Monday, April 28, 2008

Jesus' Love Almost Killed Me

I haven't been able to write for several days because I've been without a connection to the world-wide web.

The GO conference at Spanish River Church in Boca Raton, FL has been wonderful. I've met so many amazing men and women who are serving Christ in countries around the globe. These are pastors who are indigenous to Haiti, Chili, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, and Chad. To hear of their work and God's faithfulness has been very encouraging.

Yesterday after worship we had several hours of free time. Eric and I headed over to Deerfield Beach. The water was warm and clear. I jumped right in and began to wade out into waters deep enough for me to swim.

As the waves crashed into me and the water swooshed around me I was reminded of a great old hymn where the songwriter explains the deep deep love of God by using the ocean as his metaphor. He says, "O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast unmeasured boundless free; rolling like a mighty ocean, in its fullness over me; underneath me, all around me..." For several minutes I contemplated the wonderful vastness of the waters as I reflected on God's love in Christ Jesus.

After a few minutes of being buoyed up and down by the waves, though, I noticed that I was drifting away from the beach. I soon realized that I was caught in a mild rip tide. I thought to myself, "I don't need to panic. I just need to swim parallel to the coast until I get out of this thing." Even though I knew that, I still panicked and tried desperately to make it back to the beach. I felt all alone. Suddenly all of the surfers who had been right in the area weren't around. My body tired very quickly. I began to float and tried swimming in again. This time I started to make some headway as I had drifted along the coast some 45 feet or so. Soon I was standing on solid ground again. I was so relieved. For two minutes or so I was convinced that I might have been about to die. That was not a good feeling. It was strange how quickly I went from, "O the deep, deep love of Jesus," to, "This water is going to kill me."

Last night I was awakened by a piercing pain in my chest and shoulder. It felt as though I was having a heart attack onset. I quickly turned on my computer and typed in, "heart attack symptoms." There I found some symptoms that match what I was feeling. At the end of the list I read this symptom: sense of impending doom. Well if I wasn't feeling it to that point I certainly was after reading that line.

At 2:00 a.m. I didn't exactly want to wake up our host family and let them know that I was dying, for the second time that day, no less. So I decided to wake up Eric and ask him about my symptoms. Thankfully he described an injury to the shoulder that he has had three times that I likely incurred when I was trying so deperately to swim to safety. That put my mind to ease and I was able to turn over and sleep once again.

I was glad to wake up this morning. I'll be back with Angie and the children tomorrow and can't wait for that reunion.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

It's the Weekend

Yesterday was the memorial service for David Turner. Eric ministered to his family in a marvelous way. He led the service with tremendous care for Donna, Dave's wife, and other family. He also led the service out of an obvious love for Jesus and a gladness of heart that he was able to see Dave come to faith before his death last week. Dave was a police officer with Metro Las Vegas. There must have been at least 100 uniformed officers there to honor their fallen friend and co-worker. The presenting of the colors, the honors, was quite a moment. All tolled I guess that there were around 220 people who came to show their respect and love.

There was quite a poignant moment at the end of the service. We all went outside with a balloon for a group release. After several moments of watching the massive display of colors float to the north I looked down to see Dave's youngest son still holding his balloon. I hurt deeply for both of his children.

I was encouraged by the number of CWR folks who volunteered to help in Dave's service. People came to help seat guests, pass out balloons, and to provide child care. No children needed care, but it was pretty awesome to see that a faithful worker, Kellie, was there should the need have arisen. It's such a blast to see others serving Christ Jesus. Dave's family was so thankful for their help too.

Today we will receive our second set of members at City-Wide Redeemer. We also begin our discipleship equipping course this afternoon. It is called Equipping the Church (ETC). We're not very original, we just take stuff out of the Bible.

I'm looking forward to worshiping together with the CWR family today. I missed them last week.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Back in Town

Last night we arrived back into Phoenix en route to be in Las Vegas by tonight in time to host our weekly community group. At 8:30 last evening we were waiting outside a fast food restaurant while my mother brought our youngest two children to meet us so that we could take them back to Angie's parents' place where our oldest stayed during our trip. Sorry for the long sentence.

Seeing all three of our children again was such a delight. I was most touched by the moment that I had with our youngest boy. He jumped into my arms and I held him. After about five seconds I could feel his little arms patting my back and squeezing with all his four year-old might only to return to little patting and the sweet noises of comfort that escaped from his lungs. That was dear to me.

