I get to write a “Faith” article, (or whatever I want), every other week for our local paper, The Johnson City Record Courier…and I don’t have to pay for it. (I told you that every door is opening in Johnson City for me.) It’s a local broadsheet that covers all the local news—and a must-rad for anyone who lives in Johnson City. My hope is that people will read it and want to visit our fellowship, Community Church of the Hills. Maybe you will, too. The column will be called “Pastor’s P.O.V.”
5 Reasons for NOT Going to Church By Pastor Steve Sanchez
People gave five reasons gave for not going to church according to a recent survey I read. For the most part, I have heard these given at one time or another. When I was a drug addict, con artist and general ne’er-do-well, these were my reasons, too, plus many more. Now, as the new pastor of Community Church of the Hills here in Johnson City, I wanted to address each reason and perhaps convince you to give “goin’ to church” one more chance. If you don’t know of a good church near you, I may have a suggestion. What do ya say?
Reason #1: The Church is Irrelevant: As a non-denominational, non-Pentecostal Christian fellowship we are committed to expository preaching, that is, teaching the Bible, verse-by-verse, in a way that is practical, relatable and understandable to today’s culture. God’s Word speaks to every circumstance of life and we’ll prove it to you! Read the rest of this entry »
Perhaps my time as a vocational pastor wasn’t over quite yet. As I stood before this new congregation at Community Church of the Hills I gave my vision for the future. The vote on whether they would want me as their pastor followed. Would I continue in vocational ministry or have to sell life insurance like so many other former pastors have had to do? (Click here to start at part 1)
Closing the doors at Hope Chapel Hill Country was an act of faith. I didn’t know for sure that I would get hired at this new venue but things had gotten so desperate that I had to take the risk.
I was inspired by the Old Testament account of four lepers whose city had been under siege by their enemies for a long time. They were in the midst of a severe famine as well, so they reasoned, “Why stay here until we die?If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’—the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of [our enemies] and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.”¹
I faced a similar dilemma: If I stayed where I was, the church would die. If I left everything to gamble if this other church wanted me, and it didn’t work, I die. Either way I die. I had nothing to lose. Seeing my flock dwindle from 15 to 12 to 10 told me the handwriting was on the wall.
Regardless of the outcome, I wasn’t going to quit. Nope. I was waiting to see what God would do and would continue until the money ran out, I died or Jesus returned. Or all three.
Every time I talked to my pastor from Hope Chapel Hermosa Beach, I would repeatedly say, “I’m not quitting.”
As it turned out, the lepers went to their enemies’ camp and found it abandoned because the Lord had caused their enemies to flee for their lives. The lepers then plundered the camp.
The vote at Community Church of the Hills was taken and 98% voted yes. I was the new pastor. Our family now had a new church home. We were overjoyed!
It was God who did this. Out of the blue he opened up this opportunity. He created something out of nothing. Again.
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright….²
The only thing I could take credit for was making a phone call (yet even then, he caused me to make it). It was all him. But why did Jesus take so long to do this? Why did he have me wait and wait and wait? And wait.
Why does it seem that He is always late when we need him most?
When Jesus heard that his good friend Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days until Lazarus died. Why was Jesus late? He explained that “it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”³
Of course, Jesus ended up raising Lazarus from the dead.
A man born blind from birth had to wait long into his adulthood until Jesus healed him. Why was Jesus so late? Jesus answered, “…this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”º
Then there was the woman who was crippled by a spirit for eighteen years! Jesus laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God.*
So why does it seem that Jesus is always late? I don’t know, except for the fact that when he acts, he is glorified, magnified and highly exalted. We get to realize yet again that God is good, and his timing is perfect.
Same with me: I can praise him ever more loudly. It was you, Jesus who did this! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
It’s been said that God is seldom early but never late.
Yet I had to reflect on the why.Why did God make me wait so long when his purpose was to have me plant a church? Why did I not plant a church after all, but ended up taking over an existing, struggling one. Why did God bring me all the way from L. A. to do this? Were there not enough pastors in the Bible Belt?
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed….ª
I think he had to teach me a great lesson on trusting him.
He tested to see if I would still hope in him even when there was no evidence that anything was ever going to happen. He tested my heart. Was I willing to do all the work of the ministry—for his pleasure only? Would I be faithful? He didn’t call me to be successful, he called me to be faithful.
One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much….♦
Also, he tested to see if I still wanted to be a pastor. It was relatively easy at the big church where I previously worked. Had a secretary, IT guy, janitors, everything. But what if he stripped all those conveniences away? Would I still want to pastor?
Yes. Yes! YES!!!
Of course, his greatest desire was that I be humbled.
I’m challenged quite regularly with my pridefulness. I’m the most prideful of all humans ever in the history of the world! (See? There I go again.) I thought that because I was trained at the best church in the world, (Hope Chapel, Hermosa Beach), that people would just stream in because of my efforts, my rightly dividing the Word, my evangelism prowess. (See? “My, my, my.”)
I had to completely, entirely, with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, rely totally, utterly, unreservedly on Jesus.
With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
Strangely, just as all the doors in Dripping Springs were closed, every door in Johnson City seemed to be opening. New people are visiting, excited for something new to happen. On the day of the vote we had 65 people in attendance, to me, a megachurch. This was the largest gathering they’ve had in quite a while.
It sure is funny how the sanctuary looks almost exactly like the one in Hope Chapel, Hermosa before they remodeled.
What a coincidence that all this transpired after my decision to put my family first and after starting a prayer newsletter.
But what about that anti-California bias? Would it happen in Johnson City, too? Well, the great-great grandfather of one of the elders in our church founded Johnson City. You can’t get more Texan than that. He even came over with his tractor and shredded (mowed) our acreage! The second elder invited me over to see his gun collection. That’s Texas bonding. The third elder had me over for a lunch of venison sausage.
Another member also had a great-great grandfather who founded a city, the city of Hye, right next to our town.
95% of the congregation lives in Johnson City…and they don’t hate me! Not one negative word has been said about my Golden State origins. This is all too good to be true. And with a church property on ten acres…that is completely paid for?
