Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Season For Worship


I can't imagine living in a part of the country that did not experience all four seasons - fall, winter, spring, summer! I think that's why I have so quickly grown to love living here in northern Michigan. Here we get all four seasons in brilliant fashion. But my current series on the life of Noah has given me a new appreciation for each of the seasons. Let me explain.

Genesis chapter 8 ends with God telling Himself that He would never destroy the earth again with a flood like He did in Noah's day. In the next chapter He will make that as a covenant with Noah, and ultimately, with you and I today. But in the final verse of chapter 8 God tells us that He has established the seasons as a perpetual reminder that God is still in control and that He always keeps His word!

Now each season as it comes and goes is not just another opportunity for beauty - it is a call to worship. As summer turns to fall and the leaves turn the brilliant colors (and I have never experienced color as I did this past fall here in northern Michigan), it is call to worship. Even as I am raking and blowing the billion or more leaves that fall in my yard here on Deepwoods Drive, it is a call for me to fall on my knees and worship a God who is always in control and who always keeps His word.

And when fall turns to winter and the snow begins to fall and the winds begin to blow and the temps begin to drop, it is a call to worship. Even as I rake my roof and fire up the snow blower to clear my driveway with the snow blowing back into my face, it is a call for me to fall on my knees and worship a God who is always in control and who always keeps His word.

And as fall turns to spring and buds form on the trees and the birds start to sing and the flowers start to burst through the ground, it is a call to worship. Even as I fight through the swarms of mosquitoes walking through my yard, it is a call to fall on my knees and worship a God who is always in control and who always keeps His word.

And as spring turns to summer with the long days of daylight and the perfect temperatures, it is call to worship. Whether it's being on the golf course, boating on a lake, or mowing the yard, it is a call for me to fall on my knees and worship a God who is always in control and who always keeps His word.

Here in Northern Michigan, it is always a season for worship!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Kissing Heaven's Ground???


How many times have we seen it? Someone is held hostage out of the country or is away from their homeland for an extended period of time due to difficult scenarios and when they finally find themselves home, the first thing they do is kneel down and kiss the ground.

That's what I half-expected to read about Noah doing when he finally got off that massive floating box. Remember, he and his family were on that ark for over a year - with thousands of animals and birds (and in-laws). And finally, after more than a full year closed inside, he gets to exit the ark. It would have fit right into scenes like those I mentioned above to read that Noah exited the ark, knelt down and kissed the dry ground.

Well, Noah knelt down and he did offer kisses of sorts, but it had nothing to do with the ground. Genesis 8 says that the very first thing he did when he got off that ark was to build an altar. By the way, though we see instances of people making sacrifices prior to the flood (as in the case of Cain and his brother, Abel), this is the very first specific mention of an altar in the Bible. Noah then takes one of every clean animal and one of every clean bird that he took with him on the ark (remember, he took 7 of each clean animal and bird) and he sacrifices each of them in a lavish act of thanksgiving and worship.

What a lavish sacrifice it was. But Noah understood something. He realized that the only reason he was standing on dry ground with just 7 other people (his family) who survived the flood had nothing to do with him. Noah was a sinner. Chapter 9 of Genesis will make that clear. He didn't survive the flood because he deserved it. He survived the flood for one reason...Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Realizing this, Noah's first act after exiting the ark was not to kiss the ground, it was to make a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God because of His wonderful grace.

Now think about this. The ark is a picture of salvation and the door of the ark is a picture of Christ. Just as Noah was saved from the judgement of the flood by believing God and entering the ark through the door, so we are saved from the eternal judgement of sin by believing what God has said and entering God's salvation through the door of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So if Noah's entering the ark is a picture of our entering God's salvation, then Noah exiting the ark after his long journey could also a picture of our entering heaven at the end of our journey. What will be the first thing we do when we get to heaven? I doubt we will kneel down and kiss the ground. Instead, I think it will fully hit us that the only reason we are there is because of the grace of God. Our being there has nothing to do with us - it has everything to do with Him. And instead of kissing the ground, I think we will immediately fall on our knees and worship and give thanks to the One whose grace is so wonderful.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Gilligan Versus Noah



TV sitcoms sure have changed, haven’t they? To be honest, there isn’t one current sitcom that I watch today. Why can’t we just bring back those great sitcoms from my childhood? I’m speaking of sitcoms like

The Brady Bunch

Welcome Back Kotter

WKRP in Cincinnati

Hogan’s Heroes

Gomer Pyle USMC

Get Smart

While we are on the subject, maybe we should start a petition to bring back the castaways of Gilligan’s Island? I bet most of you could sing the theme song along with me…

With Gilligan; the Skipper too; the millionaire and his wife’ the movie star; the professor and Mary Ann, here on Gilligan’s Isle!”

What a voyage the “Minnow” had with that small group that had set out on a simple “3-hour cruise!” Along those lines, this Sunday morning here at Gaylord E-Free we will continue our series that we are calling, “The Noah Factor: All Are Welcome,” seeing the voyage of the Ark and Skipper Noah as we move into chapter 8 of Genesis and see what life was like on the Ark and what happened when Noah and his family were finally able to disembark more than a year after they first entered this massive floating box!

And to add to the effect of the morning, we will actually have everyone in attendance participating to help us make it rain INSIDE the Gospel Center. See you at 9:30am this Sunday here at the Gaylord E-Free Church in Gaylord, Michigan!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Earmarks of an Encourager


On my study week this past week I spent the majority of my time pouring into the character of Barnabas seen in the pages of the New Testament. According to Acts 4, his given name was Joseph. However, based on the amazing nature he had as an encourager of those around him, the Apostles gave him the nickname, Barnabas, which means "Son of Encouragement." From studying the life of Barnabas this week I found no less than 6 earmarks of an encourager. We will examine each of these in detail come May here at Gaylord E-Free, but for now let me just list them:

The GOODNESS of an Encourager - An Encourager is filled with the Holy Spirit resulting in goodness. In Acts 11:24, Barnabas is described as a good man who was filled with the Holy Spirit. Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22, 23) that comes from being controlled by the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

The GRACE of an Encourager - An encourager has genuine empathy toward outsiders. After the martyrdom of Stephen, Jewish believers were being scattered abroad and some made their way to Antioch where they shared Christ with Greeks who became believers. When news of this reached the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas to investigate. When Barnabas arrived and saw the evidence of God's grace in the lives of these Greeks, he rejoiced and encouraged them in their faith. Many Jews would have been unwelcoming of Gentiles becoming believers but Barnabas had a genuine empathy toward outsiders (Acts 11:19-23).

