Celebrating So Many Things!

>> Wednesday, December 28, 2011

This picture shows the crowd that showed up for the 5:00 pm. Christmas Eve service at our Lincoln Center site. Chairs were added to the middle isle and we had a standing room only crowd of 294! Very cool picture of God at work.

The balcony was dusted off and completely filled with eager Christmas Eve participants who had a great view of the service!
Candle light was distributed and both campuses ended their services with Silent Night and Joy To The World. God orchestrated some very cool things this past Christmas Eve. Not to us, but to him be the glory!
I just completed figuring our average worship attendance for 2011. Our average worship attendance was 1,631 per week. That's 5% growth from 2010 with one-half of that growth due to our partnership and merger with Lincoln Center.
I'm continuing to celebrate that God continues to choose to allow us to be part of some "amazing and perplexing" things that He is choosing to do. I'm humbled and ecstatic as I think of God inviting us into 2012 with him. It's gonna be a challenge and a thrill.


Seeing Past the Busyness!

>> Thursday, December 8, 2011

The busyness of the season has arrived. We are getting ready for Saturday's Christmas In Walnut project, preparing for the holiday services, going to concerts and programs and trying to get things ready for the family Christmas celebrations. It's a lot!
In the midst of it, I want to feel the calm and peacefulness of this holy season of Christ's birth. I know that my perspective makes all of the difference. If I'm calm and centered on the inside, then I can continue to see the beauty and opportunities of this special season of the year. If I let my heart get focused on the busyness, then I lose what I love about this season--its peace and joy and hope.
So, I'm saying quiet prayers and looking for the joyful opportunities in each event. I'm loving my grandkid's Christmas programs. I'm loving the concerts and parties we will attend. I'm loving seeing so many friends and family. I've decided that I will find the quiet peacefulness that is available to me during and between the events of this season.
I hope you can take time to find peaceful and quiet times to focus on the baby of Christmas.


Christmas Is For Real!

>> Monday, December 5, 2011

Today Orchard's Daily Engagement with Scripture turned the corner to focusing upon Advent by diving into the first two chapters of Luke.
So, the gospel of Luke begins:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fullfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. Luke 1:1-4
I love that the gospel of Luke starts this way with the Christmas story. Luke basically says this is the truth. I've investigated it and it seems good to write all of this in an orderly account.
In a culture where the myths of Christmas get mingled with the truth of Christmas, it's powerful to begin this way today.
My wife, Linda, and I have a stack of Christmas books that we read to our granadkids. It's a mix of the truth and the folklore of Christmas. The pile might look like this: The Grinch That Stole Christmas, Rudolf, The Jesus Storybook Bible, The Night Before Christmas, The Little Drummer Boy, and The Story of the Angels.
Truth and folklore mixed together. It's so good that as a church and in our homes we can enjoy the folklore and focus clearly upon the truth of a rescuer by the name of Jesus. For all of the homes who are using a Jesse Tree to bring this truth home to their family, today is Day 5.
This is going to be a fun season!


Critical Volunteers!

>> Friday, December 2, 2011

My wife, Linda, was up at 5:00 a.m. this morning preparing for the ministry, she founded more than 25 years ago, called Mom's Morning Out. She has been so committed to this ministry over the years. She recruits childcare every week, she cares for the moms and tries to help them keep growing in their faith. She has given 8-10 hours per week to this ministry for all of these years. Now our daughter is leading a similar group through St. Marks Lutheran Church is Cedar Rapids.
Linda says the key to this ministry is all of the volunteers who join her to serve the moms. She's right. Mom's Morning Out is one of our many key ministries that wouldn't even exist without volunteers and a volunteer leader.
I started thinking of this and wanted to say a word of encouragement to all of Orchard's volunteers. It requires hundreds of volunteers every week to be the church.
So, thank you....
300 volunteers who have committed to Christmas in Walnut
200+ volunteers who serve in Children's Ministry every Sunday morning
Volunteer parking team
Volunteer Coffee House team
Volunteer muscicians
Money counters
Newsletter folders
Greeters, ushers,
Big House, CHAOS, and BASIC volunteers in Student Ministry
Meal preparers on Wednesday night and Picnic in the Park
Small Group Leaders
I could go on and on but I won't. These volunteers and many others serve faithfully in seen and unseen ways. Thank you so much.
At our recent Congregational Celebration, our Volunteer Leadership Board shared their hearts for our church. Many have mentioned to me that it was moving to hear our Board of Elders share their hearts. At the top of this entry is a picture of many of them from the Congregational Celebration.


Mozambique Partners Visit Orchard!

>> Thursday, October 27, 2011

Here's the panel that visited with our Under-Resourced Team and our Missions Team on Saturday morning about helping people help themselves instead of just being involved in charity and giving.
Halkena and Sheilla shared their stories at the Big House Event on Wednesday night in our Cedar Falls Sanctuary!
Our partners at Harvest Vineyard Church and our partners from Mozambique got this picture together. It is so fun to see partners from different parts of the world being together.
The five days that our team from Mozambique were with us in Cedar Falls was an incredible time of learning and building relationships. Halkeno, Sheilla and Josh kept very busy in their time with us. We prayed together, shared the story of sponsored children, laughed together and enjoyed each other. We added about 20 monthly sponsorships for children. This was fantastic!
We work hard in our Under-Resourced work to build friendships with people who can help us learn and can walk with us. It's very good to have them visit!


