Four Practices Of A Healthy Family

Have you ever looked at your family and asked, are we normal? Ever since getting married and becoming a parent, Summer (my wife) and I have been trying to figure out how to do this thing called FAMILY.  What we have found is it’s constant adjustment, work, negotiation and sometimes struggle.  But there is no greater joy for me than loving one woman, parenting my three (soon to be four, yes, we are adopting) children, and watching them grow up into young men and women of God.  So, I am in the trenches with you figuring it out!  Lilly is 12, Titus is 10, and Lydia is 5 going on 12.


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“Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it…”  Proverbs 22:6

So that leads me to a question, what should we as parents be doing to lead our families and how do we know we are doing it right?  Understand there is pain in the process!

4 Practices of a Healthy Family

#1 Practice the Gospel:  The most important thing you can teach your children is to love Jesus and to love others.  You have to teach them the story of God!  Practicing the Gospel means we serve together and it teaches why.  We are trying hard to develop a culture of serving, sacrifice and putting others needs before our own.  This is my primary job in the home as the father.  Here is a key: My kids and wife are watching me to see if I model this. If I do, they eventually follow.  Here are some practical ways to live the Gospel in your home.

  • Read the Word Together – It isn’t the church’s job to teach my kids the Bible, it’s my number 1 job!  Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with ALL your heart.” The only way you trust is if you know what HE SAYS!
  • A Culture of Serving – There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t ask my kids to do something.  They have to see the home exists for them to learn the skill of serving one another.  My greatest moment as a parent is when one child says something like, “Lydia, do you want me to make you dinner?”  (Usually Lilly) LOVE THIS!
  • Live as the Church – Don’t expect your children to grow up spiritually mature, valuing the body of Christ if you only make it once a month when it’s convenient for you to go to Sunday services or an occasional small group meeting.  The family of God is essential to your encouragement and your kids NEED other adults and kids to help them do life.  Especially when they are teens, you better be praying God gives them other adults to guide them when they won’t listen to you. Worship is a rhythm, get in one.
  • Pray Together – If you give your children the simple skill of how to talk to God, you will set your family up for success.  When you go through a rough time, pray.  When mom loses her job, pray. When you are disappointed, pray.  Don’t shelter them from EVERYTHING.  Remember your job is to show them the faithfulness of God over a long period of time.  You have 18 years!

#2 Practice Peace:   Can’t we all just get along!  I come from a family of “expressive” people.  I am an extrovert by nature.  However over expression does NOT lead to a peaceful environment.  This doesn’t mean parents are pushovers who just give in to the children, absolutely not.  Stand firm, explain why, and experience the tension in peace.  A home that has healthy and safe expressions of conflict will lead to a house of peace.  Proverbs 11:29 says, “whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind.”  No thank you!  Some peace practices:

  • Always Listen and Seek to Understand – Number one complaint of my kids, “you aren’t listening to me.”
  • Calm is Safe – What I have found is nothing good ever comes from yelling.  I usually yell not because it is what is good for them, but it is what I want to do.  “A gentle answer turns away wrath…”  take that Proverb to the bank.
  • Ask Good Questions – Knowing and teaching your family why they feel a certain way is just as important as the feeling itself.
  • Keep Short Accounts – Please don’t bring up last month or last year. Nothing good will come of this because you are proving you are keeping score and when we keep score there are winners and losers.  You are making your family a competition not a cooperation.  Confess your sins, ask forgiveness of each other, then give each other permission to change.

#3 Practice Love:  I’ll give you one word here: ENCOURAGEMENT! (I wrote a whole blog on this topic last week) How I love Summer dictates the temperature of love in the family.  My kids know when love is abounding and when its been too long since the last encouragement.  Let me just ask you a series of questions… Husband, when was the last time you brought your wife flowers?  Wife, when was the last time you did something for your husband that he appreciates?  Dad, when was the last time you dated your children?  Teens, when was the last time you encouraged and thanked your parents for sacrificing for you?

#4 Practice TrainingEverything you do should be training Kids to be independent, cooperative, and Christlike adults in the future.  Single mom, are you discouraged?  Realize you are making a deposit in your children’s future that is priceless and they will never forget that. Here are some things your kids need to be trained in.

  • Finances – Many high school students graduate and don’t even know how to balance a checkbook or do a budget. Parents, WAKE UP!
  • Hard Work – Teach your kids the value of hard work.  Get ’em a job!  No job, no money!  Your house is not a welfare system.
  • Relationships – Have the hard talks about boys, girls, relationships, sex etc.  Train them how to stand up for themselves to say no.  Dads, let your daughter practice smacking you in the face for when she has to say NO to her boyfriend for trying to go too far!  Whatever it takes! In the end, more is caught by the way you practice your own marriage.

Family is the backbone of our culture and our country will rise and fall on the health of the family!  I can’t wait for this Sunday to be with you!


