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)