Over the coming weeks, we will be sharing with you a series of snapshots—brief glimpses into the lives of men who have attended the Pastors College. It is most encouraging to hear how that experience has shaped them and how it is now serving them in their ministry roles in Sovereign Grace churches. As we look forward to next year, please pray with us that the Lord would only strengthen the impact of the college upon our pastors and churches, for His glory.
The first snapshot is written by Bruce Chick (B.A., University of Georgia; M.Div., Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL). Bruce graduated from the Pastors College in 2002 and has since served as the Senior Pastor of Sovereign Grace Community Church in Roanoke, Virginia. He currently serves on both the Executive and Polity Committees for Sovereign Grace Churches. He has been teaching Old Testament survey courses at the Pastors College for the past decade. Bruce and his wife Hien have seven children. I’m so eager for you to read his story below.—Jeff Purswell
He was surprised. When the Senior Pastor of a Sovereign Grace church learned that I (a member and M.Div. student) wanted to attend the Pastors College immediately after graduating seminary, he was slightly dumbfounded. I cherished both my seminary coursework and theological training, yet it was what I saw firsthand while attending a Sovereign Grace church that fueled my interest and impassioned my desires.
If the Pastors College was somehow partially responsible for the fruit I was experiencing at my local church, I wanted an up close and personal look. I wasn’t disappointed. The theological coursework was robust, sound, and purposeful (think of an intense January term format for an entire year). But it was the intentionality of the structural framework that stood out most. Not only were doctrinal precision and theological advancement shared values but there was also a pronounced emphasis on marriage, parenting, and character development that had been almost entirely absent from my seminary education. The structural arrangement of the Pastors College in a local church setting afforded opportunities for men’s accountability, couples, ladies, and class groupings, as well as pre-class worship gatherings and private interactions with staff and church members that profoundly affected my personal life and marriage. I can still recall watershed moments my wife and I experienced in these intentional settings. This training, care, and oversight stretched, challenged, and strengthened my walk with God and has positively enhanced my ministry today.
Our local staff has also benefited. Graduating from the Pastors College has enriched our staff chemistry, theological development, and overall effectiveness as a team. The shared values, intentional emphasis on piety, exposure to gospel-centered ministry, solid theological foundation, and exceptional care received while attending the Pastors College has strengthened our unity and undergirded our philosophy of ministry as a staff, spilling over to the local church in numerous ways. The benefit of a centralized training institution that provides continuing education opportunities for current pastors to attend select Pastors College courses alongside future pastors who are being trained theologically and invested in pastorally is a model that is very difficult to duplicate on a local level. My personal interaction with other seasoned pastors in the classroom while attending the Pastors College as a student helped me move beyond the theoretical and prepare me for actual ministry. Our lay pastoral intern just returned from a year at the Pastors College benefited from this kind of interaction as well and added that it created “theological categories” that he never would have had if not for his year in Louisville.
Though my Senior Pastor was initially surprised, I no longer am. After more than a decade as a Senior Pastor myself, I have experienced the fruit borne both individually and as a staff after attending the Pastors College. What would be most surprising to me is individuals and churches that would not avail themselves to such an opportunity and privilege.
The Pastors College is now accepting applications for the 2015–16 academic year. For more information regarding the program, please contact us.
As Director of Theology and Training for Sovereign Grace, Jeff Purswell is the Dean of our Pastors College, leads our theological training, and helps develop theological resources. He is also an elder at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville. He and his wife, Julie, have two sons.
May 30, 2014 by
Jim Goins is a deacon at Sovereign Grace Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Be encouraged as you read the story of how he came to faith in Christ 40 years ago.
Forty years ago, on January 29, 1974, God graciously saved my soul. This glorious day marked the end of a three-year search for truth. This search had taken me to many different places, some very dark, and all empty. Jesus Christ, who is the Bread of Life and who is the Truth, forgave me of my sins, satisfied the hunger in my soul, and revealed truth to me.
Through most of high school, I was a straight arrow kind of kid who did well academically. I was a joker, but also very straight and very studious. In my senior year, I started to change. I became politically radical. I began to run with a party crowd. A good friend and myself published an underground school newspaper which we named the POW Press. In it we published teacher evaluations from our interviewing of our party friends and other rebellious radicals on campus. We wrote flaming editorials. Some teachers were extremely agitated by our student journalism.
In spite of this, the school administration and a council of the teachers awarded me several honors—outstanding achievement awards in various disciplines along with several local, community-funded scholarships. Because I also graduated second in my class, I was asked to be one of the speakers at graduation. In arrogant, radical fashion, I rendered my thanks to all who had honored me by giving a blistering speech on “The Failure of the American Educational System.”
Over the next few years after graduation, I became increasingly radical and increasingly anti-establishment. I believed in evolution. I viewed religion, particularly Christianity, as the opiate of the masses. I believed that in the beginning, man created God. I was lost. I was angry. And I was very arrogant.
