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Our Announcement

To my Living Grace Church family:

This past Sunday, we made a very important announcement. I realize that a lot of you were unable to be present for the service for various reasons. And because of that, I wanted to take this opportunity to inform you about our decision to resign as the Lead Pastors of Living Grace effective at the end of January.

It was our hope to be able to make our announcement at a time and place where each of you could hear it firsthand. We feel that we owe you this much. And we wanted you to be able to hear our heart so that you don’t just hear a part of the story and then develop a misunderstanding based on having only part of the information. However, we know that getting everyone together for one Sunday is unrealistic given people’s busy schedules and the amount of sickness that has been going around town the past few weeks. So, this blog entry is our contingency.

For the past 18 months, Jess and I have been evaluating our role as Lead Pastors of the church. We have been looking at a lot of factors. We have prayed a lot of prayers. We have talked with a lot of counselors and mentors. We have not taken this matter lightly. And over that time, we have felt that our time in this role was drawing to a close.

When we started this church in January of 2008, we honestly felt that we would retire as Pastors of this same church. We didn’t see ourselves ever moving on. We thought that all of you – or perhaps your children and grandchildren – would have to lovingly tell us it was time to hand over the reins of leadership to another generation. We just didn’t see any other way. We knew that we wanted to stay tuned in to the Holy Spirit to make sure we were in step with Him along the way, but we never thought we’d see the day when we would not pastor this church.

Throughout this season of evaluation, things have been changing. We have continued to love the people God has sent us over the years, but we see some different things on the horizon for our own family. Currently, I (Andy) am continuing my education with the goal of earning my Masters’ Degree in the next few years. Jess has recently graduated from cosmetology school and is enjoying her new career doing hair in her aunt’s salon. Together, we have come to a real sense of peace about our decision to make a change.

At this point, we don’t see ourselves in any kind of vocational ministry role. We are taking one day at a time and trying to remain in step with the Holy Spirit as He leads us, but the current plan is for me to find employment and continue to offer my gifts to help build up the Body of Christ by serving in a local church.

What about Living Grace?

Our situation at LGC has led the leadership team to evaluate what happens next. We have two major obstacles that were going to be potential problems for us. 1) We were going to have to move out of the Sunnyland Plaza in the near future due to the property renovations and increased rent requirements, and to this point, no doors have opened for us to find a new meeting location. And 2) Financially, we are unable to continue. These issues seem to be huge problems to the survival of this particular gathering of believers. And under any other circumstances, they would be. However, at just the right time, God has opened a door that our leadership team – and, most certainly, Jess and I – believe is the best option for the next phase of our church family.

During the 18-month evaluation period that Jess and I have been going through, God began to strengthen a relationship with some good friends that we have known for years. Dave and Kasey Jane have been friends of ours for a while, but during these past months, God has helped us to see that they have a very similar heart to ours for what a church in Washington could look like. Over time, it became clear to the Janes that God was calling them to plant a church in Washington. At that point, we began talking with them about the possibility of fitting the people and resources of LGC together with the vision that God had given them for this new church.

After a lot more prayer, counsel, tough questions, and difficult discussions, it became clear to both sides that somehow God was in this.

At the end of 2012, Dave resigned his position at Riverside Community Church in Peoria in order to begin preparing to launch this brand new church in Washington. That fact, along with the sense in my spirit that the time was right for Jess and me to step down as the pastors of LGC, led us to the discussion with our leadership team of possibly merging LGC with Dave’s new church. Although the details are still being worked out as to what this might look like, I can tell you now that it will truly be a new church with new leadership, a new feel, and a new name in a new location. But I believe with all of my heart that it will very closely reflect the vision that God had put in my heart for LGC and where I’ve been trying to lead us for the past few years.

Dave is scheduled to give the message at LGC this Sunday (January 13th) so all of you can get to know him somewhat. Then later that evening, there will be an informational meeting at Fivepoints in Washington at 6:30 for anyone who might be interested in finding out more about the church. I encourage everyone from LGC to come with an open mind and open heart to see what God might show you about your place in the new church. I know my family and I will be there.

I am very excited about the future! God has great things in store for His people. Let’s prayerfully and expectantly look to God in this season of transition.

