Just a little clip of our students leading the crew in worship to open the new WorldViews series. It was such a genuine moment of quiet, faithful worship to our King!
With all the controversy surrounding the Noah movie, we took a night to talk through the Biblical account of Noah and the ark. Our desire is for our students to think Biblically and critically, so we knew it was important to understand what the Biblical account says. But it’s just as important to learn how to engage people with the Scriptures. At the end of the message, we’ll talk about the two keys to engaging people when talking about the Word.
Now that’s a word that makes us in the Baptist world uncomfortable.
Because we don’t believe in them?
Because we don’t want to come off as mystical?
Because we don’t want to sound…weird?
I’ll take the risk. Because I have a story to tell you about how God made our new journey happen!
As soon as I felt the call to plant a church, I told a couple friends that would end up walking with me throughout the process. In fact, I talked to five different people that week (mostly from different states). Each and every one of them pointed me to the same person: Dean Fulks.
Dean is the Lead Pastor of LifePoint Church and also serves as the City Coordinator for the North American Mission Board’s Send Movement. I connected with Dean and actually got to meet him for lunch in Memphis, where he encouraged me to apply for a church planting residency with a highly reputable organization. When I found out that I wasn’t accepted, I got super discouraged (I came to found out that they receive around 100 applications and are only able to accept 10; this made me feel a lot better). When I talked with Dean, he offered a couple alternatives.
And then I had lunch with Dave McClung. Dave is the Innovative Church Planting Strategist at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (and just a really cool guy). As we were talking about next steps, he told me that he had been working with some brilliant thinkers in the “missional” conversation (Forge) about starting a cohort in the Little Rock area. I jumped in and it has turned my understanding of the mission of God upside down! God truly had a plan in all of it, even if the original idea wasn’t the final one.
I’ve kept a loose connection with the guys I know in Ohio; knowing that I was going to be moving, but not sure of the timing. Remember: at this point, I wasn’t sure how all of this was going to happen.
Until October 2013.
I had been walking through a season of intense prayer and fasting, asking God to clarify His call on our lives. I won’t go into great detail, but there was a lot going on in that season. I was uncertain of God’s timing and financial provision of his call on our lives, and I was generally discouraged. I studied the story of Abraham and Isaac that morning (Gen 22).
When I say that God’s timing is perfect, I mean it’s perfect.
I was reading about a man who trusted the Lord with everything. I was reading about the joy of experiencing a divine solution (the ram caught in the thicket), when I got a phone call.
[If you're still reading this, I have chills as I'm typing.]
I answered the phone. It was Dave McClung.
He asked, “How much do you love me?”
(If you know Dave, you know that I didn’t know how to answer this).
He told me about how he received a phone call that morning from a church in Arkansas that had a heart to support a church planter.
But not just any church planter; a church planter in a send city.
But not just any send city, Columbus, Ohio.
A church in Arkansas that has a heart for a church in Columbus, Ohio! What?!
They asked what next steps were for something like this. I imagine that Dave probably just laughed on the other end of the line, knowing that God was up to something.
We got connected pretty soon after that, and since then, we have agreed to partner in God’s work for a church plant in Columbus, Ohio!
How big is our God?!
As if that wasn’t enough clarification, I got two more phone calls that day. First, I was able to get a side job that would transfer up to Columbus. I have joined the team at Ink Custom Tees and will be selling t-shirts to help cover costs for our family (if you need t-shirts, I’d love to be your guy!).
I also got a phone call from a friend asking me to come speak at his DNow. His church would end up being way more than generous in thanking me for coming!
If it isn’t explicitly clear yet, let me help.
GOD IS ON THE MOVE.
Since then, every single month, I’ve experienced what I would clarify as a miracle (and I really don’t use that term very often). I have seen God move in extraordinary ways! Unfortunately, we’d be here forever if I told you every story! I’m leaving out a story about a partner in Ohio who will potentially be helping us financially in a really big way. I’m leaving out a story about people walking up to us and telling us that they want to be involved financially! I had an experience yesterday with a friend at church that still has my head spinning!
