Monday, July 31, 2006

corvettes and caves

Friday morning we drove to Bowling Green, Kentucky. For the uninitiated...this is the location of both the Corvette Assembly Plant and the National Corvette Museum.

Doesn't this sound like the perfect place for a family gathering? Tracy's mom and brother (huge car fans and co-owners of a '72 red vette with t-top) drove up from the Carolinas to meet us for supper. We were up bright and early Saturday morning to arrive at the museum for opening time.

This is one of those places where God tests my character and reminds me not to covet. Where do you cross that fine line beyond just having a healthy appreciation for a work of art and performance?

Let's just say that we had a great time that was over far too soon.

We said goodbye to Tracy's family and headed about 30 miles north to visit Diamond Caverns. At first 6 year old Seth said, "That looks creepy...I think I'm going to be afraid." But our hour long journey through this cave (that was discovered in the 1800's) was a cool experience. The kids really liked the cave spiders and these gi-normous underground crickets that were about 4 inches long with huge legs! To be more specific they liked them from about 5 feet away...any closer than that gives you the heegee-beegee's.

I asked our tour guide if he had any funny experiences to share. He said, "Well one time I was leading a group and noticed that we had lost a couple from the back of the line. I asked if anyone had seen what had happened. The people near the back said they had mumbled something about claustrophobia and then took off runnning. Nobody ever saw them again." Now at this point you need to know that the cave system is a labrynth so it wouldn't be easy to find your way out. But our tour guide said, "Apparantly they made it out alive, because at the end of the evening all the cars were gone out of the parking lot!"

When I pressed for more stories, he did remember a time when he was leading a group through a narrow passage and an overweight gentleman literally got stuck. He said they pulled and tugged and finally got him free. I commented on the fact that they closed the onsight restaurant recently. I asked, "Was there any connection?"

We spent the rest of the afternoon driving up to Cinncinnati. Tracy had found an awesome online website deal on a luxurious hotel that made us feel pretty pampered (and was only about $10 more than the old and rundown smokey joint we had stayed in the night before). We spent the evening in the pool turning our fingers to prunes.

I can't wait to tell you about our church visits in Cincinnati...but I guess it will have to wait till tomorrow.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

been gone

Have you been wondering, "Where is Joel? No posts?"

Sorry, we've been at a couple of hotels in a row that had NO WiFi access! Can you believe that? Talk about the dark ages (ha...a couple of years ago I had no idea what wireless internet was even about).

Well, we just pulled in and I've got a connection. But it is late Sunday night and we've done a lot of stuff in the last 3 I'll wait until tomorrow to begin a whole series of posts reporting on our ramblings in Kentucky and Ohio.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


This morning I was reading “The Dark Side of Leadership” and came across a section on the burden of expectations. If you think about it, expectations are one of the greatest sources of stress in our lives.

I feel blessed to be part of a church that gives me the freedom to be who God created me to be. My heart breaks for the many Christian leaders who buckle under the pressure of unrealistic expectations. It only takes me about 5 minutes talking with another pastor about the conditions at their church…for me to get on my knees and thank God for the privilege of serving at a place like Faith Church.

Yet even still, every person has a concept of what the perfect pastor should do and say. And those myriad of expectations can at times feel crushing.

This morning I began to pray:
God, people expect so much of me.

Some people think that I should do a certain list of things, and others want me to do the exact opposite.

Some expect me to be this kind of leader, and others want me to be the exact opposite.

Some want me to share their sets of priorities, and others want me to think the opposite.

God, at times I get tired of trying to be all that people expect of me. RIGHT NOW I just want to know, what do YOU expect of me?

Sometimes when you ask God a question, the answer doesn’t come right away. But as soon as my voice was silent, God immediately dropped an answer into my heart. And it happened in an instant. I heard one word:


Love is messy. Sometimes I do (or don’t do) things for my kids because I love them. And at times they don’t appreciate or understand that my actions are coming from love. Love is more about a motive than a product of perfection.

But if my motive is love (as a husband, father, pastor, friend, leader, servant)…God says that is enough. I have to believe that.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

peace in the middle east

I have a great love for the land of Israel. Having led multiple tour groups there, I have trembled in awe at the experience of walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Sitting and watching the sunrise from the banks of the Sea of Galilee while picturing the boat with Jesus… visualizing the countless miracles that took place on these shores… imagining his teaching in the surrounding fields. THESE are moments and memories that I cherish.

But one can’t help but fear how the current violence between Israel and Lebanon will end. People often think, “Why can’t they all just get along? Stop the fighting! What’s wrong with them!” I hear people respond with disgust at this ongoing violence. All around the world today there are people who are protesting (either for or against) the military actions of Israel.

Here is why I think there is little hope for peace in the long term… it is a little thing called “Human Nature”. When you hurt me, my natural response is to retaliate and hurt you back. Just watch 2 small children at play. This is not something that you have to teach. Retaliation and bitterness is the norm in human interaction.

