Journey of a Lifetime

My oldest son recently turned 13.  We have officially entered the teen years at our home.  Nathan, or Nate the Great as his mother affectionately calls him, is a truly great kid.  He’s humble, quiet, respectful, great with his siblings, and really intelligent.  He’s the kind of kid every parent would hope for.

Two weeks ago I took him to the beach for his first “man” trip.  I scheduled some fun time around bowling, golf, the arcade, and we made sure to eat some great local food.  However, our trip was not just about having fun or a good time.  I scheduled the trip with purpose.  I wanted this trip to be a spiritual journey.  I wanted to take a special moment with him and let him know about this incredible journey he is on.

His mom and I bought him a brand new bible for me to give him while away.  We both wrote personal notes on the inside for him and I marked my personal verse.  The verse that has given me personal direction and comfort the last five years.  On Saturday night of our trip, I took him out to the balcony of our room overlooking the shore and the ocean.  As we sat there I pointed out the stars and began to share the story of Abraham from Genesis chapter 12.  I told him about how God came to Abraham and in similar fashion, pointed out the stars and the shore as an example of how great He was going to make Abraham and his children.  I shared with Nathan that God had a GREAT journey laid out for him as well.  I shared that life would not always be easy and at times he would have to make some tough decisions but that God would always lead him if he gave Him room too.  I shared that he could not depend on our relationship with God, but that he would have to cultivate his own.  Then, like the old testament fathers, I laid hands on my oldest son and blessed him.  I prayed over him audibly so that he could hear my heart, my hopes, and my concerns.

The reality is, God has a GREAT journey for all of us.  Scripture says in Jeremiah that God has a plan for each of us.  A plan, not of evil, but of good.  A plan to prosper us.  It doesn’t mean that there will not be rough patches, or that everything will always go the way we want the too.  We know, according to Paul, that ALL things work out for the GOOD of those that love God and are called according to HIS purpose.  Perhaps you have never had a “father” lay hands on you and bless you.  Perhaps, you have never had someone sit you down and share with you that God has something special for you.  Consider this THAT moment.  Take heart in knowing that the BEST is yet to come and that God is NOT done with you.  This is the journey of a LIFETIME!  So go enjoy…….

 

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Learning a New Way

As my family and I continue down this “new” road in our journey, I’m having to learn a new way of life.  For so long I operated on the same schedule.  Shea and I took our first church in November of 2003.  Each week I would prepare sermons for two services on Sunday and a midweek service on Wednesday.  Early on in the game I would spend most of the day on Saturday locked away preparing for Sunday.  Through the years my schedule and preparation habits changed but it was always a part of my routine.

Last month that changed completely.  For the first time in a long time I’m only doing personal devotions.  My Saturday mornings are free and I don’t have to be at church until service time.  I’m sitting in worship with my wife every week for the first time in 16 years.  I don’t have anything to do or be in control of on Sunday mornings.  In full transparency, I’m struggling with this.  I miss preaching.  I miss the engagement with the congregation and pouring into their lives.  I miss running around and making sure that things are in place and ready to go.  However, I’m also enjoying the break.  While I do miss being on the stage, I am also enjoying sitting next to my wife and taking in the weekly experience with her.  New things can be challenging, but they are also necessary.

Scripture speaks to us about NEW things.  Isaiah 43:19 says, “NOW I will do a NEW thing….”  Isaiah 42:10 says for us to “sing a NEW song.”  The salvation story is about Christ making us NEW creations.  Salvation is “old things passing away, and ALL things made NEW.”  We are told in the New Testament that there will be a NEW heaven, a NEW earth, and a NEW Jerusalem.  God is into NEW!

I have accepted that we are in a NEW season and that God is doing a NEW thing in us.  I’m learning to enjoy sleeping in on Saturday and Sunday mornings.  I have more dedicated time for my family and I don’t have that rushed feeling to get things wrapped up and completed.  I’m learning to rest.  Not only does God promise NEW things, he also tells us to take Sabbath (rest).  That’s what this is, rest.  I’m already praying about what’s next for us and for the time being it’s simply to plug into a local fellowship and rest.  In time God will reveal His NEW thing for us.

Starting Over

As previously noted, my family and I are in the process of starting over and trying to find His place for us in the local church and in ministry.  I’ve got to be honest, I don’t want to.  I will be 40 in July and I REALLY don’t want to start from the ground up, again.  The prospect of starting over, in any capacity, can be daunting.  Whether it’s in business, marriage, financially, a diet, or anything.  To know that you had come so far and gotten so close to accomplishing a goal and then having it all fall apart can be very discouraging.

