Sunday, November 30, 2008

God Speaks...Pt. 4 The end yet the beginning

When we moved to Tucson, AZ we were absolutely sure it was God who was bringing us here, but we had no idea what was to come. Moving to Tucson has cost us more than we ever imagined. It tore at our marriage and family as we encountered strong spiritual warfare, we have had to move three times since moving here, it has cost us financially, and is about to cost us more. We had big dreams of what God could use us for, and of what we could do for Him. Here we are two and half years later, and everything we dreamed seems to be shattered. It seems we have gone through all of this hardship for no reason. It almost begs for the question to be asked, why did we move here? What was the point of it all? The dream that had become Element Community Church after today will have died.
When we moved to Tucson I got so busy for God that I forgot what God wants most, an intimate relationship with me. I stopped seeking Him, and started doing. It was not a decision I made, or anything that happened in a day, week, or even a month, but as the group Casting Crowns say in one of their songs it was a “slow fade”. All of sudden without realizing it I was trying to do everything on my own and failing big time! I think what amazes me most is how much God used me despite of myself getting in the way. I came to the point where I could no longer hear God speaking because I never spent any time with him, and I was miserable.
This past summer God began to grab my attention. It started when I was able to go to FL. for a few days to a conference and Rick Warren spoke. God used him in a mighty way in my life, and I waited around to say thank you, he hugged me and whispered in my ear, “Don’t give up”. I knew God had used this man to speak to me as I needed what he said in that moment. Finally, after so much silence, I had heard God speak. I did not realize at the time that God had not stopped speaking, I had just stopped listening. During the summer we saw some great things happen as God led us to step out in faith. We adopted a refugee family of 7 from Iraq and have helped them adjust to America, and have been able to be a witness of the love of Christ to them. We adopted a church plant “The Foundry” and supported them with both man power, and financially. We joined with over 1,800 churches worldwide in a series called “One Prayer”. And finally we did a series through the book of Habakkuk. That series touched my wife and I very personally as God gave us a very clear picture of why we had gone through everything we had up to that point. God first had to do a great work in us before He could do anything through us. He had to bring us to a new place of intimacy, security, and trust that we did not even knew existed.
As the summer moved on God started to move me back to an idea I had let die. Granger Community Church did a series on sex, an upfront biblical perspective, on dating, marriage, and sexual relationships. It had been a dream of mine to bring this to Tucson, and it got shut down at every corner. Then one day I prayed and said, “God if you don’t want this to happen then I am ok with that. I give it to you”. The next day everything from the space we were trying to rent, to the finances to advertise were falling into place. We advertised big, put together a top grade website, and rented a huge space at a local high school. The media grabbed a hold of it, and it even got national coverage. I knew this was going to be the beginning of us as a church, from here we take off. God had another idea. What I thought was the beginning of something great, for God was the beginning of the end.
By October after much wrestling with God I knew I had to go to our parent church. I told God after the holidays, He kept saying now. I decided God knew best and went to pastor Travis, the pastor of our parent church, and told him the news. That same week we found out that our parent church was in bad financial shape. The big question for us was what to do with the people who had become the Element Community Church. We could merge them with our parent church, but the truth is that idea seems a little crazy. A similar church plant was defiantly the way we should go, but God had other ideas. Central Baptist a very traditional church, and Element Church, a very non-traditional church are going to combine. After much struggling with God I know without a shadow of a doubt that God wants me to help lead in this merger. So next Sunday these two churches will become one. Like I said, to me it seems crazy, but I am so sure God is in this that I have perfect peace. Here we are on the brink of the end and I have a perfect peace that passes all understanding. I am excited about us ending, because I know God is orchestrating our future. In fact, I have no doubt that God orchestrated the closure of ECC, and although I don’t understand it, I am ok with that! A huge part of all of this has been God speaking to me through a book called “Wild Goose Chase”, which I highly recommend, and a small group Bible study we are doing called “Experiencing God”, which if your open will change your life forever. I am again finding out what it is like to walk and talk with God.
So here we are, the end, yet the beginning. I do not know what the future holds. I do not know that we are not joining with Central just to help ease their death, but I do know that right now in the midst of this storm I am in the center of God’s will, and that is a wonderful place to be. I know that God is going to provide for my family even with the pay cut I will have to take to be a part of this merger, and more than anything I am again learning the sovereignty of God and that He is in control of all things.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

God Speaks...Pt. 3

When I left off, we were in Toccoa, GA, and much more still needs to be said about our time there. It still amazes me that God did so much in us and through us in just two short years. When we were at Zebulon, God began to speak to me that I needed to put in for the open pastor position. God and I had long talks about this as I told Him how I was too young, did not have enough experience, and was un-educated. He must be mistaken because there was no way He could use me, at least not yet. I couldn’t lead a church, but things began to happen, and He used His Word and His people to speak mightily into my life. To this day, I don’t doubt that call! I remember two members of the search committee sitting down with me, and most of the conversation is a blur, but I knew that when they told me that I was not the pastor for them, that one thing needed to be conveyed and that was that I would support their choice, and would not dare touch God’s anointed! You see, the conversation was not a surprise to me because God had already prepared me for their response, and had told me to support the choice. It was a huge lesson in getting self out of the way.
The burden for full-time ministry was still very heavy on me, and God began to lay a prayer on the hearts of my wife and I. “Here I am Lord, send me”. God had spoken into both of our lives that I was going to be a pastor now, not later; school was put on the back burner to seek after God. We put our house up for sale, believing God was going to move us. Although we had no doubt that God had spoken, I will admit the next season was hard, as this time we really had to wait on God. At some point in this process, I talked to the Tucson area church planting strategist, and then basically told him, “NO WAY”! Well, in God’s divine plan He kept my information, and passed it on to Central. Their plan was to have someone start something new to keep a legacy going, as they were beginning to fade. After much conversation, we came out for a week to meet them and the city. Before we even came, we were pretty sure God was calling us here, but after the visit we knew. We set a date to move that God laid on my heart, and we closed on our house the day before we left. It was truly a God provides moment.
You might be wondering how I am so sure God spoke. I had been through part of the study by Henry Blackaby called Experiencing God, and in it we learned through God’s Word, that He speaks through His Word (the Bible), His people, prayer, and circumstances, or as I like to say, super-natural circumstances. God spoke through all four of these ways when I applied at Zebulon, when we put our house for sale, and when we responded to the call to Tucson. Thus starts the Tucson chapter.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

