The God Who Changes Bus Routes

1209142011“God is a dreamer and He is looking for people who will dream His dreams with Him.”

That quote is from Dreaming by God by Bill Johnson and that is what this blog is about.

First, I am going to share one of my God-sized dreams hoping it inspires you to begin dreaming your own.

Back in 2010 when we were in pre-launch mode of the church, Kellie and I began praying and dreaming about what it would become. Even though we knew we were going to start out as a portable church, we looked into the future and dreamed about having a food pantry and clothing closet on-site at our own building.

We began sharing this dream with the core team of volunteers that began to jump on board to help make this church happen.

One day we arrived home to find a care package on our porch. One of our core team members dropped off a box of things he was donating to our church and he included a map. A SMART bus map with the words “location location location” hand-written on it.

In the care package I found a letter he wrote explaining why he included the map in the care package: he said if we wanted to have a food pantry and clothing closet at our permanent facility, we ought to keep this map in mind. So when the day came for our church to purchase a building, we ought to do so along a bus route, so that those in the greatest need would have the easiest access to our church.

I held onto that map since 2010 as a tangible symbol of our dream. And yes it’s the map in the picture at the start of this blog!

A key verse that defined our church from the very beginning is Galatians 5:6: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” The Apostle Paul is telling Christians in the province of Galatia that everything they do ought to be rooted and grounded in their faith in Jesus Christ AND that their faith in Jesus should be expressed by showing God’s love in practical ways to their community.

And if Paul were writing a letter to the church in America, he’d say the exact same thing.

Since 2010, that dream has gotten even bigger. Right now we are in the middle of a Giving Campaign called Family on Mission. So buying a 24/7 ministry facility is on the near horizon for us! (In fact, our goal is to be in a building by THIS Christmas… if not before).

So even though we are currently still a portable church, we want our future building to be used by God to bless our community in ways that would go far, far beyond a food pantry and clothing closet. That we would have the reputation that our sister church in Cincinnati has…

Kellie and I lead Vineyard 101 in our home a few times a year. It’s a way to introduce people to the church and invite them into our lives. One of the things we typically do in Vineyard 101 is show a history video of the Vineyard movement.

screen-shot-2017-02-18-at-5-16-05-amWhile there are a ton of great moments and sound bytes on the video, one of them stands out above the rest for me. Charlie Hines (Worship Director – Vineyard Cincinnati) shared a story about a man he noticed in their church lobby, a guy who definitely looked new.

Charlie approached him to introduce himself and hear his story. Here is what the man said:

“I lost everything. I just got out of prison. And the guards told me that when I got out, to come to the Vineyard because it’s a safe place and they’ll take care of you.” And I was just honored and humbled to be in a church that has that kind of reputation.

I want OUR church to have that kind of reputation!

God is called many things in the Bible. The God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). The Lord that heals (Exodus 15:26). The God who provides (Gen. 22:14).

I have been dreaming about a new name for God: The God Who Changes Bus Routes.

A while back Kellie, the kids, and I were at Lakeside Mall. I realized that there is a bus stop for SMART buses right outside the door of Sears. And I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if God did that for our church! If we had a bus stop literally 20 feet from our church’s front door!

As I prayed about that, I sensed the still, small voice of God tell me this… That when we purchase our building, sure it would be ideal and our first choice if it was located along an existing bus route.

But it wouldn’t have to be.

Because the local government officials and “powers that be” for SMART buses would see how much good our church is doing for our community, that it would compel them to create a NEW bus route that would go right by our church. With a bus stop located right in front of it.

Imagine that for a moment. Dream with me.

And may this blog inspire YOU to dream YOUR God-sized dreams. May you dare to dream. But don’t just think about your dreams. Write them down. So you have a written record of the faithfulness of God when your dreams come to pass.

Get out a piece of paper and label it “Dream List” and begin to write. And here is the key: don’t triage it before you write it. In other words, don’t only write down the dreams that you think sound spiritual enough. Write down every dream you have, from the “fun” ones to the “sanctified” ones. Places you’d love to go on vacation… People you’d love to see healed…. Prodigal sons and daughters you’d love to come “home”… A book you’ve love to write and get published… Something wrong in the world you’d love to see made right… you get the picture.

“God is a dreamer and He is looking for people who will dream His dreams with Him.”

