Wednesday, July 3, 2024

From a Pastor's Heart

Yesterday I was told a long-time member of our church has decided to leave us for another church. It happens. However, this one seems to sting a bit more. Probably because I was never told. I heard through the grapevine a few vague excuses for their absence the past several weeks. But I never received a call, a text and conversation...even after requesting some time. 

I'm sure they have their reasons. A wise mentor once told me, "Never be disappointed with the will of God." But days like today makes that statement a true proclamation of faith...because I'm not feeling it.

It's the not knowing...the mystery of where I may have failed, had a blind spot or unknowingly caused an offense. "Where did I drop the ball?"

Maybe I didn't. Maybe it really is God. Maybe it's them. What did our church not do, not offer, that left their needs unmet? What about all the friendships that they had cultivated here over the years? Do people really just walk away from those bonds so easily?  Maybe it wasn't easy for them. Maybe it was.

God knows and He most likely will never tell me.

The first pastor I worked for many moons ago once said, "Whenever someone leaves your church, it's always a bit personal."

He was right. There's always that twinge of failure, the proverbial slap in the face, the personal feeling of rejection. 

The tough part as a pastor? We get to process it all alone. We are left alone to "figure it out" or to simply move on, shake the dust off our feet and press ahead. Not as easy at seems.
He'll simply ask me to pray for them and release them into His hands. He loves them more than I ever could. He knows every part of their heart. He knows every part of my heart too.

In the short existence of The Altar, we've seen people come and go. Many of the original core planting team is still here. Many came for a time and moved on. I'm normally fine with that. I find it a privilege to serve whomever God brings for however long they remain. I really do.

But I come back to my original angst: the sin of comparison. I struggle with it as others do. God has done a deep work in me in this area over the years.

Just this morning, not knowing my current malaise, a pastor friend sent me this meme.  

Pastor, you may feel inadequate and overwhelmed. But slow down and focus on what God is doing for you, in you and through you. Run your own race. Stay focused on His particular calling for your life and ministry. The ones He has brought to you are there for a purpose much greater than yourself. Serve them well. Love them unconditionally and trust Him every step of the way.

(Wow...I feel much better now.)

Thursday, February 8, 2024

The Apology


January 2023


Gary Chapman, famed for his landmark relational book, “The Five Love Languages” has another wonderful study called “The 5 Apology Languages.” Chapman lines out the reasons and methods of apology as well as the powerful effect it has on relationships. 

Apology comes easier for some. Based on personality type, it can be a needed bridge to healthy relationships or a trepid barrier. 

In November of 2015, two and a half years after my difficult departure from Believers Tabernacle, my brother and I received an email. It was addressed to both of us and it was an apology, pure and simple. It was difficult to read at first. A couple of years had passed and I was working hard at healing and recovery. It prompted face-to-face meetings in which the contents of the apology were hashed out. It was rough. It was sincere. It changed everything for me.

The email came from my life-long friend whom I had hired to be my Executive Pastor years previously. Our families had been close since we were five years old. My brother’s first job was working on their family farm. He called my mother “mom” after his own mother had passed away from cancer decades before. We hunted together, went to school together, grew up in church, in the altars praying together. We were tight. He was family and the feeling went both ways.

He opened the letter by saying, “I can’t keep living like this, with this cloud hanging over me.” He detailed how he played a key role, passively and actively in the mess and confusion of the event. He stated how he wished he could change things, could have done everything different by “standing up and stopping it.” “I could have,” he wrote. “I should have.”

It was raw. It was honest. It was real. At the time, he too was dealing with a similar fate of being pushed aside and he was angry and frustrated. Maybe he felt comfort in letting it all out so he could construct his own response to the disappointing pressure. He was feeling abandoned and alone. I had been there and he knew it. He didn’t like the feeling. Neither did I.

I’m not writing this to throw him under the bus. On the contrary, I’m actually writing it to honor him. I desperately needed someone who was there, on the inside, to acknowledge that it didn’t go down the way it was being portrayed to so many. That someone who knew “everything” would finally acknowledge some of the context, the decisions, the board agreements, and other things I was never allowed to share. My friend’s apology really did help. It did more than that. It began a deep healing in my heart. It gave me new life in some miraculous way.

