder Board in August for approval.  This Vision Plan is aggressive but it is full of great vision and very exciting.  The best is truly yet to come for Gaylord E-Free Church!

Tuesday night an army of volunteers from E-Free showed up at the County Fairgrounds armed with rakes, weed-eaters, power washers and hoses to clean and prepare the fairgrounds for a season of activity that will begin this Sunday with our HEROES DAY at the Fairgrounds.  The Board Members of the Fairgrounds were astonished at how many of our people showed up and how much they got done in one evening.

Wednesday I was able to have my monthly lunch with Pastor Jim who served as the Senior Pastor of our church for 24 years before I came in March 2011.  Pastor Jim is still on staff part-time and is a vital part of our ministry.  Most people would say that it cannot work to have a pastor of that tenure stay on at the church after his replacement arrives.  In most cases it does not work.  But here at Gaylord E-Free it is working very well.  I am so honored to minister side by side with Pastor Jim.  He is my greatest cheerleader and it is like having a wise mentor always within reach.

Wednesday I was part of a 2-hour meeting as we finalized all the details for our HEROES DAY program this coming Sunday morning at the Fairgrounds.  It is a huge undertaking to move our entire morning service off campus to the Fairgrounds, especially when you are including a free picnic for all who attend.  I am amazed at the way our staff and literally dozens and dozens of our volunteers are pulling together and pulling out all of the stops to see this Sunday morning be a great day of ministry and excellence.

Today (Thursday) a semi truck full of food will be pulling into our church parking lot and dozens of volunteers from E-Free will spend the afternoon unloading and setting up pallets and pallets of food which will result in over 600 people in our country who are struggling economically getting free food to help take the edge of of their need.

Each day (literally) I get to hear stories of people who are caring for each other; people who are taking steps of faith; people who are reaching out to others; people who digging deeper in the Word and who are growing in their faith.  Each day (literally) I talk to people who are excited about what God is doing in this place.  I feel so humbled and blessed that I get to work each day in a place like this.

It's true - there is nothing like the local church when the local church is working right!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Return to the Fairgrounds - A Sequel 75 Years in the Making!

2012 is the 75th anniversary for the Gaylord Evangelical Church here in Gaylord, Michigan.  It all started in a dance studio at the local fairgrounds.  This Sunday, 75 years later, we return to that same fairgrounds for a very special Sunday.  This Sunday is Heroes Sunday!  What a great day it is going to be.  Here are some questions and answers making sure you know all the pertinent details:

When and where will this Sunday’s service take place?  Heroes Day this Sunday will start at 10:00am (not 9:30am as usual) and will be held at the Otsego County Fairgrounds (not the church).  In case of inclement weather our Heroes Day service will be moved back to the Gospel Center.

What will be the main emphasis of Heroes Day?  Our main emphasis this Sunday is to recognize and honor all past and present military personnel, law enforcement officers, fire-fighters, and other first responders.

What will be included in the service this Sunday?  The service will include a good mix of worship and patriotic music; an honor guard made up of individuals from our own church who have served in the military; recognition of all past and present military, law enforcement, fire-fighters, and first responders in attendance; the 8-person men’s ensemble will sing the same song they sang on Resolution Sunday (“A Few Good Men”); a special monologue explaining the Pledge of Allegiance that is very similar to the monologue that Red Skelton would often perform; and I will also be sharing a short message.

Will there be any childcare?  No!  This is a family event.  As a result we are designing the service to be less than an hour in length.

Will there be an offering?  Due to all of the visitors that we are expecting we will not be passing offering buckets as we do not want this morning to look like we invited the community to join us under the pretense of honoring our heroes, only to ask for their money.  We will, however, be announcing a designated spot where those who are from E-Free Church can take their offering that morning.

Will there be anything following the service?  Yes!  We will have a free cook-out following the service including hot dogs, brats, chips and ice cream.  There will also be a bouncy house for the children to enjoy.

What should you wear?  We will be outdoors with a picnic following so please feel free to wear picnic attire for the entire morning.  If you have ever or are currently serving in the military or in any agency that is mentioned above, we encourage you to wear your uniform so we can identify and recognize you.

What should you bring?  You need not bring anything.  There will be plenty of seating in the grandstands.  If you would like to bring lawn chairs or blankets please feel free to do so and to set them out on the grassy area in front of the grandstands.

