Saturday, May 22, 2010

God is Leading

This post is the most difficult post I've ever written. This is the bulk of the sermon from todays service.

A rubber band is only worth anything when it’s stretched. Un-stretched it serves no legitimate purpose. It has to be stretched to reach its fullest potential.

It’s truly amazing how God stretches you in areas of your life. As I take some time and look back over the last year in my life I’m truly amazed at what God has done in me.

In January of 09, I was offered an amazing position as executive pastor in a church in another state. The role would be to lead all pastoral staff, as well as develop and implement a 10 year church planting and satellite campus strategy for a quickly growing church of over 2000, literally a dream job. But I didn’t feel settled at all in my heart. God had planted me here in Des Moines, and I was completely settled with that. So I quickly turned it down. I was honored and thrilled and flattered all at the same time, but I “knew” it wasn’t for me.

As I shared all this with my accountability/mentors in my life, they freaked out on me. Each one challenged me as to why I wouldn’t even consider flying out there and looking at it. I said I knew I was to be here in Des Moines at the time, and left it at that.

I continued moving forward as the pastor of JCFC with full intentions of spending the rest of my life in Des Moines. By the late fall, I had really begun to feel God dealing with me about the possibility of leaving JCFC. I wasn’t even sure what to make of that thought? Was I, in myself, thinking those things? Or was God really trying to talk with me about stepping away from JCFC?

The next several months through Christmas were a very tumultuous time in my life. As I waited to hear a yes or no from God, I was praying and asking God for direction in my life and the life of Jordan Creek during this tenure. Dara and I prayed and wondered if God was using these nudges from Him, to get my Type A personality to stop being so focused at JCFC and listen to what God was really saying. Was He trying to get me to a place that I could lift me head up out the “zone” long enough to actually hear God saying it was time for me to be done at JCFC? I wasn’t sure, I just knew that over the Holidays I was at a breaking point mentally about what God wanted me to do.

I was just in a fog, emotionally and spiritually. Meanwhile my team is still pushing for direction and next sermon series and future outreaches. I was torn between 2 worlds.

On one hand I felt like God was changing my heart and dealing with me about stepping out of leadership at JCFC. This was such a hard conversation in my mind, I almost couldn’t have it. When you plant a church, its like having a child, you labor and sweat to get the baby on the ground, then, you spend years nursing it along, protecting it from disease and virus. You guard it, grow it, and love and encourage it. It becomes your life, your very fiber of being, almost your reason to live and be in ministry.

So thinking about leaving it, and turning it over to someone else seemed ridiculous. Yet on the other hand, I was feeling God tell me to do that exact thing. It didn’t make sense. I don’t have another job lined out. I don’t have thousands in savings; I don’t know what the next step would even be. But yet I felt God was dealing with me about resigning.

In February we took our team to C3 again. (Fellowship Church in Dallas, hosts an amazing pastor’s conference every year at their Grapevine, Texas campus.) It was an incredible time of ministry, and our guys where bursting at the seams to get back to DSM and “charge hell with a water gun.” We were all having incredible conversations, and they were excited about going to the next level at JCFC.

On Friday, Bishop Jakes spoke about a GPS, and hearing a word from God and walking in obedience to that word until you hear the next word of “turning right.” He related this to several Bible stories, including Peter walking on the water, and Abraham obeying God to sacrifice his promised son Isaac to the point of raising the knife, when God said Abraham Turn Right! There is a ram in the thicket…

For me this was an unbelievable message. I sat transfixed in the seat, asking God if he really was calling me away from Jordan Creek. Was He really asking me to step down from leadership, and walk away from the baby that Dara and I had worked so hard to birth? I thought, here I am at C3 with my team, and God you really are saying for me to leave?

I was overcome, silently weeping in the chair, as I told God I couldn’t make this kind of decision. What was I to do for my family? This isn’t the kind of economy to quit your job without some kind of plan. And what would happen to the church? We don’t have a building, we are still portable…

As Bishop was wrapping up the talk, I just quietly began to pray. I asked God as we started to stand as a congregation, to just confirm all this with someone who doesn’t know me, who doesn’t know anything about me, and who has no idea what is happening. I just couldn’t make that level of decision without really knowing, that I know, that it was God. I thought what if all this is just me, and I’m making a mistake. Again I prayed, “God you have to confirm this through someone else.”

Immediately God said to me, “Turn and have the lady in the purple suit behind you pray for you.”

I said, “What? Right here at FC in the middle of Bishops prayer? What if she’s crazy? What if she makes a disruptive scene? God, I cant…”

God quietly but very firmly said, “You just asked me to confirm this in you through someone else, turn and ask her to pray for you.”