Humbly, your brother in Christ,

Andy Brown

The GENEROUS Challenge

We are challenging our church family to a challenge of Generosity from now through Easter. Hopefully, this will kickstart a movement of a generous lifestyle among our people. Hopefully, it’s not just a phase. Here are the four steps to the challenge:

1. Focus on God’s Generosity to you… (He gave you Jesus. He gave you eternal life. He gave you hope. He gave you right-standing with God. He meets your daily needs. And so much more!!!)
2. Look for opportunities to be generous to others… (Offer help, meet someone’s needs, pay for someone’s meal, give a gift, etc.)
3. Act on your inclination to be generous in response to God’s generosity to you… (Don’t just think about it. Act on it.)
4. Share your story anonymously to give God glory and to inspire others to acts of generosity… (Three ways to share your story: 1. go to lgcsunnyland.com/generous and type it on the board, 2. email generous@lgcsunnyland.com or 3. text 309-222-8444.)

Circling God’s Promises

This past Sunday at LGC, we discussed one of the most common hindrances to an effective prayer life that ails a lot of Christians. And that is not knowing how to pray because we don’t understand God’s promises to us.

I’ll admit it. I’ve spent a lot of my life as a follower of Christ praying general, vague prayers along the lines of: “Lord, bless me. Bless my family. Bless my church, etc.” Not that there’s anything wrong with a prayer requesting God’s blessing. But like many of you, I have realized that often my prayers don’t go beyond that level. I’m not really asking for anything specific.

When Jesus came face to face with Bartimaeus, the blind beggar on the roadside just outside Jericho, He made no assumptions about what it was Bartimaeus wanted. In fact, He posed a question. A question that possibly caught others off-guard. But not Bartimaeus. Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51; NLT). Why the question? Doesn’t Jesus know His need? Can’t He see it? Can’t He guess? But yet He asks. Without having to think for a moment, the beggar says, “Teacher, I want to see!” And so… Jesus heals him.

I believe Jesus poses the question so that Bartimaeus had to articulate his request specifically.

Many times, we don’t know how to pray because we don’t know what we can ask for. We don’t seem to question God’s power very often. We know He’s powerful. What we question is whether He wants to apply that power to our situation.

This past Sunday, I challenged our church family to write out a specific prayer request on a card we had made and then put it in a prominent spot where they would see it daily for the next 24 days. And each time we see the card during that time-frame, we are to pray specifically for that request. However, that wasn’t it.

The back of the card was blank. I also challenged them to ask God to lead them to a scriptural promise that was confirmed in Jesus (2 Cor. 1:20) so they could have a basis for believing.

For the next 24 days, I am praying for our church’s meeting location. Specifically, I am praying for a specific building where we can meet that will be a more permanent home aligning with our God-given vision for the church. (Our current meeting spot has an expiration date on it. Details to come.) The promise on which I am basing my prayer: “[Jesus] is the one who has the key of David. He opens doors, and no one can shut them; He shuts doors, and no one can open them. I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can shut” (Revelation 3:7,8; NLT).

What scriptural promise are you circling as you pray your specific prayer?

Becoming Circle Makers

Inspired by the book, The Circle Maker by Pastor Mark Batterson (as discussed in my previous post), our LGC family will begin a four-week study on the subject of prayer during the month of February.

For the four Sunday mornings, Andy will share messages along this theme. And since “hearing the Word” is not enough according to James 1:22, but God wants us to act on what we hear, we are going to have an opportunity to corporately act on what we’ve learned.

On Wednesday nights in February (8th, 15th, 22nd, & 29th), we will come together for a one-hour study on the subject based on a DVD curriculum hosted by the book’s author, Pastor Mark Batterson from National Community Church in Washington, D.C. After the study, we will take time to pray circles around our families, our church, our businesses, our dreams, and our futures. We will learn how to pray God’s promises over our situations, and hold on to those promises until we see God’s answer.

Join us on Sundays at 10:30 AM for messages that will inspire you to believe that God’s promises are for you and equip you to stand firm in them as they are your promises to hold onto.

Join us on Wednesdays at 6:00 PM for a small group that will equip you to put into practice what you learn. We need people to sign up for the small group especially if you will be making use of the childcare.

* Childcare will be available for the Wednesday evening hour. We will take up an offering to pay the babysitters. 

** The Circle Maker book will be available for sale at LGC starting Sunday, January 22nd for $12 (regularly priced $19.99). 

*** The Circle Maker Participant’s Guide is available at Hoerr’s Berean bookstore for $9.99. This is a supplemental guide that will help you in the small group discussions and is recommended, but not required. 