***What is your mission in life? Why do you exist on this planet? And why does your church exist? And how does Satan try to keep us from pursuing all of the above? The “Mission” in our Family on Mission series is not just to buy a church building. No more than the mission of the soldiers on D-Day was to simply establish a beachhead at Normandy, France and stop and celebrate and think they won the war. Whether or not you go to our church, our “mission” is the same: in grand terms is “on earth as it is in Heaven.” (see Matthew 6:9-10). So whatever is on earth now, that will not be in Heaven, needs to be challenged and changed and transformed. And God calls US and equips US to do exactly that! Please join us at The Eastside Vineyard Church. for my sermon titled On a Mission From God. Feb. 26 at 10:30am. More info at***

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Prayer Establishes “Air Superiority” in Spiritual Warfare

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-11-17-38-amWhat if prayer impacted things way more than we typically think it does? What if prayer truly is our first line — not of defense — but offense in the spiritual battle? And if those things are true, how should pray differently?

That’s what this blog is all about!

This past November, Kellie, myself, and 4 others from our church attended something called a “Learning Community” in Ft. Wayne. This event was championed by a group called 3DM whose goal is to help churches like ours make “disciples” in the fullest sense of that word.

During one of the sessions a military analogy was shared. The pastor explained how the first step in a conventional war is never to send in the ground troops. If you went that route, it would be a bloodbath. Instead the first steps in a war are two things.

First… disrupt communication behind enemy lines.

Second… establish “air superiority.”

For example, The Gulf War back in 1991 began with a bombing campaign that lasted over 40 days. Over 88,000 bombs were dropped across Iraq. As a result, communication was crippled as was their military infrastructure. Once “air superiority” was established and utilized, then the ground troops were sent in.

The supernatural realm mirrors the natural realm in ways we can only imagine, where PRAYER is the mechanism that establishes “air superiority.”

So if we don’t pray, but simply go about our day and attempt to show God’s love to a hurting and broken world, we can expect to get supernaturally blasted and bombed.

Without prayer, our “flank” is exposed. Exposed for the enemy to steal, kill, and destroy (see John 10:10).

And let me make that last paragraph more personal to you. So you understand what’s at stake. By saying your “flank” is exposed… what if your “flank” is your health… your spouse… your kids… your parents… your pastor… your church?

So let me ask you a question. How is your “prayer life” going nowadays? How much passion do you have when you pray? How much belief do you have in the power of prayer?

Not happy with how you answered those questions? Here are some next steps to give your prayer life the shot in the arm it needs…

A Man Named George. I recently read a biography on the life of George Muller. He fed, clothed, and cared for orphans and relied on prayer for God’s provision like you would not believe. That book really built my faith! Click HERE for the version I read.

Lighting Fires. This coming Sunday ask a member of the prayer team at your church to pray for you, to “light a fire” inside of you when it comes to prayer. So that praying goes from being something you feel you ought to do to something you are compelled to do.

24/7 Prayer Room. Out of all of the amazing things that happened at our church last year, one of the absolute highlights was the 24/7 Prayer Room. Since we are currently a portable church, God provided a storefront space we rented for a week and people from our church (and other churches across the area!) prayed in 2-hour time slots around the clock, 24 hours a day during the final week of Lent.

Well, the Prayer Room is back! This year we’ll be praying as Lent begins from February 26 to March 5. Click HERE for more info or to sign up for one (or more!) slots. May you say YES to this opportunity to PRAY LIKE NEVER BEFORE!

By the way, if spending two hours straight in a “Prayer Room” sounds intimidating, I could introduce you to dozens of people at our church who thought the same thing when we promoted the 24/7 Prayer Room last year. But they took a step of faith, signed up for a time slot, and I heard the same story again and again… the time flew by for them!

There are many ways to spend the time: reading from Psalms in the Bible, playing worship music on your iPod, “Praying in Color” using Scripture-themed coloring books that we provide, writing out prayers on the brown “wallpaper”, and on and on!

May God use this blog to stir something deep inside of you when it comes to prayer. And may you trust that your prayers offered in faith are doing things in the spiritual realm that you can only imagine on this side of Heaven… like disrupting communication behind enemy lines and establishing “air superiority” in the spiritual realm.