I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you that I have always been a stubborn, selfish individual that pursues nothing but comfort and self-gain. So when I had moments of doubt, God came through big time! It’s almost as if He is saying, “what more can I do to help you realize that I am the One that is making this happen?”
I feel like David. A shepherd on the battlefield, surrounded by experienced warriors. They brought swords and shields. I brought bread and cheese. But when David asked what was holding Israel up, he stepped up!
“The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”
The battle is the Lord’s! We have nothing to fear! If it’s the Lord’s plan and purpose, then He will ensure that it happens. And I certainly won’t stand by like one of the soldiers who lacked faith in their great God!
I want to leave you with something that I’ll be talking about the next couple posts. It’s a gut-check question for me, but it is absolutely transferrable to you.
What happens if we don’t go?
I don’t know what you do with that theologically. Some of you would respond that God will still have His way. Others might respond that there are some who may not hear the Gospel. There are disciples that won’t be made. There are families who will end up in disarray. There are men, women, and children who will stay on the streets.
I don’t know where you land, but my burden is that God has called us into the fight and we are gladly joining!
One last miracle to share: There’s actually a family who will be joining us in Columbus. I’ll be telling you about them soon (to be clear, they don’t live in Arkansas or Ohio). I was on the phone with my friend, and we were talking about the burden that is pressing us forward. He asked me a simple question: “What is the thing that WON’T happen if we don’t go?”
My response: “Captives won’t be set free. They will remain in chains unless someone goes to proclaim freedom to them.”
He paused and said, “That is the exact same wording I used last night with my wife.”
Cue the chills again.
God has been knitting this story together for years. I don’t take it lightly that we are in the days that He is bringing this to pass! I am ultimately humbled and thankful that He would choose to call me into this fight! His miracles have shown me that He’s serious and we aren’t turning back!
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…”
As we recently had another tragedy involving a student death in our community, we decided to stop and talk about what happens when we experience seasons of hopelessness. We trust Jesus in all things and are thankful for His presence, as we walk through tough times!
There are a lot of reasons to plant a church (a lot of them are wrong). First and foremost, God has called us to plant a church and that’s why we are so confident that this move, although incredibly risky, is what God wants us to do!
Now, for the story of how this all got started.
Thursday, June 23, 2011 – Something was bothering me all morning, so I took a walk around our neighborhood to pray and clear my head. I had a burden hovering over my soul, but I couldn’t pin-point what was going on. I was happy with what I was doing in youth ministry. It was a beautiful, summer day. But something wasn’t quite right in my soul. As I was walking, a thought crept into my mind. I actually felt as if God was asking me a question.
“What if I was calling you to plant and lead a church? What if I was equipping you to do something like that? Would you follow me?”
This was so weird. I had actually had talks of planting a church before with a few friends. But I had never (EVER) entertained the thought of leading something like that.
My burden turned into sharp fear. I sat down to write this in my journal (I didn’t have any resolution on this…it was really just a question/prayer).
January 2012 – I was fresh off Christmas break with my family. I came back early to go to Passion with our college students.
Little did I know that God would use those few days to teach me to trust in Him.
While the event was happening, God used 3 separate events to teach me something very personal. First, I met a homeless man who asked me for my socks. Second, God asked me to give to the offering that they were taking up that week. Third, I had the opportunity to take a dream job. These three events provide the background for what God was doing in the foreground (teaching me about faith, trust, boldness, and generosity).
Let’s start with the homeless gentleman. I was sitting in an underground food court early one morning. I had picked up a cup of pure joy from Caribou Coffee, and was sitting down with my Bible, moleskine, and some worship music. My whole goal was to spend some time with God before that day started.
I didn’t realize then that I would REALLY get to spend time with God.
There I was, reading my Bible, drinking expensive coffee, and listening to worship music on my iPhone, when a man tapped me on the shoulder. He asked me if I was staying in a hotel nearby; that maybe I could get some socks for him.
My response is embarrassing and hard to admit.
I told him about Passion and how we were taking up towels and socks, and that he could have a whole bunch if he would just be able to make it to the Georgia Dome (about a 30 minute walk). He glared back at me with a crooked smile that spoke louder than audible words. His squinted eyes said, “that’s what I thought.”
