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December 2013





December 2013



Alcohol and the Church

Written by , Posted in beer, church, controversy, drinking, Jackson, liberty, sin, The Cue, westwinds, wine


Westwinds often gets asked about our position on alcohol. We meet on Sunday evenings in a pub. We made a charity wine. We have had satellite groups meet in pubs and one in particular centered around the theology of scotch called, Aqua Vitae (Water of Life). Below is our official position. It includes a fair amount of church history, biblical content, and cultural exegesis. Furthermore, it is consistent with our mission to Shadow God, Build the Church, and Heal the World

Alcohol and the Church through History

Do you suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused? Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we then prohibit and abolish women?” – Martin Luther

“Bless, O Lord, this creature beer, which thou hast deigned to produce from the fat of grain: that it may be a salutary remedy to the human race, and grant through the invocation of thy holy name; that, whoever shall drink it, may gain health in body and peace in soul. Through Christ our Lord.”  – Catholic prayer       

Historically, God’s people have greatly enjoyed the drinking alcohol. And, in many cases, the process of making and distributing it.

  • Saint Gall was a missionary to the Celts and renowned brewer.
  • After Charlemagne’s reign the church became Europe’s exclusive brewer.
  • When a young woman was to marry, her church made special bride’s ale for her, from which we derive our word bridal.
  • John Calvin’s annual salary package included upwards of 250 gallons of wine to be enjoyed by he and his guests.
  • Martin Luther explained the entire reformation as “…while I sat still and drank beer with Philip and Amsdorf, God dealt the papacy a mighty blow.”
  • Luther’s wife Catherine was a skilled brewer and his love letters to her when they were apart lamented his inability to drink her beer.
  • When the Puritan’s landed on Plymouth Rock the first permanent building they erected was the brewery.
  • As far back as the 18th century, Paulaner German monks began brewing and drinking a heavy, malty beer called Dopplebock. Not only did they enjoy it casually, they drank it to sustain them through Lent and the 40-day fast. It is still in production today.
  • For over 200 years, the monks of Westmalle have been farming, making cheese, and brewing some of the finest Trappist Ales in the world. True to the Rule of Saint Benedict, they ensure their own means of sustenance through these ventures. The brewery’s income, to this day, makes necessary improvements in brewing technology, supports Trappist communities, and is given to charity work (P.S. the Westmalle Tripel is my favorite ale. Period. And, it’s best on tap while sitting in a Belgium pub).

During the turn of the 20th century the prohibition movement came to dominate the church. Some denominations began to condemn alcohol as sinful and the Methodist pastor Dr. Thomas Welch created the Welch’s grape juice to replace communion wine in 1869.

Some Christians foolishly argue that such terms as new wine and mixed wine in the Bible speak of non-alcoholic wine. But, new wine can still intoxicate according to Scripture (Isaiah 24:7; Hosea 4:11; Joel 1:5), and mixed wine refers to special wines where various wines are mixed together and/or mixed with spices and does not refer to wine cut with water (Psalm 75:8; Song of Songs 8:2). The only time such a practice is mentioned in the Bible is in regards to merchants who cut wine with to rob customers (Isaiah 1:22). The Bible speaks of grape juice (Numbers 6:3) and if God meant to speak of non-alcoholic wine he would have used that word to avoid confusion.

One thing we often hear from recovering alcoholics is they appreciate Westwinds’  stance and our ability to use our influence to give people a good example of what it looks like to enjoy alcohol responsibly—to enjoy without abuse—to celebrate without sin. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Jesus turned water to wine as his first miracle. He turned perception on its head. Some might argue it was “grape juice” or weak wine but, make no mistake, in John 2 we read a clear story of the “kind” of wine he supplied. “ . . . the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” (John 2:9,10)

Drunkenness is sin.

The Bible is very clear that drunkenness is a sin (Deuteronomy 21:20; Ecclesiastes 10:17; Matthew 24:29; Luke 12:45; 21:34; Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 5:11; Ephesians 5:18; 1 Peter 4:3).

An elder/pastor cannot be a drunkard (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7), and that no drunkard will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10; Galatians 5:21).

