“The First Five Years”

Five years ago this weekend Parkland Chapel began in my basement. Reflecting on the past and considering the future, I decided to share some thoughts about Calvary Chapel church planting, using the acrostic CHURCH. (This is my first attempt at an acrostic. I still carry around mild emotional scarring from a steamy August summer camp sermon, given circa 1980, by an ancient preacher, who, in an open air pavilion, passionately exhorted the hundred or so sweltering pre-teens from a message based on the acrostic ‘CHRISTIAN’. With a slight shudder I recount that forty five minutes into his address he was on the letter ‘R’. I will try to be a tad more succinct.)

Called:
If there is one thing that must be present in Christian life and work it is calling. “He has saved us and called us with a holy calling (2 Tim. 1:9),” wrote Paul to Timothy.

Twelve years ago, while living in the Parkland area, Lucinda and I felt God’s call to plant a Calvary Chapel in this area. In February of 1998 we obeyed God’s call to relocate to Southern California, to become equipped for such a task. In June of 2005 we obeyed God’s call to return to Missouri and begin the church plant that he had put on our hearts so many years earlier.

I believe, as a pastor, it is important to feel a call to a place and its people. I believe it is equally important to know the purpose for which God has called you to that place and people. My call is to teach the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, verse by verse, to any who God has called to assemble and listen. My call to teach the word, in this place and to these people, burns as hot today as it did five years ago. (In five years we have made it to the book of Ruth in the Old Testament, and the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament!)

Incidentally, the word “church”, in the New Testament, simply means a called out assembly. Since the inception of our church I have adopted a prayer that goes something like this; “Lord, bring all you would have to be here. And keep all others away.” I believe the people who are a part of our local fellowship should feel as called to be a part of it as I feel called to be the pastor of it. This allows God to grow and fashion our church in His time and to His liking. I love the people God has called to comprise our little fellowship. What an honor and a privilege to watch the Lord call out an assembly.

Humility:
I have heard it said that if you can recognize humility in your life you have probably already lost it.  I do not know if that is true, but it preaches well. I also have heard it said that hind-sight is 20/20, and if I look back over the past five years one thing I can see clearly now is that I have lacked humility.  I embrace the idea of humility intellectually. I enjoy quoting James 4:6, “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” But what I am learning is that humility is closely associated with humiliation. In fact, in order for me be humble I must often be humiliated. Jesus “humbled Himself (Phil. 2:8)”, that is, He was humiliated.

Personally, one of the most painful parts of serving the Lord and growing as a Christian over the past five years has been the process of Him making me humble. Humility is not an option for the servant of God. And the road to humility always winds through humiliation.

Sometimes humiliation is self inflicted. Other times the Lord uses people or circumstances. No matter how it arrives, humiliation is never something my heart longs for, nor it seems, accepts easily. I would love to just pray for humility and, POOF, be humble. But I am aware, the servant not being greater than his Master, that humiliation is a crossroad I will intersect many more times along this journey, should the Lord tarry. I pray I would, through accepting humiliation, become a humble man; to better exemplify my Savior, to better love my family and to better shepherd my flock.

Unity:
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity (Ps. 133:1).” After Jesus’ ascension, the 120 believers waited for 10 days in the Upper Room, with, the scripture says, “one accord (Acts 2:1)”—that is, unity.  Best I can tell, this is the first sign in any Christian gathering that the Spirit is present. For, “how can two walk together unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3)

In the Old Testament, King Solomon had all of the stones for the Temple quarried and cut to size off sight and then transported via rollers up to the Temple Mount, where they were silently slid into place. There was to be no sound of a hammer or chisel in the house of the Lord (1 Kings 6:7). Even before our fellowship began to meet, I prayed that the church would grow quietly—that God would quarry those who would be a part of our church off site and slide them gently and silently into place. People have so much noise in their lives they desperately need the church to be a sanctuary. The flock cannot comfortably lie down in green pastures by still waters if the waters are foaming and roaring.

