Category: Fear No Evil (page 1 of 2)

The Miracle Story of New Life

This past week, Pastor Mark Driscoll resigned from Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Mark was certainly one of the most high profile local church leaders of the past decade and his resignation from the church he founded left another big scar on the American evangelical landscape. I’m writing neither to defend nor decry the actions of Mark Driscoll or Mars Hill Church. I was not involved in any of the decisions that led to his resignation and I do not know any of the leaders who remain at the church. However, I do believe both Mark and Mars Hill can have a very hopeful future.

In August of 2007, I became the Senior Pastor of New Life Church after the founding pastor resigned. The church was devastated and many people felt the best days of NLC were behind them. In the past several years, other local churches have lost their high profile pastors and some of those congregations are still struggling while others have found sure footing and and are moving forward with healing and new vision for ministry.

I am no expert on church transitions, but I am experienced. When New Life was experiencing its trauma and sudden change, a passage of scripture from Psalm 137 was really helpful to me as I led the church.

Psalms 137:1 NIV

“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.”

 

From this one verse, I learned three vital lessons.

1.     Admit there is a new reality.

“By the rivers of Babylon”

We are not in Jerusalem anymore and when we return to Jerusalem, it will never be the same. This was the lament of a people that had been captured and led away from their homeland. Everything changed overnight. When people suddenly lose their pastor, it seems everything in the church changes forever and nothing will ever be the same. As a leader, we must admit they are right; it will never be the same and that is ok. Change is difficult enough for some people when all the conditions are favorable, but traumatic, sudden change can be super painful. Do not ignore the pain.

 

2.     Take time to mourn

“we sat and wept”

Staying busy keeps us occupied, but it does not allow for mourning or grieving, therefore, any church going through a painful transition must slow down and permit people to mourn. There has been a loss, so people need permission to cry, to reflect and to receive extensive counseling if necessary. Do not skip this step because pain that’s not allowed to heal will resurface until it does heal. Hurt people hurt people, but healed people can help people.

 

3.     Remember the past

“we remembered Zion”

Talk about the past and recall the great times, the “remember when” moments. When we can honor the pastor who departed, we should.  This is healthy and necessary, even if the former pastor did something terrible that warranted his departure. Obviously, not all the details can be shared publicly because we want those who were hurt to have private space for healing. However, there are wise and honoring ways to have public conversations that give the congregation permission to talk and find healing. Celebrate past wins sincerely and learn honestly from the broken history.

In those dark days at New Life, following a scandal, we felt the sun would never shine again on our congregation. But it did! Today, our church is opening Dream Centers to care for the poorest in our city, planting new congregations, baptizing new believers, training hundreds in our leadership academy, supporting mission’s work in over 30 countries, and writing songs that are sung by churches everywhere. New Life Church is a miracle story.

Tough times are inevitable for all churches and the valley of despair can appear permanent, but our story is proof that dark days are not forever. When David wrote the 23rd Psalm, he realized that God had not abandoned him when all seemed lost and that was reason enough to dream again. Let’s pray for Mars Hill, Mark Driscoll and other churches who are in the valley right now. Let’s pray for grace, healing, unity and redemption. We know this is possible for them because we have seen this miracle firsthand. We have been given much grace and we surely want grace for others.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me …” Psalm 23:4 NIV

 

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Reflections – 4 Years Later

It’s been four years since a young man came on our campus on a Sunday morning, killing two of our young girls and injuring others. Four years ago. Some days it seems like it all happened just yesterday and on others, it seems a distant memory.

So much healing and redemption has happened since that cold, snowy morning in December of 2007. We have planted churches, launched missionaries all over the globe, opened Dream Centers, and seen hundreds come to Christ. We have witnessed a church family literally rise from the ashes and emerge from the valley of the shadow of death.

