Foundation Builder Inc

foundation

 

Do you remember coloring as a child? Or just doing different kinds of art like painting or color-by-number? I was always better at color-by-number paintings, not so much start-from-scratch paintings. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I took so well to service repair work.

Do you know the difference between an architect designer and a service repairman? Coloring in the lines. That’s the difference. Repairmen are very good at repairing items that already have been designed and diagramed. Designers, well they dream. Designers like to draw the lines of the diagram. It seems that I took to repair work pretty easy. Ministry can be similar. In ministry, there are those folks that are called to maintain ministries and those that build foundations for ministry. The two can blend at times, but mostly, they are two different things.

I had never thought of myself as a foundation builder. For me, it was much less stressful to go with the flow. I remember the very first time God presented the idea to me of being a foundation builder.

Roger, yep it was him. Do you know Roger? Most likely, you do not. He lives in the northeast. He’s a mover and a shaker. He was in South Carolina when we first spoke. Ive never met Roger in person. He’s a friend of a friend that became my friend. You can tell within a few minutes of meeting him that he loves God, loves people, and loves church planting.

As we spoke about my family possibly leaving the southeastern U.S., he got excited. It made me excited. But to my annoyance, he wasn’t thrilled with the idea of me pastoring. He said, if you are coming, you’ve got to plant. He said, “Why would anyone want to build on another’s foundation?” He said, “Yea that’s what I want to do, build a new foundation.” I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.

In Romans 15: 18-21, Paul writes, “For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of sign and wonders, by the power of the spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.”

That was the verses he referenced. I told him, “Nope, I’ve never heard that verse before. I have never even considered wanting to do that.”

This led to a short season of self-examination; followed by some illumination from heaven. All those years of “wanting to become a pastor;” claiming to be called to pastor; had produced very little impact for the kingdom of God in the world around me.

I had never served as a vocational pastor, never been called by a committee, and had done “CERO” kingdom work at the positon of lead pastor. Oh yea, that’s a resume filler. From 2002 to 2018, ZERO kingdom impact as a lead pastor, yet, I KNOW GOD IS CALLING ME TO BE A PASTOR. Ha, what a joke.

So that was the beginning of the end for me. Church in the wild; the idea scared me to death. Doesn’t God’s callings do that to us, though? I mean, they don’t have to always scare us. It’s not one of those litmus tests, “does this scare me?” “Oh, then God is calling me here.”

But in the end, it was what it was….scary: A foundation builder.

At this point, you may be asking, what in the world are you saying? What is a foundation builder? That is a good question, and I’m glad you asked. Mostly for our purposes here, I mean a church planter, but that’s not the complete picture. Im “Mostly” talking of doing ministry that puts you directly in contact with unbelievers and new believers, I think. Building a ministry, especially a church, from scratch where there is no protocol, no tradition to buck, yet no rails to run on either.

Much of the pastoring ministry in the south is caring for the elderly; pastoring the seasoned flock; and mentoring/loving your fellow pastors. All GREAT things. All NEEDED things. That’s not the work I’m talking about. A foundation builder is not an upkeep property manager. A foundation builder is a civil engineer/ surveyor tromping through the brush and fighting the snakes, surveying the land. It’s a bulldozer driver, clearing the land. It’s even the construction contractor, building something out of nothing on the very plot where hopefully there will be an upkeep property manager one day.

Foundation building involves things like the Christian teacher completely emerged, neck deep, in the public school system; fighting back the secular darkness, working tirelessly for one conversation with a child or teacher that will have kingdom impact. It’s the service worker that gets to have more gospel conversations on a daily basis with people than most southern pastors have in a month. It’s the Christian going to the state prison to do Kairos or to county jails, building a brand new foundation for some “hoodlum” that will become a child of God. Its nursing home ministry, and moms ministry, School ministry and the down-casted “liquor bar” ministry. The list goes on and on. There is no limit to what this looks like.

So at this point, Im afraid I might give the idea that Im against being a Southern pastor. No. PLEASE don’t hear me even hinting at that. It’s a needed, wonderful position, which I have been completely and eternally impacted by. It’s what I thought I wanted to be. To my aggravation at first, but now my delight, it turns out, that’s not exactly what God had for our family. There was a decade long journey God took us on to get to this point.

Here’s where it gets good though.