The GOAL of an Encourager - An encourager's heart is to see people persevere in their faith. Barnabas' greatest encouragement to these new Greek believers was for them to have a resolute heart in remaining true to the Lord (Acts 11:23). The long term impact was that these believers were the first to be called "Christians."

The GLORY of an Encourager - An encourager is humble. Barnabas had no problem playing second fiddle. As you read about the ministry partnership of Barnabas and Paul, from Acts 11 through the first part of Acts 13 Barnabas is always mentioned first. But from the ending of Acts 13 and on, Paul gets the first spot in the naming of the duo and becomes the more prominent of the two. An encourager doesn't care if they get the recognition. They are selfless.

The GIVING of an Encourager - An encourager is free from materialism. When we first meet Barnabas in Acts 4:36, he sells a track of land and brings all of the profit to the Apostles to be used in ministry. Later in Acts 11:29-30, Barnabas and Paul are entrusted with an offering of money to be taken and given to hurting believers in Judea. It is hard to be an encourager if your focus and motive is materialism.

The GUTS of an Encourager - An encourager is willing to take risks on behalf of others. The leaders in Jerusalem were too scared of the newly converted Saul of Tarsus to allow him into their fold, it was Barnabas that had the guts to take the risk on Saul (Acts 9). When Paul wanted nothing to do with John Mark because he had failed them earlier on their missionary journey, it was Barnabas who had the guts to stand up for John Mark and give him a second chance (Acts 15). And how important was this? Keep this in mind - these two men that Barnabas took risks on ended up writing one-third of the New Testament!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

BUZZ


There is a BUZZ going on surrounding the ministry here at Gaylord E-Free Church. I love it. Now BUZZ is not simply seen through the numbers attending. It can be seen in many other ways. For example:

What is happening on Sunday mornings at E-Free is being talked about all through the city of Gaylord during the week. One of our church members who works at the hospital said that our service last Sunday with the ark and all the animals was the talk of the hospital. That's BUZZ!

People are coming that don't usually attend church. I heard this week of a Senior Citizen who has not attended church regularly for over 40 years who has now attended E-Free 3 weeks in a row and loves it. I heard of a lady who does not believe in going to church who was at E-Free last Sunday with her daughter and loved it. That's BUZZ!

One of the woman in the church told me with great excitement how wonderful it was to pull into the church parking lot Sunday and park behind a car that had a big "HOOTERS" restaurant bumper sticker on it! Seriously, how many times do you see a "HOOTERS" bumper sticker in a church parking lot? That's BUZZ!

Comments about our church are all over Facebook and the number of readers of our church Facebook page is exploding! That's BUZZ!

Our Life Groups are not just connecting people, they are resulting in people taking steps of faith. A lady came into the church office yesterday who wants to be baptized this Sunday? Why? Because she was encouraged to take that step of faith in her Life Group the night before! That's BUZZ!

You can literally feel the anticipation each Sunday morning as everyone arrives and the noise level in the foyer after the services each Sunday is amazing! That's BUZZ!

So join the BUZZ at Gaylord E-Free! To infinity and beyond!!!


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Study Week


There are many wonderful aspects of being the Lead Pastor of the E-Free Church here in Gaylord, Michigan, but the best part by far is being able to teach the Word of God to a wonderful congregation who so clearly desire to learn the Bible. As a result, a good portion of my week is spent studying and preparing for each Sunday's message. But a typical week also includes staff meetings, worship design group meetings, my weekly radio program, leadership meetings, one-on-one meetings with each ministry staff member; counseling appointments and other outside meetings and engagements.

But I have made it a practice to set aside one week each month as a study week. On this week, I don't have any of my one-on-one meetings with our ministry staff nor do I take any counseling appointments or other outside meetings. This week is set aside primarily for study. Along with preparing for the next Sunday, I also use this week to do my initial study and make my rough draft outlines for the series of messages that will take place four months down the road. This allows me to get these outlines to our Creative Ideas Group three months in advance so that they have a full month to prayerfully work through them before our Creative Meeting to plan the series which takes place two months in advance. My Study Week allows me to be able to plan enough ahead to allow our Creative Ideas Group the time they need to put together the creative elements that help our congregation better connect to the truth of God's Word.

This week is my study week for January. I am using part of this week to continue to prepare for this Sunday as we continue our study in the life of Noah by studying Genesis 8. I am using the remainder of the week to study in advance and make my rough draft outlines for our series scheduled for May which will be a series called "Lean On Me" as we learn from the New Testament character of Barnabas how we can be better encouragers to those around us.

I love my Study Week. I love taking a week each month to devote almost fully to study. Yesterday it was even more special as the whole time I was pouring into the Word of God I was watching the snow fall and blow outside my office window. It was both beautiful and inspiring.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

When a Good Friend Brings Good Grief!



Laura and I had the thrill of having good friends from PA with us this weekend. Rick and Ginger Glass are some of those rare "true blue friends" that stay by your side through thick and thin. God really has and continues to use Rick and Ginger in our lives (The picture above is of meand Rick right before moving to Michigan).

We were actually in PA last week and had dinner with Rick and Ginger. Half serious and half jokingly we said, "Hey, you guys should come back to PA with us for the weekend!" They did and it was awesome. But if you were in Ryan and Carrie Sharpe's 2nd Hour Class last Sunday morning here at Gaylord E-Free, Rick told a story (at Ryan's devious prompting) on me from my previous church where for Christmas I dressed up like Charlie Brown.

