YOU ARE SPECIAL. Yes, I’m speaking to YOU…the reader. Consider, that if God knew you before you were born and knit you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-16), then surely He does have a plan for YOUR life! YOU have purpose for the greater purposes of the Creator of the Universe! Wow!
It’s in that premise of life purpose I write this caption of my life journey. There is nothing truly more special about me, or anything I do, and no I’m not down playing myself. I’m just being honest. Like the field keeper in the movie “Rudy” said to Rudy, “You’re 5 foot nothin’, 100 and nothin’, and you have barely a speck of athletic ability. And you hung in there with the best college football players in the land for 2 years. And you’re gonna walk outta here with a degree from the University of Notre Dame. In this life, you don’t have to prove nothin’ to nobody but yourself!”
And I would add, we don’t have to prove anything to anybody but God Himself, and even then its HIS Amazing Grace that transforms us, not our own works. And that’s what this part of my life’s story is about: revealing the gracious hand of God in my life. I have nothing and I am nothing, a part from His benevolent hand of mercy granting me wonderful opportunities and relationships.
So. For those interested, here is the “too coincidental to be coincidence” story that God has written for my life and Robin’s life for the past 13 years.
“…I pray You use Mike in DC to stir a Nazarite anointing in DC; Shoot him LIKE AN ARROW from CA to the heart of Babylon; as a father to a son, I bless Mike and ask that you raise up his voice in DC!” This prayer was prayed over me by Lou Engle ONE DAY BEFORE I left Fresno, CA to drive across the United States to pastor in Washington, DC in 2010.
Let me reiterate, there is nothing “more special” about anybody who claims to be “led by God” in their lives, a part from God Himself. The Bible is clear: “…Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us,” (Rom. 12:3, NLT).
So it is in that place of honest evaluation, I write the following words. Simply put, God is proved correct when He says in Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”
When we were given the opportunity to move back out to Washington, DC and work at National Community Church (NCC – www.theaterchurch.com ) as the Capitol Hill Campus Pastors, it was one of the most amazing occurrences of God determining our steps ever! The reason is that from 1999-2000, I had the unique opportunity to live on Capitol Hill, work in the US Senate, and attend NCC when it was one church, one location (little inside humor for NCCers). While I was out there, I prayed, “Lord, if You want me in the ministry, then give me the call…” That’s when 3 churches from the Central Valley of California called. So, in faith, I packed my bags, departed DC and headed out to California in 2000. Interesting fact: my journal entries while still in DC testify that I had a sense that I would return to Washington, DC in some capacity or another later in my life.
For the next 10 years, from 2000-2010, we served as youth pastors in Fresno, CA at Peoples Church (4 years) and Northeast Assembly of God (6 years). In our last year at NEAG, we sensed a release from the Lord, and it was then when God began to open doors for us to return to DC and NCC.
I need to give some historical details in this matter. After all, aren’t details important to God, and to the orchestration of our daily lives? I mean, if He knows the number of hairs on our heads, then I think He is concerned with where we live and who we’re with! That said…
On April 25, 2010, Pastor Mike Bruton, my Lead Pastor from NEAG, asked if I wanted to go with him to the early Sunday service at Peoples Church (my old church), to witness the installation of Dale Oquist, the new Lead Pastor, after GL Johnson. As I sat like a fly on the wall, witnessing Pastor Johnson hand off the baton of leadership to Pastor Dale, I wept with appreciation for Pastor Johnson, and the faithfulness of God to bring a man of God like Dale Oquist to lead Peoples Church at this very spiritually volatile time in the church and California. For me, it truly was an historical moment!
WARNING: Context is one of my strengths and I was a History major in college, so here’s some detailed history:
I need to recount a brief moment in time while we were still at Peoples Church in 2003. At the time, Pastor Johnson was speaking on Abraham & Isaac. While I was worshiping in the Student Ministry Center (Ground Zero), I sensed the Lord say to my spirit: “Are you willing to give up this place, as Abraham was willing to give up Isaac?” My first reaction was something like this: “If You’re asking me to give up my job here at Peoples, I may need a little more confirmation God. There are promises I believe You gave me for here that have yet to be realized. If I leave here, how will those prayers and promises come to pass as I have been believing for?”
As is in the goodness of God’s character, He did give me more confirmation. I received a phone call from Pastor Mike Bruton in the summer of 2004 asking us if we would be interested in leaving Peoples Church to come help rebuild the Student Ministries at NEAG. The beautiful, ethical and, unfortunately rare, step that Pastor Bruton took next, was to call Pastor GL to get permission and blessing to be able to pursue me to go to NEAG. A very ethical and RIGHT way to go about seeking new church staff members! To make matters even more prophetic and amazing in how God writes our life stories, the moment we felt a release to move forward from Peoples Church to NEAG, we “happen to be” in Washington, DC, on vacation, visiting our friends at NCC. If there was ever a place where God speaks to me, Washington, DC is that vision building, life-giving place!