Don’t miss our services this week as we will have a Q & A time during the service about the topic of family & parenting!   Join us this Sunday at 9:30 or 11 am at the AMC 24 Theater in Hamilton, NJ!  We are a unique contemporary church in Central Jersey dedicated to restoring lives and rebuilding and renewing the community around us.  If you live in the Mercer County, Burlington County, Middlesex County or Bucks County, PA area, learn more about 217church by clicking HERE


Easter 2013 at 217church | AMC 24 Theater Hamilton, NJ

What is the biggest risk you have ever taken in life?  Maybe it was the day you said “I do?”, or better yet the day you quit your job when you didn’t even have another one lined up?  Risk is a tricky subject because the moment we think we have life figured out, God will “shake our snow globe” and say, “If you want to truly follow me, you have to take risks!” 

“…Without faith it is impossible to please God.”  Hebrews 11:6

Following Jesus is risky business.  What we tend to do as Christ followers is look for the path of least resistance.  To follow Jesus means that we turn the other cheek, give like no one else is giving, relentlessly obey God’s commands and submit to God in every aspect of our lives.


Why it’s Hard To Follow Jesus 


1. Say Goodbye to Conventional Wisdom – Over and over again in the bible, we see the conventional wisdom of the world smashed by the wisdom of the heavens.  1 Corinthians 1 even says, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”  Let’s take just one example of God’s wisdom, “Do not repay evil for evil.”  (Romans 12:17)  This is one that is probably most difficult for everyone.  The first thing I want to do when someone sins against me is sin back!  But we are to be people of peace.  Being a person of peace is an act of faith!  The wisdom of man will always lead you astray, but the wisdom of God will be a rock in your life.

2. Get Ready to Be Misunderstood – Jesus was misunderstood and lived the original “alternative lifestyle.” His disciples were ostracized and martyred for their faith and people were genuinely confused how living like Jesus was beneficial.  People will immediately think you are manipulating them and trying to get something out of them.  In reality, an authentic Christ follower serves ’till it hurts, loves when it seems impossible and forgives when it is improbable. This make absolutely no sense to the people of the world, yet there is an intrigue to the life of Jesus that CANNOT be denied.  He came to seek and save the lost and we are to carry on His mission until he returns to redeem the earth.

3. Your Critics Will Multiply– Ever been made fun of because of your crazy beliefs?  Ever been called an ultra-old fashioned conservative?  Ever felt like the world was entirely against your way of thinking?  Ever been publicly ridiculed, blogged about or secretly thrown under the bus at work or in the community?  Ever read the bible and had people stare in disbelief? Ever tried to do something in love and been refused because they didn’t like your “religion”? Ever take a stand for something that was biblical but unpopular and lose a friend and even your position and prestige? Ever been called a name publicly or privately because of your faith?  Welcome to what it means to follow Jesus and may this be your blessing:  “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!”  Matthew 5:10  BOOM!

4. Your Plans Have To Die – We all have desires to “be something” in life.  Whether it is to be the best mom possible or to succeed at a career, human ambition is rampant in our culture.  But in order to follow Christ, YOUR DREAMS HAVE TO DIE!  We must die to ourselves and “put to death the earthly sin nature that lives within us.” (Romans 8:13)  This is not easy, popular or catchy.  It is flat out counter-cultural & demading.  Is God calling you to give a HUGE generous gift?  Is God calling you to forgive an act that seems unforgivable?  Is God calling you to quit a job?  Is God calling you to work with the poor, the widows and orphans?  These are not “good deeds” in which we pat ourselves on the back, these are faith challenges in which we are shaped and “crucified with Christ.” (Galatians 2:20)  This Easter better not be a religious holiday with bunnies and eggs, it must be a reminder of the high demand to a lifestyle marked with RESURRECTION POWER!  Following Christ isn’t a burden, it is the HIGHEST CALLING on EARTH!

Are you ready to TAKE A RISK?  It’s time.

This Easter at 217church, will be a season of celebration!

217church Easter Schedule 
  • Good Friday Open Prayer Time- March 29th  6 PM – 9 PM @ 217church Youth Center 200 Whitehead Rd, Hamilton, NJ
  • Weekend Celebration Services- March 31st 9:30 & 11am @ AMC24 in Hamilton, NJ
  • Special Kids Party- March 31st in Theater 15 @ 9:30 & 11am

Easter Series Topics:

March 31 – Follow Jesus

April 7 – Do What God Says

April 14 – Ask For Anything

April 21 – Give Big

April 28 – Forgive

Mercer County Church Blog Home

P.S.- Know someone looking to attend a contemporary church in Mercer County, NJ  for Easter?  Take a risk and tweet, Facebook or email this blog post!  There will be a HUGE party and Easter Egg hunt for the kids and a great time of worship with other individuals and families in the surrounding Mercer County and Bucks County areas (Hamilton, Lawrenceville, East Windsor, West Windsor, Princeton, Robbinsville, Mercerville, Yardville, Yardley, Newtown, Langhorne and more!). Join us!


