Friday, February 27, 2009

CORE Church/New Beginning!

The building pictured here has been the home of CORE Church of Troy since we took the building over at the end of 2005 to begin a new work. This facility, located at 6th Ave & 101st St., had been the home of Sixth Avenue Baptist Church since 1913, when the buiding was erected.

To say the past three years have been challenging would be an understatement. For the first year of our ministry here, the facility held up nicely. We invested a little bit of $$$ to maintain the building. Year two brought some roof leaks and a few other minor issues that we quickly addressed. This past year, #3, has been the most challenging, as the inside of the building began to deteriortate gradually. The heating system started malfunctioning, along with the antiquated electrical system. This past winter brought frozen pipes throughout the building, then bursting pipes as they began to thaw. Both bathrooms and kitchen, as well as the boiler were rendered useless due to the frozen pipe situation. Then the roof started leaking again, in various spots, as winter snow and ice began to melt. The facility became overwhelming, almost to the point of where this church planter was seriously thinking of packing it in and going elsewhere.

I began a period of fasting and prayer, not wanting to give up on the vision and burden God had given me back in 2005. I had literally reached the end of myself, once again, and was totally dependent upon God, who had sent us here to plant His church. God showed me a commercial space that had become available in our neighborhood. My first impression, looking at the space through the front window, was that it was too small. At 1300 sq.ft. it is a fraction of the size of our church bldg. Also to consider, we'd be paying rent plus utilities here, while we owe nothing on the old church bldg and are only paying utilities and insurance, yet we were only using about 40% of the total space. So, we decided to hold off and waith for God to show us what to do. He has shown us through the series of events that have taken place, one after another, to lead us to the point of deciding we must leave this old, cold building. There's more to the story for anyone who wants to hear it.

Here we are, with spring and the Easter season approaching, and we are moving into this new space (photos and update coming soon). Power and gas were turned on today. All of this past week, Ron and Artie and I have been busy cleaning the place up and moving rugs and chairs, along with aound equipment and lots of coffee from Stewart's, which is the neighborhood gathering spot, located directly across Glen Ave from our new space.

We are located at 3301 6th Ave (corner of 6th and Glen), directly between two public housing projects; King apartments to the East, on the hill, and Arnold Fallon Apartments, located one block west and one block south of our new location. Our old, cold, building will soon become the home of another vital street ministry, as Rev. Willie Bacote and his Missing Link Street Ministry take over the building. We are hopeful that God will provide the finances, manpower and other needed resources, so that we can continue with the Feed-a-Kid Ministry and other strategic community ministries. We, the CORE Church, are praising God for the opportunity to partner with Rev. Bacote and his ministry and to offer this building to his ministry.

Dare we believe that God has orchestrated all of these events to bring about His will and His glory! God has done just that, and He has spread out our reach in this North Central Troy community. I am already praying and anticipating God growing us and expanding our reach into Lansingburgh and other parts of Troy and throughout New York's Capital region.

Won't you pray with us?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My Church planting journey: wrestling with God and prevailing

In my quiet time w/the Lord today I was reading in Genesis 32:22-33 about Jacob's experience of wrestling with God and prevailing. Jacob had struggled with men (his brother Esau and father-in-law Laban) and now with God. He would not let up until God blessed him. As a result, his walk was forever changed; literally, as his hip joint was dislocated in the altercation. Jacob was all alone with God, as he had sent his wives and children on ahead of him. In the night, while he camped out, a Man came and wrestled with him until dawn. Jacob's tenacity in wrestling with the Man, who was God (Peniel = "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared,” see also Joshua 5:13-15 and Hosea 12:2-4), resulted in God's blessing upon him, and the promise God had made to him at Bethel (Gen. 28:10-22) continued to unfold, just as God had shown it to him.

I have had my own "wrestling with God in the wilderness experience." I know where Jacob was coming from. In a moment of discouragement and frustration, he felt like giving up, throwing in the towel, yet there was something inside of him, at the core of his being, that said, "No, I will not give in or go back, I will continue to move forward, but I cannot do it alone--on my own strength--so I turn to You, Lord, the One who called me and set me on this journey. I will not leave this place or go any further until you bless me and fulfill the promise You made to me at Bethel."

