Capturing Moments in Liberia and beyond (with Pictures)

•July 23, 2014 • 2 Comments

We’ve been home for a week from our big family trip to experience life in Liberia, Africa for a few weeks. As you can imagine, stories are better told than typed. And it would be impossible to share everything, so I’m just going to highlight a variety of moments I was grateful to capture along the way:

Stamping Passports: The kids think it is the coolest thing in the world to have their own passports. Every time it was stamped in a new country…it became even more cool. We had brief stops in Canada, Belgium, and the United Kingdom on the way to Liberia.


A Real-Life Castle: We visited Windsor Castle on our London layover because Abby wanted to see a “real life castle” where real princesses live. It even exceeded my expectations and we saw the Changing of the Guard ceremony there.


Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Trains were the most fun…high speed from Brussels to London, including going under the English Channel. Jackson LOVED the “Tube” (London’s Subway) and quickly was the one telling us which lines we needed to transfer to for our next destination.


Thoughtful Kids: The night before we left, Jackson asked if he could go to the dollar store to buy beachballs. He thought they would be easy to pack and help make friends instantly. He was right…and there is a trail of beachballs he left there. They also became experts at making balloon animals with a kit friends sent with us.



Flexibility: It’s true that our kids probably never want to hear the word “flexibility” again in their life, but it was our mantra and I was proud of how they handled everything: unusual food, No hot water/running water (bucket showers!), being the center of attention (most people had never seen white children)…and almost no WiFi!

Suncrest Gratitude: I’m not on the team at Suncrest that oversees our Liberia ministry, but I came back extraordinarily proud of them and our whole church. Young leaders have been given an education — something that can never be taken away from them. New churches have been started, are growing, providing basics like water for their communities, and seeing people become followers of Jesus. Initial Economic Investments have been made that lift the whole country (employment, agricultural development, etc.) and also place responsibility for their financial future in the right place — on the Liberian leaders there.



Afraid…and Amazed: I could never describe this whole story, but there was a moment when we were stuck in a vehicle that died in the road, in the dark, not exactly sure where we were, calling everyone we knew for help with no luck. Jenny stopped with the kids to pray. God answered. I’ll tell you the whole story sometime.

Weird…and Cool: Our family was in a car driving back to our guesthouse Sunday night when I heard the man on the radio talking about issues they face and he referenced being at the Baccalaureate Service from a local college the day before. Then he started quoting some things from MY talk at that service. Kind of surreal. I told that story to friends the next day and Jackson just said, “Dad, stop bragging!” Thanks to my kids for keeping me humble.


Inspiring People: Edward. Gina & Travis. The young man on the side of the road. Michael & Taurus. George & Daniel. Danny & Bea. Joseph & Grace. Daisy. Chris & Rachelle. Sei & Ya. Peter. Hungry Kids. Jenny. Jackson. Abby. If you and I ever have 15 minutes, ask me about any of them. I have stories that inspire me to me a better human being and follower of Jesus.


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How’s your sabbatical? My Top 5 answers.

•June 18, 2014 • 1 Comment

blog photoThis is the natural question people ask me these days. Since I haven’t been around Suncrest, it’s mostly family, neighbors, and a few friends.  There is no single answer to the question, so I’ve noticed my answers have a few different themes.  Here’s a good sample of those.

How’s your sabbatical?

1.  “I don’t know yet.”  I’m just over 2 weeks in to a 13 week journey.  Everything has been really good so far (see below), but by design the 1st half of the sabbatical is full of adventure/unique experiences and the 2nd half is structured for quietness.

2.  “I still can’t believe it.”  The gratitude for this opportunity is still what captures me most.  I still pinch myself that I get to do this with the encouragement of our elders, an amazing staff that carries the load, and the generosity of the Lilly Endowment.  This whole experience has created an even deeper desire to be generous myself as I see the difference it has made for me.

3.  “It’s weird.  A good weird…but still weird.”  The freedom of schedule is the most odd thing to me.  My normal life/ministry is extraordinarily structured out of necessity and for efficiency.  I start every week knowing what has to happen to be effective and deal with interruptions along the way.  I’ve had much travel already, so I’ve only experienced this a few days, but I know there is more to come and I’m working on the right balance of pro-active structure (which I need) and letting the days come to me.