I'll be able to catch up with Eric tomorrow afternoon. I'm looking forward to that time together. I heard that he preached a great sermon this weekend. I hate that I missed it. I further hate that I forgot to leave the digital recorder with him so that I could hear it and would be able to post it on our web site. That's twice that I've done that now. To those of you who are out of town and would have liked to hear it: I'm sorry that you'll miss it too.

We had a few first time guests last Sunday for worship and a few more at our women's study this morning. Seeing God grow his church and minister to hurting people is almost surreal at times. We don't know what we are doing, but He just keeps on leading the way. Two of the most significant ministries and opportunities for service that God has oppened up this month through the people of City-Wide Redeemer were not on our "one year plan."

I'm beginning to think that church planting assessment should be made up of two questions for potential church planters. 1: Do you believe that God is building His church? 2: Are you willing to get your grubby little hands off of his work and just go where it looks like He's going? It is turning out that our experience of seeing this church plant grow and flourish has more to do with faith and staying out of the way than skill and well made plans. I guess that being an idiot for Christ isn't so bad after all!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Clear Water and White Sand

Angie and I are in Florida this weekend for a long time friend's wedding. I've been praying with this guy for eight years while he has waited for this day. They are getting married on the beach here in Destin, FL. It's going to be pretty special. The sound of waves is an amazing backdrop to the moments we'll witness tomorrow during their wedding ceremony. Her dad is marrying them--that's pretty special too.

Before the rehearsal several of us got a game of ultimate Frisbee going. Playing that on the sand almost killed me. Thankfully I was on Erik's team so we won. You know, they let the bachelor win everything. Tonight we took him out for a few hours. We found a lit golf course so we were able to play nine holes. I did pretty well when you consider the fact that I can still tell people I played this round in the dark.

The highlight of the day was seeing a dolphin in migration about 90 feet from the water's edge in the gulf. They are such wonderful creatures. Seeing one in the wild was a first for Angie and me. We'll be looking out for more pods of dolphins tomorrow.

I will miss being with our friends at City-Wide Redeemer tomorrow. Eric Phillips is at the helm leading worship and will also be preaching. But what's new? He is always at the helm, even when he doesn't know it. What a great partner!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Field Trip

This morning I was reflecting on the Father of the prodigal in Luke. I'm so thankful for God's provision in Christ to know us in our mess and make us his adopted sons and daughters. Nothing motivates me towards obedience and service like being reminded of that.

Tuesday morning Eric and I left for Phoenix. We were coming to meet a man I'll call Luke. Eric met Luke at a New Year's party and soon after had lunch with him. Eric learned that he was about to be hospitalized as a part of his newly discovered battle against leukemia. During one hospital visit Eric was able to explain the love of God in Christ Jesus--the assurance that we as prodigals have through faith in his death and resurrection to be forgiven by the holy and just God of the universe. Eric watched through tears as his new friend embraced Christ in faith and began life in the newness of forgiveness and peace with his Maker.

6 weeks ago Luke was moved to Phoenix with wife and two beautiful children to undergo a bone marrow transplant. Everything went well early on in his recovery, with some recent bumps along the way. When Eric got up yesterday morning early he found that Luke's wife had sent word via email that Luke died at 2:00 a.m. that morning. Suddenly our visit to see a recovering friend turned into an opportunity to care for a dear woman who just became a widow. The whole day was terribly sad. Eric will be speaking at Luke's memorial service next week.

Yesterday we shot down from Phoenix to Tuscon in order to spend a few hours with the pastoral staff of a church there who supports our work here in part. The whole time with them was incredibly encouraging for us.

Last evening we shared the progress of our work in Las Vegas with another supporting church in a west Phoenix suburb, Buckeye. That time with old friends was good, very good.

From there Eric hooked himself up to an intravenous supply of Mountain Dew and headed back for Vegas. He will be preaching this weekend while Angie and I participate in a wedding in Florida.

Our flight out this morning was one of those 2600 American Airlines flights that got nixed. Now we get to fly out of Phoenix an hour or so before midnight on the red eye. Even though we will arrive with our eyelids hanging down to our trousers the time together will be very refreshing. I love this kind of time with my bride. I hope that my parents still love this kind of time with their grandkids after four days of focused time together! Thanks mom and dad.

Today I also was able to see my father-in-law, George, for the first time since his hospital stay after the motorcycle accident in December. It is so good to see him walking--with pain and much effort--but walking. He is incredibly dear to me and I'm very thankful that he will be able to do many of the things he loves in years to come.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Sunday Afternoon

We had a great picnic today. I learned two important things.