Here's the rest of the story. I saw this important email in my inbox as I sat in Chicago O’Hare airport awaiting the long flight to Bangalore, India, and later to Nepal on a two-week mission trip. When I saw the email, my gut tightened, my heart sank and the familiar fear I had felt so many times in the spring of 2013 was there once again. I made the decision to not read it. I wanted to stay focused on the trip and God’s plan for it and not be sidetracked by the anguish that had become all too familiar.

The trip was incredible. As I sat in my hotel room in Katmandu, India, ready to board my flight home two weeks later, I remembered the email. I pulled it up on my phone and began to read. My nerves were on edge. I didn’t want more accusations or arguments. And, amazingly, that’s not what I got. It was a very important, detailed four pages that brought such healing. I wept.

I kept crying on the flight home in between naps. I remember praying, “Thank you Lord. I needed this. Not sure what I’m supposed to do with it, but I needed this.” He replied rather quickly. “It’s time to get back in the captain’s chair.” What?!

After more prayer and soul-searching. He was gently answering the question I had held in my spirit for several months. Was it time to leave the church that had loved me so much and brought healing and stability to my family for the past two years and once again run with the vision God had given me so many years before? If so, what would that look like? How would that ever happen?

I knew it was God speaking. And so we did it. And…wow God has been GOOD! I’m more content, satisfied, happy and excited about being a pastor than ever. Seriously…I mean it. It’s a wonderful thing when you come through a trial…and you discover God more beautifully for it…and you discover yourself once again. (The testimonies would take many, many more blogs…stay tuned).

The Lord has reminded me many times that this bold move to “move on” would not have been possible without the closure my friend had provided by saying, “I’m sorry.” What a powerful impact those two holy of holiest words can hold. I know without a doubt we could not have planted The Altar and resurrected the ministry of the Dream Center without reading those words.

My friend and I met after I returned home. It was difficult. I could see in his eyes and hear in his own words how sorry he was. I forgave him. Still do. He knew it. My brother was deeply affected by his apology as well. It helped rebuild the lifelong friendship they had enjoyed. Three weeks before my mother passed in 2016, he asked Randy and I for permission to come see her. Mom said, “yes.” They met. They cried together. My mom would never tell me what they talked about. (Believe me, I asked several times.) I’m not sure if she was protecting me, even on her death bed, or just that it was something so personal…for her heart alone. She needed to hear him offer the apology he had given me.

My friend is also in heaven now. He suffered from a brain aneurysm that took him way far too early. We talked on the phone three days before he passed. Tears flowed. But peace abounded. I’ll forever be thankful for that email and healing it brought both of us.

If you’re at odds with someone, make it right…quickly. Life is indeed too short to hold on to the poison of unforgiveness and regret. Be certain, that God may be trying to get a blessing to you, a word, some direction. Unforgiveness can clog the pipes and halt the things He wants to do for you and through you.

If you’re waiting for an apology, please know that it may never come. Your need to forgive and let go is still the imperative.

My friend gave me a sweet gift that God knew was needed for me to launch into a new phase of ministry…a new chapter of life.

I’ll always be grateful.


November 2022

I'm continuing the writing journey of processing parts of my lie and experiences. Nothing fancy, just leaving some stuff for my kids and anyone else that may find the ups and downs, the lessons learned, interesting.

I awoke this morning thinking how blessed I've been to be in church ministry, especially with the some of the incredible people I've worked alongside. It reminded me of many conversations, harrowing conversations and continue friendships. Loyalty is one of the greatest blessings a person can receive. Loyalty speaks to unconditional love in relationship. Let's face it. Many, okay...most relationships we encounter are more transactional than unconditional. IF you are performing at acceptable levels, everything remaining "normal" then we are good. But IF you deviate, waver, stumble...cause the relationship to wander outside the acceptable parameters, then I can't continue in the same manner with you.

We all do it. It's okay. Some are built to ride with you through the tough stuff. Others will fade away...or sprint as fast as they can.

When we went through our “wilderness” experience nearly ten years ago, it was loyalty that helped so much. Two people who suffered through the ordeal never waivered with me. (At least, they never let me know if they did.) Kendall and Kenny were the two most prominent in their generous support. They knew I was hurting, disillusioned, frustrated and lost. Yet, they never let go of me. They sent messages just at the right time. A link to a worship song; an encouraging word, a scripture or a simple, “I’m praying for you today, you’re on my heart. I’m here for you. I’m not letting you go.” They both are still an important part of my life and current ministry. Most importantly, they are both dear, close friends. 