In faith, we left Peoples Church in October of 2004 to begin a new work of ministry at Northeast Assembly. For the next 6 years we were challenged in our character, our commitment through various trials, and encouraged by the faithful people in that church.
And so arrives that momentous day of April 25th, 2010! I was sitting next to my then Lead Pastor, Mike Bruton, while my former Pastor, GL Johnson was handing off the baton of leadership to, unbeknownst to me, my future-future Pastor, Dale Oquist. That night, my friend from Washington, DC and the Executive Pastor at NCC, Joel Schmidgall, called to inquire about our interest to move back out to Washington, DC and serve as Campus Pastors at one of NCC’s many campuses.
If you’re not as blown away as I am with the intricacy of these details, please indulge my reiteration of the journey: In ONE DAY, every pastor that has had SIGNIFICANT leadership impact in my life in the previous 11 years at the time, intersected in a unique way to help me see that God was up to something big for my life and my family and those we would impact on both coasts! The personal life application is this: we must carefully observe our circumstances and godly influence in light of Scripture and what the Spirit is witnessing to our hearts in moments like these in order to best determine God’s will for our lives (Romans 12:1-2)!
When we made the life changing decision to go back out to DC, I drew upon this worshipful, God-centered day, in order to muster the courage to move my family to the East Coast. Despite our house being upside down in the market; despite leaving all of our family and closest friends; and despite leaving my beloved In-N-Out Burger, The Dodgers and Disneyland J, we took a step of faith and made the trek to the Nation’s Capitol, to serve in one of the most outstanding churches in America!
We were given the privilege to serve at two NCC sites on Capitol Hill: Ebenezers Coffeehouse on Saturday nights, and at the Barracks Row Theater, formerly known as The Peoples Church, on Sunday mornings. And, yes, there is a rare God connection there as well…
Originally, Pastor Mark Batterson & Joel had planned on us pastoring at NCC’s newest launch site at Potomac Yard in Virginia. But, as God would have it, they felt my time as a Hill Staffer in the Senate, would be more beneficial for serving as the Capitol Hill Campus Pastor. And so we had the honor to serve the Lord and the people of NCC on Capitol Hill. This is important, because I told Pastor Mark about how Fresno Peoples Church was an “Isaac” offering to the Lord back in 2004 for me. I had told him that my journal entries bore out that I believed God might one day send me back to “The Peoples Church”. So when we (NCC) purchased an old Silent Movies & Westerns Theater turned church in 1962, by “The Peoples Church” on Barracks Row in Southeast Washington, DC, imagine the beauty of confirmation I felt in my heart. Remember, we were “supposed” to be the Potomac Yard campus pastors at first (props to my boy Pastor Kurtis Parks ), but at the last minute were asked to cover Capitol Hill, and therefore were placed in leadership over the Peoples Church/NCC Barracks Row location. In case I’ve lost you in my plethora of details, let us review. I will give bullet points to keep it as simple as I am able:
- I just “happened” to have a sense that one day we would be back at “Peoples Church”, as witnessed in my journals…
- I just “happened” to be placed as Campus Pastor over our Capitol Hill locations BEFORE we even knew we needed a new Capitol Hill location due to awesome growth at Ebenezers Coffeehouse on Sunday mornings…
- Out of the many options for another Capitol Hill location, Pastor Michael Hall of The Peoples Church at Barracks Row, after Pastor Mark’s 3rd request, “happened” to be moved by God to sell the Peoples Church theater to NCC in February of 2011…
- In April of 2011, I “happened” to have the honor to serve at the then “Peoples Church” as the now “NCC Barracks Row” Campus Pastor…
- Without my orchestration or involvement, in the summer of 2011, Pastor Dale Oquist of the Peoples Church, Fresno, CA, “happened” to call Pastor Mark Batterson to ask permission to speak with me regarding us potentially coming back to serve at Peoples Church in Fresno, CA…
- Because I told Pastor Mark about the amazingly “coincidental” fact that I served at the Peoples Church in Fresno, CA, and that I gave it up as an “Isaac” offering to the Lord out of obedience, and I served at NCC’s newest location at “The Peoples Church”, he felt this phone call had more of a divine nature upon it. So he told Robin and I that Pastor Dale called. Mark made it clear that he did NOT think we were supposed to leave, but rather stay and do our part to work for revival in DC. I took this to heart and made sure my heart was in the right place before the Lord before any decisions could be made.
My heartfelt thought to that reality was/is: “who gets to do that/this!?” Having worked on staff at NCC in our nation’s Capitol, to me, is the ministry equivalent to playing Major League Baseball!! I GOT to do that!! The continued blessed part about it is, I still get to “play in the majors” at Peoples Church in Fresno, CA. All I can say is that I’m very blessed by the Lord and I don’t take these opportunities for granted!