God used that time to change me. He had called me to preach, in 2005, at an associational meeting in Tipton County MS, yet I was wrong that it meant to pastor in “the bible belt.” Easy sounded good to me. A nice, comfy position in a church that pays all my bills, has a nice house for my family to live in, loves the fact that I can differ the pitch or level of my voice to cue emotions during a sermon, and only really involves ministry where I’m most comfortable; I.E. shaking hands Sunday after church, receiving compliments after the sermon, and talking about fishing and baseball as they leave. This is NOT all of what pastoring is, but is mostly likely what I was craving.

It’s funny how things work out. The old hillbilly phrase is, “God sure works in mysterious ways.”

So at this moment, I sit in a hotel in Las Vegas, preparing for the scariest thing I can possibly fathom. Calling sinners that love their sin to repentance. God has “SHOVED” me through this door. I went kicking, screaming, and clawing.

But God is great, and gracious to provide our every need. This we are sure. Now I can’t imagine turning back. We so look forward to the next decade of God’s plans unfolding, doing kingdom work, however it looks, smells, taste, and feels. For that is the goal now, follow our Lord where he leads and try to make a kingdom impact for His glory!

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Mmmm. That sounds good. I’ll have that

dumb and dumber 2

 

The word of the day is faith. That’s a good word, right? People like to talk about faith. They love to sing about faith. They definitely like to believe in faith. I’m talking about Christians right? Actually, not necessarily. Just people. People, in general, love faith. Maybe not biblical faith, but faith. I can think of a great country music singer that’s named Faith. I can think of about a half dozen churches that have it in the name. I can think of even more songs, secular and Christian, that have the word faith in the lyrics. What does it mean though? Have you ever sat and thought about what that word actually means?

It goes without saying that the title of this blog post comes from the cult classic, Dumb and Dumber. In the famous scene, Lloyd Christmas asks a waitress, “What’s the soup de jour?” She says, “That’s the soup of the day.” Lloyd stupidly says, “Mmmm… that’s sounds good, I’ll have that.” She rolls her eyes and leaves.

Did you see what just happened there? Lloyd Christmas, a total imbecile, ordered a soup without having a clue what soup it was. Because it “sounded” good. Im pretty sure that’s the way I operated for the longest time, and still do sometimes now. Dumbly throwing that word faith around, without a clue what it means and what it costs. Sadly, it took taking a leap of faith to find out what kind of faith we had. In 2010, Lauren and I took a blind leap of faith and moved to seminary, broke and drowning in debt, yet hopeful that God would provide our every need and want.

It is true we made it through a short stint there, and it is also true that we never went too hungry. It is not true that we were operating on faith.  Faith is assurance based on knowledge. Faith is not operating blindly, with your hands tied behind your back, daring God to take care of you. Well, mostly.

After we moved back from seminary, scarred, tired, and emotionally sick, it took years to figure out what happened. We had acted foolishly because of a fictitious and hypersuperspiritual calling to go to seminary and naval chaplaincy, and it almost tore us apart. Maybe that was God’s plan all along. (I tell people to this day that God graciously drug us through the mud the last 10 years to build us up.)

God did restore us though. Upon returning home, He brought us to Air and Heat Services, the Lott family, then Oxford, then Grace Bible Church. He used places like Grace Bible Church to renew our souls and to restore our faith in him.

Wait, isn’t this blog supposed to be about church planting? Well, that brings me to the next phase of faith. Sound faith built on knowledge. If you skim Hebrews 11, then go to each of those stories of faith in their respective texts, you will find men and women that were not blindly navigating a dark room with a blindfold on. No they were assured of God’s leading, by the very words of God (the prophets or scripture mostly), and for many actually seeing God act in the past. Specifically, I think of Abraham as he walked up the mountain to sacrifice Isaac. The thought alone must have rocked him, but he went upward. This wasn’t Abraham’s first instance of faith, was it? No, Abraham had seen the impossible happen. Against incredible odds, God had provided him an heir with a mighty promise. Now, Abraham didn’t know how God would handle it, but he knew God would provide a correct sacrifice.

As we first began looking in to GOING somewhere, old scars began hurting again. We had to do a lot of deep soul searching, trying to see if we believed God enough to act on faith. I remember even telling friends that I wasn’t doing anything until I saw God pay off our bills and provide checks to go. I had one particularly stubborn friend tell me, “That’s not how this works.” He said “man makes his plans but God ordains his steps.” As it turns out, we were both right. It felt like God shoved us through a door we were hesitant to enter. Yet, as we made plans, God ordained the way. Our faith is at an “all time high” right now. Of course it would be, on the verge of moving to a foreign place to do an impossible task. But unlike last time, it’s built on a firm foundation of understanding our biblical calling to go, and seeing God continue to work.

