Thursday, August 31, 2006

holiday weekend worship

This Sunday is Labor Day weekend. It's always a guessing game when it comes to how many people will be at church for a holiday weekend. At Faith Church, we used to kind of let our "B" game service slide out and we saved our "A" game services for any time other than a holiday weekend.

But a few years ago we changed that mindset. Now we often plan some of our best worship experiences for holiday weekends. We want it to feel like something special happens every week!

If you have to be away this weekend, I hope you have an awesome time of rest and refreshment. But pray for us at Faith, because we're going to be rocking the house for Jesus and the topic for the day is going to be really powerful.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

creating disturbances

I recently came across these comments by an American Pastor. He was writing to complain about all the new trends in worship music. He said:

There are several reasons for opposing it. One, it’s too new. Two, it’s often worldly… The new Christian music is not as pleasant as the more established style. Because there are so many new songs you can’t learn them all. It puts too much emphasis on instrumental music rather than godly lyrics. This new music creates disturbances making people act indecently and disorderly. The preceding generation got along without it. It’s a money-making scheme, and some of the new music upstarts are lewd and loose.”

Oh by the way, this pastor said these things in 1723. And do you know whom he was talking about? Isaac Watts, author and composer of some of the most famous classic hymns of the church. Those are the criticisms that Isaac Watts faced 300 years ago as he wrote hymns like “I Sing the Mighty Power of God”, “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed”, “At the Cross”, “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us”, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and the famous Christmas song “Joy to the World”.

The revolutionary controversies of today often become the established and cherished traditions of tomorrow. Aren’t you glad that God keeps doing new things to shake up the world? And when someone gives you a hard time about forging forward in a new direction…just think of Isaac Watts being attacked for “creating disturbances”. Get out there and create some new disturbances for Jesus!

Monday, August 28, 2006


Friday, I was riding in the car with Seth (my 6 year old son). It was just the two of us.

Normally Seth is a goofball who loves to be silly and talk about cartoons and funny stuff. But all of a sudden he got fairly serious. He said, "Dad, I learned something last week at church." I asked, "What did you learn, buddy?"

Seth said, "Dad, they taught us the ABC's." I thought, "This is not impressive. My son is 6 years old. He already knows the ABC's."

He said, "No Dad, we learned about the ABC's of Jesus." He then proceeded to tell me about God's plan for our salvation:

A - admit that you've done wrong in your life
B - believe Christ died on the cross so we could be forgiven
C - choose to become a Christian and live as a follower of Jesus

I was impressed. My 6 year old had just explained to me the basic theology of the Christian faith. And it seemed to be more than just words. He seemed to have a grasp of what this concept means.

At that point he said, "Dad, I prayed last night. I prayed the ABC's and I gave my life to Jesus."


Yeah God! And thank you to the volunteers in the children's ministry at Faith Church. You are making a huge impact on the lives of our kids.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

big picture

Do you ever get so focused on the details that you lose sight of the BIG picture? I know I sure do.

Maybe today would be a good day to pray, " the midst of all that I'm focusing on right now in my life, what is your main goal for me?"

Friday, August 25, 2006

feeling like the red cross

Do you ever feel like the "Red Cross"? Everbody comes with all their problems and hopes that you can give help and direction? How inadequate do you feel to meet their needs or answer their questions?

In the last 2 days, here I some of the people who have sought my guidance (talk about intimidating):

-a 23 year old newlywed (I did their wedding) who's parents both died in a car accident this week. She and her new husband will likely take custody of her 15 year old brother and she is trying to stay strong for her 18 and 20 year old sisters. She and her husband are trying to hold everything together and they have barely even begun to process their own grief.

-a young couple who have made some mistakes and are trying to get right with God. They wanted my opinion on what God wants for their lives.

-a wife and mother who is facing some huge decisions as she and her husband decide which direction their careers should lead them. She wanted to know, "What is the difference between asking God for confirmations, as opposed to testing God and treating him like a spiritual vending machine?"

-a ministry leader who is feeling overwhelmed with responsibility and the challenges of dealing with people's expectations. How can they find peace in the midst of inner turmoil?