 I was recently watching a news anchor who has his own show on some cable network. Earlier this year he was “unceremoniously dismissed” from his primetime show he hosted for years. I don’t remember what the circumstances were. I happened to channel surf and trip upon his opening monologue for his final Thanksgiving show. I’m so glad I did. He echoed so many of the sentiments, thoughts and emotions I have felt for many years. He was thankful for his family, friends, etc. He listed his producers and other support staff that followed him to his new gig. He was thankful for their belief in him when many others abandoned him. And he ended by thanking those who opposed him, who let him down. He thanked them for forcing some serious introspection into his own heart and life. Although he wouldn’t have chosen the way things went down…he was grateful it did go down. He was especially grateful for knowing clearly who his true friends were and those who weren’t. 

 One former board member told me, “We want to see you become a better pastor than ever.” Sort of the “this is gonna hurt me more than it hurts you” line. But I think he was sincere…not sure. 

 It worked. Instead of destroying me, it focused me. It certainly gave me a spine of steel. As one buddy said to me in the midst of that particular trial, “Sometimes a bully just needs punched in the mouth.” That happened…figuratively…and the next day everything stopped. Peace. Ability to move forward ensued.

But I’m grateful for the recalibrating. I know now, through years of prayer and some incredible Christian pastoral therapy, that I’m not the sum of my ministry. As our counselor told us at Emerge Ministries, “You’ve become enmeshed. You don’t know where the ministry ends and the man begins.” I needed to learn that. I’m thankful I can shut things down now. I can stare at my child playing and enjoy it, rather than being consumed with what else needs to be done at church. I’m glad that Polly and I have discovered other things to talk about when we’re home or on vacation. Most of all, I’m deeply grateful I’ve received a much clearer and deeper understanding of my own, personal identity in Christ. And “pastor” isn’t on the birth certificate. He loves me, not based on my performance, not based on my calling. His love isn’t transactional. He doesn’t look at me and size me up due to my most recent performance. Unfortunately, too many of those sitting in the pews and in the board rooms do that…but that’s okay. 

I chuckle when I think of the ones who told me they would always be with me…but aren’t today. One buddy of mine, a former pastor who I spent many hours with me after he went through a very traumatic church experience is one such friend. He’s a great guy. When he found out we were planting The Altar, he called me and we met for lunch. He was so excited and committed his family to be part of the launch team. He donated thousands of dollars’ worth of sound equipment. He was such a blessings and encouragement. We launched a few months later…and he never has stepped into the doors of our church…never. I’ve never been upset with him. He's a great guy. We’ve drifted and we haven’t talked in a couple of years. But he’s still a great man of God and I’m thankful for his friendship. 

Another key staff member shared a room with me one year at Pastor’s School in Phoenix, AZ. We stayed up one evening talking for hours. He kept pressing on how much he loved the church and how he and his wife were “in it for the long haul.” Three months later at a breakfast meeting he informed me that they were leaving to go back home to his home state. God had other incredible plans for him and who can argue with that? He's still a dear friend. Still loyal and true. 

Understand, loyalty isn’t always a physical presence, but a spiritual one. That kind of loyalty goes much deeper, rooted in grace, love and God’s way of linking us together. 

I’ve felt much the same way that TV anchor felt. I’m so thankful for my family. My beautiful wife, my three awesome boys and their unconditional love, and patience, toward me. I’m thankful for our church and the ministry God allows me to steward. I’m thankful for the new friends God has brought. There’s such a depth and commitment and commonality amongst my current gang of pastors I have the honor of hanging with. True covenant friends. Some used to work for me. Some have moved on to other awesome things. But sweet are the ones who God keeps close to you. I’m doing my best to be as loyal and true as so many have been to me. 


Thursday, May 19, 2022

Put It in Writing


“It doesn’t mean a thing unless it’s in writing.” I don’t remember hearing this statement before I went to work for Kenneth Woods at Bethel Life Center in1992. 

As the Music Pastor of BLC, I learned lots of people skills very quickly. The number of quick-witted, but poignant statements my pastor and boss would throw out at staff members are too many to recount. But I’m amazed at how, in just the right moment, an applicable platitude full of wisdom comes rushing back. 

Pastor Woods was a stickler for writing. He wrote well. He communicated well, especially in writing. He wasn’t one to make snap decisions just because a staff member burst into his office with an awesome idea. He was a processor as a leader…and boy did that trait get driven deep within me. 