I’m sure glad I didn’t quit and even happier that God didn’t either.
I still haven’t finished my book, “Disappointment With God.” Yet.
And my darn hip still really hurts—right at “Jacob’s Socket.”
It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply. —A. W. Tozer
We really need your prayers. May I sign you up for our prayer newsletter? Email me: PastorSteveAtHope@yahoo.com
Now that the doors of Hope Chapel Hill Country were closed forever I put all my eggs in one basket by hoping against all hope, that the congregation of Community Church of the Hills in Johnson City, Texas, would want me as their pastor. The YES/NO vote was scheduled for Sunday, August 30, 2015. But before the people voted, this is what I told them they could expect from me…. Please start this series at Part 1 by clicking here.
A Vision for Community Church of the Hills
I want to start off this morning by saying thank you. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to preach the past seven weeks and for allowing me to get to know a little of this body of believers in this fellowship called Community Church of the Hills. Read the rest of this entry »
Closed doors in Dripping Springs. Hope Chapel Hill Country, our church plant, was ending. Yet God told me to wait. And wait. And wait. For what? Possibly this: A man in our congregation said that the pastor of his old church just resigned. I thought about his comment for three days then called an elder of Community Church of the Hills in Johnson City where we currently lived… (Click here to start at part 1.)
When we moved to Texas I promised my wife a horse; it had been her dream since she was five-years-old. The problem was, where we lived in Dripping Springs we could never own one because of the zoning ordinances.
Karen is a Proverbs 31 woman. “She considers a field and buys it.” She has found every home we’ve lived in since we were married, so the least I could do was honor her desire to have a dream fulfilled.
So we moved to Johnson City, hometown of our 36th president.
My wife found a great deal on a cabin on a few acres, so we moved for the fourth time in four years—deep into the country. Real country. Like big bugs, snakes and coyote country.
And, yes, Karen realized her dream with Niccolo, well trained, sweet, and purchased for only one dollar!
But Johnson City? The commute was about half an hour, only fifteen minutes more than I was used to driving when I lived in Drippin’. I was at Hope Chapel Hill Country or on the streets about six days a week, but, as you know, there weren’t a whole lot of people beating a path to our doors, hence the thought that perhaps my time in vocational ministry was coming to a close.
Another Scripture kept nagging me during this time: Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed… (Romans 4:18)
Yeah, right. But that was Abraham. This is me, Lord. I saw no happy ending, no light at the end of the tunnel. No nothin’.
Yes. I was bummed.
Still, we lived in the beautiful country alongside the fire ants and sand burs, multi-daggered pods that hurt more coming out of your socks than going in.
And this cute, giant red-headed centipede I found in our mulch pile is better than coffee for giving you a sudden jolt in the morning!
Sadly, the scariest thing in Texas has not been the critters and natural disasters but issues with neighbors concerning an easement we have to use to cross their property. In Texas, “easements are a four letter word,” one Realtor told us. It’s been a very, very challenging situation involving sheriffs and lawyers.
But, since they are our neighbors, we pray for them and try to bless them to win them for Jesus. It’s probably best at this point to leave you with the words of ole Mr. Gump again:
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t believe that anything good was going to come of this. Perhaps God moved us all down to Texas to fulfill my wife’s dream of having a horse?
“Pastor Steve, the pastor of our old church just resigned today.”
Wait! There’s more! My wife got a little rattled by a rattlesnake in our yard on Mother’s Day.
She took care of that disturbance with her cute little pink-handled .038.
One Shot Mama!
Without warning, my hip suddenly went out. Too much wrestling with God, I guess.
Then, one day I went to the movies with my oldest daughter and when we got out of the theater, those historic Central Texas floods came, almost washing away our cars and reaching within twenty feet of our house! We couldn’t get home, leaving Karen and Laurel stranded for two days.
Was it the Revenge of the Rattler?
Our move to Johnson City was no picnic at all, no Sir. You know why Texans are so tough? Texas is tough.
A Nevadan, a Californian and a Texan were out riding their horses.
The Nevadan pulled out an expensive bottle of tequila, took a long draught, then another, and suddenly threw it into the sky, pulled out his gun and shot the bottle in midair. The Californian looked at the Nevadan and said, “What are you doing? That was a perfectly good bottle of tequila!! The Nevadan replied, “In Nevada, there’s plenty of tequila and bottles are cheap.
A while later, not wanting to be outdone, the Californian pulled out a bottle of champagne, took a few sips, threw the half-full bottle into the clouds, pulled out his gun, and shot it midair. The Texan couldn’t believe this and said “What in tarnation did you do that for? That was an expensive bottle of bubbly! The Californian replied, “In California there is plenty of champagne and bottles are cheap.”
Still later, the Texan pulled out a bottle of Balcones Corn Whiskey, opened it, took a sip, took another sip, then chugged the rest. He then put the bottle back in his saddlebag, pulled out his gun, turned, and shot the Californian. The shocked Nevadan said “Why in the heck did you do that?” The Texan replied, “Well, in Texas, we have plenty of Californians and bottles are worth a nickel.”
The Christian life is tough. Church planting is tough. Tough! Tough! Tough!
Yet, after all this, just a few days before I was going to call the Funeral Home and prepare for my burial, that wonderful phrase was uttered in my ear after church on that fateful Sunday: “Pastor Steve, the pastor of our old church just resigned today.”
My three day wait resulted in action: I called an elder of the church after getting his number from the man in our congregation. It turns out we had met a few months prior at a high school play my daughter was in, and he was a good neighbor who lived right down the road.
I called. He answered. I told him that I may be available to pastor at their church since our new church wasn’t quite working out. “That’s propitious,” he replied.
I had to look that word up:
The problem? This elder was in Alaska for a month on vacation.
Oh great! Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…
He gave me the number of another elder. I called him and sent my resume and bio. I wrote down everything I ever did, with links, so there would be nothing hidden. “I’ll get back to you,” he promised.
A day passed. Then another. I called him back. We scheduled a lunch with yet another elder—and our meeting lasted 3 1/2 hours! We all hit it off! We had a great time! At the end of our meeting one of them said, “This sounds like this is an answer to prayer.”