-a husband who is desparately afraid that his wife is going to leave him.

All of these dropped on my doorstep within a period of a little more than 24 hours. Do you think I feel competent enough and filled with wisdom to provide all that these people need?

Absolutely not.

So what do you do when people come to you in times of crisis? Love them. Listen. Care about what they are going through. Provide balance and perspective to the issues they are facing (usually they are focused on only one side of the issue). And most importantly, trust the Holy Spirit to speak to them in ways that you cannot.

I usually pray, "God, I don't have all the answers. Please help me keep my mouth shut when appropriate, and to speak when necessary. And may the words from my lips be honoring to you and provide blessing and encouragement to the lives of those around me."

Thursday, August 24, 2006

tithing relevant?

I received an email from a great guy who is just starting to catch on fire for Christ. He came to our membership class and was wondering about the issue of tithing. He sent me an email to question whether or not this is a New Testament command (or something only relevant to the Old Testament).

There are some great Christians out there who are certain and zealous about the abolition of the O.T. law which frees us from things like tithing. I both agree & disagree with them (how's that for a firm answer?).

I agree that Christ came to free us from the law of the O.T… but he said he didn’t come to abolish, rather to fulfill it (to fill in the blanks, to make it complete). Therefore he said the O.T. law forbids us from committing adultery, but the real spiritual principle behind that law is not to even look at a woman with lust. The O.T. law said don’t kill, but Jesus emphasized that we shouldn’t even curse someone. Jesus focused on the principle of the law. He said the bar is way down low when you only deal with the technical aspect…but Jesus said, “It’s not about the bare minimum you can do. It’s about raising the bar and doing even more than the minimum of what God requires with an attitude of love in your hearts.”

That is the very reason why I believe tithing is relevant to the N.T. Remembering that his message was to the Jews who were already religious, Jesus didn’t have to go out and preach at them saying, “You need to tithe your income in obedience to God.” He didn’t have to say it, because they were already doing it. And when he criticized the Pharisees he didn’t say, “Stop giving 10% and just live in the freedom of N.T. grace.” He said, “You already give 10%...that’s good. Don’t stop doing that. But understand that it is so much more than that. It’s not 10% God’s and 90% yours. It’s ALL Gods. Give with love and joy in your heart.”

Unlike a lot of principles that we must extrapolate from Scripture, tithing is something that Jesus spoke about specifically. And he affirmed it. Just like the above mentioned issues (adultery, murder)…it’s not just about doing the minimum of what Scripture says. It’s about making that the starting point, the base line, the beginning. And to go from there in order to give even MORE in honor of God’s blessing in my life.

I pray that everyone will someday take that step of faith and believe God to provide for their needs...while learning the joy of giving ridiculous and crazy amounts to his kingdom. It's one of those areas where Tracy and I have just turned it over to the Father and we've seen him bless us back time and time again!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

any impact from our efforts?

Today I was second hand to a conversation with 2 people who were debating the merits of Al Gore's movie on global warming.

Most in the scientific community agree that there is a warming of the environment that is currently taking place. The issue of debate is concerning "to what extent humans are responsible". After all...there was a global warming that took place following the Ice Age (if you agree on that). There were no cars and pollutants back then, right? Many environmental changes take place over history. The environment changes. FACT. The question at hand is to what extent this current observable trend of warming may be OUR fault.

Let's assume it IS our fault. Can we do anything about it? What difference are my little efforts going to make in the grand scheme of an environmental meltdown? My little efforts at recycling and efficiency aren't going to change the world. Right?

Or will they? At Faith Church we operate under the assumption that small things done with great love make a huge difference. If we didn't believe that our little efforts at touching people's lives with the love of Christ have any impact...then we wouldn't do all the outreach projects that we do.

But we BELIEVE. That is why we reach out with passion and the belief that our efforts make a difference (be it small or large). We believe that the compound synergy of multiplied efforts can have an impact.

Does this principle relate to environmental issues? My can't hurt. Excuse me for a minute while I take my plastic milk jugs to the curb for recycling and then hop on my bicycle to ride to work. A little bit of effort on my part won't solve all environmental problems. But even if it helps a little, at least it won't hurt anything to try.