Eating Meat on Halloween!

>> Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Last weekend we had a Halloween Party at our house with our family. It was a blast. We had the party last weekend because Linda and I are going to be on a weekend away when Halloween comes next Monday. We didn't want to miss all the fun!

After teaching on family the last three Sundays, I've been thinking that I forgot to mention the role of fun in building families. Having fun together, in big and small ways, is an important ingredient to positive and effective family life in Christ. This models for all of us, the role of joy and laughter in the Christian life.

Some followers of Christ choose not to celebrate Halloween because of its dark roots and its connection with our secular culture. Instead of celebrating Halloween they have Harvest Parties or other healthy alternatives. I believe that is a honorable and appropriate response for some parents who follow Christ and want the best for their family.

Linda and I have chosen to embrace holidays like Halloween and redeem them within our family for the sake of joy. Our grandkids brought their costumes and they trick or treated at every available door on our property. We tried to scare them and then Linda read the message of God's creation and the love of Christ as I carved a pumpkin (very poorly may I admit!). It was a memory building time of simple fun.

Romans 14:6 says this about a New Testament debate among people who were deciding whether to eat meat that had previously been offered as a sacrifice to idols, "...He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.

Both responses to eating meat offered to idols (and to Halloween) can honor Christ. Romans 15:5 goes on to say this, "May the God who gives endurance and encouaragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I believe our church family is one where we can allow each other to have freedom in Christ. We can allow and encourage followers of Christ to make different decisions but still trust their hearts and encouage each other. We can be a church marked by love for each other that is attractive to those who are seeking God.

Go have some fun and let your life be marked by joy!


Questions about our teaching team????

>> Friday, October 14, 2011

Our Orchard Teaching Team met yesterday. We meet once every two weeks to work together on the teachings that we will bring to our church family on Sunday mornings. It is fun and, I believe, healthy for our congregation to have multiple voices speaking God's truth to our congregation. I love our teaching team which regularly has 7 teachers and a couple of regular subs--Ed, Mike, Alice, Doug, Tim, Kurt and myself!
When I travel and meet with other church leaders, our teaching team is the most often asked about part of our ministry. Many churches tell me that they are hoping to move in this direction. But, having a high trust teaching team that is willing to share the pulpit (if we used one?) can be a challenge. A part of each of our meetings this fall has been a time for us to build trust between our teachers. It can be hard because we don't really spend a lot of time together and we are very different people. It's working well and I believe our congregation benefits from different voices with different passions and life stories.
So, how does it work? We outline a teaching series together and in general agree what we will teach from God's Word and what our congregation needs at this point in their journey. At that point, each individual teacher takes that information and develops their own teaching. Jonny Rogers helps us package the teaching series in a way that we hope will be sticky to our congregation. We hope and pray that our teaching team is helping each person in our congregation grow.
What about favorites? I think it's ok to have a favorite teacher or two. It's natural that one or two of our team would be most helpful to you. I'm certain that each of our team is someone's favorite. What's really important, though, is that each of us is open to God speaking to us from His Word brought by any of the teachers. When you listen to a teaching live or on-line, be sure to listen for God's voice much more than the human voice of the teacher!


Pictures from BASIC outdoors!

Take a look at these three pictures of taking BASIC outdoors that tell more of the story I spoke about in my last blog post! God is good, he is active and he is at work in student's lives.


Bright Lights at UNI Homecoming!

>> Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Last week was UNI's Homecoming--always a big event here in Cedar Falls. It was a tough game with a great outcome. I want to tell you about Thursday night on campus.
Our College Ministry Team and their leaders decided to take our Thursday night BASIC event outside in order to be "salt and light" on homecoming week. The spot for the event was between Lang Hall and the President's House.
It was a beautiful night (thank you God!). The team pulled a generator with a flood light on a large pole and pointed this light from up high to the stage area. As it got dark this light served as a metaphor for what was going on. The light lit the stage area and the stage area lit up this night with God's truth. Students walking from campus to "the hill" couldn't help but hear and see this Christ-centered event.
There was singing, a teaching, a prayer walk and soft drinks served at the top of "the hill" and sandwiches (made by our Chuckwagon) served at the bottom of "the hill." The team have told me that many great conversations about faith and life took place on this beautiful homecoming evening. Some students walking by even iniated the conversations. I believe this is exactly the kind of ministry that Jesus would want his church to do.
Sometimes, I'm so proud of what our teams do in the name of Christ! I love the heart of so many of our staff and volunteers!


