Almost five year ago, we stood on a stage in Russellville and were commissioned by the church of my youth to go. It wasn't quite the go we'd been begging God for for almost ten years. We were those folks that the bible calls rare that actually want to go overseas- anywhere...but he consistently closed the door. But the door that he opened was one to NorthWest Arkansas. Of all the places...
We moved to Bella Vista to help with a church plant. Over the next two years or so we experienced the lip-cracking, burning sun desert. We cried out to him, we grumbled about the leadership and we complained about why he brought us up here just to be deserted in the desert. (Sound familiar?) God rescued his people out of Egypt but then they wandered in the desert for forty years. They told God often that it would have been better if they had just died back in Egypt. See, because sometimes suffocation and bondage become comfortable, and even when God rescues us from that- we feel uncomfortable in the safety of his character building journey that he has us on. We are finally free but freedom feels foreign and we freak out.
After several years at that church plant we know that we could no longer align ourselves under the leadership based on the decisions they were making. And we left. We felt like failures. We had moved here to church plant and we were leaving the church we were helping to plant. Had God called us here? Did we do the wrong thing? What was the point?
Well, in the meantime, we had begun to foster parent and God had brought us our daughter, Phoenix. We were connected with families through their case that we knew we'd never would have had contact with if we hadn't moved to NWA. So, if for nothing else he let us be convinced that we were moving to NWA for a church but it was really to adopt our daughter. But if we're honest we knew/know there's more. Because the one thing the desert did for the Israelites was reveal sin. In nasty, embarrassing and damaging ways. We have been through the ringer the past few years. Some of it messes we made and some of it spiritual attack. Nevertheless, our time in the desert was refining and revealing not only who we were naturally but also who God wanted us to me. Which is easy to type but it hurts like a mammogram.
Almost two years ago we began going to Grace Point Church in Bentonville. We immediately knew that this was where God wanted us to be. They had loved on us through some foster care support and they had an obvious heart for the nations. hand+glove=fit. In a funny turn of events I went from planning to homeschool Phoenix to working part time at the church and both kids in school full time. Then right before I went to Mali last year, I moved over to Women's Ministry. I thought it was going to be the holy grail. I thought it was what I had been prepared to do. But the funny thing is that sometimes God has a bigger picture to show you but you're not open to it and so he gives you what you thought you always wanted in order to show you that he has other plans that are better than your own. Kind of like if you ever begged God to let you date a certain guy because you thought he was just the ultimate, and you wouldn't leave it alone. So God finally allows you to go out with him just so you'll see that ...oh...he's not so great after all. And that is the moment when God can open your mind and heart to what he has planned. (That's not actually that biblically sound, that's just a meg-theory based on meg-life...don't sue me)
Women's Ministry and Church Work is another topic all together. But a few months after I started my position at GPC, Jerad (our worship pastor) announced that he was going to be planting a church in Bentonville and he asked us to pray about coming with him. My answer was immediately:
No. No-we're not doing that. I just started this job. Why would God call me to this only to call me out? That doesn't make any sense- and God only does things that makes sense. Hard and fast no. We'll pray about it.
So, we began to pray. And maybe my prayers were half-hearted or slightly rebellious, but we prayed. And God began to take me back to Joshua. I say back because he started bringing up Joshua even before we had left the other church plant. So I assumed the Jordan was us leaving. But as he brought me consistently back to Joshua through sermons, conferences, books...etc. Remember ,in my last post, (if you actually read my posts) how I mentioned that Kyle had begun to hear from the Lord. This was one of those times. He heard from God first and I didn't like what God told him.
Here's how our conversation went:
"Lord, this is not how we do things. I have been forced to be the spiritual leader of this relationship for ten years...I am the one that you speak to. This is not how we do things..."
He didn't have to respond, I already knew I was in the wrong. I had been praying for my husband for years, and now that God was answering those prayers...I was fussing at him about it. Bossing him. But to tell you the truth, I was praying out of fear. I was pushing back in fear. I was scared to obey. He'd already told me 1,000 times but I was so engulfed in fear, I didn't think he'd told me yet.
Then God said two words and a comma that ruined myself. In Joshua 1, God says to Joshua, "Moses my servant is dead. Now Then," Let me just stop right there. NOW THEN.