How should you prepare?  First, pray!  Nothing of eternal importance happens apart from prayer.  Pray that God will use this coming Sunday to allow us to make contact with hundreds of people in our community!  Second, invite everyone that you know!  Outside of Easter Sunday this will be the easiest Sunday you will have this year to get people you know to attend church with you!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why Don't More People Attend Church?

I can’t verify the statistic, but when I was prayerfully considering moving from Pennsylvania to northern Michigan to become the Lead Pastor here at the Gaylord E-Free Church, someone told me that there were over 19,000 people in Otsego County that did not attend any church.  That is quite a large number when you consider that the U.S. Census has the 2011 population for Otsego county at just over 24,000 people.  

The big question is, “Why?”  Why don’t more people attend church?  Maybe it is because they think that church is boring!  Maybe it is because they think that all the church wants is their money!  Maybe it is because they think that there are too many hypocrites in the church!  Maybe they just don’t think the church and the Bible applies to their life today.

But if you turn the question around you find an interesting fact.  Do you know the #1 reason why people who decide to give church a try, do so?  The answer is that most people who visit a church do so because someone personally invited them.  If the flip-side of this is true then this means that quite possibly the main reason that people don’t go to church is simple – it’s because they have never been personally invited.

Never underestimate the power of an invitation.  In John 4, after the Samaritan woman at the well had an encounter with Jesus, she ran back to her village with two powerful words, “Come see,” which resulted in many from her village coming to meet Jesus (John 4:29-30).

Next to Easter, this coming Sunday, July 15, is the best Sunday you will have all year to invite people you know to come to church.  We will be having our service down at the Fairgrounds beginning at 10am as we take time to honor all past and present military personnel, law enforcement officers, fire-fighters and other first responders.  There will be a great mix of patriotic and worship music and following the service there will be a cook out.  The whole morning is free.

Don't miss this opportunity.  Be sure to invite someone to attend with you this weekend.  Don’t assume that they would not be interested.  Don’t say their “no” for them.  Invite them and let them say their “yes” or “no” for themselves.

Like the Samaritan Woman at the Well, let the words "Come and See" be words you speak this week to anyone and everyone you know.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

No Words Needed

In 2 Timothy 1:16-18 we are introduced to a wonderful man of God named Onesiphorus.  Last week I took a couple of my blog postings to write about this rather obscure hero of the faith.  While the aged Paul was in prison in Rome awaiting execution, Onesiphorus sought him out and in doing so brought the Apostle great refreshment in perhaps the darkest and loneliest time of his life.

What is interesting to note as you read those 3 verses that tell us about these jail-house visits is to notice what is missing.  Go find your Bible or pull up a version on-line and read those verses.  As you do ask yourself this question, "What was it that Onesiphorus said to Paul in that dark, dingy dungeon that brought him such refreshment?"  The answer is that we have no idea!  Obviously, they talked but not one word of their conversation can be found in Scripture - not one word.

To me, that is significant.  Paul states that Onesiphorus "refreshed" him but we don't know one word that he said.  Do you know why?  Because the refreshment that Paul received from Onesiphorus didn't come from his words but rather from his presence.  In the midst of his darkness and loneliness, the presence of Onesiphorus was what God used to refresh Paul.

Now why is that important?  How many times have you heard of someone who was going through a very dark time in their life and you really wanted to contact them and try to encourage them but you didn't for one simple reason - you had no idea what to say to them?  It may just be the biggest reason why people who are in the "pit" of life feel so abandoned and so alone.  Few people seek them out like Onesiphorus did Paul because they just don't know what to say.

When I first started in ministry 25 years ago I would agonize over this.  People in my church would go though dark times and I felt like I had to have just the right words to say.  I would drive to their house or to the hospital rehearsing my speech the entire way there.  As their pastor I felt like it was my duty to be able to say just the right thing to take the sting out of their pain.  I soon learned just the opposite.  I soon learned that it wasn't my words that they needed or desired, it was simply my presence.

When I went through my own "pit" experience God gave me an Onesiphorus.  His name is Rick (pictured with me above).  Rick called me almost every day and over a 6-month period Rick took me out to breakfast once a week.  Now here is what is interesting.  Over those 6-months Rick and I talked a lot but I cannot really remember one word today that he said (sorry, Rick, I know you are reading this).  I'm sure his words were meaningful but the truth is that it wasn't really Rick's words that brought me refreshment when I was going through my dark time, it was his presence that God used to minister to me in ways that still impact me today.