Three years ago my family and I moved to Troy, New York, because I believed then, and still believe with every ounce of my being, that God sent us here to plant His church. He gave me a burden for this place, then vision, followed by passion, and strategy. His provision has been ongoing every step of the way in this church planting saga. However, there have been times of doubt, despair, frustration and utter chaos (among other experiences), along the way, that have caused me and my family to become nearly unglued. Every time I have turned to Him, and He has responded with whatever I/we have needed to continue in this great commission endeavor. This past winter has been, without a doubt, the most trying period so far. Three years ago, upon coming to Troy, we took over a century old Baptist church. Sixth Ave Baptist Church had closed, and working with the Conservative Baptists, we began the task of re-starting the church with a new name, The CORE Church of Troy, and a new vision of "Making Christ known in the heart of the city." Needless to say, it has been quite a challenge working with this old brick elephant, yet God gave it to us debt free, along with a three bedroom parsonage for me and my family to live in. He then gave us a vacant lot, located across the street from our church building, which once was the home of another old church building which had fallen victim to decay and was demolished in 2003. We counted our blessings and have used all of what God has given us. I wish I could say that we have been 100% on fire for God and His mission the whole time, but in reality, we've gone through peaks and valleys. We've had moments of victory (3 baptisms) ans we've had other times when we have wanted to run with our tails between our legs, so to speak. But, here we are, three years later. We have struggled with men and with God, just as Jacob did in the wildreness that night, in the place he named, Peniel, which means, "I have seen the face of God and Have been spared."

I have had my own "Peniel" experience. At a point when I felt completely helpless and without much hope to carry on; when I literally felt like giving up and walking away, the Lord came crashing in and said, "No you don't, I won't let you give up." I can remember shouting at God, on my knees in tears, saying, "I can't do this anymore." And He said, "Don't worry, where I have guided you, I will also provide for you. As I told My first disciples, so I tell you, 'And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.' " (Matt.28:20)

Friday, February 13, 2009

How much would you pay for a decent cup of coffee or espresso

My friend and fellow church planter, Atiba DeSouza posed an interesting question on his blog. He asked if anyone would buy McDonald's new espresso, over Starbucks, if it were just as good, and cheaper.

Here is my response

Hey, give me a good cup of coffee, hot and cheap, and I'll buy it. Starbucks and Dunkin are okay, but not the best coffee I've ever had. I've had mediocre convenience store coffee that tastes just as good for about half the price. This is one reason Stabucks is collapsing. They cornered the market on cool coffee shops, but they have failed to change or improve on their product. McD's will bury them in the competition because they will sell it cheaper, and the fact that they are constantly changing up. Dunkin Donuts is feeling the pinch now too, because they are growing too big, too fast. I mean, how many Dunkin shops do we need within a five mile stretch of suburban/commercial highways. Here in Albany, NY, there are at least 7 within a similar span. They are over saturating the market and McD's will capitalize on that. Also on the fact that both Starbucks and Dunkin charge way too much for their coffee. McD's is getting w/the times too by offering free wi-fi in some of their franchises.

How about you?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My Church planting journey:the breaking process

I was chatting with Jeff Jamison via facebook about the experience of church planting and wanting to give up and go back to where I came from. He shared with me "Many planters do give up and "go home". My failed plant pastor did. I still love him, but that failure has haunted him since and has been a predictor of the last few years ministry failures."

Having never planted a church before this one, I can say I feel the frustration of that planter who "failed and went home." I have been there several times these past 3 years, almost walked out on my wife and family, even felt like jumping in the Hudson River (on more than one occasion). Then God got ahold of me and showed me, it's not about me, but about what he wants to do in this community He has sent me (and my family) to and in the hearts and lives of broken people who live here. I don't believe God sends anyone to fail. I do believe many men jump into church planting without thinking and praying it through. I also believe the assessment processes that many church planting entities use are flawed. From my own experience, God gave me a burden for a particular people in a particular place; Troy, NY, the city of my birth, youth, and at least half of my adult life. This burden started out small, but grew as I went through seminary and served on staff at a Rescue Mission for 11 years. Then came vision, followed by strategy, and then provision. But, God had to break me of my own self-centered mindset and thoughts of what I wanted to do; even seemingly good "church planting" ideas. I am learning that I never truly own the vision God is showing me. It is His when He gives it, and it is His throughout the process. I may be the possessor of the vision He has given me, yet I am merely the vessel He has poured His vision into. There is a sense of ownership that develops within the church planter, but the vision is God's. He is giving me glimpses of what He wants to do, but He has not shown me the big picture completely. Who can contain, within their own finite human brain, all that God can and will do?