I gradually began to ache to know truth. If there was, in fact, any truth in the universe, I had to find it. Obviously to me at the time, there was no truth in our world system and there was no truth in Christianity—all Christians were quite the hypocrites and very deluded to put their confidence in a fictitious God based on a book that man wrote. These were my presuppositions as I began my quest for truth.
I became obsessed in my pursuit of truth. Truth had to be more than I had previously been exposed to.
During this time, I was in college, then out of college and in the work force full-time, and then back to college again. I was living with my grandmother at the time. She was 65 and had been a Christian since she was eight years old. She was perhaps the finest Christian I have ever known, and she was not shy about bringing the gospel. I remember one time in my lostness, I had set a Buddha I had purchased in Mexico in her living room and fell prostrate on the floor worshipping Buddha. She yelled, “get that little fat guy out of my house before I break him up in little pieces.”
My quest for truth had taken me to dabbling in Eastern mysticism, reading Gabran, pondering Eastern religions, sometimes fasting looking for enlightenment, and writing sometimes spooky spiritual poetry.
I was becoming more and more disturbed as I could not find truth. I was planning to go to a deserted stretch of beach in Mexico to seek truth and to not return until I had discovered it.
But before I did, I was invited by a high school acquaintance to come to his family’s home on a Friday evening to participate with him, his brother, and his mother in an exercise to enter the spiritual realm. The more he talked, the more fascinated I became. His mother was a medium who could contact spiritual powers and enable others to release the power within them. I saw amazing things happen that Friday evening and returned a couple of other times.
The problem with all of it was that I was now convinced that there were real powers beyond the natural world, but I was becoming extremely depressed and was actually battling a compulsion to kill myself. I came to the conclusion that there were real spiritual forces in this world, but the ones I was becoming involved with were evil. If there were evil spiritual forces, then there would logically seem to be a spiritual world that was good. This I had to find!
So I took a few more laps with everything but the Bible. Nothing seemed to really be truth. Nothing satisfied. I began to think that maybe there was no truth. That was a very depressing thought. At that time many things in my life were going wrong. I remember writing this poem to describe my situation:
“As I sit and watch the gray crash in
I think of Earth and God
And my mind begins to spin.
Wouldn’t it be nice to sit back and stare
And have faith in the world out there
It would be nice
But so unreal
Because life is only a dream
That we can sometimes feel.”
I was real lost. I was still living with my grandmother who was so very loving and served me day and night. I remember yelling at her, “Granny, why do you keep ironing my clothes? I prefer to wear them wrinkled!” She would just smile and usually start singing. And her four and five course home-cooked country meals were legendary. But one thing that was frequently irritating was that she would pray each night in her bedroom, and I could hear her in my bedroom. A regular prayer was, “God save that boy, he’s a good boy, but a lost sinner—he needs you so bad. Please, God, save his soul.” She meant well, but was she ever deceived!
One night I returned home at my granny’s house after having been to a late night party. As I rumbled into the house, I heard my grandmother again praying for me. I was greatly angered by this intrusion into my after-party altered state of consciousness. As I made my way to my bedroom, I saw her big black Bible on a desk. I grabbed the Bible and out of nowhere yelled, “Alright, God if you have anything to say to me, you had better say it and say it now!” I flung the Bible open and randomly threw down my finger to read.” This is where my finger landed and what I read,
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:1–7)
I was immediately sober and smitten deeply within.
I began to secretly read the Bible. I remembered a line from a song written by Bob Seeger and sung by the Byrds that said “To everything there is a season.” I had heard that this was from the book of Ecclesiastes—so I read the book. It was a journey through all of the areas in life that the natural man looks for fulfillment in—wisdom, knowledge, wealth, pleasure, etc; but after each Ecclesiastes said, “for all was vanity and vexation of spirit.” As I read, I kept saying out loud, “Yes, that is the truth!” I could not wait to get to the end of the book, as here truth would probably be revealed. I finally got there, and with great anticipation, read:
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14)
Those were words of truth that struck deep into my sin-sick soul. I had at various times in my life heard about Jesus. In fact, in high school, I had wept upon hearing the opera “Jesus Christ Super Star.” So I now began reading the gospels.
One evening soon thereafter, on January 29, 1974, 40 years ago, I went to church with my grandmother to what was called an evening revival service. After the altar call was given, I rushed forward, fell on my knees, and cried my eyes out as Christ came into my life. I arose from my knees a new man with no weight of sin on my shoulders and my heart filled with the truth that I had been so desperately seeking.
This is my story, but much more than that, this is the story of how our gracious, loving Lord created a hunger within the heart of a young man and drew him to himself that he might display his great love and tender mercies.
Meet the Ruiz family. A few family members began attending Metro Life Church two years ago. At the start of this year, a few more family members began to visit. Since January, six different family members have placed their trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins! God has used family members, one of our small groups, and the preached Word to draw one family member after another to the Lord. And then they bring more family members!
It brings to mind what Jesus said in Luke 19 about Zacchaeus. Jesus said, "Salvation has come to this house." Salvation has indeed come to the Ruiz house. Four family members were baptized on Easter Sunday, and two family members came to faith in Jesus during the Easter service! Easter is all about the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus paid it all. And he still has the power to save.