It was my first Christmas at the church and our theme was, "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Everything about that Sunday was centered around the Peanut's Gang. We had a giant inflatable Snoopy sitting on his dog house and we showed a clip from the classic Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon. And "yours truly" dressed up like Charlie Brown. I wore black shorts, knee socks, brown shoes and the infamous yellow shirt with the black zig-zag line around it.

As I was greeting folks at the doors as they arrived for the service I shook the hand of a college student who was home for the first time since I had become the pastor so he had never met me. There were many people coming in the door so we didn't really talk or make any introductions - just shook hands. Afterwards, his mom told me the following story.

She said that not knowing I was the pastor, and because of the way I was dressed, her son thought I was a man with "special needs." As he sat down for the service he thought to himself, "How cool that they let that man with special needs stand at the door and greet people - most churches would not see that as a good first impression." Then he was completely shocked when after the worship part of the service, that same man with "special needs" stood up and preached!

All I can say is, "Good Grief!"

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lions and Roosters and Bears - AMEN!




Sunday morning at E-Free is always an exciting and inspirational worship service. But this morning was absolutely one of those WOW Sundays that will always be remembered.

We are in the middle of a series on the life of Noah that we are calling, "The Noah Factor: All Are Welcome!" Each week has been exciting with an ark built on our stage and Noah himself being active during each sermon. But this Sunday took an even more creative spin as we reached the point in the text where Noah had finished the ark and the animals paraded on board.

As we brainstormed this series two months ago, we talked as a Creative Ideas Group of how we could create an even greater connection for our church to this amazing story. We talked about how wonderful it would be if we could put animals all through the foyer and in the auditorium. I have to be honest, I was thinking "stuffed toy animals." But our Creative Ideas Group is amazing. They took the idea to a whole new level!

As people showed up at church this morning, all throughout the foyer around the Gospel Center we had fully mounted animals - not just heads...the whole animal mounted in action positions. They looked so real. There were lions, deer, bears, warthogs, hyenas and many more. One of the animals was laying on top of the main Welcome Center.

Up on the stage there were real animals - rabbits, goats, chickens, ducks and a rooster. Now the rooster stole the show, He gave his "cock-a-doodle-do" throughout the whole service. Through the worship he would "cock-a-doodle-do!" During the child dedication he would "cock-a-doodle-do!" And after every other sentence of my sermon (if you were there you know that I am not exaggerating) he would give his "cock-a-doodle-do!" I just pretended he was shouting out his own feathered "Amen!" It was great!!!!!

Hopefully, people left church this morning talking about the whole service. As they remember the animals, it is my hunch that they will more readily remember the main thrust of the morning's teaching which was that God is a God who does judge sin! But before He judges sin, He first creates a way of escape and gives opportunity for people to believe His Word and find salvation. He did this through the ark back in Noah's day and He is doing it through Jesus day.

And all God's people said? "Cock-a-doodle-do!"

Friday, January 20, 2012

Watch Where You Step


This Sunday we continue our NOAH PROJECT series on the life of Noah here at Gaylord E-Free Church! This week the animals will be loading the ark! Seriously, watch where you step!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why Creativity?


Yesterday I shared a bit about some of the creative elements that our Creative Ideas Group here at the Gaylord E-Free Church use in our services. But why? I mean, it takes a lot of thought, work and energy. Is it worth it? Here are the reasons I think it is.

First, creativity comes from God. He is a creative God. It is one of the first things we learn about God. The very first verse in the Bible says, "In the beginning God CREATED the heavens and the earth!"

Second, creativity helps people to learn and remember. In today's culture most people have become "visual learners." They retain some things just by listening. But when you can use the other senses (sight, smell, touch and taste), they will remember even more.

Third, creativity creates excitement and anticipation. People come to church anticipating what is going to happen and they leave excited about what they just saw, heard and experienced. As a result, people openly talk throughout the week about what happened at church.

In other words, we don't use creativity just to be cute or cool. We have a purpose. As the Creative Ideas Group plans each element we do so using a 3-fold filter:

First, does the creative idea fit the theme? No matter how good the idea is, if it does not help people connect with the Biblical theme of the morning, it is not effective.

Second, can we pull off the element with excellence? If it can't be done with excellent, it loses effectiveness.

Third, is it too far out of the box? We want to be "cutting edge" but only to a point. If an idea is too far out of the box it becomes more of a distraction than it does an effective element.

I am thankful for the creative people God has put together here at Gaylord E-Free. I love how God is using this creativity. Is it Sunday yet?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

First BALLOONS - Then an ARK - Next a TRAIN



I am so blessed to pastor the church here in Gaylord, MI that I get to pastor. I love so many aspects but one aspect I especially love is working with our Creative Ideas Team in using creative elements to help people connect with our focus. As I think back over the last several months worth of message series, I love what this team has accomplished:

Back this fall we did a series called "The Mansion of Prayer" in which we saw a stage design consisting of 5 doors, one for each aspect of prayer that we were studying. Each door also had a giant key that helped to identify the key we saw from Scripture to open up that area of prayer in our lives.

December's Avoiding the Christmas Crash series saw an elegant holiday stage design that helped people connect visually with the concept of a "peaceful Christmas."

Christmas Day saw a worship service that people are still talking about with helium filled star-shaped balloons that represented the joy in our hearts because Christ was born. It was very much an emotional time to watch people release these balloons in the auditorium throughout the morning as a picture of the joy overflowing in their heart because Jesus was born.

January has brought our "Noah Project" series which brought about an ARK being built on our stage and which this Sunday will even see animals from all over the world coming to our ARK (Don't miss this Sunday but do watch where you step!).

And now the Creative Ideas Team is working on our next series that we are are calling "Meeting & Moving: A Purpose that Melts in Your Mouth!" For this series be looking for a train on our stage that will visit 6 specific stations to show our strategy to meet people right where they are at and help move them to where God wants them to be. Even the serial number on the engine will have a special meaning.

In my next posting I will share why we put so much effort into making our services creative!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Frustration with Tebow


OK - I have resisted the craze of bloggers everywhere who are writing about Denver Broncos quarterback sensation, Tim Tebow. But now that his end of the season and post-season run has come to an end, I might as well way in with my thoughts on this modern athletic phenomena.