I look at people that I know and work with everyday. Someone hurts your feelings, cheats you out of an opportunity, or any number of offenses (either intentional or accidental)… and deep inside begins a root of bitterness and a silent resolve to get even. You know exactly what I’m talking about. And it is not just you…it’s me too. It is our natural human response.

Now imagine that the offense against you was the senseless killing of your mother. Imagine it was a suicide bombing that killed your brother. Imagine your child was riding down the street on her bike and someone from the neighboring town struck them down with no regret or remorse.

Would your first response be, “Why can’t we all just get along? Let’s just stop the fighting. Peace is simple. Let’s just hold hands and be friends.” This would not be your natural reaction to having your world ripped to shreds. Most people would rather get angry and get even.

According to Jesus there is only ONE ANSWER. It’s the real “F word”. It is the power of forgiveness. To forgive means that I will choose to leave the scales unbalanced. I will choose to leave the score UNeven. You hurt me and I refuse to hurt you back.

Lack of forgiveness is the ultimate source of destruction in the world. It rips families apart and causes churches to implode. It might be a rift between you and a neighbor, or it might be a rift between Israelis and Palestinians. But the only way to find peace is for one side to say, “I quit. You win. You can hurt me and I will choose to NOT hurt you back.”

That probably will not happen anytime soon in the Middle East. But it can happen in your life. Some people are just jerks and they don’t want to get along. So when you forgive, do not then carry unrealistic expectations that everything will turn out pretty. You see, forgiveness may not bring peace to your relationships. But here’s what it will do. It WILL bring peace to your heart.

Monday, July 24, 2006

church visits GR - part 2

I mentioned in yesterday’s post (read below about Saturday night church) that we went to experience a worship phenomenon that is sweeping the nation! I know I made it sound like a dance fad…but in reality I’m talking about video venues.

We drove back to GR Sunday morning to a church where they just completed a massive facility expansion with 3 medium sized worship-designed rooms to complement the main auditorium. The rooms are called the ANNEX (seating about 200), the CHAPEL (seating about 200) and the STUDIO (seating about 400).

When you walk into the church on Sunday morning you can choose between the main auditorium or on of the 3 venues. Each room has a live band and a venue coordinator who serves as the host pastor. After a time of worship music and announcements, the live feed kicks in with the pastor giving a regular message that is broadcast from the main auditorium.

It was a neat experience to sit with a live crowd watching the pastor on a big screen. We laughed together, we clapped together, we followed all of the pastor’s cues. At the end of the message, the pastor prayed as the band came back on the platform. It was really easy to forget that we were listening to someone who was speaking in another room downstairs.

This is becoming a huge phenomenon with large churches starting video venues all across America. Some even use them as satellite campuses enabling their expansion to take place almost like a Starbucks franchise. It allows people to enjoy the quality programming, ministries, serving opportunities and powerful influence of a very large church…while at the same time enjoying the intimacy of a smaller crowd worshiping together in community.

On a side note, their children’s ministry facilities rocked! The registration process for the children was fairly impersonal and the volunteers never really showed any interest in us. But the creative design of their children’s department was top notch. I guess this was another reminder that you can have the fanciest equipment around, but it really comes down to having volunteers trained to smile and engage with people who come through the doors (rather than just going through the motions).

The way that people see Jesus is through the love and care of His people. Please make sure that you go out of your way to make someone feel welcome. Take a stranger under your wing and help them find their way around. You might feel embarrassed to introduce yourself to someone, only to find out that they have been around for years (maybe even serving as one of the pastors or board leaders). But a little embarrassment is nothing compared to the sadness of seeing people slip through the cracks. People come to church on Sunday searching for many different things. But one thing that every person is glad to find is a friend.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

church visits GR - part 1

Last evening (Saturday) we went to Hastings to pick up our 9 year old Kate from kid's camp. She had a great time. Believe it or not, one of the most exciting things for her was the opportunity to ride a school bus on their trip to the lake. She had never been on a bus before and now one of her lifelong dreams has been fulfilled. As a kid, the small joys are often the greatest!

We then scooted quickly up towards Grand Rapids to visit the 6pm Saturday night service at Kentwood Community Church. Senior Pastor Wayne Schmidt caught sight of us in the lobby and came right over. He said, "Joel, you're the second pastor on sabbatical who has walked through the doors tonight in the last 5 mintues." I guess this was the place to be for pastors on the run!

KCC has an amazing worship center and Wayne provides such gentle and loving (and yet firm, visionary and strategic) leadership for this outstanding church. One of the highlights of the evening was an introduction and commissioning prayer for a new Wesleyan pastor in town. I love it when we get to do those kinds of things at Faith Church (giving blessing to other ministries and church plants)... but Kentwood has for many years demonstrated an unprecedented generosity in sending its people out to be part of new works for Christ. Thank you Wayne for your unselfish Kingdom mindset.

