Celebrating 35 Years of God’s Faithfulness as Foothills Fellowship

001In 1974, veteran missionary to the Philippines, Dr. Don Benson and his wife, Alice, stood on a vacant, cactus covered lot and prayed for the birth of a church in the growing northeast heights neighborhood of Albuquerque. The church – called Agape Baptist Church – first met in a home, then a pre-school and finally, in their own building completed in 1976.

In the early 1980’s, the Bensons left the church to plant another church on the growing West Side of Albuquerque, and Ron Grenemyer became the second pastor of what is now called Foothills Fellowship. It was under Ron’s leadership that elders were put in place to provide leadership and oversight for the church, and it was also during Ron’s tenure that the constitution that we currently use was written.

In 1989, Ron and his wife JoAnn left Foothills to pursue what would become a successful career in the insurance business. A young college pastor from Arizona named Rob Kurz replaced him. (By the way, Ron Grenemyer still comes by the church occasionally to visit with me and pray for me which I find very meaningful and encouraging.)

007 (2)Rob Kurz served the church for 17 years as senior pastor – which is the longest tenure of any pastor so far – and it was under his leadership that our commitment to bringing the gospel to the Muslim world in the 10/40 Window was birthed and solidified.  In the spring of 2001, we moved into our present facility on the corner of Tramway and Candelaria. We also purchased the adjacent daycare building, making it our children’s building.  I remember as our main building was beginning to take shape making fun of Rob because of the size of his office compared to everyone else’s. I called it “the racquetball court.” Little did I know that one day that office would be mine!

In 2006, Rob resigned as pastor, and by the end of that year, Michelle and I returned to the church that we had served for five years prior from 1999-2004. And this year – 2009 – Foothills Fellowship is celebrating our 35th year as a congregation.

LogoThis Sunday marks the beginning of an exciting transition in the life and history of our church as we move from our 35th year of existence into our 36th year. 35/36 is the name of an 8-week sermon series I’m beginning this Sunday, and the name 35/36 has a double meaning.

It represents a movement from our first 35 years (full of rich spiritual heritage) into our next 35 years (beginning with year 36) that – Lord willing – will begin another great run of Kingdom building and Kingdom impact as a church family.

It also represents a familiar passage of Scripture that we must NEVER forget as we move forward. Who knows what the next 35 years will hold? Who knows what year 36 (this year) will hold? No one…except for the Lord. And this is why we must cling to Proverbs 3:5 and 3:6 as a church family in the days, months, and years that lie ahead.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

There are many things pastors, elders, church leaders, and church people are tempted to place their trust in: numbers, finances, social status, facilities, number of converts, and their own thinking and empty philosophies. But as we move forward, we MUST recognize that the ONLY way we’re going to be “successful” for the Kingdom in the next 35 years (starting with this year: year 36), we must place our complete faith and trust in the Lord – and in Him alone.

If you’re a part of The Foothills family, make it a priority to be together with your church family each Sunday morning for the next 8 weeks.  And make sure not to miss this Sunday (August 2) as we’ll watch a video that chronicles the last 35 years of God’s faithfulness to us.

God’s Not Mad At Us!

angry_godOne of my favorite Bible teachers is Steve Brown.  He’s been on the radio for years with his daily 15-minute broadcast called, Key Life.  He says “God’s not mad at you!” a lot, and over the years, I’ve begun to actually believe him.  As a recovering legalist, I love it when Steve reminds me of God’s unending grace and love, which is why preaching on Psalm 132 this past Sunday was so good for my soul.

Psalm 132 deals with a covenant that God made with King David, which led me to spend much of my time last week looking at the different covenants that God has made with His people throughout history.

Bible scholar Wayne Grudem summarizes what a covenant is with respect to covenants made between God and man.  He says: A covenant is an unchangeable, divinely imposed legal agreement between God and man that stipulates the conditions of their relationship.

So, for instance: In Genesis 9, God made a covenant with Noah that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth. The sign of this covenant is the rainbow, and the terms are unchangeable.

Through the cross of Christ, God – once and for all – made a covenant of love and redemption with His people.  In Christ, He showed us His undying love and unchangeable grace and mercy, and this is how we can know for sure that God’s not mad at us.  Here’s what I learned last week about the unending love and mercy of God as displayed through His covenants with us.

1. God’s covenants show a voluntary and unconditional love and commitment to His people.

God has chosen to covenant voluntarily. No one is making Him do it. He has chosen to establish this relationship with us on His own.  The covenants of God are based solely on who He is…not on who we are. God established these covenants as a demonstration of His love, mercy, grace, and kindness.

2. God has never and will never break His covenants with His people no matter what they do or don’t do. Never!

God does makes it clear that He will lovingly discipline us if we are disobedient (Heb. 12; Rev. 3), but it’s also very clear that He will never reject us or withdraw His loving commitment from us.  In Isaiah 49:15, the Lord asks: Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. God’s love and devotion to us is unconditional, and it will never change.

