Church

A Final Letter to Our Church

To the saints of God in Ozark, chosen and dearly loved:

Our hearts are full today, our last Sunday with you. Before, we thought we have might have a lifetime to share our hearts with you. But now, as we prepare for one last chance to speak to you, it doesn’t seem like enough. We have so much left to tell you.

It is no secret that we think of you as our third child. We have spoken at great length about the labor it took to bring you into existence and the way you required more from us than we even knew was in our power to give. But we have also made known the rewards we found in serving you, our deep love for you, and the pride that swelled in our hearts in moments when we glimpsed just how far you had come.

How do we say goodbye to you now?

Our building on 20th Street has never been, in and of itself, our church. So even though we may shed some tears when we close the doors for the final time today, it’s not the building that we grieve. It is your precious souls, the group of us together, and knowing that we may never all be gathered together in the same way this side of heaven that makes us weep.

Come this afternoon, the Lord may begin to scatter us all in different directions, to new fellowships, new ministries, or new callings. But for now, while we remain together, may we remind you of a few things that are dear to our hearts?

Remember that true worship of God always takes our eyes off of ourselves and our own circumstances, and focuses instead on His greatness and majesty. Don’t underestimate the power of this simple act. When God came to Job in the whirlwind, He never answered Job’s questions, He just reminded Job of how big He was (Job 38-41). We would do well to remind ourselves often of those same things.

Remember that the best and truest way to discern God’s voice is to immerse yourself in His word. Any other great endeavor requires extensive dedication, training, and discipline. How much more so the immense task of following Jesus? It is not legalism to work hard at learning the stories of the Bible, their context, and even memorizing their very words. The Holy Spirit can only remind us of the things we have already learned, and we are privileged to hold the very words of God in our hands, so endeavor always to learn them as well as you can.

Remember that aside from the Holy Spirit, the best help you have in following Jesus is those who are walking with Him alongside you. Growing together will not happen on accident, and there is power in praying with and for each other.

Remember that following Jesus is not something you only do on Sunday mornings. This world is not our home, but rather we travel through it as ambassadors of Christ everywhere we go.

Remember that Jesus told us we would be hated for following Him. Persecution was a catalyst for the spread of the gospel in the book of Acts, and still spurs on true followers of Christ around the world today.

Remember that nothing is impossible with God. We don’t always understand His ways, but He is never powerless to help us.

Remember you are the shepherd of your children’s hearts. While your pastor and church should come alongside you as you commit raising your babies in the fear of the Lord, those little ones’ first and most influential spiritual leader is you.

Remember that the gospel is a message of reconciliation. This means we should seek to be reconciled to God, but also to one another. Never leave a church in anger or with unresolved conflict. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

And above all else, remember the greatest promise of the Bible is this: God with us. Nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). No matter where we go, His presence goes, too.

It has truly been a joy and honor to know and serve each of you.

With all our love in Christ,

Pastor Jason and Amy

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Church

On Closing our Church

Oh, my friends – where do I even begin?

We announced a week ago that we are closing our church, and so many of you have reached out to us to find out how we are doing, and I haven’t quite had the right words to answer that question.

The truth is, we are grieving. Deeply. Every week we discover a new painful part of this process, and the whole thing has just been plain hard. We’ve cried a lot and there is no easy band-aid to put on this pain.

But….. But, but, but…

God.

My God is in the business of redeeming what is broken.

If you’d asked me a year ago what that means, I would have told you something that sounded really nice, probably using a mosaic as an analogy, how things can be more beautiful because of their brokenness.

But now that I’m having to live that out, I’m finding out God’s redemption is so much bigger than I gave Him credit for. Closing our church is both more broken and more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. I ugly cry almost every day, and God’s grace is there, big in my big pain. God’s grace is there in friends who weep with us, holding us tighter than I would have ever imagined they would do. God’s grace is there in the prayers that poured forth in our living room night after night, sparking revival in our hearts. God’s grace is abounding to us.

Friends, I didn’t know it could be like this.

I knew in my head, theologically, that God is present in the midst of suffering. But the truth is, I think I secretly believed that God’s leading meant a win. That because he asked us to do it, our church couldn’t help but grow bigger and better all the time.

And if I’m being really honest, I think I secretly believed that the people who had planted other churches that closed had missed God’s leading or disobeyed him along the way somewhere. That it couldn’t be God’s plan to lead someone into hardship.

