Since October of 2015, I have been appointed jointly to Fairchance Free Methodist Church (FFMC) and Uniontown Free Methodist Church (UFMC). As of July 1, I will be full-time at UFMC. This is a bold step, as UFMC will not be able to fully compensate for the difference in my salary. In addition, C.J. Durso (who with his wife Mallory just brought into the world a new son, much to the delight of Associate Pastor Chuck and Angel Durso!), our worship leader, has departed, and youth director, Chris Durso, will be continuing his education in a doctoral program and will no longer be able to work with that ministry. So the challenges are definitely here.
Back in 1982, when I was serving in my first church in inner-city Philadelphia PA, I was at the church camp having a pleasant stroll and conversation with Loren Anderson, a missionary in Guatemala. As we walked, he raised the question, "So, when are you going to seminary?" well, this was a missionary, so I had to come up quickly with something that would sound spiritually ironclad and inarguable. I couldn't just say "My butt's still sore from sitting through four years of college, and I'm done with that!" So I responded with, "God hasn't blessed me with the money to go." Loren stopped, took hold of my arm, and said, "God's got the money - you go!"
So I did. Two Masters Degrees and a doctorate later, my total academic debt was $600.
God had the money. I went. I finished.
When I had finished with my doctorate, my dear wife said to me, "I'm proud of you sweetie. Now, if you start talking again about another degree program, the next thing you know, you will be lying on the floor in a pool of your own blood, listening to me say, 'How do you reload this thing?" There was no need to carry out the threat; I had already resolved, "My butt's still sore from sitting through four years of college, four years of seminary, 2 1/2 years of grad school, and five years of doctoral program - and I'm done with that!"
In the first chapter of the Old Testament book of Joshua, God tells Joshua to proceed to lead the Israelites from the eastern bank of the Jordan River to the west bank, into the Promised Land. It is after the death of Moses, who had led them in the wilderness for over 40 years. Joshua is Moses' successor, and is now faced with the daunting task of leading this multitude in the conquest of Canaan, against the stiff opposition of the mighty Canaanite armies.
But God has an important message for Joshua, repeated three times: "Be strong and of good courage" (v. 6); "Only be strong and very courageous" (v. 7); and "Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (v. 9). Then when Joshua gives the plan to the people, they say to him, "Only be strong and of good courage” (v. 18). The message: "Go git 'em! God has the land and the victory! We go!"
God had the land and the victory. They went. They won.
For Joshua, leading a multitude of people, hardened by 40 years of living in the desert, seasoned by combat with hostile nations determined to stop the Israelites and return them to their former status of slavery, it wasn't going to be easy. It was, in fact, going to be grueling and hard. They would have to cross the Jordan River at flood stage, which God promised to part and let them walk across on dry ground, just like He had parted the Red Sea when their parents left Egypt, with one difference: He required them to step into the raging rapids of the Jordan first, then He would part those raging white-water rapids. But they got their feet wet, obedient to God's leading, the raging torrent parted, and they crossed over. (The attached photo shows the Jordan River at flood stage. Not exactly a smooth highway.)
They took possession of the land and with God leading them, conquered the Canaanites, whose wickedness included human sacrifice and sexual perversion - the reason God was judging them by wiping them out - and became a great nation. In the coming centuries, after many cycles of disobedience on their part - at times adopting the practices of the people they had driven out - and after being conquered and exiled and humiliated by being trampled down by Greeks and Romans, these people became the nation God used them to give us our Savior - King of kings, Lord of lords, the Anointed One,the Messiah, to bless the world with the open door to salvation and new life, eternal and abundant. And that Messiah's name, in Hebrew, was also Joshua - we call Him Jesus.
The challenges ahead would be overwhelming were it not for the lessons God has taught Emily and me through 38 years of ministry: God doesn't send you where he does not equip you. UFMC is at a crossroads, hardened by trial and smarting from past wounds. We face our Jordan River at flood stage, and will have to cross by getting our feet wet. But we will cross, and UFMC will go on to fulfill the vision God gave me for the future of this church (go back to the homepage and click on the symbol with the words, "What is this?"). God will lead us into our Promised Land and accomplish our mission,which will not be an end but a new beginning. It will require getting past all the emotional, psychological, and spiritual barriers of the past and then moving on to a new location. In that sense we will be like Abraham, who obeyed God's call by pulling up stakes and leaving a comfortable home in Ur of the Chaldees for land God promised, totally unseen by Abraham. But he was willing to be obedient to God's call. That call led to a new beginning for his descendants, and to crossing a Jordan River at flood stage to make a race of slaves into a mighty nation.
Pray for Emily and me as we move on in this new adventure - at age 61, leading a congregation to the Land of Promise, just as God led Abraham in his 90s to his Land of Promise. But as Paul says in Romans 8:31, "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" Pray for this exciting new phase in the life of UFMC, and for our staff - Associate Pastor Chuck Durso, new worship leader Ed Loukota, Administrative Assistant Jean Stoyko and our Leadership Team - for unity, harmony, and laser beam-like focus on our mission, to be what our vision statement says: "A Worshiping, Living, Disciple-Making Community," with deep roots and two wings branching out to the world. God has all the resources, and all He is asking of us is our surrendered obedience and availability.
God has the money and everything else we will need. We'll go. We will win. Our Joshua - Jesus Christ - leads across the Jordan at flood stage into the Land of Promise.
Blessings from here to eternity,