The Circle Maker

I am really excited about where I see our church family going in the next month and beyond.

For most of 2011, God began speaking to me about wanting to take me further in my prayer life than I’ve ever been. He began showing me that the dreams He had given me for my life, my family, and my church were impossible unless He brought them to pass. My dependency upon Him began to grow. And slowly, I was driven to prayer more often. It began to come naturally to me as I saw no other way.

In October, I had the opportunity to hear a pastor named Mark Batterson speak at a session at Catalyst Conference. He pastors National Community Church in Washington, D.C. I had heard him before, and every time I liked him. What he had to say always spoke to me. I was inspired by his messages and his books I’ve read. But this particular session was special.

Mark shared the story of an ancient Jewish sage named Honi who became famous for saving a generation of Jews (one generation before Jesus) from a devastating drought through a prayer that was bold and made him look silly. But it was necessary… and it worked.

While he shared the story and then the application for our prayer lives, I was internally challenged. The Holy Spirit was doing something inside me. He was reminding me how foolish and impossible my dreams are without His intervention. He was reminding me that nothing is impossible with God. He was calling me back to prayer.

I am currently reading the book and letting the Holy Spirit speak to me as I meditate on how it communicates Gods Word to me. I have found it more natural to lead my wife in prayer, my kids in prayer, and to “pray without ceasing.”

I really look forward to this next chapter in my life and ministry. I can’t wait to see where God takes us as we learn to depend on Him and circle His promises in prayer.

Keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks.   — Jesus in Matthew 7:7,8

Don’t Look Back!

Have you ever noticed how when you drive a car, the windshield is relatively massive compared to the rearview mirror? I’m sure you’ve noticed. But have you ever considered the reason?

When you’re driving you’re supposed to be moving FORWARD. You need clear sight. Clear vision to safely arrive where you’re going. So naturally, the windshield needs to be quite large to allow for clear vision. But while you’re driving, you need to occasionally look up to the rearview mirror to evaluate what is going on behind you. But you don’t focus on the rearview mirror. In fact, if you drove down the road with your focus on the rearview mirror, you would definitely crash. You might even hurt or, worse yet, kill someone.

I believe that ministry is the same. My focus as I lead my church needs to be on what lies ahead. I need clear vision so I can safely arrive at my destination. And ultimately, if I am truly leading people, we will arrive safely at that destination together.

However, if I am constantly looking BACK through my ministry rearview mirror, I will not only have no idea where I’m actually going, I may actually hurt people and leave a path of destruction behind me.

This morning, I was praying about the church I pastor. Currently, we are laying out our Mission, Vision, and Values on Sunday mornings this January. And so I was praying and giving God a chance to speak to me. As I did that, He ultimately led me to Philippians 3:13 & 14 in which Paul writes:

No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.

Now, obviously Paul didn’t totally ignore his past. He was honest and open about his journey all throughout his letters (including 1 Timothy 1:15). In fact, the verses that preceded the quoted ones above are evidence that Paul didn’t pretend like his past didn’t happen. It happened and he was real about it. But that wasn’t where his focus was.

My focus are on where God is taking us. I am looking ahead and following God’s Spirit into the future. I dare to dream big and believe that God can deliver on dreams that are inspired by Him.

How about you? If you are wandering in life directionless and going nowhere, maybe it’s because you’re not looking forward. Maybe you’re living in the past and therefore, you’re moving backwards. Maybe you have no direction. I challenge you today, follow the words of  the Apostle Paul. Don’t look back. Look forward. And move forward in faith.

My Flying Leap of Faith

I remember the old Indiana Jones movie – I forget which one it was – where Indy stood at the edge of a large canyon that seemed to be bottomless. And on the other side of the canyon awaited the priceless relic for which he had spent the entire film searching. He stood there frantically looking for a way to get across. Not seeing any possibility and knowing that somewhere not too far behind him, his enemies were pursuing him, he remembered a verse from the Bible. (You may remember that the Bible played a very significant role in his pursuit of the Lost Ark of the Covenant.) Anyway, the verse was 2 Corinthians 5:7 where Paul says to the church, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (KJV). With that reminder, he closes his eyes and takes a step into the canyon. A step that could very likely end very badly. Or, on the other hand, it could end very well. (The chances were better, however, that it would end badly.)