Who are you praying for? Who can you share the love of Jesus Christ with? Who can you invite to join you sometime for coffee, to small group, or to a Sunday service? You never know how near to salvation through Jesus Christ someone may be!
*This post originally appeared on the Metro Life Church blog.
April 9, 2014 by
MaryBeth Hengst is a member of Grace Community Church in Denver, Colorado. Be encouraged as you read the story of how God saved her and how he used ordinary believers who were faithful to share the gospel with her.
Psalm 139:16b says, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before any one of them came to be.” God has used these words to encourage me many times throughout my life as a Christian.
I was one of seven children and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. I was raised Catholic, our family attended mass regularly, and I attended Catholic school for most of my education. I believed in God and readily accepted the basic tenets of the Christian faith such as the virgin birth, Christ’s death, and his resurrection and ascension. However, these truths were mere intellectual beliefs to me. But these days were ordained by God.
My parents divorced when I was 13 years old. Lots of sadness and confusion filled my heart, and I began to look for ways to numb the pain. On the outside, I was a “good girl,” maintaining good grades and staying out of trouble (actually, I just never got caught!). But the real me was escaping reality through many wide roads that all lead to destruction. The remaining years before high school continued to spiral downward. But these days were also ordained by God.
During high school, I made a conscious decision to turn away from the Catholic church. I associated their many man-made rules and regulations with the character of God (a false correlation). I began college in a town that might be described as Sodom and Gomorrah…and I fit right in. Pursuing every form of pleasure apart from God and with no regard for consequence, I cast headlong into three years of “fun.”
But God drew me, using a few different individuals over these college years. In my freshman year, a girl in my dorm repeatedly reached out to me and fearlessly witnessed to me. I was not an easy target, and many of my activities would not have been appealing to her. She invited me to church (I never took her up on the invitation). She asked me to join her and other friends of hers for a Bible study. Again, I insisted that it was not my thing. She often told me she was praying for me. All I could manage was a “thanks,” but she lovingly persisted. But I was not responding to this call of God yet.
Another friend, older and married with kids, also was befriending me. She would often have me over for family dinners and offered to study together as we prepared for tests. I could not have been more different than her, yet she never judged me or gave up on me. She shared her deep faith in God and the effect he had had in her life. She also invited me to church many times. Her continual love and acceptance for me was slowly disarming me. However, my hard heart allowed me to dismiss her and other Christians as religious people with whom I had nothing in common. I could not dismiss, however, their practical love and concern for me. Still, I did not heed the call of God.
Soon, I began to have an uncomfortable, internal feeling (which I now know was the conviction of the Holy Spirit). I was glad to be ending the school year and getting away from these religious folks. I headed off to work in a youth forestry camp and breathed a sigh of relief. But God was definitely ordaining these days.
I arrived at my summer digs, and lo and behold, who should be my bunkmate but yet another Christian. Once again, God used an average human being to declare him fearlessly. The truths of the gospel were again related to me, and I really began to feel the heat. I began asking myself questions such as “what is my life all about?” “what am I living for?” “are the pleasurable pursuits of my life all there is?” and more.
After one conversation with an “ally,” I expected an encouragement to dismiss all these thoughts. He (unbeknownst to me, a backslidden Christian) surprised me with the following, “God is real, and if you die without Christ as your Savior, you will spend eternity in hell!” You can imagine my alarm when even this “fellow heathen” was now contributing to the gospel plea. My growing sense of inadequacy and the resulting emptiness I was experiencing fed my questioning.
I may have severed my connection with the Catholic church, but I knew one thing…I did not want to go to hell and spend eternity without God. As the Holy Spirit drew me, I confessed my sins to God and expressed my trust in the death of Christ to pay the punishment for them. He forgave me and saved me that very moment. This was the first day of my new life…a day God had ordained before it came to be.
I grew slowly but surely and found myself back in Cleveland in a church planted by Sovereign Grace. From the first moment I walked through the doors, I was welcomed. No one rolled their eyes or sighed disapprovingly. Instead, they engaged me in conversations and invited me to lunch and to various singles events. Even though I had a fondness for dressing in camouflage and army boots, no one judged me but instead opened their lives to me and offered me friendship.
In time, God revealed that I could learn so much if I would open my life to others and accept help and teaching from those more mature than me. Over the years, God has continued to pour out his grace to me through his church —normal, everyday folks just wanting to make a difference in someone else’s life, extending grace and acceptance toward me and provoking me toward godliness and an every-increasing appreciation for Jesus Christ and what he’s done for me.
Yes, all my days, even the ones spent running from God, were ordained by him. He used all of it to draw me with his irresistible grace and quench a thirst I didn’t even know the depths of.
I don’t think any of the individuals proclaiming the gospel to me were aware that they were not the only ones God was using in my life. Each one was just being faithful to cast the seed and trusting God to bring forth fruit. I wish I could find these folks and thank them for being faithful witnesses of God’s love in Christ. One day, before the throne…
February 24, 2014 by
Categories: Articles | Testimonies
Shirley Kamenar is part of Sovereign Grace Church Toronto, Ontario. Just like every conversion story, Shirley's story highlights the mercy of God in seeking saving her when she was hopeless. Be encouraged as you hear from Shirley about what the Savior has done in her life.