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. (Eph.3:20 NLT)

This breaking process is very painful and comes with much sacrifice. Men need to know this and be prepared for this before they "test the waters" of church planting. Ed Stetzer has said, "if you are not called to plant churches, do not do it! It will ruin you. The Spiritual warfare that comes with it is intense. Satan will sift you like wheat."

But the brighter side is that through that breaking process, God is molding and shaping a usable vessel.

If a potential "church planter" does not have a burden, it is a good indicator that he's not ready, maybe not even called to be a planter. No burden equals no real ownership of the mission. Burden shapes vision. Good ideas are not, neccessarily, vision from God. Mark Batterson uses the terms "Good ideas" and "God ideas" when referring to vision from God vs. good ideas from our brains

I knew in my gut, at the core of my being, three years ago, that God was sending back to Troy. I knew it then, and I knew it all through this breaking process. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt today. That is what has kept me from completely walking away from this. Every time I felt like doing so, God would send me a sign; a phone call with encouraging words, a smiling kid my wife and I had reached out to (2 of them were recently baptized) And I clung to His vision and His voice. Satan has come at us with everything, and he's probably not done yet, although, I sure hope he is, at least for awhile. If he does come knocking on our door again, we know Who to call upon. We know that Jesus loves us, that He called us and sent us to this field of harvest, and that He will not leave us nor forsake us. If we have learned nothing else these past three years, that is an invaluable piece of wisdom we can put into our church planting bank account.

I pray for you, my church planting brethren. Maybe you are going through this breaking process. Need someone to talk to? Give me a call or send me an e-mail. I'd be happy and privileged to help you work through this.

My Church planting journey:experiencing Christ's power, suffering, death, and resurrection

Experiencing the great adventure of church planting anew after a valley of testing and spiritual warfare, I now see the purpose of it all!

a church planting brother referred to this process "unsettle, resettle,then mettle." God unsettled him and his family in their divinely assigned portion of the harvest when they first moved there, then resettled them in their new home, city, community, etc., then came the "mettle" to thrust forward, full throttle, in God's power, not their own. He brought them to a place and position where they had no choice but to totally trust in and rely upon Him; actually, they did have a choice, they could have packed up and went back to where they came from. I know that feeling because we've been there, many times over the past three years. But now that God has unsettled me and my family (believe me when I say it has been a living nightmare) and resettled us in our own assigned portion of His great commission, He is now flooding me with an abundant supply of fresh His mettle (courage and strength to move forward).

A year ago I was about to throw in the towel. Now I feel like I can" sore on wings like eagles." I felt like I was a failure because everything was one big chaotic family life, our inherited, century-old church building, our name it, we were going through it. All of our initial core group had left, except for me and my wife and children. There was this rage burning with in me that cast me into a deep bout of depression. It got so bad that my wife and I could barely stand each other. Our two sons were constantly fighting with one another and with us. I reached a point where I could not take it any more and had seriously thought is wasn't meant to be and made plans in my own mind to go somewhere and do something else. I even opened a little coffee shop called, "The Pod," which ended up being a flop...who knew a year ago that the economy would take a nose dive?(God knew). Six months into this business venture and we could read the writing on the wall...keep it going and end up filing for bankruptcy. God was speaking, in that still small voice, and I was listening. So, we shut it down, which put us $36,000.00 in debt. OUCH!!!!

