Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Local Jesus

I'm not sure how your community celebrates Jesus.  Maybe your community doesn't do anything.  I hope it does something.   Here's a snapshot at how my town celebrates!

This caught my eye for a few reasons.

Continue reading here...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Stir the Water

For the past couple years our church has hosted Grocery Giveaways.  In a nutshell they consists of 10,000 lbs. of food being dropped at our church on 12-15 pallets.  From there volunteers sort, count and stack it all within an hour and a half.  The food is ultimately given out to folks from our community.  Each time we do this it is exhilarating.  Each time it is tiring.  Each time also brings with it new insights into the needs of our community, the church and my own heart.

We receive our shipment of food around 3:30.
We distribute the groceries at 5 pm. 

Today, and like every other time we get host this ministry, people start arriving to the church early in the day.   Today it was at 8:56 that the first car pulled into the driveway.  8:56 am!

Here's my confession.  I was annoyed that she pulled into our driveway 8 hours prior to us distributing groceries.

And here's the next confession, I said something about her to Pastor Josh.  I said it in a derogatory way.

I was wrong.
It's not my business.
I apologized to Josh.  I apologized to God.

Jesus had an experience in John 5 at the Pool of Bethesda.  Around that pool the sick and the crippled gathered.  They hoped that by going into the pool at the point of the water being stirred something phenomenal would happen--they would be healed.  So there, around that water, people would lie in wait.  All day.  All week.  All month.  All year(s)?

And today she showed up in our parking lot at 8:56 am.  She sat there all day!  She was there 8 hours.  I don't know why she "doesn't go get a job".  I don't know why she doesn't go somewhere and work on her resume.  I don't know why she sits in the parking lot all day for $70 in free groceries.

But maybe, just maybe, she thinks that through the church, the body of Christ, something phenomenal can happen.  Maybe she wants what we have--and I don't just mean our groceries.  Maybe she believes the water is stirred when the people of God serve and love others.   

When Jesus encountered that entire pool of people he approached one man and healed him.  We served her today.  We also offered her an opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ prior to handing out groceries.

I know her because she's received groceries before.  I am guessing we'll see her again.  If she is in the church parking loat at 8:56 am next month I know I will think of her differently.  Rather than scold or sneer I'm going to stir the waters.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

This is the Juice

One of the ways we are seeking to keep conversations going and information moving in our church is through a new blog Josh and I are co-authoring.  It's called The Juice
We plan to take turns writing and will post at least weekly.
When I post there, I'll let you know here too.  I it here

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hear it here...

We had an amazing weekend!

The short version:
Eliza Grace Damaska was born into our family Friday night (10/22/10).  She and Sarah are both doing well and are now home. 

Jump over to Sarah's blog for the full story.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Regular Party

Yesterday our church joined with many other churches nationally in celebrating Pastor Appreciation Month.  It's really a cool thing. 
Recently I've been wondering why October is the month for Pastor Appreciation.
Here's my working theory:
  • November:  turkey on the brain
  • December/January:  it's Christmas time--not pastor appreciation time.
  • February:  huh?  we are too cold to celebrate
  • March:  oh boy the pastor just told the Leadership Board he/she is resigning
  • April:  Easter celebration (plus the pastor just announced to the church he/she is resigning)
  • May/June:  school is wrapping up.  We are celebrating graduating seniors and appreciating volunteers who have served during the past year
  • July:  um, we don't have a pastor...remember, he/she resigned in April
  • August:  still searching
  • September:  we have  new pastor and we are showing appreciation by helping him/her unload their massive moving truck full of stuff
  • October:  Pastor Appreciation Month
Whatever the reason for the timing it really is a cool deal for pastors. 
We don't have pay raise incentives or end of the month bonuses (at least I don't).  We don't have employee of the month parking spots.  We don't hang our pictures on the wall and celebrate the pastor of the month.  None of that stuff.