Often, I go to the two rock benches in our parking lot and sit between the two towering Blue Spruce trees and read the scriptures on the memorials. It is on the very spot where the shooting occured and is now holy ground at New Life.  Stephanie has inscribed on her bench verses from Psalm 30:11-12:

“You have turned my wailing into dancing; your removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”

On Rachel’s bench is the beautiful reminder from Philippians 4:6-7:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Both scriptures had just been written in their respective journals not long before their lives tragically ended. Most Sundays, I see their parents standing and worshipping with the rest of our New Life family.  They are such an inspiration to me and to others. Their wailing has turned to dancing and they  have a peace that is transcendant. I imagine Stephanie and Rachel are smiling.

We have healed but are still healing; we are broken, but getting stronger. We have a scar from a story that is tragic, but our future is super bright. God has been near to us every step of the way, nearer than any of us could have ever imagined or believed four years ago. I am thankful for hope and the keen awareness that something good, even great, awaits us in the not too distant future.

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Fear No Evil – The Afterword

This is the last blog post on Fear No Evil, I promise, but I do hope you have enjoyed the short excerpts from each of the 10 chapters. In the Afterword, I look forward and try to imagine what life will look like for all of us who have travelled together through the valley of the shadow of death and now stand on the other side.

The book releases everywhere April 26th, but you can pre-order the book by clicking here. The proceeds will help support the Dream Centers we are opening here in Colorado Springs later this spring.

I learned something years ago that came to mind this week. It relates to dendrochronology, which is just a big word for analyzing a tree’s life based on the rings on its trunk that have formed throughout the years. It came to mind because I was roaming through a dense part of the forest near my home and ran across a series of trees that had been felled by lightning. I stared at the cross-section of one of those trees and noticed an irregular pattern of thick and thin rings moving out from the trunk’s center in concentric circles.

I’m not adept at reading tree rings, but according to fifteen minutes of a show I caught on the Discovery Channel one time, people whoare good at reading them can tell you with amazing accuracy how many forest fires, droughts, and beetle infestations a particular tree has withstood in its lifetime, as well as how many healthy years it has known, all by scrutinizing those rings. Which made me wonder what New Life would look like, if you cut our church in half and looked inside. I have a feeling you’d find lots of thick rings representing years and years of great growth, followed by narrow rings representing scandal and the loss of two innocent, young girls. But what energizes me is the idea that just outside of that narrowing, I believe you’d find increasingly wider rings once more—signs of redemption, renewal, and restoration.

As I looked more closely at one of the trees at my feet, I saw a cluster of tiny green roots bursting forth on the very branch that had once been declared dead. The tall spruce had fallen, but it was reclaiming new life as its own. The significance of that unforeseen recovery wasn’t lost on me, for I am experiencing something similar these days.

In the quiet of the forest, I was reminded that all of us—both those who call New Life home and every Christ-follower alive today—are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, as Hebrews 12 calls them, women and men who valiantly suffered for their faith. These are the ones who stared down Satan and remained unshaken. They planted the early churches, prayed fervent prayers, and laid the firm foundation on which we now stand. They’re the martyrs we sing about in worship songs, the ones who died for the sake of God’s glory and did so with the joy of the Lord on their face, and the ones who will cheer us across the heavenly finish line someday. As I considered afresh the sacrifices they’d made, I couldn’t help but wonder what they see when they look down from their celestial seat and peek into Christ-followers’ lives today. Do they see a bunch of beaten-down believers limping their way through life, or do they see the strength of Christ made manifest as his followers claim his promises as their own?

Staring at those hope-filled green roots, I thought to myself, I refuse to limp into heaven someday. If my two choices are becoming a victim or a victor, a victor is what I will be. Admittedly, on more occasions than I care to admit over the past three years, I have whined to God, “I did not sign up for this!” But each time, somehow with lovingkindness to spare, I sensed God say in reply, Zip it, Brady. I took that to be shorthand for this train of thought: Remember who you are. Remember whose you are. Remember the seal of my Spirit that has been graciously placed on your life. Remember the power that is now yours because of my unwavering presence in your life. Stand up. Dust yourself off. Commit yourself to the path of progress once more. There is a mountaintop on the other side. And the view is far better from there.