My story is one that points to the Shepherd who eagerly pursues even one lost sheep. Prior to my salvation, God was at work to lead and direct me to himself. Growing up in a family that had some religious background (Presbyterian and Catholic) but were not churchgoers, God began my salvation journey by bringing people and circumstances into my life to make me aware of the things of God.
My grandmother spoke to me of God's love and demonstrated faith in Jesus even through a lifetime of hardship. At an invitation from the Presbyterian church where my parents were married and had me christened, my parents happily sent me to Sunday School. At age ten, I remember learning about the gospel and having several opportunities to give my life to Jesus. I felt drawn to follow Christ but chose to wait, despite a growing awareness of God through my preteen years.
After holding back from following Christ, I spent the next ten years living a worldly life, sinning without remorse and never thinking about God. However, fun times, good friends, and loving parents were still not enough to fill the emptiness I felt. By the time I was 18, my fruitless search for happiness and a broken relationship had taken a toll when I attempted suicide. No one could have guessed how hopeless I felt. My parents were crushed and confused by my desperation, and they tried so hard to help me.
Where human help could not reach, however, God was at work. When I left home for university, I moved into a nurses’ residence, unaware that it was in the heart of Toronto's homosexual community. In that environment, God began to open my eyes to sin—my own and the sin around me. My observations and growing discontent with relationships and material things led me to question the purpose of life. I felt lost in the world without knowing why, and I craved the happiness in life that so many others seemed to enjoy.
After finishing college, God graciously intervened by pursuing me once again. I was invited to share a house with three Christian girls from the residence. They were different from any girls I knew. Besides their genuine care for others and their sweet dispositions, it was mostly the assurance they had of God's love and acceptance that convinced me that they had what I was missing. They gave me a Bible, invited me to church, and within a few short months, I eagerly put my trust in Christ.
How different everything has been since then! My search for happiness and contentment in the things of this world is now satisfied by a loving relationship with Jesus Christ. My desire for acceptance has been met with the promise that I am a child of God as it says in John 1:12. Insecurity and anxiety were replaced with the surety that I am in the “shelter of the Most High and in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1). I was delivered from my self-destructive ways and was made new (Colossians 1:13–14).
I am ashamed of my sinful past, but it serves as a helpful reminder of where I've come from and of the power of the cleansing blood of Jesus. To this day (thirty years this month), God is my helper. He graciously continues to show me areas of sin in my life and enables me to change. My weakness is often still to fret and worry and even assume the worst, but the many promises of God remind me that he is sovereign and has taken care of the most important thing.
I am thankful for the many kindnesses of God, which include my husband Steve, our seven children, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, two grandsons, and our church. God has provided much help and direction through our pastor, Tim Kerr, and his wife Joanne, who have faithfully and tenderly cared for our souls over the years. Their constant example of extending grace has led me to a deeper understanding of the message of the gospel. God has “given me a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet [do] not slip” (Psalm 38:6), but I do long for the day when I will finally see my Saviour face to face.
February 4, 2014 by
Categories: Articles | Testimonies
We love sharing stories from folks in Sovereign Grace churches who have been saved by the power of the gospel. Tyler Petresky is part of Metro Life Church in Casselberry, Florida. Hear from Tyler about God's grace in saving him:
I am a student of 18 years from Milton, Florida. I grew up there my entire life and was raised attending a Baptist church in the area. Every Sunday, my parents would wake up my sister and I, and we would have breakfast together and ride to church to attend the service for that week. After years of this repetition, I was eventually “saved” at the age of six and baptized.
The years following were fairly normal as I attended elementary school. Near the end of elementary school, my mother told my sister and I that she wanted to get a divorce from my father. I didn’t fully realize what that meant, but it ended up happening. After four years and a lot of confusion and subterfuge, my parents finally finished their divorce and my sister and I got trapped in the endless cycle of parental custody. Stay with mom and go see dad every Wednesday for four hours and then every other weekend. It was around this time that my mom got remarried to my now-stepdad and we gained two new step-siblings.
When high school rolled around, the world started to get to me. During my freshman year in high school, I was exposed to a collection of experiences that began to influence me and the way that I acted. All of my new friends expressed every emotion, positive and negative, with curses and swears. I saw girls walking around pregnant and heard guys bragging about the sex that they had the night before. I ran into people who talked about the parties they attended and how wasted they got prior to passing out from inebriation. All in all, this year was a total culture shock that led into the rest of high school.
I became the people I observed. The fallen world took me down with it and had me in a headlock. It was extraordinarily fun for me to curse. It was extremely enjoyable to make inappropriate jokes and laugh at the pain of others. It was perfectly justifiable to use other peoples’ flaws to cover up my own. I judged the lame and less fortunate with a harshness that would curl the lips of a self-righteous miser. Later, in my junior year, I had my eyes on a girl and soon became sexually immoral. Only by the grace of God did I not lose my virginity. I had a ton of fun during these years, but I now regret to say that I did it all as a proclaimed Christian.