Monday Night Lincoln Center Leadership

>> Wednesday, October 5, 2011

On Monday night I was at the Lincoln Center Leadership Team. Sometimes I think of Lincoln Center as an isolated merger that is "out there in Grundy County." But isolated is not the reality. Rather, they have become "fully merged" very quickly!
Here's a partial list of how this small band of Christ-followers are already merging within the ministries of Orchard Hill--
6 people attended the Global Leadership Summit
4 people participated and raised funds for the Iowan's For Africa Marathon Team
3 people traveled with Route 55 Ministry to Inspiration Hills for work trip
3 people are participating in our Emerging Leaders class at Grundy Campus
5 men are attending the Grundy Men's Ministry
Several people are registered to attend the Spiritual Gifts Discovery Class
1 young mom is attending the Grundy Mom's Ministry which now meets at the Lincoln Center site.
This merger with Lincoln Center was definitely led by God and has gone better than I could have ever dreamed. Again, I stand "amazed and perplexed" by the work of God! (Acts 2:12)


God's Word in the Hands of Children!

>> Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A couple Sundays ago, my grandson Charlie got his Bible as an Orchard Hill second grader. Thinking of him walking across the stage to receive his very own Bible, as a gift from our church, really touched my heart. As Doug Tensen mentioned at that service, I still have the Bible I received as a kid from Orchard Hill on May 21, 1967. It's a treasure to me. I'm so please that our
I was in a meeting where we talked about giving age-appropriate Bibles at this years Christmas Store in Walnut Neighborhood. I couldn't help but think about what a powerful good way this is to use some of our resources. God's Word put into the hands of children who are eager to learn.


Amazed and perplexed by growth!

>> Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Our Route 55 Mission Team (shown above) left for Inspiration Hills Camp yesterday at noon. Twenty-five to thirty team members (I'm not sure of exact number) plan to serve the camp in Northwestern Iowa. They will do all kinds of maintenance, cleaning up and other tasks.
I am amazed and perplexed again at the growth of this ministry to our oldest folks. I'm so inspired that people who are in their 60's, 70's and 80's are ready and willing to follow Christ into serving the world beyond our walls. Jean Gedlinske has done an amazing job of leading this ministry and now she has a new staff partner in Jennifer Van Gent. Yea God!


Oops...it's been writer's block!

I've had writer's block for the past two months! I've been negligent with my blogging. I apologize and regret not writing about all of the "amazing and perplexing" things God has been doing within and beyond our church family. I missed opportunities to celebrate many things in the last two months:
Caravan and Rocky Mountain High where students made commitments to Christ and lives were changed.
The Global Leadership Summit where 412 leaders received 2 days of excellent training challenge.
THE GATHERING at UNI's Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center where 2,057 of our church family gathered in one place to worship God and get motivated to serve Christ this fall.
The many start-up of our fall ministries.
So, I will beat myself up or get down on myself or even make a lot of excuses (although that would be my tendency!) I will simply give myself a do-over and a fresh start! After all, that's exactly what Jesus came to give us. He came to give us a fresh start. He came to provide forgiveness for our sins and our failures. He came to help us forgive ourselves, stand back up and keep living for Him.
I think I will do that!


Orchard's Influence on Rocky Mountain High!

>> Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tomorrow morning I will leave for Estes Park, Colorado. Many of our staff and volunteers will participate in a Synod-wide Student Ministry Conference called Rocky Mountain High. More than 2500 students and volunteers will gather at the YMCA of the Rockies to worship God and learn more about Him. I'm sure some of these students will give their hearts to Jesus for the first time.

As I gather my materials and begin to think through packing, I'm reflecting upon Orchard's influence on this event. We have had members on the organizing team for about 25 years. We have taken our Caravan trip there several times.

This year, Tim Walsten will be the emcee, Jeff Mickey will oversee video production, Ali Rogers and her band will lead worship, and Walt Rogers will produce the large group sessions. We have volunteers traveling to help with sound, lights, video, and mountain climbing. Beyond the 120 who will travel with Caravan on Friday, we have 20-30 others who are volunteering to help. A special thank you to those who are taking vacation time to make this conference a reality.

My key role is to inspire the volunteers to understand and serve the mission of the event. The theme is Amplify--Build up, Strengthen, Overflow. Students will be reading and reflecting upon the New Testament book of Colossians.

I know my own children were very influenced and touched by many large Christian events during their growing up years. I am praying that many students will receive the same encouragement and challenge during this next week. I hope that you will join me in praying for these students.


One week after Africa!

>> Friday, July 8, 2011

I'm sitting in a Black Hawk County courtroom the morning after July 4. I guess this is a good day to participate in my civic duty to help someone have a fair trial. We are waiting for the jury to be chosen and I'm hoping all of this can happen without my further investment.

(Quick note--I'm posting this on Friday and did not have to serve on a jury this week. Whew, that was close for a three week trial. I'm so grateful that I wasn't chosen to serve.)

It's one week since we've returned from Africa. It takes time to physically recover and I hope in many ways I never recover spiritually from my second trip to Mozambique. The picture above is our sharing Christ on Saturday morning in the market.

My reflections after one week home:

God at work in a mighty way--extraoridnary
Orchard's investment in Mozambique--effective and right
Orchard's partnership with Food for the Hungry--synergistic
Children our congregational members sponsor--needy and grateful
Our 2011 Mozambique Mission Team--risk-taking, solid, faithful
Our future in Gorongosa, Mozambique--promising, hopeful

It continues to strike me that we are doing the same things for Christ in each of our five communities. We are declaring Jesus, passing faith to next generations, working with public schools and building fully devoted followers of Christ. Thanks for being a part of this.