God Speaks...Pt. 2

When I think of our time in Toccoa, GA four words really describe our time there; “God Speaks” are the first two. As soon as we moved there, God began to call me to intense times in His word and prayer. The Word was definitely alive, “Living and active” as it is self-described. It truly cut into my heart, “Sharper than any two edged sword”. When we moved to Toccoa, my wife and I had this idea that this was going to be a time where we still went to church, but where we served a little more than we were going to serve. Selfish I know, but the truth is we had a baby on the way, I had plans for school, and we had just bought our first home. We found the perfect church with lots of people our age and great programs, the perfect match…so we thought anyway. That was not God’s plan though. As we both knew, God was stirring our hearts to something else. We attended another church, and then another, and then God brought us to Zebulon Baptist Church. It was funny because of everything about Zebulon looked like a bad fit, but we both knew that was exactly where God was leading us. It did not take long before we felt led to become members there. That’s when the fireworks started.
It was right around then that we began to realize the pay cut I was given with the company I was with at the time was not going to provide, but because of the weird hours, 11-8, it was hard to find anything else that could help us. It was also at this time that I was asked to fill in at Zebulon to preach. God’s timing with Zebulon never ceased to amaze me as I was asked to preach and lead music many times, our song director and pastor stepped down, and each time I was given $50. I can’t tell you how many times that money was a miracle in our lives, right when we needed it most. You might have figured out the other two words by now, “God provides”. Man did He ever! I will never forget our first Christmas in Toccoa. We had no money to buy that weeks groceries much less Christmas dinner, or presents. I prayed and I prayed for a Christmas miracle, and did we ever receive one. As we had poured our lives into the people at Zebulon during this tough time in the church’s history, they gave back to us in a big way. Stacy’s mom sent up like a million presents and all of sudden we had everything I had been praying for. I firmly believe sometimes God says no, but this year he showed us He was the God who could! To this day, I believe it to be the most magical season in our lives. I’ll never forget the woman who walked up to me in Wal-Mart and said, “You don’t know me, but I heard you could use this”. She slipped $100 bill into my hand, walked away and I never saw her again. As we come into this season of thanksgiving, I am so grateful that God gave us those hard times, because we truly learned that He is the God who provides. There is much more to this chapter in our lives, and it will have to be saved for another day, another blog.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

God speaks...Pt. 1

I have some stuff to say. I am not sure if this is for anyone but me, but you are welcome to read.
I feel I need to go back, way back to when I was six years old. It was at the age of six I first heard God speak. At the time, I don’t know that I even knew that it was God speaking, but that was when I acknowledged Jesus as Savior and Lord of my life, and the Bible says that I can only come to Him if He calls. I knew I was a sinner, I knew I wanted heaven, and didn’t want hell, and I knew Jesus died for my sin. That was more than enough for me.
To be honest, I don’t know that God spoke to me again until I was sixteen, He might have, but I must admit, I am not sure I was listening. At the age of sixteen though, God used a girl I was dating to speak to me. I still find this ironic, because, well let’s just say we did not have a God honoring relationship. Anyway, she started really getting on me about having direction in my life. One night she convinced me, and I went home and locked myself in my room. There I was in a broken down room, filled with the smell of mildew, and I started to pray. I then opened my Bible in a method I don’t recommend, but God still used and let it fall open, and with my eyes closed I put my finger down. It landed on Romans 8, I began to read and as the Lord was stirring me He stopped me at verse 28 and said, “You are the called, you are going to be my minister”. An interesting side note to this. I find out a year later that God had used this verse mightily in my Papa’s (grandfather) life, and he had claimed it as his life verse years and years before. That night I began to yield my life to that call.
The next two years were up and down as Satan waged war to keep me from following God’s call. God worked some miracles in my life during this time trying to get my attention. Like the time I was driving on a mountain road and fell asleep at the wheel, and God gave me a dream that I was about to drive off a cliff and it scared me so bad, I woke up just in time to turn before I would have driven off the cliff. Then, there was my bike accident where I tore up my mouth so badly the doctor said, “I don’t know if you will ever be able to eat normal foods or speak correctly again”. Within months, through much prayer from friends and family, I was able to do everything I was able to do before, and my agnostic doctor proclaimed, “I wish I had taken before pictures, because this is a miracle”.
At the age of 18, I started to pray for a wife who was seeking after God with all her heart and it was not long before I became friends with Stacy. At the age of 22, I married my beautiful wife Stacy and it was not long after that we moved to Toccoa, Ga. I know there is a lot of detail here, but I feel this story has to be put down. This was the beginning of God speaking to me. There is so much more to come…