Sins associated with drunkenness include incest (Genesis 19:32-35), violence (Proverbs 4:17); adultery (Revelation 17:2); mockery and brawling (Proverbs 20:1); poverty (Proverbs 21:17); late night and early morning drinking (Isaiah 5:11-12); hallucinations (Isaiah 28:7); legendary antics (Isaiah 5:22); murder (2 Samuel 11:13), gluttony and poverty (Proverbs 23:20-21); vomiting (Jeremiah 25:27, 48:26; Isaiah 19:14); staggering (Jeremiah 25:27; Psalm 107:27; Job 12:25); madness (Jeremiah 51:7), loudness combined with laughter and then prolonged sleep (Jeremiah 51:39); taking sexual advantage of others (Habbakuk 2:15; Lamentations 4:21); sloth (Joel 1:5); escapism (Hosea 4:11); depression (Luke 21:34); and staying up all night (1 Thessalonians 5:7).

Prohibitionists wrongly teach that all drinking is a sin and that alcohol itself is an evil.

  • Psalm 104:14-15 “He God makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate-bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man . . .”
  • John 2:1-11 is clear that Jesus first miracle was performing over 100 gallons of wine at a wedding party
  • Matthew 11:19 “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” ‘ But wisdom is proved right by her actions.”

Abstentionists wrongly teach that drinking is not sinful but that all Christians should avoid drinking out of love for others and a desire to not cause anyone to stumble.

  • Hosea 2:8 “She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil, who lavished on her the silver and gold-which they used for Baal.”
  • 1 Timothy 4:1-5 “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:31 “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Moderationists rightly teach that drinking is not a sin and that Christian conscience must guide each person.

  • Wine is spoken of as both good and bad in the same verses (1 Samuel 1:14, 24; 25:18, 37; Joel 1:5,10).
  • Apart from good feasting alcohol in Scripture is rightly used for communion (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18), medicinal purposes (Proverbs 31:6; 1 Timothy 5:23), and Old Testament worship (Numbers 28:14).
  • Proverbs 3:9-10 “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”
  • Ecclesiastes 9:7 “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart.”
  • Psalm 104:14-15 “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate-bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.”
  • Deuteronomy 14:26 “Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.”

Our Stance

At Westwinds, we ask that everyone act according to their conscience when it comes to alcohol consumption. Because of past sin, some who have had problems with alcohol may need to abstain for fear of stumbling into old sinful habits. For those who enjoy alcohol with biblical moderation, we recommend using discernment when providing hospitality for others who may have conscience or addiction issues.

Westwinds uses real wine as an option during the celebration of communion. Westwinds’ staff is permitted to enjoy alcohol within the biblical guidelines.

It’s been said, “Wine is agriculture’s finest artistic achievement.”  We celebrate the artistry of making fine wines and alcohol.  However, it is not our goal to get people to start drinking.  If you drink, do so responsibly, and in good conscience.

Westwinds hosts a regular meeting in a local pub/restaurant on Sunday evenings. Guests are welcome to consume alcohol during this time. Based on the scriptural freedom we are given to consume alcohol and our mandate to go in to the world and preach the gospel, we do not see this as a conflict of interest. Rather, we see it as a dovetailed fit with the Great Commission.

Westwinds is in relationship with many recovering alcoholics and even supports/hosts multiple meetings throughout the week in connection with AA.  This white paper has been prepared with the blessing and support of the leaders of those groups.

Best of all, we look forward to the day when our Lord and Savior will prepare for us a redeemed feast with wine:

“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” – Isaiah 25:6-9



December 2013





December 2013



Q & A: Why We Write Much of Our Own Music at Westwinds

Written by , Posted in artists, church, music, music experience, songs, The Cue, westwinds, worship, worship music


Westwinds puts a high priority on being indigenous. Sermons, initiatives, missional endeavors, children’s curriculum, graphic design, visual art, songs, etc. Being indigenous is one of our plumblines—something that is not right or wrong but very important to us in the way we approach ministry. Indigenous means, local, homegrown, native, etc. This approach to ministry is very truthful and honest to who we are. We often say, “We grow our own WE.” Indigenous worship is not just about feeling good about ourselves or stroking our ego (though there is a good deal of healthy pride in creating out of our experience). It is more about being truthful and current in communicating and celebrating what God is doing in US. NOW.

I’ve written a lot about indigenous worship music on this blog and I dedicated a good portion of my book, “Quirky Leadership” to it as well. Weekly I get questions, emails, and comments about original music in church. So, I thought I’d take the time to answer some of those questions here and frame the discussion a bit different.

Here are some questions I received in 2013:


Q: I’ve heard you encourage churches to write their own music. Why not just sing the songs that people hear on the radio?

A: I don’t know what radio station your people are listening to. I think you are referring to the songs someone might hear on Christian radio. In this case, there may be a song here and there that is well written and works well for your congregation. If so, go for it.  We also hear songs from time to time on secular radio that work well as worship songs in our environment. I’d encourage you to give that a shot as well. A well-written song is a well-written song.

