Time for Launch

This Sunday (July 31, 2011) will be one of the most important dates of my life. It will mark my first official sermon as the senior pastor of Mission Road Bible Church. Though I accepted the invitation of the church to serve them in this position several months ago, and have even been back to preach a few times since then, this Sunday is really sermon #1 as their shepherd.

The countdown to that 10:15AM service is like waiting on Christmas. I can’t wait to preach to the body Kim and I have already learned to love.

I have chosen to preach on a text that I think might be the most important in the Scriptures for defining the heart, desire, and measure of faithfulness for pastoral ministry. If you want to know what it is… see you Sunday. MRBC’s sermons can be found at our website http://www.missionroadbiblechurch.com/

Please pray for our church and me as we begin this relationship. I’m very excited to begin this chapter of ministry.

This Made Me Cry

Today I drove off the campus of Grace Community Church as I have done thousands of times before. But this time was different. This time, I knew I wouldn’t be coming back, at least not as one of her pastors. We are now in the throws of moving to Kansas City and beginning a new chapter of ministry with Mission Road Bible Church. As of today, I’m officially finished with my responsibilities at GCC.

I did not expect the flood of emotions as I turned right on Roscoe Bld. and headed towards the Hollywood FWY, but wow was I ambushed.

Three decades of ministry and relationships are attached to that piece of real estate in Sun Valley, CA. I love Grace Community Church. It is the place Kim and I met and married. It is the only church our sons have ever known. It hosts The Master’s Seminary where I was trained for ministry. It is where I’ve gained my best friends. It is where I have learned how the church is to function biblically. And most importantly, it is the place that has fed my love for my Lord and Savior, Jesus.

So, I hope you’ll excuse me if my affections overwhelmed me. Oh, and this was not a teary eyed, lump in the throat, try to hide it in a sad movie cry; it was a full on sob. And the immediate reflex of my soul was to thank God for His kindness in letting me serve at Grace. If Paul could have a good cry with the Ephesian elders at the dock of Miletus (Acts 20:37), so could I on the Hollywood FWY onramp.

But now it’s time to look forward. I am so excited about beginning my pastorate at MRBC that I feel like a bottle of Root Beer that’s taken a ride on a jackhammer. The people there in our new Kansas body are special. Very special. They have already adopted us and shown us love that is impossible to describe. And we haven’t even moved there yet!

I am especially excited for Kim and the boys. The women of the church have befriended Kim such that she feels like they have known each other for years. Our boys have become quickly connected to the students in the church and have already made pretty extensive plans for the Fall. And the elders at MRBC have become such gospel partners that I am tempted to well up with tears, again. (Not sure if my man card is going to be threatened after this post.)

All to say, I am blessed man. Blessed to have served at Grace Community and doubly blessed now to serve at Mission Road. And the treasure of all is doing it with my four favorite people.

Time to get to KC and join the gospel work happening there.

After a year and a half, my book Uneclipsing the Son is finally in print. There will be a limited number of copies available at Grace Church this Sunday and then the official release will happen at the Resolved Conference in two weeks. You can order in at a discounted price for the next two weeks at http://www.kressbiblical.com/ and http://www.gbibooks.com/

I want to give thanks to God for the completion of this project and pray that it exalts the Son for His pleasure.

Things are beginning to wind down in my ministry here at Grace
Community Church as I start the transition to become the senior pastor of Mission
Road Bible Church in July. Between now and then there will some significant
“last-time” moments. I had one of them early this morning.

For the last 14 years I have met with a group of men on Tuesday mornings at 6 AM in the basement of the “J Building.” Getting up at 4:30 AM is one thing. But seeing 40 other men do it consistently is quite another. There have been a lot of guys who have been a part of those meetings over the years and this morning provided me the opportunity to look back and thank God for this long line of godly men.

It is impossible to describe the influence of these men and those meetings on me. We have studied, prayed, laughed, and shed tears together. These meetings have been my favorite part of ministry at Grace. King
David wrote: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1) I’m not sure there is a better example of this verse than those Tuesday mornings.

We call the group of men who brave the alarm clock on Tuesdays the “A-Team.” The “A” stands for “aspiration.” First Timothy 3:1 says that “if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.” The aspiration for godly qualification and spiritual leadership among these men has consistently cured my complacency and motivated my Godwardness. I’ve experienced true accountability and I hope I have provided some in return.