I have to be honest, I'm to the point that when I see postings with the name "Tebow" in them, I find myself skipping right over them. After all, they all seem to be saying just about the same thing. So let me approach my thoughts on Tebow from a total different perspective. Let me take out the spiritual aspect completely which is difficult for me because I am a preacher and so I naturally see and like to point out the spiritual aspects of every situation.

So what's my take on Tim Tebow? It is total consternation! It is total frustration! Why all the angst? Here's why. Because on one hand I rally like Tebow. I love the story. It's one of those sports stories that you couldn't just dream up on your own if you wanted to. And I am for anyone who, as a follower of Jesus, genuinely wants to make his faith public and use his platform as an NFL quarterback to shine the light of Jesus to so many people. Because of all of that, I am very excited about Tim Tebow.

So what's the problem? Why the personal consternation? Why the personal frustration? It's simple. It's because Tim Tebow is not just any quarterback. He is the quarterback for the Denver Broncos. A huge part of me wants to get on the "Tebow Bandwagon." A huge part of my wants to put on the Tebow Jersey. And if it were any color other than Broncos Blue and Orange, I could and I would (unless of course it was the black and yellow of the Pittsburgh Steelers - that would be even worse).

Pretending that this posting is a public session of "Bitter People Anonymous," let me just take this opportunity to introduce myself. "Hi! My name is Scott and I am bitter." That's right, I admit it! I am still bitter from the late 80's when two years in a row those evil Broncos pulled out a miracle when my beloved Cleveland Browns were ready to pop the corks on the bubbly to celebrate an AFC Championship and a trip to the Super Bowl. "The Drive" and "The Fumble" are phrases that still cause a knot to form in the pit of my stomach.

You see, guys like me that faithfully root for professional sports teams that never seem to be able to win the big one have discovered that it's almost as fun to root against some teams as it is to root for your own. As a result, when it comes to the NFL, I will never be able to find myself with favorable feelings for the Denver Broncos (or worse, for the Pittsburgh Steelers).

You see, when the Broncos had John Elway as their quarterback, it was so much easier. There were no mixed emotions. I wanted to see old #7 fail on the gridiron just as much as I wanted to see the whole Broncos team come up short. That's why I am so frustrated with Tebow. Deep inside I would love to see him succeed. I would love to see him become the best of the best. But how can I do that as long as he's playing a Mile High?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Creative Disobedience


Sunday morning we continued our series here at Gaylord E-Free called "The Noah Project." We gave special detail to the specific instructions God gave to Noah in Genesis chapter six when it came to the ark and the animals.

450 ft long
75 ft wide
45 ft high
Made of gopher wood
Include rooms
3 levels
A window
A door
Completely covered in pitch
2 animals of every kind on the earth
Enough food for all for over a year

And he was to do this in a day and age that had never seen rain and did not have the modern technology that we do today. And keep in mind, that he would also have do so in the crossfire of persecution and ridicule the entire time. Yet, he did all that God had commanded him

Why can't we be more like Noah? I mean, has God really given us any commands today that are more difficult than what I just listed above? Why is it that we so often use our own God-given creativity to get around the God-given commands that have been given to us? Let me give you a personal example.

My wife and I believe in the Biblical principle of tithing. We believe that all we have comes from God. It's all His! And He has commanded us to give the first 10% back to Him through the local church. And He has promised to bless us if we will. We have always practiced this throughout our nearly 25 years of married life.

But now we have two kids in college! Do you realize how expensive college is? There is tuition, room & board, books, essentials, travel, etc. And for us it is all of that multiplied by two! OUCH! The kids have some scholarships. They have some money from work. They have taken some student loans. But because we don't want to see them saddled with massive amounts of student loan debts as they go into life after college, we are trying to cover the rest. But honestly, it just doesn't all fit into our family budget - not by a long shot.

I discovered something, however, as I was reworking our budget going into 2012. I realized that the amount we tithe over the course of the year, especially if you include the amount above our tithe that we give to some missionaries we also support personally, would come very close to the amount we are short in our budget to pay their college costs and allow them to graduate having limited loans to repay. In other words, if I quit tithing I could do it! It's that simple! As a result, the following creative thoughts came into my mind:

Creative Thought #1 - It would just be for 2.5 more years! Then, we can go right back to tithing, maybe even upping the percentage a few notches!

Creative Thought #2 - Both my kids attend a Christian College. In fact, Liberty University (in my humble opinion) is the greatest, most exciting Christian University in the world. And it is making an enormous spiritual impact for Jesus world-wide. So by paying for my kids to go to Liberty, aren't I really investing money into a Christian ministry? Isn't that the same as tithing?

Creative Thought #3 - My daughter wants to teach Middle School. Lord knows that Middle School students need Jesus. And you have to be called of God to work with Middle School students day in and day out, right? My son wants to be a Worship Pastor who will lead people in worship of God, preparing their hearts to hear and heed the Word of God. By paying for their college education, am I not investing in ministry? Isn't this the equivalent of tithing?

How easy it would be for me to use any one or all of these creative thoughts to justify my getting around what God has asked me to do - TITHE! But if Noah can have enough faith to do all that God commanded him to do concerning the ark and the animals, can't I quit being creative in my disobedience and do what He has commanded me to do, trusting Him for the results as well?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Winter Weekend


The snow has been falling in northern Michigan and it is just beautiful! I may ultimately get tired of dealing with snow living up north but I'm not sure I will ever get tired of watching it snow. Even though this weekend is going to be snowy and cold, it will also be filled with many ministry opportunities here at Gaylord E-Free Church to meet people right where they are at and help move them to where God wants them to be. With this in mind, my weekend will include 4 main areas of involvement.

CREATIVE IDEAS MEETING - Saturday morning at 7am I will meet with our Creative Ideas Group under the direction of our Director of Worship (Joshua Rupp) to brainstorm creative ideas for our next message series that we are calling, "Meeting & Moving: A Purpose that Melts in Your Mouth" which will begin February 26 and run through Palm Sunday, April 1. This team is gelling so well and I am so pleased and excited with the impact they are having here at Gaylord E-Free each and every Sunday. It's hard to believe that creative juices can flow at 7am on a Saturday morning, but this group makes that happen!