We are not entirely impressed with the music that is being played on Christian radio today. We are allergic to songs that sound formulaic, uniform, similar, and that aren’t really well written. So, it feels a bit cookie-cutter to us to pilfer songs that aren’t true to who we are. Just because it’s on the radio, it doesn’t make it good or good for us.

We encourage our writers to create music that is born out of our own story, from our own people, with words we believe and want to sing.


Q: How many original songs are too many to sing in church? Should we bring in other people’s songs as well? My pastor says it makes it easy for visiting believers and Christians looking for a new church to fit in.

A: I want to know who started the rumor that we need to sing other people’s songs in the first place. If you find him or her, I want a word with them.

Sure, it’s nice to go visit another church or go to a Christian concert and know the words. Sure, it’s nice to move into a new town and find a church that is singing the songs you used to sing back home. But, that is not the goal of worship music. If the goal is to sing what other Christians are singing somewhere else to make it easy for another Christian to transfer to your church that’s a crazy goal. If the goal is to sing the same songs to make it easy to visit another church that’s dumb.

Any time a new song is introduced from any source, there is a learning curve. Let the visitors and the seasoned Christians take a few weeks to learn your new songs. Pretty soon, they’ll be learning new songs right along with your own people.

Psalm 96:1-3 says, “Sing a new song to the Lord! Let the whole earth sing to the Lord! Sing to the Lord; praise his name. Each day proclaim the good news that he saves. Publish his glorious deeds among the nations. Tell everyone about the amazing things he does.”

We don’t sing new songs because God gets bored. We sing new songs because there are always new reasons to praise him. The story is always changing. Our lives are finding new meaning in Him. Our circumstances change.

When we sing a new song, that song better ring true to our story. The best way we have found to adequately represent what God is doing in us and around us is to write our own music.


Q: My pastor says our songs aren’t as good as the ones he hears on the radio so he won’t let us write. What do we do?

Well, he may be right. But that just means you have to work harder at your craft. If it means enough to you, keep bringing your newer and better stuff to your pastor so he can see and hear the improvement. Pray he’ll give it a chance. Most people don’t write great songs from the start. It’s a craft and an art that takes time and dedication.

Talk to him about the wonderful benefits to your community of faith and your songwriters including the pastoral opportunities you have with them to shape their stories, disciple them, build camaraderie, create pride in your faith community, celebrate people honing their gifts and abilities and finding their place in the kingdom.

P.S. Your pastor’s sermons probably weren’t that great at first either. Maybe they still aren’t (please don’t tell him I said that).


Q: People have been singing other people’s songs for years. Why change it now?

A: Interesting. And only partly true.

We have always had a rich history of singing the words of scripture. Many of those melodies have been preserved and shared through the ages. Some have not.

Imagine a time before the Internet. Before Mp3’s. Before printed sheet music. Before email. Before easy and affordable travel. The cherished hymn writers had to start somewhere. They took pen (or quill) to paper and jotted down their thoughts like we still do. Then, they had to have an audience. Maybe they shared the song with their family. Maybe a friend or two. Eventually though, someone else had to sing it. The only reason Church B in Boston started singing Church A’s song from New York is because Church A started singing that song!

Once upon a time, your church would have sung Jewish and Byzantine monophonic chants (later and now known as Gregorian chant). Then, sometime during the 9th century, your harmony singers would have been thrilled as church music incorporated 2 or more melodic lines. In the 12th and 13th century your church may have learned a new song from a traveling minstrel or troubadour.  But all those songs started somewhere. And we can trace many of these songs back to their origins. To small communities. Or, to large cathedrals intent on writing good music. The music took a long time to spread. And, it always had a point of origin.

Today, church music still has a point of origin. And sadly, in many cases, that point of origin is songwriters sitting in a room writing music for a music company that will then distribute that music in 5 minutes (hyperbole) for the public to consume.

I have dozens of friends that are in the industry and are maddened by this process. They all want to go back to a time when it was simple and true for them as musicians. When was that time? When they were writing songs for their own church. Out of their own experience.


Q: Our church is thinking about writing our own songs. How do we start?

A: For us, it was as simple as discerning who had songwriting skills and mining for those who wanted to learn the craft. Then, it just takes time. Patience. And most of all TRUST. New songwriters need to look at their songs like they would a college paper. Expect to do rewrites. Expect to have theology challenged. Expect to have conversations about trite phrases and cliché rhymes. Expect to be challenged to write better. Expect not everyone to like your song.