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…
I made arrangements to preach there, but had to make a decision: preaching at Community Church of the Hills meant not preaching at Hope Chapel Hill Country.
I called Pastor Zac back in California. “Preach there six times and get back to me,” he said. “You want not only the elders to like you but the congregation to want you.”
This would take some time.
I made it a point to greet everyone by name and to look them in the eye when I did so. That’s what Pastor Zac did. He memorized thousands of names and greeted everyone by name when they attended service each week. I asked him once how he did it. His reply? “Because it’s important to me.”
After the second week of preaching there, the elders gave me a key to the church. What?
The building sits on ten acres of Hill Country, has a sanctuary that easily seats 500 people, and the fellowship hall is equally big. The best news? It’s completely paid off!!!
But the people! Warm, loving, committed, about fifty of them. Gracious, encouraging and enthusiastic. And did I say dedicated? This fellowship has had four pastors in ten years, but there is a core group of people who has stayed and stayed and stayed.
Hope Chapel Hill Country, though it had dwindled to about ten souls, including my family, were similarly committed, and they came over to Johnson City with me.
Wow! A congregation of sixty! And more people showed up the next week!
Will I be their pastor? I hope so. I continue to meet with the elders every week. There’s a lot of work to do—people work—getting to know how to love and serve this wonderful body of believers.
But they have to want me.
The vote—for me—is on August 30.
I gave thirty days’ notice on Hope Chapel Hill Country’s lease.
Am I concerned? Will this be another big disappointment with God?
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed..
If this should come to pass, one thing’s for sure: pastoring a flock is always an impossible task.
The doors were now closed at Hope Chapel Hill Country, as were every other door in Dripping Springs where I was called to plant a church. But God wasn’t done. He wanted me to do something I have never been good at…. (Please start at part 1 by clicking here.)
Through this agonizing time when I thought that the end was near, God was right by my side, encouraging me with frustrating commands in my morning devotional readings. He would remind me time and again of what I needed to do, what I had to do, something I hated–something that everybody hates–and, of course, it would be another impossible task.
Yet, I had no choice. I had to do it. And I did it.
Continually, day after day, I would read some version of “Wait on the Lord.” Over and over: “Wait on the Lord.”
Like this from Spurgeon:
It may seem an easy thing to wait, but it is one of the postures which a Christian soldier can not learn without years of teaching. Marching and quick-marching are much easier for God’s warriors than standing still. There are hours of perplexity when the most willing spirit, anxiously desirous to serve the Lord, does not know what role to play. Then what shall it do? Vex itself by despair? Retreat back in cowardice, turn to the right hand in fear, or rush forward in presumption? No, but simply wait. Wait in prayer, however.
WAIT? FOR WHAT AND FOR HOW LONG? Was God going to just suddenly bring 50 people off the street to form an instant congregation? Time is running out, God, can’t you see?
Every time I would check in with my pastor in California, I had no good news: No progress. No new visitors. No nothin’.
I had to wait.
WAIT!What the heck am I waiting for? How will I know when it comes?
I hate to admit it, but I was more in line with the philosophy of actor Bradley Whitford than the truth of the Bible:
“Infuse your life with action. Don’t wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope. Make your own love. And whatever your beliefs, honor your creator, not by passively waiting….”
In May I traveled to California to go to a Men’s Retreat and visit my “sending” congregation. Perhaps I might glean some encouragement there. I had a chance to speak a few minutes at all four services on the weekend. Here’s what I said: “Many of you are probably wondering how big our church is. Well, if my family shows up on Sunday and we get 86 visitors, we will have 100 people.” There was scattered applause until I clarified what I meant.
When I returned to Texas I had made a commitment: to spend more time with my family and less time church-planting. Why? All my best efforts seemed to be for naught. I may as well spend my time in a more useful and productive way.
“The LORD is my strength” to sit still. And what a difficult accomplishment that is! I often say to others during those times when I’m compelled to be still, “If only I could do something!” I feel like the mother who stands by her sick child but is powerless to heal. What a severe test! Yet to do nothing except to sit still and wait requires tremendous strength. —Streams in the Desert
God had put me on the backside of Midian with Moses and there was nothing I could do about it. I shared a cistern and prison cell with Joseph. I sat next to John, exiled on Patmos for his testimony about Christ, but got no revelation.
In other words, I was in good company.
Remain still before him, and stop your own restless working until He begins to work. Do nothing that He Himself has not commanded you to do. Allow God time to work and He surely will. Then the very trials that threatened to overcome you with discouragement and disaster will become God’s opportunity to reveal His grace and glory in your life, in ways you have never known before. —A. B. Simpson
God was breaking me.
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
Those were the Apostle Paul’s words. But I was perplexed. I was in despair, I felt abandoned by God and was ready to be destroyed. This was a huge horrible mistake moving to Texas, but I could not deny God’s direct call.(Read about it here.)
Oh, did I mention that things were very tense on the home-front? I’ll quote Forrest Gump:
Also, I never knew about the anti-Californian prejudice in Dripping Springs until it was too late.
You see, Drippin’ used to be a cozy community—they used to have only one stop light—and everyone knew each other until about seven years ago. The tech industry is big in Austin, only about thirty minutes away, so multitudes of Northern Californians moved from Silicon valley to Austin to Drip. “And they come with their liberal politics and their money and raise all the property values.” It’s now just another ‘burb filling up with Golden State Google-ites.
I started considering what else I might do. Should I get a commercial driver’s license and be a trucker?
Maybe I should go back to the grocery store where I previously worked for a total of 21 years? Or did God bring me out to Texas to take me out of vocational ministry all together?
My last ditch effort was advertising. I won a free ad in a local publication and made the most of it. (This is what I wrote.) I bought some inches in a special rodeo advertising insert. I was gonna write columns in two papers and call it “Pastor’s Point-of-view.”