***”The fRamily of God” is my sermon this Sunday. And no there is no type-o in the title! When we use the word “family” we picture a mom, a dad, and their kiddos. That is how we define family. And that is true… that IS a family. But is there a more true truth? Is there a deeper truth to what a family is? Most importantly, is that how Jesus defined “family”? (Hint: the answer is NO!). And what is the mission He calls His family to? Please plan to join us on February 19th at 10:30am at The Eastside Vineyard Church. And be sure to bring your “thinking caps”! More info at***

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Why I Still Don’t Know Who Won the Superbowl

It’s Tuesday morning. Two days after the Superbowl. And I still don’t know who won the game. I don’t know if it was a great game or a blowout.

Let me be clear… I love watching football. As someone born and raised in southeastern Michigan, I am a long-suffering Lions fan! 🙂

But this year I didn’t watch the Superbowl. Instead I spent the last two days at the Capuchin Retreat Center. Why? Because I felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit to “fast” from the game.


What was “on” our TV the night of the Superbowl

Now that might sound a bit odd to some of you, so let me explain…

This season is a unique one in the life of the church that I pastor. A few weeks ago we launched a sermon series called Family on Mission that doubles as a Giving Campaign so that we’ll go from being a portable church to having 24/7 ministry facility to call “home.”

The key verse for the series is “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). And I have been challenging everyone — including myself — to really press into what this verse is saying.

I want to build my faith — in things like my ability to hear God’s voice and what I really believe is possible with God — and I want the same for adult, teen, and child who calls our church “home.”

So this past Sunday I encouraged everyone to fill out a Fasting Pledge Card to commit to fast from at least one thing for the next 40 days. Throughout the Bible, when people really needed God to show up… when people needed to hear from God… when people needed supernatural breakthrough… they fasted.

In my sermon I shared this passage to explain the “why” behind fasting:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…– Hebrews 12:1-2

The author of Hebrews is saying we should throw off everything that hinders us. Not just the “sinful stuff” but any and all thoughts, words, and actions that take our eyes off of Jesus.

As I prayed about how to fill out my Fasting Pledge Card, I heard the “still small voice” of God give me the word “distractions.” I knew that for me it meant the “usual suspects” of sports talk radio, surfing the internet, watching YouTube videos, and channel surfing on the TV. Those things have been hindering me from truly fixing my eyes on Jesus. So God was inviting me to “throw them off.”

The question was when to begin fasting from them. Technically, Day 1 of the church-wide 40 day fast was Monday morning. But as I continued to pray I realized God wanted me to start it on Sunday night which meant I wouldn’t be watching the Falcons and Patriots or any of the commercials (which are often more entertaining than the game itself!).

Let me be clear… that was a word for ME. I’m not judging anyone who spent Sunday night eating pizza and watching The Big Game. In fact, I’m sure it was a ton of fun! And God likes it when His kids have fun. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “Joy is serious business in Heaven.”

But that being said, I felt like God was inviting me to “sacrifice” a night of TV-centered fun and fellowship to focus on Him instead. So that’s what I did.

I hopped in my PT Cruiser after church on Sunday, headed up Mound Road and spent the last two nights at Capuchin. Walking the snow-covered trails. Reading my Bible. Praying. Reading other Christian books. Napping. Playing worship music on my iPod.

And I loved every minute of it.

It was the perfect way to kick off the next 40 days.

So that’s my story. That’s how God is leading me to live out Hebrews 12. What about you? What is hindering you? What is keeping you from building your faith? What is distracting you from hearing God’s voice? What is keeping you from taking your personal spiritual growth more seriously?

Pray about it. See how the Holy Spirit leads you. And why not join me in “fasting” from those things over the next 40 days? You won’t regret it. 🙂

P.S. Click HERE for a copy of the Fasting Pledge Card we gave to everyone. Print off a copy, fill it out, and put it on your fridge as a reminder of what you’re fasting from.

There is a key theme found throughout the Bible that never gets preached on: the theme of “Blessing.” Think about it… have you EVER heard a sermon on blessing? And yet, it’s everywhere in the Bible. God blessed Adam & Eve (see Gen. 1:28). God blessed Abraham (see Gen. 12:1-3). And God blessed people at the end of time (see Rev. 22:17) and everywhere in between! But what does it actually mean for God to “bless” someone? And why does it matter? My sermon this Sunday is titled “The Father’s Blessing” and we are going to dig deep into this theme. Bring your “thinking caps” and come spiritually hungry to The Eastside Vineyard Church. February 12th at 10:30am. More info at**

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Lingering Doubts About the Christmas Story

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-8-47-04-amI know it’s Christmas break. The kids are off from school. Many of you are using up your final vacation days (use them or lose them, right?). 🙂 So most of you are in relaxation mode. And that is a good thing.