After I graduated from high school, I received a scholarship to attend the University of Central Florida. God had a new plan for my life, and I had no idea what train I was about to board. A local pastor and very good friend of mine suggested that I attend Metro Life Church when I went to Orlando for college. I decided to take his advice and attend because I knew that my life wasn’t exactly the best in the world. I just didn’t have many convictions and didn’t realize how bad off I actually was.
About halfway through the drive down to Orlando, I received a call from a number that I didn’t recognize. When I answered it, I was greeted by Pastor Aron Osborne from Metro Life Church. He personally invited me to attend the church the next Sunday, and I graciously accepted.
After arriving at my apartment and waiting for Sunday to come around, I drove 20 minutes to this church building in Casselberry, Florida to attend a service. I entered the building and was greeted by so many people, including the pastor, and people made an effort to introduce themselves to me because they hadn’t seen me before. It was the most friendly environment I had ever experienced. During the service, one of the other pastors, Aaron Law, introduced me to a guy in the crowd that I could sit with. I got to know this boy and the people sitting with him, and they invited me to the luncheon that the church was holding after the service. It was a luncheon for young adults and young couples, and I decided that I’d go.
After the phenomenal service, I made my way to the room where the luncheon was being held and found that my new friends’ table was completely full. I was pretty bummed, so I quietly walked by and found a seat at an empty table. I can say to this day that I am so very thankful that God filled up that table, or else I might very well still be lost.
A few minutes passed before my table began to fill up. When it did, I made some new friends rather quickly, but a specific girl came in, sat two seats down from me, and introduced herself as Alana. After making casual table conversation, a rather tall guy walked up to the table and sat in between Alana and me. He was Alana’s fiancé, and he introduced himself as Benjamin. He was very energetic and recognized me immediately, not as an old friend, but as a new face. To my surprise, Ben asked me if I knew anyone and if I would like to get together sometime for some coffee. This was a new experience for me, but his energetic, friendly approach and his outright intentionality had me put my number in his phone.
Approximately ten days later, I was losing hope that he would ever text me, but he finally did, and I excitedly set aside a day to meet at a local Starbucks at 6pm. After sitting down with Ben with a Venti Java Chip Frappuccino, we talked about where I had come from, why I chose the university I was at, etc. He was extremely intentional, and somehow he slipped the gospel into our meeting and shared it with me, and I knew right then and there that something was off in my life. For the next few weeks, we got together two to three times a week, and he mentored me on things about the Bible, Christ, and Christian living. After all this time, I had someone to show me what it was like to live for God. Those first few weeks of college were life-changing.
At about this time, Metro Life Church was putting on a worship night for young adults to come and just worship for three hours. I excitedly attended that and had the time of my life. We worshipped and worshipped for hours and near the end, the staff played a sermon jam of one of Matt Chandler’s sermons. This short five-minute clip of godly truth pushed me over the edge that night. The presence of God was in that chapel that night, and I broke down in tears with grief for the life that I lived and ultimate conviction of the atrocity of my sins. However, more than that, I cried with tears of joy that God would save me. That was the night that I truly gave my life to the Lord, for better or for worse.
God engineered my life through his divine plan and saved me from an eternity of death, and provided me with the free gift of righteousness. I am worth nothing in the eyes of the world, but in the eyes of Jesus, I am worth everything, and that is what he gave to save me from death. He worked and spoke to me through the people in my life and the events that unfolded to adopt me into his righteous family, so that I now call him Abba. “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:20).
I may be nothing special, but praise the Lord I’ve been made special for nothing.
December 19, 2013 by
Categories: Articles | Testimonies
From time to time we like to highlight God's wonderful work taking place in one of our local churches. What follows is the wonderful salvation story of Martia Hayes. Martia Hayes is a member of Grace Community Church in Ashburn, VA and appreciates cultural diversity, being hospitable, and is best known for her motto: "As long as your heart beats...dance to the Glory of God."
I grew up with a vague understanding of God. My grandmother often discussed the Lord when I was around her and always listened to Christian music. However, I thought she had to these things because she was…well…old. The most my family spoke of the Lord was during meals when we individually recited “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food. Bow our heads, we all give thanks; Give us, Lord, our daily bread. Amen.” From this prayer, the only thing I knew about God was that He was great and good. God, to me, was simply a “something” out there in the universe that existed. I attended church infrequently because I was taught, “Tia, church is in your heart. It’s not a building.” I was also taught that I had an individual relationship with God, and that it didn’t matter if I attend church.
As a result, I just focused on being a “good person.” On the outside, I appeared happy. I was going to school, studying, making good grades, and working. I prided myself on being independent, strong, and overcoming many of the challenges faced with growing up in Washington, DC and Prince George County, MD. God became a compliment to my accomplishments. However, on the inside, I was deeply troubled.