He walked away and I sat there, under the precious weight of the Holy Spirit. “What have I done?” I thought. I felt lower than low. I wouldn’t have been surprised if God Himself would have come down and asked for my badge; revoked my “membership” if you will. But we know that’s not how God works (thankfully).
I spent about 3-5 minutes wondering what I should do. I resolved to try to find him. So I grabbed my stuff, jumped up, and went looking for him. It wasn’t long before I found him on the ground level on Peachtree Street. I caught up to him and apologized profusely. I told him that I didn’t know what had gotten into me, but that I would love to give him my socks.
I put my shoes (and socks) back on and went walking toward the Georgia Dome, crying the whole way. I couldn’t help but think of how good God has been to me, and how He has called me into ministry; yet I had a hard time finding it in my heart to give this gentleman the socks off my feet.
I begged God to forgive me and to change my heart. This was one of the steps that led to God calling me to plant a church.
Which leads me to an offering that I didn’t want to give to (are you seeing a theme develop yet?). Passion was taking up an offering to help in the war against human trafficking. I knew that our family couldn’t afford much. We are a one-income family with kids, who are trying to pay off debt. It doesn’t “make sense” to give.
And then I felt like God asked me to give $20. I need to make something extremely clear. I could afford to give $20. Most of the time, my “financial stewardship” was just covering up an intense selfishness. I would have just taken that $20 to Starbucks or something.
So I got in line to give. I saw the signs talking about all the things that could be done for a certain amount. I saw that there was a specific part of the project that would get done for $25, so I that’s what I gave. I walked away with a weight lifted off my shoulders, as if God had just broken a chain of selfishness in me.
Afterward, there was a photobooth for those that gave. I chose the sign that said, “I gave to freedom.” I sure did. I felt like my DNA was starting to change, that God was shaping me into a new creation who was being formed into the image of His Son. One who was ultimately generous.
And then there’s the dream job. By the end of the event, God had moved greatly in my heart. I could have gone home an entire day before the event ended. I was so refreshed.
The last night of Passion 2012, I got a phone call from a friend. This friend had asked me to come to be a part of his youth ministry team. Without going into too much detail, I’ll say that this would have been a pretty awesome place to serve. First of all, I really like this guy. Not to mention, I agreed with the direction of the church and loved the staff. But I didn’t feel God leading me to go.
We had talked before and I told him that I didn’t feel like I should make the move. I felt like God was up to something and I didn’t think that I could do it.
So, my friend calls. I pick up. And he proceeds to tell me that I am the only person that he wants. All of the other candidates didn’t work out and the search has come down to me. And then he says three words that would make my heart skip a beat.
“Name your price.”
Do what?! Pardon me? “Name your price,” he said. I was stunned. On one hand, I felt wanted and that was really cool. On the other hand, my selfishness started to kick in. And quickly, my mind went to all those times that I had told him that I sensed that God was calling me to something different. And I knew in my heart that I had to say no. It wasn’t easy, but I told him, “no.”
How silly of me to think that I was just coming to a 4-day event with a few college students, right?
The next morning, we went to the final service where Louie would announce that we raised something crazy like $3.1 million! I felt like I was a part of that and my heart was overjoyed! That felt good!
Something happened during Louie’s message, though. I was tired, ready to go home, but something was stirring inside of me. He taught out of Ephesians 6 that morning. Paul’s words about boldly proclaiming the mystery of the gospel were doing something to my soul! Louie began to talk about how we shouldn’t be merely planning to boldly proclaim the Name of Jesus later, but to go ahead and proclaim His Name wherever we are!
And there, in the middle of that message, God clearly called me to plant a church! In the same moment, I sensed that He was saying, “You can plant a church wherever you want, but it sure seems like Ohio is your Jerusalem.”
I was actually born in Ohio.
We spent two years in Columbus right out of college.
My wife was born and raised in Ohio.
She didn’t leave until she went to college, where she met me.
I heard God clearly. He called us to plant a church! I got out my phone and texted Christi and told her what had just happened. It was hard to see what I was typing, as I was still crying. I’m sure the students next to me were wondering what was going on. It was kind of an ugly cry. Snot and all.
