So, its Saturday evening and I’m in Southern California. I’m here for the 50th anniversary of Grace Community Church – the church where I grew up. I made my first steps toward the Savior at 6 years old when our Mormon neighbors invited me to go with them to this new church just up the street (I don’t recall why they were going. Hey, I was only 6!). I have a few snippets of memory about that time, but the clearest was Mrs. Michaelson … she was kind, pretty, and told me about Jesus. I don’t think the neighbors ever went back to the church, but I know I did. I even remember walking the two-and-a-half blocks to church every Sunday – talk about a different time – we wouldn’t let a six year-old walk next door anymore!
I think I was at Sunday School almost weekly for years. I know I got a Sunday School attendance award at least once. I got a bit sporadic in Junior High, but I do remember the Marriott’s being the class leaders and they called me often … demonstrating care that I probably never really understood at the time. Of course, Mrs. Michaelson never seemed to forget about me. She had learned that I loved to read and since she was the librarian she always let me know when a new Sugar Creek Gang book came out.
The church hired a new youth director just before I entered High School. I had begun to blow church off more and more every Sunday – no one was making me get up. But someone told me that Paul Sailhamer was really great, young, played fun piano, and really cared about teenagers – even if they weren’t cool. Since I wasn’t cool that sounded good to me and God once again wooed me back to His church. Somewhere in the winter of my Sophomore year I made that final step towards God. A year later I decided that I wanted to be a youth pastor someday. A few months after that I had a rare experience of really feeling a “call” to be a youth pastor. And a year later in my Senior year a young pastor was called to shepherd Grace Community. John MacArthur was amazing. He taught the Bible in such a way that we couldn’t get enough. Sunday morning and Sunday evening and even on Wednesday nights at prayer meeting he brought the Scriptures to life. I became a volunteer Junior High leader at Grace with Darryl Delhousaye (now president of Phoenix Seminary), met my wife working with those Junior Highers, took on more responsibility as a volunteer, and ultimately was hired part-time to pastor junior high when they split the youth group in 1972.
They paid me very little, but told me that I could make some extra working in the church bookstore if I wanted. Problem? The bookstore didn’t exist yet so I had the joy of starting up “Grace Book Shack” with an older man in the church. Eventually it made enough to pay me and somehow I was able to oversee that ministry for 12 years along with my other responsibilities. After 7 years with Junior High I thought my youth ministry days were over – I wasn’t sure that I could take another Junior High lock-in! John asked me to take on a different ministry – bringing Pastors and leaders to the church to learn from us rather always sending John to other conferences. Planning and executing that first Shepherds’ Conference was one of the most amazing opportunities to see God at work. In the midst of that year, our High School director left and I was asked to take on the High School ministry. After that seven-year stint it I moved on to Crossroads Bible Church in Bellevue – a whole new story.
So much for the bare outlines of thirty years. Obviously there is much more that happened … good and bad. I can’t believe all the mistakes I made, the patience of those who worked with me, the people who helped me to grow in Christ and as a pastor. Dozens of other men and women served God faithfully during those same years at Grace Church but I’ve been thinking about those years a bit more tonight in anticipation of seeing some old friends tomorrow. Obviously the perspective I have is mine. But one thing that just about anyone who was involved at Grace during those years would say is that they were amazing as we watched God build a local church. I still can’t believe that God would use me, but then again one of the great lessons John MacArthur taught us was that God likes to use “nobodies”:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:26-31, ESV)
PostScript for Bloggers: I came into town a early since I’m using flyer miles and stopped by Grace to You to visit some friends. Todd gave me the 50 cent tour on which I actually walked into the office of Head Pyro and Spurgeon guy – Phil Johnson.