Since my early twenties, I lived with this emptiness that eventually led to me having suicidal thoughts. I was doing everything right, yet I was left broken, lonely, and rejected. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t happy with myself. I was accomplished. I was focused and driven. I avoided drugs and crime. I didn’t get pregnant. Yet, I continued to feel this intense emptiness. In fact, in 2007, I wrote these words in my journal “I am 24 years old and I don’t know who I really am or what I’m supposed to be. I’m doing all in life that I’m supposed to do: school, independence, etc. But yet I still find emptiness.”
I looked to various things to fill that emptiness. I began to adopt a life that consisted of partying, drinking, and sexual impurity. My image often conformed to what was trending in the world and yet, I was never satisfied. By age 28 I was dying spiritually and physically, after my last rejection from a guy I was dating, and being fed up with unanswered questions that were torturing me for years. At the beginning of January 2012 I was researching ways to die.
I noticed my suicidal thoughts over the years increasingly grew to the point where this time felt different. This time, I took things too far. I walked in my bathroom and opened my medicine cabinet to see what pills I had. Disappointed by the selection, I went on the internet and put these words in the search engine: “best methods to commit suicide.” Till this day, I cannot recall what that search brought up. I can only recall having an interruption of sanity. I decided to call the police and explain to them that I was alone and scared, and I had no family to reach out to, and I didn’t know what to do. I asked for help because I felt tempted to kill myself. The dispatcher that took my call sat in silence for a minute before he said in a nonchalant tone, “What do you want us to do?”
I informed him that I wasn’t sure, but I just felt scared, and maybe the department could direct me to someone. The officer again repeated, with the same tone, “So, what do you want us to do?” Immediately I started to feel foolish and rejected. I remember apologizing extensively for wasting their time with this nonsense and hung the phone up. I instinctively got up to follow through with suicide.
Before anything happened, I recall feeling my phone vibrate. I was smiling because I saw a little ambulance with sirens running across my screen. I even chuckled a little because I didn’t know what was happening. I finally realized that it was someone calling me. When I answered the phone it was the dispatcher that I had hung up on.
His voice was shivering, and I heard nervousness as he apologized to me and begged me to stay on the phone with him. In less than five minutes, I heard police officers knocking down my door. They began searching my place and found the pills that I had pulled out of my medicine cabinet. They immediately called the ambulance to take me to the hospital. Once at the hospital, when I tried to leave, the doctors informed me that for my safety, if I left I would be arrested. From the hospital, I was committed to a psychiatric hospital. I was strapped to a stretcher and had tubes running from my body.
While riding to the psychiatric hospital in the ambulance, I experienced a moment of shame. I realized, no matter how much of a good person I was, it didn’t matter in that moment. All my accomplishments, independence, drive, money etc., couldn’t help me in that moment of shame. I was emotionally and physically numb. I lifted my eyes, and without any doing of my own strength, I found myself saying to God, “I can’t do this anymore. Please help me. My ways are killing me.”
For the first time, God became my refuge. He was no longer a compliment to my accomplishments. In that moment, I let go of everything to finally embrace Him. I can’t really explain in words what happened after I embraced the Lord, but I had this “feeling” to fight and live. Although I wasn’t sure how to live life, I was certain I did not want to die. For weeks, I constantly asked for help and protection. Night after night, when the sun set, I cried and asked for protection. I looked up, not sure if He was listening, but I sought Him daily.
On February 3, 2012, after weeks of seeking His help, I was suddenly overcome with sorrow as my own strength was failing. I started to struggle again with thoughts of suicide to help ease my pain. That night, I wrote the following words in my journal “God, I am scared!! It’s Friday and I am alone. Please give me strength. Protect me. I am so scared.” The following day, I woke up. I don’t even remember falling asleep. I was overcome with joy because I rested and I survived that night.
I wanted to know more about God and ways to seek Him, so I bought a Bible and researched local churches in my area. Grace Community Church popped up immediately on my search engine. I spent at least four hours on the website, viewing pictures, reading about the pastors, and the Gospel. However, what particularly stood out to me was the section on “care groups.” While reading about the different care groups, I came across the single’s group and I read “singleness is a gift.” Care groups were described as an opportunity for members to care for each other while sharing God’s word. This particularly stood out to me because although I was beginning to rely on God, I felt I needed people to help me stay connected to Him. As I was reading about the different care groups, I begin to understand seasons of life. I never viewed my season of singleness as a gift. I always viewed singleness as the result of not being desirable or good enough. I was baffled by the idea that I was given a gift that will allow me to serve God without distractions.
From that point, I wanted to know more. The next day, on February 5, 2012 I went to Grace Community Church. I wore red pants, my hair was barely done, no makeup, and I was scared. These may be minor details for most people, but that Sunday morning, I wanted to simply go to Church. I grew up where great emphasis was placed on your “Sunday’s Best” attire. I didn’t want to focus on my looks and didn’t care how I appealed to others. To some degree, I was hoping my appearance would keep people from approaching me. I was scared because I was a black girl in a predominately white church. I wasn’t sure how I would be treated.
