Monday, June 30, 2014

Since our time in Utah is rapidly coming to a close, I wanted to provide one final update before my family returns home. This mission trip has simply been amazing, and I thank God for all that He has done!

Our Lord's Day was a true blessing. My family was able to join in morning worship at First Baptist Church of Provo, Utah. Pastor Russ Robinson preached from Acts 14:19-23, showing us the centrality of the local church. A faithful church provides encouragement, gives exhortations, and has biblical church leadership to wisely and lovingly shepherd our souls.

After the worship service ended, we went over to the Robinson's home to enjoy lunch and a time of fellowship. I also had a great time discussing church planting and our future with Russ, who is quickly becoming a good friend of mine. Here is a video of a brief interview that I had with him so that you can get to know him better:

Then in the evening we were able to worship at a recent church plant, The Mission Church. Again, the Word of God was faithfully preached from Ephesians 5:22-6:9 by Pastor Ritch Sandford. Ritch and I really seemed to hit it off and I look forward to building our relationship in the months ahead.

Today I was also able to meet with Pastor Kenny MontaƱo of Roy Bible Church. Since he ministers north of Salt Lake City, he was able to provide a helpful perspective on the northern part of the valley. Again, I found a kindred spirit and plan to stay in touch with him as I prepare to serve in the Salt Lake Valley.

This afternoon, my family was able to visit the Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island. It is amazing, as you can see from the picture! Far saltier than the ocean, the Great Salt Lake is fascinating. God has certainly blessed this place with natural beauty.

Once again, I thank all of you for your prayers. My family has a lot to process, discuss, and pray over. Above all, we hope that God will give us wisdom as we consider the possibilities Utah has for us.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

As this week draws to a close, I wanted to update you on what has happened over the past few days. I am so thankful that God has allowed my family to come out here and am excited about our future ministry opportunities in the Salt Lake Valley.

To begin with, we spent some time understanding the local context here. So we visited downtown Salt Lake City, including the LDS Temple Square. We were led around by two Mormon missionary women, who explained more about their beliefs and the purpose of their temples. This was very helpful and led to my family having some fruitful discussion afterward.

We also visited the This Is The Place Heritage Park. In this park, they have a monument where the second prophet of the LDS Church, Brigham Young, supposedly decided that the Mormon people would settle in the Salt Lake Valley. Here we learned more about the trek of many Mormons who traveled across the country largely by foot with handcarts to the valley. I think that knowing the history of Utah is critical to understanding the state today.

But the time that I most enjoyed with my family was when we went up to a high point behind the state capitol building and looked across the valley. We were moved by what we saw and prayed for the gospel of Jesus Christ to permeate the Salt Lake Valley. My son even set up a small cross made from stones and asked if we could come back every year to pray. May it be so!

At the same time, my evenings were given over to street evangelism. One evening my family went with me, seeing thousands of those who are without true hope of Jesus Christ. The other two nights, I went with others who were out evangelizing as well. In God's kind providence, I was blessed to spend a few hours with one missional couple who have a heart for church planting here. We had a great time discussing many different aspects of church planting, and I learned a lot from them as I consider the next steps for our ministry. Thank you Randy and Carol!

Evangelizing in the streets started slowly, mainly handing out gospel tracts because of the weather. But God showed up in an amazing way last night and tonight. The weather was wonderful, and I was able to have several serious gospel conversations with over a dozen people. While none of them have yet received Christ by faith, I was able to clearly proclaim the gospel and they promised to pray about what I shared. I believe that a number of them are seriously considering the gospel and will read the tracts that I gave them which will also direct them to Christ. Please join me in prayer for all of those who heard the gospel from me and many other faithful men and women here.

I thank God for all that He has done over the last several days! And I am looking forward to tomorrow, where we will gather together on the Lord's Day with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to worship our Savior. May His praise ring loudly throughout Utah!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Greetings from Utah! As our second day in the Salt Lake Valley winds down, I wanted to update you about many of the ways that God has already been blessing our time here.

​We have spent most of our time so far meeting with other church planting families in the area. Yesterday morning, we met with the Fox family. Travis Fox is the Pastor of Preaching and Vision at Grace City Church.  We wound up being together for a few hours with Travis telling me of his missional efforts in the downtown area and helping me understand the Salt Lake Valley context for ministry while his wife talked with Jennifer about life as a wife and mother here. Our kids also had lots of fun playing together! Here is a brief video that I recorded with Travis on church planting in Utah (I apologize for the low volume, but hopefully you can still hear him):

Then in the afternoon we met with the Rutledge family. Kevin Rutledge has just moved to the Provo area (last week!) to plant Redeemer Church. We spent a few hours with them getting to know each other and hearing what he has done so far to plant a church in Provo. The whole time I was together with the Fox and Rutledge families, I felt like I was a sponge soaking in insights and wisdom from these men. I am sure that we will be staying in touch as my family moves toward church planting ourselves.

This afternoon we enjoyed some together with the Madden family. Adam Madden leads the Christ Fellowship church network. We met for a picnic up the mountains on the east side of the valley in the Wasatch National Forest. Again, it seemed as if God had given us another divine appointment, providing me with another great contact and partner in church planting. I feel like Christ is at work and I am simply along for the ride!

We ended the day by having dinner with some of the leaders from West Valley Church, which is a part of Christ Fellowship. Their families were very generous in inviting us to share a meal with them, and we appreciated hearing their insights on living in a diverse community where they are seeking to make an impact with the gospel. 

So at the end of two days, we have been able to establish several strategic relationships, I have gained insight into church planting in the Salt Lake Valley, my wife has learned a lot about being a church planting wife and mother in this area, and our kids have already started making friends. They were even able to throw snowballs with some remaining snow up in the mountains!