With his eyes closed and his foot extended over the canyon, he lowered it, only to have it rest (just in time) on an invisible bridge. A bridge that had not been visible before this step of faith. (I can’t remember if it became visible once he was on it. But that’s beside the point.) The point is that he didn’t see the bridge until he took the step. And even after he stepped, it may have very well continued to be invisible except through the eyes of faith.

Recently, I took a step of faith. Very recently. In fact, it was less than one hour ago. I resigned the job I’ve had for the past five years to pursue what I believe is a God-given dream.

For the past five years, my primary source of income for my family has been through this company. It’s a great company. I’ve been thrilled to be a part of it. It has afforded me a lot of privileges and benefits I would have never been able to enjoy if it had not been for this company. But the time has come for me to say goodbye to it.

Now, you may be asking, So, what are you going to do now? How are you going to feed your family of five kids? How are you going to afford your mortgage? To which I answer, “I don’t know.” “I don’t know.” And “I don’t know.” I have no other plan but to follow the leading of God’s Spirit as I feel He has very clearly directed my wife and me to take this leap.

There was only one other time in my life when I felt so alive in faith. Living dangerously as I felt prompted by God’s Spirit. That was five years ago when I left a great church that paid me well and provided great benefits in order to move to a new city where I knew practically no one so I could help start a church with no promise of income or insurance or housing. I often joke that I could relate to Lloyd and Harry when they said, “We got no food! We got no jobs! Our pets heads are falling off!!!” (Well, two-thirds of that joke was true.) But I digress…

The point is that the Lord directed us into a season of living by faith at that point. Shortly after that leap, He provided me with a terrific job (the one I actually just resigned), free housing for four months, and we never missed a meal – as proven by my waistline.

This reminds me of the famous story of Abraham and his son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah from Genesis 22 in the Bible. God called Abraham to a tremendous leap of faith. This was not Abraham’s first leap. This had become a way of life for him. His first leap came years earlier when, at God’s direction, he left his life in his father’s homeland to go into the unknown. That was unheard of at that time. Young men grew up expecting to carry on their father’s legacy. Not leave it behind and start a new one. But that’s what God had called him to. And during the early years of that leap of faith, Abraham had some days when he believed that everything was going to work out well and other days when he wondered, maybe even doubted. (Ishmael, anyone?) But through it all, from God’s perspective anyway, Abraham’s faith never wavered, but actually grew stronger (Rom. 4:19-21).

Years after Abraham’s journey of faith began, God was still leading him further, deeper into it. Into places he would have NEVER gone without God’s leading. That’s when God asked him to do the unthinkable. Sacrifice his son. His only son. (Does that sound familiar to anyone?) The book of Hebrews in the Bible give us insight into Abraham’s thinking when he unbelievably obeyed God on this matter. It says, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death” (Heb. 11:19, NIV). So, believing that God could and would make things right when everything fell apart, he went forward in faith… In faith……………… In faith. (Those words just look so good to me right now. I couldn’t move past them.)

Maybe you know the rest of the story. On the way up the mountain, Isaac asks his father, “Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Abraham answers, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Gen. 22:8, NIV). They get to the top of the mountain. They build the altar for the sacrifice. Abraham binds up his son and lays him on the altar. He raises the knife to kill his son for the sacrifice. God stops him while the knife is in mid-air. Abraham looks up from the altar and sees – what else? A ram caught in a thicket. Yeah. That’ll work!

They proceeded to sacrifice the ram that God had provided in place of Isaac. The story foreshadows the eventual coming of Jesus. There are so many correlations between Isaac and Jesus  and ultimately, that lamb, which was a substitutionary sacrifice, and Jesus. I don’t want to get into all of that now. (You can listen to my sermon on this if you’d like. It was on March 27th.) But what I want to say is that Abraham didn’t know how it was going to work out. Just that it was going to.

I am aware of that fact that some people in my life will think I’m delusional. (Did I mention I have five kids and a mortgage?) I am aware of the fact that I could end up looking completely foolish if nothing comes of this. I am aware of the fact that the dream which I am pursuing as I set aside everything that has been normal to me for the past five years is one in which there is ZERO potential (from a human perspective) for any kind of decent income. That dream is my church. I am the pastor. But I haven’t been a very good one because I haven’t been fully committed to it as I’ve been torn between it and my “day job.”

But in order to pursue the dream, I have to let go of that which hinders me. I have to go “all in.” I have to take the leap. And ultimately, I know “the Lord will provide” because He already has. 😉