I remember sitting in the back near the door, feeling ugly and not wanting to talk to anyone. A handful of the members greeted me and made sure I was not alone that day. Although I wanted to resist, Catherine, a member of the church, gathered my belongings and guided me to sit with her and her husband JB. I was then invited to lunch, and later to a Super Bowl party. For the first time, I felt fulfilled. What fulfilled me was seeing love as explained in 1Corinthians 13. What fulfilled me was hearing folks constantly talk about their love for God and sharing His word so casually in conversations.
I was so happy that day that I cried and prayed to God that I would have more days like my first day at church. I even called my mother, crying as I explained to her that there was “something” among these group of people and I wanted it.
I started attending Catherine and JB’s care group. On my first visit, I shared with JB and Catherine that something was happening to me and that it felt good. I was starting to connect to the Bible and I felt full of hope and peace. JB asked me if I knew what the gospel was. I was ashamed by my answer of, “No”, but JB explained to me that it meant Good News. There was a problem in this world that separated us from God. In order to save us, God sent Jesus to bear all our sins. He died for sinners on the cross to save us, and now we are forgiven and have new life. I cried and cried as he was sharing that Christ suffered to give me hope and eternal life. Before I left, JB encouraged me to learn about Jesus by reading the first four books in the New Testament.
Every day I read, cried, and prayed for forgiveness. I couldn’t stop reading this story about Jesus and what He had endured to bring people to God. Finally, I knew who God was. God began to move with love within me. I was being transformed to His image through the reading of His word. The Lord started occupying first place in my heart the more I was learning about Him. The intense emptiness I was experiencing was going away with each day I was following Christ and reading the word of God. God was filling me with His love and faithfulness. He was filling the holes in my heart, cleansing me, and making me more like Him. I was starting to understand that people and things can never satisfy me. I started to understand that my accomplishments in this world meant nothing to God. After reading about David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 16:7, God taught me that what’s most important to God is the heart.
I was hungry and thirsty for righteousness. I wanted to be taught His design for everything my heart desired. I started learning God’s design for womanhood, manhood, marriage, the church, children, money, sex etc. I was baptized on August 5, 2012. Later, on December 9, 2012 I became a member of Grace Community Church. I am now 30 years old, living life for Christ. The intense emptiness that I was feeling is now occupied by His mercy, grace, and Word. I live for His glory. God is no longer this “something” that exists in the universe. God is something that exists and lives in me. I no longer view church as something in my heart. I am now the church, which represents belonging to the body of Christ, living to spread the Good News to others.
December 14, 2012 by
Categories: Church planting | Testimonies
What God promises, he provides!
It is God’s promise to call out a people for himself through the planting of local churches, and what God promises, God provides!
Dreams and goals
For several years, the pastors of Grace Bible Church in Northeast Philadelphia have been dreaming and praying about planting more churches in Philadelphia. At Grace it has been our hope to plant churches which stand in strong relationship to one another with our eyes fixed on a common mission: to plant churches across the Philadelphia area, and beyond, for the glory of God.
Strategizing locally and extra-locally
It has been a joy to plan and strategize on a local level, but also, it has been extremely beneficial to receive counsel and care on an extra-local level from the Church Planting Group. Mark Prater has led with exceptional wisdom and care while individuals such as Kenny Lynch, Eric Simmons, and C.B. Eder have, on several occasions, given of their time to invest in me and other aspiring planters.
They have helped me understand the unique challenges of transitioning a core group from an existing church to begin a new church. They have helped me understand the necessity of keeping the plant simple. They willingly bared their souls and have helped me understand the unique temptations that can accompany church planting. And they have helped me understand that church plants can find ways to sacrifice for the good of other church plants. What a joy it has been to learn from those who love Jesus and sacrificially invest themselves into others for the health of new local churches.
What do we intend to do?
It is our hope as we plant Grace Bible Church of Wissinoming to embody the same mission that we have learned and lived at Grace Bible Church of Northeast Philadelphia. It is our aim to display the glory of God by celebrating, proclaiming, and living the gospel as a community of believers by the power of the Spirit.
We hope to embrace this mission by embodying it uniquely in a neighborhood context. It is our vision to see our neighborhood and beyond renewed by the Spirit through the gospel for the glory of God. Practically, this means that it is our deep desire to see the addicted set free because they are in Christ, to see the abused at peace because they are with Christ, to see the thieves satisfied because they have received endless riches in Christ, to see marriages reconciled because they have first been reconciled to God, to see those overwhelmed with same sex attraction overwhelmed by the grace of God so that they embrace God’s intentions instead of their own feelings…and the list goes on. Our desire is to see the broken healed!
What has God been doing?
As my family and I returned from the Pastors College to Philadelphia, God has made it clear that the neighborhood of Wissinoming is the place for the planting of his church. He has brought about unique relationships with neighborhood leaders. He has stirred up a rousing interest from believers and unbelievers alike. He has begun calling out a people for himself, including two individuals we have already had the privilege of baptizing. And most recently he has provided us with an 85-year-old building…for ONE dollar! What church plant begins with a building?! God is at work to build his church for his glory in Wissinoming and there is no other explanation to it—what God promises, God provides!