So half-heartedly obeying, I turned sideways in front of my seat. Hands clasped together on my chest, sobbing as the Bishop prayed. I knew I was to ask her to pray for me, but honestly I was scared. So I said, “God let me take 2 deep breaths, then I will.”

One giant inhale, and exhale, ready to take the next one, and Bishop says, “Amen… you can be seated.”

I turn and sit right down. Pace or Preston takes the stage, and gives direction for lunch. I quickly say to myself that must have just been me. Surely God didn’t want me to have her pray for me…

I find Dara and we eat lunch in the Suite at FC. (FC has a guest pastors room for a small group of pastors set up with refreshments and lunch) I noticed Sister Purple Suit there, but didn’t give it much thought. Lunch ends well, and Dara heads out to feed little Uriah. I mill around for a few moments, talking with people in the suite before heading back towards the auditorium. To get there I had to pass through a small room with stairs that FC staff had turned into a small overflow room with tables and chairs.

As I made my way through the room, on my right, I hear a woman say, “That’s him, that’s the guy right there.”

Being the only guy in the room, I turn and ask if she needs anything. It is Sister Purple Suit seated next to another woman! I head her direction, as she is waving me to her. “I don’t need anything, but I do need to talk with you if you have a moment,” she says. I now begin to have goose bumps.

I lean onto the table to get a little closer to her, as she is already seated in the chair. “I don’t know if you recognize me, but I was seated behind you during the Bishop’s sermon.” I thought, boy do I ever recognize you; little do you know what has been happening in my head.

“Well, I’m glad I saw you walk by, because during the Bishops talk, I was drawn to you, and felt like I should pray for you. I know this all sounds strange, but If you would give me a minute, I would really like to tell you what God clearly spoke to me to tell you. He told me to reach out and pray with you during the end prayer time as you were standing sideways in front of your chair. But I disobeyed Him, and I cant get you off my mind,” she said with a faint quiver in her voice.

Trying to stop the floodgate of tears that I could feel coming from deep inside me, I said, “To make it weirder, I was sideways in front of my chair, because God had told me to turn and ask you to pray for me.”

“OH JEEESSSUUUS!” she exclaimed while she threw both arms flailing in the air and slide down a bit in her seat.

She regained her composure, and reached out and touched my hand that was still on the table. I was frozen solid, as I stood, bent over looking into her eyes.

She said, “This is what God said to me about you. Remember, I don’t know you, I don’t know anything about you, I don’t even know where your from. You might even work here, I dunno. But as you were turned sideways, weeping with your hands clasped together on your chest, God said, ‘You are a humble man. But I want you to know that I am finished with you where you are. You have done all that you can. You cant do any more. I’m done with you there. Now I want you to just be patient, and trust Me.’”

She then let go of my arm, and looked at me and said, “that’s what He said to me, I don’t know what your supposed to do with that, but I had to tell you today before I leave this place. By the way, who are you and what do you do?

Well, tears were burning down my cheeks, and I new the floodgate was about to break. But I thanked her for obeying the voice of the Lord. Then told her that I pastored a church in the Des Moines area. She went off on how she was meeting all kinds of pastors today…

Well I made my out, and began trying to find Dara. Uri had made a mess on her, and she needed to go back to the hotel to change. I quickly got the van and met her.

As I drove back the hotel, I was overcome with emotion as I retold her the story of God speaking to me via Sister Purple Suit so strongly. It probably wasn’t safe for me to drive through the sobbing.

We left C3 knowing God had clearly spoken to me about resigning the church, and trusting him. That was all in within the “high” of C3.

Well back home creates a new scene for me to deal with daily. Weekends are coming, staff asking about future series, all the normal lead pastor things. I just decided to pray and ask God to keep me in full time ministry, but if He had another plan, or a “break” between ministries planned I was perfectly satisfied to go back to the construction world. Whether that meant starting another construction business, remodeling, roofing, trim, granite, or selling XYZ product in Alaska or Florida. I was willing to go and do what He wanted me to do.

The thing was I just didn’t know what “that” was. I kept wrestling with the thoughts, that I should be planning something, I should be putting my resume together, maybe I should start calling some builders… Dara would encourage me and say, “God said to Trust Him. Not plan it all out, with multiple steps and systems of success.” She would say, “You’ve got to rest in Him right now, not trying to figure it all out and be the ‘make it happen guy.’ He is our source.” –Thank God for a godly, wise wife.

I was praying in April, just pouring my heart out to Him, about being alone during this process, and not really sure whom I could talk with about all this that I was battling through in my mind. Who was safe? Who didn’t have vested interest? Who could be completely unbiased?