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Fear No Evil – Chapter Ten

I am posting some short excerpts from Fear No Evil which releases April 26th. In chapter 10, I talk about the miracles we have experienced as a fellowship these past four years and the Law of the Farm.

The proceeds from this book will help support the Dream Centers we are opening here in Colorado Springs. If you want to pre-order the book, you can click here.

As I write this chapter, it is springtime in Colorado. We’ve endured a long and somewhat hard winter for this part of the country, and I am more than ready for the seasons to change. In front of my house are a dozen or so perennial bushes that have been lying dormant all winter. Before temperatures began to plummet, I covered them in mulch to protect them from the multiple snowstorms I figured they would have to endure, and throughout those bone-chilling months, I’d frequently look out the front windows, find three or four feet of snow blanketing my bushes and wonder whether the flowers would ever come back.

Just this morning, as I made my way to the office, I noticed a few green sprouts had shown up. The seeds had been properly planted, watered, and kept weed-free, and yet still it surprised me to see a small harvest begin to bud—which tells you something about my faith from time to time. After all, if I struggle to believe that a silly day-lily bulb will keep its promise, imagine what I do with the assurances of God.

God’s Word says that we will reap what we sow. It says that if we sow things such as joy, hope, and expectancy, our tomorrows will be brighter than today. When we sow the good seeds he places in our hands, our future will be full of good things. And yet if you’re anything like me, you have your moments when these truths are difficult to accept.

Still, even if we went into the process kicking and screaming, those of us who call New Life home learned to wait on God when our desired timing didn’t line up with his. We wanted the microwave version of healing, but God had something entirely different in mind. In hindsight, I am so glad we submitted to his plans, now that I see the harvest that he had in store for us all along.

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Fear No Evil – Chapter Nine

The journey through my first book continues with an excerpt from chapter 9 which talks about how we got our joy back at New Life after a season of darkness and tragedy. I would love to hear your thoughts about this very important topic.

The proceeds from Fear No Evil will help support the Dream Centers we are opening here in Colorado Springs. The book releases April 26th on Amazon, but you can pre-order Fear No Evil here.

There is a reason that every car manufactured in this world has a small rear-view mirror and a large windshield, which is that you and I are supposed to be far more focused on what is in front of us than on what it is we have just passed. But there were times after the shooting when New Life had the two fixtures swapped. We allowed our windshield to become tiny and our rear-view mirror to captivate our every thought. And so one final joy-robber I want to mention is this: beware of your life’s windshield becoming dangerously small.

Whenever we allow the forward-looking, future-oriented, front-windshield work yet to be done to eclipse that magnificent work that is being accomplished all around us, we miss real blessings that God is trying to pass our way. What’s more, we give the enemy of our souls a foothold as he works to deflate our hearts.

Satan loves nothing more than when you and I fixate on our past. Don’t give him that kind of satisfaction! Focus on the good you see happening, and on all that lies ahead. For us, one simple way this idea got played out involved engaging in our “Summer of Serving.” Despite the two cataclysmic events we’d walked through, we called the church to rally together on behalf of our city, we prayed fervent prayers asking for direction, and then we worked to meet as many needs as we could possibly find. We planted gardens and repainted walls at the downtown rescue mission, we lifted the spirits of home-bound elderly men and women who craved community, we cooked and delivered meals to families in need and more. The acts of service didn’t equate to quick progress in terms of our emotional healing, but they did help us shift our focal point from our own pain to the needs we could actually help meet. And by taking that one small step of faith, our church was reaffirmed in our belief that God would use us in days to come to serve the poor, plant new churches, and catalyze transformed living in people whose paths we crossed.

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Fear No Evil – Chapter Eight

I am posting some short excerpts from Fear No Evil , which releases in a few weeks from Zondervan. This is from the chapter where I talk about the redemption we have experienced as a fellowship and what we have learned about grace along the way.

