Crazy Good Vacation Bible School!

>> Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Vacation Bible School for children has begun and it's off to a phenomenal start!
More than 200 volunteers are serving between 300-400 children.  The goal is to plant seeds of God's truth into the hearts and minds of children.  VBS began in a completely new way this year.  The first session of VBS was our 10:45 a.m. worship service where 900 children, parents, volunteers and church attendees participated in energetic worship and inspiring learning.
 The VBS worship team brings energy, great modeling and authentic praise to God!

 Lunch is enjoyed by many, many families following our Sunday morning kick-off service.  This was billed as a picnic but bad weather forced us inside.  The meal was much more than expected!

The massive jumper created a fun atmosphere in the gym following the VBS kick-off worship service!

I want to thank the 200+ volunteers and staff who are making this a great week of mission.  Both Nazareth Lutheran Church and us are having great VBS weeks.  Touching these numbers of kids in the Cedar Valley has to have a huge impact for Christ in the years ahead.


Children Listen and Learn During Worship Service!

>> Sunday, May 26, 2013

At the end of Mike Brost's teaching this Sunday morning, he asked people to consider worshipping our Holy God by raising their hands during worship.  Some children were listening and responded!

Here are two children in the back row that wanted to participate and worship our Holy God with others.  So many incredible things happen in these little hearts.

This summer we are stressing the importance of families worshipping together!  Research (Sticky Faith) is clear that one key to having faith stick with our young people in college and beyond is the act of worshipping together as a family.

Our Family Worship Service begins in the sanctuary @ 10:45 on Sunday, June 16.  But, parents don't need to wait for that onramp to worship to begin.  Parents can bring their children in any worship service at any time.  Don't expect them to sit perfectly still.  They are kids and even I can't sit perfectly still.


Love Cedar Valley Demonstrates God's Love and Grace

>> Saturday, May 4, 2013

Forty-three churches partnered together to take God's love to our communities today.  It's called Love Cedar Valley and is led by Laura Hoy, Orchard's staff person who leads our partnership with Walnut Neighborhood in East Waterloo.

Orchard volunteers gave leadership to several of the projects including handing out lunches at the four corners of Lincoln Park in downtown Waterloo.  I stopped by there at noon and they had what appeared to be 40-50 people cooking hotdogs, putting  lunches together and then 5-6 people handing out lunches at each of the four corners.  One group of these volunteers comes to this outreach from Drug Court.  I had one of the lunches--they were delicious!

I also helped for 3 hours at a new outreach house that has been purchased by Mike and Laura Hoy on Almond Street.  A dozen volunteers in 3 hours made amazing progress by clearing this home of it's contents, cleaning, ripping up all of the carpeting and trimming trees.  It is so good for a neighborhood to have houses transformed, one house at a time.  This will provide a powerful opportunity for being a good neighbor in many ways.

Hundreds of volunteers, a nice morning, good worship, lots of energy and the Spirit of God at work--what could be better.  My prayer is that God will use this effort in the hearts of those who are on the receiving end of these kindnesses and that God will use this effort in the hearts of those who have been on the giving end of these kindnesses.

Congratulations to Mark and Haley Iehl, who were Orchard's point leaders for this event.  Good Job!  Thanks to the many volunteers that work this week and today to make this event such a success.

I was really inspired by the closing worship at Love Cedar Valley.  A worship band with participants representing 6 different churches led in worship.  The prayers and the video touched my heart.  It ended with a challenge to say to God....."Here am I to serve you!"  Powerful.




Strong Participation in Faithful Service

>> Monday, April 29, 2013

Today I was inspired by the strong and faithful work that occurred on our Cedar Falls campus during our Spring Work Day.  This day is sponsored and organized by our Route 55 Ministry which is a ministry of those who are 55 years old and better.   Between 60 and 70 people partnered to do everything they could to help us continue to be a prevailing church.  I reminded our staff early this morning not to simply see volunteers wiring, cleaning, cooking, planting......, but to see people who love Jesus serving Him in these very important ways--building His kingdom and serving our church.

Thank you for the great participation on this Monday.

 All kinds of cleaning and upkeep items are handled on this day.  I hope someone remembered to cut  the electricity!

 Following an early morning hailstorm, much good outside work was done around our campus--once the ice melted.
 The hospitality team for this day made certain that no one went hungry!
I celebrate the faithfulness of these great people.  Thank you!


Staff and Leadership Board Community Day!

>> Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Yesterday our entire staff and four members of our Leadership Board, invested our day in traveling by bus to different parts of our Community.  We enjoyed a day of getting in touch with people in our community who often are distant and unseen by us as we live our normal and everyday lives.

We visited the Waterloo's River Loop Public Market and the Plaid Peacock where our Youth Art Team has painted a huge and beautiful mural.  We heard from Jorge and Nuriz Lopez at the La Cosecha Hispanic Church.  We had a delicious lunch while visiting with many folks at the Salvation Army. 

