We Look Most Like Jesus When We __________.

Last week Kellie, the kids, and I took a “family vacation” at Gull Lake Ministries. This was the 7th time in 8 years we have gone to Gull Lake, and it has been an incredible experience each and every summer.

Daniel “Ambush” Wallace (executive director) said the following phrase on more than one occasion: “We look most like Jesus when we _______________.”

How do you think Ambush filled in that blank?

Of all the things that Christians do, when do we look MOST like Christ? I think this is a great question to think about, because oftentimes as Christians we do a bunch of things but never reflect on WHY we do what we do… or WHICH things we should prioritize when we only have time to do some or just one of them.

Do you have your answer yet? Is your blank filled in?

Before I give you Ambush’s answer, here is some food for thought: When a person becomes a Christian, it’s kind of like becoming a parent. You aren’t given a handbook on how to be a mommy or daddy. Yet, as new parents you instinctively know your job description: feed your baby, change diapers, put them on their backs when they sleep, soothe them when they cry, keep them warm, and keep them safe. That pretty much sums it up.

But how about when you become a Christian? What does your “job description” look like?

When I crossed the line of faith back in 1998, nobody gave me a handbook on how to follow Jesus. However, by observing others in my church, here is the job description I came up with:

  • Go to church every Sunday.
  • Read your Bible every day. Preferably a study Bible.
  • Pray every day.
  • Give sacrificially to your church. Preferably a tithe.
  • Join a small group.

That was the job description I created for myself early on in my faith. So if those are our top 5 tasks, which would you put in the blank: We look most like Jesus when we _______________.”

Ambush’s answer: none of the above.

Now don’t hear me wrong. All five of those things are important. And I believe Christians should do every one of them. Yet, I am not MOST like Jesus when I read my Bible… or when I go to church… or when I pray… or when I tithe… or when I get together with my small group.

As important as each of those activities are, I am not MOST like Jesus when I do any of them. Instead, here is how Ambush filled in that blank: We look most like Jesus when we SERVE.”

I think Ambush is right on. After all Jesus said: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” (Mark 10:45) and “I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:26)

Jesus lived His life as a servant. Every action He did on planet Earth was an act of service.

And let me tell you, the college-age camp counselors at Gull Lake looked a lot like Jesus all week long! 🙂 Jazz Hands, Spring Cheese, Read ‘Em and Sleep, Croc and Roll, Turbo Tax and many others (you probably figured out these aren’t their real names but their “camp names”!)… they knew Faith, Evelyn, and Elizabeth by name by Day 2 and poured into them all week long, they filled our glasses at meal times, they emptied garbage cans, they ran the zip line and encouraged each kid (and adult!) who went down it.

They served… and they served… and they served. And they were filled with joy as they did it. And Kellie and I and our girls felt incredibly blessed as a result.

So my question for you is this: how are you going to be MOST like Jesus today? How are you going to serve… whether it’s serving the poor, your parents, your spouse, your neighbor, your friend, or your kids?

May you and I be like Jesus today. May we serve.

***John the Baptist is one of the most famous people in the Bible. And we all know what he did, right? His nickname kind of gives it away! But John said that Jesus was also going to be a baptizer and His baptism wasn’t going to involve water but the Holy Spirit! Even though Jesus is described this way, this isn’t a topic talked about much (if at all) in the American Church. But that is going to change this Sunday! What was this baptism all about? What did it mean for Jesus’ original followers? And what does it mean for us today? And what would Billy Graham have to say about all of the above? My answer will surprise you! Please join us at The Mission this Sunday June 30th at 10:30am at 52767 Shelby Rd. in Shelby Township. My sermon is called “Jesus (Not John) The Baptizer”***

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A Perfect Bible Reading Plan for Holy Week

Screen Shot 2019-04-15 at 6.58.49 AMAs I wrote in my last blog, this is known as Holy Week. At it’s root, “holy” simply means “to set apart.” In my last post I encouraged you to live differently this week. To press into your spiritual journey in ways you normally don’t.

