Thursday, September 30, 2010

Praising God in Their Storm

I'll get back to the story of the beginning of The City Church soon, but today I want to write about some amazing friends.  This past weekend they received what was probably the hardest news of their lives.  And then they had to face the reality of sorrow and grief in a way they probably never thought they would have to.

Yet they were able to see God's hand and hang onto Jesus in the midst of grief.  I have seen them praise Him in their fierce storm.  I praise Jesus for their faith, for their love, for their authenticity as they walk this difficult path.

Paul and I have been blessed to have been able to pray for and with them and to just be there while they grieve.  I hope and pray our presence and our prayers have been at least a small encouragement to them.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Our Last Sunday

Our last Sunday was the last Sunday before all the children and youth moved up for the next school year.  It seemed fitting that this would be our last Sunday.  The girls' classes would have some goodbye celebrations with their teachers.  I would complete my year of teaching high school juniors.  And the next week everyone would have a new start.

Paul announced our leaving for this new mission, this new journey in all 3 of our services.  Our pastor was so complementary as he introduced Paul and had people gather to pray for us afterward.  And that time of prayer was so sweet!  It was such a great Sunday, that it almost seemed a shame to go.  But we knew God was leading us to a new place, and we had to follow Him.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What about the Children?

Up until this point, we had not told our children we were even considering planting a church.  Had they all been older, we might have told them sooner, but we didn't want to tell them until we were able to make it common knowledge.  We felt like keeping something this big (and possibly something very emotional) to themselves would be a burden they shouldn't have to bear.

We told them a couple of days after Paul talked with our pastor the second time, which was only a few days before we would make the announcement in church.  They were all surprised.  They all said they would miss their friends at our old church.   Faith was the most visibly disturbed.  She didn't want to lose touch with the friends she had made at our old church.  But she is also old enough to see that, even in her own life, God is drawing her to something different than she was getting at the church we were at.  We reassured her that we would make a big effort to keep in touch with her friends (which we have done!). 

Joy and Grace really took their cues from us; we were happy so they were, too (except for the missing friends part!)  They were also excited that they wouldn't have to go to AWANA or children's choir this year.  In years past they had loved both of these activities, and they are both so enthusiastic about almost everything.  Usually by the end of summer they were eager for these activities to start.  But not this year!  I knew this was God preparing their hearts to leave where we were and embark on something new. 

Hope was the one child whose reaction would be the most unpredictable.  I knew that she might be sad she didn't get to experience all the fun youth stuff her older sister did.  She might not like such a big change.  True to her unpredictable nature, Hope surprised me.  She was so happy!  She seemed to grasp the importance of trying to reach new people with the love of Jesus.  She couldn't wait to tell her friends!

In fact, all the girls were eager to share the news with their friends.  They were able to tell some of them a couple of days later, and they told the rest during their Sunday School time at church the following Sunday.  I thought our last Sunday might be a sad one for them, but it wasn't.  They were ready to move forward.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Going Public

Now that we both felt confident God was leading us to plant a church, we were ready to share the news with our friends and our pastor. We chose to first share our news with a few close friends.  We really weren't sure how our pastor would react, and we wanted prayer before Paul told him.  Everyone was very positive, and no one seemed surprised by our announcement.  We also asked our close friends to pray about joining us in this mission.

Then Paul told our pastor.  Our church had "mission churches" several decades ago, but we had no context for the modern church plant.  Paul shared his vision and his heart with our pastor, and our pastor was very gracious.  He asked for time to pray about how the church should respond to our church plant.  As we waited, we told a few more friends.  When our pastor met with Paul again, he said that we would be sent out with public blessing and Paul would get a chance to announce our plans on Sunday morning.  The church would also pay Paul's (part-time) salary for the next couple of months.  We were both very pleased!

During this time we also told my family during a visit to my Mom's house.  Even they were not surprised and were supportive.  The support and kind words from so many people were an encouragement to Paul, helping him to take this risk.

Now we were ready to tell our children...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Swimming in the Ocean

While we were at camp, we stayed in some amazing condos on the beach.  I love the ocean, and went swimming in it every day during free time.  Our condo complex also had a large pool complex.  The only time I got in the pool was to dip my foot in to rinse any lingering sand off. 

