Monday, April 30, 2012

Partying for Jesus with Grace & Truth

For all you seasoned pastors and ministry leaders out there, you would seriously laugh at me often for my inexperience.  Everything I'm doing as a pastor and church planter is for the first time.  I'm sure glad God has got my back or I would embarrass my self often.
Maria Kelly coming up out of the
cold baptismal waters

Now I'm not just talking about the fact that I preached an entire sermon yesterday with my zipper down... couldn't one person have caught that before I went up to preach?!  I'm talking about simple things that I so often overlook.  For example, we launched a new sermon series the week after Easter called Hot Topics: What God thinks about...?  I did not even think about the fact that we had planned our child dedication service on the same week we were discussing in detail what God thinks about sex... kind of ironic.  I also didn't realize that I planned our baptism service on the same day that we would be discussing the highly controversial topic of homosexuality!!!  Have you ever tried to make that transition before?  

We met Rosie through our
April is Awesome events
But really, God knows what he's doing... surprise, surprise!  I have never been as nervous to preach a sermon as I was yesterday.  Many of our people have gay friends, family members or are have lived a gay life-style themselves at some point.  The foundation of the message was John 1:14 & 17 and the reality that Jesus came to earth in the fullness of grace and truth.  It was amazing to see the response in the eyes of people who could have very easily been hostile.  As we talked about the truth that homosexuality is a sin, but the grace with which we to are approach people living in that sin it was amazing to see God work.  The transition to the celebration of baptism was seamless because we were celebrating the grace of God in the lives of people based on the truth that Jesus died for us... all of us... to pay for sin... all sin.

We also met Kristina and her son
Anthony through April is Awesome
Yesterday was a party.  I encouraged our church to get loud every time someone was baptized and I anticipated having to spur them along.  Not a chance.  So many of them are living in the reality of the life change Jesus brings and I didn't have to spur them along at all.  Every time someone came up out of the icy cold water, the church erupted!  We couldn't keep the kids off the stage so they were surrounding the baptismal pool.  It was such a beautiful picture of God's love and the way he created the church to be together.  

Julie was baptized surrounded by her
own kids and other kids of The Pathway
Two days before the baptism service one of the ladies being baptized asked if they could throw a party afterwards to celebrate.  It was awesome.  This particular woman... her name is Julie... brought 20 of her family and friends to celebrate with her.  They invited everyone to the party and our church sat around talking, celebrating and partying together because life change is happening.  Our dear friend Maria, who was baptized yesterday, is usually quiet and reserved.  When I saw her after the service she was bursting with excitement.  She just keeps saying how happy and thankful she is for what God is doing in her life.
Ken is a college student at UW Tacoma
who realized his need for baptism through
our Story of God Intentional Community

Poor pastoral planning, God's grace & truth preached and the celebration of new life through baptism.  Can a day get much better this side of heaven?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Perfect.  Such a beautiful word.

Many of you have been praying for our Gather to Scatter outreaches throughout the month of April.  We saw God blow our expectations out of the water with the response to our Community Dinners.  We had a good turnout for our Easter worship gathering and a great turn-out for our ice cream and game night.  God has been doing exactly what we prayed he would do.  He's been giving us the opportunity to have multiple relational connections with the same group of people.  He is so good.  So perfect.

The culmination for our April is Awesome events was this past Saturday.  Including about 25 people from The Pathway, we had 110 people signed up and confirmed to attend the Seattle Mariners game with us.  That's two full busloads of people and God provided us the means to do it.  Everything seemed perfect.  We made tons of phone calls confirming those who were coming.  We went to our waiting list to fill the spots of those who backed out.  Things were shaping up.

Saturday morning was full of anticipation but ended up being far from perfect.  By the time the buses needed to leave, we had more "no-shows" than I could have ever imagined.  Far from perfect.  I was discouraged, frustrated and guilt-ridden about how much of God's money we had spent on this event only to see so many people blow it off in such an irresponsible and ungrateful way.  I was actually pretty angry.  We loaded up on the buses, still with a large number of people, and headed to the game.

For those who follow baseball, you may know what happened on Saturday at the Mariners vs. White Sox game.  Although our event was far from perfect, we witnessed baseball perfection.  Philip Humber pitched the 21st perfect game in Major League baseball history.  For those who know me, you know this was an amazing experience for me.  Even though I'm slowly becoming a Mariners fan (although they will never replace my beloved Braves), to witness an event that so few humans have ever or will ever witness live was amazing.  As the innings passed, I kept looking around at our group.  There were only a handful of us that actually realized what was going on.  Perfection was coming and so many people didn't even recognize what was happening.