For me personally, one of the things I enjoyed most about the service is that it was Saturday night. There is something that I have always loved about the feeling of an evening worship service and the prospect of going out with friends and family afterward...followed by a lazy Sunday morning to sleep in. I guess I have Saturday Night Fever! Statistitically however Saturday night services don't attract nearly the crowds that Sunday morning services attract. It will be a challenge for us at Faith as we discern which direction to go with our 3rd service option in the future. Stay tuned and be praying about when you would like to see an alternative worship venue take place.

But you won't be surprised to learn that we did NOT sleep in on Sunday morning. We crawled out of bed bright and early to drive back to GR for one of the more unique worship options found in all of Michigan. A worship idea that is sweeping the nation and may even have an affect on our future at churches in Lansing. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow.

Friday, July 21, 2006

God's heart for MSU

Yesterday morning Tracy left (a little after 7am) to take Kate to kid's camp. Our little girl was so excited to go that she was about ready to burst. She said, "I've been waiting so long for camp to start that I can't believe its finally here." It was like Christmas morning for her.

I spent the morning reading, writing and praying. Then I pulled out Seth's bike and decided, today is when we take the training wheels off. That lasted for about 2 minutes. He wasn't so sure about this whole 2 wheel/balance/pedal thing. There's no use forcing it. Like everybody, I guess he'll learn in his own time. You can't make somebody want to take those next steps in their life. They have to want it for themselves. Sounds like a metaphor for life, doesn't it?

When Tracy arrived back home, I was ready to get on the cycle (my own, not Seth's) and hit the road. I didn't set out with any particular destination and ended up on campus at MSU. I rode the trails up and down the Red Cedar River and soaked up the beauty of the environment.

My heart broke as I thought of all the students, faculty and staff who are searching for answers about the world... and yet finding very few answers about their own souls. I prayed that God would use Faith and other churches in the area to make a significant impact on campus. I'm excited about a new college-focused ministry that we're going to be starting this fall. I prayed for Greg and Jen Thompson as the leaders and I look forward to God using us to bring spiritual food to this hungry place. We've done many CIA outreach events on campus and we'll be doing a whole bunch more!

My legs had turned to jelly by the time I got home. So what do you do when you're worn out? How about mowing the grass!

Then Tracy went out for the evening to see a movie with some friends. With Kate at camp, it meant time for the boys to go out and do manly things. So I pulled out the bowling ball (which I haven't touched in years), and Seth and I went to Holiday Lanes. I'm embarassed to tell you that our first game I bowled a 99 (yeah, that'll keep you humble). 6 year old Seth is no athlete, but he's got a great attitude. We had a blast!

He said, "Dad, I love it when somebody get's a strike." I said, "Yeah, its fun to watch all the pins flying all over the place". He said, "No Dad, I love it because they put a big X on the screens and show a funny little movie!"

Whatever it takes to keep you motivated.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

the Door and the Way

Yesterday I spent the morning at Gone Wired Cafe with a big cup of coffee. I finished the book (mentioned earlier in the July archive) by Roy Hession "We Would See Jesus".

Written in 1958, this book reads with grammer and terminology that do not readily connect with 2006 (it will never be a bestseller). But I have to say that I did not so much read it, as chew, ponder and digest it.

His main point is that we so often get wrapped up in the things of God, the ways of God, the teachings of God and the expecations of Christianity...that we miss the true source of our connection with God himself: the person of Jesus.

We think, "I feel distant from God. I need to pray more, read the Bible more, and do more in ministry. I need a time of refreshing and revival. I need Jesus to do a new work in my life. I need to experience a new touch from the Spirit. I remember the good days when I used to be so close to God, back when I was more spiritually connected."

Hession says, "Now what has gone wrong here? In that time of revival we were in a crisis experience, a DOOR experience. The Spirit was convicting us, and we saw Jesus as the One who would bring us into peace and victory if we would repent. But we did not see the steps of consenting to conviction (brokenness and repentance, which we were taking) were not only the DOOR but also the WAY which we were to travel ever after. We certainly saw that those humbling steps were necessary to bring us into the state of peace and fellowship with God which we needed, but we did not expect to have to repeat them very often."

Following Christ is a continual process of each and every day saying, "Jesus, I humble myself before You. Jesus, I am Your servant and I love You. Jesus, use me to accomplish Your plan in the world. Not my will but Yours be done."