And yet, here we are.

So just what are God’s plans for us?

Most of us who have grown up in church know Jeremiah 29:11, about God’s good plans for us. But what does that even mean?

If you back up a chapter, you will see that Jeremiah was prophesying to the nation of Judah during what was basically foreign occupation by the Babylonian Empire. More and more of the people of Judah were taken captive to Babylon, until Nebuchadnezzar’s puppet king, Zedekiah, rebelled, and the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in retaliation (see 2 Chronicles 36).

The people of Judah had no context to process this large-scale punishment for their collective disobedience to God. They were sorry. They wanted to go home. Why wasn’t God hearing their prayers?

Because of this, some prophets were saying that God would deliver them from the oppression of the Babylonians in two short years (see Jeremiah 28:2-3).

But they were wrong. So God prompted Jeremiah to write this letter to the exiles:

“’Build houses and settle down…. Marry and have sons and daughters…. Seek the peace and prosperity of the city into which I have carried you into exile…. Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them,’ declares the LORD. This is what the LORD says, ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:5-11, emphasis added

Most of the time, I think I am more like the false prophets in this story than I am like Jeremiah. I want there to be a quick fix just around the corner. An “all better.” A why behind my pain. And instead, God says to his precious chosen people, “buckle up. The answer to your prayers is going to be a long time coming. But I know what I’m doing.”

After all, why would God have to reassure us that his plans were not for harm, unless it felt very much as if they were?

And though we don’t like to talk about it much in the church, that is how walking with Jesus often is.

We have taken verses like Jeremiah 29:11 out of context, and fooled ourselves into believing the gospel says “Come and prosper.” We want to believe that God is always leading us to places where we will be richer, happier, healthier, and more successful than we were before.

But what the gospel of Jesus Christ really says is, “Come and die.” We don’t want to the Lord to lead us into places of brokenness and betrayal and heartache, but that is so often the road he asks us to walk.

To know Jesus is to know suffering.

I don’t want that to be true, but I just can’t get away from verses like this:

“You will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” Matthew 24:9

And this:

“In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

 And these:

“[Peter and John] left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [of Jesus].” Acts 5:41

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope….” Romans 5:3-4

 “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison….” 2 Corinthians 4:17

 “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamites. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Philippians 1:29

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2-3

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trail when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:12-13

The truth is, God does have good plans for us. But we have to let Him define what that good is. And we have to know that the fullness of the good He has for us will not be achieved in this life.

Someday, we will be with Jesus, and he will wipe away every tear from our eyes. That is our future. And even now, in the midst of all we suffer in this life, He is ALWAYS with us. That is our hope.

Jason and I are taking comfort in the far-off future we have in Jesus, no matter what the immediate future holds. We truly have no idea what is next for us. We have not had any job offers or interviews, but we have peace that God will go with us into all of our tomorrows. We are spending more time on our knees than ever before, and if only for that we are grateful for this season and how it drives us to seek more of God.

Thank you to everyone who has been praying for us and taking time to encourage us along the way. We are humbled by your love!

Blessings,

Amy

PS. I am indebted to many anointed writers and musical artists whose work God has used to speak to me over the last few months. If you are in a season of brokenness (or want to know how to encourage someone who is), I recommend The Hardest Peace by Kara Tippets, When God Doesn’t Fix It by Laura Story, and Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. If you’re looking for music, what we have on repeat around here are The Glorious Unfolding by Stephen Curtis Chapman, As Sure as the Sun by Ellie Holcomb, Majestic by Kari Jobe, and How Can It Be by Lauren Daigle.

Church

Ice Buckets: We did it.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard Caleb say the word “Jesus.”

Jason and I were youth pastors and my parents kept our boys on Wednesday nights while we were at church. When I swung by mom and dad’s house on the way home to pick the kids up, my mom showed me a picture book she had been reading to Caleb. It was a very simple story, less than 10 pages, that presented the message of salvation that we, as Christians, believe.

On the last page was an illustration of the risen Christ. My mom pointed to the picture and asked Caleb who it was. He pointed to the picture also, and in his sweet, one-year-old voice he said, “Jesus.”

