Struggling With Change

Posted: September 29, 2015 in Uncategorized

I live just a few minutes from the Carowinds Amusement Park that is located on the South Carolina/North Carolina line.  I’ve grown up going to this park my whole life.  Over the years alot of things have changed in the park.  Rides have been replaced.  Themes of the park have changed as new owners came in.  It has expanded and thus attendance has grown which means lines have grown.  In all of the years that change has come to this park, NOTHING has impacted me more than the change that came this summer….

Just a few weeks in to the 2015 season they announced that one of the oldest, most treasured rides in the park would be coming down during the last week of July.  I was DEVASTATED! Thunder Road has been one of my favorite rides since I’ve been old enough to ride the “adult” rides.  In fact, I believe it was the FIRST “adult” ride I had ever rode.  I did not want this change to the park.  I was all for the growth they wanted and for new attractions, but NOT at the expense of Thunder Road.  Then something happened that I did not expect.  I took the family to Carowinds the week before the ride was supposed to be closed so that I could get one more ride in.  As my oldest son and I got in the train I noticed that I did not have as much room in the seat as I once did. As the ride began I noticed that it wasn’t as smooth as I remembered and in fact it hurt to ride it.  As the ride was pulling back in to the station my thoughts on the situation had COMPLETELY changed.  It took 2 minutes on Thunder Road for me to see and come to the conclusion that some change is NECESSARY!

As I was getting off the ride my mind begin to think about the Church.  For 2,000 years (give or take) the Church has gone through A LOT of changes.  Everytime it has come with casualties.  Sometimes those casualties have divided the Church that the change was meant to strengthen.  You see, whether we want to admit it or not, we are all creatures of habit.  We don’t like change.  For the last 10 years or so the Church has been in a battle over change.  We have fought, divided, gossiped, denounced, and struggled.  I don’t intend to write about all that the battles have been over.  That subject has been covered by many and let’s face it….we all know what the problems have been.  My intent with this post is simply to encourage us to take another look at what we have been fighting over.  For the most part it’s traditional things.  My question is, are they, and are we, still effective?  OR is it like my experience on Thunder Road? The memories are great but the ride is no longer what it used to be.  Traditions have their place and are a source of great memories but let us NEVER put those things in front of needed change.  Remember that our GREATEST call is to the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20.  Methods change but the message must never.  Is our “Thunder Road” standing in the way of revival & expansion? 

 

I can take you to the spot where everything changed. It was mid July in 2013. Shea and I were closing in on our 10 year anniversary at the church and all seemed to be great. For years I had told people that this was the place everyone would want to pastor, and I still feel that way. It’s a great church with great people. I had just returned from a sabbatical at the beginning of June and we were in full summer swing. Then “IT” happened. I knew when I heard it that it would require GREAT obedience and sacrifice. I knew that if I followed what I had just heard that life would never be the same. Standing there that July day I heard the Lord telling me that it was time for me to leave my current position.

I fought with it over the remainder of the day and finally when the kids were in bed and Shea and I were alone I broke the news. I didn’t know how she would respond, especially since I didn’t know exactly where we would go or what we would do. I just knew that our time there was over. Her response blew me away. It was if God had already planned her for this conversation. She was fully willing to follow me if I truly felt that I was following God. I, however, was terrified. I was afraid to leave. I was afraid of hurting those that I loved and pastored. I was afraid of the uncertainties like providing for my family. Yet, with everything that was in me…..I knew it was Him.

It was during this season that the story of Abram leaving everything he knew to go into a land he had never been to with few details of what would be next became very personal to me. I immediately sought counsel from those who were my mentors. Some were encouraging while others attempted to talk me out of it. To be honest, it almost worked. I spent my family vacation at the end of July weighing it all out. I went to the coffee shop in the lobby of the resort every morning at 6 a.m. to pray, read, and write. I argued with God and with myself about all of it, but in my heart I knew it was time. Not because I did not love the people anymore or because I did not want to be there…..It was just time. This was gonna be the hardest thing I had ever done.