And yet how much MORE important still is our responsibility to save people from an eternity separated from God? Small things done with great love make a huge difference!

Monday, August 21, 2006

tour guide or fellow traveler

Spencer Burke says that the previous metaphor for leadership was that of a tour guide, where "one person finds the way and tells someone else how to get there." By contrast, the postmodern metaphor is that of a fellow traveler, joining others on their journey.

Today’s generations are tired of people pretending like they have it all figured out. I think we Christians often claim “We have REAL ANSWERS for real life” and the world says, “Yeah right.”

We do have many answers. And the Bible has principles that provide the framework for finding the rest of the answers. But no one wants to be “talked down to” or “preached at”.

So for application, I wonder: How can we come alongside people and journey with them towards Christ?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

main accomplishments

I think the main accomplishment of this 5 week (6 Sunday) Sabattical has been the opportunity to connect with my family. I have such an amazing wife and two of the greatest kids in the world.

But productivity is always a priority (even in my times off). My 2 main ministry related goals:

1) Check out worship services at some of the coolest churches in the Midwest.

As you have read in this Blog, we have been to a lot of churches. 12 churches in 6 Sundays...what a tour! It is so cool to see the powerful and very different ways that God is using churches to impact their communities with the love of Christ.

2) Read books that help me gain a great appreciation for leadership development and my personal relationship with Jesus. These are the books I've completed over the last month:

We Would See Jesus (Roy Hession)

Breakout Churches (Thom Rainer)

Story (Steven James)

Overcoming The Darkside of Leadership (McIntosh & Rima)

The Horse and His Boy (C.S. Lewis)

Prince Caspian (C.S. Lewis)

Voyage of the Dawn Treader (C.S. Lewis)

The Silver Chair (C.S. Lewis)

wrapping up

We spent our last weekend of Sabbatical at a wedding in Houghton Lake (well, not in the lake, in the town by the lake). Kate and Seth served as flower girl and ring bearer. It was a great weekend.

The bride and groom were a couple who have made Faith Church home while studying at MSU. A number of people drove up from the church for the wedding. WHY? Why would families and retirees drive over 2 hours to attend a wedding for a couple who merely attended the church for a few years as college students? WHY? Because that is the power of HomeGroups. This young couple made an active commitment to be part of a HomeGroup and that group became their extended family in Lansing.

I beg of you...please make a commitment to be part of a group. This weekend we saw the fruit of what those kinds of connections can accomplish.

Anyway...I'm back in the office and can't wait to worship at Faith Church this Sunday!

Friday, August 11, 2006

african american church visit

After the Saturday night service near Detroit (in the post below)...Sunday morning (before heading back to the cabin) we were excited about visiting one of the many great African American churches in Lansing.

One observation over the last month…the churches we’ve been to outside of the state of Michigan have been fairly diverse. In Indiana and Ohio there was a notable and refreshing integration. But all (except for one) of the churches in Michigan we’ve attended so far have been extremely homogenous.

The one church nearby that felt somewhat diverse, was no more so than Faith Church. At Faith we celebrate the opportunity to connect with many cultures. I think there is great strength that comes from bringing multiple experiences together. But even still, we barely represent the diversity in the ratio of the Greater Lansing community as a whole. And all of the other churches we’ve visited in Michigan have been much less diverse than Faith Church.

I understand that there may be nothing intrinsically sinful about “like being attracted to like”. People naturally migrate to those who are most like themselves. There may be nothing wrong with having churches that are specifically designed to reach a particular demographic or culture. In fact, in some cases, that may be a good thing. And YET my heart longs to see churches that represent the many colors and cultures that will gather around the throne in heaven.

With that in mind we wanted to make a connection at a predominantly African American church. The first surprise was this. I was unprepared for the lack of information available to those wanting to attend. I did web searches and could only find current and active websites for 2 out of the 5 churches we were considering (all of which were fairly large churches). I then made 3 phone calls, simply trying to learn the service times. The answering machine messages did not even state the service times.

This was the first sign that cultures can be very different. Over the last month we’ve visited 11 churches. All of them had active and informational websites that gave us a feel for what to expect before walking through the doors. Therefore, this noticeable lack of information made us feel a little awkward Sunday morning as we pulled into the parking lot.