Lesson one: Some neighbors gave us a generous deal on their inflatable jumper. The initial set-up went well. There was a problem, though. The neighbor's house I planned on plugging into was empty. I had sent an email two days prior requesting that we be allowed to have a little of their electricity, but hadn't heard back. So, after a few minutes of being plugged in there and not feeling very settled about the situation I elected to get a couple more extension cords and plug into another neighbor's home on the other side of the park.

By this time the jumper has been running for around 8 minutes. Since we were near to our house I walked home and grabbed 150' of extension cord and another 100' from my neighbor. I called Eric on the phone and asked him to go unplug the cord and bring it around to the other side where I would meet him. No, I actually said, "Eric, why don't you ask the kids to get out and go bring the plug around." He informed me that getting them out might not be the easiest of tasks and just asked them to stop jumping. This sounded reasonable. This is where we went wrong. When the plug came out, the air inflated castle immediately collapsed and several little children were suddently unaccounted for. I suspect that several bad dreams may come out of this one. Lesson learned: Get the kids out of the jumper before pulling the plug.

Lesson two: John cooked for us today. His burgers and chicken were amazing. He cooked boneless thighs that he had been bathing in a teriyaki marinade. He also dropped some spicy mango and mesquite breasts on us. No kidding--it was the best chicken that I have ever eaten. I'm telling you they were perfect. I heard one of our guests ask him to cater a BBQ at their home later in the summer. I'll have to try and wiggle my way in as his assistant or something so that I can eat whatever he puts together for them. Lesson learned: Always beg John to cook.

Outside of learning these important lessons, we had a great time. There were five families who joined us for the picnic who have not yet joined us for a service of worship. That was cool. I really enjoy watching the people of City-Wide Redeemer reach out to newcomers and engage them in such an appropriate and loving way. You can't teach that. It comes from a disposition of the heart. I'm thankful to see it.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Sabbath Picnic

Tomorrow after worship the people of City-Wide Redeemer will join us at our neighborhood park for our first annual Spring Picnic. I can't wait. John Cherne will be in charge of the grill. This is going to be a treat for sure. Any time your cook says that he needs the meats 36 hours in advance you know he must have something good in mind. We had his spaghetti in December and it was three servings-kind-of-good. He told me that tomorrow we will find out he has more than noodles and sauce up his culinary sleeves.

One of our neighbors has given us a good rate to use their castle jumper. That is sure to be a huge hit with the kids. I'm sad, though, that I won't be able to get any footage of my man Andy Stremmel (Andy, you knew your name would show up eventually.) in the castle. Actually I'd rather get a picture of him having his face painted like Spider Man. For those of you who don't know Andy, he is one of the lead servants in our growing church family. If something needs to be done he is right there to jump in. City-Wide Redeemer is greatly blessed because he's not the only one with such a servant's heart. I could name a dozen other folks who fall into that category. I'm thankful to be serving with all of them.

I've been very sick today. I don't know what I've got, if anything. It could be an allergic reaction to something in the air outside. All I know is that it hurts to swallow, my head is achy, and my body energy levels are at about 50%. It has made it difficult for me to mentally focus for tomorrow's worship. I'm thankful for the Holy Spirit. God's word will go out and will have its intended effect. I'm glad that's not my job. That is a great relief.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Grace Point

Eric and I were able to have lunch with Devin Hudson today. He is the pastor of a rapidly growing congregation known to the citizens of North Las Vegas as Grace Point. Grace is the Point. Devin arrived in Vegas sometime in early 2005 and Grace Point began to meet for worship early in 2006. Over 800 people make up the worshiping Grace Point family each weekend. Hearing their story was a great encouragement to us. Not because we expect that we now know the formula to reaching 800 people by the 2.2 year mark. But because we were able to hear how God has been faithful to Devin and his family. We were able to hear how God is carrying forward His mission to North Las Vegas through this church planting effort. We were able to have our confidence in God bolstered all the more.

Our stories are actually more similar that I would have guessed. Our philosophies of ministry are more similar than I would have guessed. We've both been deeply influenced by some of the same people. With all that said, I am more convinced of my need to be who I am, for City-Wide Redeemer to be who we are because God has a part of his mission that he is going to fulfill in us that looks much different from what he is doing at Grace Point. Both works are his. Both are beautiful. Both are different. That's cool!

It was also good to connect with someone else who knows what we face on a daily basis as church planters. We continue to enjoy rich fellowship with Tim Posey, pastor of Spring Meadows Church in south Las Vegas. Tim is a great resource, mentor, and friend. Now we count it another rich goodness to have friendship with Devin. I'm sure we'll spend more time together since we are both committed to staying right where God has called us for a very long time, Lord willing.

Me and Angie

Me and Angie
December 2010