P.S.- Know someone looking to attend a church in Mercer County, NJ for Easter?  Take a risk and tweet, Facebook or email this blog post! 

Fighting Fair in Marriage – Part 1

I have been married for over seventeen years and there is one thing I can promise you:  You will sin against your spouse.  Many engaged couples don’t like to hear this but once you exchange rings you know it is the truth!  Just because two people love Jesus it doesn’t mean they won’t sin against each other, and there is no such thing as happily ever after.  But there is hope as you learn to YIELD to your spouse and fight fair, NOT to win.  These next two weeks we will look at 10 ways to fight fair in your marriage.

 “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards.”  Song of Solomon 2:15

10 Ways To Fight Fair In Your Marriage

1. Confront with Respect – Are you afraid of confrontation?  Depending on your personality style and how you were raised, your home of origin, or difficult past experiences, you may perceive any conflict or confrontation as an emotionally crushing experience, and RUN at the first sight of confrontation.  You can change this pattern by choosing to confront with respect.  If you choose not to, this can lead to years and years of pain and eventually deep bitterness. Many of us first have to face our fear of confrontation and learn to respect.  People who don’t fight fair use words like, NEVER, ALWAYS and constantly threaten.  Cut down on the drama and show respect for your mate.  Lower your tone, use words of love and NEVER say words that devalue the character of your spouse.  After all, according to the bible, you are “one flesh.” Treat your body with respect.  According to 1 John 4:18, “perfect love casts out all fear.”  Love and respect enough and the fear of confrontation will subside.

2. Don’t Let The Sun Go Down – This sounds simple but is difficult to implement.  This means you have to communicate often.  This doesn’t mean you become religious about finding fault in your spouse, and become a constant complainer, but it does mean that you may actually learn to love the faults in your spouse.  Find time in the day to text, chat and communicate.  A little proactive communication can go a long way to stop the conflict from escalating.  If you put off the conversation too long, it will just explode later.

3. Right Time and The Right Place – Maybe you have heard the phrase, there is a time and place for everything.  This basically means, plan your times to communicate, this includes time to disagree and work things out.  Think ahead!  Many times we get in trouble because we have bad timing.  We fight hungry, we fight spontaneously, and we fight with limited time.  State exactly what is bothering you.  You have probably heard the saying, “time heals all wounds”.  This does not apply to conflicts in marriage.  Time actually can fester and open up old wounds. Remember, timing is everything.

4. Keep Short Accounts – Stick to the subject at hand. Keep it about today.  One of the common mistakes couples make is by eventually bringing up old wounds in a current conversation.  All of the sudden a disagreement about division of labor in the house turns into a one hour battle about a year ago when he said he would do something and dropped the ball.  If you can’t forgive your spouse, why should you expect Jesus to forgive you?  I didn’t say you should let someone take advantage of you, but you need to be willing to forgive.  You can tell how close you are in your relationship with Jesus by the amount of forgiveness you extend to your spouse.  When are you going to forgive her?

5. Your Spouse is Right – One of the hardest lessons to learn in marriage is perception is reality to my spouse.  Even when I don’t think I am being harsh or difficult, if my spouse perceives it, it’s true.  This is a point of humility in marriage.  Remember, you married her.  If you think he is being over-sensitive, you married him.  If you think he is difficult to talk to, you married him.  Marriage can make you more like Jesus than any other relationship I know of.  Learn to be wrong!  Swallow your pride and yield to you lover.  No matter what the argument is about–money, sex, time, work, if you want to grow in your marriage, you better start yielding.  If your spouse says you do, then it’s true. Believe your spouse.  They know you better than anyone.

This week at 217church we will learn from Song of Solomon the difficult art of negotiating and yielding to our spouse. Do you fight fair?  Learn to fight fair and your marriage will grow in intimacy and strength.  We will discover the next 5 next week.


3 Years of 217church – Every Story Counts

This Sunday is a HUGE day for our church.  We celebrate three years of being a church “creating environments where people can meet and follow Jesus!”  This has been our vision statement from Day 1.  Where have these three years gone?  I could tell you story after story of lives transformed because of Jesus and His tangible acts of love shown by our 217church family.  I could tell you about a single mom who was baptized at our first baptism in the Washington Crossing River and sensed new hope in Jesus.  I could tell you about a young woman who has recovered from an abusive past, discovered the grace of Jesus and is now pouring her life into young teenagers so they don’t have to endure the same struggles she endured.  I could tell you about children who have found a relationship with Jesus.  I could tell you about our Children’s and youth ministry that is ministering in places in Trenton that need to hear of Jesus.  I could tell you of business owners and entrepreneurs who are now using their influence to bring people to Jesus because of 217church.  We are a church where Every Story Counts!

“Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall.”  Nehemiah 2:17

 Here Are Some of The Ways God Has Used You

#1 141 Restored Lives – We like to say, we are the church for people who aren’t here yet.  Here is the list of 141 names of people who we have baptized into a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Starting a church is a covenant building experience.  Revealing a sign of hope and love from a savior, who never leaves and always extends the hand of grace, is what we are about.  When you read their names, it’s just print on paper, but truly they are lives and families transformed.  I can’t wait for the next 141!

Phil Robertson, Christine Johnson, Crystal Morgan, Lynda Ferguson, Laurie Robertson, Sandy Rivera, Amanda Kline, Stephen Constantinou, Andrew Constantinou, Michelle Watson, Danny Baumann, Butch Hamilton, Josh Rivas, Jill Larsen, Melissa MacCollum, Caitlin Condit, Lisa Flores, Lily Mahaney, Liza Vargas, Jamie Vargas, Arlynet Tovar, Steven Gotthelf, Kyle Graf, Diana Garcia, Sharon Geiger, Natalya Rivera, Juan Rivera IV, Howard Anderson, Brandyn Lichtenstein, Laura Shapanus, Bill Shapanus, Alyse Canciello, Monica Quiroz, Cristiana Galang, Becca Solis, Krista Galang, Andrew Albert, Joe Corso, Lilly Conn, Titus Conn, Kathryn Nieves, Mimi Kabia, Chad Nelson, Kristi Costanzo, Keith Cline, Katie Johnson, Terri Svecz, Sean Gordon, Alex Svecz, Collin Spurgin, Matt Spurgin, Lonzetta Rush, James Rush, Jason Kingsley, Gary Jakubicki, Sally Hutchings, Josh Schmalbach, Leonard Simon, Denise Stremlo, Mike Kirk, Chrisha Kirk, Mark Forman, Kevin Cordas, Shelly Cordas, Steve Cosenza, Debbie Cosenza, Dione Springer, Gabrielle Cobb, Luis Valdivieso, Toni-Ann Rotondi, Cristina Cobb-Adams, Anthony Anglin, Jason Flintosh, Nicole Jemine, Jason Parker, Gina Sparacio, Flynt Tuller, Flynt Jr. Tuller, Jill Brown, Jay Rodriguez, Pete Ruffini, Allie Guerrero, Jaime Vargas, Patti Ann Ridgway, Lauren Velarde, Corrine Hunsher, Sonny Esteron, Derek Sander, Deb Stewart, Willie Rivera, Cindy Chavez, Jhoi Ortiz, Katie Hawver, David Robertiello, Nick Labella, Lindsay Clayton, Sandra Lupo, Devon Smith, Michael Ettinger, Pollorn Sayasack, Jessica Rivas, Tiffany Rivas, Nick D’Mauro, Jeanie Leung, Cathy Szymanski, John Baldino, Racheal Jones, Eve Green, Maria Cobena, Liz Perez, Cathy Szyanski, Kathleen Contreras, Christian Servellon, Christina Baranowski, Daniela Vinci, Naylon Larane, Adrien Ong, Racquel Smith, Brittney Blackburn, Alcmenia Dunbar, Natalia Hernandez, Santina Hernandez, Corina Hernandez, Courtney Arbitell, Joclyn Hernandez, Dania Hernandez, Miriam Hernandez, Tsunami Martinez, Johanna Martinez, Kimberly Hopkins, Linda Monforte, Maria Rodriguez, Yolanda Drislane, Kristen Moore, Janet Russell, Trevor Jones, Sixto Irizarry, Shanera Hampton, Jessica Suessegger, Sherenne Simon, Alfredo Marin.  Every Story Counts!

#2 People Finding Deep Relationships – In one of our 17 small groups that meet in 11 different townships, you will find people who are serving the community.  On any given week, we have over 250 people meeting together, caring for one another deeply.  We visit each other when in the hospital, we pray for each other, study the bible together and we take care of each other.  We even have one group who paid off a person’s credit card debt to give them a fresh start financially. (Now you are saying…”I want in!”)  Every Story Counts!

#3 Over 2 Million Dollars Worth of Generosity – In these three years over Two Million dollars has been given to the vision of 217church!  Through generous hearts you have given to church planting, the next generation fund, provided for practical needs of countless people hurting in our community, provided a place for us to meet on Sundays, sent kids to camps, provided for all our equipment and empowered our pastors and staff to live and do ministry in the community.  Your generosity is proving Every Story Counts!

#4 An Incredible Youth & Children’s Ministry – Each week 140 kids and youth hear about the love of Jesus through our dynamic 217kids and 217youth ministries.  Psalm 46:13 says, “tell the next Generation this is God.” We have taken this to heart and are serious about making the next generation our #1 priority.  We now have a partnership with Urban Promise in Trenton and are working hard to bring the Gospel of Jesus to students in Trenton through after school programs.  It’s just the beginning of seeing our influence soar.  They will write the story after we are off the scene and we are empowering them NOW!  Their Story Counts!

