I turned 40 today!
Our family was living in Kapolei, Hawaii, attempting to plant a church. We had just begun meeting in a dojo every Sunday and had 21 people weekly. Our summer plans were coming together and we believed we would be within 50-70 people before the end of the summer. I had been spending a bunch of time discipling college students and having Gospel conversations with people at Starbucks. Nothing was getting in our way and I felt we were going to take the world! During the summer we enjoyed guest after guest staying in our home. We found ourselves being used by God to refresh the Ortegas, after their 6 months on the mission field. I taught Dewayne Jeffers how to surf (almost) and we had two great interns come and spend some time with us for a month. I was teaching 2 small groups at two local college campuses and Nick Killin began a men's small group. Michelle (my wife) and Suzy Killin were leading a ladies group. We got to meet the Molitors and became instant family with them. God was teaching me new things about Himself and His Grace! It was an incredible summer, but it was also a hard summer.
Our team was struggling and we were searching for a ton of answers of why we were not growing. It seemed everything we tried came with great resistance, but through the trials, we met a great family, the Vierras. John Vierra taught me a ton on how to love and care for people. He showed me how to overcome myself and just be real with people. Soon August came and with it the Killin's resignation. They had been through a ton of physical trials brought by spiritual warfare. We had a tough decision to make; stay and fight or go back to Ohio. For a few weeks I fought this decision. I thought we could tough it out, however the reality that God had now stripped us of our second staff member became very clear. What was God doing and why were we not growing?
Through counsel, we made the decision to come back to Ohio and wait to see how God would use us. It was harder than I thought it would be to leave. To be honest, I didn't feel like I fit in Hawaii. It was tough for me to rest in the Hawaii culture. There is nothing wrong with a slower pace, I'm just not built that way. What made it tough to leave was the people. We had fallen in love with so many great people. The Hazelwoods, our neighbors, had become great friends. The Caldwell's, a family down the street, had become family to us. College students like Ashley Bell and Devin Bae gave us new energy and a love for life on the islands. Men like Atama, Aaron, Clyde, SomPom and Harlan were true brothers in Christ. The Farbucks crew had become everyday companions. We would talk bible all the time! My real family, the Fretias', had become our Friday night love. My kids had made friends we will probably never see again! We had found community with these people and now were leaving that community. To this day, I long for community we had in Hawaii. We were all willing to lay down schedules to be with each other. If we didn't have time for each other, we made time. People became more important to us that ever.
In October, when we came back to Memphis then Lebanon, we struggled to find that community. People were so busy and many had moved on to other things. We felt as some people were having a hard time doing community with us and our new youth pastor, Aaron Taylor. Michelle and I made the decision that if we got in the way of Aaron's ministry, we would find another church. I apologize to you youth reading this, but we did try to distance ourselves from many youth. I was the youth pastor in 2005 when I saw a few students awkwardly make the decision who they wanted to say hi to first, myself or the former youth pastor. I still remember one student's face when the former youth pastor and I were standing in the school hallway together. I was determined not to put people in that position, so we pulled back. We were also counseled not to jump into ministry. Can I tell you I wish we would jumped into ministry. I was okay, I wasn't hurting from leaving and was ready to help people know Jesus! Do you know how many times I have prayed through starting a small group in our house? More than their are weeks in a year. More on that later (maybe).
We were home, but were longing for community. Many schedules would not allow hanging out to happen. I tried to hang out at local ministries only to walk away empty from the lack of community. Being together was for the purpose of helping others. There was nothing wrong with that, but the community we needed did not exist. I had realized a fatal flaw in my years at Urbancrest. Our community was built around ministry and when ministry was not there, we had no community. I am learning this is not how the church is put together but to do life together. Ministry should be the outflow of community. Community with others believers should end up in ministry, not be driven by it. I know some would argue against this point, but let me say this. When people outgrow an area of ministry, they might outgrow the people in that ministry and that is not good. How about those outside of the ministry? They have no community because they are not serving in that area? Community is built to help people do life together and equip people to do life toward others. This is what we were lacking and still lacking a little today!
Money that was raised lasted until the end of December. We found that we could pay our bills through January. By this time, I thought God would have placed me somewhere to serve on staff. I probably filled out 100 applications (sorry a little pastoral numbers quote, more like 50) only to find out that I wasn't qualified or overqualified for any full time work that could take care of our bills. We talked to 8 different churches only to find God saying "No" during the interview processes. During each interview, I learned something new that God had placed in me. I found what my passion was and God gave me opportunities to preach and lead musical worship. I found myself more and more excited to bring the Word to whomever invited me to speak. I spoke in several churches and youth events. We saw many people turn from death to life and many other find the freedom that God secured for them. I thought God was going to place me as the lead communicator within a church and loved every minute I got to preach.
Well, He hasn't placed me in a church staff position, yet. Our money is almost gone (btw, He paid ever bill in February, March and April, and most of this month). I couldn't find work and when I did, I couldn't do the work. It began to become depressing, however God has been calling out to us through this time. He keeps asking "AM I ENOUGH?". There are many times I have had to tell Him that He wasn't. He was has been so Gracious to me through those times. He continues to woo my heart and today I stand on "all I have is Him".
I turned 40 today. If you would have told me that I would jobless, almost bankrupt and possibly homeless, I would have run! Thankful that I did not know what today would hold because God has used these trials to show me He is holding me together. No matter what happens, He will be glorified and I will find satisfaction in Him! Being thankful for these lessons are hard, but I have come to the place where I don't have anything left. ALL I HAVE IS HIM! If He doesn't do it, then it won't get done and for this, I am thankful. Especially because, when I could do it, I took the glory for it. Thankful that He is loving enough to crush my pride and exalt His name, so that I would find TRUE satisfaction.
Thank you to all of you who have journeyed with us this past year. It has been one heck of a ride and this next year God will use our lives to love others! Can't wait to see what God does this year, 41 is going to be a ....