Write some songs. Ask a larger group of people what they think. Play the songs in other venues. Get feedback. Then, try it out with your congregation.


Q: Are there advantages to singing other people’s songs instead of our own?

A: As a rule? No. But, if you find a good song that is true to your shared story, go for it! Celebrate it. We don’t write our own songs just to buck the system. Although, sometimes the system is worth bucking. Don’t do ANY song “just because” it is available and/or easy.


Q: What if you have a great song that isn’t easy to sing?

A: Good question. Some of the songs we do are harder to sing than others. Some have easy choruses and harder verses. Some take a long time to learn and aren’t easy to pick up on. But, if we think it’s good, we do it. If we think it’s good but it’s way too difficult for people to sing along with, we may just do it as a feature song. Just something we share.

Ephesians 5:19 tells us to be filled with the Spirit “ . . . speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.” Sometimes, the songs that come from the heart aren’t simple and we certainly don’t want them to be dumbed down.

Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs give us a lot of freedom. God does not have a prescribed format for us. Different tempos, different themes, different stylings . . . God loves all these things. Sometimes songs are good to set the mood, celebrate, have fun, make a point, raise an issue. Some songs are about our journey. Some songs invite everyone to sing along. Some songs call out the name of God. Some songs are prayers. Some songs are responses. It’s all good with God.

We tend to steer clear of songs that say the same thing over and over. Or, songs that say the same thing a lot of other songs say. We don’t like songs that use the same easy rhyme schemes. We challenge ourselves to say things differently. Just like a good preacher does.

Harder songs may take longer to learn. That’s okay. If it’s too difficult, you’ll know soon enough. Then, retire it. We’ve tried out dozens of songs that didn’t work well for us—originals and covers.

But remember, good songs aren’t always easy. How many people do you know that sing along with Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody?” A TON. It’s fun to sing. But, it’s not easy. It took a lot of repetition for them to learn that song.

Sometimes worship songs should be easy. But not always.







September 2013



The Brew and the Brewhaha

Written by , Posted in beer, church, controversy, westwinds

brewhaha blogIn an earlier post, I shared Westwinds began hosting a weekly evening gathering every Sunday at Grand River Marketplace in Jackson.

You can read that post here.

MLive did a wonderful article about Westwinds and it stirred some controversy. The controversy came both from people who appear to be churched and from those who are not churched as well. You can read that article and the comments here.

I don’t get involved in arguing online anymore. I used to.  But it’s tiring and unproductive.

But this is my blog *wink*

So, I’d like to answer some of the questions that have come up in the controversy. I’ll frame some of the slurs and accusations as thoughtful questions as best I can. I think there are some good questions in the mix.

Why does God have to be thrown in my face everywhere I go? 
It’s hard to answer this because I don’t really know your experience. I can only guess you’ve run in to people in your life who are militant and abrasive about what they believe without knowing you. For that, I’m sorry. Often times people who say they’re Christians seem to find joy in shaming people. This makes us sad.

Why can’t people keep God out of public spaces?
You’d probably expect me to say something like, “It’s impossible to keep God out of public spaces. He’s everywhere.” But, that would be dumb. Because I know what you mean and it doesn’t require a bumper sticker answer (e.g. as long as there are tests there will be prayer in schools). I would understand this sentiment more if we were showing up in the middle of the workday and flash mobbing the restaurant with Jesus songs. That would be annoying. But, we are using it after hours. Many churches, clubs, non-profits, etc. rent public places such as schools and restaurants to meet. That’s all we’re doing. I promise, we won’t show up at your house uninvited or call you during dinner.

Why can’t we let churches be churches and bars be bars?
This sounds like it comes from a place where someone believes the two can’t coexist. Jesus often got mocked for hanging out and having a conversation while sharing a drink with someone. The religious establishment of his day led people to believe someone was more holy if they didn’t associate with “sinners” who hung out at bars. Jesus got pretty angry with them for that stance. We too get angry at the church for making people feel that way.

Isn’t it a law that churches can’t be within 500 feet of a bar?
No. Michigan law allows an established church to object to a liquor license being given to an establishment if they want to open shop within 500 feet. The brewpub was already there. We asked to use the space.

Didn’t Paul condemn this in I Corinthians 11?
No. He didn’t. That passage is about people getting drunk during communion. Much different deal. In an interesting note, if they were getting drunk, that means there was alcohol present there. They were also eating too much. So, gluttony was as big of a problem.