Some of you may remember our trip to North Nevada/Utah back in September 2016. That trip cost about $2500.00. Did you know that we didn’t pay a dime? Actually, we hardly fund-raised and we definitely didn’t have a vision that people could trust. We simply mailed about 50 letters out and prayed God would provide a way to go. The last $500.00 came in the day before we left. On top of that, we had a big scare at the SLC airport. As we entered the car rental area, we learned that you need a credit card to rent a car. Guess what, we do not have one. As we fretted over what to do, stuck in the Salt Lake City airport, the lady said try National. They gladly rented a car to us. It was a blessing and a faith builder.

I’ve never had an instance where we had a bill due and received a check in the mail for the exact amount. Some people have, but we have not. We have almost lost cars and insurance because no check showed; nor did we expect it to. But…. We have seen God faithfully provide for every step of the way, always having food and shelter. It has been no different with church planting. We have worked very hard to get the word out, but God has equally worked to provide faithful prayer and giving partners.

I no longer fret over how this thing is going to turn out. I mean, I fret over the hard work and not getting my tasks done, over our assessment, and a lot of other silly things that are probably ridiculous to do so; but God has provided, and we have faith, built on knowledge, that he will continue to provide our every need. In Oxford, In Las Vegas, and where ever the road may take us.

Church Planting, Betty Crocker Style

What will it look like to plant a church from scratch? I get that question a lot. My initial, comedic answer is, “I don’t know, do you?” People quietly laugh at that, and obviously, it’s not my final answer. I wanted to take a moment to walk through some of the details of actually starting a church from scratch. Have you ever thought about what it would look like to move in to a new community, but there is no church? It’s hard for most of us to imagine, yet that’s sort of what we are up against.

I don’t want to be guilty of giving false information though. For better and worse, there are churches in Las Vegas; just not that many. There are even fewer healthy ones. For many Christians, that’s a scary thought. Moving to a place with very few churches and Christians.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about it. He asked, “just how many churches are there where you are going?” I said, “in the neighborhood in which we are looking, none”. He said, “so you may be the only Christians in your neighborhood?” I said, “possibly, isn’t that exciting?” He said “NO.” Ha. I understand what he meant though.

I guess it is just “slightly” a daunting task to move into a new neighborhood, not knowing anyone, not even knowing if there are Christians there, and begin a church. If I’m honest, I will have to admit that it didn’t seem too attractive to me at first. Ive wrote several blogs highlighting that process. Here’s the crazy part, I cannot wait now.

That is a God-given miracle, for sure. But it has happened. So how does one go about this task? As I have wrote before, some of my answer is, I don’t know for sure. I mean, there’s so many moving parts to this thing, there’s bound to be some learning on the fly. But that doesn’t mean we are going in dumb to the subject.

Our vision to plant starts with the homes around us. Here’s the irony, the southeastern United States used to know how to do this work. It starts with a front porch and a front door. Several days after we moved in to our current house, there was a knock at the door. The dear, sweet lady next door brought a huge welcome package to us. It was so thoughtful and really made us feel welcomed. The South has been doing that for generations. Guess what our first efforts will be: Meeting neighbors, showing love, and hopefully, sharing God’s love.

We may be the new ones on the block, but we will be knocking on our neighbors’ doors, sharing a “welcome to the neighborhood” gift, and simply inviting them in to our home for food, fellowship, and bible study. How much simpler can you get? From there, we will be moving in to surrounding neighborhoods, local institutions, and every door that the Lord opens for us. There are lots of technical details to work out, websites, IRS status, and bi-laws, but at the end of the day, that’s not what makes a church. Its people. God-created, God-redeemed people.

Our hope and prayer, is that all this work would produce bible studies in our home. My intent is not to plant a house church, but that is how we will start. It would be an incredible waste of funds to rent worship space without church attendees. This opening strategy doesn’t come without risk, though. It’s always a little intimidating to have strangers in your home, but we feel that this is what we are called to do. Matthew and I both hope to have bible studies up and running before the end of the year. From the main small group time in our home, hopefully God will provide a meeting place for us to move to in a timely manner. Any timing and provision will have to come from the Lord. Either way, we will be working to be faithful to Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18 to make disciples.  Hopefully, that gives you a small glimpse in to what life will look life for us.

Last Sunday, in the 2nd and 3rd grade Sunday school class, we talked about missionaries and about Phillip in the book of Acts. I told the kids that when I was a child, there was one word in my mind that described a missionary. That word is superhero. As God has seen fit to call my family in to such work, the word in my mind is no longer superhero. That word is now three words, scared but hopeful. Please continue to pray for us as the Lord sees fit to continue to give us a heart for the lost and leads us in to dark places!