I hired a website optimization firm to place our website on the first page of a Google search. (Currently, we were on page five. It’s said that you can hide a dead body on page two.) I was going to do a mass mailing to the apartments that banned me. Ha! Ha! Can’t stop the junk mail! I even toyed with the idea of giving every visitor a hundred dollars to visit us. Really!
The Lord spoke softly to my heart: “Wait. “I’ve stilled and quieted my soul like a weaned child with its mother.” Wait.”
But wait in faith. Express your unstaggering confidence in him; for unfaithful, untrusting waiting, is just an insult to the Lord. Believe that if he keeps you waiting until midnight, he will still come at the right time; the vision shall come and not delay. Wait in quiet patience, not rebelling because things are difficult, but blessing your God for the privilege of affliction. Never grumble against the second cause, as the children of Israel did against Moses; never wish you could go back to [California] again, but accept the circumstance as it is….—Spurgeon
I filled out an application to set up a booth with the local Farmer’s Market as a last ditch resort—but that, too, was rejected.
Remember the opening credits of the old TV show ”Get Smart”? He walked through all those open doors. That was exactly like me—only in reverse. I couldn’t get through one door even though I stood and knocked—and knocked—then tried to kick it in. No windows of opportunity opened. My prayers bounced off the ceilings!
The Lord spoke to my heart again: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much…”
A man who had been attending Hope Chapel Hill Country for about a year said this to me on Sunday, June 28, after service: “Pastor Steve, the pastor of our old church just resigned today.”
I thought about his comment all day Sunday. Then on Monday. On Tuesday, while in my office, late in the afternoon, I made a call to an elder of the church whose pastor just resigned….and it seemed that the waiting may have been worth it.
…simply and with your whole heart, without any selfish agenda, into the hand of your covenant God, [say], “Now, Lord, not my will, but yours be done. I do not know what to do; I am at the end of myself, but I will wait until you part the floods, or drive back my enemies. I will wait, even if you test me for awhile, for my heart is fixed upon you alone, O God, and my spirit waits for you in the deep conviction that you will still be my joy and my salvation, my refuge and my strong tower. —Charles Spurgeon, of course.
On June 28, 2015, I preached for the last time at Hope Chapel Hill Country and shut the doors….
I picked up Phillip Yancey’s book, “Disappointment with God,” to get some encouragement because of my depressed state: Our church plant in Dripping Springs, Texas, just wasn’t working out.
After relocating from L.A. to just outside of Austin on September 29, 2013, I was hopeful. I thought that since I was directly called by God to plant a church (read about that here), God would use me and my family to start a great new work. After all, the city of Dripping Springs was a fast-growing suburb of Austin expected to increase by 6% this year; people were primarily unchurched, with some estimates saying 1 out of 10 weren’t in fellowship; there were 30 to 40,000 people in this area, so there was plenty of room for us; besides all that, a brand new housing community with thousands of new homes was soon to be constructed—right across from Hope Chapel Hill Country!
Things were very hopeful in the beginning: The first six months we had visitors every week. In fact, we had nearly 150 visitors in a year and a half! Our small fellowship was sweet; I preached expository sermons; we had Christ-exalting worship with a mixture of contemporary music and updated traditional hymns; there was a strong “meet and greet” time, and people didn’t leave right after the service, but stayed to get to know each other better.
Generously supported by my home church, Hope Chapel, Hermosa Beach, I was highly motivated to get this church going. (I wrote on April 1, 2014 in a blog post entitled “10 Things God Didn’t Tell Me Before Moving to Texas,”that I didn’t realize how “much I would enjoy planting Hope Chapel Hill Country.”) I understood that Christ builds his church, but it was up to me to do the work. So I worked. But not much “worked”:
I personally handed out nearly 2,000 invitations, Gospel tracts with our church info on them.
I went door-to-door inviting people to our fellowship until I was banned from the apartment complex directly behind our church.
In the neighborhood where we lived I invited people to our home Bible study. We had up to 14 people attending, including my family, until the adults started dropping off their kids and we had to cancel it.
I went to the local Senior Activities Center for almost 2 years trying to get to know these active elders who were multi-generational Dripping Springs’ families, but was opposed on every side by the cranky manager, a 76-year-old lady who never, ever liked me.
I put out sandwich boards every week on the highway advertising our Sunday meeting, made signs and handed out flyers.
I had a radio show for six months on the local station KDRP. Not one person visited as a result of the program. (A guy working in an Austin Costco said he listened and would visit the church. He didn’t.)
I met with the local pastors regularly. One cautioned me by saying, “There is a 100% failure rate from pastors who ‘parachute in’ to start a church.”
The new librarian said I couldn’t hand out Gospel tracts in the public library. The store manager of the local H-E-B grocery store said I couldn’t hand out tracts there either.
I joined the Chamber of Commerce and went to mixers; still, no one visited.
I contacted the Acts 29 Network, a church planting organization, asking for advice and help, but couldn’t even get an email response.
I even tried contacting a local Austin pastor/author, who had just finished writing a book on how to win people to Christ called “The Unbelievable Gospel,” but after calling him four times, never got a return call.
Then I read this quote: “When God wants to do an impossible task, He takes an impossible man and crushes him.”
That was meant for me. I can relate. I’m an impossible man. This is an impossible task. What sealed this “coincidence” for me though, was this was said in 1959…the year I was born, which really drove this truth home.
Frustratingly, Hope Chapel Hill Country could gain no traction. People came and left. Coming to our church was like going to a party at 2AM, after everybody had gone home. I started to dread Sundays, regularly telling my family that we might be the only ones sitting in service today. (They got tired of that one.)
Charles Spurgeon wrote, “As Rachel cried, ‘Give me children, or I die,’ so may none of you be content to be barren in the household of God. Cry and sigh until you have snatched some brand from the burning, and have brought at least one sinner to Jesus Christ.”
I cried out nearly everyday: “LORD! GIVE ME CHILDREN OR I WILL DIE!!!”
I grew discouraged. Lord! Don’t you know what’s happening down here? Were there not enough graves in L.A.? (Yes. I said that. I sounded a lot like a grumbling Israelite in my prayer time.)
Yet regularly in my morning devotional reading, God would remind me of what I needed to do, something I hated–something that everybody hates–and would be another impossible task.