That was all washed away however, when Vivian saw us. She took us in her arms and led us through the building (a labyrinth). We were asked to fill out a registration card before entering the worship center.

At 11am the service began with a small crowd scattered throughout the large sanctuary. There were songs and prayers up until 11:30. At that point, a group of 6 singers came on stage and all of a sudden the worship kicked into a whole new gear.

It was like the first 30 minutes had been an “opening act”. This 30 minute mark is when most of the crowd had finally streamed into the service. For the next hour, we all “got our praise on”. I timed one of the songs from beginning to end. That one song lasted for 20 minutes. And yet it was awesome!

By about 12:30 we realized, this service was just getting started. In fact, the pastor had just come in to sit on the platform by this time. Leaders of the church made their grand entrance at various times throughout the service (seemingly in order of importance). And each one received a glowing introduction. The hierarchy was clearly established and honor was very important.

The pastor spoke and things started to come to a conclusion by about 1:45pm. There was a beautiful altar call with prayer counselors. And then we made it back to our car after about 3 hours. Do you suppose many people would stay through the whole thing if the average Baptist, Lutheran, Evangelical service was 3 hours each week?

There was no doubt. These people were here to praise and worship God and there was no need to hurry. They didn’t make any other plans. Church was the entire focus of their day on Sunday.

We were greeted warmly after the service. I think we were pretty easy to spot because we were some of the only white faces. But the best part about the greetings? They didn’t just say, “Hi”. They asked questions. And most importantly everyone we talked to made a point to invite us back. Over and over again people said, “We’d love to see you again next week.”

It may seem like a simple thing. We think, “The invitation to come back is implied.” But when you walk into a different culture, with rituals, protocol and expectations that are clearly outside of your normal experience…the simple act of an invitation to return has the effect of making your feel accepted.

Remember…even if a person looks just like you (right down to the Gap shirt and flip-flops)… when they walk into a church they feel like an outsider. Maybe we could work that into our greetings. More than just exchanging names and shaking hands, perhaps you might also say, “We’d love to have you come back next week. In fact, you’d love our HomeGroup. If you’ll give me your phone #, I’d be glad to call and give you directions to the house.”

I pray God’s blessing on the many churches in Lansing that are positioned to reach people that Faith Church may not be able to reach. Sometimes people confuse diversity with division. Jesus prayed for the church that we would be characterized by both diversity and unity. This kind of diversity bonded in unity is a rare thing to find in cultures around the world. But that is why the churches in a community should stand out. Because we are very different people with one common goal…pursuing the purposes of Christ.

plymouth church visit

As mentioned in the post below, Saturday night I zipped back from District Conference (in Battle Creek)…stopped at our house in Lansing for a 10 minute bite to eat…and then drove east to meet a friend who wanted me to check out his new church at their Saturday night service.

This is a guy who had his life turned around while living in Lansing. His family started connecting at Faith Church. They made a commitment to a Home Group. They got involved in ministry. They made a decision for Christ and things were going well.

Then they moved for his job in Detroit. They lost any connection with a church. They visited a few places here and there. But, as often happens when disconnected from Christian community, they floundered spiritually.

That is…until he got seriously involved with an amazing church in Plymouth called NorthRidge Church. He said, “I walked through the doors and my heart just leaped. I knew that this was the place where I was supposed to be.” He has since been involved in a number of classes, connected with a group, and is currently evaluating in what area of ministry he should serve (leaning towards children’s ministry).

I COULD tell you all about my experience at NorthRidge. It was a powerful service. I was almost moved to tears. They are doing an excellent job at sharing the message of Christ in a compelling and sincere way.

And I was also interested to see how many thousands of people they could flow through the traffic areas (which were not as large as you would like). At some of the large churches we have visited, they had large expanses of lobby area (where you could see multitudes of people walking around, sipping coffee, chatting in groups and seating areas). At other large churches (like Vineyard Cincy and Northridge), they had multiple entrance points with corridors designed to funnel people in and out of the building. I much preferred the large expansive lobby areas. In those, I believe you had a much greater chance of running into somebody you might know. Whereas, in the large churches with many small entrances and corridors you felt more corralled and were exposed to smaller groups of people in motion.

