Promises

SHCC building 2My formal “installation” as pastor of Sonoita Hills Community Church occurred today at the conclusion of our morning worship service.  Surrounded by both my new church family and some dear friends from my past, it was a wonderful experience.  Truly I was humbled and blessed.

I was offered the opportunity to say a few words of thanks near the end.  However, what God put on my heart to share were eight promises to my new church.  This is what I promised . . .

  1. I will not seek to accomplish great things as pastor of Sonoita Hills Community Church. Instead, I will simply be faithful to the calling and assignment given to me by God.  I’ll let God be great and do great things.
  1. I will do my best to avoid the spotlight, so that God will get all the glory for what He purposes to do through us.
  1. I will not ask you to follow me and my leadership. Instead, together we will follow Christ and His leadership.
  1. I will not lean on my own wisdom and understanding. Instead I will strive to lead us in seeking God’s sovereignty and His guidance.
  1. I will always remember that God is king; which means that I am not. I am His servant and your servant.
  1. Although it’s natural to have a desire to grow numerically as a church, I will never put cultural relevance above Truth as I teach and live out the gospel of Christ in our community.
  1. I will gladly forego personal popularity so that I can always communicate the clear urging of Scripture for all to repent of sin, trust Christ as Savior, and embrace a life of obedience to God.
  1. I will begin each and every day praising God that He has blessed me with the undeserved privilege to live in Sonoita and be the Pastor of Sonoita Hills Community Church.
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I Got a Paycheck!

Treasure Chest with GoldLast Thursday I received my first full paycheck since October 2014. It was a great feeling.  It also was a nice check because I am paid monthly.

I was “sky high” and praising God as I walked into my bank on Friday morning to make the deposit.  My rejoicing wasn’t so much for the check, but for the people God has used in my life to help me build a solid theology and practice of stewardship.

It starts with my mother.  Her work ethic and money management skills set a great example for me as a child and teen.  We were poor (I didn’t know that fact back then!), but mom always found a way for us to have just enough.

Lynne and I were blessed early in our walk with Christ by two Pastors who taught and lived biblical stewardship:  J. Walker Campbell and James Morton.  Along the way they helped introduce us to the writings of Larry Burkett, one of the great pioneers in teaching total stewardship . . . not just tithing.  Burkett taught us to save money in advance of anticipated needs.  Later, Dave Ramsey and Financial Peace University helped us get on a track to be totally debt free (including mortgage), which we achieved in July 2014.

This solid background, plus more than a few present-day miracles by the Lord, got us through 233 days without a paycheck (my final partial paycheck in Michigan was on 11/9/14, and my first partial paycheck was on Arizona on 6/30/15).

Through it all, the Lord has proven the truth of Philippians 4:19 – And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

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Learning from Mexico

Gay marriage is now legal across the United States.  That’s reality.  I don’t like this new reality, but the Supreme Court of the United States has spoken.

The problem is that God had already spoken on this issue.  To state it simply . . . I “believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and rings and a BibleNew Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.”*

What will happen in the future when a church declines to host a gay wedding?  What will happen in the future when a pastor declines to officiate a gay wedding?  This is the next great battle that the courts will decide.

My best guess is that eventually the courts will say that if a church or a pastor participates in any weddings, they must participate in all.  However, I have an alternative idea.  Perhaps we can learn from Mexico!

It was in 2009 that Lynne and I were in Piedras Negras, a border town in the Mexican state of Coahuila, for a wedding.  I wasn’t surprised by how they did weddings in Mexico: I WAS COMPLETELY SHOCKED!  A marriage in Mexico is legal only if it is a civil ceremony performed at a local Civil Register Office (Oficina del Registro Civil).

So on Friday afternoon the bride and groom, both sets of parents, and Lynne and I had an appointment at the office of their equivalent of a Justice of the Peace.  A few questions and a few signatures later, they were married in the eyes of the law.   However, as followers of Jesus Christ the bride and groom wanted the blessing and affirmation of God upon their marriage.  So they were married again at their local church the next day.  As Christians, they didn’t consider themselves fully married until that act of worship at church.