Yet, I had no choice. I had to do it. And I did it.
Yes. That’s right. I’ve been a Christian for nearly 25 years and a pastor for over 17, yet 10 years ago I gave it all up.
Furthermore, six years ago I was an active member of A.A.
How could this be? Have I been the biggest hypocrite in the world? How is it I became sober just 10 years ago and yet have pastored for 17?
Well, I became sober-minded.
On July 31st of 2005, Ray Comfort taught “Hell’s Best Kept Secret”at our church; after hearing it—and applying it to my life—I felt that I was born again, again.
A whole new world opened up to me; I actually became concerned for the lost. More importantly, after using the 10 Commandments in my Gospel presentations, the lost became concerned that they were lost, even thanking me for sharing Jesus with them. Amazing.
Gospel tracts? Those were so…so… 70s! Since that first exposure to this wonderful tool, my former church, Hope Chapel, has handed out probably close to 4 million of them.
I now celebrate 10 years of freedom from proclaiming a man-centered, “God-loves-you-and-has-a-wonderful-plan-for-your-life” Gospel.
Things will never be the same.
And what about that AA membership? That would be the Ambassadors’ Academy, the now-defunct evangelistic training arm of The Way of the Master, where I had the great privilege to serve as a team leader for a few years.
A man was out sailing just off the coast of the Big Island when he saw what appeared to be a woman swimming next to her capsized catamaran.
“Are you okay?” he shouted as he slowly sailed by.
“I’m good,” she replied.
“You sure?” he asked again.
“I’m very good!” she assured him.
Having been a lifeguard for many years in Hawaii, he was not convinced. He noticed that she was not really swimming, but just trying to keep her head above water. He saw the strain on her face and the slight panic in her eyes. Anchoring his boat, the lifeguard dove in and made his way toward the oblivious—or self-deceived—woman. “I’m coming to save you,” he called out between the swells.
“I—told—you—I’m—good,” she sputtered, inhaling a mouthful of water.
“Don’t worry,” the lifeguard shouted, “I’m almost there.” He swam furiously, knowing there wasn’t much time before she disappeared beneath the waves.
He reached out to grab her arm but the excited woman batted it away. As he grabbed her roughly with both hands, she escaped his grip, flailed, then slapped at him. Tugging at her hair, he yanked once, pulling her toward him. He put her in a headlock, then tried pulling her to his vessel while swimming on his back.
The drowning woman continued to kick and scream; she hit and clawed in her fury, yet the lifeguard held on even more tightly. He still had her by the throat with one arm, the other holding her hair tightly.
He kicked and kicked and kicked until he pulled her—quite violently— into his craft. She then gouged at his eyes and bit him so hard he had to let go because of the pain.
Under the water she disappeared.
A fishing boat stopped near the sailboat to take in the drama. The fishermen watched the action play out and the rough treatment of the woman as the lifeguard struggled to save her. They watched the rescue, then the death.
After it was over, the crew heaped criticism after criticism upon the lifeguard. “You could have done that a whole lot better,” one suggested.
Another offered, “If you had been swimming alongside her until you got to know her better, she might have listened to you. Then you would have saved her.”
A pleasure cruiser full of partiers pulled up alongside the sailboat. Its drunken clients, senseless and irrational, also heaped scorn upon the lifeguard. “You were a real jerk the way you tried to save that lady,” one scolded.
“You were so rude!” another complained. “You should have just let her have her have own personal space.”
The lifeguard listened to everything the fishermen and drunkards said; he thoughtfully considered whether they indeed had a valid point. Then finally, exasperated, he uttered his defense: “I’m a lifeguard. I do what I can to save people.”
I apologized to the gay community on behalf of true Christians everywhere at the 2012 Pride Parade in West Hollywood—and plan on doing so again this Sunday, in 2013, when we attend!
Why will I apologize?
Because some Christians have shamelessly preached a hate-filled Gospel, misrepresenting their God-given ambassadorship on behalf of Christ to those lost in their Pride.
Do you, evangelist, have the same attitude as Catherine Booth, co-founder of the Salvation Army, when it comes to the lost? “Let them see the tears in your eyes; or, if you cannot weep, let them hear the tears in your voice, and let them realize that you feel their danger, and are in distress for them.”
The homosexual community, for the most part, hates born again Christians due to their judgmental, bile-spewing, finger-pointing “good news.” One street evangelist last year actually mocked the WeHo parade-goers, rebuking them, insulting them and inflaming them with unloving diatribe. Watch:
So, what will be my game-plan? The same as last year. Here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote before the 2012 Pride Parade detailing my intended dialogue:
…I’m called to go [to the Pride Parade] to show love, to speak truth… and to apologize on behalf of true Christians everywhere. I will tell them that I am sorry that the Christian community has not demonstrated tact, poise, reason and grace to those who are in dire need of a Savior.
Don’t get me wrong. I will talk about sin.
Inevitably, I will be asked: “Will God send me to Hell because I’m gay?”
My answer: “No one ever went to Hell because they are gay.”
Immediately, the person softens and I’m able to explain that they have sinned by breaking God’s ten Commandments. They will be judged for lying, stealing, looking with lust, hating or using God’s name as a cuss word. I warn that if they don’t change, they will end up in Hell because God is just. Then I remind them of God’s incredible grace, love and mercy as demonstrated on a cross. That if they repent and trust in Jesus, who suffered and died on their behalf, was buried for three days and rose again, they can be forgiven.
“So you see,” I’ll say, continuing the conversation, “it’s not about you being gay, it’s because you’ve sinned in these other ways. Homosexuality is a sin, it’s just not THE sin.”
When I speak to a gay person, I will be firm, but gentle—just like I am to everybody I talk to.
If I’m asked about whether gays should be married, I will not shrink back from the truth that marriage, as God created it, has always been between a man and a woman. We should never re-define a term to fit our culture’s preferences. Civil unions? Why not?
I will attempt to shake their hand, even give them a hug. I will ask them if they have ever met a Christian like me. Someone friendly, concerned, and gracious.