But as you are relaxing, I want to fire up your brain for a bit with this blog. 🙂

I have two tough questions that I really hope you think about. Here is the first one: when you heard the Christmas story at church this past weekend about the Virgin Birth, the angels, and how God took on flesh and was born in a manger… do you have any lingering doubts about any of it, doubts you may not be comfortable sharing with anyone?

Here’s the second question. This one is geared toward those who don’t have any doubts. If you were having a cup of coffee with a non-church going friend and they asked why you believe all of the events surrounding the birth of baby Jesus are historical facts, what answers would you be able to give? What evidence would you point to besides saying “The Bible says so”? Think about it.

I remember as a kid growing up going to St. Ronald’s, I heard the story about the miraculous way Mary became pregnant, the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, and herald angels singing “Hark!” . . . and I never doubted a word of it.

Just like I never doubted what my mom and dad told me about Santa Claus.

And then in the first or second grade, my beliefs about Santa were shattered one morning over breakfast. I had heard the rumors from older kids on the playground and I had to know the truth. So I asked my mom over a bowl of Lucky Charms — “Is Santa real?” — and in an instant my world was turned upside down. 🙂

Fast forward to my teenage years. As I continued attending Mass every Sunday, I began to wonder if God was a grown up’s equivalent of Santa Claus. A myth that is nice to believe and keeps people in line. After all, God sounded like Santa, didn’t He? (“He knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good. So be good for goodness sake.”) God sounded like Santa… except that if you are bad, God doesn’t just put you on the Naughty List.

Those doubts lead me to become an atheist while pursuing an engineering degree at Oakland University. By my college age years, I had concluded that you had to check your brain at the door to believe things like the Virgin Birth actually happened and that Jesus was really God in infant form lying in a manger.

For about five years (age 18 to 23) I was a hard core atheist most of the time and an agnostic every once in a while, just to change things up. 🙂

Then after graduating college, getting an engineering job at GM up in Flint, and wondering if there was anything more to life than a good paying job, I gave God a second look.

That lead me on a two-year quest of seeking answers to the toughest questions I could think of when it came to the Christian faith. Thankfully, I was not blazing new ground. I came across a number of authors who were once skeptics like me, then did their homework, and came out on the other side declaring that God is really real. So I read their books and the faith of my childhood was ignited once again, but in a much more profound way.

And since that time I have become convinced more and more that the Bible can be trusted and that God is not only real but GOOD (He’s better than you think!).

So that’s part of my story. As you read it, I pray that you saw your story in mine. And I pray that it compels you to think about WHAT you believe and WHY you believe WHAT you believe about the events surrounding that first Christmas morning in Bethlehem.

In The Case for Christmas, former skeptic Lee Strobel writes, “I decided to get to the bottom of what I now consider to be the most crucial issue of history: Who was in the manger on that first Christmas morning?”

I believe Lee Strobel is right. That really is the most crucial issue of history. And it’s linked to a series of other questions:

  • How do we know the Bible is the inspired “Word of God” and not just a bunch of made up fables?
  • Can the biographies of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) be trusted?
  • How can we believe that a Virgin actually became pregnant?

I believe every person reading this blog would do well to get answers to those questions. And thankful there are great books out there from More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell to Letters from a Skeptic by Greg Boyd to The Reason for God by Tim Keller.

But if I had to recommend just one book, I’d suggest The Case for Christmas by Lee Strobel. It’s a tiny book — just 100 pages long — written in an easy-to-understand manner, and provides well-thought-out answers to all of the questions listed in this blog. Buying that book could be the best $2.99 you spend all year.

One final thought… Over the next few days, all of us will be packing away our Christmas tree and decorations. We’ll be putting them on a shelf and won’t think about them until we find them again next year in the same place that we left them. May you not do the same thing when it comes to the biblical Christmas story. May you not “pack away” any doubts or questions about this story on a shelf in your minds, only to re-visit them again when you hear those Bible stories read next year at church on Christmas Eve. As a result of reading this blog, may you be inspired to better understand WHAT you believe about the birth of Jesus… and WHY you believe it.