If you need more room, why not expand your building?
We don’t think that is a wise use of money. The economy is horrible. We operate on a very thin budget. Many of our people are without work. And, even if things were financially wonderful, we don’t have a desire to keep building a bigger space. We did build out an incredible youth center in town a couple of years ago, however. We use that space on Sundays for church gatherings but the rest of the week it is open for all Jackson youth for after-school programs, tutoring, concerts, a coffee shop, a recording studio, and multiple games. We are proud of the money we spent on that.

Isn’t this a bit gimmicky?
If by that you mean we might be doing something intentionally controversial to create a spectacle, attract publicity, gain business, etc. the answer is no. But, I understand how you might believe differently. Is it unconventional? Yes. Did we know some people would be mad? Yes. Do we feel it’s inventive and different? Yes. Are we hoping to create a new space downtown where people who might not normally feel comfortable in a church building might find a community? Yes.

Aren’t churches supposed to be sacred places?
By definition, something sacred is something dedicated to God. So, quite frankly, any space can be sacred. But, we like to break that down even further and suggest there is no such thing as a separation between sacred and secular. There is no space in and of itself that is inherently good or bad.

Isn’t it a basic belief of Christianity that drinking is wrong?
No. But, some religious groups do preach that opinion. The bible does have prohibitions about drunkenness, but not alcohol. If you would like a copy of Westwinds’ official statement about alcohol, please let me know and I’ll email you a copy.

Is this what some would call the “attraction” method?
Isn’t that a series of dating techniques?

What are you going to do when an employee gets offended and sues you?
Interesting. The world is sue happy. I think we’re all a little surprised at who gets sued over what these days. All of the employees at Grand River Marketplace have agreed to work knowing full well what they are doing.

Christians are hypocrites. All these church goers will probably be drinking and listening to the live music on Friday night then come to church.
Hypocrites are people who do something and then point the finger at others for doing the same thing. For sure, many are hypocrites. In all walks of life. These people may just have a beer on Friday and listen to the great music. Then they’ll come back Sunday and do the same. This isn’t hypocrisy.

The pastor is wearing a Ferrari jacket in the picture in the paper. Preaching materialism.

Isn’t this emergent?
No one knows what that means anymore. And no.

What if someone drinks too much? Who will tell them to stop?
We’re meeting in a brewpub. It’s the staff’s job to decide if someone shouldn’t be served more alcohol. But, if you’re asking if we are counting beers the answer is no. We’ll leave that up to individuals and we won’t police them. We don’t police them on Friday either. If one of our staff gets blasted, we’ll be talking. If I get blasted, it’s a different story.

Will the pastors be drinking?
Let’s first remember this is a brewpub. Restaurant. Deli. Winery. Brewery. Not just a bar. Although, I’d have no problem with that. Most Sundays, after I do music or speak, I’ll be eating there. And, I’ll probably have a beer with my friends. Or a glass of wine with my friends. I do the same at home. And many other establishments.

















September 2013



The Brew Cue

Written by , Posted in beer, church, culture, God, gospel, the winds, Uncategorized, westwinds, worship

grand river tapsBeginning September 8, Westwinds will be hosting a weekly evening gathering every Sunday at Grand River Marketplace in Jackson.

Westwinds currently has gatherings at our main campus at 8:30; 10:00; and 11:30 on Sundays. We also have a gathering at 10:30 on Sunday mornings at The Hub youth center on Spring Arbor Road.

Westwinds’ weekend gatherings are referred to as, “The Cue.” This new gathering at Grand River Marketplace will be referred to as, “The Brew Cue.”

David and I chose the name “The Cue” for our corporate gatherings back in 2009 as part of a Westwinds rebranding. In music, a cue is a guideline for instrumentation—who plays what and where. In theatre, a cue is a prompt for a line. In billiards, a cue is what puts a game in to motion. These images help us define what we are trying to accomplish when we get together. What’s God doing in Jackson? What part do I play? What’s next? We’re asking these things together.

A sign outside of Grand River Marketplace will read, “Grand River Marketplace business hours are 12-6 on Sundays. Westwinds Church meets at Grand River Marketplace beginning 6:00 on Sunday evenings. Food and beverage service is still available during Westwinds’ gathering. You are welcome to join.”

Westwinds is not afraid of the church being associated with an establishment where the consumption of alcohol is part of the experience. We have a very strong posture in line with the biblical prohibition against being drunk but we see no prohibition in scripture about the responsible consumption of alcohol. We are sensitive to issues surrounding abuse of alcohol and play a role in helping many folks who are fighting that battle. We believe alcohol is something that can be enjoyed in moderation. You can do a search for alcohol on this blog and read more about my thoughts.