So yesterday the church said thanks and I appreciate it.  I appreciate the Leaders planning this over  a month ago.  I appreciate the folks who decorated and set up our activity center.  I appreciate the crazy people who decorated my mic stand and put ribbons on my guitar.  It was cool sharing a meal together and seeing kids make multiple trips to the desert table.  Thanks.

Like any family gathering there were issues too.
  • There were conversations about opposing views about some current ministry plans.
  • Some people were noticeably missing yesterday.
  • There were too many carbs and not enough protein items on the table.
  • The men's toilet backed up through the floor drain.  Gross!
In so many ways it was a regular party with many of the regular elements of any old party you might attend.

But it was more than just a party.   Beyond the meal, hugs and gifts the church gave us, yesterday was a another great opportunity to share life together.  Admittedly this is hard for me--and I don't think I'm alone in that confession--but it's good to be together and share our lives with one another.  Jesus promised that he'd be with us when we gather together and do his business.  He doesn't seem to be afraid to party.  He was with us.  What a party!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

poetic memory

Earlier this week I sat in my office heart broken and deeply missing Annie.  What replayed through my mind were the final hours Sarah and I spent with Annie.  Only she and I will ever know how excruciating it was as we held Annie knowing she was going to die. 

I don't know if the following can legitimately be called poetry.   Maybe.  Whatever it is, it reflects some of the flood of images and emotions from those last hours with her. 
 - - - - - -

touching you, feeling your rhythm
listening, watching, wondering
each pause, each gap
each one killing me as you died

hours and music, hands and tears
endless it seemed as we awaited the end
you so strong, I so proud
but still not miracle to be found

you so heavy, you--but not yourself
here but already away
so tired but how
this is the day

in and out the helpless helpers
tending, touching, crying with
and we, hopelessly holding
as eternity robbed your mortality

no more pulse--I no longer feel it
what once was, is now not
the suffering, so sudden, for you no more
so still so cold no breath in store

one more look, one final touch
naked, quiet, peaceful, beautiful
home without you
and I barely knew you.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

one year. reflections with sorrow

Sunday Sarah and I shared with our church some of our reflection of this past year with sorrow.  I love that she and I were able to do this together.  It was good for me to have her next to me.  

Here's a copy of what we shared.
Text.  (Some of this won't make sense to you if you read it.  But it works for me when I preach.)

As difficult as it is at times to share our sorrow with other people and allow them into the story with us, I believe it is so important for us (and others) to do so.  So we talked.  And we cried, some.  I think I would have been a weepy mess were it not for Sarah sitting next to me.  I felt solid with her there.

Sarah, William, Kate & I are spending the entire day together tomorrow. 
Tomorrow marks 1 year since Annie died. 

Getting to tomorrow has been difficult for me.  The past couple weeks have been sad ones.  I've felt like I have been more sad -- or sad in an entirely different way -- than when we first lost Annie.  It has certainly been hard for me.

But life keeps clipping along.
Here is how strange our life is.  On the day we commemorate the anniversary of our daughter we are preparing for our new baby.  We plan to spend some time at Barnes&Noble tomorrow so William and Kate can buy new books for their coming sister.  It's crazy.

But stuff like that has been the story of this entire year.  As sad as we have been we have been blessed to have our kids around us.  They have literally kept us moving.

Thanks to all who have been with us this past year.  Thank you for praying for us and loving us.

Thank you for loving Annie.
I love her too.

"Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;
       he rises to show you compassion.
       For the LORD is a God of justice.
       Blessed are all who wait for him!"
Isaiah 30:18

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Leader's Constant Companion

Yesterday God used a message from Craig Groeschel at The Forum webcast  (here) to impact my thinking and my perspective on ministry.

Leader’s Constant Companion: Pain
As a result we flinch and are hesitant.
As a result we lead so as to avoid pain.

Purposeful Pain exists.
It leads to good results.

So often, the difference b/t where we are and where God wants us to be is the Pain we
are unwilling to endure.