***Start the new year right by coming to church! We are having our service on New Years Day at our normal and time: Sunday January 1st at 10:30am at The Eastside Vineyard Church. And we are going to do what we do every Sunday… worship, preaching, communion, and prayer. Plus, my sermon is specifically geared toward that morning. I am calling it “1 every 24 for the next 365 in 2017.” More info at***

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Where Was Jesus Actually Born?

1210141027We all know the story about the birth of Jesus. At least we think we know it! 🙂 But the way most of us picture it has some of the key details wrong.

We picture the events of the story as something like this: Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem. Joseph, being a typical male, forgot to make reservations at the first-century equivalent of Motel 6. 🙂 Since the city is bursting at the seams because of the census, all of the rooms are booked up. So Mary ends up giving birth to Jesus in some random barn on the outskirts of town.

That is what we tend to think. And this idea gets reinforced when we watch movies about the birth of Jesus.

For example, as part of our “Family Fun Night” this past weekend, Kellie, the kids and I watched The Nativity Story. (We LOVE this movie!) As they near Bethlehem near the end of the movie, Mary goes into labor and Jospeh begins frantically banging on doors, screaming at random people for help. Person after person slams the door in his face until one reluctant man offers a stable.

So that is the way we picture things happening. And our picture is flat out wrong. 🙂 Let me explain…

Here’s how the Scriptures put it: And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. – Luke 2:7 (NASB)

I want to focus on that last detail, how the text says there was no room for them in the inn. Think about it… if Joseph originated from Bethlehem, why would he and Mary have to stay at a first-century bed & breakfast? Wouldn’t they have stayed with Joseph’s family, especially considering the high view of hospitality in that region of the world? Why would they be forced to wander the streets and end up like squatters in a stranger’s barn?

Those are some great questions and their answers change how we ought to picture the Christmas story. In order to get to the answers, we need to go back to the Greek language. Greek was the original language the New Testament was penned in. And the Greek meaning of words provides insight that often gets lost in translation.

The Greek word that is translated in most version’s of Luke’s gospel as “inn” is the word “kataluma.” This word appears just one other time in the gospels, when Jesus sends His disciples to find a room they can use to celebrate the Last Supper. And how that word is used in that story helps reframe the Christmas story:

So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room [kataluma], where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover. (Luke 22:8-13).

The room where the Last Supper was held was not a bedroom in an inn, but a guest room in a house. In fact that is the more accurate translation of “kataluma” — it is a guest room. (in fact that is how the NIV Bible translates Luke 2:7: She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them).

With that in mind, let’s revisit the Christmas story.

In the first-century, most homes had four rooms: a bedroom which everybody shared, a kitchen/dining room combo, a guest room, and a stable (like our modern-day garage) for the animals.

Assuming Joseph’s family was of modest income, they would have had one “kataluma” (one guest room). Since the Roman census decreed that everyone return to their home town, and assuming Joseph had siblings, it is easy to see why there would have been no room for them in the “kataluma” — or guest room — of their parent’s home. So Joseph and Mary were given the family stable to use as their bedroom. And that’s where Jesus was born. Not in some random barn on the outskirts of town, but in the stable of Joseph’s family’s house.

That changes the way you picture these events, doesn’t it? 🙂

Note: this blog was adapted from chapter 4 of Adam Hamilton’s book The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem.

***”Mary Did You Know?” is one of those great songs we hear at Christmastime. And it’s not just a song with a great melody, it actually asks a pretty profound question. Did Mary know ALL that Jesus was going to be? When she was carrying Him, when she gave birth to Him, when she raised Him… Mary did you know? But in my Christmas Eve sermon I am going to ask another question: HOW did Mary know? How did Mary know what she knew about Jesus? Because the answer to that question does not just have an impact on HER life. It has an impact on OURS. Please join us on Saturday Dec. 24th at 10:30am! And may you never look at the story of Jesus’ birth the same way again!!! More info at***

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Slow Down Christmas

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-12-49-02-pmIt’s December 14th. Just 10 days before Christmas.

Can you believe that?

Is December flying by for you?