I COULD tell you much about the great experience at NorthRidge. But that was NOT the main take-away from Saturday night. That evening I arrived home energized and refreshed because I had spent a few hours with a man who is totally passionate about Jesus and in love with God. Faith is truly a contagious thing. It is as much caught as taught. And I thank my Savior for his life-changing power that is demonstrated again and again in those who seek Him with their whole hearts.

If you get down on yourself and lose the joy of the Lord…try doing this. Think of the people you know who are totally sold out and excited about Jesus. Think of the people you know who just seem to exude the fruit of the Spirit (love, peace, patience, faithfulness and all that good stuff). Think of those people…and then make a concerted effort to spend time with them. Get close to them. And before you know it, the contagious love of Jesus will start to creep back into your heart.

It’s a cool thing. And I think it is why God never designed us to live life as a solo venture. It’s the power of community. It’s why there is no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian. We need each other and we need to be an active part of the community of Christ.

Can you tell how much I can’t wait to get back to Faith Church?!!!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

over the last week

It feels like forever since the last post (a little over a week ago). In case you’re wondering, YES we’re still alive. And NO, nobody got wet on our canoe trips! Well…I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Let me catch you up.

Last Wednesday we drove up to the cabin (generously loaned to us by some friends) and settled in at one of the most beautiful spots on earth. Tracy’s ideal getaway is a beach chair, sand in your toes, crashing waves and a seafood restaurant. My ideal getaway is a mountain stream and the opportunity to ride some toys (be it tubing, rafting, biking, atv riding or canoeing). I guess next time we’re going to head to the beach because THIS TIME I definitely got my way!

Wednesday evening we played in the river and got ready for some fun. The next morning we got up and the weather was perfect. So we headed into town to rent a canoe. We had so much fun and saw plenty of wildlife. We drifted by an enormous Blue Heron that was so close he could have stepped in the boat. We looked for fish. We saw muskrats and minks. We saw fish jump. We stopped for a picnic. And as I mentioned, the boat never tipped! It was 3 hours of bliss for me, and Tracy was willing to tolerate it…for me. What a wonderful and loving woman.

That evening we went down to a pond to try to catch some fish. IF fishing is a matter of casting-reeling, casting-reeling, casting-reeling…than I am a great fisherman who has taught his family well. If it involves actually CATCHING anything, than I am in serious need of help. We did lots of fishing over the last week, but absolutely no catching.

The next day I could hardly wait to get out of bed. A neighbor and friend was going to lead me through the state forests and backland. He jumped on an old trail bike and I mounted the 4 wheeler and we set off. He showed me fishing and hunting spots that very few people have ever seen. We explored the territory where the rare and protected Kirtland’s Warblers nest (northern Michigan is the only summer habitat in the world where this bird is found). It was great fun!

Also the kids spent a lot of time in the pool and Tracy and I did a lot of reading.

Unfortunately our first trek there was cut very short because I needed to get to Battle Creek for our Wesleyan District’s Conference. We had 8 voting delegates to represent Faith Church. It was nice to spend some time with people from Faith Church…man, I miss you all so much!

While back in Lansing territory (Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday) we did get in 2 more church visits. I’ll write about them in the next post.

Sunday evening we went back to the cabin. Monday morning we decided that another canoe trip would be fun, and this time we went even further. After about 5 hours on the river my arms were getting a little stiff. Back at the rental place the owner joked about giving us frequent flyer miles. As we were leaving he joked, “We’ll probably see you again tomorrow!” I love being out on the water.

Tuesday we spent the day at Hartwick Pines State Park. What an amazing time we had. We hiked, took a guided tour with a forestry representative from the Department of Natural Resources and learned about the history of northern Michigan at the logging museum. We saw a Monarch butterfly within minutes of it’s emergence from the cocoon. And at the playground we even met a conservative Mennonite family (with suspenders, homemade clothes, bonnets and all). We enjoyed talking with them and although our lives are much different, we shared a common bond in Christ.