I began an intense period of fasting and prayer,like I've never done before. I did not know what to do or where to turn. I was totally, 100% helpless. And that's when God, in His tender mercy, came crashing through. I am brought to tears of joy as I write this post, because I know, at the very core of my being, those 1095 days (three years) of anguish are over. God is speaking. He has filled me with a fresh dose of Holy Spirit fire. Things that I did not nor could not see three years ago are coming into place. God is moving in me and through me. Believe it or not God got us completely out of debt within months...thanking God for my wife, who insisted on keeping our home in Schenectady (instead of putting it on the market) just in case we needed the equity, and boy did we. Not only that, but when we finally got approved for a home equity line of credit, the interest rates had dipped to a 15 year low. Dare I think that God would cause the economy to collapse so He could rescue one of His servants from evils of debt and financial collapse? Well, He caused time to stand still for Joshua, parted the Red Sea for Moses, and moved a mountain of debt out of our way so that we can continue to plant the church He has called us to plant.

And here we (not just me) stand on the other side of that valley of darkness and dispair. I say "We" because so often I hear church planters refer to "Me" and "My journey." I have news for ya fellas' the family is not just excess baggage, along for the ride, they are a part of the church planting team. Guess who has done more to put us in contact with families in our community? Wasn't was, and still is, my two sons. They have made new friends, who don't come from the greatest family lives. Some of them have horror stories that would make my above testimony seem like a picnic.

I now see the purpose of all of what we have been through these past three years.

Paul said the the Philippian church, "I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, so that someway or somehow, I may experience the resurrection fom the dead. (Phil.3:10-11)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Networking with Mosaix Global Network

The MOSAIX GLOBAL NETWORK (MGN) represents a growing movement of believers and congregations seeking to know God and to make Him known through the establishment of multi-ethnic churches throughout North America and beyond.

I have been following MGN since last spring's Exponential 2008, where I met Dr. Mark DeYmaz, MGN's Co-Founder and Directional Leader and Executive Director Jim Spoontz. Later on in 2008 the CORE Church officially hooked up with MGN as a member church. I have to say, MGN's vision of catalyzing a movement of multi-ethnic urban churches caught my attention, because that is where my heart beat is. Planting churches in America's urban settings requires such an approach. Most US cities are seeing a growing mix of ethinic and cultural diversity. Troy, NY is no different. Although Troy is not a large city, by any means, we are seeing a growing ethnic diversity of our own. It makes sense for me, therefore, to incorporate such a mindset into our urban church planting efforts. The CORE Church seeks to be at the center of brokenness and injustice that exist in our city. We are happy and blessed to partner with those who share this view of church planting.

Landlord Statement

A brother in Christ, who is attempting to start a support group for pornography and sexual addiction asked me to "weigh in" with my opinion. Having dealt with and overcome (not by my doing but by the grace and strength that comes from God) a tenacious addiction to pornography, I feel qualified to speak on the issus; again, not by anything I have done, but by what Christ has done and continues to do in my life, from the inside out.

Below is my response to my friend's inquiry "What would you say needs to be the primary focus in overcoming pornography and sexual addiction?"

Lust, sexual immorality, sin against one's own flesh, idolatry, Satan and demonic forces, what it means and looks life to truly know and follow Christ and experience the power of His resurrection and the victory that comes with that power. I can speak from my own experience of being bound by pornography and the sexual sin and idolatry that came with that sin habit. Pornography is a vice or tool of the enemy, used by the enemy to captivate my heart and mind to the point that I become bound up, like a man in chains, unable to move forward through life the way God desires for me.

If we are to tackle and overcome any addiction, we must start at the core; at the very root of the problem. Pornography is no the root, it is the tool that Satan uses to draw out our fleshly nature. Through intensified feelings and emotions we become attached to that high and detached from the will of God for our lives. When our own flesh takes over, and we are ruled by our feelings and emotions, it is our hearts, which the Bible says is desperately wicked, that leads the way and runs our lives. When we give our lives completely to God, fully surrendered as living sacrifices (Rom.12:1-2); heart, mind, soul and strength, only then can we come to know and fully experience His plan and purpose for our lives. He then begins to transform us by the renewing of our minds, conforming us to His image, instead of the image of this world.