The proceeds from this book will help support the Dream Centers we are opening here in Colorado Springs. If you want to pre-order click here.

In Mark 10:15, Jesus is quoted as saying, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Interestingly, as Jesus spoke those words, he did so with a bunch of little kids on his lap. The text says that people from the surrounding areas were bringing their children to Jesus so that he could bless them, but the disciples thought it was a waste of their master’s time. They rebuked the parents, and Jesus, in turn, rebukedthem. “Let the little children come to me,” Jesus asserted, “and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Then he gathered the children into his arms, put his hands on them, and blessed them.

I’d like to make an observation here. Unlike their grown-up counterparts, children are always ready to receive a gift. Always. If there is a kid in your life, then try this experiment today: offer that miniature person something in exchange for nothing, and just see what he or she does. I’ll tell you what they’ll do. They will take the gift! They may not stop to say thank you, but I assure you they will take the gift.

Contrast that with how adults behave when offered something for free. Certainly there are exceptions, but many adults feel a wave of guilt sweep over them when they are forced to simply receive with open hands. But this is exactly the posture God would have us hold, where the kingdom of God is concerned.

Last February, a giant box appeared on our doorstep, addressed to my kids. Without even glancing at the return address, I knew exactly who it was from: the grandparents. Valentine’s Day was less than a week away, which meant yet one more excuse to lavish my children with gifts.

As Callie and her brother tore into the goods, she looked up at me with dancing eyes and said, “Dad! We hit the jackpocket!”

I thought about correcting her—“It’s jackpot, Callie”—but I knew her attention was elsewhere and wasn’t returning anytime soon.

A few weeks ago, they hit the “jackpocket” again as Easter neared. Another box on the doorstep, another ten minutes of parental harassment, two sets of eyes dancing. “Can we open it, Dad? How about now? Pleeease? Can we open it now? “And as the fake-Easter-grass confetti covered every possible surface in our house, I thought, “This is exactly how God wants us to be.” He wants us to behave in his presence like children, who receive with open and thankful hearts.

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Fear No Evil – Chapter Seven

The release of Fear No Evil is about a month away now. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 7, where I describe how New Life took a huge step toward the healing we are now experiencing as a fellowship. The proceeds from my first book will help us open the Dream Centers here in Colorado Springs. You can pre-order the book or download it to your Kindle by clicking here.

ISAIAH 61:2-3 OFFERS a series of promises to those who had mourned in Zion—and to you and me when we grieve today. Speaking prophetically of Jesus Christ, it says that a major reason the Messiah would come in human flesh to planet Earth was to “comfort all who mourn.” He would “bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,” verse three picks up, “the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

I can’t pinpoint the exact date or time when the shift occurred, but somewhere along the way—during the eighteen months that it took to move from the lion exhibit to the giraffes—beauty really did spring up from ashes. Gladness really did take mourning’s place. And the despair I had come to believe would never depart somehow morphed into heartfelt praise. I woke up one day in June 2009 and realized I was available for God’s use once more.

Let me explain what I mean.

Scores of people I know have suffered great loss in life and are emotionally shut down as a result. They never learned to properly mourn and grieve, and so the pain gets stuffed further down. The day finally dawns when they can’t engage in any aspect of life, because their enthusiasm and passion are gone. They can’t engage with their spouse. They can’t engage with their kids. They can’t engage with their role at work. They can’t engage with the vision for their local church. The emotional toll they’ve been carrying prohibits them from engaging in any aspect of life. And as a result, they are unavailable to God and others to be salt and light in the world.

I saw this play out firsthand at New Life. A couple that has faithfully served our body for many years approached me one weekend and said, “Brady, we love what God is doing among this church and how you are leading us into a brighter future, but for some reason, we just stay stuck. We haven’t been able to get involved like we used to be involved. We haven’t been able to worship like we used to worship. We aren’t serving like we used to serve.”