Onesiphorus brought refreshment to Paul and we don't know what he said.  His presence made the difference.  Rick brought refreshment to me and I can't remember one word that he said.  His presence made the difference.  You can bring refreshment to someone this week who is in the pit and going through a dark time in their life.  Don't worry about what to say.  Your presence will speak volumes to them!

Friday, July 06, 2012

Double Lung Transplant - AMAZING

As I write this blog posting I am sitting in the waiting room at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  As a die-hard Ohio State Buckeye fan it is hard to be down here with all these large "M's"  all over the place.  I even had to come face to face with a statue of a legendary football coach named "Bo."  I still haven't found the statue to the legendary football coach named "Woody" but I will keep looking until I do.  I know it has to be here some place.

But aside from that minor irritation, I would not want to be anywhere else right now.  I made the drive down to have prayer with a very special lady who right now is having a double lung transplant.  It is an honor to be here and to sit with her family and friends.  Our church has prayed for a long time for this day to come.  The process is truly amazing.  It is somewhat ironic that the "good news" call that came at 1:25 Friday morning to Sandy telling her that they had lungs for her would have also been the "bad news" call to another family whose loss was providing the organs.

My understanding is that the donor of the lungs donated all of their organs.  Try to fathom that.  Right now many different organs from this recently deceased life is being implanted into many other people who are receiving a most special gift.  My prayer is that knowing this will bring some added peace to this family who tonight is mourning their recent loss.  My greatest prayer is that if the family of this donor does not know Jesus that through this experience they will come to the realization of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

As we sit in the waiting room there is another family waiting for a transplant surgery.  The patient in this case is a 30 year old mother whose heart was damaged giving birth to triplets.  As we compare stories of the timing of the call from the hospital it seems quite likely that she is receiving the heart from the same donor whose lungs are being put into Sandy.  How amazing.  I imagine that if the walls of this waiting room could talk we would hear some truly amazing stories.  Modern medicine is incredible - but in the end it is God who deserves all the glory.  He is the giver of life.

As I sit here I am glad that I am an organ donor.  It just makes sense.  After all, once I breathe my last breath on this earth I won't need them any more.  My soul will immediately go to be in the presence of the Lord.  My body will simply return to dust until the resurrection (I wonder how that works when part of me might be in someone else?).  To think that the day of my entrance into heaven could provide joy and even life to someone else is quite the thought.  In fact, I hope my heart gets transplanted into a Michigan fan.

Are you an organ donor?


Saying AMEN in Church!

I love hearing "AMEN" shouted out in church.  But is it appropriate?  When Jesus gave to His disciples what some call “The Lord’s Prayer” in Matthew 6, He ended it with the single word, “Amen.”  This is a strong word of affirmation that literally means, “so be it” or “let it be so.”  And so when you are sitting in church and you hear a song or a part of a message that you strongly affirm and cling to, it is appropriate to shout out the word, “Amen.”

When Daniel Webster was on his deathbed, his doctor, having done all he could for Webster, picked up a hymnal and read to him the words to his favorite song:

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel's veins;
and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains
and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day;
and there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away.
wash all my sins away, was all my sins away
and there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood shall never lose its power
till all the ransomed church of God be saved to sin no more.
be saved to sin no more, be saved to sin no more
till all the ransomed church of God be saved to sin no more.

E'er since, by faith, I saw the stream thy flowing wounds supply,
redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.
and shall be till I die, and shall be till I die
redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.

When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.
Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I'll sing thy power to save,
I’ll sing thy power to save, I’ll sing they power to save.
Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I'll sing thy power to save,

When he finished reading, Daniel Webster uttered his last three words on this earth.  They were the words,

“Amen!  Amen!  Amen!”

And all God’s people said?

Wednesday, July 04, 2012


Here are several reasons why anyone who is within driving distance of Gaylord E-Free Church should be sure to attend the Gaylord E-Free Church this Sunday:

A special announcement will be made from our Media and Marketing Team explaining how you could win a piece of modern technology just by "LIKING" our church Facebook page!

Great worship will take place in both our Contemporary Service as well as our Classic Service!

There will be a very entertaining "Beat The Clock" style contest taking place to contrast the world's view of a Man of Courage with what the Bible shows us to be a Man of Courage!