Increasing our Pain Threshold.
3 Areas:
1) Increase our threshold in enduring unjustified rejection and criticism.
The quickest way for us to forget what God thinks of us is to become consumed
with what people think of us.
What is God calling ME to do.

2) Increase our threshold of pain in making the hard decisions.
The “bottom line” is too valuable for us to not make hard decisions.
Make hard decisions early…the longer we postpone them the harder they get.
Good leaders know there are times that you have to tell people (even your friends)
“this is going to hurt me more than this hurts you”.

If there is a painful decision facing you.  Step into it.  Grab it.  Make the decision
God is leading you to make.

3) Endure the pain of pruning.
John 15, true vine-gardener-prunes
If you blame yourself for the decline, one day you’ll take the credit for the
God may be cutting some things away in preparation for things to come.  There
may be times God prunes and we don’t understand.  He understands—and yet he
doesn’t tell/show us, yet.

There’s one promise in ministry:  God will break you.
Push through the pain.  There is more in you.
God wants to do more in you that you can ask or imagine.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My wife is surprised I'm here too...

Regardless of my absence from this blog, I do plan to be here again.
Some of my throughts will make it here...eventually.

Tonight I can't be bothered, though.

But before I go let me tell you about a cool resource.  I'm tuning in again tomorrow to this amazing FREE webcast.

(Earlier today I tuned into messages from Erwin McManus, Craig Groeschel and Patrick Lencioni.  Three of my faves.  Tomorrow another fave, Andy Stanley.)

If you miss it this year, get on their email list and catch it next year.  What a gift.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Still Thinking Orange

Core Values @ NBWC are exciting to preach.
Seven down, one to go.

Our fifth value is:  Outreach & Evangelism
Our sixth value is:  Excellence in Ministry
Our seventh value is:  Discipleship that Grows Leaders

I'd love to have you listen to them and share your feedback.  Here they are...

Also, a huge shout out to all our volunteers from the past year!  Thanks for all you do.  We had a great time celebrating together; eating breakfast together (thanks Pastor Josh & co. for feeding us) and sporting out new think orange shirts.

We really are partnering together to revitalize the spirit of family and community by loving and serving through Jesus Christ.


It has been a long time since I have taken a monstrous road trip.  I did not realize Atlanta, GA was so far from North Branch, MI.  (Just a little FYI, it takes about 14 hours in a church van with 12 people.)
I'm still processing and enjoying the fact that I was able to go to DRIVE Conference '10 @ North Point Community Church.  Huge shout out to Keystone Community Church for helping make it possible to go.

A couple videos will serve you well.  They are both only a couple minutes in length.
The first one is a hightlight video of the 2 1/2 days.
The second video is one that is now circulating around online a bunch.  They showed it at the conference and after you watch it you'll see why people want to share it.  It's especially funny to anyone familiar with worship services.

DRIVE 2010 Highlight from North Point Media on Vimeo.

"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

Attending the conference, like any quality conference, left me with much to think through.  Josh and I went to the conference because we really like the North Point model and mindset of ministry.  I could list several items that stand out to me and several lessons learned but here is a biggie...

Yep, that's it.  Fun.  It is possible to take oneself too serious.  (even using the word "oneself" is an indicator of how serious you've become!)  And I am that guy.  I have been taking myself and our church too serious.  In the process I believe I have led people to take what we do too serious.  Do I still believe in the seriousness of the message of Jesus?  Absolutely.  Does it still plague me that 70-80% of students who grow up in the church will leave the church when they are college aged?  Yes!  And on and on...

At DRIVE '10 there was a culture of enjoyment.  Aside from the evidence of incredibly hard work to make the conference happen there was a noticeable atmosphere amongst volunteers & staff that they genuinely like being where they were and doing what they were doing.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Thinking Orange continued...