Every now and then I take my daughters to the campus of El Camino College where I share my faith on a weekly basis.
They are no idle participants.
Eight-year-old Laurel hands out Gospel tracts while her older sister D.D. takes students through entire Gospel presentations.
I’m very proud of my girls.
One benefit of having my kids on campus is that they get a true perspective of the world they live in—and the world they will grow up into.
We do not have cable television, enjoying instead all nine seasons of “Little House on the Prairie” on DVD. Rarely do we go to the movies. Rampant blasphemy and worldviews counter to our Christian values keep us away. There are very few video games; our kids actually enjoy playing with each other.
Our college excursions show my girls society as it really is, not as some Hollywood director chooses to portray it.
Sometimes they get an eyeful….
Recently, in the span of one hour, my girls watched me talk to a woman dressed like a guy—who felt that she really was a man in a woman’s body.
They saw me shake hands and greet Lena with a smile, a man dressed like a woman.
In light of the Supreme Court’s decision to redefine marriage today, here’s a re-post of an article I wrote back in 2006….
“We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!”
That was the ominous chant I heard twenty years ago on a news program from a pro-gay group called “Act-Up!” I didn’t think much about it then—after all, this was some strange, fringe, radical group that would never make an impact with their in-your-face methods. Boy, was I ever wrong! They’re here. I’m a Christian. What am I going to do about it?!
I ordered my coffee from the polite Barista at Starbucks and asked if he ever thought about where he would go when he died. “I don’t want to talk about this right now,” he said.
“Oh c’mon,” I pleaded with a smile. “Where do you think you would go, Heaven or Hell?”
“I don’t know,” he answered.
In a voice just above a whisper I encouraged him to stay with me because it was very important that we find out. “Have you ever lied?”
He reluctantly nodded again, then said, “I really don’t want to talk about religion…”
At this point I admit to pushing the envelope a little. I thought about it afterward (I’m not sure I would do this again), but the reality of Hell compelled me, and I didn’t want this poor guy to go there. I looked behind me; no one was in line. I spoke in a firm whisper and stated the obvious, “Look. I haven’t paid you yet.” I smiled again. “You kinda have to talk with me.”
He conceded the point.
“Jesus said that if you look at a woman lustfully you have committed adultery already with her in your heart. Have you ever looked at a woman with lust?”
There was a too-long pause. The Barista hung his head and looked up at me from beneath his baseball cap. I repeated the question, “Have you ever looked at a woman with lust?”
He shook his head “no” ever so slightly, so none of his co-workers could see.
In an even softer voice—respecting his reluctance—I restated the question. “Have you ever looked at a man with lust?”
He nodded “yes” without looking me in the eye.
What do you think I did? Shake my head in disgust and walk away? Pay quickly and leave him to face God’s wrath alone when he dies? Laugh and roll my eyes?
What would Jesus do, indeed?
I’m not exactly sure what Jesus would do; I don’t think he drank coffee…maybe a Mocha Frapp? I do know that He wouldn’t condemn this man. He would never shake a finger in his face. He wouldn’t pull out his big, big, Bible with the ribbon bookmark and shout, “Leviticus 18 says, ‘Thou shalt not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination!’” He wouldn’t wear a Christian “hate” T-shirt either. Nor organize rallies against…against…against….
Why wouldn’t Jesus do these things? Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.
Is homosexuality a sin? You bet it is. But so is heterosexual immorality—so is lying, stealing, murder and blasphemy. God won’t send Mr. Barista to Hell for being gay; he’ll send him there because he has broken God’s commandments, sinned against God, and has rejected Jesus Christ as the only sacrifice for his sins.
That’s why I pushed the envelope in a respectful, gentle—yet insistent way. That’s why I wasn’t thrown off my game plan. And that’s why I asked him the very next question without missing a beat: “Have you ever used God’s name in vain?”
I loved this guy so much I had to tell him that he was a liar, thief, adulterer and blasphemer. I loved this guy so much that I had to tell him that God would find him guilty of breaking His Commandments on Judgment Day. I loved this guy so much that I had to tell him of his eternal destiny in Hell if he didn’t repent and trust Jesus.
“I’m Jewish,” he replied.
“Then you’re missing your Messiah.” I told him to please consider what I said as I paid for my coffee and thanked him for listening. He admitted that the conversation was not that bad.
Every time I see him now, I just warmly say, “Hello.” I don’t need to say anything else. I want him to see Christ in me. I want him to see a nice Christian.
Because I’d like him to be attracted to another man: the God-man, Jesus.
If you must use some sort of exclamation to express disgust, extreme excitement or disappointment, may I suggest an alternative to the standard “Oh my G-d!”
Try this: “Oh my Ghandi!” It’s only one syllable longer and will definitely turn heads. This one, too, is great: “Oh my Buddha!” You’re sure to be the life of the party with that one. When visiting Hollywood, you can always try the unwieldy, but effective, “Oh my L. Ron Hubbard!”
In our evangelism efforts we use the Ten Commandments as God’s standard when asking people if they have sinned against him or not. If they have, then they are guilty and deserve Hell. We then explain Christ’s sacrificial death on a cross and how if one trusts in his finished work and repents of their sin, one may be saved.
One of the questions we ask a “sinner” is: Have you ever misused God’s name? Misusing His name is blasphemy and God will not hold anyone guiltless who does that. Sadly, many Christians do that all the time and are not even aware they’re doing it by using phrases such as “Oh my G-d!” or texting “OMG.”
So let’s try it. You hit your pinky with a hammer and exclaim: “Oh my Joseph Smith!” Good. Good.
Let’s try another. Someone just stole your wallet: “Oh my Longhorns!!!” (These days, sports are god to many people.) You’re rolling now.
Let’s try an Indian god after you stubbed your toe: “Oh my Saraswati-Ashtottara!”
If you really want to be bold, go to the middle east and shout “Oh my Muha—!”Oh, never mind. You don’t want to lose your head over that one.
If someone protests and asks you why you are using these names as exclamations, simply reply, “Because I do not want to misuse the name of my God. Have you ever misused God’s name?”