4.  “I’ve had rich conversations.”  My guiding theme for the summer is to explore the nature of “transformation”.  Basically…How do people really experience growth/change their lives?  Lasting change?  Substantial Change?  Why is there much frustration around this?  I’ve had some very direct conversations about this.  Mostly I’ve just enjoyed having regular conversations, but listening with this in mind.  I know God has given me at least one “Divine Conversation” with a man I never expected to meet in Myanmar that I think will shape my thought on this for the rest of my life.  Looking forward to many more of these…

5.  “It’s been amazing already!”  I took almost the full day to celebrate my daughter’s 8th birthday yesterday.  I never take Father’s Day weekend off from church, but last weekend we went to our hometown and took both my dad and Jenny’s dad out for celebration.  Obviously our huge trip was to visit Johnny & Janelle Knox in Myanmar (with very cool long layovers in Paris and Bangkok).  That trip will get its own post sometime soon.  Lots of pictures.  Amazing work.  I can’t wait to tell you more.

This Sunday, our whole family leaves for a 3 week trip to Liberia (with another long layover – in London this time).  I’m sure my answers to “How’s the sabbatical” will be re-shaped.  Pray for us…as I pray for you.

Top 10 Thoughts…Hear from God Every Day

•January 23, 2014 • 1 Comment

journalTwo weeks ago I asked our church to take a journey together.  Everybody agreed it would be a great year if we could each hear something from God every day.  So we decided to take the first 20 weeks of the year and read a plan some call “The Essential 100” — 100 key passages to get a great overview of the Bible.

Here are the top 10 things that I’ve noted along the way – most simply from my own experience over the last 2 weeks. (Click here for the resources like reading plan, YouVersion Bible app, etc.)

1. We all say we want to hear from God.  And all of us have a Bible accessible to us.  Someone had to ask the obvious question.  “Where is the gap?”  I’m glad we asked it.  The gap is real, but is overcome with a combination of a good plan, helpful resources, and old-fashioned self-discipline.

2. I haven’t always been one to read/reflect 1st thing in the morning, but it has been very good for me the last two weeks.  Biggest lesson learned:  By “first thing” I mean after a shower, after one look at my email, and with coffee in hand.

3.  I know you thought it was weird I included “after one look at my email”.  This speaks to the MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU principle.  I use my iPad to read and if the “overnight email” is unattended to it distracts from my concentration.  For me, I can take a swift 5 minute run through it, put my mind at ease, and concentrate on hearing from God.  It might be different for you…make it work for you!

4.  Some of you have figured out that we have 5 readings each week, but there are 7 days each week.  How does that jive with Hearing From God EVERY Day?  Basically, I think it allows some grace for missing one day and Hearing from God through your worship gathering one day.  But if you want to over-achieve and read every day…go for it!

5.  Not a reader?  Not a problem. The YouVersion App we have been recommending has audio.  Sit and listen to it and then reflect.

6.  Some of you love holding an actual Bible to read. That’s awesome.  I encourage you to “mark it up” the message is sacred, but the pages aren’t. The whole point of reading is to prompt something that makes you think and shapes your life.  Feel free to underline, write in the margins, note your questions, etc.  I love the app where you can also highlight and take notes.

7.  It’s been fun to talk to others about it.  My neighbor is doing it.  My son is doing it.  I asked my brother-in-law’s girlfriend to do it and she was excited.  I’m always fascinated that people not connected to church are often as interested in doing it as those who are.  Invite friends to do it with you.

8. We are asking 2 key questions each day.  This is my first time using them and they have brought an amazing sense of freshness to this experience. 1. What does this passage teach me about God? 2. If that’s who God is, what does it mean for my day? (Picture above is my journal answers for the first 9 days.)

9.  In a world of multi-tasking, I’m free to concentrate on one main question and the implications of that question.  Focus on multiple things almost guarantees a surface experience.  But ONE thing can really sink in…and shape your day.

10.  It was different the first week and probably will be different next week, but in the last 3 days my answer to “What does this teach me about God?” have been direct quotes from the passage that just jumped off the page.  I say this as a reminder to not over-think it!  Here were the three quotes…and what they meant for my day:

“Look up at the sky and count the stars — if indeed you can count them.”  For my Day: God is relational, but he isn’t buddy-buddy.  Remember he is GOD and I am not.

“The Lord Will Provide.” For my Day: Notice all day that this is true.  The only things I want for are not about life, but lifestyle.

“Surely the Lord is in this place and I was not aware of it.”  For my Day: He is with me at every moment of this day.  This is mostly awesome and a little scary.

Keep it up my friends! God is speaking to you.

Randy Parish

•December 12, 2013 • Leave a Comment

2½ years ago I challenged one of our elders to leave his successful marketplace job and join our staff.  Randy Parish has been our Executive Director of Operations ever since.