Without intending to, this couple had allowed themselves to become unavailable to God. They had neglected to adequately mourn the losses they had suffered, and spiritually and physically they couldn’t find their way back to full engagement.

As you and I learn to grieve properly—and fully—we see God show up with comfort for our weary souls. The two move back and forth in waves: we grieve, God comforts, we grieve, God comforts even more. He exchanges our ashes for beauty and gives gladness where mourning once was. Our growth, a “planting of the Lord” as the prophet Isaiah puts it, displays God’s splendor.32 “This is why I equip you to eventually move on from pain,” God essentially says, “so that my glory can be gathered through you.”

Months after the shooting, we as a church broke ground, laid soil, and planted two tall, beautiful blue spruce trees of remembrance on the parking spot where Stephanie and Rachel Works had been shot. And on that crisp weekday morning, that promise was on our minds. What Satan meant for death would bring forth undeniable life. Where a spirit of despair had once clouded our sight, pure praise would be on our lips. Collectively we declared that we were ready to move forward, to pursue whatever kingdom dreams God had on his mind. Our time with the lions was over; a new exhibit was calling our name.

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Fear No Evil – Chapter Six

I am publishing excerpts from my first book, Fear No Evil which releases in April. In Chapter Six, I talk about the importance of worship and its power to propel us through the valleys of darkness.

All of the proceeds of this book go to support the Dream Centers we are opening in our city. You can pre-order by clicking here.

Coming before God continuously in a posture of humility and with abundant praise on our lips invites him to steady our stance so that we will be prepared to endure future seasons of pain.

I realize this doesn’t sound like much of a benefit. Who wants to do anything that would possibly invite future pain? But as we looked at in chapter 5, we are already guaranteed some tough times in this life, and you and I both would do well to step into those episodes with as surefooted a stance as possible.

Psalm 18:31-33 says, “For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights.” Those words took on new meaning to me after the shooting. It was as if God himself said, Brady, I never promised that the path would be free of rocks or treachery. But I did promise to give you the feet of a deer. Undeniably, on December 9, 2007, my wide, pleasant path became difficult, narrow, and steep. But God immediately kept his word to me—he made me as surefooted as a deer.

The deer described in the Old Testament are not the elegant white-tails I grew up hunting in the woods of northwest Louisiana, but the point is exactly the same: all deer were distinctly designed by God to be able to bound across treacherous paths with balance, agility, and grace. I’ve been to the desert south of Jerusalem where the psalmist David used to tend his father’s flock of sheep, and whenever I read the words of Psalm 18, I imagine him standing at the bottom of a hill and eyeing the huge cliffs above. Seeing the craggy surfaces, the severe drop-offs, the series of tightly woven switchbacks that years of hoofmarks have carved into the ground, he must have marveled all over again that any animal could negotiate such terrain without stumbling.

Throughout the state of Colorado, there are many mountainous roads that wind across steep passes and breathtaking drop-offs. Invariably, when I’m driving through the most harrowing parts, I’ll look up and see a bunch of deer or bighorn sheep meandering around like they’re standing on flat Texas soil. They graze on patches of earth that seem no bigger than a silver dollar and look down at you as if to say, “What? You call this tight?”

Lately, whenever I see those impossibly agile beasts, I remember David’s words to us. “Don’t become so consumed with the landscape that you forget your footing is sure,” I think he is saying through the ideas of that psalm. “You’re steadier than you think you when you choose to trust God with your stance.”

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Fear No Evil – Chapter Five

For the past several weeks, I’ve been sharing some excerpts from my first book, Fear No Evil, which releases in about a month. To be honest, Chapter Five, entitled, Disney Doesn’t Do Christianity, is my favorite. I talk about the realities of suffering and what we’ve learned from our season of pain at New Life.

By the way, all the proceeds from this book will support the Dream Centers we are opening here in Colorado Springs. If you want to pre-order, Fear No Evil, click on the title.