So I decided to go into my “blog archives” and share this post about what I truly believe is the perfect Bible reading plan for Holy Week! Read on…

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are four biographies of Jesus. Instead of being four carbon-copy accounts, each could be viewed as a portrait that “paints” Jesus in a particular way.

While each author was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write what they wrote, each one emphasized certain details, omitted others, and at times compressed the narrative for reasons God only knows (literally!). So when any given event appears in more than one gospel, it’s a great idea to read each account of it because in doing so, you’ll get the complete picture.

This is especially true when it comes to the final 24 hours of Jesus’ life. Below is a harmonization of the gospel accounts from the Last Supper to the moment Jesus’ lifeless body was placed in the tomb. You could consider this the all-inclusive or unabridged version of the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life in the actual order that the events happened.

I chose to break the story up into 6 distinct “Acts” because the number 6 represents incompleteness/imperfection. In this way, Act 7 – the Resurrection – completes and perfects the narrative.

I encourage you to grab your favorite Bible and read these Scriptures in the order shown below. Take your time as you do this. Slowly turn the pages as you flip between each gospel account. Reflect as you read. Pray. And may this narrative come alive to you like never before….

Act 1: The Last Supper

  • Matthew 26:17-20
  • John 13 (all)
  • Matthew 26:26-29

Act 2: From the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane

  • John 14 (all)
  • John 15 (all)
  • John 16 (all)
  • John 17 (all)
  • Luke 22:39-46

Act 3: Betrayal and Arrest

  • John 18:2-11

Act 4: On Trial

  • John 18:12-14,19-23
  • Mark 14:53-72
  • Matthew 27:1-14
  • Luke 23:6-25

Act 5: Crucifixion and Death

  • Matthew 27:27-30
  • John 19:16b-30
  • Mark 15:38-41

Act 6: Burial

  • Luke 23:50-56

***As Easter quickly approaches, it’s easy to jump right ahead to the Empty Tomb. But you can’t have a Resurrection without a Cross. May we take these Christian holidays one at a time! Please plan to join us The Mission (52767 Shelby Rd.) twice this weekend… on Good Friday April 19th at 7:00pm and again on Easter April 21st at 10:30am. And bring a carload of friends to both services! More info at themission.church***

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Holy Holy Holy Week

Screen Shot 2019-04-12 at 4.47.11 PMThis coming Sunday is a big deal on the Christian calendar. It begins what is known as “Holy Week.” And because of that I want to challenge you with what I am challenging myself to do…

Did you know that the most basic meaning of the word “holy” is to be “set apart”? May we do exactly that! May we treat the upcoming week like it’s different than every other week of the year. Because it is. It’s Holy Week. So may we set it apart. May we set ourselves apart. May we dedicate it to God.

Easter is a package deal for most of us. There is church and there is the family party. And because of the latter, there is a lot to get done between now and April 21st. There is grocery shopping, houses to clean, meals to prep, googling the best way to cook a ham. 🙂Plus, there are jobs to work at and kids to take care of.

I get that.

I live that.

But may this week be different. Because it is. It’s Holy Week.

So let’s live differently over the 168 hours from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. Let’s do whatever we can to slow down the pace of our lives. To remove distractions. To spend more time than usual reflecting on our spiritual journey. To examine our conscience. To intentionally engage in various spiritual practices like fasting, worship, serving, prayer, and Bible reading. To make attending both the Good Friday and Easter services at your church a priority.

One more thing, if you’re looking for a great way to read the Bible between now and Easter Sunday, please click HERE for a blog I wrote a few years ago during Holy Week. It contains a Bible reading plan of the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life in the actual order that the events happened (you’ll read several chapters from each of the 4 gospels in the process).

In addition, another great way to live differently during Holy Week is to pray differently! We are inviting folks to our 24/7 Prayer Week where you are invited to pray for 2 hours straight. Click HERE for a link for more info and to pick your slot.