But instead of seeking Jesus, we seek the blessings and results that we expect from Jesus. Hession says, "Oh God,' the intensely earnest soul will pray, 'I will pay any cost to have revival, to enjoy Your power on my ministry.' But in the shadows often lurk subtle motives of self-interest and self-glory. Little wonder, then, that in spite of our agonizings in prayer, God has not allowed us to reach those ends. Even if our motives are quite free from self-interest, those things are not to be ends or reasons for which we get right with the Lord. Our END is to be the Lord Jesus Himself. The reason for getting right should not be that we might have revival, or power, or be used of God, or have this or that blessing, BUT THAT WE MIGHT HAVE HIM."


God, forgive me for the times that I have been more concerned about results than relationship. I confess my need for You. I give You each moment. Each breath, may it be of Your Spirit. Each word, may it be from Your tongue. Each thought, may it be surrendered to You. Each day is another opportunity to bring worship and honor to You.

And anything that I try to do for You, may it be void of any self-interest. I want to be the branch that is simply baring fruit from your True Vine.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

update on Hawk Maier

Last night we went over to the Maier family house to deliver supper for them. Remember in my post from earlier this month the prognosis had been pretty grim for little Hawk (our 3 year old from Faith who has been battling Leukemia). Read these to catch up:

Well folks...the miracles and good news continue to bring amazement. His test numbers keep coming back with massive improvement from the chemo and his lungs seem to be returning to strength. Can you believe that the doctors are now talking about doing the bone marrow transplant again? And SOON!

Hawk's father Doug writes: If there are no signs of leukemia (on next week's test), they may try to go ahead with a second bone marrow transplant which could happen as soon as mid- to late-August. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was expecting to have his funeral by then. I can't tell you how happy we are to know that Hawk still has a chance. It's amazing what prayers can do."

We continue to believe and pray hard that "He who started a good work will be faithful to complete it!"

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

pray for grumpy

This weekend an older guy came up to me a in a public place because he recognized me. He had never been to Faith, but he had seen me speak. He began to tell me about his church background and all the people he had known in the “Wesleyan Church” (the network we’re part of at Faith Church).

Then he made an interesting statement. He said, “I’d never again go to a Wesleyan Church.

Well that was a pretty brash statement so I decided to bite on the hook: “Why is that?

He said, “Because most of them don’t even have Sunday night services anymore. Many don’t have Wednesday night prayer meetings anymore. It’s a real shame.”

I asked again, “And why is that a problem?

He said, “Well the Bible tells us that we’re supposed to tithe. And that’s more than just money. That’s also 10% of our time. I go to a good old fashioned church and people come to services 3 times a week. I remember as a kid we used to even have an afternoon service on Sunday. That was 4 times a week. People should be more committed.”

Well, at this point I could have chosen to keep my mouth shut or I could speak up. Which do you think I did? I decided to dive in. He was making a pretty judgmental statement about these modern churches, so I decided to ask more about his church, “Wow, that sure is a lot of going to church and just sitting. And what exactly do YOU do for outreach?

He said, “Well, our pastor goes out calling every week. He visits people in the church all the time. He used to do more, but his wife just died recently…so we understand why he’s slacking off a little bit.” (I’m not making this up. This is really what he said.)

I pushed back a little harder, “I didn’t ask about the pastor. I asked about the Christians in your church. You said that people should be more committed. And that you’re glad because the people of your church come to 3 services a week. That’s a lot of time to come and sit. What are you doing for outreach?

He said, “Well sometimes the people go out and do calling too. They go out and visit the sick and shut-ins.”

I said, “That’s great. But that’s visiting people who are already part of your church. How are you personally trying to go out and share the love of Christ with people in your community…people who have no connection to a personal faith in Jesus?

There was no answer.

I hope I didn’t push the boundaries to the point of rudeness. He was criticizing churches that were not like his. I was trying to get a handle on how his church was trying to accomplish the Great Commission. Is God calling us to COME AND SIT? Or is God calling us to GO AND SHARE?

I finished the conversation with an offer of peace saying, “Well, that’s why I’m glad there are all kinds of churches for all kinds of people. Your church will connect with people that other churches may not. And the churches that you don’t like will hopefully be reaching people that would never connect with your church.”

May we all do our part in the Kingdom with grace and love.

Monday, July 17, 2006

church in lansing - part 2

As mentioned yesterday, we then drove across town to church #2 of the day. This visit was at one of the largest churches in Lansing. It is a great church that has excellence in music, teaching, ministry and more.

The oddest part was running into so many people that we know. At every corner someone would say, "Joel & Tracy, what are you doing here?!"

One observation however was the "homogeny" of the population. It seemed that just about every other person was a white suburban professional with nice clothes and a fancy car. It kind of had the country club "this is the place to be" kind of feel. I didn't see many body-piercings, tattoos, rock and roll wannabes, ethnic diversity or blue collar hourly good 'ole boys. This is not a criticism (it's not as if they have a sign up that says "must look clean-cut to enter"). But it is an interesting observation on how like is often attracted to like. Whether a church wants it or not, they tend to grow towards some prevailing societal group.