I can’t foresee every result or ramification from today’s Supreme Court decision.  But I do now this:  I will never officiate a same-sex wedding.  If there is a cost to my civil disobedience, I will pay it.  But, I will not compromise my faith or the Bible.

*from the EFCA Statement of Faith

 

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Learning from the Sidelines

This week I officially began my ministry as Pastor of Sonoita Hills Community Church.  (I know this fact confuses the people who know the church voted and I said “yes” back in March.  But, the church’s long-time pastor doesn’t retire until June 30 so there was a “yes” pastoral scene 2and then a “pause.”) Here’s the reality:  it’s financially and emotionally hard for anyone to be unemployed.  When one is a pastor, it’s also spiritually difficult.  So here are some lessons I learned (for the first time or all over again) in the 217 days in limbo since my ministry concluded in Ann Arbor, MI. Five lessons that I learned . . .

  1. I’m first and foremost a child of God, a follower of Jesus Christ. I am not to fall into the trap of defining myself by my job or the title that goes with it.  This is a guy thing.  We almost instinctively describe ourselves by what we do, not who we are.  I must be defined by whose I am!
  1. The Kingdom did just fine with me on the sidelines. I’m not saying I’m unimportant to God.  I’m just acknowledging that I’m just a very tiny piece of what God is doing.
  1. God cares about my family as much as He does my church. I truly felt God’s pleasure as took the time to be with dad in his final days, minister to mom, and deepen my connection with my brother.
  1. I thought I was going to Italy, God sent me to Yuma. God provided for our needs in advance by instilling a strong pattern of biblical money management in me.  So, most of our savings funds are depleted, including “Italy in 2017.” Instead I had the incredible blessing of going to Yuma and being a son and a brother.
  1. God knew I needed a rest, and He gave me one. The past decade of ministry has been full-throttle.  It’s been glorious, but challenging.  I’ve rarely taken time to breathe.  This is something that I have wrestled with all my life.  I’m Type A.  Some would call me a workaholic.  I have some OCD tendencies (ask my wife about “napkins”).  My wife has tried to guide me.  Awesome brothers in Christ (Ron Hornecker, Paul Kinnison, Chris Potts, and Paul Johnson are among them) have pushed me on this in the past and I’m grateful for their love and guidance.  But I’m still learning, and this time God insisted.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28–30

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Here Am I . . . Send Me

Four months ago I resigned as pastor in Ann Arbor, MI.  God had said “it’s time to go.”  What the Lord didn’t say was WHERE we were to go.  God just said “go to the land I will show you.”

Sonoita vineyards

Prompted by the Lord, three months ago we returned to Arizona so we could be with my mom and dad in their season of great need.  As Lynne and I headed west from Michigan it never occurred to us that Arizona was where God would again direct us to serve Him.

It was late morning on December 6 when we crossed into Arizona as we drove west on Interstate 40.  That’s when God spoke to each of us.  We were each driving a vehicle so we didn’t compare “notes” until we stopped for fuel in Holbrook.  But each of us had the same communique from the Lord:  “You’ve come home.”

God didn’t say exactly where we were to serve, but we now had a pretty good idea it would once again be in Arizona.   We did presume that it would be in a Southern Baptist Church.  After all, we both trusted Christ as our Savior in a Southern Baptist Church.  I was ordained as a Deacon in a Southern Baptist Church.  I was called to vocational ministry in a Southern Baptist Church.  I had served three Southern Baptist churches in an “associate” position and three Southern Baptist churches as “senior pastor.”

WRONG!

This morning I had the privilege of saying “yes” to God and “yes” to the His people at Sonoita Hills Community Church, whom I will serve as Pastor.  SHCC is affiliated with the Evangelical Free Churches of America!