Wednesday I spent more time exploring the back trails on the 4 wheeler and then we spent the afternoon by the pool again.

Last night, we made the drive home. It is early Thursday morning and here I sit at the computer writing these very words.

Any questions?

Basically we’re home for an overnighter, get some laundry done, go through the mail, and then Friday morning we head up to Houghton Lake for a weekend wedding. Heidi Klassen and Gordon Jensen (college students who made Faith Church home while at MSU) are getting married at her home church. Our kids are in the wedding. This will be our first time hanging out in the Houghton Lake area. Hopefully we’ll get a little time (Saturday morning) at the beach so Tracy can get her fill. I know it’s not the ocean, but hopefully it will count for something.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

cabin time

Scan below and find lots of stuff to read from the last week or so...or you can click on July (to the right) to catch up.

I won't be posting for the next week or so becuase WiFi isn't too common in the woods! But we're excited to head up to a riverside cabin in the Grayling area for a few days. Then we'll drive back for District Conference in Battle Creek Friday and Saturday, followed by a return to Grayling for a few more days.

The time of our arrival back at Faith is soon drawing near. I am so excited to get back to work at one of the greatest churches ever! And my kids are dying to see their friends and leaders in the children's ministry again.

Check back sometime next week for more updates...

churches Cincinnati - part 2

In the post below I mentioned that our other visit of the morning was at Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati. This was our primary reason for trekking to Cincy.

We've had a long history of connection with this church which began back around 1997. At that point I read a book by Steve Sjogren called "Conspiracy of Kindness". This spurred a passion for a type of outreach that we call Christ In Action @ Faith Church. This year alone we touched over 16,000 people in the Lansing area with practical demonstrations of Christ's love. But where did this form of serving a community with practical kindness begin? At this Vineyard Church in Cincy.

We enjoyed the morning service so much that, after lunch, we decided to go back and visit their afternoon Spanish Language service (which meets in their newly constructed Chapel). Pastor Luis was a gracious host and even mentioned our names in the service...they were about the only words I recognized! :-)

The whole experience was very comfortable. Faith Church shares so many things in common with this church that it kind of felt like home. They have such a commitment to reaching out, connecting people in groups, and worshipping God with passion and purpose.

But they are many years ahead on their journey. They have developed an amazing wholistic approach to meeting the needs of their community that they call MercyWorks. Everything from job counseling, to car repairs, to clothing and food distribuiton is available.

I had a great conversation with the Senior Pastor Dave Workman who provided encouragement and affirmation to what we're doing in Lansing.

One downside for them was a facility design that is difficult to navigate, included too many stairs and claustrophobic hallways. But they continue to expand and do their part for advancing the Kingdom. This place would rank as one of my favorite churches yet.

churches Cincinnati - part 1

Sunday we had a great time visiting 2 amazing churches in Cincinnati. Both are reaching out to their communities in unique and exciting ways.

The one pictured is a church that has been in existence for around 10 years. Their children's ministry facility is capable of handling up to 1,000 children per service hour...and they have 4 identical services. Can you imagine ministering to 1,000's of kids every week?

This church is straight up rock and roll. The light show, sound and staging was like being at a Coldplay concert. Averaging more than 8,000 in worship attendance, the message was a powerful dialogue about the messy-ness of relationships and how we need to be more forgiving and trusting.

I shouldn't take pleasure in this...but it felt kind of good to see technical glitches in this church that is more tech savy than most any in the nation. Half the time, when someone would walk to the platform, thier mic wouldn't work. It reminds us that we're all just human and glitches happen no matter how hard you try to avoid them.

One interesting observation was their commitment to being in the heart of the city. They purchased a lot that must have originally been a warehouse or factory. They demolished the whole block and built this massive facility. It had a very urban industrial contemporary flavor.

I know this picture is sideways, but notice what they installed outside the entrance to the children's department. The line of kids waiting to ride this one slide was as long as 10 minutes. On their way out, a child's last memory was the coolness of sliding down from the 2nd floor on their way to the exit!

Small things can make a big difference in capturing a child's attention so that they are excited to come back to church.

In the next post, I'll tell you about our visit to the Vineyard.