Day 30

Well, here I am, at the end of my 30 Days Adventure! The fact that I fell asleep last night before I could make my final post speaks to the fact that this has been a very busy and challenging experience!

At the same time, these 30 Days have been some of the most powerful and meaningful of my life. To attempt in some small way to follow in Jesus’ footsteps by connecting with people in our community of Peoira and try to meet them at their point of need has opened up my eyes more than ever before to how much God is at work all around me. And how God really can use me despite all of my flaws and shortcomings to reflect his love to people that need Him every bit as badly as I do. 

What am I most excited about now that the 30 Day’s Adventure is at an end? I’m excited that this adventure doesn’t really end, it just keeps on going! Oh, I might not be blogging every day any more (although, I think I will keep doing some blogging- stay tuned for that…) But I am absolutely convinced of the fact that living life this way- watching for where God is at work around me and then joining him in that work in any way I can- its the way God designed me to live. It’s the mission he’s given that brings purpose and meaning to life!

The other thing I get just as excited about is the fact that this is God’s mission for all of us! What we are really talking about here is that this is the adventure that planned to be ‘normal life’ for each and every Christ-follower. And what has really been cool to see is to see others in our church family start to get this in deeper ways and to see this happen in their lives. Over the past month we’ve seen people:

  • Sign-up to serve at Phoenix Rescue Mission
  • Volunteer to go ‘under the bridge’ to connec with the homeless
  • Intentionally engage people in our community in conversations for how they can help them and pray for them
  • Move out of their confort zones to invite people events, to church and to Christ

So this has gone well beyond one man’s adventure, and has instead become a movement that God is doing among many. And something tells me, He is just getting started….

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Day 29

Sunday before last at Access we talked about how Jesus was always using encouraging words towards others, and God’s plan for us to be ‘Encouraged Encouragers’ of other people. As I’ve tried to grow in that area in my life, I’ve been more purposeful about saying encouraging words to those I meet in our community.

Recently, I did a brief interview with a 3 TV reporter to give her some background on our dear friend, Kathleen. After the interview was over and the piece had aired, I thought about how challenging it must be for reporters dealing with all of the difficult stories they have to cover. And so I sent her an email as encouragement…

‘Thanks for taking the time today to come and find out more about the amazing person Kathleen is… and I pray that as you are out covering all the stories you do, that God would show Himself to you in ever greater ways through the good, the bad (and even the ugly) stories of the people who He loves so much.’

Not long after I got this response…

‘Thanks for the words of encouragement. I was just commenting on how I need a vacation from all the heavy news lately! I know that God has me right where He wants me.. I pray that my stories would minister to those involved as well as our audience, as the Holy Spirit guides. Please pray for my coworkers as well as others in this business, it can be a dark place.’ 

So sometimes when we are out there and trying to reach out and encourage those who don’t know Christ, we might inadvertently end up encouraging someone who is a Christ-follower, too! Either way, a little encouragement can go a long way in each of our lives, especially when we’re in those dark places…

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Days 26-28

As I sit down tonight to try to catch up on the past several days, it’s hard to believe how much has happened in such a short period of time. Even now, there is so much follow-up that is needed for what’s occurred, I’ll have to keep things brief…

As mentioned in the post for Day 25, that was a day that caused heaven to celebrate, because of what happened in a hospital room. In the morning, I got a call from Tammy, an Access member and a nurse at a local hospital. She left a message to tell me a man had been admitted who wanted to talk to ‘a minister’. So without even returning the call, I jumped in my car and headed over.

When I got to the room, I introduced myself to Victor (not his real name) a Hispanic man in his late thirties. When I asked him what had happened, he said, ‘I just couldn’t handle it any more, I just wanted to end it…’ and I looked down to see both of his forearms were bandaged up, as he had slashed both wrists in attempted suicide. My heart skipped a beat and all I could get out at first was, ‘I’m so sorry…’ He started to cry and I reached out to put my arms around him, and told him it was O.K. After a few minutes he calmed down and we began to talk.