In my honest opinion, the whole recovery movement is bent on keeping our minds focused on the problem instead of on the solution. As long as I kept believing "I am in recovery" the more I believed I could have a "relapse." Thereby treating my "addiction" like cancer, that can come and go. As a born again child of God, I am not in remission from sin, I have been set free from sin, meaning that whatever used to bind me up, I have been loosed from. It really comes down to the state of one's mind. That is where the battle of good and evil takes place. That is the valley of decision. Do I choose God's way which always leads to victory, or do I choose the world's way or my own way, which are really one in the same. The world is filled with people who are bent on living life their own way, on their own terms. The world is self-centered. This is why Jesus said His kingdom is not of this world and neither are those who follow Him. The kingdom of God is made up of citizens who have abandoned their own will for what God wills. It is not a self-centered kingdom, but a Christ-centered kingdom. When I commit my life and will to following Christ, I am no longer the king of my own realm. I have surrendered the throne of my heart to the King of kings. I am no longer my own. I can speak from experience, that as long as I focused on my "sexual addiction" and recovering, I was focusing on my flesh, my emotions and feelings, my..., my...., etc. But when I fully surrendered my life to Christ and abandoned my own will, desires, ambitions, etc. Christ came in like a flood, and His Spirit took over.

I like to compare this to giving ownership of my earthly house (my physical body) back over to the One who designed and built it. I am not the owner, I am merely the occupant. When I did this, a new Landlord (Christ) took over. Since then, the Landlord has sent his Agent (Holy Spirit) to give eviction notices to all uninvited and unwelcome guests who desire to take up space within my head. Whenever a thought or an idea desires to take up residence within me, my response is to take it up with the Landlord. If He approves, then the thought or idea can stay and I can further explore them. If the Landlord does not approve, then they have to go. The Bible is my Landlord Statement. In this statement, the Landlord tells me what is good and acceptable.

Wrestlings of an inner-city church planter

Below is a letter I wrote to a brother in Christ who is planting a church in the inner-city of Washington DC.. He is frustrated and feeling the pressures that many inner-city church planters have met with, including myself. I have copied and pasted this letter here as an encouragement to any one who is facing similar struggles and obstacles

Dear Brother in Christ,

Great to talk with you and pray with you today. Seems like we are dealing with a lot of the same stuff. God is bigger than the struggles we face and greater than anything the enemy may throw our way. Know, also, that God uses what seems to us to be obstacles to grow us and stretch us for His good purpose, so that when all is said and done, we will not be able to say, "Look what we have done," but, "Look at what God has done."
Denominational leaders do not always see the reality of what you and I have seen up close and first hand; drug dealers recruiting 11, 12 and 13 yr.old boys to be delivery boys, paying them money to ride drugs around the corner or down the street on their bikes. The gang bangers offering these same kids a family environment that they are not getting in the home. Pimps hanging around our inner-city neighborhood, buying candy and presents for preteen girls (we know what their real agenda is). Young, single mothers having baby after baby, and remaining stuck in a vicious cycle of public assistance, and dead beat dads who want nothing to do with the children they have fathered and brought into this world (which adds to this cycle by sparking a flame of anger and hostility within these fatherless children). Some of these single mothers have to resort to lying to the gov't, selling their bodies and/or drugs, etc, just to survive. All of this is a vicious cycle that feeds off of brokenness and hopelessness. This is what oppression and injustice look like up close and personal
It is these urban centers of brokenness, hopelessness and injustice that God has called men like you and me to go to, with His message of love, hope, peace and grace. Not just a message of words, but of works as well. Jesus dealt with the whole person. He fed them physically and spiritually. That's what He did. That is what he told His disciples to do. And that is what you and I must do. We are to live as Christ lived, love as He loved, and serve as He served. If we focus on the one simple task of knowing Christ and making Him known, it does not need to be any more complicated than that.

I will also say this. Be resolved to stick it out, no matter what. Regardless if anyone else sees your vision or feels your burden. If God has spoken to you, let that be your guiding voice. Seek godly counsel, listen to what they have to say. Accept whatever help God sends your way that will accomplish the mission He has sent you on. Let nothing hinder you or stand in your way. Be resolved to go wherever and do whatever, as God leads. I can honestly say that this is one hill I will stand on and die on because I know that God has sent me. God does not send people out to fail, but to accomplish His mission. And, wherever He guides, He also provides.
Amen, brother. Keep up the great work God has called you to. Call me anytime.