Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Canada, eh?

We left Boulder City on August 23. We arrived in Richmond, BC on August 25. We have been here in Canada for almost one month. It has been great! We have had a lot of support getting the new house ready, unloading boxes, settling in, and just making this our new home.

Two weeks ago we were introduced to the Chinese church, Richmond Chinese Baptist Church, that we share a building. Ray, Jessica's dad, preached and it was all translated into English. It was very cool to see the Chinese characters on the screen, along with the English words, and the two congregations worshipped in unison.

This past Sunday was my first Sunday to preach at Towers and it went well. No one got up a left and they all said see you next week. That is a good thing, Ha!

One of the most amazing things that has happened, happened this past Friday. Jess and I took the kids to school and we decided to go on a morning coffee date to Tim Hortons. Andrew was with us and as we sat and ate our donuts and tea biscuits and drank our double doubles, Andrew caught the attention of this Russian lady named Alexandra. As Alexandra became infatuated with Andrew, we were able to strike up a conversation. It was the typical, what is your name, where are you from, and what do you do. I love it when people as me those questions, because I get to say, I just moved here from Las Vegas and I am a pastor of a church.

As I told these things to Alexandra, she looked at me in amazement. She obviously said, I 've been to Vegas, but what she said next I never expected. She told me that she has never met a pastor before. She also said that much of the Russian community (over 100,000 people in Greater Vancouver area) had probably never met a Christian pastor before. She told me she was a radio host at a show nearby and asked me to think about coming on the show to be interviewed. She thinks the Russian community would like to hear what I had to say about being a pastor. Just so you know, she said she has interviewed government officials from Israel and Russia on the show and it is broadcast to the UN. I asked her if she was sure she wanted to interview me. Ha!

We began to talk about what a pastor does and who a pastor is and I was able to explain to her that it is different from a priest (that was her main question). She couldn't believe I was not worried about "title." I had just started sharing with her that I base my beliefs on the teaching of the Bible and that I follow the example of Jesus Christ because I have a relationship with Him. She was amazed that I said those things. I was just getting ready to ask her if she believed in God (if you know the history of Russia you will know why I would ask that) and her and her colleagues had to go.

I am going to ask you to pray for Alexandra. I am praying that God will grab a hold of this lady and radically change her life. When I asked her about her religious background she referred to herself as a Russian and a Jew. I emailed her this morning to try to connect again and continue our conversation.

I also will ask you to pray for Silas. Silas is a barista at one of my local Starbucks and she is from India. She remembers my name and she is a very nice lady who is always smiling. Pray that she would come to experience the one true God.

God is at work here and we are very blessed to be a part of what He is doing.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Tony Bennett said what?

I first visited San Francisco in December 2002. I made a trip to the Bay Area by myself to visit Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. I immediately fell in love with the area, the culture, the people, and I knew without a doubt that God was calling me and my family to move all the way from very rural Mississippi to the huge metropolis of San Francisco, California. We spent four wonderful years in that area. We studied, we trained, we ministered, and we fell even more in love with the people and the area. We made the greatest friends anyone could ever want, but we knew that one day we would have to leave the place we loved and called home.

I graduated in May 2007 and God began to do a work in us again and we knew without a doubt that He was leading us and calling us to pastor in Boulder City, Nevada. I have been serving as Pastor of Youth and Education and we served in this role for a little over four years. These past four years have been amazing. We have, first of all, seen lives changed and have learned and grown a lot in our relationship with God. I announced my resignation yesterday.

However, almost a year ago God began a stirring in our heart. He began a restlessness in us that was hard to explain. As I have eluded to in the title of this blog post, I left my heart in San Francisco. This time in my spiritual journey began a deeper yearning for God that I had ever had before. God began to bring about relationships in my life that was needed. God allowed us to "church cheat." We began to attend a friends church in Las Vegas on Saturday night and through that fellowship, through their teaching and preaching, and through the relationships that I began to have with leaders there, God began to reveal things to us in unexplainable ways.

I have always wanted to plant a church. I have always wanted to create something new in an area where people have limited knowledge of Jesus or that don't know about Him at all. God began to reveal to me in September of 2010 that I should plant a church in the city of San Francisco. After a lot of prayer and searching the scriptures and reading, God made it apparent that I needed to take a trip to the city and pray and talk and He also revealed to me that He would show me what was next when I got there.

In October 2010, I took a trip to the city having faith that God would show us what to do. I visited friends, prayed, chatted with locals and other strategic people, and even got to see the Giants in a playoff game. As I was meeting with a church planting strategist in the Richmond District of San Francisco, God made it clear that I was to plant a church in that neighborhood. I shared this information with Jessica and we were ready to pack it up and move that week. However, church planting requires a set a gifts, skills, and resources. Jessica and I knew we had the gifts, most of the skills, and none of the resources. We definitely wanted to plant a church in San Francisco, but we didn't want to do it wrong, because that would dishonor the process and most of all would dishonor God. I want get into all the statistics, but I will tell you a majority of church plants fail within the first 4 years. We didn't want to be a statistic.