BABY ELIJAH MEMORIAL SERVICE - Later Saturday morning I will be speaking at a Memorial Service here in the Chapel at Gaylord E-Free for Elijah Wilkes, that I have been lovingly calling "Baby Elijah" who passed away last Sunday, about 1 month after his miraculous birth. What a thrill it has been to get to know Baby Elijah's parents. They are a wonderful couple whose faith has remained strong through a very difficult time. I am so very proud of them. As a pastor, it is a distinct privilege to walk through the highs and lows of life with the people God has brought to our church. I am praying that the story of Baby Elijah and the wonderful God that formed him in his mother's womb will have a major impact on those who will gather to celebrate his life this Saturday.

THE NOAH PROJECT - This Sunday with be week #2 of our new message series through the life of Noah. I can't wait for you to see the stage in the Gospel Center on Sunday. The ark is under construction and Noah, along with his 3 sons, will continue to work on it all through the message this coming Sunday. Be sure to be careful, especially as you leave the service Sunday, because rumor has it that wild animals are already migrating toward Gaylord, no doubt to load the ark. This past week 3 different people told me about frightening encounters they had in our church regarding coming face-to-face with a lion! I'm not kidding. So, if you see an animal Sunday, take my advice, don't try to feed or touch them (and please watch where you step)!

LUNCH WITH PASTOR SCOTT & LAURA - This Sunday following our worship service, my wife, Laura, and I are going to have the privilege of having lunch with many of the new people to our church! We are looking forward to getting to know each of them better.

It is definitely going to be a Winter Weekend physically here in Gaylord, Michigan, but with it there will be so much ministry that will be involved that it will keep us nice and warm spiritually. Some of the opportunities will be easier than others and some will be more exciting than others, but all of them will no doubt be used of the Lord to impact people for eternity, and that is what Gaylord E-Free is all about!

Welcome, Weekend!

Friday, January 13, 2012

300,000 VISITORS


It's official. I have now gone over 300,000 unique visitors to my blog from 203 different countries around the world. Thank you to all who have visited "Folks Listen!"

Sanctity of Life


January is Sanctity of Life month. Though I am decisively "pro-life" and passionately believe that all life is sacred from conception to natural death, I have to be honest and tell you that usually January comes and goes each year without me giving a lot of thought to the "sanctity of life." But as we move into the halfway point of January 2012, I have found the "sanctity of life" as a regular thought in my mind. Here is why.

A month ago a wonderful young couple in our church gave birth prematurely to a baby boy that they named Elijah. They knew before Elijah's emergency c-section that he had a problem that was going to require immediate surgery. What they did not know is the many other challenges that baby Elijah was going to be born with. Hours after his birth in Traverse City, he was transported 3 hours south to Grand Rapids where he had surgery.

The month that followed was filled with obstacles and set-backs. Baby Elijah's parents spent that month going back and forth from northern Michigan where their 4 daughters were to Grand Rapids where their sweet newborn Elijah was fighting for his life. Last Sunday baby Elijah passed away in his parents arms. This coming Saturday I will preach his funeral.

As I found myself praying for baby Elijah daily over the past month and regularly talking with his wonderful parents whom I respect so deeply and am so proud of as to how they have clung to their faith in a very difficult time, I have been vividly reminded of the "sanctity of life." Baby Elijah's life was filled with multiple challenges but that in no way made his life less valuable. Baby Elijah only lived for about a month, but that in no way made his life less important.

God caused Baby Elijah's conception. God had a plan and a purpose for Baby Elijah. And I am convinced that God fulfilled that plan and that purpose. I don't think we can know for sure at this point the impact that this one month of life had for eternity but I believe that when his parents get to heaven and God rolls back the eternal curtain and they see how God used Baby Elijah and how their sweet son fulfilled God's purpose, they will be amazed and they will fall on their knees in awe and worship of God.

Yesterday I was called to the hospital for another couple in our church who just last Sunday told me with excitement that she was pregnant. In the end it was an ectopic pregnancy (often called a tubal pregnancy) that required immediate emergency surgery. This time the parents did not get to see their baby or hold that baby in their arms. But as a believer that life begins at conception, I was again reminded of the "sanctity of life."

On the heels of all that, we received a call from parents in our church yesterday who would like to dedicate their child to the Lord this month. My first inclination was to say, "Sorry, those services are already planned but we can put you down for our next scheduled baby dedication which will be Mother's Day." But after crying with and praying with the parents of Baby Elijah and the parents of this ectopic pregnancy recently, "sanctity of life" Sunday, January 22, sounds like the perfect time to dedicate life to the Lord!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Me? Do What?


God told Noah in Genesis 6 to do the following:

Build a floating box-like object out of gopher wood!

Make it 450 feet long (roughly 1.5 football fields)!

Make it 75 feet wide!

Make it 45 feet high!

Put three levels in it!

Cover the whole thing with pitch!

Put a window in it about 18 inches from the top!

Put a door in the side of it!

Put two of every animal in the world on it!

Put enough food on it for you, your family and the animals to eat for over a year!

Do all of this in a culture that has no modern technology!

Do all of this in the teeth of thousands of people who will persecute you daily!

Do it because God is going to send a flood even though nobody at the time had ever even seen rain!

And how did Noah respond to al of this? Genesis 6:22 says, "Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did?"

So tell me, why do you and I have such a hard time doing what God has commanded us to do today. I mean, listen, at least He hasn't commanded us to build an ark!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

BEWARE...Animals Worshipping!




This Sunday morning here at E-Free we will continue our new series that we are calling, “The Noah Factor: All Are Welcome,” which is a verse-by-verse study through Genesis 5-9. This Sunday we will continue in chapter 6 taking special note of the command of God to Noah to build the ark with very explicit instructions given as to its size and features. We will learn the answers to the following questions:

· What does the word “ark” mean?

· How is the word “ark” also used in the life of Moses?

· What was the ark made out of?

· What was the ark to be covered with?

· What does the word “pitch” mean?