The music and times of worship here were more powerful (to me personally) than any other church we have visited so far (5 weekend services in the last 9 days). It wasn't just the style. It was the heart of the worship leader. At most of the other churches, the leader was trying to work through glitches in the band or sound or video. The lack of planning, prepartion and practice prevented the other worship leaders from fully engaging and just entering into the experience. They always had to be making corrections, while trying to keep everybody together.

While some people might be turned off to the fact that this most recent band and tech team was so well-rehearsed...I think it allowed the worship team to enter more fully into worship without worrying about transitions and technicalities. Every lighting change was smooth, every key change as if they had done it a thousand times before.

Yes, I would agree that there is something beautiful about spontineity. But there is also something beautiful about an offering of excellence that prevents glitches and experience that flows and allows people to place their focus on God without wondering if we're going to see a platform trainwreck.

I am so thankful for all the hardworking staff and volunteers at Faith Church who put in many hours each week to facilitate a powerful experience of worship to God.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

church in lansing - part 1

Today we went to 2 churches right here in the Lansing area. It was a neat experience to worship at some great Christian communities, both of which are actively carrying out their calling.

We visited the first church for a 9:00a service. There was great signage and traffic flow leading to the children's ministry area. We were greeted warmly and led to our children's classes. The downside was security. There was no procedure in place to make sure our kids could only be picked up by us and no way for their group leaders to locate us if any problems were to arise. For whatever reason, there were not many children there for the 9:00a service and many families chose not to have their kids participate, instead keeping them in the "big church" service.

I'm sure the music was solid, but it was hard to tell with the muddy sound mix. The pastor was an old school guy with a huge heart and big personality.

The demographics were pretty similar to Faith Church and the size of the total attendance was very similar. They seemed to be struggling through the tension of large church or small church. They have been growing and doing some great things! But they also have that kind of down-home family feel that can be both good and bad. If you're not a regular, you at times feel out of the loop.

Many of their practices will probably either change with growth or will limit their growth. My prayer is that the latter will take place as they continue to break through barriers. People need Jesus and this church has a role to play in bringing many to Christ.

Tomorrow I'll tell you about our visit to church #2 of the morning!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

wedding this weekend

This weekend I am doing a wedding for a great couple. Last night at the rehearsal dinner I was listening to the groom talk about how this whole experience almost doesn't feel real. He can't believe that he is actually going to be a husband. They are both still in college and it kind of reminds me of when Tracy and I were first married.

I was 21 and she was 19. We were so hard on each other and would get in little squables all the time. I understand how marriages can fall apart within those first few years. It is a tough process rounding off all those rough edges. Like two rocks in a bag that continually rub against one another, we learned to not be so picky and we helped smooth and round off each other's personalities.

The Bible says that we are to keep each other sharp "as iron sharpens iron". But I think we also help to keep each other smooth as sandpaper polishes stone. I love my wife more than words can say. This sabbatical is becoming a great time to invest in family and give thanks for this great gift God has given me: the best wife in the world (for me) and 2 kids who keep life fun and interesting.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Foundations for Our Beliefs

Last night I went to a worship service led by some great and godly men. One of the songs featured was a classic "Pass Me Not". We sang, "Savior hear my humble cry, while on others you are calling, do not pass me by." It is a beautiful song that people really enjoy. It brings back memories from my childhood. But I wonder how often we sing songs like this that often subtly reinforce bad theology. Is it true that God calls on some while neglecting others? Do we have to beg him to give us some attention to make sure he doesn't pass us by and that we get our fair share?

I know it may seem like I'm making a big deal out of nothing. But these ideas subtly shape our understanding of God.

Then the speaker (a great man of God for whom I have great respect) began his teaching with a passionate introduction proposing ideas that were dear to his heart. There is no scriptural support for anything that he said. Now don't misunderstand, these ideas were not bad. They were just personal opinions and values that he and most of the crowd shared. This led to a large round of applause (the most energy the crowd showed the entire evening).

The night before, we attended a worship service where the speaker spent 30 minutes teaching doctrine that most in the room could agree with...but yet again, there was no biblical support provided to back up what he was saying.

Draw your own application from these observations. Do you know whether the songs you are singing and the beliefs that you hold are from the Bible? As a pastor, there are times when it can be difficult to have people question or challenge my position on things. And yet I am thankful to lead a church filled with people who don't just take things for granted. What foundation are you building your beliefs upon?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

God's Desire for Us

Often I have been impacted by the truth that every person has a “God-shaped hole in their heart”. It is a truth that I have come to believe through more than just studying Scripture. It is a truth that reveals itself in people’s lives over and over again. We hunger for something more. And yet the more we try to fill that void in our lives through money, pleasure, success, friends, power and the things we think will bring satisfaction…the more hungry we continue to become. It is classic evidence that God designed us to have a relationship with Him and nothing else will fill us up.