It’s in times like this that I HAVE to lean on scriptures like Job 14:7-9 which says, “There is HOPE for a tree:  If it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that it’s tender shoots will not cease.  Though its roots may grow old in the earth, and it’s stump may die in the ground, YET at the scent of water it will bud and bring forth branches like a plant.”  Even in the pains of starting over there is HOPE!!!

I’ve been writing these posts as a form of personal therapy, but I feel like I’m not the only one that needs this reminder.  I’m not the only one out here in a “start over” place in life.

Here in SC we have had a non-stop cycle of rain since August.  For the last several months I have constantly complained about the rain. Every weekend there is more rain and we are stuck in the house with three kids dying to get outside.  Everything is wet, gloomy, and depressing.  It’s MISERABLE!  But what if I’ve been looking at it the wrong way?  What if I’ve been complaining about my blessing?  You see, there are blessings IN the rain.  Rain cleanses and restores.  According to Job, it will cause cut down trees to sprout again with new life.  Perhaps, I need to re-adjust my perspective and not see the rain as my problem but as my answer.

We serve a resurrected Jesus and preach a gospel filled with promises of resurrection.  Our God specializes and in bringing dead things back to life.  That’s really what starting over is.  Something that has died being brought back to life.  It may not look the same as before, or sound the same, but it will live again.

So for now I will enjoy the rain and wait on the New Life that will come.

 

 

Shopping For the Right Fit

For the first time in my life, I’m a church shopper.  I don’t necessarily like that term, but what else do you call it?  We get up each Sunday morning with a planned trip to a new local church hoping to find the right fit.

This is ALL new to me and to be honest it’s a challenge.  For the first 15 years of my life, we attended a church in Rock Hill that was small and mostly consisted of extended family.  From there I’ve only been a part of four other churches and two of those were churches that Shea and I had the privilege of pastoring.

How do you find the right fit?  How do you know where?  How do you go around from church to church without feeling like the weirdo?  How many do you try before it’s too many?  What’s best for the kids?….These are just a few of the questions that are constantly going through my mind.  I don’t want to be on this field trip for long but when there are several hundred options just in the city limits of where we live how do you narrow it down?!

There are several items on my check list:

  1. MUST be a gospel centered church – The gospel is ALL about sharing the good news of Jesus and reaching those far from Christ.
  2. MUST have a clear vision – Where are they going? We want to be somewhere that has a distinct purpose and a clear vision on how they will achieve it.
  3. MUST have a healthy kids ministry – My kids and their spiritual growth is of vital importance to Shea and I.
  4. Is there room to serve? – Although we need time to sit and rest, there will come a time in the near future where I will want to plug in and serve.  I want my family at a church that promotes service from there people and at same time creates the space for it.
  5. Can’t be perfect – I am NOT looking for a perfect church.  There isn’t one.  I’m looking for a church that is transparent and real.  One where broken people can heal and messy people don’t feel looked down upon.

This is my list.  Am I right in having a list?  Should I approach it like this?  I’m not sure.  However, it helps me.  This is a HUGE decision for us because once I lock in I want to stay.  I want to plug my family in and become a part of the culture that is growing in that local church.  Pray for us as we go “shopping” again this Sunday.

 

 

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Now What…

Now what?…..That is a question that I’ve been asking myself for several weeks now.  For the past five years my wife and I had the privilege of leading Refuge Church in Rock Hill, SC.  In the summer 2013 we were completely sure that God had called us to plant this church.  I’m still sure of that today…….but now what?

Several weeks ago the tough decision to close Refuge was made.  It’s one that kept me up at night and brought great stress to my life.  I’ve struggled with not knowing what my identity would now be.  I’ve struggled with the idea of where I would fit in.  I’ve struggled with the feeling of being a failure.  This list could go on an on…….so now what?

To be honest, I don’t know.  For the first time since I was a teenager, I don’t know where I should be or what I should do.  It’s a scary place.  I’ve been told by some well-meaning friends and family to remember that “God has a plan and He’s in control.”  That God “has something really great around the corner.”  While that is true it doesn’t really help with where I’m at.  It doesn’t help with my questions and my fears.  At least not yet.  Right now we are still in the grieving process and that’s okay.

So, now what?…….I’ve resigned to just be still.  To leave it in the only hands that are capable…..His.  Since the summer of 2013, I’ve been leaning on Psalms 32:8 which says, “I will instruct you and show you the way to go; with My eye on you, I will give counsel.”  Today I’m learning to lean in a little more on this truth.  Whether I want to hear it or not, my friends speak truth.  God does have a plan.  What it is, I don’t know.

So now what?…….

Struggling With Change

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? 

 

His Journey Is My Journey – Pt. 5

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……

His Journey is My Journey – Pt 4

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

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….

His Journey is My Journey – Part 2

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………..