Laying the cornerstone in Mozambique!

>> Thursday, June 23, 2011

I'm sitting in the Dulles international Airport in Washington D.C. returning from a 15 day trip to Mozambique, Africa. It was a powerful time for our team of nine. We had an incredible range of experiences working within the rural community of Gorongosa.

We trained pastors and Children's Ministry people and did some medical training. We laid the cornerstone (with government officials) for the school that our 2010 Marathon Team and Food Resource Bank have funded, dedicated and handed over the keys to public latrines which we began to build one year ago and visited some of our 275 sponsored children.

Food For The Hungry is our partner in this effort toward community transformation and evangelism. Orchard Hill is the largest child sponsor they have in the region. Motivated by our partnership their staff celebrated our 49 years of being a church with an anniversary party with cake and balloons. Our partnership works because we have the same philosophy of Ministry, core values, and very strong relationships with their leadership staff.

I'm celebrating that 264 families in this region reported beginning to follow Jesus Christ during this past year. I'm also celebrating that our sponsorships actually help thousands of children and hundreds of families grow in the way of Jesus. (Luke 2:52--spiritually, educationally, physically, and socially)

We can actually see the difference that our sponsorships make! I'll be writing more about this affirming experience in the days to come.


Leaving for Mozambique!

>> Tuesday, June 7, 2011

I never had a trip to Africa on my bucket list. Mission trips were not on my radar. I was a Student Ministry Director then a church leader who wanted to reach young people, neighbors, and friends right here with the very good news of Jesus Christ. That was my focus. We as a church are clearly focused upon building a church to reach our friends, family, co-workers and neighbors in the Cedar Valley and beyond.

I've been struck this week by our readings in the book of Acts especially chapter 10:9-23. God shows Peter a vision of all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice tells him, "Get up. Peter. Kill and eat."

Peter was a faithful, Jewish Christian who wanted to obey the Jewish laws and follow Jesus. He had never eaten unclean or impure animals and now, in his mind, was not the time to start.

So Peter replies, "Surely not, Lord!"

The Bible then says that this exact communication happended two more times. Two more times God said, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat!"

"Surely not, Lord!" Those three words have stuck with me this week. "Surely not, Lord!"

As I reflect upon God's leading of Orchard Hill Chruch, I often say those words or words like them, "Surely not, Lord!"

Surely not, Lord...you're not calling our church to partner with a community halfway across the world called Gorongosa, Mozambique on the continent of Africa.

Surely not, Lord...you wouldn't be asking us to sponsor 250+ children monthly so they can got to school be cared for and learn about Jesus.

Surely not, Lord...you're not calling me to go there on our team of nine people and invest two weeks with the pastors, tribal leaders, chidren and Food for the Hungry staff people.

Surely not, Lord...you couldn't be asking our church to focus upon five communtities in order to tranform lives for Jesus Christ: the Cedar Valley, Walnut Neighborhood, Grundy County, Pignon, Haiti and Gorongosa Mozambique.

Following Jesus almot alwasy takes us outside our comfort zone and our pre-constructed boxes and human plans.
"Surely not, Lord!"


Orchard Staff Take Journey Beyond Our Walls

>> Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Yesterday almost our entire staff took a bus trip called Jouney Beyond Our Walls. This was a day for us to see some of what God was doing beyond the walls of our Cedar Falls campus. According to staff evaluations. This was a tremendous day for growing our hearts. In this picture we are hearing about our Art Team from Walnut Neighborhood who are painting this awesome mural. We visited with two of young ladies who are on this art team!

In partnership with Harvest Vineyard Church we are renovating Walnut House to have a ministry center in the neighborhood. We walked through Walnut House and prayed for every room. George Marshal, one of the co-pastors of Harvest Vineyard shared his vision for the house.

At Lincoln Center we laid hands on and prayed for Jesse and Rachel Henkle who will be starting
as our Host Leaders at that ministry. We also ate lunch in the basement with about 20 people from that ministry. This was an excellent time for our staff to meet some of the people who make up this ministry. It was moving for many of our staff to hear the surrendered hearts of people who have invested in this ministry for their entire lifetime.

Tuesday was a beautiful day for our staff Journey Beyond Our Walls. This bus was our home for the day and this is a picture of the building in which Lincoln Center Church meets.

Here are staff gathers in one of the four buildings that we rent each Sunday in Grundy Center. We were inspired to hear from Mike Brost and Jen Venenga about their vision for this ministry of life-change in Grundy Center. This ministry is doing an aweful lot with very little.

One of our Orchard families donated the funds to sponsor this day. It was so encouraging to spend the day together as we bused across the countryside to see some of the places where God was at work. The Student Ministry staff led interactions and games during some of our bus time.

We began our journey within the Cedar Falls campus as our entire staff visited our preschool. Here the students are singing an enthusiastic song about how big and mighty our God is! It was incredible to see the faces and the smiles of these children and teachers.

