It is appropriate for me that I started this article at 11:11 on 1-1-19. 1111 has had significance for me for some time, and it is the first day of a new year. Not just any new year, however. I’ve considered it, and during my lifetime significant events have happened at the end of each decade. Now, I suppose I could attempt a similar exercise with any year, but during each year ending in nine, something life changing has occurred, and/or something new has been inaugurated.
I wrote a blog yesterday and took it all the way back to ’79, but as I was thinking just now, I can even find a life changing event that occurred in ’69, when I was only seven years old. 1969 was the year my parents divorced. My biological father was an alcoholic and his irresponsible, sometimes violent, behavior precipitated that permanent separation. I never had a good relationship with my dad beyond that time. Early on he was a dangerous person to be avoided. Later he was distant and I had limited communication with him until several years before he passed away in 2008. This left a painful wound on my heart that didn’t heal until I fully accepted the reality that through Jesus, God is my Father, and He has not abandoned me. I will admit there is still a scar, but that has served to glorify my Heavenly Father. I am also thankful that my biological dad eventually put his faith in Jesus, so I’ll see him again one day.
I publicly committed my life to Jesus Christ at the North Phoenix Baptist Church when I was sixteen. One year later, in 1979, I surrendered to God’s call to preach. During that first year as a follower of Jesus I attended church faithfully, and often when Pastor Jackson passionately delivered his message I would feel a strong compulsion to do the same thing. I didn’t really recognize this as a calling until, shortly before my 17th birthday, an evangelist named James Robison came to our church and conducted and eight day event (back then they were called crusades). On the first night he spoke on apathy, and I responded to the invitation to recommit my life to Christ. As I was talking to the crusade counselor I mentioned, almost casually, that I thought I was being called to preach. The next year I graduated high school and pursued a college education to prepare for the vocation I’ve pursued since that time.
My first staff position in a church began after my first semester at Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. I became the youth minister at First Baptist Church, The Colony–about an hour’s drive from seminary. In January of 1989 something remarkable happened at that church. You see, when I started ministry there they had recently hired a new pastor due to a previous church split. Two-thirds of the original congregation were meeting in the high school cafeteria with the previous youth minister as their pastor. The other third, who called me to be their youth minister, maintained control over the church property and met in the original building. The remarkable thing that happened was this fractured congregation agreed to unite. There was serious resistance from the pastor who hired me, and he quit in protest. My youth group increased ten-fold immediately. It had dwindled to just nine people due to the contentious atmosphere created by our pastor, but the Sunday after our merger there were 90 teenagers in attendance!
That wasn’t the only significant thing that happened 1989. It was also the year I started producing House of Judgement in the DFW Metroplex. The idea of an alternative haunted house was not mine. The concept came from a church in Alabama, and they called it Judgment House. Pastor Bill Wilks of our church, who was from Alabama (and ministers there now) outlined the concept and asked if I’d consider getting our youth to do a Judgment House. Frankly, the whole thing sounded cheesy and exploitive. But I kept thinking about it. I came to the conclusion that we could do it in a way that was realistic and relevant. I introduced the idea to our youth group in the living room of the home where I stayed. There were 30 kids there that night, and they enthusiastically committed to make the event a reality at our church. In fact, that first youth group was responsible for us called it House of Judgement, rather than Judgment House. They thought that sounded much better, and I added to older spelling of the word judgement. The rest is history. I wrote my very first play, and we produced it in what I like to call a “mobile theatre format.” Instead of audiences sitting still and watching the set change between scenes in a traditional theater, we moved audiences from scene to scene. Each year I wrote a new play. I wrote and directed of House of Judgement and led in it’s production with three different churches from 1989 until 2006. During that time nearly 100,000 people attended, and over 10,000 made public professions of faith in Christ. 1989 was an auspicious year indeed.
By 1999 I had been serving for seven years as the associate pastor and youth minister with Freeman Heights Baptist Church. It became obvious that God wanted me to start a church. A series of events took place that forced me to take action sooner than I would have planned. However, I had strong support from the pastor I served with and from our denomination. On July 4th, 1999 (Independence Day was intentionally significant), City of Refuge launched at 111 Ranch in Garland, Tx. Our day to day operations were out of a house I leased, and we met in hotel ballrooms for worship. About a year and a half later we decided to change the name of the church to Zion–a city on a hill, the people of promise. Ten years later we changed the name again, largely due to a changing culture and persistent misunderstanding of the name by some. We are now Lifewell Church. On July 4th of this year we will celebrate 20 years of ministry in the Garland area.
In 2009 our church leased the building where we still meet on the downtown Garland Square. It is 122 years old, one of the oldest structures in our city. We’ve had a presence in the center of the city for 15 years, but getting this building established us. It is the launch point for what I believe God is going to do next…
Do you see the pattern? 1969, 1979, 1989, 1999, 2009: during each of these years something significant has happened that has shaped my ministry.
It is January 1, 2019 as I write this. What will God do next? That’s something about which I’ve prayed fervently for several years, asking and seeking and knocking. The watchword for me this year is GROW. I want to see our church grow significantly, as individuals mature spiritually, and as God exponentially adds new people to our community. However, this morning I came to the conclusion that the time has come for me to write consistently, and to finish the book I started several years ago. I am insecure about this. I don’t know who will read what I write, but I’m going to write. What you’ve just read is the result of that conviction.