The Green Desert Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)

"I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland." Isaiah 43

On my recent trip to Arizona I was blown away at the topography and the area. I had come just after snow had cancelled a major golf outing at Flagstaff and in fact, when I flew in, there was fresh snow on the higher elevations. While disappointed that I endured Arizona temperatures 15 degrees below the normals in February, I was just mesmerized by the scenery. South Mountain, is a legitimate desert mountain that sits basically in the middle of everything. Annoying in the sense that you can't drive over it, but you have to drive around it so it adds 30 minutes to what would normally be about a 10 minute trip for some people. The Estrella (Estraya) mountains were beautiful too, almost like something out of middle earth. Were they a bit more snow covered, I could have sworn they were the misty mountains out of The Lord of the Rings. Cacti 30 feet tall and hundreds of years old just blew me away, but most striking was the desert region near Lake Pleasant. Let's just say God was speaking and I had enough time to just try and listen

The desert area near Phoenix is what some call a "Green Desert" in that there is a bit more moisture here. When you read the scriptures, you are often confronted with mountains and streams in the desert, but I had no real context aside from books and pictures, to really understand what that might FEEL like. As we walked the trails around Lake Pleasant, it seemed to me to represent some of what things would have felt and looked like in Jesus day. Go back further and consider the wanderings of the Israelites and this encouragement from Isaiah comes to mind: "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise."

The Phoenix area has been very dry with very little precipitation over the past year. Yet, because of the recent snow entire mountain sides started to green up. You would only see a yellowish green at a distance away amidst the green of the Saguaro Cacti growing up and down the mountain sides. But when you got closer, you could see desert flowers blowing, lichen growing on the rocks and turning bright green, small grasses briefly coming up. This dormant area, harsh, filled with rocks and apparently dead for so much of the year, was coming into a life and vigor that it was made to sing. The Cacti, are hundreds of years old, taking many lifetimes to grow to a height of 30 feet. They have stood over these arid and parched lands for far longer than we have and seem to sing a new song as the color of the desert returns. I just kept coming back to the passage, this idea that even the dry wilderness honors and praises God according to the way they were created to do so. When the water of life comes, the response is unmistakable and even the old, rough and tough, prickly, spiky and dangerous Saguaro Cactus sings a new song as the desert comes alive. You see, when it's dry, they are the only things that really stand out amidst the rocks and heights. As the desert comes alive, they blend into the background and become another voice in the song of Praise as life is renewed.

I left there thinking about the deserts I have walked through in my life, in my culture, in my job, in my family. Walking through the valley's and deserts are part of the reality of living in a world that has been touched by sin and the effects of sin. The fact that the wage earned for sin is death. Yet all the while there has been a stream in the wasteland and even in the barren nakedness that we sometimes find ourselves in, there is, just below the surface, a song waiting to be sung as God brings drink to his chosen people. Maybe that's why I love church. The fact that we wanderers in the deserts, whether made by our own foolishness, or a time God is growing us, come together to be fed by the stream that brings life to the wilderness. That when we are filled by God's word, his love and the promise of life, we come together to sing and shout and live out our praise to the one who calls us "His People"... "His Chosen".

So as Spring comes to you this year, I pray that we remember who gives us "the water of life" as Jesus called it. That he will give rest and joy to us and to refresh the heart and soul of his chosen people... that we may declare his Praise!

posted by Mike Westendorf on 04/02/2013

Our Plans Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)

I just wanted to share a quick story as we head into Christmas. With a lot of pain in our hearts over the evil that was poured out in Connecticut and the general uncertainty in the world around us, a prayer from a 7 year old. My family and I, before kids head off to school, will take turns picking bible passages and then taking the prayer for that day. My youngest son Thomas had the day a couple weeks ago and his choice was Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." As I heard this young man read to us, one thing that hit me was that God Has Plans. I have plans too, but I don't know which way I'm going half the time, so to know that God Has Plans is humbling to me. At first it is disconcerting, because I'd really like his plans to be MY plans, after all, what if his plans include some pain for me as he conforms me to the likeness of Christ... I don't like that. Yet, giving up sinful pride and addictions is well within his plans for me, especially as we pray things like "use me for your glory Lord". The other is that they are plans for good, not to harm me, but to give hope and a future.

Of course, that's the problem, we don't see how the loss of something in the moment, can bring God glory or good to me or to others. Yet when we realize who we are by faith, sons and daughters of the King of Kings, blessed with life on earth and with him in eternity, then it becomes easier to walk in the fact that God Has Plans for me. I don't know what plans God has for the devastation when tragedy strikes, but he promises that he will make all things work for the good of those who love him. In time, the stories of God's faithfulness begin to ring out, healing in this world, helping us to remember that our time of Grace on earth is temporary. While the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is Eternal Life.

Thomas' prayer that morning was this: "Lord help us to know that you have your promise on us. Amen" Whether this is a joy filled Christmas with dreams coming true, or a Christmas that reminds us of loss, I pray we will ask God to help us KNOW... that he has HIS promise on us... on YOU!

posted by Mike Westendorf on 12/31/2012

Encounter Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)

Hi Friends!
Did you ever see a movie that left such an impression on you that you just had to tell somebody? You got out of the theater (or maybe even during the movie), you had to start tweeting about it, calling people up, facebooking friends about it. Did you ever have a life experience with your family that left you reliving it with a big smile on your face over and over again? Or perhaps someone ripped you off or left you slighted... ever go to a friend and just have to tell them the whole story about what happened to you? It's interesting that in this culture we tend to wear what happens to us in visual and verbal ways. When we have an encounter it leaves us moved. We have a natural reaction to what just happened, sometimes good, sometimes not so good - but somehow or other, we let people know.

One of the things that we tend to do, living in the crazy pace of December, is just soak up information. What time is the mall open till? When is that basketball practice? If this happens at work now, can I get home in time... Information, helps us make the decision so I can do as much as and as efficiently as possible. While information becomes the driving way to do life, it all too often leaves us failing to have a real "Encounter"... with people and with Jesus. My prayer for all of us this December... this Advent... this Christmas... is that we don't simply take in the information about Jesus, stuff it away and check it off our list, but that God rocks our world so greatly that we have an encounter with the Savior, our King of Kings, our Redeemer, our Promised Messiah our "God With Us". The kind of encounter where we just have to tell someone about it, how it moved us, how it gave us peace, how it challenged us, how it rocked our pride and our depression and our busyness.

That there was ONE moment in this time of preparing, that we sat in humble quietness with the God who made us, who holds us, who loves us despite our many imperfections and the sin that can make our lives so ugly... the God who gives us real life... That from that quiet encounter, causes in our hearts a crescendo of praise with an Amen, an Alleluia that overflows into our work places, our families, our neighborhoods, our churches such that the people around us also encountered Jesus, maybe even through us bringing Jesus to them. As we live for a risen and reigning King who has told us "Behold I am Coming Soon - my reward is in my hand", I'd love to invite you to take a look at John chapter 4 and the Encounter the woman at the well had with her Savior and how she responded to it. May you and I encounter our Jesus now and every day.

