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Monthly Archives: May 2011

I Still Miss You

This time of year every year a sadness comes over me. It has happened like clock work for the past 23 years. I usually don’t know what is going on until I look at the calendar and see it is the end of May and then I realize what is happening. In June of 1988 I lost my father to cancer, alcoholism, and numerous other complications brought on by a life filled with substance abuse. When my dad died I was eighteen a drug addicted, alcohol dependent, lost and broken kid. I thought loved died the day my dad died. I loved my dad and he loved me even at my worst I knew he loved me. Picture this a big 300 lbs. 6 foot 3 monster of a young man leaning over every night to kiss his “Pop”, a nickname I gave my dad because we loved to watch Sanford and Son together, on the forehead and say, “I Love you Pop” as he laid in his cigarette burned and tattered favorite recliner. You can imagine my sadness the morning I was woke up by a friend after a long night of abusing my body and mind with drugs yelling, “Hey Mike I don’t think your dad is breathing.” My dad had lost half of his lung to cancer in 1980 and had other breathing illnesses so you could barely see his chest move. I told my friend not to worry but he persisted. I went out and realized he was right. I scooped my once 240 now 130 pound dad up in my arms and laid him on the floor. I administered CPR the best I could until paramedics arrived. We got a heart beat back but he never regained consciousness. He lay for 3 days in the hospital with me by his side slowly slipping away. I was a heathen, which means I was godless at the time. I prayed a prayer remembering the Jesus I had once heard of in Sunday school and special occasion church visits. I’d even scene the Greatest Story Ever Told. I asked God, I begged God, “God I know it is too late for me. I’m a bad person and I know I’ll never change. But if you could, if you would? Would you save my dad?” I said the best sinner’s prayer I knew and asked my dad to squeeze my hand if he agreed. He never squeezed my hand. Later on in life when I could bear to open my dad’s belongings I found his bible and in his bible tucked squarely in the center was a sinner’s prayer he had cut out and placed as a book mark. In 2006 I found a letter tucked in his wallet asking my mom and us kids for forgiveness and repenting of his actions and pleading for help for his addiction. I didn’t understand the true grace of God at the time. I didn’t know the goodness or the greatness of God at the time but I do now. I discovered a story in the bible in Luke 18:9-14 as Jesus was teaching on true prayer and true repentance. One guy stood there resting on his goodness and the other fully knew who he was and who God was. Even at my worst I knew I had no leg to stand on and that my dad needed God’s grace. The verse that stood out and I can best identify with in that hospital room is Luke 18:13 “But the tax collector stood far off, wouldn’t even lift his eyes toward heaven, but beat his breast