Ministry is a very active exercise, especially on Sundays when most of the church people have gathered. Well-meaning people whom you haven’t seen in at least a week can and will come at you fast. “Hey, can you give me call this week?” “My aunt is having surgery on Thursday, can someone visit?” “I get off work tomorrow at 5:00 PM, will you give me a call at 5:05 so I can discuss something with you.” (These are the easy ones…the tough ones I’ll leave alone for the moment.). It’s okay…but the pressure to remember and make people feel prioritized is very real. Nothing feels worse than someone needing you to be there for them and you blew it off. Never intentional but deflating all the same. 

Therefore, as a staff member, I quickly learned the power of sticky notes. Remember, in 1992, no one had cell phones that texted and messaged back and forth. I didn’t even have a computer in my office at that point. 

I learned the importance of writing things down. Leaving my boss a note or memo (or sticky note) in his box was the preferred method of communication. My idea may have been awesome. I may have had the next great revelation to thrust the church forward. But if it wasn’t in writing it didn’t mean anything. 

One of my favorite written communications received from Pastor Woods usually happened during our weekly staff meetings on Monday mornings. After a couple of hours of reviewing the calendar, talking through challenges, preparing for coming ministry, a yellow sticky note would slowly make its way from his desk, through his secretary, then around the circle of chairs finally landing in my hands. (After a while, some rolled eyes and chuckles usually accompanied the note from my co-workers.) They understood that it was his usual simple note with a golf course name and tee time for that afternoon which he had already made. Remember, it didn’t mean anything until it was in writing. 

I eventually got very good at reminding others, “Please don’t hit me up with a question just before I walk on the platform to minister. I simply can’t promise I will remember it.” But if it was jotted down, I never forgot. Still don’t. 

Today of course, we email, text and message with great speed. And that method of written communication has actually become preferred. “Hey, text me. Shoot me a message and remind me.” Or “I’ll text you and give you details later.” Works so well. 

But there’s a much deeper harvest to glean from this tidbit, something that can save one’s bacon in a big way. It certainly rescued me in my time of distress. 

After becoming a Sr. Pastor in 2001, I carried on the mantra: “It doesn’t mean anything if it’s not in writing.” I quickly became a veracious recorder of written information. “Document everything” became my theme. 

I was young and a bit suspicious. I came into pastoring with a bit of paranoia due to the very public fall of a local pastor just a few years before my arrival to Hillside Assembly. The reason I was keenly sensitive was that our church quickly began to grow with many who were closely involved and victimized by the scandal. I knew these people because I used to attend church with them prior to marriage and settling into church ministry. I loved them and they loved me. However, I knew they had been hurt and their pain was something I wanted to help heal. I also was desperate for people to trust me and overcome their horrible experience and not carry that baggage into our small but growing church. 

I went overboard by documenting everything. I never wanted anyone to ever be able to question decisions or think I was ever moving forward unilaterally without board consent. I insisted on an Employee Contract that would detail my agreed upon income/benefits/bonuses as the church grew. I kept very detailed copies of every Board Agenda and Board Meeting Minutes. I actually used to bore myself talking so much at the beginning of each Board Meeting trying to answer questions that were never asked. 

This habit, in which I’m still very committed, saved me and my family twelve years later when I entered a difficult conflict with our church board and subsequently stepped away from the church. Every negative comment, every ounce of hyperbole or exaggeration (even just complete misinformation) could be easily accessed and explained away by strong documentation. Even when the church board decided to engage legal representation for counsel and I was forced to do the same. The minute the attorneys were made aware of how thorough my documentation was, the conflicts were resolved, and everyone stood down. (Praise God for that!). Understand, I made mistakes, made assumptions and in the final couple of years of my tenure there, did not communicate clearly enough. I was burned out, functioning in a fog and had poor judgment in several areas of my leadership. I freely admit that. But I’m glad my first Sr. Pastor taught me the power of documentation. (More on my burnout in another article). 

It’s funny. The most important things I’ve learned in ministry were things never taught in theology classes. I have often thought that universities and seminaries should require classes in business, interpersonal communication and social work for those seeking degrees in ministry work. Those are things that offer such value and protection to young pastors. 