No Fear: Remember that T-Shirt?

We are called, in this life, to think, for the glory of God. God has given us the capacity to reason and process life, reality, and knowledge. In the gospel, we are commanded to believe in the “who” of Jesus. Imagine the irony; of all the capacities we have as humans; by thinking through things, we are called to know God (by his written word). We process the very essence of who God is, what he has done in history to reconcile us to himself, and how we are to belong and get along with each other.

But, for the moment, let’s take a step back from all that rhetoric. How does it feel? Today’s culture gets a bad rap for being too caught up in feelings. Media cannot always relay enough information as well as a book or newspaper, but it can relay feelings. As we are in a media world, so goes a “feelings” world.

So where is this thing headed? What’s my point? Church planting. Didn’t see that one coming did you? There are a million working parts to God’s calling on a life to church plant. For us, the call to church plant was not a 24 hour process. It was more like a 24 month process. I did not feel this call from day one. There have been many emotions that developed along the way. Now I have to admit that I have a personal hang-up with emotions. I do not trust them. But, to not trust them should not mean that they are totally ignored.

I have to admit, that at first, God seemed to be dragging me in to this journey by my feet. I did not want to walk this road. There were many reasons for this, I suppose; some of which included a self-image problem and a fear of the unknown. I did not see myself as a church planter. In my mind, church planters were hipster-looking dudes that had glowing (celebrity) personalities, and lots of resources to boot. Anyone ever met me? That’s not here!

It scared me to death to go somewhere having to rely on others to meet our needs. I have worked full-time at a steady job for a long time now. It feels comforting to be able to provide for your family. God began to sort those things out, though. He got my attention along the journey, instilling faith with every step.

So how does it feel now? I wish I could tell you that God has brought me to a place of fearlessness. In Philippians 4, Paul brings up such peace that passes understanding. He has made that peace known to me. Honestly, it’s what has kept me going this far in life. But church planting in Las Vegas is different, right?

This town has a reputation. You know you aren’t in Mississippi anymore when you get off the plane. Driving around town reveals the magnitude of this city. It’s not the largest city in America, but there’s quite a few folks here. It can be overwhelming. It makes me wonder if this is how Paul felt as he entered in to a new town. We think of missionaries as fearless, bold super heroes, but honestly I do not feel that way. Inside, I feel like a scared little boy. It feels much like on those nights as a child when I would have to go out in the dark to feed my dog; trembling in fear.

I never did get over fear, mostly just learned to push it deeper down inside. There is hope though. My anchor for this mission, planting a church in Las Vegas NV, is the thought of how big God is. These casinos reach in to the sky, some really high. But as I stood today on the side of a mountain surveying the city, God showed me how much bigger his creation is than ours. His mountains surround our buildings, literally. He alone is “the Most High God.” That fact gives me all the courage I need to press on.

The Call To Vegas

(from November Newsletter)

I’ve often been asked, why Vegas. There was no secret formula, and we certainly did not close our eyes and pick a spot on the map. It started in Oxford, around 3 years ago, as I was interviewing with a local church for their pastor position. During that time, Lauren and I began to understand that God’s plans for us were leading away from the Southeastern United States (a.k.a. the bible belt). Church planting was definitely not on my mind as near as 4 years ago. That was the case until I met a man named Roger. Many of you will probably never meet Roger, but he is a man of passion and a man bound and determined to see more churches begin in the darkest corners of the U.S. He got my wheels spinning. I had never seen myself as a church planter, nor did I want anything to do with the world that had come to be known as church planting.

In the meantime, we began sending out resumes to churches throughout the country, via the Southern Baptist Convention website and its job listings. I started interviewing with a church in northern Nevada. Pastoring that church did not work out, but as we researched that area, I (not Lauren sat first) began to fall in love with Nevada, and began to see what God was doing there. Many times, we paint Nevada in a very dark light, and there is much darkness there, but there is a remnant of the church there, fighting back the darkness. God’s spirit is raising up His church there, and its wonderful to watch. I just prayed Lauren would feel the same way.

In September of 2016, Lauren and I took a trip to North Nevada that would change the course of our future. We went to see a little town called Wendover, to pursue a vision to plant a church there, but ended up on a journey that would point first towards Salt Lake City, then ultimately Sin City, Las Vegas. For many, this is barren ground, only remembered for lust and greed, but for us, the love of this city has grown over the last year. The more we see,the more we are drawn to her. We want to see God work, God move, God raise the dry bones to life.