Over the next hour or so, he shared about his history… his father’s death when he was only seven… in and out of foster homes and juvie… ultimately spending a total of 19 years in prison for various crimes. He’s been out for a couple of years now, but had been struggling with meaning and purpose… and drugs. As I asked him more questions about himself, he opened up to say that he believed there was a God, but didn’t understand much else. From that green light, I shared the gospel with him, opening up my Bible and having him read verses like John 3:16 and Ephesians 2:8-9. He asked a few questions and seemed to quickly grasp the answers. Ultimately, when I asked him ‘Would you like to receive Jesus as your Forgiver and Leader?’ without hesitation, he said, ‘Yeah, I would.’ At which point he repeated a prayer of salvation after me to God and at that moment He became an adopted son of the Father!

And then there were more hugs, and more tears… Oh yeah, it was a scene! But we didn’t care, because God was so obviously there and in that moment. As I left, I said I’d be following up with him (which I have been) and I’d look forward to seeing him again soon. Tammy told me afterwards that before that ‘God moment’ she was afraid to be in the same room as Victor, but after the prayer, she said that literally he was a changed man. We serve and awesome God!

On Friday, I’ll update on a personal story of God providing for our needs, I spent the next day in a hospital as well, as the insurance authorization for our daughter Skylar’s treatment finally came through. What a huge answer to prayer to finally be back on track with this medicine that is so vital to her fight against Castleman Disease!

Then on Saturday, there was a third hospital visit, and this one would prove to be far different from the first two… In the afternoon, I got a call from Peter Petrotta, one of the founding members of Access, telling me his wife, Kathleen had been in a car accident. He said he didn’t know how serious it was, but he would call me from the hospital once he got there to let me know. About an hour or so later, I got a call from Peter’s son-on-law, who after a few words said, ‘Rance, Peter wanted me to let you know what Kathleen has passed away.’ The shock was so strong that the word ‘No!’ just came out as I tried to process the reality of it. My next words were simply, ‘I’ll be right there.’

After picking up our associate Pastor Matt, we went to the hospital and found Peter in a side room with his daughter and son-in-law. And through the tears we all shared that moment together, processing the shock, the grief, and the disbelief. But the processing that happened also came through filter of faith, and for anyone who knows Peter, his is a faith that is firmly anchored in Christ. As a matter of fact, through our time there, listening to him, I found myself humbled by his steadfast trust in the Lord even in his darkest of hours.

There is so much more I could write about here, but just even a few facts speak so much. Kathleen is one of the heads of our hospitality ministry, and so something she did every Sunday was pick up the bagels and other food items and bring them early to set up at church. Well, that next morning, just a matter of hours after the accident, Peter showed up with the bagels, etc- fulfilling his wife’s role. And then he was there for our worship service, singing through tears about the Savior who he knew that Kathleen was now seeing face to face. And by the end of the service, after hearing about Kathleen and Peter’s story, 5 people ended up receiving Christ into their lives that day! Praise God that he can take even the most tragic events in life and bring beautiful things out of them!

Note: I shared about these stories in much more detail in the message this past Sunday. If you weren’t there, by tomorrow the message should be up on our website www.accessaz.org

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On Pause

Hey Gang- as most of you know it has been a weekend that has stretched and challenged us all. I’m planning on being up and running tomorrow, finishing the 30 Days out with you until that final day…

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On Pause…

I ended up sick today (along with Kecia), so the 30 Days Adventure is on hold for the moment…hopefully for just 24 hours!

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Day 25

I had no idea that when I woke up this morning that today would bring the most moving moment I’ve experienced so far during this whole 30 day adventure.  I’ve been thinking about blogging about it all day, but now that I sit down to do it-  it just seems really hard try to capture it in a few hundred words…

But I’m feeling that for this one, I’m going to have to hold on to it and talk about it on Sunday morning and Access. So I hope you can make it there to our worship experience this week. If not, you can always listen on-line afterwards at www.accessaz.org

For now I’ll just say that the angels in heaven are celebrating tonight!