You will watch a very thought-provoking video showing the importance of Children's Ministry in the church which will encourage you to pray about becoming involved as we look to expand our children's ministry when we add an additional Contemporary Service to our Sunday morning schedule beginning this September!

During the offering my son, Jonathan, will be singing an original song that he recently wrote entitled, "Call Out to Jesus!"

We will watch our final original video highlighting an Unsung Man of Courage from E-Free Church!

We will give final details of the special service we will be having the following Sunday, July 15, as we look to take our morning service down to the Fairgrounds for an outdoor HEROES DAY including an exciting program followed by a cook out - all free!

I will be preaching the final message in our UNSUNG MEN OF COURAGE series as we look at the ministry of refreshment that came from a man named Onesiphorus seen in 2 Timothy!

All this will take place in our morning service at Gaylord E-Free that begins at 9:30.  Following our worship service, we will have our Second Hour Classes where you can connect with people as you dig deeper into the Scriptures together.  As part of the Second Hour Classes this Sunday I am looking forward to teaching the "Honor Begins at Home" Class which will be held in the chapel.


Tuesday, July 03, 2012

When Bert and Ernie Abandon You

In my blog posting yesterday I introduced you to an obscure character mentioned only twice in the Bible - both times by the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy.  His name is Onesiphorus.  I said yesterday that his names reminds me of Mr. Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street.  

Onesiphorus was a ministry of refreshment to Paul.  When the Apostle was in a Roman dungeon awaiting execution at he hands of Nero, Onesiphorus risked his own life by travelling to Rome and locating Paul in order in jail in order to bring him some much needed refreshment.  Why was this so impactful to Paul that he mentions it when writing his final letter to Timothy?

The answer can be summed up in one word - LONELINESS!  Paul was lonely.  Frankly, most leaders are - especially when the going gets tough.  You can really see Paul's loneliness in these words that he writes to his closest and dearest friend, Timothy, at the end of this letter:

"Make every effort to come before winter." (2 Timothy 4:21)

Though he was without question the most important person to the church of his day, at the end of his life, Paul found himself alone.  That's what made Onesiphorus' ministry in his life so amazing.  

If you go back to 2 Timothy chapter two and look at the verse right before we are introduced to Onesiphorus, you see a startling  contrast.  Verse 15 speaks of two other men that Paul knew and seemed to know well.  There names are Phygelus and Hermongenes.  Because those names are simply way too difficult to pronounce, and in keeping with the Sesame Street theme we started yesterday, let's just call these two "Bert and Ernie!"  Verse 5 says:

"You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Bert and Ernie."

Paul had become somewhat toxic to believers.  To associate with the Apostle would put any other believer's life on the line as well.  As a result, all the believers in Asia turned away from him.  How many turned?  they all did!  What did the do?  They deserted him.  They denied him.  This was like Peter three times saying that he didn't even know who Jesus was.  

But why does Paul mention just two names?  They "all" turned away but he specifically mentions Bert and Ernie.  That tells me two things.  First, That tells me that Timothy must have known who these two men were.  Had he not known who they were I seriously doubt Paul would have specifically named them in his letter.  Second, it tells me that Paul didn't see this one coming.  It is as if he is saying, "All who are in Asia turned from me, believe it or not, even Bert and Ernie.

I may be wrong, but it appears to me that Paul never would have imagined these two guys turning their backs on him.  Bert and Ernie were two guys that Paul seemed to be confident would be there for him no matter what.  But at the end of the day, Bert and Ernie were nowhere to be found and Paul was alone.  

In contrast to that - Paul speaks of Sunffleupagus (Onesimus).  In contrast to the disloyal abandonment of Bert and Ernie, this man's ministry of refreshment was more valuable than enough gold to fill Nero's Palace.  If you have ever been there, you know what I am talking about.  If you have ever found yourself in the pit where even the ones you thought would always stand with you turned tail and ran, but in your loneliness God brought you an Oneiphorus, then you too would say as Paul did:

"The Lord grant to him (Onesiphorus) to find mercy from the Lord on that day - and you know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus." (2 Timothy 1:18)

"Greet the household of Onesiphorus!" (2 Timothy 4:19)

Monday, July 02, 2012

The Refreshment of Snuffleupagus

Admittedly, his name is strange, at least in our culture.