So i ask again, why Vegas? Well, a lot of reasons; varying from spiritual things to lifestyle things. It has a high level of need for more churches. There is solid support there among other churches and new friends (not going in alone). Our family doesn’t like cold weather but enjoys sunshine and warmth year round. Our pastors and friends immediately became excited about it. We didn’t have to sell them on any of this.

My wife has affirmed the decision whole -heartedly, even before I did. We love the relaxed atmosphere of suburban Las Vegas. We love the desert and the mountains. I despise cutting grass and hate rain. Guess what, both are rare in Las Vegas. Also, God has given us a deep well of burden for the people of Las Vegas; we love this city! Lastly, we have peace about it.

I feel like I need to qualify that last statement or at least explain it. Several years ago, after studying cults, I began to flee from that imagery. It also occurred to me that it’s one of the most miss-used phrases among evangelicals. An extreme example is I prayed about it and I’m leaving my spouse because God has given me a peace and He wants me to be happy. No that contradicts Gods word and you have mistaken peace for comfort and pleasure. Saying that, I began on a mission to understand what the word calling means. What is a calling? If we strip away peace, is there any tangible evidence left of a calling? Let me say that another way. How do you know God wants you to do something? Take away any feelings of peace. What do you have left? Hopefully a lot. My suspicion is that many have nothing.

Here’s the kicker: let me tell you, we have peace about this. Not based on greed, pleasure, or comfort, but on reassurance, confirmation, and complete provision. I could not tell a person, I am 100% sure God has spoken here. I’ve never heard the physical voice of God. But some where along the way it happened, buried amongst the funding checks, the daydreams of lone mountain, the assurance of planter qualifying check lists in church planting literature, and the passion for this great city.

It hasn’t been all fairy tale though, the last year of preparation has brought “ups and downs”. I have continued to work a full time (time and a half mostly) job, as has Lauren. All the while, raising two kids, working on staff with Grace Bible Church (bi-vocationally), and preparing for church planting. I’ve spent late nights researching neighborhoods, creating blog post and videos, and on my knees crying out to God for more faith to see all this through.

We have moved once within Oxford, and are now preparing to move again (in Oxford/Abbeville) before our final move to Las Vegas. Watching our kids get sick over and again, all the while just wanting to make a large payment on debt so it can be gone. As it were, I really don’t think we would be ready though, if the last two years hadn’t gone like they have. God has worked tirelessly on my heart year after year. For the last two years, he has been working to prepare us to go.

I have had people ask what we have been doing the last two years. That is what it has looked like for us. A lot of sleepy-eyed days and nights, raising children, making disciples, serving a church, fixing air conditioners, teaching children not our own, and dreaming of the day when we can do the same thing in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Prayer Update 3/16/17

So many of you have reached out and asked how the process is going for us. I wanted to take some time to give an update. We are in quite a pickle. Ive been told that its a great situation to be. I think I would agree. We LOVE both places: Salt Lake Valley and Las Vegas Valley. So what now?

We are entering a season of prayer. Our plan is to pray through the month of March for Las Vegas, pray through the month of April for Salt Lake, then hopefully will have an answer by May. We will be fasting periodically throughout this time and at the end.

We are asking that you pray for each city during their month (Las Vegas-March/Salt Lake-April). Please message or text me if you would like to fast with us during the times we do. We are so grateful to have you all come beside us praying through this with us.

God bless

Our trip to Las Vegas is complete. From February 20 to 22, we were in Las Vegas looking around the city; seeing how God is at work there. He definitely is working.

So what now? Many of you know that this trip was a big deal. We were praying for definite clarity from the Lord. He answered prayers, although maybe not exactly in the way we would have liked. We loved Vegas very much.

We are officially looking at two metro areas: Salt Lake Valley and Las Vegas valley. There are pros and cons about each so we have entered a season of prayer concerning the decision.

We we will be spending as much time praying as needed until we know where to go. Some may ask how this process works. I’ve never heard God audibly speak and stopped asking Him to long ago. So we are seeking Him in three ways, in addition to prayer and His word: 1 what trusted Christians around us are saying; 2 how our interests and desires fit each place; and 3 how relationships fit with other planters already there (how things develop).

All the books say you must have a definite calling to a place before you begin the process and if you want your time there to last through the hardship and disappointment. I’m not sure what all that means sometimes, but we have fallen in love with these two cities. Our only santinity at this point is the peace and patience that God has provided.

Once it is clear where we are going, I will do another blog post explaining how the remainder of the process will look.  Feel free to check out namb.net for more information.

Thank you all so much for your continued prayers for Lauren and I during this process. We love you very much and thank God for you.