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Day 24

CONVERGE CONFERENCE CREW:

Dave, Tim, Matt, Tiffany, Cindy, Kecia, CJ,Jan, & Rance (not pictured:Kim)

Today was the second day of the Converge Church Conference, and what a tremendous time we had worshipping, laughing and learning from some of the most dynamic pastors/speakers in the country.

In the morning session, Pastor John Jenkins talked about the power of unity in God’s family. In the middle of the day, we all went to different breakout sessions, and learned about everything from leadership principals using social media to reach new people; from developing volunteers to creating momentum as a church. Then at break times, we’d come together and share with each other our biggest take-aways from each session. It was exciting listen to our leaders share their thoughts and ideas with renewed vision and passion!

The last main session of the day came from Reggie McNeal, perhaps the most influential voice in what has become known as the ’emerging’ or ‘missional’ church movement. First, we didn’t expect him to be as funny as he was. He probably spent half of the time just making us laugh!

But he also talked about some pretty powerful ideas, including one that especially resonated with me. And it was the idea of discovering an area of need within our community that becomes the primary   community outreach focus for our church family. Frankly, I’ve prayed that God would reveal to us what this is since before we even started our first meeting in a living room almost 2 years ago. And now, I sense that He is going to answer that prayer sometime soon.

A few of us are going to start making some phone calls and setting up some meetings with city leaders, educators and social service workers and see where God leads. Would you pray for the Father to reveal to us where He is at work in the area, so that we could join Him in what he is about to do next? And if you want to be a part of this, would you please comment and let me know!

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Day 23

 

Tonight kicked off the Ignite Church Conference held at Cornerstone Fellowship Church in Chandler. This the annual national conference put on by Converge, a national association of churches committed to planting new churches, that Access Church is a part of.

This will be the third one of these conferences that Kecia and I have been to, and the second one that our staff has been to, but I’m especially excited about this one because it is the first one that we have been able to have a group of our awesome volunteer team come to! To have seven of them come and take time off of work to come and do this is a testimony to their unselfish love for God and love for people.

The conference kicked off tonight with some great worship, and a message from a pastor named Pete Wilson that really resonated with all of us. In it we were reminded that a church that really makes an impact in its community is one where Everyone is Welcome (hmmm, sounds familiar!) Nobody is Perfect (that we all make mistakes/ have sinned) and that believes that Anything is Possible.  These three things spell out an attitude that moves us to accept people where they are, and yet believe that God truly does have transforming power to change everyone to become more like Christ.

And even thought it was a great kick-off to our time here, the thing that was the most meaningful to me tonight was when we got back to our hotel, and we all hung out and debriefed from the last few hours, the thing that was most on everyone’s heart was thinking about how we could serve the people in the community around us. I tell you, if I loved the people on our team before, I love them even more now! Because after being a part of a high energy program with a rockin’ worship team and a great national speaker, the thing they were most fired up about was making a dent for Jesus in our community by building bridges through relationships and service.

And I believe that the Lord will hold true to his promise, ‘Those who honor me… I will honor.‘ I believe he will honor the honest desire of these men and women to invite people to church and invite people to Christ through lovingly serving them, whatever that service looks like. All I can say is, with people committed to invite people to become fully-surrendered followers of Christ like these folks are… watch out Peoria… you ain’t seen nothing yet!

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Day 22

As I sit at my laptop tonight, once again the words of Jesus come to me…Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.’  His words are simple and straightforward, and yet represent a total paradigm shift from the way we naturally think about living life. ‘Cause if I am honest about it, if I was going to put into words the way I naturally do life, it’s to ‘Seek first my own self-interests and selfish desires and  maybe  some other day I’ll think about God’s kingdom and righteousness.’  The main difference between these two ways of thinking is, Jesus’ way works… and my way doesn’t! Let me just tell you about how Jesus has demonstrated the truth of these words in my life recently…

There have been so many opportunities to connect with people in our community in the last several weeks, I haven’t had the time to write them all down. But a few weeks ago, as I was going around to local businesses and introducing myself to local owners and managers to see how we could encourage and support them, and one of the places I went into was Devney’s Dance Studio.

