“It’s over. We’ve surely failed”. These were our thoughts after we had planted our first church and things didn’t go as planned. Little did we know that through all our blood, sweat, and tears, God was going to use this time to teach us and train us- not only to pick ourselves up and learn from what was perceived as failure, but to feel what His Son felt while He endured His journey to the Cross. We had to learn to walk in Jesus’ shoes…literally. Why? We had to sense His heartbeat so that we too could reach those closest to His heart.
There are seasons in our lives in which God wants to hit home a particular principle because He has a purpose for it. In 2006, after going through an emotionally devastating time in the ministry, God placed the theme of the Cross in our hearts. When it landed in our spirit, it was one of those revelation moments. God did not tell us the expected- “Pick up your cross and carry it, but rather to “Pick up your cross and climb on it! And do it daily!” It was one of those a-ha moments- so that’s how He wants us to feel His heartbeat- to climb on the cross like Him! Yes, He died on the Cross for our sins so we wouldn’t have to take on the burdens of the world, but, He is closer than a brother, our great Teacher, our best friend, our daddy, and He yearns for a close relationship with each of us. In Genesis, from the very beginning, God walked with Adam in the garden in “the cool of the day”- establishing the importance of relationship from the start, and that relationship was still just as important in the end- all the way to the Cross- and beyond.
It was the true revelation of what climbing on the cross really meant, that changed our total perspective of ministry. We had always believed in carrying our cross, but failed to realize the true importance of the cross- that it isn’t just a means of identifying with Christ, but rather our source of power from Christ. It’s a sin crushing, life-giving cross that gives hope and freedom to the lost and hurting, and we have the power of Christ made available to us if we only realize one major point. We must climb on it instead of carrying it, and the only way we could do that was to stop being defensive of our ministry. It was to truly turn the other cheek as Christ had done, to say nothing when accused, to endure the pain without complaining, even though we were innocent, and let God bring about the outcome of the situation.
For years, the principle of the cross showed us how to wade through conflict, deal with difficulties, and persevere onward setting our face like flint toward the future. Now, eight years later, we have a new heartbeat- grace. He is now showing us a different side of Himself- the side of mercy, forgiveness, and love for the new flock that He has given us to care for- the flock we’d never imagine we’d have- in a place we never imagined we’d be.
In 2008, while in Louisiana doing ministry consultant work, we received a phone call about planting a new church in Lawton, Oklahoma. After scoping out the city and thinking “this place is ugly!”, God dropped another bombshell. As clear as day, He said, “Where there is no beauty, bring beauty with you.” Wow. Four months later, God had begun to give us a love for the city and its people so we relocated to begin the new journey- and what a journey it has been!
On February 21, 2014, Celebration Church of Lawton, celebrated its four year anniversary! What started out as a perceived failure in our church planting journey, has brought us to where we are now- thriving and growing in a multi-cultural, fun-loving, genuinely friendly church in a military town. God has enabled our church in its few short years to impact our city in ways that really show Him off and He has used and continues to use the most “unlikely” people to do so! We told God from the beginning, “We want those who nobody else wants.” So, He put us to the test! He brought us people who are homosexuals, people who are DJ’s, people with tattoos all over, people who were formerly Muslim, people who stood in our yard cussing and smoking, people who had suffered through abortions, and many others. He put us to the test and we said yes. If we couldn’t love these people like Jesus loved them, then we needed to put away our Bible on the shelf and close it for good. What did we do? We said “let’s go!” and off into the community we went and began to serve!
We stood at gas stations and grocery stores after a blizzard and handed out thousands of dollars in free gas and grocery gift cards. We fed midnight ER crews homemade meals, university student’s breakfast during finals week, Cajun food to firefighters on Ft. Sill, sent Christmas stockings to inner city children in New York, relief to crisis areas after tornadoes, medicines to people in the Amazon jungle, and construction workers to Costa Rica. We’ve picked up trash in our city, handed out Valentine’s and Christmas gifts at nursing homes, and popsicles in the park. We’ve worked with city leaders at prayer conferences, put on first-class women’s and men’s retreats, had another congregation merge with us and have been given debt-free land and buildings which we are currently renovating! We’ve sent numerous people to ministry school, licensed ministers from within, and had people trained for disaster relief.
To think that all of this and much more has been done in just four short years is astounding. The question is, how did we arrive here? We believe that by being obedient to God’s leading and climbing on the cross daily, humbly seeking His purposes and not our own, that God has sped up time and accelerated the work in which He would have us to do. He is providing us with the right people with the right heart with an abundance of resources. He is giving us grace for the journey, and the power of His Cross. Author and speaker, Lisa Bevere writes, “The Cross is the ultimate assurance of every promise kept. It is a sword that slays every last remnant of hostility between heaven and earth, just as surely as it is a sword that transforms us through the surgery of the Word. The Cross was your hope even before you realized you were hopeless, the answer before you realized there was a problem. The Cross symbolizes God’s faithfulness while it expresses his faith in us. Through the Cross we are equipped to walk in him.”
Amazing love, how can it be, that you would die for me? Thank you, Jesus, for allowing us to step in your shoes, feel your heartbeat, climb on the cross with You, endure for a moment your feelings, your pain, your love, your grace. Thank you for believing in us so that we could reach those who are closest to your heart- the ones nobody else wants, the ones you hold close, the ones with that tattoos, abortions, alternative lifestyles, the ones who say, “I have nothing left. I humbly come to you. Take all of me. I’m yours.” Selah.