He has led us to a very good place organizationally, most of it behind the scenes leading staff development, finances, facilities, and much more.  He and I met every week and talked about the key elements of our church so vision can translate into reality.  Randy’s unique blend of marketplace experience, straightforward communication, and personal spiritual depth made him a great team member.

Last month his old company came calling with an great offer to move to the region He and his wife vacation in and will retire to someday.  He started with the company this week and it was the right move for him, but we will miss him on our team.  We have great volunteers like our Business Management Team to carry us through an interim while we look to fill the role. 

This is a small part of what he wrote to our staff.  It reminded me that as an attender Randy has been at Suncrest longer than I have:  It has been quite a ride these past 18 years 2 months at Suncrest.  We showed up that first Sunday wondering, just what kind of church meets in a school?  Lake Central High School, setup teams, worship team, launch team, interim campus pastor (my most challenging role), Elder and then staff.  We will both miss Suncrest and the relationships we have formed through those years.

Thanks Randy!


•September 30, 2013 • 3 Comments


What does it mean to Live Sent? It’s the question we are exploring these days at Suncrest. Here’s the answer I give whenever I have the chance.

First, Living Sent is…possible.  For YOU. I promise. It is the natural way the Scriptures teach a Christ-follower to live.  It also scratches that itch most of us have to experience greater meaning in our lives.

Living Sent ISN’T…

  • adding another thing you are “supposed to do” in an already-crazy life.
  • some awkward “spiritual pitch” you should impose on your friends who aren’t followers of Jesus.
  • a program your church is doing.
  • a way to get something from God.

Living Sent IS…

  • a mindset that helps your faith to be integrated within your real, crazy, life.
  • finding natural ways to express your faith and care about the people right around you…including their spirituality.
  • being the neighbor who helps, the co-worker who listens, and exploring any cause God has placed on your heart.
  • showing hospitality to all in a way that rejects being judgmental.
  •  allowing your faith to be public and imagining that God would use you.
  • embracing that God has strategically placed you wherever you are to make a difference in the lives around you.

In pictures: The power of new churches

•September 12, 2013 • 2 Comments

EVERYONE knows I think churches need to live beyond themselves to help start other new churches.  That’s where real impact is.  Here’s a few pictures of how I saw that playing out just this week.

Story Church in Georgia – I preached there Sunday and also gave (church planter/former Suncrest staff) the check from our $10,000+ special offering for their new facility.  What a great experience.


LifePointe Church in North Carolina – I’ve been a fan of this church since they launched, went multi-site and more as part of our “NewThing Network” of churches.  A couple years ago, a Suncrest family moved to the area and they quickly connected and started serving.  I love it.  Here’s a picture Suncrest founding pastor John Wasem took of the McAgy family on Sunday as LifePointe moved into a new facility.


Bible Faith Church – Sinje, Liberia.  I got this picture today of the new church Suncrest started there.  Suncrest is providing resources (our gift of $4500 was enough to build much of this building), but I’m more excited about the people, stories, and especially partnerships that we are linking this new church to so they aren’t dependent on us forever.  We linked the leaders there with Samaritan’s Purse for some building materials and leadership development.  Earlier this year we helped them partner with organizations that brought 2  safe-water drink wells to them — one on the church property and one in the community.


The Table Community Church – Walkerton, IN — Stop and pray for this new church (formerly a Suncrest campus) as it goes public with it’s launch next week.  Rod Reutter (one of our elders) is leading a meeting tonight with their pastor and launch team as they count down to a big day.


A lot of humor. A little inspiration.

•June 20, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I’m continually amazed by what our creative teams at Suncrest come up with.  They create moments for us to encounter God, lead us through story lines that connect with something in our spirit…and sometimes they just make us ease up a little bit and laugh.  Here are three short videos we used in the last 2 weeks.  Enjoy!

Mantage – This appeared for Father’s Day…and may be Jamie’s acting debut!  But not Wes, of course.  These two campus pastors are remarkable leaders and pastors…and hilarious too.

2 houses in 2 minutes — We had an amazing day Saturday framing 2 houses for families in need.  I whole-heartedly recommend partnering with Habitat for Humanity and Help Build Hope.  This video shows the construction at both St. John and Hobart.

Outtakes with Wes — Need I say more?  Wes recorded a video to promote our Dad’s Day services.  The clips didn’t quite make the cut.  Hilarious.

Some Lives changed Sunday. Some didn’t. Time to give up?