saying, God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” I know God heard me that day. Little did I know just one year later God would call me and draw me into a personal relationship with Him through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. I thought loved died in June of 1988. How could anyone love me? I’m a broken, hopeless, helpless, jobless, no account, nothing happening waste. The one person who loved me and looked beyond all my trash and junk died. I was fatherless. This time of year is harder than any other time, even the holidays for me. Roughly a year and a half after he died I met Jesus Christ. A man named John Jacobs was preaching on the TV and smashing stuff. He was about to break free out of some handcuffs. I felt handcuffed by life and past mistakes. He broke those cuffs and pointed straight at the TV and said, If you want to be set free all you have to do is ask. He who the Son sets free is free indeed.” He told me Jesus loved me just like I was and would forgive me. I believed him. I felt something I hadn’t felt since my father had died I felt love. Not just any love, love even greater than my father’s love. I felt God’s incredible love and his amazing grace. I didn’t come to Jesus for fear of hell. I came to Jesus because I found out how much He loved me. I found out he died for me when I was at my worst. He looked beyond my faults and saw my need. Because of Jesus Christ I was adopted into God’s family. God became a father to the fatherless [Psalm 146:9]. God healed my heart and gave me a reason to live. I still miss my dad like crazy but God’s grace is sufficient for me. The life I now live is by grace through faith in Jesus. So every time this year the sadness comes because I am human and I am also made in the image of God. By God’s grace the sadness never stays because I have a hope that goes beyond this life. The more I understand the grace of God the more hope I have of seeing my father again. Alcoholism is a cruel disease and robs, kills, steals, and destroys but Jesus came to bring life. The last 6 days of my dad’s life were totally different. For 3 days he cleaned, cooked, smiled, laughed, and believed we would be a family again. For 3 days he laid in a hospital bed clinging to life until he slipped off into eternity. He knew Jesus. He didn’t just know of Jesus, he knew Jesus. The more I read from his bible and find little notes the more I see the grace of God dealing with a man struggling with his demons. For 20 years I have followed Jesus. The closer I get to Him the more I understand his grace. I wish I could say that as the years pass it gets easier, but it doesn’t I still miss my dad. I used to think I’d forget what he looked like but I won’t. I welcome this time of year. I grieve but not as one who has no hope. But I grieve because I am human. I praise God that I can feel because for a few years in my life I couldn’t feel nor did I want to feel. God’s love has taught my heart to feel again.
I still miss you Pop but don’t worry Jesus is taking care of me. Oh and one more thing Pop by the grace of God we got our name back. Glory to God forever.
 
