Pastor's Blog

When I first came to Mountain View Chapel, the church only owned the classic building and the parking lots directly connected to it. 

The big field on which the new building now sits was a 13-acre flag lot, and the “pole” of the flag was the strip of grass just below the classic building’s parking lot.  When the church started to grow it seemed to me an obvious providence that we would one day purchase that 13-acre field so we could expand.

The ground was owned by a couple that was working through a difficult divorce.  Someone in the church knew the husband and we began working with him to try to obtain the property.  He was willing to sell it to us at a very low price – but the divorce had to be worked out first.

When the divorce was finalized, the man we had built the relationship with and with whom we had been dealing all along didn’t get the property.  His wife did, and she refused to sell the ground to us.

I couldn’t believe it.  The providence was so obvious!  How could God arrange things so neatly and then blow it at the last minute?

The more we tried to persuade the woman to sell us the land, the more adamant she got that she wouldn’t.  The door was closed and locked tightly.  We went property shopping and found a lovely 15-acre lot for sale at the other end of Douglass Drive.  Doors began to open for the purchase of that plot, and although we were not comfortable with it, it seemed there was little choice.  We assumed this was God’s way of directing our steps.

We were well on our way to making the purchase and had worked out most of the deal.  Just before we were ready to close on the property, some of the elders said, “Maybe we should check one more time into the field behind our building.  Maybe things have changed and the woman will sell it to us.”

What harm could there be?  We called the woman and we were all shocked when, without hesitation, she said she was ready to sell!  Her plans for the land didn’t meet township regulations, so she no had no further use for the property. 

We offered her $125,000 cash for the property and she accepted immediately!  And that’s how we obtained the property on which our new building stands.

We FINALLY had land to expand!  I had been leading two services for several years by that time, and I was emotionally wearing out.  With the purchase of the land, I saw a light at the end of the tunnel.  The day we closed on the 13-acre lot, one of our elders said, “By my calculations, if we can save at the same rate that we saved for this property, we’ll have enough for a down payment on a new building in about . . . ten years.”

TEN YEARS???  His comment burst my balloon and my joy evaporated.  Ten more years of two services?  What’s more, both services were filling up and we were talking about the need to launch a third!  Between visiting, counseling, running Bible studies and preaching and doing all of the prep for those things I was working 60-70 hour weeks pretty regularly.  I barely got to see my wife and children.  And I’d have to be doing that (or more) for ten more years??? 

Within ten years my girls would be graduated from high school and I would have missed out on most of their lives.

So I did something that was completely uncharacteristic of me . . .

Throughout the 1990’s I was wrestling doubts about God’s existence.  Instead of removing me from ministry a loving heavenly Father kept me pinned right where I was.  Worse, He kept blessing our little church!  We grew but not in one big leap.

We experienced two splits, one in the early 90’s and one in the late 90’s.  In both I was betrayed by friends.  In both we lost significant numbers and I was afraid the church would die.  But within a month of each split, the seats were full again.  I wasn’t going out seeking attenders and I wasn’t doing anything to promote the church.  People just sort of arrived and stayed.

I was so engrossed in the pain of betrayal that I failed to see God’s hand blessing the work I was doing so begrudgingly.  He was smiling on me, but I was scowling and grumbling, not sure He was even there.

The split of the late 90’s involved ruthless personal attacks behind the scenes.  I experienced painful betrayals that crushed my soul.  I felt very alone and was at the height of my flirtation with atheism.  I was hurt and angry.  My wife and I decided to get away with a little trip to our alma mater for its annual Fall Bible conference.  Getting back to the little college where our life together began was pleasantly nostalgic.  We walked across a familiar campus, now peopled with unfamiliar faces, and sat down for the first session of the Bible conference.

I didn’t know the speaker and don’t remember his name.  I do remember his text was John 13 where Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.  He made the simple observation that Judas was still in the room and Jesus washed Judas’ feet, knowing that Judas was his betrayer.  And then he talked about how people betray you when you are in ministry, and if you want to be like Jesus, you must overlook that and “wash their feet”:  forgive them and serve them.

I was furious with that message.  I had come all the way to that Bible conference to find solace and comfort and instead I got a tough message aimed at my pain.  No pampering, no coddling, no soothing.  Just a cold matter-of-fact assertion that I wasn’t handling betrayal the right way at all. 

But then I was struck by the truth that this was too coincidental to be mere coincidence.  Behind the anger a deep-seated joyful confidence was forming.  That message was not just aimed, it was targeted.  For me.  Not by the preacher, but by the Holy Spirit of God.  The Holy Spirit was undeniably there.  I was known and cared for.  He had seen to it that that message was prepared months in advance by a man clueless about who would be listening, and He had seen to it that my wife and I were moved to go hear that exact message.  It was the bizarre glory of divine providence.