Today we heard from Austin Duncan who is the next Crossroads pastor. I am excited for him and all that he will inherit in these men. And I’m equally excited for what they are going to get from him.

I will miss these men, a lot. But I know they are going to have their own A-Teams soon. It has been one of the joys of my life to do gospel work with them.

Finished My First Book

Quick update.

On Saturday I finished the last chapter of my book Uneclipsing the Son. It’s being published by Kress Biblical Resources and will released in June. I will always be thankful to Rick Kress for publishing it and to Brian Thomasson for doing some hard editorial work. Patti Schott, my secretary, did the unenviable work of typing transcripts of the sermon series that was the foundation of this book.

Now comes the proofing and typesetting. I can see the end of this project and want to thank those of you who prayed for it and encouraged me to turn those sermons into written form.

It should be up on Amazon within the month and will be officially released at the Resolved Conference in June.

I am praying hard that it serves those who read it and makes Jesus more desirable and the Christian faith more defined. Christianity is Jesus. That’s the simple message of the book. I hope you will consider giving a read.

After a long and involved process, I have come to a decision about the next chapter of life and ministry. This past weekend I accepted the invitation of Mission Road Bible Church in Kansas City, Kansas, to be their senior pastor.

Kim, our sons, and I are overwhelmed by God’s kindness and favor in this opportunity. MRBC is everything I ever desired in a church to shepherd, and so much more. The four days we spent with the church during my final candidating trip were confirming at every level that God has called me to this ministry. We will be transitioning to K.C. in July and have lots to do between now and then.

Throughout this process our church family at Grace Community Church, especially the Crossroads Ministry, has been so graciously supportive and helpful. Saying goodbye to them will be unspeakably difficult. The love and care I have received from them has marked our lives in every imaginable way. And the guidance provided by our elders has been indispensable. There will be much more I will say about leaving GCC in a later post.

Why Mission Road Bible Church? First, as I have come to know the elders there, their godliness, wisdom, unity, vision, and commitment is remarkable. Specifically their commitments to Scripture, the gospel, and the centrality of Christ in all aspects of life and ministry are compelling. Second, the people are so kind and winsome and it is clear that this is rooted in their commitment to the Truth and the Savior. Third, the opportunity for gospel impact in the area is strategic. The church’s location is in a densely populated section of Kansas City where there are few expository pulpits. Fourth, the previous senior pastor left the church in such good spiritual health that I wanted to have my family be a part of its ministry. And fifth, we enjoyed such an instant love from and for the church body that it was obvious God is doing something special.

As with most churches, the final decision for choosing the next pastor of MRBC rested in the hands of the congregation. On Sunday, April 3rd, they voted on me as their next senior pastor at a special congregational meeting. Our family sat at a nearby Starbucks during the meeting and waited for the call. The phone rang and I nervously answered. Mike Walje told me that the vote was 100% from the members to affirm me and that they were waiting at the church for us to come for a time of Q&A. When we walked into the church the Hollands received a reception that I will never forget.

Please pray for us as we make this transition over the coming months!

I want to fill you in on some things that are happening in my life and our family.

Last August, we took our family vacation after our High School Ministries Regeneration camp. Being in the Rocky Mountains in southwest Colorado was great for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was not having cell coverage or internet unless we went into town.

One day while the boys were enjoying the river behind the cabin, Kim and I had one of those life-examination conversations. I remember looking at her and saying that I’ve been feeling a strong pull on my heart to become a senior pastor sooner rather than “someday.” Kim’s response was that she had been anticipating that conversation for several years.

At that point, we decided just to pray about it and see what the Lord would do. In October I was contacted by a church to consider filling their vacant senior pastor position. After talking with them for a few weeks, it was clear that it was not the right fit for either them or me.

But this process had fanned the flame of desire in my heart to become a senior pastor.

I tell you all that to bring you up to speed on where things are now.

After much prayer, discussions with Kim, and interaction with the elders, I’ve come to the decision that it is time to venture out from Grace Community Church to serve a church in a senior pastor role. It’s important to express that this transition is not due to any discontentment or dissatisfaction with my current ministry. Several factors have led to this decision. Along with my desire to be a senior pastor, I’ve also had much input from Pastor John and our elders. I will always be thankful for how God has led me through these men. 