In the afternoon,  we interacted with Chaplain Rick from the Tyson plant, got a tour of 316 Walnut House, Jobs for Life (led by Brian Carr, one of our Leadership Board members) and a home that Mike and Laura Hoy are buying to have roots in the neighborhood.

Our day ended with a time of worship in our own sanctuary.  God is at work beyond our wildest imaginations.  He is at work in places within our community that we aren't even aware of.  He is even at work within us in ways that we seldom recognize.

Armond Floyd (Fuzzy) leads us in worship as we close our day together!


Are you growing?

>> Friday, April 12, 2013

Physical growth spurts happen to many young people.  Our grandkids are one example!

For awhile they don't seem to eat much and don't appear to be growing.  Then all at once, they enter a growth spurt and they eat like a horse and it's almost like you can watch as they stretch taller and taller.  It seems to happen right before our eyes.  They are growing.

Our church mission:  Helping people become fully devoted followers of Christ requires that people grow in many ways.  It requires that people grow spiritually in their connection with Jesus Christ.  It requires that they grow in learning to obey God and following his leading in their lives.  It requires that we all learn to be more and more courageous.

As I've listened to several people who returned from our Haiti Mission trip in these last days, it seems to me that I am observing a spiritual growth spurt in these people.  You can almost watch them growing in their love of people, their courage and their understanding of the power of God.

On Wednesday I had the privilege to teach at Mom's Morning Out.  What an outstanding group of young moms and several mentors.  As I was interacting with them, I was reminded that raising young children at home can be a time of graduate level spiritual growth.  Classes in this time period include perseverance, lack of sleep, patience, gentleness, answering thousands of questions.  I thought I might be witnessing a spiritual growth spurt in these young women.

Just a question--are you growing these days?


Reflections on Easter

>> Friday, April 5, 2013

I'm writing this on the Friday following Easter Sunday.  After five days of reflecting upon our Easter celebration, I want to share 4 celebrations and brief thoughts--

1.  Jesus chose to go through such great suffering and pain because of love for His Father and for us.  John 10 17-18 says, "The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life--only to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord."

2.  Easter is the source of our hope and the foundation of our faith.  The more I've thought about this, the more convinced I become that all of our hope, for this life and the next, are found in this empty tomb.  This is the foundation of our faith and the empty grave upon which we stand.

3.  Orchard people care deeply about declaring and demonstrating this truth.  Our volunteerism on Easter week is through the roof.  People volunteer to care for children, set up chairs, park cars, pass out bulletins, pick up donuts, make coffee, practice and play music, greet at the doors and so many other things.  They do this because Christ has touched their hearts and they want to respond to such a great love.

4.  We have some amazing young people involved in our ministries.  The Maundy Thursday service was entirely led by college students who shared their testimonies, led worship, washed feet and served communion.  The music and the message was amazing.  Good Friday's two services at Nazareth were also absolutely touching.  The fourteen senior speakers shared vulnerably and  reflected upon the last seven words of Jesus.  More young musicians led us in worship.

It was a great week celebrating the most compelling event in all of world history.  This man conquered death and His Spirit lives.


Preparing for Easter Week as a Christ-follower!

>> Thursday, March 21, 2013

Spring Break is coming to an end and it's time to turn our thinking to the celebration of Easter week.  The first Spring Break Mission Trips will return tomorrow morning and then soon all five of our teams will return--our Jamaca team returns late on Sunday evening.  They will probably be shocked by our cold tundra type weather and the snow and ice remaining in our yards and driveways.

As a church we've been focused these last four weeks on the book of Galatians.  It has been a powerful and good focus for our church family.  We will do our last teaching on Galatians this coming Sunday and that will also finish our Daily Scripture focus upon Galatians.

Our Daily scriptures (from Orchard's website) will move to scriptures from the Holy week story.

In my own preparation for Holy Week and Easter, I will be reading John 12-21.  I will track with the steps of Jesus and try to imagine His feelings, His thoughts, His pain and His ultimate celebration.  I encourage you to add a focus on the scriptures that follow the final days of Jesus' life in the gospels. 

I pray that each person who calls Orchard their spiritual home, will give some extra time and focus upon the final moments of the life of Christ.  And then, make plans to celebrate Easter with us!


Stories of God at work!

>> Saturday, February 16, 2013

One of the current practices for each of our staff meetings and Leadership Team meetings is that within each meeting, usually after prayer and scripture, we share stories of God at work. 

This has become a valuable tool in helping our staff and elders see the world through the lens of God's active involvement in our church and our world.  Each time of sharing these stories creates in me a new awareness of the many venues in which we see God at work.  He is at work in lives, events and ministries that prior to the sharing, I knew nothing about.  Telling these stories is a great way to honor God!