Disclaimer: There is NO perfect church! That said, the time I was able to pastor at NCC is the most refreshing, life-giving time I’ve EVER had in ministry. In large part, I attribute this to the relational and inspirational leadership styles of Mark Batterson & Joel Schmidgall. I’ve been through some ringers and trials in ministry that were used to sharpen my character and reinforce the value of Philippians 2, Christ-centered humility in my heart. In hindsight, NCC was my 1.5 years of Jubilee! God granted me a renewing time to ready my heart for a new and fresh season to serve in His Kingdom. Our time at NCC was to me as if God were saying, “Now you’re ready for a new release of influence in My Kingdom…I’ve raised you up for such a time as this, and I’m giving you a voice to THIS generation…” God was not obligated to give us this time, He just did, and I’m so thankful for it.
So why? Why did we choose to leave this awesome church in Washington, DC?? Great question. Put simply, I could not resist the burden that the Lord downloaded deep in my heart back in May of 2011. I asked the Lord, in light of the book of Nehemiah, from the Bible, “Lord, what do You want me to anguish over?” Once I prayed those words in the Performance Space of Ebenezers Coffeehouse, at our Saturday night service, I bent over weeping. My hands were on my knees as the worship band played “With Everything” by Hillsong (what I call the Theme Song for Central California until revival breaks forth). As I considered what the Lord was doing in my heart, I thought I was to intercede for Capitol Hill. After all, that’s where I was living and pastoring, right?! As I continued to pray & worship, my mind went to Fresno and California, and my weeping turned to deeper convulsions of intercession and weeping. I went from a hunched over position of submission to the Lord in prayer, with my hands on my knees, to an abandoned prostration of prayer, my knees to the ground. I could have stopped weeping, given the fact that one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control, but I didn’t want to. I NEEDED to see this thing through before the Lord. I kept trying to turn my thoughts back to DC, but it was as if the Lord was gently nudging my mind to think on California. Then all I could do was lay completely flat before the Lord on the cold, yet polished concrete of that performance space below the Coffeehouse. Snot and tears flowed through a steady stream of wailing loudly before God for about 25 minutes. Fortunately our band played loud and played well, so that my sounds of desperation did not draw attention to myself. I was a wreck before God, and in front of people, and I didn’t/don’t/won’t care! Sometimes you need to fully abandon your “dignity” and “clean” look before men in order to be dignified and clean before the Lord. The wonderful thing about this encounter with the Holy Spirit is that just one week prior, my friend Jon Shabaglian flew in from Fresno to help me lead a Prayer & Worship Weekend at NCC, where we hosted intercessory prayer & worship nights and pleaded to God for mercy and to bring revival in our nation’s capitol and across America. It was awesome! Little did I know that those prayers would be answered so quickly and poignantly in my own life!
It was about a month after this encounter with God, that Pastor Mark spoke to me about Pastor Dale’s phone call to get permission to speak to me about going back out to Fresno, CA to potentially serve on staff at Peoples Church. I must honor Pastor Mark Batterson here. He could have told Pastor Dale no, but he chose the more difficult path to see if perhaps the Lord might be orchestrating something unique for His Kingdom. Pastor Mark totally blessed me before I even made a decision and said he had peace either way. He was kind enough to reiterate his desire that we would stay, but gracious enough to release us if that is what the Lord’s will was. Most pastors in America are not this gracious and understanding. To Pastor Mark Batterson’s credit, he IS the real deal. There is a reason God continues to bless him personally and NCC as a whole. Is he perfect? No. Is NCC perfect. No. But God uses those who are ready and willing to be used for HIS glory!
On December 18, 2011, my last NCC service as the Capitol Hill Campus Pastor and ONE DAY BEFORE I was to drive back to CA, a gentleman, who I didn’t know came up to me after the 11 am service and asked if he could pray for me. Not wanting to neglect a prayer of blessing before I drove 3,000 miles across the United States with my friend Matt Newton, I said, “Sure!” This gentleman prayed a Spirit filled, passionate prayer of blessing over me, that I’ll never forget: “…Lord, shoot Mike LIKE AN ARROW back to Fresno, CA to accomplish the work you have for him there, in the power of the Holy Spirit!”
Once these words were spoken, I began to weep and any remaining doubts I had as to whether or not we were being led by God back to Peoples Church in CA, subsided. To be “shot like an arrow” to the nation’s capital was pretty cool, but to be “shot like an arrow” back to the broken walls (Nehemiah) of home, was beyond coincidence for me.
God cares about our individual lives, and He has given each of us a purpose to be lived out for His glory. I pray, despite our failures and lack of abilities, we are able to live out His good purposes for His Kingdom in our lives, for this generation, on earth and certainly on into eternity!
Now on to making a circle of prayer around Fresno & Clovis, CA…another blog entry for another time…