· How long is a cubit?

· How long was the ark to be?

· How wide was the ark to be?

· How tall was the ark to be?

· How many levels were to be in the ark?

· What was the total square footage of the ark to be?

· How many basketball courts would have fit inside the ark?

· If the lower level of the Gospel Center was the size of the ark, what would be its seating capacity?

· What was to be put 1 cubit from the top of the ark?

· What was to be put in the side of the ark?

· How many train boxcars of animals could have fit inside the ark?

· Besides his own family, what two things was Noah to take into the ark?

· How did Noah respond to all that God commanded him to do?

Below are the special elements we are looking to have as part of our services this Sunday:

· We will once again have “Noah Trivia Questions” on the screen as part of our pre-service countdown clock

· We will show a clip from the movie “Evan Almighty” to show how God might have communicated to Noah with the command to build the ark if the story would have happened today

· The rubble on the stage from last week will literally be turned into an ark

· Noah himself will be back with us throughout the message, this time along with his 3 sons

· There will be a special Noah related skit as part of the Classic Service

· A special Marriage Mentoring Training promo will take place in both services.

· DON’T MISS THIS!!!! At the end of the sermon we will see God’s command to take animals on to the ark. Be careful as you leave the Gospel Center this Sunday morning as some of those animals just may already be making their way toward the ark! And whatever you do, please do NOT touch any animal you might happen upon while leaving the service this Sunday!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Staff Reviews Begin Today!


Today is my first round of staff reviews with the ministry staff here at the Gaylord E-Free Church. It is my goal to conduct these one-on-one reviews twice a year. But why? Why do reviews in church work at all? Is it really necessary? Let me give some reasons why I believe staff performance reviews are important, especially in church work.

First, it helps to increase the development and performance of each staff member. Let's be honest - none of us function at 100% effectiveness. There are always weaknesses that can be worked on and strengths that can be further developed. Staff reviews allow each of our staff members to increase in ministry effectiveness.

Second, it helps to strengthen the working relationship between the staff member and the supervisor. The better the relationship I have with our staff, the greater effectiveness we will have as a team. Relationships are increased by building trust with each other and trust is built by honesty and communication.

Third, it clarifies job duties and responsibilities. Few things are more frustrating than not being sure exactly what your role is and being unsure of what your supervisor expects of you. Staff reviews take the guess work out of things.

Fourth, it allows an opportunity to appraise past accomplishments. Perhaps you have been there where you believe you are doing your job and doing it well and the only feedback you are getting from those around you and above you is positive. Then, out of nowhere you learn that there is dissatisfaction with your performance and it appears to be beyond the point of no return. Regular staff reviews allow each staff member to know if there are any problems well in advance so that they have the opportunity to make corrections.

Fifth, it establishes mutually understood standards for measuring performance and charting future objectives. Reviews allow me as the Lead Pastor and each of our ministry staff members to be on the same page as we move forward to reach our redemptive potential as a local church.

So this week will be our first round of staff reviews as I will meet one-on-one with all seven of our ministry staff members to talk through two documents. The first document is the Staff Self-Awareness Form. This is a form that each staff member has filled out and turned into me in advance that deals with their assessment of their performance; the status of their goals from the past 6 months; and to identify their new goals for the upcoming 6 months. Along with this, I will go through a Staff Performance Evaluation Form that I have filled out in advance on each staff member reviewing their performance in the following 4 areas:

CHARACTER = Are they exemplifying a Christ-like behavior and attitude?

COMPETENCE = Are they accomplishing their ministry role here at E-Free?

CHEMISTRY = Are they interacting well with our staff, church leadership and church family?

COURAGE = Are they willing to take Spirit-led risks to advance our ministry?

We have a wonderful staff here at Gaylord E-Free Church and I am praying that God will use these reviews to allow us to become all that we can be for the cause of Christ as individuals and as a team!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Sunday Rewind


If you are a regular reader of my blog you know how much I look forward to Sundays. I often use my blog to preview the Sunday ahead because I am so excited about it. It's true, I live for Sundays and I wake up most mornings asking myself the question, "Is it Sunday yet?" But today let me write in reverse. Instead of sharing why I am excited about the upcoming Sunday, let me put things in reverse and share with you what I loved about last Sunday! Here is a rewind of Sunday's highlights:

I loved the two hours before church began on Sunday. Those 120 minutes were ones of great anticipation for what God is going to do. I loved spending that time in running through my sermon one more time, checking in with our sound techs, video techs and our Worship Arts Director to be sure everything was set and ready to go, and spending time in prayer and worship.

I loved chatting with a lady in the foyer before the service began who had just got home a few hours earlier from vacation after a 29+ hour drive. Her words were, "We got in late but I just can't miss church!"

I loved greeting people prior to the service and seeing and hearing the excitement they had to be in church and the anticipation they too felt regarding the service.

I loved participating in worship! I especially loved seeing my family participating in the worship as part of the band.

I loved being able to lead our church corporately in prayer for a couple who is newer to our church and who is down in Grand Rapids with a newborn baby that is in critical condition. Though this is a very difficult time for this couple, one of the things I love about being a pastor is the opportunities to walk with people through the highs and lows of life, literally to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep.

I loved being able to use a video clip from "Evan Almighty" to use culture to help our church family connect with what it must have been like to be Noah.

I loved being able to preach a brand new sermon starting off a new series on the life of Noah, showing our church family how one person can make a difference in a wicked world and how each of us can be a breath of fresh air in our homes, in our schools, where we work, and in our neighborhoods.

I loved watching our own NOAH being on stage and throughout the Gospel Center as I preached. He did such an awesome job of acting for 40 full minutes without ever saying a word. It was so much fun to see how his part in the service kept people focused on a much more detailed and deeper sermon than usual.

I loved meeting so many newer folks to our church during the "Meet & Greet" after the service.

I loved talking with a couple who I met at the Welcome Center because she lost her purse in church. It ended up that Sunday was their very first time at E-Free. Not only that, they live right up the street from us and had just signed up to be part of our Life Group! We were also able to reunite her with her purse!