There have not been many moments in my parenting journey thus far where I’ve felt like the things I’m doing and teaching are getting through and shaping my boys into the type of men I’m praying they become. But when those moments come – oh, how my heart swells within me with love and joy and pride in who God has made my children to be. That night was one of those nights.

To hear my sweet baby’s lips utter, for the first time, the name that is above every name, to know that even as a small child, he knows that name, that he’s being raised in a home that speaks the name of Jesus, and teaches the power of that mighty name – that was a day I was proud to be Caleb’s mom.

If you’re not a pastor, you may not understand this, but the love and pride that I have for my children is very much like the love and pride that I have for my church. When we were in beginnings of the process of church-planting, an experienced pastor whom we love and respect gave us this sage advice: Jason and I would need to see ourselves as the “mom” and “dad” of our church.

While I understood what he meant in theory at the time, his words weren’t particularly meaningful to me until we were actually in the position of pastors at our campus.

When my church aches, I ache. When my church rejoices, I rejoice with them. When we have to teach them the same lesson over and over again, I get frustrated. I have to remind myself daily that maturity for children and for churches does not come overnight. And when I see the smallest glimmer of the fruit of our labors–signs that the church we parent is really getting everything we’ve been teaching, that they are growing in the Lord and embracing everything God desires for them to be–in those moments, my heart is so proud and so full of love I feel like I could burst.

Today was one of those days. 

Today we got to celebrate the second anniversary of our church launch – a milestone not all church-planters have the privilege of seeing. But we also got to celebrate something amazing that God did in the hearts of our people, something that makes me so happy and proud it brings tears to my eyes. We challenged our congregation to give generously to the missionaries we are supporting this month – Sam and Lisa Paris – with the promise we’d do the ice bucket challenge that’s been all over Facebook if they hit $1200.

To be honest, I was a little hesitant putting that figure on it. I wasn’t trying to get out of doing the ice bucket challenge by naming a figure so large. In fact, the day I published the challenge, I was still debating between $1000 and $1200. Twelve hundred dollars just seemed like so much. That’s a huge missions offering for our church for one month, and we’d just surpassed it last month for Care2Learn. I really wasn’t sure we could do it again. But I felt like that was the number I should ask our church for, so I put the figure out there.

And my church, you wonderful people we pastor, you blew me out of the water.

We gave over $1700 to the Parises this month. Seventeen hundred votes with our wallets, crying out “we believe reaching the lost with the gospel matters.” So this morning after church, our people got to drench us with ice water. And I was so happy to have to do that, because it meant we were generous towards people who are sacrificing much more to proclaim the name of Jesus where it has not been heard.

To the Parises: Thank you for your obedience to God’s calling. We are so privileged to partner with you in this small way.

And to my beautiful, wonderful church: Happy second birthday. I couldn’t be prouder of you. You make me crazy sometimes, but your momma loves you so much. I can’t wait to see what this next year brings!

Church · Heart

Ice Buckets, and Giving, and What it Means to Really Make a Difference

If you’ve been on any type of social media in the last week, you are probably aware of the ice bucket challenge for ALS awareness.

I figured it was only a matter of time before it got around to us, and sure enough, on Tuesday, a couple of people in our church had challenged Jason and I to participate.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s, is a horrible, cruel, ugly, undiscriminating disease that preys on young and old alike. One of my favorite high school teachers lost her daughter, a sweet, vibrant girl I loved, and picked up from school a few times, to ALS. Watching her go from a strong, healthy, normal teenager to being wheelchair-bound is the definition of life not being fair.

I am glad that people are learning about, talking about, and spending money to fight ALS. And while there are some legitimate questions being raised about how much this challenge actually helps people with ALS, concerns over what kind of research the money actually funds, and objections from people who support other important causes, like clean water in third-world countries, it’s hard to argue with the numbers: as of yesterday, the ice bucket challenge had raised $31.5 million for ALS research, a 1600-percent increase over what was given during the same period last year.

So it’s good that people are giving to ALS. I’m not saying that those millions of dollars for ALS do not matter. It’s fun and easy to give in ways that seem tangible and concrete like this. In July, our church brought in one of our largest monthly Cause offerings to replace the small, falling-apart backpacks of our school district’s weekend feeding program. Your generosity was noticed by our community, and those who work closely with these hungry kids were moved by our gift.