Our Core Values are exciting to preach.  I told a friend this week that I'm enjoying preaching them because I actually believe in them.  And, I know others already do too!  These are not some flashy bullet points out of the latest book but they are values that our leaders worked out together over the course of nearly 18 months.  I am the lucky one who gets to present them.

Last Sunday I preached the our third core value:  Foundation (listen here)
Simply put, we believe in God's word, the message of the Cross, and God's call for us to be holy.  To snag a line from Andy Stanley (whose flashy books I greatly appreciate), "Maximum Freedom is found under the Authority of God."

It may seem trite for a church to say we believe in the Scriptures.  But we believe it important to say it and live like it.  

In a couple days I'm going to preach our fourth core value:  Spiritual Vitality.
Again, simply put, we believe in the beauty of a relationship with God not the performance of the religion of following God.  

My boy, William, loves it when I spend a few minutes lying down next to him in his bed at night.  When I am in a rush to go watch "24" or something and am about ready to leave without spending those few minutes he calls to me, "Dad, aren't you going to stay a few minutes?"  Actually son, I am.  

Perhaps your relationship with God has become rigid and restricted to time/place.  Perhaps, like me, you need to just spend some time with your Father.  Perhaps, like me, you need to remember he's not in a hurry to watch a show on tv.  He's knocking on the door waiting for us to invite him in.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What to say?

When people ask, "How are you doing?" I cannot always discern  if they are saying, "How are you doing today?" or if they are saying "How are you doing with...well, you're daughter's death?"

Ah, the beauty of the english language!

I can, though, answer both those questions in one statement that has become a bit of a mantra for me.  My answer is, "I'm more good than bad."
And that is the truth.  My days are mostly good.  My emotional state is mostly strong.  My workload is mostly manageable. etc...  Yes, I walk by pictures of Annie and stare in disbelief at what has happened.  Yes, I struggle to tell people I have 3 children when the truth is I have 2 children alive in my household.  But still, "I'm more good than bad."

The picture above is a group of people Sarah and I spend a weekend with not long ago.  In the lower left are the leaders of the retreat we attended, David & Nancy Guthrie.  (See my little head floating in the back row?)  They designed a weekend for parents who have lost children.  It's called Respite.  Although surrounded by stories of grief we found it refreshing to be in a setting where there was 1 thing in common---the death of a child (or children for some couples).  It was awful to hear their stories and to share ours.  But at the same time it was refreshing because the "How are you doing?" question was immediately understood.

"How are you doing?"
You may hear me asking you that the next time I see you.  Feel free to answer it as it pertains to your day.  But also feel free to answer it as it relates to some deeper aspect of your life.  And I will do my best to listen.
Thanks for listening to me.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Thinking Orange

Think Orange.  The title comes from a book with the same title by Reggie Joyner.  You can check it out here.  The book captivated me and Josh (our other pastor).  Not only does it ask (and answer some) great questions about practical ministry it overarching theme is partnership.  Rather than thinking of family and church as two separate entities (red & yellow) is there a way in which we can "Think Orange"?  Partnership.

I'm struck by the images above.  One includes 40 dots--representing the average number of hours a church has in a year to influence a life.  The other picture includes 3000 dots--representing the number of hours parents have to influence their kids.  How can we partner together to make each set of hours most valuable?

We are spinning off the theme of partnership as we preach through the Core Values of our church.  Our 8 Core Values are all about Partnership;  with God, with each other, with our community.

 Core Value 1:  Healthy Relationships 
Josh preached through this last week.
The ultimate goal of this value is for our church to develop intimacy with God, community with Insiders, and influence with Outsiders.  To do so we are developing a plan for small groups.  By September a renewed structure for Community Groups is going to be in place.  We believe that by connecting people in groups is our best opportunity for developing healthy relationships to take place.

 Core Value 2:  Generous Living 

If you've been around the church for long you have probably heard preachers talk about 'time, talents & treasure'.  Generous living, although we aren't using that exact terminology, is about people using what they have to accomplish greater things together.  Again, partnership is much more valuable that individual efforts.