I loved seeing how many new people signed up to be part of our Life Groups! Our group alone has 6 new people that will be part of the 12 people who are already part of our group.

I loved chatting with the representative that was in the lobby today with Bethany Christian Services as part of Sanctity of Life Month. It was exciting to see her pleasure with the great contacts she made with people from our church.

I loved seeing the numbers of people who were part of the new 2nd hour classes that took place after the service.

I loved spending some time in my office after the service with a toddler of one of our staff members playing catch with a football and teaching him how to enthusiastically say, "BUCKEYES!"

I loved the fun and laughter we experienced tonight at our Life Group leader's appreciation dinner. God is doing wonderful things through our small group ministry!

I could go on and on, but there is a partial glimpse of why this past Sunday at Gaylord E-Free Church in Gaylord, Michigan was so special!

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Don't Miss This Sunday at Gaylord E-Free


HERE IS ALL THAT WILL TAKE PLACE THIS SUNDAY AT GAYLORD E-FREE!

Classic service begins at 9:30am

Contemporary service begins at 9:30am

New sermons series starts called, "The Noah Factor: All Are Welcome!"

Enjoy great worship in the Gospel Center's Contemporary Service

Sing many of your older favorites in the Chapel's Classic Service

Look for a pile of rubble on stage showing the material that would become the ark as well as symbolizing the sinful rubble of the wicked world of their day!

Look for Noah himself all throughout the message

Watch a video clip that will show you what the story of Noah would have looked like if it had happened in our day and age

Nursery and full children's program will be available

Second hour classes will take place for kids and adults

"Meet & Greet" will take place right after the service for new and somewhat new people to E-Free to meet myself and my wife

Sign up at the Connection Area for the new session of Life Groups which begin this week

Sign-up and information will be available at the Connection Area for those interested in being part of our Marriage Mentoring Training beginning later this month

Bethany Christian Services will have a display and information in the Connection Area

Spencer Smith will be sharing second hour in the Suncathcer's Class about his ministry in the country of Jordan

Friday, January 06, 2012

Noah Trivia


This Sunday here at Gaylord E-Free we start a new verse by verse series through Genesis 5-9 as we take an in-depth look at the life of Noah. Below are several multiple choice trivia questions about Noah that have nothing to do with the Ark! How many can you get right?

What was the name of Noah's father?
A - Lamech
B - Lazarus
C - Leroy
D - Leonard

Who was Noah's grandpa and how old was he when he died?
A. Pastor Jim Mathis (age 777)
B. Methuselah (969)
C. Sigmund Freud (83)
D. Martin Luther (63)

Who was Noah's Great Grandpa and what distinguished him from everyone else?
A. Shrek (green skin)
B. Zacchaeus (short)
C. Enoch (never died)
D. Jonah (smelled like fish)

Who was Noah's great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandpa?
A. Tim Tebow
B. Ron Paul
C. Methuselah
D. Adam

How old was Noah when he had his 3 sons?
A. 18 years old
B. 666 years old
C. 500 years old
D. 12 years old

What was the name of Noah's 3 sons?
A. Larry, Moe and Curly
B. Shem, Ham and Japheth
C. Dopey, Sneezy and Grumpy
D. Ben, Jim-Bob and John-Boy

What does Noah's name mean?
A. To breath again
B. Don't miss the boat
C. Ark-builder
D. Rain man

JOIN US SUNDAY AS WE START OUR NEW SERIES ON THE LIFE OF NOAH

Thursday, January 05, 2012

9 Generation Picture


This Sunday we start a brand new series here at Gaylord E-Free that we are calling, "The Noah Factor: All Are Welcome." It will be a verse by verse study through the life of Noah seen in Genesis 5-9. We start this Sunday with chapter 5 in which we see the genealogy of Adam all the way to Noah covering 10 generations. But here is what I find amazing. Follow me on this:

Noah's father was Lamech

Noah's grandfather was Methuselah

Noah's great grandfather was Enoch

Noah's great great grandfather was Jared

Noah's great great great grandfather was Mahalel

Noah's great great great great grandfather was Kenan

Noah's great great great great great grandfather was Enosh

Noah's great great great great great great grandfather was Seth

Noah's great great great great great great great grandfather was Adam.

Following me so far? Now, figure this into the equation. Lamech (Noah's father) was 56 years old when Adam (Noah's great great great great great great great grandfather) died. That means that 9 generations were alive at one time. Think about it. When Lamech (Noah's father) was55 years old (Noah was not born until Lamech was over 180 years old) and attending his family reunion, he could have had a 9-generation picture taken with him, Methuselah, Enoch, Jared, Mahalel, Kenan, Enosh, Seth and the very first man, Adam. Nine generations all alive at the same time.

I thought it was something when we had a 5-generation picture taken on my wife's side of the family with my wife, our daughter, my wife's mom, my wife's grandma and my wife's great grandma. A 5-generational picture is quite an accomplishment today, but Adam through Lamech would have covered 9 generations living all at the same time.

Now imagine the population explosion we would experience today if each person lived to be 600, 700, 800, even 900 years old and could continue to reproduce for most of those years. Chances are good that there were more people alive on the earth at the time of Noah than there are today. In fact, some estimate that the population of the earth at the time of Noah exceeded 7 billion people. But with the huge population explosion of that day there was also an explosion of evil, even to the point of a demonic invasion. And in the midst of it all, we find two of the greatest words in the Bible, "But Noah!"

Don't miss this Sunday as we see how Noah became a "breath of fresh air" to the wildly populated and the wildly wicked world of his day! My prayer is that through this study we will learn how to be a "breath a fresh air" today in our our homes, in our schools, where we work, in our neighborhoods, and in our very world.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Orthodontists for the Church


Two nights ago was our first Elder meeting of the new year here at Gaylord E-Free. We meet on the first Monday of each month to conduct business and then again on the third Monday of each month for prayer. One of my goals this year is to take 30 minutes out of each of our first Monday of the month meetings throughout 2012 to take our Elder Board verse by verse through the book of Titus. I remember hearing Dr Falwell say many times that everything rises and falls on leadership. Elder Boards that understand and act on their Biblical role will be used by God to lead the church in reaching its redemptive potential.