The first Sunday of September 2013 my family and I left the parking lot of the church that had been our home for the last time as pastors. It hurt then and it still hurts today. We have so many fond memories of that place and the people. However, God was ready to write a new chapter in our lives……

After MUCH prayer, preparation, and counsel Refuge Church opened its doors on March 2, 2014. Each week is a new adventure in trusting God. My pastor told me early on, “God’s deal, God’s bill,” and we have put that to practice. We have seen God do AMAZING things and provide in unbelievable ways. In the first 6 months we saw over 30 either come to Christ or recommit their lives to Him. We are seeing the searching, hurting, and broken find a place to meet and grow in Christ. As we close in on our one year anniversary, I wanted, for personal reasons, to write my journey out. It’s been a crazy ride for the last 16 years since I fully accepted my call, but I know the best is yet to come……

Often we will fall into the trap of assuming  that we know God’s plans for us.  Actually what we are doing is trying to fit His plan for us into the plans we have made for ourselves.  In the fall of 2003 I discovered that I had made that mistake.  The prophet Jeremiah tells us that God has plans for us and that His plans are to prosper us and not to do evil to us (Jeremiah 29:11).  When we start making plans that are not in agreement with His plans and then try to force His plans into the small framework of our plans catastrophe will be the result.  Thankfully on this one I had a wife who helped me see my mistake before it was too late…..

In the fall of 2003 I was attempting to build an evangelistic ministry.  I loved everything about doing evangelism.  Now for any who has grown up in the Church, an evangelist is that really cool guy who blows into town once or twice a year “brings” revival with him.  The services last anywhere from 3-5 nights.  They are often high energy type events and everyone gets hyped up.  I LOVED doing revivals.  I had NO responsibility with the local churches that pastors have to deal with.  I traveled all over the state and saw some great places.  But most of all, I got to spend time at church having “church.”  By January of 2003 I had stepped down from youth pastor work and was trying hard to get my name out in the state because I was certain that God wanted me to travel around and “bring” revival.  Then “IT” happened……

We pulled up at the small church on a cold winter Sunday in January.  The church was a small single wide trailer from the 70’s or early 80’s.  It sat in a field out in the country near the Catawba Indian Reservation in Rock Hill, SC.  The parking lot was gravel.  I remember thanking to myself that the building was too small and that I could never get in my “groove” and preach comfortably in this building.  How can we have church here?  I was in the process of becoming credentialed through my denomination and part of the process was to attend a small church in the area.  The pastor of the church had contacted me and asked if I would preach when I came.  Now I’m sitting in my truck thinking to myself that this is never gonna work.  I get out and we go into the small trailer and everyone was very nice and SUPER welcoming.  The service began and it was your typical Sunday morning order of service.  There was probably 15-20 people there that morning.  I still remember my sermon and text from that day.  As we left that morning Shea looked at me and said…”I could see us pastoring here one day.”…..WHAT!!!!!! ARE YOU INSANE!!!!!!!  First off, “I” want to be an evangelist.  Second, do you see that place?! …….Ashamedly I must admit this really was my response.  We left that morning and forgot all about that little church until September.

The pastor, Freddie Fields, was a GREAT man and pastor.  He planted several churches in the lower part of the state and now, when he could have been considering retirement, he answered a call from God to travel hundreds of miles from home and plant a church in a place he had never been and among people he did not know.  In July of 1997 the church launched and over the next 6 years the name of the church would change a couple of times and the growth was sometimes slow but there wasn’t a doubt that God was in it.

In September Pastor Freddie called and asked if I would come back and do a short revival starting on Sunday morning and go through Wednesday night.  I accepted as my calendar was free and I only lived a few minutes away from the church.  As the church was singing that morning the pastor became very ill.  One of the members took him to the hospital and we later found that his health was really bad.  I asked the church if they would like to call the service and their response was, “Pastor Freddie would want it to go on.”  I preached that morning and then released them to go to the hospital to check on their beloved pastor.  It became apparent that he was gonna have to retire from full-time ministry and would not be able to come back to the church.  Since I lived so close, both the State office and the church asked if I would fill in while a new pastor was searched for.  Over the next few weeks something happened in me that I never thought would happen….I fell in love with the church and it’s people.  Through a series of events that can only be God, I realized that we were indeed being called to this little church.  God had spoken again and this time I learned that my plans are not His plans.  In November of 2003 it became official and were installed as pastors at Friendship Church of God.

Over the next 10 years we fell madly in love with the people of that church.  We saw some great God moments there.  The church began to grow and eventually we tore down the small trailer and built a brand new 150 seat sanctuary in its place.  I have memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life.  It was here where God taught me how to be a pastor and a leader.