But today I was reading an old book from 1958 by Roy Hession called “We Would See Jesus”. He said something that really grabbed my attention in a fresh way. He wrote, “It has been said that there is a God-shaped blank in every man’s heart. It is ALSO true that there is a man-shaped blank in God’s heart. It is because of the latter that God yearns so much for us and pursues us so relentlessly, and it is because of the former that mere earthly things, even service (ministry), will never satisfy our hearts.”

I think on that day when we enter into the unveiled presence of God (for those who trust Christ for their forgiveness)… I think we will probably be shocked and overwhelmed to realize how much God loves us.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Lessons in the Rain

Yesterday was one I'll never forget.

Monday night we went to the evening worship service at Winding Creek Camp in Hastings. There we picked up my 15 year old nephew to bring back to Lansing with us. We got him an extra ticket for the evening concert with Keb Mo and Bonnie Raitt. John is a great kid and a talented guitar player, so I knew this night was going to be something he'd enjoy. But we ended up with even more excitement than we had bargained for.

The gates were to open Tuesday at 5:30p with the first act coming on stage at 7:30p. But knowing that crowds could be huge (and that we really wanted to get up close to see Bonnie, one of our favorite artists)... Tracy dropped John and I off at the gate with our lawn chairs to get in line early. We set up camp at about 2:30p and settled in for the long haul. And everything was going great. That is...until it started to sprinkle. We thought, "Hey this is no big deal. A little water never hurt anybody". But somewhere around 3:00p all that changed. Around that time, the heavens broke forth and the water did surge downward and the flooding began. We sat hunched over with our head on our knees trying to keep somewhat dry. Surronded by our 84 cent ponchos, it didn't take long until every inch was drenched. We sat there as the gutters turned into raging rivers. At one point I think I saw Noah float by!

But our endurance was rewarded with a center seat in row 6 (and that's in a venue that can hold close to 10,000). Unfortunately the rain didn't stop. Have you ever had to wear clothes that were soaking wet for up to 10 hours? It is not for the weak of heart! And let me just say that Bonnie Raitt now ranks as #1 in my book for artists who are devoted to their fans. Her band continued to play on a leaky stage which was potentially ruining their instruments and equipment. But as long as people were willing to stay, she was determined to give them their money's worth (even if she ended up electrocuted by the wires running through puddles on stage)!

One AH-AH moment of the evening (I'm always looking for ah-ah's a sickness)... was when we were standing there after another short burst of hard rain. John pointed and said, "Look up there". We thought it had pretty much stopped (for a least a moment) and had taken off our hoods. I turned around and saw that he was pointing at some spotlights shining over our heads. Our perception in the darkness was that the rain had stopped for a moment. But in the light you could see that the rain was still pouring down and was brightly illuminated.

Because we were in darkness and were already completely drenched by the water, we were unable to perceive that it was still raining. But that beam of light revealed something that we could not perceive.

It made me wonder how often I am in things and surrounded by them in ways that I don't even perceive. But I am so thankful for the light of Christ. His brightness reveals things that I don't even realize. Sometimes it is painful to realize how soaked by sin our lives often become. But once we come to grips with the mess that we're in...that is when we can choose the freedom that Christ's love brings.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Ft Wayne - Part 3

In the post below I told you about our 2nd church visit this weekend. We then pulled out of the parking lot and drove down the road to Grace Gathering (formerly Grace Fellowship Church) in New Haven.

We learned of Grace because they used the same company that is working on the design for our future facilities dreaming at Faith Church. The McKnight Group just completed this project and they have been using it for about 6 weeks. Grace has a lot of similarities to Faith Church in their past, present and future stories. They are just a couple of years ahead of our journey. Check them out at

They put on an amazing children’s program called Kidstuf which is a package program from Northpointe Ministries. Its runtime is sandwiched between their 2 services so that a family can come and worship together at Kidstuf from 10:10a-10:50a. And then you can leave your children there for a more small group oriented time as the parents go to the worship service.

The building is almost the same square footage as the design that we are working on for our plans. At the Information Desk we received a free coupon for coffee drinks at the café. The café was hopping and people seemed to be loving the seating areas around the fireplace. The pastor was a solid teacher and the environment of the room was a really great environment for worship. They had about 300 chairs set up auditorium style with another 200 seating options around tables on the perimeter.

One thing that really stood out at Grace was the large and passionate team of volunteers. They have people stationed all over the place and everyone seemed to know exactly what they were doing. It was exciting to see people find joy in serving.

They tried to accomplish a combination of industrial contemporary surfaces with warmth and comfort and it really worked well. Because of their similarities, it really gave us a window into what the ministries of Faith Church might feel like in a facility designed for the future.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Ft Wayne - Part 2

After a great evening with the Christensen’s and Level.13 (read below from yesterday’s post)…we got up and hit the hotel breakfast bar early to begin another round of church visits.

