|Acts 29 US-West Conference in Reno, NV|
The past ten months have been a season of profound lows and highs. I lost the pastorate—a vocation I treasured and a church I planned on giving my life to. But, I gained new jobs and met new people which in a mysteriously providential way, came together in new opportunities. I lost my church family, whom I loved serving, and then entered into a new congregation. I made new friendships and gained a new faith family, which made me wonder anew at the glories of Christ’s church.
I was forced to look at my own personal deficiencies and lost a lot of self-pride. But through it, I gained renewed perspective—seeing my identity not in my being a pastor but in my being united to Christ. I gained a new appreciation for those pastors who have suffered in ministry. They are unsung heroes, quietly serving, remaining faithful under affliction. In pastoral ministry, men of conviction rarely sail through smooth waters. In many ways, the Puritans of old, particularly Jeremiah Burroughs and John Flavel, have been my companions in the dark of night.
If I were to characterize these past months, the word that defines my experiences has been new. There have been a lot of new things that I have experienced. Being an INFP-T, I don’t particularly care for the new. I love and thrive in the familiar. But, I have been thrown into the new. In every area of life, I am wearing the aura of new-ness. I am living in the season of the new.
New House (to Me)
One of the benefits of unemployment was suddenly having a lot of free time. Last August, I bought a house which needed some work done on it. When I was employed full time, I would work on the house on the weekends or nights that I had free. Being unemployed gave me the opportunity to finally finish my house. After repairing dry wall, texturing the entire interior, installing ceiling lights, fans, and painting the interior, I finally moved in. Thus far, I’ve enjoyed living in a new to me house. There have been a few showings of Nacho Libre, and many more to come!
I spent last spring working as a long term sub at Kirtland Middle School. Because I was there every day, I was moved from classroom to classroom, hung out in ISS, walked halls, and played football with some rough 7th graders (where I severely sprained my thumb)! I got to know many of the students. We jammed to Journey, Coldplay, T.Swift, and some of my EDM favorites, watched Nacho Libre, and they enthusiastically listened to my sad stories. (Someone has to teach these young people culture). It was a blast! Middle school students are a lot of fun.
Being at KMS exposed me in a raw way to many of the issues these young people are facing. I was surprised to see widespread nihilism and despair at such a young age. These young people are in darkness and need hope—the hope that only the Gospel can give. During this time, I felt a real, new, burden for these teens, for West Farmington, and for Kirtland. I prayed to God for opportunity to do ministry there (more on this later).
For work now, I’ve been given an exciting opportunity. I am employed as an Intervention Specialist at Piedra Vista High School. This position is brand new. Farmington is one of two school districts in the country that was selected as a testing ground for this position. I get the opportunity to contribute to its formation and to serve as its guinea pig! In essence, the job is to befriend students, mentor them, and help them. The goal is that students won't fall through the cracks unnoticed and uncared for. I’m looking looking forward to building and fostering these meaningful relationships with the broader Farmington community.
|Grace Hill Church|
I cannot put into words how grateful I am for Grace Hill Church and for its elders. Going from vocational ministry as a pastor to being a congregant is an awkward and humbling experience. Grace Hill kept me sane, and kept me from going too far into the depths of depression. The members of Grace Hill were very welcoming and encouraging. They opened their homes to me, fed me, and let me know they were praying for me. The elders of Grace Hill gave me opportunities to do ministry. They requested that I join them at their weekly elder's meeting, asked me to frequently preach and to teach, and entrusted me with a T_C Group. They even sent me to the Acts 29 US West Conference in Reno, Nevada.
Grace Hill has kingdom vision. They aren’t concerned with Grace Hill as much as they are concerned with spreading the Gospel to the world. This is a rarity for churches, as many churches are only concerned about growing their own church. In January, the elders of Grace Hill asked me to consider partnering with them in a church plant endeavor, which leads to the next new, huge, and unforeseen event in my life.
|Higher Ground Church|
When I was in my undergraduate studies, thanks largely to Dr. Bruce McAllister’s class, I began to really think about church planting in San Juan County. One night, during Christmas break, while driving around in my Jeep, Cherayah and I were dreaming about the possibilities of a church plant in Farmington. This church wouldn’t be defined by pragmatism, but would intentionally oriented to be God glorifying. This church wouldn’t be caught up with the old vs. new worship wars. Instead, it would use the best of contemporary worship songs, while not neglecting the millennia of rich hymnody that has defined generations of Christians. This church would be unflinchingly biblical, firmly committed to expository preaching. It would be intentionally missional, reaching out to the diverse ethnic groups of San Juan County.
That night, Cherayah and I went back and for on what this church would be called. Eventually, Cherayah threw out the name Higher Ground Church. Ten years later, this dream of a church plant in Farmington has come to fruition. And the name surprisingly stuck!
The founding members of Higher Ground covenanted together as a church on August 28th, 2018. We had our first public service on September 9th, 2018. Higher Ground Church exists to glorify God, edify his people, and testify his gospel. It is broadly reformed in theology, elder-led in polity, and expositional in homily.
I didn’t make this church plant happen. I was invited into the process. In God’s providence, he provided a sending church, a building, funding, a big, strong, supporting network, and the core team needed to plant. I have been amazed to see his clear hand in the orchestration of all of this.
I am thankful that God placed me at Kirtland Middle School for a season, as some of the teens I taught, have already expressed interest in the new church! With my being an mix of Hispanic and Navajo, these are my people. I’m stunned at God’s orchestration of all things to make this church plant possible in a place where one is desperately needed. Truly, he works through our bad situations to accomplish his grand plan.
"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good." ~ Genesis 50:20
While this topic merits an entire post on its own, I would be remiss not to at least mention God’s working in my own heart over these months. I have been forced to examine myself--and it wasn't a pretty process. I have relearned to rely upon Christ as my strength. I have learned not to place my identity in being a pastor, but as one united to Christ. I have learned that suffering is God’s gracious tool to refine us and to bring us closer to him. I have learned and experienced God’s providence and it has led me to worship.
There has been a lot of new things in my life these past months. I’ve learned much. I've grown much. Through it all, the season of the new, God has remained faithful and good. And I am thankful.