As you can imagine, we’ve received a few questions, comments, and requests for clarification surrounding this move. To the leadership of Westwinds, this is a no-brainer. Easy. But, we do understand not everyone in our town has processed this move to the degree we have. And, once again as with anything mildly controversial we have done in the past, it is only churched people raising eyebrows—in the surrounding community and/or in our own congregation.

It’s not like a church has never met in a brewery before. It’s not like a church has never had an association with alcohol. Perhaps the big difference with this move is we are allowing alcohol to be consumed during the gathering.

People getting out of hand with alcohol in a church setting is a caution Paul gives us in I Corinthians 11. There are plenty of other instances in scripture where we are warned to not have more strong drink than we should. There are many reasons for this throughout scripture and it is a great caution for us. Having a church gathering in a place that serves beer and wine is not an excuse for any of the believers at Westwinds to feel some newfound freedom to get wasted. That would be sad, counterproductive, an embarrassment, and sin.

We understand this move carries with it many cautions and concerns. But, we believe the risks are biblical. There are many of our not-yet-believing friends in the community who have already said they will be coming to this new gathering who haven’t stepped a foot into any of our other gathering places. And, it won’t be our job to keep these new people in line. It will be our job to share the gospel. Welcome them in.

I heard someone ask David about this move recently and he said, “Why wouldn’t we have a church gathering in a place that serves alcohol? We’d meet at Starbucks, Denny’s, a park, a club, a bonfire, a barbeque . . . we want to talk about God anywhere we can. We want to provide opportunities for people to meet and ask questions. Everywhere. Anywhere. The bible says Jesus was eating and drinking with people of all walks of life and they called him a glutton and drunkard—a friend of sinners. They didn’t call him angry and grouchy. He was living life with people. Enjoying life. Talking about God. At Grand River, we have an opportunity to sit with our family and friends and have dinner and church together. Dinner and church. Durch. What’s better than that?”

Grand River is my favorite place in Jackson. They have great food, beer, and wine. They have a great atmosphere and aesthetic. It’s a hopeful place and a beacon for Jackson. We will do there what we do best in our other locations. Great music. Conversation. Relationship. Teaching. Enjoying one another. Seeking God. It’s a perfect spot for us.



July 2013



Rest With Jesus My Fire-Breathing Friend

Written by , Posted in church, death, forgiveness, funerals, Jesus, Quirky Leadership, sin, suicide, thoughts, westwinds

Immediately before I got up to preach on July 7th, I heard some horrible news. One of our Westwinds people, and my friend, took his life the night before. I recently wrote about Will in my book, Quirky Leadership.

“Will is a fire-breather. Really. His whole appearance is a snap- shot of a quintessential circus sideshow performer—all the right tats and all the right piercings. He’s relatively new to Jesus. We love him. I love him. One day he Facebooked me and said, “I breathe fire. Is there a place for me?” The answer is yes. He ended up breathing fire for us at an outdoor gathering last year to welcome newcomers to the church. Since then, Will has taken on a few jobs at parties for people in the church and made even more contacts through those.

Now, to be fair, in a lot of church contexts Will might have a hard time putting that skill to work for the kingdom. But what’s sad is that in many churches there wouldn’t even be a conversation to dig deeper and see what makes Will tick.

The church could have worked hard to fit Will’s fire-breathing in and come up short with ideas. That doesn’t let us off the hook. Fire-breathing isn’t the only thing that makes Will unique. Beneath the fire-breathing is a man who is excited about starting a journey with Jesus and is looking for opportunities to speak into the culture that has embraced him outside the church—people who are disenfranchised and burnt by religion. Is Will different? You bet. So am I. So are you. So are Will’s unique friends who might not relate to either of us. But because he is here, they are starting to come as well.” (Quirky Leadership:Permission Granted, p195)

Will recently was baptized here at Westwinds and shared much of his story with us through conversation and public address. He told us he was fragile, haunted, hurting, and rough around the edges but he found a family and new life in Jesus.

He embraced the label of “freak” and said that’s why he felt so normal at Westwinds. Misfits, miscreants, rebels . . . all in need of Jesus and sitting at the same table. We are not afraid of acknowledging we are all freaks. Freak is the new normal. Jesus made this quite clear. Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2:17).” Then count me in, Jesus.

My friend was haunted with issues and he was very vocal about those struggles on Facebook and in conversation. He told the world about his scraps with being bi-polar and his conflict with depression. Will lived through other suicides in his immediate family. Most recently, his brother took his life in April. Will talked to me about feeling “cursed” and perhaps fated to follow the same path. While he knew deep down that he was his own person and not actually cursed, he lived with a deep distress since he understood the feelings of despondency all too well.