Mike

posted by Mike Westendorf on 12/02/2011

Peace and Change Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)

Hey All!
Happy Labor Day and just like that welcome to fall at least for us in the north. Even in the south where it's still way too hot, you can feel it in the air and you can see it when you look at your watch or your phone and realize it seems a lot darker than it used to be at that same time a week ago. Even the hot weather seems eerily different as the seasons begin to turn. And it's often when change begins, of which we can't avoid, that we start to really look hard at where we've been and where we are right now, trying to understand what the change means for our future. I wonder if God has set the seasons in place to remind us how life on this earth does not stay the same, but that despite that change, the reality of the cross and empty grave... Jesus Victory over sin and death, means that the Love of God does not change.

There are a lot of stories being shared in the wake of an autumn day that changed life in America for many of us. For my generation 9/11 was a defining moment and it says that though the changing seasons remain a predictable occurrence, some things don't. I remember how in my heart I wanted peace in the worst way, to somehow put aside the pain and disbelief of what had happened and what it would mean for the future. I wanted revenge, there was an anger and nothing I could really do with it, there was a fear and nowhere to hide from it. In the early moments I could say I had courage, but with no enemy to fight and with no real tangible way to help, I could only sit without peace. I recall vividly going to the grocery store in Eden Prairie, MN at about 11pm that night. We lived near Flying Cloud Airport and were pretty close to Minneapolis airport. As I got out of the car, I was amazed at how quiet everything was with all the planes grounded... except one. A loan F16 fighter jet that was flying patrol high over the Twin Cities... could that bring us peace?

When I wrote the song "The Child Remains" I reflected at the idea of change and that no matter how old we get or what happens to us, there is still a child inside each of us that is looking for the peace we felt in the loving arms of a mom and dad, or other loved one. Children were created for that place and you and I will spend a lifetime and millions of dollars to get back there... and we'll never be able to get what we're really looking for except when we climb into the arms of Jesus. It was he who told his Disciples, shortly before their own personal 9/11, when he would go to the Cross – "I have told you these things so that in me, you may have peace. In this world, YOU WILL HAVE TROUBLE, but take heart I HAVE OVERCOME the world". My faith sort of melted in the days after 9/11, but the steady call of God's word to my heart brought to life the promises of God who reminds us that because of sin, this world will bring trouble. But while we are in it, he promises never to leave or forsake those who, by faith, trust in him. And he promises that our lives are more than living and dieing, that we were in fact, Children made to be held in the arms of a Father who's love never changes and in whose arms those who know Jesus will spend eternity. I pray we might all find the peace Jesus talked about... the peace that comes when we are "In Him".

Mike

posted by Mike Westendorf on 09/29/2011

Reflections after a thunderstorm Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)

One of the biggest thrills as an indie artist is to have a chance to play on "the big stage". Really not much changes in reality and it doesn't really have a huge impact on your following when you play in these really big festivals, but there's something about being "back stage" at a major festival - behind the biggest platform on the grounds. Our chance came this year as a finalist in a band contest and our opportunity to play the Main Stage at Lifest was indeed a thrill. But like life so often does to us, it came with some surprises. Our opportunity wound up rushed due to thunderstorms in the area and we had to cut our song short, the last of the bands didn't even get to play before the shelf cloud and 50 mph winds tore through the festival grounds. Being on the stage was awesome, standing in front of all Skillet's gear and pyrotechnics, but a quiet, short conversation with another artist waiting out the rain delay is what I may remember most.

Todd Agnew has been a favorite artist of mine, in large part because of his genuine humanness and his humility. Yes, he's got that unique voice and his own writing style, but it's the way he carries himself in his life. Online, interviews, music, TV etc... he comes across as the kind of guy we should want to be. N. T. Wright, a bishop in England, wrote that we were made to be human, which was in the likeness of God. Sin is something that makes us less human, obedience and living in God's Grace and living out God's love, makes us more human - and Todd seems to me to be that kind of guy.

I had a chance to thank him for the way he carries himself and for his artist ministry while we were waiting for the stage managers to make decisions on whether the concerts would go on as scheduled or how things would be moved around. We're standing on the steps that lead off the main stage at Lifest while we watch stage hands squeegee off the stage and talk amongst themselves. The backstage area is basically dirt... now mud and puddles at this point and people are gingerly walking about it trying to stick to whatever grass there is to avoid getting too full of mud. As we're talking he sort of casually mentions a comment from one of his bandmates about how they are thankful they are a pretty laid back group of guys, because if they weren't, they'd be pretty upset about getting mud on their nice shoes and clothes (which I could definitely relate to)

That's the funny thing about Todd, he's so laid back that if he showed up in his Pajamas to do a concert, nobody would think anything of it, they'd just say "bring it on". Before we finished our conversation a stage manager interrupted us and basically had to get Todd moving onto a different stage where they were moving his concert. As he walked down the stairs, he stopped, turned around and stepped up a few steps to shake my hand and say thank you. After that he was gone. A short time later, I saw him and his bandmates walking through the muddy backstage road to get to the new stage their concert was to be relocated to.

That conversation and image is cemented in my mind and every time I reflect on it I have to ask... "would we... would I, be willing to get my nice shoes dirty... and walk through the mud to get to the opportunity that was in front of me?" I think it's part of what human beings are meant to do in the worship of their creator. You'll have to excuse me, but there's some mud I need to walk through... because I know where an opportunity is. Be blessed - 1 Peter 4:7-11!

posted by Mike WEstendorf on 08/21/2010

When there are too many words... Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)

They say (I'm not really sure who "they" are, but I've heard "them" say this), that some people talk to think... and some people think to talk. As a story teller type person, I like words... As a type A personality, I tend to like words A LOT... and too many times, there are probably a few too many of my own words. Believe it or not, it's not because I like to hear myself talk, I do enough of that to myself as it is and even I get tired of my talking, but there are many times when I can't put into words the depth of what I mean to say, especially when I am writing something out. There are so many dots to connect and I can see them ALL, but it takes a lot of words to put them ALL together in some way that people can READ without falling sleep... HEY - wake up!

So when this happens, it is good to have someone who understands an economy of words and I have a close friend who is excellent with words. Jason Elkins is the editor of an online Christian magazine called "Transparent Christian Magazine" http://www.transparentchristianmagazine.com/ and it was one of these quirky emails that I got from him a few years ago now. "Hey Mike, this is Jason and you've been on my mind a lot lately and I was wondering if there was something that I can pray with you about" That is the FIRST time that a Christian has actually done that, I never forgot it. Last year at the CIA Summit, Jason, Belinda Jane and I were out for dinner talking about some experiences and I shared with him the turning point of my ministry.