•June 13, 2013 • Leave a Comment


We make a fairly regular practice of asking people to express and commit to a “next step” at Suncrest.  Some are more dramatic than others.  Last Sunday, we asked people to lay things on an altar before God and walk away from them.  Literally.  And Figuratively.

I never know how people are going to respond.  I knew lots of people walked up front…but there was almost a social pressure to do so.  Were people really walking away from significant things in their lives that were getting in the way of God’s plan for them?

Then I opened this box of papers and started to leaf through them.  What were people leaving on the altar…walking away from once and for all?  I’ll give you a very small sampling:

-Suicidal Thoughts


-Being Judgmental

-The guilt of my past

-Sex outside of marriage

-Control of my husband

-Vulgarity & Lust

-Compromising values when with friends and online

-Being a Gossiper & Cheater

-Being Thin Skinned and critical of others

-“Letting go of a huge sin.  God knows.  I know.  I’m forgiven.”



-What others think of me


This matters.  And I have had a front row seat to God making days like this defining in the stories of people’s lives.  Can you imagine the impact of a service where people truly released all of these things?  I can.  Some lives changed drastically on Sunday.  No going back.  This week is fundamentally different than last week and this year will be fundamentally different than last year because of what happened Sunday.  Some of you will set a new course for your life that will have impact on many people and even for generations to come.  That’s genuinely amazing.

But some didn’t.  You meant to.  You were sincere Sunday morning.  But then Sunday afternoon happened.  And worse yet…Monday.  Now it’s Thursday and you are pretty sure Sunday was just an quasi-emotional experience that won’t have any lasting impact.  In fact, you wonder if anything will ever REALLY change. 

Do you know how I know this?  Because that’s what I did.  And what I’ve done in other settings over many years.  Then, I feel guilty for not being committed enough and I fight it.  I think self-discipline will be my conquering force.  Which is largely the problem.  I’m still fighting when the whole idea was to RELEASE. 

And then I give up.  That is almost always when the REAL change occurs. When I give up the fight.  When I acknowledge there are places in my life that I can’t seem to change…but are unacceptable to continue.  And then get down on my knees and plead with God to take it.  Once and for all.  In a way only He can.  With power I don’t have. 

And THEN He takes it.  Usually. (But that’s a conversation for another day.) 

Time for you to give up…trying to change this yourself?

A letter worth sharing…

•June 6, 2013 • Leave a Comment

ImageIf you know me, you know I love our elders at Suncrest.  They guide and guard our church with humility, character, and strength under the radar.  Dan Smith has served many years on our elder team, but a new job re-located him to Atlanta recently.  He sent this letter to our elders and I got his permission to share it here.  I think it says a lot of Dan, Suncrest, and our elders as a whole.


Dear Suncrest Elders,

 I am writing to announce my resignation as an Elder at Suncrest Christian Church effective June 1, 2013. It is hard to sum up in a few sentences the gratitude I want to express for the unique opportunity God gave me at Suncrest.  

What a joy it was to have experienced the growth in our church as the new faces appeared each week. More than that, I experienced personal growth as a husband, father, friend and leader. The tall task of serving as a Spiritual Leader brought a continual request for wisdom and humility while serving God and Suncrest and my family. I learned many lessons along the way.

Serving with my brothers in Christ gave me the opportunity to connect with men on a deeper level. As we served the church, we also became our own community group supporting each other thru life’s challenges. I will forever be grateful for this.

Even though my Eldership is over, know that my concern for Suncrest is not. I will continue praying for Suncrest and for each of you. I pray that you will continue to seek God’s direction for Suncrest as you lead his church in St. John, IN.

It truly has been an honor serving with you as an Elder at Suncrest. Serving with my brothers in Christ has been an experience that will continue to bless and encourage me in the future. Thank you for allowing me this unique opportunity. I am grateful.

In His Service,

Dan Smith


I sent Dan a simple reply last night thanking him for his impact on Suncrest and on my life personally.  We already miss him and Susie tremendously!

Liberia. New Churches. Clean Water. Hope.

•May 30, 2013 • 1 Comment


Things are changing in Liberia.  They are grateful.

Joseph Gbezohn is a Liberian Pastor we have invested in to start this new church and bring hope to the community of Sinje.  Our teams did a Medical Clinic and VBS there last year in difficult conditions as they met in whatever space they could find.

As the church and their impact has grown on this community, we have helped them build a simple building (above) and bring a clean water well (below) to the community. He sent us this message:

Greeting to the church (Suncrest) from the congregation of Sinje. Attached are the recent photos of the building being roofed and work is continuing. The wells have been done .We Baptized  three people during the Easter.



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