I thank the Lord for answering yes to this prayer. From the inception of our fellowship, there has just been a real unity among those who have stayed. I have found that as long as I get out of God’s way and let Him build His church, He fits together the living stones perfectly smoothly and quietly, without a lot of distraction or commotion (1 Peter 2:5). I stand in awe of the group He has fit together at Parkland Chapel.

Reliance:
Complete reliance upon Him. Where God guides He provides. For five years He has sustained this ministry financially through a small, unmarked tithes and offerings box that resides on a table in the church foyer. Without ever once asking for money or passing the plate, He has allowed us to purchase buildings, buy supplies, be generous in benevolence, and support missions—in fact, 10% of all that we receive as a church goes to missions, both domestic and foreign.

He has provided our church with gifted and qualified people to lead worship, greet at the door, run the sound system, oversee ministries, mow the lawn, and serve with the children and the youth. There are people from our congregation serving or teaching at Farmington Manor Nursing Home, The Mental Health Hospital, the Pregnancy Resource Center, the Farmington Skate Park, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Coaches Huddle. We don’t have lots of programs. We just do what the Lord opens the eyes of our heart to, and let Him couple that with opening the doors to get involved.

I love the Where God Guides He Provides model, because it works in Missouri or Malawi, Farmington or Fiji. When the love of Christ compels a person to give or serve, God gets the glory and they stay committed, without cajoling or coercing.

Consistency:
In 1793, a young man named William Cary left England for India and served as a missionary there until his death, over 40 years later. He was without a convert for seven years. He lost a child. His wife was tormented emotionally. But he continued on to earn the nick-name The Father of Modern Missions. When asked near the end of his career what made him effective, he responded, “I can plod.”

My second summer in Farmington, as I meditated on the word and prayed, God gave me a word regarding our church from Ezra 7:13; “This is not the work of one or two days.” So, I purposed in my heart, as the hardworking farmer from 2 Timothy 2:6, to plod away, plowing straight rows, planting and watering, and let God give the increase (1 Corinthians 3:7). In this I have learned to drink from the well of contentment—contentment in God alone, rather than the number that attends on a Sunday morning, how many conversions happened last year, or how many were baptized. Galatians 6:8 has become my constant companion, “And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”  The three laws to sowing and reaping are: you always reap after the kind you sow; you always reap more than you sow, and you always reap later. In Ezekiel 47, Ezekiel was shown a river flowing from under the Temple. When the depth of the river was measured the first time it was ankle deep, the second time knee deep, the third time waist deep, and the last time it was so deep it could not be crossed. I believe we are, as a church, at the ankle depth of what God wants to do to us and through us.

Until later, we work and wait.

Holiness:
Holiness, by definition, is to be set apart. It is to be different—way different–from the world, and even different than the lukewarm church at large.

“Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord (Is 52:11).” 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of the darkness and into His marvelous light. “ 1 Peter 1:15 states, “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all of your ways.”

I believe the single biggest reason the church at large is so anemic in our generation is a lack of holiness, from the parishioners to the pastors. Paul wrote about people that constitute an ineffective church. He said, “they have a form of godliness, but deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5).” What is the power of godliness they denied, or lacked? Here’s the answer; Holiness.  A changed life. Called out of the darkness and not living anywhere near darkness any longer.

I’m not throwing stones. I sadly admit I am part of the problem. Yet I deeply desire to be part of the solution. And if “judgment begins in the house of the Lord (1 Pet 4:17)”, then should not repentance and revival also? I can’t change everyone, but I can let the Lord change me, and hopefully, by God’s grace, impact a few around me. Therefore, it is my prayer for myself and our church, that over the course of our next five years we would re-consecrate our lives as living sacrifices unto the Lord and that He grant us a double portion of holiness in comparison to our first five years. After all, “without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).” I desire to see all of Him I can–“Jesus Christ in (me), (my) hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).”

God bless,
Pastor Mike

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