Jason has taken my story and pared it down into something that says what I wanted to, in about half the words. It's a story of being broken and healed in the little town of Murphy, NC. For many of you who have thanked me for my ministry, this is the moment that God really got through to me and put HIS ministry in action. Please Read on and then spend some time with the rest of Transparent Christian Magazine. It's a place to make you think as you experience the stories and life experiences of others willing to be transparent about their lives.

Here's the article:
http://www.transparentchristianmagazine.com/2010/01/25/1000-miles-for-an-audience-of-seven-spiritual-lessons-from-the-road-mike-westendorf/

posted by Mike Westendorf on 01/24/2010

"Undefined" Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)

Posted 10/28/09

Undefined is one of those funny words to me. Maybe it's because I use the "Undo" button in Word/Excel documents a lot and I just like the "Un" part of it. Several years ago when I left my first weather company I knew that I was being led to do other things, music being a big one. I had a great time with that company and I am grateful for the opportunities they gave me at Weather Eye. An opportunity to grow as a leader and as a communicator. Like any job it wasn't always easy and there were stresses and strains and long hours like everybody has. But in that job I was THE weather guy on about 200 radio stations across the country. People knew who I was and enjoyed the weather forecasts/information that I provided along with some of the silliness of radio. But like all things, they run their course and I knew it was time to move on.

That's where it got interesting for me. While I was at peace about leaving, I was going to a LOT of unknown. I found myself working at Target and music as we had the time, all while hoping for an unknown, either work at UW-Milwaukee or The Weather Channel... or... Target...

I remember vividly the feeling that much like a river, my life had been defined by the high ground around me. I was a river running in a well defined bank, flowing toward whatever was ahead. The problem is that eventually the river eventually meets the sea - what happens to the river??? That's what I felt like. So much of what defined who I was, was suddenly gone. And it left me sort of trying to figure out who I am and what would define my life now?

I wrote the refrain to this song after a songwriting trip to Nashville, TN on the long ride home, struggling to put the verses into words, while I nailed down the refrain. The second verse came from a crazy series of events that reminded me how loss can leave us feeling numb... undefined, like we're not sure who we are anymore. I woke up from a bad dream, losing a part of my family. I woke up and went into the kitchen, grabbed a pen and whatever I could write on and just started writing everything that came to mind in the vividness of the memory while it lasted. I went back to bed.

That morning, I witnessed a car accident on block in front of me. Everyone survived, but the tear streaked face of the little girl and her mother holding her will be engraved in my mind, while the kid who burned the red light was clearly in another world, trying to fully understand what had just happened. 10 minutes later, another near accident happened right in front of me and to top it all off on our way to visit an elderly couple with my kids that night, a dog ran out in front of my van. Scream, screech, bump. Thankfully the dog bounced, but I'm thinking to myself "OK... OK, I got it, second verse, I know what it is, let me get home and write it".

I was left with how quickly life changes and how in those moments who we think we are, becomes nothing like the person we feel we are. Hard to recognize the person in the mirror because we don't feel like that person after experiencing the loss of the things that defined us. A spouse, a job, wealth, health, family... remove any of those key things and it's hard for us to feel like the same person.

The message of this song is that we are not truly defined by those things, but rather defined by the love of a God who never changes. Though we age and we lose pieces of our lives, God's promise, love and hope never change. When we realize we were made in his image, meant to love him and be loved by him - when we hold onto our birthright as a child of God through Jesus Christ, we will never lose our identity, we will never be "undefined" - because "By Your Love, I am Defined".

In all times, be defined by the God who knows you, loves you, empowers you.

posted by Mike Westendorf on 10/28/2009

I Can't "Handle" Any More of This! Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)

I'll bet you've heard the phrase "God will never give you more than you can handle". You've heard that one right? You know, life is going down the drain, you've had the worst week of your life, you're pretty good at finding the silver lining, but you've lost track of the clouds and the sun is going down on what was a pretty good life. And in the back of your mind you hear this little voice say - "God won't give you more than you can handle". Or another way I've heard it said "God won't ALLOW more than you can handle".

Did you ever feel like screaming "BUT I CAN'T HANDLE THIS ANYMORE!!!"

And then wind up feeling horrible about it. I don't know about you, but I have been confused by the feelings of overwhelming pain or frustration only to feel guilty about it. My mind would argue that "well, God wouldn't give me more than I can handle, so I guess I'd better suck it up". I felt that somehow I wasn't living up to my end of the bargain as a Christian and that God was, quite frankly, being pretty unfair OR he had dealt out the extra measure of life on the wrong guy.

If you have ever felt this way, I want to share with you something that I was reminded of recently at a College Campus Rally that I helped out at this year in Eau Claire, WI. This is the passage that we typically turn to with this whole thought:

1 Corinthians 10:13 - No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

Most of the time we leave out the tempted part, but it's important to note that this has to do with Temptation. He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear. And he always does give us a way out. In fact Scriptures best advice is to FLEE temptation, most of the time we can't stand up to it. In our pride when we don't flee, we usually (or eventually) get nailed. The next passage is tough to read at first, but let it sink in and understand what it means for us.

2 Corinthians 1:8-9 - We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.

Paul does a lot of "SO THAT" in his writings. This happened SO THAT. God did this SO THAT. This review has been a great comfort to me because you know, there are times when I simply can't bear it. There are times when I really can't go on, but somehow I wake up the next day. There are times when I'm so broken that I can't heal, yet in time I am healed. There are times when I have... when you have - nothing left...

And that's OK. Because in those moments, we realize that this has happened SO THAT, we might not rely on ourselves, but on God. We are reminded of his promises to never leave us, we are promised life through faith in Christ even though our bodies die, we are promised what we need (even if it's not always what we want). We are promised comfort, hope and peace, when we look to the Cross and see a Savior who connects us to the God who made us and the God who loves us.

So the next time you hear "God won't give you more than you can handle", remember he's talking about temptation. Difficulties will come that are FAR more than we can handle, but he promises to be with us in those moments and to see us through them - SO THAT...

Paul finished it this way in vs. 10-11 -" He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many."

posted by Mike Westendorf on 06/05/2009

Little Big Steps Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)

Have you ever played the game "Captain May I"? We play it around the house from time to time and of course one of the things the captain will say is "Adam... take 3 Big Steps (captain may I?), yes you may". Abby, take 2 little steps (Captain May I?), yes you may..." and so on. This idea of Big Steps is something that I've been thinking a bit about lately so here's a thought -let me know what you think.

When it comes to matters of life and especially the Christian walk, ideally there are no BIG steps. If we do it right, there are really only a bunch of little steps. That "Big Step" becomes simply... the NEXT step.