So, what did we learn from a day together as staff? Several evaluations said that the hearts of individual staff people grew several sizes on this day. It was oustanding to see how God is working in so many different places and in so many different ways. So many of our staff do not get the opportunity to see firsthand the work that God is doing through our church family.

For me, it was so good to see the incredible passion and gifts of our different staff leaders. Each segment of this trip was introduced and described by one of our staff leaders or partners. Their enthusiasm was contagious. One evaluation from a staff simply said, "I'm more glad to be a part of Orchard Hill Church!"


Every Life a Deep Ocean to be Explored!

>> Sunday, May 8, 2011

This morning we heard our second story in a 3 week series called Stories from the Seats. The response has been amazingly strong. Laura Sol Cryer, Sam Schmidt, Jim Thompsen and Bruce Adkins (at Lincoln Center) all have amazing stories which highlight the work of God in their lives.

I love this series because when someone tells their authentic story it touches people in a very deep place. It seems that each person finds a piece of their own story in the story of what God has done in another's life. As I visited with so many people in the Atrium this morning, I found people connecting with Laura's story in so many places:

--a young person with an eating disorder
--a distraught mother searching for God in the struggle of a child
--a struggle with alcohol
--trusting God when I cannot find the peace that passes understanding

I love that one theme of the stories is that we are all broken and only in the power of Jesus Christ can we find healing. I love that another theme is that every life is a deep ocean to be explored and in the exploration we will often find God doing amazing and unexpected things. We will be filled with awe!

I'm grateful for the courage of these story-tellers!


It’s A Great Easter Week!

>> Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tonight at both our junior high CHAOS and our high school BIG HOUSE events, our staff will be inviting students to make new or greater commitments to Jesus Christ. I believe great things will happen in the hearts of students.

Tomorrow night our college BASIC event on UNI’s campus will feature 6 or 7 students sharing their testimonies and Orchard will have an Easter Thursday Communion Service. Friday night fourteen high school seniors from 5 different high schools will share at the Community-wide Good Friday Service of Darkness. Again, I believe that God will work in a powerful way.

A Visit and A Gift!

This morning Dan Paxton, the senior pastor of Heartland Vineyard (our neighboring church across the street), stopped in to give me a book he thought would be helpful to me and we prayed together. We prayed for each other and for both of our churches to have impact this Easter week.

Dan’s stopping in made me feel humble that he was thinking about and caring for me on this busy Easter week. As I reflected upon his visit and his gift, I wanted to pass on the encouragement to other church leaders. I emailed several friends who lead churches in the Cedar Valley and let them know that I would be praying for their congregations this Easter. As I would expect, they “replied to all” and committed to pray for each others congregations on this Easter week.

On top of that, our Mission Team to Haiti, will be with our partners near Pignon, Haiti this Easter. Our team of ten which includes staff members (Doug Tensen & Pat and Diane Oehler) will be leading that church in worship on Easter Sunday morning. This Easter weekend will be awesome at Orchard and across the Cedar Valley and the world.

I Am So Thankful!

I thank God that I can be part of a community where churches authentically pray for each other instead of competing against each other. I thank God that I can be a part of a congregation that invests so much in God’s kingdom beyond just our congregation.

It is my hope and prayer that everyone reading this has a powerful and inspiring Easter!


God Rocks at Love Cedar Valley!

>> Saturday, April 2, 2011

One of 160 explosions of kindness today. This is Lincoln Park where a team includes folks from Drug Court!

Over 500 people attend the final worship gathering at Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center in downtown Waterloo after serving in Explosions of Kindness!

The band had musicians from 9 different churches!

One God.

One church of Jesus Christ

55 local congregations participating

160 Different Explosions of Kindness done in the name of Jesus

1200+ people join as volunteers

Love Cedar Valley was a huge success today and I was proud to be a part of the church of the Cedar Valley. This is probably the day that best demonstrates the oneness of the Body of Christ within the valley. I just love that 55 local congregations participated in this demonstration of God's love. The name of Jesus was lifted up in worship, in teaching, in prayer and in concrete demonstrations of his love.

I believe this was an answer t0 the prayer of Jesus in John 17 where He asks that His followers would be one just as He and the Father are one! Today oneness was demonstrated.

My wife, Linda and I greeted people as they came to the Five Sullivan Brothers Center. It was a blast to greet many of the 600 people who attended the kick-off session. It was inspiring to meet so many great people and then join them in worship and loving the Cedar Valley. This is the most multi-ethnic worship that I participate in locally and it is sweet to watch so many different kinds of people worship God.

Laura Hoy did a great job of leading this event. She also gave a short and powerful teaching asking if we are willing and courageous to be the hands and feet of Jesus. She reminded us that God has always accomplished much through the small and courageous actions of His people.


When following Jesus doesn't make sense: the story of Lincoln Center.

>> Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sunday morning I taught at Lincoln Center Church between Dike and Grundy Center. This 126 year old Christian Reformed Church is a small rural congregation composed of mostly older folks who love God and hope to see the ministry of their congregation continue. As many of you know, we are moving towards a merger with them where they would become a part of Orchard Hill Church. In so many ways this does not make sense, yet we believe God is leading us to do this!