We took a very hard look at our abilities and God was revealing to us that although He is calling us to plant in SF, it may take some time. We decided to take it slow and just be open to His leading during this "slow" time. During this time, I would intentionally meet with people, read books with church leaders, practice vision casting, attend conferences, and do anything I could to make me a better leader. While I was doing this I was introduced to an organization called Launch (www.launchstrong.com). This organization is designed to help potential church planters. They assess, train, and partner with planters through churches to plant churches. They were partnering with Hope Baptist in Las Vegas to do an assessment for planters wanting to plant in the West. I was encouraged to go through the assessment. Jessica and I had the opportunity to have dinner with their Chief Launch Officer and his wife to here more about the program. After hearing more details about it, we felt comfortable that we would go through the assessment. The assessment required us to spend money, complete an intense online component, and sit through an intensive 2 day assessment with other couples planting in the West.

Over the next several months we began to try to figure out what we could do while we were taking it "slow" to get ready for SF. One option that came to my mind was to look for a different position. We prayed for opportunities with other organizations and thought strategically about what would be best for us. Nothing seemed to be working out. I truly believe God gave me this idea. I know of a church in the Vancouver area that has been without a pastor for a while. I know of some great church planting systems, training's, planters, and people in Vancouver too. Many of you know my father in law is a church planting catalyst in Vancouver and so I thought what if we connected with him and his people for a while to train and get experience. I submitted that to him and he began to work on a proposal. Meanwhile, we attended the SBC Pastor's Conference in Phoenix and doors began to open and connections were being made that really made us want this "Canada Training" to happen. As I shared this with many church leaders and the words that almost all of them used was, "that is very wise." All of this was taking place in early June. In late June Jessica and I went through the assessment with Launch in Las Vegas. We knew going into the assessment what our results would be and when Mac, the guy I had dinner with, called to give us the results it was exactly what we expected. The assessment teams suggestion was although we had the heart, desire, humility, and passion to plant a church, we were not quite ready. We need to take the next 2-3 years and work on leadership complexity and leader multiplying. While we were at the assessment we shared the proposal for Canada. During the phone call, Mac said that the opportunity for Canada would be great for us.

After more praying, we felt a peace about pursuing the option to move to Vancouver to pastor and train. It took a few weeks, but all of those details are working out and a couple of weeks ago Towers Baptist Church voted and called us to become their first church planting resident. These duties include preaching, pastoring, church planting, training and a bunch of other things.

San Francisco is still in our hearts. We are going to figure out in more detail what that means over the next 2 years. God could possibly allow us to develop into great leaders with better skills and more resources to plant a church. He could provide the teams, the money, the partners that we don't currently have. He could call us to stay longer and develop partnerships between the similar cities and train people to go on mission or to help train people to be the ones to plant the church. Although we will be in Canada, our heart is for San Francisco and the West. We plan to be involved in the city that we left our hearts in as much as possible.

We are blessed to be able to live in the house that Jessica grew up in and be near her family. God is good and we are just being obedient to what is He is calling us to do now. Many of you have asked about what happened to San Francisco. I hope this explains it better. We want to honor God by doing this right. We want to do it well.

We ask that all of you pray for us as we pack boxes and get ready to move. We ask that all of you pray as we seek to raise funds to help us move and then serve up North. As I said earlier, this past Sunday I announced to the church and to my students that I was resigning. My last day at Bethany Baptist is August 21. We move August 23.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Wisdom

I noticed that it has almost been a year since I posted a new blog. I am writing today after reading Proverbs 2:1-6. Proverbs is a great book to read everyday. Read a chapter everyday. There are 31 chapters and therefore you could read a chapter for every day of the month.

I met a guy back in late November/early December. His name is Sam Douglass. He is a church planting coach and has coached many people that I am associated with. We happened to be on the same flight from Albany, NY to Chicago and so we sat together and he began to coach me for the next two hours.

One thing I remember him saying on that flight and one thing that I have been doing is praying Luke 2:52. We all know the story of when Jesus was a boy, hanging out in the temple, and being seperated from His parents. As Jesus "stayed behind" it tells us that He increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with people. Sam Douglass told me that I should pray in this way. I should pray that I would increase in wisdom and in favor with God and with people. I have been doing that.

As I read in Proverbs 2 this morning, this conversation that I had with Sam came to my mind. Read what Proverbs 2:1-6 says: "My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, listening closely to wisdom and directing your heart to understanding; furthermore, if you call out to insight and lift your voice to understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it like hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding."

How much is the wisdom of God worth to you? In life decisions do you first seek the wisdom of God? Are we drawing close to Jesus Christ, so that He can live through us?

Too many times us pastors, church planters, church leaders, make hastily decisions. Too many times we do not seek the wisdom of God. We do not fear God. Fearing God, Proverbs says, is the beginning of knowledge.

My challenge to you leaders is to have the wisdom of God. You are leading a church. You are leading a small group. You are making disciples. Therefore you need the wisdom of God and the favor of God and of people. People put their trust in you and you need to be sure that your relationship with God is top priority, so that your relationship with others is beneficial for God's Kingdom. Knowing God intimately is better than doing things for Him tirelessly.

Do you want to be like Jesus? Stay in constant communion with the Father and ask God to help you grow in wisdom and if favor with Him and humanity.