We are rapidly approaching our 25th anniversary as a church. We will have Bruce Ware and Joel Beeke help us celebrate. Our theme is going to be “Loving the Body of Christ,” which is close to my heart and eminently appropriate for our 25th year as a church.
I am going to try to write some blog posts between now and then that cover our history and some personal reflections. I don’t know how many pastors plant a church and make it 25 years, but I know I am unbelievably privileged and blessed to be in that tribe. This reminiscence will cover how we got to Nevada.
I attended Western Conservative Baptist Seminary from 1990-1993. Ariel, Ashley and I moved to Portland, OR in Dec. 1989 and I started classes in January 1990. There I met men and took classes that would change my life. Three men stand out and deserve special mention. The first is my theology professor, Bruce Ware. God used Bruce to instill in my heart a passion for theology. God also used him to shake me from my Arminianism, which I euphemistically called “moderate Calvinism” (I believed in eternal security). Bruce is a dear friend to this day. The second was my hermeneutics and homiletics professor, Jim Andrews. Jim would also become our pastor. God used Jim to form in me convictions about preaching God’s Word, as well as a passion to preach God’s Word. Jim still is a powerful preacher and a dear friend. Finally, God used Dr. Duane Dunham. He was my Greek teacher. I had more classes from Dr. Dunham than from anyone else. God used Dr. Dunham to instill in me a love for the Greek New Testament and passion to dig into the Word. Dr. Dunham remains a beloved professor and friend.
In the course of seminary, I came to Reformed theology and had views of preaching that would have put me out of the mainstream of evangelicalism in the early 90s. If you can remember back, Bill Hybels was still a major influence, and Rick Warren was a rising leader on “how to do church.” Our association was heavily influenced by both men, and I knew God had shaped me into a different person. I had been listening to Pastor Albert Martin’s pastoral theology, and I began to think I may not last long in the typical evangelical church. Church planting became a serious consideration.
Our pastor, Jim Andrews, was a great help in thinking through this process, assessing my gifts, and preparing me for the possibility of planting a church. After much prayer, Ariel and I began thinking of areas where we could possibly go. One of those areas was the Carson Valley. At that time, I was presented with three ministry options. I could stay on at Lake Baptist Church, which offered the most security. I was recommended for an internship in a church in Little Rock, which would have led to a church plant in the southeast. Or we could proceed with the Carson Valley church plant. Although we would have loved to stay at Lake Baptist (now Bible) Church, I knew that was the safe thing to do and that God wanted me to do something that required a lot of faith. The Little Rock venture sounded good to me, but Ariel said I would have to move to Arkansas by myself. So, the Carson Valley it was!
Through a contact with the Conservative Baptist Association, we met Andrew and Cathy Winans. It seemed that God was opening a door for us in Nevada. Early in 1993 I was approved by the Northern California and Nevada Conservative Baptist Association (called Vision 2000) to be a church planter. We then drove from the bay area to Minden, to meet Andrew and Cathy and a small handful of believers who were interested in a church plant. Tom and Barb Keosababian were a part of that little group.
I graduated the following May with an M. Div. and was making preparations for a big move. It was scary and exciting. We had another meeting in Nevada in July with the families. At that time something happened that seemed to jeopardize the whole venture. We prayed, our friends in Portland prayed, and God cleared the obstacle in a miraculous way. But perhaps that story is for another time.
During that July meeting I told the little group that we needed about $2,000 month for me to support my family. We had support from our home church, Lake Baptist, and some other support from a few other churches and individuals, and I was going to work part-time at Sierra Community Church in South Lake Tahoe. We needed about $1,000 per month from the core group to get to $2,000. I asked everyone to write down what they thought they would be able to give and put it in an envelope. We had a great meeting, I presented certain aspects of how we would start the planting efforts, we prayed and then started the long drive home back to Portland. I asked Ariel to look at the envelopes. My heart was filled with faith that God would do exceedingly, abundantly above all we could ask or think. She started reading the numbers. $150. Good! $100. OK. $50. $5. $25. $70. Gulp! $400 per month! I felt dejected. It wasn’t supremely about the money, it was that we were uprooting, leaving our home, leaving opportunities, to serve the Lord with all our hearts. I felt that maybe people didn’t understand the level of our commitment. Ariel said, “Don’t worry, the Lord will provide for us. Give them time.”
In September of 1993 we packed up a moving truck and moved to Gardnerville. Kary and Cindy Grabow had just moved to Nevada and Kary heard through the Corvair grapevine about a new church. They were interested, showed up to our rental house when we pulled up in the moving truck and helped us unload. Little did we know that God poured out a huge blessing on our lives that day with Kary and Cindy. Not only would they become among the first members of Grace Community Church, but God gave us some great friends. Their kids and ours would grow up together. God did do exceedingly, abundantly above all we could ask or think.
I am taking a short break from the Psalm 119 posts as I prepare for Zambia and try to finish a couple classes (please pray for me!).
This morning during my reading and prayer time, my mind kept coming back to Acts 20. Paul tells the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28-29, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the flock of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.”
Have you ever considered how much of the NT is devoted to warning against false teaching and false teachers? We have one NT book wholly devoted to the Gospel-perverting error of the Judaizers, which is of course Galatians. We have two books devoted to exposing and warning against false teachers, 2 Peter and Jude. We also have numerous warnings, especially Paul, where Paul calls out false teachers by name (Hymenaeus and Alexander, Demas, Alexander the coppersmith, and even Peter when he strayed from the truth of the Gospel).