#5 Over 430 People Every Weekend in Worship – Every week we celebrate big and our celebrations just keep getting bigger and BIGGER!  We started planning this church in a living room with 20 people and now every week over 400 gather!  We preach the word, worship passionately, pray boldly and we make it a HUGE celebration.  We make a big deal of the Gospel of Jesus and every week over 50 people serve to make these celebrations happen.  Our 217church co-worker team is nothing short of incredible!  Week in and week out for 150+ Sundays, so many have heard about Jesus and are following him because of these celebrations proving Every Story Counts!

One Final Note:

I am humbled and privileged to serve as your pastor.  I couldn’t have scripted it better.  You are what I am proud of.  You have made my life and the life of my family richer and full of meaning. We love you all!

Josh & Summer Lilly, Titus & Lydia


Join in The HUGE CELEBRATION This Weekend…

1) Two Huge Weekend Celebrations 9:30am & 11am at the AMC 24

2) Our 3rd anniversary party at our Youth Center at 3pm. (yes it’s 2/17 day!)

3) Finally, end the day with an evening baptism with our sister church, Element Church at Princeton Alliance Church.

This is going to be AWESOME!

Hope For Your Family

I remember visiting my grandparent’s house every day after school growing up.  My brothers and I would walk to their house and we would get to spend a couple hours there before my father would come and pick us up.  Some of my earliest and favorite memories are of those times with my grandfather.  We would sit and talk about life and just be together.  I will never forget when I would walk in that house, with its old creaky screen door, he would always be there to listen to me.  As I was reflecting back this week on my family and the four generations I have known, my family is where it is today because of the covenant of the marriage relationship.  My parents, the link for me to my grandparents,  have been married for 43 years and counting.  They are still relying on Jesus for hope for their marriage, the backbone of any family. There is great hope for our families because of the covenant of marriage.

The covenant of marriage links generations together from old to young

How Do We Build Strong Families?  Choices.

Life is full of choices, actually endless choices.  What to wear, what to eat, where to live, what profession to embark upon, etc. What are the key choices that give hope to you and your family?

1.  Choose Jesus – Jesus must be at the center of your life if he is going to be at the center of your family.  Everyday you have the ability to choose or reject Jesus in your life.  It’s not just about if you say you believe in Jesus, but what do you live?  Who do you live?  How do you live?

  • Your words – One of the easiest ways to see if you serve Jesus is to evaluate the words you use.  Do you spend more time building each other up or tearing each other down?
  • Your actions – Do people serve you more, or do you spend more time serving others.  If your own interests are always put above the interests of others, you may have a problem.

Action:  Spend time getting to know Jesus today

2.  Choose Your Spouse – Your marriage is the most important relationship on earth you will have.   Some of us have made that choice already and some of us are about to, but regardless, today you can make the right choice!  Choose how you love.  Unfortunately for many of us, we had bad models of marriage and love.  Maybe you didn’t have a dad that loved you, or you never had a family to call your own.  It’s okay. through Jesus, we have the ability to start a new family tree!  It starts today! Choose someone who models the following:

  • Unconditional love- The more you are with someone, the more ideally you learn to love them for who they are, not who you want them to be.  Jesus sets an example for us through the unconditional love of the sacrifice of Himself on the cross.
  • A servant’s heart – There isn’t anything much worse than being around someone who always is demanding things.  If you can find a man or a woman who serves diligently and rigorously, you have 90% of the battle won.

Action:  Pray with or for your future spouse everyday

3.  Choose Your Church Family – God gave us the church to build each other up and encourage us along the difficult road of life.  The church is about relationships and together we celebrate weddings and baby dedications.  We weep with those who weep and celebrate great joy in the successes of others.  Every week we worship together and eat together.  We serve the community with all our heart and energy.  The church may be the single biggest untapped resource in the world today.  As a matter of fact, I can say that with confidence.

Action:  Get in A small group (e-mail

My Conclusion Begin with the end in mind.  Some day I want to hold my grandchild’s hand because by God’s grace he has given us the hope of the world, Jesus.  Then someday, Jesus will hold my hand.  We choose to honor the covenant of marriage and the church is here for our benefit.  Let’s be the church that stands for the family.


Join us for our Song of Solomon, “When Boy Meets Girl” Series starting this Sunday at the AMC 24 in Hamilton, NJ 9:30am & 11:00am:

  • January 27 – The Date (A frank and honest look at dating in our culture)
  • February 3 – The Wedding (Examining what a healthy sexual relationship looks like)



It’s Getting Hot In Here

Ok, I have to admit, preaching through the Song of Solomon is not going to be easy.  There are some pretty hot and steamy passages that I’m sure you have never heard preached before.  But why is the church so afraid to talk about something that is ordained by God, planned for our benefit and given as a genuine expression of love between one man and one woman for a lifetime? I think the answer is simple.  We have chosen to let the culture say more about sex than the church does.  That is simply a shame.