A new survey lists five reasons why people don’t go to church anymore; perhaps these are your reasons, too. Let me convince you of Hope Chapel Hill Country’s differences and why you might want to grow with a young church that opened its doors on the west side of Dripping Springs in 2014.
#1: The Church is Irrelevant: As a non-denominational Christian church we are committed to teaching the Bible, verse-by-verse, in a way that is practical, relatable and understandable to today’s culture. God’s Word speaks to every circumstance of life and we’ll prove it to you!
#2: The Leaders are Hypocritical: The Pastor, Steve Sanchez—me—admits that I am indeed a hypocrite, because I’m not perfect. And neither are you. Let’s meet up!
#3: God is Missing in the Church: If you’d like to experience God in a small yet growing church that has Christ-exalting contemporary worship music mixed with traditional hymns, Communion every week, and a thirty minute expository message, then we invite you to come as you are, dressed as you are, to our ninety minute service. You will see that God’s not missing! (And He’s very different than what you’ve seen on the Web.)
#4: Legitimate Doubt is Forbidden: Please come with all your questions, reservations, doubts, misgivings and unbelief. Hey! I had the same suspicions you had at one time. I may not be able to answer all your questions, but I’ll sure as heck try. Besides, it’s fun to play “Stump the Pastor.”
#5: There’s No Genuine Community: We’re an imperfect, loving community striving to follow Jesus daily. Our goals are to love God, love people and serve the world.
There’s no safer place to bring your problems and burdens so we can listen and pray for you, even offer practical help, like we also do within the community. We also have free food every 2nd and 4th Sunday. Children are, of course, welcome.
To see what we believe, please go to www.HopeChapelHillCountry.org And, of course, you can stay up to date with us on Facebook/HopeChapelHillCountry.
I have a humble suggestion for you and a brotherly rebuke if you like to comment on Facebook posts and websites:
Many of you know that I have been an ardent evangelist for over ten years and am unafraid and unashamed of the Gospel. I can handle curses, bottles hurled at me, insults and the occasional punch thrown in my direction. (You can verify all this by searching this blog.) So, what I am about to say is not done out of cowardice, appeasement or liberalism, but out of love.
Awhile ago I posted what I thought was a humorous article called “The Gospel According to Led Zeppelin” using one of their own songs to show that they thought that they were good people and could earn their way into Heaven. I used a few of their song titles in the post as allusions, metaphors and puns to make my point.
I posted it on Facebook and got the predictable tepid response when adding a link to an outside source, especially if it’s something I wrote.
But, then everything changed.
I noticed 30 comments. Then 50. Then 70+. Wow! Were that many people truly interested in my whimsical opinion of the state of Zep’s soul?
Of course not.
An atheist weighed in with a trollish comment and derailed everything.
Now, I love atheists. I love unbelievers. I love anyone who identifies as LGBPTTQQIIAA+3.165. In fact, I try to love any person, especially if they don’t agree with me or believe what I believe.
And there’s the rub.
About 90% of the comments on my Facebook post were totally unrelated to what I wrote, but devolved into a tit for tat argument against one atheist’s opinion.
My humble suggestion to believers who read this: Stop acting like know-it-alls, inquisitors and Pharisees. Be nice. You don’t have to argue your point ad nauseam to a deaf, dumb and blind person, especially on a post that was not designed for that.
You were baited. You were teased. Trolled. Punked. Gotcha-d!
When other unbelievers read all your multitudes of “evangelistic” comments, it sounds like a verbal dog pile.
Of course, you are right. You have the truth. God has opened your heart to the good news of Jesus saving sinners from their sins by his death, burial and resurrection. Why argue? A fact is a fact.
By the way, isn’t it God who saves anyway?
I’m not saying you shouldn’t be evangelistic, but try to be a friend as well, even with a trolling unbeliever.
It certainly extends courtesy to the post writer.
Now, for my rebuke: Re-read the above.
Here’s a tool. You can watch it right now. It’s a documentary about the curious friendship between militant atheist Christopher Hitchens and solidly fundamental pastor Douglas Wilson. It’s called “Collision.”
They vehemently disagreed about spiritual matters, yet remained good friends until Hitchens’ death. They will never see each other again, but Wilson made the best of the time he had with his atheist friend.
Please try and do the same.
And stay on topic.
Post Script:What inspired me to write this was a friend I hadn’t seen in over 30 years unfriended me because of this “well-intentioned” Christian discussion. I was reconnecting with him on Facebook, but all the negative comments on the Led Zep post, not the post itself, turned him off. And, yes, he is an unbeliever. (I did, however, convince him to “friend” me again.)
Also, you may notice the subtle gospel presentation in this post. And, if you read the original Led Zep post, there is another Gospel message hidden in the humor. Why argue? Just send the link to your friends and wait for the response.
Post Script 2:In reading this rebuke first posted on Facebook, a Christian reader commented, completely missing the point. Read and weep:
What fellowship does light have with darkness.. we are not called to make friends we are called to make disciples..it wouldn’t be worth it to me if He never made it in.. Jesus never went around making friends with everybody.. He went about preaching and teaching the kingdom.. He said he who is not with me is against me and he that does not gather with me scatters. proverbs says depart from an evil man when you since not the wisdom of God in him. Those that didn’t believe couldnt hang simple as that.. maybe not by Christ own Choice or desire, but when your on a mission from heaven and unwilling to compromise what you believe, people recognize it and stay away.. which explains why Jesus lost so many disciples.. Id rather be like Jesus!
I recently heard that Robert Plant, former Led Zeppelin front man, lived with his girlfriend in Wimberley, a town near Austin, where Hope Chapel Hill Country is located. Being a former Zep fanatic, (I saw them in their last tour in L.A., about 1979), I wanted to meet him and hand him a Gospel tract.
But, I thought, perhaps he already knew the Savior? By listening to one of the band’s heaviest, coolest, jammin’, rockin’ heavy metal songs ever, I discovered almost iron-clad proof to bolster my suspicions….