Psalm 132:11 says, The Lord swore to David a sure oath from which he will not turn back. The Israelites sang this psalm as they ascended to Mt. Zion as a reminder that the God they served is a covenant-making and covenant-keeping God, and this is something that we need to be reminded of over and over again.

God’s not mad at us!  As a matter of fact, the exact opposite is true.  Nothing we do will ever separate us from the love, mercy, and kindness of God.

Have you received the free gift of salvation that He offers?  If not, what’s holding you back?  Accept the free gift of salvation through Jesus…and then live free! Free because of the covenant that God has made with you. Free because you know that nothing will ever separate you from Him again!

What’s Our Motivation?

IMG00616Just wonder what the thousands of non-believers who drive by this sign each day think.  While it’s true that the Scriptures say that followers of Christ will reign forever with Him (Rev. 22:5), is this the one concept that we should emphasize to our unbelieving neighbors?  I don’t think so.

What should we emphasize first as the motivation for our unbelieving friends to come to Christ?  Should reigning forever with Christ be it?  I’m not so sure that reigning will be the one thing that causes an unbeliever to make the leap of faith toward Christ, and I’m not so sure it should be.

Shouldn’t we be quick to first emphasize the fact that the only way to be made right with God is to believe and receive Christ’s free gift of forgiveness?  Shouldn’t we emphasize the fact that the cost of our sinfulness is separation from God, and the only way to bridge that chasm of separation is by believing that Christ’s death on the cross took the place of the death we all deserve?  Shouldn’t we emphasize the incredible love that God has for us in that He would be willing to sacrifice His Son in order to satisfy the debt that we all owe?

I know that this church is trying to be cute and catchy with their sign, but I wish they would think about the message they’re sending to the unbelievers who pass by it each day.  Yes.  Followers of Christ will reign with the Lord forever – which is no small thing – but the message of the gospel is so much more than that.

39 Years Ago…

1970Richard Nixon was the president of the US. One of the best movies I’ve seen this past year was about him…Frost/Nixon.

18 year-olds were given the right to vote in federal elections. How many 18 year-olds really evaluate the issues and candidates before voting?  I have two 18 year-olds in my home, and I’m pretty sure they’re not studying the issues!

A tidal wave driven by a cyclone from the Bay of Bengal hit East Pakistan, killing hundreds of thousands of people. Today, thousands of Pakistani people are coming to Christ, and I’m blessed to be a part of a church that has been on the front lines of this movement for the past 20 years.

The Baltimore Orioles won the World Series and the Kansas City Chiefs won the Superbowl. My beloved Reds (who aren’t so good anymore) have won 3 World Series since then and my beloved Steelers (who still are very good) have won 6 Super Bowls since then!

A house cost $26,600. That same house now costs 10 times that amount…at least in Albuquerque.

The average income per year was $9,400. That’s not too far off from what I made my first year out of college in 1992 with my $60,000 diploma in hand!

The average monthly rent was $140. Ha!  I’m paying more than 10 times this amount to rent my home now, but I’m not making 10 times the amount of income that people did in 1970.

jack-bauerAn anti-war rally was held at Valley Forge and was attended by John Kerry, Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland. I’m not overly concerned about Kerry and Fonda attending, but the father of Jack Bauer?  Now THAT’S a problem!

The cost of a gallon of gas was 36 cents. Funny.  I just paid $2.42 per gallon to fill up my car yesterday…and I thought that was a good price!

Sports Illustrated cost 15 cents per issue. Of course back then, dog racing and fishing stories made the front cover.  Today, the stories and photos are better, and with my subscription, I pay only 74 cents per issue.  This may be one of the best bargains around! (And by the way, when the swimsuit edition comes, I have Michelle grab it out of the mailbox and dispose of it properly.  Wouldn’t want to leave you with that question unanswered!)

A United States postage stamp was 6 cents. The price for postage goes up so often that I truly don’t know what a first class stamp costs right now.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou is published. When she read her I Am A Tree poem at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, I was really turned off.  I never was a big Maya Angelou fan until I saw her speak at a girl’s school that my mom used to work at in Ohio.  Michelle and I took Emily to see her, and we found her to be witty, engaging, charming, compassionate, and brilliant.  I’ve been a fan ever since.

The Long and Winding Road becomes the Beatles’ last Number 1 song. Good thing.  They were truly weird by the time they ended their unprecedented run atop the charts.  However, the Beatles of the early 60’s were incredible, revolutionary, and phenomenal musically.

02Queen Latifah, Mariah Carey, Andre Agassi, Uma Thurman, Jennifer Lopez, Matt Damon, and Mike Potter were born. All of them may be more famous and much wealthier than me, but as I observe (celebrate would be too strong of a word!) my 39th birthday today, I recognize that I am incredibly blessed.  I have the perfect wife for me in Michelle and I have four healthy and wonderful children.  The Lord has been so good to me.  I know that He loves me and is patiently growing me in spite of myself.  I pray for at least another 39 years of life so that I can continue to serve Him.