***On the first Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem and people cheered Him as their King! They thought He was going to lead a revolt where the enemies of Israel would be slaughtered. But instead, Jesus went to the Cross. And yet… is the Cross the whole story when it comes to Jesus? After all, in the book of Revelation doesn’t Jesus come back with a vengeance against the enemies of God, with a sword and “looking for blood”?? Please join us at The Mission Church this Sunday April 14, 2019 at 10:30am at 52767 Shelby Rd. in Shelby Township as we answer these tough questions! My sermon is titled Apocalypse Jesus. And yes… we’ll be passing out palms!!! More info at themission.church***

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Isn’t Lent Just a Catholic Thing?

Let me ask you a trivia question. What date does Easter fall on this year? Maybe you knew it was April 21st right away… but maybe you didn’t.

Bonus question: what date does Easter fall on in 2020? I am guessing every person reading this would need to “Google” the answer to find out that it’s April 9th. 🙂

The reason I asked those two trivia questions is to prove the point of this blog. Because the dates of Easter (and Good Friday) are moving targets each year, it’s easy for them to sneak up on us.

As a result, we often aren’t prepared spiritually to celebrate two of the most significant events in the history of the world. And then when you factor in how normal it is to have an overloaded schedule — how being “busy” is a badge of honor in America — it’s easy to treat Good Friday and Easter as nothing more than speed bumps in our hectic lives. Where we might slow down enough to go to church both days, but that’s about it.

That’s why the season of Lent is critical.

But that statement leads to another question: isn’t Lent just a Catholic thing? As a kid growing up, I thought it was. So every year during the 40 days of Lent, my dad, mom, brother, and I ate fish on Fridays that we bought at the fish fry at our home parish of St. Ronald’s (and as a teen I remember we went to St. Blase in Sterling Heights since we thought their fish & fries were worth the drive down 15 Mile!). 🙂

So back then I used to think Catholics “owned” the season of Lent. I was wrong.

While the Catholic Church celebrates the season of Lent, so do many Protestants including Lutheran, Episcopal, churches in the Vineyard movement, and more. Lent isn’t just a Catholic thing… it’s a Christian thing that all followers of Jesus can participate in to prepare themselves spiritually and physically for Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Since the time of the early church, Christians have used the 40 days prior to Easter as a time of preparation and reflection, a time to live differently. My hope is as a result of reading this blog, you’ll want to do the same.

And to help you in that process, I created a handout called Experiencing Lent. We pass out free copies of it at our church but I wanted to share it with y’all! Here is what you’ll find in its 16 pages:

  • A Day-by-Day Bible reading plan (there are 2 options to choose from)
  • Ways to “Fast” during Lent
  • Perspectives on Prayer
  • FAQs about Lent
  • Discussion Questions to do individually, as a family, or with friends

Click HERE for your free copy. (That link is to our church website and there is a link right on the homepage that says “Download Our Experiencing Lent Handout.” Print it off, read it over, and hit the ground running when Lent begins on March 6th (Ash Wednesday).

Years back, I remember having a conversation with a Catholic priest — Fr. John Riccardo — a man I was privileged to call “friend.” I will never forget what he said to me: “You get out of  Good Friday and Easter what you put into Lent.” May we take those words to heart. May we use these next 40 days to press into Jesus like never before.

***While we’d love to see you this Sunday as we kick off our War of the Worlds spiritual warfare series, we hope to see you before then! Please join us at The Mission for a special Ash Wednesday service. We’ll gather at 7:00pm on 3/6 for contemplative worship, prayer, a brief sermon titled “Why Ashes?” and there will be an opportunity to receive ashes on your forehead. Our church is located at 52767 Shelby Rd. More info at themission.church***


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Sometimes Love Looks Like a Backpack

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 2.09.43 PMLike it or not, Christians have a pretty bad reputation nowadays. If you played a word association game with a non-church goer and you said “Christian” they would most likely reply with words like “hypocritical” and “judgmental.” What if the first word that came to their minds was “love”?