His Journey is My Journey – Pt 3

Posted: December 31, 2014 in Uncategorized

It was a HOT July day in Mauldin, SC.  It was 4th of July week which meant that the Church of God pastors, evangelists, and members were assembled for our annual Campmeeting.  Growing up in the CoG, Campmeeting was a highlight to our yearly calendar.  It’s a week of morning Bible teaching and evening preaching services.  It’s high energy just like any good pentecostal worship experience should be.  Two events happened that summer that changed my life.  One was connecting with George Tallmage, another young evangelist in the state at the time, who has become one of my best friends and confidants.  The other was that “IT” happened again.

I will never forget the moment….in fact, I can still see the room and hear the choir singing.  I was sitting near the back of the sanctuary standing with the rest of the congregation as the evening choir was leading us in worship.  I remember getting lost in the moment and beginning to look around the room as if something, or Someone, was telling me to get a mental picture and to take it all in.  Then “IT” happened.  He spoke something to me that shook me to my core….”I’m getting ready to send you someone.”

I was there that week still a grieving husband.  Life had started getting better but was by no means normal.  I had went back to work, got HEAVILY involved in youth work at the church, and was doing revival services when ever opportunities arose.  The LAST thing I was looking for, or wanted, was someone in my life.  I NEVER wanted to go through what had happened ever again.  I didn’t want to be in the place where someone who I loved could either be taken from me or walk away from me. To be honest, there are still times today where those fears try to sneak back in.

I left Mauldin that week and nothing had changed as far as my “status” was concerned. I hadn’t met anyone, and I sure wasn’t looking.  I was fully content at the time with being alone.  Two weeks later I received the call that my grandfather had passed.  I gathered at my grandmother’s house with the rest of the family as we attempted to console each other.  Over the next few days the house would be busy with family, friends, and neighbors.  It was during this time that an old friend from my previous church came back into the picture.  Our families had been friends for years.  In fact my mom and her parents had went to school together.  When my dad was youth pastor at a church in Rock Hill she began attending and joined our youth group.  We were a tight group and it wasn’t long before Crystal and Shea became very good friends.  Crystal’s death had been very hard on Shea as well and we had lost contact since her death.  Shea had stopped by my grandmother’s house with her little sister to visit with the family after the funeral service and we began to reconnect as friends.  Before I knew it we were talking on the phone at different times of the day and I found myself thinking about her often.

To make a long story short, Shea and I began dating by the end of July and on June 16th, 2001 I stood at the front of Hillcrest Baptist Church on the curvy road between York and Sharon, SC and married my friend.  God had kept His Word.  Even when I felt like it wasn’t what I needed or wanted, God knew what was best for me.  Shea has been my rock, and my best friend for the last 15 years.  She has stood by me when no one else would.  She has trusted and loved me.  We now have two young sons, Nathan who is 8 and Seth who just turned 6.  In the summer of 2000 I couldn’t have imagined any of this.  I was so broken, BUT God.  I now look back at that time in my life as where I learned Him to not only be a Father, but a Restorer as well….

It was early July 1999 and my first wife and I had only been married since May when I recieved the call no one ever wants to get.  On the other end of the phone was Crystals family…..cancer.  She had been in the hospital off and on since the week before our wedding. In fact we were married at Piedmont Hospital in Rock Hill, SC because she refused to call the wedding off. Some time between the end of June and first of July she had been transported to Duke University for further test because no one could figure out why her kidneys had stopped working.  I was at work in Charlotte when the call came in.  I remember sitting in the work truck in shock. This wasn’t the plan.

I immediatly went home and grabbed my things and drove to Durham, NC.  The ride there was filled with questions, anger, doubt, tears, & desperate prayers of begging.  The next few weeks would bring more of the same as she began treatments for this terrible disease.  It was in the midst of this that “IT” happened again.  In the midst of our confusion, fears, & questions, God called again.