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Posted by on May 29, 2011 in COAH

 

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Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Acts 20:28 (ESV) Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

I am one full year into my church planting journey. May 23, 2010 we opened the doors of City on a Hill Church to our city. We have seen miracles, signs, and wonders and God has added daily to our numbers those who are being saved. Glory to God. This has by far been the greatest year of my life. I have literally been living out my divine calling. I know being a pastor is what I was made to do. By God’s grace I do what I love and love what I do. But there have been many pitfalls along the way. This has also been by far the toughest year of ministry in my life. I have had more spiritual battles and personal struggles consistently than anytime before in my life and faith journey.
Acts 20:28 speaks deeply to me. The first five words ring loud in my ears and light up brightly like a neon sign. PAY CAREFUL ATTENTION TO YOURSELVES (Caps meant). Starting this journey I knew this would be absolutely critical. I knew I would face spiritual and personal battles like never before. I picked a fight with a huge giant and I took the to the field of battle. I could not and would not have seen all that I have had the privilege of seeing without paying careful attention to myself. I knew I needed accountability on every level: spiritual, personal, professional, mental, and physical. I knew i needed to check myself before I wrecked myself. So many start off strong and never finish. Others get started like a house of fire and fizzle out and fade away.
The first way I learned to check myself before I wrecked myself was in personal devotions. I purchased Beth Moore’s series 90 days with Jesus, 90 days with David, 90 days with Paul, and 90 days with John to keep my personal devotional life on track with prayer, Bible study, and journaling. I knew I had to be personally deeply connected to my Savior Jesus. The next thing I did was to form a Trustee Board for spiritual authority and financial integrity in ministry. Three things destroy men regularly Money, Sex, and Power. Having a Board of Trustees allowed me to operate under spiritual authority and financial integrity. I had no desire to be sovereign. Only God is sovereign. I hope you young leaders are listening out there. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Having this covering gave me even more freedom to live out my divine calling. A few months later I formed and started attending Men’s Small Group every Wednesday to be surrounded by men of God who would pray, serve, love, support, rebuke, correct, and inspire me. They challenge me to live to a higher standard of holiness. Through that group I got connected with three others brothers in a Discipleship Essentials group not to serve as a leader and pastor rather to go on a faith journey to discover my faith in a world full of choices and to get to know God in a deeper way galvinizing what I believe concerning my faith and doctrine. We better know what we believe and why we believe it. We must check ourselves before we wreck ourselves.
I also keep connected with several very close brothers across the country who can help me check myself before I wreck myself by speaking into my life and giving me outside spiritual insight and Godly wisdom. Men who pray for me daily and ask hard questions when necessary. I also pay close attention to my stress level by working out. God has blessed me with a faithful workout partner Pedro who keeps me motivated and challenges me to by accountable to my health. I still struggle greatly in the area of diet but I am committed to ultimate victory. It is the thorn in my side. But I will not quit. I will keep watch and check myself before I wreck myself.
Why am I saying all of this today in this blog? Because of what is at stake. Look at the rest of our verse for today. It teaches us to watch over ourselves so we can watch over God’s flock and fulfill our God- ordained God empowered purpose in life. If I don’t check myself I will wreck myself. How can I keep watch over my flock if I don’t not keep watch over myself? God has entrusted to us be overseers over His precious Church, a Church that has been purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. Whether we are in charge of one sheep or hundreds we are instructed to keep watch over ourselves and over the flock that the Holy Spirit has entrusted to our care. Our flocks are in our homes, workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, church buildings, everywhere God has sent us as missionaries. If we don’t check ourselves we will wreck ourselves and God’s flock can be scattered and left as prey for wild beasts. If you don’t believe me check out Ezekiel 34. These leaders/shepherds didn’t check themselves and they wrecked themselves.
Ezekiel 34:1-6 (ESV) 1The word of the LORD came to me: 2″Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 ou eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. 6My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.
As I was praying and fasting and seeking God for my future from January to March of 2010 God was birthing a vision in my heart for those precious sheep who had been scattered by religious leaders who didn’t check themselves and wrecked themselves leaving hundreds if not thousands of sheep scattered throughout our city as prey for wild beasts. I knew then I must keep careful watch over myself so I sought accountability. I didn’t wait to be invited into accountable relationships I sought them out. I encourage you to do the same. I didn’t wait to be invited into a discipleship group I sought one out. I encourage you to do the same. I didn’t wait to get invited to be a part of a band of brothers I sought men of God out. I encourage men and women to do the same. I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper. However, I lose that right when I don’t keep careful watch over myself. If I don’t check myself I wreck myself and I can not effectively keep watch over God’s flock.
Hear my words today I pray. Keep watch over yourselves. Seek Jesus daily, seek accountability, seek discipleship, seek fellowship, and seek God’s divine calling for your life. God has an amazing journey with your name written on it. You were made for this adventure. Keep careful watch over yourselves so that you can live the life God has called you to live and accomplish the mission and vision God has called you too. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Be encouraged!
 