Over the past couple of months I have been approached by a few churches to consider being a candidate for their senior pastor position. The timing of these contacts has perfectly coincided with my desires.

Our family, along with our elders, is asking God to bring along the right church for me to serve in the very near future. We are praying and hoping to move “somewhere” by this summer.

With that in mind, can we ask you to pray with us and for us?

When I think of walking out of Grace Church for the last time as one of her pastors, I can hardly take another breath. But at the same time, when Kim and I think of taking all we’ve learned from serving here to another place, we get very excited.

This process raises a lot of questions, like where are we looking and what will the transition here look like. I have answers for some. Others I don’t know. And others are not wise to answer yet.

What I can say is that I am daily amazed by God’s grace in adopting me as His son, and in calling me to be a pastor.

Thanks for your prayers for my family and me!

Under the Cover of God’s Grace

I was up early this morning and glanced at my TweetDeck. Bob Kauflin had simply tweeted “There’s an infinite difference between me trying to cover my sin and God covering it” with a reference to Psalm32. This was sweet medicine for my soul.

Psalm 130:3-4 says, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.” When I think of how may marks the Lord could record as His omniscience observes my sin, I realize I most certainly could never stand in His presence. But the reality of forgiveness is precious.

Solomon wrote to Rehoboam, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion” (Prov 28:13). In other words, what you cover, God will uncover; but what you uncover, God will cover. Remember the penetrating words of Moses in the book of Numbers, “…behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out” (Num 32:23).

Reaching back into Psalm 32, David acknowledged that the guilt of unconfessed sin deteriorated both body and soul. In His love, God uncovered the sin David tried to cover. But when he confessed his sin, God covered it. This all makes me want to be more deliberate, more intentional in specific confession of my sin at the throne of grace.

The only means for covering sin is by punishing it. God has not simply dismissed it or looked the other way. He accepts the death of Jesus, His Son, as the only substitution for the lethal punishment our sin deserves.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul!
 -Horatio Spafford

Thanks for the reminder Bob.

The older my sons get, the more weaknesses I see in my parenting. I can’t remember a day in the last decade I have not had to ask forgiveness from one or more of them. They are very gracious to extend forgiveness to their sin-infested Dad.

On the positive side, I’m seeing some traction and progress in our discipleship. I was meeting with a group recently who were asking me what I do with the boys in discipleship. I thought the answer to that question might provide some ideas for some to build on, so I am going to give a brief outline of some of the things we are doing. But this post is not so much a declaration as an invitation. If you have ideas and experiences in discipleship, please add them in the comments section below and we can all profit.

  • I take each of the boys out for breakfast before school once a week. This is as simple as a muffin at Starbucks or an earlier morning at IHOP. I’m going through different things with each of them. They are in very different places in spiritual understanding because of their ages. We have read books together, gone over chapters of the Bible that address what they are working through in life, and sometimes we just talk about sports, hunting, or play hangman (that was this morning with my 5th grader). I try to end with a verse I’ve isolated for them that we simply read and pray through.
  • We try to talk about the biblical instruction they are receiving at church. Driving home from church on Sundays includes a debriefing of what they learned in their youth ministry groups and the regular service sermon. The same happens on Wednesday and after their discipleship meetings with leaders. Kim and I try to create and follow as many rabbit trails as we can to see what is at the end of their thinking.
  • Dinner times are great because they are magnetized to the table by their appetites. It’s fun to throw out a topic and see what they think. I’m not so interested in using this time for instruction as I am to simply see what and how they think.
  • Then there is “Monday Man School.” On Monday nights we try to get together to talk through issues of masculinity. This can include things like how to tie a tie (or better tie one), how to iron a shirt, how to skin and cook a rabbit, how to treat a lady (this an ongoing lesson), what to do when you get embarrassed in front of others, how to admit your wrong and why that’s important, how to match clothes, how to shave (better), and sometimes we just watch a football or basketball game together. Kim is a part sometimes, but this also gives her an escape from her world of boys for a night if she wants to go out for coffee with a friend, or get some alone time.
  • An important footnote is that there are always interruptions and exceptions to these activities. We rarely have a perfect week where everything happens, but we’re trying to make those the exceptions rather than the norm.