Think about that for a second. That choice of a college, a spouse, a house, what church to go to etc... they all tend to be significant choices. How many times are we in a situation where we just don't know how to make the decision. We pray about it and we talk to people about it, but so often it is on this DECISION. But when we stop to think about it... just HOW do we make those decisions? Where do we find peace in it? If you're like me and it feels like a Big Step, then we probably have a few more little steps to go.

The thought I had was that, when we feel uneasy, apprehensive or anxious over some big decision or step in our lives we need to stop and take our focus from the "big step" to our Savior and ask what little steps need to be taken first. When we walk down a road that we shouldn't be walking down, there's anxiety there. I don't know about you, but I have struggled with any number of big decisions, but the BEST decisions (the ones that work out and don't backfire on us big time) are often ones that we have a lot of confidence in. Why? We've thought it out, sought counsel, been in prayer and as we take each step to answer the questions, we find the "leap of faith" becomes a simple act of obedience. If that anxious feeling just won't go away, we may not have only missed a few steps, we may be walking down the wrong road.

So anytime you're feeling pressured to take a big step - take a step back and see how well you've walked in the little steps. If you haven't followed through, haven't prayed about it, haven't found advice and help you can trust, then chances are pretty good that you are taking a BIG STEP. In my experience if when I feel that way, I'm usually in trouble. If you have approached the step with the wisdom that comes through walking down the right road and taking every step - then it's not a big step - it's just simply... the NEXT Step.

Do you have any thoughts or examples on this idea?

Blessings to you as you be the blessing!

Mike

posted by Mike Westendorf on 04/22/2009

Inconvenience Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)

"God saw all that he had made, and it was very good." Genesis 1:31

Have you ever stopped to think about this statement? There was a time when God's creation was complete the way he had intended it to be. A climate where human beings could live without clothing. A garden where what was needed was provided and a human nature that could be "content" with what it had. An intimacy between the created and it's creator. A place without fear, without sin, without death. Ahh. It's like breathing the air of the first truly spring day after a long winter isn't it? But... sin would change that.

One of the things that I have tried to do during the Lenten season is go deeper than the traditional bible stories of Lent. To maybe understand Jesus passion and frustration, to understand God's disappointment over what had happened way back in that garden so long ago. And I keep coming back to this passage thought in Genesis... It was Very Good. But sin would cause God to undertake a great and inconvenient process to put in motion the salvation of man by bringing Jesus into the world, to live and die, to pay the price so that through that sacrifice, we would be saved. In Old Testament times, the people had to sacrifice animals to atone for their sins, to make the very real connection that sin's ultimate price is death and that the price for coming clean was blood. God put in place the various sacrificial laws that would eventually be fully realized in the sacrifice of Jesus.

If you were in the old Testament biblical times, it was something of an inconvenience to make the trek to the temple, buy the animal and have it sacrificed. I wonder how inconvenient it was for God to move through heaven and earth and the many years from that first sin until he comes again to set things aright, to once again be able to declare "it is very good"

It's been a little while since we had the flu in the Westendorf household quite like this. Our youngest got it on Saturday and it was more than a little inconvenient. On the hour, every hour recleaning of bedroom sheets and wiping up floors. Only to have the triple play of my other two kids AND me getting hit with it within 3 hours of each other later the next day. Kids miss school, I miss part of work, my wife gets no sleep, we can't eat, we can't sleep... it's seriously inconvenient. It makes me angry as I grow impatient at waiting for my life to give me the freedoms I'm used to having, to go back to normal. I think of the friends I have who are watching their children go through chemo, or bury a loved one and I think how inconvenient it all is.

But I'm reminded that while we all will be inconvenienced (which basically means I can't do what I want to do when I want to) God willingly put this plan of salvation in motion and he did it all after he saw his creation and said "It is Very Good". A plan that put God it at a great inconvenience, but one that will end with this old world and all it's dingy grayness, death and decay being swept away like the first real day of spring. As we consider the many inconveniences that are thrown our way, I hope that in the middle of it all, we take away a small glimpse of the wonderfully, beautiful inconvenience that God has lived through until the day he looks again at his creation and can say "It is Very Good"

Keep Climbing with Christ

posted by Mike Westendorf on 03/02/2009

Our Second Place Finishes Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)

I coach Basketball for my son's basketball teams. I've been coaching/teaching on some level since I was 14 years old, so I've got around 20 years of experience doing it. Recently, my B team basketball lost a thriller. We had a chance to tie it with 6 seconds left after being down by 8 points with 54 seconds left. The team we were playing had beaten us the night before by 12 points and we played scared the whole second half in that game. I have not coached harder, even when I coached High School, than I did in this game. After hitting a 2 point basket the kids set up the trap press perfectly. I was standing 10 feet away screaming "Straight up, Straight up, no reach Straight Up" for 5 seconds. The other team called Time Out just in time to save the 5 second call. So I went back to coaching loudly to get them where they needed to be for the press and the inbounds. I told them they needed to "sell out" it was all or nothing and then they'd have to foul and hope. The kids stole the inbounds, 2 of my guys were on the floor, the big guy picks it up and kicks it out to my shooting guard who is standing wide open for a three. He gets a great look and it just misses as time expires. We lose by 3.

My kids totally out played the other team. While they were bigger and faster, we had devised a game plan to play to our strengths and exploit their weaknesses. I started a 4th grader to play man to man on their BEST 6th grade player. They hit back to back three pointers to start the second half and they hit a half court shot at the buzzer to end the third quarter, but I made them stick to the plan and motivated and coached as well as I could and they never stopped playing, never stopped believing. I was NOT going to let them give up mentally, no matter what the score was, but they had to do the work. When the buzzer sounded, we were the happiest, proudest group of 2nd placers that I've ever seen. Our parents were louder and more appreciative and our team felt like it had one first place. The score really didn't matter... winning the game wasn't as important as the way we had just played it. Our second place finish was better than the first place trophy.

Ever think about that from God's perspective? We often ask for things, important things, selfless things and when we don't get the first place prize, we often struggle to accept a second place answer from God. Looking back at this game, I think about my recent struggles with overcommitedness and perhaps a touch of depression. Dark places where I don't want to be around other people, say things I might regret... That empty feeling that doesn't go away despite the fact that I KNOW what God says. It's a hard place to be when what we KNOW isn't what we FEEL. Knowing that we're forgiven, loved, not alone doesn't make the tightness in our stomach go away. We see and know only the game plan, we may FEEL like it will never work.

I think back to this game and wonder how many times we hear God standing right next to us screaming through scripture and our personal history with Him "HOLD ON, THAT'S IT, ALMOST THERE, STRAIGHT UP - HOLD ON". We know the game plan and even though our bodies feel like quitting or letting go, there is often just enough strength to hold on - to put one more day on our resume, one more day to look back at how God carried us, motivated us, showed us the way.