It may just be that he’s a bit Dazed and Confused. Judging from the rest of the song’s lyrics, Robert Plant thinks he’s a good person:
Oh, Saint Peter, at the gates of heaven… Won’t you let me in? I never did no harm. I never did no wrong
Oh, Gabriel, let me blow your horn. Let me blow your horn Oh, I never did, did no harm.
I never thought I’d do anybody no wrong No, not once.
Oh, I did somebody some good. Somebody some good… Oh, did somebody some good. I must have did somebody some good… Oh, I believe I did
What Robert may not know is this: There is no one good enough, not one. There is not one good thing he can do to blow Gabriel’s horn. If he’s ever broken any of the 10 Commandments by lying, stealing, or misusing God’s name—even once—God will see him as a lying thief and a blasphemer. God sees hatred and anger as murder, lust as adultery.
St. Peter will not let him in, because of his sin. When found guilty, he will spend eternity in Hell as just punishment for cosmic treason against his Creator. And it will be Nobody’s Fault But His.
Still, there’s hope, though. And Led Zeppelin seems to know it toward the end of the tune:
Oh, Lord, deliver me All the wrong I’ve done You can deliver me, Lord
Yes, he can be delivered when he trusts Jesus and what He did on that cross 2,000 years ago. He died for our sins, was buried, and on the third day rose again. If Robert Plant repents and trusts Christ, he will be forgiven. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
I wanted so badly to give my former idol the Gospel and invite him to our church. He doesn’t seem to mind Houses of the Holy.
Alas, it’s clear from the interviews he’s been giving…that Plant has pulled up his Austin stakes and returned to his homeland of England.
“I was very fortunate to enjoy great friendships in Austin, which I sadly miss. I found their hospitality and charm in Austin second to none. But I was yearning for a musical project. My work with American musicians has faltered and come to a natural, suitable finale. My family was saying, “Where has he gone?” And I was thinking, Where have I gone? …So I had to come back.”
(This is a repeat of the above article with a different title.)
I recently heard that Robert Plant, former Led Zeppelin front man, lived with his girlfriend in Wimberley, a town near Austin, where Hope Chapel Hill Country is located. Being a former Zep fanatic, (I saw them in their last tour in L.A., about 1979), I wanted to meet him and hand him a Gospel tract. Read the rest of this entry »
The story is told of a king in Africa who had a close friend with whom he grew up. The friend had a habit of looking at every situation that ever occurred in his life, positive or negative, and remarking, “This is good!”
One day the king and his friend were out on a hunting expedition. The friend would load and prepare the guns for the king. The friend had apparently done something wrong in preparing one of the guns, for after taking the gun from his friend, the king fired it and his thumb was blown off. Examining the situation, the friend remarked as usual, “This is good!”
To which the king replied, “No, this is not good!” and proceeded to send his friend to jail.
About a year later, the king was hunting in an area that he should have known to stay clear of. Cannibals captured him and took him to their village. They tied his hands, stacked some wood, set up a stake and bound him to the stake.
As they came near to set fire to the wood, they noticed that the king was missing a thumb. Being superstitious, they never ate anyone who was less than whole. So untying the king, they sent him on his way.
As he returned home, he was reminded of the event that had taken his thumb and felt remorse for his treatment of his friend. He went immediately to the jail to speak with his friend.
“You were right,” he said, “it was good that my thumb was blown off.” And he proceeded to tell the friend all that had just happened. “And so, I am very sorry for sending you to jail for so long. It was bad for me to do this.”
“No,” his friend replied, “This is good!”
“What do you mean, ‘This is good?’ How could it be good that I sent my friend to jail for a year?”
“If I had not been in jail, I would have been with you.”
God was pleased to crush Jesus and put him under all that suffering knowing that we would be saved by His death. That’s real love. What truly seemed so horrible and tragic was really… very good!
After getting yelled at and having the door slammed on me by the Center’s manager for talking to her about Jesus I thought it would be wise to wait a week to see what would happen. In the meantime, I tried to arrange a mediation with a common friend, but that never materialized.
I considered my legal options, and thought about having a lawyer send a letter, but changed my mind. A good friend told me, “This is Texas. We try not to use lawyers if we don’t have to. We deal with one another one-on-one.”
So, that was my plan: One-on-one.
I waited one week.
The next week I was on vacation, so I couldn’t make it.
The following week I was sick.
After a 21 day hiatus, (Hey! Didn’t Daniel wrestle in prayer for three weeks before his request was answered?), I arrived at the Seniors Center with two of my friends—as witnesses, just in case.
The whole issue revolved around my handing out Gospel tracts or displaying them for all to see on the table. Should I bring them in? That’s what I’ve always done.
I put some trillion dollar bills in my vest pocket, and, after sitting down at the table, put a few “Are you a good person?” tracts on my bible—like always.
Then I waited.
There was no hushed silence. No dramatic music swelled in the background. No conspiratorial whispers could be heard. No one averted their eyes.
Spotting the manager, I smiled; it was not returned.
I engulfed my hot chicken-fried chicken and endured a cold shoulder.
An uneasy peace. Detente.
Romans 12:8 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
And that I will do. But I will not be silent about my Savior.
I started my commitment today to invite ten people a day, five days a week, to Hope Chapel Hill Country. Also, to engage in one Gospel-centered conversation each day as well.
I do this primarily by handing out a Gospel tract, (usually a trillion dollar bill or a Giant $100), along with a flyer containing our church info on it. I got a little out of the habit because, frankly, it is labor, at times humiliating, and, well, sometimes I just didn’t want to do it. The interesting thing is, more people visited when I handed out the invitations.
Now, before you say, “Duh!” let me explain:
The vast majority of the visitors we have had–over 140 of them since opening January 5, 2013–did not come as a result of my inviting them. I believe that they came because God was sending them independent of my actions. I did the inviting, but God brought those He wanted. When I slowed down, he did, too.
Coincidence? I don’t think so. Christ said that He will build His church.
Steve has been blogging here since 2006 and is currently planting a church near Austin, Texas called Hope Chapel Hill Country (HopeChapelHillCountry.org). Steve and his family live in Dripping Springs. It is his goal to share his faith everyday.