At first, I felt it really took a lot of chutzpah for God to be that pointed!  Couldn’t He see how serious my doubts and questions were and how badly I was hurting???  But when my soul looked up at Him with my furrowed brow and my little pinched lips, He burst out laughing at me.  It was unsettling at first.  And then I realized I looked like a two-year old throwing a temper tantrum!  He laughed at me the way I laughed at my own children!  His laughter made ME laugh at myself and at my littleness – my little thoughts, my little anger, my little doubts, my little rebellion, my little hurts.  I laughed at how seriously I was taking myself.  Please understand that I didn’t see a vision or anything like that.  I felt these things deep in my soul and the illustration is to help you understand how my soul felt. 

It was all too coincidental to be anything but a divine encounter, and it changed me.  The Spirit of God planted a seed of truth in my soul that let me know He was there, that He knew what was going on in my life, and that He cared for me and for this little church He had entrusted to me.  My soul was moving in a better direction, back toward evangelical faith.

I wish I could say I’m over betrayal.  It still hurts when I remember it, and occasionally I fight bitterness rising in my soul.  I remind myself that I must become the type of person that washes Judas’ feet without making sarcastic comments and without giving him pain by squeezing the base of his toenails or the pressure point just above his ankle to let him know how I really feel.

And somehow there was healing for my soul in the thought of God laughing at me.

 

 

I once confronted a woman who was cheating on her husband.  With a straight face she told me it was all right because “she had a peace about it”.

In the previous blog I talked about the irreverence developed in my soul by my flirtation with atheism.  Sometimes that irreverence is directed at God, but just as often – perhaps more often – it’s directed at evangelical traditions that I find strange – like the idea that having peace about a decision is a way to know that you have found God’s perfect will for your life.  (The very notion of “God’s perfect will for your life” also provokes my irreverence – but I’ll save that for another blog.)

I want to mention just three points.  First, you can have a peace about anything you WANT TO have peace about.  Human nature thrives on justifying (read “finding peace about”) wrongdoing.

Second, what if a decision needs to be made and you can’t “find a peace”?  Then what?  Indecision about a thing is itself a decision – whether you have a peace about it or not.  

And finally, in my own life I have found that some of the best and wisest and most fruitful decisions I have ever made did not involve having a peace about it – unless by 'peace' you mean “resignation because life forced your hand and gave you little choice.”

I never wanted to be a pastor.  I wanted to teach in higher education.  My first master’s degree – a two-year degree – took me nine years to obtain because I had a job, a family, and was pastoring a church.  I began working on my second master’s degree (also a two-year degree), but life made it clear that I wasn’t going to finish.  I slugged through a few more years of post-grad classes, and I got so closeI was almost at the finish line.  I only needed two or three more classes and a thesis.  But life had piled too many other responsibilities on my shoulders, and I couldn’t keep doing all of them.  I had to decide what was important.

I was agitated and frustrated.  I didn’t like having to make the decision to end my formal education.  But it had to be made.  My dislike for the decision was irrelevant.  I knew the responsible thing to do, and I did not have a peace about it.  I did it anyway.

The church was burgeoning.  We needed to buy land and build a larger facility, but we couldn’t see any way our little group could save what we needed any time soon.  I suggested we go to multiple services.  I didn’t want to go to two services and I certainly didn't have a peace about it.  I hated the thought of it!  Seeing the seats full was exciting!  Seeing good friends and singing together and running ministries together was enjoyable!  Creating a second service would break up all that good stuff and would make things uncomfortable and inconvenient, and it is hard to persuade people to stick with something uncomfortable and inconvenient for very long.  But what else was to be done?

We groaned, held our noses, made the plans, and launched two services.  I was not at peace.  I saw all the potential problems with leading two services – and I was right about all of them!  We experienced misunderstandings and conflict.  We experienced a sizable split and I had to start all over again rebuilding what had been broken.  I was away from my family more.  My wife took the kids home after the first service on Sunday, and often I didn’t get home from conversations or counseling after the service until 2 or 3 pm.  It was inconvenient and troublesome and seemed like it would never end.  I was under a lot of stress, experienced panic attacks at times, and felt anything but peace.  I often wondered if we had done the right thing.

But you know the end of the story.  All those decisions, troublesome as they were, ended up paving the road to blessing.  After three years in multiple services we bought 13 acres of land.  After another four years in multiple services we built a new building.  And for most of those decisions, I didn't have a peace about it.

I’d venture to say that one of the few things I now have a peace about is that it is not necessary to have a peace about a decision in order to make a good decision.  You just need to decide and divine providence will give you a gift:  a whole new set of challenging decisions.

 

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