Moses is dead. Not only is this the end of an epically long era but Joshua had been his aid for most of his life. He'd been preparing to pick up when Moses left off. But this was the time. This was the moment. Its as if God is saying, "who you thought I was, what you've seen me do in the past, the failures of moses...leave it all behind. That was then. This is now." And two words pivot the entire history for not only Joshua but the Israelites. They could have stayed there and wallowed in the past. Moses is dead. Now What? How will we go on? We've only known God through Moses, what now?
"Now then, you and all these people get ready to cross the Jordan into the land I am about to give you." Now Then, is a posture. Now then, is a state of mind where you are okay with God interrupting your life, pivoting your life, altering your trajectory and sending you into uncharted waters. I began to do a lot of imagioning about what it must have been like to "get ready" as an Israelite. There were hoards and droves of them. They had stuff. They had families (big ones). They had animals. They had questions and fears that weighed more than all their possessions combined.
Its at flood stage. Shouldn't we wait until things are calmer, Lord?
There's an undertow, we could get swept away.
What about our families. What if we lose our families?
What if we lose friends?
What if I die Lord?
What about the children?
What about our stuff?
What if I am not strong enough?
What about the children?
What is on the other side?
What if we can't all make it?
What about the children?
Their questions resembled all the questions I had. All the fears that were welling up in me. But what the Lord opened my mind to was that even though he gave both Joshua and the people a NOW THEN MOMENT. He never was going to or had to force them to step into he water. They didn't know God would hold back the waters. The didn't know what awaited them on the other side beside the alleged reports of giants and good food. They didn't know how they'd get past Jericho. They didn't know how they would conquer all of those lands in order to get to the promised land. They had no idea. But they obeyed. God showed me that he calls us but he never forces us to follow him. He will fulfill his plans with or without us. But he gives us a NOW THEN, and invitation to join him but its our choice to follow him.
And he blind sided me one morning at church with the song "Christ is enough/I have decided to Follow Jesus", which sounds ironic because I can remember singing "I have decided to follow Jesus" every Sunday probably twice a day (evening church..baptist..) but today it was different. God opened my eyes and I saw myself standing there with the droves of Israelites. Not only were they a massive nation but at this point the were an army nations, prepared to conquer lands to get to THEIR PROMISED LAND. I imagined a drummer leading them onward, into the Jordan. (That's not biblically sound either...just meg-imaginings) As they wade into the Jordan, the cold water talking their breath away and the current pushing hard against them, they'd have to make a choice "I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back" (and they probably would have said Yahweh or Yeshua...but go with it). And as the lifted their children up onto their shoulders, they would have had to concede, "The cross before me, the world behind me, no turning back, no turning back."
And there I was. I had a choice. He'd hit me over the head with it a thousand times. He'd left me clues for two years, preparing me for this moment. He'd even given me a NOW THEN MOMENT. But it was my choice to follow him. My choice to align myself with my husband and join them both on this scary roller coaster ride amazing journey of church planting again. I decided to follow Jesus. Across the Jordan, around the world, into uncharted waters and into lands that hold promise of kingdom soil...anywhere. I will follow him.
So, five years later, I stood on a stage, with Kyle away at his first weekend of drill, and was commissioned along with some really amazing people to be a part of Narrative, a new church plant here in Bentonville.
And with the word church planting, probably many questions come to mind: Why plant another church? Why are there some many churches? Why does Bentonville need another church? For that matter why does the bible belt need another church? What makes this one any different?
All good questions. Which will be answered in days, weeks and years to come.
And talk about turned upside down! Kyle just started a new job at Avad3 and the National Guard, and now I'm transitioning out of my role at some point this fall and we're planting a church. Holy Topsy Turvy, Batman! For the love,Jen Hatmaker! But think about the Israelites again, they'd been wandering for 40 years. Generations had died off without seeing the hope of the promised land (or anything but sand...) And just like that, they were about to cross the Jordan and their whole entire life, way or life, daily schedule, dynamic as a nation was about to change. Change is overwhelming...but only when we thought we were in control. Interruptions are unsettling...but only because we thought we were running the show. So, yeah- big changes, all at the same time. But we have an even BIGGER God and he's all the time.
for whatever comes next.