Let me share two stories of God at work this week:

Story #1 is the Special Olympic Challenge Day that is taking place at Orchard today.  I snapped these pictures just now....

This morning I said a prayer at the beginning of this very special event.  Each time the event meets in our gym, I am struck by how God so often uses our building and campus in strategic ways that  to help people who need a time of encouragement.  Watching these folks do athletic events in the gym where we will hold our worship service in the morning, always touches my heart.
Story # 2 is the 66 Bibles given to 2nd graders last Sunday morning at both our Cedar Falls and Grundy Center worship services.  These Bibles becomes a symbol of the important role that the God's Word is to play in the lives of these young people and a symbol of our church wanting to stand beside these young people and their parents as they move toward "more fully devoted followers of Christ."  I love this picture of partnership--God's Word, the students, the parents and our church.
So, today I just got a text from one volunteer on our Junior High Ski and Shop where 30+ volunteers and 130+ students are traveling to the Minneapolis area for skiing and shopping.  This is simply another tool to help us be positioned in the lives of students and families in order to challenge and encourage them with Christ's gospel.


Mission Trips change people!

>> Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Meet Jason Wellnitz…is my son-in-law and my guest blogger. He’s written a novel inspired by a trip to Mozambique with Orchard Hill Church and Food for the Hungry. Read about his experience and what he did in response to what he saw.

June 2011, Gorangosa, Mozambique.
Our driver turned the white minibus off the main paved road and down onto a red, rutted dirt path. We bounced and swayed as he navigated the bumpy network of paths, the way that lead somewhere apparent to him, but not to us.

As we slowed to a stop in front of a small house constructed of hand-formed, red clay bricks, the children burst into loud song. There are at least 80 small children next to the house, many of them holding their even smaller siblings on their hips.

This is Calvette’s Sunday school. Calvette is a key member of the FH/Mozambique staff, and I met him when I traveled there in June 2011.

The children sang us song after song, overjoyed at the opportunity. Eventually a drunk man wandered by, swearing at the children. They were undeterred, though later we found out, this wasn’t an uncommon occurrence.

Each Sunday, Calvette and his wife open their home to as many children that will come, giving them a good place to be away from the vices that haunt the communities.
Inspired by Calvette’s efforts, and those of the rest of the talented and dedicated FH/Mozambique staff, my wife and I donated a small amount of money to help Calvette complete an addition to his home that would shelter the Sunday school from both the elements and drunk people.

Wanting to do even more, I recently published a short novel called “River Way Home“. It’s inspired by my time in Mozambique, but it is pure fiction, not based on actual events or people.
I’m donating the proceeds from the first 500 sales of the novel to support FH’s efforts in Mozambique. Please see an excerpt below and if it looks interesting to you, please consider purchasing it from

Excerpt from River Way Home, Chapter 1: Headwaters -
First, a small bit about myself. This much I’m sure you know but I must start at the start. I don’t know much about the woman who gave birth to me or the man who impregnated her. They are veiled from me. Hidden. Separated. They lived in Mozambique. Mozambique is a long country occupying twelve-hundred miles of coastline where southeast Africa meets the Indian Ocean. On a map it looks like the thick, crude, wooden slingshot of an African boy. It’s the ancient puzzle piece mate of the drifting island of Madagascar.

I was their first-born son and they were very young. They farmed some small sorghum fields and occasionally sold wooden goods at the market. The man who supplied my Y chromosome was deep in the throes of malaria at the time of my birth. He left his wife a four-lettered gift and she died near my first birthday. I have never seen her picture and my infant mind retained no memory of her. I passed through the hands of some extended family members who didn’t care to grasp me and landed eventually in a Christian mission orphanage near Beira, Mozambique. If Mozambique is shaped like a slingshot, Beira is the top of the handle, along the sea. I spent two years in the care of that brave, tenuous orphanage. My memories of that time are a thin patchwork. I was fed. I was kept out of the rains. There was a woman who was kind. But there were many of us and only one truly kind woman, so there were long gaps between her touches.

Now is the time to turn to the story of my real father. He is the one who came and found me in that orphanage.

Eventually you will understand the precise details of how my father ended up being born in Milwaukee. But suffice to say for the confines of this story, there was the brightest flash of light, an immense amount of time passed, and ambitious tribes made their way from Africa to Mesopotamia to Europe. They learned how to coax food from the Earth along the way. My father’s fathers were farmers in every generation except those immediately preceding his own.

For three thousand years they farmed this or that piece of land under this or that system of order. Sometimes they grew grain for lords and kings. Other times they walled off gardens and lived utterly on their own. In prosperous times they prospered. In poor times they were poor. But they worked and moved. They worked and stayed. They moved and worked again.


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