Then there are always the informal discussions that come up when you have kids. You can never let the antenna down and look for opportunities to speak into their worldview to encourage or correct it.

So what are you doing to disciple your kids? Or, what have you experienced in your discipleship relationships that has borne fruit? I hope this thread can help us all, whether or not we are parents.

Book Update

Thank you to those who have been praying for the book I’m writing, Uneclipsing the Son. I have been deeply encouraged by those of you who keep asking me how it is coming.

Here is where we are…

I have been working with Brian Thomasson on the chapters. We currently have six of eleven chapters in pretty good shape. I was told early on to “trust your editor.” This has proven very good counsel. Brian is not only a good editor, his walk with Christ leaks into every sentence. I am blessed to work with him.

It looks like the book will be out in late May, just in time for the Resolved Conference. Going through this material is refreshing my love for Jesus. It’s not my own words, but the Scriptures that are working like a magnet between my soul and the Savior.

Thank you for those of you who have asked about the project. Please pray for me when you think about it.

A Sweet Second Chance

Another flight, but this one became a classroom for my heart.

I had just walked away from the check-in kiosk when I heard, “Hey Rick!”

I turned to see a couple who own a small business here in Los Angeles. I have been in their store many times and struck up a friendship with them that has moved a step beyond acquaintance.

“Where are you headed?” I asked.

“To Minneapolis to see the doctors at the Mayo Clinic,” the husband answered.

That was when I noticed their daughter in a wheel chair. They explained that there has been a problem that has disabled her from walking. Apparently, her condition is related to a virus, but her doctors have not come up with a diagnosis and sent her on this medical trip for further examination.

I smiled and told them I was glad to see them and went on through security. As I was putting my belongings onto the x-ray belt, a sick feeling ripped through my midsection. I realized that I had just missed an unmistakable opportunity to minister to these friends. By this time there was no easy way to get back through the security line. I was left with an embarrassment and shame that I had not represented Jesus well nor extended His grace in any way.

I went to check the monitor to confirm my gate and there it was- their Minneapolis flight. Their flight was actually leaving from the gate adjacent to mine. And the flight was scheduled for the same time as mine. I prayed for a second chance to see my friends.

Sure enough, about fifteen minutes later I saw them wheeling their daughter toward their gate. I met them as they came into the seating area and asked them more about the daughter’s condition. Then I asked them if it would be ok if I prayed for them. The Mom said yes and we prayed right there in the Delta seating area.

My friends are not church-goers and have never expressed any faith in Christ to me. But they instinctively grabbed and held my hand as I prayed for their daughter. It was a sweet moment.

The point of relaying the encounter is not to highlight my praying for them. It is to shine a spotlight on God’s kind providence. He put our flights on the same day. He located our gates next to each other. He synchronized our flight times. He gave them receptive hearts to receive prayer. He answered my prayer to see them again. He gave me a second chance to do what was right.

After praying I told them I would follow up with them in a few weeks to check on their daughter. I also asked them if I could take them to lunch sometime soon. They said yes. All this points to God’s kind providence. My friends now have an appointment to hear the gospel. And I have more reasons to be amazed by His grace.

Charles Wesley wrote the beloved Christmas carol Hark the Herald Angels Sing in 1739. I think he would be quite surprised to know how much airtime it has gotten in our generation.

I love this carol. The tune brings back childhood memories of the wonder of the Christmas season. But the words remind me of theology class in seminary.

The second verse, in my humble opinion, contains some of the most important theology of any hymn in our hymnals. Here is the verse:

Christ by highest heav’n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Did you get all that? Consider the identifying features of Jesus in this verse…

  • Jesus is worshipped by angels (Heb 1:6)
  • Jesus is eternal (Is 9:6)
  • Jesus came at the perfect, God-ordained time (Rom 5:6)
  • Jesus was born of a virgin and His Father was God (Matt 1:18-25)
  • Jesus was/is God Almighty (Matt 17:1-8)
  • Jesus was fully human (1 Tim 2:5)
  • Jesus was the Savior, “God with us”—Emmanuel (Matt 1:23)
  • Jesus’ identity was attested by angels (Luke 2:1-15)
  • Jesus is the King of Kings (Rev 19:16)

So when we sing the carol, What Child is This?, let’s let Mr. Wesley provide an answer!