6 more to go...stick around.
If you'd like to listen to the sermons click here

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

a first

Today is Annie's birthday.  It would have been her first.

My wife has a great idea for a "birthday present" on her blog.  Check out Peanut Butter Jam and leave a gift there.

Happy Birthday sweet girl.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


  • I have one mom and one dad.
  • My one sister is older than me.
  • I lived in 5 different states before High School graduation. (3 more states and 1 additional country since then.)
  • My neighbor sold me my first car for $750.  A Chevy Luv.
  • Bought my second car for $900.  A VW bus.
  • Shortly after that second car I bought my third car.  It cost $4600.  It was a more dependable VW.
  • I dated Sarah 9 months before asking her to marry me.
  • We were engaged another 9 months and then married.
  • Have been married 10 years this May.
  • Our William is 5.
  • Our Kate is 3. 
 We are staying in room 306 at a hotel in Ann Arbor, MI.
We are celebrating commemorating this weekend.   Annie would have turned 1 March 9.  She died nearly 6 months ago.

We visited the 3rd floor of the Mott Children's Hospital yesterday:  PICU.  Such amazing people there.

We walked by Family Consulation Room 2 and William said, "There's the room we were in."
My thoughts: "Yes son, that is the room where your mom and dad waited, cried, and prayed.  Yes son, that is the room where the 4 of us sat as we told you that Annie was so sick and was going to die.  Yes did you remember that?!"

The book of Hebrews includes the following description of Jesus.
14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Did you see the number?  Verse 15 says, "we have one..."

And because of that one we receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  God gives us grace right on time.

This weekend we are commemorating.
We are also celebrating; celebrating the victory of the One (Jesus) who overcame so much for us, celebrating his grace, and celebrating the one that through grace is with him even as we mourn that she is not with us.
Anne Jane.
I Love you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pray for Kate

Let me simply direct your prayers and support to a young girl named Kate.  She's battling brain cancer and this week is undergoing an intense round of chemotherapy. 

Her story and the ongoing blog is here.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

One Minute

Jesus' mission to his followers is shared, at least in part, in Matthew 28:18-20.  It is a big mission.  It is a seemingly impossible mission.  It is a mission he originally shared with a small band of followers.

One of my favorite books is by Malcolm Gladwell.  It is called, The Tipping Point (buy it here).  He fills the pages with illustration upon illustration of how the unexpected has beomce the expected in personal lives, companies, and countries.  My mind soaks it up.

Jesus' mission was originally given to 11 disciples (some of who doubted, the text says).  From that small number grew the entire Christian Church.  Malcolm Gladwell eat your heart out.  It is a remarkable illustration of the effect far outweighing the cause.

We are raised to think that A + B = C and many times this is the case.  But there are numerous occasions where A + B = Whoa!  And this is  a Tipping Point.

As a follower of Jesus I believe in the Tipping Point.  I believe that Christ does more in and through us than we can even ask or imagine.  And the cool thing about a tipping point is that it does not take something big to make a big change.  It does not take changing everything for everything to change.

Rob Bell, in the DVD Everything is Spiritual, shares some great insight from the world of science.  Essentially there are hundreds of realities scientists know about our solar system.  For instance the sun is 93 million miles from the earth; the earth tilts at 23.5%; oceans are 3.4% salt; etc...  Again, there are hundreds of these known realities and all of them together create the life sustaining planet we call home.  If just one of those calculations were different, like the sun were 92 mil. miles away, it would throw off the who entire equilibrium and life on earth could not exist.

And do you get it?
It doesn't take much to change everything.

Jesus used a small band of followers to begin changing the world.
Our solar system is precisely designed for life on earth.
A + B does not always equal C.

Today I invited our church to change everything.
I invited our church to commit to one minute of prayer.  Just one minute.
One minute in prayer everyday for the mission of our church and the transformation of our community.

It doesn't take much to change everything.