We started out with the 8:15a service at a church that everyone in town told us was “the place to go” in Ft Wayne. It is a great ministry that has gained a well-deserved reputation for outreach and connecting with families of all ages. They also put a real focus on racial diversity.

One down side was the inaccuracy of the website. It told us that there was full children’s ministry at all the services (including the early one we attended). However they had closed the early service children’s ministry for the summer, while failing to inform the website manager. Our kids were pretty disappointed to have to come and sit with Mom and Dad. But they perked up when it came time for announcements. You heard me right! The announcements rocked! They did all kinds of silly video and dramatic elements (including a 250 lb. African American linebacker dancing across the stage in a pink tu-tu and singing Bohemian Rhapsody to lyrics about their food pantry) to promote upcoming events. It was one of the most creative things I had ever seen. It was worth going to this church just to see the announcements!

The other downside was the volume of the music. The band sounded weak and anemic and barely loud enough to fill the room (probably because they wanted to keep it subtle for the early service). I think that really diminished people’s connection to the worship times.

But all around this was a great church with a true heart for Christ. The greeters were friendly but really had no idea what was going on for children’s ministry that morning. They had to ask 3 or 4 people just to find out what was going on for kids. Until… they took us to Jorja at the Information Desk. She made us her personal project for the morning. She showed us around the building before the worship service began. And then when we sat down, she must have kept an eye on us. Because as soon as the service ended she zipped right up behind us and said, a “Let’s show you the rest of the building and try to answer some more questions for you”. She then proceeded to introduce us to different staff members and just generally served as the ultimate host.

Jorja was the perfect example of someone who breaks down the boundaries of awkwardness that exists when you walk into a new environment as a stranger. I pray that God will continue to raise up Jorja’s who will make it their personal responsibility to make people feel welcome in the fellowship of believers. It is a hugely intimidating experience for many people to walk into a church and God uses people like Jorja to make the love of Jesus real and practical in a tangible way.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the next church visit of the morning (one of the main reasons we came to Ft Wayne this weekend).

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Ft Wayne - Part 1

This weekend we are visiting friends and churches in Ft Wayne, Indiana. We pulled into town this afternoon (Saturday) at about 1:30pm and made tracks straight to the first Chick-Fil-A in town. Having grown up in the southern states, this chain is our family's #1 choice. My very first job was working at a Chick-Fil-A in Martinsville, VA when I was 14 years old. Truett Cathy (the founder) was a great Christian man who founded a company that still carries on with biblical business principles and is even closed on Sundays to allow employees to have a day to connect with family and go to church. Pretty cool.

Then we checked into the hotel and spent some time in the pool. The kids loved splashing me and playing "let's drown Daddy"!

Then we packed up and headed to Level.13 Church. This new outreach is being co-founded with our very own Kory and Becky Christensen from Faith Church. The lead pastor, Rob Tippey (and wife, Melinda), is also a friend from college. Their worship gathering is 6pm on Saturday. They meet in a storefront that is set up a lot like a coffeehouse. The service started with a family style meal and then the band came on stage and kicked into overdrive. They have really implemented a lot of the ministry models from Faith Church. I loved hearing the stories of "Echo-Ops" (their version of CIA) as they get out in the community to share Christ's love in a practical way. Also their HomeGroups have adopted a similar philosophy. Some of the people who are getting connected with this new church are really experiencing lifechange on a personal level. They have a lot of challenges that they're facing, but the potential is huge (and the band was amazing)!

We helped tear down all the "portable church" equipment (although we were probably more underfoot than we were helpful). And then we went out to Culver's with the Christensens. They wanted to hear all the latest Faith Church news and were asking lots of questions about the potential new facility plans. We pulled back into the hotel at about 11:30pm and I'm writing this just before bed.

I'm praying that tomorrow will be a great day back home and I know Pastor Lynn is going to hit the ball out of the park as she encourages people to "Lose Their Religion".

In the morning we'll get up really early to hit our 2nd church on the "Gorveatte Worldwide Tour"!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Last Day in the Office

Yesterday (Thursday) was my last day in the office prior to the big famous Sabbatical. I started with a meeting at 7:30am and finished with the last meeting ending at about 8:30pm. It was the big sprint to the finish line trying to get all the loose ends tied up before "elvis leaves the building".

Then I went straight home and scooped up the family and we went to the East Lansing Movie in the Park event. It was a 9:30pm outdoor showing of "Ice Age: The Meltdown". We took one of the ladies from Faith Church who has become like a grandparent to our kids, and we met with another family from the church to watch the movie (it was right behind Beaner's, so all the adults enjoyed ridiculously expensive coffee drinks too). The movie was really funny, but there was definitely some "adult content" that I wish had not been included. One of the main story lines was about 2 Wooly Mammoths who feel their responsibility to propogate their species and prevent their breed from extinction. That part of the story line was a funny situation comedy bit that was great for adults, but there were some uncomfortable moments where the Mammoths talked about their need to breed. I think we could have done without that.