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Posted by on May 23, 2011 in COAH

 

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Two Key Motivators to Get Up and Go

By God’s grace my church planting journey has been anything but ordinary to the glory of God. This Sunday May 22, 2011 we will celebrate our one year anniversary. It is hard to believe that it has already been a year. I feel like I have been living on the edge of a lightning bolt! Planting a church isn’t for the faith of heart. It is deeply rooted in one’s divine calling. There is a huge difference between a burden and a call. A burden comes and goes but a call is something that comes and rests in your soul.
Coming to the decision to plant City on a Hill Church wasn’t easy. It wasn’t some fly by night knee jerk reaction. It took months of deep prayer and fasting seeking God’s perfect pleasing will. It meant living out Romans 12:1-2 and offering my life as a living sacrifice to God which is our spiritual act of worship. Romans says that after we have done these things we are transformed by the renewing of our minds then we can test and know God’s perfect pleasing will. This is not an easy process it takes us to places deep within and challenges us to invite God carve out those things in our hearts that are contrary to His Word and Will.
I have heard it said that , “Nothing causes us to move like the push of pain or the pull of hope.” In my case it was a combination. The push of pain knowing that it was my time to go was intense. You can’t spend seven years in a place pastoring God’s flock and not feel a strong affection for the people. The pain of knowing I was leaving was incredible. The pain caused by the uncertainty my wife and I were about to face was almost unbearable as well. The Bible teaches that if we do not take care of our families we are worst than unbelievers. I felt a deep pain stepping up and out in faith not knowing how I was going to make a living, pay my mortgage, put food on my table, and provide for my family. But I have heard it said and have now experienced for myself, “When the pain of remaining the same is greater than the pain of moving we will move.” I reached that point and the pain of not living the life and call God has called me too far exceeded the pain of staying in place.
Pain wasn’t the only motivator. The Pull of Hope was even stronger than the push of pain. They were working in concert within my soul. The hope to build, become, and be a city within a city reaching our city with the life changing message of Jesus Christ one life at a time was pulling at my heart strings. The hope of teaching people both believers and seekers that it is all about Jesus it has always been about Jesus and it will always be about Jesus thrilled my soul. The hope of reaching the hopeless and lost in this city was like fire shut up in my bones. The hope to reach out and bring wanderers who had been beaten up and abused in the name of religion and fleeced by religious leaders welled up inside of me and to this day motivates me daily. The hope of being the church not doing church but by Loving God, Loving People, and Preaching Jesus pulled me into church planting. The hope of re-establishing that the Church of Jesus Christ is the Hope of the world by proclaiming that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life drives me daily. The Pull of Hope for a Church that cares about it’s own, it’s city, it’s region, and it’s world not just with lip service but in word and deed to the glory of God pulled me straight into this adventure.
These two key motivators worked in concert to cause me to get up and go fulfill my God given calling. I can tell you if you are facing a crossroads in life these two motivators will be there. The Push of Pain will gnaw at us and the Pull of Hope will inspire us to get up and go. I believe God can use both of these powerful motivators to accomplish His perfect pleasing will in our lives and on this planet. Throughout this journey over this past 14 months I have felt both the push of pain and the pull of hope working in concert and individually. These two motivators mixed with healthy doses of prayer and fasting and seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit have motivated me and helped me not become stagnant or too comfortable.
This past year has been nothing short of amazing to the glory of Jesus! The Push of Pain motivated me to step up and out in faith. The pain was too great to stay where I was. The pain of potentially missing my divine calling far outweighed the pain of playing it safe and arriving safely at the end of my life. The Pull of Hope in going on a great adventure with God as the only tour guide, planting a church, searching for the lost, seeing wanderers come back home, sending missionaries, fighting giants, rescuing beauties, and exploring untamed territories to the glory of God has caused me to give my life away willingly. I can tell you this past year I have seen all of these things come to pass but the Pull of Hope still calls me to greater things to God’s glory. Here is the amazing factor, The Pull of Hope that I had when I planted the Church has been far eclipsed by God’s powerful hand of provision and protection over City on a Hill Church. By God’s grace we have done more in this first year than I could ever ask, think, dream, or imagine. It wasn’t that my dream wasn’t God-sized because believe me it was. My dream was God sized but God is greater and so much bigger than I even know or understand.
Last year I had Jesus and a dream and I said that was all I needed. Today as I type this I still have Jesus and I still have that same dream and I am convinced that is all I still need. I encourage you to listen carefully to the push of pain and the pull of hope and get up and go live the life God has called you to live. Your adventure awaits!
 
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Posted by on May 16, 2011 in COAH

 

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Leaders, Lead!