Here is a short excerpt from chapter five. I would love to hear your thoughts.

As human beings, you and I both have to learn to confront our pain—to acknowledge it and to grieve. Whether we’re talking about the loss of a loved one or the loss of a career, a bank account, or a dream, it is absolutely critical to stop, to weep, to groan. I think of families who have experienced the sudden loss of a house, either to fire or to a flood. Sure, it was just sheetrock and two-by-fours, but their most precious memories were made inside. It was their first “real” purchase. It was the place where their children were raised. It was their family’s haven, the spot where they would rest and relate and know peace.

Or what about people who have experienced the sudden loss of a marriage? A husband thought the union would last forever, but then one day, divorce papers were served. “But she was my high-school sweetheart,” he laments. “She was everything in my life.” Regardless who is at fault in a split like that, division always hurts.

What do you do when sudden loss occurs? I believe Jesus would say, “You mourn.”

As I said, I’ve been part of a local church since my boyhood years, and yet I can count on one hand the number of sermons I’ve heard on how to grieve well. We talk a lot about the good news but neglect to mention that life sometimes turns bad. For instance, how many times have you been directed to the words of Ecclesiastes 7:3? “Sorrow is better than laughter,” it says, “because a sad face is good for the heart.” In our comfort-seeking society, most people would read those words and come away saying, “Huh? How can sorrow possibly be better than laughter?”

What Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes, knew that you and I would do well to remember is that the reason a sad face is good for the heart is because it is in our sadness that pain gets confronted, once and for all. Having pain confront us and choosing to confront that pain ourselves are two very different things. Confronting our pain means saying, “I know that I’ve just taken a hit here, a hit that really hurt.”

“Something terrible did happen.”

“I am hurting as a result.”

“We are hurting as a result.”

“This is hard, but it is real.”

Admitting truths such as these forces the internal protesting to cease. It invites Jesus into the situation so that the process of restoration can begin. “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,” Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 7:4. It’s when we stop to truly grieve a loss that God can intervene.

The alternative of course is denial, in which we utterly resist what is real. We talk ourselves out of believing that something bad has just unfolded and that we were wounded as a result. The approach does nothing for our personal wholeness and keeps God’s healing ways at bay.

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Fear No Evil – Chapter Four

For the next several weeks, leading up to the late April release of my first book, I am posting some excerpts from each chapter. All the proceeds from this book go to support the Dream Centers we are opening here in Colorado Springs. If you want, you can Pre-Order Fear No Evil here.

This is from Chapter 4, where I describe the unbelievable Wednesday night gathering at New Life Church after the shooting the previous Sunday.

After the great Old Testament leader Moses died, his aide Joshua was tapped by God to take the reins and lead the Israelites across the Jordan River. And as God commissioned Joshua for this new role, he told him not once, not twice, but three times to “be strong and courageous.” “Be strong and courageous,” he says in Joshua 1:6. “Be strong and very courageous,”7 he says one verse later. And then, in case Joshua missed the first two installments, verse nine reads this way: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Based on the tenor in the room that Wednesday night, I could tell that the people of New Life knew what I firmly believed to be true: This was our Joshua moment. Sunday had threatened to rob us of our peace, our solidarity, and our faith. But on Wednesday night, we would say, “No.”

On Wednesday, we would choose to claim not fear, but courage—to live, to love, to engage.

At any given time, courage either is entering into you or departing from you. It’s always doing one or the other; it is not static. When you’re discouraged—when courage drips its way out of you like water from a leaky hose—nothing you do seems worthwhile. Every molehill shows up as a mountain, and every dilemma is a debilitating crisis just waiting to take you down. All that is negative in life is amplified, and whatever good exists fades to gray.

But when you’re encouraged—when courage is coming in—you feel like you can do just about anything in God’s name and will experience a fair measure of success. You charge hell with a water pistol and serve like your hair is on fire, not knowing what else to do with your massive influx of holy audacity.

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