Sometimes, in those dark places, we want the storm to stop. That would be finishing in first place, that would be our first place trophy - instant peace, that pain would go away. But all too often we get the second place finish - the one with some heartache, incredible amounts of hard work and a game plan that takes us down to the last shot. How do we respond to the second place finish? Here's an example from scripture in Matthew:

25During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear.
27But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."
28"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."
29"Come," he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"
31Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"

32And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

Peter is sinking he calls out to Jesus, who grabs him immediately - BUT THE STORM DOESN'T STOP! They have to get back to the boat and THEN the storm dies down. Peter's response to the second place finish? To worship God.

Praying that all our second place finishes are heartfelt, hard fought and well received as God coaches us through the dramatic wins and tough losses in Life. Keep Climbing with Jesus!

posted by Mike Westendorf on 02/05/2009

One Day At a Time Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)

Story Behind the Song:
"At a Time"
Written November 3rd

When my wife was in High School, she had a seizure, not a small one either. It was the only one she had had to that point in her life and there was no explanation for it. She had been on a medication for seizures until we found out we were expecting our first child. At that point, the Doctors pulled her off it cold turkey since she hadn't had a seizure in so many years. Two weeks later, she went down with a seizuer at work. That was a bad day.

Thankfully, God was with us and blessed us with a healthy baby boy who gives us joy and challenge to this day! When "we" were pregnant with our second child, the doctors were determined not to let that happen again. So we had more testing and a lot more scrutiny. I was working in downtown Minneapolis at the time, when I got the dreaded "911" page on my pager (if you are under the age of 20, you likely have no idea what I'm talking about do you?!?). That page usually showed the home number and then 911 after it as a sign to call home, there's an emergency. My wife, three months pregnant, had another seizure, hit her head on the dresser on the way down and needed me home.

My mind was racing. I left work headed west and with fear gripping at my heart and a desire, but failure to show Christian Maturity, I sped off for home. I can still remember the scene pretty well. Cloudy day, trying to drive no more than 10 mph over the speedlimit, pleading with God to give me patience and to show me what I needed to do. A ways in front of me was a truck with no trailer. As I was pulling in front of a minivan I was praying to the Lord... "Lord, you have been with us before. You have said you have plans for us to prosper us, not to harm us, to give us hope and a future. I want to be a mature Christian, but I don't know how we get through it this time..."

At that exact moment I pulled clear of the mini van andlooked up at the back of the Tractor's cab. On it was a bumper sticker with the words

ONE DAY AT A TIME

Floored that God would speak so clearly... I had nothing left to pray. Only to trust and deal with the opportunity to serve my wife and my Lord with what ever strength I had left. What I did not have, God would supply.

Does the stock market have you anxious? Have you lost a job? Is the money drying up? Has Cancer returned? Has a sickness never left? Is there lonliness or despair? How important is it for us in these moments to remember with the Psalmist "I will sing of the Lord's great love Forever. With my Mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations." That you and I remember specifically, the times God saw us through, the times God took our sinful perspective and helped us to see His view of our circumstances. Oh how we need to remember that in those difficult times. That we are pilgrims here, strangers experiencing God's grace in this life, sharing it with others until the day we ourselves are called home.

While my daughter was a healthy child (strong willed too), I looked back at this moment and wrote this song to remind myself that, whatever we are dealing with right now, God has promised to be with us always, never leave, never forsake us. To not worry about tomorrow, but experience his love, his mercy and his blessing - one day at a time. The last part of the last refrain sums it up:

As worry tears away, the hopes you had today
put the burdens and the worries of your life
into His hands till you know, it's by God's grace that you'll go
Living our your life, just one day at a time

In his strength and faithfulness we will climb that mountain of faith one day at a time. Keep Climbing!

posted by Mike Westendorf on 11/03/2008

Color Through the Gray Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)

Well, we'll finally be releasing the new CD project "commercially", which is a big way of saying that all the packaging and final music production has been wrapped up and will be available at Indieheaven among other places. We've got the CD release week planned for Thursday September 18th - big concert event - at the point of grace, we've got the big "New Creation" Concert with 6 friends and artists on the 19th at St. Paul's in Muskego WI and then a private house concert event on the 20th. It's really fun to be apart of all this, but I want to take the next few months to do some writing about the songs on this project, staring with the title track. Sort of bring you into the story of this project.

The Project:
The 9 songs on this CD were put together with some intent to share moments of color, some in vivid joy such as Prelude to Praise, some through the pain such as At a Time. We opened the stage for Building 429 in Wausau this year. Before they took the stage for the night an area of heavy showers and isolated storms move in. The skies darkened, it rained, the winds blew for about 10 minutes and then it moved east. All of a sudden the sun came out and the result was this huge double rainbow. Jason didn't miss a beat when they hit the stage pointing out that Life/Satan will so often bring the storms/clouds, but God walks in, blows them out and says "you think that was impressive... check THIS out!" To add another touch to this - this was the 10th anniversary of this festival called - The Rainbow Valley Christian Music Festival" I think God was showing off!

The music/stories/songs from this project are meant for all of us, because on any given day at any given time, we may bask in the sun, we may sit in the rain, but all the while God is painting with the colors of heaven in the lives of those who know Christ. I pray this project will have some color to share with you!

Color Through the Gray - The Song
A friend of mine told me that the title track for this CD was more like 4 songs in one, that if I had wanted to I could have taken each verse or phrase and formed that though into an individual song. My brain doesn't always work that way, besides the night I wrote it, I was feeling fairly down and a bit frustrated for a number of reasons. My wife and I were going to play cribbage and while she was reading a devotion book, I started writing. The prose for that were to become the overall focus of this project.

Color Through the Gray - written by Mike Westendorf
1. Lord I'd like to run away, from all the grayness of the world around me
What happened to the colors of the rainbow that I used to know? What a show!
What do I owe to see it once again
To have the chance to see it once again.

Straining striving life contriving a box that holds, who I am and what I know
Where's the pretty ribbons, wrappings, tape and packing
That decorates the small gray box that holds my soul.

Canvas unbordered... The brushes uncovered
Paint my life with colors that I've never seen, but used to dream
Before I learned that gray was color too, before I learned that gray was color too

Paint my life with colors seen through heavens eyes
Like the rainbow through the clouds that fill my skies
In all I do and think or say, please help me find a way
To somehow see the color through the gray
To somehow see the color - through the gray

When frustrations come, whether they're a result of our own foolishness, the result of someone else' mistakes or we just find ourselves lost in a gray period in our lives, how often don't we look back and see the color in our lives? As adults, looking at the child with no responsibilities, a full refrigerator, cable TV and friends in the neighborhood. Now THAT was a colorful time. Interesting that we often forget the frustrations that we felt as a child, seeing a future that had more color than we could possibly have at the age of 10. Or when injury comes and we long to have the freedom to walk like we once did. Or when the ultimate reality of sin occurs, the bodily death of a friend or loved one, oh the color we miss. Scripture has a verse that I have long loved, because even in my most bitter moments, God is at work even when I can say nothing. - Romans 8:26-27 - 26In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.