As I was driving home from the morning of teaching and interacting with this congregation, I had a very clear question come into my mind-- How do you follow Jesus when following him seems to make absolutely no sense?

I was telling my wife, Linda, about this question at lunch when she asked me if I'd heard Tim Boettger's teaching that morning. I had not. She said that this question was exactly what he'd taught on. I still haven't heard the teaching but I visited with Tim yesterday and he told me about it. He used the verse John 2:5, "Whatever He says to you, do it."

He taught about how the 10 lepers were given an instruction that made no sense. They were instructed to go into the city and present yourself to the priests. Lepers did not do that. They stayed outside of the city and they avoided contact with the priests. Why would Jesus ask them to do something that made no sense and was contrary to their practices and laws.

At this point, they had to choose. Do we follow Jesus and do this or not? They chose to follow His instructions and were healed as they walked toward the city. One remembered to return and thank Jesus. So, often Jesus asks us to follow Him when following does not make sense at the beginning of the walk. Tim gave several personal examples. I have many examples of this following Jesus when it doesn't make practical or common sense in my own life and the life of our family.

I followed Jesus into starting a faith-based ministry where our family income would be determined by the donations of people in the Ed-Co School District. We had four little children and needed lots of diapers and food. This move did not make sense but we believed God was leading us. Over time, the appropriate funds were donated and Linda and I learned to trust God as He supplied our needs in many different ways.

We moved to Cedar Falls leaving a ministry involving hundreds of students to begin to work in a youth group at Orchard with 8 students. To so many friends and family this made no sense; however, we really felt God's clear leading. Today between Orchard and Nazareth these churches regularly touch more that a thousand junior high, high school and college students. Somehow, our coming to Cedar Falls was a part of that.

When asked by Orchard's leadership what I'd like for a job description in Cedar Falls, I felt led by God to ask them to allow me to work for Orchard only 1/2 time so that I could build a coalition of churches reaching kids as a group of churches. This also didn't make sense for several years as I struggled to get churches to work together. Today it seems so obvious that God was leading. Even this weekend's Love Cedar Valley with 3 or 4 dozen churches working together may have been aided by this following of Christ when it made no sense.

So, back to Lincoln Center. We're pretty certain that God is leading this merger for many reasons but it still doesn't make a lot of sense. John 2:5 says, "Whatever He says to you, do it! Here's some of the evidences that we see God leading us...

Lincoln Center's Council had 5 different options for their future and they prayerfully decided the merger was the God-led option.

Their council continued to pursue this option even as I clearly explained that they would cease being a congregation and would become a ministry of Orchard under the authority of our Leadership Team. They would be giving up congregational control in order to gain a greater ministry. They would sign over their assets to Orchard and surrender control of their future.

Lincoln Center's Congregation voted twice to leave their denomination and pursue joining with Orchard--93% and 74% even when we had no idea exactly what that would mean for them and their church.

Their Christian Reformed Classis prayerfully blessed this move as did four Christian Reformed pastors who visited their Council. If those events were not surprising enough.

Listen to this. Something quite unique happened one month ago. A talented young married couple who are trained for ministry and were a part of Orchard's ministry in the past, came for an appointment.

They came to see me because while living in Denver, Colorado they had felt God calling them back to Iowa to participate in rural ministry. God has given them a huge heart for older people and rural ministry. Their question was, "Does Orchard have a place for us to participate in rural Iowa ministry?" I couldn't believe it. We needed help with Lincoln Center (maybe the most rural church I'd even known) but I had no clue who could do it and here was God possibly sending the answer before we had even formed the question.

I believe at Orchard, we are learning to follow Christ even when it makes no sense. I hope the congregation is ready for this. It seems to be an exciting and challenging way to live. It's really just a part of us being fully devoted. I could make a whole list of things we are doing that don't make sense but seem to be led by God. We could begin with the five focus-communities that He has led us to commit to. It's His leading and we are simply trying our best to follow.

Hang On!


Investing In Our 6th Communities!

>> Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Let's eat lunch!
Grandpa telling a story to 7 of the grandkids!

Yesterday was a great day for having fun and investing in one part of the 6th Community that God has put into my life. I spent the entire day with my 10 grandkids and some of my children. The other children had to work. The kids came to town for a time of cousin-friendship building. My day began at 6:30 feeding a bottle to Jackson, our 4 month old grandson from Ames.

The rest of the day was invested in playing outside, inside games, going to the park, wrestling, eating and having good discussions with my kids. It was a great Spring Break Tuesday.

The idea of serving and sharing in our 6th Communities is so important to the future of our church mission.

The term "6th Community" came during a breakfast discussion with Neil McMahon. It was one term that would tie our caring for others in everyday life with the idea of our church's goal.

Orchard's Big Hairy Audacious Goal is to change lives for Jesus Christ within and between our five focus communities. Those communities are:

1. Cedar Valley
2. Grundy County area
3. Walnut Neighborhood in downtown Waterloo
4. Gorongosa, Mozambique
5. Pignon, Haiti

We are committed together to make a long-term difference in these five communities and to allow God to help us learn from each of these communities of people. I'm learning so much from each of these communtities. I plan to return to Gorongosa, Mozambique in June. I want to visit and train many of the pastors I was with 2 years ago and I want to spend time in the place where our school is being constructed. I want to be a symbol of God's encouragement to the people in that region.