In the first 5 verses of Paul's letter to Titus he exhorts him to 'set in order' that which was lacking in the church and to appoint Elders. The two commands seem to be linked together. The word translated "set in order" actually comes from a root word where we get our English word "orthodontist." Like with crooked teeth, churches can often have things about them related to false doctrine, lack of vision, or even sin issues that are "out of order." In the same way that an orthodontist works to straighten crooked teeth and put them in order, so Titus was to appoint Elders who would do the same in the church. That is why Elders are so very important to the church.

Yet, before Paul gives these instructions to Titus, he first gives two descriptions of himself in his opening greeting. He calls himself a "bond-servant" and an "Apostle." These two words are very different in scope. An apostle is a position of authority that carries a lot of weight. A servant, on the other hand, has no rights and really carries no weight. Paul said that he was both, a servant and an Apostle. And notice what he puts first in the chronological order. He is first a servant, then an Apostle.

How critical this order is for each church leader to understand. Yes, we who are pastors and elders have a position of spiritual authority in the church and that is very important. We need this kind of authority in the church when false doctrine is trying to seep in through the cracks. We need this kind of authority when there is no vision causing the church to simply drift with no purpose. We need this kind of authority when sin enters into the lives of its members. But without the realization that we as Elders are first and foremost servants of Christ and of His church, we can easily abuse our authority and ultimately cause damage to the very church that we are called to protect and lead.

Yes, Elders and pastors need to utilize our God-given authority to "set in order" that which is crooked in the church. But our first calling is to be servants. We are to serve our Lord. We are to serve our staff. We are to serve our ministries. We are to serve our people. Servant leadership - that is the foundation of the role of any Elder. That is the foundation of the role of each man called by God to be Elders and pastors here at Gaylord E-Free!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

When It's Time To Depart


In my posting yesterday I introduced you to Simeon in Luke 2, to whom God had made the promise that he would not see death until he had seen the Messiah, the consolation of Israel, that he had longed for his whole life. As you continue reading in this chapter you see that 40 days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph bring Him to the temple in Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice for the ending of Mary's purification process.

At that same time, the Spirit of God led Simeon into the temple were he sees the young couple and God reveals to him that the baby they carried in their arms was in fact the promised Messiah. Simeon then takes the Baby in his arms, blesses Him and says, "Now I can depart in peace!" With these words, he is speaking of his death. What a great word to use. The word "depart" is actually a word that was used in several different ways.

The word "depart" spoke of a prisoner being released. What a great view of death for the believer. Death for the one who has put their faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus is instantaneous freedom from every burden of this life. Think of all the burdens we face. We face physical burdens. We face emotional burdens. We face mental burdens. We face relational burdens. We face marital burdens. We face parental burdens. We face occupational burdens. We face financial burdens. We even face spiritual burdens. But for those of us that know Jesus, death is the instantaneous freedom from every burden of this life!

The word "depart" spoke of loosing a ship so that it can sail to a new destination. What a great view of death for the believer. For those of us who have put our faith in Jesus, death is departing from this life to a more glorious destination - one that will be magnificent!

The word "depart" also spoke of pulling up the tent spikes and going home. What a great view of death for the believer. For those of us who have a personal relationship, death is pulling of the tent spikes on this temporary world that we live in on this earth and going home to our eternal dwelling in God's heaven!

It's true - for the Christian the best is most definitely yet to come!

Monday, January 02, 2012

Anticipating the Promise!


In the last half of Luke 2, which gives us "the rest of the Christmas story," we are introduced to a forgotten character of the Christmas story...a man named Simeon. We learn that he lived in Jerusalem at the time of the birth of Jesus and that he was righteous and devout. In other words, he believed in the promises of God and took obeying God very seriously.

He was also a person who longed for the coming of the Messiah that had been promised through the many Old Testament Prophets. Most every Jew living in Jerusalem was very familiar with that promise of a coming Messiah, but for most, it seemed like mere words. After all, from the closing of the Old Testament 400 years had passed of Divine silence. Not even a peep from God took place during these 400 years until the angel appeared to Zechariah to announce that his aged wife, Elizabeth, would give birth to John the Baptist.

But unlike most, Simeon didn't just believe this promise intellectually, he daily anticipated it - even expected it. The possibility of His coming was the first thought that would cross his mind in the morning and be the last prayer that rolled off his lips at night.

My fear is that many, if not, most believers in Jesus have developed a similar mindset that most in Israel would have had at the time of Simeon. Hundreds of years ago Jesus made the promise (read about in John 14:1-2) that He would one day return. Hundreds of years have come and gone since then. Hundreds of predictions as to the date of His return have come and gone - but not a peep of reality. Jesus still hasn't come back. And, unfortunately, for many believers it has resulted in merely an intellectual knowledge of the promise of Christ's return. I fear that most Christ-followers, though they believe the promise in their mind, don't long for it in their heart as Simeon did His first coming.

As you keep reading in Luke 2, you discover that God, through the Holy Spirit, made an amazing promise to Simeon. He promised Simeon that he would not see death until He had seen the Messiah - until the promise became reality. How cool would it be to be the recipient of that promise? Well, we have not received that promise today (and beware anyone who tells you they know when Christ is going to return. Frankly, the date-setters are simply "shooting in the dark!"). But God did make a promise to us concerning His return.

In 2 Timothy 4:8, Paul spoke of the crown of righteousness that in the future God would give to him, and not to him only, but also to all those who love His appearing! God has promised a future reward for those of us today who live in anticipation and expectation of His return.

Now don't get me wrong - I love life and there is still much I want to experience. I want to see my son graduate from college (please, God, let my son graduate from college)! I want to walk my daughter down the aisle and give her away to the little pervert that will be standing down front! I want to ensure that my grandchildren become Ohio State Buckeye fans! I want to retire (at about the age of 48)! I want to grow old with my wife (who will get there a couple years ahead of me)! But I would trade all of that in today for Jesus to come back! I really would!

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Happy New Year!


"Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen."

Jude 1:24-25