The hard part about Gray is that it's still a color that we live through. Sometimes it's easier to see details in an old black and white (gray) photo, but for most of us Gray is a time when we're forced to live WITHOUT the color that we can remember or that we've hoped to see. We get put in, or too many times WE put ourselves into this small gray box and spend our lives trying to decorate the box. God's desire is to stretch and grow us in this life, through the joy and in the pain, we begin to see the color you can only see in heaven. That God would turn us into that canvas so that he could paint the story of our lives so that when the gray times come, we can see through the gray to the color given to us in a life of faith. That was the gyst of this song. Maybe it says something different or more or less to you, I hope you're able to take something for it.

posted by Mike Westendorf on 08/24/2008

So what's my purpose in all this? Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)

So what's my purpose with all this? This is a question that I've asked myself a hundred times and for the first several years I got about a hundred different answers. Maybe I'm doing this more for myself, to find a way to articulate my faith and be challenged to grow. Maybe I'm doing it for people I know, to encourage and motivate us all to grow in our faith, not only by bible knowledge but also living the life. Going from informed to transformed as only God's grace and word can do. Maybe I'm doing it to prove a point, that the STYLE of Christian music is less important than the words and ability to understand God's grace communicated through music. Maybe pride creeps in and I'm doing it to feel good about myself, I'd be lying if I said this doesn't creep in from time to time...

Increasingly what God has really opened up my heart to is the concept that worship is really a lifestyle, it's not just something that we do for an hour on Sunday. My home congregation Pastor remarked to me once in a bible study that Worship is "God coming to us and his people respond". I really feel that is the biblical view of worship, Revelation 4/5 really nails that down too. God comes to us in his word, sacraments, even his creation so that man is without excuse. God is always here, never leaves, nor forsakes us. He's in all our troubles, all our joys, all our sorrows. He is our only hope. He is ALWAYS coming to us, even in his creation, his love and hand is evident.

So how do we, his people respond? Do we look for ways to know him better, to experience more of Him. Do we appreciate the comfort he gives us in death, the inexplicable giddy joy we have in the smile and laughter of our children? The beauty of the sunset... of the rainbow? When we can't make out the words, do we go and seek them out in the scripture, do we joy in the opportunity to experience forgiveness on a deeply personal level in communion? For me, worship, has taken on a whole new meaning. Personally I think it's the "secret" Paul is talking about when he mentioned he understood how to be content in all things. - Phillipians 4 - I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Worship is 24/7!

Secondly, is that the future is now and we are ALL the future. I've heard so many people say "We need to build a school, we need to have a gym, we need to have a praise band, we need to have safety and security" To sum it up, we have to find a way to keep the youth because THEY are the future church. I wonder if we've really thought much about that. Standing before a group of women at the LWMS conference in Medford, WI, it really dawned on me that there sitting in front of me were about 75 women, many with white hair, canes and the like, who were interested in serving outside of their home church. They had the heart of ministry. It was like, for a moment, the outward appearance didn't matter, I could see spiritual warriors just coming into their prime. THEY represented a part of our future and it was an honor to serve them.

Do we realize that the "future" we're fighting and building to give our children, may not be much of a future for them if they aren't working with us? If we're working for the future for our kids, what message does that send them when they get to be our age? How much better is it to remember that there is no tomorrow unless God grants us that? Keeping it simple and looking at the opportunities to grow and serve together and to serve each other... TODAY, is what builds the future. A future where everyone of us in Jesus, has a ministry, has a way to serve, has a gift to use. A church where broken people get built up by the grace of Jesus. When our children see the heart of ministry and service in the person of a 90 year old, how neat is that? When the 12 year old is befriended by the 60 year old, how cool is that?

So what is Mike Westendorf about? My professional music ranges from full rock band, to acoustic solo, to classical music. I'm a musical nomad of sorts, but the main thing is the story. I was recently asked in an interview (you can catch it on my website music player), "what words can you share with a hurting world?"

Take a moment and answer that for yourself.

In the end, my reply was simply that, while we are imperfect, selfish, often dirty minded people, that we stand in front of the GOD OF THE UNIVERSE... in our rags of unworthiness only to hear the voice of Jesus say

"You have no idea how much you mean to me" Jesus died to pay a price that by his grace we don't have to. He bore our punishment and now gives that gift of faith to us, he puts us in clean clothes and says again "You have no idea how much you mean to me" How cool is that! We can offer no lasting hope, But God offers peace through Jesus.

Could you do me a favor? If you are older and reading this, would you please find someone my age at your church and ask them if they have any prayers they'd like people to consider for them. You can start the conversation like this

"Hey Mike, you and your family have been on my mind a bit lately and I was wondering if there was anything that you wanted someone to pray for you about?"

If you are an older member, consider expanding your ministry to reaching out to a kid. Understand that you are NOT cool, you are old and out of touch... but care enough to do it anyway. You WILL have an impact, just keep going, these kids need you and they will not forget it.

Folks my age (30-40) Find a senior and adopt them, see what prayers that they might need, find a way that you and your kids can serve them. Ministry is about serving people as Christ served us. Sharing the message of God's Grace first and foremost and then living out the faith that He has given us. Each one of us intersects with other people that only we may know. All we need to do in it's simplest form is to make known his faithfulness (Psalm 89). Enjoy the opportunities!

I want to leave you with the scripture that has really had an impact on me. From that loser, traitor, arrogant, sinner, forgiven saint - Peter. I love this scripture

7The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. 8Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. 11If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

posted by Mike Westendorf on 07/10/2008

Why is Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)

I'd really like to see a new word to describe Christian music today. The word Contemporary has often been used to describe something that is happening "today" The dictionary gives it a relationship to people and to time. A couple of entries for the word "contemporary" include:

3. of the present time; modern
–noun
4. a person belonging to the same time or period with another or others.

As a Chrisitan singer and songwriter today I find myself in an often odd and difficult place, trying to balance what was great and what is important in music today. Mention the word Contemporary music and you will often come across two very different backgrounds. For some, the contemporary music is overly simple, repetitive and sometimes doctrinally questionable. There is a strong reaction against even good writing because it means the lessening use of classical hymns and music in the traditional church. In some respects it is an attack against the church that many have lived in all their lives and threatens a comfort and peace they long for. For others Contemporary music is a breath of much needed fresh air. The simpler lyrics make it easier to walk away with clarity, after all anything that takes 8 versus to tell the story can get old in a hurry with the pace of this society. Contemporary music also speaks in more straightforward ways compared with the sometimes more difficult to understand "yoda speak" that pops up in hymns after their translations. In the end, both sides are very passionate about the music they love and the emerging line in the sand is sometimes very deep.