When I hear it said, it sounds to me like someone just  sneezed and is in need of a well-intentioned "God Bless You" in response.

I guess it shouldn't seem too strange as it reminds me of the name of a character from Sesame Street - remember SNUFFLEUPAGUS?  

Actually there is an importance to this Bible character's name (I'm speaking of Onesiphorus - I am assuming you realize that Snuffleupagus is not in the Bible).  The name Onesiphorus means "profit-bearer" and that is exactly what he was, at least for the Apostle Paul.  This man is only mentioned twice in the Bible - both times it can be found in 2 Timothy.  Paul knew the value of an Onesiphorus.  I have learned that value as well.  

From what we can glean from his limited mentions in Scripture, Onesimus was a member of the church at Ephesus.  His family were also believers.  But his being a "profit-bearer" to Paul is seen in one word in 2 Timothy 1:16 where Paul, from a dungeon awaiting his own imminent execution, writes these words:

"The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains."

What value did Onesiphorus bring to Paul.  He "refreshed" him.  This word speaks of a cool breeze when the body is overheated.  For Paul, Onesiphorus was like a clear, cold glass of water when his mouth was severely dry and parched.  Onesiphorus "refreshed" Paul.  He had a ministry of "refreshment" in his life.  And when did he deliver this "cool breeze" of friendship?  The verse said he did it "often."  This is not speaking of an isolated incident.  This is referring to a pattern of life.

Tell me, do you need someone to bring you some spiritual refreshment?  Notice in the verse that Onesiphorus did this for Paul even while he was in chains.  Remember that as Paul writes he is a prisoner in Rome at the hands of Nero, one of the most cruel persecutors of the church in all of history.  Paul was Nero's prized prisoner.  Nero must have relished the Apostle's soon coming execution.  As a result, to identify with Paul, especially in person, was to put your life in danger.

But that is what those who bring the ministry of refreshment do - they take risks.  Onesiphorus sure did.  Paul goes on in verse 17 and tell us that:

"When he (Onesiphorus) was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me."  

He went all the way to Rome from Ephesus to bring refreshment to Paul.  He put his own life in danger going from jail to jail and dungeon to dungeon looking for the Apostle.  And he didn't do it reluctantly or out of duty.  The verse says he searched for Paul "eagerly."  And he searched until he found him.  Failure was not an option.  

The Apostle Paul was in a pit and needed refreshment.  Onesiphorus would do just that!  In my posting tomorrow I'll show you just how valuable this refreshment was to Paul.  To keep the Sesame Street theme going - tomorrow I'll bring "Bert and Ernie" into the story.  

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Thanks Osceola Grace Brethren Church

This past weekend our family travelled to the Indianapolis area for a wedding.  We lived in Indiana for 9 years early in our ministry life and being back in the Hoosier State left me with three impressions.

First, I sure wish I had a penny for every stalk of corn I passed this weekend in Indiana!  I stopped counting at 6,385,328,900,378,290,043,020,001.

Second, when I got out of the car to pump gas in northern Indiana and got hit face first with the 103 temp with horrid humidity, I was overwhelmed with gladness that today I live in northern Michigan where summer is - PERFECT!

Third, and most importantly, I was filled with thanksgiving for the ministry experience I had at the Osceola Grace Brethren Church (OGBC) in Osceola, IN.  One morning this weekend and while the family was getting ready I drove over and just sat in the parking lot of OGBC.  As I sat there I was filled with great memories from this special church which was the church where I first served as a Senior Pastor.

I remembered the yearly Touchpoint Weekends where we touched hundreds of people in our community!

I remembered Vacation Bible Schools where up to 500 children would attend each summer!

I remembered the weekly AWANA programs!

I remembered the "Price Down" days we would do each Palm Sunday weekend at the local gas station where we would lower gas 25 cents a gallon and the church would pay the difference as we pumped the gas and invited people to Easter!

I remembered our building the educational wing of the church that we called the Judean Training Center!

I remembered the Spanish speaking ministry we started!

I remembered the FM Christian Radio station that we installed in Cambodia in partnership with HCJB radio!

I remembered the many walks I took in the back wooded property where I usually spent my one-on-one time with God!

Best of all, I remembered the many names and faces of people who trusted Christ!

I was fortunate to have such a great Senior Pastorate experience!  Thanks OGBC!