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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Day 20

On a beautiful spring day like today, you just had to get outside and enjoy the sunshine, which Kecia and I did with our three youngest daughters. We had received a flier about a big community fair over at the Sunrise Mountain Library with all sorts of cool stuff to do for the kids, so amidst the squeals of little girls, we climbed in the car and headed over.

Once we got there, there was one thing after the other for the kids to do. First it was the bounce houses. Then it was the reptile exhibit. Then some hamburgers and hotdogs over at the grill followed by some ice cream. Then on the way back to the bounce houses again (don’t know if that was the best idea after eating lunch…) I a saw a booth staffed by the Peoria Fire Department…

Some time ago, I remember becoming aware that city organizations like the fire and police department do a lot of community and charity work. And I thought, ‘What if instead of just doing out own service projects, what if we found out what volunteer opportunities the fire and police departments had instead and helped to get them done?

So I walked over to the booth and met a fireman named Tim, who just happened to be the head of Fire and Life Safety Education for the city of Peoria. I introduced myself and told him that I had heard of the community projects that the fire department does, and asked if there was anything that they needed help with. Tim said there were some things that he could think of that a church group like our could be involved with, and that he’d love to talk more about it. So we exchanged cards, and I’m now planning on calling him in the next few days to get more specifics on how we can serve.

Now, I don’t know if they’re going to need any volunteer firefighter (although I think this would be like the coolest thing ever), but they definitely need help doing some things, and I can’t wait to find out how we can be involved. So, as always, if you’re interested in helping out, just comment on today’s posting and I’ll connect with you when I know more…

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Day 19

 

Overcoming the walls around us to reach out to our neighbors

This morning during my devotions I read Mark 12:30, in which Jesus, when asked what the greatest commandment was replied,  ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Now, I know this passage well enough to recognize that Jesus is saying that in a sense everyone is our neighbor. But it also made me think, ‘Lord in the midst of all that has been going on in our families’ lives and in my attempt to reach out and serve new people lately, I haven’t connected with my own actual neighbors!

So today I was determined to connect with some neighbors I haven’t seen in a while. However, for some reason even though the weather was beautiful today, there weren’t many people out to connect with. So I just prayed, ‘Lord, please give me the opportunity to reach out to at least one of my neighbors and to meet them at their point of need.’

By late afternoon, the connection with the neighbor happened. They have cute little dogs…we have three little kids…and they drew each other like magnets! Before long, Kecia and I were getting to catch up with a woman who lives across the street from us.

 After some time of talking about kids, dogs and the weather, I felt moved to ask her how she and her husband were doing. And as she shared about her husbands struggles at work and some other challenges, I just kept asking more questions, trying to get a fuller sense of their needs. By the time she was done sharing, she said, ‘Wow, thanks for caring enough to ask!’ I said, ‘Of course, and I’ll pray for those things, and ask you how things are going.’

One of the cool things that I’ve noticed in recent years, irregardless if who I am talking to, most people do not mind if you ask if you can pray for them. Instead, people seem to really appreciate it. And the great thing about this is:

  • Offering to pray for someone shows them that you care
  • Offering to pray for someone often helps open them up to spiritual conversations.

So next time someone shares something with you that they are struggling with, ask if it is OK to pray for them, and watch for what God will do. Just remember, if you say you’re going to pray for someone- don’t forget to do it. Don’t forget to pray. Then watch for that God does!

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Day 18

 

You ever have those days that don’t go like you planned?

I had one like that today, as I went to see if I could connect again with the guys who live/hang out under the bridge. By now, going down there was feeling more normal to me, and I was actually kind of looking forward to it this time. But as I walked down the embankment it didn’t take long to see… there was nobody ‘home.’ Before, I would have been relieved this time I was disappointed. But I took some time to stay there under that bridge, praying for those who lived/spent time there that someday they might come to experience God’s love and forgiveness through Christ.

I thought, ‘O.K. Lord, where can I go next?‘ And I immediately thought of a local business where I had got to know the owner better and have been able to form a bit of a friendship, but every time I’ve gone to try to invite him to our church so far, a customer has walked up and interrupted, or he was on his way out to deliver something. This time, I knew I was going to get a chance to invite him! But instead when I got there, I found out he had gone early, relying on one of his employees to lock up.

By this time, I was getting a little frustrated…‘Common, God, I’m trying to reach out and connect and meet needs and invite, but it’s not working here!’ Well, I guess I’ll just stop by the preschool and pick up our daughters a little a little early…’

As I went in, I took some time to talk to the director like I usually do. And as we were talking it hit me, ‘Wait a minute, I’ve got a pocket-full of ‘Movie Under the Stars’ fliers here. Have I mentioned this event to her yet?’ So I asked her, and she told me that I hadn’t. After showing her a flier and telling her about it, she really seemed excited about it, and said that not only would she would come with her family, but she also took a stack of fliers and put them on the counter there at the school where parents could easily pick them up! As the girls and I said goodbye, I thought of Proverbs 16:9 which says,  ‘The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.’  

Lord, it’s O.K. for me to make plans to serve, the connect, to invite… just help me to recognize that when my plans don’t pan out, instead of getting discouraged, I should be anticipation that you are directing my steps to something even better!

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Day 17

Today I got the chance to go back and serve at Phoenix Rescue Mission with my friend, Cory Jones (if Cory looks familiar to you, it was his and Kristina’s wedding that I did and blogged about back on Day 4). And it felt great to go back and serve again, and this time bring someone else along to experience it.

This time, instead of prepping for a meal, we got to serve one, which allowed us to interact more directly with the homeless men and women who the mission serves. Once we took our places behind the counter and were set to serve, they opened the door and scores of people streamed in…

The first thing that hit me was how many of them didn’t look like they were living on the street. Many had relatively clean clothes on. Most looked they were in decent health. And then I realized why… It was because of the ministry of Phoenix Rescue Mission. These people had clean clothes because the people of the Mission was supplying them with clothes. They had plenty of good, healthy food because the people of the Mission fed them. They didn’t smell bad because the people of the Mission gave them a place to clean up. Many of them had a noticeably positive attitude because the people of the Mission taught them about the love of Jesus in their daily chapel services.

As Cory and I served alongside other volunteers, we were moved by the positive atmosphere. A contemporary Christian station was playing on the radio, people where joking around and laughing with each other. Some you could see were having tougher struggles, including some that were obviously struggling with meth addiction. But the kindness and dignity shown by everyone serving was definitely having an effect on the men and women in that room.

I was especially moved by one rather short, older man who came back up to the counter after he was done to say, ‘Thank you so much for coming and helping us today!’ He was so positive, and had such a look of genuine gratitude on his face as he said it, I fought back tears as I said ‘Your Welcome.’  It was a humbling experience.

Rarely has a couple of hours gone by so fast! The time just flew by as we served the evening meal. And at the end, as we hung up our aprons, Cory and I were already talking about the next time we could go back…

Thanks again to so many of you who have said ‘Count me in for future trips to Phoenix Rescue Mission.’ Details for future opportunities will be coming soon on this blog, through our Life Groups, and on our website at www.accessaz.org

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