Can you tell that I am excited about the possibility of planting a church here in the Salt Lake Valley of Utah? Please continue praying for us. The next few days include getting to know the valley and its culture better, doing some evangelistic outreach, and meeting more families. So you can look forward to more updates!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Today, my family is leaving for Utah. During our time there, we have several goals: 1) to engage in evangelistic ministry, 2) to meet with others committed to and engaged in church planting so that we can have a better understanding of ministry in their local context as well as develop key relationships, and 3) to strategize our next steps in moving toward church planting efforts in Utah. While this is a lot to do in a week and a half, our prayer is that God will guide our time there for His purposes and glory.

With this in mind, will you please commit to praying for us daily? Christ will need to bless us with the strength of his Holy Spirit to have any lasting fruit. We hope to provide updates while there, but we know that your prayers will be essential to an effective mission trip. Thank you so much for your continual encouragement and support of our ministry!

I want to leave you with an insightful quote from a book that I recently started reading by Stephen Tyng, a 19th century American Episcopalian pastor. In his Lectures on the Law and the Gospel, Tyng concludes his first chapter by reminding us of the need for spiritual enlightenment for salvation. May the Holy Spirit apply to the hearts of those in Utah their need of Christ as their Savior, providing our required perfect righteousness:

They who gain not this clear perception of the condition of man under the violated law, see not their need of the continued special influence of the Holy Spirit, to illuminate their minds, or to sanctify their hearts. They are led to doubt, or even to deny, his personal agency in the great work of man's redemption. In connexion with this, they are often deluded by the same ignorance, to reject the whole revelation of the Glorious Persons in the Trinity, — and the various indispensable doctrines of grace which are connected with it, such as the doctrine of actual satisfaction for sin in the Saviour's death,— of the imputation of his righteousness to believers for their justification, — and of the certain preservation of them in new obedience, by the power of the Holy Ghost. They do not feel themselves to be destroyed in sin; they see not therefore their need of the free and boundless love of the Father, electing them unto life, as the origin of their hope; of the divine merit of an Immanuel to bring them in acceptance before him, and into possession of this life; and of the Almighty agency of the Spirit to enable them to know and to receive the things which are thus freely given to them of God. Multitudes thus bring down their avowed system of religion to some low and miserable standard, which in fact almost assumes the sufficiency of their own nature, and their own works to meet the judgment and to claim the favour of God. All these are mistakes which spring altogether from an ignorance of his law. Let them obtain a thorough insight into its claims and character by the enlightening power of the Spirit, and they will then see how solemnly and fatally its demands and sanctions shut them up under the condemnation and bondage of sin; they will then see, that if any one less than God himself, undertake their salvation, they must assuredly perish; they will be convinced that no arm inferior to the Lord of hosts, can rescue them from the wrath to which they are exposed, or bring to them the victory they require; — they will humbly seek, and then shall surely find, the free and great salvation, which God has so clearly revealed, and so fully offered, in the provisions of his Gospel, — and they will realize the importance of the prayer before us, "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law [Psalm 119:18]," — in discerning that all these advances in spiritual knowledge are dependant upon an accurate understanding of its character and claims (24-25).

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The month of May proved to be a very fruitful month as I seek to love and serve my neighbors. I thank God for the blessings which have taken place and am excited to see what He will do in the future! Let me share a little about what has happened.

First, the warming weather has allowed my community group to begin meeting at a local park in our neighborhood. We enjoy a meal together along with a time of fellowship, pray for one another and encourage one another, and plan how we can reach our neighborhood with the gospel. By gathering together at the park, we do all of this in the midst of people who need the hope of Christ. Hundreds of people are around us, and I appreciate the continual reminder of so many who are lost apart from our Savior. Meeting in this public place helps to fuel our prayers and gives us an urgency to our efforts.

Second, I decided to go to a meeting of our community's neighborhood alliance. While I initially had reservations about going, I cannot believe the opportunity that is available for my family and others in our community group. It seems as if I will be able to help lead efforts to bring our neighborhood together through local events, and I am already building relationships with several of those involved with our neighborhood alliance.

Third, I have continued to get to know more of my neighbors. With my daughters making various treats, they have gone with me to drop by our neighbors' homes with some desserts and briefly introduce ourselves. We have really enjoyed the times in which we have been able to meet others, and I look forward to meeting many more in the months ahead. One of the most enjoyable opportunities we had this past month was with a recently retired man who had come to the neighborhood alliance meeting for the first time. My oldest daughter and I went over to his house with some treats, and he invited us to his back porch for a leisurely afternoon. I seem to have a lot in common with him, and I hope that our relationship will continue in the months ahead.

Fourth, I am leading our community group to begin working toward having events in our neighborhood so that we can all build relationships with those who are living around us. We have already become more intentional in building bridges to our neighbors, and I am thankful for God's help in our efforts. I am convinced that as we genuinely love and serve them, God will provide us with opportunities to give a reason for the hope that is in us.

Finally, my family has been moving forward with plans to go to Utah later this month. We have several goals while there: 1) to engage in evangelistic ministry, 2) to meet with others committed to and engaged in church planting so that we can have a better understanding of ministry in their local context as well as develop key relationships, and 3) to strategize our next steps in moving toward church planting efforts in Utah. While this is a lot to do in a week and a half, our prayer is that God will guide our time there for His purposes and glory.

As you can tell, we still need your prayers! Satan will oppose us as we try to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. And only through serving Him in the strength of the Holy Spirit will any lasting fruit be produced. So please pray for us as we seek to love and serve our neighbors. And pray for God to guide my family with wisdom as we make an important trip to Utah soon. May our lives be spent for the glory of His name!