After 3 years of ministry at 217church, we are ready to see marriages and families strengthened like never before! Starting January 27, we begin an eight-week series on one of the most overlooked books of the bible, Song of Solomon.  It is an ancient poetic book of the bible written by Solomon as an encouragement to us that sex, love and marriage are God ordained and he has a purpose for them.  We all know “when boy meets girl”, sparks fly and things happen!  But what does God’s think healthy sex, love and marriage should look like? I hope you choose to be in a small group during this season.

Our vision is that we would understand the Gospel of Jesus through this book of passionate affection and steamy love poems. We desire for God to heal us from our broken views of sex and marriage. We will see husbands and wives become more committed to each other and we will see our families strengthened because of a deep love and respect for one another!


How Will We Approach The Book?

 #1 The Stages of A Relationship Over the 8 weeks, we will be looking at the different stages of what happens “when boy meets girl.”  This amazing love story of Solomon and his young beautiful attractive bride will teach us much about how relationships work and don’t work.  Our culture has a broken view of how sex, love and marriage were meant to be. We will travel from the first date to the first kiss, from the wedding to negotiating the marriage, from handling conflict to getting away and taking a sabbath as couples. God is going to heal our past, meet us in the present and protect our future.

 #2 Appropriately with Modesty – Most of us get red in the face when the topic of sex and physical intimacy come up and the church has been silent for much too long on this beneficial, yet explicit book.  It is time for us to take a mature approach and see what God actually says about intimacy through Solomon.  We believe that All Scripture is Godbreathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16) This means we won’t ignore what the bible says and we will teach it with great care.

#3 With Eyes Wide Open WARNING!  Mature Audiences only!  There will be three weeks specifically where we will ask for only a mature audience to be in the room.  This means the weekend message will not be appropriate for your elementary age student. This means teens and certain pre-teens will need to stay and learn about what the bible says about sex.  What your thirteen-year-old boy already knows about sex may surprise you.  We will do everything possible to use the appropriate amount of discretion but you will just have to trust me on this one as my 12-year-old daughter will be in the room!

The Sermon Schedule:

  • January 27th – The Date
  • February 3rd – The Wedding***
  • February 10th – The Marriage***
  • February 24th – The Negotiation
  • March 3rd – The Fight
  • March 10th – The Make Up
  • March 17th – The Getaway***
  • March 24th – The Family

 (***Indicates the material covered may not be appropriate for younger audiences)


Three Environments of Reinforcement

#1 Weekend Worship – You will not want to miss a weekend, as every Sunday at 9:30am and 11:00am we will worship collectively together.  The environment will be engaging, challenging and may take your marriage to a new height.

#2 Small Group Connection – We are asking each small group to meet for eight weeks.  Each group will get an 8 lesson DVD video curriculum and each person a small group field guide that will help guide them along the way.  We have some fun times planned for your small group with some great ideas for growth.  We want EVERYONE who calls 217church home to be in a small group.

#3 Individualized Application (Just For “teens/me/us” )-  At the end of the 8 weeks, no matter if you are a teenager, single, dating, shouldn’t be dating, married or divorced, you will have individualized action steps for your life.   Relationship are tough work, but the next generation of kids is depending on us to get this right, This is going to be a game changer!


Let’s see what happens when boy meets girl!




Finish Strong

Running is a hobby of mine that has grown on me since I ran track and cross country in high school and every race is an experiment.  I still love the sound of the starting gun and the anticipation of lining up before a race, but one thing has changed for me: I run more against myself than I do against other people.  One of the ways to achieve “PR’s” (Personal Records) is to finish strong.  This simply means run your fastest miles towards the end of the race.  This is a difficult art to master.

Ashton Eaton crushes the world record in the decathlon at the U.S. Olympic Trials
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race,
I have kept the faith.”  2 Timothy 4:7

    Finishing well in life is not about how fast you start but how intentionally you finish.

    Some of my favorite people are senior adults!  Part of the joy of being a pastor in a multi-generational church is that we have the privilege of honoring senior adults among us.  217church is not just a church full of young people; but also those who have been around the block a couple times and are finishing strong.  Why? Let’s break it down with seven keys to finishing strong.