But when I see pictures of the backpacks we bought, and watch videos of people participating in the ice bucket challenge–things that I think are noble and good and important–there’s this part of my brain that is still ringing with the words that Dick Brogden spoke at the AG Centennial simulcast:

“Dollars for one-time sexy projects can seduce us, that we slide from the greatest impact of missions giving: monthly support for boots-on-the-ground missionaries. And if your church is not regularly, sacrificially, giving to support missionaries around the world, you are not in spirit Assemblies of God. Call yourself whatever you want, but you cannot in truth be part of this fellowship if your budget does not prioritize the mission of God in the uttermost places of the earth.”

I think feeding kids in Ozark matters. I think raising money for ALS research matters. I would never argue otherwise.

Unfortunately, the sobering truth is that a lot of the projects we give to that make us feel that we are helping, and making a difference, do not really have the impact on the needy that we think they do. Robert Lupton, author of Toxic Charity, offers this sobering indictment of our benevolence: “As compassionate people, we have been evaluating our charity by the rewards we receive through service, rather than the benefits received by the served” (p. 5).

However, even supposing that all charitable projects and dollars were achieving everything we hoped they would, it’s hard for me to swallow just how difficult it is to inspire generosity for projects that don’t put something tangible in our hands but matter, perhaps, a great deal more. Because, after all, if we put food in the bellies of hungry kids or save the life of someone suffering with ALS, but never tell that person about the love of Jesus, have we really helped them? And what about the millions of people around the world who have yet to even hear the name of Jesus? Aren’t they worth our dollars, and Facebook activism, and even our lives?

My friends Sam and Lisa Paris think they are. Which is why they are taking their family to Tanna, Vanuatu to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are forsaking the familiar, losing physical comfort, and putting themselves on the line for the sake of the gospel. What they are getting ready to do as a family requires sacrifices that most of us cannot even fathom.

If I take a bucket of ice water and pour it over my head, afterwards, I can go inside and towel off, throw my wet clothes in an electric-powered washing machine, take a hot shower, and snuggle up in a blanket on the couch in my climate-controlled home.

The Parises won’t have easy access to those luxuries in Vanuatu. However, they consider these sacrifices worthwhile. And because I know them, I can say with confidence that they are even a little bit excited about the adventure they’re embarking upon as a family because they know that the things they are exchanging–those temporary, earthly comforts–are worth giving up when you compare them to the importance of adding just one more person to the kingdom of God.

They have taken Paul’s words to heart: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Our church has the awesome privilege of partnering with Sam and Lisa this month with our CAUSE monies. Not all of us are called to go to Vanuatu. Some of us are called to other places. And some of us are called to stay right where we are and be faithful with the influence God has given us here. But what is wonderful is that even though you and I will likely never see the tribesmen and women of Tanna, we can contribute to them hearing the name of Jesus for the first time by funding Sam and Lisa’s missionary budget.

The single most effective way to engineer lasting change in a community is not through drop-in aid, or one-time projects, but through the consistent, enduring efforts of people who make their homes and build their lives within that community. This is the work of a missionary. That is what Sam and Lisa and their kids are going to Vanuatu to do. Their vision is to establish a long-term ministry in Vanuatu that will continue beyond their lifetimes, providing education, healthcare, and most importantly, knowledge of Jesus Christ to the Ni-Vanuatu people.

Missions is important to the heart of God. It’s important to our church. And it’s important to me and Jason as a family. When we received the ice bucket challenge a couple of days ago, we made a donation to ALS, and we started talking about what it really means to make a difference. As we watched video after video of people publicly participating in this challenge, Jason said casually, “what if people did this for missions?”

His question kept me awake most of the night. What if people did this for missions? What if we did this for missions?

So, since people apparently want to see me and Jason freezing and soaking wet, we offer the following challenge to the people of our church: 

If you give $1200 to Sam and Lisa by the end of the month, we will do the ice bucket challenge, at our church building, in front of all of you. Twelve hundred dollars is the equivalent of supporting the Parises at $100 a month for a year, or $25 a month for an entire four-year term. Many of you have given to ALS in the last few weeks. We gave more than this as a church for backpacks last month. We can give this much to see people come to know Jesus. In fact, I cannot think of any more important way to spend our dollars.

Twelve hundred dollars, by August 31, and you’ll get to see your pastors drenched in ice water.

Are you up for the challenge?