Side note. As the age of technology was shifting communications from verbal to digital I was blessed to have hired an incredible young man as our Media Pastor. Without my knowledge, he had set up all of my email communications to automatically back up into my personal Gmail account. As I waded through lots of my own Word files of Agendas and Minutes…I stumbled upon an archive of literally every email I had sent and received tucked away online “in the cloud.” I had no idea he had set that service up and thought I no longer had access to all those pieces of communication until a year after my departure from BT. The day I found those files I wept. All of the interactions, requests I had made, responses I received and offered to others was right there. The things I thought I couldn’t document were there! I’m so thankful. That kind of discovery may not mean much to you, but it was golden to me. It gave great peace to my heart to see, in black and white, what I had only known in my head but could never prove. Thanks GB! I owe you.

My wife and I have kept copious notes through all our children’s educational journeys, especially for our child with special needs who struggled with school. Teachers and counselors were always surprised when we would walk into IEP meetings with notebooks full of printed off notes, emails and research. 

So, remember, it’s good to make phone calls, have meetings, confer on decisions, cast vision, even dole out discipline as a leader…but write it all down in the moment. Send the email to review and follow up. Keep copies of EVERYTHING for your own personal records. And if you haven’t already…get very familiar with The Cloud. Because it doesn’t mean anything if it isn’t in writing.

My Story Verse 2

I’ve neglected to write down the “breakthroughs” that the Lord has provided to me through very difficult losses, trials, tragedy, etc.  Writing is processing and healing for me. So here's a bit more.

Before 2013, I really had not known much loss. I was the “golden boy.” Doors opened before me. I actually had never, ever applied for a job. It was my phone that always rang, even since Paul Smith, manager of our local C.O. Mammel’s grocery store in Great Bend, KS asked me one day to come work for him at age 14. In 2012, an interesting, perfect storm of circumstances and pressure gathered and it became too much to manage with talent and grit (my typical default). 

Polly had gone back to school in 2009 to earn her Master of Social Work from Wichita State University. Our two oldest boys were in school, she now had the time after spending so many years raising our boys at home. She graduated with honors in May of 2011. 

Just after our 20th wedding anniversary (September 2011), she called me on the phone to ask me a life-altering question: “Are you ready to start over?” (She then explained that she was at her annual OBGYN appointment and had discovered that she was pregnant for the first time.) Disbelief was an understatement. 

We had toiled and worked hard at raising our two adopted sons while simultaneously “raising” a church that had been on the brink of closure. God had blessed our ministry, the church was strong and healthy. Our boys were settled into their educational routines and doing very well. All was right with the Freemans. 

Polly decided to go back to school to do something “for her.” She deserved it. She is extremely talented and while completing a practicum at the Kansas University/Wesley Pediatric Clinic, she was informed that they were planning to create a new position for her after graduation. This was our retirement plan. Her income would be saved and invested for our future. It was a great plan! But as the old saying goes, “Want to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans.” 

At 44 years old, Polly’s pregnancy was “high risk” in every form of the word. Her dad had diabetes, so she was put on a strict diet and had to test her blood sugar four times a day. Her mother had recently undergone heart bypass. Therefore, a complete cardiac workup was ordered. We were then informed that after age 40, 1 in 12 births resulted in a Downs Syndrome child. Everything got very stressful very quickly. Church members and friends were laughing and celebrating the news. All the while I was panicking, dying inside with no one to tell, except Polly. 

At the same time, I was feeling remarkably stuck and frustrated with our church. After 10 years of continuous growth, we had plateaued, and I wasn’t handling it well. I was offered lots of answers. “We need a new property.” That was true. “You need to hire an Executive Pastor to take some of the load off your plate.” Tried that once and it didn’t work out well. “You need a sabbatical to clear your head, to slow down, ‘get it from God.’” Probably. It had been a fierce 10-year sprint and I found myself managing staff more than I was pastoring the church, the thing I was best at. No one to blame but myself. My heart wasn’t dark. There were no sin issues. I was simply running on empty and I didn’t know how to refuel. 

On top of that, my wife was pregnant. Our slick, future plans were washed away amid the pressure to “perform” for my congregation and team; and the extreme fatigue and concern of how we were going to manage a newborn along with two teenaged boys. 

It didn’t end well. (I’ll write more of why and how later). I was encouraged to request a sabbatical by our denominational leaders and other pastor buddies of mine. When I finally mustered up the courage to request a three-month break, I was met with obvious push back. “I don’t get to take three months off from my job.” “What’s wrong with you that can’t be fixed with more prayer and fasting. Go get it from God.” “The finances are going to tank without you here.” I was stunned by the reaction of so many I had trusted for so many years. It felt like my performance was much more important than my mental and emotional health. I just wanted to survive, to figure out what was causing me to live in this cloud of confusion and stress. 