I talked for a few minutes to the girl behind the counter about the studio and the kinds of classes they offer (which I was genuinely interested in, because it’s already become obvious that Skylar was born to be a dancer!) I also handed her a flier about our Movie at the Park Series and said if the owner/manager was open to it, we could leave more fliers for the families that came in to learn about this community event.

Then, just as I was turning around and saying goodbye, I remembered something… I had met the owner of Devney’s last summer while doing some work over at Sunrise Mountain. And during that conversation, he had told me about some other buildings he owned that might work for a new church to rent. (I had actually looked at one last summer, but it just wasn’t time yet for that to work for us.) So I pulled a business card out of my wallet and left it at the desk, asking the girl to give it to the owner when he came in, thinking it would be good to touch base with him in person.

He called me back the next day, and after a few minutes of catching up, he mentioned that the building that he had showed me before as a potential home for Access was now about half the rental price as it was last summer! There was now more space available for children’s ministry as well. And now, after two weeks of meetings and conversations, things are currently progressing in a positive way towards the possibility of Access Church having a new space to call home sometime later this year!

There are a number of details still to work out, so we appreciate everyone’s prayers for God’s wisdom and leading for us at this time. But even if God shows us that He has an even better place for us, I’m still moved by the fact that this is how God works. That if we will just focus on what he has called us to… seeking first His Kingdom…building up his church (which is people) then he adds everything else that we need in His own amazing ways.

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Day 21

What a great morning at Access Church as we connected with each other, worshipped God, and were encouraged by the words of Christ! This morning, we were reminded that we serve a God of encouragement, and we can see that demonstrated over and over again through the encouraging, life-giving words of Jesus. And we recognized that when we are encouraged in our relationship with him, we can’t keep it inside, we are going to be moved to turn around and find ways to encourage others. In other words, we will be ‘Encouraged Encouragers!

And in perhaps the most encouraging moment of all, two more people indicated a decision that they had invited Jesus to come into their lives as their Forgiver and Leader. The Bible tells us that the angels celebrate over one lost person who becomes found  and we were celebrating along with them this morning!

After all of this, a number of our team leaders got to go and look at a potential rental space just down the road from Sunrise Mountain. It was exciting to talk together, dream together and pray together we as looked over the location. We’ll be praying and processing a lot more over the next week or so, and we are encouraged by the fact that God has brought us to a place where we can even be considering  having a building  to call home!

So after a few hours of being there (some of our folks hung out a long time!) I was getting ready to head out, when I met a man out in the lobby who was waiting for his son to get out of drama rehersal. As we talked, we found out that we both had large families, we both had children who we had adopted and both of us had one of our children in Hope Kids, an organization for families with kids who have life-threatening illnesses. 

As you can imagine, these things gave us plenty to talk about! But after a while, the man turned the conversational corner and said, ‘So, tell me about your church.’ (He had been talking to some of our Access folks and so he know about our church.)

So I gave him the 5 minute version of our history, including our mission of inviting people to become fully-surrendered followers of Christ and our vision of being a church where everyone is welcomed, changed and needed. When I was done, he communicated that he used to be very involved with a church in the past, but for some years he hadn’t really gone.

And of course I said, ‘Well, then I want to invite you to come to Access! Hope you can come sometime soon.’ He said, ‘I don’t know, I’m just not interested in church any more- it’s so insitutional.’ So I said, ‘I know, but that’s not the church that we try to be…’ And with that, I shared a little more about the great people of Access and more about the kind of church that we a becoming.

By the time we were wrapping up our talk,  he said, ‘Do you have a card or something?’ So I gave him a card and a Movie Under the Stars flier, and he said that he would probably end up bringing his family, sooner rather than later. Yeah God!

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