Leaders, lead! This has been a simple principle and belief I have lived by for many years. It has never been more evident than in the past year of my life. Planting City on a Hill Church has stretched my leadership gift in numerous ways. Leading City on a Hill Church has equally stretched, pulled, tugged, and increased my leadership gift daily, weekly, and hourly in some cases. But I have never felt more alive and more effective in God’s kingdom than right now! The simple principle leaders lead is always in the forefront of my mind. I was asked recently, “Do you understand the struggles of being a Lead/Senior Pastor now?” My answer, “I have always been pastoring now I just get to fully lead and I totally love it.” I have always believed that we should lead, follow, or get out of the way. I am a leader and leaders lead! There is no shame in identifying your spiritual gifts and using them to the glory of God.
Leadership is a spiritual gift from God. Romans 12:7-9 lists numerous spiritual gifts and right in the middle of verse 8 it says, “and if it is to lead, do it diligently.” What I see the Apostle Paul saying here is, Leaders lead! If you have been called to lead than lead, follow or get out of the way. During my years of preparation I wrote a book, it has not been published, to help me through the training and preparation process entitled, Where Eagles Dare: The Art of Leading from Within a Team. I wrote this book to help me lead myself through very challenging times where I didn’t feel I was being lead. In my 16 years of ministry I found myself in places where there was no vision and the people were truly unrestrained. I found myself in places where the leader was relying on other people to tell them what to do and the vision switched from one to another to another like the changing of the tides. The whole time I was thinking leaders lead so for crying out loud, just lead. God has given you a place to serve and a people to love lead me please, lead us! It was during those times I wrote this book and it was during those times that this book gave me practical application and revealed God’s grace so I could stay in the fire fight. I learned that leaders lead no matter what so I learned the art of leading from within the team. I learned to excel and lead the teams entrusted to me with excellence to the glory of God. I learned to pour my leadership gift into faithful men and women who desired strong leadership ans responded to vision. I taught them the same principle I believe, leaders lead. What ever God entrusted has us to do we can’t disqualify ourselves because we are not the primary vision caster and/or leader we must lead where God has placed us and find ways to support the vision of the place we find ourselves called to and if there is no vision then we create vision within our areas of responsibilities for people to follow. The bottom line is leaders lead. Leadership is a spiritual gift and God expects us to lead diligently no matter the circumstance. Here is where we get down to brass tacks. Before we can lead others we must lead ourselves. Before we can lead others we must be Spirit led.
Acts 20:28 “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.”

The reason I brought up the book is it really turned into a journal to help me work through the challenges of leadership and to lead myself. It helped me to pay careful attention to myself and pushed me into times of prayer and fasting for the leaders God had placed in my life. It helped me to pray for the people and places that God would sustain and lead them in times of uncertainty and confusion. It helped me pay careful attention to myself to see God’s sovereignty so that I wouldn’t become apathetic and lose hope. The greatest way to lead ourselves is to be Spirit-led. Leadership isn’t easy and that is why many fail and fall by the wayside. Leadership is challenging. By being Spirit-led we get a vision from God that isn’t for sale, rent, lease, or loan. We don’t invite people to be a part of an organization we invite them into a world changing adventure with giants to slay, hills to take, uncharted territory to explore, and people to rescue. Under my leadership you will find we don’t take applications we take commitments. My philosophy is don’t invite me to do something anybody can do. No way that isn’t worth my life. If anybody can do it than let anybody do it. You know what I’m saying? I want to be invited to do something God-sized where my leadership will be stretched beyond what it feels like I can bear. I want to be invited into a fight with a giant I can’t whoop without Jesus. I want to be invited on an adventure into uncharted territory where only God is the tour guide with the map and if I get lost or separated from Him I can’t succeed. I have found that place it is church planting. The spiritual gift God has imparted to me is in full bloom as I lead City on a Hill Church. I am doing everything in my power to obey the Word of God in Romans 12:8 when it says, “and if it is to lead, do it diligently.” Simply put leaders lead and I am not ashamed to say that by God’s grace and under the leadership of the Holy Spirit I am leading! Be encouraged!
 
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Posted by on May 9, 2011 in COAH

 

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Only the Lonely

This past week was truly challenging. It gave me deeper insight into Philippians Chapter 4:10-16.

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. 14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only;16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.