This can make for a very difficult place to be as an artist. When people slight Contemporary Christian music, it is often felt as a direct attack against us as artists and songwriters. The lack of support can be crippling, if not defeating. For many artists, the great love is sharing our faith and to give encouragement through the songs written today. Conversely, the care and concern that many people have about the future of music in the church is heartfelt and honest. These songs have been a constant companion for many in their lives. The texts are rich with meaning, though sometimes more difficult to understand and sing by today's standards. The hymns and songs of old are a living piece of people's spiritual lives, how can we dare to see them replaced?

It is in the middle of these strong emotions and feelings that Christian artists often find themselves. I think about the word Contemporary and when people extol the virtues of the old hymns I wonder if they stop to think that at the time, these songs were originally "contemporary". I wonder how the songwriters of old handled their changing time. Was there so little church music back then that they had great support? Sure there are a few instant hits such as "Amazing Grace" and Silent Night (written on guitar no less!), but for many it took time for these songs to be brought into the public conscience. J.S. Bach, considered by many to be the finest Christian musician wrote "contemporary" music. About a 100+ years after his death, his music had really faded out. Thanks to another Christian musician (I belive it was Felix Mendelsohn), Bach's faith and his music were brought back to the fore front at a time when the more traditional church was taking shape. George Frederick Handel, who wrote arguably the most important piece of Christian music of all time "Messiah" did not perform it in public for a full year due to political and church stresses. Somehow I think that many of the same frustrations were felt then as they are today, but I think there are some differences too.

So, back to the question. Why is "modern" "Contemporary" "relatable" Christian music important today? Simply, Contemporary music means communication. It does not necessarily mean a style of music or even content, but a way in communicating with people today. Friends, we're not talking about musical style as much as we are talking about a common language. Personally I believe that what people are really looking for is the ability to more clearly understand and participate in worship. Everything about church communicates. What is better, a grumpy usher who sticks a bulletin in your hand without a hello, or a polite smile and welcome offering a bulletin and any other services the church may provide? What is better, an unfriendly congregation that mumbles through the service, punches it's church card and goes home for another week or a church that is bringing new ways of communicating with people by the use of technology and new music and styles. Which is better, a congregation with a praise band, but a lack of respect for God's word, or a church with a simple organ and a bunch of old songs, but a true love for God's perfect word?

Bet you've had a reaction somewhere in this. Why do you feel the way you feel right now? If you're a little worked up one way or another, why? I'd be curious to understand why and you can email me at mike@mikewestendorf.com if you care to share. Why is contemporary important for you? Why does it scare you?

In the end, I believe that today's music talks to today's people. If we aren't willing as a church to speak the language of today, we shouldn't expect much in our evangelism efforts. I know of "high church" settings that are very successful at reaching out and I know many more contemporary churches that are expanding and making a tremendous difference in this world as well. Both have the highest regard for God's word, both are being blessed and both are pursuing God's calling with excellence. It can be done both ways, but contemporary means today, it means now, it means communicating with people today and the more we run from contemporary music and keep it out of our church life, the less effective many will be at going and making disciples of all nations. Music is deeply personal for all of us. It's like the weather, you really can't escape it and we can't escape the fact that today's music is being used by God in great ways, no less importantly than the hymns of old.

Much like a language, I believe that churches communicate through their use of music and we need not fear "contemporary" music as we have. Nor should we rush to discard great hymns, forgetting those whom we already serve and share this life with. The hymns are important, the songs of today are important, how the God's word is communicated is extremely important so let's embrace the many different tools God has given us to use in our Time of Grace.

Keep Climbing in Christ!
Mike

posted by Mike Westendorf on 05/21/2008

Transformed? Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)

Several months ago, a friend and I were talking about the difference between being "informed" and being "transformed" Recently we celebrated the transfiguration of Jesus, an event witnessed by Peter James and John atop a high mountain. Jesus was transformed before their eyes and revealed in glory. Speaking with Jesus appeared Moses and Elijah and after this had passed a cloud enveloped them and they heard a voice say "This is my son whom I love. Listen to Him!" Now THAT would be an event to witness wouldn't it? Imagine it, Jesus here on earth, but apparently in a place where heaven and earth overlapped for a moment and there were some of the great heros of faith, speaking WITH him. And then to hear that voice we all secretly wish to hear. Perhaps God himself coming to share that encouragement to listen to Jesus.

Have you ever desired to see a miracle? Not a modern day miracle, but a real Jesus Miracle? One of those "get up and walk" moments or the "your faith has made you well" miracles. Sometimes it's almost disappointing when we see God working through his creation to bring about miracles. The heart transplant, brain surgery, birth of a child, beating breast cancer with it's many rounds of chemo and/or radiation. It all seems so "mechanical". But boy if only we could hear God speak or to see one of THOSE old time miracles. How much more would our faith shiine? How much louder would we sing? How quickly would doubt leave us? How we would vow to never go back to unbelief, pride and selfish ambition.

Interesting that, while this great moment happens to these three disciples, it is a short time later that they are to be found arguing over who is the greatest among them. They rebuked parents for bringing Children to Jesus, they denied Jesus, abandoned him and crept sheepishly around his crucifixion. They didn't seem to be all that transformed. Even before Jesus returned to heaven after his ressurection, the disciples wanted to know if now was the time that Jesus was going to restore the earthly kingdom of Israel. They Just Didn't Seem to Get It!

How about us? Do we consider the stories in the bible to be legend or God's word, inspired and penned by his creation by his direction and with his inspiration? Do we abandon prayer in the hopes of a quick fix to a deep need or problem? Do we put our will first before God's will? Do we ever love ourselves so much that it doesn't leave room for anyone else? If you're like me, you'd have to agree that I'm still the hypocrit, I'm still a sinner.

We've been informed through his word or at the very least, have access to the bible in ways that did not exist centuries ago. We hear about amazing leaps in technologies as God works through his creation to help heal sickness, repair wounds, create beauty and life itself. We hear and are witness to unexplained "miracles" and share genuine concern and love for people we don't know. Yet all this information does little, if it does not transform.

Jesus promised these same disciples the "comforter", the holy spirit, that would open their eyes and equip them to do the work God had purposed them to do, namely to share the gospel message that JESUS has paid for sin, that mankind does not and cannot work itself into God's favor, but can claim the payment that Jesus paid for our sin and unbelief. That through that sacrifice, he would dare to call us "sons". So will we read God's word? Will we let the Holy Spirit transform our hearts and minds to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and therein fall in line all the other wonderful blessings that following Christ brings? Will we hear the words of the Father "Listen to Him" Or will we go back down the mountain and go back to our lives stuck in the swamp when God wants so much more for us?