Two days later I got a call from a retired minister that I had never met. We had been on conference call together a few months back. He was offering me an opportunity to come to his coaching seminar for free in Minneapolis to learn how to effectively coach people through difficult decisions in life. We chatted a bit, discussing logistics and timing. I couldn’t commit 100% but thanked him for the offer.

As we were about to hang up, he stopped me, and said, “I don’t normally do this, but I just feel like I should. Do you ever find yourself lonely in ministry? Facing things in your life that are major decisions, that you just would like to dialogue with someone about?”

I cautiously said, “Yes, yes I do.”

He then said, “Well I’d like to offer you three free coaching sessions, if you’d like them. Are you facing any decisions you’re just not sure about, and would like to talk about?”

I thought, when can we start. Then replied, “Yes I do, can we set up a date?”

We put some times on the calendar and went from there. He then asked what was the nature of the topic. In a nutshell, I said, “God has told me to resign, but I have no position on the table, and that this is crazy.” I have had friends who have asked me what to do in these kinds of situations. I was the guy saying you can’t quit without another job. That’s crazy. You’ve got to provide for your family.

“This is going to be great to talk about, and to put your mind at ease,” he chuckled and said “I have done that twice as God spoke to me to resign and leave with no position in hand.”

Those next few phone conversations proved to be invaluable as we dialogged about what God had spoken to me in the last several months and confirmed in February. I processed out loud, the story and the confirmations, and finally fully admitted to myself that God was really in control and I am really not.

I put my selfishness and pride aside, and realized that God truly was going to be my source as well as the source for Jordan Creek Family Church. He is and always had been.

Sunday May 23rd, I will be resigning as the lead pastor of JCFC. Over the course of the next 3-5 weeks, we will be transitioning out of leadership, and onto the next phase of life and ministry that God has for my family and me. I don’t really know what that is, or even what it looks like.

I have spent this week talking one on one with our staff and key volunteers. Explaining the story and what God has been saying to me. It has been a tearful and emotional week, as I have shared my heart with some of the greatest staff a pastor could ask to serve alongside of. For me not to obey in this would almost negate all the teaching from the last 5 years, as I challenged our congregation to serve God with all their heart. After all He holds all things in His hands, and He is never caught off guard. He really is our source of income, strength, emotional stability and spiritual growth. I am fully trusting that as I raise the knife in hand, high above my head, in obedience to the word that God has spoken to me, He is going to say, “Josh Now I know that you really do trust me, turn right!”

So as my family waits patiently on Him, fully trusting Him to go before me, as only He can. I’m so excited to see what God is going to do, as our family walks in obedience to His Word.

I pray that this time is as galvanizing to Jordan Creek Family Church as it has been for me as an individual. I know that Gods ways are higher than ours, and He has brought each person to Jordan Creek for this time and this season. I pray that you would embrace the leadership here, and the man God is directing right now to take JCFC to the next level. I ask you to serve him, with just as much love and sincerity as you have served with me.

I know that some people plow, some people plant, some water, and God gives the increase. It’s been my pleasure to serve JCFC and the Des Moines area since December of 2004. It has been my honor to marry many of you, to baptize you, dedicate your children and watch you mature in Jesus Christ. I will continue to pray for you as God leads and directs all of us for His glory.


Elle2702 said...

Thanks Josh, that was powerful. I long to hear God's will so clearly spoken to me. The anxiety and worry I have come and go, but I continue to seek out his will. I pray that I will be able to hear his will...and leap, with trust.
- Brandon Teel

Angela Sustala said...

Wow - I know that this has to have been so difficult for you, Josh! Thanks for sharing your heart. Ed and I will be praying for you guys and for JCFC!! We love you guys and admire your strength and willingness to obey the Lord!
P.S. Ed wants me to be sure and let you know that there is an empty lot next to us ;)

Sandy May said...

Paul and I have grown so strong as a husband and wife as well as a mother and father of our children through your teachings from God's Word. We pray that God blesses you richly as you are stepping out of your comfort zone to obey Him. Thank you so much for the instrumental impact that you have had in our lives. We were in a completely different place before JCFC 5 years ago.

granny2five said...

Josh, you don't know me personally (nor I you), but I know your parents and your in-laws. We're from the Granite City area. As I read your blog, I was moved to tears. What a tender, loving Heavenly Father we have. Your family is destined to succeed. You're leaving a successful work to continue your ministry elsewhere, and God will continue to use you mightily for Him. Your obedience is key. Keep following as He leads. Blessings on you and your precious family.

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