Knowing that some of my Baptist friends and colleagues may be bothered by this, I’ll share four reasons why I know that God has directed me in this:

  1. For years I’ve been preaching and teaching that God doesn’t care about denominational labels . . . He cares about the heart. Now I get to “practice what I preach.”
  2. I’m theologically compatible in my new assignment because there are no significant theological differences between Baptist and the EFCA.
  3. In correspondence with the chair of the Pastor Search Team, we were able to identify a dozen different instances where we saw God at work in bringing us together.
  4. God just likes to do things His way in His time. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

So, God looked at His flock in Sonoita, AZ, and then asked “Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8)  The only answer I could give is “Here am I, send me!”

 

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Blessing a Stranger

I was a strangerMy emotions went into hyper-drive the moment I sat down in church on Sunday . . . and it caught me by surprise.   Intellectually I knew it was my last time to worship the Lord with the believers at Foothills Southern Baptist Church, Yuma.  But suddenly the Lord was gracious to give me a crystal clear picture of how this church has blessed me.

Foothills became the “church home” for my wife and I when we temporarily relocated to Yuma on December 6.  This House of God has been a needed place of refuge during this pause in my pastoral ministry.  We were welcomed.  We were encouraged.  We were loved.  We will be forever grateful.

But much more importantly, this church has ministered to my mother for the past 13 years.  Mom never really stood out.  She wasn’t a leader.  She just sat in the same pew each week with her dear friends, Ginger and Beverly.

Nevertheless, the Foothills family of believers ministered to her through the years.  Pastor Jim Doyle was there for her in her great times of need.  He went to the hospital and prayed for my dad when he was beset by strokes four months ago.  (That act of kindness especially meant the world to me, because I was still in Michigan and unable to come.)   On Christmas Eve day, with his own home full of out-of-town family, Pastor Jim came to pray for my mom after my dad’s death.   Every time this church ministered to my mom, they blessed me.

This is “moving” week.  We are helping my mom move back to California, where she will be blessed by once again living near her siblings.  Lynne and I are relocating to Sonoita, AZ, where God seems poised to bless us with a new place of ministry and a new church to love and lead.

I will never forget this brief time in Yuma, because the church here was blessing a stranger in their midst – me!

“I was a stranger, and you invited me in . . . . I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”              Matthew 25:35,40

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The Two Biggest Lessons I Learned from My Dad

My father died on Christmas Eve morning, and this Saturday the family will gather in California for a “celebration of life.”  So it’s no “shocker” that I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad.  I’ve been thinking about what I learned in the 50 years that he wDad - obituary pictureas my dad. The list would be long, but here are the two biggest lessons I learned.

1.  You can ask for forgiveness without words.

I was eight-years-old when he became my dad.  The next 10 years were bad.   Terrible.  Brutal.  There was and is no excuse for what he did, even though most if not all of it happened while he was under the influence of alcohol.

I don’t remember my dad ever verbalizing the words “I was wrong, I’m sorry, and/or please forgive me.”  He was old school.  He was from “that” generation that had trouble expressing feelings or admitting wrong.

However, he communicated it over and over with his actions.  It was the Christmas gift of a microwave oven for Lynne when we had newborn twins.  It was a word of advice or his help on a home maintenance project.  So my dad did say “I was wrong, I’m sorry, please forgive me.”  It took me some years to understand what he was “saying,” but I praise God that eventually I had ears to hear it.

2.  When we forgive someone we reap the greatest benefit.

It’s really hard to be a servant of God when we harbor anger and hate for someone.  That’s the predicament I faced at age 30.  I was the Associate Pastor of a church.  I was responsible for teaching adults the Bible and helping them apply the Word to daily life.  But personally I was in a wrestling match with Matthew 5:44-45.  Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in Heaven.

God won!  I wrote a letter to my dad and put it in his Father’s Day card.  I told him that I was forgiving him.  I went on to thank him for becoming a pretty good dad, and for becoming a good husband to my mom.  I told him I loved him.

That was one of the hardest letters I’ve ever written.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but with that letter I became a new and better man as I let go of the pain, bitterness, and anger.

TO GOD BE THE GLORY!

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