  • Intentionality – Discipline is the one thing that intentional people have.  They are looking for certain outcomes and have the fortitude to order their schedule to invest in high impact activities.  They don’t “retire”, but view their advanced years as the most productive and meaningful years lived.
  • Perspective – Finishing strong means you know that it isn’t about you.  Whatever your passion and purpose, it’s ultimately about passing your skills, ideas and wisdom on to the next generation.  If what you discovered dies with you, what’s the point?
  • Experience – Not just experience but evaluated experience.  Get as much experience you can in what you want to excel in.  Finishing strong means you learn not only from your own mistakes but from the mistakes of others.  This is an art that if you master can serve you well.
  • Focus – By the time you are in your sixties and seventies, you not only know what you are good at and not good at, but you no longer desire to be all things to all people.  You also know what is important, not important and have the FOCUS not to simply talk about it, but to do it!  One of my character mentors, who is eighty-five years old, arises at 4:30 am every morning and prays for 2 hours.  HE PRAYS FOR ME EVERY DAY.  As I am writing this, he is just finishing up his prayer time.  He gets it. He defines finishing strong!
  • Family – NOT hobbies, yes I said family!  Hobbies and pleasure are not bad, but they become subversive when they inhibit relationships. People who finish strong will do anything and stop at nothing to propogate a healthy generational legacy.  I recently heard of grandparents that moved far away from their grandchildren to live the good life in Florida because they “deserve it.”  Now they see their grand kids once a year.  They chose pleasure over purpose.  I hope you enjoy your golf outings, your grandchildren will miss you.
  • Clarity – The older I get the more I find I am telling it like it is. (that’s scary)  I think almost everyone has witnessed grandma or grandpa sharing truth at the Thanksgiving table and cutting right to the point.  In essence, finishing strong means you can’t worry what other people might think or say about you.  Be clear about what you are about.
  • Character – It is not about the outward appearance, but what happens when no one is looking.  Those who finish strong don’t have a public performance mentality; they are performing for an audience of one.
    I am learning more to have long term perspective and I am looking forward to aging with intense focus!

    What about you? What would you add to this list?  LET’S FINISH STRONG!


Hold on Tight Dad!

I have been a dad for almost 12 years now and man it has been a crazy ride.  Every year has brought more and more challenges from walking my three kids through the toddler phase to now entering into the middle school malaise.  I’ll never forget the moment my now 11 year old was born.  It was life changing.  All of the sudden I caught a glimpse of how God felt about me.  It was remarkable.  I knew billions of men had experienced this moment but this moment was my moment.  I believe fatherhood is how God speaks to men at some of the deepest levels possible and I love watching people engage in experiencing God. 

When you abdicate your God given leadership role in the family, you miss out on God’s voice.

At my church today, Pastor Kevin shared his own story of how God has restored his relationship with his father.  He shared how God affirms, encourages and commissions us as fathers.  An incredible one hour experience with men holding the bible in their hands commissioned to be Godly fathers.  He is HOLDING ON to us.

My older brother Adam has been a dad now for just over a week!  I was thinking about him today as he sent this picture of his little guy, Malachi Charles Conn, just after he was born 26 weeks after conception.  My nephew was 2 pounds 2 ounces at birth and is a testimony of how much we truly are HOLDING ON to God for every breath.

Gripping Daddy’s hand

Can we just be honest?  Being a dad isn’t all glory and accolades.  As a matter of fact, most every dad I know including my own dad has dealt with a whole range of emotions and feelings.  Here some things I have had to deal with as a Dad.

  • Pressure – It seems as though everywhere I look there is pressure to perform.  Pressure to be a Godly man, a great provider, a loving husband, an exceptional example to my kids.  Being a dad comes with a lot of pressure.  Take the pressure off and just accept the responsibility and pay the price.  Being a Dad is a God given privilege. Most any man can father a child but it takes a real man to be a Dad. Find biblical ways to deal with the pressure and Choose legacy over biology… HOLD ON!
  • Insecurity – I have never felt as out of control as I have when being a Dad. I wonder if I am spending enough time with my kids, if I am disciplining them correctly and if I am relating to them in the right ways.  There are so many questions.  Doubt can become strong and overpowering in my own mind. Choose God’s opinion of you over the world’s… HOLD ON!
  • Failure – the dreaded ‘F’ word.  Failure is a difficult pill to swallow especially when you have so many people watching you. Maybe it’s a failed business or broken promises. As a dad the truth is you will fail but that isn’t the real issue.  The issue is, how will you react to your own failure?

Here is my admonishment to us today as fathers – Stay in the game, don’t quit on your kids, give something up and do what ever you have to do to HOLD ON.  This means stay faithful to your wife, put down the remote, choose to depend on Jesus and whenever you are tempted to do something stupid, remind yourself of the unconditional love Jesus has for you.  There is nothing like being a Dad.

Embrace it with everything in you…

Family Rules

I love being a part of a church family.  Growth = Health.  Yesterday I got to hold our newest addition to our church family, little Mason Rivera!  This was a special occasion for us as it is our very first 217church staff baby! There is nothing quite like holding a newborn baby as they are so fragile, dependent, light and not to mention extremely cute.  It made me reflect on what makes our church a family.  I was thinking back on all the amazing moments I have shared with Jay and Sandy, the proud parents.  Almost two years ago I had the privilege of baptizing Sandy and then a few months later doing Jay and Sandy’s wedding ceremony and eventually hiring Sandy on to our staff.  When we planted 217church, we envisioned thousands of people getting restored in their relationship with Jesus, and now it is becoming a reality.  We now even have 3 people we baptized that are a part of our church staff! “What makes us a family?”