The Apostle Paul wrote, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6). In other words, everything we do should be rooted and grounded in our faith in Jesus Christ, but that faith must not be solely defined by WHAT we believe but HOW we live out those beliefs.

How we live out our faith must be an expression of love… or else we are doing it wrong.

And sometimes we overcomplicate what love looks like.

For example, love can look like words that strengthen, encourage, or comfort (see 1 Corinthians 14:3). And with all that is going on in our country and in the world right now, imagine how Christians could impact people if we continually asked ourselves, “Lord, how do you want me to strengthen or encourage or comfort him or her?” And if a thought “popped” in your mind out of nowhere that matched that grid — what if you shared it with him or her? And imagine if, as a result, that person walked away strengthened a bit, encouraged a bit, or comforted a bit? Imagine if we asked that question a hundred times a day?

Sometimes love can be words. And sometimes it can be actions. In fact, sometimes love can look like a backpack… and a package of #2 pencils.

It’s back-to-school shopping season right now. And in the middle class suburbs where I live, parents and kids flock to Target and Walmart and shop ’til they drop.

But that’s not the case for everyone. Not even for every person that lives in our local school district let alone the kids that live in the inner city or second- and third-world countries.

So what would it look like to live out Galatians 5:6 at this time of year? It could be as easy as choosing to bless a family in your neighborhood that is struggling. By buying them an anonymous gift card to a department store to do a back-to-school shopping spree.

Or it could be helping out a kiddo, not just across street but across a hemisphere! 🙂 I hope this part of the blog doesn’t sound like an infomercial but an invitation. Since our church launched in 2010 we have had a passion to fight human trafficking and our international partner is ESTHER’s Children (where “ESTHER” stands for End Sex Trafficking for HER).

Their ministry was founded in Clarkston, Michigan but it’s epicenter is Recife, Brazil (which is the eastern most tip of that country). Due to the economic crisis in Brazil, welfare programs have made deep cuts affecting the “least of these” (see Matthew 25:31-46) which includes the kids in the slums that ESTHER’s ministers to. So right now, kids in Brazil aren’t able to shop for a backpack let alone the school supplies that would fill it.

ESTHER’s has a God-sized goal to distribute 200 backpacks filled with school supplies to the girls at ESTHER’s, their brothers, and other children in the community. So if you are interested in helping them reach their goal, please click HERE to be redirected to a webpage on our church website with a complete shopping list of things you could buy as well as where to deliver them.

Sometimes love can look like a backpack… and a package of #2 pencils.

***We take for granted that the Founding Fathers of America had Christian roots. But have you ever wondered why that was the case? It actually goes back to a key text in Acts 16 where the Apostle Paul headed west into Europe instead of east into Asia. And what’s interesting is Paul actually wanted to head east… until the Holy Spirit showed up! But what if Paul treated the Holy Spirit as the “forgotten member of the Trinity” and ignored Him? How would America be different? And what if we ignore the Holy Spirit in our lives? Please join us on August 27th at 10:30am at Wiley Elementary (near 21 Mile & Van Dyke at 47240 Shelby Rd. in Utica) as we conclude our Acts 29 series by looking at a passage in Acts that literally changed the world! My sermon is titled How The Holy Spirit Changed America. More info at tevchurch.org***

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Why Our Family “Fasted” from TV, the iPad, and the Internet This Summer

0816171916Imagine 40 days with no TV… no Netflix… no iPad… no sports talk radio… no Facebook… no surfing the internet… no online games… 40 days free from all of the above. Think you could do it?

The reason I am writing this blog today is because it is Day 41 for Kellie, the kids, and me. The day we are going to break our “media fast.”