Well this blog is all about how to slow things down by doing something so simple we often overlook it. But in order to explain what that is, I need to take you on a journey…

I want you to imagine something. Imagine its Christmas morning. You’ve spent the last few months shopping and picking specific gifts for each of your loved ones. And now it’s the moment you’ve been waiting for! Everyone is gathered around the tree. It’s time for your loved ones to open the presents that you bought.

But then something odd begins to happen. Things don’t play out the way you imagined they would.

Imagine if the first person completely ignores what’s under the tree. He acts like the gift you got him isn’t even there. Instead, he is more focused on what’s on TV. Another person opens the gift you purchased but maybe acts like she deserves it. And judging by the reaction of the next person, if you could read her mind she is thinking who she can re-gift what she just unwrapped. 🙂

And none of them acknowledges that their gifts came from you. None of them says “Thank You.”

If that actually happened 10 days from now on Christmas morning, what would you be thinking and feeling?

Here’s the truth… I think we do that to God more than we realize. We either ignore or don’t use the gifts He has given to us or we take for granted how He has blessed us. We forget to say “Thank You” to God for the “big stuff” in our lives but also — and maybe especially — for the “small stuff” that is so easy to overlook.

A woman named Ann Voskamp realized she needed to be more thankful to God. So this is what she did as highlighted in her book One Thousand GiftsIt was a dare, like a love dare of sorts… Could I write a list of a thousand things I love? To name one thousand blessings — one thousand gifts? I grab some paper and title it: Gift List. I begin the list. Not of gifts I want but of gifts I already have.

Ann felt like God prompted to start a list, to write down one thousand things the she should be thankful for. One thousand gifts that God gave her. So she began writing, adding to the list each day.

At first she said it seemed so basic. Almost trivial. But here is what happened… As she continued working on her list, she became more thankful of the things that would be so easy to take for granted.

About a month ago I preached a sermon titled “Disarming Hell Through Thanksgiving” (click HERE to listen to it). One of my Action Steps was to do what Ann did: create a Gift List of things you are thankful for.

I realized when gave that Action Step in my sermon I needed to practice what I was preaching. I needed to create my own Gift List. So since that time I have been compiling my list. And in case you were wondering, it’s nowhere near 1,000 gifts! 🙂

As I have been doing it, I realized the power in what Ann Voskamp did, the power in slowing down and looking around and seeing the “small stuff” that would be easy to look right past. Here are a few items on my Gift List:

  • Homemade turkey soup and bread (Nov. 26)
  • For a Sabbath Day off (Nov. 27)
  • That our minivan broke down in the garage instead of on the side of the road (Dec. 6)
  • The conversation and prayer time I had with Kellie this morning at 5am (Nov. 29)
  • That we kept the TV off and played Uno, Old Maid, and Perfection instead (Dec. 6)
  • For Dillon’s prayer (from the church) that his grandma shared with me (Dec. 13)

Granted, none of those things are earth-shattering revelations. But they are blessings I am thankful for.

As I wrote down each item on my Gift List (and this is very important!) and as I re-read what I wrote down, I became more thankful. And thankfulness is a gift in and of itself, isn’t it?

However, in the process, I received a bonus gift from God. As I wrote my Gift List, the month of December began to slow down for me. Because I was taking time each morning to be still. I was taking time to reflect on the previous day and remember all of the ways God blessed me over the last 24 hours. And I slowed things down even more by going “old school” by getting out a journal and a pen and writing my Gift List by hand.

The graphic attached to this blog says: “It’s only here for a short time. Slow down Christmas, you’re moving to fast.” Creating a Gift List is one way to turn that wish into a reality.

Here’s the good news…. it’s 10 DAYS — not 10 HOURS — before Christmas. Why not start your Gift List today? Maybe even start it before you click off of this blog. Reflect on the last 24 hours and write 10 things each day you are thankful for. And do that for the next 10 days.

May Christmas slow down for you in the process.

***”The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Every year we hear that passage read on Christmas Eve. But what’s the big deal about it? Why does it matter that Jesus is called by that name? For the first couple decades of my life, I thought calling Jesus “Immanuel” was nothing more than a nice-sounding theological truth that made for a beautiful Christmas Carol. But then I was ambushed by God and encountered the reality of what that verse was really saying… and everything changed. Come on December 18th at 10:30am to find out the rest of the story! More info at***

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Following in the Footsteps of the Three Wise Men

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-9-18-46-pmLast week at our church I preached about the part of the Christmas story that talks about “The Three Kings.” And I shared how they were’t actually kings and there were probably more than 3 of them. 🙂 (By the way if you want to hear that sermon please click HERE).