Coming off a HIS-toric Easter where 33 were baptized God gathered 380 people from the North, South, East, and West I found myself tired and feeling alone. I squeezed five days of work into two and a half days and headed off to a conference for church planters in Orlando. 4000 church planters came together from around the country and speakers came from around the world. I went to the conference for spiritual renewal and retreat. I went alone because I really believe that before you can lead others you also have to lead yourself. Being alone was awesome because I was able to follow Jesus and get away to a solitary place and pray to get alone with God. Being alone was not so awesome in other ways it caused a deep sense of loneliness I felt alone in a conference surrounded by 4000 other believers. Kind of ironic to feel alone in such an amazing environment. I listened to stories about two pastors who recently committed suicide even though everything on the outside looked great. They were successful church planters/ pastors yet inside they were lost, alone, and hurting. To be brutally honest that scared the crap out of me! Can you say crap in a blog? Oh well I just did. Church planting is a lonely journey especially when you have detractors and have been isolated from your denomination. Luckily I have learned a very valuable lesson from scripture and from life, everyone needs accountability and true authentic relationships. I thank God for my brothers in Christ John M., Ed A., Glenn B., and Tom C. from all over the country. They seem to call just at the right time. I thank God for my brothers in my city who walk with me and provide accountability and friendship you know who you are. I thank God for the Trustees of COAH for their faithfulness and dedication to Jesus and me. I thank God for a praying church who lifts their pastor up daily in prayer. I feel their prayers and it strengthens me. Just this morning I had the Ministry Team from COAH gather around me in spontaneous prayer and it strengthened me.
The deeper perspective I received from the Philippian letter is Paul shares his hardships and his troubles. He doesn’t try to be superman. He is brutally honest with the church. He shares his hurts and his brokenness and thanks them for being there for him when no one else would. [vs 15] We always hear verse 4:13 quoted for sporting events but it comes right out of Paul’s testimony. On a week I should have been flying high I was brought low feeling drained and excruciatingly lonely. But I have learned to be content in all circumstances. You can not strike deep into the heart of darkness and expect to be left alone. The only way I know how to lead is by example as I follow Christ. My loneliness this week was interrupted by the grace of God with beautiful times of refreshing and fellowship with my Savior Jesus. My loneliness was interrupted by God with confirmation that my life and City on a Hill Church on right in the middle of God perfect pleasing will. My loneliness was interrupted with bright hope for tomorrow and dreams of the future winning our city for Jesus. My loneliness was interrupted with a commitment to be sure that others don’t have to walk this journey alone save for planned times of solitude with God.
I am reminded of a old song by Roy Orbison that says,” Only the lonely know the way I feel tonight.” I find comfort knowing that Jesus knows what it feels like to be lonely. I find comfort knowing that God uses my story for His glory and that my loneliness can used as leverage by God to help, heal, and bring hope to others. However the only way that it can be used is if I share it rather than hide it. If I am brutally honest with myself, my accountability partners, my discipleship brothers, and my church family. Paul starts in verse 10 saying he rejoices in knowing that people have great concern and love for him and that alone revives him. Even though I was excruciatingly lonely this week I was truly and greatly revived knowing that I have a loving wife, a church family, and close friends praying for me, loving me, and supporting me. My prayer and hope is that by being truly transparent we can change our city to the glory of God. Even if people say, “This guy shares too much.” I will not be moved or silenced. I refuse to carry this burden alone and I refuse to let others carry their burdens alone. We were made for community and fellowship in good times,. bad times, and indifferent times. I pray that every believer, church planter, pastor, and person who reads this blog listen and learn that we truly can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. Loneliness is a part of the journey that is a given. Leadership is lonely. However, the length of time you spend in loneliness is determined by your willingly to be transparent and honest. Even if it means looking weak. I truly believe it takes more courage, strength, integrity, character, and intestinal fortitude [guts] to admit we need each other. I love you all I hope that you know that. I pray John 17 over my life, my church, and the churches in our city daily. To those other pastors in this city that take the time to fellowship with me and others in the faith I say thank you. You refresh me.
 
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Posted by on May 1, 2011 in COAH

 

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