Here’s the backstory…

In early July, Kellie and I came across a movie called Captivated on Amazon Prime. It was a Christian-based documentary that talked about how people from various walks of life chose to say “no” to things like watching TV and using iPads.

I appreciated their approach because they were not alarmist or extremist in their message… like claiming that the devil invented TV. Nothing like that! 🙂

Even though there isn’t anything inherently evil about the various forms of media, people chronicled in the documentary made the intentional decision to give those things up in order to be less distracted, less focused, and less consumed by things of the world.

As we watched Captivated (and after we got over the irony that we were watching a TV program that was about not watching TV! 🙂 ) Kellie and I felt like we wanted to try what one of the families did — a “media fast” for 40 days.

But there was a big obstacle we knew we had to overcome — how do we share this idea with Faith, Evelyn, and Elizabeth in a way that they would embrace? We wanted to present the idea of doing a media fast in a way that would set us up for success and not failure, acceptance and not rebellion.

So we decided to rewatch the documentary with them, pausing it every 10 minutes or so to talk about what we were seeing and hearing. At one point our oldest daughter Faith asked, “Is it a good thing that we only have one TV in our house?” What a great question that led to an even greater conversation!

After watching Captivating and talking through it, the girls jumped on board easier than expected. And the last 40 days went much easier than expected. Here is some of the “fruit” we experienced:

  • I have been oblivious to all sports related topics like the Lions pre-season… and I haven’t missed it at all!
  • What used to be “Family Fun Nights” every Friday night but degenerated into Family MOVIE Nights became Family FUN Nights once again where we interacted with one another and did activities together instead of silently sitting in a room together watching a DVD.
  • The girls played with un-played toys like their arts & crafts bin, puzzles, various board games, etc.
  • More trips to the library and the girls spent way more time reading… and so did Kellie and I!
  • No arguing about what TV program to watch or who wanted to use the iPad
  • More time being outside and enjoying the summer weather and playing baseball and soccer in the backyard.

0816171954So today is Day 41. But we aren’t going back to the way things were. Our goal is to establish a “new normal” when it comes to how much the TV will be on and how much we engage in every other form of media. And trust me, it won’t be much.

In every sermon I preach, I always give Action Steps for folks to try out. So here are some Action Steps for you to consider as you process what you read in this blog:

  1. Track how much “screen time” you engage in each day, either checking your cell phone or watching TV or using a tablet or being online. I bet its way more than you think! (read Ephesians 5:15-16)
  2. Think about how much more time you would have to do things that truly matter if you minimized or completely eliminated that “screen time.” (read Matthew 22:34-39)
  3. Watch the documentary Captivated and see how God speaks to you as you view it. (read Isaiah 30:21)
  4. Consider doing a “fast” from TV or surfing the internet or all forms of media for a few weeks or 40 days or even longer. (read Philippians 4:8)

***”Prophecy.” What words or images come to mind when you heard that word? A guy standing on a street corner wearing a sign that talks about when the world is going to end? Someone dressed in strange clothing with even stranger hair? When it comes to prophecy there is a ton of misinformation out there. So what exactly does the Bible teach about prophecy? And how can we press into the command the Apostle Paul gives us: “to eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy” (see 1 Cor. 14:1)? Please join us August 20th at 10:30am for my sermon titled “What Prophecy Is… and Isn’t.” A reminder that the temporary summer home of The Eastside Vineyard Church is Wiley Elementary School (near 21 Mile & Van Dyke at 47240 Shelby Rd. in Utica). More info at tevchurch.org***

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A Brother Who Smuggled a Book

20170622_120853Yesterday was the first official day of summer and because of that I felt led to write this blog. It’s about a brother who smuggled a book. And I hope what you read inspires you to reach new heights on your spiritual journey between now and Labor Day.

The brother that this blog is about??? A man named Brother Andrew. He is often called “God’s Smuggler” as well as “God’s Secret Agent.” He is one of those modern day heroes of the faith that I have heard of but, in reality, didn’t really know much about. So I picked up his biography simply titled Brother Andrew: God’s Secret Agent (part of the awesome Christian Heroes: Then and Now series) and was blown away at what I read.