Will’s struggle seemed more than the average uphill climb. A more appropriate word picture may be he was often white-knuckled, hanging off the side of a cliff.

I loved Will. I love him. We are all drenched in sadness for him and his family and friends.

When something like this happens, there are a long list of popular questions that are asked:

  • Whose fault was this?
  • What could I have done to help?
  • Is this a sin?
  • Can Jesus followers commit suicide?
  • What now? How do I respond?

I’d like to offer some words of comfort and hope to Will’s friends and family in answer to these questions and also to anyone else who has been touched by a similar tragedy.

Is suicide something God forbids? Yes. Does it nullify or void His many promises? No. Can a Jesus follower take his or her own life and still spend eternity with Jesus. Yes.

There is no solid evidence in scripture that suicide is an unforgiveable sin. I think that some have been hesitant to answer this question in the past because of fear—a stifling fear that saying suicide is “forgivable” somehow opens the door for or gives permission to someone who is struggling to take his or her own life. But, living with that kind of anxiety doesn’t really allow us to answer questions truthfully and people want to know the truth.

God indeed hates suicide. It’s murder. He forbids it. Murder of others. Murder of self. Yet, if murder is an unforgiveable sin, we will never meet the Apostle Paul or King David in heaven. Some have suggested suicide is “unpardonable” as a final act of defiance against God. There is no biblical basis for this. God does not judge us on our final acts or thoughts. Either sin is forgivable, or it is not.

Many friends and loved ones are plagued with guilt in a situation like this. We wonder (me included) if we could have said something different, been more proactive, invited our friend over more, been more sensitive to his struggle, etc. The truth of the matter is we could have done all those things for Will to a greater degree and he could have still made this decision.

The other truth that no one ever wants to admit is, maybe we “could” have done better at loving him. I could have hung out with him more, invited him over, sent him one more Facebook message, or called him one more time. Maybe someone else said something they shouldn’t have to him or didn’t love him well. However, while we might have things to confess (our anger, our insensitivity, our apathy), we are each responsible for our own junk before God.

There are a myriad of people you and I could and should be more sensitive to, but we are not at fault for someone else’s actions. In short, we are never “off the hook” for our responses or lack of love but that is quite different than being at blame. We can only be responsible “to” someone as opposed to being responsible “for” them. In any relationship struggle, even the ones that have ended suddenly and surprisingly, it’s wise to say, “I need to love people better.” But, guilt and “what if’s” are not something God wants us burdened with or stifled with. When guilt tries to strangle us we should retort with action, love, care, sensitivity, hospitality, selflessness, and open arms to all humankind.

Will, and others who share the same struggles, are looking for a place to belong like all of us. Will found his place with a church family in Jackson, MI. He was welcomed into kingdom life. Those same people who welcomed him now weep for him and weep with his loved ones. Our response should be one of prayer. Prayer for the release of guilt with family and friends. Prayer for all those who suffer with Will to find comfort and hope. Prayer for joyful memories.

And, we should respond with praise. You heard right. Praise to the God who offers that very hope and joy. Praise to the God who gave Will a name and a place and held his hand through the darkest of times when he felt out of control. Praise to the God who ultimately welcomed his hurting child home.

The last time I talked to Will was a few days before he died. He came in to get a copy of Quirky Leadership from me and asked me to sign it. Said he couldn’t wait to show others. He asked if he could buy a copy for his father as well. I told him, “Not for sale” and gave him a copy. He insisted I take the money but if I didn’t want it I should donate it to the music event I was promoting in town that week. He told me he couldn’t go to the show and would like to buy someone else a ticket so they could go hear the great things he had become accustomed to.

He walked out of the office with two books tucked under his arm and a smile from ear to ear. That’s how I’ll remember him. Hopeful. Smiling. Giving.

I talked to Will’s father today. He told me something that will stick with me forever. He said, “Will stayed away from churches his whole life but then he found Westwinds and couldn’t stay away from God. He never felt welcome anywhere with his tats and piercings. But, he felt welcomed and loved by you guys.” He also gave me permission to write about these things.

Jesus is sometimes referred to as the “Man of Sorrows.” He said in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” If you are weary, sad, despondent, desperate, weak, hurting . . . never believe those things somehow disqualify you from being embraced by Jesus. Many feel the same kinds of feelings you do. And, MANY have survived and made it through. Please talk to someone today and get help.