Church · Holidays

Why I’m wearing the Same Thing I Wore Last Easter (And it’s Not a Dress)

Easter Sunday

This is me last Easter. I wore jeans to church, and I did it on purpose. It was my first Easter as the pastor’s wife of the congregation we lead in Ozark.

I like dresses and skirts, don’t get me wrong. I wear them on a pretty regular basis on days that aren’t Sunday, and even sometimes to church. I also wear jeans to church a lot. Our church has a very casual dress style, mostly because that’s how my husband, Jason, likes to dress. I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve seen him in a tie in the almost 8 years we’ve known each other, and they’ve all been very solemn occasions: weddings, funerals, ordinations, etc. But for the average Sundays, a button-down shirt and jeans is his idea of “dressed up.” And that’s okay with me. I’m not a big fan of dress codes, either, and while I like to dress up more than he does, I would probably bristle at having to be in a church where the pastor’s wife was expected to be in a dress and pantyhose every Sunday.

But Easter is its own thing, and I LOVE dressing up for Easter. It was always an occasion in our house growing up. We would go to the store and pick out dresses (or in the leaner years, fabric) and then wait anxiously for forever with that pretty dress hanging in the closet until FINALLY it was Easter Sunday, and we could put it on, complete with new tights, white shoes, and a few times, a hat. And back then, by the time Easter rolled around I usually legitimately needed a new dress – being a growing child and all.

But now that I’m an adult, I admit, I still like picking out a little something new for myself for Easter. One of my favorite dresses to this date is one I bought for Easter when Jason and I were newly married. And then there were two years in a row when I was pregnant on Easter, and finding a pretty maternity dress those two springs went a long way in boosting my attitude and ability to be at peace with my growing belly. Two years ago on Easter, I was nursing Garrett, and I wanted to be able to wear a dress really badly, but I didn’t have any that were nursing-friendly.

So then last year rolled around. I was planning (and excited) to wear a dress. I hadn’t even really thought about it all that much. I could, I wanted to, and so I was going to. But a few days before Easter, I began to feel the Holy Spirit stirring up something inside me about that choice.

Being a pastor’s wife is not for the faint of heart. A lot of people in that role assume some unnecessary pressure and let the weight of people’s expectations for them dictate their every decision, and I agree that this is not healthy. But at the same time, you can’t be in that role and expect to have zero influence on people’s perceptions and expectations for the church.

People tend to wear their very best on Easter. As I toyed with the idea of wearing jeans on Easter Sunday, I was a little worried – would I be the only one? That’s when it hit me – Easter is also a Sunday when people who do not regularly attend church are most likely to set foot through your doors. And I knew in that moment that if someone visited our church in jeans on Easter, I most certainly didn’t want them to be the only one.

I remember getting ready on Easter morning last year, still a little self-conscious about my choice. I’m not completely above the superficial side of myself. But what’s funny is, almost a year later, I have no memory of whether anyone else was in jeans that morning. After all the mental debate last year, I must have ended up being totally comfortable with my decision to wear jeans.

So as I started planning things for Easter this year, I settled on jeans without even thinking about it. But the more I read and studied during the season of Lent, meditating on what it means to go without, to fast, and to deny oneself things that very well may be your right, as Jesus did, the more and more I came to this conclusion: I don’t need anything new to wear.

I’m not that 7-year-old little girl who outgrew last year’s Easter dress anymore. The clothes I wore to our last Easter service still fit me, and by some miracle they have survived several rounds of closet purges in the last 12 months. So I’m not going to try to find anything different. This year, I am planning to wear the exact same thing I wore last year.

Now, if you buy a new dress to wear to church, do I think there’s anything wrong with that? Of course not. This is about thinking through my unique position in my own church, and what God is doing in me right now. I just want to leverage the little bit of influence I have to proclaim the message to anyone who walks through our doors that they can come exactly as they are to the foot of the cross. And I know my own tendency to focus on everything except what Easter is really about, and I want to leave as much room as possible in my mind and my heart for God to move and speak and resurrect as He chooses.

Because I don’t want to get something new for the outside at the expense of God doing something new inside me.

I hope you all have a great Easter, regardless of where you go and what you wear. And if you live in the Springfield metro area and don’t have anywhere to go on Easter, we would love for you to join us at Life360 Ozark!