In a nutshell, Brother Andrew felt God gave him a lifelong mission to get the Bible into the hands of Christians in Communist countries where it was illegal. And he risked his life over and over to do exactly that as he traveled across eastern Europe, the U.S.S.R., and China.

While his courage was inspirational, what really rocked me was how the Christians who lived “behind the Iron Curtain” reacted when they saw what Brother Andrew had in his backpack.

For example, here is what happened when Brother Andrew gave a Bible to a group of Christians in Bulgaria: “The members of the church would gasp when they saw it, and as they passed it from one to the other to examine it, tears would run down their cheeks.” (p.183). Imagine being emotionally moved like that when you picked up your Bible!

Later on in his life, Brother Andrew focused his efforts on getting Bibles behind the “Bamboo Curtain” of Communist China. In underground churches in China, Bibles “were in such short supply that a Bible would be cut apart and sections of it handed around so that people could memorize it” (p.210). Imagine only having one page of God’s Word in your possession and treasuring it to that degree!

As I read story after story in that biography, I felt like the Holy Spirit brought a healthy conviction on me. Not guilt, but conviction, and there is a world of difference between the two. 🙂

The conviction? Read, study, reflect on, and memorize the Bible like never before.

The timing of reading the book about Brother Andrew was not coincidental. When it came to my personal Bible reading, I have been in a valley as of late. I still have been reading it regularly but not as much as before and far from the level of passion that I have read it in the past. So the biography put the wind in my sails that I needed.

All that to say, I knew what I wanted for Father’s Day: a new Study Bible! Granted I already own an NIV Study Bible but I decided to take the advice I have given to many folks at my church: when you aren’t reading the Bible as much as you’d like, sometimes “just what the doctor ordered” is to buy a new translation which will allow you to read the Bible with fresh eyes.

So Kellie and the kiddos took a trip to the new LifeWay Christian Store near Lakeside Mall (where the old Family Christian used to be located) and got me the brand new CSB Study Bible. And… I… love… it!

I had been reading the CSB translation (which is a cross between the NIV and ESV when it comes to readability) for a couple months now, but the Study Bible version of it — with it’s 16,000 study notes!! — just got published. And I am thankful it did.

With July 4th right around the corner, a day when we celebrate our country’s birthday, let me say this… I am thankful I live in a country where you can drive to a store to buy a Bible… and where there are dozens of versions to choose from… and there is no fear of arrest or imprisonment for owning a copy of it.

May you — and I — not take for granted the privilege it truly is to own a Bible. And may we not be content only reading it here and there. May we become like Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 3:3) and consume the sacred text. Not so we can win a Bible trivia contest, but so we can better follow our Rabbi as His disciples.

P.S. #1. To help you put this blog into practice, attached is a Bible Reading Plan that I created for our church family. It’s a 13-page document with a day-by-day plan as well as other hints and tips in how to get the most out of God’s Word. Click HERE for your free copy.

P.S. #2. If you live in my local area, go support the new LifeWay store. They are having a Grand Opening sale this week and giving out 40% off coupons. So you could buy a new Study Bible at a very affordable price!

***Americans are people of action, aren’t we? So we love it when God gives us marching orders to “go” and “do.” But what about when God says, “Wait?” What do we do when God presses the pause button? Well, that is exactly what happened in Acts 1 between the Ascension of Jesus and the Day of Pentecost. Jesus told His followers to “wait.” But as they waited, they didn’t sit around and do nothing. Instead they pressed into three critical areas that prepared them for what was right around the corner. And we need to learn from them and do the same! Please join us at The Eastside Vineyard Church on June 25th at 10:30am at our new location at Wiley Elementary School (near 21 Mile & Van Dyke at 47240 Shelby Rd. in Utica)! More info at tevchurch.org***

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