Leadership finally relented and I spent the three months away from the one place I felt most at home…the church I was leading. My heart was there but I was struggling to find out why it wasn’t as joyful as it once was. Why I was avoiding the office, passing off important decisions to others…and in reality, creating a leadership vacuum that was bound to be filled by someone else if I couldn’t get my act together. 

In short, after four months away, many meetings, weird accusations and hurt feelings…I was told by my pastor that I must resign. He told me, “The noose they are about to put around your neck won’t work for you or your family. If you don’t leave, they will find a reason to fire you. If not now…six months from now.” That was it. It was decided for me. Twelve years seemingly vanished. My family lost personal friendships that had lasted decades. My kids lost their youth group and friends. Every investment, prayer, sermon, worship time seemed to be nothing. None of it mattered any longer. 

The loss was, at that point, the most crushing thing I had ever experienced. It wasn’t life or death…but it sure felt like a death. And for anyone who’s ever been in that type of situation, the loss of identity, significance and security cannot be understated. “How will I provide for my family?” “What will people think?” “What do we do next?” 

Our decision process took about two months. Of course, I was being pressured into making life decisions much quicker than that. I simply had to resist and take time. I had learned as a leader, a husband and a father, that snap decisions made under pressure is a recipe for disaster. After some wonderful counsel, some time to hear from the Lord, rather than be overwhelmed by self-doubt and debilitating fear, we made an important family decision. My mother, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer while I was on sabbatical, was undergoing treatment. We had a one-year-old baby who needed grandmas and grandpas, a family value we had decided upon when our older two were born. We would not have made it through this storm without our strong family roots. We simply were not going to leave Wichita to pursue other ministry opportunities, even though offers were made. We were staying close to family and the Lord would have to work out the rest. There was tremendous peace with the decision, but a tremendous cost as well. More storm clouds would be on the horizon. 

The Lord opened doors for us…as He always had. I was healing and recovering as was my wife and three boys. But depression was a new companion for me. More to come…

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

 Equity v. Equality

Words mean things.  I learned this truth early on in my adult years.  Beyond the obvious: lying, exaggerating, shading the truth, gossip, etc....the slanted definition of terms is a popular ploy in our current culture.  If common words can be redefine or re-appropriated to take on a new meaning...the audience can be duped into believing anything.

It may have become most obvious in my lifetime when former president Bill Clinton, while under oath, famously said, "It depends on what your definition of"  Nowhere in our culture is the defining and redefining of terms more obvious than in the legal/political.  The proper or improper use of one single term can bring victory resulting in freedom or condemn the accused to guilt.

Today, we are witnessing the subtle reworking of terms in the political realm with the battle between "equity" and "equality."  I've dug deep trying to clarify these terms in today's vernacular and the effort is increasingly difficult.  I am convinced it's not an accident.

No normal, red-blooded American struggles with the concept of equality.  Our most precious founding document, the Declaration of Independence is clear:  "We find these truths to be evident, that all men are created equal..."  But equality is not equity.

Here's my distilled definition of terms:  EQUALITY refers to that of opportunityEQUITY speaks to outcomes.  Therein lies the danger of terminology re-appropriation.   Many are mixing the terms, on purpose, in order to win hearts and minds and twist our thoughts of faith, government and power.

Our nation was founded upon the concept that everyone is placed on this earth by our Creator with the same opportunities:  life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  But not everyone will realize the same outcome in that pursuit, nor should they.  My definition of happiness, the freedom to pursue my dreams and take advantage of each opportunity as it is presented, may be much different than yours.  My contentment with what I have achieved...or drive to achieve more may be in stark contrast to another's desires and pursuits.  That's what.  That's called freedom!

Not everyone wants a college education...but I did.  Not everyone wants to be in the ministry and pastor a church...but that's what God called me to do.  Not everyone will make a million dollars and retire to the quiet life...but they can if they want.  They have the opportunity...but the outcome is not determined nor is it guaranteed.