Sometimes God uses the things around me to illustrate spiritual truths.  The week of camp I began thinking about the pool vs. the ocean.  While I love the vastness of the ocean, and really sense God's presence there, I can understand while many choose the pool.  The pool is clean and chlorinated with no seaweed or fish poop.  The pool is safer with no dangerous tides and plenty of places to avoid the sun's rays.  The pool is entertaining; it has a lazy river, a slide, and fun music.  The pool is easy; you can buy snacks and drinks right where you are.  To sum it up, the pool is a controlled environment.  And God began to cause me to ponder where I was choosing pools over oceans in my life.

The last session of camp, Louie told us we can choose to star in "The Story of Me," which will last only a brief time before fading from memory in the light of the glory of God, or we can have a bit part in "The Story of God," a story which will stand forever.  

The final song we sang was "Our God," and, as I sang, God shaped the lyrics, my thoughts about pools and oceans, and Louie's talk into a cohesive thought:  To stay where I was would be choosing the safety, comfort, and control of the pool over the vastness, majesty, and joy of the ocean.  And, for me, the ocean was joining my husband in this journey of planting a church.  I'm NOT saying that everyone who goes to the church we had been a part of were settling for less than God's story; for many, that IS their ocean!  But it isn't mine.  I knew this wouldn't always be easy or safe, but I also knew God is leading us here, so I have to go.  

As we left the auditorium for the last time, I leaned over to Paul and said, "I'm sure."

**I have nothing against pools or those who love them and choose them over the ocean.  God just used my own love of the ocean to illustrate a point that I needed to know!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

An Encouraging Word

The week of youth camp progressed.  The worship and teaching were fabulous, of course.  And we were trying to help the students really interact with Jesus.  

Thursday was our last day.  During the morning session Louie Giglio called all the adult leaders on stage and we got to sing a song with Chris Tomlin. This was so much fun!  And now I can say I've sung on stage with Chris Tomlin!  Afterward, Paul and I had the opportunity to speak with Louie.  We were part of the Choice Bible study he led at Baylor, and we have followed and supported his ministry ever since.  He has been one of the biggest spiritual influences on both of our lives.

Louie planted Passion City Church in Atlanta about a year ago, and Paul had already written Louie telling about our potential church plant.  He encouraged us to step out in faith because often God doesn't provide the wind in our sails until we're actually in the water.  He also told us not to be discouraged if things don't work out like we hope and pray they do.  Church planting is a series of major ups and downs, but God wants to be present in all of them.  And after all, even if our new church doesn't make it, no one's going to die!

We left feeling excited and encouraged.  I still didn't have an absolute certainty that we should plant a church, but I was almost sure that this was where God was leading.  And that was enough for me.  But it wasn't enough for God...

Friday, September 17, 2010

And If Our God Is For Us

I know my last post was in May.  Which is 4 months ago!  The last four months were full of summer fun, and now we're back to school.  We went to Disney World at the end of May with some great friends.  We had a fantastic time!!! We survived another year of VBS.  We swam and had fun at home.  Some of us went to youth camp.  The rest went to Winshape C3 camp.  We visited friends and family in Texas.  Where we had Chuys!  And got in a wreck.  We started a new year of homeschooling.  We went to Family Camp.  Oh yeah, we planted a church!

Back in May I still hadn't had any personal direction from God about church planting.  And I went through all of June and half of July wondering if God was going to speak to me directly or if I was just supposed to trust Paul in this momentous decision.  

Paul, Faith, and I went to Student Life Camp at Daytona Beach with the youth group from the church we belonged to.  I had looked forward to going for months.  Chris Tomlin led worship.  Matt Redmon gave a concert.  And Louie Giglio was our speaker.  Who wouldn't want to go?!  I asked God to clarify this whole church plant thing during the week of camp - even if His clarification was to trust my husband.

The first song we sang on the first night was Chris Tomlin's "Our God."  Even though we had sung this song several times at church, I didn't recognize it.  It was as if I were hearing this song for the first time.  And as the words washed over me, God spoke.  "And if our God is for us, then who can ever stop us.  And if our God is with us, then what can stand against."  I felt God telling me that all my concerns - What about my girls?  Will anyone come with us?  Will we have any money? - would be taken care of if God were truly in this.  Not that I thought everything would be easy.  Just that God would work all these details out for His glory.  I still wasn't 100% positive that God was leading us into planting a church, but I felt at peace that God would take care of all the details and questions that sometimes held me back.  At this point I thought God was probably leading us to plant a church.  And I was okay with that.  

But the week wasn't over yet...