In the gospel of Matthew it says: …magi (wise men) from the east came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” Matthew 2:1a-2 (AMP)

Most Bible scholars believe this group of Wise Men were most likely pagan astrologers from Babylon. And if that’s the case, it means they traveled around 900 miles to get to Jerusalem, a journey that most likely took several months.

They rearranged their lives for the chance to see Jesus. And when they saw him they bowed down before Him. And they gave Him their treasure, gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.

And here is the crazy thing . . . please don’t miss this.

The Wise Men did not even fully understood who Jesus was. After all, they were not Jewish. They were pagans. They knew of a prophesy about a “King of the Jews” being born and they saw His star in the heavens and that was enough for them to hop on camels and ride across a desert.

They did not know Jesus was God in the flesh. They didn’t know that one day this Child was going to grow up and proclaim that the Kingdom of God was at hand. They didn’t know that this King of the Jews was going to rule the world by love instead of by fear. They didn’t know that He was going to die on the Cross for their sins or that He was going to rise from the dead. They didn’t know this baby was going to make it possible for everyone to have a relationship with God that would extend into eternity.

They didn’t know ANY of that.

And yet they rearranged their lives for the chance to see Jesus.

Now here’s the challenge to you and to me.

In contrast to the Wise Men, every one of us reading this blog knows WHO He was and WHAT He did for us. So may we follow in their footsteps. May we worship God with our actions during Advent. And may we do so in a way that is disruptive to our lives.

Here are some ways you could do exactly that. To worship God in a way that causes us to rearrange our calendars, that impacts our “to do” list, that disrupts our plans. Read over this list. Pray over it. And see how the Holy Spirt leads you:

  • Church. Treat the Christmas service at your church as the “main event” of that weekend. Rearrange your family get-together around going to church instead of the other way around. (And be sure to go to church on New Year’s Day as well!)
  • Serve. Instead of spending all of your discretionary time at the mall, put your faith in action and “help those who need help” this holiday season. If you are reading this blog in Southeastern Michigan check out page 17 of my Experiencing Advent handout (click HERE for your free copy) for a list of organizations that would love an extra set of hands.
  • Bible. Read your Bible during Advent every… single… day. I know we are all busy at this time of the year, but let me challenge you that if you are too busy to read the Bible every day, then you are too busy. Check out pages 12-14 of the Experiencing Advent handout for a couple Bible reading plans to consider, plans specifically designed for Advent.
  • Give. Be radically generous in what you give to your home church as well as to other charities you believe in. Give in such a way that it affects how many presents are under your tree on Christmas morning.
  • Fast. Fasting and Lent go hand in hand, but fasting during Advent may be even more important because of all that our culture throws at us during this season. Fast from food. Fast from social media. Do whatever it takes to keep your eyes on Jesus. (see page 7 of the handout for more info about fasting).

I’ve got some good news for you. We are 16 DAYS away from Christmas. Not 16 HOURS away. So maybe you started off the season of Advent spiritually strong. Maybe you have sputtered a bit the past few days.

Or maybe your spiritual journey got derailed a few days before Thanksgiving or maybe around the time 100.3FM started playing Christmas music. 🙂

The good news is you and I have a choice to make how we are going to live each of the next 16 days. May we live those 16 days as worshippers of God. And may we worship God in a way that is disruptive to our lives.

***This Sunday continues our series called “The Rest of the (Christmas) Story.” We are digging deep into passages that are part of the Christmas narrative in the Bible that contain profound theological truths, but never get preached on. My sermon is called The Nightmare Before Christmas. Here is a “sneak preview”: When you read Matthew 2:13-18, the main characters are obvious: King Herod, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. But there is someone else present in this passage who is working behind the scenes to influence Herod’s actions to kill baby Jesus. That character is Satan. And he is still working behind the scenes today… to steal, kill, and destroy. But God is also at work. And our God is greater! Please join us on December 11th at 10:30am at The Eastside Vineyard Church. More info at***

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