I hadn’t forgot about God’s call on my life, I just assumed that it would happen later in life.  Every pastor, evangelist, or church leader I had ever known was over 40 years of age.  I just had this assumption that I had more time before I would officially step out into ministry.  However, during this tragic time in our lives, He called again.  I knew it was Him because it carried the same intensity and conviction as it had when I was 11.  I would talk to Crystal about this when no one else was around and we agreed that in spite of what was happening, we would be obedient.  If I’m completely honest with you, I had this belief that if I did this then God would heal her and everything would be ok.  I was already working during the week to keep our bills caught up and traveling to Duke on the weekends so there wasn’t much time for ministry opportunities, but I would spend those hours at the hospital studying and praying and preparing while she slept.  I only had one speaking opportunity during that time, a youth rally, and I spoke on “Following Christ.” The message was as much for me as it was anyone else as I look back on it.  We were learning first hand what trusting and following Christ was about.

On January 2, 2000 Crystal passed away in her sleep and my world fell apart.  I hid much of the pain and anger that I had.  I continued working towards ministry as I had recently been appointed as youth pastor at a local church, but inside I was going through dark times.  I would put on the “mask” and go to church to “do” ministry and then go home alone to our house and deal with all of the questions.  What I learned during this time is that following Christ isn’t always easy.  It doesn’t mean that we won’t go through hard times.  What it is is a relationship.  I learned in those dark hours that He is Immanuel, God with us.  I learned that He is a friend and that He is touched with our pain.  We sometimes will go through things that we don’t understand in life, but God is ALWAYS faithful. In that hour He became more than a god to me, He became my Father.

The next time “IT” happend was seven months later the week of July 4th………..

His Journey is My Journey

Posted: December 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

I don’t blog as often as I should, or could, but when I do, I find it very therapeutic.  For over a year and a half now I have been keeping a journal that has recorded both the highs and lows of the journey that my family and I are currently on.  You see, in July of 2013 our lives changed in a drastic way.  I can take you to the spot I was standing and point you in the direction that I was facing when I heard ‘IT”.  I never expected to hear what I did.  I wasn’t looking for it, and I wasn’t asking for it.  I was minding my own business and working through my daily workload when “IT” happened…..God began to speak…..

I am a “church” kid.  I’ve been in the church all of my life and my parents have always been in leadership roles within the church.  I was 11 when I heard God speak to me the first time.  Sitting on the left hand side of the church next to a window near the back “IT” happened.  I still remember the shock of the moment.  In the middle of the visiting evangelists sermon I heard God speak to me words that would forever change my life….”THATS what I’ve called you to do…..preach My gospel.”  As an 11-year-old I really didn’t know what to think.  As soon as service was over I immediately went to my dad who promptly pointed me in the direction of our pastor for council.  The next few days were days of prayer, trying to figure out if it really was God who was speaking to me and no matter what I did or prayed, those words would not leave me, and 24 years later they are just at poignant and powerful in my spirit.

I was given the opportunity one week later to prepare and deliver my first sermon to our Wednesday night congregation.  I still remember the sermon title….”The Fall of Adam.”  I remember standing on a metal folding chair behind the same wooden pulpit that so many wonderful men of God had stood behind.  Even at 11 I knew the heaviness of that moment and I wanted badly to please God.  My first sermon lasted only 15 minutes but it seemed like an eternity.  There was no shouting, running, or great spiritual display in the altars that most in a Pentecostal church would be accustomed too….but for me, the journey had begun.

I am gonna leave off here today and pick up with the next time “IT” happened in a couple of days. Enjoy your weekend!

Highlights From Yesterday

Posted: November 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

Our “I Love My Church” series started off HUGE for us yesterday. Thanks to everyone who sent us quotes as to why you love your church. Big shout out to Pastor George Tallmage for sending in a short video as well.
As we step away from yesterday there are a few things that I want to revisit…..
1) ANYBODY who has been in church for any length of time has a church “story.” Church hurt is not uncommon, but we MUST remember that the Church is made up of imperfect people and the we ALL have the potential to hurt each other. This should NEVER cause us to leave the local Church, but to serve as a reminder of the reality that we are all in need of grace.

2) The Church is for EVERYBODY. At Refuge we believe that God’s favorite person is WHOSOEVER! In Acts 2:21, Peter says that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” We are all misfits who have benefited from God’s grace.

3) The Church is an UNSTOPPABLE force! In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said “I am building the Church and he’ll can’t overcome it.” What a comfort it is to know that we are in such GREAT care! The Church hasn’t been stopped in the past 2,000 years and it will still be going should the Lord not return for another 2,000. When we are confident in who He is there is NOTHING He can’t accomplish through the Church!

Thanks for listening and have a blessed week!