Our 6th Community is the place where you and I spend our time and have been given influence by God. This probably includes your family, your workplace, your neighborhood, your sports team (or the other parents of your kid's sports teams). I pray that Orchard folks will be praying and investing in their 6th communities. It will make all the difference.


Global Leadership Summit Coming!

>> Friday, March 4, 2011

Long Drive/Short Meeting

Wednesday I drove 10 hours round trip to Chicago for lunch and a 3 hour meeting. It was worth the drive! I drove 9 of the 10 hours in silence: praying, thinking and planning.

The lunch was delicious and the meeting insightful. I met with Bill Hybels and about 20 church leaders who will host the Global Leadership Summit in their local congregations this coming August. Orchard would be one of the smallest churches at the table. I love getting to know the humble and good people who lead some of the largest churches in the Midwest. I love hearing their hearts for God and their congregations. I love the opportunity to discuss common challenges that Christ’s church is facing.

I came back enthusiastic about this year’s Global Summit. We will be getting information out as it becomes more public. For now, simply mark your calendars for August 11-12, 2011. I hope that we can reach 500 people in attendance at this year’s Cedar Falls sight.

I Love My GPS!
This trip reminded me how much I enjoy the GPS on my Ipad. It’s a life-saver. Without GPS I used to believe that I knew where I was but had trouble getting to the destination. Now, with GPS, I never know where I am but I always get to my destination. It seems like a great spiritual lesson. Follow Jesus one step at a time and let him get us to the correct destination!


Baptisms in a hot tub on a cold day!

>> Monday, February 14, 2011

Saturday was a beautiful day to baptize two young women in a hot tub. It was emotionally and spiritually moving to listen to their testimonies as they spoke of the role of Jesus in their lives. Jess Taylor and Rebekah Zimmerman both had their faith in Jesus solidified on high school mission trips. God is surely at work on those mission trips!

Watch for a story of faith video coming to Orchard on a Sunday morning soon!


Bricks and More!

>> Saturday, February 12, 2011

As you probably know the Marathon Team (with the help of our Farmer's Resource Bank) and lots of their friends raised $105,000 to build a school in Mozambique, Africa. These pictures show that some of the bricks have arrived. It is so cool to know that regular everyday people in Iowa can make a difference for kids and families in rural Africa where they have so little.

These pictures make me eager to travel with our team in June to be there with the families and children. I'm eager to pray with them, meet with parents, pastors and tribal leaders. I'm eager to be the hands and feet, eyes and smiles of the church of Jesus Christ on another continent.

Even this evening as I pray for Mozambique and the future school, it is really clear to me that we do not need to travel to Africa to be the church. Tomorrow morning as Orchard (and other Christian churches) opens it doors to followers of Christ and to those who are further from God, we will be the church. And as we love our neighbors, family and co-workers right here in Cedar Falls, we are Christ's church. We must serve Christ across the world beginning right here and right now.


New Member Stories

>> Thursday, February 10, 2011

Forty-four New Members!
Forty-four people will be joining Orchard Hill as new members in this current class of people. They will be acknowledged on a coming Sunday morning.

In the last couple days I've been reading their faith journey stories and the stories are so very inspiring. The stories of the folks who are choosing to join with us in our mission make me smile at how God works in so many different ways.

Let me share some of the things that I learned:

1. The people of Orchard are inviting friends and relatives. Most of these folks are at Orchard on the arm of a trusted friend.

2. Many young adults are joining Orchard in order to continue to grow spiritually and be sure their young ones have a spiritual home.

3. Several of these families were motivated to attend by their children who had been active in our Student Ministry.

4. Several of these folks have come to faith in Jesus Christ real recently and for them this is a commitment to continue to grow spiritually.

5. Twenty-one of the 44 are coming to Orchard by Letter of Transfer from another church and 23 are coming by reaffirmation of faith and first-time confession of faith.

I want To See the Individuals
Reading these stories inspires me to walk around the Orchard campus and our communitites with my eyes wide open to see individuals and their stories. I want to not see a mass of people, but instead, I want to see individuals who each have a story and each is striving to love and know God.


I Love Blizzards and Other Storms!

>> Wednesday, February 2, 2011

One of my favorite books is by John Ortberg entitled, Everybody's Normal Until You Get To Know Them. So, I want to confess before I continue to write that I know I am not normal as you get to know me. I'm just not normal (whatever that is)!

One place in which my idiosyncracies show up is in my love for all kinds of storms and especially I love blizzards. I went for a walk last evening in the wind and snow. It was beautiful. When I walked north, the wind would drive the snow into my face and I could sense the incredible power of God. When I woke this morning and checked out the drifts, his power and his ability to put a stop to much of life was just so evident.

During a storm, like last evening, it's just so clear in my spirit who is in charge and who is not in charge. Humans predict and wait. Humans respond. Humans change their plans and react to the storm. God initiates all that creates our weather and our storms. God is in charge. He is never surprised.