We must look no further than the Kingdom of God to clearly see the difference between equality and equity.  We know that is is not God's will (desired outcome) that any would perish but that all would come to the saving knowledge of His Son Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:9)  Sadly, not everyone will.  But simple, basic scriptural interpretation clarifies that all have equal opportunity.  John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life."  That word, "whosever" is very telling.  Everyone has the equal opportunity to believe...but this verse also explains that not everyone will equitably enjoy the fruits of everlasting life."

"To all who believe" is the ringing declaration of hope for freedom and eternity to anyone and everyone.  However, there must be a response, a choice...the human will to joyfully accept God's invitation and reap the fruits.  Jesus, Himself is most clear that rejection of Abba Father's offer will bring much different results.

So...does one's own choice to not accept Jesus make God an inequitable Creator who hasn't given everyone their fair shake?  Absolutely not!  Sending His Son as THE  one and only opportunity to "all who believe" makes His very existence rooted in His love and desire for all of His creation to chose Him. The outcome is realized by enjoying the favor of eternity and the fruit of His love on this side of eternity as well.

Let me be clear. As a follower of Christ it IS our responsibility to lift up those who are not seeing equitable results. At times the equality of opportunity is not fully understood unless we explain and model for them.  We should into every man's world (as Oral Roberts used to say) and pull people up and out, offer the opportunities that others have not exemplified.  How will they know unless someone tells them? (Romans 10:14)

Our job as believers (and of good citizens) is to increase the equality of opportunity to as many as possible, regardless of race, creed, socio-economic status.  The Gospel is the ultimate statement of equality.  "The ground is level at the foot of the cross."  My heart aches that as a pastor I cannot offer the equity of eternity (outcome)...but that determination is not mine to make.  But our loving Father has made the opportunity the greatest mark of equality in the history of mankind.

Be careful with words.  Watch out that you are not deceived into rallying around the idea that a government or any man-made institution can guarantee universal, desired outcomes.  They can't.  It's simply not possible. God never set His own Kingdom up with such a promise.  Why we ever believe man could offer such a guarantee?

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

“God, Give Me Wichita!”

“God, Give Me Wichita!”

It was 7 AM.  I had come to church early to spend some time praying in the newly built sanctuary of Bethel Life Center in Wichita, KS.  It was July 1998 and I had served as the Music Pastor there for more than six years.  The worship music was playing, I had read some of Scripture and I could feel the presence of the Lord as I had so many times in that holy place of worship. Then something happened to me that had never happened before.  I had recently read Jeremiah 29:7 which says:

Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 

As I began to pray for my city, the Holy Spirit came upon me in a very unusual way.  I can only describe it as a deep intercession, a travail by the Spirit of the Lord.  I fell down across the prayer altar, weeping deeply and crying out at the top of my lungs, “God, give me Wichita!  God, give me Wichita!”  It was nothing manufactured in the recesses of my mind.  This cry was different.  It was so strange to me. I remember thinking, “Where is this coming from?”  I knew…so did He.

Every decision in my ministry and for my family has pivoted on this encounter with the Lord since that day.  As with any call, it has been tested, resisted and even mocked.  But God has proven Himself faithful to it every step of the way.

Several years ago, in the midst of a very dark time of loneliness, rejection and fear, the Lord again spoke.  “I’ve called you to Wichita.  Every other option will be barren for you. Get up and walk by faith, as if nothing has ever happened…as if you’ve never missed a beat.”  It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.  But that’s why it’s called “walking by faith.”  His voice was so strong and clear and still resonates deeply today.

Let’s face it.  I’m not the only pastor in Wichita.  God has a plan and specific purpose for each pastor and local church.  Each local church has its own, unique fingerprint in the city.  My 28 years of ministry in Wichita have produced life-long friendships and covenant partnerships that continue strong to this day.  I believe that God’s church in Wichita has never been stronger.  Local congregations are reaching more people with the Gospel than ever.  The Wichita Prayer Movement has exploded unity among the churches in unprecedented ways.  My friend Sam McVay, while on an overseas mission trip heard the Lord tell him, “What you do with prayer in Wichita will affect the nation.”  Lives are being changed!  No one will ever convince me that God isn’t moving in Wichita.  Mantles of saints who served this city well have been passed on to a new generation running passionately for the Kingdom.  The church has never been better, more passionate, more focused on the cause.

God loves Wichita and I love it too.  He’s placed a burden upon me as he has so many others.  Thanks to all my Wichita brothers and sisters who are doing their part to see God do His thing!  Let’s keep running this race together.  He’s doing it…just open your eyes.

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