This week it has been kind of funny because everybody who would walk into the church and see me would say, "Hey what are you doing here!!! You're supposed to be taking time off!" I kept explaining, over and over again, that Sunday was my last Sunday but I was still planning on wrapping up the week in the office.

I have to say again, it is a wonderful thing to feel so loved and appreciated that people are trying to guard our family time and bless us with this 40 day journey of discovery. The discovery part is me realizing and fully trusting that our awesome pastoral staff and team of leaders are fully capable of handling any challenge that comes their way. Sometimes it is an eye-opener when we finally acknowledge that the whole world does not revolve around self. We have such a great team and I feel it an amazing honor that I get to work with such talented and passionate leaders. It's a dream team for sure!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Hope rises again!

What a great God! I just got off the phone with Doug Maier (the father of our little 3 year old guy Hawk who has been in serious danger for his life). They were just given some great news.

Since September 2005, Hawk's Leukemia has been complicated by chronic lung disease. Most recently they believed that the spots on his lungs were due to a life-threatening fungus. This was preventing their prefered course for chemo, and since his Leukemia has been advancing so rapidly that could prove fatal. Without chemo he can't get to the point where a bone marrow transplant is even a possibility. In fact, the lung issue (along with the status of his GVH) prevented them from being able to be part of a bone marrow surgery at St. Judes this past Spring. Are you getting the picture? This chronic lung disease has been a serious complication.

Then today the doctors come in and say, "We were wrong. The biopsy results came back and his lungs are clear." Pardon me? Did you say clear? YES. They NOW say that it must be asthma instead. Or could it be God?

The ramifications? Chemo can start immediately. And a new and more effective kind of chemo (that he was not a candidate for before because of the lung disease...the lung disease that is not there!) Whereas yesterday the doctors were sounding very fatalistic, today there is a whole new sense of hope and excitement.

Just one more thing. Before they start chemo, don't you think they should test one more time just to make sure that the Leukemia is still there? Doug said, "We have to believe God has a plan in all of this". And it is possible that God's plan still involves radical and complete healing.

July 4th

We had a great day for July 4th.

I called first thing in morning to get the results from our big July 3rd CIA outreach at the Delta Township fireworks display. I had missed it due to the lateness of my return from the hospital in Detroit. Here's the scoop. We provided 6 porta-potties (stationed in the Lansing Mall parking lot for the massive crowds) and handed out thousands of bags of candy. We even had a crew that washed windshields and provided solvent for people's cars. And the coolest part? More than 120 people from Faith Church were out in the community sharing Christ's love in a practical way. I love being part of a church that is so driven to reach out!

Also exciting is the knowledge that our sister church (Willow) was reaching people with Christ's love through CIA ministries just down the road at Sharpe Park.

For half the day on July 4th we played in the sprinkler with the kids in the backyard (the simple pleasures are often the greatest). Riley, our big black Labrador Retriever, probably had more fun in the sprinkler than the kids. He jumped and danced trying to grab the water. It was hilarious.

Then we spent the evening with a family from the church who live on a lake. We had a cookout, played music, took the kids out in the boats, and ended the evening watching fireworks.

It was one of those days where you feel especially glad for the joys of summer. I love my family so much. And kids are especially fun...because it gives me a great excuse for doing "kid stuff".

However, this morning I woke up and found 6 year old Seth in the bathroom throwing up. Yikes! The joy of having's all great fun until somebody pukes.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Hawk's World

Today I spent the entire day in the hospital with a most amazing family. They have a 3 year old boy with Leukemia who has been battling for about a year and a half. Things are not going well and they are preparing to start another massive round of chemo, all the while trying to fight off chronic disease in his lungs.

I wholeheartedly believe that God can heal. I've seen Him do amazing miracles. Yet I admit that on a day like today, I struggle with what words to pray.

I don't understand why God allows these things to happen. But I often see the results of his work in people who live through great trauma. There seems to be a deep well of strength that exists in people who have found it necessary to depend on God for their very breath.

Is it true that spiritual muscle is only built through trial and faith stretching experiences? If so, I spent the day with 2 parents who are becoming some of the strongest people I know.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Getting Started was the last Sunday I'll be teaching at Faith Church until late August. Sabbatical begins after this week. It is a weird feeling to realize that I won't be a pastor for 5 weeks.

Tracy and I moved to Lansing and began our journey with Faith Church in August of 1995. We are so grateful to be part of such an amazing Faith community. And it also feels great to know that we are so appreciated and that the board wanted to bless us with this time.

Having said that, I hope I don't go crazy not being at the office everyday and living in the center of the action!