And that’s the genesis of all of this. It might be hard to believe, but this is the really short version of the story!
I know there will be tough times ahead, but I will always remember what God did in those days! In times when it seems hard to trust Him, I’ll remember the call. When we have the opportunity to structure our church in such a way that the homeless are forgotten, I’ll remember the gentleman that asked for my socks.
We’re moving forward with the confidence that He has called us!
Here’s a snapshot of what’s going on in our student ministry this month!
Chapter four of the Book of Jonah is possibly the most awkward chapter in the entire Bible. We see Jonah’s true heart motivation and we also see God re-orient Jonah to what’s really important. Although the book ends awkwardly with an unanswered question, the lesson is clear to Christ-followers: the Gospel is for all people.
I can’t tell you how good it feels to be able to say that out loud. You see, there’s some history behind that announcement. I didn’t have that revelation last night.
God called me to plant a church in January of 2012.
So, what took so long? That’s the story I hope to unpack for the next several weeks. We have been on a long road that God has used to shape our family. The truth is that this decision has been years in the making. Looking back, we can see that God has been in the middle of every transition in our life, directing us toward this place of surrender. While we are sad to leave the wonderful people of Indian Springs, we couldn’t be more excited to pursue the call that God has placed on our life!
So why are we so certain of this call to plant a church?
1. We know that God called us. Although He didn’t speak in an audible voice, it was as clear as any voice I’ve heard before. The peace and excitement that flooded my heart in that moment were as undeniable as the call. I have no doubt that God has led us to this very moment for this very purpose!
2. We know that God is with us. Throughout the Bible, we see stories of God asking common, uneducated men (couldn’t be more accurate in this case) to “go.” He sent people to establish nations, to go to war, to preach to a nation, to walk around cities for 7 days, and to go to the Gentiles to preach the grace of God. In every situation, there was a level of discomfort involved. In Abraham’s case, for example, he didn’t know exactly where they would end up, but God asked Him to start moving before they knew every step. We feel that tension. But we know that God is with us. When God commissioned Joshua to take over for Moses, God made it clear that Joshua was to be strong and courageous, for the LORD was with him! If God is for us, who can be against us!
3. We know that God has equipped us and will continue to do so. When God calls you to do something, he promises to send you with His presence and His power. This is why we’re so confident in what He’s called us to do; because He isn’t going to leave us to our own devices. We believe that every good thing that happens as a result of this church will be due to our roots in our Heavenly Father! This is His work, not ours.
Having gone to college at Liberty University, I heard Jerry Falwell repeatedly ask the student body the following question:
“What would you do for God if you knew you wouldn’t fail?”
We know that God is sending us! Please don’t mistake my confidence in God for personal arrogance. I know that this task is impossible without God. It’s a darn good thing that nothing is impossible WITH God! He has already confirmed His call in us in many ways. Maybe the most exciting thing is that we’ve been able to share the vision of this church with a few people, and the response has been overwhelming! We already have people who want to partner with us to make the vision a reality! God is good!
So, we’re planting a church in Columbus, Ohio! Lord willing, we ship out this fall. We definitely hope you’ll pray for us as we are risking everything to follow God in this. We are confident that He will bring this work to fruition, and we know that He has not left us without a strong family of believers to have our backs!
Here we go!
I am so proud of my wife for teaching this week! She did a great job covering the third chapter of Jonah. I also feel like I should mention that I chose the sermon title, not her (we’re using popular songs to describe each week, and she probably would have picked something less Johnny Cash). At any rate, she did a great job!
In chapter three, we get to see Jonah obey God’s call to go to Ninevah. The people repent and God relents. What can we learn from this portion of the story? Maybe the most important theme is of repentance of the missionary before the repentance of the people that God wants to save. Jonah needed a work done in his heart before God would do a work through his mission. There’s also a very interesting correlation between God’s call to Jonah in Joppa and God’s call to Peter in Joppa.
In the second chapter of the Book of Jonah, we get to see Jonah’s prayer of repentance. We get to see the four elements of his prayer, but also that every single sentence of the prayer was actually a quote from the Psalms. We see themes of God’s forgiveness, repentance of the believer, and how important it is to hide God’s Word in your heart!