April 2013





May 2011



Oil For a Change

Written by , Posted in Beyond 1000, dreams, Jackson, mission, westwinds

If you live in Jackson and know single moms in the area or you are a single mom yourself, this might make your day . . .

Imagine a line of cars outside of a local Auto Care business full of single moms and their kids waiting to get their oil changed, fluids checked, some hot dogs and drinks, and a car wash–ALL FOR FREE. This weekend!

Oil For a Change is a cooperative effort between Westwinds and Choice
Auto Sales and Service of Jackson
. This year, on May 21st and September 10th, Oil For a Change will give away free food, car washes, and oil changes to over 300 single moms (165 each date).

Last summer, Ben Redmond and I did a message series entitled “Jesus Jackson” where we discussed how Jesus would respond to issues specific to Jackson and the people who live here—unemployment, underemployment, Jackson’s view of itself, opportunities to heal the community, the young and old, transplants and native Jacksonians, our work ethic, hope for the city, etc. We asked, “What would Jesus care about in Jackson? What would compel him? What would make him sad? What would he celebrate?”

I spoke one particular Sunday and mentioned a list of dreams I had for the city while encouraging others to dream in the same way letting people know “You can’t separate who you are from where you live,” and “God wants to use what you do and who you are to impact this place in a way that only you can.”

After hearing the list of dreams and being encouraged to imagine ways individuals could help Jackson, Carmela Lazarus, a local business owner and Allegiance Health employee, approached me with an idea. She heard me mention in a long list of dreams an idea to change the oil in the cars of single mothers as a display of hope and healing for our town.

Carmela (whose name has an accent on the first syllable) said, “My husband Chuck and I own a business where we service cars. I think we could actually do something like this.”

And so, the idea for Oil for a Change was born.

You can listen to one of the interviews we did on local radio station 89.3 The Message below.

Oil For a Change 89.3 Interview

On Christmas Eve, Westwinds Church traditionally gives an offering to something in the community that offers hope. We told the story of our dream for Oil For a Change and on December 24, 2010, Westwinds raised enough money to change the oil in the cars of over 300 single mothers.

Tickets for oil changes are available in advance at Westwinds, Choice Auto Sales and Service, or the day of the event at Choice Auto Sales and Service. While we don’t want to turn anyone away, supplies are limited to 165 each weekend. Your best bet is to get advance tickets or show up early.



January 2011



FolkGalore is Coming in April!

Written by , Posted in Beyond 1000, folkgalore, music, the steel wheels, westwinds

Life is a story. Your story. My story. Our story.

Stories can encourage us, give us hope, connect us to one another, build a sense of belonging, create pride, empower us, inspire us, and create unity.

On April 4-8, the city of Jackson and surrounding areas will be invited to celebrate the art of story through music. Think of it as a “happening” as opposed to an “event.” The happening is called, FolkGalore.

FolkGalore is:


For 5 days and nights, venues throughout Jackson and the surrounding areas will host numerous musicians and artists creating multiple stages ripe with stories celebrating the human spirit. Over 20 different stages and venues will host multiple musicians each of the five days and evenings.

Coffee shops, theaters, youth centers, churches, and house concert venues will be filled with music and art exploring what it means to live, love, triumph, fail, celebrate, dream, and learn how to get along. One of the best ways to share in the larger story we are all a part of is through folk music.

Folk music, which is widely defined, has “story” at the heart of it.

For centuries, stories have been told through music and art. Folk music takes its name from “folklore” which consists of a culture’s legends, tales, music, oral history, proverbial wisdom and sayings, jokes, visual art, popular beliefs, fairy tales, customs, and personality.

Folk music has incorporated many genres over time to include Americana, alt-country, blues, country, bluegrass, acoustic, singer-songwriter, and a wide variety and variations of those genres.

But Folk is always about stories.

April 4-8 is Spring Break. With the way the economy has been, not many folks are preparing to travel out of town. We are bringing Spring Break to Jackson.

One $20.00 pass will give participants “all-access” to the venues for concerts and any after parties with the musicians.

Throughout the week, some musicians will also be holding clinics, lessons, and lunch discussions at various times in various locations. For an extra $10.00 a participant can receive a stamp on their pass to gain access to any of these extras.

On Friday, April 8th, the event will culminate in a concert with renowned Americana artists The Steel Wheels (above photo). The Steel Wheels show is included in the all-access $20.00. However, tickets for this show will also be sold separately at the door for those only attending this concert and none of the other weekly events. The Steel Wheels only tickets will be $12.00 at the door.

Save the date! Tickets will go on sale at the end of February.