As I watched that 9th inning, Humber was far from perfect in a lot of ways.  His first 3 pitches to the first batter were no where near the strike zone.  His fourth pitch was right down the middle for a called strike. The undisciplined bat of Michael Saunders helped the mortal Humber reach baseball immortality by swinging at two pitches well outside the strike zone for the first out of the inning.  Then, to end perfection with ugliness, Humber threw a bad chase slider outside the zone that Brendan Ryan should never have thought about swinging at.  The ball got away from the catcher but because Ryan was whining to the umpire, the catcher had time to retrieve the ball and throw to first base for the final out of the inning.  Perfect.

Although Humber was far from perfect in that final inning.  The result was still baseball perfection.  27 up and 27 down.  No runs, no hits, no walks, no errors... no base runners.  No one noticed all the imperfections in the game because the result was perfect.

As I reflect on our final major April event.  I realize I was so focused on the imperfections I almost missed the perfect will of God being accomplished.  Although strategically the event was far from perfect, the result was God's perfect plan being finalized.  As was pointed out to me by some of our leaders, our church had worked so hard the entire month and the game was a great opportunity for them to be rewarded, loved on and encouraged.  That happened perfectly.  As a baseball fan, it irked me royally that the majority of our group did not know baseball perfection was happening.  But part of the reason was that they were all talking, laughing and investing relationally in the people we had come to the game to serve and love on.  Perfect.

Perfect is an interesting word.  The day after the perfect game at Safeco field in Seattle, God brought more people than ever to our worship gathering.  We were able to launch a new Intentional Community, number 7, that included a brand new couple, one saved and one not, who is ready to engage God in their life.  Perfect.

 I realize now that God's will is perfect.  We do our best, play our part and work hard.  But faith is trusting that God is working all things together for the good of those who love him.  That is what is happening in Tacoma by the grace of God and through the faithfulness of your prayers.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Where to begin

I'm sitting here alone, at The Spot (the place The Pathway meets for worship), wandering where to begin my blog this week. There is so much going on in my mind and in my heart. There are exciting things, frustrating things, discouraging things, opportunities, overwhelming thoughts. God is so big and his mission is so vast. Walking with him, or trying to, on a daily basis can be one of the most beautiful and terrifying things in the world. Since I'm not sure exactly where to start, I'll just jump right in.

Our scatter was an overall success! It was so fun to pray for each Intentional Community throughout the week and then to hear reports of how the group went. Overall we had over 50 people in the 6 Intentional Communities we launched this week and we have one more that will launch this coming Sunday. Please continue to pray for these groups. Some of them are short term. They will be faced with a decision after 7 or 11 weeks on whether or not they want to continue as a group. This will be led by the Spirit because the group and the leadership will need to be on the same page. Pray for week number two, that we would not back track but that even more people would get involved. God is working and it is a beautiful thing.

Sunday was a great day as well. Easter Sunday is supposed to produce greater numbers of people for worship. But the entire time I was wandering what the week after Easter would look like. Our mission is not to get a bunch of people to one worship service. Our mission is to make disciples. I was excited to see our worship service yesterday packed with new faces and people returning from the previous week. We began our Hot Topics Series by taking a look at the exclusivity of Jesus' claims and what exactly God had to say about the God-man. That leads to the next thing.

This Hot Topics series seemed like a good idea originally (and I still believe it is), but now that we're getting into it I'm realizing how tough it will be to preach on all these issues. Especially with the large numbers of new and not-yet believers in our midst. Please keep me in your prayers that I would preach with grace and truth, straight from Scripture. This week we will be dealing with "What God thinks about sex." I'm excited to explore this issue but I know that the truth of Scripture is going to cut to the core of some of the people in attendance. Conviction leads to beauty, but the road is messy.