Dan Birkholz is a church planting resident at Grace Bible Church in Northeast Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, preparing to plant a church in Wissinoming in the coming year. He is a 2012 graduate of the Pastors College. Dan is married to Jodi and they have two children, Trinity and Judson.
November 12, 2012 by
Categories: Articles | Testimonies
In the providence of God, full of irony and purpose, I was muted.
At a doctors appointment in late August, my Otolaryngologist (I still cannot pronounce this word) delivered the news: either I remain silent for at least six weeks to rest and heal my vocal cords, or surgery would be required for removing the nodule forming on my right cord. So on Sunday, August 24, I began life without the use of my voice.
My experience of silence came with difficulty. My dear, dear wife Brenda sought to make things as comfortable for me as possible. We communicated the best that we could, and drew closer through the trial. My children did their best to understand that daddy can't talk (my poor two year old couldn't get it as he kept pointing up at me saying, "daddy talk!"). As a pastor at church gatherings it was very strange to enter into a room with people and to be unable to express anything easily. In several “conversations” (more one-sided, for sure), I felt frustrated, knowing that the other person was feeling a bit awkward having to keep talking while I did my best to nod, smile and interact. By the end of each day, after innumerable interactions, I was exhausted.
As a worship leader, songwriter, and musician, the loss of my voice certainly silenced the making of music, which I love so much. Without a voice, there's no melody. Through those four weeks of silence (total of six weeks of no singing), it was quite a challenge to refuse my impulses to make music. As a worshipper, however, I must actually say that things were clarified as a result of silence.
With my silencing came grace. The Lord came to me in the middle of the trial and ministered truth and his presence to my soul. This, like any trial, had the profound, sweetening result of building character and then fostering hope and joy in my communion with God. And where God is, no voice or human abilities are really that necessary as silence and stillness before him are very appropriate. During worship times or prayer, the reality of my weakness and inability never once interrupted the fact that Jesus Christ is within me by his Spirit, and that the Spirit was interceding for me and communing with me where my voice and abilities failed. My silence became sweet, only in that Jesus drew me near. My worship of Christ during my silence became one of mouthing the words that I would love to have sung, but in my weakness the Spirit helped and moved me to rejoice in spite of my condition.
All this to say, with this trial, the Lord Jesus more than matched my challenge with his tender mercy towards me. It wasn't much of a trial compared to what I've seen dear saints suffer through, but the principle remains the same: Christ draws us upward and closer through even the worst that we can face. Because Jesus Christ is as glorious and all-satisfying as he is, he really does sweeten whatever bitter waters that come our way.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
Doug Plank is a pastor at Crossway Church located in Millersville, Pennsylvania, where he oversees worship, singles, and young adults. Doug and his wife, Brenda, have four children. You can listen to some of Doug's songs here.
November 1, 2012 by
Categories: Articles | Resources | Testimonies
I’ve noticed something interesting in watching footage of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Decks, boardwalks, and peers up and down the coast have been ripped off in the storm but the pilings remain as they were, untouched by the waves. A sturdy piling, properly prepared, and pressed deep into the sand can last a lifetime. Deck boards will come and go as will rails, wearing in the sun, salt, and surf. Even support joists are ripped off in a storm, but you can rebuild on pilings.
Our lives are meant to stand like those pilings. Fathers and mothers are called to weather the storm. I’ve watched as newscasters are drawn to those folks who, after living through the onslaught, are ready to rebuild. Though their homes were destroyed or flooded to the point of no repair, yet they are standing firm, like the pilings still sticking up out of the ocean.
As pastors, most of us are called to be pilings. The kind of leaders who stand strong behind the scenes, men who remain undaunted by the waves of trial and the winds which in difficult times strip the decking from over us. Pilings are not afraid to see a new deck built once again upon their shoulders. Pilings remain, glad to continue their service.
Sure, now and again a piling is replaced, after decades of faithful use, but no one drives a piling down they expect to fail. As a pastor in Sovereign Grace now in my twenty-fifth year of service, I want to be a strong piling. Sure, were getting a new deck, but you will find me in the same place tomorrow that I was five, ten, and twenty years ago.
After three cancelled flights, three of us pastors and our wives drove from northeastern Pennsylvania south to Charlotte North Carolina to pick up a flight, just to be at this years Pastors Conference. Many more like us rescheduled and took later flights to catch as much of the conference as they could – we had to – we are pilings.
So while we’ve seen, through the past year, the waves carry away much of our decking and rails, as pilings we trust God’s sovereignty and know that he works all things together for our good. Once the decking is rebuilt and the railings back in place, a whole new generation will be served and thank God for the deck beneath their feet. Few of them will realize it is all supported buy those faithful, willing to go unnoticed pilings – the ordinary pastors – those faithfully serving day in and day out which hold it all up. There is a profound joy in serving as one of those supports.
Marty Machowski leads the children's and youth ministries at Covenant Fellowship Church and is the author of The Gospel Story Bible, Long Story Short: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God, and Old Story New: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family To God. He received a Bachelor of Science in industrial design from the Philadelphia College of Art. Marty resides in West Chester, PA, with his wife, Lois, and their six children.