Mason and me

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers….” (1 John 3:16 ESV)

The word “brother” alone shows up over 800 times in the bible, and this is just one family term!  I believe God wants to teach us to how to love through our relationship with our church family and our biological family. What does this look like for us?  What should some of the Rules be for our biological family and our church family?

  • A Spirit of Adoption- We have said we are the “church for people who aren’t here yet,” and you are proving it every week!  The way you invite, accept and love people in, is life giving.  When people join your 217group or show up on a Sunday for the first time, you live the vision of being a church where people are rebuilt into their God given identity as the church.  Summer and I are seeking to adopt a child.  Maybe you can’t adopt a child but your family can have a spirit of adoption.
  • A Spirit of Cooperation – in my family, more gets done if we all yield to one another and pull in the same direction!  We have to be unified.  Inevitably when we try to cooperate we experience conflict. No doubt, you have come into some type of conflict with a brother, father, sister or mother.  During times of conflict we find out what our relationships are really made of, but how we handle the conflict matters just as much as the conflict itself.  Healthy Conflict = Healthy Family and the same goes for the church.
  • A Spirit of Encouragement- Never underestimate the power of an encouraging word.  I am constantly using words like beautiful, handsome, princess, mighty man of God, and genius in my house. I recently saw someone at 217church on Sunday give another person a hug and I wondered if that hug was the only form of encouragement that person received that week.  Encouragement literally makes us more courageous to believe in God’s dream for our lives.  It is the catalyst for our health.
  • A Spirit of Celebration- Never pass up an opportunity to celebrate!  Other pastors ask me, “why do you make such a big deal of your church anniversaries, events, baptisms? You guys are way over the top!”  My response is “Exactly!”  Should we not be absolutely jacked and excited about every victory God gives us?  The enemy wants us to get complacent and bored.  Not us.

On that note we are going to have a HUGE LIVE DIFFERENTLY party June 3!   This will be our largest celebration EVER!  We will celebrate our 100th baptism, your incredible generosity, the debt you have paid off, the weight lost, new healthy habits, but most of GOD’S TRANSFORMATIONAL WORK in our hearts.  Then Sunday June 10th, we share the vision for the next phase of the church!  Let’s keep going and be encouraged through this…

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”   Philippians 3:12

You are a part of something incredible!  Keep on running towards what God is calling you to!

Thanks for being my family,



In Your Face!

When the works of God go on display like the church has demonstrated this past week, it is pretty much IN YOUR FACE!  It is undeniable power!  Simple acts done with humility which people can’t ignore.  Yes, humility ends up IN YOUR FACE!  In your face is not showy, cocky or arrogant, but is extraordinary courage and generosity only explained through the love of Christ.

When 22 single moms get hand delivered gifts of $500 from the deepest love of a caring church, it is IN YOUR FACE.  When families start stepping up and tithing to advance the work of the local church, It is IN YOUR FACE.  When hearts are transformed you can only sit in amazement, It is IN YOUR FACE.  This is what this week has been like for me.  I have received so many e-mails of thanks from people who have received loving gifts.  I have heard stories of people taking the first steps in financial health through cutting up credit cards, and even a video from a small group of a man ready to change the course of his financial future.  Look, when people in small groups start chopping up their credit cards, it’s pretty much IN YOUR FACE.  I am so pumped about what God is doing and how he is using this series and I want to hear your IN YOUR FACE STORY!  e-mail them to me at  Did you pass up a sale?  Cut off your cable?  Sell your car with that payment you can’t afford? Or maybe you and your fiance are trading that extravagant wedding you were planning for an extravagant marriage that will start DEBT FREE!

Have you missed itBeen checked out for a while? Here are some things God has done so far in just 3 short weeks of LIVE DIFFERENTLY:  Remember, “Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you everything”

  • 78 heart transformations on Easter Sunday – In our largest weekend ever, people stood on resurrection Sunday and started living in the resurrection power.
  • 23 small groups have formed with over 250 people meeting every week in homes building 217church strong through deep relationships.
  • The Tithe Challenge – Over 70 families have stepped up and said, we are ready to tithe and take our financial health to the next level. What about you?
  • The Debt Challenge – Countless people are accepting the challenge to cut up credit cards and adopt a plan to get out of debt, PERMANENTLY!

Let me leave you with this short story in an e-mail I received from a single mother:

“As always, I am amazed by my Lords timing.  I have had a lot of trouble with my car lately and finally had to put out the money to get it fixed last week. Because my budget is very tight, I had to use our grocery shopping money as well as the electric bill money to fix the car.  Because of the wonderful timing and generosity of 217church, I will be able to feed my family and get some other necessities this week.”

You are a remarkable group of people,

This Sunday, Let’s get physically healthy!