Peter, who denied Christ three times, would go on to continue to be humbled, but to preach boldly as God transformed his heart. Later in life, he was able to pen these words of encouragement today:
1 Peter 4:7-11
7The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. 8Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. 11If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

May God continue to transform you and me every day that we live.

posted by Mike Westendorf on 02/10/2008

Note to Self Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)

So it's 1am and there's been something simmering in the back of my mind for a while. Before I forget what I'm thinking I figured I'd better write it down and thought I'd do it here. I'm trying to take myself though some thoughts and there's some things starting to come together so you'll have to hear me out.

It all started out watching Michigan beat Florida today, coach Lloyd Carr's last game. He's a class act, great coach, someone I emulate in my various coaching type activities. One of the things he said today was that he loves the kids and thanked them because that's what leaders do. He also said he"despised losing". We've been talking about music ministries and missions and what we hope to do in 2008 and this got me thinking. Coach Carr despised losing and put forth every effort to do what he could to get those kids to "win". When he lost, it hurt because... he lost and there were things that could have been done better. I think about the commitment to winning, but really it comes with a commitment to excellence, especially when you've been given gifts/talents. If you've been given excellent talents, to not use them would be to say that losing is... OK... I guess. OK, this is just me talking to myself right now so I'll keep going.

I've been thinking about the passion, the single mindedness and passion and DISCIPLINE that it takes to be excellent at something. To have a clear goal ahead and the discipline to get there. Recently I've been fixed on acquiring the things/skills/resources/tools/advice/counseling. I've been playing by the rules, or so I thought. Trying to get the great product, the right look, the right sound, the target audience, the website traffic, the email addresses, the fans, the songs... but FOR WHAT and for WHAT PURPOSE??? It's 1:20am and I'm beginning to realize I'm building a road map with no articulated goal. Furthermore, most of my focus has been on how "I" get there, to this place that I don't know where IT is! HOW DID I GET TO THIS POINT?? WHAT AM I TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH?? DID I ASK GOD ABOUT IT FIRST??

So, while I"ve got a great agenda, I've realized that I'm too scared to tell people why I'm out here. I've realized too, that my purpose has typically been on helping other people "Get It", the IT is usually why I think people should get whatever it is I'm saying. Confused? So am I.

When it comes right down to it, I don't like to be rejected and I like it when I say something intelligent and people say "oh, that really made me think, or feel something, or see a bigger picture". I like helping people and I like encouraging and I like it when they get what I'm trying to say. Have you caught it yet? I did tonight about 20 minutes ago. While I'm trying to help other people GET IT, I'm not really pursuing God, I'm pursing the need to feel good about what I'm saying. To feel smart, to confirm my worth through what other people think or say about me.

After all this I can tell you why I'm really doing this music ministry. It's because I believe there's more to the Christian life than what I learned in Sunday School. That God paints in colors that we haven't dared to see and that I'm tired of the same old cliche Christian Life that I've read about and heard about and lived. The bible has some deep deep passages. How can I give thanks in ALL things??? How can I be content, no matter my circumstances? How do I praise God with a GLAD heart, instead of the one that still wants to be in bed, or doesn't like the music we sang today? This music ministry has really been about pursing God on a personal level and a deeper level. I get so excited about the God that I see, hear, feel, read about, that I want you to GET IT. And furthermore, I want you to help me GET IT and I think that we as musicians and connoisseurs of Christian music, whether it be Bach or Smith, form a relationship that works better together than separately. It's in my music that I've been able to express some of the things that I've been trying to say and it's been my way of reminding myself of some great things that God has taught me.

So I'm asking God to help me despise losing and doing things for the sake of doing them because I need to have a website, or sound a certain way or have a certain look. I'll do those things as they help me articulate my mission to pursue the beauty, the pains, the life that we're blessed to live in Colors that We've Never Seen... to see the color through the ordinary gray lives that we sometimes drudge through. And you know what? I want you to come with me and if God has shown you beauty in your life, I want to know and see a faith that can actually see those colors.

Note to Self... God's so much bigger and better than you've ever imagined. Pursue him, open your eyes and just share what you've seen... pursue with excellence, dedication, passion... Despise losing out to sin and laziness... Let God worry about the finances and what the website looks like and the music you'll produce. Pursue him first, with excellence and all these things will be given to you as well. HEY WESTENDORF, I'M TALKING TO YOU!

p.s. It's now 1:30. Good night

posted by Mike Westendorf on 01/02/2008

Emmanuel - God With Us Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)

My home church is a small, aging congregation in Milwaukee where my family represents one of three with young children in it. We've had 7, soon to be 8 funerals in the past two months and the last announcement came 2 days before Christmas during a Saturday morning Choir practice, the passing of a very active older woman who's heart simply stopped. My pastor, who is a simpler preacher, but a great lover of the Lord, has had one of the most difficult years that I've witnessed in a long time. The neighborhood has changed and shows a great division in opportunity, education, worship and overall life priority ranging from poor African American rental property across the street to a mainly white, seemingly indifferent middle to upper class in our backyard. The heart of what's left in my church still beats with an innocence and wonderment of how things have come to this point. Honestly, the people really do love and care with more heart than I typically see in a congregation, the world just sort of passed them by. It's like waking up one day and we're a 70 year old "mission" church with no money, no members a building that needs help. The problem is mission churches have the advantage to make the changes needed. There's a lot of hard work ahead.

I'm not looking for pity, it's just our reality. Indifference and lack of understanding from years ago has caught up with us and we're in a place where all we have left is God and his promise. We're weak, but willing to trust God that in our weakness he is strong. And that's where God really came alive to me for this church's sake on Christmas Eve. The choir, we've always had a beautiful sounding choir, led the Christmas Eve service, but it was Pastor's sermon that really made Christmas a Christmas for the right reason. In this half empty church, filled with hearts of members willing and ready to love, Pastor reminded us that Emmanuel means "God is with us". While listening to this man remind those hearts in the audience, Christmas means that we are never alone. That in our darkest hours, in our greatest successes, in our saddest moments, on our scariest nights, the God of heaven cares enough to come to us. To come to Me. Knowing the trials my pastor had been through in the past year and the mountain of work and the skills and people and money needed to turn around this church, it was refreshing to remember that in the midst of it all, Christmas means that a baby from heaven was born and given the name Emmanuel. And that through the years, moments, laughter and tears of the future we will walk in the warm steps of our heavenly Father, because he cared enough to send his son to remind us that because of his work through Jesus, we can celebrate Emmanuel and remember always that God Is With Us!

posted by Mike Westendorf on 12/27/2007