Cussing Christians (and Those Who Don’t Like It)

webbI’ve never been a huge fan of the Christian band, Caedmon’s Call, but when one of their lead singers, Derek Webb, began making solo albums, my interest was peaked.  It was peaked because he started recording songs that got him in trouble with the conservative Christian institution in this country.  As a matter of fact, the biggest local bookstore here in Albuquerque won’t even sell his albums, and his latest release called Stockholm Syndrome was delayed because his Christian record label didn’t know what to do because of the lyrics of his song, “What Matters More.”

Here are the lyrics that forced his record label to label the album “explicit.”

You say you always treat people like you like to be
I guess you love being hated for your sexuality
You love when people put words in your mouth
‘Bout what you believe, make you sound like a freak

‘Cause if you really believe what you say you believe
You wouldn’t be so damn reckless with the words you speak
Wouldn’t silently consent when the liars speak
Denyin’ all the dyin’ or the remedy

Tell me, brother, what matters more to you?
Tell me, sister, what matters more to you?

If I can tell what’s in your heart by what comes out of your mouth
Then it sure looks to me like being straight is all it’s about
It looks like being hated for all the wrong things
Like chasin’ the wind while the pendulum swings

‘Cause we can talk and debate until we’re blue in the face
About the language and tradition that he’s comin’ to save
Meanwhile we sit just like we don’t give a shit
About 50,000 people who are dyin’ today

Tell me, brother, what matters more to you?
Tell me, sister, what matters more to you?

Derek is using the same tact that Tony Campolo does when he says things like this: While you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s more is that you’re more upset with the fact that I just said ’shit’ than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night. This song seems to be asking what message the church sends when we get all up in arms about homosexuality without being concerned about the global AIDS crisis.

While the song is – for sure – controversial in nature because of the use of two words that many deem inappropriate, I would argue that the song is by no means “explicit” in nature like his record label suggests.  Many of the songs on the radio today make this song sound like a nursery rhyme in comparison.  Besides, the message Derek is conveying is one that the church desperately needs to hear, but unfortunately, so many of the “normal” methods modern preachers and prophets use to convey it aren’t being heard.

So, my prayer is that the controversy surrounding this song will draw a large amount of attention to it, and that in so doing, the message of compassion, justice, non-judgment, and unconditional love (which the last time I checked is the message of Jesus) will be heard.

Hollywood Hopelessness

my-sisters-keeperMichelle and I went to see the movie, My Sister’s Keeper, this weekend.  I had seen the previews several times before going, and so I knew the gist.  Normally, movies like this are ones I try to avoid.  When I know a movie is going to work overtime to make me cry, I generally try to stay away, but I’m married, and so I’m not the only one deciding which movie I’m going to see at any given time.  So, tonight, Michelle and I saw a movie that the New York Times called “an unapologetic, shameless, ruthless, weepie movie from start to finish.”

For the record, I didn’t cry (I didn’t even cry at Marley and Me!)…but I did leave the theater feeling pretty miserable.  The story was a sad one, but it was the utter hopelessness the family experienced as they faced the impending death of their daughter that really bothered me.

SPOILER ALERT!  As older sister “Kate” is dying of leukemia, she tells her younger sister “Anna” that she doesn’t know where she will go when she dies, but she says, “If you want to find me, just go to Montana.”  After Kate dies, Anna says that Kate died and became a piece of the blue sky.

Now…I know not to expect anything more than this from Hollywood, but I do have to say that every time I watch a movie that deals with death, and I observe the empty ways in which Hollywood speculates about life after death (or the lack of any life after death), I just feel sad.

I thought the way the family in My Sister’s Keeper processed the eventual death of Kate was so empty, it was hardly believable.  There was no spiritual consideration at all by anyone, which seems a bit hard to believe.  Even the hardest religious skeptic will usually make some spiritual consideration when faced with impending death, but so often, Hollywood neglects the spiritual side of death all together.

Like I said, I didn’t expect anything more than what I got, I just thought I’d share my saddness and the “yuck” feeling I left the theater with after watching Hollywood present death – once again – void of any spiritual specualtion or consideration.  The Scriptures say that man is made in the image of God, and my hunch is that God gets at least some consideration by almost all of us at some point as we make life’s journey toward the grave.

Stupid Church Signs: The Catholic Version

IMG00474I was driving through rural Ohio earlier this week and came across this stupid church sign.  As I approached the sign to take this picture, I noticed that it was in front of a Catholic church.

Looks like even our Catholic friends have a penchant for the lame and cheesy.

Couldn’t they think of anything else other than this to put on the sign?  I’m pretty sure this isn’t going to win any converts, visitors, or friends.