As I look back in my life and into the lives of our congregation, it is often the storms of life that remind us that God is needed and in charge. The storm of a health problem, or the storm of a death of a loved one, or the storm of living through a huge disappointment--all of these storms can also remind us of who is in charge and who is not.

Maybe, as you spend time at home this evening, you could reflect upon our God who is in charge in this life. Maybe, as you finish the shoveling or the snowblowing, you could reflect upon His power. Maybe, as you feel the sore muscles from this exercise, you could reflect upon his great power.

Have a good evening!



>> Monday, January 24, 2011

"Thank you for the opportunities of this day," has been a prayer I've been saying at the beginning of each day lately.

I've been seeing the moments of each day filled with opportunities to encourage, to challenge and to walk with people. It's a cool way to live and I hope that many others will see their life as an adventure of opportunity!

Today, I had the opportunity to be with our staff in our bi-weekly staff meeting where we celebrated Tobias Timothy Walsten, the new baby of Tim and Shelby. We also awarded paddles to our recently hired staff people: Tara, Sheila, Nikki, Kaity and Kaytlyn. It was fun to watch the staff affirm these new people.

I also got to meet with a couple who are trying to decide whether or not to make Orchard their home church, visit with two moms who have sons who will be having surgery, and visit with a friend who wants to start a new ministry.

I've been reflecting upon a story that someone told me last week. (I'm sorry that I cannot remember who told me this story). It goes like this:

I'm being chased by a huge lion who is very hungry and sees me as a possible lunch. The lion may represent a stress or a problem or a struggle that is after me. I'm running hard and staying one step in front and out of reach when I come to a high cliff with no place to run. However, I see a rope and I grab the rope and go over the cliff to avoid the lion.

Now I find myself hanging over the cliff at the end of a 10 foot rope and begin to evaluate my situation. The lion is at the edge of cliff waiting for me to climb up as I will make a great lunch. I look below and see that a couple hundred feet down is ragged sharp rocks. No escape. I pray for help and notice a juicy ripe strawberry hanging near my rope. I hear God whisper, "enjoy the moment and have a strawberry!"

I don't know why this story strikes me so. I think because I need to take more moments of enjoying God's presence and His gifts. So today, I'm looking for strawberries. Hope you'll join me!


Top Ten Stories of 2010!

>> Saturday, January 8, 2011

I read so many lists of Top Ten Stories as a review of what happened in 2010 that I decided to try to write and share Orchard's Top Ten Stories of 2010. Actually, this is a list of God at work through the ministry of Orchard during this past year.

One of our themes is the song title Not To Us which includes the line Not to us, but to His name be the glory. That's the heart with which I share what I believe might be some of our top stories of God at work.

1. Changed Lives
We see changed live everywhere. People who were far from God are moving toward him by attending church, reading his Word and praying. Families are putting Christ at the center.

2. New Faith in Christ
First-time commitments to Jesus took place with our children, teenagers and new members. Forty-two of 83 new members were first-time commitments or reaffirmations after being far from God.

3. Passing the Baton to Next Generations
Sixty babies were welcomed into church family. Forty-one weddings done by Core Staff. Children and Student Ministries are bulging at the seams. "Often, when I'm doing a wedding somewhere a young person comes up to me and tells me the great impact that Orchard had on their life during their college years."

4. Focus on Five Communities
This Big Hairy Audacious Goal: Changing lives for Christ within and between five communities brought huge focus and clarity to our mission. Those communites are: the Cedar Valley, Grundy County, Walnut Neighborhood (in East Waterloo), Pignon, Haiti, and the Gorongosa region of Mozambique.

5. Marathon Team and Mozambique School
135 runners participated at the Des Monies Marathon & 1/2 Marathon. Together with our farmers (Food Resource Bank) they provided $105,00 to build a school by enlisting 1,000+ donors. This was a day more about spiritual training than physical training.

6. Christmas Store and Craft Fair
Under-resourced parents were blessed to put quality gifts under their trees for their children. Gifts which they purchased and provided with help from us! 230 enthusiastic volunteers and 1470 gifts. Money from the purchase of gifts was given to many schools.

7. Global Leadership Summit
God surprised us and exceeded all expectations with this one. More than 300 leaders attended our first Premiere Site within the Cedar Valley. Both the number of attendees and the impact of the sessions were surprising.

8. Focus on 6th Community
We introduced the concept now of a 6th Community which is that place in our individual lives where we already have influence with friends, teamates, co-workers and family. Many people are working to be "salt and light" within their 6th Community.

9. Route 55
This is a new brand for our Senior Ministry and so much more. This is a ministry of people who are 55 years of age and better and it is making a huge difference in the lives of people across our five communities. The passion for this is even spreading to other churches.

10. Generous Financial Support
Our congregation again gave generously so that we ended our budget year in the black with some carry-over funds to propel us into 2011. We thank God for the generosity of our people and recognize our responsibility to carefully manage God's money in strategic ways.

If I missed your most important story (and for many of our congregation, I know I did) I apologize. God is doing so much in so many ways places with so many people that I simply wanted to lift up some of what He is doing.


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