In our adult Sunday School, we have been spending time investigating the Word of Faith movement. I have been exposing false teaching. It is hardly one of my favorite things to do, but if we take the call to shepherd the flock seriously, we must guard the flock from wolves. Sometimes the sheep do not see the canis lupus nature of some of their favorite teachers. With the proliferation of books, radio and TV programs, podcasts, and websites, the danger is as great as ever. John Gill describes the wolves as “fleecing the flock, instead of feeding it, making merchandise of it… poisoning them with their errors and heresies…”
God gives pastors to the flock as watchmen (this is Paul’s imagery from Ezek. 3 and 33). Watchmen protected the walls of the city from invaders. Shepherds protected the flock from wolves. The metaphors are the same. God has called and equipped pastors to be able to spend time in the Word and doctrine so that they can better help protect the sheep. Thankfully, not all my time is spent studying error and heresy. Thankfully I can spend most of my time trying to feed the flock healthy food for their spiritual growth. But it is necessary at times to dig into the rubbish heaps because some of God’s people are going there to eat!
As one who will give an account to the Lord on the last day, I must fulfill my ministry and that means “guarding the flock.”
Nun (n) Stanza (105-112)
In the dark things are deceiving. One morning, while it was still dark, I was getting ready to go to the gym. I looked down next to my bed and saw what looked like my iPod charger (this was a few years ago). In the dark I reached down to pick it up and realized that it was furry, mushy, and wet. I immediately let go! I turned on the light and saw a dead kangaroo rat, with its long stringy tail. One of our cats brought it in for a present. In the dark I couldn’t see what it really was, only what I thought it was. In the dark, things are deceiving.
In the dark we can lose our way. We can stumble. We can fall. The dark can be dangerous. There are hidden dangers in the dark. There are inaccurate perceptions in the dark, like power cords and dead rats with stringy tails! What we need in the darkness to protect us and guide is light. Light gives us perception, it gives us sight.
One of the Psalmist’s strengths is that he doesn’t trust himself or his own perceptions, instincts, or decisions. Far too many people have too high of an opinion of themselves and think they can trust their instincts for the important things of life. The reality is that there is darkness inside of us and outside of us and we dare not trust in our abilities to navigate the darkness. We need the light of God’s Word.
Guidance from and Obedience to the Word (105-106)
105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
106 I have sworn and I will confirm it,
That I will keep Your righteous ordinances.
The Word is a lamp and a light. The light of the Word gives knowledge, understanding and wisdom (Prov. 6:23). But it is not the kind of light that one gets just from reading a textbook. It is not the kind of light which is nothing more than a collection of wise sayings or principles. Rather the light of the Word comes to us because of our relationship with the One who is light (Psa. 27:1; Jn. 8:12). Through this relationship with Jesus, the Light of the World, His Word gives us the light we need to navigate the darkness.
In light of this Light, the Psalmist makes a commitment to determined obedience (106). He swears and will confirm it. Swearing an oath was an act of worship (Deut. 21:21-23). By this determined oath, he is going to obey all of God’s righteous rules. In the dark we don’t know how to obey. We may be like a pilot flying in the dark. We may feel like we are right-side up but are really upside down. The instrument panel may seem counterintuitive but going with your gut in the dark isn’t safe. The Word is the infallible instrument panel and wisdom dictates that we commit to following the light it gives.
Afflicted Yet Praising and Learning Still (107-108)
107 I am exceedingly afflicted;
Revive me, O Lord, according to Your word.
108 O accept the freewill offerings of my mouth, O Lord,
And teach me Your ordinances.
The Psalmist confesses that he is suffering terribly. He makes his desperate plea. “Oh God, sustain my life and revive my heart according to Your promises!” Matthew Henry says, “With humble boldness, he begs God to make good His Word to him.” Then without skipping a beat, he pleads that God would accept the praise of his mouth which he freely offers and then pleads that God would teach him. What should be remarkable to us is that the Psalmist, in the midst of terrible suffering, is so quick to praise God and ask for more light. He runs to God, with a praising heart and learning mind. How often do we settle in our suffering, asking for nothing more than deliverance? Suffering can be a dark place. Praise the God of life and light!
At Risk but Undaunted (109-110)
109 My life is continually in my hand,
Yet I do not forget Your law.
110 The wicked have laid a snare for me,
Yet I have not gone astray from Your precepts.
These two verses form two parallel thoughts. 109a corresponds with 110a, and 109b with 110b. The imagery of having one’s life in one’s hand is to be conscious of the danger of death (cf. 1 Sam. 19:5; 28:21). The NIV translates it, “Though I constantly take my life in my hands.” The parallel statement is in v. 110a, “the wicked have laid a snare for me.” The Psalmist risks his life and his life is at risk, but he remains undaunted in his obedience. The structure here emphasizes the truth that the Psalmist knows the danger but refuses to give up on the light of the Word.
Joy from and Obedience to the Word (111-112)
111 I have inherited Your testimonies forever,
For they are the joy of my heart.
112 I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes
Forever, even to the end.
Usually in the OT the land was the inheritance. If we read Daniel here, he is in a strange land, under foreign control, separated from the inheritance of the land. The inheritance shifts from the land to the Law of God. The Psalmist sees that the joy of his heart is the Word of God. For exiles, they need to know the source of joy and drink from it often. With affection for the Word kindled, so is his affection for obedience. What is better for an exile than to know that the Word, the whole Word, is his, and there is no greater joy in a dark world than to live according to its light.
There are times when the darkness encroaches upon us. We can easily be deceived in the dark. We can easily stumble and fall. But God has provided us with His Son-saturated Word. Knowing Christ as the Light of the world, knowing His Word is a light to our path and lamp to our feet, can give us the navigating skills in a dark world. With confidence in the light of the Word, we can be undaunted in our obedience and undeterred in our joy.