Our kids have been healthy for what feels like an extended period of time for the first time in a long time... maybe ever. Jagen is tolerating his new FODMAP diet for kids with a fructose intolerance. We're not sure yet if it's working, but we are at least figuring it out (by we I mean Kelli) and he seems to be eating well. While Jagen & Rylan's health is doing well we could definitely use your prayers in our parenting. We've officially got double trouble in the terrible two's department but Jagen is passionately leading the way. He has learned to throw a fit with the best of them and he doesn't care when or where he is. The hardest part is that he is so strong and it's often impossible for Kelli to control him while keeping an eye on Rylan in public. These are just parental growing pains of course. But they're hard in the moment. We appreciate your prayers.

Lastly, we are going to watch the parents of at least 16 children dedicate themselves to the Lord this Sunday. Sixteen kids who have a new hope of being raised to know God and follow hard after Jesus. Sixteen kids whose parents are committing to be a part of changing the culture on the Hilltop and in Tacoma by modeling for their children what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I'm very excited about this day. I'm so excited about the fact that God has been bringing us families.

God is at work. He's moving in Tacoma. Please pray for our Mariner's game this Saturday. We are slated to take 92 people from our Community Dinner. That's one more opportunity to build relationships and share and show the love of Jesus to our neighbors. Pray that people show up. Pray that our people our bold. Pray that we have fun and please pray that more and more people get connected to Jesus.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Scatter Time.

My how time flies. My apologies for being a couple weeks behind on updating the blog. I'll do my best to get everyone up to speed.

Since my last post a lot has happened. We hosted our second and third community dinners, both of which had their own unique dynamic. The second dinner was our "add-on" and was booked solid. Unfortunately we had a lot of know shows. I think God knew what he was doing though because there were many faces familiar to me at that dinner. People we know from the neighborhood and other community organizations. The smaller dinner gave me the opportunity to chat with all of these people a little longer and we were still able to share our heart and the gospel with the whole crowd. The third dinner was much like the first. It was packed full. Our people did a great job engaging in conversation & once again the heart of our church and the gospel was shared with all who were in the room.

The day after the second and third dinners Kelli and I were the recipients of a tremendous gift. Along with several other couples we were blessed to spend 3 days and 2 nights at a Christian retreat center on Keats Island, just off the coast of Vancouver B.C. No phone, no internet, no t.v. It may have been 3 of the best days of our lives. Becca (who continually blesses us in more ways than we can count) was kind enough to watch Jagen and Rylan while we were gone and we were able to do nothing but relax. We walked along the water, slept in, ate good food, played pool and bocce ball, read and soaked in the outdoor hot tub overlooking the water and the Olympic mountains... we are so thankful.

While we were gone our emerging leaders did a great job of following up with people from the Community Dinners. We didn't want anyone to slip through the cracks as we geared up for Easter Sunday, which as you all know was also our Scatter Sunday. We were praying for big things that week and God is definitely beginning to spark some things into flame. Donna-- who just committed to being our permanent worship leader (long-time answer to prayer!) recruited a couple friends to play with her and we had a full band for the first time. Sunday was an amazing time of worship! We had lots of new faces from the dinners as well as some guests from the community who came in response to our Easter mailers and personal invitations. We talked about the reality of the Resurrections and the direct implications it has on our lives.

Last came our Scatter! Stacie Hooks has overseen all of our Intentional Community planning and leadership development through our Gather phase. She has done a phenomenal job. We called all of the leaders from our 7 IC's on stage to introduce them and pray over them. We gave a brief plug for every group and then passed out cards for everyone to express which group they were interested in. We had a great response and a great turnout for our first IC, an all women's group yesterday morning. Tonight Kelli and I will be leading an IC hosted by our good friend Scott Ignacio that we are extremely excited about. Please be praying that all of our groups get off to a great start this week. We don't want them to just start or survive... we are praying that they thrive and multiply!

So what's up next? Well, we have at least 10 people who have already expressed an interest in baptism. Pray as we follow up with them and prepare for a Baptism service on April 29th. We've also had a great response to our Parent/Child Dedication on April 22nd. We are so excited to see parents commit to raise their children to love Jesus. You can also pray for our trip to the Mariner's game on April 21st. This is going to be a very important time. We have over 90 people from outside our church signed up to go. With our unstable demographic, please pray that the majority of these people do show up and that we are able to build on these relationships for the glory of God.

There's really so much more to say but I don't want to bore you all to death. Praise Jesus for our Community Dinners. Praise him for our highest attendance ever on Easter Sunday. Praise him for the launch of 7 Intentional Communities across this great city. Thank you all for your prayers and we will continue to keep you posted.