Friday, April 27, 2012

What Only God Can Do

The summer of our first year of marriage, Janice and I became members of ABC.  This summer marks 25 years of serving and attending ABC.  It’s the only church we’ve faithfully attended since we’ve been adults.  When we first starting hanging out at ABC, the average church attendance was around 50 people. If we broke 100 for Easter or Christmas, we were ecstatic. In those days, we met in a little building on an infrequently traveled gravel road called Alta Dale. This building is now someone’s home and our old auditorium is someone’s two-stall garage. There’s only a few of us now that could spot this place today and remember the days of Ada Bible on Alta Dale Road. But, that’s where a lot of things started for our church.
In those days, we just wanted to grow.  We struggled in that little building on the chatter-bumped road.  We had a young pastor with passion and enthusiasm (I think his name was Manion) but we just couldn’t grow in that place.  We needed to move.  For seven years, the church saved and saved to buy property to build a real church building.  In 1990, we moved into our new church on Ada Drive.  There, we began to grow. 
We were thrilled to have an auditorium that seated 150 people and children’s space for families to come.  In the next eight years, we grew from 75 people to almost 1,000. Again, we knew we had to move.  God had commissioned us to teach and build community with more people than we had ever imagined or planned for.  The Ada Drive building was no longer suitable for God’s commission with us.  The three acre plot we owned wasn’t big enough to expand.  We needed to begin a property search and start again.
It was in that season, we came across a church in the area that was going through a tremendous struggle. Through a series of events and because of poor leadership, the church had fallen to a tenth of their previous size. I don’t remember who contacted whom, but the elder boards of our church and theirs began to meet to talk about a merger. Could this be God’s providence for us?  Our building was too small for us; theirs was too large for them.  They had 15 acres, a gym, and a ton of children’s space.  We had the people to fill it.  We had strong leadership.  They were struggling and needed care and shepherding.  At first glance, it seemed perfect.  So, we stepped forward to see if the two congregations had chemistry.  We scheduled combined services where Jeff could preach and our congregations could mix.  Our boards would continue to meet to lay out the details of coming together as one congregation.  
The further we journeyed into this option, the more evident it became that a merger was going to be riddled with conflict and compromise.  Ministry philosophies, building use ideas, and leadership structure all came into tension as the dialogue continued. Finally, our elders felt the clear prompting of God to withdrawal from this opportunity. During that period of time, my route home from my job at UPS brought me by this church.  When negotiations were taking place, I would pray with excitement and anticipation that this deal would go through as I passed the church.  When the deal fell through, my prayers changed to frustration.  Why would God withhold this from us?  Why couldn’t two groups of church leaders land on a solution that would benefit both congregations to build the Kingdom?  It made no sense to me. 
Today, I look back with incredible gratitude that our church never resided in that building.  The conflict that may have developed from the merger could have threatened our effectiveness in the community.  Several years later, the church folded.  I’ve since wondered if God had removed his light from them.  Would God have removed his light from us as well?  Not sure.  But, it would have been a real struggle.  But I think the bigger reason for God to withhold this from us was because he desired to do much more than that facility could accommodate.  Within a few years, we moved into our 110 acre Cascade Campus.  This home has become a wonderful hub for two more campuses to be launched.  Thousands more people have been spiritually affected because God withheld a small gift in order to provide a better gift. 
I think we got a taste of what the disciples experienced the days following Jesus’ ascension to Heaven.  I can’t imagine the confusion these 12 guys felt when Jesus told them they would be his witnesses and would take the Good News about him to their town, their region, their country, and to the world (Acts 1.8).  Humanly speaking, how could these knuckleheads possibly do this? The simple answer—the Holy Spirit. 
As I sit and reflect on what began in Acts 2, I’m amazed how much greater God’s plans are than any human could dream.  Just imagine John or Andrew would have suggested this: “OK guys, let’s figure out how do this Great Commission thing. First, we need an attraction strategy… like speaking in languages we’ve never studied. Then, people will rush to where we are.  And then Peter will speak and thousands will respond. This will happen over and over across the known world for generations to come.” Next suggestion please. But God does things in such a way that leaves us to respond, “Wow, that’s truly something only God can do!” Three thousand people in a single day is something only God can do. This could not have been strategically mapped out or even imagined.
As we plan our lives, churches, families, and businesses it would serve us well to pray for God’s movement in all we do.  There’s nothing wrong with human dreams and plans but God would remind us that our plans may just be a starting point for something bigger, more impactful, and with eternal, world changing implications.  Seem overwhelming?  You bet, it is!  But remember, God provides the power source.  The same power that raised Jesus from the dead and blew strength into the first church resides in you and is waiting to do more than you can dream. 

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